What is it with the sea?
We sat watching the sea-green waves roll in, continuously never-ending, entranced. The waves were high but not fierce, despite the windy day; perhaps the curve of the bay broke some of their force because it was likely choppy further out. The waves at our local beaches behave very differently, the coast is more exposed and the shingle and stone beaches are long, almost continuous mile after mile, so they are not moulded by high-rising rocky cliffs and slopes; however there is a mighty shelf not too far out which seems to temper their height and which makes swimmers and other water babies cautious.
Occasionally as we sat there watching, mesmerised, our eyes were drawn to the rocky side of the bay closest to us and of which we had the best view. Towers of surf and spray crashed onto the rocks but it wasn’t the fear-inspiring crash of a storm. This evening the sea was playful and sunbeams danced on the water.
And they weren’t the only ones enjoying the water; there were other water babies too, human ones. We sat and watched those too. I confess that I was rather bemused by their antics, for as much as I loved to swim, I cannot see the attraction of becoming a human seal in rubber armoury on what was a pretty cold day for the time of year. Heads and feet were left painfully exposed and they seemed to be spending most of their time plunging head-first under the waves as each one rolled in, which to my mind wasn’t quite the point of surfing. I understood surfing to involve surfing, riding each incoming wave triumphantly. There is a kind of attractive glory to that but watching them plunge under to lessen the break upon them made me uncomfortable, reminding me of all the vulnerability and risk that water poses to us.
A little later, we moved on to a sheltered harbour. Relatively sheltered, that is, because the waves, although tempered by the harbour wall and the natural shape of the opposite cliffs, were causing the small boats anchored there to rock, not bob, with each roll. A rock that at times was more of a lurch and once again, I was reminded of man’s vulnerability and found myself, yet again, wondering at those for whom the sea has always bewitchingly called.
Water is the story of human civilisation, great cities and cultures have risen and fallen with the availability of water. Or, perhaps ironically, the over-inundation of water. Humans depend on water for everything: to drink, to give them food to eat, to water the animals they tame and use, to give them building materials, to give them opportunities to trade.
As I watched the small dinghies rock in that sheltered harbour, I thought of how peoples, not so long ago really, went to sea in vessels not much bigger or much more secure. Great trading networks were founded by the determination of people in small, vulnerable vessels; great discoveries and voyages of exploration were undertaken by the determination of people in small, vulnerable vessels. And I wonder why. Being in a boat, even on a proverbial millpond, holds little attraction to me. I see the vulnerability and the risk. I fear water.
But so many don’t. I have great respect for those who chose to go to sea even as I baffle at their choice. We still depend on those who go to sea; those who transport the goods that feed our insatiable hunger for material things; those who transport the actual food for our actual hunger; those who catch the food. Presumably the sea calls to them, it sings a song of enchantment in their genes, it lures them. And lures never end well. The sea is to be respected.
But feared? Perhaps. Because as I watched those gentle harbour waves, I realised too how unstoppable, how uncontrollable those waves were. And that is what I fear; to me water is a powerful force, one that can never be dominated or mastered by mere humans, however experienced or knowledgeable. We are nothing against its strength, we can be swept along by it just like the tumbling weed or the churning sand. And however mighty or impressive the civilisations that we keep on building, it can all be swept away by one wave, like a sandcastle built too far down the shore.
I am not a water baby; I keep my distance, admiring the beauty and charm of a simple, single wave but still deeply conscious of who is more powerful.
It turns out that I have discovered the most dangerous words in the entire Universe, two innocent little words that when used in conjunction tend to have serious consequences.
A lot of people have picked up on the dreaded ‘what if’; ‘what if’ can be used looking forward or looking back but there is always a tinge of regret. In hindsight, we can wish that we had taken another course or path and with doubt, we can wonder if we’re taking the right one now or in the future. Another variation is ‘if only’, which features in lyrics where it is declared to be ‘the loneliest words that you’ll ever know’.
