Handily

Today I finished reading Kate Davies’ new book, Handywoman. I’ll let her back cover supply the tag line. I’ve been following Kate’s work for a while now, but only in the last year have begun investing in it: I now own four of her pattern books, and this one. Despite years of drooling, you see above the first of her patterns that I have actually cast on: a Betty Mouat Cowl (more on which another day).

I followed the lead up to her self-publishing Handywoman while following her on Instagram and reading her blog. The price was very reasonable, so I preordered her book. This despite the fact that I have not read a physical book, aside from the Bible and knitting pattern books, since before I graduated from Seminary.

Despite knowing her story, despite having read excerpts and companion essays, despite reading her account of her stroke in the archives of her blog – I was not prepared for the power of this book. I was not prepared for how much I would identify with it.

Handywoman is, in a way, the story of one woman creatively dealing with a massive set of limitations imposed on her suddenly and irreversibly. That is as clear a description of sudden disability as I can muster, not having one myself. To do this, she had to draw on resources from her own life and past, and from the people and tools around her. It’s a very intimate story, often involving the struggles to do the most basic activities: those moments of hardship that feel so invisible in a culture that is wilfully blind to any difference that makes normal things difficult.

What the book is not is a story of returning to a normative way of life. It’s a profoundly creative journey, through weakness, with a ton of hard work, into a unique, interdependent, and beautifully productive life which is still evolving. Through creatively working within her limitations, she has managed to carve out a niche for herself with a successful design business that has carved new paths.

I’ve done a little bit of exploring of my own struggles with limitations, as a category. That was before having a third child, since which time I’ve felt incredibly limited. I’ve had to contend with new demands on my body, my emotions, my energy, while having fewer resources. Even more than the limits themselves, I have struggled with the fact that I have not coped with these changes in even remotely the way I wanted.

I realize fully how ridiculous it would be to compare having a kid with a disability. Producing a child is something that my body is very much able to do because I am young and, all things considered, very healthy. I have only the mildest glimpse of the life of someone who has to deal with truly chronic pain or with their body not doing what they want it to do. My children are all spectacularly healthy, my baby is a dream as far as babies go, and I am supremely thankful that my children exist. Unlike a stroke, my children are actual gifts from God.

But in the limits I deal with in my calling, to live in the north and be a mother and a priest, I don’t always cope very graciously or thankfully. Crafting is always a blend of production and consumption, but in those phases my relationship with crafting teeters far into the land of consumption.

One of Davies’ most significant points, as she writes about the tools for handicapped persons which helped her, is that they were designed by keeping in mind what a disabled person can do, rather than focusing on what they can’t. Commercialism, by contrast, depends chiefly on making you aware of what you lack. I have found myself at times very vulnerable to this, to the drug-like effect of the promises that if I could just do or make or buy, contentment would be mine. Marketing is necessary, and can be done responsibly, but to those of us addicted to the dream of affluent prosperity, even benign marketing can make us a bit sick.

Perhaps the most surprising similarity between myself and a disabled person is the shame society quietly heaps on anyone with limits. I would think this would not be the case: after all, I chose to have all these children! How dare I complain? If I can’t deal, it must be because I’m not good enough, or I made bad choices. This is also, of course, nonsense. Children are wonderful; they are also challenging. Every mother from time immemorial has known this. Still, our culture quietly (or sometimes loudly) shames moms who struggle. “Maybe you just weren’t cut out for this.” “Maybe you’re too young.” “That’s definitely too many children.” A disabled person, you would think, would be immune to such things, but Davies talks about the quiet (and sometimes loud) shame implicit in the way that disabled people’s needs are ignored, dismissed, or even labeled as imaginary. The message we all hear is, “If you can’t keep up, if you can’t deal, it must be your fault.” Some of us keep up, and some of us can’t, but we’re all harmed by that message.

Davies’ penultimate chapter “Design for All” is about a company who designs tools for disabled people, and specifically how the process of designing well for the disabled has resulted in products that are better for everyone. If this post illustrates nothing else, it’s that Davies has succeeded in writing a book that does the same thing: consider disability in a way that encourages us all to treat others and ourselves in a more human way.

