Totoro and Tinies

This has been the year of Totoro in our house. 


I knew I liked Miyazaki and that Ny Neighbor Totoro was kid friendly, having watched it in the dim past. But nothing prepared me for the experience of watching it with two little girls of my own. We received a copy as a Christmas gift, and I cried the first five times we watched it. 

It’s hard to put all my thoughts about this film in a paragraph. There are so many moments that capture, with insightful care, exactly what a moment of real life is like, if you give it your full attention. It shows you the magic of the ordinary, until you fall in love with it, then it shows you ordinary magic. 

This is my girls’ favourite movie. It’s actually the main reason we gave up TV for lent, because we were watching it every day. 


Ever since I bought my mystery punis years ago, I had imagined them as little fingerless mitts, somehow working a contrast color into dots on the back. Since we have been so besotted with Totoro, the dots became Totoro spots. 


They are super soft. I didn’t know anything could feel so buttery on my dry hands. And hopefully, thanks to the tight three-ply, they’ll be durable too. 


I showed them to N, who took them, tried them on, and announced, “you can make some for me in the opposite colors.”


I had less leftovers than I thought, so they ended up more as palm warmers than anything. But she won’t even take them off long enough to let me put the dots on right, so I guess she’s happy!

These little associations and integrations of the stories we love with everyday life always make me happy, but especially this story, which is such a celebration of everyday life and childhood. 

What are the stories your whole family has enjoyed lately?

Stashdown 2017

I have a problem with my stash. I don’t like having one. I don’t judge anyone who has one, I just dislike having one myself. 

It’s so much fun to buy things, and the world of making is full of opportunities to buy things. It’s so easy to confuse the joy of making with the thrill of acquisition, for inspiration to become lust. My stash, as much as I do like the things in it, is a reminder of that confusion. I have no problem buying things; but now, I just want my buying to be directly and intentionally related to my making. Right now, my making is instead shaped around the aftermath of a long-forgotten spending spree. That can be fun too, and limits are really just opportunities for creativity. But I’m getting to the point where I want to do more than that. 

I’ve gotten pretty good about buying yarn. Somehow years of working in yarn shops convinced me that there is nothing new under the sun, that there will always be good yarn ready to buy when I’m ready to knit it, and there’s not much reason to buy yarn unless I’m about to use it. For the last 4 years at least, I have bought yarn only when I’m going to use it in the next 6 months. I still have a good bit of languishing yarn, though, even after all that time.

Fiber, though… fiber is a big issue. Every day on Instagram I see dozens of indie creations, and once they’re gone, they might not come back. There are more fiber clubs than I can count. To say nothing of all the possibilities in prepping one’s own fiber. It’s no wonder that many spinners have a stash that makes mine look like a sneeze.

I have about eight pounds of prepared fiber, and half a dirty cormo x fleece. It doesn’t sound so scary when I put it that way. But all of it is between three and eight years old. And that fiber that weighs about as much as my newborn babies takes up two large boxes in my mom’s basement. Even at my currrent rate of spinning, it would take a good two or three years to spin all that up. And it would be very easy to buy that much again every year.

I know I can’t make myself buy nothing. That’s a wagon I know I can’t stay on. So instead, I made myself a two-for-one deal. It worked with my WIP-down, and even though it took a year and a half to get down to one project, by the end of that time, my habits were different.

So here’s my program of fiber stash control: I’m allowed to buy fiber when I have spun twice the amount I want to buy. That sounds confusing. What I mean is, if I want to buy some 4-oz braid of fiber, I have to spin 8 oz before I can order it. I’ll show you the chart I made in my journal to keep track.


It’s pretty basic. The column on the left is purchases; on the right is what I’ve spun. The dashes along the middle line are my unit of measure. In the right column, one ounce is worth one dash. In the left, one ounce is worth two dashes. So when I spin, it goes into the right column, making room for more on the left. (True confessions: already sometimes it’s the right column trying to catch up with the left.)

The age of what I spin doesn’t matter; even if I spin what I’ve just bought, it still goes into the right column to earn more. In fact, I prefer that; I’d like to get in the habit of spinning what I buy fairly quickly. And since this system means I have to consider every purchase I make very carefully, I tend to want to spin those purchases right away; I’ve been looking forward to them, and they take so long to get here!

I’ve come up with a similar program for yarn. Like I said, I’m pretty good about buying commercial yarn with immediate intention, but I’m still buying, and there’s plenty of stash not getting used. Plus I am now generating all this handspun I want to use as well. Here’s the chart for that.


