When I started the Republica Unicornia blog, I never dreamed I’d be talking about fascism on the regular, but here we are.
It’s a Sunday morning and for the first time in a long time, I almost wanted to go to church.
It’s been a total violent shitshow this week: bombs sent to leaders who have dared to be critical of the current occupant of the White House by an outspoken supporter of said occupant, and then, yesterday, the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. I am even struggling to write those words for so many reasons—I’m a former clergy person, for one, so this obscene violation of the sacred space of people of faith rattles me deeply. Eleven beloved children of God gunned down in a place of worship is heart-rending.
But also—I grew up in a predominately Jewish community north of Chicago and I can say, without a moment’s hesitation, that who I am as a human being was formed and molded by the lived values of Judaism that surrounded me in Highland Park. I learned about empathy and social justice and the importance of civic engagement from my community. I also learned a healthy does of fear of fascism—I went to school with kids whose grandparents were Holocaust survivors. The public school system did an outstanding job of teaching us historically what the rise of violent, totalitarian regimes looked like, not only in Western Europe, but also in South America. When I went to college to study Spanish and Latin American Studies, I delved deep into the military dictatorship in Argentina in the 1970s and 1980s, in part because it was a reminder that the rise of these regimes was not something fully buried in a distant past.
Let me say, unequivocally, that the current climate in the United States: the bombastic rhetoric and the rallies, the complicity of political leaders with an increasingly unhinged leader, the daily acts of violence, the voter suppression, the demonization of the free press—all of it—all of it—is textbook fascism. And this rattles me deeply because I know how this story goes. It’s not inevitable, to be sure (VOTE LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT BECAUSE IT DOES), but the United States is going further and further down a dark path.
For years, it was my job to take the horrible things that human beings do to one another and stand up in front of hundreds of people and put them into the context of what is the good news of Christianity—that the bastards might be winning now, but in the end, they won’t. The tricky part (this is where faith comes in) is believing that last part even as if feels like the bastards are on a long, long winning streak. And dear God is that part getting even trickier. I’ve felt despair steadily creeping in over the last several years, and it is starting to seem that all of my worst fears are coming true.
How do we hold to hope when hope just feels like being delusional?
I don’t know, to be perfectly honest. I think the key might be to hold on to both hope and despair at the same damn time.
It’s tempting to go one way or the other.
I want to bury myself in the lovely things that are happening in my personal life, like the knitting and the yarn and my family, to turn off NPR for weeks on end and pretend that the whole world is the Republica Unicornia. My little bubble is safe, filled with kindness and cozy things and seasonal baked goods.
And then sometimes the opposite happens—I’ll get so deeply wrapped up in the relentless news cycle that I’ll have NPR and MSNBC on at the same time while also reading the Times. (This happened during the Kavanaugh nomination process and I’m still reeling from it). I struggle to find any good in the world and lose interest in things like food and knitting.
Holding the good and the horrible together isn’t about balance: about having equal parts knitting and rage time a day so you don’t lose your mind. It’s the paradox at the heart of being a human being: things are beautiful and wonderful and also totally fucked, all at the same time. Our hearts are whole and broken, and this is what it means to be a human being. And sometimes being a human being hurts like hell but we are still here, which means hope isn’t lost.
Be a full human today—ugly cry your way through your breakfast burrito and love your people and fight like hell. Be whole and broken all at the same damn time. (And please, for the love of God, vote November 6th.)
PS: I really want to take away my nonviolence disclaimer about not actually stabbing fascists with your knitting needles, but instead of that, why don’t you pick up an enamel pin so I can give money to the SPLC who will kneecap said fascists using the legal system?
I am currently sitting on my sofa eyeing my cutting table (the piece of furniture that used to be called the “dining room table.”)
I see stacks of precut bag pieces, piles of fabric scraps, gallon-sized Ziploc bags of zippers, yards of interfacing, and neatly folded bundles of fabric. It’s happy chaos being made into some kind of order, and it’s lovely to know that these bags will go out into the world and hold treasured craft projects and make people happy (because how can a bag with unicorns on it do anything but?). It’s such a direct kind of production—I control at least some of the means of production, and the supply chain is much shorter than in traditional industrial production. When you buy a skein of Republica Unicornia yarn or a bag, you know the working conditions under which the finished product was produced (me, happy, in my house, surrounded by cats, with Bob Dylan playing on the stereo). I try to source ethically-produced materials and support smaller businesses for things like dye and fabric and zippers (I do not do this perfectly, for the record).
