Sunday, January 31, 2010

Perhaps I've been going about it all wrong

The difficulties of hacking through the Gordian knot I've made of knitting and politics have been weighing on me; I've made little progress in terms of figuring out what I might like to make for the art show. It's the same crippling thought that has bogged up much of my creative writing for the last few years: everything I think of always seems so hopelessly derivative.

Then Karie passed on a link that has made me see that perhps the problem is not with me, but the way in which I am considering art as resistance and knitting as politics. Anna, of Knitting, Sex and God, writes:
What I have enjoyed about the 100 Objects series so far is that it is collapsing distinctions between ‘art’, ‘craft’, ‘tools’, ‘technology’, etc. The only criterion is that each object is an artefact – made by human beings. The semantic awkwardness there is significant – the words that easily slip in the structure of our language are ‘man-made’ – made by men, or with men representative of the whole of humanity. The whole traditional men/women, culture/nature division is particularly significant as regards ‘thingyness’, because men ‘make’ and women ‘generate’, men invent things and make decisions and get them done, whereas women give birth. Or the things that women make traditionally – textiles, food, domestic items – aren’t as valued as those of men: they are craft, not art; tools, not technology.

Feminism hasn’t always done as well as it might in trying to redress the neglect of ‘women’s things’: having diagnosed the culture/nature dualism, it has often wanted to choose one side of the divide rather than to dissolve it. So you have a disembodiedly intellectual kind of feminism that is dismissive of activities such as cooking or embroidery, versus the spiritual feminism saturated in the imagery of the natural, untouched by the social – moon, sea, soil, etc, speaking of ‘technology’ as the evil tool of patriarchy that has subjugated women and the earth. Or feminist reclamation of traditional female crafts has tended to romanticise them as being closer to the natural and part of women’s birth-giving capacities, rather than part of the general human project of negotiating the world through tools and objects that are useful and beautiful.

There's quite a lot going on there. To start with, Anna brings up the word "man-made" as significant; I would also add that the objects women produced are more often referred to as being "handmade," which is a term loaded with solipsisms, conjuring up images of macaroni picture frames and pinecone bird feeders on one hand, or expensive, "Fair Trade" wooden bowls carved in a Third World county on the other. Anna goes on to talk about the divide between intellectual vs. spiritual feminism, which in some ways reinforces this solipsism.

I think that I need to stop thinking about knitting as resistance in terms of capital P Politics, and start thinking about where knitting sits in terms of the politics of feminism, and in what ways my position as a [third wave] feminist and knitter resists, subverts, conforms, or defies this feminism.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

alpacas uber alles

Castor Rouge has given me some food for thought in response to my last post about political knitting. (I will point out, though, that he likes my February Lady Sweater because of the buttons, which are Tudor Roses, and that he recognized them right away.)

I managed to sneak home this weekend, and it wound up being a very nice weekend. I had a nice long soak in my parents' bathtub, ate ridiculous amounts of sushi, and spent time knitting and talking with a good friend. I made good progress on a very sweet baby sweater, which I will hopefully finish before wee Abigail Autumn makes her way into the world.

On Friday, I was sitting on the couch and knitting, and my dad said to me, "Of all my daughters, you are not the one I would've thought to be the knitter." This was quite surprising to me. "Which of us did you think it would be?" I asked. "I'm not sure," he replied. "Just not you. But you really love it, don't you? You get it from your grandmother, though. Your great-grandmother too."

My dad's mother passed away when I was fourteen after a long battle with a number of illness, although I believe it came down to Hepatitis C and cirrhosis in the end. She taught me to knit years before that, and after making a few little things, I forgot all about it until I started working at The Historic Site Which Shall Not Be Named. It makes me very sad that she will never know how grateful I am for those early lessons, or see any of the things that I have made. I can still remember the first square I knit, in white yarn (probably acrylic), and how disappointed I was that it didn't look like "real" knitting. (It was garter stitch, and I thought it would or should look like stockinette.)

Part of the impetus to knit, for me, is that connection to the past. How does that connect to the politics of knitting? I'm not sure. I have a few more thoughts, but they will have to wait until tomorrow.

Monday, January 18, 2010

art as resistance

Every year for International Women's Week, one of the local galleries does a juried art show, usually inconjunction with the Gender Equality and Social Justice department here at the university. This year's theme is Art of Resistance, and I would really like to submit a knitted piece. Unfortunately, I just don't know what to submit.

Many knitters, all much smarter than I, do incredible politically minded projects--Rav had a whole group of "Knitters for Obama" who came up with some mindblowing ideas. The Body Count Mittens have always been a personal favourite of mine; since you finish the mittens on different dates, they will have different numbers on them, representing the number of casualties in the Iraq war. I considered doing Afghanistan mittens, but I don't know that I'd have access to the body count information, and I also don't want to simply re-tread ground others have already walked on. It's hard to justify knitting as a subversive act when you're following a pattern.

Poetry mittens are another option; perhaps with lines from Rich or Atwood? Cixous, even? But that still doesn't feel like it's quite enough.

Part of the problem is that I have very mixed feelings about the relationship between knitting and politics. In some ways, yes, it is very much about resistance: it is an act of reclamation. I reclaim my past (imagined?), participating in the culture of my ancestors. I create things by hand: every item that I make is something unique, something not created by a machine or in a sweatshop. It is labour but also love. I reclaim it as a feminist act: I knit because I choose to knit; I knit primarily for myself. The act of knitting is political because it destabilizes commonly encountered cultural attitudes about knitting and knitters.

