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. ❤️

Hip to be Square

Hello, folks. I hope mid-February finds you well. Happily, I am coming out of my yarn pause. Not by knitting something new but by learning a new skill: I’ve decided to make good on my effort to start learning crochet.

In early 2017, I took up the hook and tried some rows of single crochet with an old scrappy bit of bright rainbow acrylic yarn – the first skein of yarn I ever bought in high school with which (YES) a garter-stitch belt was made! (and worn). Single-crocheting, I felt confident and even hazarded a hacky sack formation.

Revisiting my first skein of yarn, ever. Bought at the White Rose craft shop in Scarborough, Ontario.

I met my match, however, in the form of the granny square. Despite the tutorials, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around granny square logic. I frequently lost count of my stitches, shells, and chains. Diagrammed patterns confused rather than clarified. After making one too many lopsided square-ish things, I resignedly put down my lone hook and decided crochet just wasn’t for me.

Fast forward 2 years and a month: I catch a glimpse of a granny square garland on Pinterest and feel my crochet-fingers re-ignite and search out that little lone hook, long-hidden under a clattery heap of DPNs. And, what do you know – the first square happened that very night (with 5 more since then!). The stitches suddenly clicked into square-shaped place. Proof that sometimes learning takes place during (lots of) time off.

I am happily waking up to crochet. I like the “verticality” of crochet chains, the way they grow up and outward really fast. I like the smooth, metallic bend of the hook, designed to find its way through stitches easily, but not the other way around. I like that crocheting requires a much lighter hold with the yarn-hand – it eats up yarn quite voraciously, so any clutching or tightening of yarn only results in tight stitches and slowed flow. I like the logic of crochet, too – chains upon chains upon chains, all held together in different configurations. And, I like the toughness of crocheted fabric – it’s thick and solid and feels strong enough to walk on.

I placed my very first successful granny square with my doe doll. I’ve assigned her the important role of Keeper and Guardian of the Granny Squares and, accordingly, Steward of the Crochet Spirit, with the hopes that I don’t lose my crochet verve again. Is that too loopy? (pun intended). Either way, I think she enjoys her new gig.

What are you making this month?

Until next time, looking lightward!

Merci, 2018

Hello, friends. It has been nearing two months since my last thing here – I managed to miss the new-year’s tidal wave of blog posts, and then some, but am finally getting around to catching up. Having also renewed the domain for another 12 months, I thought it was high time to break my no-post dry spell.

I’ve found it challenging to keep up with blogging this past while. The last few weeks have seen me a little blocked up – it’s been hard to find my yarn-fingers (the knitter’s equivalent of sea legs) and my words. Even my gouache colours have been lying dormant and unsqueezed in their travel-toothpaste-sized tubes. After some attempts at forcing a few creative Starts — a bright orange alpaca hat that came out too small, a garment-unravelling project that hit a snag and stayed there — I’m deciding to get friendly with this period of creative dormancy — to stop trying to fix it, to let it be, and maybe even get acquainted with it.

As I’ve written in past posts, The Block is no stranger in these here parts. My projects have often followed this logic and sequence: there’s the dizzying dream of making something new, the hours of research; brow-furrowed exertion melds into hyperfocus (the sweet spot and superpower of creators!); acuity grows with repetition and concentration, but unfortunately, so does fatigue; the arc of work winds down; soon, I find myself not just tapped out, but feeling a bit like the bikes I’ve seen around town, tethered in place and missing a wheel (am I the only one who likes to imagine the complex emotional worlds of bicycles?).

That said, I’m learning to soften into periods of pause, like this one. Although the needles and keyboard are mostly silent these days, I keep cooking and ironing the odd shirt and puttering around the apartment with my green-bristled broom, witchy and on the lookout for dust-bunnies. I read books and aspire to finish books — one at a time, too, which is very uncharacteristic. I eat milk chocolate and talk to friends and watch funny movies. I try not to let the post-vacation laundry pile creep too high. I drink detox herbs at night, stream episodes of “Tidying Up” with Marie Kondo and make an earnest attempt at streamlining the spice cabinet (that’s about as far as I get, but I’m happy, in the process, to rediscover a jar of hidden cloves so I count the effort a success). 🙂

I also take stock of projects past, reminding myself that Pauses are temporary guests and not year-round roommates. When I think back on my creative journey of 2018, I remember that it was a great year, full of firsts, milestones, growth, and giving — a very first colour-work garment (yay!), breaking into lace in a big way, doll-making experiments, and knitting up a good amount of baby-things and gifts. It was a year of giving away and keeping the learnings. It was a solid year.

