Saturday, October 24, 2009

Making some little differences on Make a Difference Day

A little leftover superwash sock yarn, a pattern for the Basic Baby Spiral Hat from Ravelry, and voila! Some warm little preemie caps for our city hospital's NICU.

Today is Make a Difference Day, a day when people all over the US are busy giving their time to various volunteer projects. My knitting group's project was small -- because the recipients are all pretty small. These tiny little hats help premature babies retain warmth, which helps their chances of survival.

Here are the ones we collected this afternoon. They're off to be blessed, then will be taken to the hospital:

Our hospital has around ten preemies to care for every month, so preemie hats are kind of our ongoing project. Several skeins of baby yarn just started making the rounds among us for the next collection date.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Bayeux Tapestry, In Motion!

History is told by the winner, and the famous Bayeux Tapestry (actually an embroidery, to be picky about it) is no exception. Harold claimed the throne of England. William, over in Normandy, thought he'd been promised the throne. In 1066, William took his troops over the channel to England, Harold was killed at Hastings, William of Normandy took the throne of England, and that's why the English language today has a whole lot of French in it. To commemorate the event, the ladies of William's side embroidered the tapestry, entirely from the Norman point of view (Harold's people had a slightly different take on the matter), over 70 meters of history, graphic violence, and naughty bits in the margins. The original graphic novel, if you will.

Now see it in animation, with soundtrack!

Brought to you by Open Culture, the most intelligent videos on YouTube.

Monday, October 19, 2009

From the Ashes of Disaster...

Remember the Case of the Misplaced Purls? The knitting fates must have decided it was time for a sequel, I guess. I was working happily along on my Celtic cable shrug, in yummy Terra yarn by The Fibre Company, when I spotted this six inches down from the needles:

You'd think I would have noticed six inches ago that the cable was crossing the wrong way, but no, distracted by the combined wool, alpaca, and silk fumes, I kept merrily along, making wrong-way cable after wrong-way cable, until I finally thought, "Hey... weren't the two four-by-four cables supposed to twist in opposite directi....ohhhh, &*#@!!!"

Entirely loath to frog back six inches of fancy cable work, I figured there wasn't much to lose in trying the drop-down-two-stitches-and-re-work-just-the-cable trick. So knit over to the offending cable, chose one side of it, and let 'er rip.

After catching the dropped stitches at the point where I needed to reverse direction, I took up a second DPN and set to work, re-knitting the dropped stitches and putting the cable to rights:


This put me in mind of the following ditty from the old Disney movie, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the cute movie with the awful title that kids had way too much fun making fun of. Nominally it's about a car. Mostly it's about a lot of catchy little pub tunes in search of a plot. Like this one:

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day: Knitting and Climate Change? Really?

Hello, Blog Action Day! It's that day again where bloggers all over the globe blog about the same global issue, and this year it's global climate change.

So what does an ages-old, creative, comforting activity like knitting have to do with climate, carbon emissions, and the like? Do woolly socks or alpaca mitts relate at all to "going green?"

As winter sets in and the heating bills rise, we can spot one blatantly obvious connection: hand-knit woollies keep you warm and let you turn the heat down, thus burning less oil, natural gas, or electricity (which in many parts of the US is produced by coal-burning plants). If you've ever engaged in the "furnace wars" game, refusing to turn on the furnace before your neighbor/sibling/best enemy does, or stubbornly waiting until the end of September... or October... or November (brave soul) to turn it on, you know the importance of having warm gear in which to wrap your goose-pimply self, while feeling smug about reducing your carbon footprint.

But let's go beyond the obvious because frankly, for some people, turning the heat down a few degrees is one thing, but turning off the heat and bundling up against the cold on dark winter nights is downright depressing. It makes one feel like a disaster survivor.

There's more that knitting does for a person than just keep the body warm. Let's start by considering the new knitter's pride when wearing a scarf he or she just made (I'm going to switch genders of our hypothetical knitter throughout this essay, since historically speaking, knitting has never been an exclusively gendered activity). There's a connection between the knitter and the scarf that is just not there when buying a machine-made scarf at a department store. Who knows where the scarf came from? Who knows who was involved in making it? Like as not, the scarf was made from acrylic, a petroleum product, made on machines that required petroleum fuel, in a sweatshop employing underpaid and overworked garment workers, and shipped thousands of miles to get to the store. Her own scarf? She knows exactly who made it, that it was not made in a sweatshop and didn't have to be shipped thousands of miles. Yeah, stick it to the multinational corporations!

Sort of. There's still the yarn to consider.

Perhaps the knitter began with a skein of grocery store acrylic when making the scarf. But then she walks into a real yarn store for the first time and discovers the joys of merino, alpaca, silk, camel, mohair, and more. Natural fibers! So luscious! What colors! Ah, a fiber snob is born. Now our knitter, no longer satisfied with the Pound-o-Petroleum yarn from the big box store for things he's putting on his own body, starts to learn where yarn comes from.

And in the process, knitters learn the uncomfortable truth that just because a fiber is "natural" doesn't mean it's "green." The knitter learns that all-cotton yarn takes more petroleum to grow and manufacture than does the acrylic. She also learns that the "bamboo" yarn isn't spun from fibers from bamboo stems as she'd thought, but is rayon made from chemically-extracted cellulose derived from bamboo. That's several toxic-solvent-soaked steps from what she'd imagined "bamboo" yarn to be. Now she starts investigating organic yarns. Then she starts to question the dyes, and discovers that some strains of cotton grow already pigmented, or she starts admiring naturally-colored wools from different colored sheep or llamas, or she stumbles across an Etsy shop with yarns dyed with plant dyes, or she learns that she can dye wool yarn at home with Kool-aid. What fun!