One of the totally unintended consequences of learning how to knit was how it changed my relationship to stuff. I’ve always loved to shop: even as a child, it was one of my favorite activities. I grew up in suburbia in the ‘90s, and going to the mall was a standard weekend activity. (I am sure I remember going to Northbrook Court every single weekend when I was in high school). Until I was fifteen or so, I was too tiny to fit into regular adult-sized clothes, and when I finally grew into the size 0 at Gap, it was a revelation. I loved having new age-appropriate clothes, and that thrill has followed me into adulthood.
In my adult life, if I had the money, I would shop. When I graduated from grad school and had a proper job and financial stability, I immediately started buying all the things I hadn’t been able to afford: a pair of Docs, dresses from ModCloth, a pair of $98 Free People overalls. Since my budget had gone up, I was able to buy better-quality things, like Birkenstocks instead of crappy Target shoes, but the volume of consumption was still high. When I was feeling bad about myself (which became increasingly common in a job in which my humanity felt like a liability), a new outfit or a box from Zappos helped lift my mood. If I was going to feel like shit, at least I wouldn’t look like it.
And then I picked up knitting needles. To be sure, there was a lot of yarn-buying in those heady early days. Lots and lots of yarn-buying. And needles. And patterns. And stitch markers. And of course there was the swift and ball-winder. But I noticed if I bought a skein of yarn, I was less inclined to buy a $25 top from Target. Items became measured in their relative cost to a skein of yarn: that mug with a unicorn on it from HomeGoods was like half a skein of hand-dyed yarn. I found I’d rather have the yarn.
But the real epiphany came after I’d been knitting for just a handful of months- I was walking through the clothing section at Target and saw a cute sweater. I went over to look at it–I think it was like $29.99—and thought, “Why would I pay $30 for an acrylic sweater made in a sweatshop when I can make one for twice that and enjoy every moment of the process?”
This was like giving the finger to late-stage industrialized capitalism.
Why buy something quickly and cheaply when I can make it for more time and money is literally the opposite of American-style consumerism.
It was a revelation. To be clear, I’d never knit a sweater before. But I knew with time and patience, I’d figure it out. I did, and I’m happily knitting away on my fifth sweater since January.
The writer Michael Pollan has a rule about food that I adopted immediately: You can eat all the junk food you make yourself. The rationale makes sense to me—if you make a pie from scratch, you a) know what goes into it, and b) you won’t eat as much of it. Experience proves this—I can’t be trusted alone with a package of Oreos, but I’m fine stopping at one homemade chocolate chip cookie. There is something more satisfying in something made from scratch. You can argue it’s the ingredients, I suppose, that butter and eggs are intrinsically more nourishing than high fructose corn syrup and the like. But I think there’s something existential happening, too: that when we create things with our own two hands, we put ourselves into it. A chocolate chip cookie is more than the sum of its parts: it is made up of vanilla and brown sugar and flour, yes, but also of knowledge and know-how and memories of my mom making chocolate chip cookies and me showing up with a batch the morning after my first date with Steven and freaking him the hell out.
And fast fashion is like fast food: it fills you up, but offers little in the way of true nourishment.
If this sounds too high-minded, to be clear—I spend an inordinate amount of time and money searching for and buying fabric and saying it’s “for the business” (which it is, but it’s still a LOT) and have more yarn than I can knit with in a lifetime. I have a weakness for vintage vinyl and hand-thrown pottery, and it’s hard for me to pass up things that have unicorns on them. I do my level best to support local businesses and other makers. I recognize my privilege in having enough time and resources to make things and to buy more expensive things that other people have made.
Making more than I consume is making me deeply content in a way I don’t know that I have been in my adult life.
I’m not saying knitting is the way to happiness, but I’m not saying it isn’t, either.
Related: I’m reading this book and it’s rocking my world. I’ve recently discovered I can knit on the body of my current sweater and read on my Kindle (it makes me slower at both activities, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing).
George Carlin talking about stuff is one of my favorite, favorite things ever. (NSFW, obviously, because I’m recommending it and it’s Carlin.)
