Saturday, 31 May 2008

rites of passage

Tooth number one disappeared along with a mouthful of pear one morning recess not too long ago. This one popped whilst the girl was brushing her teeth. (the night before this photo was taken. I'm not trying to pass this set off as clean.)

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

in vest ing

The vest turned out a treat. It's a perfect fit, soft and cuddly warm and a really quick knit. Wil hasn't had it off since it came off the needles, it is just perfect for this cold weather. I love the way the placket opening gives you a good size neck opening without leaving the neck all exposed and breezy and by picking up a few less stitches on the arms the opening sits nice and snug. I may well try another in the posmerino aran weight I just bought from the Knittery (hello dye session!), or some Pakucho cotton from EcoYarns.

I've written up the pattern below. Since I was making it up as I went along this is not a fully described pattern in proper terminology. Sorry, I'm just pressed for time! I encourage improvisation. So long as you get the basic neck and arm hole sizes about right it should work. Feel free to email me if you need some help.

Toddlers rib vest with placket neck opening and almost collar

Size
: Roomy at 15 months, with the rib body it should fit well past 18 months.
Wil is pretty much smack bang on average height and weight, perhaps a little under. The finished garment is 34cm high from inner neck edge to cast on edge and 28cm across when laid flat. It would be easy to upsize this pattern to make it longer by knitting extra rows in the body and in the armholes between when you are knitting straight between the initial armhole cast off and neck shaping, or wider by casting on extra stitches, and casting off a few more stitches for the centre neck and each of the shoulder casts offs.

Yarn
: Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran weight, 130gm/238m (a smidge over 2.5 balls)


Needles
: 4.5mm circs 60cm.

Instructions

Main body:
Cast on 130 Stitches and join in the round.

[K3, P1] 8 times, [K4, P1] once, [K3, P1] 15 times, [K4, P1] once, [K3, P1] 7 times. The 2 knit 4 ribs will be in the centre front and back and form defacto stitch markers. I'm lazy, what can I tell you? If you feel the need add a marker at the beginning of the round. You will keep this basic rib structure throughout the body.

Work rib until body measures 20 cm.

Cast off 3 stitches for the bottom of the first armhole, work rib across front, cast off 3 knit stitches for second arm hole and work rib across back. Turn. Leave live front stitches on the needle without working while you do the back, or slip onto a stitch marker or second needle.

Back section:
K2tog at beginning and end of each of next 4 rows.

Work in rib until work measures 32cm from cast on edge.

Cast off centre 12 stitches, work to end.

Work to last 2 stitches (neck edge) and K2tog.

K2tog work to end.

Cast off first 5 stitches, w
ork to last 2 stitches and K2tog.

K2tog work to end.

Cast off first 6 stitches, work to end.

Work one row in rib.

Cast off remaining stitches.

Rejoin yarn and work other half of back from neck edge.

Front:
K2tog at beginning and end of each of next 4 rows.

Work to centre 4 knit stitches. Increase into each of these 4 stitches to form start of placket. Work to end of row and turn.

Work to centre 8 knit stitches. Knit 1, place 1 on holder, knit 1, place 1 on holder, knit 1, place 1 on holder, knit 1, place 1 on holder, turn. The 4 placket stitches are knit on each row to form garter stitch, the other stitches are continued in rib.

Work in garter/rib until work measures 29cm from cast on edge.

Cast off 9 stitches at placket edge then continue, using K2tog at neck edge for each of next 4 rows. Continue until work measures 33cm from cast on edge.

Cast off 5 stitches at armhole edge.

Work even.

Cast off 6 stitches at armhole edge.

Work even.

Cast off remaining stitches.

Rejoin yarn at sleeve edge to complete the other half of front.

Finishing:
Sew shoulder seams.

Knit up stitches around neck edge and work 10 rows garter stitch, cast off loosely.

Knit up stitches around armholes, knit 1 round, purl 1 round, knit 1 round and cast off knit ways.

