Monday, August 31, 2009

Weekends are for...

I've used this post title before, but clearly the brain cells marked "creative" are on holiday.

Actually, I'm on furlough today, which feels very strange, as I'm starting my classes tomorrow. But I needed to find two furlough days in August, and as I only reported back to work on August 24th, that didn't give me too many options. I don't much like this furlough thing, and it's not even really because of the pay cuts, but that's a rant for another day.

On the bright side, we had a very nice weekend, which I truly needed after a week of meetings that were all of the sort where there are lots of emotions and politics and undercurrents and stress floating about. I did get lots of knitting done on Rick's sock (more pictures of that next time), but sometimes even the knitting time isn't worth the angst (and that's saying something). So a calm weekend was very much in order. Saturday morning I got up and went for a swim with my friend who makes me get into cold water just by doing it with me. Then off we went to the girls soccer games, which were at the exact same time. So I took Younger Daughter and Rick took Older Daughter. The games weren't as successful as the first week's had been, and they both lost (playing in the midday heat probably didn't help, either). But since the point of rec soccer is to play as much as it is to win, that was all right.

We had a lazy afternoon, in which I appear to have cast on for a new sweater (oops). I'm still waiting for the new yarn for the Elektra sweater (very very long story), and as both that and the socks I'm knitting for Rick are fairly plain knitting (Elektra = garter stitch, Rick's socks = stockinette), it was time and past time to cast on for something with a bit more oomph. As luck would have it, a box arrived for me last week, from my dear friend Chris over at Briar Rose, containing the most gorgeous skeins of Charity you could ever hope to see, in a color that (as I'd hoped) remind me of the hills of California in the fall (the hills that aren't burning, that is). I didn't cast on during the week since I didn't think this would be meeting knitting, but I couldn't contain myself and I wound up both skeins into balls and got started.
So squishy and lovely and rich. Anyone recognize that pattern? Here's another hint:
Chris had a sample of this hanging in her booth, and I oohed and aahed over it so much (I am nothing if not subtle) that she decided that I needed to knit one for my ownself. She's right. I'm going to wear this a TON. In fact, I was worrying that I'd finish it and have to stare at it for months, as we're entering into our hot season here in California (it was over 100 degrees all last week at work, and it's not going to get better for quite a while). But then the happy thought occurred to me that I get to go to Cincinnati in October (yay!), to see my fellow-knitter SIL and my BIL and my niece (hi, guys!), and it's gonna be cold enough there for sweaters, I think (am I right?). Yay! So that's a reason (as if I needed one) to get this knitted up.

I've also been spinning. I finished up the main part of the sock yarn I started at the Golden Gate Fiber Institute (meaning that I used up all the silk I had), and ended up with these beauties.
I think that's about 200 yards of three-ply yarn, at 16 wpi, which I believe falls solidly into the fingering-weight category. The plies are silk, silk/cashmere, and wool. You can see that the wool got puffier upon washing, which has made for a pretty effect, I think:
As that is not enough for a pair of socks, I'm spinning up the rest of the cashmere/silk and the wool to make a three-ply yarn for the heels and toes. I think I've got plenty to do that, and that should stretch the rest of this to a reasonable amount for socks.
Little by little, I'm getting there.

And the last thing we did this weekend?
That's Older Daughter's room. Those walls were white yesterday morning. Now they're not. She picked out the color herself, and we got it all done yesterday. She's happy with it, we're happy with it, and I'm sure that my legs will stop hurting by tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Socks, and the survey

Well, it turns out that meetings are good for one thing: knitting. I've finished the wildflower socks, and cast on for a new pair of socks for Rick. Also, I forgot to share the heirloom tomato socks with you, so that goes in today's post, too. And then, an update on the survey (no, I have not forgotten, and neither, apparently, have you all).

I finished the last installment of the Rockin' Sock Club while I was at the Golden Gate Fiber Institute (turns out, that was a while ago!), and even wore them while I was there. It was cold enough that hand-knit socks were a real comfort to the toes, especially while spinning.

