Showing posts with label politicized knitting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label politicized knitting. Show all posts

Monday, 9 November 2015

Stashes and the Size Thereof

During this past week I took a few hours to go through my stash and reorganize it. It had been two years since I last did it and it was getting a little scrambled, and I find it's a good idea to go through it all occasionally so that I have a good frame of reference on what I have. Doing this, and also recently seeing a few articles online about stash size, got me thinking about stash size, which in turn led me to write this post.

No, the photo above is not one of me and my stash, but rather one of a woman called Bonney and her stash. Bonney is the mother-in-law of blogger Anna of Mochimochi Land, and also the owner of what may be the world's biggest yarn stash. In July 2007, Anna posted some photos of Bonney's stash, and in January 2011, Anna posted an interview with Bonney about her stash in which Bonney estimated that her stash numbered a staggering "few thousand" balls of yarn. The other article I saw that I keep thinking about is from Ann Shayne and Kay Gardiner of Mason Dixon Knitting, in which they detail their respective approaches to stash organization. I will quickly summarize their methods thusly: Kay says get rid of it all and go buy the perfect yarn for each project when you're ready to begin it; Ann says keep all your yarn and revel in it because it's yarn... unless it's mauve.

I'd say my personal yarn stash management style falls between Kay and Ann's, and very far from Bonney's. I've never had and never will have a huge yarn stash. It fusses me to have some enormous amount of yarn around, waiting to be knitted up. It makes me feel pressured and accused, as though I should have done it already, and as though I should have managed matters better than to acquire it in the first place. But I also don't like the idea of having no stash whatsoever. Having a modest stash on hand saves me money. If I need a small amount of a contrast colour for a project, I can usually find it in my stash rather than buying another whole ball. If I'd like to knit dolls for a Christmas toy drive, my odds and ends of yarn will be perfect for that purpose and I can make a doll almost for free, whereas buying new skeins in all the colours needed would be expensive. The same goes for making a striped sweater for a small child. If I should need a pair of socks or slippers or want to whip up something for a baby shower, I have yarn for that. And while yes, it is lovely to be able to go out and buy the perfect lot of yarn for a given project, I really enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to make something I want to make with the bits and bobs of yarn I have sitting around. I've already planned the sweater I'm going to make my little grandnephew for his third birthday next summer: it's to be dark green with a little intarsia owl on the front in shades of rust, tan, and ivory. Because I don't quite have enough of the dark green main colour yarn, I'm going to piece it out by adding stripes of the intarsia colours to the ribbed neck, cuffs, and waistband. I've also planned to make a cabled cushion cover for one of the bedrooms in my house out of the 300 grams of cream DK weight I have on hand, and have decided if I don't have enough yarn to knit both sides of the cushion, I can always knit one side and sew a fabric back onto it. The thrill of making do with the yarn I have is certainly equal to the pleasure of buying it. Buying the perfect yarn for a project feels like a luxury, while contriving ways to use yarn from my stash makes me feel like a genius.

The above picture is of my stash. Those four plastic boxes and three plastic bags contain all the yarn I own aside from the three projects currently in my workbasket. There's a box of cotton yarn, a box of fingering, a box of bulky weight, a box and a bag of DK, a bag of worsted, and the biggest plastic bag (the Dollarama bag on the left) contains the assorted yarn I've designated for use in the projects I plan to knit within the next year. My stash, while not exactly enormous, is still bigger than I would like it to be. Ideally my yarn stash would fit into two of those plastic cases. My plan is to knock the stash down in size by one bag or box a year until it gets there. I'm already on my way, as at this time last year my stash consisted of those four boxes plus four bags of yarn rather than three.

I do have a few strict rules about yarn buying. I plan my projects ahead of time, look in my stash to see if I've got some yarn that would be suitable before I buy anything, and write out a shopping list of needed yarns complete with specified gauges, amounts, and colour, which I keep in my planner for reference. That way when I'm out somewhere and see a sale-priced perfect yarn for a planned project, I can get out my list and take advantage of the sale by buying exactly what I need. I never buy yarn to "use on something someday", but always for a specific project that I will be knitting in the near future. I also try to buy yarn from places that will accept returns or at least exchanges, so that I can take back any whole skeins I have left over when I finish a project.

I'm not going to try to tell anyone how big their yarn stash should be, or claim my yarn stash management style is ideal for anyone other than me. As She Who Possibly Owns More Yarn than Anyone, AKA Bonney, says in the interview linked above, "I'm not hurting anyone." I have to agree, especially given that immediately prior to beginning work on this post, I watched a video of six U.S. cops throwing two black men against the wall and beating them for having crossed the damn street "against the lights". (Or so the cops claimed. I wouldn't be surprised if the two men were innocent of even that.) In a world as messed up as ours, having a too large yarn stash is so far down on the list of this world's many ills that it barely even registers.

However, I would suggest that it is a good idea to be a little mindful and disciplined about one's yarn buying and stashing. After all, a little mindfulness and discipline goes a long way towards making nearly anything we do more rewarding and successful. It's one reason why I don't share what I call "crazy knitter" memes on this blog's Facebook page. All those cartoons and captioned photos about how funny it is to have a house bulging with yarn and unfinished projects and spending the kids' college funds at the yarn store got old pretty fast. (I especially detest those regressive, sexist memes about knitters hiding or lying about yarn purchases from their husbands.) Extreme behaviour and excess may have some entertainment value, but it's no way to live.

