Christmas Crazies and Beanies on Balloons

Sorry for the radio silence, friends. I’ve been beavering away on all the usual things – a sermon series on 2 Thessalonians, a series of meetings on translating the Alpha course, plowing into C. S. Lewis’s diary from his ’20s, reading the Hunger Games books twice, going for long drives in snowy landscapes, and turning this


and this


into a large pile of Christmas presents.

This is an attempt to act pre-emptively on some hard-won self-knowledge. I just know that, when Christmas looms close, I will regret not making some little things for the many and varied members of our family. Last year, the urge came way too late for any action to be taken, since I have to leave three weeks for the postal services of two countries. This year, I sat down with a list, made time estimates, and started on October 9th.

I’m actually more than halfway done, with about a month to go until Final Mailing Day. I may even be rewarded with the start of a new project for myself during Advent. In the meantime, though, I’ve not much to report on the handicrafts front.

I do, however, have one nugget I’ve been saving to show you.

Last year, the 2nd President (vice-president? except there’s a 3rd President) of ACW noticed I could knit lace. She showed me her favorite hat, a little lacy purple thing in a very thin cotton, and asked if I could make her another one.

This, let me tell you, was a bit of a thing. These ladies are Inuit elders, masters of their crafts, at which I am fumblingly learning the very basics. I am like a third grader in a roomful of emeritus professors who are kind enough to tolerate my company. So when it turns out that I might have something to offer? Believe me, I sat up and paid attention.

The trouble with this project was not the knitting – it’s a simple lace pattern I had puzzled out in a few minutes – but the yarn. The powers that be don’t really make fine handknitting cotton. I checked Baffin E, and hunted high and low during my vacation over the summer, and came up with this:

Classic Elite Yarns’ Firefly. Located at Sewickley Yarns, the new and quite different incarnation of Yarns Unlimited, RIP. Not a wisp of cotton in it, but a linen-viscose blend that should have the same drapey, cool qualities.

I swatched thoroughly,

whipped it off my needles one week in October,

Blocked it over a balloon,

And she seems very happy with it.


It seems almost wrong to accept her paying me for it, since she gives me freely of her time and pointers and preferred supplies for sealskin sewing. But she’s also respecting me as a fellow craftswoman, and not as the child I usually feel like, so I accepted, with what I hope is honorable pride in my work. It’s a relatively simple thing, but I have the satisfaction of having worked hard to make it just right.

Now, to make good on the investment by getting decently skilled at sewing.

How are y’all doing? (Since I moved to Canada, I have really started owning my y’all, y’all.) Have the Christmas Crafting Crazies hit at your address?

Relevant Information

This is Rhinebeck weekend.

I have never been to Rhinebeck. At this point, it’s looking pretty likely that I never will go Rhinebeck. My life just doesn’t involve going to major Sheep & Wool festivals anymore, and that’s OK. But for some reason, the fact that Rhinebeck is always the middle weekend in October is fixed into my mind, and I always remember it. Like that ex-boyfriend’s birthday that you remember on odd years.

I was observing/lamenting all this out loud to Jared (leaving out the ex-boyfriend bit), wondering why such irrelevant information would keep coming up in my mind every year. Is there something I’m supposed to do with it? Should I spin something or start a new project, just to observe the knitterly part of fall? Or is there no point?

His suggestion was much more sensible. Mark it as a time to do something crafty, that is relevant to my new life.

So I did.

Yesterday, when all our chores were done, I rolled out the purple sealskin, pinned to it a little pualuk pattern given by a friend, and cut out the pieces.

I love cutting things out! I think cutting pieces out is my favorite part of sewing. I may have bought N more paper doll books just so I could cut the pieces out. (Imagine my dismay when they were all punch-out paper dolls. Dumb.)


You will observe that, logically, cutting a furry skin with scizzors produces a lot of cut hairs, and fuzz everywhere. I did think about the lay of the hairs (would you call that nap?) when I was pinning the pieces, but not when I was cutting. After a sheepish post on Facebook, I have gathered that I am supposed to use an exacto knife or ulu to cut a sealskin.


Oops. Well, that’s why my first project is small.


I was as economical as I could be with the pieces (with the caveat that: I have no idea what I’m doing), but I still had some sizeable leftover bits. I tried cutting the bigger leftover pieces into stars and flowers, to hot glue onto headbands or something, but the nap made this a challenge too.