The pattern for these is In Season, and the yarn is STR lightweight, in the colorway Garden Daze. I used my size one Harmonys for these. This is the first pair of anklets I've ever done, and I erred on the side of longer by adding one pattern repeat to the ankle part. The pattern was great fun -- I really like the way it turned out.
Aren't the colors fabulous? This is one of those colorways that I probably wouldn't have picked for myself in a million years, but that I ended up adoring. I guess that's why I like doing this club so much; it makes me think a bit about my color and pattern prejudices.

I also finished the Wildflower socks last night, even though I can't for the life of me find my notions bag and, hence, my tapestry needle; thank goodness I had an extra tucked away elsewhere. (Does anyone know where it is, by the way? It's also got a small knit giftie for a friend in it, so I really do need to find it...)
These were a nice, fast, simple knit, which was exactly what I've been needing (although I'm finding myself drawn increasingly to more complex patterns; I think the solution to that has just arrived in the mail -- I'll share that next time).
These were knit in Handmaiden Casbah, using my new size one Signature needles (which I adored). I knitted them using a 1x1 corrugated rib for the top and the heel, and I added little wildflower knots (from one of the BW treasuries) whenever the mood took me. That was about it.

I cast on for Rick's new socks last night. I'm going to try some different shaping on the toe (I'm knitting these toe-up so I can eke every last bit of goodness out of the lovely March Hare yarn I'm using). If it works, they'll be left/right specific, and will fit his foot even better than the usual socks. We'll see.

On a completely different topic, let's talk about the survey. You all have outdone yourself filling it out. By the end of this past weekend, there were close to 300 totally completed surveys. Every time I checked in, there were more respondents, and I can't tell you how excited it made me. Then I got permission to post about it on Ravelry. As of this moment, I have 1,317 completed surveys.


Imagine my shock. (You can also imagine the little hysterical giggles that erupt every time I check on the progress of the survey.)

Data, folks. What we have here are data.

As you might imagine, it's going to take me some serious time (of which I technically have 10% less this academic year) to read through all of the amazing and detailed responses that people have provided. I'm already having more fun looking through them than I really should be, given that this is, technically, work. But I thought you might like to see some initial statistical results, knowing that I'll be sure to share more with you as I go along.

98.3% of respondents so far are female;
Almost 75% are married or partnered;
52% do not have kids;
71% have completed collegiate or post-collegiate education;
39% of respondents said their stashes were “medium” (heh – that’s what I said); only 1.7% said they have no stash;
Almost 60% of respondents said they crochet; 60% also said they sew;
Almost 69% of respondents said they knit socks, by far the largest percentage for a type of project (that might need its own interview question…);
Lace and cables vie for top position, at 77 and 73% respectively;
We tend to knit for ourselves (88%) and our families (81%) most.

We're a pretty interesting bunch of people. I should also mention that the question that consistently gets the most commentary is the one about stash. There are those more technical questions like "what does constitute a medium stash, anyway?"*, and then there are the funnier and more personal comments about respondents' attitudes towards their stashes, their fears about the attitudes of their spouses/families/friends/neighbors/children toward their stashes, and their worry that they might run out of stash before they run out of interest in knitting. That may be a chapter all on its own.

So, if you haven't had a chance to fill the survey out, please feel free to do so, it'll be up for a while yet. And if you know of anyone at all who might also be interested in filling it out, please also feel free to pass on the url; this is open to all comers.

Meanwhile, Tilly thinks that I spend too much time in meetings, and not enough time with her.

*This summer, whilst in Scotland, Older Daughter was looking for me in a store and described me to the shopkeeper as a "middle-aged lady wearing gray". (!!) When it became clear that I was completely and utterly gobsmacked at being referred to as middle-aged (ah, denial, you lovely protective mechanism; I don't object to being middle-aged per se, I just want to live longer than right now times two!), Older Daughter asked, quite reasonably, exactly what middle-aged was, then? I told her that it's ten years older than I am. Always.

