Kinda went off into the arts & crafts deep end today, but I came up with—among many, many other things—these gorgeous embroidery books.
I’m all 😍😍😍 over here.
Kinda went off into the arts & crafts deep end today, but I came up with—among many, many other things—these gorgeous embroidery books.
I’m all 😍😍😍 over here.
Confession: I was worried that, after spring break’s total immersion of fibery fun, I wouldn’t be able to incorporate all that play into my regular work day. Yesterday was my first day back to work, and y’all? No worries.
I came home and hit it hard.
First, I braided up the two color studies I did on Sunday.
When I dyed the one on the left, I was looking for a color I could call “mint.” I know there isn’t a ton of variety across the braid, but I think I found what I was looking for. I was literally mixing and matching colors until I had six subtly different shades, which I then used to dye the top
The second braid was a little less what I expected. I was looking for pink, which I more or less found, but I ended up with more in the way of soft purples. When I was mixing the dye, it looked like I was getting a lot of pale red instead of pink (which I feel is somehow different) , and on a whim, I put some blue in. I know. Red + blue = purple. But I thought I liked what I was seeing, so I went with it. A little too capriciously, I added a dab of blue to all the jars—and got this.
There is pink in there. On the whole, this reminds me of the redbuds that are in bloom now. (Dogwoods have started peeking out, too. Have you noticed?)
I know that I could test these colors on smaller samples of wool—or hell, coffee filters—but I do like making a whole “colorway” out of it. Who knows? I might find a combination worth repeating!
After I braided those up, I grabbed the blending board and tried out the new finishing brush that came in the mail yesterday. As vicious as that brush looks, it’s the blending board that bit me hard and made me bleed a little bit. Ouch.
I put bits of luxury fibers like camel and tussah silk in there, along with wild strips of colorful merino and a base of natural, undyed merino. These fun little blending experiments are going into a bag until I get about four ounces of them, and then I’ll spin ’em up. I may get extra crazy and try some art-yarn spinning techniques.
I know. It’s insanity!
Speaking of spinning, I finally finished spinning the sienna-colored colonial, readying it to ply with the fiery Hunk a Burning Love merino/tencel.
Anyway, I’ll let that yarn have its own post.
My point here is that I’m getting off to a groovy start with maintaining my fiber mojo when school is in session. (Even though I had to miss knit night at Maria’s studio tonight. We procrastinators finally filed our taxes.) With only six weeks of school left until summer, I think I will be able to ride this wave out to the end of the year. And then it’ll be summer-summer-summertime.
I know that I won’t be able to knock out three projects every single school night. I’m flying high on fiber fumes right now, but it’s good just knowing that I can remember to enjoy things.
As I spun up the last of that colonial, I picked up with listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, hence the quote I posted last night. It’s another audiobook I’ve been sipping on in small doses (like Brené Brown’s The Power of Vulnerability, which I finished at long last). The crazy thing about Big Magic, which is about allowing yourself to live a creative life, is that when I listened to it thinking about writing as my creative outlet, it made me a little anxious. But now, when I hear EG speak on creativity, I think of the pure joyfulness that comes from playing with colorful, fluffy wool. Or from tinkering with sticks and string, as Dale calls it.
I’m not saying that my writing days are over. (Obviously they are not, because here I am.) But EG talks about loving your craft and your craft loving you back. With writing, it is so often a love-hate relationship with me. There’s something about wool, though. I just love it—the look, the feel, even the sheepy smell. Does it love me back? The softness, the warmth, the explosions of color? Well, they all seem to point in one direction.
If I angle my camping chair so I am facing just the right way, I can pretend I’m in a lovely park somewhere.
But alas, I am home. Camped out on the carport, I spent most of yesterday afternoon reading, and it was such a nice thing that I have dragged the chair and my bag back out here. Today, though, it is blustery, which is nice for drying my wet hair and freshly painted toenails, but I’m afraid it won’t be comfortable out here for long. I think it is supposed to rain soon.