In my last post, what I was struggling to articulate was that my new sweater is, in Davies’ words, fit to purpose. It is fit for my body, my life, my calling, as it is now. It makes use of the designs of others, most of all the empowering adaptive designs by Zimmerman and Herzog. But it has very little to do with a picture in a magazine. It’s for me. And that’s a profoundly caring thing.

So I am asking today, when I get frustrated, what can I do? And I am a bit more thankful for all the things my body can do. For example, my shoulder may be weak now, but I can put baby in an Ergo on my back for half an hour and dance around while I type out my thoughts. Now, to solve the problem of her swiftly dehairing the back of my neck….

So, thanks for your book, Kate. It’s extraordinarily well-written, courageously vulnerable and intimate, and it went down like an antidote. May you have many more years of defying expectations.

This Year’s Sweater

The Rohan/Zimmerzog sweater is finished.

DSC00203

This will probably be the only sweater that I knit this calendar year. It’s only the second fingering-weight sweater I’ve ever knit, and the first yoke sweater. It also represents a major effort to apply the intention I’ve been learning from spinning to a large knitting project. Let’s see if I can explain what I mean by this.

I cast on (says my ravelry entry) on April 20th. That’s the day after Bayboo was born… really? I did that? Good grief. I cast n in my slightly-nutty post-partum haze, but I had been planning this sweater for a long time before that. And I mean a long time. I bought the six colors of Brooklyn Tweed Loft that I wanted before the pattern for the Rohan shawl even came out, five years ago. I bought the colors based on a sneak preview of the graph that Susan Pandorf sent out to us subscribers, not even realizing that the pattern called for four colors, not six.

I have knit almost every pattern in the Fellowship of the Rings series since. (You can see them in the “Lord of the Rings Knitting” category here on the blog.) They’ve almost all had some kind of major problem (not the designer’s fault): felting gone terribly wrong, fit issues, practicality problems. The few that turned out really awesome were small pieces that I gave away. I still loved these patterns, and Rohan had been a favorite, but I knew it was time to stop just making the things I saw because I liked the picture, or the idea, or because I wanted to finish a whole book or series. If I still wanted to make it, I needed to drastically change it to make it actually fit my life, and do so with a higher level of care to make it successful.

In the meantime, I’d read most of the works of Elizabeth Zimmermann. I folded myself into her witty prose, which is somehow challenging and comforting at the same time. I hatched the idea to knit the first design she self-published: a yoke sweater in Wool Gatherings #1. Eventually I put those ideas together. Before Bayboo was born, I had planned and swatched for this fabulous idea.

DSC00199

I also changed the large “shield” motifs significantly. The original pattern had 3 and 4 colors in the shields, and I realized pretty quickly that I’d be miserable knitting them. After some trial and error, I chose two of the shields and redesigned them thusly. The third color (pink in the bottom shield and red in the top) was added in duplicate stitch.

Then, when I was a few inches into the bottom of the sweater body, I came across the work of Amy Herzog. I bought Fit to Flatter and read it cover to cover. I found her work extremely logical and straightforward, and was keen to apply it right away. Right away – just a few weeks after giving birth.

It was a risk to fit a project around an immediately post-partum body – in a way, it was genuinely unwise. But I knew exactly what I was saying to myself by fitting myself at that moment: I love my body now. I appreciate what my body has done, and I embrace and accept this body as it is right now. I am casting on an heirloom project in the size I am now. My body may change, but even if it does, my basic dissatisfaction with my body won’t change unless I accept myself as I am.

DSC00194

Hence, Rohan Zimmerzog. A shawl pattern applied to a Zimmerman pattern, fitted with Herzog ideas. What’s the verdict?

Well, I made a couple of rookie mistakes. I point these out not to criticize myself, because I think it worked out anyway, but to record my learning process.

First, I knit the fair isle section in the same needle size as the stockinette section. I did swatch and wash, and the numbers came out the same when I measured it, but I should have known better. The stitches looked bigger. As a result, this oversized sweater is even more oversized in the bust and shoulder area.

