Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Meeting A Woman With A Mission!

You know, it really was a very good feeling meeting Steph face to face at last, and being able to make genuine contact in real time. We knitters and fibre artists all get to know each other so well over the Net, share ideas and worries, even the occasional pattern, send packages, source difficult items, and generally become closer friends than is the case with our physical neighbours. But it's always nicest to have a warm hug. Nothing else compares. Rachel H, I hope she gave you yours, and that it hadn't been pulled around too much by airport security.
I'd better upfront here and confess that to my extreme embarrassment, I can't show you my pictures of Steph giving her all on the stand at I-Knit. I'm currently galloping around some remoter corners of Ireland with only my trusty laptop, and although I thought I'd tucked the pics of Herself into a folder here, along with others, she seems to have run off somewhere and can't - or won't - be found. Maybe she found a sheep to talk to. Anyways, you'll have to wait. But you know what she looks like anyway, right? Last seen wearing a very nifty burnt-orange cardi with some lovely shaping and patterning - although that got doffed pretty quickly once she got into her talk.

And that was the best bit. Hearing Stephanie Pearl McPhee talk about knitting and general public attitudes thereto, is funny yes, but a heck of a lot more than that. She starts with witty asides, throws in a few hysterical observations (haven't we all endured the pitying, 'Oh I wish I had time to do something like that...'?) but then gently and firmly leads you to questioning not only the attitude of others but your own take on working with yarn. Why, you start wondering, do I sell myself and my craft short? Why am I not boasting from the hilltops of my ability? Why am I not contributing to international help programmes (ok, ok, programs, you want me to write this in two versions, do you, one for the Old World, one for the New?), creating research projects aimed at alleviating stress, boredom, trauma? Why, indeed, am I not revered internationally as one of the great artists of my time?

Yes, you do get this from Steph's talks. Along with lots of laughter and incredulous delight. This is a woman with a mission, and she's got me on board, like everyone else who has had the good fortune to hear her. In fact I think she's like a general, rounding up captains everywhere she goes. We've all been fighting our own small battles in our own regions ('so why do you need more yarn?' 'Oh you're not busy - you're just crocheting/knitting/spinning'; 'Ah isn't that quaint. I suppose you weren't bright enough to do anything else, like going on to college?' Oh it's just Mom, she doesn't do anything exciting, just makes socks and sweaters for us and things'; 'Hey, didn't you know you could buy that far cheaper round the corner?' 'When you've finished those, you can make a pair for me, ha ha ha!') Oh haven't we all heard them? Once you've heard The Yarn Harlot talking quietly, compellingly, revealing academic findings, scientific opinion, you start to think that it is high time we did something about all this. We already knew we were a power to be reckoned with - perhaps we should start wielding it.

I mean - look at this.

That hall was absolutely jammed with people - mostly women, but quite a few men too - and virtually all knitting, crocheting, or working in some way with fibre while they listened. That's pretty impressive for London on a Saturday afternoon.

(Oh do we ever need you in Ireland, Steph! At this stage, I don't think we would get a full hall. The anti-craft feeling is still too high here. We're decades behind the UK on that front, and about fifty years behind the US. But maybe some Revivalist meetings out in the boglands and on the mountain tops, rallying the old believers to the Cause? They could steal from their thatched cottages, rescuing the hidden knitting needles from the rafters and the balls of yarn from behind the churn, and hasten to the hillside at midnight, bearing burning torches. Yes, I can see it now! Knitters awake!)

Of course it all has to do with male definitions of power and its icons, hasn't it? As Steph (forgive me for shortening your name, Madam Yarn Harlot, I know it's a bit informal, but it's shorter when you're balancing a laptop on your knee in a B&B just before checkout time, when the wifi signal is wavering and you're not at all sure you're going to be able to finish the post) - well anyway, as Steph so rightly reminded everyone, knitting was a male occupation until the Industrial Revolution when they all went into factories to play with big noisy iron toys and left the women with the now unimportant hand skills. Old bad, new good. It was ever thus.

The whole male/female definition of what's important and what rates as admirable deserves a closer look too, and not just by me but by every one of you too. Who says it's a Good Thing to have just one idea in mind, one project, and stick to that one until it's done? The male mind, of course. Who made it a given that women gravitate naturally towards doing a dozen things at once, changing their minds often, varying in their moods, and - AND - this is the important bit - REGARDING THOSE CHARACTERISTICS AS BAD? Yep, you got it. The male.

OK, got off on a rant there. But don't just laugh and pass onwards. Laugh by all means, but have a think too. Steph has done her thinking, I'm doing mine. Go you and do yours. It's about time we got balance back into world opinion of what is important. We've seen some pretty unpleasant examples of what happens with an unbalanced world view.

