Process/Product

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A bit of radio silence here. Happy Spring!

I finally finished Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Actually, I thought I had finished it a long time ago; it being started it right after her appearance at Seattle Arts and Lectures. The bookmark was peeking out of it as it was being put back onto the shelf and it revealed there were a few chapters left. Sometimes you read things right at the right time. She talked about following your curiosity in times of creative drought. In this season of child rearing, theater, my chosen creative profession, seems far out of my reach. Inspiration calling on others who are able to answer it. Handcrafts, knitting and sewing specifically, have sparked my interest but it it hasn’t fulfilled me in the way that I expected. And maybe that’s because I’ve been too caught up in product. Somewhere along the line completing a project has become the only measurement of success. The number of creative things completed equates to my ability/productivity/talent. To a certain extent that’s true. I’m both a beginner sewer and knitter and the time to work on projects is so fragmented that most of it is used re-learning what I was doing in the first place. The sweater is being knit one slow row after one slow row. Instead reveling in the fact that I finally learned how to pick up a dropped stitch, the focus is on the fact that it’s been 7 months since it was cast on. It’s hard when your mind works much faster than your hands; when your days are filled with countless worthy (and not so worthy) tasks. I’ve been toppled by a wave where product means everything and process nothing. This is the place where the craft ceases to be easy or rewarding; where it’s harder to push forward and easier to veer away from it- sometimes to pick it up again, sometimes not.

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Maybe two Alice tops?

My son was gifted a book called Stardines, Swim Across the Sky and other poems by Jack Prelutsky. We love it for it’s word play. One poem stood out:

  PLANDAS sit around all day,planning what to do. Their plans amount to nothing for they never see them through. They plan to run a marathon or take a railroad trip. They plan to cross the ocean on a wooden sailing ship. They plan to learn to roller-skate, to juggle, and to fence.  They plan to go to clown school and cavort in circus tents. They plan to play the saxophone and form their own brass bands…But PLANDAS never do these things- they just keep making plans.

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I finished the hat; still working on the cowl.

Plandas are my spirit animal, in a way. Planning lands squarely in my comfort zone: imagination, creativity, grand ideas, courage with basically no risk (aside from a closet full of supplies). And while one might see failure in a plan never being put into place, in this case, failure doesn’t even have a chance. If you never begin the plan it still has worlds of potential. (The trigger can be pulled at at a moments notice.) And thus, you never get to the place where you’re stuck in process without product because you’ve never started in the first place.

Ah, but just being a planda isn’t really living. And just quitting when things get tough, when the real work begins, you never grow, learn, discover or improve. To finish the sweater, attempt colorwork, to take another sewing class to complete the dress; to continue to follow this curiosity of handcrafts is where life happens. Yes, it’s easier to plan or start and complete projects that have definite deadlines but much harder to sit in a sea of process.

Whether I guide the handcraft projects into the harbor of completion shouldn’t be the only measurement of success. Reading Big Magic served a reminder and encouragement that curiosity is valuable, just in itself. A meditation on the journey. A prompt to think how success is defined. A result, a finished object, is not required every single time a project begins. It’s a balance between planning (dream) process (journey) and result (destination). We can’t be in one spot for too long. A few dreams, a couple of journeys and a handful of destinations, all cycling at different intervals. It’s tempting to cut one or the other short, to camp out in one place for too long or forget to be present in whatever stage we’re in at the moment.

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The Staple Dress two years in the making.

So I guess I’ve been in the process part of my current handcrafts for a little too long and tangled up in what constitutes success. Maybe I’ll start a new project, pick up an old one again (I did just start a sewing lab class) or follow my handcraft curiosity to somewhere deeper. I doubt I’ll ever become an expert knitter, sewer or even theater director. And to be honest, that would be putting a a predetermined measurement of success on my curiosity. But if I don’t allow myself to continue to work, learn and create, no matter what pace or outcome, how will I ever know? There may be a day that I can say: I’ve been knitting, sewing and directing plays for 30 years now!

 

Un(realistic)Expextations

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Sunset on New Year’s Day

Last year I was gifted a small book, One Thought a Day. It’s a little book where you write a line or two each day for five years. Thoughts were written until March and then it was put down. I picked it up again this new year, to give it another go. It was a surprise that I started writing the same “realizations”, struggles and challenges almost to the day the year before. If my thoughts from last year weren’t written down in the little box, I would be patting myself on the back for the new insights I had, plowing ahead with expectations that the coming year would be completely different.

