I see my grandmother’s soft belly, warm and comfortable like a living pillow. I see her thick, strong legs, hardened to oaken knots by a dozen miles walked each day between the clothesline, the kitchen, the pantry, the garden, the sewing machine.
I see my mother’s supple arms, smelling like home and squeezing tight to show love. I see her feet, sure and straight.
I see my father’s hair, so dark it’s nearly black.
I see my grandmother’s lips, berry-pink, with a twist that seems halfway between haughty scorn and delighted laughter.
I see my grandfather’s nose, round and straight and tanned from the summer sun.
I see my children’s skin, sprinkled with little brown freckles like the punctuation marks of a poet.
I see my brother’s chin, scarred and healed, healed and scarred again, full of hurt and balm and lessons learned many times but still forgotten.
I see my great-grandmothers’ hands, nimble and dexterous in their work, stiff and sore after too much of it.
I see my great-grandfather’s ears, delicate, perfect, a little too fussy for the rest of the face.
I see my ancestors’ blood, carried laboriously over seas and through mountain passes to nourish the tiny ball of nothing that would become me.
When I look in the mirror, I can’t see myself.
It’s like locking eyes with a stranger, at once too intimate and thrillingly alien.
If a stranger could be the sum of my heritage multiplied by my experiences and divided by my physiology.
If a stranger could have the breasts that nourish my babies, and the eyes I remember from my childhood, and the posture of my sassy teenage years, and the nascent tracery of my age.
I don’t know what it is about the last month or so, but I am stuck. I currently have nine WIPs going– everything from fabric I just finished dyeing and haven’t cut yet to a nearly-finished soft toy– and none of them is speaking to me. To make matters worse, when I push forward and try to work on something anyway, I inevitably screw it up.
Case in point: this shirt yoke. I decided that, out of the THREE projects in my current workbag, it was the one that would be easiest to force my way through so I could build momentum for the rest of my life. I nearly finished it this afternoon, sitting on the deck in the sunlight, and when I tried it on Ithilien, I discovered it was too big and the whole thing would have be made over, from the cast-on, so that it could be SIX stitches smaller. Six. Which is actually for the best because the lace I was trying to add to the bodice was a total wreck, because I hadn’t taken the time to chart the line-by-line instructions before I started so that I would have any hope of working it on an increasing piece.
How do I feel about that? Well…
So, I’m giving up. This day can suck it. I’m going to have some cookie butter and try to forget my troubles.
I will be back in a few days to show pictures of our new chicks, and maybe talk about the last things I *did* successfully make before I got stuck in a Philadelphia.
And with any luck and a lot of streaming of sub-par horror movies, maybe next week there will be a real WIP Wednesday.
start date: 8 March 2017 time elapsed: one week
I had quite a conundrum last week.
I was on strike last Wednesday, you see. I had a whole day to myself, to do whatever I wanted. But I couldn’t work on things for my family or my house, because that would have been scabbing. So I started something new, something that looked fun and would probably teach me things I could stand to learn, but that was far from practical and totally unnecessary.
Something for me.
Those are pretty rare projects, honestly– I usually prioritize the children, then Robert, then the house, then my extended family, my communities, the earth, strangers, and finally myself.
But I had been gazing wistfully at the Ravelry page for this pattern for months, and it was just so pretty, and my crochet skills lag significantly behind all my other pursuits, which would make it a challenge to begin, much less complete.
So I pulled some leftover scraps of yarn out of my stash and started out, tentatively.
I made a flower, and then expanded it to a star. And in the week since International Women’s Day, I made that star into a sun, and the sun into an octagon, in spare moments here and there between my other work. Now I’m turning the octagon back into a star, slowly but surely, as this project eats up scraps and leftover single skeins from other projects.
As for what I’ll do with it when I’m finished, well, I don’t know. For once, my project is about the process, not the product. Obviously if I finish the whole thing I’ll have a massive piece, big enough to use as a coverlet for my bed, especially if I square up the corners.
Regardless of the finished size, I think what I have here is a fulcrum. A balance point between frost and fire, in dye and animal hair. Witchcraft, in short.