The grass is the way I like it: full meadowy personality before the first mow. Birds are calling to one another. When I got home on Friday afternoon, I watched two male cardinals pursue a female in the branches of the foremost tree in the above picture. Yesterday, I watched robins hopping along in the grass. Just now, a bluejay landed on a tree’s limb back near the ditch, which I’d much rather think of as a creek.
I didn’t knit or spin at all yesterday. Instead, I finally finished reading The Wind in the Willows, which I started—as I seemingly do every spring—on Saturday morning over a late breakfast.
I never seem to get past the beginning of the third chapter. I tend to lose interest after Mole wanders from his hole, meets the Water Rat, and goes for his first boating expedition on the river. That first chapter is such poetry.
He thought his happiness was complete when, as he meandered aimlessly along, suddenly he stood by the edge of a full-fed river. Never in his life had he seen a river before—this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that shook themselves free, and were caught and held again. All was a-shake and a-shiver—glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and swirl, chatter and bubble. The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated. By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spellbound by exciting stories; and when at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea. (“The River Bank”)
I, like Mole trotting eagerly and enrapt along the river, want to hear more and more of this tale as Kenneth Grahame spins it so beautifully. But once Toad is introduced, I always lose interest. This time, however, I vowed to read on and on until the final page.
That’s how I ended up on the carport yesterday.
And sometime around 9:30 last night, I reached that final page. Now, I can say I have actually read all of The Wind in the Willows in honesty, but while I’m being honest, I would have been content to have just stuck with those first few chapters.
The story, which begins so quaintly with the adorable Mole, becomes centered around the foolish and conceited Toad, his obsession with Bigger-Better-Faster, his lies, and his kleptomania. More than once, I closed the book in my lap and shook my head at how much the boastful Toad reminded me of our current president.
“Ho, ho!” he said to himself as he marched along with his chin in the air, “what a clever Toad I am! There is surely no animal equal to me for cleverness in the whole world!” … “Ho, ho! I am The Toad, the handsome, the popular, the successful Toad!” (“The Further Adventures of Toad”)
On several occasions, he declares, “I always come out on top!”
Of course, this story is in many ways about Toad’s repeated downfall after his recurring pride, but I would much rather have more of Mole and Rat.
Another thing I noticed: This book doesn’t come anywhere close to passing the Bechdel test. There isn’t a single female—human or critter—even mentioned for the first eighty pages, until finally two little hedgehogs, whom we see for a few pages and then never again, reference their mother. Later, there are three human characters that are women: the jailer’s daughter*, the washerwoman, and the barge-woman. Toad encounters all three, and they are all a combination of a few of the following traits: old, ugly, fat, deceitful, or rude. At one point, Rat scolds Toad for having been tossed into the river, “by a woman, too!”
I’m truly not trying to tear this book, beloved by many, to pieces, but isn’t it odd that none of the main characters—a menagerie of woodland creatures-—are female?
A few fibery updates:
We finally bought a new battery for the scale. When I last weighed the remainder of the Frog Prince yarn at Maria’s, I had exactly two ounces left of the total four. I do believe when I finish this current repeat of Firebolt, I will begin the ruffles. Next time you see the shawl, I promise: there will be ruffles!
In spinning news, the brown-and-white BFL is coming along.
I don’t have plans for this yarn, other than to make it into a neat little barberpoled two-ply. As far as knitting or crochet, I have no idea. There is nothing in the world but time for it to tell me what it wants to be.
*Grahame uses the British gaol, meaning jail. I had no clue what gaoler meant the whole time I was reading it, but I figured it was something like a guard. Then later, either Rat or Badger refers to Toad as a gaol-bird, and suddenly, I realized what was going on. I pulled up my Dictionary.com app, and behold!
I have just finished listening to the audiobook of The Handmaid’s Tale. Meanwhile, Firebolt grows.
As the Audible credits played, I worked on the tenth repeat of “broomsticks” in the pattern.