Second, I combined sillouettes in a way that didn’t quite work. Zimmermann’s pattern was written in the 60’s; it’s a 60’s-style sweater that’s fairly fitted in the bust but has no shaping. There’s a sharp little increase of stitches above the bottom ribbing that gives it a bit of a pooch out; that’s all part of that look. I did that little increase of stitches… then added waist shaping, and made it really long. To be honest, I sort of suspected this was going to be an odd combination while I was doing it, but I was honestly not sure. I was trying something new, and I still have a lot to learn about sillouettes. In sum, if I do waist shaping like that again, I’m not going to add the above-ribbing increase. The ribbing+pooch+no shaping is its own look.

DSC00191

As you can see, the sweater came out quite oversized. I’m really okay with that; I wanted a comfortable sweater that I would actually want to throw on. I wanted a sweater in which I could move around, bend over, carry kids, wash the dishes. I planned for about 3″ of ease, but between body changes, and gauge changes, I ended up with 12″. It makes it look a little bulky when totally buttoned up, as above, but it also means I can wear it over just about everything. In this picture I’m wearing it over a flannel shirt and a tank top.

(It’s -11 C today though. That’s not really that cold for up here, but I was really flipping cold in these pics. Mitts are important.)

DSC00192

Realistically, most of the time I’ll be wearing it like this. This is why I made a cardigan: I need the venting of an open front. I don’t keep pullovers on for more than half an hour. There’s ample fabric, but since it’s fingering weight, it doesn’t look bulky. It hangs nicely and doesn’t mind folding and flapping about.

DSC00201

I took a lot of care in finishing, lingering until I’d worked out exactly what I wanted to do. At my friend Gayle’s suggestion, I added a ribbon to cover the steek instead of sewing it down as I normally have. I found this ribbon with silver details at our local Nunavut craft store, and even though the colors don’t exactly fit, the feel of the design was just so Rohan. It’s a little bit of illogical flash and it’s all mine. The buttons came from there too.

This ribbon was too scratchy to have around my neck, though, and I definitely wanted some stability in the neckline. The single thickness of stockinette fabric just needs some support to carry the sweater, with the circular decreases so close to the top threatening to stretch it out. Sewing stash to the rescue! I found some bias tape in my box which I had planned to use for Jared’s cassock and forgot – little did I know it was not black, but dark plum. It looks so gorgeous with the yellow that I want to do another project just riffing on those two colors together.

I held some embroidery floss with the yarn in the bind offs, hopefully adding some resistance to friction in this notoriously fragile woolen yarn. By the time I was steeking, I was deep into the work of Kate Davies, and she waxes rhapsodic about I-cord buttonholes. So this work concluded with yet another designer’s influence added.

DSC00196

All the lingering, adjusting, pausing and waiting and changing my mind, made the entire process feel much more artistic. At least, that’s the word I applied to it. I wondered, is this what’s involved in taking a craft and making it more into an art form? I won’t say “elevating;” I believe neither in a sharp dichotomy between art and craft nor in a value judgment of one against the other. It’s just that I’ve always put myself squarely on the “craft” end of the spectrum: I was making things because I wanted to have them, generally using the ideas of others. But was this beginning to be art?

After discussing the question with my sister, who is an actual visual artist, I’m not sure. This piece is certainly an expression of myself, but it’s not meant to communicate anything to anyone other than myself. It’s more that I’m learning to craft with love, instead of just knitting as a form of consumerism. I’m backing away from making what I see in a picture. I’m trying to be more mindful of what knits I actually use and love, and attempting to make them to fit my life and my body. I’m not trying to copy the products and experiences of makers I love, but I’m ingesting their ideas and testing them out, asking an open question of whether they work for me. I hope this means making with love, and that this represents a little more reflection and love in the rest of my life.

DSC00193

Not to make it all about loving myself. But accepting love – unconditional love from God, and undeserved and forgiving love from the people closest to you – is a prerequisite to loving others well. That’s what I need more of. I strongly suspect that we all do, all the time.

Balance vs. Equilibrium

After a passing comment in my last post, I’ve been reflecting a little on my dislike of the word “balance.” The context in which I dislike it is the way it is used to describe the overwhelmed life of the parent. As in, finding the balance between work, home, activities, self-care, etc.

Parents I admire and respect speak this way. I have nothing against them. What I personally dislike – what invokes a visceral response of supressed resentment in my soul – is the image that pops up in my mind from the phrase.