Yarns, from center of work to edge: Araucania Lauca in 1 French Blue Purple , Stacy Charles Fine Yarns Fiona in 510836, Schachenmayr Juvel in 2 Charcoal Heather, Ella Rae Classic Superwash in 22 Gray, Cascade Rabat in 9 Rainbow, Fyberspates Scrumptious in 316 Charcoal (doubled), Berroco Blackstone Tweed in 2646 Saltwater, Quince and Co. Owl in Cement, Cascade Rabat in 9 Rainbow, Malabrigo Merino Worsted in 75 Garden Gate, Beaverslide Dry Goods 2 ply sport/sock in woodsmoke heather (doubled), Berroco Quasar in 8206, Valley Yarns Northampton in 15 Gold, Berroco Blackstone Tweed in 2607 Wintry Mix, Araucania Riñihue in 1708, Classic Elite Kumara in 5714 Smoke, Malabrigo Rastita in 146 Peacock (blue), Paton’s North America Classic Wool DK Superwash in 12402, indigo worsted/aran from Ithaca Farmer’s Market, unknown silk/merino blend dark gray, Berroco Blackstone Tweed in 2647 Nor’easter, Berroco Blackstone Tweed in 2607 Wintry Mix, Araucania Lauca in 3 Purple Dark Teal
There it was, shining out in radiant silver on my brush, immediately obvious among its dark siblings and the near-black bristles.
It was 21 inches long, and according to Robert, it came from right above my left eye.
I was incredulous. How could I have not seen it for the years it had been growing there, so near my face? How had I not seen it while braiding my hair one morning? How could Robert have only noticed it last week? How could he have NOT told me about it, leaving me to be blindsided by it getting shed onto my brush?
I’m not sure why– I wasn’t really sad or scared or feeling another negative emotion– but it happened.
Honestly, I’ve been looking forward to my hair turning so that I can dye it without having to bleach it first. I’ve been hoping I would be one of those people who grays in dramatic stripes at the temples, for maximum badassery.
But I suppose it was another reminder of my failure to force my life to conform to the plan. The first indication that I might run out of time to buy that farm, build that house, learn to use my spinning wheel, find purpose for all the great things in my upcycling.
There’s plenty of time yet. I’m not even 30 yet. But though the days are long and practically innumerable, the years are short and oh-so-finite.
This is a season of transitions. The election is coming, this is our last year of “unofficial” homeschooling before Númenor has to be registered with the state, today is the first day of autumn, next week is the start of Robert’s school year, and I’m aging.
Well, I mean, we’re all aging. Everyone and everything is aging. Hell, the universe itself is aging. But you know what I mean.
It’s a little bittersweet, no matter the benefits that might come along with it, this dance of out-with-the-old-and-in-with-the-new that we do each autumn equinox. I love the bustle of harvest and holiday preparations, canning the applesauce, snuggling in bed in the mornings, mulching the raised beds, adding new insulation to stuff the cracks, the dance of the hand-me-downs with the smalls, the creeping nightly frost, boiling down the salt, cinnamon and leaf mold in the air. But I’m going to miss the feeling of summer sun on my bare feet, spending the warm evenings at the drive-in, taking my knitting out to the backyard and letting the breeze play with my hair, fresh berries and sun-ripened tomatoes, the smell of warm earth and cedar sap.
I guess the bigger transitions are like that, too. You look forward to the new things, but leaving the old ones behind means sharp reminders of how good they were.
I never really enjoyed being young. Being young, you want so badly to be older so you’ll be taken seriously, so you can have your independence, so your life can really begin. But now I’m seeing it as a time of beautiful potential– you could be or do anything with your life, when it’s all stretched out in front of you like that, but by the time you’re older, you’ve already made choices and spent time and set yourself on a path.
To grow up will be a very great adventure.
Especially once I have enough gray hair for it to show up when dyed purple.
Now that we’re mired in the part of summer that’s too hot for much of anything– certainly unseasonable for having a big pile of flannel in my lap– but about to leave the last heat wave of the season, I’ve been looking forward to some cool-weather crafting and giving some thought to what needs to happen.
