Skillz.Posted: December 17, 2010
So the night before I wrote my first blog post I began to teach myself to knit. Of course, I’m beginning with a scarf; what else do you begin with? I’m making it for my partner, A: he’s putting up a very gracious front where he tells me I’m the best ever for making him stuff, but he also knows he’s really the guinea pig. I also like to pretend I’m the best ever, for his sake.
(However he didn’t let me off the hook before telling me a horrifying story about his real-life guinea pig and the manner in which it died. I will never be the same.)
So the knitting is going well, albeit slowly. I’ve decided to make the scarf stripey by alternating the textures of the wool.
So I’m knitting 25 rows of stockinette stitch and then another 25 rows of stockinette but reversed. I really like this texture: stockinette tends to curl on all edges, so reversing the stitch has the nice effect of stopping the entire piece from curling in a single direction, and also letting the natural curl add some nice depth to the texture of the fabric. I’m also doing the last rows in garter stitch so that the edges will lie flat and not curl. I’m using an acrylic yarn for two reasons: 1) A is allergic to wool; 2) it’s not too expensive and easy to work with.
I’m not sure how long I’ll go on for, but I’d like it to be a good, long, wearable scarf. And one that won’t make A break out in hives.
I found myself staring at people’s clothes today wondering if I would be able to make them. Of course, at this stage, in most cases the answer was no. But my usual “all-or-nothing” attitude has me convinced that soon I will be able to make beautiful sweaters. For now I’ll keep plugging away with my stockinette and my acrylic.
A’s allergy to wool gives me pause for thought, as I had hoped to work with materials that were locally produced. In Ireland, it’s wool and linen that are locally manufactured, and I would have to live somewhere like India or the US to access local cotton, a natural fibre that A isn’t allergic to. I don’t feel like I should be using materials that had to be flown here: it participates in a global economy where the wealthy West is able to outsource its labour to poorer countries, not to mention its environmental impact. Of course, the problems with outsourcing labour are far more complex than my pithy statement. Taking myself out of that global economy, to whatever extent I can, doesn’t necessarily do anything to help people: if enough people felt compelled to exclude themselves from exploitative capital it would destroy the nascent economies of manufacturing nations. Which then brings me to question whether or not it is my responsibility, as an ostensible ‘citizen’ of a developed nation, to take care of the citizens of poorer nations—as though I feel some late-capitalist white man’s burden.
If my project to make my own necessities results from an ethical impulse to begin to take myself out of the capitalist system, however, then I must necessarily think ethically about the materials that I’m using. How they affect individuals and communities, the environment, animals, and how my individual decisions align with or diverge from my politics. My politics, ultimately, are my ethics, as must be the case with any political stance: for politics to have meaning they must claim themselves as some kind of right or wrong action; they must align themselves with a certain dogma in order to have any weight.
I still haven’t come to any conclusions about ethical materials, though. And I still haven’t touched on whether or not it would be ethical to depend on animals for materials—both in terms of the large-scale environmental impact of domesticated animals and in terms of whether it is ethical (at least in our day and age) for humans to treat animals instrumentally. But these are questions to be tackled another day, so that tonight I don’t convince myself to be vegan.