There’s one rule for this chart. For every project I start that has any new yarn in it, meaning yarn I’ve purchased in the last year, I have to finish two projects out of older yarn.

“Older yarn” can be anything: yarn I’ve had for a while, gifts (even recent), any handspun (for now, even newly spun yarn from newly bought fiber). Basically any yarn that was acquired without a particular intention, that will not get used unless I make a use for it.

There are no rules for how big a project has to be; I can totally cheat and crank out a couple of baby hats from old yarn to start a sweater with new yarn. The catch is, to go in the right column, the project has to be ALL old yarn. If I have to buy more yarn in order to use the old yarn how I want to (like with many of my ideas for using my handspun) it has to wait for a spot in the left column.

A hitch, you may notice, is that there’s no limit to how many projects I can start with old yarn, nor do have to ever finish any projects with new yarn. If I’m not careful, I could end up with my WIPs out of control again. I’m relying on my own sense of being easily overwhelmed to keep this under control, and the hope that my WIP-down formed habits that will stick. I’m pretty reliably down to two projects now, an easy travel one and a complex stationary one, with the occasional quickie on the side, though I do have another big one hibernating right now. I’m committed to finishing that this summer. 

A look at my ravelry account tells me that, if I stick to this plan, I’ll have to spin about 15 lbs to get down to less than 1. Yarn is harder to estimate, but assuming one project per type of yarn, and that I’ll be adding to nominal “old yarn” with more spinning… I’m looking at a good 75 projects before I’m done with old yarn.

Wow. For both yarn and fiber, that’s at least a four-year program! I don’t know if that’s realistic. It’s also a strong argument against stashing, because even if I love something now, am I still going to be interested in it four years later?! And much of my stash is already much older than that. 

I’d like to stick with it for a year and see if I seem to be making any progress. In an effort to find a wagon I can stay on, I may have picked one that’s never going to reach its destination.

My goal is to not be creatively limited by my stash. But really, it’s not my stash that’s limiting me; it’s how legalistic I feel about my stash. It does not really matter, in the light of eternity, how much yarn or fiber I own. If it were taking over my house or making me broke that would be one thing, but that’s not the case. What I’m trying to say is, I could also free myself creatively from my stash by… freeing myself mentally from my stash. Letting it go. Not worrying about it.

 In describing the program above, I can sense the old perfectionism rearing its head again. This is only going to work if I remember that this is a guideline to help me do what I want to do, not a law I have to feel guilty about breaking.

My fantasy is to own only the yarn and fiber I’ll need for the next year, and that it will all fit in this chest!


I do want to make this effort and see how it goes. Of course, the real question is, how am I going to control myself on vacation, when my list of fiber-related visits keeps growing??

How about you? What sort of animal is your stash? How much does it bother you, or do you not worry about it?

Nebula Medallion Vest Pattern

I’ve spent my free moments this week typing numbers into spreadsheets, formatting documents, copyediting, and all those other tedious things you don’t think about when you’re knitting. All for you, because I’m excited to share that the Nebula Medallion Vest pattern is finished!

Ravelry pattern page here.

I’m offering this as a free pattern, mostly because it has not been test knit beyond what you see here. However, it is an extremely simple concept. Basically, you start knitting a top-down hat, but don’t stop increasing. The only fiddly bits are the armholes, and making sure you have enough yarn.

I’ve included yardage estimates for many different gauges, down to worsted weight (18 stitches in 4″/10 cm). I definitely erred in the direction of more yarn; I hate running out of yarn!

Pardon my squinty face. It was really really bright outside!

This is new territory for me. It’s my first time designing specifically for handspun, my first time including this much customization, and my first time including metric. Not to mention that this is my first pattern to make it to daylight in over two years. So I’m a little nervous. But I’m also excited. This pattern and sweater were definitely a gift, so I’m happy to share them as a gift to you.

If you try it, would you let me know? And let me know how much yarn you used! Happy spinning and knitting.

Creation Creating

Sometimes a project just takes hold of you. It consumes your imagination and doesn’t let go of you until you’ve discovered what it is, what it wants to be. It takes up brain space and heart space, and you have to remind yourself to do things like cook food and go to work.

That happened with this sweater. From the very first predrafting of fiber, through sampling, spinning, and knitting, to final bind-off, was 15 days. With a pretty major head cold and Work Stuff in there.

Several times I had to remind myself: Rebecca, it’s just a piece of clothing. It’s not going to survive the apocalypse unto eternity. But this only seemed to free me more. Ultimately, what do I have to lose? Might as well experiment, dream big, and go crazy!