Friday, 23 May 2008

me and my shadow

Last week I listened to Yarn Harlot on Stash and Burn and was really struck by something she said. In a round about reply to the question of why she knitted, she talked about breast feeding. When she worked with birthing mothers she was often asked why babies breast fed so much and her reply was that breast feeding provides for so many needs simultaneously (hunger, thirst, warmth, bonding, comfort, security, skin contact and so on and so on) why wouldn't they? She said that knitting was like that for her. Sure you get to make and keep stuff, but you get to feel the beautiful yarns and work out patterns and give gifts and collect yarn and so on and so on.

So last weekend as I was teaching another toy making workshop I was thinking about this. I've taught this class enough times now that I don't need to think too hard about 'performing' or what comes next and this frees me up to think a little more deeply about what toy making is. Like why, in stark contrast to so much of my life, I am drawn to making toys, and more specifically to a decorative cuteness and sweetness I might otherwise find repellent to my functionalist nature.

I find myself talking in the classes about how certain toys make me feel, my desire to cuddle or play with certain toys, the feeling of pride and achievement when a child takes a toy I have made and builds a bond with it. And I was reflecting that there aren't many things I do in regular life where I describe things so often in terms of how they make me feel. Most things are more about what I think, or what they do, or how they work.

So all this was floating through my mind when I went to see Lars and the Real Girl. Let me preface this by saying I wasn't keen on seeing this film. A bloke and his blow up doll. Hmmpf. But see it I did. And clearly I don't listen enough to film reviewers of merit because it was a really really wonderful film. Superbly written and conceived by Nancy Oliver who wrote one of my all time favourite TV series, Six Feet Under, it was a joy from start to finish. Funny, beautiful, sweet and full of possibilities for a different kind of life. Go see it!

As the film progressed I was really fascinated the way one man's delusion gradually infected a whole community. While many react with alarm and disgust to Lars' clear break with reality, the wise and compassionate members of the town (most particularly the local GP) willingly play along while Lars uses the doll to work through his mental health issues. Little by little the imagined girl comes to play a central role in the town's community life and even the cynical are drawn in.

What is it about the doll? I was thinking that there is something powerful about those multiple needs. The doll is to the people in Lars' life what knitting is to Stephanie, or the breast is to the baby, what toy making is for me. This kind of green field in which I can see, make, think or feel the things I need. For Lars, she is a kind of transition into human relationships, but for others she becomes an opportunity to embrace, to include, to warm and to support - all while suspending conventional judgement (and to some degree the bleeding obvious).

So perhaps that makes no sense to anyone, I'm not sure I can really describe this complicated mess of thoughts. It just strikes me that perhaps toys represent a kind of socially acceptable small scale imaginary friend. A place we can deposit some emotions for safe keeping, a place we can expose our thoughts and mental pictures knowing they will not be held up to the scrutiny of adult functionality. Perhaps that's why they seem so precious and important.

Monday, 19 May 2008

with a bow on top

I can't even bring myself to catalogue our woes over the last few weeks. Croup and ear infections were only the start and both Amy and I had stints in hospital. There has been work missed and Mother's Day Classics unwalked, school and childcare passed by, projects unprogressed and meals uncooked, diagnostic confusion and mundane illness.

I can't be bothered with it because there us nothing as boring as illness once it is over.

So here is to life resuming.

Friday, 9 May 2008

wrap up

my baby in love and warm clothes - recovering from croup and ear infection. It was a horrible couple of days there but all's well now he's on the mend. Exactly 24.5 hours after the first dose of anti biotics he stopped screaming and writhing and sat up and went "da" with a big smile and toddled over to the high chair ready to eat for the first time in 3 days. D and I looked at each other and said, he's back.

My girl in layers of pink. She's totally in love with the new a line tunic vest now that it is finished. Knit in the round with kitchener stitch shoulder seams (I so get it now) and a crochet edging of double/treble/double. Made using my hand painted yarn from the last craft weekend, it is 8 ply silky wool. Lovely to touch. Anyone need the pattern? If so I could write it up. Next mindless commuter project cast on will be the 4ply silky wool for a rib vest for Wil.

