With the pressures of a new academic quarter starting up, I’ve turned to my garment of choice for pleasing knitting with minimal complications and time commitment: hats.

I have been love, love, loving Swallow’s Return’s Snowdrops Beret, (a free! pattern) for ages—and now it’s a finished knit, rather than just a slot in my queue.

I’ve knit up a Star Hat (another free pattern, this one from Rainbow Knitting). The finished piece is very cute, but I didn’t pay attention to gauge, and with my tight knitting it turned out more of a watch cap than a beret, so I am planning to try this pattern again moving up several needle sizes and perhaps a yarn size as well. The decreases at the top of the hat keep the piece in the pattern stitch all the way to the end, which is a lovely touch.

I’m currently working on Tante Ehm’s Milanese Lace Topper (yes, another free pattern). I’ve changed the band a bit because I found it rolled as written, but the main lace stitch is great as it is.

Mind you, I have no objection to paying for a good pattern, but the ease of just printing a pattern off and getting in to the knitting is a pleasure when life is too full of complicated work-related projects.

And in that spirit, let me share a few more of the free hat patterns I’m hoping to knit up in the coming weeks.

Neon Ski Bonnet by Lacey Volk (though I’d skip the pom-pom).

Foliage Hat by Irina Dmitrieva.

Keila MaiMai’s Embossed Leaves Hat.

Nine Dwindling Cables by The Yarn Owl (note nice detailing on band).

Tiina Kuu’s Virtauskia.

And two of my absolute favorites, both of which I’ve already knit and which I suspect I’ll be knitting again and again and again—

Molly by Erin Ruth (more great decreases).

Jan Wise’s Slouchy Hat with Picot Edge(another great band).

My heartfelt thanks to all these designers for sharing their patterns so generously and giving me (and you!) a delightful way to forget about work and whip up something beautiful.

Polio Eradication and Handknits

[This post has wound up being longer than I’d anticipated, so let me begin with the moral to our story: we can come up with ways of raising money for causes we care about by doing what we love (knitting), rather than sacrificing what we love. I do encourage you to read further (excellent pattern links at the end), but this is my main message.]

Last fall, I watched several documentaries about polio—both its history and current presence in our world. One of these was the History Channels’s Modern Marvels: Polio Vaccine. Another was A Paralyzing Fear. I also watched a third film, the title of which escapes me, and which was the one that really stuck with me because it documented current global eradication of polio efforts.

For people of my generation and younger living in the U.S. and Europe I think polio is primarily an abstraction. We know what polio is, can connet the disease with the life of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, know that it was epidemic in the past—but we’re privileged enough not to have strong mental images of the impact of polio on everyday life. We no longer fear this disease; we also expect that its effects can be mitigated by the kinds of adaptive technologies available to us. For us, polio is neither personal nor specific.

What struck me most about that third documentary (if only I could remember the title!) was that it showed me polio today in the regions where it’s still endemic: Pakistan, parts of India, some African nations. There polio is not an abstraction—its impact is vividly, distressingly real. In these countries where poverty forces many people to make a living through physical exertion, basic labor, polio is devastating, taking away the few options available for some hope of being self-supporting. Adaptive technologies are limited, so that a person who has lost the use of her legs from polio may have to drag herself along using her arms or be carried by a family member any time she needs to change locations. Polio remains in our world, and it remains in the places where its impact will be most devastating on the lives of those who contract it.

The World Health Organization, along with Rotary International, has been conducting a vaccination campaign in the hopes of eradicating this disease, in the same way that we successfully eradicated small pox a generation ago. But we’re at a crucial point in that process. While most areas of the world are polio free, it remains endemic in enough areas that we can’t be confident it won’t spread again—and those ares are difficult to reach and the people affected have often been fed a body of conspiracy theories about what the “real” goal of the vaccination campaign is. As a result, workers for the vaccine campaign have been murdered in Pakistan.

So what does this mean for me as a knitter? I suppose one answer would be to never buy another skein of yarn again and instead donate my yarn money to polio eradication. But I know myself, and I know I will not forgo yarn purchases. Instead, I decided to put that yarn I’ve purchased to work in a way that can help underwrite polio eradication efforts.

