Stashbuster

Guess what! It’s another 12-point star blanket! In These Uncertain Times ™ I hope that my crochet habits are a small touchstone of predictability for all of you.

Not much to say about this one, except that I took it on with the sole goal of finishing this skein of yarn. I’m not crazy about pastels, I don’t really like variegated yarn, it was a huge pain the last time I crocheted with it… but I feel guilty throwing useful things out, and it was too snarled to give away in good conscience, so “use it up” was the remaining choice. And so I did. And it was annoying. And now it is done.

This baby blanket is destined for the church donation stash, where I trust that it will end up with someone who does like pastels, and for whom it won’t matter whether the yarn was nice to work with so long as it is soft and warm. Which, as a matter of fact, it is.

The honeycomb blanket (free pattern)

This blanket made it safely through the mail to its recipient, so I can finally blog about it!

Dear friends of ours are expecting their third child very soon, and since the sex is a surprise I thought a nice neutral like yellow would work well. This is Lion Brand Scarfie yarn in the colourway “cream/mustard” which reminded me very strongly of bees and honey — and so the honeycomb blanket was born! I’d never used Scarfie before, but it’s a delightful wool-acrylic blend, warm and very soft, that I would be happy to crochet with again.

The construction of this blanket is relatively simple. If you can crochet a granny square, you can crochet a granny hexagon, as the principle is exactly the same. Once you have the basic pattern down it’s easy to just keep repeating until you’ve achieved the desired size. In this case, I used almost four skeins of yarn for a toddler-sized blanket.

Start with a magic circle (or if you’re rather not punish yourself, ch 4 and sl st to join).

Chain 3 to serve as your first dc, 1 dc — this is your first granny cluster (six sides requires only 2 dcs per cluster as opposed to the regular 3). Ch 1, and repeat until you have 6 clusters joined with a chain stitch in between each. Slip stitch to close the round and move over to a chain space.

Ch 3 to serve as your first dc, 1 dc, ch 1, 2 dc — this is the first corner cluster of your second round. Repeat pattern in each chain space around; you will have 12 dc granny clusters, with a chain space in between every second cluster. The chain spaces will be the corners of your hexagon (although it can be a little hard to discern them in the early rows this will become very obvious soon). Slip stitch to close the round and move over to a chain space (corner).

Repeat the general cluster pattern, doing two clusters joined with a chain in each corner of the previous rounds, and a single cluster in between each non-corner cluster. Go until your hexagon is as big as you want it, then sc around for a nice finish.

Happy crocheting!

Signal boost: this one’s for the folk lovers

You know those people you meet and instantly you know they’re a kindred spirit? That’s how it was with my friend Jill. Although we only got two years or so of in-person friendship time before I moved away, we’ve kept in touch through the intervening years and all the changes they have brought.

Jill is a gifted singer-songwriter, currently based in Arnprior, Ontario. Recently she guest hosted an episode of Canadian Spaces on CKCU, highlighting a number of Ottawa-area folk singers, interviewing and being interviewed, and playing two of her original songs. The whole program is worthwhile, but of course I want to particularly highlight Jill’s interview and singing, which start at around the 42-minute mark. Listen here!

Mid-season garden notes

Veggies:

  • Tomatoes: doing excellently. We planted two varieties of cherry tomato — one red and one golden — and they’ve been producing beautifully.
  • Cucumbers: two plants, ditto. We’re getting some big boys off of these vines; these make about ten full-size cukes so far, and there are more to come. Next year we will need to stake them properly.
  • Radishes: the radishes also did very well and it was fun to grow them from seed. However, I am the only one in the house who really eats them, and I can’t eat that many radishes. We’ll skip these next year.
  • Spinach: these seeds didn’t take; we only got the one plant and its leaves stayed quite small, so we didn’t get to harvest before it bolted. I’m not sure if we’ll try again next year or not.
  • Broccoli: we have two plants and I kept waiting for them to get bigger before harvesting, but like the spinach they just bolted. I’ve left these in the garden anyway, for the pollinators.
  • Brussels sprouts: what a big plant! We’ve got lots of little nubbins on the stem that will eventually become sprouts; so far, so good on this one. Something has been eating the leaves but it doesn’t seem fussed.
  • Garlic: I planted three bulbs in a large pot rather later in the spring than I should have. For a long time all the pot sprouted was various tiny mushrooms (it has been a very wet summer) but last week some definite garlic leaves surfaced. I’m curious to see what kind of a bulb we’ll get.