Inspiration image sent to me by Nicole. Not sure which nebula this is?

Detail on the irregularities I added. I didn’t want a straight stripe of purple to blue to green; I wanted a little bit of green gas cloud interfering between. Where the greens came together on two rounds, I purled for a bit of extra cloudy texture.

At some point, I realized there was a good chance I could have this finished for Easter. Which was perfect, because Easter might be the only occasion that I could actually wear this in public, my life being what it is. It’s still a bit of a stretch for my modest, clerical taste. But I decided: forget that. This is the highest holiday of the year. I am going to put on my best for Jesus, and at the same time, submit my avocation to my vocation. Another expression of my continuing desire to use what I love to glorify whom I serve.

Here’s my extremely profound and completely obvious devotional thought from this project: if I can feel this much affection and investment in my creation, which is ultimately just a thing – how much more does my creator feel affection for and investment in me? I felt something analogous when I had children, but not all of us have children. Not all of us get to learn about God’s love that way. But we can all make things. We’re created in God’s image, and that stamp of his likeness included the ability to create in our turn. The temptation is to worship the work of our hands, but if we can get over that, the love of the work of our hands hints to us of the love of the one worthy of worship.

My plan is to generate this into a pattern suitable for handspun, and it’s almost finished. Well, the pattern writing is finished, but next comes grading for size, and charting out suggestions for adaptation, because this will be easy to adapt to any gauge, and to combine any amount of handspun with a commercial border, with a little extra instruction. It’ll be a free pattern since it’s my first pattern for handspun, and since it won’t be possible to thoroughly test it (though if you’re interested in testing, give me a shout.)

It’s been a crazy Lent, and I’m glad it’s over. This break from blogging has been a great chance to refine my vision of what I’m going for in my writing and nascent efforts at video-making. I don’t know where this journey will take us, but I’m always so grateful you’re along for the ride.

Happy Easter everyone!

Project page on Ravelry

Handspun page on Ravelry

Video about making this yarn

Nicmarie’s etsy page (note she is closed until mid-June)

A Priest Crafts: Episode 1 – Intros and Corespinning

So after all my wailing and gnashing of teeth last week, I’ve decided to go ahead and do it. I used some of my birthday money to register Wondershare Filmora, and recorded my first video on my birthday. After I finished re-recording the last bit, I was immediately bulldozed by a headcold that has left me trapped on the couch. I hope this isn’t a sign. Anyway, this couch time gave me time to edit, but means that I am now missing the Palm Sunday service.

I hope you like the title I came up with at 6 am today. It’s nicely tongue-in-cheek, as “priestcraft” is generally a negative term according to google. Our beloved Mother Martha always used it to just describe what priests do. For me it captures an important reality that I am a priest first, a maker second. I make in the context of my priestly calling, not the other way around.

So, check it out! It was super fun to make, though also quite humbling. I apologize that the audio is kind of quiet. I think I know what went wrong, and hopefully I can fix it next month.

Here’s some links to what I talked about:

frostyarn’s etsy shop (Please note her shop is locked because she is prepping for a show in June, but if you don’t mind a little PG-13 rated language, follow her on Instagram. Her work is the bomb.)

Esther Rodger’s corespinning videos (1 of 5) And here is Esther’s website. I actually just remembered that I got to meet Esther once when we were both selling in the Cloverhill booth at Maryland Sheep & Wool, back in 2009 or something. She was wearing a giant circular sleeveless sweater just like the one I’m making, made entirely of artyarn, so I guess I was subconsciously copying her!

Here’s the ravelry page for this spin. You will find all the Nerd Numbers there, including grist for each skein.

Candy Clouds #1 and #2. 

What I didn’t mention in the video because of all my excitement were the aspects that didn’t work. I was happy for this yarn to be thick and thin, which is a good thing, because I’m not very practiced at drafting merino, so there was no way it was going to be even. The downside of this is that my wheel is not really built to handle this kind of artyarn spinning. The yarn liked to get stuck in the oriface at every thick point, and the bumps sometimes got stretched out in the squeeze through, or they caught on the guide hooks. If I try corespinning again on this wheel, I’ll do it with a fiber I feel more comfortable drafting evenly, and/or with a less fluffy, out of control core. I’m already pondering the possibility of someday investing in a portable wheel with large oriface and bobbins for easier artyarn spinning. I could suffer through these difficulties for one spin, but I would hate doing this all the time. Ya need the right tools for the job.