Back to I-Knit. I did manage to find the pictures of friends met in London -

Here is my trusty fellow-soldier from Sock Madness 2, Lily Marlene. I'm so glad you came up and introduced yourself, LilyM - it was great to meet, after all those agonies and struggles during the insanity of Sock Madness.

And here's my good friend UK Jo with Luke the jetsetting mouse, complete with his own passport. Luke is apparently doing the rounds from country to country, collecting stamps on that little passport, and gaining a lot of friends along the way.

(I realise I'm not giving proper links to people's blogs. I'm sorry. This wifi connection is so shaky, I daren't even attempt to open another window. I'll make up for everything when I get home, promise.)

Also met up with Natalie of The Yarn Yard (where on earth has her picture gone? Out with Steph chasing sheep, are you? Never mind, I'll find you later), and Jeni of Fyberspates who was sporting one long stocking knitted on a sock machine like mine! We shrieked and exclaimed and vowed to exchange dozens more emails about the little blighters. It was comforting to hear that she'd struggled for a year with hers before succeeding in making an actual sock. You can see a lovely picture of her and the famed stocking on the Yarn Harlot's blog.

Anybody who saw me in the distance and didn't come up to say hallo, DO IT NEXT TIME, WILL YOU? I love meeting friends that I've hitherto only known over the Net. Proseknitic, where WERE you? Waited so long for you at Victoria the staff were beginning to wonder if I had another profession than that of knitter...

The Dutch Knitters were a wonderful bunch.

Look at these delectable socks - made in Wollmeise yarn I suspect, from the glowing colours.

And I loved this poster on their display - look at the tiny knitted fungi on the cannon!

Here is HUGE knitting on enormous needles, with strips of fabric. That was great fun.
Oh for heaven's sake, now my pictures of the yarn I bought have disappeared! What is going ON here? Well, you will have to use your imagination - got some divine Italian Silk from Fleece Artist, dyed in shades of mysterious forest green. So gorgeous I was stroking it all the way home. And treated myself to a ball winder, yay! Love my antique nostepinnes, but they do take rather a long time when there is a lot of yarn.

It was lovely to get to London, hug Stephanie Pearl McPhee, meet friends, and see yarny things.

But it was nice to get home again too, away from crowds and city streets and high buildings, and find traffic jams of a more rural kind -

- and discover Peadar, who keeps our lawns tidy, bringing round some of the freshly-dug vegetables from his garden as a present.

Put the new ball winder to work right away, on some nice double-plied linen yarn that I'd bleached to an acceptable whiteness.

Here are two wound balls, the one on the right done on the nostepinne, in the old way, the one of the left on the ball winder. OK, even allowing for the fact that the nostepinne version has been used for swatching and early attempts several times over, the ball winder does definitely give a sharper, crisper effect, doesn't it. That's my dear little hooked mug rug in front, souvenir of Nova Scotia.

(Maybe that's the way to do rug hooking. Start small, rather than with a gigantic project designed to fit the entire dining room?)

The next challenge on the horizon will be for the Elsebeth Lavold KAL on Ravelry. Dicksie (sorry I daren't try opening another internet window to find your URL, Dicksie, I'll do it when I get home, promise), declared her intention of trying Brage, and I could do no other than take up her challenge and follow suit.

That's Brage on the left there. Don't bother going looking for the pattern, there isn't one. It was created by a gifted knitter especially for Elsebeth's Viking exhibition. That small picture is all Dicksie and I have to go on. What fun!
OK, now I'm going to try to post this. Hope it works.


Anonymous said...

Brage - my! I could manage the Saxon Braid, but then what?!

There you are in Ireland, and here I am in Louisiana, winding away on the same model ball winder. There's a comforting commonality among knitters, eh?

As to the men, I've noted for DH that my stash's value is doing much better as an investment than his stocks!

Ruth said...

The Hubbo collects junk; I collect yarn! And he does a million projects simultaneously, and so do I. So we are in sync.

I'm going to finish the February Lady Sweater if it kills me!

Anonymous said...

You were there too! Wasn't it just pure delight, the whole thing?!

I find your comment about craft being way behind here in Ireland interesting. I live in a very rural area and most of my friends here do some sort of craft including yarn-related things, however, you are probably right, we would not be able to fill a hall, unfortunately.

I met up with my Danish friends at the I Knit Day and we had a long talk about how knitting (and other yarn related tasks) never was out of the equation in Denmark. Danes have always been knitting, also when it didn't seem to be fashionable on 'These Isles'. So, to me knitting is just more of what I grew up on (it was my father who taught me to knit). There was always very well stocked yarn shops in all of Denmark.

What a lovely day it was!

pacalaga said...

Thank goodness you posted - I was getting worried and nearly ready to send out the search dogs for you!
Looks like a wonderful time was had, too.

Anonymous said...

