It is autumn in Portland already, and the trees that line our daily drive to work and back have started deepening into yellows, oranges and reds. We’ve unpacked and settled into the routine of life in the Pacific Northwest. Our time in the Southwest feels far away and long ago.
I began this shawl, designed by Anne Podlesak of Wooly Wonka Fiber, just as we headed off on our three-week road trip home, and it’s become the link that connects our present in Oregon to our past in Texas. I will always think of theses colors as inseparable from the landscape of the Southwest and the places that we visited on our way back.
Sometimes we rely on images to preserve special moments. Sometimes we preserve memories in other forms.
In preparation for our move back to Portland, I felt compelled to spin as much fiber as I could. You know, uh, cuz fiber is so heavy.
I didn’t ply my singles, however, because I wanted to let the singles relax a bit before plying them together. So when we got home, I found myself plying like a madwoman. We haven’t completely unpacked yet so I don’t have all my notes on these recent spins. Oh well.
Nest Fiber Club, “Primavera” in superwash merino. Chain-plied.
This is Hello Yarn’s “Slither” in BFL/silk. This was spun fractally and loosely plied.
This is from A Verb for Keeping Warm in “Octotillo.” One piece was superfine merino, and the other was 80% merino/20% silk. We stopped off at this store in Oakland on our way home. Most of it is a two-ply, and the grapey purple is the leftover, which I then chain-plied. More details about our visit to this awesome store later.
Little A, how did this happen? How did you grow up so quickly before my very eyes? Did I not pay attention carefully enough? How did I let the busy routine of life distract me from seeing what a big girl you’ve become? This past weekend, we celebrated Little A’s sixth birthday with some good friends whose son, Little J, was born just one day earlier. They have known each other all their lives, and with the exception of last August when we were in San Antonio, they have also celebrated every birthday together. We stayed in a cabin in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, about an hour and half from Portland in Washington. The cabin, nestled in a lush old growth forest, was once a guard station. There was no electricity and no running water, but no one seemed to notice. On the morning of Little A’s birthday, we went for a walk to a nearby waterfall. Little J’s sister, Little N, worked hard to keep up with the big kids. It took us about two hours to get to the waterfall, a 1.7 mile hike. There were some whining and grumbling along the way, but also shouts of awe and glee as we came upon gigantic slugs and beetles. This trip was not just a reunion but also a homecoming, a return to the landscape and a rhythm of life I missed. I know that this was not the kind of birthday celebration she had become accustomed to attending, as the parties in San Antonio had a lot of bells and whistles and often involved glitter, make overs and party favors. I hope that when Little A thinks back to her sixth birthday, she will remember it as the day she walked through tall and ancient trees to a waterfall, sat on a rock, and enjoyed snacks with her best friends as they took in the marvel around them. Postscript, written by Little A: she carried little n and when little n was crying little a would comfort her little j and little a would play with little n when she was sad
On the last day we were in San Antonio, after the movers had taken our furniture and boxes, after we scrubbed the apartment clean and loaded up our car, we went out to the little square that anchors the Pearl Brewery, where we spent the last 13 months, and took one last photo of ourselves outside our favorite cafe, Local Coffee.
So much distance and time to cover between this photo and the present. I may or may not try.
Guess what arrived in the mail?!
These skeins from Wooly Wonka Fibers are even more gorgeous in person. This is Ceridwen Sock yarn in 100% superwash merino. The larger skein is “Bitterroot” and the smaller ones are from the Transitional Skein Set in “Autumnal.” There is a total of 400 yards in each of these sets, the same as the larger skein and enough for a pair of socks.
I’m going to be knitting a sample Stratocaster Shawl designed by Anne Podlesak of Wooly Wonka, and I couldn’t be more excited. The shawl is half-circular and half-hexagon, and the alternating stripes of garter stitch and stockinette bands will really let this color combination shine. I especially like these beautiful fall colors as they are reminiscent of the sunburst color of the vintage stratocasters.