A new baby in handmade goodies.Piles of fabric waiting to become the lightest of cotton wraps for a hot climate. Our adopted family in Thailand has been blessed with a sweet little boy - congratulations Art and Aor! Not ideal recipients for handknits and hats so I'm putting together a wrap and a wee reminder of Australia.
And now off to catch up on reading for work. Missing 1.5 days to care for ill child when you only work 2 days a week wreaks havoc on your schedule! I have a whole new policy area to work in as of this week so I got a lot of discovery ahead.

Friday, 2 May 2008

One of the things that surprised me about becoming a mother was the way my brain started to compartmentalise things.

Most importantly the way I felt about my daughter - fierce, steady, unconditional and bottomless love - was not influenced by the things I found really difficult about being a mother. Before motherhood I approached most complex situations like relationships or jobs with a kind of see-saw balance between good and bad, pleasure and pain. When the balance was out of whack, the winning side started to infect the other.

When I fell in love all problems and downsides were dismissed as trivial, or indeed embraced as a kind of glorious and enjoyable challenge. When the balance started to shift the other way everything that had once seemed so good now became tainted with an overlay of sufferance. All complex and contradictory feelings eventually obliterated into a monochromatic view. Generally bad!

So I fully expected that when faced with too little sleep and days of mundane and dirty jobs I would have moments where I would utterly resent my child. Where my predicted grief over the loss of my career and independence would discolour the rosy view of my sweet baby. In the abstract I could fully understand how love for a child could be eroded, even destroyed by a sense of personal sacrifice.

No one was more surprised than I to find that through the hard times when Amy was a baby, when I wondered how the hell I had managed to find myself in this place, when I wondered what the hell I was thinking when I signed up for this, that I never felt negatively towards her.

No, surprise is the wrong word for it. I was confounded. It just didn't make sense to me that my intellectual recognition that becoming a mother had come at great personal cost did not create a corresponding emotional resentment towards the cause of that cost. I didn't see myself as buying into the social stigma associated with admitting such resentment which (I believed pre child) must surely exist.

At first I thought it was something intrinsic to the mother child bond. That the way I felt about the product of my own body was not to be understood through rational means. There was no choice here in the way one chooses a partner or a job or a vocation. Once made, the child cannot be unmade and while some manage it, I never felt that I could ever have chosen my own freedom over my bond to her.

I guess it is that very lack of choice that started this compartmentalising. If something must be endured I suppose you can't afford to let a virus of dissatisfaction, anger, grief and frustration to run rampant. Not if you want to stay sane anyway. So somewhere along the way I managed to find a way to recognise and feel my discomfort as well as feel my besotted joy all at the same time without one removing from the other.

I've often tried to express this contradiction to people and I'm not sure how well I convey it - since no one seems to find it as peculiar or revelatory as I do. Perhaps for other people life was always like that. They've always managed to hold those two conflicting positions at once without needing to side with one or the other. Though often enough I've observed people slide down that tunnel where their view and emotional response to something becomes increasingly singular and unbalanced.

I've been thinking about this a lot in the last few weeks since I've started back at work in earnest. When people ask me how it is I find myself gushing about how marvellous it is, how much I absolutely love it. Love the work, love where I work, the people I work with and the very act of being at work. I love the commute and buying my lunch and doing the quiz out of the newspaper in the lunch room with my colleagues and the complexity and urgency and drama that comes with political life.

And then in the same breath I can tell them that for 2 days of every week I am mental with exhaustion, rushing for every moment I am awake, cramming every second with activity while I try to hit one critical time goal after the next, juggling kids and pick ups and drop offs and meals and readers and bathing. And then a third day in recovery where I pick up all the domestic tasks I ignored to get through the work days and try to recover some nutritional goals for the family, suck up to my feeling neglected daughter, entertain my over tired son and tend my filthy house, read the two day old notices from school, pay the overdue bills and return old phone calls.

People look at me kind of funny, like they can see this is all honeymoon and soon enough it will come back to me why they call work work and not, say, fun, and all that joyful gushing will be replaced by the general litany of complaint you hear from most working folk.

Perhaps it will.

But I am kind of hoping instead that this is a sign that motherhood hasn't just made me love my kids, but has taught me to find the joy I can and keep it safe. To acknowledge and respect the hardships that come with the things I love and allow them to coexist without the need to find and hold a definitive position, to try and make something all good or all bad.