Reunited

Before the lockdown, I was a regular CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) commuter. My job took me all across the city and, depending on the delays, the trip there could last upwards of an hour and a half, one way. Not one to lose this time, I used to spend my commuter hours crocheting on trains and buses (I was that lady).

Crochet is the perfect commuter craft. You need only a single hook rather than the 2 needles of knitting. And nothing pointy to potentially poke someone (or yourself) with! I took to crocheting on the buses so often that it was only a matter of time before I decided to bring a craft kit to work so that I could swap out different colours, day to day. I miss my days as the crocheting writing teacher.

My kit is full of scrappy Cascade yarn. I also brought 2 crochet hooks, a Swiss Army knife, and a cross-stitched ornament, from a friend. The kit sat in our office for over 6 months! I went back, recently, to retrieve it; it’s a little dustier than when I left it, but intact. I’ve missed these hooks and skeins.

As you can make out, one of my favourite things to work on are granny squares. They are these wonderful little marvels! Using the magic of maths and loops-within-loops (or chains on chains, in crochet-speak), these symmetrical yarn squares can be used for whatever you like… how about a granny square jacket? or a cushion? or a marvelous afghan, like the one being made by my dear blogging pal, Tierney, described in her series of posts on granny square madness? Because, yes, when one starts with granny squares, it’s hard to stop. Over my several commutes, I ended up making a bunch of different squares with no plan for them. I decided to put them all together to make a banner to adorn the window in my shared office. Now that I’m home most days, the banner adds colour to the blank wallspace in front of the kitchen sink (making my turn at dish-duty a little merrier).

Believe or not, I miss taking the train. I miss my long bus ride along the scenic Lakeshore Drive and its endless blue horizon. The buses and train platforms do get crowded during rush hour, but I miss the Chicago subway musicians, among the best. And I miss that moment when I finally manage to find a seat, and hunker down with a playlist and some granny square-time. Now that my kit is back home, it reminds me of the tiny freedoms of making on the go.

Ok. More makes to come. Wishing you happy crafting this week, and hoping that you’re soaking in all of the gold of Autumn.

Macramé

There’s something about macramé that makes me very nostalgic. Not for the 1970s, but the 1990s.

A dear friend and I spent a holiday night, last January, crafting macramé keychains for the fun of it. As we knotted the thick ropes, I realized that macramé resembles one of the very first crafts I ever learned: friendship bracelets (remember those?).

Camilla Gryski’s Friendship Bracelets, which sold at my elementary school book fair, was the first craft-book I ever used to teach myself a new skill.

It was the late 90s, and I was in my last years of elementary school. In our small schoolyard world, friendship bracelets were right up there with GAP perfume, jeans with torn cuffs, and over-sized Disney-NBA jerseys. I remember that a few of my friends bought Friendship Bracelets one year, and we started the hobby together. I remember going to the local mall-craftstore to buy a handful’s worth of embroidery floss. I remember how we challenged ourselves to try more complicated patterns — first, the simple “spiral” cord, then diagonal stripes, the arrowhead, then X’s and O’s. The brave and determined makers tackled the formidable ‘double-thickness’ bracelets. I remember the process of choosing from all those vivid colours of floss, the feel of the smooth, separable strands, and the sheen of the little completed knots, lined up like tiny pearls. The point of all of this was to trade what we made. The swap brought its own joys — the moment of reveal, the rite of tying a bracelet to your friend’s wrist at recess, the warm feeling of loved-labour given away. Creativity, new skills, and sharing — aren’t those the things most beloved by craftspersons?

But I digress. To return to the macramé… Last April, I was in the process of winding up the last bits of thesis writing. Being homebound and under lockdown meant getting much more acquainted with my inner critic (!) than I’d expected. It was a nervous time. I needed a way to wind down. Not too long before, I had borrowed a copy of Fanny Zedenius’ Macramé – the craft of creative knotting for your home and had recently ordered a large spool of cotton cord.

I was grappling with a few writing tangles at the time, and I guess this knot-based craft felt comforting and appropriate. Macramé suggested, in its form, that a ‘knot’ was not inherently a bad thing. In the right situation, a knot was a design element (this made me feel better about all of the “knots” left in my paper… it’s just written macramé, after all).

So I started a new project. An hour before bed, I’d hang my dowel on the back of the bathroom door where the light is good, queue up a talk or podcast, and let my fingers do the rest.

It was a straightforward project, but it helped me get through a tricky writing period. The cords are substantial — full of heft and weight and texture. In contrast to knitting and crochet, macramé makes you wrestle a bit. And when I finished the project, I hung it proudly on the wall of my crafting/writing nook.

