why to do stuff


Why do I always feel like I should be doing something else? If I’m painting I should be sewing, if I’m sewing I should be carding wool, if I’m spinning I should be blogging (spinning is when I think of all kinds of stuff I want to tell you guys, most of which I promptly forget about as soon as I get near a computer) if I’m dyeing I should be cleaning the house or washing wool, and if I’m knitting I should be doing just about anything else. The only time I can really get away with guilt-free knitting is if Raven has the TV on.

What the heck is this about? I have been trying to figure it out for ages, and while I have formulated some theories I don’t know if any are correct. Or maybe they all are. I know that my finished object to WIP ratio is bizarrely low, because I am the poster child for process orientation and I have the attention span of a small rodent when it comes to repeating any action or process that I thouroughly understand. I do have a boatload of guilt about the number of UFOs I have – but why? I don’t need these things, I only needed to figure them out. Which I have done.

It’s not as if I spend a lot of money on my crafts either. I build a lot of my own tools, I make do with salvaged or broken items. I work with found objects, and an exhaustive study of my crafting history would demonstrate that since I learned to sew at the age of five I have been moving further and ever further backward, always pursuing and fascinated by the step that comes before the thing I already know how to do.  At this point, the natural conclusion of my life should be that when I die I will be placed in an elaborate coffin of my own construction, hand carved by me and painted in hand ground pigments (egg based, naturally) and lined with hand spun, hand woven and naturally dyed wool.  In a perfect world said coffin would be burned on a pyre of wood cut from a tree I planted, while my friends danced around drinking beer and mead that I brewed.  It will be fun; you should come.  If I have enough warning, I will make paper and print invitations.  There will be door prizes.

Now, in the course of posting this, WordPress has managed to lose the latter half of it, and I have really no idea what I said.  I know the point was, that I would like to stop feeling bad about the things that make me feel good.  This is, after all, my life.  I know that I am never going to make any “significant” mark on the world, but that is ok because nothing I have ever done or ever wanted to do is particularly “significant” so that is not a problem for me.

Does anyone else experience this?  What, if anything, do you do about it if so?  Please, discuss.  In the meantime, I’ll get started on those invitations, as soon as I make Raven a frock coat, which I am going to start as soon as this collage is out of the way, and I will be finishing that right after I dye the yarn that I am currently carding wool for the spinning of.  Unless I just throw in the towel and go knit something.



Every time I’ve tried to blog about this thing for the past week, something has distracted me enough to completely forget whatever I was going to say, and I’ve not done it. Really, it shouldn’t be this hard.

I know what I’m doing. Right now I’m having a little fight with an embroidered bird on the thing I’m making, and we’ve had to take a “time out” in our separate corners and think about what we’ve done, but we’ll work it out. The fault is entirely mine, being as (as I believe I have mentioned) I don’t actually like doing embroidery much. I like the idea of it, I love the look of it… I just never seem to have much fun making it happen. When I mentioned this to Carrie, she brought up that seahorse incident, and fairly enough. But that really was something of an anomaly.

Anyway, point is my in-prog pics look pretty much just like they did last time, except now there is also an incredibly ugly and soon to be torched bird, as well. Actually it looks like a kind of weird lumpy-spiky flower, and no, I’m not taking a picture of it! But that’s OK, because now would be a really good time to share my idea/inspiration with the rest of the class, so to speak. Actually, about a week and a half ago would have been a great time, but see opening paragraph.

I said right back at day one that I’d been thinking already about a couple of people I admire, and so while there may be other persons out there who are more inspiring in some way, or who have a closer connection to me or a greater impact on the world, I think it is completely right that I use as my subject inspiration the person who first came to my mind – who was already in my mind – when the project was announced. So I did. And I’m not going to tell you who it is at all, but I will now tell you some stuff about them:

This person makes beautiful things. They are lucky enough and clever enough and talented enough to be able to contribute to the support of their loved ones by making beautiful things. Which is pretty cool.

This person’s values, and indeed mode of living are – “traditional” just doesn’t quite cut it – “dated” sounds weird and is inaccurate – “primitive” is totally wrong – “almost completely out of whack with the modern world” is closer, but still not right. An outsider’s take might be that they are “living the simple life”, although having found myself on that path and knowing how bloody complex the “simple life” can be, said outsider would deserve a clout on the ear. But complexity aside, this person reveals a connectedness and a joy in simple pleasures, at least, that is often overlooked in the let’s-be-trite-and-say-”hustle-and-bustle” of many people’s lifestyles. This person has not got a “lifestyle”. They have a life.