I think stash is like that. A "large" stash is 15 balls of yarn more than I have. Always.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I do still knit

Even if it's not looking like it these days.

Thank you all so much for your supportive comments on the rant of a couple of days ago. I alternate between feeling that surely something can be done to make the system work better for everyone, and a deep sense of despair because I haven't the faintest clue how we can make that happen. I'll keep you all updated on how things go this semester in my little patch of education-land; judging by the comments, though, I'm not the only person out there who's facing this kind of situation, so all of you keep letting me know how it's going, too.

Now, a last gathering of little tidbits from Sock Summit, and then I think I'll have that all caught up, and I can start letting you see some knitting.

First, since Sallee and I knew that we would (finally!) be meeting at Sock Summit, she took the chance to deliver to me this stunning beauty.
Is that not the most classy needle binder you've ever seen? I adore that cover fabric (you wouldn't believe how patient she was while I dithered over all of the beautiful pictures of fabrics she sent me!), and look at the button:
It's just perfect with the spirals! The inside is filled with the softest fabric pockets for holding needles, both dpns and circs. Finally, a holder worthy of my lovely Celtic Swans and Signature dpns.
Plenty of room for everything. (Although I admit that I was a little embarrassed to see just how many of some sizes of needles I have. I mean, how many size four Addis does one person need? Quite a few apparently. Oddly, though, there was nary a size six to be found. Weird...)

The needle binder is Nana Sadie Rose's new Violette, and I can't tell you how happy I am with it. I feel organized, and it's cheerful and elegant to boot. How often does that all come together in one useful object? Very William Morris...

I think I've mentioned that I got to meet in person (but not spend nearly enough time with) several people whom I've only known through e-correspondence. Another one of those people is Mary Lou, whose blog I've been reading for a while now, and whom I always enjoy sharing an email conversation with. She was working at the Yarnery booth, right down the aisle from Briar Rose, which meant that we were both equally busy, but she made a point of coming to see me right away, to give me the condolence hug she'd promised me (which I so needed right then), as well as the most lovely and thoughtful gift.
Definitely click to embiggen that. It's a set of gorgeous cards (each with a different picture) all in that beautiful blue silk bag. It makes me happy each time I look at it. Thank you!

In the interests of full disclosure, I should reveal that I did come away with some spinning fiber from A Verb For Keeping Warm. I also had a very fun conversation with Kristine, the dyeing genius behind the yarn and fiber from A Verb For Keeping Warm -- talk about an interesting person to chat with!
That is four ounces of a lovely merino/silk blend in the Crocodile Tears colorway.
And that is four ounces of Wensleydale in the Abalone colorway. (You can see that Tilly wanted very much to be involved in the photography.) I'm thinking that this one will be socks; that was also the plans for the merino/silk, but we'll see.

I also got one skein of STR, a Rare Gem.
Last but not least, I came away with some stunning yarn from (of course) Briar Rose. There was this ball of Sea Pearl (I do love me some Sea Pearl).
I haven't decided yet what that will be. But I know what I'm going to do with this.
Two skeins of that heathery purpley gorgeousness (why yes, it is Sea Pearl, why do you ask?) are destined to become the next Wine Dark Sea sweater. My goal is to knit another one, without the little sizing issues that I perhaps could have done differently in the first. I'm swatching now.
I think that will be the bottom edge, but I haven't yet found my cuff edging. I'm in the process of swatching and enjoying it immensely. Chris has to be one of the most generous people in the world, not only providing yarn, but also complimenting my first Wine Dark Sea sweater extravagantly (as did Christy), and even suggesting that the pattern might be good enough to interest other people. I'm not sure about that, but it was sure nice to hear.

I also came away with a lovely little project back, which just happens to match the yarn.
And a button and a pin. I'm sure I'll find good uses for these.
And with that, I think that I'm all caught up from Sock Summit. Whew!

Next time, some socks -- I've finished the first of the Wildflower socks, and I don't think I ever posted pictures of the heirloom tomato socks. I have no less than three hours of meetings each day this week (and some as long as five hours), so I'm guessing there's gonna be plenty of knitting time.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Trying to find the track

Because how can I get back on it if I can't find it?

