why is conservation a zero-sum game?

The good news: the WWF is once again holding its National Sweater Day.

The bad news: they're still running with that "only grannies knit sweaters, and although they're skilful, the aesthetics are awful" idea.

Now look, I think grannies who make sweaters are incredibly cool — after all, the Oma who taught me how to knit was one. But here's the thing: since the 1990s — that is, over twenty years ago — knitting has once again become popular with people who aren't grannies. Many knitters aren't old enough to be mums, much less grannies.

Actually, the last two paragraphs themselves are far too specific, because I left out a lot of crafters doing a lot of cool crafts that don't involve knitting. Last time I researched a particular crochet stitch I was trying to learn, fully 50% of the web sites with the tutorials I needed were by men who crochet. And there are, at my last count, approximately fifty gazillion crochet sites. That doesn't even begin to include the quilters, weavers, spinners, and other enthusiastic textile DIYers of all ages, genders, and family roles who are doing their bit to keep themselves warm without stressing out the furnace.
Now, there is one (only one) counter-argument I can think of in defence of the WWF. It runs like this: the WWF isn't trying to reach the DIYers, because we're already warm 'n' wooly and don't need to be told to turn our heat down.

The problem is, the message that is getting out is that handmade sweaters are unfashionable crap and the only reason to wear them is to save the planet.

Here's another trend that the WWF seems unaware of: up until the 1980s, hand-knitters tried to keep up with fashion, but because hand-knitting takes longer than running industrial machinery (the price of producing superior fabric), the hand-knitters tended to be about two years behind fashion. In the late 80s more and more knitters started to design their own, and the rise of the World Wide Web led to a globel idea exchange that accelerated this trend right past the industrial knitwear designers.

Now the industrialists try to keep up with the DIYers. Don't believe me? Look, I have walked through The Eaton Centre and found sweaters for sale exactly the same as the one I was wearing at the time. The difference was, my sweater was custom-sized to fit me, in the colour and fibre content I wanted, and was three years old at the time of the discovery of its industrially-made clone. Yeah baby. Three years. And I altered that pattern a lot.

If the WWF thinks enabling the adjustment of thermostats is power to the people, imagine what they could do with transferring some of the means of production, fashion, and creativity back into skilled hands. We could save the energy on machinery overhead, shipping, and marketing. That's a lot more energy saved than just in some domestic dwellings.

They need to dial down the stereotypes as well as the heat.

if you're reading this, you may already be a hippy

To those who read both my blogs (hi Carla!): this one is getting cross-posted because it overlaps the topic scope for both of them.

The meanings of words shift all the time. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be annoying if you enjoyed using a word in its previous sense and now can’t. I know of one grandmother who got pretty upset when her grandson’s parents told her she could not teach her grandson to call a cat by saying, “Here, pussy pussy.” You understand.

Things float the other way, too. Things that had one label stamped on them can have an entirely different one stamped on them once the previous one fades. This can be good, bad, or indifferent, but it can be very annoying if the new label doesn’t quite describe the original thing as well as the old label did. Perceptions change, practices change, and eventually the thing itself is in danger of changing.

One word that illustrates this is hippy.

Hippy comes from “hip,” as in “with it.” It grew to encompass a lot of things — do some Google searches if no ready stereotypes come to mind. It also grew to encompass a lot of things that pre-date its inception as a word.

There’s a nice point in a Philip K. Dick short story (whose title I am too lazy to look up) where one character assumes another is a hippy because he has a beard. The third character who has introduced them later explains that the “hippy” is actually a conservative — he has a beard because he has a nasty case of barber’s rash.

Hippy-ism (hippiness?) spread over all sorts of things that became associated with it, whether they were exclusively for hippies or not. Things like pacifism, or home schooling, or growing your own food, or doing things by hand. People forget that there were conscientious objectors in both world wars, that community schools are a relatively new innovation, that the working classes/peasants always grew their own food whether they were “farmers” or not, that doing things by hand was once a sign of thrift and quality products rather than a sign of “dropping out.”

When people ask about my parents and/or my childhood, they often comment that my family must be hippies. We had two big vegetable patches and a small orchard, and lived in a house my dad and his brother built. My mum sewed a lot of the clothes I wore. My brothers and I had wooden toys our grandfather made us. And yeah, politically we often (but not always) wind up on the pacifists’ side.

A quick glance at some family photos, plus some extra contextual information, shows how wrong that perception is. My mum worked at an office and was (still is) a twinset-with-pearls type. My dad was a fan of Elvis and the Rat Pack. Besides, long hair can get in the way when you work in construction. The garden? The sewing? The wooden toys? Both my parents were avid gardeners who didn’t have a lot of money when I was a kid — growing veggies was fun and practical. Same thing with my mum and her sewing. And of course my grandfather made us wooden toys — he was professionally trained as a finishing carpenter and worked as one almost his entire career. The pacifism isn’t exactly unusual in people who grew up in countries that have been occupied during wartime, and both sides of my family experienced that.