Fruit:

  • Strawberries: we have just one strawberry plant, but it is now starting to produce a second crop. We lost most of the first one to the birds before putting up netting, but there are lots of little green strawberries developing now and I’m looking forward to eating them! Next year I want to have an entire raised bed just for strawberry plants.
  • Blueberries: we’ve got a small blueberry bush in a large pot, and it’s doing pretty well. Earlier in the spring its leaves started turning red on the edges, but I added some coffee grounds to the soil and that perked it right back up. The blueberries have been ripening for what feels like six hundred years and they’re still green. Evidently we picked a late-ripening variety. I’ll be sure to make a note of when they’re actually ready to eat so that less of next summer will be spent on tenterhooks.
  • Figs: Figs! FIGS! We planted the Chicago Hardy variety, which should survive our winters with minimal insulating, and it’s been growing like gangbusters. I’ve been fertilizing it about every 2-3 weeks with an 18-18-18 mix (the Miracle-Gro tub with the tomatoes on the front) and it’s put on a lot of height and foliage. And now the first little wee figlets are starting to grow — just a few millimeters in diameter but definitely there. Note to self: purchase organza bags to avoid sharing these with the birds as well.

Ornamentals:

  • Back: our back flower beds are still very overgrown on the whole, but we’ve made good progress as far as the random tulips and daffodils growing out of the lawn. One more season, maybe two, and I think we’ll have gotten them all. My husband took out a number of bushes on the one side that were not doing well, and we replaced them with two flowering bushes native to our area. I seeded microclover throughout the lawn last fall and we have a few good-sizwd patches. Other than that, we’re just continuing to thin things out, which is easier now that we know where all the perennials are.
  • Front: there are two small circular beds in the front lawn that had pretty annuals in them when we bought the house, and nothing last year. This year we put in some native perennials, like foxglove, which have taken well (except for one tall plant that leans badly after having had a branch dropped on it during tree trimming). In the beds immediately in front of the house, I replaced/repaired some hardscaping and we discovered that plants grow better if you water them (surprise). There are a few patches still with not much going on; the dahlias I planted were enthusiastically ripped out by a nameless party who thought they were weeds. I am considering wild roses for next year.

And that’s how things are going! It is so lovely to have these green and growing spaces to work and enjoy, amateur as our efforts certainly are. Next year we hope to add at least one more raised bed, and probably two, and my husband also plans to build proper frames over them for netting (this year we wholly improvised with large branches from the bushes we ripped out and netting left in the basement by the previous owner). It’s been a great experience getting our feet wet this year and I’m really looking forward to further garden adventures!

Mixed media

I followed some links this morning to an interesting newsletter post (is that what we’re calling them?) by Lincoln Michel, entitled “Maybe It’s Time to Admit People Just Like Books?“. I’m old enough to remember most of the struggles between physical and digital media, from the rise of Napster to the advent of Netflix and other streaming services. Paper versus electronic books is just another facet of the broader technological skirmishes that the internet age as necessitated. But, as Michel points out, there’s something different about this one:

As recently as 2015 or so, the common wisdom was that physical books were going the way of the VHS tape or CD. Sure, there would always be “snobs” who held onto physical media. But the market would be dominated by digital books in the same way that music, movies, and TV shows have moved almost entirely to streaming. There was no advantages to books except “nostalgia” and “fetish,” the thinking went, and the digital savvy youth would put an end to the outdated physical book. When publishers fought with Amazon to keep ebook prices close to print prices, the online commentariat mocked them for their backwards thinking that was going to doom the industry.

And yet here we are in 2021, fourteen years after the Kindle was first released and many years into an age when music, TV, film, and other media are almost entirely digital. Yet print books are not only strong, they still dominate the market. This is at the same time that pitiful music streaming payouts are crushing the music industry and digital magazines, constantly wrecked by changes in social media algorithms, are perpetually closing and laying off workers.

