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!

Going Home for Christmas / Going South

Once upon a time, I lived in a city that was a few hours north-east of my hometown. At the time I didn’t have a car (or a driver’s license, for that matter) so visiting my parents usually meant a long Greyhound trip. Sometimes, though, the train tickets went on a big enough sale that I could mentally justify the expense of the much pleasanter rail trip. I loved taking the train — still do, really.

One of the funny things about traveling between these two cities was that winter arrived in them at different times. About a decade ago I took the train home for Christmas, and while it was thoroughly cold and snowy in the city where I lived, it was really still just late fall where I was going. It was so odd to see the scenery change from winter to fall, as if a time-lapse film were playing in reverse.

Naturally, I wrote a poem about the experience. It has just been published by The Scriblerus in their Spring 2021 “travel” issue and you can read it here.

Small spring updates

Garden

The tulips are out.

Kitchen

I made lasagna today for the first time, and so the kids and I also made homemade ricotta following this recipe from America’s Test Kitchen. Dead easy, delicious, and about half the price of a tub from the store. We’ll be doing this again.

Gelatine adventures continue. I’ve been doing teas! Vanilla Rooibos is delicious in jelly form, Jasmine Green Tea a little pretty so-so. I’m thinking my next experiment will be cubed jellied Earl Grey with a sweetened condensed milk pour-over. Also I’m saving bones in the freezer to try my hand at p’tcha. More foods should have names that fun to say. P’tcha!

Words

My poem “Seclusion (A Checklist)” has been published by Jet Fuel Review (issue 21) and can be read online here. It’s part of this issue’s special section featuring golden shovel poems — a relatively new poetic form that is technically challenging and used to pay tribute to another poem or poet. The poet chooses a line by another writer, and each word of the origi line becomes the last word of each line in the new poem — such that the original line may be read down the right-hand side. Confused? I always find it a bit difficult to explain but seeing an example will make it fairly obvious.

In my case, I used a line by Christabel LaMotte, a poet who does not, technically speaking, exist; she’s a character in A. S. Byatt’s remarkable novel Possession (about which I have written here, and which also makes my list of desert island books). I was struck by the line “to drag a long life out in a dark room” in one of LaMotte’s/Byatt’s poems, and — well, click the link above if you would like to see where that took me!

Anniversary bake and jelly cake

No, not our wedding anniversary, although we did have one relatively recently. I mean this little lady’s anniversary:

My good girl Sheryl has been hanging out for a year now. She lives in the cold and the dark and puts up with gross neglect for weeks on end. Yet for all that, she still makes some lovely loaves! My kitchen is cold and so they never end up as lofty as other peoples’ seem to, but they’re chewy and tangy nonetheless. Way to go, Sheryl.

Just look at that blistered crust. I have to say, I think that sourdough starters are a lot more flexible and resilient than a lot of people seem to think. The internet is awash with all sorts of finicky methods (usually named after somebody) that involve very precise times and temperatures and adjusting the amount of water in relation to the humidity of the air, as well as (I assume) performing certain obscure incantations and using flour that was ground in the light of the full moon.

I do pay attention to my measurements — a kitchen scale is a handy tool for this sort of thing — but other than that? I figure that people have been making sourdough for thousands of years. This is something you would carry around in a crock while you followed your goat herd and then baked over hot rocks. It’s a yeast colony. It will survive.

In other culinary news, I’ve been (somewhat inexplicably) really getting into gelatine lately. Why? It’s hard to say. I’ve always loved jell-o (especially with a little dab of fake whipped cream on top, like we always had at summer camp). And when I made panna cotta in the kids’ breakfast milk cups for April Fools, I realised how easy it actually is and a whole world opened up.

Anyway, here’s a jelly cake:

The top layer is orange jell-o with shredded carrot inside (something I remember having at potlucks long, long ago) and the bottom layer is a milk gelatin made with sweetened condensed milk. I don’t actually have any proper molds so this was made in a lightly greased bread pan, which worked well except for being slightly too long for the plate once decanted.

As you can see from that “bloom” of milk jelly in the middle, the orange layer wasn’t quite set enough when I poured in the second, and there was a little intermingling. No matter; I count this very successful as a first attempt and look forward to more experimentation. Nobody here likes jellies as much as I do, so I’ll probably be eating most of those experiments alone.

I am 100% ok with this.

Maryland Summer

Toddler Perpetua in Ocean City, MD.

Our family lived in Maryland for almost three years, in a walk-up apartment with a South-West facing balcony. I loved to sit out there in the long summer evenings: our complex was surrounded by trees, which were perfectly silhouetted by the changing colours of the sunset. They would slowly shade to black as the sky became a deeper and deeper blue, until finally the first stars came out. Behind the nearby sound barrier, the cars on I-83 sounded like waves on the beach.

I’m very pleased to announce that my piece “Maryland Summer: Three Small Evening Poems” has just been published in the second issue of Humana Obscura.

You can read the entire issue online here, or purchase a print copy here. You’ll find me on page 19.