It doesn't help that the track keeps moving.

I think that a lot of you know that I came home from my various travels to find that I will be on furlough (close to 10%) for at least the next academic year. Probably two. I was expecting it, and had, in fact, voted to give our union the power to negotiate the side note to our contract that made it a reality. Those of us who voted for it did so, overwhelmingly, because we wanted to avoid, as much as possible, laying off any more non-tenure-line faculty members. While for various reasons those faculty members do not have the (increasingly scant) protections that come with tenure (nor do they have the same service and research requirements, although I know for a fact that they have the same drive and ability to do research and to serve their institutions), they are valued colleagues who serve a critical role in creating the educational experience that we offer to our students. So we'd all really like for as many of them to keep as much of their jobs as possible. That means that I (and just about everyone else I've spoken to) am willing to take a hit to my bottom line to make that possible (and yes, I do realize just how privileged I am to be able to afford to do that without being afraid that I won't meet my basic financial obligations). (Let me add here how glad I am that I have a stash to draw on right now, though.)

What I also came home to, however, was the news that our administration had come to the conclusion that the best way to balance the university's budget would be to increase tenure-line faculty courseload by an additional class each semester.

I can't tell you how that made me feel. Sick to my stomach is the least of it, and outrage doesn't even begin to describe it.

First and foremost, to increase our courseload would be to reduce the number of courses available to our non-tenure-line faculty, thereby leading to exactly the lay-offs that we all just voted to take a pay cut to avoid. Furthermore, the impact on student education would be incalculable, just at the time when we're raising their tuition by 20% and cutting their professor contact time by 10% (fire sale now! less education for a higher cost!). Not to mention the way that class sizes have increased in the past seven years (my average class size is now 45, instead of the 30 I started at). To add salt to the wounds, such a decision implies that faculty weren't really doing anything else that matters with that time. That our service to the university doesn't count. (Note, by the way, that a lot of it already doesn't count, officially: my faculty meetings, Academic Senate meetings, committee meetings, time spent filling out forms, answering administrative email, etc etc etc, none of that is allowed to count towards the 45 hours per week that I need to be able to show that I work for my university.) That our research, which brings so much to our teaching (and many of us actively involve students in our projects) can just be abandoned by the wayside. (Note that U.S. News and World Report has stated explicitly that the first thing that they look for when ranking a university is whether its faculty are actively engaged in research.)

In other words, it is the action of an administration with no respect for its faculty or students. And last I checked (I admit to some bias here), the core of a university's mission is to facilitate the relationship between faculty and students in order that students can learn something.

You can imagine our collective reaction. The administration has since backed off enough to say that it's just one option on the table. But it shouldn't be. The preservation of the quality (what remains) of the education of our students should be the central concern of everyone at the university. Not the preservation of administration jobs (in the last several years, we have continued to hire administrators at a very high rate, while reducing our hiring of faculty to almost zero), or the preservation of administration perqs like housing and car allowances (which are not affected by the furlough cuts and which will remain at their ludicrously high levels). Alas, though, those things do seem to be the foremost concern of our administration.

Of equal and further-reaching concern is the fact that the state of California's revenue stream has gone down consistently over the past thirty years, because her citizens have taken every opportunity to cut taxes. There appears to be a collective fear that someone is using "my" tax dollars to get something "they" don't deserve. Our education system has tanked in my lifetime, going from one of the best in the world (the world, people), to, quite frankly, one of the most embarrassing. We spend less per student than almost every other state in the union, even though we are the eighth leading economy in the world. This lack has shown increasingly in every year that I've taught since 1994. Students come to college worse and worse prepared, less and less able to perform basic reasoning and analytic tasks, less and less confident that they can acquire the skills necessary to do so. And it's not because they're stupid. It's because they're in schools that are so full that teachers' jobs are becoming more about crowd control than they are about nurturing cognitive development. They are in an educational system that cares more about their ability to pass a test than to actively engage with difficult material.

