Restringing: My Mental Relationship with Stash

The below is an essay that is part of the Wool n’ Spinning book club. The club was initiated by Rachel Smith of Wool n’ Spinning, who you can find here: website, Patreon, YouTube, Ravelry. This essay was also posted in the Wool n’ Spinning book club thread here

Reading A Stash of One’s Own edited by Clara Parkes was a bit of an experience. I had not realized until I read this book how confined, stuffy, and limited my ideas were about my own stash. The sheer variety of perspectives in these essays was like opening windows on a musty old house, getting different flavored drafts of fresh air each time.

I’ve been thinking about stash a good bit this year, slowly realizing that my thoughts about my stash are largely limited by guilt. This is my own doing.

I am a recovering perfectionist and materialist, and from childhood have made all kinds of unrealistic lists of the things I would accomplish and/or buy. I don’t keep lists like that anymore, and I only rarely make irrelevant spreadsheets. But old habits die hard, and this one has found one hiding place: the amazing tool that is Ravelry. In “rav,” as we yarnies call it for short, I can keep all my stash entries, queue all the projects I like from my book and magazine stash, and imagine ticking through them one by one.

My stash seemed to happen all at once when I fell hard for knitting in 2009. Back when this blog started, the knitting world seemed like a cornucopia of potential experiences, and I wanted them all. Whenever my husband and I traveled, we’d find multiple yarn shops and buy yarn. Later we got adventurous and even sought out a few farms. Whenever one of us had a brilliant idea inspired by a book, we’d buy yarn. Soon I was a beginning spinner as well, and with the Maryland Sheep & Wool festival spitting distance away, buying fibre at that show of shows was an easy thing too. My stash grew with frightening speed, and though I often knit for eight hours a day, I realized after a couple of years that I might have a practical problem.

So I slowed down. I implemented a new policy sometime in 2010-11: I would only buy yarn when I had a specific project lined up for it. Our budget was drastically reduced with the start of seminary, so that helped. But here’s the trouble: I am still capable of planning, with fabulous specificity, far more projects than I have time to knit.

In theory, this policy was supposed to slow down yarn and fibre acquisition. In reality, it left me with a stash that was almost un-knittable. I still deceived myself: I would knit it all one day. I queued all those projects on Ravelry. But I didn’t knit them. And despite buying next to no yarn at all since 2013, my stash still shrinks at what seems like a very slow speed. (Insert previously rehearsed whinging about having kids.)

What I have been left with is a stash that feels like a burden. I open my cedar chest, or the boxes in my mom’s basement, and get a sinking feeling. I have pruned this stash down to stuff that I really love, and whenever am I going to get to it? The more I reflect on it, the more this seems obviously unhealthy. My relationship with my stash is out of tune. But how do I restring it? And once I have new strings, what key do I tune it to?

Ms. Parkes anthology gave me new perspectives to reflect on at three main points: the reconciling of the theory of perfection with the reality of inspiration, the ethics of stashing, and my shifting reasons for doing all of this crafting in the first place.

I was first struck by two essays: “Without a Stash” by Amy Herzog  (pp. 37-44), representing my ideal of stash-free perfection, and “Spinning Stash” by Jillian Moreno (pp. 115-122), a riotous celebration of shameless stash-supported inspiration. I felt caught between what seemed like two opposites, but actually, they revealed two paradoxically connected ways in which I have been lying to myself.

Amy’s essay is a perfect representation of where I ideally want to be with my stash. Amy had a stash once, and decided to knit through it. She got to a point where she decided to stop buying and knit through it, and here’s the incredible thing: she succeeded. I thought actually knitting through one’s stash was an impossible dream, but she did it. “It felt so amazing,” she says (p. 39), just like I always thought it would. I have wanted that for years now: to have fresh ideas, and be able to buy fresh yarn and fiber to produce them within the year.

In particular, it’s the stashing for specific projects that has failed me. Amy articulated the reason in words I could have written myself. “I don’t want to shackle tomorrow’s creativity to the place I’m in today” (44). She describes how her yarn “bound me to previous versions of myself” (40), and this is a literally accurate description of much of my stash. There are patterns I bought for that I simply do not have the type of time to produce, and only the most sentimental, obsessive desire to complete. I can’t knit ten intricate lace shawls, and in ten years when my kids are big I can again, why would I want to be knitting in my 40s from ideas I had in my 20s?

These are the best years of my life, right now. When I turn 40, what do I want to I want to look back when I see my crafting time, in particular? Do I want to see myself enslaved to the impulses of past? I think not.