One of the factors to be mindful of is the environmental issues involved. We do have a responsibility to consider the environmental impact of what we buy, and to keep our purchasing habits within reasonable limits. Over consumption is destroying our planet and posing a serious threat to the long-term survival of the human race, and textile production in particular is very harmful to the environment. I recently read in a horrifying article about industrial dyes that one can tell what the trendy new colours are by looking at the current colour of the rivers in China. We absolutely need some textiles to survive and live functional lives, but as responsible citizens of the world we also need to avoid buying things we don't need and won't use. If you have more yarn than you can ever realistically expect to knit within your life time, it's time to rein in your yarn buying habits.

The financial cost is another aspect to consider. Yes, it's your money and your hobby, and I get that simple possession can be a pleasure in itself, but most of us are on a finite budget and have to set priorities. If you are buying more yarn than you can ever use, you might want to consider whether that money wouldn't give you more real pleasure and benefit if it went towards something else: debt repayment, your retirement or child's education fund, a trip, a charitable donation, or even a book, a good bottle of wine, a nice dinner out, or a present for someone you love, and to set some limits on how much you'll spend.

Then there's the storage issue. It's not fun to have every available space in one's home crammed with stuff, to have drawers so full one can't easily open or shut them, to have things fall on one's head when one opens a closet, to have to take ten things out of a cupboard to get to the one thing you need -- and then to have to put all those ten things away again. You might think you enjoy having that yarn around, and maybe you do love having it as much as Bonney clearly loves hers, but just how relaxing is it? How much would you enjoy visiting a spa that was as cluttered and full of stuff as your place? If you've got more yarn than you have places to put it, you should probably consider buying less yarn and even reducing your stash by selling or donating it to people who would put it to good use.

And if you're actually out of control in terms of how much yarn you buy and stash, if it's gotten to the point that it's impacting your ability to pay your bills and/or making your home unlivable and the people you live with angry and unhappy with you, and you can't seem to resolve the situation on your own, then it may be time to seek professional help. There are counsellors, medication, and online resources out there that will help you get your problem under control. The Anxiety and Depression Association's web page on hoarding might be a good place to start.

Having said all this, I hope I didn't come across as too much the joyless scold. My purpose here isn't to try to dictate the size of anyone's stash, but rather to suggest some guidelines and insights. We all have different comfort levels of stuff, different budgets, and different knitting speeds. If your ideal stash size and life goal is "enough yarn to lie naked under" as Bonney is doing above, go for it.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Délit Maille

Anna of Lille, France, the author of the French blog Délit Maille (translated as "knitting offence" and pronounced as "Daily Mail") uses knitting to satirize French politicians, their policies and foibles. If you can read French, Délit Maille can be found here (and if you don't, the Google translation at least makes sense). The BBC has a slideshow of Anna's work with explanatory captions.

This is U.S. president Barack Obama and former French president Nicolas Sarkozy giving a television interview at the G20 summit in November 2011. Anna slyly poked fun at the height differential by putting Sarkozy's dangling feet on a footstool.

I now so want to render the whole Toronto Mayor Rob Ford saga in knitting.

Friday, 22 November 2013

How to Stage a Knit-In

A group of concerned Australian citizens has formed a political protest group called the Knitting Nannas in order to combat exploration and mining of unconventional gas and other non-renewable energy sources. Knitting Nannas Against Gas (KNAG) stages regular knit-ins in front of the offices of politicians or mining companies, at larger rallies, community, and flash mob events, and wherever else they think their presence might be effective. They believe in peaceful, positive, and productive protest, and when staging their protests (or recreating the famous "Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima" shot as above) they bring not only their knitting, but any other craft, cards, crossword puzzles, or peas to shell, as well as lawn chairs, tea, and ice cream or popsicles to share with everyone on those especially hot days. KNAG is inclusive and no one need be either a nanna or a knitter in order to be eligible to join. It's a great idea given how tense, tedious and protracted political demonstrations can be, and even more importantly it gives the Knitting Nannas protest group a fun and newsworthy angle that will help them get the publicity they need to be effective.

Give in now, politicians and corporations. You won't believe how easily and contentedly a knitter can outlast you. Moreover doing the right thing might just score you a pair of socks or a hat.

In this video, one of the Knitting Nannas read from the Nannafesto ("We sit, knit, plot, have a yarn and a cuppa, and tell it how it is"), and others discuss some of their concerns with coal seam gas mining. The Knitting Nannas have already formed a number of chapters (or, as they call them, Nanna's Loops) in Australia.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

One Small, Knitted Step in the Right Direction

When Raquell Guimaraes, a Brazilian fashion designer, needed to boost production for her clothing line and couldn't find the skilled workers she needed, she turned to prison inmates at the Ariosvaldo Campos Pires. The prisoners were taught to knit and crochet and made Guimaraes's designs for export abroad. In return they received 75% of the minimum wage in Brazil and one day off their prison sentence for every three days they spent knitting. Twenty-five percent of the money the prisoners earn is set aside for them to have the day they are freed from prison. The program has been in existence since 2009, employs about 20 prisoners, and seems to have been a success.