Things I Have Patience For:
- Complex knitting projects
- Complex baking projects
Things I Do Not Have Patience For:
- Literally everything else
When I was a child, one of the things my mother often said was, “You want what you want when you want it.” It was always uttered in that momlike tone of pure frustration, tinged with disbelief that she, with her deep wells of saint-like patience, could have possibly produced such a single-minded and selfish child.
As an adult, I am arguably just as single-minded and selfish, and things that require the exercise of patience inevitably end in frustration for me (unless they are cooking- or knitting-related, see above). This inability to wait around for things to happen makes me driven, I suppose, but it also causes me to rage when things aren’t progressing at the speed I think they should.
I’m struggling with this mightily at the moment. I’m not going to go into lots of detail, but suffice it to say that the last ten years have been jam-packed, and not always in a fun way. I’m not particularly advanced in years, but my twenties and very early thirties were comprised of a series of events, one after another, that normal people go through later in life. One of my favorite movie lines (from Indiana Jones, when Marion tells Indy that he looks way rougher than the last time she saw him) suits me perfectly: “It’s not the years, it’s the miles.”
I turned thirty-four last Sunday, and woke up in a state of intense anxiety, which soon led to a total meltdown. I cried on my sweet husband. Then I cried when I saw that my mom had decorated their kitchen with the very same birthday decorations she’s had since my fourth birthday. And then I cried on my sweet mother. In so many ways, I am not where I thought I would be: We do not own our home. We do not have children. The career that I thought would be the end-all-be-all of who I was professionally and personally turned out to be, um, not that. I’m in the beginning stages of starting a business, which is a roller coaster, and I’m prone to motion sickness.
And underneath it all is the simple fact that this fairly-recent-model-year-but-high-mileage human being is tired as hell.
This pisses me off for a variety of reasons, mainly, one: that deep down, I do not feel I deserve to be this tired. It seems like the ultimate in white lady privilege—being able to take to my fainting couch with the vapors while other people work proper jobs while bearing burdens I can’t even begin to imagine.
On some level, this is objectively true. Being able to stop long enough to feel my own exhaustion is a luxury of sorts.
But also: it is what it is. Being a human being is always hard work, even if that work exists on some kind of spectrum. Even the most charmed of lives contain loss and heartbreak and health scares and worries about money. And wherever our individual struggles fall on this spectrum, they are still struggles. They wear on us, body and soul.
I try, I really try, to be patient with myself, to practice what people who move in hippier-dippier circles than I do call “self-compassion.” I am, after all, technically a finite creature, one with a limited lifespan and limited energy. And after ten years of fighting like hell to be the person I actually am, not the person everyone else wanted me to be, I am weary. I’ve lost a lot in the last decade, too: loved ones, for one, but also a sense of stability and predictability in my life. I’ve had to grieve the life I thought I’d have, not once, but twice, and grief is grief.
And, to paraphrase the brilliant children’s book “Going on a Bear Hunt,” you can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, OH NO, guess we’ve got to go through it. I fucking hate going through it, for the record.
I fret that I won’t feel like myself again, that normal, everyday things will provoke what feel like bottomless anxiety pits. I wasn’t always this fragile, I tell myself. I used to be strong. Fearless. Put together. Able to handle sixteen-hour days and manage a social life and keep the house spotless.
I return to Mary Oliver’s words in her poem “Don’t Worry”, again and again: “Don’t worry. Things take the time they take. How many roads did Saint Augustine follow before he became Saint Augustine?”
That’s not the only Mary Oliver poem on my mind these days.
The opening lines of “Wild Geese” remind me that, at the end of the day, my truest vocation is to be a creature.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
I’m tired of being good. Being “good” got me in this mess in the first place.
Maybe I’ll try letting the soft animal of my body love what it loves for a bit.
Which is yarn. And knitting. And color. And fabric with chubby squirrels on it. And naps. And going to bed stupid early. And giant cups of strong-brewed English Breakfast. And cake.
Thank God for cake. And Mary Oliver.
Our apartment is a pit.
Well, that’s not entirely fair.
Our apartment is a studio.
Literally every single room in my home (except for the master bathroom) serves some kind of function for Republica Unicornia.
I do have a craft room, which is where my sewing machine, dye supplies, undyed yarn, and all the other craft supplies I have accumulated over the last twenty years: crayons, markers, paint, beading supplies, embroidery thread. But pretty early on in all of this, it became clear that no craft room could really contain all the stuff needed to make Republica Unicornia a reality.