Brage looks like quite a challenge! I love trying to copy already knit designs. Like getting inside someone else's head!

Anonymous said...

Oh my gracious, Brage is just the most divine thing ever.

Charity said...

I enjoyed your rant, Jo! I'm currently taking an Intro to Womens Studies class at our local college (got to keep the baby brain working, you know), and it's fascinating! Really making me look at things from a different angle. :0)

Anonymous said...

That dragon on "Brage" is terrific. The whole sweater is great, too, of course. Can't we contact the original knitter and ask her to publish at least the charts for the cabled sections? She wouldn't have to write up the whole sweater body for various sizes-- we could do that for ourselves.

Windybrook Spinner said...

Please use the Old World spelling. I love it.

LaurieM said...

I'm reading "A History of Handknitting" and it tells of men knitting, cheaply, outside guilds for as long as women have been.

Even historically, the knitting that was valued most highly was the products that took the most skill and care to create. Fine gauge, difficult techniques, and creative work will always garner more respect than simple projects done quickly.

Here in Canada, you can often find knitting for sale at bazaars and such, for a cheap price. It is usually done by older women, who use acrylic, and knit large so they can produce more. The end result might be valued for it's source but not for the beauty of the goods. I'd like to promote artisan pieces and have considered trying to produce original work that could be sold in an art gallery. But the time and effort! Like any artist, I don't want to sell it after I make it. It's my baby!

Anonymous said...

I've been reading Celtic Memory for a quite a while, but I don't think I've ever commented before now!

Interesting comments about what Stephanie has to say regarding the perceptions of the knitting community by non-knitters. You're right - we do need to challenge those perceptions. There seems to be this idea that knitting, crocheting, and artistry in general are 'simple' activities for 'simple' minds. Well, I just hate that.

Brage - I just HAVE TO knit it! If you locate a chart for the beautiful design on the left shoulder (kind of looks like something from the Book of Kells?), I hope you let us all know!

I absolutely love reading your blog, Jo. You're insights, adventures, stories and the general homey-ness of your writing style always keeps me coming back for more!

Cleveland, Ohio

shandy said...

Surely there is more of a pattern to Brage in the Viking Knits book? Doesn't she talk about the design process and the runes she put on there for her husband? I borrowed a copy from the library, but I'm sure she talked about padding that dragon and stitching it on separately. I can't see my husband wearing it though.

LinDragon said...

I did enjoy this post.I use knitting as a tool in my psychology support, to promote a calmer mind, and help concentration, and attention spans.And I love that sweater.
Perhaps you should come over to Fibrefest in Devon(September next year)and see the ladies at Codharbour Mill working the sock machine. Quite like yours.
Warm regards

CatBookMom said...

Yes, attending a speech by Stephanie the Yarn Harlot is fun and uplifting and thought-provoking and inspiring, all at once. This tiny dynamo of a woman has done so much for knitting, and it makes me proud to participate in the charitable things she urges us to include, as a way to pass along our good fortune. Plus look at all she's helped raise for KWB/MSF.

OK - that couldn't sound more pompous if I'd tried. Sorry. But I still really, really like her, lol!

Melissa said...

Aren't ball winders wonderful? And more importantly isn't Steph wonderful?!? And I'm so sad that Brage doesn't have a pattern :( As soon as I saw it I wanted to make it. It would have taken me 30 years but I would have tried it.

Dana said...

It was lovely to see you harlotted the other day! Especially having just "met" you on ravelry and beginning to read your blog. It truly is a small world. And my aran socks turned out spiffily.

sara said...

We have been to Ireland a few times in the last couple of years and I was very surpised at how little crafting there was. I expected to see lots of home made items but found that wherever it said crafts it was more mass produced items for the tourist trade. Where is all the yarn in Ireland?

Anonymous said...

Your writing is so inspiring, and now so compelling.
I was a tad overwhelmed at all the stunning yarn at IKnit, and on a small budget it was just so hard to decide. I didnt want to get stressed about it though, it was such a wonderful day. I hit the Wensleydale stall and loved their wool.
I am so glad to have found your blog.


lilymarlene said...

It was a great day wasn't it? Lots of food for thought!
And you managed to take a decent photo of me.......well done!
I was delighted to meet up with you too. It's great to put a face and a voice to the Ravelry person. Wish we'd have had longer....perhaps next year!

Aline said...

I enjoyed your photo of the ball winders with the lovely wood stove behind it. I assume it is your kitchen? very warm and happy! I enjoy knitting by the stove too :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for clearing up why I got such odd looks while I knitted in public during my Ireland trips. I thought maybe it was a class thing, with low paid people hunkered down in anonymous hovels doing piece-work. Why is there anti-craft sentiment I wonder? My family in Ireland seem to eschew anything that isn't up to the minute, but I never got around to asking why. I know I'm the typical 2nd generation kid - in love with the heritage and glossing over the dire conditions that prompted immigrants to leave their dear homes and dear ones. Maybe hand-made is too much a reminder of the not so distant past when one couldn't afford store-bought? Love your site - you sound like my cousins.

