Other people write, too.

In looking through Ravelry.com I came upon the designer, Kate Davies (ravelry name “wazz”), and her marvellous blog. I’m thoroughly smitten. Kate writes:

My name is Kate Davies. I live in Edinburgh, work at Newcastle University, and love writing, knitting, designing, and walking in equal measure. I find that all of these activities have a creative and a critical dimension, and the best of possible worlds is one in which I productively combine them all.

Read more about my new distance love affair…


Community Ties.

A’s tie is coming along nicely. I’m working it up in Debbie Bliss Aran Cashmerino and it’s already taken more than a skein (for a tie?!). To be honest, if I were to repeat the project I would use a much finer yarn. But A really likes this yarn—it’s soft and non-itchy—so hopefully he will like the tie when it’s all finished. Live and learn.

I’ve slightly altered my queue of projects to tackle. My aunt found an old pattern that belonged to her mother in the 60s. It’s this lovely pattern for girls’ school cardigans:

Sunbeam Aran Girls and Small Women's Cardigan and Lumber Jacket

My aunt’s mum made her the cardigan on the tall girl to go with her school uniform. My aunt made the point that, “in those days,” it was much cheaper to make school cardies than to buy them. Of course, anyone who knits today knows that knitting in anything other than acrylic is certainly more expensive (not to mention more time consuming) than buying clothing. But of course this brings up questions about availability of materials, and the influence of mass-production in the textiles industry. Indeed, contemporary school jumpers are (in my experience) made in acrylic. And they all seem to be machine knit. Whereas hand knitters, like me (if I can count myself among their numbers), tend not only to choose natural fibres, but to be attracted to fine wools. I’m making a generalization here, and I’m doing so without much empirical evidence or, for that matter, research.

However, what exposure I’ve had to knitting blogs, yarn manufacturers, books, and Local Yarn Stores (LYS) has shown an overwhelming occupation with the quality of yarns, and the luxe-sounding materials from which the yarns are made: “Cashmerino,” “Cotton Glace,” “Lamb’s Pride,” “Nature Spun,” “Silk Garden.” Yarn names seem concerned with communicating two qualities: luxury and the natural. It’s not too much a stretch to see how these two work together on a larger scale: a large part of contemporary luxury is narrated through “lifestyle choices.” These choices are at once indulgences and make the consumer feel as though their choices are responsible, are correct, are morally superior to another perceived consumption choice. I’ve already spoken to this, with the help of Zizek.

But at this point, I don’t want to condemn the knitting community for being attracted to beautiful materials, or for being attracted to materials that come from local sources, that are made by small, careful manufacturers. Indeed, I’m attracted to exactly the same products myself. And I’m similarly attracted to them because I can be more confident that the products I’m using have used fewer resources, if only by virtue of the fact that they haven’t been shipped long distances, and by the trust that I put in organic certifications and the honesty of small(er) businesses.

This is lazy of me. This isn’t radical enough. To be able to fully marry the practicality of craft and the rigour of critical thought I am required to undertake more profound lifestyle changes than choosing local or organic wool. This returns me to my fundamental dilemma. I don’t know if I’m willing to make the changes that would satisfy the rigour with which I should be acting. And, perhaps this idea of rigour is an infinite regression that I will never be able to fulfill.

In the meantime, though, I would like to make the lumber jacket on the left hand side (the little girl with the dog). It’s a bit small for me (the largest finished garment is only a 34″ bust), so I think I’ll just knit to a larger gauge to get a couple of extra inches.

Which brings me to a project that I have all the tools to start. The other day I bought Debbie Stoller’s Stitch ‘n Bitch: Superstar Knitting: Go Beyond the Basics (2009). It’s a beautiful book and all of the 41 patterns are just lovely. There’s a beautiful little cardigan, the “Sheepy Time” cardi (pg. 220, here’s the Ravelry.com site for Laurie Undis’s pattern) that I’m going to make up for my baby cousin.

Laurie Undis's Sheepy Time. Photo credit ©Workman Publishing.

So I’ve bought a few skeins of Debbie Bliss’s Fez in a lovely bright turquoise (colour 15) to match the sample piece in the book. I’ll be teaching myself how to knit back and forth in the round for this and how to knit on double-pointed needles. I’m really looking forward to it.

I’m finished the project that has been demoted from scarf to dishrag. I had a mishap with decreasing and dropped stitches and could not for the life of me figure out how to fix it. So one side of the decreases looks really wonky. However, the other side is actually quite nice.

A was just the recipient of a knitting meltdown. He reminded me that “obviously you want to keep yourself accountable.” I both disliked and profoundly appreciated his tough love. And even more deeply appreciated his patience and backrubs in response to “I’M GOING TO KEEP GOING. BECAUSE SOMETIMES THAT’S ALL YOU CAN DO. WE JUST NEED TO KEEP GOING.”