I picture a mom, on a tightrope, over Niagara Falls. She is holding a pole, which is supposed to help her balance, but instead it’s a carrying device. Somehow, between loads situated on either end of the pole, and perhaps another pack on her back and another on her head, she is able to bear everything across the rope. To do so, she must maintain a zen-like composure and concentration. This is possible because of her confidence that she can, indeed, make this crossing, because otherwise why would she be stupid enough to try?

The idea of balance rubs me the wrong way because it perpetuates a well-worn fiction in my mind that if I adjust my boundaries just right, I could do it all. It’s all my responsibility. I could do it all with composure, and without assistance. I know this is dumb, but I do it anyway.

When I was writing that last post, it occurred to me to use the word “equilibrium.” I learned this word in chemistry class. The idea is, whenever chemically reactive substances are put in the same container, they will react together in whatever way they do until they expend each other, reaching equilibrium. No matter what you add, the solution will seek equilibrium. It’s inevitable.

My life feels more like that: a closed container with a whole lot of reactive ingredients thrown in. The best thing I can do is keep the lid open so the pressure doesn’t build up too much. Every now and then something rises to the top and I can pour it off, or something else gets added to change the equation. It’s always bubbling away, with a greater or lesser amount of chaos, but it’s always seeking equilibrium, no matter how good a job I am doing at positioning things. I just don’t have that much control over how things slosh around in there.

Another way of describing the chemical state of equilibrium is peace. That’s what I’m actually looking for. It doesn’t actually matter if I carry all the things from A to B. What matters in both the short and long term is how I carry myself through the chaos. And with that goal in mind, a posture of perfect poise is not that practical. A more effective posture is on my knees.

A peaceful moment this morning. We are so blessed with girls who love books and love reading to each other. Will this be the year of books?

I don’t know if changing a metaphor will change my heart, or let me live closer to what I know to be true. But writing it out at least lets me explain what I’m trying to do. Please speak however is most useful and true to you, without worrying about triggering a spew of vitriol from me. If I make a face, I promise I’m not judging you. It’s me, trying to keep an eye on my expectations of myself, to make try to be kinder to myself – so hopefully I can be kinder to you, too.

Control vs. Hard Work

I’ve been engaging more deeply this fall with my job of raising small humans and caring for the physical needs of my family. It’s a complete renegotiation of self-control, self-gift, boundaries, and time. I’m looking for my equilibrium, knowing there will always be fluctuations in the equation.

At the same time, there’s been a theme in my spinning. I keep finding myself spinning woolen prep worsted style.

For the non-spinners in my readership: there are two basic ways that handspinners turn fluffy wool into strands of wool, that we can turn into yarn any number of ways. Those two techniques are called woolen and worsted. Complementarily, there are two basic ways that wool can be prepped into ready-to-spin fluffiness. They are also called woolen and worsted. Two very different things: the way wool is processed before spinning, and the techniques the hands use to spin, but matched with the same names.

Worsted prep and worsted spinning go together to make worsted yarn. The worsted preparation of the wool lines up the fibers next to each other so they are organized and parallel. The spinning technique uses short, controlled movements to take advantage of that preparation, making a yarn that is even, smooth, dense, and even a little shiny. It’s a yarn of control and strength.

Woolen yarn and woolen spinning go together to make woolen yarn. Woolen prep of wool gets them in a nice ready-to-spin state (usually some kind of strip or tube), but they are not organized. They are jumbled and airy. The woolen spinning technique uses long, instinctive movements to take advantage of that preparation, making a yarn that is airy, fluffy, matte, and warm, if also relatively lumpy and fragile. It’s a yarn of intuition and warmth.

That is the basic dichotomy. Both kinds of yarn are important and wonderful. Most spinners try to acquire both skill sets at some point.

Spinners, however, being artists, technicians, experimenters, and nerds, do like to mix and match. That’s the delight of making your own yarn: you can do whatever the heck you want. You can spin woolen prep with a worsted draft, or the reverse. There was a whole issue of PLY magazine about it.

Lately, I’ve found myself spinning a lot of woolen prep with a worsted drafting technique.