They are our future.

And they deserve so much better. From every single one of us. Whether we've got kids of our own or not. Whether we send our kids to private or public school. Whether we are in the top tax bracket, or earn so little that we pay no taxes at all. These children and young adults are the voters of tomorrow. The mothers and fathers of tomorrow. The senators and presidents and teachers and businesspeople of tomorrow. They'll be running this country when we can't or don't anymore. And they need access to a quality education (I won't start on health care today, I promise) in order for them to be successful. And let me be frank. Most of us can't afford the total cost of a quality education for even one student. We all benefit from the ways in which the public trust supports the maintenance of our institutions of learning. Every one of us, even those of us who never used the public school system, because somewhere, sometime, someone we rely on to make our lives a success did use that system, and we are successful because they are.

I keep wondering when we forgot that. That we do need to protect the public weal, because we are the public.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dazed and confused

I keep disappearing, don't I? I've been so overwhelmed by the work email coming in to my computer this last week that I just turned the darned thing off for the weekend (query: I am not paid during the summer, so why I am I spending hours each day wading through work email?). This reduced my temptation to check email and get sucked in, but also meant that I didn't post, and I wasn't responding to friendly email, either. I need to find a balance point here, and weekends offline may be it, but I'll try to give warning next time.

I was going to write a post about what's going on at work, but I'm feeling peaceful enough this morning that I don't want to haul out that soapbox. I'm going to have to soon enough, since I need to plan out what I'm going to say to students on the first day of class, which is rapidly approaching, but I think I'll keep this morning's fragile peace and think of happier things instead. It turns out that, in all of this chaos, I have been knitting (isn't that what keeps us sane?). I find that the more crazy things are getting in the rest of my life, the simpler my knitting gets. I'm on a bit of a stockinette/garter stitch craze right now, getting my comfort from lovely yarns, beautiful colors, and knitting that feels like a meditation. I'm also sorting through my acquisitions from Sock Summit, and I'll be sharing them little by little as I take pictures of them. I keep forgetting to mention things that happened at sock summit, and things I wanted to talk about, so I've started keeping a little list next to my computer -- how pitiful is that? But I think it reflects the dazed and confused (hence the post title) state of mind that I'm in right now.

For example, I completely forgot to mention that I finally got to meet Wanda in person!
(This is one of her pictures which she kindly shared with me; have I mentioned that I forgot to take any pictures at all?) Wanda was one of the first people to read and comment on my blog, and I have so enjoyed our email exchanges over the last couple of years. It was truly a treat to get to meet her (and her lovely husband Ed!) in person; I only wish we'd had time for a quiet visit, but it turns out that Sock Summit just wasn't the venue for that kind of thing.

I also got some gorgeous sock yarn while I was there (imagine that), from March Hare, who was sharing a booth with Jennie the Potter (I got one of her yarn bowls, too, but haven't taken a picture of that yet; next time, I promise).
Aren't they gorgeous? The one of the left isn't photographing too well; it's a beautiful flame orange/red (the colorway is, appropriately enough, Wildfire). I'm tempted to knit a shawl out of it, I love it so well, but I'm guessing I'll go with socks for now. The one on the right is a colorway called Driftwood, and I got it to make socks for Rick -- it seemed like a good guy color. I'll probably cast on for those once I get my current pair of simple socks off of the needles.

Speaking of which, here they are:
I cast on for these at Sock Summit, so that I'd have something mindless to knit in the evening and on the flight home. I'm using my new Signature needles (I got the size ones, which are 2.25 mm needles), and I'm loving them. I'm also loving the fabric that the smaller needles are making with this yarn, which is Handmaiden Casbah; I think that the colorway is wildflower. The socks are plain top-down socks, with 1x1 corrugated rib at the top and on the heel flap, and I'm just putting little wildflower knots (from one of the BW stitch dictionaries) in whenever the mood strikes me. I'm most of the way down the foot on this first one.