Here is the offending item:

Showing off the wonky decrease.

I switched to a garter stitch to learn how to decrease and I followed the advice of Debbie Stoller by doing my decreases two stitches in from the edge of the fabric. I tried to make them decorative decreases by doing a left-slanting decrease on the right side of the fabric and a right-slanting decrease on the left side. It worked sort of. It doesn’t look like Ms. Stoller’s examples. Maybe because I interpreted the left and right thing to refer to the fabric as it lies on your needle in front of you, the knitter. But maybe it means on the left or the right of the finished piece? This is a question for Ravelry.com, perhaps.

In other news, that learning piece is now a dishrag, which handily sidesteps my problems with it no longer having a use.

Brief absence.

I’ve taken a bit of a holiday-related absence from knitting. I finished working my retail job (I’ll be taking on a research job in the new year. Sigh of relief.), Dublin was hit by moderate snow which shut down the entire city, A got stuck in the Netherlands briefly which struck me with panic that he might not return home for our first Christmas together, and the above factors prompted me to briefly move in with my family until things returned to normal.

In more recent news, A and I were without running water, and heat from our radiator, for about a day because the water mains to our flat froze. It was a surprising wake-up call to see how much water it takes to do something moderate like washing your face, much less your entire body. Of course, even though not having any water made us feel like we were suddenly living a subsistence lifestyle, we weren’t. We were able to run our computers as we washed our faces with the bottle of water that my aunt gave us, turn on our electric radiator and climb under our quilt for warmth, and if it came to it we could shower at the local leisure centre. We definitely had access to the resources to keep us healthy and clean and hydrated, but they were just slightly less convenient.

Here is where I, predictably, talk about how millions of people a day go without running water much less hot water. Which, of course, they do. And my experience was nothing like the day-to-day worry of keeping yourself alive. Nothing. It would be vain and insulting to people who do have to live that life to think that a single day with no water came anywhere close; what I experienced was definitely not a scarcity of resources. What it did demonstrate to me, however, is what it does mean to be frugal with resources. I am capable of washing my face and my dishes with a third of the water I normally would. Even to live in relative comfort, I do not need to use anywhere near the resources I do.

A good friend of mine came to visit us here and commented on our bar-sized fridge, taps that were separate for hot and cold water, and water tank that needed to be switched on to generate any hot water and was not capable of generating enough to wash the dishes from making and eating dinner. These things are a relatively normal part of domestic life in Ireland (except maybe the teeny tiny capacity of water tank), and he pointed out that, of course, not everyone can live like North Americans. And neither should we.

In knitting news, I’ve given up on making this thing into a scarf. Poor A, ever the gentleman, says it’s perfectly fine that I want to use it as an experimentation piece. To a certain extent, I don’t like the idea of using this piece just to learn things. I feel as though I should be thinking about the practicality of each piece I make, and that in making useful things I should amass skills. My process of learning should be a reflection of the values that are underpinning my project: self-sufficiency, non-consumption, frugality with resources. Realistically, though, I don’t think I’m going to even learn to increase or decrease stitches unless I make a sweater, and without learning those things I’m never going to make said sweater. So, after some logical acrobatics and rationalisation, experimentation piece it is. I also think I’m getting bored of doing the same stitch constantly on this scarf—it’s not that I set myself too big a project, it’s just that I didn’t realise how many stitches of sport-weight (bordering on fingerling) yarn go into a small amount of fabric.

Speaking of A the gentleman, for Christmas he got me (among many other things, he was very generous) a book called Glam Knits for Christmas. I was thrilled. The pieces are beautiful and a lot of attention is paid to tailoring and fit which I LOVE. I’m a sucker for beautiful things and I think this book will definitely give me some insight into how to put them together. I wish there were more books on how to make nice things for man-shaped people so that, someday, I could follow through on my promise to make something for this lovely man I live with.

Sometimes I make mistakes.

Oh no! Holes in my scarf and I don’t know how they happened!

Knitting mistakes

See the upper right hand corner? A hole!

Is this a Yarn Over mistake? And is there a quick fix to this, or should I unknit/frog to fix it?


Knitting mistakes.

At the top of the piece, see the loose stitch on the edging?

I don’t know how I made this mistake. Any lovely knitters out there who want to lend a sister a hand?


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.

Stockinette Scarf

My first scarf. See the first row of garter stitch, then subsequent rows of alternating stockinette.

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.

Stockinette Scarf 2

An alternate view so that the textures on the other side of the scarf are showing.

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.