The dining room has been commandeered for fabric cutting/storage and inventory storage. There are giant plastic bins in the corner, stacked two and three high.
I dye yarn in the kitchen, so there’s that. It pulls some hardcore double duty. Before I dye, I clear everything out and drape the counters in plastic sheeting (a la Dexter), and then afterwards, I scrub the whole kitchen down. We live in a rental with WHITE LAMINATE COUNTERTOPS, which are a terrible idea under regular kitchen situations, to say nothing of my unusual ones.
The (unused!) second bathroom is known as the Janky Ass Studio Annex: it’s where I mix up dyes, rinse and spin dry yarn, store drying yarn when it’s not on the porch, and block my knits. The bathtub is a jumble of dishwashing tubs and the pans I use for dyeing. The countertops are speckled with dye.
I store my knitting projects in the living room, so by the sofa is a giant basket stuffed with project bags, a bag with my supplies for making mini skein stitch markers, and a vintage knitting basket that is overflowing with needles, notions, and patterns.
Even our porch has yarn stuff on it—it’s where my drying racks live.
From where I sit in my favorite chair, our home looks like a well-decorated, comfy, tidy space. This is assuming I don’t turn my head.
I wasn’t always like this. While I have never been a minimalist, I used to be the kind of person who could have people drop by at a moment’s notice and not have to explain anything. I deep cleaned the whole house every week, my laundry was more or less under control, and there certainly were not giant plastic bins out in the open. I wasn’t a tidy child, but as soon as I got out on my own, I took great pride in keeping my living space spotless. I am a baseboard scrubber, if not by nature, than at least by habit.
But every time I get all wistful about how put together I used to be, I think about the darker side of all of it. There is an inverse relationship between how happy I am and how clean my house is. When I am struggling: when things are feeling out of control or when I am mired in the muck of self-loathing, scrubbing surfaces with toothbrushes and folding clean laundry is a reminder that I have some control over the world around me and I am capable of at least having a house that smells like lavender. When I have experienced bouts of depression, my living space has also been spotless.
We humans have a need to make order out of chaos, and we do it in all kinds of different ways. I’m drawn to the kind of activities that end in a finished product: a clean house, a loaf of bread, a sweater. It’s why I do the kind of things that I do: the whole arc of my creative process is about moving from chaos to order. Out of water and flour and yeast come bread, out of a tangle of yarn comes a pair of mittens, out of a yard of fabric comes a project bag with a friggin’ unicorn on it.
One of the first things to show up in the sacred text of my faith tradition is the story of creation. God breathes across the void—the deep, dark, chaos—and out of this comes creation. So much of what happens next is about the struggle between order and the chaos that is constantly threatening to overtake God’s people: the institution of complicated law codes that provide for every eventuality, the attempts to make sense of exile, Job shouting into the whirlwind being like, “WHAT IN THE ACTUAL HELL?” (I love Job.)
And unless you live in a bubble, I’m willing to bet that there are areas of your life that are total chaos: relationships with your family members, things that are happening at work, the state of your mental health. If (somehow) your life is all perfectly ordered, I invite you to turn your attention to current events.
But I’ve also been reconsidering my own relationship to all kinds of chaos, including the kind that has overtaken my dining room. It is anxiety-producing, to be sure, but it is also generative. If our creativity springs from a need to make order out of chaos, then without chaos, there is no creativity. Chaos isn’t the enemy: it is the foundation of what happens next.
All this shit is still driving me crazy, though.
Happy Wednesday, y’all.
(Photo from Wikipedia)
I’m writing this as we are coming up on the anniversary of the deadly “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA, as white supremacists are gearing up for another big ass rally in Washington. Steven and I watched the ProPublica/Frontline documentary “Documenting Hate” last night, and I can’t think of another word besides “chilling” to describe it. I drank my tea this morning and listened to this total nonsense from Jason Kessler, the organizer of the rally who claims, without a hint of irony, that he is “not a white supremacist.” I’ve spent a lot of the last year feeling mad as hell and powerless, doing what I can in the ways that I can.
And I’ve also listened to this song a lot. It’s called “All You Fascists.” Here are the lyrics if you don’t want to fuss with the music.