In that spirit, I pulled this little blue butterfly out from my 2013 watercolour archives — I chose it as if to say “Merci” to 2018 for all the good things, and to lift a little wing for the flight ahead.

The (Handi)Craft of Writing

Hello, dear folks of WordPress. I hope mid-November finds you well.

I have not, in fact, crawled under a rock, run away with the circus, or joined the witness protection program (as my recent radio silence might have suggested). I have, rather, been wading around, waist-deep in writing territory, chipping away at the Big Project. More than a couple hundred pages into this thesis, and I still underestimate how consuming writing can be. In the living room of the mind, this project has taken up lots of space. It’s been like that inconveniently large sofa-bed we’ve all encountered — the heavy-bulky one with weird contours that jut out at awkward, space-consuming angles. Sure, it’s big and comfortable, but it eats precious floorspace and hampers easy mobility around it, violating all the principles of Feng Shui. What’s more, its upholstery has got a loud, monopolizing print that refuses to match even the best of colour-coordinated afghansSuch is my relationship to this work (and why the knitting needles and art supplies have been mostly unattended these days).

It’s an odd form of infatuation, writing is.  

Why I hand write

One thing I’ve come to love about the process has been thinking about all the ways writing intersects with art and hand-crafting. It seems that my crafting sensibilities have invaded my writing process. This has not always been the case! I used to rely heavily on my laptop to make words. But lo and behold, the past few weeks find me going back to what used to be my hand-writing holy trinity: pencil, paper, and Staedtler eraser.

A different kind of handmade WIP.

I find the word processor excellent for editing and revision. But when it comes to brainstorming and generating that very first draft — that initial, fear-riddled leap from nothing to something — handwriting fits the bill, for me, for several reasons.

It’s a slower pace of composition that puts no pressure for speed on word-recall. A slower hand, decelerated by the friction of pencil lead, gives my mind time to perform its internal word search. Ideas are so fragile at this first stage, and with the pencil, they get time and space to ripen and coalesce. There’s time, too, to pay attention to rhythm and sound; form does not fight with content.

The hand-written page, I find, is also very low commitment, and that’s good. It’s the writerly equivalent of a laundry-hamper: no one needs to ever see the state of the things that go in there! It’s also a kind of “test swatch”; the page can be a space of freedom and possibility and privacy (and that means the writing becomes a bit more comfortable again).

Also, tactility. A lot of Word processor functions mimic things we habitually do on paper. Whether bolding text, writing comments in the margins, cutting and pasting, or adding a strategic strikethrough, underline or highlight, these are all imitations of the ways we touch words in their making. Wrangling with the tactility of text — restoring words and meaning to their material state — reminds me that working with words is a craft. Word-working is not so different from wood-working, after all. It can be just as fun as selecting a fiber or texture, or planning the hues in a yoke (as the picture above shows, my process now includes literally cutting and pasting sections together, true to my crafter’s heart).

Finally, I love paper. Specifically, there’s something magic and special about that yellow paper — the humble yellow legal pad with the blue lines and pink margin.

Chapters.

This stuff is like chicken soup for the writer’s soul (a fitting metaphor, as it’s about the same chicken soup-colour). In pad form, the paper feels soft and smooth and cushioned and kind — as inviting as a newly made bed in clean, striped yellow linens. “Lay your words here,” the pad seems to say, and, bit by bit, the words come, wanting to find a resting place. The paper itself is thin, dismally rip-able, and bordering on translucent, evoking the flimsiness of newsprint. Strangely, this flimsiness is comforting; it sends a message to the subconscious that, like newsprint, this writing is entirely disposable and chuck-able in the trash bin (or better yet, recyclable). And, like the daily paper, whatever gets crumpled up today will be replaced by more ink and more words the next day; the paper evokes regularity, the mundane, and assurance of abundant things to come tomorrow. So much of writing fluency, I’m learning, lies in managing the state of constantly being confronted with the unknown; for the blocked or beleaguered writer, anything that helps with recovering ease and regularity is nothing short of miraculous. This paper is my secret sauce.


Thanks for reading my writing ramblings, with likely more to come. It helps me tremendously to take a breather from the work and reflect on what helps and what hinders the writing process. And, my crafter’s brain is always looking to stitch up the connections between writing and other forms of creative practice. I would love to hear how others make this connection. What role does writing play in your non-writing creative practice and productivity?

Until next time!