Ravelry, my exercise in detachment.

It’s been established that I like to knit.  And in all the quiet spaces that leave me thinking of ways to put words one after another, I often think about sharing my knitting with the little blog.  And then, I don’t, for the simple reason that when night comes, and the Geeklet is abed, if I am awake, I want to knit.  Preferably, I knit while sitting next to my dear Chris and watch Endeavour, or maybe some Doctor Who.  I try not to do anything on my own computer after 10 pm.  It’s difficult to catch up with email sometimes, and I’m months behind on cool-beans articles and posts and XKCD, but it does seem to be the only method that keeps me from staying up until 2 in the morning.


And then?  I have a sweater done, and I haven’t shared it with you.  It becomes a little soft puddle of potential postedness.  It lays folded in my arms, a project completed, and it is a thing which I can use to put here!  If I post it… then it has been posted.  And there is no more potential posting.  The potential is spent, gone.  So sad.


However, letting go of things is important.  It’s called non-attachment.  I used to frown at the idea.  “I like my teapot,” I might muse.  “I like my son.  I like that quilt I just made.  And I feel unapologetic about liking those things.  So might I be bad at Buddhism?”  I’m not a Buddhist, as such, but like many I find the teachings to be good and useful things.  I like to think of Buddha as a big brother, the one who finished college while you were in high school, who disappeared into his room with a girlfriend and closed the door and you hated her, because when she wasn’t around he would show you his new CDs and photos of his hiking trip and you’d think he was so sophisticated, and you’d be so proud to be his sister.  So that’s kind of how I think of Buddha.  Wise and experienced, and well out of the whirlwind, and proud of you when you made grown-up choices, like being okay with giving up your teapot.


Then I saw, in a roundabout way, that it’s not about having to give up the teapot.  It’s about being okay with being separate from the teapot–in a different room, in a different house, in a different state of energy–because you and the teapot, you’re not really two separate things anyway.  If I close my eyes and envision the teapot filled with a gently steeped Darjeeling, the pot just too hot to touch, steam issuing from its wee spout, if I envision placing my hands around the pot so that a little pocket of air between my hands and the pot–remember, I’m not touching it, it’s too hot–becomes warm and a little damp, and I can taste the potential tea on my tongue and feel how relaxing and soothing that would be:  this experience can be as relaxing and soothing as the real thing.  And the teapot is not actually in my presence.  The teapot, and the entire experience, is not actually there with me, and yet I benefited from it.  Wild, no?


What does this have to do with Ravelry?


When I pick out a sweater I want to knit, these days, I go check it out on Ravelry.  I usually have the information on hand (sizing and whatnot), but what I want is to see it on bodies that are not models.  (I have a great deal of admiration for models.  They tend to be on the lovelier side of human, but even they must know deep down that they will forever be faced with the challenge of comparing themselves to their most beautiful, as well all do, really, except that the public will help them, like small children will help you paint the bathroom, only snarkier.)  I try to look for bodies that kind of look like mine, so I can see that the sweater I really liked, drapey and luscious in the photos, might actually look semi-luscious on someone whose shape resembles my own.


They never do.  Never.  Almost always, the lovely woman (men on Ravelry rarely have my curves) wearing my sweater is wearing a sweater that is not all that flattering to me.  She looks nice, she’s trying to take good and useful photos, but I’m momentarily despondent because the sweater won’t make me look like the model in the knitting magazine.  Not any more than it did for the Ravelry knitter who posted.  It will only make me look like me, in a new sweater.


And here’s where the detachment comes in:  I knit it anyway.


Wait!  I’m not stupid!  There are reasons to knit the sweater.  It’s a beautiful garment.  It’s a style that will go well with other things I wear, with my lifestyle and activities.  I have the skills, and maybe it will stretch me to learn new ones, sometimes.  I will finish it, and write about it (erm, sometimes), not because the sweater will change me physically but because it will change me inside.  I did this thing, and it was an awesome thing to do.  Even more awesome, if I use some of my newly-practiced skills at fitting and shaping garments to help it fit me well.  If I feel good wearing it.  Even with my eyes closed.  Even with no one there to tell me I look pretty.  I can give the sweater away and I will still have knit something that makes me feel good.  Like my virtual cup of tea, the experience of knitting the sweater is mine and not separate from me.  And my wander over to Ravelry will remind me of that, every time.