I've written about knitting in prison before, when I posted about knitting classes in a Maryland prison back in December 2012. Since then I've learned a little more about vocational and educational programs in prison, and penal system budget allocation. I do think knitting programs such as the Maryland prison knitting class and the Ariosvaldo Campos Pires knitting shop are successes, but rather than advocate specifically for more knitting programs in prison, I would like to see more educational and vocational programs in prisons in general, and to see them tailored to suit current workforce requirements. Knitting is a wonderful hobby but, realistically, it won't lead to livelihoods for very many prisoners. It won't pay a living wage and no one's hands will stand up to the stresses of knitting 40 hours a week for very long. It can certainly be one of the skills taught in prison, but shouldn't be the only one or the most emphasized.

Many prison inmates lack any real education or job skills. My research tells me that something in the neighbourhood of 60-70% of prison inmates in Canada, U.S., and the U.K. are functionally illiterate, and that educational and vocational programs are the best tools we have for ensuring that prisoners will lead a productive and lawful life once they finish their sentences. Prisoners are often avid to learn new skills, because they're so bored and miserable that even things they would normally never have considered, such as training seeing eye dogs or translating books into Braille, sound like an attractive option, and then once they know how to do something useful that they enjoy doing, they want to keep doing it. And yet, at least in the U.S., only something like 5% of prison budgets is spent on such programs, and they are the first things to go during budget cuts. This NPR article on California's Folsom Prison is interesting if you'd like to learn more about this matter.

According to this New Yorker article, there there are now more people under “correctional supervision” in the U.S. (more than six million) than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height. Canada has only about 38,000 people in custody, but our penal system is only an improvement on that of the U.S. in terms of scale, not in nature — our recidivism rates seem to be just as high, and Canadian prisons have a worse record than that of the U.S. in certain other issues. Over 90% of North American prisoners will go back to prison once released unless they are taught the job and life skills and given the mental health and substance abuse treatments they need to be useful, self-supporting members of society. Helping prisoners to lead better lives would not only be the humane thing to do and make our society safer, but would also save us an astounding amount of tax dollars... and yet it isn't happening.

No one listens to prisoners or ex-prisoners, and the prison service industry has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. It's up to the general population of a society to work towards and insist upon a penal system reform. Knitting classes or workshops involving 20 men each are wonderful and heart-warming to read about, but they are only a tiny step in the right direction.

Coming up: Look for the Petite Purls Issue 15 review tomorrow.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Political Correctness in the Bag

In Toronto, where I live, plastic shopping bags have been something of a political sore spot recently. A three-year-old by-law mandating a 5 cent charge for plastic bags was revoked effective July 1, 2012, and in the following November a decision by Toronto city council to ban single use plastic bags entirely by 2013 was reversed when it met with strenuous opposition from the Ontario Convenience Stores Association. While the latter political move really was probably too draconian and impractical, at least for the present, I agreed with the mandatory 5 cent charge bylaw and thought it worked well as an incentive to get people to use cloth shopping bags. When the by-law was originally enacted, plastic bags became a much less common sight overnight, and I especially liked that I, who had been already avoiding the used of plastic bags for years, no longer had to tell cashiers "No bag... no bag... no bag... I don't need that bag," before they heard me, because giving out plastic bags was so routine that it was an autopilot task for them. And it reduced Toronto's landfill and waste disposal costs. But our illustrious mayor, Rob Ford, didn't seem to think fiscal and environmental responsibility was a good reason to continue to impose a slight inconvenience on his voters. No, I didn't vote for him, thanks for asking.

Regardless of what the plastic bag status is in your locale, if you want to avoid the use of the plastic shopping bags but are discouraged by the ugliness of the environmentally friendly cloth bags out there, you can always knit your own. There are loads of patterns on the net for such bags, many of them free. I like the one above, from the blog Homebaked Online, which is partly based on a Knitty pattern.

This one from Worsted Knitt is a good basic pattern. These bags will be useful for other things besides grocery shopping, such as heading to the beach. These bags can also be made in your favourite colour, or in a set of different colours to coordinate with your outfits — I know I need more than one bag to bring home a week's groceries.

And if you don't like those I've featured here, check out the selection of string bags on Ravelry.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Running On

I keep thinking about what it must have been like yesterday for the Boston marathoners as they crossed the finish line; so proud, happy, and exhausted, having trained months or years for the event, and then at the very apex of their achievement, this horror. Unthinkable. Madness.

On April 14th I posted about "the Extreme Knitting Redhead" Susie Hewer and how she knits during marathons to get publicity for her Alzheimers' research fundraising efforts. The London Marathon will be taking place on April 21 as scheduled, and Hewer, who will be running in it, writes on her blog that she suspects there will be a lot of black armbands worn at the event. This seems like as good as any a way to deal with what happened: to acknowledge the gravity of what happened, and to carry on with the good and worthwhile things we need to do.

The words of (sweatered) children's television host Fred Rogers have been widely circulated on the net: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” And it's useful advice that can help those who weren't directly affected to process what happened. We don't yet know who is responsible for the bombing yesterday, but we know that as soon as the bombs went off hundreds of race volunteers rushed towards the site of the explosion to help the injured, never giving a thought to their own safety even though there could have been — and were — other and unexploded bombs in the area. We know many marathoners left the race to lend a hand, or to donate blood, at a time when they were probably already exhausted. There were runners being treated for dehydration in the first aid tents who ripped out their IVs and left their cots to make room for the injured. We know the authorities had to broadcast a public request that people not to come to the area to help because there were so many responders there already. And I'm sure that there will be a general outpouring of support that will continue for quite some time.

