With Every Stitch…

Back in the days when I was a quilter and embroiderer—before knitting took over my life—I kept a set of 6×8 spiral bound notebooks recording my projects. On the left-hand page, I attached a picture of the project. On the right-hand page, I recorded details about the time it had taken to complete, whom I’d made it for, the materials I’d used and so on. Along with these details, I often wrote briefly about events in my own life or on the world stage that had occurred while the project was in my hands.

From October 1989: “I stitched this sampler in the week-and-a-half following the October 17 earthquake. Especially in the days following the quake, I would sit on my bed, listening to the emergency info on the radio, stitching, and jumping up to stand in the doorway during aftershocks.”

From August 1990: “I made this bellpull for mom and dad’s anniversary. My mom liked it because there are five robins like the five of us. I stitched part of this while listening to a talk by Italian labor organizer Danilo Dolci.”

From November 1990: “I bought the kits [for two different embroidered initials] in Australia with mom and Aunt Beulah. The G is a goanna—a lizard. The J is a jabbaru—a stork. I stitched part of the J at a Campus Compact meeting in Washington, D.C. where I saw the Vietnam War Memorial Wall for the first time.”

From April 1991: “This was my first counted cross stitch sampler that uses a stitch besides cross—satin. I stitched part of it at the 1991 CCCCs [Conference on College Composition and Communication] in Boston, the year we passed a resolution not to schedule future conventions in states with sodomy laws.”

I haven’t kept up with these notebooks and stopped using them long before I began knitting, but I’m thinking now that I should start them up again.

This afternoon, I am working on the border for the Petal Shawlette (from Sock Yarn One-Skein Wonders), and as I finish each fourteen-row leaf, I’m pausing to check the BBC’s scrolling feed on events in Egypt.

One of my favorite former students is originally from Egypt, though he became a U.S. citizen last year, and I’d always been aware of his hopes for his homeland, which claims to be a democracy, but has had the same President and has been under a “state of emergency” with a suspension of civil liberties for over 30 years. He is so full of hope and excitement for the possibility of real change in his country.

So, I keep pausing in my knitting to read the BBC feed, and my heart is full of hope and excitement as well. I’m delighted that the protests so far have been “interdenominational,” that they have included men and women (though the men have been out in greater numbers). I would love to see Egypt become a truly inclusive democracy.

At the same time, I am also fearful. Fearful because of the cost they’re exacting in the form of human lives. Fearful because I know (even from my limited experience here in the U.S.) how easy it is for an egalitarian impulse to get lost in the fervor of struggle. Fearful because I know how easy it is for those in power to play one segment of the population they oppress off against another. Fearful because I know the power of money and business and how easily they can speak with a voice that drowns out the voice of the wider populace.

Apparently the new Vice President Mubarak has appointed, the head of Egyptian intelligence, ran the C.I.A.’s “Extrordinary Rendition” program in Egypt. If the protests don’t succeed in unseating Mubarak, I worry what sort of retribution this man may wreck upon the Egyptian people.

So, as I follow the BBC reports, make calls to voice my opinion to the State Department, email my Congressional representatives, I do what women have done for millennia during times of unrest: I keep my hands busy, working stitch after stitch, trying to create something both practical and beautiful.


Well, no, it’s not spring, but we have this weird thing in Santa Cruz where we get a mini-spring (this year it’s an almost-summer) during the second half of January. The clever knitter seizes the moment and starts blocking, because such opportunities do not last forever.

First up is LacyKaty, a lovely, asymmetrical swoop of a thing.
Swirly shawl

I knit it in Fleece Artist Nyoni, which Little Knits was carrying a while back at a great price and in wonderful, saturated colors. Since it has 350 meters to a skein, one has to look about for the right pattern, as most small shawls take about 400.

Swirly shawl

I suspect that some 350 meter shawl/scarf patterns will be on my agenda this summer, both for the fun of designing them, and as an excuse to use more of this yummy yarn that I’ve got waiting in my stash.

Next up is the Wisteria Arbor Shawl from Sock Yarn One-Skein Wonders. I knit this out of Berroco Metallic Sox.

Colorful shawl

The pattern called for size 9 needles, and I went down to 8s, but given my tendency to block aggressively, I think I’d go even smaller next time. I love the size of this shawl, but I think the stitch pattern would show up better if knit a bit more tightly.

I also blocked the “playing around” shawl I cast on for on January 1. It needs some adjustments, but I’m pleased with parts of it and can see how to develop these into a lovely finished pattern. Among my thoughts: keep the decorative bind-off, try it as a half-circle pi shawl instead of a modified triangular shawl, and most definitely nix the self-striping yarn.

“A Blow for Freedom”

That’s one of my father’s phrases. Whether it’s finishing a chore, getting out of an unwanted responsibility, or just speaking one’s mind, he’ll often mark his accomplishment with “Well, that’s a blow for freedom.”

And what have I freed myself from? The “disagree” button on Ravelry. The first time I ever even noticed its existence was when someone disagreed a new shawl design I’d posted. Perhaps I should be made of stronger stuff, but it felt like a punch in the gut. The shawl wasn’t all that complicated, but I’d worked on it, I liked it, and I figured some other people out there might like it too. And within a few hours there along the bottom of my post was the disheartening judgement: “disagree (1).” Ouch!

As I followed 20 Shawls in 2010 on Ravelry, I started seeing a lot more disagrees. Usually I could guess what the disagree-er was dissatisfied with—the piece posted was a scarf, or maybe could have been a scarf, or maybe the post included unblocked, but not blocked, pictures. I mean, a sin of that nature—to let it passed unnoticed would threaten the very foundation of our knitting community. (This is sarcasm, get it?)

I have this crazy mental picture of a woman who’s appointed herself captain of the knitting police and who surfs Ravelry with a bitterness in her heart, looking for opportunities to find other people’s work inadequate. Maybe she has a daily disagree quota set for herself, like the quotas police are rumored to have for certain kinds of tickets. Maybe after twenty disagrees, she feels like she’s defended her knitterly fortress and made it safe for one more day.

I am no saint. I have had my moments where I’ve looked at something that was posted for 20 Shawls in 2010 and thought “that’s not a shawl.” In the privacy of my own home, I make catty remarks about knits I find unattractive. But it would never cross my mind to disagree. Knitting is a hand craft. Our hands craft it. It is what we say it is. We’re on the honor system here. If the person who knit a piece is going to use it as a shawl, if she’s put a shawl’s worth of wok into it, if it seems shawly to her, I’m not going to call her out in public by disagreeing—even if I do disagree.

So the blow for freedom? I’ve just discovered that if I go to the “settings” tab on my Ravelry forum page, I can unclick disagree. Poof! It’s gone! I never have to know when some stranger finds fault with a knitted piece—my own or someone else’s. Amazing how good that feels.

Starting the New Year Right

How? By knitting, of course!

I like to either finish a project or start a new project on New Year’s Day, and I don’t have anything on the needles right now that can be completed in under a day, so I had to cast on.

After spending some time searching Ravelry—a cardigan with that Cascade 220 I got at Webs’ anniversary sale? one of the 7 Small Shawl book pieces?—I decided that improvisation was what was called for.

Here’s what I can tell you now. It will be a shawl. I’m increasing by six stitches every two rows, so the body will have a nice curve. I’m playing with alternating between stockinette and one of my favorite Japanese stitches. I have an idea for adding more stitches near the end to give it, not a ruffle, really, but more of a lettuce edge. I can’t tell yet how it will turn out, but I’m doing what I love—and doing it in my very own way. What better way to start the year?