Over here in North America, safe insulated attacked-twice-in-100-years-but-not-invaded North America, all those things, those activities, add up to being a hippy, at least for those who don’t know any better. An entire ethic of thrift, practicality, and simple do-it-yourself-ness has been buried under a catchword.

It goes further than that. Are you a woman who doesn’t remove her leg hair, pit hair, or (ahem) hair in other places? Get ready to be called a granola-cruncher, even if (like the character in the PK Dick story with the barber’s rash) it’s because you have sensitive skin. Actually, with the hysteria aimed at those with pubic hair these days, it might be something worse than “granola-cruncher” if you happen to be wearing a bathing suit at the time.

What if you make an effort to eat less processed food, or if you like making basics for yourself like bread, jam, or soup stock?

What if you prefer to make your own music (or listen to your friends make some) instead of buying whatever is at the top of the list on iTunes this week?

It seems to me that it doesn’t take much these days to be a nonconformist. The weird thing is that there are an awful lot of people being nonconformist in these things, or myriad other things.
So are we all hippies now? Or is it time to do a collective semantic readjustment and admit that the label is not only inadequate and misleading, but also passé?


The cliché is that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. In actuality, there is a fourth: paint chip cards.

I really liked what the previous owner of my condo had done with the washroom. The vanity countertop is a mix of greens and a brown-beige in sort of a marbled pattern. You can see it used as a background in a lot of my beading photos, like for this post. She'd painted the walls a warm sage green that had lots of beige in it. It looked great with the counter-tops, the pale grey tile floors, and the white trim and porcelain. Normally I don't go for warm tones, but it looked great with my red poppies shower curtain and vanity set.

The only thing I (respectfully) disagreed with the previous owner about was the towel racks. You see, she liked brass, which is the one finish I absolutely can't stand. I'm more of a pewter/stainless steel person.

I took down the brass hooks on the back of the washroom door and replaced them with pewter ones fine, but there were a lot of towel racks to take down — a grand total of four. In addition, there were lots of clusters of pin-holes in the walls where thumbtacks had been used to hang up small pictures. I had to do a lot of spackling on both of the main walls. The only recourse was to repaint.

I spent a lot of time holding up paint chip cards to the walls, and settled on a colour. The local paint store, who had stood me so well back when I repainted my bedroom, let me down. They kept recommending light, very light colours for the bathroom. From a decorating point of view I understand, because it is a small room with no windows, but that vanity counter really needs something to pull it together with the rest of the room. I am not in a financial or aesthetic situation where I can think of replacing the vanity counter. Besides, I like it.

The quart of paint I bought looked like trouble as soon as I opened the lid, but the staff at the paint store had assured me that the colour would darken considerably as the paint dried.

They lied. The first wall I did is touch-dry now, and it's much lighter than what was on the paint chip, never mind the warm sage green I was going for. It's white. It looks like primer with a slight sage green tone. It makes the washroom look like it's the staff washroom in a sub-par retail outlet.

All right, all right, I know that colour is never guaranteed when you buy paint, but this isn't even close. It is several shades lighter than the original colour, which I knew I wasn't going to match perfectly, but wanted to get as close as possible to. Now I'm going to have to repaint entirely, possibly even use two coats to cover up the debacle currently gracing the walls.

The only good news is that the room takes less than the length of one CD (the Trainspotting soundtrack, if you really want to know) to paint, albeit with less than my usual care in the corners because I was annoyed when I was doing the work.

I would post photos, but photos don't tend to turn out well because of the aforementioned windowlessness. The flash distorts the wall colour a lot. I will, however, try for photos when I finally have my happy ending to this adventure and get the damn walls the colour I want!

Lies knitters tell themselves

It's a funny way to freshen up this blog, but after a month of unpacking, furniture assembling, and general settling-in, this is where my head is at, and this is why:

The ever-cool Lisa has bought The Naked Sheep, just a few minutes' walk from both my old apartment and my new one, and she has graciously invited me to teach some classes for her. This means that I have had to pay more attention to the knitting zeitgeist than I usually do, so as to know what the heck people are talking about when they join my classes.

What I'm finding is that we're still lying to ourselves about some pretty fundamental things:
  • The irrational hatred of seams continues with ongoing propaganda attacks and untrue claims that seams "weaken" (if you do them right, they strengthen), "are difficult" (not if you bother to learn how), and are "a pain" (again, not if you bother to learn how). Come 0n, guys. I think Elizabeth Zimmermann is amazing too, but I prefer to look to her as the inspiration for keeping my own knitting wits about me, not for being a "blind follower", as she referred to knitters who followed patterns slavishly and never thought about what was best for them. It's got to the point where Meg Swansen, Elizabeth's daughter and an amazing knitter in her own right, is writing diplomatic, logical magazine articles trying to remind the knitting proles that there is no right way to knit. When Elizabeth came on the scene, knitting in the round was unheard of except for socks and gloves — she had to push to get circular knitting accepted as a general technique. Now the pendulum has swung the other way, with some knitters acting as if they've been asked to trample their fair trade cashmere in manure if someone so much as mentions seams. Is it not better to know how to seam so that you can when it's the best method for the job at hand? Maybe (gasp) you might find you prefer to knit as I usually do, and view seaming as a pleasant end to a knitting job well done. And if you don't, at least you won't be ignorant anymore. I have altered patterns from in the round to flat pieces, and I have also done vice versa. It's whatever it takes to get the job done right, and forget about dogma.