There were perhaps at most few dozen bombers directly involved in orchestrating this insane and cruel act of destruction, but there are millions of people who are grieved and anxious to help those who were injured or bereaved. Horrible things like this happen far too regularly in this world, and it's important for us all to remember as we move forward from them that there's much more good in this world than bad, and to just keep doing our best in our various ways to add to that sum total of good.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Queen Victoria's Royal Example

Queen Victoria was a lifelong avid knitter and crocheter, and she also spun. Though she probably only did handiwork because she enjoyed it, her taste for it had far-reaching effects. Prior to the early nineteenth century, knitting was a folk art and a cottage industry, something the poor did from necessity and to earn a living. Queen Elizabeth I bought handknitted stockings, but wasn't herself a knitter. In the nineteenth century knitting became something all socioeconomic classes did, partly because of the rise of the popular press and the subsequent availability of printed knitting patterns, partly because of technical advances in the production of knitting needles and the introduction of standardized size needles, but also and in no small part because Queen Victoria elevated the status of knitting by setting a royal example. By the end of Queen Victoria's life every properly brought-up young girl in Western society was taught to knit as a matter of course, regardless of her family's economic status. Queen Victoria probably had a very salutary effect on crocheting as well, as crocheting did not even exist long before 1800, but became a common craft in less than a century. In the picture above, Queen Victoria is show knitting in the Queen's sitting room at Windsor Castle while her daughter Princess Beatrice reads the newspaper aloud.

This crocheted scarf is one of eight Queen Victoria made to be awarded to some members of the British military who had served with distinction in the Boer War in South Africa. The scarves had no significance as a military decoration, but must have had their own very special cachet. Not to mention that I find the whole idea of Queen Victoria crocheting these special scarves for her soldiers hilariously maternal and loving-hands-at-home. Can you picture any modern head of state doing such a thing for members of his or her national military? Would Stephen Harper knit bow ties for members of the Canadian military? Would Barack Obama cross-stitch medallions for his soldiers? But then it's my understanding that this sort of thing was typical of Queen Victoria's character. She did live in a bubble of extreme privilege and could be appallingly out of touch with what life was like for her subjects (she was middle-aged before she realized there was such a thing as train tickets, as she'd always simply walked on board herself), but her tastes and mindset could be very middle class. Queen Victoria enjoyed the circus and a nip of whiskey.

In this photo, Queen Victoria is photographed crocheting. I have read that Victoria, as much as she liked to knit, was not all that skilled in the art. There's a story told that on one occasion, Victoria was visiting a Scottish household near Balmoral Castle and presented her hostess with a pair of socks that she had knitted herself. There was an elderly woman also present who was hard of hearing and hadn't grasped the visitor's identity, and who loudly remarked, "If her man gets no better made socks than that, I pity him." Fortunately, Her Majesty was amused.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

A Gay Scarf

With the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments concerning the legal recognition of gay marriage this week, and given that the Gay Pride parade season only a few months away, you may be looking for a way to show your support for gay rights. If so, rest assured that you can easily knit something gay! The pattern for the pretty, simple, and quick-to-knit Rainbow Pride Scarf shown above is available for free on Ravelry.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

This Yarn Bomber's Knitting Needles Have a Political Point

This protestor, photographed outside the White House on March 11, hand-knitted a pie chart representing the allocation of the U.S. budget. It pains me to have to say this, but the pie chart's proportions aren't accurate: the U.S. spends about 20% of its total yearly budget on defense (plus another 3.5% on benefits to veterans), not more than half, as this chart indicates. And aesthetically, the execution of this project could have been better. But as a concept, this yarn bombing idea is kick ass, and this knitter made it happen and displayed it in front of the White House, instead of say, typing uselessly about it on some knitting blog.

But wait! There's more! This knitter also made herself an "Occupy Grandparents" afghan and a "Stop XL" hat that is likely a statement of opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline.

I'm almost afraid to ask what she'd do with a cowl and fingerless glove design.

Photos via Jennifer Bendery.

Coming up: Look for the Knit Simple Spring 2013 review tomorrow morning!

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Pom-Poms for Peace

The police in Leicester, England have taken to yarn bombing in an effort to prevent crime. They've hung pom-poms in the trees in Bede Park and Great Central Way, Leicester, and hope that by making the area look more pleasant and fun that they can encourage more residents to feel safer, take more pride, and participate more actively in these areas.

Some residents are saying they don't understand how woollen balls are going to fix anything, but it seems to me that tactics like this are quite worth trying. For one thing, a project like this requires a very small investment of time and money, and certainly can't make matters worse, so why not try it? And there is some precedent and social science research that supports the belief that it might work, such as that associated with the broken windows theory.

In a real life example of the broken windows theory, after the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968, Mayor-Commissioner Walter Washington ordered Washington, D.C. city maintenance crews to clean up the damage immediately on the theory that people who wake up to clean, cared-for neighbourhoods are more likely to leave them that way. There's no way to know whether or how much this helped the situation. It certainly wasn't a magical solution. The riots in Washington continued for four days and devastated the inner city area. However, Walter Washington went on to become the city's first elected mayor, which suggests that his methods of dealing with the violence at least earned him widespread respect and trust in the city he governed.