I don’t do the looking backwards ‘what if’. Things happen, life happens. We can’t undo the past and, normally, I can’t grasp the concept of future. Looking forwards, well, you know what I’m like for worrying. And I have the kind of vivid and fertile imagination that allows me to conjure up all the billion and one dreadful possibilities for any one insignificant moment.
But those are not the two dangerous words; as surprising as it seems, my negative attitude is what keeps me strong and moving forwards. I know that things rarely, if ever, are as bad as I think that they’re going to be. And when bad stuff happens, truthfully, I’m too busy dealing with it, I go into crisis mode, to fret myself dreaming up even worse things.
So what are those two dangerous words?
Together they are potent. And have serious consequences.
I’ve never used the phrase before; after all, I’m pretty good at knowing automatically all the billion and one reasons why I shouldn’t do something. But as you know there’s been a lot of psychological DIY going on this winter and I decided that this year would be the year that I would risk, that I would dare.
So I found myself asking ‘why not?’
When someone said that they’d really like it if they had a bag or carrier for a water bottle when they go away, I asked myself those two dangerous words and before I quite knew what I was doing, I had my hand up, yes I would make them one.
I even sketched a quick design on a napkin.
I can’t draw.
It’s a fact that everyone else in the entire world can.
(Someone further up the table couldn’t quite work out why I’d drawn a picture of a toilet pan (apparently) so I may not draw again in public for a loooong time again).
I offered to make something.
Something with a needle and thread, something with fabric, something that involves sewing.
I can’t sew.
And the two girls who I was making these for can sew.
Like properly sew.
With sewing machines.
And they make clothes.
‘Why not’ is indeed a dangerous phrase.
With consequences, serious consequences.
I was committed and I had to start sewing.
Husband helped me with the pattern (which we invented along the way) and did the cutting out (which terrifies me).
But I did most of the sewing.
In my pretty irregular way.
I then asked myself ‘why not’ again.
I don’t do embroidery.
Embroidery is for artistic people who sew.
I am neither artistic or a sewer.
(That word written can be read two very different ways, fortunately I am neither).
But I picked up Husband’s embroidery stitch guide book and thought ‘why not’.
Maybe other people just start at the beginning, maybe other people just start by following the instructions step by step, maybe other people don’t know it all automatically.
So I embroidered.
I took a needle and some floss (not dental) and I follow the instructions, carefully, idiosyncratically but still irregularly and I gave it my best shot.
Because that’s all other people do isn’t it? They just try to do their best. And that’s all anyone can do, including me. I can only try. And if I don’t try then I can’t do.
So here’s what we did (thank you Husband for all your help!):
I used some thick cotton fabric that we already had from another project years ago so I gave them a choice of three colours: orange, red and green. I also had a brand new fleece that had promotional slogans across it so I decided that the best use for it was in pieces. Lining the cotton bags with fleece makes the carrier a lot more insulating as well protecting the bottle better from knocks.
We modelled the dimensions on the largest (fattest too) bottled water bottle we could find locally but found the first one came out a little too cozy so we upped the size a little for the second one.
We also discovered that a circle at the bottom of a cylinder is neither the same diameter nor the same circumference as the cylinder. I was very baffled. We did eventually come up with a scale based on other measurements found on various online bottle carrier tutorials, a circle is a third of the diameter of the cylinder. Even more eventually, Husband discovered that it was something to do with pie. Well, I’m always glad to have pie in my life.
For the straps, we all agreed that a long strap was best, this is so it can be carried comfortably for long periods over a shoulder or across the body. Not taking any chances with guestimation, I got them to provide their ideal measurement (they went home and measured a bag strap that they use). This was just as well because the shorter of the two wanted the longer strap. Obviously. (I kept the text message with the measurement just in case! I wanted proof).
Just as in knitting, straps always take a very long time. Our friends were going away the next day and I didn’t get them finished until five that evening! That was stressful. Stress makes me tired. But I’m glad that I did it, I’m glad that I said ‘why not’. Even with the consequences, I rather like this new confidence. I’m enjoying being creative again, I’m enjoying daring and risking for the first time ever.