It’s the patterns I’m talking about letting go of, really, not the yarn per se. I could knit through that sweater-quantity of green handspun a lot faster if I let go of the idea of knitting it up into a 6 x 2″ cabled stole which I will never wear, and instead knit it up into a cozy housecoat in a brainless stitch.

On the other hand was Jillian Moreno’s essay, which was the only essay specifically about a spinner’s stash. She has no shame about her abundant stash. I don’t mean “shameless” in that flaunting, wanton way that is fighting a secret shame, but genuinely joyful. Her stash is obviously an inspiration to her as an experimenter. She understands play, and the re-learning of play, which she describes in a scene that repeats in her classes when she dumps a giant fibre pile in the middle of the room and instructs her students to take one or two:

“Then there are those who gaze at the pile. They take just enough, maybe a little less. But they keep staring, and I know they need more. They don’t play enough, they don’t give enough to themselves. Sometimes I give them extra, and when I do, their whole self smiles and I hear, faintly, a sort of click. Something has unlocked. It’s a visceral and amazing process. As we work, my students keep diving into the stash. I see them change; they are free and joyous.” (p. 122)

It was clear, in reading this essay, that she couldn’t be wrong. Play is a weak area for me that I am still learning about. I am one of those students who needs that click.

She had to be right, but I didn’t know why, so I sifted through the possibilities. Spinning stash, I surmised, might be genuinely different. Fibre, unlike the committed yarn in my stash, can be anything. One braid of fiber can be spun in more ways than I could list. As a learning, experimenting spinner, having a stash of random braids makes one free to learn and play. Those big quantities of fibre for big projects are great too, but the sheer quantity makes me feel more pressure that the decision on how to use them be considered and practical. So really, I can stash small quantities of fibre so they are ready for inspiration and learning, but the yarn should be buy-and-use. Right?

Except that’s not really true either. This was demonstrated to me through a category of my stash that I acquired accidentally, and is a big part of why my stash doesn’t seem to shrink: inherited stash. I got a big pile of yarn from one friend who died, and one friend who moved away. I find myself using that stash a lot. Not only because I care about those people (I do), but because that yarn has no plans. I was given it en masse, but I only kept what I liked. I liked it, but I didn’t choose it, so I didn’t feel the need to make a plan for it. So when I want to knit something that fits in my life right now, I often slide past the bulk of my stash, married to its unusable plans, and grab a skein or ten of that inherited stash, which has no claim on it.

Obviously, yarn can become anything too. It’s me who decided it can’t be anything but the idea I bought it for a decade ago. Many of the essays describe how their stash is an inspiration to them, and I didn’t really understand that feeling. Rather, I thought I didn’t understand it. I’d stifled the creativity with my rigid plans, but I was accidentally inspired by the stash that evaded my control. The plans were fun to make, but I’m holding onto them so tightly that they are doing me no good.

So, conceptually, my ideas have shifted. There’s a reality to inspiration in the present that my stash needs to serve differently, and it can if I let it.

How about practically? What does this mean for stash acquisition? Should I spend more freely as I am inspired, singing “Que sera, sera! What will be, will be”? Should I continue to stash down, but with more liberated ideas for projects? How do I find moderation? Two more essays provided some guidance here.

Anna Maltz’s essay, “Morning Stash / Portable Stories” (pp. 79-88), gave me a good slap in the face. She says on p. 84, “An obsession with minimalism has always smacked to me of a romanticism of poverty … from a wealthy perspective.” Oh dear. Every copy of Real Simple magazine, and every spread curated around Martha Stewart, immediately leaped to mind. I don’t have much romance about poverty personally, having lived in it and currently living around a lot of it. But it struck me what a silly, privileged fantasy it is to be focused on having the perfect amount of not-too-much stuff. And what’s more, in my stashing down, I am absolutely thinking about getting through / getting rid of what I have for the promise of the enjoyment of more and different stuff. “The onus,” says Anna, “should be on not acquiring, rather than on throwing away or ‘letting go’ to make way for more new things (85).

Anna had positive things to say too, which pointed toward more balance in having a reasonable stash more driven by people than by consumption. But it was “Mark of the Hand, Mark of the Heart” by Kim McBrien Evans (pp. 165-170) that painted a positive vision that helped me see my habits more clearly. Kim has a house overflowing with yarn and fibre, a practical reality as a hand-dyer, but she talks about a special stash that is about more than that. It’s about people: primarily artists she’s patronized and students she’s taught.

Other essayists mentioned similar sentiments about stash and memory, but I connected with Kim particularly because of the childhood she described, growing up in a household of artists. Of her family trips, she says, “Summers were spent traveling from one artist’s studio to another, watching them create in their own unique environment. Every time I use one of the pieces gathered during that time, it’s a visit with that person” (166).