Here’s my list, necessities and fripperies in no particular order, of the top 10 things I need to make in the coming season:
Tea towels. The flour sack towels that wrapped a few of our favorite kitchen gadget wedding gifts are finally sprouting holes and wearing out. I’m thinking the new ones are going to be mid-weight natural linen, but the same dimensions as the old ones.
Coat for Númenor. Another year, another coat. This one is definitely going to be lined with some of that gorgeous Portland bridges fabric I picked up a few years ago, but I’m not sure what the outer fabric will be like or what pattern I’m going to use. I might draft my own pattern.
Hoodie for Númenor. Something fun and slightly funky, as usual.
Twin-size comforter for Ithilien. In the depths of winter, the nursery gets pretty cold in the middle of the night. At the moment, we have only one twin-size comforter, and that can cause strife. I’m planning to whipstitch together a couple of old flannel top sheets, fill with some fluffy recycled fiberfill, and tie it down to quilt it. The only trouble will be that the sheets I have are green and green-red plaid, and Ithilien is a red-loving kid who might object to the forest tones. But it’ll be warm regardless.
“What Lives Here?” picture book. This is one I’ve been puzzling over for some time. The smalls are always asking what kinds of animals live in our area, especially when we go on drives. I’m currently working on a collage-style picture book showing different ecosystems and settings and filled with the different animals that might live there. It’s a huge undertaking, even limiting myself to a 20-mile radius around our house, since we live in a transitional zone between at least three climates.
Toy ankylosaurus for Ithilien. I made a stegosaurus for Númenor a while back, and Ithilien demanded an ankylosaurus. How one knits an ankylosaurus I am not sure (possibly with lots of bobbles?), but I’ll figure it out.
Autumn leaf babies. If you’ve been around a while, you might remember my spring raindrop babies. I’ve been trying to work up to a whole four-seasons set: snowflakes, raindrops, fruit (or maybe sunshine?), and autumn leaves. I love dollmaking, and these little felt-and-wood sweeties are downright addictive in their simplicity and appeal.
Altoid tin boredom busters. We recently inherited a big box of mint tins. They are the perfect size to tuck in a pocket or purse and you can fill them with anything. So I’ve been trying to develop a set of toys and activity kits inside Altoid tins for when we travel or waiting at restaurants.
More petticoats for myself. Hopefully at least two more cotton ones (black, I think) and if I can find room for it in the budget, I would love a woolen flannel one for winter wear.
Halloween costumes. This year the smalls have both decided on light-themed costumes, which means getting creative with LEDs and possibly wearable circuitry. Númenor’s might yet be merged with his hoodie, but we have yet to have our first formal design meeting, so it’s very much still TBD.
What about you? What are you looking forward to making as the weather changes?
You just want to sit inside all day and do nothing, run out the clock on this day, and maybe try again tomorrow.
That mosquito bite on the sole of your left foot is driving you crazy and has made you shy away from sitting outside in the gathering dusk or the rising dawn or the fleeting midday shade.
Your stomach aches, whether from too much food or too little or the wrong kind you’re not sure, but it’s uncomfortable.
Your children are wild and full of evening energy, and their whooping and leaping makes you anxious and unnerved.
The thought of the sun on your skin reminds you of your uneven tan, its obvious lines, and how, if you were a responsible person, you probably would have bought sunscreen before late July.
I know. I understand.
But sometimes you need to go outside anyway. Even though it’s not easy. Even though you’d rather plug in and tune out.
Because the grass is dried to hay-blond and its susurration in the breeze tells a secret.
Because the mourning dove is trying out his gentle call from that oak tree, right there outside the kitchen door.
Because the hills seem so close you could reach out and touch them but also a part of a golden fairyland in the lateral evening light.
Because the cross orb weaver on your tomato plant is just putting the finishing touches on tonight’s silken net.
Because the sky is still so blue.
Because the hens are clucking softly to themselves as they forage for a few last bites.
Because the blackberries are so ripe they stain your fingers no matter how tenderly you pick them.
Because the butterflies are chasing each other over the brambles and across the fences.
Because the wind smells sweet with hay and spicy with cookfire smoke and fresh from the river.
