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.