I’m gonna tell all you fascists, you may be surprised
People all over this world are getting organized
You’re bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
Race hatred cannot stop us, this one thing I know
Poll tax and Jim Crow and greed have got to go
You’re bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
All you fascists are bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
You’re bound to lose, you fascists
Are bound to lose
People of every color marching side by side
Marching across these fields where a million fascists died
You’re bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
All you fascists are bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
You fascists are bound to lose
You’re bound to lose, you fascists are bound to lose
Woody Guthrie wrote and recorded the song sometime in the 1940s, and in the 1990s, Billy Bragg and Wilco wrote new music and recorded it as part of the Mermaid Avenue project. (If y’all don’t know about the Mermaid Avenue albums, you should absolutely go check them out. They are some of my very favorites).
Woody Guthrie’s original recording sounds, well, like a Woody Guthrie song. The Billy Bragg and Wilco version is rollicking—it is a rocking, hopeful anthem, and it plays on the regular in the Republica Unicornia: after Charlottesville, after the news about children being separated from their families at the US border, after each clip of the current occupant of the White House bloviating about America First. And sometimes we play it on a regular Tuesday because it feels like we are moving backwards, not forwards as a society—like greed, racism, sexism, homophobia, nationalism, and hate are winning. It feels like every day we are getting further away from our own better angels.
There has been some Shit Going Down on Instagram in the knitting sphere as of late—when knitters/designers/dyers bring up that the hot mess that is the world we live in they are met with vitriol: being told, essentially, in hateful terms, that they should stick to their knitting and no one cares what they think. “I come here for pretty yarn, not your political opinions!”
I’m enough of an old school feminist to think that the personal is always political—that what we do with our hands, what we make, the art we produce—is a reflection of who we are and what we stand for. I was at the Women’s March on Washington in January of 2017, when the Pussy Hat thing was in full force. I wasn’t a knitter then, but I remember being blown away by the power in a simple pink hat with kitty ears. The Pussy Hat was knitting—something that had long been devalued as women’s private, uninteresting work—turned into a symbol of resistance. It was genius.
One of the things that was a surprise to me when I got super into knitting (about three months after the march) was how strong this community is. Through a shared love of making squishy things, I have found connection with the most amazing human beings, some very much like me and some not. Knitting has made me kinder and fiercer and bolder. It has reminded me that sometimes the ties that bind us are stitches on a needle. It has held me together in a lot of ways—the soothing, repetitive nature of knitting has kept me from throwing things at the television.
The arc of the moral universe, Dr. King said, is long, but bends toward justice. I have a hard time believing this some days. I feel powerless a lot of time in the current climate: like the forces of hatred and injustice are so strong and pervasive that they can’t be stopped. But then I think about Woody Guthrie.
Because in addition to writing a marvelous fight song against fascism, he also kept a sign on his guitar that said, “This Machine Kills Fascists.”
I love this so much. I was listening to a podcast about Woody the other day (doing my research), and they talked about the origins of the slogan. Apparently, tanks during WWII were made with a sign that said, “This machine kills fascists,” and Woody said, “My guitar is my machine.”
Hell yeah. Woody Guthrie knew that music and beauty and telling the truth could kill fascists—not literally (duh), but that these things could starve the forces that feed the development of fascism. Fascism reflects the darkest parts of human nature: our tendency toward tribalism, fear, hatred, pride, and greed. It’s the Dark Side IRL. And whether or not you believe that the current US political climate has fascist overtones (I do, for the record), I hope we can all agree that there is something amiss.
The roots of my business’ name are deeply political—my husband Steven started calling our house Republica Unicornia in the wake of the last presidential election as a reminder that in our space, creativity, diversity, acceptance, and love would flourish, no matter what happened in the life of our country. I stand for all of these things, both in my home and in my business. And I will do so, loudly and publicly, until I can see that bend in the arc of the moral universe. (If you choose not to buy my stuff because of that, that’s your decision. I wish you all the best.)
So! I took a cue from St. Woody and my amazing friend/graphic designer Amanda came up with this design, and am having enamel pins made. (Sidenote—my new printers are the AMAZING ladies behind Tower Press and you should check them out and give them all of your money because they are fabulous).
To be clear, I’m not advocating actually stabbing fascists with your knitting needles. For one thing, I’m staunchly anti-violence. For another, it wouldn’t be effective. They’re not that sharp, even the metal ones.
