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

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