My mom seems to understand this. She comes from a long line of artists, and thinks like one. I was reminded of a crawl Mom and I took through western Maryland, patronizing various kinds of potters and fibre artists. Mom collects pottery, and over many years collected a place setting from each one of her favorite artists until she now has a collection that will set the whole table, each setting different. There’s no unity except that it’s all pottery, it’s all beautiful, and it’s loads of fun to use.

She shops for yarn like that too, I think. She buys beautiful things often without a firm grasp on what they will become, and most of it hangs on her wall, carefully arranged for maximum inspiration. My dad, too, decorates the walls of his impressive man-cave with trains that will one day live on his garden railroad track, and various train- or mine-related historical paraphernalia.

Me, I can’t hang yarn on walls in ways that seem at all tasteful. Actually, I am too full of self-doubt to hang much of anything on a wall that doesn’t serve an obvious practical purpose. To me, the colorful wall-stash seems like an impractical mess. How will this lead to practical, inoffensive wardrobe staples? But she isn’t making wardrobe staples. She’s making wearable art, and she does it for herself, exactly how she likes. And along the way, she has collaborated with the inspiration of countless others. (She’s going to comment on this post, eventually, too, so hopefully we’ll find out what she’s actually thinking, and not just what I guess.)

When I visited yarn producers in my yarn-crawling past, I have had those conversations. I have heard those stories. But when I reflect on those visits, I was distracted with how that store can serve me. I wasn’t really focused on the person I was conversing with. I was going through my mental catalogue of patterns, so I could come up with the practical plan that will be the excuse for that acquisition. I’ve learned a lot about myself in the intervening years, and how to break through the haze of my own insecurity and really connect with someone. What I haven’t practiced yet is how to let that connection become an inspiration, served by patronizing that artist. I’ve had a taste of it, shopping a little bit from Katrina and her mum at CraftyJaks. She’s such an open-hearted open book about her inspiration that it seems impossible not to be inspired by her work. But this is the first time for me that a personal connection has led naturally for me into buying a product, without worrying overmuch about the expenditure or the plan. Not coincidentally, hers is the first fibre club I am seriously considering signing up for.

So, where does that leave me? It leaves me feeling freed. I don’t need to acquire more; with a baby coming, large acquisitions at this point are probably just about something else. But if I can just enjoy the people who make, during those few and special occasions when I get to connect with them, I can patronize them freely without worrying about the future. I am also ready to free my stash: it’s time to burn my queue, rip out the truncated start to Argonath, and just cast on a plain sweater I know I will knit and love now.

The one overriding theme? The stash is not about the stash. It’s about people, listening, and love. It’s about play, creativity, and learning. It’s about the craft.

I can’t take any of it with me when I die. But it can be a part of the mark I leave behind: a way to remember the connections I made. The tone was set by Meg Swansen’s opening essay about her mother, “Inheriting from Elizabeth Zimmerman” (pp. 11-16) which included a report of the shocking quantity of tidbits and detritus left in the wake of her furiously active crafting mind. Those tidbits were saved and passed on because they reminded many dozens of knitters of how she touched their lives, empowered them, even loved them, through and in and alongside her work. The stuff can’t be about the stuff. There’s no shame in leaving things behind. It won’t matter to us either way, will it? But it will all end up in the dustbin of my offspring unless they have a reason to keep it: because it’s an artifact of love. A way to reach back and touch someone who meant much more to them than stuff.

This Olympiad

The 2018 Winter Olympics is halfway over, and you haven’t heard a peep from me! Well, here that is. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you also follow me on Instagram or Facebook, where I have been anything but silent. It’s time for a proper update, now that I’m deep into my Olympic projects. Apologies that this is mostly a longer narrative version of my Instagram feed, but it helps me process, so thanks in advance for reading!

If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that I love the Olympics. I’m not a sports-watcher habitually, but two and a half weeks is just the right slice of time to capture my obsessive attention, and the promise of a massive sampling of different sports at their peak means I am hooked. I get particularly into the figure skating, since that was a big part of my past.

Since 2010, I’ve also participated in the Knitting Olympics/Ravelympics/Ravellenic Games. It’s a perfect opportunity to knock out something big that is important to me, to give my devoted attention to a project that seems unreachable or overwhelming at other times.

This time around, I’m having to dial down my expectations more than ever. I can’t afford to get as obsessed as I usually do, and I honestly wouldn’t want to. The theme in my crafting these days is that I have to be thoughtful and selective to choose a project that fits into my life, rather than picking a project on impulse and then shoehorning my life around it. Small children do not like being shoehorned. Especially shoehorned around things, because that’s a completely incorrect use of that metaphor, and my intelligent children do not approve.