Later, the knitter learns that a big push for cashmere production in China is causing massive environmental destruction and Mongolian goat herders are now facing starving herds and falling cashmere prices. At the same time, quality of cashmere has dropped, not only because of the health of the goats, but our knitter learns there is something called "dehairing" that leaves only the soft undercoat if it's done right, but removes a big percentage of the original mass of the fleece. And by scrimping on the dehairing process, Chinese yarn producers can get more yarn per fleece, but the quality suffers drastically.

Then our knitter goes to a local fiber festival and finds yarn from a cashmere ranch not more than 100 miles away from his home town. It's the most soft, cloud-like cashmere ever. Wow, higher quality (and higher price), but locally grown. Could there be anything better?

Of course there could. At the same fiber festival, our knitter spots spinners everywhere, as well as fleece and roving for sale. Hmm, she thinks, spinning looks kind of fun, and gives you even more fibery enjoyment for your money -- time spent spinning and knitting with the same fiber. She wanders into the animal barn and meets people who are raising sheep, goats, angora rabbits, alpacas, and llamas. There she meets a pygora goat named Pickwick and learns that for a certain price, she can have Pickwick's fleece for spinning when the little goat is sheared. Wow. Not only can she knit her own scarf, but she can knit it from hand-spun pygora fleece. And what's more, it's fleece not from who-knows-what goat from who-knows-where, but it's fleece from Pickwick, the goat she petted at the fiber festival who lives at a farm just outside of her home town and has the most gorgeous brown eyes and winsome expression on her cute little face.

You see where I'm going with this? The more knitters take interest in the fibers they knit with, the more they discover about sources and the various impacts that fiber production can have on the environment. We can't live without making some impact on the world around us, of course, but just as the "eat local" movement has taken hold to support local farmers, to take a more thoughtful look at how we use our environment, and to live more lightly on the earth, there's a growing sense that "knit local" and "spin local" are pretty good ideas, too.

Living lightly on the earth is what "going green" is really all about. Ever since the years following WWII, the US economy has been all about more and more people buying more and more stuff per capita year after year. We moved from being producers of goods to being consumers of goods. The hard truth, though, is that kind of economy is neither environmentally nor ecologically sustainable. It's what we've got, but it can't last. Changing will be hard, but change we must.

A knitter lives lightly by choosing production over consumption. The knitter produces knitted garments a few at a time instead of buying quantities of mass-produced sweaters as a form of recreation. The knitter also cares for those garments and may get more wear out of them than machine knit socks or sweaters. The knitter feels more connected to the garments he has made, and is less inclined to pitch them in the charity box just because they're oh-so-last-week. The knitter can make informed choices about fiber sources, and may choose yarn or fleece from local sources. The knitter's productivity may make the multinational corporate owners of overseas garment sweatshops shudder, but while the knitter is concerned about overworked, underpaid garment workers, she doesn't give a goat's whiskers about the multinational CEO who whimpers that he might have to give up his third yacht if people don't get busy buying, wearing once, and throwing away mass-produced clothing like good, brainless little consumers.

So raise your needles, raise your spindles, raise your crochet hooks and let's all stick it to the mass consumption that's gotten us into the global mess we're in!

(As for those knitters whose stash has reached SABLE conditions -- Stash Accumulation Beyond Life Expectancy -- remember, my children, production over consumption. Swear on your best skein of sock yarn that from now on, you'll buy only the number of skeins that you've knit since your last yarn-buying excursion, or fewer, until your stash is of a size that won't make non-knitting friends say, "Um, wow, are you planning to open a yarn store?")

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Raising the roof - literally

Two windows broken so far.

Landscaping looking tattered.

Cats terrified.

No, it's not the aftermath of a tornado or hurricane or earthquake or any of the friendly neighborly volcanoes located a convenient distance from our fair city.



Our old mansard-style roof with not-so-very-sloped top and the not-so-very-functional drain holes for the downspouts was not-so-very-functional in our rainy winter weather, and was showing wear long before it ought to have. Instead of just getting the shingles re-done, we decided to second-mortgage ourselves to the hilt and get the entire she-bang removed and replaced with a real roof. One that actually works, thank you very much.

It was amusing at first to live in a house that looked like the Merrimack (the Virginia to y'all down South). Not so amusing when the roof drains badly, when dry rot creeps into several corners, and when I repeatedly bash my head on the mansards when trying to weed behind the shrubs close to the house.

So we called in the contractor who re-built our aging, decrepit deck last year, since they did good work at a fair price, and they're hard at work ripping off the old roof and replacing it with the new. It's going to have super-guaranteed asphalt shingles in a fetching shade of heathered blue. Because the mansards came off of the sides of the house, the whole house will have to have new siding, which we'll have painted a warm cream, with blue trim. A color scheme a little different from the rest of the neighborhood, but not so different that it's always pointed out as THAT HOUSE when people are giving directions.

Still, as I look around at the swaths of destruction and try to soothe the traumatized cats, I have to keep telling myself, "It will all be worth it in the end... it will all be worth it in the end..."

I'll post before-and-after pictures when it's all over, when our house is all pretty again.

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