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Knitting in the car

It’s funny, the narrative we play over in our minds and what we forget. This year I set out to knit all my family members a gift. In my planning, I thought what I set out to do was doable: a few hats and cowls. Intellectually, it all was possible- just like all the change I planned with my “new” revelations but in practice it was a whole different story. I knit a lot faster in my mind. There are few interruptions and my fingers move at lightening speed. In truth, I was rushing through the knitting, frustrated that I didn’t have more dedicated knitting time, just in order to finish and get on to the next gift. It wasn’t the relaxing or enjoyable experience I expected. It prevented me from being present with my knitting or benefiting from all the reasons I love it; it became another “to do” on the list.

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My brother’s finished hat

Through my first season of gift knitting and re-reading my thoughts from last year, it’s clear that my expectations have been a bit unrealistic, especially during the holiday season. I want to do all the things: knitting, baking, shopping, cooking, cleaning, decorating, parties and the list goes on. To have all the family gatherings to be relaxing and smooth without conflict or frustration; to participate in every activity with enthusiasm and grace. In what world does this happen?  Yet every year, I set myself up for the impossible and then have the hardest time enjoying what is right in front of me.

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Sparklers on New Year’s Day

New Year’s resolutions are not something I make every year, and if I do, they’re usually big sweeping statements that are great sounding but nearly impossible to carry out and inevitably fade away by March. This year, however, I will focus on sleep. I figure, lots can come from being more rested…or not (adjusting those expectations!). Some weeks will be better than others. Often it’ll be out of my control (right now it’s 5am wake ups in my house). But I can start small and forgiving and not get caught up in all the things I’d like to change/do (exercise, yoga, de-clutter, less phone time, creative pursuits, reading, travel…).

One thing knitting has taught me is if I rush it, it saps the joy from the act of creating. When knitting to finish in order to cast on the next project, I’m not present with what’s in front of me but instead wishing for what I don’t have; always wanting more. Knitting endlessly is not possible. My hands ache and other tasks and people call my attention. Balance is required. It helps remind myself that taking it slow is part of the process; it encourages me to accept where I am at this point in my life.

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One of the many beautiful Christmas trees we celebrated around

The gifts are still being made and the joy that I have in giving a homemade present is just as wonderful. They can always wear it next winter! And little thoughts are being recorded right before an earlier bedtime- I just hope I make it past Spring.

 

 

 

 

Focus on joy

A lot of food was made in the kitchen this last Thanksgiving week: apple cake, turkey on the green egg, roasted vegetables, and chocolate birthday cake. It was a bright celebration of food, family and a little boy.

The first few of the holiday gatherings are done. I’d like to say it was a blast but that would be untrue. To say I didn’t enjoy it isn’t honest either. There were moments that I loved, wonderful memories created, but I’m still wondering whether I enjoy hosting or not. Maybe I’m a better support staff person? Perhaps my expectations are unrealistic? This holiday season seems to be one of deeper exploration, teasing out what brings joy and what feels like obligation. Of course, there are many things to consider, least of all is what I, alone, want, desire, need. There is a struggle within myself between the part that wants to be at every party, give every gift and execute all the holiday traditions and the part wistfully imagining a simple, minimal holiday season with just my little family. The truth is that I don’t just want one or the other but a blend of all of the above. And that blend will be different each year. Being in the moment and present is awfully challenging when you’re always thinking about what might be better and how you’d change it. It prevents you from enjoying what is at hand. I know this in my head but it is so hard to put into practice. So hard!

To help remind myself and consciously begin to change the narrative of ‘It’s such a stressful time of year’ (because while it can be it isn’t all it is), here are some of the wonderful moments of the past few weeks. And they out number any negative ones by far.

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Tossing snow on ice.  It was a gorgeous, crisp day in the mountains.

 

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Fireside knitting.

 

Journey to the Knitted Hat

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On the way to Tolt Yarn and Wool in Carnation, WA

Knitting and I met in my child’s parent and tot class three years ago. The parents made the needles and we wound a small ball of cotton yarn. The needles were huge but smooth from sanding; it was a clunky and awkward start. The “washcloth” has since been unwound and used as play yarn and one needle broke while being a drum stick.

That was Spring.

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Working on the ribbing of my Barley Hat outside.

I moved on to making a ribbed scarf for my son and that took about a year to complete. I used the handy I Can’t Believe I’m Knitting to teach myself to cast on,  purl and knit. Starting with ribbing was challenging but I finished it. It is around big brown teddy bear’s neck.

That was Fall.