I hemmed and hawed with the wording on these pins. I had said amazing friend/graphic designer Amanda change it to “These Needles Kill Fascism,” because LET ME BE CLEAR. I DO NOT BELIEVE IN KILLING ANYONE, NO MATTER HOW ABHORRENT I FIND THEIR IDEOLOGY. But this felt watered-down and not true to the spirit of the original. I’m not in the mood for wishy-washy anymore. The fire of “These Needles Kills Fascists” feels true and right to me. Incendiary seems appropriate. And I think Woody would approve.
Also, y’all, the hot pink yarn ball WILL BE GLITTERY because SPARKLES ARE TOXIC TO INJUSTICE. FACT.
If you’d like to get your paws on one of these, head on over to the shop for preorders. I’ll ship them out as soon as they are in my hot little hands (allow 4-6 weeks).
Oh! And 15% of sales from these will go to The Southern Poverty Law Center from now until forever.
The fascists are bound to lose. Keep fighting, y’all.
I have my first-ever trunk show coming up on Saturday*, and in an anxiety-fueled whirlwind of productivity, I got pretty much everything done on Monday, and it is just hanging out in giant Ikea bags waiting to go.
So, naturally, I needed a new project.
I decided, after having made dozens of drawstring project bags, that I was going to learn how to do something with a zipper. Zippers terrified me, but I found this fabulous tutorial on YouTube and made a quick run for zippers and fusible fleece. I have a ridiculous fabric stash (Hi, I’m Kathleen R and I haven’t met a craft supply I won’t hoard), and since these use just a fraction of the fabric I use for full-sized project bags, I was off to the races.
And I made a thing. It’s a notions pouch!
The thing is adorable, to be sure—all chubby and squishy and triangular with AN ACTUAL ZIPPER.
But it has some issues. For one, the unicorns are upside down and all the blood is rushing to their heads. It also has an unfinished zipper edge and all the interior seams are unfinished. I knew I couldn’t put it in the shop looking like it did- it’s fine for me, but if I’m going to ask people to pay actual money for something I made, I want it to be as good as possible.
I slept on it, spent some time thinking about the construction and the materials and the technique and on the first try, I solved the problem of the exposed seams.
And y’all, I engineered the dickens out of that thing and made it do what I wanted.
Try 1: Got seams and zippers unexposed. YAY.
Try 2: Got handle inserted (not where I wanted). Seams still too bulky.
Try 3: Got pattern going the right way, fixed the bulk at the seams, and got the handle properly placed.
I couldn’t be more pleased—they are the perfect size for embroidery scissors, stitch markers, darning needles, and all the other little bits and bobs we need. I found my new favorite place (ZIPPERS IN EVERY COLOR FOR A QUARTER) and then cut out fabric for nine more of these.
(That escalated quickly.)
My mom commented on the emergence of my latent-yet-strong engineering genes. As someone who has long been the “right-brained person” in a family of “left-brained people,” the joy and satisfaction I am finding in the technical aspects of dyeing and sewing are taking me by surprise.
The script that has been written for me—the script I have written for myself—is that I am no good at things that aren’t literature/feelings/writing/artsy stuff. I often say that I am “not good” at math, which is an outright lie, one that has its origins in the fact that I wasn’t quite as good at math as English as a child, and I certainly preferred reading to numbers. I’ve constructed this narrative for myself—that I can only excel in one area because that is my scope, and anything outside of that scope is somehow beyond me.
I think a lot of us do this- we take on identities and expectations that are placed on us: we are the good kid or the black sheep, we are science geeks or bookworms. We are the peacemaking middle child or the responsible eldest, and in our families and in our lives, we live into these roles over and over again. And they are helpful shorthand, in some ways, but they are also profoundly limiting. If we stay in our boxes, we may never learn how much more we are and how much more we can do.
I’m an advocate of starting small—learning how to knit revolutionized how I think about work, myself, and the world around me. Even if you are crap at something at first, trying something new is crazy empowering. You learn a new thing, for one, but also—you may discover gifts you didn’t even know you had. TURNS OUT I’m a craftineer—I’m all about engineering things to make them work better, but only if they are craft-related.
Did I run around yesterday pumping my fist and yelling, “I AM A BADASS!”? Why yes, yes I did.
I hope whatever you are making makes you feel like a total badass.
*If you are in Atlanta, I’ll be at The Craftivist in Inman Park from 12 to 5 pm with a ton of yarn, project bags, stitch markers, and homemade lemon bars and cream cheese brownies. Come say hey, because one of my biggest fears is that I will have a party and no one will come.
