25 October, 2007

For the love of Ravelry

I'm in big trouble. When I began this blog, I was knitting full time, listening to books on tape while completing fun knitting commissions. The commissions have dwindled (as I knew they would; ebb and flow,) and I've taken up a day job.

Composing and posting nuggets about my life, knitterly or no, was a way to force a break from my long knitting hours. Now, after work and on my days off, all I want to do is knit.

Then I got my invite to Ravelry.

I logged on, wrote a little about myself, posted a few WIPs, and dove right into the groups. I found more that a dozen groups I was interested in, and can't stop checking in to see what they're talking about. I can still knit while I read the forums, but the hours fly by, and I'm finding myself there every time I'm on the computer.

There's my disclaimer about the total lack of communication from your friend, alice/bean. Without further ado, a short list of my current and soon-to-be conquests:

At the beginning of the month, I visited my oldest and best friend in Santa Fe, NM and got to go to the Taos Wool Festival. I found this wool/mohair blend that somehow feels like angora and used it for a Christmas commission. I made a moebius shawl that I love so much, I'll have to get more of this yarn to make myself one.

I've put away my chevron striped skirt for the time being, as the yarn is still screaming to be a cardigan, and I can't bring myself to impose my will on another living being. At the moment, I'm knitting myself a shortsleeve sweater out of Rowan Cotton Tape.

I want it to feel like a sweatshirt with the arms cut off. It's very cozy so far, and I think I might duplicate stitch a design onto the back.... maybe.

I hope I can integrate all these changes in my knitterly life soon. I have been neglectful of the imp in me that needs to write this stuff down. I will have to find a way to live with both a job and Ravelry; neither seems to be going away anytime soon.

10 September, 2007

The Trials and Tribulations of a Novice Knitter

I taught myself to knit from a book (Knitting for Dummies) at the end of 2001. My inspiration was the character of the depressed mother in the film About a Boy. Throughout the film, she and her son wear an array of garments that to me appeared to be handknit. This included a very colorful sweater the boy wears often and a long, straight skirt that the mom wears once. I thought, why can't I make my own clothes? The stores sure don't know what I like, so what's stopping me from doing it myself?

I worked at a big chain bookstore, where I purchased my tutorial on knitting. I drove across the strip mall where I worked to the big chain craft store to purchase my first ball of yarn (acrylic) and my first needles (plastic.) I got home and got started. I was renting a basement apartment from my parents at the time, and they got a huge laugh out of the nightly episodes of Trials and Tribulations of a Novice Knitter being performed right in their living room. Though this did not stop them from turning on the tube and leaving it on all night, regardless of whether it was being watched.

Learning to knit was hard. I didn't know that this was a rising trend among twenty-somethings like me; nor did I know there were Stitch 'n Bitch circles and hip, new books dripping off the shelves. I did it alone, with my father chuckling at me; my step-mother trying in vain to remember how to cast on so as to be of some assistance. My first square of knitting looks much like everyone else's- way too tight, wavering in an hourglass shape with added and lost stitches, and full of what would be referred to as buttonholes- if they were intentional.

I was proud: I could knit, purl, cast on, bind off, decrease, and sew a seam that wasn't too lumpy or funny-looking. This was enough for me. I had looked at some sweater patterns, and they looked like hieroglyphics to me. I now knew how time-consuming kitting was, so the beautiful, long, straight skirt seemed an unclimbable summit. Besides, yarn was bleeping expensive!

I was still purchasing solely from the big chain stores, but even the cheap acrylic stuff, when needed in the high quantity to make a big project, was more than it cost to buy a skirt at a department store. So much for making my own clothes.

My Environmentalist Rant

I don't know when I started to understand the true cost of the products I consume. I don't mean the suggested retail price on the jeans I bought in the clearance bin, but the cost to my local and global community when I choose to buy my underwear from a great big chain, who chooses to use a sweatshop in Maldives instead of generating American jobs. A company that is shipping fabric from one corner of the world to a factory in another corner, and the finished product back to us. That's a lot of fuel- and a lot of environmental impact.

I do know when I became aware of the high cost of man-made materials and heavily processed ones. It was while watching a documentary called Blue Vinyl. In this film, I learned that there are materials that are made in labs and factories that are extremely harmful to people and the environment in every stage, from development, to implement, to disposal.