  • I am going to be an aunt for the first time sometime around New Year's, and have already picked out what I'm going to knit for the baby shower. I am also knitting for friends of mine who are expecting their first in November. I've looked at a lot of baby patterns in the last week or so, and I noticed something: most of them emphasise how quick they are to do, even when they're also labelled "heirloom." I'm currently working on a cabled pullover for the baby due in November, and I have these empirical measurements to offer: 93 stitches for the front and back, 23.5 cm in length. 93 stitches is about normal for an adult-size sweater — just in thicker yarn than the fingering-weight I'm using for the baby. 23.5 cm is almost halfway to an adult-size length for a sweater. My conclusion is that baby sweaters are not that faster than adult ones. So since I'm making two baby sweaters, one due in October and the other in November, I had better get cracking.

  • "Circular needles are superior in every way." Again, if an educated knitter has a personal preference for circs, I won't argue with them (unless they are disdainful of my own personal preference, in which case they better be ready to do a thorough defence). But straight needles, especially those lovely fourteen-inchers that I prefer, came into existence for a reason. The way I knit, I tuck the right-hand needle under my arm and hold it still while my right hand feeds the yarn and my left hand worries about forming the stitches. It works great for me, and is the normal way to knit in the eastern Netherlands (where the grandmother who taught me how is from), and so I'm told, in parts of Scotland. When I first learned how to wield double-pointed sock needles and circulars, I had to completly re-learn how to knit, and it was not fun. I'm now at the point where I'm pretty comfortable with the other method, but I do find that I really enjoy settling down with a pair of nice steel straight needles after finishing a project on circs.

Now, some of this is going to lead to the time-honoured comment of, "Well, that's your opinion, but everyone's free to say what they like, and the truth is that most knitters prefer..." True, this is my own opinion, but I don't buy the part about "most knitters." Most knitters never even get to hear these opinions, because they're drowned out by all the noise coming out from other sources. There are knitters who always knit in the round, always use circulars, and whip off baby sweaters very quickly (like the ever-original Brenda, who is also well on her way to being a wizard of the top-down method), but it seems to me that they need to fight to be heard as much as I do. Maybe it's time we all stopped being such blind followers and took this to the next level.

Time of Reckoning

I'm moving in about a month, and all I can think about is: where am I going to put my stash in the new place? It's an issue, because the new place is only about two-thirds the size of the old place (but with a washer/dryer and dishwasher, so very much worth it). This, of course, leads to the usual question of "How do I turn all this stash into useful stuff, like clothes and gifts?"

And that, dear reader, led to a very useful review of What's In the Stash.

Disclaimer: I started my DIY life with virtually no stash. My grandmother gave me just enough of her stash that if I wanted to try out a new stitch pattern (or, in the case of crochet, a whole new craft), I could do it, but not have much more of any given colour than was enough for a few inches of fabric. That was fine — it encouraged me to experiment without going for the grand plunge of a whole new project to work on.

Then I inherited my grandmother's stash, plus the stash of a friend of the family who gave up knitting due to her arthritis. I also started earning a reasonable income. The consequence is that I have a crazy amount of odd balls of yarn, mostly in acrylic, and absolutely no compunction to give them up. When I mention it, people always tell me to give it to charity. They don't get that I don't want to give it to charity. I will buy new yarn and give it to charity, no problem. But this is my inherited stash, and what I'm really interested in is in turning it into cool-looking clothing that doesn't look like I made it from stash.

Not everything is in odd balls. Some yarn I have enough of to make a solid-colour sweater. Other yarn I have enough of to be a main colour with contrast colours either gathered from the stash or bought new to supplement. I love Sally Melville's adage that, "It takes a little cash to use up a whole lot of stash!".

To that end, I'm currently crocheting a wool cardigan from Teva Durham's Loop-d-loop Crochet book (the one I'm making is the one with the Irish crochet medallions on the front). The main colour is stash; I bought the contrasting colours. It's all in Mission Falls wool, so it all goes together nicely. I'll post photos here when enough of it is done.

It's also a good time to recycle ideas I had for things that didn't work out in previous stash-reduction exercises. A couple of years ago I tried making a woven-look tailored jacket out of the Golden Hands/Creative Hands set I have from the early 1970s, and while the fabric looked great, it became rather obvious I was going to run out of yarn. Now I've discovered other yarn, in a different colour and in greater quantity, and I'm thinking it's time to resurrect that idea.

Plus, the opportunity to try the really "grand" projects that would be prohibitively expensive to buy as a single project, like those wonderful knee-length Kaffe Fassett coats. Sure, you're supposed to make them out of luxurious Rowan and other yarns, but even acrylic starts to look nice when you combine enough colours.

As scary as the yarn packing is going to be, this could be a lot of fun. If only I had time to both knit and pack....