Something the narrator says in Chapter 45 resonated strongly within me. It is the last “regular” chapter of the novel, and Offred has just learned some unsettling news. Her own fate is soon to be questioned. At a figurative and almost literal crossroads, she grounds herself through breathing:
I breathe in, deeply, breathe out, giving myself oxygen. The space in front of me blackens, then clears. I can see my way.
I had to pause and rewind the audio. (Rewind. Isn’t that funny and so outdated? I guess reverse would be a better word. Truly: I tapped the counterclockwise arrow to skip backward thirty seconds.) I listened again. Giving myself oxygen. Breathing as a gift.
Suddenly, I became aware of my own breathing. With each breath, I give myself the gift of oxygen. I was reminded of the times when I have used deep breathing and meditation to calm and center me. Space does go black, and then the way before me does seem at least a little clearer.
Breathing in, breathing out.
Of course, I had to backtrack the audio again, as I was lost in my own thoughts.
Giving myself the gifts of oxygen and knitting, I listened through to the end of the novel. The main story ended unexpectedly soon because I saw there were more than thirty minutes left, and I was on Chapter 45 of 46. But Chapter 46 was really “Historical Notes,” which confused me at first because I was thinking this was an appendix to the novel, but I quickly realized that it, too, was fictional and part of the story.
To those of you who have not read The Handmaid’s Tale, I apologize for the following and will do my best not to put any spoilers here.
Those of you who have read it: Do you remember this sort of epilogue at the end?
I’m curious what others think about it. I am sure there have been—somewhat ironically—scholarly papers written about it, but I haven’t had the chance to look into those yet. For the most part, I am disappointed by its inclusion. I am not sure it has added anything that I might not have thought of on my own—with the exception of the Commander speculation, but I’m not sure I care. The rest of it, I could have figured out or speculated for myself. It almost seems as if Atwood doesn’t trust her audience enough to draw these conclusions ourselves. Am I missing something? The only purposesI can think of so far is that—minor spoiler alert!—she wants to make sure we know that the “Gilead regime” ends and is a thing of the past.
Still, I think the novel could have ended more solidly with Offred’s last line of narration.
That being said, The Handmaid’s Tale will likely rank pretty highly among novels I have read. It is difficult to say that I liked it because the entire listening experience was an uncomfortable one, and I assume the reading experience would be the same, though I believe Claire Dane’s performance added a fitting complexity to the text.
This story is one that I won’t soon forget, especially not now in our rapidly changing and politically-charged environment. It only deepens the chills down my spine when I see or hear Make American Great Again.
In case it isn’t clear: I very much recommend Atwood’s novel. But it isn’t for the faint of heart or for anyone who is looking for a pleasant escape. It is, however, for those who worry—or troublingly, even moreso for those who don’t worry—about the direction our country has taken recently.
As for the knitting, I don’t think I am anywhere close to done with this shawl.
It began with one “broomstick” motif, and with each pattern repeat, there are three more in the row. Now, there are twenty-eight broomy triangles in the repeat I am on now.
Once I finished the novel, I decided it was time to upgrade the cable length for the circular needles. I could no longer spread the stitches out to see the whole thing in an uncramped stated. I think it was on a 24-inch cable.
As I slipped the stitches from the shorter cable to the longer, I couldn’t help but count them. Three hundred fifty-one. That didn’t seem right, so I checked the pattern and did the math. Yep, for the selvedge and edging plus twenty-eight repeats of the motif for that particular pattern row: 351 stitches.
Most rows are longer than the one before, considering there are yarnovers separating the three-stitch garter edging from the body of the shawl. However, there are some rows that contract the length with two- and three- stitch decreases. I don’t pretend to understand how this all works. (I mean, math. Duh.) But I am impressed by it.
Sooner or later, I will transition to the third phase of the pattern, which has ruffles. I know ruffles can double and triple the stitch count, so I need to be mindful of my remaining yardage. On someone’s Ravelry project page, I think I read that this part took 17% of the total yarn. Yikes.
Perhaps I need to introduce a scale into this process.
I am not a precision sort of person, but I would really hate to have to tink or frog because I just continued knitting in blissful ignorance.