Now at least half of you are thinking “ok, I see why they get along, but what’s this got to do with the project?” And a third of you – at least – may be thinking “hey, that sounds like ME!” Well, maybe it is. I ain’t telling. But on to the admiration. What I was thinking about, back on the first, was that this person, who has strong beliefs and values about which they can be quite firm – not stupid-stubborn, not unyielding in the face of all challengers, just firm – is so amazingly unfazed by the myriad of stupid things that people say and believe and try to contradict with. (Sorry, that last was grammatically unforgivable. I’m tired, and trying not to betray gender. I give up; my inspiring person is a girl. There. It’s narrowed down to slightly more than half the human race.)

Anyway. I share a lot of beliefs and experiences with this person, but where I differ, greatly, is that when someone comes up to me and makes a dumbass judgment about things they haven’t thought through, don’t know squat about, and/or have a perfectly valid but inappropriate to my situation opinion that they are trying to impose on me anyway, I get very upset. I brood, and rant, and funk, and can if I try generally ruin a perfectly good week by being annoyed that some other person said something rude.

I am trying to get over this.

And that is what I was thinking on the first. That this other person, comments like that just slide right off. She doesn’t make a big issue of it, or take it to heart, because she knows that it doesn’t really matter. It cannot affect her. That impresses the heck out of me, because although I know it’s right and healthy and smart, I still seem to have a couple fewer layers of skin than I should or something. And I would like to be more like that. So when Sharon posted the challenge this month, that’s why my little mind moved right away to making a garment. I’m going to make a garment that represents this person to me, so that I could if I wanted symbolically put on their good qualities like armour. Add a layer to my skin as it were, and have a tangible reminder that these irritations (whatever they might be at the time, seems like there’s always something, if you look for it – and I do, that’s part of the problem) don’t matter.

So what I will be making, if I get this little dispute with the embroidered bird resolved, is a corset from around 1810. It’s an odd period for corsetry, they weren’t anything like what you might think of as a corset, really. They’re very transitional from the half-boned tubular stays of the 18th c to the gored and whaleboned Victorian curves. They’re not boned, but rather stuffed with cording for light figure molding. (Medievalists – picture a gambeson; everybody else think of a teeny tiny moving blanket.) Like the MUCH later girdles of the 1960s, they are really more about keeping the figure smooth so that those high-waisted dresses could drape prettily and not be impeded by anything so vulgar as an actual human body. Because they aren’t all boned and rigid, they can be prettily embroidered. And they have an optional wooden busk, also often carved or painted to look nice.

i.e. a beautiful thing, designed to make someone feel/move beautifully, firm but flexible, oddly placed in time, whose purpose is not to constrict or impede but to allow other, less structured garments to flow over it without conflict, and with indeed improvement to the look and feel of the whole. Natch.

In other news, I’m working on the second striped sock:

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Which, as you can see, is in fact striping. Yay! I made it work! This is way more exciting than it ought to be. I’ve divided they yarn and am working toe up, which I haven’t done before. Started with a short-row toe, but decided to forgo the short-row heel in favor of my usual flap heel, because I’m just never satisfied with the fit on the short rows. I’ll try it again someday, I know there has to be a way to make it work on my foot, I just haven’t found it yet, and I’m enjoying these socks so much I didn’t want to ruin that by having a heel I regretted on them.

The short-row that I use, which is the same whether for heel or toe, is from Simple Socks by Pricilla Gibson-Roberts, and it’s great. I don’t always think it’s great when I’m actually knitting it, in fact I often think a number of things it would be inappropriate to say in this blog when I’m knitting it. The instruction P3tbl, which occurs a lot, is enough to make me break out in a cold sweat, especially on 2mm birchwood dpns. But it’s worth it.

shortrow.jpg

That, my friends, is lovely. And it’s all because of the instructions; I assure you it has nothing to do with my slapdash knitting skills.

Here’s what’s happened to that fibre from Emily – I plyed it with some of the black suffolk.

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I think I’m going to make leg warmers. Which is kind of funny, because these are my other leg warmers:

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I didn’t make them, they were bought for me by my mom, back in 1983. (And they’ve held up pretty damn well, I must say!) I wore them with a navy sweatshirt she made, and my jeans that were shot with pink and also stitched with pink so the denim had a kind of purple halo-y look. And if I still had jeans like that, I would do it again. Sorry to have to say that, but it’s the truth.
Anyway, my point is that apparently this “bluey-purple pink thing” has been going on longer than I’d realized!

Now, about the stash: Stalkermom has been sort of gently nudging me towards joining one of the “stashdown 2008” type things. She seems to feel my stash is maybe a little out of control, just because I have two rooms full of fabric, two chests full of yarn, and half my laundry room is piled with bags of wool. I don’t see this as “out of control”. I see it, like a squirrel, as security. And also maybe extra insulation.

I know that I started it by posting that wool as my ‘yarn stash’. But I mean really, if bags and baskets of raw wool count as stash reductianda, then so do sheep. Which is silly. One has to draw the line somewhere.