Here’s a sweater I knit this spring.  It’s the Jackaroo cardigan by Amy Herzog, from Knitty‘s First Fall 2013 issue.  (Sorry for the blurriness!)





I love this sweater.  I knit it with yarn a beautiful friend gifted me from a sheep she knows, a mostly-Wensleydale in shiny black-brown wool.  (I made a lot of Wallace and Gromit jokes while knitting it.)   It was spun fine, so I doubled it to get gauge, fully intending it to be heavier than the original garment.  Living in San Diego, I could see it becoming my coldest-weather outerwear, and its slight scratchiness didn’t bother me at all because of that.  Being an Amy Herzog sweater, the shaping was excellent, and I have come to understand how to make the necessary changes so that the torso fits well and the shoulders and arms, even though the shoulders and arms are generally two sizes smaller on a given pattern, for me, than the torso.   I’m very happy with it.  And it has pockets.
















The Linen Closet.

As I said, I have been feeding the linen closet this year. And then, a sheet died, an organic cotton flannel. (A great sheet, just the oldest of the bunch.) And I am not about to just toss six yards of organic cotton flannel because there’s a hole in there. So I cut it up, into pillowcase pieces, and began sewing pillowcases.

I had finished a quilt per spec for my mom, which left me with a couple of yards of navy cotton, so I made pillowcase pieces out of them too.

And then the linen closet spoke to me, and said that it wanted lace. Embroidery. Pillowcases were no longer enough, they needed to be embellished.

Don’t laugh. Just because historically I have not been an “embellished” type of person does not mean my linens can’t be. I don’t have to be a neo-Victorian to enjoy a lacy pillowcase. So I started making up some crocheted lace. It was fun, and because I was making up the pattern (and didn’t have to memorize it!) it was my go-to easy project for the trip to Seattle. Now it awaits a navy pillowcase.

Crochet lace and handspun

But I couldn’t stop there. This one wanted to be embroidered. I have long loved the look of blackwork, so I picked an online sampler and divided my pillowcase border into six blocks. Then, using waste canvas, I embroidered a different pattern into each block. It has been my evening go-to project, and while it took several weeks to complete, I love it. (Of course my “blackwork” was in navy. Because.)

Blackwork pillowcase

Now I have some oak-leaf lace on the blocking mattress for the next pillowcase. The trims have been lovely in-the-bag projects once I memorized the pattern. I have several more pillowcases to go, but there’s no hurry; no pillows have gone naked in service of this project!



London, Day 8

Ah, London, I do love you so. You’ve made me laugh: today, in the British Museum, I saw three small statues in a row, and the caption read: “Clay votive figures of the hmnmn culture, hmnmnm B.C. At least two are male; the other is female, or it has lost a bit of clay.”

You’ve made me frown (see yesterday’s post). You’ve made me cry (at All-Hallows-by-the-Tower church, reading “To the Fallen” over a WWI tomb).

You’ve made me exclaim in surprise: In wandering around St. Paul’s Cathedral today, I stumbled upon a miniature village of tents, with walkways, Loo Notices and calls for theatrically inclined people to perform in Saturday’s play. There was even, for Sukkot, a pop-up tent Sukkah (in case, I guess, you weren’t satisfied in your spiritual leanings by the overwhelmingly non-pop-up presence of St. Paul’s).

You’ve made me disappointed: The William Morris museum was closed during this visit, and the great majority of the textiles have been removed from exhibit at the V&A.

You’ve left me well fed. You’ve worn me out. You’ve left me proud to have figured out the Tube system and even to find my way around a bit. You’ve left me with things I’ve not yet seen or done, things I’m glad to have revisited, and friends I’m glad to have met.

It’s been fun. Let’s do it again, shall we? But next time, I plan to visit here as well. I’ll fit it in. Perhaps I’ll even be wearing the P3 sweater?