Two projects: One ready for hot glue, the other ready for some sewing time. ACW starts tomorrow! Rhinebeck weekend no more: it’s Sealskin Weekend.

Addendum: To the extent that I blog about this project at all, I will be intentionally vague about the process and patterns. There is a history of fashion designers coming from the south, learning indigenous designs, and using them in their own designs for profit. I will not willingly participate in or enable such activity. I am doing this entirely for my own participation and edification, and sharing it for family and friends who want to come along as I learn more about life in the North and the amazing people who live here.

Two Mice In the Sun

There are two new markers of the equinox season. One is a biannual text from our cell phone company, informing us that because of the “sun transit,” the sun will be blasting directly at their satellite, and our service will be disrupted. The second is the placement of the afternoon sun such that, during our naptime break, it blasts directly upon our favorite spot on the couch. So it is with pleasure that I snuggle into my sunny spot this Sunday afternoon, contemplating a lonely satellite being overwhelmed into catatonia by these same rays, to blog to you about my latest finished project.

No cat sits upon our sunny sill. But there are two mice.


The girls’ Phoebe Sweaters are joined by two Phoebe mice. Phoebette (right) and Phoebitsy (left) are the girls’ big knitted Christmas present this year. I have had to knit them in stolen moments, as N was dangerously close to guessing what they were. Their many fiddly limbs were completed during the cutscenes of The Banner Saga, and their dresses were knit while co-playing Space Quest III and IV with Jared. (If you enjoyed the former, drop me a line. If you enjoyed the latter… can we be best friends? Oh, the hazards of having obscure tastes.)

Pattern Review: I am not a big knitter of toys. I find them so incredibly fiddly. They make me long for a giant garter-stitch afghan. But there is something satisfying about making a conjoined set of misshapen sacs, stuffing it into a featureless voodoo doll, then applying a tiny bit of embroidery to see it suddenly become a cuddle-able plaything deserving of affection and an anthropomorphized personality. The power of the face, I suppose. For my taste, I found these patterns very merciful, making a mouse out of a series of very plain tubes. Fussing over the ears was worth it, though I’m sure I didn’t attach them straight. The dress was so simple it fit on half a page of the book, Phoebe’s Sweater.



Yarn Review: Is anyone going to care if I review Cascade 220? Probably not. It’s only one of the most popular yarns among handknitters, and comes in enough colors to literally fill a wall at the late Natural Stitches (R.I.P.). But let the record show, I found it very pleasant and soft-feeling to work with, even fairly tightly on US 5s, which is nice for a workhorse yarn. This makes me suspicious, though, for how it wears in a human-sized sweater, and the mice aren’t going to tell me.

Then to cap it all off:



They make me squee! Goodness me I’m glad they’re done, but, *squeee!!!* You may have noticed that the buttons on the coats match the buttons on the girls big sweaters. Didn’t notice? Let me prove it to you.


How thrilled I was when Baffin Electronics had the same beautiful woodcut button in two sizes, with enough for my purposes. They have a good button selection, with very reasonable prices, so I count myself very fortunate, as one who plans projects years in advance but never buys buttons until a project is nearly done.

Now I have to pack these little dears away into an empty goldfish box and hide them away until Christmas. I have been very responsible in starting the holiday knitting so early, but the poor mice have to stuffer – I mean suffer – for it. I’ll regret it when I wake in dark January to find their black embroidered eyes leaning over me threateningly in my sleep.



They’ll forgive me when they meet their little girls. Right? …

Spirits in Bondage: In Which I Blog About an Obscure Book of Poems

I am a taker-on of big projects. You read this blog, you know that. If I’m going to take something on, I don’t want to just taste it; I want the complete experience. It’s an illness, really. Planning such projects is sometimes a stress outlet, which results in some embarrassingly large spreadsheets and some absolutely untenable plans. But sometimes I try them anyway.

I’ve started a new one. It’s ridiculous, and I’m not going to finish it. Ready to laugh at me?

Here’s what happened: I was reading this fabulous book on the Inklings.

Click for link to amazon page.

Click for link to amazon page.

Like so many Christians over the last three quarters of a century, I have a serious love affair with the work of Lewis and Tolkein. My perspective is largely theological, biblical, psychological, and historical: they stand at this corner of history at which the whole world changed, and both in their lives and works recast the Christian worldview, in a way both quite at home within the modern psyche and at odds with the modern mainstream.