Plastic is not safe to drink from. Vinyl is so difficult to recycle, it's nearly impossible to find a facility that will do it. I do not think that technology should be used to create materials unknown in nature that will never break down and go back to the Earth. I choose not to use unnatural materials every time I have a choice. Of course, there are some things that cannot be made of natural things; this computer, for example. Reuse, share, recycle whenever possible.

I do not use acrylic yarns anymore. I don't use fibers when I'm unsure if they are natural. I am skeptical of rayon, tencel and other fibers that are derived from plants or other natural sources, because I'm unsure of their processing and how impactful and/or unnatural that process is.

For these reasons, I usually knit with 100% wool, processed entirely on the US, preferably in Maine. I have some great resources at my disposal; the Fibre Company and Peace Fleece are two Maine yarns companies that I support.

And My Local Economy Rant

Portland, Maine (as well as many other cities nationwide) has been fighting the Big Box and formula store trend with a buy local campaign that increases local awareness of the need to sustain our local economy. I am proud of my community for supporting its independence.

Knitting for a Living

When I first voiced my desire to knit for a living, the most persistent advice I received was, "find something you can pound out really fast, make a ton of them, and sell them on the internet." This felt very yucky to me. I don't want to get rich quick, nor do I want to be a slave to my repetitive, boring pattern.

I want to make items with a purpose. I want to make one-of-a- kind pieces that will be cherished because they are "just what I wanted!" I decided that knitting on commission was the right road for me. Every piece would be different, be wanted by the purchaser, fit requirements made by the purchaser, and give me a chance to show off a broad range of my abilities. I also wanted to put my magic into my knitting; by knowing the future owner of my work, I could knit intentions (like love, healing, support, joy) into the piece.

I can knit a sweater with the intention of emotional warmth and happiness for someone who suffers from seasonal depression. I can knit a clarity of vision into a pouch designed to hold Tarot card, I Ching sticks or coins, pendulums or dowsing rods. I can knit protection into an item for your car. There's no limit to what you can do with your thoughts.

My intention in making this mission statement my home page is to make you aware of my position as a knitter, environmentalist, and supporter of local economy. Most consumers are so detached from the source of their goods that they don't understand the true impact of their decisions. By conscious purchasing from local sellers, who in turn purchase locally and consciously, you are promoting a sustainable ad healthy local environment.

The above post is published as my mission statement on my new website: http://alicebeanknits.googlepages.com/home

03 September, 2007


I didn't know the shawl was done until I actually finished it. It was the middle of the night, Thursday, and I was listening to a book-on-tape about four suicidal folks in England who accidentally intercept each other's plans to take their respective lives on New Year's Eve.

I was knitting away, swaying to the rhythm of my 16 row pattern repeat (laddered diamonds from Barbara Walker's, Charted Knitting Designs.) As most knitters know, as you come to the final inches of a long, repetitive project (for example, a garter stitch scarf,) you inevitably get sucked into this unexplainable vortex. No matter how much you knit, you can't seem to increase your project's length. At times, it seems even to shrink; an infuriating phenomenon.

Fully expecting this to be the case, I chugged right along, listening to four strangers gloomily not kill themselves. I didn't realize it was past midnight. I also didn't realize I was beyond my intended length by a few inches.

This doesn't happen. The last inch is supposed to be eagerly anticipated, just beyond reach, measured, measured, measured and longed for. Granted, this is a shawl and a broad range of lengths are acceptable.

I don't know why I miss the vortex. Perhaps the struggle though the final inches makes the knitter feel accomplished. Perhaps it is like an athlete being challenged by an adept opponent, rather than tossing around a player that is achingly below her/his ability. Did I still win if I didn't have to struggle at the end?

Being only fourteen inches wide, this shawl is more like an over-wide scarf. But Bride-to-be will be cozy and unencumbered with it wrapped around her arms at the reception. The yarn came from her family's sheep, and was spun here in Maine (Hope Spinnery, in or near Blue Hill.) I am looking forward to attending the wedding, on the very farm from which this yarn came.

Immediately after procrastinating for three days, I blocked my shawl and headed out for a photo shoot with my favorite Portland photographer, Jeanette Ross. First we spent hours taking pictures of spider webs at Fort Williams. I was scaling rock faces and hanging upside down to get shots of the center of gossamer funnel webs. Looks a bit like a vortex to me.