Kathy in Minnesota, US

Dez Crawford said...

Jo, we just today got our internet/cable/etc. again here in Baton Rouge after Hurricane Gustav on September 1. It's wonderful to see your blog again! Don't worry, we are fine here in Baton Rouge, just a mess and inconvenience.

However, Ray (Knitivity Yarns) in Houston has taken a blow to his business due to Hurricane Ike, and if your readers have a peek at my blog they can find out how to help him:


It is so lovely to see your wonderful posts again in the midst of all the mess and cleaning up. Thanks for doing what you do -- you made my day!

Emily Scott Banks said...

Delurking to tell you that as an expression of how outstandingly much I've found your writing over the months since stumbled into your little corner of blog land, I've nominated you for an "I Love Your Blog" Award.

Jean said...

I so enjoy your style of writing, so witty and humorous. I do envy you your travels with all of its adventures. I look forward to your next posting.

LinDragon said...

Thank you for the kind comment about my project.
Coldharbour is a working, independent water driven mill,used for spinning wool. Much more info. on the Coldharbour Group (Ravelry).
Fibrefest ran for the first time last year, organised and run by John Arbon, of Colharbour Mill.( See Fibrefest Group, Ravelry).It was fantastic!!About fifty producers, yarnshops, Associations,etc. had stalls.All in a marquee tagged onto the side of a(tiny) rural show. The knitting group I belong to, Close Knit, had a 'join us'pitch alongside.We were bowled over.
Next year it will be run AT the mill, so more spill-in and -over.
You may have seen the C. Harbour stall at I-knit London, I know they were there.
All of this is just down the road to me, so I nip to the Mill shop now and again(I have picked up lovely things, like hand-spun alpaca/B.F.leicester lace weight, in the recent past!).
regards, L

Anonymous said...

I've nominated your blog for an award. See my blog post today!

Anonymous said...

Just discovered you via Meezermeowmy, and oh my goodness am I glad. And that dragon sweater! Wow!

Ruth said...

Tada! I love this blog and have given you an award! Arte y Pico's award. Nope, you don't have to pass this on. I just wanted to tell you.

Unknown said...

I've just discovered your wonderful blog. What a treat. I live in the Boston area (Gloucester) and have also attended Stephanie's talks. She is a wonder.

My sister lives in Kinsale and keeps telling me I need to come to Ireland for real knitting treats. She may be right about that.


Nancy Fletcher said...

I found your blog after your visit to Stephanie Pearl-McPhee in London. I've been going back through the archives and thoroughly enjoying your writings about Ireland, history, travel, dogs, knitting (of course), and life in general. Your writing is so exquisite I can see the countryside in my minds eye, though DH's excellent photos certainly help -- I feel I'm in Ireland each time I come to your blog! I'm still chuckling over the antics of Muffy-the-Yarnslayer!

Thank you, and hope you don't mind me visiting here!

Nancy, a knitter in Oregon

Dez Crawford said...

Hey, Jo, guess what I did today? I signed a lease. Guess what for? Email me. :-)

knititch said...

what a lucky woman ms. lavold is to have you as a tour guide on your lovely island. adore knitting but maybe not as much as i adore ireland. hence my fascination with aran patterns. lovely post. thanks a lot.

Bionic Laura said...

I laughed as I read the rant part of your post! As a crafter in Ireland I think I've been every single one of those questions.

I've had people who were actively angry with me for knitting and crocheting. 'Why would you make something you can buy?', 'women shouldn't do that sort of old fashioned stuff anymore', 'I didn't think anyone would Bother knitting anymore' are just some of the comments I've had.

I think you are right there is a big anti craft sentiment here. I think people here don't recognise the artistry involved when someone like yourself knits and designs. Or they associate it with being poor and now that they are not poor they don't need it.

I hope people like yourself can change all that.

Nancy Fletcher said...

I've heard that there's a similar sentiment in the Shetland Islands. Where knitting was a "have to" for so long, that it's not looked on as a pleasure and an art form. Some women in the US were trying to raise money for a museum to preserve and pay tribute to that part of local heritage -- world heritage, really!

They might look at it the same way I look at ironing -- would I ever iron just for fun? Or traveling with a heavy steamer trunk instead of my lightweight rolling suitcase!

Perhaps there's a natural cycle with these things. I am sure that things will revolve, and the interest will come back, though it might have to come back via other parts of the world, which is sad, rather than learning at the feet of those who have mastered the craft because it was their livelihood.

--Nancy in Oregon