Reading this book was an absolutely delicious dive into their minds. What happened next can only be described as an enormous fit of envy. The Zaleskis had obviously gotten to comb through the entire works of these four writers and others, to say nothing of extended secondary sources…. and they had a bibliography at the back.

And then. I discovered that this chap has already put together a chronological reading list of everything C. S. Lewis has ever written.

Now, I was warned. A professor friend, who will probably read this, gently warned me that not everyone is worth reading in their whole entirety. I’m sure he is right. But I’m afraid I was already hooked by the time he got to me.

TL;DR: Whatever I read/play/watch, it makes more difference in my life if I reflect on it. This is my blog, where I do as I please, so I’ll inflict these reflections on you.

I acquired the first two volumes last fall.

"Phoebette" looks on, naked and unashamed.

Naomi’s half-finished Christmas present “Phoebette” looks on, naked and unashamed. Her favorite poem from Spirits in Bondage was probably “The Ass,” #27, a vaguely pantheistic and probably fictional account of meeting a donkey in a field.

Since then, here and there, in dribs and drabs, I’ve been reading letters. On the left you see the first volume of The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis. There are a few childhood letters, then into his teens, increasingly interspersed with entries from the volume on the right: The Collected Poems of C. S. Lewis. I got this very recent edition sent to me from England (though it was published in Ohio), and it appears to be the most complete. It includes Spirits in BondageDymer, and everything from the shorter volumes of poetry that have been published in bits and bobs over the years.

To date, I’ve read 435 pages of letters, taking me through 1919, the end of World War I, and Lewis’s 2oth birthday. And last week, I read Spirits in Bondage. That’s what I want to talk about.

Reading early Lewis is, at first, uncomfortable. Is it fair to this man to let not only his works, but also his life, be such a subject of examination and critical public evaluation? The answer to that is probably “no,” and the fact that we do is surely in itself topic worthy of much ink-spillage. I hope he forgives me when we meet in paradise. But, once you get into it, peering into his mind is so ruddy interesting that you forget you don’t really have a right to be in his business.

The letters themselves are mostly not that interesting. They are mostly him cataloguing of the insane number of books he is reading, geeking out about book bindings, and prevaricating and placating his anxious father. But, especially in his conversations with his friend Arthur Greeves, the glimpses come with increasing frequency of his inner thoughts. His vocabulary and descriptive power are incredible for so young a person. He has the power to paint an evocative picture in a few effortless lines. These leave me in awe, and inspire me to attempt the same.

Most interesting to me are the even rarer glimpses of the progress of his ideas. He couldn’t get into his deepest convictions with his father, and when talking to the relatively uneducated Arthur, he comes off as obnoxiously superior. But the ideas are there all the same.

The theoretical discussions and the evocative descriptions go hand in hand, or rather, reveal themselves as flip sides of a coin he hadn’t integrated yet. I understand now, in his descriptions and in his passionate love of fantastical literature, what it means that he was a romantic. I’m not sure I can describe it very well, but I’ll try: at this point, it’s this fierce love of beauty, of mist, of romance, of nature. But it’s a love that is also intrinsically separated from what it beholds. It’s as much about the experience of beholding as about the thing beheld. I’ve read a little about this in books about romantic literature, and my own observations are filtered through Lewis’s later work, The Four Loves.

But here, young Lewis only has the raw desire, the joy and the pursuit of joy. And, romanticism being what it is, it seems to include within itself a profound and unbridgeable cutoff between the lover and the thing loved. So at the same time, we have Lewis the atheist – in love with magic and beauty, and so frustrated at being cutoff from it that he decides it can’t be real.

This is what comes through to me so powerfully in Spirits in Bondage: A Cycle of Lyrics, Lewis’s first published work. It consists of 40 poems, written between 1915 and 1919. I read them first in the order they were written, alongside reading through the letters, then I read them again in the order he arranged. (In case you haven’t noticed, the point is to do this in the most neurotic way possible.)