After finishing Martha’s kamiik*, I realized that I didn’t want to start another big knitting project. My life in the north has led to me purchasing the materials to make kamiit for my whole family, and some of those materials are time sensitive. More

I did pick a knitting project to work on in the background. I haven’t knit anything for baby #3, and now that we’re really sure she’s a girl, it’s time to remedy that. I’m making her a Tomten, a classic Elizabeth Zimmerman pattern from her 7th leaflet, published in 1961 (when my mum was two years old!) I was especially inspired by the colorful one pictured on page 44 of The Opinionated Knitter.

I’m not trying to replicate it, but I’m throwing a lot of slipped stitch patterns into the transition areas between garter stitch stripes, just to see what they do.

With one week to go, I’m about halfway up the hood. Pretty much on pace. Made from pretty bits of coordinating Cascade 220 unearthed from my leftovers stash.

As far as the kamiit go, here’s my plan. Making the outside layer is not something that I can control the timing of, because I stop and start depending on when I can get to the help I need for each step of the process. I have almost all the pattern pieces I need to cut skins, but not quite all. And I’m going to have to get together with someone to learn how to stretch a dried out skin before I’m ready to cut it.

But as you probably noticed from Martha’s kamiik, there’s more layers to a pair than just the sealskin part. Different folks have different techniques, for sure, but the fairly consistent practice that I’ve heard from my local friends is that you have four layers:
1) Duffel socks, or aliqsiik (same word for other kinds of socks). These are the innermost layer and go from the foot all the way up to the knee or past the knee. This is the layer that gets embroidered with flowers sometimes. They’re usually made from wool duffel, which is a very thick wool felt with an internal woven structure to it. I love this stuff; it almost makes me fantasize about weaving and felting it myself. (almost.)
2) Duffel slippers (I know I’ve been told the word for slippers but I’ve forgotten/lost it; I’m hoping someone will jump in and remind me?). This is a layer of just the foot, shaped only a little different from the foot of the sock, and it’s usually also made from wool duffel.
3) Sealskin slippers – similar to the duffel slippers in shape (maybe a little taller over the ankle?), they slide over the wool duffel. I’ve heard different opinions about whether this should be tanned sealskin or natural home-tanned, but the natural is generally agreed to be more water resistant.
4) On the outside is the sealskin layer, the most difficult and interesting to make. The legs are made out of different materials depending on the style, but the sole is usually made from the skin of a bearded seal or ugjuk. These are the biggest kind of seal in this region, with tough black hides.

For M, I only made layers 1 and 4. After I finished layer 1, I realized they only just fit inside layer 4, and I wouldn’t be able to fit the other layers, even though I’d already put together a layer 2. File that under “don’t worry about it, she’s 2.”

Layer 1 with Layer 2, right after I sewed them up. From these I learned, (a) you don’t use regular thread for this, but a stronger waxed thread, and (b) check your sizes in advance. Not only could I not fit both layers in M’s layer 4, but I had to take layer 1 apart and resize it just to fit in.

My limiting factors are two: the impending baby turning up in April, and the white sealskin I purchased in November, which I should really use ASAP. I particularly love the style of kamiik with white legs, usually worn by women. I hadn’t known where to find the white skin, so I snapped one up when I found it at a trade show. But what I didn’t quite realize is that it will turn yellow with time, and you want to sew with it as soon as possible.

This has resulted in my overall goal, which is to finish kamiit for myself and N before baby comes. They are the two that will use that one white skin. This is a seriously tall order and I don’t know if it’s going to happen, but of all the things I could get distracted by in these last two months before baby comes, this one is definitely worth it. So I’m going to try as best as I can.

My goal for this Olympic games is to finish layers 1-3 for N, and layer 3 for myself. (Bonus points to make layers 2-3 for Jared.) These inner layers are much more manageable to work on by myself, and if I get them done, then I can focus all my attention on the more difficult layer 4.

I had a promising start to the games, as within a couple of days I had N’s duffel socks cut and sewn together. But in my rush, I hadn’t waited for a pattern for her actual size; I adapted the patterns I had for M’s size. I also had not learned best practices with cutting a fabric as thick as duffel. To get all the pieces even, I had to trim and fuss until they only just fit her. The top of the feet were also slightly too short for the bottoms, with the architectural result of turned-up toes. And the legs were not too too short, but they only came up to her mid-knees.

It was livable. But they’d only fit her for this spring, and I’d have to make her new ones if I wanted her to keep wearing them in the fall. Disheartening. I didn’t think I was rushing when I actually did it, but it was a bit rush-y to not wait two more days ’till I could get patterns.

And boy, did I get patterns.