Another possible argument in favour of the pom-poms is that I think people tend to underestimate the cumulative power of small, purposeful, and intelligently made changes. Just hanging up pom-poms in some trees is not going to revolutionize Leicester. But I doubt those who are working to make Leicester safer are planning to stop there. There are other small, inexpensive measures that can be used to prevent crime. In Mansfield, England, the Layton Burroughs Residents Association installed bright pink lighting in an underpass to discourage loiterers. It seems to have helped. The teenagers who formerly hung out there saw the lighting as uncool and didn't care at all for the way it highlighted their acne. Some public transit stations, including Toronto's Kennedy subway station, have tried playing classical music over their PA systems to deter gangbangers from gathering there. Again, it's no cure-all, but it is considered effective.

I don't mean to suggest that aesthetic changes to an environment will solve all society's ills. They will be next to useless if not supported by other, more far-reaching measures. The idea of an aesthetic-only approach makes me think of a former friend of mine who was in an abusive relationship and a dead-end job she hated and who in her late thirties had no savings to speak of. She was making no progress at all in dealing with these issues, but she would spend a lot of time talking about how she wanted to get breast implants, or cut off half her hair and dye it blond, or about how much she needed to go shopping in a way that seemed to equate such actions with major life changes. She'd, say, buy a top with a wild print, because it "looked rebellious and she felt rebellious!" Given that this was a woman who was already very well-groomed and attractive, I wanted to snap at her that if she didn't like her life, why the hell didn't she make some meaningful changes instead of taking things out on her hair or buying more clothes she'd only stuff into her already packed closets and hardly ever wear? In her case focusing more on her appearance than she already did was a misdirection and waste of resources.

It is very important to maintain appearances at the societal as well as the individual level, but other measures such as sound fiscal management, effective policing and regulation, and improving access to social programs, medical care, education, and good housing, are even more important, and will go a long way towards improving the conditions that lead to crime. A holistic and balanced approach to problem-solving is best.

But for now, there are bright fluffy pom-poms in the trees in Leicester, and it will be interesting to see what effect they have, and what Leicester does next to improve itself.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Moby Ripped

In 2007 Greenpeace Poland aired this anti-whaling commercial. It uses knitting to convey their point, and the imagery was so striking that it made me do a little Googling to find out whether I agreed with Greenpeace's stance that commercial whaling needs to be banned worldwide, so I'd say it's a success.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Dorothy Parker and the Gateway to Domesticity

Dorothy Parker was a woman who avoided domestic tasks like the plague. She'd have starved rather than boil herself an egg, ate bacon raw claiming she didn't know how to cook it, and threw her soiled underwear back in her bureau drawer with her clean pairs, leaving the resulting mess for the maid to sort out, if there was one. She wrote in one of her poems that she hated women who made their own clothes and who were always hurrying home to make dinner. But she was an avid knitter. The photo above shows her carrying her knitting bag, and according to what I've read, she was seldom without it.

Knitting has a dynamic and a pace of its own. One can pick up knitting and knit for exactly as long as one wants to, or has time to, whether that be five minutes or several hours. One can put a knitting project down and leave it for hours, days, months, or years, and then pick it up again. Knitting is portable. Knitting is compatible with carrying on a social conversation, with being out in the world. None of these things can be said of cooking or cleaning or dressmaking. Dorothy Parker no doubt felt she could yield a point and enjoy her knitting without it becoming some sort of gateway domestic task, the first step on downhill course of action that would eventually deposit her in the kitchen, slaving to prepare meals for a family of six.

I've always been one to revel in domestic skills, perhaps because my mother was both a dedicated elementary school teacher and a woman who enjoyed baking bread, making jam, growing flowers and vegetables, and making clothing. Like her, I earn a living working in a professional capacity and also do most of the same household tasks, and have never felt that these activities were in conflict in any way. I tend to roll my eyes at some of the feminist critique of the so-called "New Domesticity", and get impatient with the moaning that women are setting back the clock by turning away from the feminist achievements of their mothers and grandmothers and embracing housewifely roles and tasks.

For one thing the whole idea of a "New Domesticity" is an appallingly classist construct. Relatively few women have been able to turn their backs on domestic tasks over the past fifty years. My mother and both my grandmothers certainly did all their own housework. Only a relatively small percentage of women could afford to not do their own housekeeping, and their household staff brought up the average by doing double duty: they did their employers' housework and then went home to do their own. There's nothing new about domesticity because women have been steadily tending to their housekeeping through all the waves of feminism.

In any case I see nothing at all wrong with women choosing to cook from scratch or make their own candles or spin. And I've had it with this relentless nitpicking over how women run their lives. Feminism was supposed to free women up from gender-based strictures, not add new ones.

Not that I don't get where some of the critics are coming from. As I've said before on this blog, leisure-time activities do need to be kept in their place. These domestic hobbies that can be so pleasant and rewarding shouldn't become a vortex that absorbs all our free time and keeps us from ever reading the newspaper, voting, volunteering, learning new skills, or otherwise attending to higher priority personal or professional tasks. But it's certainly possible to indulge in these elective domestic tasks without neglecting other more important things, and I would like to see these New Domesticity critics show some respect for women's ability to do so. No one assumes a man will contribute less to the world or fail to reach his potential because he's taken up woodworking. Dorothy Parker's knitting never took away from her writing — though her drinking and her hatred of the actual task of writing certainly did.