Reading them in the order written was revelatory. One small observation, for example, is that poems describing nature seemed often to be written in opposite season: poems about misery and cold written in summer, or about the romance of summer written at Christmas. This reinforces my understanding of romanticism being cut off from the thing itself. But what surprised me still more was how many of his poems from before the war spoke of melancholy, long sufferings, endless grief, etc. If I read them all thinking they were from 1919, I’d interpret them all through his war experiences, but basically, he was a melancholic teenager. He’d been through some bad stuff, and I would be the last person to discount teenage sadness. Still, I had to accept that some of the poems I liked a great deal were profoundly adolescent.

Take “In Praise of Solid People,” Poem 24. He begins almost describing hobbits: “Thank God that there are solid folk / Who water flowers and roll the lawn, / and sit and sew and talk and smoke, / and snore all through the summer dawn.” It’s adorable, though it quickly gets patronizing, and one doubts if he has ever really gotten to know an ordinary farmer in his life. He’s not yet mature enough to inquire deeply into the desires and frets of someone deeply different from himself. I can forgive that. But then the tone shifts suddenly, and he’s talking about how he values such people (or, really, the idea of them) because he’s been “thro’ weariness and strife.” He’s seventeen. The rest of the poem is about an existential moment he had by the fire, a magnificent glimpse of the faerie, that then subsides to leave him in a dull ordinary world he hasn’t yet learned to appreciate. “And still no nearer to the Light, / And still no further from myself, / Alone and lost in clinging night / – (The clock’s still ticking on the shelf).” He envies those whom he thinks “are not fretted by desire,” because he doesn’t know what to do with his desire. He’ll figure it out, but good grief, how much 30-year-old me still identifies with those desires, with the longings for beauty, and the struggle to connect with and love actual ordinary people. It means a lot to me, in the end, to connect with this side of his journey, and hope that I can follow where he’s going – in the unfolding, to have my heart transformed the way my mind already has been by his later works. That’s what draws me on, anyway.

So, at once, he longs for there to be magic, to be faerie, but at times he seems profoundly angry that they do not exist. It seems to be that cutoff that drives his atheism, fed by sometimes downright postmodern-sounding rubbish about the beauty we behold not really existing except in our minds. There’s probably some Plato in there, but I have never had tolerance for such faff, even when I was quite adolescent myself. I am happy to believe the couch I am sitting in does really exist, thank you.

However, he soon starts to grow in this regard. “Our Daily Bread,” Poem 32, was written while he convalesced after being injured by a shell blast, around when he turned 20. He understands that “There have been men who sank down into Hell / in some suburban street, / And some there are that in their daily walks / have met archangels fresh from sight of God, / or watched how in their beans and cabbage-stalks / Long files of fairie trod.” This appears to me to be a turn toward integration of the unearthly and the earthly, towards being able to see glory in the mundane, and not always trying to see past it. A slight turn, perhaps, but significant – just being brothers-in-arms with men of all different sorts must have been broadening and grounding, even though what they went through was so horrible.

Reading the book in the order arranged shows a different picture, as one follows a cycle of ideas composed in 1919 rather than snapshots of poetic imagination out of particular moments in his life.

The most fascinating moment for me was theological. By lining up a few poems, he gave a portrait of God and Satan as he saw them at that time. It’s quite Manichean, as far as I can tell: Satan is the creator of matter, defined by his strength in “De Profundis” (#12). He is the evil master in that poem, whom defiant Lewis refuses to bow down to. Then in the next poem, “Satan Speaks,” putting words in this “Master’s” mouth, he is a God who seems reluctant to bring misery on man, who refuses to love his world. It’s a fascinating bit of imagination. At the same time, both poems speak of another God who is good and joyful, but is very far away.

Still incomplete, "Phoebitsy" likes "The Road" (#34), a musical love poem to the hills of County Down.

Still incomplete, “Phoebitsy” likes “The Road” (#34), a musical love poem to the hills of County Down.

These were both probably written in Spring of 1918, which was when he received his wound. There is no information I can find whether he was in the trenches or in hospital when these two were written. Regardless, I’m sure it was a dark time. Others from this period are incredibly evocative of that war-misery, like this one, which I will quote in its entirety:


“French Nocturne”

Long leagues on either hand the trenches spread
And all is still; now even this gross line
Drinks in the frosty silences divine,
The pale, green moon is riding overhead.

The jaws of a sacked village, stark and grim,
Out on the ridge have swallowed up the sun,
And in one angry streak his blood has run
To left and right along the horizon dim.