My favourite part of the project was combing out the rope-ends to make swishy tassels, then cutting them level — very “doll hairstylist” (though it seems I cut a tress too short. Whoops).

Now, I’m trying to figure out what this cotton spool can do next…

Happy Monday. Wishing you good things on the make!

Back to the Blog, Take 2

It has been exactly one year and 12 days since my last blog post. I feel like that last post was just a blink ago. So much has changed since that time. Big things and small things. Thinking back to that period makes me realize how much I took for granted, and how much I am grateful for.

I thought it was about time to reflect on where the time has gone, and take an inventory (even if only for my own edification). Here are some highlights:

A Retreat

I spent some time in September 2019 on a silent (solo) retreat at an Anglican convent. I am not an Anglican, and it may sound like a strange thing to enter a convent right after getting married(!). But I found myself approaching the end of 2019 — after months of planning, and still attempting to make a dent on my academic work — in need of a serious period of recharge. The community of kind sisters at St. John the Divine (in Willowdale, Ontario) allow guests to customize their own retreats, and I thought the idea of spending some time in nature and silence would be restorative. I ended up spending a little over a week with them in solitude, reflection, and the green quiet of their grounds. Even meals were taken in silence. The stay was the perfect time & place to rest and recover. They had a medium-sized stone labyrinth that gave me many happy moments of walking meditation. If you have not tried a labyrinth, I recommend it.

After years of late-night work sessions and an irregular grad student schedule, I found the bell-timed rhythms of convent life very regulating and calming. The sisters, I discovered to my delight, also produced some truly beautiful lacework. No surprise that the contemplative life gives time to yield beautiful things (and finish puzzles, it seems).

I found myself leaving the retreat feeling much more centered.

A new job and a Defense under lockdown

This rest prepared me to start a new job in October, and eased my transition to part-time teaching again after 6 years of research and writing. Maybe it was the effect of the verdant surrounds with the sisters, but something in me felt green and open-hearted, ready to instruct and mentor students. It took some time and patience to make the shift to teaching after being in writing mode for so long, but I truly enjoyed this work.

Come January, I decided that 2020 would be the year that I finally earned my degree. My time in my Ph.D. program had dragged on into well over a decade (12 years!), and the resources spent were beginning to take a toll, in several senses. I was determined to graduate. I spent the subsequent months writing what was left to write (an Introduction and a Conclusion) while allowing myself to focus on only the most-needed revisions.

In the midst of that final push, our state’s COVID “shelter in place” order began; it started in March and lasted for 3 months, until the end of June. The good news, for me: classes were taught (online), students mentored, the thesis was done and submitted, and the degree was received. But my inadvertent switch to passive voice points to the stress and strangeness of the past 7 months — the ways in which, while ticking the TO DO boxes of life, I also felt somewhat dissociated and at a remove from things.

My Zoom thesis Defense happened in the living room, in front of two screens, some written notes, a cup of tea, and a picture of mom and dad back home.

Nowadays

These days…coping with multiple-scales and sorts of stressors has become the norm; I know that I am very much not alone in this. This period is acquainting me with anxiety all around — viral, professional, political, existential, relational (and on and on) as the bonds in my and others’ lives become even more tenuous. The relief of zoning out into everyday tasks — laundry, a trip to the grocery store — alternates with moments of gut-squeezing immediacy and realness. From my position as a person with Asian & African American heritage in particular, I feel ongoing grief at the current political and social situation — at witnessing systems of rhetoric, policing, and viral threat collude to harm and bring about the loss of precious lives. I dare to believe that a more just world is possible than what we have created, and want to align my energies towards that world.

These days, I am healing by making space for hope. Blogging will be part of that hopeful space. I’m opening myself to discovering different ways to serve, be present, amplify voices for justice, and steward recovery, within my capacity (even if small). I stay afloat by reading all of the wonderful books I wasn’t able to in past years, and am drawing strength from heroes, old and new.

I’m doing research and diving deep into my history, heritage(s), and identity, endowing this knowledge with value, sharing it with family and others, and holding it up as a shining gem; in doing this, I counter the words and actions of those who don’t yet see the value of the lives and legacies I hold dear. During tougher moments, I remind myself, simply, to take care of myself.

I hope that you are all staying as well as can be in the midst of these times. I hope that you’re finding a sense of safety and support from your near-and-dears, and I hope that, whatever your hands are working on, making is helping you to create spaces of peace, rest, relief, and love.