(Oh, and the toggles? I nicked them off the ‘up-cycled’ fleece along with that rather nifty cylindrical elastic).
Goals are targets. Targets are things that get missed.
Sitting myself down and deciding what I want to plan for and aim for just seems utterly pointless to me. I know that I will fail and having a list etched in black and white as tangible proof of just what I set out to do but haven’t achieved just overwhelms. I am defeated before I even begin.
But I also recognise that without goals and plans my life will have no direction. Perhaps it never has had direction. All I aim to do is get through each day, one day at a time, with the minimal stress, pain and failure. However …
I’m not keen on boats and being in them but as anybody who hasn’t even been in a boat before can tell you, it’s best to have a compass. At the very least, it helps to know which way you’re facing. And after a compass, comes maps, or charts as they seem to prefer to call them in the nautical world. You mark where you are and where you want to end up. You make a plan.
I need a plan if my life is going to find direction, if I’m going to try and be someone, not something, just someone living their life. But as they want to. The directions that I go in, that I take are entirely dependent on the winds and whims of other people. I place pleasing other people far above my own happiness. And I think that’s something that needs to be adjusted.
It’s been a deep winter for me; I have been lost and absorbed in reflection. But it has been a good thing. I know and I can see that I am progressing. I am making progress. I don’t think that I’ve recognised that before. I’m starting to realise that the future isn’t quite the menacing monster that I always believed it to be. I am beginning to think that I might be able to.
Able to do what?
Well, I guess, eventually, anything that I set my heart and mind to.
But to get there I’m going to need to take some smaller steps.
I can cope with small steps.
And setting goals isn’t just about failure.
I’m not a failure.
I could succeed.
I just need to believe in myself.
And give it a go.
And throw off all the stupid beliefs and complexes that hold me back.
Ballast can be a good thing; it can stabilise you, if you’re a boat.
But there can be such a thing as too much ballast.
It just becomes stuff, junk, weight.
Redundant and not serving any purpose.
It shackles you and helps you sink.
(I do believe in mixing metaphors, it seems).
So my first goal is this:
I need to dare to risk and I need to risk to dare.
(I couldn’t decide which one made the most sense, let’s live dangerously and go with both).
Taking risk has always been something very dangerous and even alien to me. I actively avoid risk. Risk is just about setting yourself up for failure.
I need to adopt this new attitude, I need to be brave, I need to believe, I need live.
So this year, I hope to move forward with that motto.
But measuring success, quantifying achievement can be difficult.
How do I know if I’m moving ahead or succeeding?
I need specific goals, targets to aim for.
Marks on a chart, plotting a specific course that I can follow.
I know that I may not always be able to meet them. But as the Jester Queen once reminded me, many wise people think that failure is only a step to success.
For example, when it comes to blogging, I now have a goal. I’m going to aim for three posts a week. Nothing too hard to achieve, if you look back at most months then I’m already meeting this target.
So why set a goal that I’m already perhaps reaching?
I need to do this with baby steps; I first need to confirm to myself that I’m not failing before I take any further, more ambitious steps.
I don’t want to tie myself down though, commit myself to a statistic. I want to write because I want to. I don’t want blogging to be about numbers, although numbers can be nice and reassuring. I’m going to be reasonable on myself. I’m going to set a goal which is reachable, attainable, possible. I won’t set myself up for failure. And especially because of life and health, it’ll be an average that I’m working on, I’ll average it out across the entire year, some weeks the words and posts may come more often than others. I want to write a minimum of 156 posts this year. We’ll see how it goes.
Talking of health leads me to another goal, perhaps a harder one to measure or assess.
I want to be honest. I want to be honest with myself.
For example, when I need to rest, I will rest and when I can’t do something, I will accept that I can’t. I will listen to my body.
And of course there’s another big thing in my life: knitting.
How do you set goals in knitting?