Maybe, he posits, there’s just something to physical books — something that still appeals, despite the convenience of ebooks, and appeals to a far wider audience than literary snobs, luddites, and fuddy-duddies. The physicality of a paper book is integral to the experience of reading it: the feel of the pages, the weight of it in your hands, perhaps the smell, the dog-eared pages and scribbled marginalia. Among my favourite books, I also have favourite editions. I like Pride and Prejudice the best in the pocket-sized hardback Oxford World’s Classics edition. When I reread The Lord of the Rings, it makes a difference whether I read the movie-tie-in set of three mass-market paperbacks, or the hefty red thousand-pager with its miniscule type and narrow margins.

I think that there is also something about physical books that is fundamentally invitational. Any library, no matter how small, no matter its setting, invites you to browse, to run your fingers along the spines of its collection, to stop and flip through something that caches your eye. A book read in public can spark a knowing glance or a conversation. The colorful pages of board books and picture books invite our children into the mysteries of reading itself — the magical insight that these squiggles and dots carry meaning, a meaning that is always the same but will also tell us different things as we grow and change. The paper itself invites us to read with a pen in hand, joining in conversation with the author, with previous readers, and even with our past selves.

If there are sides to pick here, I’ve always been on the side of physical books. That is probably obvious. But what’s surprised me over the course of the pandemic, as my reading habits have swung wildly between poles, is how much I’ve come to rely on ebooks. And — depending on the day you ask me — they might even be what I prefer.

Is that weird? It feels weird to me, since I’ve been in the paper camp for so long, appreciating ebooks the ease of toting them around on vacations but not much else. A lot of what makes physical books so experiential is entirely missing from the ebook reading experience; no matter what I’m reading, on my phone it’s going to look about the same as anything else. But even with these differences, ebooks have come to fill an important niche in my reading.

During the covid-19 pandemic, especially in the first half of 2020, both what and how I read changed dramatically. There were times I found myself in a sort of paralysis when reading was simply impossible. I’ve sent dozens of books back to the library unread over the past year and change. When I could read, I took a hard bend toward fiction, particularly of the escapist varities: fantasy, science fiction, romance. But what I found was that during those times when picking up and holding a book was somehow too much (in a year that had more than its fair share of too much), ebooks had an approachability that I needed. They felt low-stakes. Checking out and returning them takes three seconds and a few thumb presses. And at least in my library system, the electronic versions of popular books often have far fewer holds on them than their physical counterparts, or sometimes none at all. When I was reading through Louise Penny’s back catalogue last summer, I read about half of her Inspector Gamache novels on my phone, where they were nearly always immediately available. Perhaps most importantly on a personal level, I can read a book on my phone in an otherwise dark room as I wait for my daughters to fall asleep. Over the past year+ ebooks have been, for me, a bit of a lifesaver. I’m still reading physical books, but the ratios are a lot closer to even than they’ve ever been.

Many people have speculated over the years that books, like other physical media, will eventually be relegated to the realm of niche collectors’ items. Lincoln Michel argues that the reverse may in fact be true. While Boomers embraced ebooks enthusiastically, Gen Z is not so interested:

…the gen z “digital natives” that were supposed to ensure ebook supremacy are actually the least interested in ebooks. They get plenty of screen time as it is between movies, TikTok, and video games. When it comes time to read a book, they’re ready for a break. (It’s actually aging boomers who are the most attached to ebooks, making one wonder if it won’t be ebooks going the way of the dinosaur soon…)

Here in the messy Millennial middle, I’m not so sure that either of them is going anywhere. I can finally appreciate the distinct advantages that each form brings to the table, and if they maintain their current market equilibrium, then all the better for all of us.

Can’t stop, won’t stop

… making 12-pointed star blankets, that is. I think I’ve found my default pattern. Someone’s having a baby? Star blanket! Need something warm for winter? Star blanket! Just feel like crocheting something with no occasion or recipient in mind? It’s star blankets all the way down, baby.

As it happens, this particular star blanket does have a recipient. It’s for my husband — partially because his office is freezing, and partially because I realised I had made blankets for all the children but nothing for him. Actually I don’t think I’ve crocheted him anything since we were engaged (sorry, honey). But I hope this lovely, cozy, squishy blanket will make up for that deficit.

[Edit: not true; I made him a tea cosy. Thanks, Mom.]

