Thursday, 31 July 2008

knitting is, sadly, not all there is in life

This week knitting has been bumped from the number one spot* in my life to be replaced by sickness.

I'm rather less fond of sickness I can tell you. I'll spare you the major moan and the gory details and just give you the readers digest version. In 24 hours I washed every towel in the house (some of them twice), a number of sheets, doona covers, pairs of pyjamas and assorted clothes. And still I looked down yesterday in the doctor's waiting room and noticed my (just laundered) jeans had little vomit splashes on them. I laughed when the receptionist at the doctor's asked me if I know where a late night chemist was in the area. She's new and can't be blamed for not knowing. I had forgotten how much an ear infection hurts and now understand why Wil spent yesterday afternoon curled up on the far side of the bed screaming and not wanting to be touched. And I think I barfed up a lung.

But I have some altogether more interesting things to blog about so let's just pretend none of that happened.

I finished the doll. Brenda the passionate knitter from AK Textiles. Just in case you missed it, I've moaned a lot about this project over the near 18 months I've been working on it. The pattern was unclear, had errors a plenty (true, a few less in one version than the other - why oh why did they give me both versions with no explanation?) and in places unnecessarily complicated. Plus, the wool was really splitty. For the sum they charge for this kit I find those issues very disappointing.

But on the plus side, this is a beautifully conceived doll with some really great detailing. The colours are just divine and very well combined and from what I have seen from the new and improved range of kits and accessories AK are now producing, this is a doll for life. I could keep knitting and sewing bits and pieces to add to her for many years. And now that I have been through it and am a little more confident about ignoring some of the more confusing and obscure instructions, I think I could face doing it all again.

And as D said as he turned her over in his hands last night it's just amazing that you can make all this just with string. Indeed, let us not overlook the essential magic here. Especially when it is squeezed in between moments of abject sickness misery.

I also dyed the camel yarn. While I loved the authenticity of the yarn colour (too obvious but camel coloured camel really amused me there for a while. Must have been the painkillers) I knew I wouldn't wear it. With only one 50gm skein to knit I had planned a pair of fingerless mitts and thus wanted them to go with everything. So I started out thinking about something variegated, but since all the mitts patterns I've been drawn to have a degree of lace or patterning I decided to go for something relatively solid.

So here's the result. Two little 25gm balls of mostly black camel yarn. There's little fleck highlights of browny gray where I didn't let the dye saturate and a very few little spots of blue-green where the dye fragmented and the yarn only took on part of the black spectrum. Can't wait to see it knitted up into something like this or this (in a short form) or this (knit double strand).

I have been a bit frustrated through my dye experiments as to how hard it is to really capture accurate colours in photographs. I use a Fuij finepix which is very unglamorous and inexpensive camera which I love and which serves me well in most regards, but in the whole colour thing it leaves a lot to be desired. So I'm including here all four shots I took of the camel in this morning's light.

The top two used a manual white balance setting. The top one captures the overall tone of the yarn best, but the black is much blacker and less brown and the green is much bluer. Overall these two err on the side of brown. The bottom two use entirely automatic settings, the first of them (that's the third photo from the top) captures the depth of the black best, but not the lightness of the highlights. The bottom one doesn't capture anything particularly well. Overall they err on the side of blue. All of which is to say, whew, no two photos are alike and isn't it annoying that we can't take photos like our eyes can see?

* Before anyone goes thinking how wrong wrong wrong my priorities are that I would put knitting up above the really important stuff like, yeah right, the kids, the man, my mum, good food, a hot shower or a nice cup of tea...well... I can't even be bothered explaining.

Friday, 25 July 2008

knitting is my life

This week has been remarkable on a number of fronts.

Some of the wool I bought recently was underweight. By quite a bit. When I rang the yarn maker and told them they offered to send more which I thought was very gracious. Of the 700gms I thought I bought, I only ended up with about 600gms. They sent me another 500gms! I am now looking for a really good pattern for jacket in chunky 12 ply - perhaps with a pin closure?

On Wednesday someone actually stood up on a crowded tram so I could knit my socks sitting down. I wondered out loud if she was concerned I might stab someone whilst in the upright position but she said, "you are being so productive and I was just sitting there."