We took pictures of the shawl outside of Jeanette's house, using her neighbor's curbside garden to our advantage. She took lots of shots of the setting sun through the open work, and she was really into the shadow-play on my face, neck and arms when I held the shawl up over me. The shot above is one of my favorites because not only does it show the detail of the work, but it also showcases my favorite tattoo.

The aforementioned procrastination was not unproductive, nor was it due to my recurring reluctance to complete my projects. It was out of eagerness to move on to a new project, knit just for me.

When I drove my best friend to her new home in Santa Fe, her new roommate gave me a big bag of worsted weight wool; dyed in the most vibrant colors and in a large enough quantity to make a garment of some sort. I chose a skirt.

I am knitting it in the round, in chevron stitch (which shows up in the varying stripes of bright colors so well!) I think it will be a circle skirt, below the knee, but it may not be as full as that. I'm making up the shaping as I go along. I'll take a picture of the work in progress as soon as it's long enough to be appropriate for viewers under thirteen.

18 August, 2007

Fly away, little sweater

I love to finish the projects, but I hate to see them go. This sweater was commissioned as a birthday gift for a woman I don't know. I've never met her or talked with her. I do know that she has great fashion sense, and a great boyfriend who invested time and money in his community to give her a gift made just for her. I also know all of her upper body measurements.

At the end of July, I finished the sweater, emailed Boyfriend, and set it aside, ends all woven in, but long cords of bulky wool still dangling from edges and armpits. I had my wedding doilies to refocus on. No knitting time to waste.

A week later, I get a call from Boyfriend as I am crawling around in in the dirt, weeding a strawberry patch (a temporary part time job that I miss greatly.) "Can I pick up the sweater at 4?" I'll be done at 2; plenty of time to trim the stringy little extremities and lint roll the very black, very bulky beast. "Sure, that works." No sooner do I complete this exchange, when my phone informs me that yet another person would like the pleasure of my auditory attention.

Jeannette Ross, artist, photographer and friend (who has agreed to be the alice/bean knits photographer,) is on the other line. She is aghast at the notion that I relinquish this work before she has a chance to photograph it. She says she will absolutely be at my house before Boyfriend gets there to pick up the present.

The sky opens up. Buckets of rain plop down from the bruised sky. It's not slacking. Jeannette arrives at 3:30, due to the intense weather. I set up my housemate and dear friend as model, and Jeanette goes to town, posing her and getting some really pretty shots. Some are like the one above; stylized as if to show how comfortable the woman can be in the sweater. Others are extreme close-ups of the work (in this shot, you cannot see the cable and diamond pattern I used on front and back, giving it a corset air,) for me to use when I get my website running.

It is now ten past four. I snatch the sweater back from my housemate and the photographer, lint roll any errant fuzzies, and pack the sweater up for a trip in the pouring rain. Boyfriend arrives at my doorstep five minutes later, completely soaked. The exchange is quick; He says he loves the sweater, thanks me emphatically, and is gone- off to run more errands for the birthday party arranged for that evening.

I feel both swept away and dropped quickly. My breath is caught up. Standing on my porch, I feel like I was just embraced by an anonymous lover, the moment past too quickly to learn his name. I realize this is my regret over the sweater's departure. I didn't have time to say goodbye to this form that was born of my mind and has been with me for a month.

Don't mistake this feeling for envy. The emotions I felt do not display a desire to covet the garment, to be worn and cherished by me alone. Any knitter can relate to that feeling. To be perfectly honest (which I try always to be,) the sweater is neither my style, nor my size. If I saw this particular sweater in the window of a local trendy store, I would not lament in my inability to afford it, as I have often in my city's clothing shop laden Old Port.

I get over these feelings of loss when my creations must go off into the wide world, cherished by others. The sweater slump lasted a few days, and now I am feeling it again with the wedding doilies I handed over to Bride-to-be yesterday. I find comfort in the fact that her shawl is still with me- for now, and I dread having to tell Jeanette that I had to give them up with no pictures. I will be getting pictures of the arranged tables adorned by my dear doilies, so that is a small consolation.

After completing my summer commissions, I will take September to work on something for myself. I also want to experiment with making my own lace. I've got this intense, architectural idea that I can't quite explain. I will have to get a day job to save up for the Taos Wool Festival, but I'm hoping I can subsist on my knitting for at least half the winter. Wish me luck!

04 August, 2007

Knitting is easier than blogging.