I think I will wait a while before watching the film of The Handmaid’s Tale. (Okay, like a day or two.) I don’t want my perception and processing of the book to be entirely erased by the movie, but I am also dying to see it interpreted on screen. Plus, I would like to be able to talk about it with the Husband, who I hope will watch it with me.
So during the last minutes of St. Patrick’s Day, I cast Frog Prince onto these green needles.
(OMG, I frogged it. Get it?!)
Whatever. This picture is totally of the wrong side of the project anyway.
The knitting is mostly pleasant, except for the dreaded 1to7, in which I must magic one stitch into seven by knitting through the back loop and then thrice yarning-over and knitting into that same back loop.
My blood pressure goes up during that row.
But even that isn’t terrible. And I’m happily plugging away on the repeats and keeping my place using a free app called JKnit, which allows me to upload the pattern PDF and move highlighter row along the page to mark the spot.
(I would show you a screenshot, but I paid a pretty penny for the pattern, and I doubt the designer, Mia Rinde, would appreciate my flashing around her pattern for free.)
As I knit, I’m listening to The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood on Audible.
How have I never read this book?! I have Atwood’s novel The Robber Bride on my bookshelf because I was supposed to read it for a women’s literature class in college, but I never did read it. Terrible English major!
Anyway, I’ve been seeing references to The Handmaid’s Tale on social media in the context of our current political climate, and it’s being turned into a movie, TV show, or miniseries (or something). And apparently there is a 1990 film with a stellar cast, so I see that in my future.
So when I got the email from Audible telling me I needed to spend one of my six accumulated credits soon or I would lose one, I looked into this book.
Claire Danes narrates, and apparently she won an award for it. Deservedly so! I’ve listened to many audiobooks, and this is one of the best performances I’ve ever heard.
If you’re unfamiliar with the premise of the novel—as I was—it is set in a dystopian future United States, which is (interestingly) probably our past, considering the book was published in 1985. The government has been taken over by a religious group that is centered around subjugating women under the guise of providing them “freedom from” certain abuses of the past (think rape and other sexual assault). The population has been stricken with infertility, and it is the role of fertile women to offer their bodies as vessels for reproduction. These women, including the main character, are “handmaids,” assigned to childless households. The Handmaid’s Tale is the story of Offred—literally “of Fred,” to identify her as a certain man’s possession—who remembers life before this societal restructuring. The story is revealed bidirectionally—the current story of handmaids unfolding and the flashbacks of life leading up to her current “reduced circumstances.”
It is a somewhat unsettling experience to knit while listening to this book. The craft of knitting has a recurring role. At one point Offred muses:
There’s time to spare. This is one of the things I wasn’t prepared for—the amount of unfilled time, the long parentheses of nothing. Time as white sound. If only I could embroider. Weave, knit, something to do with my hands. I want a cigarette.
Aside from her daily shopping trips and reproductive duties, a handmaid has very little to do, but she isn’t permitted any possessions, especially ones that might be used as weapons—against someone else or, more likely, against herself.
Serena Joy, the woman for whom Offred is an intended surrogate, is a knitter. She, as the Commander’s wife, is allowed luxuries such as yarn, needles, and cigarettes. Knitting intarsia scarves for the members of the military, called Angels, is her primary occupation. Offred tells the reader:
Sometimes I think these scarves aren’t sent to the Angels at all, but unraveled and turned back into balls of yarn, to be knitted again in their turn. Maybe it’s just something to keep the Wives busy, to give them a sense of purpose. But I envy the Commander’s Wife her knitting. It’s good to have small goals that can be easily attained.
Knitting here seems a sort of frivolity, a pointless endeavor. That line about “small goals” reads as condescending, but I identify with this, the need to be able to accomplish something with my hands.
In another scene, Offred describes an encounter with Serena. The wife, whose hands are becoming increasingly crippled, asks the handmaid to hold a skein of yarn while she winds it into a ball.