Stay tuned for the last stages of knitting the sweater; I have high hopes of wearing it for Easter morning and being able to write about it. Now I’m off to make some tea, read the Bible, and kick this cold, because I need to be on my feet by Tuesday for the last night of my Big Work Thing. God’s provided for every stage of the Thing so far, so I’m not even worried about it.

Have an amazing Holy Week, and may you see all your dreams surrendered to die with Christ rise again with him someday.

Struggle

I think it was Anne Kennedy who said, in a podcast or something, that “struggle is the Christian world for failure.” I don’t know if she meant that in a negative sense, like it’s the Christianese word, but I’ve found this thought comforting in these past few weeks. I think, “I’m failing at this,” then remember that thought and think, “no, I’m just struggling.” Conversely, it’s also nice to use the word “struggling” and imagine that my hearers don’t just hear some platitude about a bad day, but an honest confession of something balder: nope, I’m really failing at this. 

I’ve been struggling with my Lenten disciplines. 

One of the limits I put on myself was to blog only once a week during Lent. My hope was that this would encourage me to reach out and make more one-to-one contact. It has occasionally, but it’s still deeply instinctive for me to reach for my phone and scroll through Instagram rather than open my contacts. I tried limiting my phone too, but that’s been another total “struggle.”

Last night, I cheated. Just a bit. I’ve been having thoughts about making the occasional video blog, since I have been enjoying spinning videos a great deal lately. Last night I gave it a go. I told myself it was just my Sunday blog done a night early. 

It was surprisingly fun. Well, really it felt incredibly self-indulgent to ramble at a camera about yarn for half an hour. Then it felt even more self-indulgent to watch myself, despite all my ums, my bad hair and the atrocious lighting. It was a very literal form of self-love, and imagining that I could throw these images of myself on YouTube and others would also look and know and love me? Well, it’s the intrinsic delight of “sharing”, but amplified exponentially. 

(If you are reading this and you do a video blog, please don’t imagine I’m accusing you of this mindset. I do presume myself to be the worst of sinners. What’s problematic for me may not be for you. Or maybe it is. That’s between you and Jesus.)

Imagine my frustration, then, when I’ve accidentally spent most of an evening in this pursuit, and I’m about to export my video (including a musical intro and everything), when it doesn’t work. The software I’ve downloaded is – surprise! – a trial version of some kind, and if you try to export without paying a chunk of money, your video has a giant watermark in the middle of your face. A bit of a blockade between me and all my potential adoring watchers. 

You missed out on ten solid minutes of me rambling about this one skein of yarn. Aren’t you heartbroken?


I was frustrated with myself. I could have spent that time spinning! I didn’t want to write all that up into a blog post now; it wouldn’t be the same. I mean, video-making was fun, I learned a lot, and it was good practice for any potential future video projects. I’m sure I’ve wasted evenings doing dumber things. But in the moment, I was pretty bummed. My time is pretty precious these days. 

As I wrote about last week, these unexpected deprivations and “struggles” have been more “Lenten” than even the intentional sacrifices. This is making me stop and ask, why? Why do I want this? Where is this even coming from?

We sang “abide with me” in church this morning, which was a little awkward since it’s an evening hymn, but it touched me right where it counts. “When comforts fail,” said the second verse, “abide with me.” Then we sang “fairest lord Jesus,” in which we enumerate some of my favorite landscapes of home, the meadows and woodlands and the twinkling starry host, then sing “Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer.” And the conviction of having missed this basic truth was overwhelming. The most obvious solution to our bentness is somehow the easiest to forget, because our bentness is so persistent. 

My latest fiber prep last night. It’s gorgeous, but how could I forget Jesus is fairer than this? It’s not a flattering measure of my spiritual intelligence.


The lie is that the temptation will bring life and peace, excitement and freedom; that self indulgence is the same as self care, that following my flesh is the escape from dull duty. The truth is that surrender to flesh is a dead wasteland, where bones go to dry out, where the Spirit is just an offensive, noisy wind. And the duty, if surrendered to, surprises me as a jungle teeming with life and growth and potential. This is what Jesus has been very patiently and repeatedly revealing to me these past weeks. I share it with you in the expectation that you will be quicker to pick up the lesson than I am. 

I definitely got more out of failing to vlog than I would have out of succeeding.

How about you? What are you “struggling” with?

Lenten

I have this habit of using the adjectival form of the season of Lent: “Lenten.” In Rebecca’s private language (my Inuit friends might call it uliipikatitut), “Lenten” means this: anything difficult or a with a sense of privation, with the result of causing reflection.