Dorothy Parker's flight from domesticity made sense given the era in which she lived. Relatively few women of her time managed to bypass the kind of domestic, housebound life women were then expected to lead in order to live a professional, artistic or political life outside the home. Parker's hostility towards the domestic role was one of the means she used to avoid it. She reminds me of the narrator in Erica Jong's Fear of Flying (published in 1973), who refused to learn to type so that she could ensure that she didn't wind up working as a secretary. She didn't become a secretary, but she handicapped herself as a grad student and professional writer. Surely things have changed since Parker's day, or even since the seventies. Surely we don't need to share Parker's contempt for domestic accomplishments, and to shoot ourselves in the foot by refusing to learn needed life skills, because we need no longer fear their thralldom as she did.

Can't we now admire domestic accomplishments rather than dismissing them as "women's work" as though they were lesser achievements and past-times than those traditionally perfomed by men? Can't women bake bread or crochet a tablecloth without anyone telling them they've betrayed feminism? I hope we can. Because it's only when we can do so that we will have made real progress towards respecting the work women do and their right to make their own choices.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Hobby Lobby's Misconceptions

Hobby Lobby, a chain of U.S. craft supply stores, has announced that it will "defy a federal mandate requiring it to offer employees health coverage that includes access to the morning-after pill, despite risking potential fines of up to $1.3 million per day".

Hobby Lobby claims "the mandate violates the religious beliefs of their owners. They say the morning-after pill is tantamount to abortion because it can prevent a fertilized egg from becoming implanted in a woman's womb".

Leaving aside the whole abortion morality debate for a moment, let's make something clear here. Emergency contraceptives like the morning-after pill are not abortifacients. They do not prevent a fertilized egg from implanting itself in a woman's womb; they prevent the egg and sperm from ever meeting in the first place. You can verify this fact on Wikipedia if you wish. Hobby Lobby is illegally denying its employees coverage for contraceptives based on their religious principles, which in turn are based what I can only call willful ignorance of the facts, since surely someone has at least tried to explain the family that owns Hobby Lobby that "emergency contraceptives" are called "emergency contraceptives" for a reason.

I first read about this issue on, and as always MeFites brought their considerable collective intelligence and snark to the debate. It makes for entertaining and thought-provoking reading if you're looking for a more in-depth discussion than you'll find in this post.

It'll be interesting to see if Hobby Lobby actually carries out its threat, however, or how many days they'll be willing to pay that $1.3 million fine. As has been remarked in the Metafilter thread, although Hobby Lobby prides themselves on closing their stores on Sunday in accordance with the fourth of the ten commandments, the fact is that a number of their employees are still required to come to work on Sunday to do inventory behind those closed doors.

But assuming that Hobby Lobby does defy the mandate and incur those massive fines for any significant length of time, if you're an American knitter who's inclined to dismiss this issue because you believe employers should have a right to decide what benefits or because you think this issue isn't important, and intend to go shopping at the Hobby Lobby in the near future anyway, please take a minute to think through the ramifications.

If employers can decide what benefits to give their employees according to their religious principles, your Jewish employer will have the right to deny you your statutory holidays at Christmas and Easter. Your Jehovah's Witness employer will have the right to deny you medical coverage for an operation because it requires a blood transfusion. Your Christian Science employer will have the right to deny you any medication or psychiatric treatment benefits at all. Your fundamentalist Christian employer will have the right to deny any coverage to your common-law or gay or lesbian partner, or perhaps even your second spouse if you divorced the first one. Are you comfortable going down that road, or do you wish to help uphold the U.S. law, which says that no employer has the right to deny employees legally mandated benefits and insurance coverage for legally available medical services on religious grounds?

If you think the Hobby Lobby employees can simply pay for their own emergency contraception because it won't cost much or be needed often, take a minute to think about what it would be like to be a young woman who's already having trouble making ends meet on Hobby Lobby's average hourly wage of no more than $14 an hour, who maybe is trying to put herself through school, or who perhaps already has a child or two to support, and who needs the morning after pill because a condom broke, or because she's been raped. Are you comfortable supporting an organization that is breaking the law by refusing to give her the benefits she's legally entitled to and helping to make her life that much harder? Or would you rather buy your yarn somewhere else until Hobby Lobby is willing to abide by U.S. law?

The final decision of whether to support a boycott always has to rest with each consumer, of course, but I would like all those who shop at Hobby Lobby to know and consider the facts of this situation. I'm not asking anyone to rely on my presentation of the matter. Please read the accompanying links and google the issue to learn more.

And I bet you never expected the act of buying yarn for your new fingerless gloves project to become a political statement. I know when I started writing a knitting blog I never expected to find myself doing socio-political posts — and I've already done several in the 49 days of this blog's existence. But then it's not so surprising, really. Knitting takes resources (time, money, and materials), and the allocation of resources is always political.

Not that I regret my politicized posts. My only regret is that, as a Canadian, the only political statement I can make on the Hobby Lobby issue is here on this blog. We do not have Hobby Lobby stores in Canada and so I can't make a point of not shopping at them. However, I can continue to happily shop at the closest Canadian equivalent of Hobby Lobby, which is probably Mary Maxim, bless its Canadian and secular little heart. And, for any U.S. knitters who are looking for alternatives to Hobby Lobby, I note for your benefit that Mary Maxim also does business in the U.S.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Knitting for Sandy Hook

If you are wondering how you might help the surviving victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy, some group knitting projects have been organized. There's a Ravelry group making stuffed toy monsters for every child who attends the Sandy Hook elementary school.