The yarn I used for this is Fanatic Lux by Feza Yarns in their colourway #8. It’s an acrylic-wool-nylon blend which is soft and warm. It’s also a chainette yarn, which was something new to me. Instead of being plied in the usual way, chainette is machine knitted into a thin hollow tube — like a shoelace. Even though this yarn should be at least bulky weight by width/thickness, the hollow core means that it’s deceptively lightweight.

Fanatic Lux is discontinued, but I bought five skeins from someone on reddit, originally intending them for a cardigan. I used the entirety of four and most of the fifth, working with a K hook. It was a real pleasure to work with.

Of course, just because it’s for my husband doesn’t mean that he’ll get to use it…

Women’s work

A few months ago I read a fascinating book, Elizabeth Wayland Barber’s Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times (that’s right, it’s rigorous enough to need two subtitles!). She traces the history of textile production — perhaps the quintessential women’s work — from the Paleolithic through to the end of the Iron Age, drawing on archaeological evidence as well as written records and even artwork. It’s well worth a read if you have any interest in spinning, sewing, weaving, or their related arts and crafts… or in how to tease out historical accounts from activities like these that are often very marginal to official records, for that matter. It’s a dense read, but an excellent one.

Something that really jumped out at me, however, comes from the introductory chapter, where Wayland Barber asks what it is about these activities that makes them traditionally “women’s work”? She quotes from Judith Brown’s 1969 article, “A Note on the Division of Labor by Sex” in her explanation:

Twenty years ago Judith Brown wrote a little five-page “Note on the Division of Labor by Sex” that holds a simple key to these questions. She was interested in how much women contributed to obtaining the food for a preindustrial community. But in answering that question, she came upon a model of much wider applicability. She found that the issue of whether or not the community relies upon women as the chief providers of a given type of labor depends upon “the compatibility of this pursuit with the demands of child care.” If only because of the exigencies of breast feeding (which until recently was typically continued for two or three years per child), “nowhere in the world is the rearing of children primarily the responsibility of men….” Thus, if the productive labor of women is not to be lost to the society during the childbearing years, the jobs regularly assigned to women must be carefully chosen to be “compatible with simultaneous child watching.” From empirical observation Brown gleans that “such activities have the following characteristics: they do not require rapt concentration and are relatively dull and repetitive; they are easily interruptable and easily resumed once interrupted; they do not place the child in potential danger; and they do not require the participant to range very far from home.

Just such are the crafts of spinning, weaving, and sewing: repetitive, easy to pick up at any point, reasonably child-safe, and easily done at home. (Contrast the idea of swinging a pick in a dark, cramped, and dusty mine shaft with a baby on one’s back or being interrupted by a child’s crisis while trying to pour molten metal into a set of molds.) The only other occupation that fits the criteria even half so well is that of preparing the daily food. Food and clothing: These are what societies worldwide have come to see as the core of women’s work (although other tasks may be added to the load, depending on the circumstances of the particular society).

Readers of this book live in a different world. The Industrial Revolution has moved basic textile work out of the home and into large (inherently dangerous) factories; we buy our clothing ready-made. It is a rare person in our cities who has ever spun thread or woven cloth, although a quick look into a fabric store will show that many women still sew. As a result, most of us are unaware of how time-consuming the task of making the cloth for a family used to be.

Elizabeth Wayland Barber, Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times, pp. 29-30

This jumped out at me because it makes an intuitive sense, and accurately reflects my own stage of life. Women bear and birth children; until very recently on the scale of human existence, only women could feed the youngest members of the species. Women have not traditionally been the cooks and gardeners and sewists and spinners because of an inherent aptitude for that work or an inability to perform other tasks, but because of the biological realities and demands of mothering.

Everything I do at home is mediated by those same concerns and responsibilities. I have three children under seven, one of whom is still nursing; all of my daily tasks have to be fit into the day around breastfeeding, diaper changes, naps, home schooling, squabble mediating, disciplining, reading and playing, and of course the constant, unending cycle of making food, serving food, and cleaning up after having food. I spend 14-18 hours a week putting children to bed. My cumulative breastfeeding time is now up to 4.5 years (and counting!). And so it makes sense that my hobbies are things that fit around these things: reading, writing, sewing, embroidery, crochet. They’re the kind of thing that I can pick up and put down as needed, that can be left on top of the piano for a week before being picked up again, that don’t take more thought or attention than I can easily spare.