In Wales, Day 5

Yesterday Amy Singer, one half of the P3 organizing crew, gave us a nice long class in designing lace knitting. There are about 14 students, all of us at different levels of mastery and knittingness. We were given lovely gifts–canvas shoulder bags with all kinds of handpicked knitting swag and beautiful, beautiful yarn. My three skeins included a semisolid red Falkland Merino/Nylon fingering weight blend from Alisha Goes Around, a skein of Indigo Dragonfly‘s merino sock in a sweet grey blend called Have Fun Storming The Castle (!), and a soft mossy green alpaca from Anzula. I am content. We spent the afternoon and all of this morning working on blending designs for possible shawls, and then swearing under our breath and frogging until our yarns had halos from the rough usage. Then there would be cries of triumph as someone would throw down a sample. Me? By the end of the day yesterday I had frogged my sample six times and hated my chosen patterns, and today I began anew with fresh spirit and was making progress. Just about then, lunch arrived, and after lunch, the vendors! Oh, the vendors. Two Welsh yarn dyers with lovely, lovely blends… I bought from Fyberspates, and I’d made a deal with myself only to buy projects’ worth of yarn now (not single balls, because they are lovely and not useful for anything). So, I purchased enough 4-ply Sportweight Superwash Scrumptious (a blend of silk and superwash merino) in Slate, for a sweater, and enough Faery Wings (isn’t that a wonderful name for a yarn?), a silk/mohair/nylon blend, which has no listed color but has shades of gold, red, pink, teal, and copper in it, for a shawl or maybe a Liesl. I wandered around for a while, holding them gently in my arms.

This afternoon, Brenda Dayne, the other half of our lovely leadership duo, gave a class on creating top-down raglan sweaters. It was a really helpful class and I’m hoping to put the ideas to work tonight, and begin a raglan sweater using the lace techniques Amy taught and the Scrumptious yarn (if I brought the appropriate needles). (Okay, note: That did not happen–perhaps tomorrow?)

As we knit and asked questions, the Welsh countryside outside turned dramatically from a beautiful sunny morning, pale blue sky, brilliant emerald green grass, dotted with dark-brown and copper trees and the creamy yellow of sheep in the distance, to have a leaden sky and then rain. The wind, blowing in through the propped door, smelled incredible, like a clear night. It would blow through and cool my hands, hot from holding the needles so long and so tightly. At one point we went outside for a photo, and my jeans ended up soaked from the wet grass. I was so happy.

Oh, I hear knitters gathering in the hall for TV watching and, most likely, more knitting. I have to find some mindless knitting now. Maybe a top-down raglan sweater with lace detailing? How hard could it be? Brenda makes it look so easy…

From London to Wales, Day 4

Yesterday was mad and too busy to write. I missed my train! I did. I was awake on time, but somehow misjudged the timing… and at 7:47am arrived, ticket printed out and in hand, at platform 4 from whence my 7:45am train had departed. Having no phone that works in the UK, I used a payphone to call my ride, Josie, in Cardiff, who was absolutely sweet and offered to meet me an hour later when the next train got in. I gamely purchased a new ticket–ha! So much for buying in advance!–and (this makes no sense, I know) went in search of the one thing that would give me solace:

The new Terry Pratchett book.

So, ensconced in my non-reserved train seat, bag of almonds by my side and knitting in hand, off we rushed through the English countryside, which is, of course, beautiful and looks exactly as the English countryside should, which is to say, English. No wonder everyone wanted it. Romans, Saxons, Angles, Normans… oh, and the Celts too, of course.

It seemed only a short time before we arrived in Cardiff. I battled my way upstream of a million frustrated Wales Rugby fans, a sea of red and black and green coming from the nearby Cardiff stadium that shares the parking lot with the train station. Wales had lost, but they gamely sang and made plans in Welsh to drink lots of beer anyway. I know this, because they sang, in Welsh, and held up boxes of beer to one another.

I found Josie and our fellow knitter, Lian, from London, and we piled into Josie’s car and were off. I had forgotten what it felt like to drive motorways in Britain, being on the left and using roundabouts, and it was so interesting that I refrained from knitting. Josie told us a lot of the history of the area (how one port town had crashed and currently was dealing with a lot of poverty after an industrial boom; how smaller Welsh towns can be difficult to live in if you are a minority, like Chinese or Indian, lesbian or English). We arrived at Beggar’s Reach Inn famished and excited, because the whole landscape is beautiful and the hotel looked to be an old, large white country house. The inn staff are friendly and bewildered by us. They bring us food and beverage and give us a giant room in which to knit, and in return we buy cider and tea and Felinfoel Welsh Ale, and we don’t bite too much.