A teacher named Jeanne Malgioglio is asking people to knit or crochet green and white scarves (green and white being the Sandy Hook school colours) for the Sandy hook students, faculty and first responders.

A web site called Snappy Tots is asking knitters and crocheters to make green and white hats to be give to the children of Sandy Hook school.

I have a few thoughts about these charitable efforts that I'd like to express, but doing so has cost me not a few minutes spent staring blankly at a blank computer screen, trying to frame what I want to say in a way that will not in any way denigrate the group efforts I've listed above.

In a time of tragedy like this one, people who weren't directly affected by the events try to process their horror and grief and often end by wondering what on earth they can do to help those who were hard hit. They are often willing to give considerable amounts of time, effort and money in order to help. This being the case, it seems a shame that, so often, these wonderful, generous, loving outpourings of time, effort, and money can get misdirected into activities that don't actually help anyone, that are the equivalent of baking an American flag cake.

I think of accounts I read after 9/11 that related how the Red Cross had so much money in their 9/11 relief fund that they wound up simply handing out money to those who just happened to live near the World Trade Center — who had not suffered the loss of any loved ones, any injury, or any destruction of their property in the terrorist attack. I think of how, in WWI and WWII, women were encouraged to help in the war effort by knitting socks and other items, though a factory could turn out more socks in a day than quite a large group of women could knit in a year. This is not to say that the hand-knitted socks were useless, as I am sure they were put to good use and were much appreciated by the soldiers who got them. One must look at the larger picture, at the fact that the war work of those on the homefront was very varied and could hardly have been greater, and that the knitting they did was probably only a way to put their little leisure time to good use. However, let it be said that the soldiers who didn't get hand-knitted socks didn't go barefoot, and that the main benefit of wartime knitting seems to have been that it made the women who did it feel useful, that it gave them a way to cope with their anxiety over the fact that the men they loved might never come back from the war. And some war-time knitting and needlework was indeed completely useless and self-indulgent. And so I consider that these efforts were at least partially misdirected, because at least in the case of the tragically pointless WWI, asking hard questions about why such a war needed to take place and lobbying for withdrawal from it would have done the soldiers who fought it far more good than any amount of hand-knitted socks.

Please don't take all this as a criticism of the charities I have mentioned. It's important that the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre receive support. There have been two deaths in my family in the past thirteen months, and I know just how much it means to people who are grieving to receive these gestures of sympathy and support. These scarves and hats and toys won't in any way make up for what those who receive them have lost and won't by itself help them recover from their traumatizing experiences, but it will demonstrate to them that there are many people out there who sympathize and care about them. When the children who attend Sandy Hook receive their cuddly knitted monsters, they'll learn that though there was one mentally ill stranger out there who wanted to kill them, there are thousands of strangers who care so much about them and what they've been through that they're willing to spend time and money making a toy especially for them.

What I would like, though, is for people to try to see the bigger picture, and to be mindful and far-seeing about the ways in which they try to work through and respond this tragedy. I'd like people to think about how they can help address some of the root causes of these horrific mass shootings: the lax gun control laws; the substandard treatment of the mentally ill; the lack of support for families trying to raise a child with mental health issues; and some of the issues with media coverage. I'd like people to really think about what they can do to change our society for the better, about becoming more politically active, or about volunteering, or organizing a group effort of their own if they've got a great idea for one.

Many who will knit for these causes are already volunteering or contributing to social or political causes, and they, or others who are already overwhelmed with their own responsibilities, may decide that all they want to do or can do is knit an item during their public transit commute or TV-watching time in evening. But there are those of us who could spare the time to work for change, and I'd like us all to think carefully before we pick up the needles. Knitting is a wonderful past-time, and it's not non-productive, but sometimes it is better to leave the needles lying in our work baskets, because there are other, more important things that we could be doing.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

The Y Bomb

Yarn bombing, the practice of decorating or covering large objects in public spaces with knitted or crocheted items, seems to have begun in 2005 and has grown into a worldwide movement. With the growth in yarn bombing's popularity has come some criticism, the most common being that it's a waste of time and yarn. Yarn bombers are quick to point out that no one says an artist who is painting a park bench is wasting time and materials. True, although since the artist is probably using paint chemically engineered to withstand the elements, the bench art will last much longer than a tree trunk cozy. Then too, the bench artist has probably been commissioned by public officials to paint the bench, while the yarn bomber often hasn't, and could technically be considered a vandal, albeit one who does no lasting harm.

I'm a little bit conflicted as to how I feel about yarn bombing. I'm a very practical person, and everything I make has to meet something I call the "utility quotient", by which I mean that if I'm going to spend X number of hours making something, it has be an item that will last and be used for at least X number of hours, and preferably more. I've never been able to get into making Halloween costumes because I can only wear them once a year. I've never really liked cooking much because a meal takes the same 20 minutes to eat regardless of how much or how little time the cook spent preparing it. So I do not want to do any yarn bombing myself. But while I also don't want to condemn yarn bombing, I do think that like any hobby, it's best practiced with some restraint and self-awareness.