So yesterday morning, I did a thing I almost never do.
I’m not a monogamous knitter, exactly, but I do get a little twitchy if the WIP (work in progress) count gets above three or so. Too many things left undone get to me in some deeply existential way, so I usually keep one more complicated project, a pair of go-anywhere socks, and a cotton dishcloth (for when the knitting needs to be truly mindless) on the needles at all times. I feel like it is always manageable, and the fact that my attention isn’t spread around too much means that I finish projects in a reasonable time.
This is how I like my life.
But I have stalled out, rather spectacularly, on the sleeves of my gorgeous Zweig sweater. Sleeves are a pain in the ass at the best of times, and 18 inches of sleeve with a slightly fiddly cable pattern is not the best of times. The sweater is a stunner, and I keep saying, “Heirloom knit, heirloom knit, heirloom knit” to myself, knowing full well that even the most gorgeous handknit is ephemeral, in the grand scheme of things. (I’m super fun at parties, y’all.)
Anyway, I stalled out.
So I cast on another sweater, this time the Hiro by Julia-Farwell Clay. I’ve been dying to make a proper colorwork yoke sweater, and this one ticked a lot of my boxes. Interesting colorplay? Yes please. Worsted weight? Oh dear God, yes. The time that lapsed between me reading about this pattern and me rustling through my stash of worsted-weight yarn was precisely the time it took me to walk from the living room to my craft studio. I have a ton of worsted-weight Cascade 220* and the like kicking around my stash from when I first started knitting, and using it up in a sweater seemed both fun and virtuous.
The pattern calls for a provisional cast on (which I hate), so you can make a folded hem, and then you knit a couple of inches in ribbing and a couple in stockinette, then you fold the thing and knit the provisional stitches and the, um, not provisional stitches together.
A folded hem is lovely and squishy and makes everything feel like super high quality, but not if your name is Kathleen Royston and you totally cock up the provisional cast on, spend two hours trying to unpick it, and realize that somehow you are 27 stitches short on your cast-on edge. And of course, you have spent quite a few episodes of Downton Abbey knitting this thing and fussing with the provisional cast on, and it’s a sweater, not a sock, so chucking it all in doesn’t feel like an option.
I was determined to make it work. I kept going at the screwed up edge, convinced I could make it work if only I thought about it harder or tried a little more. Finally, at about 11:00 last night, I put it in a project bag and went to bed.
I woke up thinking about it. This also happens to me more than I’d care to admit—if something isn’t right with my knitting, my brain will kick into high problem-solving gear and it will launch me out of bed at some ungodly hour.
And when I picked up my sweater this morning, I realized that there was no hope. So I ripped it all out and started all over again.
“Ripping it out and starting all over again” is more of a theme in my life than I’d like it to be. I was taught that stability and staying the course were the ultimate good—that we all had to do things we didn’t like to do and we kept our commitments, no matter what. If you made your bed, you should lie in it. I learned Winston Churchill’s “KBO” (Keep Buggering On) later in life, but that might well have been the Royston family motto.
And so I have pushed through some major life things I knew, fairly early on, were not a good fit- because dammit, I was going to stay the course.
But staying the course on things that were cocked up from the beginning inevitably led to heartbreak and weeping and having to restart something that I had put time, energy, and myself into. I take Ron Swanson’s advice and I whole-ass one thing. And sometimes that one thing falls apart.
Ripping out knitting that has gone awry isn’t fun, exactly, but there is a kind of satisfaction in it. Each stitch that gets undone is an opportunity to start over and to do things right the next go round. It is destructive and hopeful all at once and out of the kinky mess of yarn that’s left, you get to start over.
Always we begin again, goes the Rule of St. Benedict, which seems to be a much better life motto than Churchill’s. Creation and destruction, death and rebirth, losing and finding. And always, always, we begin again.
So I did with the sweater—as I am doing, right now, with my whole freaking life. I cast on again, this time with a twisted German cast on and I’m ditching the folded hem. It’s not what I set out to do, but it feels right.
*Even though I make fancy-ass hand-dyed yarn that I sell for a living, I enjoy knitting with less fancy yarn. It is a joy not to have to alternate skeins or be too precious about yarn, especially when knitting a larger garment. I want my sweaters to be bulletproof.