During Lent, suddenly anything even slightly less than awesome is “Lenten.” It’s not just lame, or underwhelming, or disappointing, or painful. It’s “Lenten.” Having oatmeal for breakfast every day is “Lenten.” Giving up chocolate is “Lenten.” There’s really no deprivation too small or petty for me to apply this adjective to it, nor any reflection too momentary. And believe me, Lent makes me pretty petty and slight.

There’s a converse adjective, too: “not very Lenten.” In uliipikatitut, “not very Lenten” means that it brings enjoyment or satisfaction, with the niggling sense that you shouldn’t be having this good of a time. You saw that in last week’s post: I attempted to do something “Lenten” by switching to vegetarian dinners, but then the dinners were awesome, so they were “not very Lenten.”

This all stems from a childhood steeped in Roman Catholic culture, where we all did our best to give up something small for Lent, then reflected on how our small deprivations were really nothing in comparison to Christ’s sacrifice. I do not mean to criticize this practice; obviously I still practice it. But I think we all had that sense of embarrassment, that we were giving up chocolate to try to be more like Jesus, who died and gruesome and horrible death for our sakes. If the priest played his homily right, it made us squirm just a little bit in the consumeristic religiosity of our materialistic lifestyles.

The point, I think, of my subconscious shift to the use of this adjective, is to try to reframe my complaints. The very ridiculousness of the adjective is self-referential: it points to how petty my wants are, to how small my sacrifices are, to how incredibly focused I get on my own comfort. It’s a way to laugh at myself.

But, tongue-in-cheek though it is, this silly little adjective can come full circle.

My Lenten KAL project is a case in point. I thought it would be “not very Lenten.” After all, it’s a project I’ve been looking forward to for years, with a beautiful pattern from a favorite designer, in a perfectly delicious yarn. (Araucania Huasco, if you want to know – 100% superfine merino, in a plump 3-ply fingering weight. Just perfect for all the texture in this shawl. The pattern is “Galadriel’s Mirror” by Susan Pandorf, and it’s part of her Lord of the Rings “Fellowship of the Rings” series that I am knitting through at a pace that makes a snail look like Speed Racer.)

On the one hand, no, it’s not a very “Lenten” project, objectively. But it’s become Lenten, because I really don’t want to work on it. I actually dread picking it up.

However, once I do pick it up, it’s really enjoyable. I’m into a nice rhythm, the chart is clear, and it’s got lots of nice benchmarks to feel like I’m progressing. The yarn is simply perfect for the pattern, and I’m working it at a good gauge for the needles. I really have no reason to complain.

I just don’t want to pick it up. There’s nothing compelling about it. It takes all my attention, and robs me of time I’d rather be spinning, or at least knitting something more insta-gratifying.

Halfway through Lent and I think I’m halfway through … the first ball of yarn. I’ve already accepted that this is going to be my vacation knitting.


That actually sounds a lot like my relationship with God.

Do you spend time with God every day? I try to. There’s even a Christian-ese (christusimiutitut?) word for this daily practice: growing up, we called it “quiet time.”

I have been reading the Bible all my life, but I still find a strong inner resistance to quiet time. Not when I’m doing it – when I actually connect with God through Bible reading, prayer, meditation, and reflection, it is life and peace and restoration. It is absolutely the fuel that powers me for the rest of my life. But when I’m not doing it, I don’t want to do it. And if I skip a day or two, the resistance becomes harder and harder to overcome. I resist it because there are other things, me-centered things, that I’d rather be doing. I resist it because it demands all of myself; it demands I come out of myself; it demands I be totally real and vulnerable with God. That’s hard. Sometimes I’d rather not face those deep parts of myself, even if it’s to take them to God for help.

So my Lenten KAL shawl is the embodiment of this inner struggle, a physical reminder of how something objectively good and beautiful can be repulsive to me just because it is demanding.

That is what something “Lenten” really is: it makes us face ourselves. It isn’t something that makes us feel good because we have successfully accomplished some feat of asceticism, of self-denial. It’s something that brings us face to face with our own failures, so we have no choice but to accept grace. We can set ourselves up for such encounters by denying ourselves of some comforts, because that tends to bring our failures to the surface. But it isn’t the denial that makes it Lenten: it’s the way God gracefully uses our slightest sufferings to point us to his greatest suffering on our behalf, which provided, once for all, all the grace we’ll ever need.

How about you? Have you had some nice failures with your Lenten disciplines yet? Share your stories in the comments!