While I was at Sock Summit, I also finished this, which I started while at the institute.
It's a Forest Canopy shawl (my Rav project), which I knitted using Sundara fingering silky merino in the Across the Water colorway. I think I used size eight needles for this one. I started it at the institute with the goal of taking it with me to the Hooked on Beads class I took with Sivia Harding so I could put beads on the edging.
So I knitted madly to get through the body, and finished just in time to take it to class. I beaded the edging along both the decrease lines, and on the twisted knit stitch between yarn overs. I don't know how well you can see it there, but I'm very happy with the way it turned out, and I like the weight on the edges like that.
I love the size of this one; it's not really a shawl, more a neckerchief, which is a very nice thing to have. I have enough yarn left that I may try to improvise some matching mitts for myself. I'm also thinking that I have at least one family member who may need one of these for Christmas; I'll have to see if I can find just the right yarn...

There are a few more things on the needles right now, but I'll just mention one more, because I'm dithering over it. I fell in love with a version of Elektra that I saw someone wearing at the institue. She let me try it on, and I decided that I absolutely had to have one for my very own self. I think it's going to be one of those sweaters that I can wear everywhere, plain and fancy, work and weekends, and I decided to invest in the yarn to make it exactly what I wanted. My lovely local yarn store, Yarning For You, ordered the kit in Petite Voodoo for me from Twisted Sisters, and I cast on last Friday. The problem is, I'm just not sure about that light blue. I like it fine on its own, but somehow, with the other colors (which I adore), I keep sort of stubbing my eyes on it.
(Imagine those colors about eighty times richer, and with that lovely sheen that silk gives to yarn. Mmmm....) I keep thinking that maybe something in a deep purple would be better.
That's not quite right, but they have a lovely color, Iris, that might do the trick. Opinions? I am planning to take it in to the store tomorrow for a confab with Debra, who is so helpful and willing to let me dither. I really want this to be something that I love unconditionally, so I want to get the colors just right.

OK, off to catch up on email (sigh) and some blog posts, and then I think I deserve a bit of time at my spinning wheel outside on my back patio. Next time, Sea Pearl (double mmm), and an absolutely gorgeous treat that Sallee delivered to me at the summit.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Where was I?

That's how I feel right now. Where was I? If today is Wednesday, it must be home. Right?

It's been a crazy couple of weeks. Mostly very very good, don't get me wrong (with, of course, some true lows stuck in there for flavor), but still crazy busy. I've been meaning to post these last couple of days, but I came home Monday to hundreds of emails in my inbox, having to do with fuloughs and the latest insanity that our administration is attempting to heap upon our heads, like salt to our wounds, insanity which makes furloughs look tame. I'll write about that when I'm ready to haul out the soapbox, but not this minute. Rick has been working 16-hour days since I got home, and Older Daughter started school today. It's been crazy.

But Sock Summit! Sock Summit was amazing in its size and scope, but really, in the end, what was truly wonderful to me was the people. I think you all know that I was working at the Briar Rose booth whenever I wasn't in classes or lectures. What you may not know is that I'd never met Chris (the fabulous dyer who is behind all of the beauty over there at Briar Rose), or her daughter-in-law Christy before. Note, by the way, the total leap of faith that Chris was taking in allowing me to work in her booth. That's a huge trust, when you're talking about someone's business that they've built lovingly, that's based on hard work and incredible talent and skill. But they both welcomed me in, and let me join them the whole time. They're wonderful. Truly some of the best people I know. I just spent the better part of five days cheek-by-jowl with them (I'm the only one with jowls, I should hastily add), so I should know. There are few people in the world who can work from 8-6 and still be good company over beer afterwards, but those two women are among them. Guys, why do you live 2,000 miles away? It's just wrong.

Here's the part where I admit that I took absolutely no pictures the whole time I was there. (Oddly, I particularly regretted it when everyone else started taking pictures of the poor woman who impaled herself in the calf with her knitting needle in one of my classes -- Anna Zilboorg's, to be precise -- but in the end, you probably don't want to see that.) That means that I didn't get pictures of my happy meeting with Sallee, with whom I didn't get to spend nearly enough time. How is it that we talk more by email from thousands of miles away than we got to talk when we were in the same convention center? Life is weird.