What that means, as you can now understand, is that I’m taking a very disorganized jumble of fibers, and spinning it with short, controlled movements. But jumbled fibers, even when spun with controlled movements, are never going to become a smooth, shiny, dense worsted yarn.

What they do become is something really wonderful. When you take the inherent zaniness of woolen prep – even a really crazy art batt like the one my mom just gave me – and carefully spin it into even, worsted singles, you get a yarn ready for conventional knitting, but with so much texture and character.

The end result is worth it. But in the process, when I’m doing that worsted spinning on a woolen prep, it’s a bit of a negotiation. My hands, doing the woolen thing, want to see an even singles coming out between my hands. I’m always double checking myself: am I going too thin or thick? Am I letting in too many bumps? The wool itself, meanwhile, is constantly jumping from thick to thin, or between textures, with very little concern about what I want.

The key is to just relax and do the work. I don’t want to control this wool into perfection. That’s not the look I’m going for. I want this yarn to be more interesting, to have a little more character than a totally worsted singles. I know that because I’m using a controlled draft, it will come out as even as I need it to.

When I was first married, I had a really weird relationship with housework and order. I’d grown up in a very tidy house, but was not very tidy myself. I did my best to keep house, but without the inclination or skill set, there just wasn’t any reason to keep really clean except to be neurotic and controlling. I’ve let go of a lot of that control now, as part of a long journey that is tied up with my mental health.

Now I’m doing something different. I’m keeping house, and working hard at it, but it’s for the sake of three tiny whirlwinds of joyful creativity, and their long-suffering daddy. I’m not cleaning to clean. I’m cleaning to give them a space for creativity and joy.

Going through those motions of housekeeping can make the old neuroses creep up. Don’t I want to keep going until the house feels perfect? Don’t I need to keep a certain standard? No. No, I really don’t.

This is what I’m trying to remember: I’m not trying to control anything. I’m just doing the work. I don’t want a perfect result. I want all the texture and mess and color and vibrancy that comes from children and their creativity and inquiry. I am cleaning the table so that they can make a mess in the morning. I am making food they like so that they will have the energy to go outside and get covered in mud.

It’s hard to remember. But then the yarn is plied, and it’s this glorious unique stuff I can’t wait to cast on. But then from the table emerges this costume piece made from sealskin scraps and glitter glue and pieces of tulle cut from an amazon gift bag, worn with a great big smile.

Equilibrium (I hate the word “balance”) is less a place you find and more of a wave you ride. I don’t really get it. I’m still falling off a lot.

But the great thing about a spinning metaphor is this: no matter how much you mess up, as long as you’re doing the work at all, you’ll end up with beautiful yarn. You can always work with what you get.

Club Mom: Sept/Oct Unboxing

With a finished yarn finally under my belt, and a little bit of creative mojo coming back in a busy season, Baby and I decided to open the next instalment of the Birthday fiber.

She’s working so hard on sitting up by herself, and really thinks she can help!

Staples aren’t quite her thing, though.

What is it?

It’s an art batt! A crazy, overstuffed, textured batt, with some amazing color combos going on. It’s got a lot of white and red and black and yellow and sparkle, but it stays grounded with the background of earthy green.

This color is practically a neutral in my wardrobe, so, win.

The provenance of this batt seems lost in the sands of time, as well as any information about its content. That doesn’t matter practically so much with an art batt; it’s made of so many things that have to be wrangled together that it doesn’t much help to know what specifically is in it. I can tell it’s mostly wool of various types, and there may be some alpaca in there, as well as some extruded cellulose fiber, silk maybe, and sparkly stuff. Sometimes you don’t have to get caught up in the names, and the stuff can just be itself without any boxes.

I’m really torn whether to wrestle this into submission as a textured two ply or to let it be an insane artyarn. We’ll see.

The Red Lantern

I set so many little goals while I was spinning this color study. Finish during Tour de Fleece! … finish the singles in July! … finish the eighth battling by the end of vacation!

Well, that’s ok. I’m glad I didn’t take my goals too seriously this summer. But I did set one last goal: finish this yarn by the end of September, before the next breed and color study officially starts.

I did it! It was a really dicey round of bobbin chicken at the end, but I squeezed it all on there.