On Thursday I finally summoned the courage to knit my way through a 2 hour corporate meeting/workshop. No one said anything even remotely patronising or looked at me funny. I feel quite fortified by the experience.

Not to mention I now have one and a third socks.

I've also overcome my deep aversion to the Brenda doll project I started, well, ages ago. I've decided I can't dwell in the house of frustration any longer so I've sewn her up and am going to improvise her clothes so I don't have to deal with the scary coat pattern she came with. Life's too short. I have my sights set firmly on Amy's birthday in a couple of weeks. And then we will never speak of it again.

And a few more rows of the Hanami. I have my sights set firmly on...perhaps...2009? I do love it, which is lucky or it would never be finished. The pattern and yarn are both just gorgeous.

And every other waking moment has been absorbed with planning the project list from the show loot. Really, my only problem is deciding on which order to do them in.

Monday, 21 July 2008

brothers in arms

bear with me - there's two totally different posts coming your way now and I'm not sure there's any relationship between them, but I can't seem to focus on one over the other.

I can't stop thinking about Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms. I'm an unreconstructed fan of a quite a few Dire Straits songs - something deeply entwined with my memories on one of my school friends winning a radio competition to see them in London. She took her brief lived boyfriend and spent a week doing nothing much except meeting the band and being the envy of our entire school.

But anyway.

We're watching West Wing again, from start to finish, and we've just hit season 3. That's the one where everything falls apart and gets hard and the characters are constantly shot in shadows with pained expressions. Season 2 ended with a wind whipped rain storm and the President and his men marching in to meet their futures to the brothers in arms sound track.

And now I can't stop humming the song and I think it is because there's so many things bound up in those scenes and the music is a sound track I am using to unpack it all.

D and I are in the habit of slagging off Snuffy while we watch. Snuffy (I mean what kind of name is that?!) chooses the music for West Wing and often times the music symbolises everything I hate about this otherwise superb series. The music always announces cheese ahead! It's when the characters are saying things like God Bless America and I serve at the pleasure of the President. Stuff that makes me feel terribly glad to be an aussie and too fearful of ridicule to say things like that out loud.

I can't deny I find some of the cheese quite powerful. The onus of duty moves me, and the way people overcome fear and make personal sacrifice to do what they feel to be right deeply affects me. And it doesn't much matter whether I agree with them of not - on a purely emotional level I admire the courage of sacrifice. Politics, like war, is truly brutal and despite how easy it is to be cynical about the motives of those in power the truth is they stand every day in someone's sights and that's a hard way to live.

I really like the way the series draws out the connections between the ego and glory side of politics and the bone crushing fear of defeat, between the desire to serve and do what's right with unrecoverable personal sacrifice. And despite the show's political sympathies I think it does a reasonable job of demonstrating that all of that can be equally true for people who serve on the other side of politics.

But I think underneath all this I am moved by a different kind of emotion. I am moved by sadness. I've been trying to understand why and I think it's as simple as realising that these are brothers in arms. CJ may be a girl, but when it comes to this point of the story arc, she and those like her are relegated to minor roles. In fact, positively antagonistic roles. Benched for a minor slip, CJ offers to fall on her sword and all she gets is being yelled at by Bartlett. Abby had a life and a deal - a partnership - but it is nothing in the face of the army of suited men who flank Bartlett as he makes it to the podium to announce that despite all common sense and the consequences for everyone around him, he's running for a second term.

It's sadness that in the end whether you are running a country or a marriage, the rules are set not by negotiation or deals that are fair to everyone but by the judgement of those (men) who are prepared to take the most hits.

* * * * *

It is totally ironic that all of this has been whirling around in my brain because I haven't been battling it out in the political arena in the last few days. I've been kicking back with a bunch of women, buying yarn and knitting and sewing and eating and talking and drinking and laughing. The 6th craft retreat, and the biggest yet.

We headed out to catch the Bendigo sheep and wool show. Sigh. So much yarn, so many projects, only two hands. I didn't take a single photo while we were away, but if you are a yarnie and keen to see the loot, head on over to ravelry or flickr.