Monday night, Siipa brought all her patterns to the women’s group. I plunked myself on the floor next to her, and we went through them all ’till we found most of the pieces for the right sizes for me and N. Actually, she and Elisapee kept passing me sizes ’till I have enough to keep me sewing ’till they’re twelve.

I wish I’d taken a picture, but I’m always leery of photographing and sharing other people’s business. These patterns were traced on all kinds of things, from old cereal boxes to homework, and had obviously been used to make countless pairs of sealskin boots, duffel socks, and slippers. I felt like I was inside some kind of vault in the Library of Congress. I traced them all on a large sheet of nice brown paper and brought them home to cut out.

The next day, I went over to Elisapee’s house, where she had a special treat for me: a beautiful brown sheepskin that she found at a rummage sale. She had me use the whole thing to make new duffel sock bottoms for N. It was very helpful to cut out pieces with her. The way I learned to sew, you pin the patterns to the pieces, often multiple layers, and cut around the paper. This just isn’t practical when your fabric is this thick. One layer at a time, you trace the pattern onto the fabric, cut, fold it in half and trim to make sure it’s perfectly symmetrical, then use that piece as a guide to trace the other pieces. Yet another piece of wisdom I could only pick up by spending time crafting with others.

The sheepskin is really wonderful. I sewed it up and tried it on N, and she didn’t want to take them off. Here’s the problem: the duffel bottoms I made were too small; these duffel bottoms are too big! Like, a couple inches too big. And I couldn’t just adapt them into slippers, because they have a slightly different shape.

I puzzled and puzzled over what to do next. Jane, my facebook sewing angel, had some good advice on how I could fix my too-short, too-small duffel sock tops, and I was all set to follow it, when I had the two tops on top of each other, and noticed something: one sock was nearly an inch shorter than the other!

Still not unfixable, but I was a little fed up. I have the blessing of a fabric store in town, so I’ll go back there on Monday to get more duffel wool to cut new sock tops. I’m going to run with the too-big sock bottoms, and attach them to proportionally sized legs, embroidery and all. I’m hoping they fit her like that next winter. For now, enter M’s redundant layer 2: the little slippers I made for M and couldn’t use fit just right on N’s feet now. I trimmed them a bit so they fit just right in the sealskin sock bottoms, and went a little crazy on the decorative embroidery.

At present, on day 10 of the Olympics, the goal of finishing all those layers is not looking very realistic. But I have made progress, even though it’s two steps forward and one step back. I have learned a lot. I have learned, again, that I can’t push or rush a process like this, when I am still such a beginner. I have that problem of not knowing what I don’t know. I know a lot of sewing basics, but they just don’t all apply to this case. And the nature of sewing all these pieces by hand is just different, and is forcing me to thick about the architecture of how these pieces go together. So, easy does it. Stay alert, but take my time, and accept that some things will have to be redone.

Stopping before I hurt myself: N’s actual layer 2, with the brown sheepskin foot tucked into it. I’ll embroider it too… after I have someone look at it to make sure the shape of the top edge is correct.

And tomorrow, it’s back to the fabric store.

*If you’re wondering about the vocabulary, plurals in Inuktitut work differently than in English. The singular is kamik, but if you’re talking about two of something, it ends in -iik, and for three or more, -iit. So I talk about kamiik when referring to a specific pair of kamiik, and kamiit when I’m referring to more than one pair (four or more actual boots). There’s you’re Inuktitut grammar insight for the day.

A Priest Crafts Episode 6: Longdraw and Limits

It’s been a few months, but I have some progress to share on my spinning (big progress!) and lots of rambling to do about it.

The fiber I am spinning in this show is a hand-carded blend of Shetland wool – Natural White top from Jamieson & Smith which I dyed with pokeberries umpteen years ago – blended with some black alpaca local to my mom. Total of 23-24 oz of fiber. The Ravelry page for this spin is here.

I mentioned a Wool N’ Spinning video in which different wheels were discussed, as well as the concept of “outgrowing” a wheel. That was a super-helpful discussion and it was in Rachel’s most recent episode, number 88. Watch here. Of course the first thing I did after watching that video was check out the specs on the Majacraft Susie Pro, which is pretty much the opposite of what she was saying! I hope I do not come across as complaining. I think what you see in this video is me struggling with the process of accepting my tools. I will have to decide whether to continue making the most of what I have and being content, or to invest in something different.

There are a LOT of videos on youtube about long draw. The most helpful videos I found (actually, which I was directed to by a fellow Wool n’ Spinning member), which led to a real “aha” moment for me, were two videos of Stephanie Gaustad: first and second. The audio is quiet, but it’s worth turning it up to hear what she’s saying as well. I can see now that she’s definitely doing more double drafting – drafting out and then drafting it thinner while the twist is going into it. I’m only starting to do that more as I get a feel for it, now toward the end of this spin!

