The Writing Capelet, Part I

Hello! I hope your May-month is off to a beautiful and prolific start — that new ideas are slowly pushing up violets and greens from the soil like so many spring-time crocuses.

The more I craft, the more I realize that I turn to making to help me solve various kinds of practical problems. I’m learning that very good things can come from the quandaries. Let me explain how I mean this.

A Writing Problem

After my writing trickled to a near and painful stand-still last year, 2018 brought a very good and welcome change: that homecoming-feeling of slowly finding comfort and ease with words again. More than ever, I’m willing and able to regularly sit for the repeated roll-up-your-shirtsleeves sessions that will lead (hopefully) to a completed first thesis draft. The work of writing is still slow-going; first drafts are always the most painful and embarassing. But, I’m learning that self-forgiveness can soften the process, and curiosity about what’s next is enough to keep me tethered to the pages. This is a project that I have been working on, in some fashion, for several yearsit’s refreshing to know that the renewal of curiosity is still (always) possible.

BUT. It seems, my physiology has something to say about this. Specifically, my natural tendency to coldness. An hour of work in the wrong conditions can leave me feeling bone-chilly, energy-sapped, and in dire need of tea followed by a pulse-quickening run. The usual writerly haunts — the cool, air-conditioned interiors of libraries and coffee shops — are great for quick visits. But the temperature needed to preserve coffee beans, open-faced lox sandwiches, and the spines and fibers of books is getting hard to tolerate for sustained reading and writing. Just too cold.

So, what’s a writer to do?

Knit for the Writing

I decided to address this issue by knitting myself something warm to wear. It would, preferably, be snug, non-lacy, shoulder-warming, and thick enough to keep out A/C drafts. It wouldn’t need to be a full sweater, maybe just a cowl or capelet. I noticed that felt bear, bedecked in a snug and cozy poncho-thing, had the right idea. And so I took my fashion cue from, yes, a toy.

After some Ravelry-time, and some tinkering with other capelet-pattern stitch-counts, I decided to design the thing myself. Having knit clothing for dolls in the past, I could surely design something simple at my own scale, right?

Inspired by the abundant crocus beds on my school campus, I imagined a bold violet capelet with bright stripes running all around the yoke. I committed to this vision, and even saw myself wearing it, being writerly and productive and tea-drinking and all that. On April 20th, I cast on, working in the round, bottom up. After a week, I had this:

capelet that never was1.jpg

Sadly, this very inspired capelet got about 60% of the way through (a few rows shy of the yoke decreases) when I lost the nerve and verve to continue on. At first, I feared that my former writer’s block had somehow crept onto the needles, morphing into knitter’s block (oh no!). I stepped away from the work for a few days and reflected on how an inspired idea could so quickly careen into a case of the blahs. I found my reason: the colours felt static and separate, ‘trapped’ in stripes. I wanted them to move and do a little more footwork. This dance metaphor led me to discover that what I wanted was some stranded colourwork on that yoke. Light bulbs pinged.

At first, the thought of taking up stranded knitting struck a note of fear in my heart: so far, my stranded projects have been plagued by tension problems and wonkiness of all sorts. Why would I commit to wearing the wonkiness out in public? But, I also knew that a project like this would, for all of its imperfections, help me build the very skills I had so long admired in others’ stranded work. I took a note from my little Creative Block Survival Guide (i.e. last year’s lessons) and I made the decision to forgive myself, in advance, for all of the knitting wonkiness that I was about to produce: all the bad tension, all upcoming puckerings of fabric, all loose or slipped stitches, all awkward fitting, the whole gamut of potential, catastrophic-feeling errors. It was all going to happen in some form, and that was okay. “Mistakes” could be undone, re-worked. New information and skills would come from all of it (*deeeep breeaath*).

Perhaps like many makers, I struggle with true beginnings. But little gestures like this — intentionally giving imperfections a ‘space’ and wide margin before embarking — can act like myofascial release for creativity muscles, working into the knots and areas of tension to loosen up tissues and allow things to get moving again. Acceptance frees me back up to enter into the curiosity: my favourite place.

So, with some reluctance, I unraveled the purple poncho and sent it, with love, into the frogged knits afterlife. Maybe it will come back another time.

In the next post, I share what became of all those yards of frogged yarn. Until then, I hope you are enjoying this first flush of Spring!