Well, I suppose you could aim for a certain number of stitches per week or month. But that is highly variable, depending on yarn weight and my rather suspect tension. Five stitches can be very little or an entire row, depending on the project. And I know that there are people who can calculate how many stitches there are in a particular project but I’m not one of them. Actually, frankly, I don’t think I’d want to know. I get demoralised by numbers higher than what I can count to (normally about 30).
Each month, I’m going to write a list of the projects that I want start and finish.
I also want to start a new project from my Knit Now magazines each month too. As someone pointed on the Ravelry forums, it’s so easy to open a new magazine issue and go ‘ooh’ and promise to one day make this piece or that, but do we ever?
Well, the magazines are sitting on the shelf, the patterns are still there. And it’s about time I got on with it. I’ve lined up my favourites in my Ravelry queue and I’ll slowly tackle them. One project at a time, one month a time.
I’ve already noticed that my knitting goals are also tied to my goal of honesty. There days and even weeks when I can’t knit as fast or as much as I would like. It can be bitterly disappointing and frustrating but that’s why I have got to be honest with myself.
I’ve never shared my goals with anyone. I’m not even sure if I’ve set goals before. But here are just a few and I know that you’re all prepared to take yet another (long-winded, I’m sure) journey will me.
I wonder how I will do.
Sometimes, I think, patchwork can sound shabby, the idea of cobbling together something, often utilitarian, from leftover scraps. But patchwork is much more than that. For example, a patchwork quilt, even though humble in origin and purpose, is so much more than the sum of its parts. Because, you see, those aren’t leftovers; they’re souvenirs, treasures, stories, memories. Each of them having so much power in its own right is then carefully lined up with the others, a craft of both eye-pleasing design and technical ability, fine stitches must hold the design together and the design must stand alone and yet be part of every one of its individual components.
I love patchwork, it appeals to me that those squares can unite and become an integral piece, no longer just a blue square or a red square, but part of much bigger design. I love colour too. I love history and heritage. But I can’t sew.
I’ve long wanted a patchwork quilt on my bed, for all of the reasons above and probably many more. But patchwork quilts don’t make themselves, they need a big investment and commitment of all kinds of resources and as we on the whole are no longer thrifty and making our own clothes, I doubt many of us even have a scrap bag anymore. This forces you to turn to specifically designed and branded fabrics, which are available, particularly on the internet as fabric shops are now far and few between these days, but at great cost. Or at least at what I perceive to be great cost. The colours are dependent on some fashionable palette which has little to do with what colours I actually would want. I don’t really do psychedelic flower power or twee pastels. I’d rather there was a middle ground.
If I could get my hands on fabric then what? Well, as I said, I don’t sew. I’m also terrified of sewing machines. (And most other electric equipment). I can mend things with mismatched thread; in fact I’ve become quite a dab hand at darning socks. However, this is more motivated by thrifty economy than any particular aptitude or talent. Patchwork would require both. In large quantities.
You see, this is what I do. I dream something up then decide who is the best person to do it. I rarely count myself. I can see other people’s strengths and abilities, focussing on those. I know that someone else could do a brilliant job of it. I’d just mess it up. There’s a sort of humbleness in asking for help, in knowing and accepting that someone can do a better job than myself. I rely on others and I count on their talents.
It’s not likely that I could ever succeed in making a patchwork quilt and frankly, I don’t think that there are too many people around me who could do it either. Husband sews beautifully but he really isn’t keen on taking on such an ambitious project. Especially as it is my project. He feels, for some reason, that if you want something done, you should do it yourself. He doesn’t appreciate how I evaluate skillsets and find the right or best person for the job. After all, it normally involves him.
It’s not really laziness. Just a profound fear of a failure. Why risk doing something that you know you’re going to fail? Why risk messing up or making a mistake? I don’t trust myself. And failure is unpardonable.
Recently, however, I’ve been thinking and working through a lot of thoughts and fears like this. I’m starting to realise that there are things that I can do myself and that I might not necessarily be bad at everything I do. This is quite a revolution which has rather changed the world around me. A little new, a little different, a little scary but possibly positive, however much I don’t like change.
