Getting Handsy

As I write this, I keep looking at my fingernails. They are stained an interesting shade of indigo—I look a bit like I’ve lost circulation in my extremities. I spent this morning having coffee with the wonderful Kathy from The Craftivist, and she took a photo of my hands for the shop’s Instagram account.

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Rainbow gangrene is an occupational hazard, especially if one is a yarn dyer who thinks that gloves get in the way of The Process. I don’t want anything standing between me and the yarn, apparently, so I stick my fingers in dyepots, slosh liquid dye all over myself, speckle my hands with neon pops. A good shower or two is enough to get the dye off my hands, but since these dyes are formulated for protein fibers, my nails stay stained.

I wear this visible reminder of what I do with me for quite a while, and it’s like a badge of honor. After years of doing work where I had no clue if I was making a difference or, you know, actually doing anything, it is magical to find that at the end of the day, I have something to show for my hours of labor. I have a sore back and shoulders, and also five tubs of hand-dyed yarn, hanging out in their bubble bath. And there is this deep sense of satisfaction knowing that I Made The Things, that what with my own two hands and my color-obsessed brain, I took plain white yarn and made it into something else that will be made into something else. This is alchemy­. This is magic.

And I am deeply, stupidly grateful for my hands. I rub lotion into them (see also: averse to wearing gloves). I’m terrified of something happening to them. I worry about falls and broken fingers and arthritis because y’all—if I couldn’t knit, I think I’d have to be on a Xanax IV drip.

I’ve never though much about my hands before, certainly never in this way. I am trying to make a living here. Literally, trying to make a living—to make a living out of, of all things, yarn, which sometimes seems like the best idea of my life and sometimes like pure insanity. (Often both at the same time, come to think of it).

In my previous life, the best parts of my job were the ones when I got to work with my hands: breaking bread and raising a chalice, holding my hands up in a now-archaic position of prayer and saying ancient words I did not make up, scooping up and pouring water from the baptismal fount over babies’ heads, squeezing the hands of patients in the hospital who just needed to know that someone was there with them in the middle of pain and illness.

I’m from a long line of engineers, the daughter and granddaughter of people who made and unmade things, of people who took things apart and put them back together again, made them better, faster, stronger, or just different. My father’s workshops (plural) are a jumble of woodworking tools and scraps, HAM Radio detritus, the inner workings of computers (some dating back to the 1970s), welding materials. He is a fixer, a reinventer, a man who says, “Oh, yeah, we can do that” and then does.

I’m grateful for his example—for the way in which he modeled the inherent value in making things. He was a white-collar worker, but his joy was always in making actual things work. (This is the man who built a 30 foot-high radio antenna in the yard so he can bounce radio signals off the moon, because, and I quote, “I could.”)

I think in a lot of ways, late-stage capitalism has alienated us from the work of our hands. Someone else does the things for us—someone else grows and picks our food, makes our clothes, builds our furniture. This is the most efficient way to do things, at least from a profit standpoint, but it means that we forget what goes into these things—what it’s like to dig a potato out of the soil or pick strawberries, or how much work goes into sewing a hemline, or what goes into making sure a table will actually stand upright (I know shit about making furniture).

But those of us who make things: be it dinner, or a sweater, or a piece of jewelry, or a dress, or a radio antenna that bounces signals off the moon—we know. And we also know the deep satisfaction of eating or wearing something we have made. There is nothing like it. My handknit socks make me feel like Cinderella because APPARENLTY I HAVE BEEN WEARING THE WRONG SIZE SOCKS FOR THE PAST THIRTY-FOUR YEARS.

And there’s more to all of this than the satisfaction of a job well done. I think we makers are engaging in the process of making ourselves whole.

We are putting ourselves back together again: one side dish, one stitch, one seam, one skein of yarn at a time. We are rewiring ourselves, changing the ways in which we have become disconnected, not only from one another, but from ourselves. We forget that we are whole, embodied human beings, with the creative capacity to feed and clothe ourselves, to make something out of the almost-nothing of sticks and strings and dirt and wires.

As someone who spends an inordinate amount of time and money making somethings out of almost-nothings, I have found healing and wholeness and a real conviction of my own badassery.

I hope the same for you—that through whatever you make, you find yourself whole.

And take good care of your hands.