I admit that this a broad generalization, but so many knitters I know or meet online are incredibly well-read. For some, an audiobook, a knitting project and a cosy chair is nothing short of bliss. But besides my anecdotal observations on the reading habits of knitters, many of our metaphors about storytelling come from the world of fiber arts, reflecting our collective desire for a good yarn.
But what about a more literal translation, in which the craft of writing draws more directly from the world of knitters and spinners? In other words, what might writers learn from knitters and spinners? As I struggle with my own writing these days, I’ve decided to take a page from the community of knitters and spinners and remind myself of the following:
- First and foremost, most knitters I know have multiple WIP (works-in-progress). But, seldom are these projects the same kind. That is, they are not all socks or intricate shawls. You have different kinds of projects for different scenarios. You may have a quick knit that you can do in an evening. You may have a knit that satisfies your desire for focused concentration or challenges you with its complicated lace patterns. Then there is the project that is rather repetititive and boring but results in elegant simplicity. All these projects have their roles and places. If I can knit multiple things at one, why am I wedded to the idea that I can only be focused on one writing project at a time? Surely there is a place in one’s writing basket for writing that is like a swatch, a short ten-minute writing exercise written down by hand as well as the kind of dense difficult writing that, like a shawl, requires a flow chart.
- Experimenting with a variety of fiber and tools enables one to learn about the range of their effects. There is a visceral difference between knitting with the warm smoothness of bamboo circulars and knitting with the slick clicks of metal needles. Pairing different kinds of needles with different kinds of fiber not only produces different knitting experiences but also different kinds of knits. So then, why do I only write at the computer, where the plastic keys bounce back with dutiful enthusiasm beneath my fingers? I need to branch out. What kind of sentences emerge when I swirl ink with a hefty fountain pen on thick milky pages of handmade paper? And how is that different from writing with a stubby marker on a yellow lined legal pad?
- Being a good writer means being a good reader. The more I knit, the more I realize that I’m learning to understand another language, another code that allows me to translate either charts or abbreviations like k2tog into something 3-D. That you can then wear! (This point totally blows my simple mind.) And the more conversant I become in reading this other language, the more fluent my fingers and hands. Learning to read a pattern and understanding the architecture of a sweater–how it is constructed from the ground up–has made me a better reader of literature. I’m more aware of a story’s architecture and how its technical elements work together.
- Writers should get together and write. What makes knitting fun is sharing our work, being a part of a knit-a-long or asking each other for tips and advice. Writing can be very isolating, and I think that there should be more WALs (write-alongs) in which you are in a room and write with others. Recently, I’ve been sharing my work with S, and we check in with each other weekly about our progress and offer feedback on each other’s work. S occupies a special place in my heart because 14 years ago she and I spent a wonderfully productive summer writing together in a windowless room in the caverns of the university library. We were immersed in ideas, each writing to the soundtrack of the other’s tapping keyboard.
- Spinning is about letting go and giving in to imperfection. Or maybe it’s about abandoning the idea of perfection and imperfection altogether. I’m such a critical writer, the kind of person who goes over and over a sentence fragment before moving onto the next. Such perfectionism is debilitating. With spinning, the goal is not to produce commercially spun evenness–but to create energy through twist. And finding that balance between generating enough twist in the yarn and then letting it go is a lesson that all writers could benefit from. Hold on too tightly or for too long and you end up with twine, not yarn.
- When I hit a writing block, I spin.
Recently, our apartment complex organized one of those drinking and painting parties that have become so popular.
V thought it would be fun to do it and signed us up. However, being totally clueless about what it entailed, we only signed up for one easel between the three of us. It worked out in the end as we realized it was best if we divided up the fun.
Little A was the designated painter.
Dad did the drinking.
Mom volunteered to do the eating. Little A is not sure about this division of labor.
The result of our collective effort.
Little A and her fellow Pinot’s Palette painters.