Inspiration Everywhere: The Rugs of Chiprovtsi in HAND/EYE

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my favorite of Yulka’s rugs

Last weekend Lorenzo and I went to Chiprovtsi, a little town in the Balkan Mountains famous for its handwoven rugs. The trip happily came just before this piece I wrote about Chiprovtsi carpets was published on HAND/EYE Magazine‘s website.

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back in September, learning how Yulka’s loom works (and wearing my featherweight)

Our first visit was in September, with my in-laws, to see Chiprovtsi’s famous carpets and meet some of the people who still make them. Going back this weekend was a little poetic. Back in September, it was warm and green. Everyone’s red peppers were hung out to dry and the farmers took their goats out to graze every morning. Lorenzo and I weren’t even planning on getting married that year, and I was writing a piece on Chiprovtsi in the hopes that HAND/EYE would publish it. Yulka and Yordanka, the women we met there, were anxiously waiting to hear from UNESCO about whether Chiprovtsi’s carpets had won the intangible heritage award they applied for.

This time, we arrived to a layer of fresh snow. The goats were snuggled in their stables with their new babies, and instead of fresh salad we ate pickles, sausage and potatoes. Chiprovtsi had won its UNESCO status, and we were there to pick out a carpet, handwoven by Yulka, a present from my mother-in-law in honor of our hasty wedding in November.

wintertime goat snuggles
wintertime goat snuggles

You can read more about Chiprovtsi, and see more photos of their beautiful traditional rugs here on HAND/EYE. Here’s our perfect kitty enjoying our new kilim.emiChiprovtsi

Knitting Is a Right, Not a Privilege

my inspiration
my inspiration

An article has been circulating that has fueled a lot of discussion among knitters, entitled “Never Say This To a Knitter. Really, Just Don’t Do It.” What exactly are you never supposed to say to a knitter? You might think it’s a remark about him/her having too much time on their hands, or an ageist joke about who, stereotypically, is “supposed” to knit. It’s neither of those. The author, Anne Miller, argues—and many knitters agree—that the comment she least wants to hear (and does hear, often) is “You should sell your knitting!”

The first thing I noticed is that the article was published by Yahoo! Makers, which is apparently a thing that exists (neat, I guess). The headline is classic clickbait, designed to compel and stir up discussion. But the article’s thesis, that knitters are tired of hearing well-intentioned randos insist that they should commodify their craft, is familiar and resonant. I’ve heard, and felt, the same sentiment many times.

When someone tells me I should sell my handknits, I take that for what it is: a compliment. But sometimes the complimenter persists, and wants to know why I haven’t pursued this brilliant business plan already. This might be someone who, earlier, told me they never spend more than a few dollars on a t-shirt, or that they think $100 is way too much to pay for a pair of jeans. Since textiles have become one of the cheapest commodities on earth, and the people who make our clothing are increasingly denied living wages or safe working conditions, I don’t know where someone would get the idea that making clothes, by hand, is a smart moneymaking venture. That’s when it veers into uncomfortable territory, when I have to explain how much money and time actually goes into a handknit item, and how much such a thing would have to cost in order to bring in even a small profit. When I explain that I do sell patterns for my designs, and that I’m happy to teach anyone to knit who wants to learn and will pay for my time, that’s usually where the conversation ends.

So I very much relate to this piece, as did plenty of people on the WEBS Facebook page, where I first saw the article posted. Most people who comment on my knitting are not interested in having a conversation about their role, and moral responsibility, within the garment supply chain. Knitting, like any textile art, draws you closer to the beginning of that chain. Making a garment changes your perspective on clothing, and about how much of yourself you’re willing to invest in something you love.
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My 2015 Crafting Resolutions

photo by George Chelebiev. Check back in a few days for the hat pattern!!
photo by George Chelebiev. Check back in a few days for the hat pattern!!

I don’t always make New Year’s resolutions (and I almost never stick to them if I do). In 2014, I made a point of not making a single resolution. After about a year of living in the USA again, I was disillusioned with America’s achievement-centered culture. Bulgarians don’t generally define themselves by their jobs, or their exercise routines, or how often they floss their teeth. Americans, on the other hand, are supposed to be always striving to do more, to be better, thinner, richer, more successful. Life was not a series of moments, to be enjoyed as much as possible with others, but instead a competition, to be won. So, in preparation for starting a new life in Sofia, I decided that no resolution at all was the most appropriate choice.

However, resolutions can be a great thing. I appreciate the American tendency to be proactive, and that Americans like to feel in charge of their own lives. That mentality has definitely served me well.

I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution last year. Still, I managed to move to Europe with my sweetheart, find an apartment and a great group of friends in my new home, get a job, quit the job to be a freelance writer, get married, and knit six sweaters. 2015 is the first year of my adult life that I don’t have an imminent job change, location change, or relationship change on the horizon. So it seems like a great year to focus on what I really want and go for it.

Because themes are fun, I’ve decided my New Year’s resolutions will all be knitting-related. It’s been 2015 for a whole week, so I’ve had some time to really think about these. Here they are:

1. Stick to a yarn budget.

Unless I have a steady supply of store credit (shout-out to my WEBS days), I’m a careful yarn shopper by necessity. My resources are limited, and living in Bulgaria means that I can either choose Bulgarian or Turkish wool, or pay for shipping and customs to import the yarn I want. My stash is fairly modest, and for the most part all my yarn purchases turn into finished products eventually.

Even still, I only have a vague idea of what I spend on yarn each year. And, since I’m generally concerned with consumption, and more philosophical questions surrounding materialism and ownership, I could always benefit from reflection and awareness of my buying habits. So this year I’m putting myself on a yarn budget of $35/month. That might sound extravagant, or painfully strict, depending on who’s reading this. Budgeting is very personal, and based on my own knitting habits and income, I’ve decided that’s a decent amount for me. It’s certainly less than I spent in 2014, because part of this exercise is to push myself to be creative and deliberate in my choices, and to work from my stash when possible.

