I Love a Good Yarn

Yarns, stories, and sometimes stories about yarn

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Traditional crafting

Late this afternoon I spied this book review on the New York Times website. It’s a fantastic writeup of the book Cræft: An Inquiry into the Origins and True Meanings of Traditional Crafts by Alexander Langlands. The last paragraph made my heart sing:

Langlands, surprisingly unsentimental for someone who made his fame doing historical re-enactments, resists the pull of nostalgia. Yet he makes a persuasive case that the surrender of our lives to machines represents a regression. “Factory manufacture,” he writes, “robs us of a special something: contemplation.” He’s not talking about the big questions of human existence, but of the hundreds of small ones that go into something as simple — or as complex — as building a stone wall: “Which to use? How to work it? Where to strike it?” In the end, this is the case he makes for craeft. At a time where our disconnection from the world around us is not just tragic but downright dangerous, recovering our status as Homo faber, the species that makes things, may be our salvation.

The thought and consideration that goes into both the preparation and execution of creating something with one’s own hands are what make crafting so much fun for me–the excitement of finding some gorgeous wool, bringing it home and then researching the perfect project for it. I even love making the gauge swatch and feeling the satisfaction when I know the size and shape are likely to suit me or the piece’s future owner just right. And like most knitters, I feel an almost rapturous joy in casting on that new project.

I’m in the market for some new books to load onto the Kindle before a trip to California next month, and this may fit the bill. I love that the author not only investigates the activities themselves, but also words associated with these activities (such as pleaching, retting and marling) that have fallen out of use as these activities were set aside for more industrialized practices. I also like that the tone is described as being not over nostalgic. Though I love my hand crafts, I do appreciate the modernizations of strong wool spun in easily manageable gauges and dyed gorgeous hues–all available to me in my local yarn shop or online. What I do hope comes through in the book though, as hinted by the paragraph quoted above, is that these activities bring a value beyond the final product, and recapturing that value and making it a regular part of our lives can be positively rejuvenating.

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The analog nature of crafting

Yesterday I wrote about crafting for a cause, and how the generally supportive, generous nature of crafting communities lends itself so well to charitable efforts. That idea was spurred by the New York Times article I cited that discussed the needs of wildlife rescue organizations for warm coverings for both its animals and care-givers. The other article I read yesterday that really got me thinking was this one about using paper planners or calendars versus digital tools (it’s currently the #9 “most emailed” article on the New York Times website).

I’m very much a proponent of paper planners. I have a beautiful calendar book from Peter Pauper Press (the one with the kitties on the cover, of course) that I always have either next to me on my desk, or in my bag when I’m away from home. I’ve never warmed to digital calendars, like the Google or Outlook tools. I use Outlook for work, as that’s how we plan meetings with colleagues, but every appointment, dinner, movie, vacation, class or concert I plan in my personal life gets logged in the paper calendar. I can easily see my whole week (so I know when I’m overbooking myself), make lots of notes and stay on top of things I need to remember. I even like scratching out things I decide not to do or that need to be rescheduled. The digital calendars have always struck me as cold and judgmental. Moving appointments around is a hassle on my little iPhone screen, and those tiny slots on the calendar don’t tell me all I need to know without tapping the screen numerous time (which often leads to my deleting important entries by accident). I’m sure that judgmental thing is just my neuroses talking, but I’m wondering if there’s more to it than that, and if there’s some correlation to being a crafter.

In other areas of my life, I really don’t mind that technology has infiltrated. I’m writing this blog online on my MacBook Pro. I use Scrivener software for my longer-form writing. It would never occur to me to write on a typewriter or by hand when drafting a novel. I even self-published my first novel as an ebook, and have only fleetingly considered putting out a paper edition. But when it comes to crafting, with very few exceptions, I greatly prefer analog to digital.

Yes, of course, there is Ravelry, which is a wonderful tool for finding patterns, reviewing projects and connecting with other fiber enthusiasts. But, I think it’s the very tactile nature of knitting and crochet, and sewing and quilting for that matter, that makes so many of us a bit technology-averse. I love all the wonderful knitting gadgets, like interchangeable circular needles, Norwegian knitting thimbles, fanciful stitch markers and the like. But when it comes to any sort of digital gadget or tool, like battery-operated row counters, online color work chart tools or sweater pattern generators, I really want no part. And for that matter, I’ve never known anyone to use such things. Quite the opposite really–I find that, the more experienced the craft person, the more he or she is interested in getting into more of the low-tech aspects of the craft, such as the avid knitter taking up spinning, dying or even deciding to raise sheep or alpacas.