There comes a buzzing plane: and now, it seems
Flies straight into the moon. Lo! Where he steers
Across the pallid globe and surely nears
In that white land some harbour of dear dreams!

False, mocking fancy! Once I too could dream,
Who now can only see with vulgar eye
That he’s no nearer to the moon than I
And she’s a stone that catches the sun’s beam.

What call have I to dream of anything?
I am a wolf. Back to the world again,
And speech of fellow-brutes that once were men
Our throats can bark for slaughter: cannot sing.

So he is starting to believe in some kind of divine power. But the one that seems nearest is the evil one, associated with the material world, and defined by strength. In that context? Yep, makes sense. But the moments of hope are there too. The portrait of his famous “Joy” in “Dungeon Grates” (#15), from the same period. A just, caring God is an idea he can accept exists, but as too distant to make a difference in his life yet.

Should you read it? Um, well, here’s where I have to throw in, I am really not an experienced reader of poetry as poetry. It was an excellent exercise for me to really read some poetry slowly, as I usually don’t have the patience, and often struggle to connect with poetry. Others have told me Spirits in Bondage is not very good, and it is certainly adolescent, but I don’t mind that too much. I thought it was fascinating, a prelude of many things to come. As poems? Some of them really grabbed me; some were more just biographically interesting; a few were completely forgettable. You can decide for yourself; it’s quite short, and free on Kindle (though Dr. King’s extensive notes help with all the classical references). But yes, if I want to really learn to read poetry, I should pick up George Herbert, or one of the numberless firmament of writers that Lewis himself enjoys.

That’s where I am so far. Now it’s 1919, he’s back in Oxford, has started studying in earnest, is waiting for Spirits in Bondage to go to press, and doesn’t have time for composition. I’ll check back in in 1926, when he publishes Dymer, has loads more friends, and is much closer to finding faith.

If you’ve made it this far, I congratulate you. So what about you? Do you love Lewis? What are your favorites (aside from Narnia, obvs). Have you tried getting into his pre-Christian head? What other poetry do you wish I were reading?

Works Cited:

Hooper, Walter, ed. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 1: Family Letters 1905-1931. Harper Collins, San Francisco: 2004.

King, Don W., ed. The Collected Poems of C. S. Lewis: A Critical Edition. Kent State University Press: Kent, OH: 2015.

(Aw yeah, still remember bibliographic style. Don’t shatter my dreams if I messed it up.)


One Book, Two Sweaters

This is a story that begins with a book.


Phoebe’s Sweater by Joanna Johnson, Illustrated by Eric Johnson

N was given this book before she was born, by a knitterly friend of her mother’s. It’s a story about her mouse whose mother knits her a sweater while she waits for her baby sister mouse to be born. The prose is lilting and winsome, and… the pattern for the sweater is included at the back.


Like so many beautiful things N was given as a tiny thing, she took a while to grow into it. But she got a baby sister of her own, became a voracious examiner of books, and then… noticed that the pattern for the sweater was included at the back.

I dreamt all last year about making the girls this sweater. When we went down south for our summer trip, it was the one project for which I would allow myself to buy new yarn. We decided on Cascade Eco+, N helped me pick colors on WEBS, and the first was knit up in a flash.


After the Olympics, I cast on the second, which took only slightly longer.


It is worth noting that this was my first time ordering yarn online… possibly ever? So I was a little shocked at the colors. I thought I was ordering sky blue and navy blue, but was completely and pleasantly surprised by peacock blue and Elsa blue.

Is there another name for that color other than Elsa blue? Not in this house there isn’t. Never mind that neither of my children have actually sat through Frozen. Oh well. I can’t really help myself, since they practically are my little Elsa and Ana. This, at least, explains why N kept asking, “Are you done my Elsa blue sweater?”


Finished last week, complete with matching buttons from Baffin E, they were quietly blocked in the office. Then, as the book has it, on the first day of fall, “When the air was crisp and the wind was cool and the leaves were crunchy under their feet,” they tried on their brand-new sweaters.

I confess willingly, my heart’s desire was to shamelessly copy my sister-in-law’s tradition of knitting fall sweaters for her children each year then taking their Christmas picture in them. But, with the temperature below freezing most days already, under mostly cloudy skies, and sans a working relationship with a local professional photographer who will trade photo shoots for a pair of socks, I had to do my best. The first try was… interesting. I preserved the best ones for the record of personality.