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First hat fitting

From the scarf, I decided to try knitting a cowl. The first one turned into a mini shawl (cast on too many stitches and wasn’t using a pattern) and the second one turned out alright. Then I made one for my son (successful and he still wears it) and attempted to make one for my younger son but bound off the edge too tight and made it into a hat. Kind of two steps forwards, one step back and while I liked knitting, I wasn’t quite sold on it yet.

That was Winter.

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Blocking in the bathroom

This past February, I was yearning for a creative project to keep my hands busy; it’s so helpful in the hours of caring for children. Sewing was great but not portable.  Crochet and hand sewing were too repetitive on my hands. Knitting was really perfect and so I pressed on. Another scarf/cowl/hat was not needed and truthfully, I really wanted a sweater. Somehow I remembered a post from Soulemama about the Annabel Cardigan and thought, why not? Inviting a dear friend to knit along with me, together we tackled our first knitted sweater. Along the way we got some wonderful help from Patricia at The Tea Cozy Yarn Shop and we were done by July. Not bad for a first sweater knit in the middle of busy family lives.

That was Spring and Summer.

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Drying; the hat hot air balloon.

But I realized by jumping to a sweater, I hadn’t learned some other basic techniques, especially being mostly self-taught, so I took a step back, and took a class at the amazing Tolt Yarn and Wool Shop to learn how to knit a hat, use double pointed needles and pick up a few other tips and tricks. My first hat, the Barely Hat, was a fun, quick knit. I had no idea! Hats really should be the first project for a new knitter. The details are on Ravelry.

In the last few months, through the Wooful Podcasts, many countless websites and Instagram feeds, and most importantly a serendipitous re-connection with an old friend who is a knitting wizard, my world has opened to this fabulous fiber community. There is so much to learn; it’s terribly exciting. It’s given outlet to my desire for creative expression and handwork while meeting the demands of my daily life.

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The finished hat

It took a while but the knitting bug has bit hard; I’m officially hooked. My trusty Fringe Supply Co. Field Bag filled with a project or two comes with me wherever I go.

The middle ground

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It’s the last week of Slow Fashion October: KNOWN.  Where do our clothes come from, and if we are hand making our clothes where did the yarn or fabric come from?  It’s easy to fall down into the rabbit hole and feel overwhelmed because as  Karen Templer says, quite accurately:

The fact is, knowing is hard — both the finding things out and the knowing what to do about what you know or don’t know.

This entire month of Slow Fashion October has led me to take a deeper look- well, truthfully, just take a look at from where my clothing comes. I found three things in my closet that were made in the USA.  One which is handmade, one a sweater of my grandma’s and a random sweatshirt. The rest were from around the world. Who knows how they were made, or who made them in the USA or otherwise.

In this journey and growing consciousness, I’ve come to the realization that the first thing to do is to consume less. Not all I buy will be made local, not all the clothes will be handmade. I can definitely strive for that but I have to be honest, it won’t be 100% of the time. One thing that’s always been in the back of my head is that yes, it’s great to recycle and have less trash but it’s even better to consume less. Recycling doesn’t cancel out consumption. Buying books/yarn/needles to make sweaters, hats and cowls isn’t necessarily better.  To consciously ask: do I need this? To be mindful of the choice I’m making (because it is a choice) and to find my middle ground.  Because my middle ground won’t be your middle ground.  And if I try and tackle this all at once, I won’t make any change. One thing is for sure, consuming is a difficult habit to break and knowing is hard.

My Mending Basket

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I have this basket. A mending basket. I was inspired to be more conscious of repairing, hemming, fixing, mending when I read the article: Put A Patch On It by Em Falconbridge in Issue 11, MEND of Taproot.

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To be honest, the basket is full of pieces to mend because although I put the clothing, dress up costumes and stuffies aside to be worked on, I never set the time aside to complete it. The task has never taken priority over the other to do’s, wants on my list. Intention but not execution. This week’s theme of WORN during the month long Slow Fashion October instigated by Karen Templer has shined a light on that basket full of mending and I have finally set aside some time to work on a few pieces. I mended two stuffies for my kids and repairing the neckline of a wool sweater coat I’ve had for a few years. It was so nice to slip the jacket on again- like having a new piece of clothing. And….I noticed that some of the other clothing in the basket are now too small for my kids. Sometimes you miss the window of mending and wearing again.

Longevity in children’s clothes is a challenge because of their rapid growth and wear and tear on the clothes.  Luckily we can pass clothes from one sibling to the other, and then on to family, friends or great charities in the area.  I seek out clothes that will wear well and can be passed on to balance the knowledge that at this point, we are lucky to get a 6-12 month life-span out of a single piece.