She, however, brought her camera to one of the greatest events I attended: Barbara Walker's talk. And she kindly let me share her photographic spotlight, and then forwarded the picture to me.
Note the closed eyes. Do you think it was something we said?

I also got to meet up with Ellen, which was equally fabulous (in fact, she and Sallee and I sat together for BW's talk, and all got equally teary-eyed at the end; it was nice not to have to explain to them why I was crying because I knew they were crying for the same reasons). We ended up sharing a lovely time in line together, waiting to get our Barbara Walker books signed (do we note a theme here?), and Ellen was, again, wise enough to bring her camera. She's posted the picture, so check it out. (They both also have done much better jobs of talking about the summit itself than I am going to, so head on over to their blogs and read all about it.)

There was more, much more. I so appreciate those of you who came and found me at the booth and stopped to say hi and introduce yourselves. You know who you are, and how much I enjoyed getting to meet you. Thank you. I loved my classes (Anna Zilboorg and Tina Newton on color, and Sivia Harding on beads -- I even beaded the edge of a scarf that I will post pictures of another time). I loved the lectures I attended (Barbara Walker's -- and man, is that lady bold -- and the luminary panel -- lots of data for the ethnography there, I tell you). I loved meeting interesting people like Meg Swansen. I loved my brief chats with Anne, who was run off her feet teaching (they had those teachers on a tight schedule!). I loved those beers at night with Chris and Christy and our many talks.

One thing that both Sock Summit and the retreat really made me think about a lot was a single word and its many meanings. That word is "craft". I think that for many people, that word carries connotations associated with summer camp crafts. With the easy making of little useless things for the amusement of children. When used in that sense and applied to the beautiful work of hands that I saw at both of these events, it's an insult, and one that many people rightly refuse to have applied to their art.

When I first heard people stating their strong preference that people not refer to their work as "craft", I was surprised, though, because my own associations are so entirely different. To me, craft is what is required to move a vision of beauty to a state of reality. It requires skill, and wisdom. Craftiness, thus, is not only the knowlege and vision needed to bring art into being, but the ability to craft the time and space in our busy lives to do so. Craft to me is the craft not in the phrase arts and crafts, but in Arts and Crafts; the acknowledgement that those things which are useful need not be utilitarian. That there is something vital and joyous and whole in creating things of beauty which are to be used. To me, the fiber arts are prime examples of such craft, color and life and sensuality and texture and beauty and function all in one object, one expression of the maker's art.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the noun "craft" as (slightly edited for brevity): 1. Strength, power, might, art; 2. Intellectual power; skill; art; 3. Skill, skillfulness, art; ability in planning or performing, ingenuity in constructing, dexterity; 4. Human skill, art as opposed to nature. And it defines the verb "craft" as: 1. To make or construct skillfully; 2. To use crafty devices; 3. To exercise one's craft.

I certainly see within our community the exercise of strength, power, might, and art. The results of manipulating fiber strike me as definitional of art as opposed to nature. And if a spindle isn't a crafty device, heck, I don't know what is.

I understand and support the reasons why it is important to insist that the public acknowledge the art in the work of our hands. I admit, though, that the part of me that loves the underdog, that is a sucker for lost causes, wants to reclaim the word "craft" in all of its deep acknowledgement of the humanness of its exercise. I want them both back, and I want them with capitals and fireworks.

Look at what you're making right now and see in it both the art and the craft, and be proud.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Good news, sad news

I'm almost at the end of my brief two-day sojourn at home. I'd meant to post earlier, but things got in the way (more on that in a minute). I leave for Sock Summit at you've-got-to-be-kidding o'clock tomorrow morning; I'm bringing my computer along on this trip, though, so with luck there will be some posts from the field.

The Golden Gate Fiber Institute was fabulous. I wish I had another word for it, because that seems rather pale compared to how I really feel about it, but there it is. I had so much fun, in such an intense way, that I took not a single picture. Nary a one. So I have very little to show from the actual institute. If there is any picture sharing from those more organized than I, I will be sure to post them, but in the meantime, I have little in the way of visuals.