She isn’t so much a bookworm as a book tyrant.




Then this happened:


So the rest of my pictures look like this.


But, magically, yesterday was warm and sunshiny, and I caught them.



M has a fierce ham face.



This pretty much encapsulates their relationship.



I am in love with this yarn. Cascade Eco+ is affordable, nearly-bulky, soft, comes in a zillion colors – I want it for a sweater for myself. They didn’t even pay me to say that, though if they read my words and want to send me some more as a thank you, I would be down with that.

The aforementioned pattern at the back of Phoebe’s Sweater is simple and sweet, going for the seamless approach. The slip-stitch waffle pattern is simpler than it looks, and the whole thing was pretty good reading knitting except that it went by so quickly. The 2-year size took exactly one ball of CEP, and the 4-year size took less than 1.5.

And, because Christmas is coming, and I can’t do anything halfway, these exist already…


This is a work in progress. The yarn underneath is included.

Happy Autumn, everyone!




Not Idly Do the Leaves of Lorien Fall

The last few inches of my handspun Lothlorien were completed while watching, for the third or fourth time, all the most obscure DVD extras on the LotR:FotR:EE. Not for the first time, I think to myself that the Lord of the Rings Films are, to a slice of my generation, our equivalent of Star Wars. Yes, The Books Are Better, but the movies were my way in, my imaginative catalyst. And they were made with such an absolute excess of love and detail that hyperbole is almost impossible. To take a profoundly worthy piece of subcreation, and from it craft a further subcreation, is a work worth savoring. So I do, right down to the last 45-minute documentary on prosthetics.


All of this, which some might label “geekiness,” makes me feel right at home with this particular pile of wool. The pound or so of wool on my lap came to me as a mysterious pile of white roving. I weighed it, braided it, and shipped it off to my mother, who dyed it to my specifications. Black walnut, pokeberries, turmeric, and black bean, with some mordant, were the only substances to transform the white into a fall spectrum. Then three years of spinning turned roving into yarn, and after another year’s wait, three and a half months turned yarn into something special.


Susan Pandorf’s Lothlorien Cape pattern is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. She has managed, in this and other patterns, to capture the architectural and organic fusion that so befits the elves. Knitting is so perfectly suited to this aesthetic. The tiny cable patterns at the top which expand to great cabled flying buttresses at the bottom are very anchoring.


Actual picture of a

Actual picture of a “bigature” from the FotR film. Image from Lyn Bailey’s blog (click for link).

I made my own adaptations, as I’ve detailed before: I knit the whole thing top-down (so as to use all the green and adapt the pattern to my yarn quantity); I knit seven panels instead of eight (because my gauge was larger); and I bound off in i-cord (because all those cables were going to feel rather jagged if just bound off plain without a solid base). I also plan to crochet around the base of the neckband, to tighten it up, because it rather sagged with blocking. I am very happy with these adaptations, for the most part. Flipping the pattern worked just fine with cables, but not with the lace, so there were a few points where I seriously had to fudge. But I already don’t notice.


As to my yarn’s performance: The 4-ply cabled handspun is definitely rustic. This would be a totally different piece with a smooth, soft, even yarn. But I am in love, because it so very in character. A building grown into shape out of living trees would not have perfect surfaces. The roughness makes it look stronger. As a matter of fact, it is stronger – I knit it on 6s, nearly sacrificing my wrists in the process. I regretted it at the time, but now that my wirsts have recovered, the look is worth it.


Regarding length: I did get nearly to the bottom of the pattern; I ran out of even my extra ball of doubled sock yarn before I could totally finish. The I-cord makes it not matter, though, I think.

At this complete length, it reaches past my elbows, and as such makes it, believe it or not, a hypothetically useful garment! Hypothetical because, in real life, I don’t know that I’m really brave enough to wear something so bright. And this is so worth being rocked out, not just being a shoulder snuggle for the couch. But I don’t think I have to worry about it, because I’m not sure it belongs to me. I give you, Canada’s Next Top Knitwear Model.





I told her she could wear it if she dresses as an elf for Halloween.