This November and December, I ransacked my little home, pulling out  knitting projects from the past few years. I don’t know if you’re like me, but I often knit things without a recipient in mind just because the pattern pleases me or is suitable for meeting knitting or because I have an idea I want to play with. That search through my home turned up 30 or 40 handknits that I’ve never worn and that weren’t intended for anyone in particular. So I figured I could sell these—and instead of having people pay me directly, I’d have them write checks to W.H.O. Polio Eradication instead.

As much as possible, I contacted the designers of the patterns to get their permission to sell the pieces for this purpose, and—not at all surprisingly— every one of them was glad to have her design used this way.Knitters, as always, are the best!

I took the knits to a meeting of a group of high school teachers I work with and to a faculty meeting at UC Santa Cruz, a friend took them to the teachers’ lunchroom at a local grade school, another let them be displayed at a holiday art sale she and several friends put on every year.

I decided to handle pricing by putting the estimated number of hours required to knit the piece on a stick-on label and asked for donations of $1-3 an hour. For the most part, the donations were on the bottom end of that scale (although one very generous colleague whose grandmother had polio as a child made quite a substantial donation). In an ideal world, it would have been nice to make more (sometimes the actual cost of the yarn exceeded the number of hours required to knit a piece), but I figured this method of pricing would also help educate non-knitters about the time investment represented by handknit goods. It certainly can’t hurt to have more people who understand that a shawl may represent work equivalent to a full 40-hour work week.

The final total: $707 for polio eradication. Not a fortune, but a much bigger donation than I would have been able to put together if I’d just decided to donate money on my own. I got the pleasure of buying yarn, other people got lovely handknits to wear or give, and the cost of the yarn was “played forward” in the fight against polio.

My point here isn’t to pat myself on the back, but to remind all of us of one fact: we can come up with ways of raising money for causes we care about by doing what we love (knitting), rather than sacrificing it. Whatever it is you love to do, whatever the issues are that concern you, you can put the two together in ways that provide multiple benefits.


And now, a shout-out to the designers who let me use their patterns for this purpose. Please take a moment to go look at their lovely patterns–you may enjoy knitting them yourself!

ErinRuth of Knit Me a Song let me use her Molly hat pattern.

Kari Steinetz let me use her Able Cable hat pattern.

I was given permission to use Stitch Therapy’s Aston hat pattern.

Pauline Gallagher let me use her Oison Owl pattern.

Ashley Knowlton let me use her Old Bones shawl pattern.

Mollie Woodworth let me use her Eugenia’s Mittens pattern.

Kristina Cotterman let me use her Wandering Lace watch cap pattern.

Justine Turner let me use her Poppy hat pattern.

Meghan Jackson let me use her Debaser shawl pattern.

Valentina Georgieva let me use her Leaves fingerless gloves pattern.

Marjorie Dussaud let me use her Sauterelle shawl pattern.

Erica Jackofsky of Fiddle Knits let me use her Impressionist cowl pattern.

Larissa Brown let me use her Rapunzel fingerless gloves pattern.

Linda Irving-Bell let me use her Christmas Rose hat pattern.

Judd let me use her Hues of Lothlorien hat pattern.

Devin Joesting let me use her Optimistic mitts pattern.

Evelyn Uyemura let me use her Greenleaf baby hat pattern.

Jan Wise let me use her Slouchy Hat with Picot Edge hat pattern.

Kathryn C. let me use her Cafe Au Lait tam pattern.

Denae Merrill let me use her Twisted Rib fingerless mitts pattern.

Reflecting on Violent Entertainment (Nope, no knitting here, but I’m hoping you’ll be willing to think along with me.)

If you’re pressed for time, just ignore me. Instead, click over to Mick LaSalle’s excellent essay on violence in popular entertainment. I have things to say, but I can’t imagine I’ll say them any better than he does.

O.K., welcome back. Wasn’t that an excellent use of your time?