The flip side is that it only does these things because of my class; is the reclamation of a working class profession as my upper middle class hobby really all that awesome, or just kind of bourgeois? Knitting isn't truly a matter of necessity for me; it is a luxury, and one I choose to pursue. Does the mere fact of choice problematize any arguments about reclamation?

Even if you want to ignore all of these, there are still the political issues that every knitter must face: body image and body politics; man vs. animal fibre; the environmental costs of plant fibres; neoconservatism (women who see knitting as a reclamation of traditional gender roles and values) vs. progressive liberalism (people who see knitting as an honourable craft); bargain vs. luxury yarns; local yarn stores vs. online stores; stash size as a measure of worth; the DIY esthetic; design and designers; community.

How can I turn all of that into a simple handmade garment?

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The first week back at work was a busy one. The school physically shut down for two weeks, which complicated the return to work; the building was opened only an hour before my first class. It went well enough, though many of the students who failed part I are still somehow registered for part II, so I will have to do some wrangling with the Registrar's Office later this week.

Back in October I mentioned visiting the dermatologist, who wanted me to come back for a biopsy in December. I got the results a few days ago. The mole was pre-cancerous, which officially puts me in every single high risk group for skin cancer. I know that it isn't a big deal, as pre-cancerous is not at all the same as cancerous, but I am going to have to be really careful about staying out of the sun whenever possible, and watching my 300+ moles to make sure that they are not changing at all.

The great Stashdown of 2010 continues on; the wedding shawl is working out very well. The yarn is so soft and lovely. I also cast on a simple pair of handwarmers that I can wear at work, which I am making out of the handspun baby camel yarn that my mum bought for me on the Isle of Skye. I've never knit with handspun before, so it's quite neat that way. The yarn is so special that I want to keep the pattern quite simple, so I'm making up my own and I'm pleased with the way it's working out.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

if she can't find you handsome...

My annual sinus cold has set in, just in time for the start of the school year, when I have to do lots of talking. Huzzah. Fortunately most of my students have had me before, so they know that this is not quite what I sound like or act like; I am hopeful that things will get better soon.

There are currently men in the kitchen doing manly things, which in this instance means "home renos while drinking beer." It's a bit scary. When we bought the house, it came with some appliances, including a very old refrigerator. The fridge lived in its own little alcove in the kitchen. When we replaced the fridge, we quickly discovered that old fridges are in fact quite small by comparison to their modern counterparts, and the new fridge did not fit into the alcove.

Fast forward a year and a half or so, and the men have decided to remove a portion of one wall to enlarge the space for the fridge to fit into. This necessitated power tools, a trip to Home Depot, and beer. Naturally. This is, apparently, how renovations work.

It actually worked out pretty well. The fridge seems quite happy in its new home. The cupboard above the fridge was out tea cupboard, and we had to clean it out so that the men could do their work. Sadly, this brought us to the realization of how much tea we own. (Mat would like to pretend that it is all mine, but frankly, that is a lie. Most of the black teas are mine, but there's a fair amount of green and rooibos that belong to him.) To give you an idea, we nearly filled a large Rubbermaid container with tea. I think it may be time for a tea purge soon enough.

In knitting news, I have begun work on my wedding shawl. The pattern uses an Ostrich lace pattern, which is just beautiful, and I'm knitting it in a local alpaca yarn from the Misty Haven Alpaca farm out in Corbeil. It's so beautiful and soft to work with. I was doing some googling this afternoon and came across a quaich with an inscription reading, "Of Earthly Joys, Thou Art My Choice." I quite like that.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

into the future

It has been a surprising productive weekend around these parts. I finally finished all of my grading from last semester and submitted my final grades. (160 final exams x 30 minutes apiece to grade=80 hours of grading and a very sad grader.)
I cleaned up my craftroom (you can see my work table now! It's made of plastic) and cleaned up my bedroom. I've got laundry in both the washer and dryer. Best of all, there's a turkey in the oven. It's my very first turkey, and I really hope that it comes out okay. It smells pretty good.

I've joined a destashing game on Ravelry for the next few months in hopes of getting some projects done (and not buying more yarn!) I came out of Christmas with a skein of Fleece Artist's Scotian Silk and a skein of Handmaiden's Mini-Maiden, plus some yarn from a Harry Potter Quidditch swap. I am hoping that I will be able to go the next three months without adding any more to my stash (aside from my Three Irish Girls yarn of the month). I finished my first project of the year this morning: a little cozy for Richard Parker, my iPod, with an owl cable on it. Next up is finishing my hooded scarf, and not a moment too soon: it is cold here, and when it isn't cold, it's windchills in the -30s. Brrr.

The university opens back up tomorrow. My schedule this term is pretty good--I have Fridays off, and I finish at 12:30 on Thursdays, so I'm hoping that I will be able to make good use of my time and get some academic and creative work done. It's good to be ambitious.

New Year's was strange this year. The event itself wasn't strange, especially, but it was strange to reflect back on the last ten years of my life. The strangest thing was to think about NYE 2000. I spent it at a friend's house in the country with my high school friends. Of all the people that I saw that night, I talk to one semi-regularly now. So many things about me are so different now from what they were back then--I am very lucky to have had the opportunities and friendships that I have over the last ten years.