Right now, a Steller’s jay is stopping off in your fir tree to select nesting materials.
Right now, a train whistle is echoing off the ridges and over the water.
Right now, the breeze is freshening just a little and the sky is ocean-deep.
Right now, the scent of warmed earth and crushed blackberry is more summery than anything you’ve ever known before.
From out here, the children’s cries are muted and distant, and you can love them for their untamed nature.
From out here, you can’t hear the big bad world– or those mean-girl voices in your head– at all.
From out here, the work piled up on your desk doesn’t seem quite real, and you can have faith that there will be time enough for everything.
When you’re outside, you can breathe.
Breathe in deep through your nose. Open your mind wide and be present. Breathe out slowly through your mouth, open your chest and release your spent and troubled air.
This is but one day of a lifetime. Nothing has to be finished nor perfect today.
This is where you are now, and it is good.
This is all you are, this moment in the setting sun, this place full of hay-scented grasses and straw-colored hair on little heads, all bowing to you in recognition and shaking irreverently in the breeze.
You are the breath of your home, your family– you, too, must go in and out.
To release the toxins, and let the trees worry about recycling them.
To take in what you need to live, what the mosses and the weeds give back to you.
Lately I’ve been stuck. Overwhelmed by the world around me, unable to concentrate, mired in several long and intricate projects at once…generally in a funk.
This week, though, I hit upon a bit of a solution.
I took this fancy new linen bag my mom found for me at the thrift store, stuck a couple little balls of scrap yarn in the bottom, and went on a baby sock knitting adventure.
When I first learned to knit, I swore I would never be a sock knitter. The tiny yarn, the slippery double-pointed needles, the complex technique, the repetition (because you have to start all over to make the second sock…) and the need for a fairly accurate fit made a seemingly insurmountable barrier to my ever taking up that particular craft. But after a couple years, when I had to be knitting for a baby anyway, I finally decided to give it a try.
That first pair of plain Jane worsted-weight cotton (!) baby socks may not be anything special or even particularly beautiful, but they represented a major victory in terms of facing my fears.
As a cripplingly anxious person, to have attempted something so far out of my comfort zone and met with even modest success was a major testament to what force of will could do for me.
In the few years since then, I’ve knit cabled boot socks for Robert, basic socks in shockingly bright colors for the smalls, tube socks I invented myself, intricate socks as gifts in tiny yarns and grown-up sizes, and even a selfish pair of gray show-off lacy socks for myself.
And my baby sock collection has slowly grown to cover most sizes and most needs, because the best way to try out a new sock style or technique or color combo is to make a pair of tiny trial socks, and because baby socks are such an excellent way to use up leftover bits of lightweight yarn.
Too much has happened to me this week. There’s too much anger and sadness in me to compose a few blithe paragraphs about handwork right now.
I want to share with you what’s on my mind instead of what’s in my work bag today.
Today is the first day after the heat wave here on the west coast. I know that the majority of media sources in this country have just started to cover the record-breaking heat, because, as with most things, if it doesn’t happen at least as far east as Chicago, it might as well have happened in another country.
Don’t get me wrong, I love living on the frontier. I love standing knee-deep in the Pacific, looking west, and feeling the wilderness around me.
But I didn’t hear about the oil train derailment that happened a scant 10 miles from my house for hours after the fact, and even then it was only because I went to a local news website trying to figure out why there was so much traffic stacked up on highway 30.
We were so very lucky in Mosier. If the train had crashed the day before, the winds would have made the fire worse by orders of magnitude. If the explosion or fire had been bigger, Mosier would have lost a school, homes, lives. If it had been raining, which it frequently does in early June, there would have been no way to mitigate the spill of oil into the Columbia. If the derailment had happened 10 miles further west, it might have taken out a freeway overpass, a number of local businesses, or even my house.
I remembered the first time I was sexually harassed– in line at the drinking fountain, in kindergarten, age 5– and I remembered how embarrassed I felt. How I stood there stupidly and let him keep touching me even though my stomach was knotting up and my legs wanted to run. How the words he said were permanently etched into my psyche. How I never told anyone. How I felt ashamed by the incident, like it was my fault.