I’m not counting tools or books in this number, just yarn. I almost never buy tools anyway, once I have them, and the only tool on my list for 2015 is a good pair of fabric scissors. Books we’ll get to in a minute. This gives me about $100 every three months, which is usually more than enough for a sweater quantity.

And, since I’m an open book, I’ll be tallying my budget and my purchases right here on my blog for all the world to see (click on the little burger icon at the top of my homepage).

2. Blog more.

Which brings me to my next resolution. My goal for 2014 was to start a knitting blog, so, mission accomplished. But, my updates have been sporadic, and for 2015, I’m reflecting on why I started blogging in the first place, and how to motivate myself to update regularly.

At some point around 2011, I started wanting more out of my knitting, and myself, than just a pile of FO’s. I wanted to learn, and grow, as a crafter, incorporating fiber arts into every aspect of my life, and pushing myself to learn more about the supply chain that feeds my addiction, instead of being a passive consumer. This blog should be a record of that growth process, not just a place to show off what I make, but to collect things that inspire me and bring all my disparate beliefs, tastes and desires together.

Concretely, this means blogging at the very least once per week, although 2-3 times is better. I’ll also be taking care to organize my updates into categories, including inspiration/wants, projects, techniques, environment, etc. Most importantly, I won’t limit my writing to strictly about knitting, although knitting will surely work its way into every post. Instead, I’ll try to integrate more inspiration from the rest of life into my posts.

3. Define my color palette.

As a yarn store clerk, the type of customer I encountered most often was the color-cautious knitter (and by extension, the color-cautious dresser). I’d often spend several minutes assuring a customer that she would look gorgeous in teal or burgundy. She might look longingly at the brighter color, before finally insisting that she needed navy because she’d “wear it more.”

This was a baffling new perspective for me, since I’m afraid of lots of things, but color isn’t one of them. I’ve always gravitated towards bright pinks, reds and oranges. Particularly as a knitter, my first instinct is to pick the color that will be the most vibrant and fun to look at while I’m knitting it. Learning to knit was a dangerous and liberating new outlet for my color cravings, since I could knit garments in colors I couldn’t find in stores.

Like many things that seem like a great idea when you’re 20, my color choices didn’t always stand the test of time. Plenty of projects I stripped for parts before they were finished, as their impracticality became more apparent. As I get older I’m trying to streamline my entire wardrobe, not just my knits, into a collection of pieces I absolutely love and wear all the time. I’ll never be someone who wears head-to-toe neutral, and I don’t think I’ll ever like the way black looks against my skin. But, I no longer dismiss neutrals out of hand.

I’ll be asking a lot of my clothes, and my knits, in 2015. I used to be susceptible to impulse buys in wacky prints and colors, either second-hand or (gasp!) fast fashion. But there’s nothing like moving to Europe, then moving back to the USA, and then moving back to Europe, to make you think really, really hard about the things you buy. Now I’ve resolved to add to my wardrobe only items that I love enough to hypothetically bring across an ocean. I want colors that flatter me, that coalesce with my entire wardrobe, and that typify my style. Whenever possible, I’d also like to favor naturally-dyed yarns, and for neutral pieces I’ll look for un-dyed wool.

4. Grow my library.

Besides Knitter’s Almanac, which I’ve bought, lent out, and bought again at least twice, I’ve never been motivated to buy books on craft. With my favorite novels, I’m the same way, carrying the story in my head, but picking up and giving away ragged paperbacks willy-nilly. It was mostly out of necessity, since I did so much moving around in my twenties. But I’ve missed out on quite a bit by neglecting my reading list, and I’m ready to start building a library that will serve me for the rest of my knitting, and reading, life.

This is part of why I’m adhering to a strict yarn budget this year, because I want to prioritize great books instead. As much as I love making, I want 2015 to be just as much about learning. At the end of the year, I don’t need another pile of sweaters (although I’m sure I’ll have one). What I need is to grow my own understanding of craft, and what kind of crafter I want to be, and that means growing my library.

My Christmas list included no yarn, and three beautiful books. First, Clara Parkes’ The Knitter’s Book of Yarn, which I’ve thumbed through in yarn stores and libraries countless times and wanted to own. Then, Cirilia Rose’s gorgeous new book Magpies, Homebodies and Nomads, and finally, a re-print from Schoolhouse Press of Anatolian Knitting Designs, by Betsey Harrell. A classic stand-by, a new masterpiece, and a nearly-forgotten little gem. In shopping for books, I’m inspired by my grandmother back in Portland. Her craft room held a library of knitting reference books, old volumes of traditional regional knits, and stacks of dog-eared back issues of Vogue Knitting. In addition, Gramma collected handsome art volumes, and beloved children’s stories, which all felt right at home among the knitting books. It might take more than a year, but someday I’d like a library as indispensable and eclectic as hers.

So, for 2015: Less yarn, more writing, more reading, and prettier colors. Do you have any knitting resolutions this year?

Into It: Crochet Cowls (Plus Some Digressions)

teaching crochet to some lovely students
teaching crochet to some lovely students

A couple weeks ago, my friend Deni approached me with an amazing opportunity.

Deni works for UNHCR Bulgaria, which is unprecedentedly busy since Bulgaria became the ersatz home for thousands of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. Many Bulgarians have responded to this recent influx of refugees admirably and with characteristic hospitality. Even still, the poorest country in the EU has had a tough time mustering up the facilities, infrastructure, and care that all these newcomers so desperately need. Continue reading