I know I’ve got things on the go that I have labeled “stash reduction projects” – but that right there tells you something – a lot of those projects wind up as UFOs, because working on something for the sake of using something else up is just a really garbage motivation, at least for me. It doesn’t work. Besides, I have just recently realized/decided (like, about twenty minutes ago) that I need to get away from the whole end-driven mindset. Spinning so I can knit. Knitting so I can not freeze my lily-white arse off. Sewing so I can – what? Have a bunch of impractical and phenomenally outtdated (like, centuries) clothes that will be worn once and then only for the sake of it? Or practical, reasonable functional modern clothes that I will resent every stitch of because I’d rather be making a farthingale? I do sew the things I enjoy making, rather to the detriment of my functional wardrobe, because what I love best is the cutting, the figuring out of shapes, the making it work. I honestly think that the reason I tend to have sewing UFOs is that once I figure it out, the actual assembly is irrelevant. If I want the item then sure, I’ll make it – but if all I wanted to do was to know that I could make it, then once the pieces are cut, the rest is just grunt work. So yeah, I could unclutter my life by finishing up a pile of UFOs – but then what? All it would really do is move the clutter to another room.

Same is proving to be true with spinning and knitting. I do want to turn all that wool into yarn. That’s what I have it for. But I want to enjoy the process, I want to make yarn that is pretty, and fun to spin, I want to dye it and play with shading and make boucle, and fat singles, I want to ply purple and green together and run around forcing people to admit that they DO SO ‘work’ in combination.

But I don’t want to wear any of that stuff! I wear black, and grey. I wear ugly plaid because I find it amusing, and also because people keep giving me ugly plaids, knowing that I find them amusing. I will make occasional forays into drab greens, pinks (especially if they’re in those plaids) and purples, but basically what I like is black, and if you see me in anything else it’s because I haven’t got any bloody clothes because I never bother to make any, and I’m wearing some hand-me-down that I really do intend to replace with something I actually like, one of these days.

Now, I know that I can learn to be braver about wearing colour. I know that I can learn to dye colours I like, and like colours I dye. But the fact is that the (far) end product is not in my mind when I’m spinning, I’m just enjoying the whole “Look, I made yarn be!” thing.

And then there’s the knitting. I like knitting. We all know why, we all either understand the attractions, or we don’t knit. But here again, the things I want to knit are not necessarily the things I want to have after they’ve been knitted. I just want to knit them. Likewise, the yarns that I enjoy knitting with are not necessarily the yarns that I had such fun spinning. I don’t really want to knit with boucle, or sari – it isn’t stretchy, it isn’t any use for pretty cables, which is what I’m having the most fun with right now, and when you really go to town and put beads or feathers or some crud you found in the bottom of your “shiny objects” drawer into it, then it isn’t good for much except trim (I don’t like contrast collars and cuffs) or bags (I really don’t like bags) or hats (how many hats does one person who ties yarn to their head every winter need?)

Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not “dis’ing” fancy yarns. I love them. I just love them for what they are, rather than for what I could do with them. I’ve said before, I like yarn better than things that are made out of it anyway. I like to look at it, and maybe pat or kind of stroke it occasionally. And sometimes stack it and re-arrange the colours, and see if any of them seem happier beside each other. You know what I’m talking about, I know you do. I won’t tell.

So I have set myself some goals for this year, but they aren’t anything to do with stash reduction. I will of course be working from my stash, because that’s all I do most of the time anyway, I don’t actually buy things often, and when I do it’s usually in the rawest form possible, in relation to whatever it eventually turns out to become. But working from stash is not ‘the point’. Working is. I’m going to try to spin 1000 m. a month. I have no idea if that is reasonable, but it’s less than half of Farm-Witch’s goal. I figure that I really love to spin, and want to spend time on it, but since the spinning is way more central for her than for me it seems clear that I would be a complete idiot to try and match the stated goal of a professional! I guess I’ll find out soon if I’ve overshot. Oh, and singles don’t count, it has to be finished yarn. (Unless it is supposed to be a single, duh. But I don’t do that much.)

I’m going to make one corset a month, above and beyond whatever sewing I may be doing for the business or for myself. I think this is about what I average anyway, but I am hereby formalizing it into a goal. The corsets may be for me or they may be for sale, but they have to be fun – new designs, or fancy embellishments or whatever, but not just “fine, there, I have made yet another black PVC cincher, just what the world needs, let’s throw it on Ebay.” Boring ones won’t count.

I am going to do one thing in the house that will make me happy every month. Finish a wall, cover a chair, whatever. I’ve made a list of twelve “things that would make me happy if I did them”, but the list isn’t static, there are things I know already that would have been on there if I’d thought of them first, and as long as I get twelve, I’ll be pleased. That goal is kind of weather-conditional too, so it may wind up being two things a month through spring and summer rather than an actual one-per.