What helps you overcome creative block? Any go-to strategies? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Fashion Revolution Week: April 23 – 29

Just a quick, mid-week post and reminder that it’s the 5th annual Fashion Revolution Week.

If you’ve ever been saddened and horrified by the workings of the modern fashion industry, then you know that the human and environmental costs of what has come to be known as ‘fast fashion’ are huge. By fast fashion, I refer to the high-turnaround cycles of seasonal clothing production that mass-produce largely disposable — but also ‘higher priced’ — clothes. The costs of fast fashion include environmental degradation (a result of both the chemically-intensive production of textile fibers as well as the fallout of having countless t-shirts and stretchy jeans wind up in landfills or sent back to countries in the global south); inequitable and exploitative international trade arrangements; and, perhaps already best publicized, forms of worker-exploitation (low wages or unremunerated work, disregard of labor laws, physical attacks on workers who attempt to unionize, unsafe/unsanitary conditions, etc.). It is no secret that the working conditions of the textile workers whose labour creates the brands and goods for sale on our fast fashion marketplace are, to put it simply, dismal. The 2013 Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh was the deadliest structural failure accident in recent history (wiki): after structural instabilities in their building were found, garment-labourers were ordered to return to work. 1,138 workers died in the building’s subsequent collapse. To call this, and events like it, ‘tragedies’ — and the workings of the global fast fashion industry that produced it ‘unethical’ — is an understatement. And, this is not new. Textile-production and social inequality have a very long history.

Clothing and textiles are central not only because they’re necessities, but because they reflect the ways we are compelled to be in the world. We have all known the need and pressure to find economical ways to clothe ourselves, for instance, in a world that often requires us not only to wear ‘many hats’ (garment-pun intended) but in which all kinds of social judgments are made about the hats we do wear. Unless one has access to all the right resources, it’s understandable to be compelled to reconcile our ethical vision of how textiles should be made and sourced with life’s very real demands and constraints (I may choose not to wear a handmade outfit for a job interview…. but, now, I’m thinking that the place that would hire me in handmade garb would kind of be awesome?).

Because of its importance, clothing is also transformative. As so many great bloggers have taught me (and as my grandma taught me, as she happily sewed clothing on her Singer while listening to the greatest hits of Julio Iglesias), how we source, approach, handle, create and care for the things we wear makes us, in turn. I don’t think the spirit of Fashion Revolution Week is to become an exemplar, or an ethically spotless consumer. Nor is it to say that we should all be makers (though, that could be a nice thing to aim for!). And, the point is not to take the fun out of clothes and replace it with the wagging finger of moral rectitude.

I see its spirit as bringing greater awareness, first, of the actual people and the supply chains by which most of us must already source our clothing and textiles so that we can generate better, more just, more humane, and human-centered practices (and, with that, more environmentally sustainable textile practices as well). And, to the extent that a kind of consumer-driven ‘desire’ and overconsumption are both the engines as well as the manufactured by-products of the fashion industry (I’m not above this!), I also think the spirit of Fashion Revolution Week is to examine my own motives and desires when it comes to clothing. This led me to ask myself a series of questions:

If it is true that I ‘vote with my dollar,’ how can I vote more ethically and sustainably? Where and when can I replace the shorter-term gratification of that ‘perfect steal’ with a longer-term, but richer gratification that comes with, say, making a garment, loving it, and wearing it (down) over time?

How can I develop a sense of style that feels right and timeless and enduring to me in a way that makes me a bit more autonomous from the pressure, generated by the logics of fast fashion, to run out and buy each seasonal must-have? 

Finally, how can I more creatively use what I do have — what is already on hand: materials, talents, resources — to meet my needs, not only for “clothing” in the bare sense but also for a sense of identity, justice, and also community?

Just some thoughts on where I stand. Thank you for reading. Read more about this worldwide week-long event at fashionrevolution.org


 

What is your view on fashion and its ethics? Does FRW inspire any new ideas or directions for you? I would love to hear about it in the comments!

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). 🙂 In this way, I’m coming to discover how the things we make quite powerfully (re)make us in turn.

Enjoy. And deer hugs!

2nd deer final.JPG

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.

play.jpg
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).

floss - needle.jpg

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.

2nd deer1-2

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).

 

deer 3-2.JPG

deer 4
Button joints lend moving limbs.
deer 6
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).

deer 7.jpg

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.

 

deer hold 1deer side

deer standing 3

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).