Yesterday, after completing my first blog post, I felt accomplished, savvy, and relieved. I wanted to tell the world (starting with my short email list) about my vast accomplishment - you see, any good friend of mine knows of my recently overcome, and sparsely at best, aversion to all thing techie.
Creating a link was my first challenge. I hopped to my email and began composing a general letter to be sent to everyone. Carefully drafting for both grammar and content, I dodge and skip over fragments and run-ons (how I love the semi-colon!)
The time has come to enter my link into the text. I highlight, copy, paste... Where is it? I search the text. Scanning, I find it has been dropped in the exact center of one of my eloquently concise sentences! Why? I try to realign all the data this link has brutally severed, but it is persistent, and will only continue copying itself, in a vain attempt to survive.
Still (moderately) in control of the situation, I use my trusty backspace key; he always does what he's told. I find adequate substitutes for the sentiments the computer has swallowed and proceed to the end, link firmly in place.
As I gather my little army of addresses and nudge them into a neat line in the "To:" box, something has happened to my draft. I mean nothing has happened to my draft, as in instead of my draft, there is now nothing. Ahhhh! My computer is hungry and is making a tasty treat of my words.
I consider sacrificing a doughnut to the laptop gods (spelled with the archaic ugh to as to be more filling,) but I know this will only make the keyboard sticky, so I sigh audibly and begin to recompose my letter, knowing it will never be the same again. If I were knitting this letter, I could have ssk, k2tog and they would have lined right up and met in the middle.
After completing my letter(s,) I pasted them into Myspace and Facebook and sent them away to all my virtual friends, family and acquaintances who may or may not take an interest. I take another look at by baby blog and realize that none of my line breaks have shown up. I observed this phenomenon in my thirty or so previews of my budding blog post, but thought I had cleverly skirted the situation with some cleverly placed asterisks followed by a series of five spaces. This fooled the preview page, but the true blog site is much smarter than that. I will have to find a more stealthy weapon.
I have a lot to learn about this blogging world, but I also have time and a little patience. I can knit a table doily in the round with lace inserts, and someone reading this will be chuckling at my frustrating adventures, knowing of the precise command that would have tamed the wild laptop into submission. This same person may be scratching her/his head at my use of knitting abbreviations as a metaphor for the reconciling of my lost literature.
We all have our things, and I just have to figure out how to be moderately adept at someone else's. I'll learn what I need to know, but until then I'll cringe at the absence of my line breaks.

03 August, 2007

It's too hot to knit...

* ...she says to me. I'm sitting in the shade, but it's above eighty degrees, and my lap is sweating from the slight weight of the wool table doily- number nine in a set of twelve I must complete for a Labor Day wedding. My first commission!
* Bride-to-be has asked me to make her a shawl to wear at the reception. "Two weeks? I think I can." If I want to do this for a living, I should be able to make a shawl in two weeks, but knitting without a pattern requires hours for trial and error. Each piece is a new creation; formed in my mind, shaped by the whim of my customer.
* I try to knit in public, outside whenever I can. Art needs to be where people can see it. My friends have art carts. They set up their displays, sell cards, prints, sometimes originals right off the easel. I have something less tangible to sell. The sweater that you've never found outside your imagination. A hand made birthday gift for that far away loved one.
* I am a locally-minded, eco-conscious, back-to-roots girl. I want to knit with local, natural fibers; I want to make a minimal impact with my practices.
* It is too hot for knitting, I think later. I'm at home and all I can think of is the fifth book in the Dune Series. I've been rewarding myself chapters, one for each small goal I achieve in my project. "Just get x more rounds, or to this point in the increasing pattern, and you can have another chapter."
* Reading is the onion in the ointment of my just budding knitting career. When I have access to big hardcover books, I can read while I'm knitting. Paperbacks are the real problem; they won't stay open. It's always one or the other with paperbacks - my passions are vying for my attention. The difference is that people are paying me to knit.
* So there I was, sitting on my porch, avoiding my knitting, devouring another tasty tidbit from sci-fi genius, Frank Herbert, and what shows up? My interchangeable knitting needle set! I was forced to look beyond my usual local circumference and search the world wide web for the interchangeable needle system that would change my life - make me organized, neat, professional, and all-around on top of things. Thanks Knitpicks!
* Here they are, 9 needles, 4 cords, and handy case for all, including removable pockets for needles and more storage for other knitterly devices. My drive to knit has been restored! The needles are so shiny and slippery; the cords so bendy and flexible. I have found the will to keep knitting for three more hours. Another doily almost done.