I am not setting knitting goals, because I don’t care. I know that I will knit, and I know that I will enjoy it because I do. No goals needed.

And of course there’s the TIF challenge, which I have been working on and will post pictures soon. Ok, you can have a peek now, but it isn’t going to help much:

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gore.jpg

Told you. I’ll explain what’s going on there shortly.

Anyway, the last goal is that I am not going to berate myself if I don’t manage to achieve these things, I am not going to let this turn into stress pressure when it’s based of things I like and want. But I am going to do a month-end summary and keep track of what I’ve managed to achieve in any given month, both on and off the list.

I stole that title from a really excellent short story by Greg Egan, which you should all go read. Since I read the story, it’s one of those phrases that has stayed rattling around in my head for years, popping out now and then and filling simple thoughts about cheerful moods with complex evocations.

Which has very little (but not nothing) to do with what I’m thinking today… See, I need to retrain my brain. Or adjust the settings, or something. I am constantly hampered by the conflict in my head between doing something for the sheer joy of doing it, and doing the same thing for a reason, with at least a partial goal/purpose. On the one hand, I like having fun, making things is fun, and I am constrained by few external forces or causes demanding that I do or make any specific thing. So I should be able to make or do whatever I want without guilt or more-than-reasonable hesitation, right?

Except that leads to impulse-driven behavior that actually restricts my range of skills and/or experimentation, while attempting to restrain the first impulse leads to irrational hesitation and inaction.

What the heck am I going on about? Well, for example: Today I got fluff in the mail. A lovely box of joyously purple mohair. It’s fluffy and slippery and curly and very very purple:

Now, I’ve already managed to talk myself out of the “I spent money on fibre” guilt. Mostly. As much as is ever likely to be possible. I’m pleased as punch to have this box of purple looking at me, waiting to be spun, calling my name in it’s curly little voice…

And it showed up less than two hours ago and I’ve already spun some of it. Just a tiny bit, to see what it was like. And to stop that finger-itch that started the second the mailman’s car slowed down in front of my driveway. (What IS it with this spinning thing? It really is like crack, you know. Or maybe more like heroine. I AM SPECULATING. I DO NOT DO OR SUPPORT THE DOING OF DRUGS. But I mean, smack is one of those drugs where you don’t just pop a pill in your mouth or snort something, there is preparation involved. Tools are required, a series of activities that must be pursued in the correct order, or they are meaningless, an altered state, and even perhaps a level of intuition… it’s very like a craft that can kill you.)

So completely beside the point. Sorry. Which point is that this mohair hadn’t been in my house for ten minutes, and I was ready to go; I’d broken out the cat brushes, I was all set for working my way through the (really quite large) box of purple. I was seriously considering taking a drop spindle in the car to Windsor (where I’m going later today) instead of a sock.

If I do that, I will have a bunch of fine purple thread. Which is great, but if I hang on to it for a bit, and don’t spin it, maybe I could do something a little more complex? Fibre blending, for example? Which I haven’t done yet, and as such is a mountain that must be climbed. Must, not as in “gee, it will take some upwardly mobile effort to get over that mountain” but must as in “get your butt moving up that mountain now you lazy lout!” On the other hand, if I don’t spin it – I will not be spinning it. And it is unspun! It will just be sitting there looking at me, being loose fibre! And finally, on the third hand I sometimes wish I had, if I spin it it will be gone, and I will not be able to spin it any more. I know you understand this, that’s why we all have a “stash” category in our thoughts and on our blogs.

I hope you’re not all waiting for a resolution from me right now, ’cause I got nothing. I do this will I/won’t I/how/when thing all the time. Comments welcome. (Comments welcome anyway, who are you people? Oh well, it’s ok. I’m shy about commenting too.)

I am playing around with a fabric sample for this wedding dress I’m doing.

If you picture it in white, that’ll probably make a lot more sense, but I did the sample in what I had because we’re chopping up the bride’s mother’s wedding dress and re-using the fabric, so I wasn’t going to waste that on playing around! Basically it will be this, with a LOT more tulle bunched over it, and the tulle will be over-embroidered and beaded here and there. and the part where it looks like two leaves? There’s actually a tulle-bunch flower there too, but I’m thinking in the picture it doesn’t show very well, so in accordance with the ten-foot rule*, I think I’ll put beaded lace behind those flower-bunches as well. That should pop ’em out a bit.

*Ten-foot rule: Stand back at least ten feet and gaze upon your work. If it is blurry, blobby, blind-making or just plain ugly, fix it. Most of the world will get their impression of your work from about that distance, if at all. Coming in closer and finding fantastic detail is a GOOD thing, but as with everything, first impressions count.