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!

Doll 3: Craft as care

Hello. How has the start of April found you? We’ve had snow¬†in Chicago (just 2 days ago), but today the light and birds are back.

I’ve sewn another felt doe. I decided, after the last one, to put a pause on the doll-making in order to focus on my other project, but I couldn’t resist stitching this one, very much driven by a vision and a feeling. So, I did my best to make time for her in the interstices of other goings on (Easter, a new academic quarter, and so on). Now the doll is done! As you’ll see, this one is a little under the weather, a little blue, and in need of general proximity to a blanket. It was only after I finished that I saw the doll as a kind of mashup between Eeyore of Winnie the Pooh and Linus of Peanuts (they share an emotional kinship, don’t they?). But, not to worry: this doe is in good company.

It’s been my habit, after completing projects, to write up a ‘process post’ and unpack some of the working-up from my (maker) point of view. This time, I thought I’d tell the hand-crafting story from a slightly different perspective and, in the process, create a short visual narrative about care — or, how I’ve come to understand the caring space that crafting creates for me. Craft is a space of openness, patience, generosity, and exploration; it’s a very good place to find one’s feet, heal from whatever is ailing, and support renewal and new directions. This supportive aspect of making leads me to believe that making is kind of like a second immune system (and one nurtured by continuous practice). ūüôā In this way, I’m coming to discover how the things we make quite powerfully (re)make us in turn.

Enjoy. And deer hugs!

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Have you ever felt “crafted” by a project you were working on? In what ways?

1st week of Spring: thinking about process and play

I hope you’ve enjoyed a great week.

This week has been a bit busy on my end: there have been a few unexpected (time-consuming) things to attend to at home and, of course, the larger academic project I’m working on. But, it hasn’t been so busy that I did not find time to play with my doll patterns, felt, and flosses.

Beyond all language and metrics of productivity, the time I spend making dolls / making things for the dolls is essentially that: play. In contrast to my recent knitting projects (where I had a clear pattern to work, directions to follow), a lot of my doll-crafting time feels a bit like a state of suspension – with the work being invented as I go, I feel my grip on goal-direction loosen and lose its unilinear quality: many solutions to problems or dilemmas crop up, or work themselves out over a week or two after playing with and testing out different alternatives. In this state, crafting feels both hazy and focused. On the one hand, working feels like walking through dreams – like being given license to wander and explore, precisely because so many things are possible. At the same time, my usual sensitivities become a bit more acute, acuity sharpens (mostly for the better!). I’d like to write a longer post on my thoughts on this process, but for the time being, I’ll say that recovering a space and sense of play and open-endedness (design!) is becoming a major route to enabling my creativity and well-being (no big surprise there, perhaps!).

I’ve also taken, recently, to using notebooks as little homes to organize ideas for different crafting media. It’s nice to have separate, offline spaces for collecting, gathering, sketching, diarizing, and jotting down. For me, it’s otherwise easy for various projects to get jumbled up (and meld into an overwhelming mega-project), or for me to forget that perfect idea that came in the shower. I’m not a multi-tasker, but more of a serial single-tasker (and I very much struggle with making the transitions in between). Hence, the need for little homes where the different ideas can find kinship, cross-pollinate, and lead a happy existence until I’m able to properly attend to them. Taking out one of these books and putting it on my one-and-only work desk also signals to me that I’m entering the zone for that particular project. When space is limited, these books help me to set the tone and intention for a work session.

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Let’s not let the best ideas get tangled up like that floss: the orange book is for doll-making & blogging, the white one for knitting, and the black one for drawings.

And, on the doll front…

Last week, I bought some extra skeins of floss and, having learned some lessons from the previous project, a set of doll needles (just saying that brings me a flicker of excitement).

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The bigger doll needles in the set measure 3 inches (compare with the regular hand-sewing needle above). Doll needles are long, ample-eyed, and are super for stitching through multiple doll parts and fabric-layers with thick, heavier-duty thread. They make the sewing of classic doll button joints, for instance, 1000 times easier.

In that arena, it looks like last week’s deer-friend¬†is anticipating some company.

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You know, after all, what they say about March: it comes in like a lion, and goes out like a… doe (that’s the saying, right?).

Looking forward to catching up with your creative goings on, and wishing you a great Easter / weekend!

How do you organize your work on multiple media and/or projects? (notebooks, schedules, workspaces, other methods?). And, do you distinguish between work on patterns designed and generated by others, and those you design yourself?

Felt doll #2: Doe

In the first week of March, I started work designing and making a 2nd felt figure. After my first one, I was on a bit of a felt-doll kick and decided to run with it.

