September 19, 2012

Who Can Be Found Knitworthy?

My latest project/design. Now that I like the design, who
do I make it for?
Many years ago, I became pregnant with my fourth child. Of course, no matter how many children you may have, they are all special; I was excited. At that time, I was doing a lot of cross stitch, so I promptly went to the craft store to play out my excitement.

I selected for my baby an adorable cross stitch kit in sex-indiscriminate colors that pictured of a toy shelf complete with several adorable, old-fashioned toys, lined up in a purposefully tousled row. It had a place on the scrolled shelf for a name, birthdate, baby's weight... some of the more fun things you dream about during pregnancy.

I promptly brought it home and began to work voraciously on it. It was complex and large, and I knew that I would normally spend about a year and a half working on a project like that, but this time I wanted to finish it in less than 9 months in order to have it stretched, framed, hanging and ready in the baby's room.

Back then, I had this friend. We'll call her "Jane," since I call all the disguised people in these stories "Jane."

Shortly into my own pregnancy, Jane called. She was pregnant too, she announced, and our babies were due only a couple of weeks apart. This of course added to the excitement. I had never been able to share pregnancy alongside a friend. I was elated.

As I hung up the phone with Jane, I began to think. She and her husband had expected to have no children at all. They had been married for 17 years. They had tried many things--and had failed--to have a child. Just when she had given up, she became pregnant.

I looked at my cross stitch, which was laying on the couch near the phone. Sure, it was special to me, but oh how much more special it would be to my friend! I became giddy with the thought of such a surprise and got to work even harder on the project.

Driven by friendship and excitement, I completed the project with time to spare. I headed to the local frame shop and had the piece professionally stretched. I selected an exquisite birch frame that would match my friend's baby room, with a pale matte to match. It was beautiful.

I admired it at home for only a short time as I lived 3,000 miles from Jane at the time. Because I wanted it to arrive in time for her baby, time was of the essence. I packed it carefully to be sure it was safe in the mail, and I sent it.

I hadn't heard anything from Jane by the time our babies were born. They were both girls, born 3 weeks apart. I assumed of course, that she was busy--maybe too busy for thank you cards. I was busy, too, and in the excitement of a new baby in my own house, I forgot about the gift. For a time.

When the girls were nearly one, I hopped on a plane with my daughter (the other 3 kids stayed home with their dad for ease of travel, and, I thought, to emphasize the meaningful nature of the visit) and headed to Jane's house. Several times during my trip, I imagined the toy shelf cross stitch hanging on her baby's wall in tasteful arrangement.  I had also purchased another kit for myself, so the girls could have matching wall hangings and I imagined how special it would be to have them hanging 3,000 miles apart in different homes.

Once we arrived at Jane's house, she showed me the baby's room right away. No lovely cross stitched picture. There was another one, done by a woman at her husband's office, a small, lovely angel, but not mine. There was a quilt on the wall, too, on a wooden bar, that a mutual friend had made. I thought my gift was of higher quality. Tossing that last, catty, thought aside, we moved on.

She showed me gifts and toys, bedding and cards, but not once time did she mention my gift. I knew she had received it as I sent it through UPS and had a signature for it. It was certain after several days together: she was not going to even mention it.

In fact, she never did. Now, several years later, our daughters are still friends, but Jane and I have become distant and I never did quite finish my own daughter's wall hanging. Perhaps I misread the friendship. Perhaps a lot of things were misunderstood, but one thing stands out to this day: how do you know who you can trust with your handmade treasures?

In this season of gift making, it is hard to know. Most of us crafters have stories of gifts given and never seen again--hats never worn, scarves given away to third parties (or even fourth parties), even perhaps cookies never even tried, let alone eaten.

What is the best course of action?

There are of course, a few rules for these dilemmas, such as: never knit a man socks till you have a ring, lest he walk away from you while wearing them. Same goes for the more complex "boyfriend sweater." (I would even say that last one requires an actual wedding.) Some say never give knitted to anyone but knitters. Maybe you have developed a few rules of your own. But no matter how many rules we come up with, it still can end in disappointment that feels like disaster.  Unless...