As I always do on these retreats, I had a wonderful time. And not just because I bought lots of yarn.

I enjoyed my community of women, my chance to create, learn and get inspired. I enjoyed being cooked for, not having to clean or take responsibility for anyone other than myself, not having to change nappies, wipe noses or yell at kids trying to juggle knives or draw on walls. I felt truly privileged to be there.

Full of thanks for the women who share the same dream I do of how things can be amongst a group of people.

* * * * *

There was a time when I wanted to be Bartlett, or at least Josh. A time when I relished every opportunity to get closer to being in charge. Not because I wanted to be in charge but because I had a sense of duty. Because it seemed like the right and only way I could effectively contribute.

Now not so much.

Now I feel like that world, that way of being is way too much for me. I don't know whether I could have made a greater contribution than I have, whether my loss of interest is cowardice. Whether I am suffering a temporary disillusionment. Where once I saw the soaring heights of possibility I now see men in uniforms marching to their deaths and I want to be as far away from the front lines as I can.


Friday, 11 July 2008


Journeys have been on my mind and in my conversations a lot of late.

We've recently had a stint in Ballarat, where we saw snow. Totally pedestrian for those of you who reside in places where such stuff is a regular occurrence. Totally bizarre and novel to us.

Equally unexpected was the proliferation of yarn bargains in the op shop. The three parcels I picked up were choices - that's right there was even more I didn't buy! I turned up my nose at the packs with less than 500gms of matching yarn that wasn't acrylic - and for a good while later I was wondering whether I was mad to pass them up. In Melbourne it is rare to get more than a ball or two in one go.

This partially knit jumper was a total snap. Overlooking the instructions in the accompanying pattern book that this garment must be worn with shoulder pads. The pattern is so dense with cables that even though there is only a front, back and half of one sleeve I think there's enough yarn (600gm) for a reasonable size garment. It has none of the scratchiness of most mohairs, it is in fact divinely soft and the cream will dye up beautifully.

Ditto the 600gms of 5ply superwash in cream. Wil's next jumper for sure.

And a lifetime of lovely wash cloths/crochet toys/string bags in this bag of 750gm of 4ply white cotton.
And all for about $20. Gotta be happy with that.

And there's been other journeys.

I've been thinking about my knitting journey a lot. I finished the posmerino vest using an upsized version of the Teva Durham Ballet T Shirt pattern and for a while now I have been oscillating between loving it and considering ripping it back and starting again. The yarn is wonderfully warm and deliciously soft and the dye job is excellent. The basic technique used in the patterns is also fantasticly simple and smart, and it makes a wonderfully useful and comfortable garment.

But as something that's snugly fitted I wear it with a degree of fear that it may well attract the stares of people who think larger people should wear garments more suited to hiding their bulges. I have no doubt for some people it looks ridiculous (not in these photos mind you).

And I think if I ripped it back to the armholes and put in some more rows there, it would be a more more acceptable, and possibly better, garment.

What strikes me as I think through this dilemma (as I do each day I put it on) is that
(a) not so long ago I would never have contemplated ripping something back once it was finished. If it didn't work the first time I would have given it away or trashed it in frustration.
(b) part of why I am contemplating doing it again is just to see how a few extra rows would change things. I am actually looking to learn something here.
(c) I'm kind of resistant to the idea of trying to please other people by sparing them the sight of my bra strap bulges.

Further along in my journey I agreed, reluctantly, to knit a football scarf. Because I am a mum and I had an orphan ball of cascade 220 superwash in the right colour and enough superwash 8ply in red and white to be able to finish a medium sized scarf for a small girl looking to develop a love of sport. I ripped it back several times - see what I mean about the journey? I mean, shit, it's a football scarf for a 5 year old - trying to find a stitch and gauge which would make it all go quickly and yet not leave me looking at something unbearable.

And in between a few more rows of the Hanami (chipping away at it) I started the first pair of hand knit socks for me using the beaded rib stitch from Sensational Socks by Charlene Schurch and the universal toe up formula with a Turkish cast on.