So I return to the line ‘I cannot sew’. It’s true. It’s not just a question of negative perception. I won’t be able to sew my own patchwork quilt. My abilities aren’t there for that and possibly never will be, although I really do think that someone my age should get over their fear of sewing machines at some point.
So what can I do if I have really set my heart on having a patchwork quilt? (Which I have).
Well, there is something.
I can knit.
I could knit a quilt, the quilt.
That in itself sounds quite challenging. I can’t count, I have a poor attention span and I’m not overly confident about my knitting abilities.
But there, you see, is the wonder of patchwork.
Patchwork is elements, simple elements, brought together as one cohesive design; it only becomes big right at the very end. A patchwork quilt, however big, is just the size of each ‘patch’ or ‘square’.
I can knit something that small. I can concentrate on something that small. I can succeed in making something that small.
I will knit my quilt.
Now, I just need to start saving up for the yarn. I have some in my sights, in just the perfect colours.
And what could have been unachievable suddenly has become achievable. I’ve matched the project to my skill levels and I know now that I can approach it just like life, one square at a time.
That brings me to more patchwork thoughts. Knitting, for me and in these posts, has often been a metaphor for exploring and enabling progress. Knitting has slowly built my confidence and given me a tangible way of developing my creativity and measuring success. They laugh about knitting ‘for therapy’ but it has been, I couldn’t have got this far without the metaphoric qualities of knitting and the peace that I get from working one stitch at a time.
It might sound strange but I’ve never been able to ‘see’ the future. The future is an absolutely fear-inspiring monstrosity that I try to avoid facing at all times. It’s difficult for me to understand and perceive the future, never mind a future. Perhaps it comes back to that fear of failing again, the future can be a huge responsibility and it’s definitely something that I believe that I can and will fail at. I am often overwhelmed too, both physically and psychologically, so living in the present is normally all I can manage. The future is almost like an unbelievable dream, a mirage. You can pin so much hope in it but it might never materialise. I don’t like wasting my energy chasing the impossibly ephemeral. I don’t like trusting and relying on things that perhaps will never exist, that only bring bitter disappointment and loss. I don’t want to feel either of those things. I hate them. I can’t find a future, never mind the future. It’s too big, too intangible, too much responsibility and too much disappointment.
So I began to think about goals, goals are often tangible, quantifiable. If you achieve what you set out to achieve then that is success. You can tick it off and prove to others that you’ve done it, that you have achieved. Maybe working on goals, something that I also avoid for fear of failure would enable me to slowly get used to working towards that distant, threatening future. Perhaps rather than jumping into the future, I had to take my more familiar small steps towards it.
Then it clicked.
The future is patchwork.
(That isn’t a trend prediction).
The future is patchwork.
I don’t have to present a complete quilt; I don’t have to make a complete quilt. Patchwork doesn’t work that way.
Patchwork is the small steps.
I just have to choose a square to work on.
Then work on it.
It’s only when a life is finished that you can hold it up to the light to see the finished design.
I don’t have to have the finished design ready before I start.
I don’t have to commit to all of it. It can grow from one corner, one piece, one square. The future can be manageable, broken down into individual portions. Portions which are small enough to work on, to concentrate on and to put your best effort into.
You can choose the broad themes, of course, before you even start. Colours, eventual design features, techniques. Maybe even stitches, if you’re a knitter. And those themes will repeat in other squares, in other squares of your life.
The future is patchwork.
I can choose one small square and work on that.
I could even work on more than one.
If needs be, I can put it aside and work on another.
Just like I would do, just like I will do, when I knit myself that physical patchwork quilt.
I’ve found the future.
The future is patchwork.
I’ve had a little wobble psychologically but my head is back on track now but I have so much that I could write about! (And, unfortunately, you can be sure that it involves knitting). Anyway, for the time being, I’m going to catch up with an award that the very lovely Emily over at My Pajama Days gave me. The title of her post just about sums it up, sometimes a little bit of recognition is like a splash of sunshine on a very bleak day. It cheered me up during my own wobble but I couldn’t quite deal with the formalities just then.