 

 

 

 

It’s Not Perfect

 

2018-07-22 12.39.19Calling oneself a perfectionist sounds suspiciously like a humble brag—like when someone in a job interview asks, “What’s your biggest flaw?” and you say, “I care too much.”

Barf.

But I’ve been wrestling with my own perfectionist demons for a long time now. A lot of it is cultural: I’m a white lady of a certain age who grew up in an upper middle-class family in a wealthy community. I’m a high achiever- I got the grades and went to the right kind of college, followed all the rules.

And then, after years of doing all the things I was supposed to do and ending up totally miserable, I chucked it all in. (That is a story for another day).

For the most part, my new life feels like life. I cannot overstate how much I love this work: how it has changed my entire worldview, how deeply satisfying it is to actually have my work produce something, how I get to play with color, and best of all, how I get to put beauty and kindness in the world.

I’m sleeping better, eating better, breathing more deeply. I feel like myself for the first time in years.

But driving out our demons isn’t an immediate process (unless there is a herd of swine and a cliff and Jesus nearby). The jerks are nefarious, and just when you think you have made some kind of peace with them, there they are.

This perfectionist demon and I have had kind of a rough week. Because in addition to being a perfectionist, I’m apparently something of a masochist.

This thing I’ve fallen into, this yarn dyeing, this artsy stuff? It is actually incompatible with perfectionism. Which makes me think that it is precisely what I need to be doing.

Now, to be clear, there is a method to good dyeing .I have scales and formulas and I precisely measure a lot of things. I learned fairly early on that by following certain steps I could repeat colorways. And since I also knew fairly early on that I wanted to dye yarn professionally, this was important.

But at the end of the day, even with of my tools and notes and exacting nature, I can’t exactly predict what’s going to happen in those dyepots. Different fibers take dye differently (cashmere is insanely thirsty), and I’m also a human being, not a machine, so one day I may sprinkle pink on first and another day it may be purple. I may have a tiny bit more water in the pot on one day and less on another, and these things, these tiny variations?

They lead to imperfection.

I’m writing this while looking at 28 skeins of imperfect yarn. Never mind that the red orange looks like fall threw up on it, all deep oranges and reds and yellows. Never mind that the green is lovely and tonal and I can’t wait to knit it up into a pair of Christmas socks.

All I can see is that the reds aren’t purple enough and the greens aren’t blue enough. And then, of course, I start to panic.

I don’t just dye yarn for my own amusement, after all. These 28 skeins that don’t perfectly match the picture I put up on Instagram are destined for a trunk show, and all I can think of is, “WHAT IF NOBODY BUYS THEM BECAUSE THEY AREN’T PERFECT?”

I have lots of grace for other people’s hand-dyed yarn: for bleeding and for variations and for pooling. I know that Malabrigo’s dyelots are a crap shoot and that you really do need to alternate skeins of hand-dyed yarn in sweaters and that you don’t let stuff knit out of hand-dyed yarn soak forever when you block it. I haven’t once sworn off a hand-dyed yarn because it does what hand-dyed yarn does—behave differently than commercially-dyed yarn. If I want predictability, I’ll use the commercial stuff. And sometimes I do. But more often than not, I want the yarn that has been dyed by another real-life human being.

And I know this about myself, but I assume that everyone else is a thousand times pickier and more unreasonable than I am.

I don’t know why I assume everyone who buys my yarn is a mean white woman with a haircut that says, “I want to speak to your manager.” For one thing, I don’t have a manager. I manage my own damn self. And for another, the yarn people I have met have been diverse and lovely and not heifers. It is not a leap to think that the lovely people who support Republica Unicornia understand how yarn works.

I wonder what it would be like to extend grace to ourselves: to know, deep down inside, that we are not machines. So often we treat ourselves like this—like our failure to perfectly produce somehow represents a fixable glitch in the system. Maybe if we try harder, order our time better, eat better, pull ourselves up by our proverbial bootstraps—our work would be free from error or variation. We would be perfect parents or employees or yarn dyers.

If we were better we would do better.

But this is a lie.

We are, after all, only human: a collection of our childhood baggage and our fears and our aches and pains and our tendency to overdo it on the purple dye.

To expect calibrated results from ourselves is dumb as shit.

I’m still looking at my 28 skeins of yarn. And I am half thinking of the ways to fix it. But it is awfully lovely as is.