To make a not-as-trivial-as-it-first-seems comparison, violence on t.v. and in  movies is a lot like soft-drink consumption. We don’t want someone else telling us what or how much to consume. We figure that as long as we pay attention, we can avoid its worst effects. But I don’t believe either product is as benign as its promoters would have us think—and I doubt my own ability to control their effects on me.

Most of my favorite t.v. shows over the years—CSI, Numb3rs, Elementary, for example—are structured around violence. Even when they’re not graphic, violence is the sun at the center of their little solar systems. I think of the characters in these shows as “my people.” I like following their lives, thinking about the decisions they make, hoping the best for them, but most of the time I don’t acknowledge the fact that they’re just small planetoids circling around a central act of violence.

I have my “aha! moments” when I see the violence clearly. Years ago, I was more or less hooked on reruns of The Equalizer, which A&E aired on weekday afternoons. I loved the mythic proportions of the narrative, they way that the central character, Robert McCall, used knowledge gathered during his career as a CIA operative to set things right for ordinary people. Sickened by covert ops, he became a rescuer of everyman (and woman). And since his hands were already stained with blood, since he was used to it, I felt no regret at his continuing violence.

One episode changed all that for me. It was the episode where the bridal parts gets taken hostage by anti-corporate terrorists. Robert McCall makes sure he’s not one of the hostages released early and eventually manages to free everyone. Of course, there was the small matter of the bride being gang raped by the terrorists. But everyone got out alive and McCall made the best of a bad situation and it wasn’t real anyway….

Here’s the thing of it: that particular story wasn’t real, but the events it depicted were real. Women are gang raped; people are held hostage; individuals find themselves victims of larger forces well beyond their control. For just a moment, I saw the violence on that show as truth, not as fiction. And I never watched another episode.

Obviously, given that list above of favorite shows, the fact that I could no longer watch The Equalizer didn’t really translate over to my other television viewing. I never watched Law and Order S.V.U. because I didn’t want to see a show that focused on violence against women, children, the elderly. But it’s not as if some of my other favorites, eschewed that kind of violence—they just didn’t proclaim that as their focus up front.

I am human and therefore, as Melissa put it recently, “messy.” Not in the housekeeping sense (though there is that, too), but in the sense that I’m inconsistent. I make choices that aren’t in my best interest. I’m still watching Elementary. But, at the same time, I wonder what I see (the expanded “I”: conscious, subconscious, literal mind, figurative mind) when I see acted violence. The parts of my mind that I’m in direct contact with know that the violence is staged, know that it isn’t desirable, even if it’s part of an effective story line. But what about the parts of my mind I don’t control? What about the millions (probably) of decisions and assumptions I make every day below the conscious level. How does violent entertainment factor in there?

Melissa and I were discussing Mick LaSalle’s essay (here’s another link in case you breezed by without clicking through earlier) this morning. Melissa pointed out that as a culture, we’ve pretty much come to accept that the pervasive, unnatural, air-brushed images of women in advertising and entertainment have devastating effects on the self concepts of young women (and a good many of us older women, too). We haven’t eliminated those images, but we’ve found ways of responding to them that can strengthen and affirm us.

But we are much less critical about violence.

I’ve come to two resolutions.

First (and this resolution really isn’t new), I intend to avoid entertainment where the violence is the entertainment. I can’t promise I’ll never watch another crime drama or historical movie, but I will do all I can to make sure that the violence is well-contextualized with a world that includes gentleness, respect, and thoughtful approaches to problems as well.

Second (and this is the new resolution), I am going to start training myself to talk back to violence in entertainment the way I take back to all those unnatural images of women that the media keeps throwing my way. When the media give me distorted images of what beauty is, I try to stop, think of the women I know, think of the different shapes of their bodies and the things I find beautiful about them. I think about the price we all pay in terms of our relationships with ourselves and others when we let our understanding of beauty be so arbitrarily limited. When the media show me rape, murder, cruelty, I need to talk back to those images, to remind myself of the real-life damage they do. I need to reflect on the examples set by my friends who are exceptional problem solvers, who find mutually beneficial ways out of what first seem like irreconcilable differences.

We need more conversation. More conversation about beauty. More conversation about violence. And we need to be talking with ourselves, as well as with others.