Much knitting was had by all! This trip is officially called Plug and Play in Pembrokeshire, or P3 for short, and it officially started at 3pm. Officially. Unofficially, it began as soon as we arrived on Saturday. We claimed a table and ate sandwiches on wholegrain bread and drank tea and ate biscuits until Brenda and Amy ushered us into a large, light-filled banquet room that was to be our hive of activity for the weekend. And! They gave us presents! More on that later. The room grew bright, then shaded and then bright again with artificial lights as we learned all kinds of interesting lace-type things and ate very, very good food (like fried brie with cranberry sauce and baked aubergine, or eggplant, and creme brulee). As the world outside grew dark, hidden lights circling the large skylight began to glow red, yellow, green, blue, red, yellow, green, blue…

Now I prepare to sleep, with the disco lights of our gathering room shining right outside my window.

It is absolutely dark now. The disco lights have gone away, and my sky is velvet black with no stars. The cows were lowing earlier, but I scared them away with my cry of delight and rush to the fence. Funny cows, so big and yet so fraidy. Even the cows are covered in darkness, and sleep.

Kind of creative every day

A few days after the new year began I was directed to a site encouraging readers to pledge to be creative every day, in some way. This brought up mixed ideas for me, because in some ways I try to be creative just about every day (often involving food, for some reason, or presentation of educational material in such a way as to make it not seem like “educational material”) and in other ways I feel that these attempts are not valid because they are creative interpretations of activities I choose to do anyway, not truly independent or innovative thought. For example, I want to knit TMoTH a hat. I could follow a pattern, but having a creative outlet is exciting, so I knit him a cable hat that was all mine from cast-on to cast-off. Every row was a new adventure because the cables weren’t charted and so it was very organic in its growth. I was very happy with it. But it was a hat, a knitted hat, and I knew how to make knitted hats already and it was just a matter of making it. It wasn’t like I created an elbow-warmer from first principles.

But I guess this kind of thinking is what leaves one curled up in the fetal position crying on a Tuesday night. Ahem, might in theory leave one curled up in the fetal position crying on a Tuesday night. So in the spirit of our pioneer ancestors finding creativity in the basest of activities and materials, I will attempt to find the creativity in the days as they occur. I won’t always do this–I do actually look for times in which to interject my own creative endeavors–but the fact is that lately, I haven’t had the chunks of time I need to begin a big creative project, nor the mental space to play with it. Once it’s begun it can play and I can play with it and use a few minutes here, a few there. Until then, I make do, I suppose, as our foremothers did. So,

On Monday the 3rd I worked on said cable hat, as I also did for the rest of the week. (Pictures will eventually show up here, once there are any.) I also explored a little watercolor painting with Geeklet.

On Tuesday, baking day, we painted a gingerbread house with sunflower seed butter and nuts, and put it outside on the front porch for the birds. Also practiced sketching. We instituted Family Drawing Night, where after our evening mean we all drew in notebooks for 15-20 minutes. Awfully fun.

On Wednesday, more cable hat.

On Thursday, more cable hat.

On Friday… what did I do? I’d finished the hat. Hmm. Need better record keeping.

On Saturday, I was nice to myself. I bought Japanese notebooks emblazoned with inspirational Engrish in which to keep all my notes for whatever volunteer jobness I have going on (I bought several notebooks). This is Step A in my Plan To Find Ways To Be Nice To Karen (part of the whole “Embrace” program). Crying ensued. Seriously. A little notebook with “Fruit Train: Welcome to the country of the fruit. What do you see in this fruit? It is a train that carries your dream” made me seriously emotional. Call it a creativity breakthrough. Or a be-nice-to-me breakthrough. I’d been using 12-year-old half-shredded notebooks that were losing pages as I used them. Not anymore! Ha!

On Sunday I was too tired to be creative. I took G to the farmer’s market, where we explored the world of the asian pear and wondered whether there are asian apples as well. We made up stories about eggs and music bands and dogs and potatoes. I was too tired to be much creative after that.

So, the lesson, we see, involves better record keeping and a greater effort to be truly creative each day. I honestly think I was more creative than this but lacked sufficient record-keeping skills. (Should that be spelled with a “z”? Surely not.) I know that there was certainly more making involved. I drew a cow at some point.