The little boy who groped me and made sexual comments about my prepubescent body probably doesn’t even remember that it happened.
I remember him, though. I remember his name, his face, his hair cut, even though we moved across the state the summer after I finished first grade and I haven’t seen him since. And when I hear about men who are so assured of their right to touch women, who feel as entitled to their sexual attentions as the Stanford rapist obviously does, I think about that boy and I wonder if he ever learned about consent. If he became the kind of guy who tells rape jokes and makes his sexual partners feel obligated to engage in acts they don’t enjoy. If he went on to rape someone at a frat party in college. If he became one of the relatively few men who are serial rapists– how many victims would he have by now, at nearly 30 years old?
I think it’s that survivor’s sensitivity that made me uncomfortable with Bernie Sanders from the beginning. I wanted to like him. I bought into the hype of his being a challenger from Clinton’s left who would force her left during the primary at least. But then, I watched him debate with her. I heard the dogwhistles when he accused her of “yelling”, tried to paint her as manipulative and dishonest, insinuated that she could be bought. I read the things he wrote about women and sexual relations when he was younger. I watched him treat his wife with incredible disrespect onstage at a public event. I heard the contempt in his voice when dealing with female reporters. I heard him insist that people who didn’t support him didn’t know their own best interests. I watched his campaign double down on the idea that supporting Clinton because she’s a woman is stupid, wrong, even traitorous.
I watched him lie and cheat and steal and take no responsibility. I watched him blame everyone else for his problems. I watched him allow his supporters to run wild, threatening women and disrupting events.
I voted for Hillary Clinton. Because women’s rights are human rights. Because she listens to people and genuinely cares about them. Because she plays by the rules. Because she cares about indigenous people’s issues. Because she has been a tireless advocate for the rights of children and women for her entire life. Because she’s always been ahead of the curve on LGBT issues. Because her staff is diverse and well-trained and highly skilled. Because she admits it and apologizes when she is wrong. Because she says the word “abortion”.
Last night Clinton became the presumptive nominee. The first female major party nominee ever. EVER. I watched her speech. I watched the commemorative video. I cried. I was so proud to have been part of getting her this far. I was so excited for the general election.
This morning I read the news and learned that at his event last night, Bernie Sanders, who has repeatedly claimed that he’s an advocate for women, allowed 15 seconds of booing and hissing directed towards Hillary Clinton, the nominee of his party and the first woman EVER to be a major party nominee for president. He didn’t even recognize the glass ceiling she shattered this week.
I realized that he doesn’t see her. He doesn’t see women. He doesn’t see ME.
And I’ve had about enough of being trivialized and ignored. I’m done being relegated to the sidelines.
I have no more patience for those who marginalize me, be they east-coast-centered mainstream news sources, legislators who insist that shipping oil by rail is safe, teary-eyed rapists who think they’ve done nothing wrong, or political candidates who think it’s irrelevant whether they actually have a good record on women’s issues or just say they do in interviews.
My life is too wild and precious to spend it legitimizing all this bullshit.
So I am renewing my declaration of war against the patriarchy this summer.
And that is the work I have in progress this week.
It’s a word I like: kind of anachronistic, a little connotation of fanciness.
As I’ve been working through the list of projects I rattled off last time, this has been the one I’m striving to get to. It’s spring heading into summer now, of course, so the need for extra layers under my skirt is far from urgent, but these have been on my queue for a long time, and they are going to be an important part of my wardrobe.
By putting elastic in the top, I’ll be making a petticoat that can also be pulled up to my armpits and worn as a sort of shift dress, which I’m hoping will make for perfect nightgowns.
And, of course, in the fall and winter, having an extra layer under my skirt to trap warm air next to my body is going to be very important.
I dyed these in December, but then life happened, and I’m only now starting to put them together. It’s simple work: just an Elizabethan seam up the back, an elastic casing at the top, and a single-fold hem along the bottom (because I was clever enough to leave the fabric selvage where it benefits me).
But there are three of them. And they’re pretty big, boring sewing– lots of long, straight seams and not much else.
So I guess it’s lucky for me that they’re so important, because otherwise I might never find the motivation.