Do we knit for the praise, or do we knit for others because we love them? Do we give gifts to get back or out of the goodness of our hearts and the sheer joy of making the item? I do still have the memories of all those good feelings I experienced while making Jane the cross stitch, after all.

Part of me wants to say that we should give freely because we want to, because we live knowing we are inserting art into the world, because we are really saying "I love you," to someone when we hand them that pair of lace anklets. That same part of me wants to rally around the obscure aunts living in distant lands, saying, "Obscure Auntie, you make Ralphie that giant bunny suit!! And if he doesn't like it, make him another one!" Maybe this is what the world needs!

The other--jaded--part of me says, "Yeah, right, and maybe monkeys will fly out of my butt."

Where is the balance? I say craft carefully. Craftily, if you like. Do it with joy, do it in the spirit of giving while trying to discover who in your life is truly "knitworthy," keeping in mind the receiver. Do it with love, plus a grain of truth and through reality-colored glasses. But do it.

Make no mistake, knitters, sewers and purveyors of shell art, you truly are adding to the joy and beauty in the world, big picture-wise, no matter what. I truly believe that and I will be thinking of how much I personally appreciate all of you during this approaching holiday season.

And I still say: happy knitting. Because you want to.

September 9, 2012

Christmas in July, August and September: the Plight of the Crafter

There is hope for us yet, ye fellow late gift makers

I am late.

Christmas is only a few (a couple?) months away and here I am, so far, with NO completed handcrafted gifts. Nothing sewn, cooked or knitted. This happens every year and, while I will never get "used to it," I usually accept this unfortunate truth is as part of my life right now, along with a full time job, several kids, and one of those being 3 years old, and a very active non-napper.

While I will be likely struggling through this personal problem again this year (last year I made 6 pairs of felted clog slippers, a couple of hats and slippers, and several dozen Christmas cookies over only a few weeks containing many, many sleep deprived seems like the Christmas season also provides the chance to remember that same sleepless feeling one gets from having a newborn baby in the house), I will forever admire those folks who work away--more happily than I--and all year long at making their gifts.

When I worked at a local "variety" store here in town several years ago (Fred Meyer's, for you folks "in the know"), I ran the Domestics department, and that included Crafts. (I capitalize the words "Domestics" and "Crafts" because they were proper nouns at the time of my employment, and I can't shake the nagging fear of getting into trouble with management lest they see my blog) I used to marvel and muse at the Christmas Crafts and the huge amounts of "value" yarn, sewing items and stitchery kits that would come in the store freight around July. We'd put them out on the shelves--as strange as it seemed to me at the time--and people would come and buy them. Right away.

I was not much of a crafty chick then, and didn't really see the reason for the urgency in these folks' shopping. Oh, I had the underpinnings; I knew my way around a sewing machine and some DMC floss, and I was learning to cook, but I wasn't applying any of those budding skills to my life.

All these years (and several more hobbies) later I finally "get it." I may not apply the time management principles I witnessed all those years ago, but I get it.

For those of you who are procrastinators (and masters of your own justification) like me, I have discovered something: There is still hope for us. Not just because it is only the beginning of September and we have about 15 weeks (give or take) to go before Christmas is upon us, which means about 105 days and 2,520 hours to go (if you don't count sleeping) but because there are others like us. And many of those others are supporting each other in a pretty cool way this year.

I came upon a group discussion on Ravelry the other day that let me dare to dream. There is a group of folks who have created a discussion thread specifically dedicated to completing holiday gifts on time: The Holiday Stash Down Challenge.

Even if you do not knit or crochet, the discussion thread is still a fun and challenging read. (Who knows? You may turn from reading and decide to participate, silently or not!) As the title implies, part of the challenge is to use up your existing yarn and other supplies to create and finish your holiday gifts in time.

There is another facet: if you are a blogger, you are encouraged to blog about your progress. There are prompts for weekly blog post ideas if you like more structure. If you are not a blogger, it is still fun to read what others are doing and feel encouraged.

Let's see: encouragement from others, a structured approach to gift completion and the accountability (even if only perceived) of writing about your progress? Sounds like Weight Watchers for Christmas gift makers!