Speaking of makes, there are projects to discuss. I promise lighter reading on future posts! Things have been made, and they will be written about! Until next time. ❤️

Flower Garlands

Earlier this Spring, I had the idea of decorating our reception venue with lots of handmade flowers. I had originally wanted to make big flowers to festoon the doors and windows. Like an excessive number of huuuuge flowers, or a crochet-flower photo backdrop. I even bought a 25 mm crochet hook and mega-bulky yarn to make this floral dream come true.

Big crochet.

The big flowers weren’t a success: they came out too floppy to hang. Also, I never got comfortable working with that huge hook (and the levels of wrist and arm torque it calls for!).

I went back to my worsted weight yarn and chose 2 floral patterns. For a month or so, my hooks seldom left my side. Train rides, car rides, waiting rooms, and the post dinner lull — it all became prime crochet time. Each flower was done in 20 minutes or so, and the crochet patterns became second nature, which surprised me. I always used to marvel at how crocheters could memorize their complex patterns. It was all a mess of loops, to me, before I started the craft myself. I like to think back to a story my mother would tell of my legendary crocheting great-aunt who could make a peacock-patterned curtain panel over afternoon TV. She was an inveterate cigar-smoker and, as the story goes, could smoke, watch and crochet simultaneously (she smoked out of the side of her mouth, and rarely looked down at the work). I wish I had her levels of multi-tasking ability!

Perhaps more than any other project, this one taught me the motivating power of working on small, quickly finished things in succession: after one flower is done, the mind says “again,” and the works seems to complete itself.

I strung all the little flowers onto 6 garlands, and added some quickly made tassels to the mix. I was happy with how they came out. After the party, the garlands sat in a box for a month, getting their petals bent out of shape. I felt sorry for this. So, I recently took them out and gave them their very own wall. They are keeping our space festive.

Has anyone had success with the huge 50 US/25.00 mm crochet hook? Or making decor or garments with mega bulky yarn? I would love to hear about it in the comments!

Happy mid-September Saturday!

The road lace traveled

Hello friends, makers, and creators of WordPress. After a 3 month hiatus from blogging, I’m hoping to get a semi-regular posting habit going again. Although I haven’t been as active blog-wise this year, I have been reading and enjoying your posts. Your collective creativity sustained my imagination during my own blogging dry spell, and reading your stories and updates inspires me to come back to making, reflecting, and writing again — the lather, rinse, repeat of creativity (like, in a good way).

One happy update: earlier this summer, I tied the knot with my partner and best friend of 9 years! We enjoyed a sunny day and a simple, symbolic ceremony outside of Chicago on a grassy patch by a lake. We were grateful for fluffy clouds across a blue Midwestern sky and the loving company of close friends and family.

So. While planning, one thing I definitely wanted to do for the day was to wear a handmade garment. Having read about traditions of lace-making in The Book of Haps a year ago, my mind was full of lace-shaped dreams. I love the way lace catches light and drapes and moves and makes shadows. I was also resolved to take my lace skills to the next level. I decided, last Spring, that I’d make myself a shawl.

I chose a sport weight baby blue alpaca (as my LYS-lady said, alpaca’s got a natural “glow”) and selected a pattern that looked challenging but also possible for me: Jessie Dodington’s Dinner in the Eiffel Tower shawl. It’s a beautiful crescent-shaped cover, inspired by the famous tower’s criss-cross lattice structure. I was excited, enthused, pumped on wedding-planning adrenaline, and on my way…

© Jessie Dodington

But, because mistakes are inevitable…

I realized, early on, that I needed to devise my own way of dealing with lace-making mistakes in order to avoid past (disappointing) experiences of frogging-the-whole-darn-thing. With the later rows reaching 265 stitches, this became all the more important! Since the lattice section of the shawl relied on a pattern that repeated every 7 stitches, I “pre-knit” each row by weaving a line of yarn in between stitches to mark every 7-stitch repeat. This marking method helped me to “see” where each repeat was going to occur before physically knitting the row out. When I did, inevitably, make a mistake, this method also helped me to see where in the knitting the mistake happened, making correcting it 1000 times easier. It was time-consuming, yes, but this method was my own little eureka! moment of lace-knitting; it got me through the project and showed me that, with a little extra planning, more lace-making is possible in the foreseeable future.

As usual, when the shawl first comes off the needles, it’s a crumpled up, non-shawl-looking thing. The structures of lace come alive on the blocking board.

Pictures!

On the blocking board.
Out where lace loves to live: under the sun.

Just revisiting these pictures from earlier this summer fills me with a sense of lace-lover’s magic all over again.

Ok. That is all the news for now. Wishing you a restful weekend and an exciting, productive week!