So, along with our compassionate side, I find crafters are also much more comfortable with things and activities that may be considered by some to be old-fashioned, outdated or even a bit Luddite in nature. But that’s just another aspect of the community that I find so very appealing.

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Naknicromo day 29: Any other crafts?

We’re nearing the finish line, and none too soon! I’m not sure I love this idea of month-long blog challenges. This one was OK, as it did offer some interesting post topics, but it tended to be a bit repetitive. I really only like posting when I feel I have something interesting, entertaining, or insightful to write – I’m sure we’ve all seen the, “Hey everyone, don’t have much to say today” posts and wondered why the blogger bothered with a post at all. That being said …

There’s this April A to Z challenge I just read about. It offers more flexibility than the Naknicromo challenge, and even gives you every Sunday (except April 30th) off. I’m thinking about it, though I will be on vacation for a week and a half in April and will only have my iPad or phone for doing blog entries on those days, which isn’t ideal. Anyone ever done this challenge or planning to do it this year?

Back to Naknicromo – the only other craft I’ve dabbled in recently is some simple sewing. I made my neighbor a lovely set of eight quilted placemats for Christmas, and I have the fabric to make a set of four for my mother. I would love to go beyond dabbling and learn to make clothing, much for the same reason I enjoy knitting. I don’t often find clothes that really excite me, so I end up buying some really boring, functional fashion. The items often don’t fit as I would want, don’t hold up well, and don’t make me feel fabulous. On the other hand, I love wearing the knitted pieces I’ve made for myself. They are custom-built for my shape and taste, and knowing that I created them gives me a sense of satisfaction that I believe comes across in my demeanor when wearing them. If I could reach a level of confidence in sewing that I have in knitting, I would be over the moon. What holds me back is the fear of cutting fabric – once the scissors have done their job, there’s no turning back, so errors can be costly. With knitting, you can always frog, but with sewing, there might be some very discouraging, irreparable mistakes that come with the learning curve. This, like all things, probably requires starting small and simple, and working up from there.

Hmmm, I think I just addressed tomorrow’s “Crafts I’d like to learn” Naknicromo topic. Darnit!

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Naknicromo day 3: How did you learn your craft?

In the summer of 1999 I moved from New York City to Stuttgart, Germany. The opportunity arose from a casual conversation with one of my company’s executives about the weather. Learning that the conditions in Germany were stellar over the long Easter weekend, compared with the damp chill in New York City, this colleague commented that I might be better served working in the Stuttgart headquarters. A few months later I was making the move.

My time in Stuttgart had its up and downs – the downs being largely a feeling of isolation, as I only knew a handful of my colleagues and had no other connections in my new home. But I made a few very lovely friends, one of whom was a woman hired on in the office about 9 months or so after I’d arrived. Many days she’d bring her knitting to the office, and, as mentioned in an earlier post here, I’d first thought it sort of a quaint throw-back. But when I’d see her wearing the items she’d been working on weeks earlier, I became more impressed with the skill involved as well as with the idea of having a pastime that resulted in such beautiful garments. She graciously offered to teach me, gave me some leftover yarn from her projects and needles, and I got started on what turned out to be a very long, very colorful, uneven, kinda kooky scarf.

First Ever Scarf

It’s a great reminder of my early knitting days, and I still wear it with great pride.

Because I learned to knit from a German friend, I knit Continental style, which suits me wonderfully, as I’m left-handed. I like the control I have in holding the working yarn in my left hand. If I’d have learned the English/American method, I’m not sure I would have taken to it as readily.

After moving back to New York City in February 2001, I started frequenting the unfortunately now defunct shop, called The Yarn Tree, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. There, the wonderful proprietress, Linda LaBelle, taught a class that was also highly valuable to my evolution as a knitter. It was a sock and mitten class, which introduced me to the proper method of knitting in the round. I had been doing it completely backwards, knitting along the inside of the piece. When Linda pointed out my error, I was at first very defensive, but then quickly realized that I was no expert, and it’s best to heed the wisdom of the experts if I truly wanted to improve my skills. It was an important lesson from a very patient teacher, and I’m forever grateful to her for gently driving that lesson home. She still sells online at www.theyarntree.com and has done wonderful works in sharing her deep knowledge of fibers and dying with women in impoverished communities the world over, giving them a means to earn income they hadn’t had before.

And she showed me the light when it came to knitting in the round, and my first pair of socks and first pair of mittens turned out pretty darn good because of her.