And they’re slow. Handiwork takes time: even a small baby blanket can easily take a dozen hours or more to crochet, depending on the yarn weight and pattern. It takes many evenings of work to finish a piece. I don’t mind, really. The time it takes to make something sends its own message to the recipient: that I value them enough to spend my time in order that they would be warm, or that their clothes would be mended, or that their house would be beautiful. And while I’m very glad that I don’t have to make all of our family’s clothes by hand, or spin my own thread and yarn before I can use them, I love being able to feel myself a part of this great historical chain of women working with our hands to make, mend, and care. Women’s work is good work; here’s to twenty thousand more years.

Emotional states for which the English language has no precise word

The mix of admiration, curiosity, and chagrin when you google your flunk-out elementary school bully and find that he now owns a law practice and is heralded for his professionalism and gentlemanly conduct;

The surprising burst of tenderness when you unexpectedly come across a photo of the aging parents of a former friend you haven’t seen in twenty years;

The ineffable consciousness of future loss triggered by the body heat left behind in your toddler’s doffed sandals;

Realizing that the entire purpose of a cat is simply to be a cat.

Third time’s the charm

Another baby, another 12-point star blanket. This is such an easy project to work up, simple to memorize, and I love the way it looks when finished. I’ve previously made this pattern (two ways) with Red Heart It’s a Wrap Rainbow in “foggy” (Levi’s blanket, Sami’s blanket); this blanket is for Mayah, an old friend’s baby girl, and since the package finally made it to her I can blog about it now!

This also uses Red Heart It’s a Wrap, but in their “Sprinkles” line rather than Rainbow. As you can see, Sprinkles is an apt name for it! All those lovely long colour changes are still present, but one of the four strands is variegated, which breaks it up visually and disguises the change-points somewhat. This colourway is called “sundae” and I got it from YarnCanada.ca (that’s not a referral link; they’re just my go-to).

As usual, this blocked up nicely. This is in my tiny little basement craft room, and it’s got almost the last bits of carpet left in our house — which I suppose I can’t get rid of or I’ll have nowhere to dry large projects!

And now that this is finished — both blanket and post — I’m going to take a drink and a book outside and enjoy the sunshine in our backyard. Happy Sunday!

One day this quilt will be all patches

Almost exactly two years ago, I posted about mending our wedding quilt, which I chose to do by employing visible mending. I love the philosophy of making repairs visible; they become part of the item’s story, a testament to the love and care we (hopefully) take with our things. Since that post I have put on a few more patches, using different colours and patterns of fabric from my scrap bin. The process for these is exactly the same: iron, cut, press seams, hoop, stitch, fini. I put on a large block patch over a long rent in the border, and a series of smaller ones that fold over some tattering edges.

Well, the quilt has continued to wear, as these things are wont to do, and it was recently time for another round of repairs. There was one hole I found in the centre of the quilt, but the borders showed a lot more damage. (Which makes perfect sense as those are the parts that get yanked on while making the bed or adjusting the covers during sleep.) And since I was a bit bored of patches, I decided to see what I could do with embroidery. Here is satin stitch covering the tear in the middle:

Another example of satin stitch on the border, as well as some… star shapes? We’ll go with that.

For this long rent, I decided to do a backstitch outline/border around the tears, and fill it in with running stitch. I like the effect of not patching this and letting the batting show through. Time will tell if the running stitches are enough to hold it in place, but I think they’ll do fine.

I did a few small sections (only one pictured) in a loose cross-stitch:

And finally, the part that took the longest: a blobby, backstitched spiral around and onto another large tear. It reinforces the fabric around the tear as well as being decorative.

All of this took me several good evenings of work after the children were in bed. It reminded me how much I enjoy hand sewing, and especially embroidery — which, prior to these repairs, I hadn’t done for probably a good fifteen years. But I’ve got the itch again; I’ve sent off for an embroidery kit, and I’m working on adding some embroidered embellishments to a heretofore rather plain tshirt. That will be revealed when it’s finished — well, at least if it turns out!