Winding it on the niddy niddy made me realize that this spin wasn’t long just because Turkish spindles are slow (and I’m slow with them). It was also a good amount of yardage! There were at least two hundred turns on the niddy, though I’ll have to recount because we were watching Star Trek.

ok I’ve gone back and recounted now. 303 turns, and initial estimates put total yardage at 429 yards! No wonder it took forever. Perils of flying by the seat of your pants, I guess – no sampling, no control card, just me and my spindle and the open road.

I intentionally added plenty of ply twist, even though the singles were not excessively tight. This whole time I have been picturing this bouncy Targhee fiber in those squishy barber poles that first attracted me to handspinning. I knew from all I’d heard about Targhee that the stuff could take the twist. And who doesn’t love the moment when you take an overtwisted yarn off the niddy?

BOYOYOINNGGGGG

I just lurve that.

I confess, it was silly of me to use the word “hideous” in that last post. I was experiencing a moment of panic, seeing the way colors were matching up. Indeed, a whole skein of any one of these barber pole pairings would not be my jam. But the whole idea was to see the affect of many pairings together. Together, they do create the impression of wild paints speckled all over one another.

This are two of the pictures that inspired Katrina for this study – it’s from the Indian festival of Holi. Rachel had asked everyone to post pictures of what spring is like where they live. These were posted by dimsumdumpling (you can find her post here).

It’s true that most images of spring that I think of are very safe. Floral, pastel, natural. I’m so happy that Katrina went with something more wild and challenging, something that made us stare at it for a while without even an idea of what to do with it. Something made me take that idea and go even wilder with it; I wanted to see those colors mix and interact without losing their powerful brightness.

(Speaking of powerful brightness, I was very concerned that I’d allowed some overlap between the same or similar colors. But I think those solid sections really make the yarn, giving the eye something concrete to bounce off of amongst all that busy speckling. An effect to remember.)

It was spring when we began, and now it’s fall again. We’ve had some lovely snow already, and the days are getting darker. I’m awfully thankful to have this skein of brightness in my hands – from the opposite end of the year, dyed on the opposite end of the country, inspired by the opposite end of the world. I need a little perspective this time of year.

I expect to cast it on as soon as it’s completely dry.

Finally Finishing the Targhee Singles

I’ve been focused on other things lately, but this last week or so I finally found the spinning mojo to go back to my Turtle Made Turkish spindle. Which is a good thing, since there were only a couple of hours of spinning left in this project!

I had great fun twirling away, spinning while catching up with Rachel’s podcasts, often listening to her discussing this very fiber. (It’s the Targhee by CraftyJaks, for the Wool n’ Spinning color study, if I haven’t mentioned that lately.) For me, there’s no motivation like participation. Tonight I found myself with all my wee turtles completed.

I spun these cops in a very specific order, having lined up the battlings in such a way as to maximize barber poling and minimize matching. There was no way I would continue to keep them organized, however, when plying time came. So I decided to try a new-to-me technique: the plying ball.

It’s a pretty straightforward idea, though these videos from Abby Franquemont and Rachel Smith gave me some tips I wouldn’t have thought of. You’re basically just winding the two plies together ahead of time. It’s mostly useful for plying on a spindle, since you may be traveling with it, and when spindling you have enough juggling going on already. I just chose it because the singles had become complicated; at this point I’d rather ply on a wheel and just get it done.

Like I said, it’s awfully simple, but I was so entertained I kept taking pictures.

This was a great way to get some sense of how the colors will line up in plying. I was mostly successful in mixing up the colors dramatically, though I did break the singles to shake things up two times: once when the colors started changing in both plies at the same time (I wanted the changes to stagger), and another time when the coral and pink lined up. They were too similar and looked solid together, compared to the other more contrasting pairings. There were a couple of points where blues lined up; I thought that’d be inevitable since 3/8 of the fiber is blue or blue-green. But the two red-brights was too much change.

I plied for a little bit, and hoo boy. I signed up for color twisting and striping, and I’m getting what I asked for in spades. It’ll be a pity if the yarn ends up being hideous, but it’ll teach me a lot!

I am full of anticipation on this ply, but I’ll save the speculation. I hope it becomes something soon, so we can discuss what happened!