As I drove home from the airport very late on Sunday, I kept trying to think of how I was going to describe this week, what to say to at least try to convey what it was like. I looked for words. They weren't easy. "Humbled" came to mind. Not in the sense that I thought I had mad skillz and had to find out that I don't (I have learned just enough over the last several years about what there is to learn to know that I have a long way to go)(I like that fact, by the way, it's exciting). That word, though, along with "grateful", does describe how I felt about the tremendous generosity of spirit I felt from all of the teachers and organizers, as well as from the other participants. It seemed to me that every single person there had more experience at their craft, was more engaged with their craft as art, than I am or have had a chance to be, and every one of them was willing to share their experience and love of their chosen craft, unstintingly, and, in turn, to learn whatever they could. So I spent the week surrounded by willing teachers, by astonishingly creative people, by beautiful textiles, and all of that on a cliff overlooking the ocean.

Also, someone else cooked every single meal and did the dishes to boot.

I say that as if it were funny, but it isn't. Not having to think about stuff like that is incredibly freeing. One day, I spun for the three hours of class plus the extra hour before dinner, and then went back after dinner and spun for three more hours. That's just craziness. In the best possible way. And both of my teachers taught in ways that exactly match my learning style. Jeane deCoster was challenging and funny and so willing to be sure that each student got what they needed from the class; I know that I certainly did, in ways that I didn't know I needed. And Judith Mackenzie McCuin is one of those teachers who is completely convinced that a student can learn anything, which is nice to lean on in those moments when the student (that would be me) isn't so sure of that and has her fingers tangled in the flippin' cotton yet again. I think that she's also lived at least six lifetimes so far; she knows so much, and about such interesting subjects, from bison to bagpipes.

I learned so much that my brain hurt, and I dreamed all night every night about everything I'd heard and learned. I challenged myself to try new techniques in spinning (can you say "long draw"?), and I challenged my own image of my body and how it looks and works. It was intense. I also saw Grandmom and Rick's cousin and her new baby, and I saw a knitting friend for a lovely and peaceful hour of knitting on the beach. I'm pretty darned sure I'll be back next year.

I did end up getting a new wheel, one that I hope will be portable enough that I can start finding and attending spinning events closer to home. It's a Lendrum, and I love it.
Thanks to Morgaine's generosity (she of Carolina Homespun, and one of the two organizers, along with Judith) I was able to try several folding wheels before making my choice. I dithered until the last minute, because I had somehow set it in my mind that I wanted a wheel that I could put in an overhead bin on an airplane, but my gut knew which wheel I was getting from the moment I sat down with this one. It works just right for me.

I tried all kinds of new techniques and worked with an insane range of fibers; you can see some of the results here.
I spun worsted, semi-worsted, semi-woolen, and woolen; I may not like spinning all of them, but I now really understand, in theory at least, how and why to do it. I learned to cable, and did so, quite happily, on silk top hand-dyed by Kristine at Curious Creek.
That's the cabled silk on the left, and a silk/alpaca blend spun from the fold on the right (another first).

I also learned to create a nice, worsted-spun, three-ply yarn for socks, and am going to spin up some socks for myself; those plies are silk, silk/cashmere, and wool.
I also bought some spinning fiber.
(Chasing Rainbows Dyeworks, silk/wool blend.)

And won some fiber.
(Capistrano Fiber Arts, baby camel/silk blend.)

And I both bought (right) and won (left) spindles from Spindlewood.
These may come to Sock Summit with me.

That's the good news, and as you can see, there was a lot of it.

I came home, though, to the sad decision that the time had come, sooner than I would have hoped (but I don't think there was ever going to be a time that wasn't too soon), to put my beloved Kia Ora dog to sleep. We did that yesterday, and I think that right now there isn't a lot I can say about it except that I miss her terribly, and that there is a very large hole in our home that used to be her place.