Longevity in an adult wardrobe is different. Hand-washing, line drying, mending (when you can get to it) all increase the life and quality of clothing. But longevity of clothes is also dependent on maintaining the same body shape and size. I’m rounding the corner, seeing a glimpse of my pre-babies body and aim to pass that for an even healthier one. So naturally I can’t wear my maternity or post maternity clothing and my shape has changed post-baby that many of my clothes pre-baby don’t fit the same way.

Slow Fashion October has come at a opportune time. It has created a space for me to step back and look inside my closet. In the past, I’d pull what didn’t work, fill a black plastic bag for donation and then fill the closet back up again with clothes that worked in the moment. That was ok, that’s what I needed at the time. But now, I’m asking myself to go “shopping” in my closet first and see what I find: I mended the black wool sweater coat and I re-discovered an old pair of boots; finally hemming adds some well-fitting pants to the mix.

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The biggest change is not rushing out to fill up the closet with clothes because they are on sale and are good enough for now; focusing on what is needed and not the instant gratification of a want. And while my body will continue to change, it doesn’t mean I have to continue to wear “disposable” clothing. As I strive to find the balance in clothing for my children, the same needs to be done for myself: a balance between a few meaningful store bought pieces with an eye to longevity, more handmade pieces and working through what’s in the mending basket will get me closer to the more conscious wardrobe I desire. The intention is there, and the execution will follow, slowly.

Stories of clothes

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LOVED is the theme this week for Slow Fashion October:

as in your proudest accomplishment / most loved item / most frequently worn item / thing you saved up for / investment pieces / thing you worked a long time on / oldest thing that’s still in rotation.
– Karen Templer, Fringe Association

Many of my clothes hold stories, moments in time. The dress, above, I wore the day I met my husband, 15 years ago.  I picked it up at a thrift store because at the time I was a fresh theatre college graduate and didn’t have much disposable income. It was a fun dress to wear to a party; a dress in which salsa dancing could happen. It made an appearance at my sister’s 8th grade graduation and a host of other events until it was worn out. But it has stayed in the closet along side my treasured wedding dress.

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Many of my clothes also serve as a bookmark, holding the places I’ve traveled around the world. This top, purchased in India when I attended the wedding of a dear friend, brings to the surface a trip of a lifetime, taking me back to the intertwined chaos and beauty of that country. It was worn a lot upon returning home but it hasn’t been it in rotation for a while. It’s not an easy top for a nursing mom.

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I’m drawn to bright colors, although there is a lot of black on the hangers and in the drawers. Light, cotton pieces with embroidery often find their way into my closet.  Someday, I intend to make some of my own, inspired by the beautiful embroidery I saw while in Central and South America.

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The daily uniform: a pair of jeans and my fleece. This tells the story of where I am right now: wearing clothes that hold up and can be thrown on day after day but don’t have a ton of style. These jeans are also one of what I consider to be investment pieces in my wardrobe although they were a gift. They were my first pair of quality jeans and will always bring me back to the time around my wedding and the generosity of others. Buying investment pieces of clothing is not a habit; it’s something hard to justify. It’s a fear, almost, to have those items in my closet.  Perhaps I’ll just look at them on the hanger instead of wearing them, too timid to touch, saving them for special occasions and then not liking them. It’s ironic though, because I imagine less money would be spent and there would be a deeper love of fewer, high-quality clothes.

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And here is my proudest accomplishment, my first knitted sweater, Annabel Cardigan by Carrie Bostick Hoge. It took 6 months to knit, with many mistakes that I ripped out only to begin again. The buttons came from a sweet yarn shop on a trip this past summer, imbuing it with more story and life. It was a huge, rewarding, learning process; a different kind of investment piece. One of time, money and love that I created; one that I won’t be afraid to use. Isn’t that funny?  I probably wouldn’t wear an expensive knit sweater everyday if I purchased in a store but have no problem when made by my own two hands. The intention is to make clothes to wear, not to have them sit. And although it may turn out to be a monument of learning that I don’t wear, right now it’s pure love and I can’t wait for it to be cold enough to wear most days. It may push the fleece hoodie to the side for a while.

Going through the clothes in the closet revealed that there are many pieces that are indeed, loved, but still not in rotation. They still hang in my closet because I love looking at them, feeling them in my hands and letting my mind wander. I struggle with this: do I hold onto a closet full of clothes that I cherish because of the memories but don’t in fact wear anymore? The simple answer is: probably not.  It’s something to work through and find balance between those memories, actually wearing some of the clothes again and letting go.

There is a sense that my uniform is changing; what’s in my closet is beginning to shift.  Clothes tell the story of where you’ve been, where you’re at and perhaps where you’re headed.