I realize this video doesn’t have much of a reflection piece in it. I thought about adding one, but it was already getting pretty long, and the things I have to reflect about – being at home full time, how my crafting life is changing with that – those thoughts are still in process and not ready to be shared. This is more part of a larger conversation that seems to be going on in the fiber/yarn community (and in my corner of it) about stashing, tools, and materialism, and how we handle it.

Thanks very much for watching, and I’m looking forward to showing you a big pile of finished yarn very soon!

You Don’t Need to Know

I am a planner. I enjoy anticipating the future. I’m an Enneagram 7, and my Enneathought often reminds me that I get so focused on the future that I cause myself and others pain with my lack of presence in the present.

I have been aware of this about myself for a long time. I remember when I was first discovering Star Wars, in my early teens, I heard Yoda say of Luke, “All his life has he looked away, towards the future, towards the horizon. Never his mind on where he was, what he was doing.” I knew, profoundly, that those words described me. And I never knew what I could do about it.

Advent is all about the anticipation. Both in the Christian and secular worlds, we are looking forward with joy. As you might imagine, I usually enjoy this mightily! Or, at least, I enjoy anticipating it, sometime in November- my actual practice peters out. How’s that for case-in-point irony? Still, I enjoy the spirit of the season. I love the making and planning that goes into getting ready for Christmas.

But this year, I discovered, there are two kinds of anticipation. The kind I like is anticipating a future you know, or think you know. When you can hold a picture of the future in your mind, you can plan for it, strategize for it, and generally use your own agency to mold that picture of the future to your desire.

But what about when the future is a blank? What about when you don’t know what is coming? Or when you don’t know what it will be like? Or when you know it will be different, and have very little control over how? Anticipating a future that is unknown can be exciting, but it can also be terrifying. I can only imagine what it’s like when your future is unknown because of unreliable family members, or an ominous medical diagnosis or event. When your present involves a lot of hard work and discomfort, and the future promises even more and unknown hard work and discomfort, this may carry a certain dread.

That is where I found myself at the beginning of Advent. A lot of changes are in my future, and the specifics about most of them are unknown. This is true long term, but also short term, in the planning of Christmas services, the drama of dealing with unknowns was a recurring cycle. Even in daily life with kids, both at an age of transition and boundary-pushing, my planning and routine can only go so far in leading to mutual enjoyment.

It all came to a head for me when I as helping plan an ecumenical Christmas service early in Advent. Communicating and collaborating across cultures, churches, and languages is always a bit of work, but a few extra challenges were thrown in at the last minute. My repeated attempts to plan were thwarted and sometimes did more harm than good. After a couple of years my expectations have come a long way in adjusting to my context, but I was left frankly not knowing if I’d even be able to do my bit.

Then, it was fine. It was all fine. Yeah, some bits got lost in the shuffle, but people are used to these things up here and were gracious. I found out three hours before the service how my bit was going to go, but everyone that I solely was responsible for communicating with uses texting. It was enjoyable. It was a bit haphazard, but the overall effect was feeling relaxed. It was fine.

The lesson I carried away from that night was, you don’t need to know. There are lots of things I feel I need to know in order to carry out my various responsibilities well. I assume that control is an important part of leadership. But, well, it’s not.

The really surprising thing was, by the time Christmas Eve services rolled around, I had actually internalized this lesson. There were some major wrenches thrown into our planning process that we thought would make it all even harder than usual. But they didn’t. More work with less stress, Jared and I discovered, is easier. As the weekend approached, we were nose to the grindstone, but we were sleeping. We were okay.

It all came to a head again at the family service, which was my main bag this year, and involved coordinating and directing a Nativity Play, which is way outside my experience. I had a solid team with me and had observed the process before, but I was still nervous. And you know Nativity Plays… they’re fun, but do not go well with a type-A personality. I was determined to go in well-armed with support, preparation, and a good attitude, but there was just no way for me to picture how it would go.

And you know what’s coming next: it was fine. More than fine; it was fun. Everyone involved seemed to have a blast, or at least said so afterwards and seemed to mean it. I even enjoyed it. The usual quota of things went wrong, some adorably and some less so. But they were all just my people being themselves. And I loved that.

Maybe it was because I was the director who couldn’t give any direction. I was also leading the service, so I spent the play visibly on the stage. Aside from a couple of significant looks, I just had to let folks do their thing, and I knew that the best way I could help was to smile, have an encouraging look on my face, and appear as genuinely as possible to be enjoying myself. It turns out that this wasn’t that hard, because I love my people, and I delight in watching them be themselves. In fact, having no other control over them was a gift.