The Idea

The idea for this doll came unexpectedly, but once it arrived, it didn’t let go. One night, while looking aimlessly at the faux-marble designs on our kitchen floor tiles, I saw the face and figure of a little doe in the marble-y striations (my childhood habit of cloud-gazing, it seems, is following me into adulthood). This little doe caught my imagination. I knew then and there that she would be the next doll.

On reflecting further, there was good reason for my little deer vision. My partner and I live near a forest preserve. Last summer, we regularly went on hikes through the more heavily wooded areas, off the path. There, one encounters many little worlds. There was, for instance, the place we called “Frog Central,” which was just that: a nutrient-rich pond covered entirely by luminous green, seed-sized duckweed leaves; its busy banks were always a favourite frog and turtle hangout. What I still remember vividly, though, were the encounters with deer: spotting a lone and roaming stag, twice and, several other times, crossing literal paths with a doe and her fawn, trailing behind. The city makes it easy to forget that we share our world with other creatures who, like us, are simply trying to go about their lives, undisturbed.

Sewing Up

On March 4th, I started to draw out different paper templates. By the 5th, I was cutting out my pieces and threading my needles. I was driven by a lot of curiosity and helped by making a lot of mistakes (some which I kept on the FO, like the different stitch patterns on the doe’s arms, as a reminder for future dolls).

 

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Button joints lend moving limbs.

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Close scrutiny of an offered ear (after several tries, this one passed the test and was deer-approved).

 

A Dress for Spring

By the following week, the deer was sitting for a dress-fitting. Coraline’s miniature-knits were still fresh in my memory (this dress is huge by comparison, of course).

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I generated a very minimal design and, after knitting up the dress, I was reminded of the advice given by the instructor who taught my college class on painting fundamentals. She was a professional landscape artist who had an irreverent and humorous teaching style (and inducted us into painting by having us build and stretch numerous 16 sq ft canvases in the studio). Early in the course, she told us “When you find yourself ‘decorating’ your work, stop!”

I have never been good at following this advice. At my core, you’ll find an inveterate “decorator.” I learned this early on: in another art class, we were asked to make a simple “fetish object”; while the other students’ works were nearly all very interesting conceptual objects, I arrived to our critique with a glass bottle that I had fully bedazzled¬†with multi-colored rhinestones and acrylic paint. I felt like I’d missed the point of the assignment! (and discovered, in that encounter, the presumed and often discouraging hierarchy between “art” and “craft”).

I’m recovering my love of embellishment, however, so I had to add a little something extra to this tiny dress. I tried to practice some restraint, though (no rhinestones!). The X’s and O’s on the yoke are my take on Fair Isle patterning. The dress is knit from bamboo yarn; I added sequins to complement the bamboo’s natural luster. The dress is designed to catch those Spring-time rays.

 

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I hope that this week finds you like this doe – basking in the glow of a long-missed sunbeam.

To Spring! (and to unseasonable, un-Spring-like weather here in the Midwest. I’ll take the sun any day).

Tiny Knits in Coraline

This is probably old hat, but have you seen Coraline?

The 2009 movie is based on the novel by Neil Gaiman, and was directed and written for screen by Henry Selick. I right away assumed that Tim Burton was involved in the film, but he was not – this was a surprise to read, considering the visual and style-similarities between Coraline and the Nightmare Before Christmas (and other delightfully creepy Burton-worlds).

Coraline is a girl caught between two worlds, two versions of reality which, in the style of¬†The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, are connected by a portal in her newly-occupied rural home (convenient!).¬†That’s all I’ll say, plotwise. But check out some of the film’s visual and hand-crafted delights!

A doll-making scene opens the film. The vibe is Edward Scissorhands meets hand-sewing. Seam-rippers, buttons, spools, patterns, needles-and-thread come alive (and since doll-making has been my preoccupation for the past couple of weeks, my attention was grabbed. I love these creepy doll-maker’s needle-hands.)

The Coraline cast of characters also includes a smooth-talking feline sidekick who accompanies Coraline on her cross-world travels…

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…a duo of aging starlets — Miss Spink and Miss Forcible — and their knitting needle shenanigans….

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…and an enthusiastic audience of (what else?) circus-going Scottish terriers.

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Last, but not least, of the movie’s visual delights: beautiful, super-tiny knitwear.

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Am I the only one who wants this sweater, full-scale?

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Photo source: Robert Scheer / Indy Star

The above sweater and glove pieces were indeed hand knit by Bloomington, Indiana-based fiber artist, Althea Crome, who specializes in micro-knitting. She is known for her marvelous mini-sweaters, some of which are knit at a gauge of 80 sts to the inch (!) and often feature complex colourwork patterns (all of which are knit rather than embroidered). Here, Althea Crome talks about micro-knitting:

And here I thought working a fingering weight on size 2s was ‘small’!

All in all, a fun film! (short post today)

Until next time!