This was half worked in my homeland of encompassing trees, and completed as the fall colours have spread over the two-dimensional trees of these northern fairy forests. Having bound it off, in some small way, I feel I have integrated my loves for both the old and new. Even as I look forward to a heavenly forest where the leaves are always golden and never fall. To the place where subcreation might just take on a life of its own, and even if it doesn’t… we won’t mind.

Lothlorien by Greg and Tim Hildebrandt. Image from

Seal Skins, Staples, and Sartorial Oscillation: Inuit Arts and Me, Part 3

Fox fur is great for trim, and there’s the occasional use of rabbit, or even polar bear, if you are either a hardcore adventurer or made of money. However, the real meat (so to speak) of Inuit sewing-with-skins is done with seal skin. I’ve been longing to try sewing with sealskin for a while, so at a big craft festival last April, when the Cathedral’s fundraising table was selling a beautiful maroon sealskin, I took the plunge.


Gorgeous, no? This one is already tanned and dyed and stamped with a size, so I’m guessing this went through a furrier before it came back to the north.

As soon as I bought it, the learning experience started. Much to my surprise, the first thing one has to do with a tanned sealskin is to block it. Yes, it’s pretty much the same idea as blocking a sweater. You get it damp, then stretch it out, stapling it to a piece of plywood to dry. This gives you up to an extra 25% of skin area and gets rid of any folds or wrinkles (after it’s stretched you roll it up to store).

Plywood is generally in plenty up here, as there are always crates of supplies coming up that are torn apart and used for everything from clubhouses to cabins to campfires. But this is a pretty big skin, and not just any board would do. Additionally, April is still a long way from the season when crates come up in ships, and last year’s flood of shipping scrap was mostly spoken for. I looked around for a piece, without success. Life and vacation intervened, and the skin sat folded up in a bag in the closet.

Finally, in August, we got out own sealift crate. It was a doozy, something like 2 meters by 2.5 meters by 1.5 meters, containing a year’s supply of canned fruit and cereal and flour and tortilla chips, four tires, and some clothes and books out of storage in our parents’ basements. My in-laws were visiting, so Jared’s dad helped us open ‘er up, and took the long top off, which was just the piece I was waiting for.

A trip to the hardware/craft supply store – inscrutably called “Baffin Electronics,” since the only thing you can’t buy there is electronics – procured me a wee staplegun, and we were ready to roll.

N helped me dampen the skin down with wet cloths, it sat in a bag overnight, then Jared helped me staple it in place.


Fun fact: on a windy day, an enormous piece of plywood will attempt to act as a sail. Mercifully, the whole process took about ten minutes.

It didn’t grow a lot. When we stapled it on, I noticed marks along the edges that looked like they may have had staples in before, so it may have been stretched previously. Also, I may not have gotten it wet enough. But the fold marks are gone, and that was a very necessary improvement.

Some wiggling got the board back into our cold room to dry, in between the boxes we haven’t gotten around to taking to the dump and the dishwasher we haven’t gotten around to installing. If you want a picture of life without a basement, here ya go.


It’s still out there, between empty bins and old baby stuff, because I can’t decide what to make with it. Here’s the trouble: My ultimate goal is to make big fancy things. I want to make kamiks (boots) and coats, because they are awesome and practical and beautiful. But I don’t need another coat at this point (and would need a ton more supplies), and I’m not ready to make kamiks. Kamiks (or more properly, kamiik is how you say two kamik) are really the pinnacle of Inuit sewing (or so I gather), so I should probably work my way up to that. And besides, I suspect an untanned skin is better for kamiik.

What I really need is an intermediary goal. But I just can’t decide what. A purse? A little bag? A hat? Slippers? Mittens for Martha? (I already have a pair for me.) Little flowers to hot glue on clips? A headband? A fuzzy stole? I can’t decide! When it comes down to it, this is really just a fabulous piece of fabric, and I’ve never started with a piece of fabric then decided what to make. I could make anything, and at the moment, that’s a little paralyzing.

So that’s where I’m at right now in terms of hands-on learning of Inuit sewing. I’ve made a new category for northern arts, and we’ll see how much I use it, what with the fact that I have an actual ministry job that’s interesting, plenty of knitting planned, and small children with a low tolerance for mama sitting still attending to something that is not them. Well, one day at a time. The first thing I need to do is find a screwdriver and pry those staples out. Then I can get my behind to Baffin E and see if I get a better needle for working leather. And a thimble. Definitely going to need a thimble.