Responsibility without influence is impossible. It’s a recipe for burnout. But responsibility without control is normal. The actual line between those two, and where my psyche thinks it is, are not the same, but by the grace of God are getting closer.

Now the services are over, the gifts are opened, the pressure is off for a little bit. My imagination is free to explore the future with less weight on my explorations. I wonder again about what is coming, and I wonder if my wondering has changed.

I tried to plan this Advent. Heck, I tried to plan this year. But I couldn’t. The Holy Spirit was not forthcoming, except to say, “something will come up.” I couldn’t pick themes for study or planning, except in my own invention, and I knew that was pointless, so I didn’t bother. In so doing, the year’s theme found me: not knowing. By means of a whole lot of safe, gracious discomfort, I am encouraged to realize I have been made to learn something.

I don’t know the future, but I know God is in it. And it will be okay.

All is well.

From the ordination service in the Canadian Book of Common Prayer 196, before the laundry list of responsibilities of a priest (which I find applies to the analogously overwhelming demands of parenting, or general adulting):

However, being that ye cannot have a mind and will in yourself to do all these things; for that will and ability is given of God alone. Therefore ye ought, and have need, to pray earnestly for his Holy Spirit.” (Slightly paraphrased, emphasis mine)

We Are All Still Here

Made pies with cranky cabin-fevered children this morning, and I asked myself, why? Why do I bust my butt every year to have American Thanksgiving in Canada? Why do I make all these dishes and clean the house in the middle of what inevitably becomes an outlandishly busy week?

I figured it out today. It's because Thanksgiving is a time when our family gets together, looks at each other, and says "we're all still here." We might still be weird and stressed and disagree with each other's politics and life choices, but we're here.

And of course, we are not. We're thousands of miles away.

So I bring my family north. I make my grandma's apple sausage stuffing. I make my mother-in-law's yam bake, with the mushrooms on top that made the sweet potato thing my moms favorite. And a ton of gravy, without which the whole feast is pointless for my dad.

I bring these things to the northern friends who have become our family. And I'll take them with me when we go. The green bean casserole with cashew cream for the dairy-freesters always present is now "my" green bean casserole recipe, since I've made it three years. My friends bread machine bun recipe is the ONLY bun recipe. And mashed potatoes have been traded for deep fried potatoes that appear at a holiday party wherever my bishop and his family do.

So that's why I am doing it. For my family far away that is so supportive, but once in a long while I miss till it hurts. And for my friends up here, who would laugh if I apologized for the state of my floors, and then do all the dishes. It's worth one hectic week.

A Priest Crafts Episode 5: Carding and Rambling

Good day, friends.

That last post exorcised whatever was holding me back from crafting at all, and I’ve tentatively picked up a few things. I’ve even found some time to make a new vlog post for you.

Believe it or not, after that post asking which project I should start next, I decided on the big carding effort. I got through six whole ounces of carding before I petered out, but now I’m motivated to pick it back up. In this video I talk about and demonstrate some of that carding project, and I talk about some of these big life changes during a complicated time of year.

I think I was really sleepy when I recorded this – sleepier than I realized. Some things going on with the kids have meant even less sleep than usual, so please forgive me if I look half-asleep. I know I ramble on even more than usual! But it was a lot of fun for me to share this with you, so I hope you enjoy it.

Hand Carding Resources:

If you’re new to hand carding, I hope my little demo piqued your interest. But please get more input than what I have to say.

Beth Smith’s book, The Spinner’s Book of Fleece, got me started. There are great basic introductions in this book to several fleece processing techniques, and of course a ton of info about spinning boku varieties of wool.

This tutorial, “Wool Carding and Combing” from Interweave is a long, free PDF. It has a more detailed introduction to both topics and I recommend reading it carefully.

Specifically on the topic of blending using handcards, Knitty had a great article on the subject in their Spring 2007 by Lorraine Smith: “Carding Beautiful Blends”.  But if you just google “blending with handcards,” you’ll find several lovely articles and blog posts to inspire you.

Additionally, get on YouTube and search for some handcarding videos. I did not do this myself as I found the still images were enough for me, but Beth Smith herself in her book recommends looking up some videos. If you find some you think are particularly helpful, would you please share in the comments?

Other Notes:

Rachel Smith is Wool N’ Spinning. Here is her blog, her youtube channel, her patreon, and the ravelry group. I know I’ve shared her stuff a lot, but right now her show is most of what is keeping me motivated to spin and prep, so I’m going to keep giving her shout outs.

Here is the blog post about the new color study. I love that Lakeside colorway too.