Despite being busy and engaged and having a healthy sized queue of knitting projects I have to say I remain well excited about this knitting trip. I'm excited about what I've just finished, what I'm currently knitting and what I have yet to knit. Indeed the more I knit the more excited I become. Some trips wear you out a little, or at least provide you with some low points, but at the moment I am out on the frontier and feeling more alive than usual.

That's the thing about travel. It's hard and when contemplating embarking on a new journey it is easy to be overwhelmed by what it will take to get on the road. Those people in my crochet class who just sat in the departure lounge and watching everyone struggling with their metaphorical luggage and anticipating the hardships and thought, you know, I just don't need this.

But it always surprises me that once I get going on something new those hardships aren't hard. And I don't just mean that the anticipatory anxiety distorts our perceptions of difficulties, or that things go smoother than we thought they might. Quite often the opposite is true. You hit hurdles you could never have foreseen and witness difficulties which far oustrip your worst expectations.

What happens is I change. Each problem solved buoys to such an extent that I have fresh confidence in approaching the next challenge. The energy I get from accomplishing a leg of the trip diminishes the enormity of the task ahead. My sense of pride is great, the newness of things makes me alert and observant and filled with wonder.

I remember so clearly when we first planned our stint in Thailand. I had a 2 year old who never slept, a thesis I didn't know how to write, chronic sleep deprivation, no prospect of work, continual illnesses and a sense of overwhelming despair. And I remember when D suggested it, very tentatively (expecting as he did that I would throw myself on the ground and weep with yet another burden), that all the hardships and problems flashed through my brain. They seemed immense and insolvable and common sense dictated that I should if not throw myself upon the ground that I should at least laugh at the mere suggestion.

I agreed to go because really, life couldn't get worse. In hindsight I can't imagine what might have happened had we not gone because really what I needed was all the things you get from the journey. To get back in touch with my competence for a start. To experience the joy of the new, to be surprised, to overcome, to learn. To be able to get into bed each night knowing that you have really lived and not wasted another day.

And the other thing about journeying is the way it wakes you up to all the other trips out there. The possibilities, the things as yet unseen, unfelt, unknown.

Friday, 4 July 2008

mirror mirror on the wall

Tomorrow is the third Saturday in a row of teaching for me. I'm feeling a bit out of routine as a result. And school holidays. Plus, teaching crochet is hard. Much harder than toy making.

I've spent some time thinking about that.

One of the reasons I didn't end up a teacher (despite getting qualified) is because I find it really hard to deal with 'failing' to teach someone something. I really want to believe that anyone can learn anything if they try hard enough. The reality is that even if that's true, life gets in the way for lots of people in a way I can't even begin to know let alone control.

People's perceptions of themselves, their expectations of what they should be able to achieve and how fast, the limitations of the teaching environment and the materials you are working with. What people have trained their hands to do before they sit down with a hook can dramatically effect how easy they find the initially weird and unnatural process of crochet.

Being a teacher forces you from the outset to compromise. It is inevitable that students will need different things from you, learn at different rates and at least some will have totally unrealistic expectations.

And I know all this but still it gets to me that there are some people who leave the class disappointed, or worse, convinced they just can't do it. The ones who don't return after the lunch break. The ones who repeatedly apologise for not getting it, or who ask me to explain that one more time and slower. The ones who get frustrated that I go too slow and don't sufficiently challenge them.

In toy making class the differences between students are so much less problematic, and technical skills per se are less important. That class is all about ideas and images and play. The crochet class is by its nature more focused on a set of uniform skills and that makes it so much more dependent on me and on everyone being roughly in the same place.

And while I don't consider myself a 'technical' crafter - tending as I do to a more slap dash approach and crafts which encourage invention rather than perfection - the truth is that I really enjoy learning new technical skills. This comes as something of a surprise to me and highlights something of a disconnect between my self-perception and my behaviour.

Once this thought occurred to me, I saw evidence all around. My new crochet roll, my extensive library of patterns and reference books, my pattern drafting tools, my various searches for the perfect whatevers. My storage systems and attraction to new and ever more complex crafts.

Is it possible there's a perfectionist buried deep inside me, almost lost under layers of recycled felted jumpers and the detrius of children?