This topic hits something of a nerve with me because of the thinking I've been doing for the last year or so about leisure-type activities. The lengths to which North Americans go to pursue their hobbies alternately awes and appalls me. I used to volunteer with a woman who was into quilting, and she told me about a weekend road trip she was planning with a friend, which trip involved them driving from Toronto, Ontario, to somewhere in West Virginia for the sole purpose of looking at a quilt. A former co-worker of mine once drove over an hour to get to, and spent all one Sunday afternoon attending, a basset hound owners' picnic with her basset hound puppy. My father, who is a very talented woodworker, flew to Norway with my mother in the summer of 2011 to go on a woodworkers' cruise. There are video gamers who spend forty hours a week gaming, and this is on top of holding down a full-time job. And of course there are mountain climbers and deep sea divers who travel the world for the sake of finding new heights to climb and new depths to dive to.

I'm not about to condemn any hobby as an outright waste of time. Practically any endeavour can become worthwhile if one brings a sufficient level of effort, intelligence and creativity to it. And lots of hobbies, though they may not be what you could call productive in themselves, yield benefits. They might be good physical exercise, be educational, keep the brain challenged and active, or give one the opportunity to make like-minded friends and become part of a community. Sometimes they can be developed into a money-making business, at which point they can be said to have stopped being a hobby. Or they can just be purely for fun, and that's just fine. Simple enjoyment is a worthwhile end in itself; one cannot and should not work all the time.

But I do get appalled when I see leisure time activities pursued to harmful excess. Though I won't condemn any particular activity, it's also fair to say that not all leisure activities are equally worthwhile. Some are flabby pleasures, activities that demand almost nothing from us and that will degrade us physically and mentally if we spend too much time on them. Spending the entire evening watching TV and loafing on the couch with a bag of chips is fine once in a while, but if you do it every night of your life, or even every other night, you won't like the long-term results. And on average, North Americans are doing almost exactly that; it's been estimated that the average Canadian spends 21 hours a week, or a quarter of their lives, watching TV.

Even the most worthwhile of hobbies can be problematic when indulged in to excess, if they are carried to the point that we neglect other, more important things, such as physical care of ourselves, relationships or livelihoods or other responsibilities, or life goals. Leisure time activities can become a black hole in which we can lose our way in life, our ambitions, our obligations, ourselves. I think often of a guy I knew in my early twenties who owed his ex-girlfriend $2000. She was on social assistance because she couldn't get work after an inter-provincial move, and he never sent her a penny, but somehow during the same time frame he had $1200 to spend on Laser Quest — he told me so himself. His playing Laser Quest in this context was both selfish and the means to suppress any awareness that he was being selfish; it was the snake eating its own tail. A few years later I met someone else who spent seven or eight hundred dollars a month and almost all her free time on ballroom dancing and clothes shopping, and then expected everyone she knew to listen to her feel sorry for herself because she didn't have a house or retirement savings, or the time to take courses to qualify herself for a better job than the one she had and hated, or even to clean her one-bedrooom apartment.

In this world, 35,000 children die of starvation of every day, and over a million people make their living from picking garbage dumps. Even in first world countries there are so many problems that need to be solved, and so many people who need a helping hand. And yet many of those who are comfortably circumstanced, who spend hundreds of dollars and a hundred hours or more a month on frivolous pursuits, claim they have "no time" to volunteer and "no money" to donate to charity, nor even the time to inform themselves on current events and to vote. It's no wonder the rest of the world resents North Americans the way they do.

After writing and considering all the above, it seems to me any hobby is fine if pursued with a certain mindfulness and sense of proportion. Things like TV-watching, internet surfing, crafting, sports, artistic pursuits, video games, recreational shopping, and reading trashy books are all very well (I wouldn't want to live in a world without them), but they do need to be kept in their place.

I see no reason why yarn bombing can't be just as worthwhile as many other more common leisure activities, or why it should get any less respect than, say, golf. Yarn bombing can be made to serve a larger purpose. As you can see from the photos of yarn bombing I've included in this post, yarn bombing can be a way of making a political statement, a way of getting people talking and thinking about an issue. Yarn bombing is an undeniable attention grabber. If you were to walk down the street and pass a bus covered in crochet, you would notice the decorated bus because would be impossible not to notice it. And then given all the people who will see the bus, at least a few will be bound to take a picture of it and put it on the net. It will get covered in the local news, and possibly be picked up by larger media outlets. In a noisy, busy world like this one, attention-getting stunts like yarn bombing can be very useful in terms of promoting events or raising awareness for causes. Yarn bombers who harness that power can hardly be said to be wasting their time and materials, especially when yarn bombing is only one, fun part of what they're doing with their lives.

(All photos taken from Time magazine's photo essay on yarn bombing, which can be viewed here.)

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Remembering through Knitting

When I couldn't find a white peace poppy in time for this Remembrance Day, and the Friends at the Quaker meeting I attend resorted to making their own out of paper, I turned to the internet for ideas and instructions on how to knit one for November 11, 2013. I found loads of really beautiful handmade poppy brooches online whose makers had employed every kind of craft technique, from felting to needlepoint to crochet to enamel. The nicest handmade poppies I saw weren't knitted as the knitted ones tended to look rather floppy and shapeless, but as this is supposed to be a knitting blog, here are just a few of the knitted poppies I came across.

You can find a free pattern for the poppy above here.

The free pattern for this one is here.

The pattern for this one is for sale here.

I love the detail on these poppies, though they are felted rather than knitted. I think I'll adapt the design to make myself a white knitted poppy for next year.

And I'll be keeping in mind that if I make my own poppy, it should bear some resemblance to nature's originals. Some of the handmade ones I saw, well, didn't.