I encourage you to check it out! Not a member of Ravelry? If you are a knitter or crocheter, you may find this to be your #1 resource for just about everything fiber-ey.

Let's see what we can do! And don't feel badly right off the bat when you see that the Stash Down Challenge was started in May.

Happy knitting, happy everything.

Janelle of The Knitting Muse

Notice there are no Christmas pics in this post? As excited as I can get about certain things, well, there are limits. : )

September 7, 2012

Leaving the Sidelines and Riding into the Red Hood

I don't really like T.V. all that much. I mean, I like it fine, but I usually would rather be doing something else. That is why, if my husband would like to relax in front of the television on any given evening, I can usually be found knitting madly next to him on the couch (or eating a really huge peanut butter chocolate ice cream sundae); I get really itchy sometimes if I am trying to sit still and watch a show. Unless the show is good. Really good. Grimm good.

There is no question: I am a fantasy lover. Any other story genre offered to me gets left behind when given a choice (except for those fabulous British dramas...if they are in the mix, I may have to flip a the death) I love the romance of fantasy. The creative characters (from childhood I have wished I was an elf), the often gothic, life and death love stories, the "old-fashioned" battles (swords and arrows are sexy...let's face it), and the excitement of imagining other-worldly abstracts--what could be. What may be.

Grimm fits this bill.


Not only does Grimm fit my need for television fantasy shows that don't suck (this need has been largely looked over in the past by T.V. producers), it is just a great show. It is filmed here in Oregon--and mostly in Portland--but enjoying seeing familiar places and names (most of the time...there is no Portland Harbor, and that scene was filmed under the Astoria bridge in Astoria...) is not all there is to love.

A few of you may remember me talking about my fairy tale escapades, during which I checked out the "real" fairy tale stories from the local library as though I were Sandy Duncan eating them like Wheat Thins "right out of the box, one after the other!" I just had to know what really happened in those stories; after all many of them were written during some very dark times in history. This turned out to be a very enjoyable experience. In fact, I loved some of the stories so much that I purchased several books for my own library, including Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella, and a large volume of the complete works of Grimm.

The fairy tale aspect of the television show of the same name might be even more icing on the cake for me, but there is more to love than the icing on the gingerbread house.

Even if you don't love the imaginary the way I do, Grimm is still a great show. For me, the series started out as simply a clever, novel idea. But the feeling of the show changes as it goes along, until it becomes a rich, multi-layered story with great character development and many foreseeable opportunities to open new, smaller storylines and subplots. There are also many secrets and hints to a greater, overarching plot that I believe could culminate in an ultimate, great ending someday (not too soon I hope).

Grimm brings suspense, uncertainty, a little dose of reality (after all, what would you do if you could suddenly see "monsters" and you were forced to continue living as if things were normal while you came to grips with it, and able to tell no one?) and great intrigue--especially those of us who get into the peculiarly fantastic.

While at the height of the enthralling throes of joy brought on by catching up on this fabulous show, my daughter came to me and requested a red poncho to wear to school for the fall weather. Something not too long and loose enough to move around in to be able to hold her school bag.

This was the opportunity I could not pass up. I happily knitted Annie a Red Riding Hood Poncho while watching my newest fav series, using as a base a pattern from The Knitters Bible: Knitted Accessories  by Claire Crompton. She has a lovely poncho which I added a garter stitch trim to, and a braided detail at the shoulder. I also did not shape the hat, so it would slouch in the back. After all, W.W.L.R.R.H. do? She'd slouch it--adds drama.

So, while enjoying the truth about the "big bad wolf" on T.V., I was knitting a protective article of outerwear for my small 12-year-old girl.

Now I feel like I am part of it. Cast of Grimm, I'm right there with you guys. Of course I promise not to become one of those weird fans who sees you in town and walks up to you like I know you. At least I think I won't.

One thing is for sure: You can count on me for Friday nights at 9p.m. Of course, I will always have my yarn and needles in hand. After all, old habits--er, addictions--die hard. But the only thing I will be itching for is the sound of the clock striking 9.