Serena winds, the cigarette held in the corner of her mouth smoldering, sending out tempting smoke. She winds slowly and with difficulty because of her gradually crippling hands, but with determination. Perhaps the knitting, for her, involves a kind of willpower; maybe it even hurts. Maybe it’s been medically prescribed: ten rows a day of plain, ten of purl. Though she must do more than that. I see those evergreen trees and geometric boys and girls in a different light: evidence of her stubbornness, and not altogether despicable.
Here the craft earns some respect—or gets upgraded from “despicable,” at the least.
And then the metaphor I’d been anticipating:
Or she stays in the sitting room, knitting away at her endless Angel scarves, turning out more and more yards of intricate and useless wool people: her form of procreation, it must be.
Knitting as a form of birthgiving. Not just “something to do,” but another surrogate.
The product of yarn and needles holds heavy symbolism in this novel, so holding them in my hands while listening feels meaningful—a connection, yet also a betrayal.
To be honest, I haven’t figured it out yet.
I have about three hours of listening left in the book, and I don’t think I will be anywhere near done knitting Firebolt by then. I may look into the film, and upon further research, I see that the miniseries is set to “air” on Hulu late next month. (I don’t currently have Hulu, but I did do a free trial so I could watch the first ten episodes of This Is Us, so now that rest of that season has aired, I do think it’s time for a subscription renewal…) It may take watching all of that for me to finish this shawl.
I knew it was going to be chain-plied.
I knew I wanted a smooth, round yarn, and three-ply is just that. The combination of three strands together tends to balance out my thick-and-thin single into something relatively consistent.
I also knew that I wanted to preserve the colorway, not mix and muddle it. And chain ply does that, too.
So in November, I began spinning.
I spun through the election.
And earlier this month, I plied.
(And of course, I immediately started spinning something new…
While I love to spin and knit (and crochet), I haven’t done much in the way of knitting (or crocheting) my handspun. But something about this newly finished yarn made me want to make it into something more.
Maybe because it reminded me so much of a full-color edition of The Wind in the Willows I’d read once around this time of year.
(I don’t have the one with color illustrations in my personal collection. In college, I borrowed a creaky hardback copy from the children’s section of the public library and carried it to the city park to read. It was a gloriously delicious afternoon well spent.)
With Spring coming on, I too am thinking about getting out and paddling along a stony river in my kayak.
And I started thinking about turning this yarn into a thing more than string. A springy thing.
I searched Ravelry high and low for a pattern to knit. And it even occurred to me that I could crochet something. The only time I ever finished a handspun project, it was knitting. Plus, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I don’t see that many people crocheting with natural fibers.
And it was in that way I decided I would definitely crochet this yarn.
The Ravelry search continued. I kept coming back to the Virus shawl. I’d seen a very pretty one made from Caron Cakes, but the name of this thing. Virus?! How atrocious. If I’d had to pay money for the pattern, I don’t think I would have done it. Who wants to pay for a virus?
At first, the chart intimidated me. I can barely follow written crochet instructions, but a chart?! Yikes. But for real, though: Isn’t this diagram pretty all on its own?
Then I watched this video.
The work-in-progress was the perfect size for one of my favorite project bags, so I stuffed the shawl and yarn inside—which I then stuffed in my bigger bag (yes, I like collecting things Russian-nesting-doll style [like this sentence])—and it went with me everywhere.
(Bag purchased here. Mine is the small size.)
I crocheted at home watching Love with the Husband or listening to Fresh Air. I crocheted in the truck, riding shotgun. I crocheted during Tuesday “knit night” with my friends while enjoying a butterscotch latte (whip cream, please) at Big City.
And then, on Friday night, as I was crocheting and listening to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (narrated stunningly by Claire Danes), I ran out of yarn.
I finished off. I wove in the two ends. I soaked it. I blocked it.
And like that, I finished a thing.
Instead of “virus,” I’ll call it “catching on” or something. It’s similar in meaning, but far less menacing. It implies getting back in the groove, which I did.
This yarn helped me catch onto making something with my handspun.
I caught on to crochet a little bit more.
Carrying my project with me and happily yarning whenever and wherever caught on.
And I’m here writing. I have ideas. That’s something worth catching onto.