(Also, how cool is this! Rachel just posted the “Spinner’s Spotlight” bio I wrote for her.)

Katrina is CraftyJAKs. Here is her website, and her etsy shop.

And also a big shout-out to my mom, Linda. She did an awesome job at the Maryland Alpaca Festival this weekend. I always have her button in my sidebar to the left, but in case you didn’t know, she’s Colorstorms. She’s recently mastered indigo dyeing. She dyes yarn with only natural ingredients, and her colors get more saturated, colorfast, and lightfast every year.

What do you call pink + black? Hopefully not “plaque.” Happy crafting!

Not the Next Post I Thought I’d Write

So I have good news and… odd news.

The good news is, we're expecting again. Yay! Babies! To answer all the questions you are too polite to ask: 15.5 weeks at present, due mid-April; for sure just one; everyone says it's going to be a boy, but we'll find out (if possible) next month.

The other news… not bad, but just strange… is that I haven't been knitting. Or spinning. Or sewing. For a solid month now.

This baby, bless him/her, has been a bit of a personality transplant. I haven't been very nauseous (though I was more so six weeks ago), but I've had a sort of low-level feeling of illness that I can ignore most of the time by keeping busy. I only notice it when I sit down to knit.

That's right: knitting makes me sick.

The even weirder part is, I haven't missed it. It isn't as if I wanted to do all these crafty things and couldn't; for a while there, I didn't even remember why I would want to do something like that. 

The bit of knitting that has been sitting on the side table, staring at me with the empty eyes of an accusing cow. I finally had to put it away in a drawer because I would feel sick just looking at it. I don't even want to show you this picture, because, blegh.

 

The handspun I made in August for M's vest. I started thinking it was the colors – orange plus blue? But I think cause and effect has worked the other way. Because this project has been making me nauseous for so long, I now cringe when I see anything orange and blue together.

 

I did get through a whole six ounces of carding before also dropping that like a hot potato.

It looks redder in person.

But by halfway through September, I didn't want to touch it anymore. Spinzilla was off the table. I couldn't even follow the action: by early October, even scrolling through Instagram looking at other people's yarn was making me queasy.

I was entertaining thoughts of some sealskin sewing, and somehow talked my husband into buying the skins I need for making kamiik. These are sealskin boots, the pinnacle of Inuit sewing skill, and I don't know what makes me think this is a good time to start some.

So I wasn't crafting, and I wasn't missing it. I wasn't feeling guilty about it. I was just… resting. My body, my brain, my subconscious, were all just saying, you don't have to. It felt less like a disability, and more like being miraculously delivered from an addiction. I'm suddenly physically allergic to the fictional crafting-related obligations I've been laying on myself for years and years.

It isn't as if I haven't been busy, or obsessed with random things. I've been playing a few video games. Oddly, I've been very much enjoying adventurous cooking again. And I've been circling the rabbit hole that is essential oils. But these are all very undemanding things. I could drop them tomorrow with very little consequence.

I mean, in a way it makes perfect sense. I am stepping into a season in my life with more responsibility than ever before: officially outnumbered by kids, first child in school, and some upcoming changes at work with a lot of unknowns. It makes sense that my brain would want to prepare by really letting go of all superfluous sense of obligation.

In January, when I took up spinning with a vengeance, I needed to learn about intention and focus in many areas, and spinning helped with that. Now, I have very little plans, very little concrete intention. I'm very much having to live in the present, one day at a time, because in the most important areas of my life, I don't have a choice but to do that right now.

Part of it is my own fault, for letting spinning and knitting become such A Big Thing. I've been struggling for quite some time with the question of how crafting fits in with the rest of my calling, with the fact that my spinning and knitting community online has almost no overlap with my real life as a priest, wife, and mom in the Arctic. This struggle had become so pressing that it seemed to permeate, almost poison, all of my crafting. One of them had to really lose for a bit, and I'm pretty relieved my subconscious (/the Holy Spirit?) picked the right one. My larger crafting ambitions really had to die.

It's been long enough now that I've started at least thinking about knitting again. I can't quite think about spinning – my new PLY magazine arrived today, and I had to put it away still in its wrapper. I might not be able to pick up that Orange Thing again (I feel like I owe it to M for Christmas, but even typing that makes me blegh, so maybe not)… but I could start something small. Something in bulky yarn. Something for the baby. Something I don't really have to finish. Or not.

At the same time, a week ago I also passed off outlines of my family's feet to an elder friend, and she's going to make kamik patterns for me. Because even though that project is enormous, and time sensitive once I get going, it has everything to do with my real life here.

It's very very strange. This is not the 1001st blog post I thought I'd be writing, and it's taken me these weeks to figure out how to write it. But here we are. Hm.