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 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.