Being something of a pedant, even in other languages for which three years of schooling left little impression, I had to check the gender of liebster. My suspicions were right, it’s masculine. It should be meine liebste when addressed to a female blogger. Though I’m not sure whether many bloggers are in the habit of calling each other my dearest.
Anyway, pedantry over, I return to formalities.
I have to answer these eleven questions:
If I had a million pounds, I still couldn’t buy happiness.
What is the best gift you have ever received? Some would say life, but I value love more.
What inspires me? All sorts of things, all sorts of people. But I do need sunshine.
If you could have a “do-over” in life, what would you try to do differently? Regrets are one thing but if we could undo particular episodes of our lives and live them over, we could end up missing out so many of the good moments too. It takes a little rain.
What is something that most people don’t know about you? That I write! (You guys do though).
What is your favorite magazine? Magazines promise such a lot but tend to disappoint, I think it’s because I can read one in about half an hour. They don’t last, they’re kind of like a sugar high rather than anything substantial. I’ve had to give up food magazines because my box of recipe cuttings is now taking over the world (and cluttering my head) but my favourites are the Sainsburys’ Magazine (decide for yourself where or whether for the apostrophe) and the relatively new Vegetarian Living. As a teenager, the now defunct Vegetarian Good Food was a huge support and inspiration when I turned veggie-ish. I think knitting magazines however are pretty good value, you get dozens of patterns (which individually would cost the same each as the magazine) and even a free toy. I like free toys. And value. The Knit Now magazine is my current favourite, it’s done a lot for my confidence. (Hm, I can write quite a lot about magazines, not good!)
What is your proudest moment? I’ve spent a lifetime trying to avoid pride, the sinful kind with a capital P, so I can’t really answer this comfortably. Knitting occasionally does sneak prideful moments on me.
If your house was on fire, what one thing you would grab before getting out? Fire is one of my biggest phobias. The idea that something can consume and destroy everything in such a short time is unbearably painful for me to contemplate. When we were children, probably even preschoolers, my mother drilled us very thoroughly in what to do in a fire, it involved pushing a mattress out of the window and jumping out. (Fortunately due to variations in topography, this bedroom window wasn’t much further than three foot above the road). Evacuation didn’t involve grabbing possession. However as I also have a phobia of losing things, I would devastatingly conflicted in such an circumstance. It’s why I keep my backed up photos in a metal filing cabinet.
What are you most afraid of? Oh, pretty much everything.
If you could have any job, just for a day, what would you do? In such a fantastical world where clearly confidence isn’t a problem, I would write the book.
This is where I discover that I wasn’t actually meant to answer these questions but different ones. I’m sure that I’ve mentioned that I’m not good at reading through instructions (or patterns) before starting.
Anyway, I’ll do those another day, it’s nice easy blogging for bad head days.
Then I have to award it to another eleven (why are they so keen on eleven?) bloggers:
Feel free to answer either set of questions!
Here’s the second set:
You know that thing people do when they’re not entirely sure if someone is talking to them or someone else, they look over their shoulder? I’ve been doing that a lot the last few weeks. Probably mixed with a bit of rabbit-caught-in-headlights too. You can’t seriously mean me? OK, you are. Panic, doubt, worry.
Losing one’s inner Voice should be a good thing but actually it’s slightly unnerving. Sure, I’m not feeling guilty all the time over everything (which in itself is kind of weird, partly because I can’t remember before the Voice, it’s been so long) but now I feel guilty that I’m not feeling guilty. Am I being insincere? Am I being uncaring? Am I being selfish? I’m not sure, surely I should feel terrible when someone goes out of their way for me or does me a favour? I don’t know. How do ‘normal’ people react and feel in these situations? I don’t know!
I feel a little lost at times, almost as if I’ve lost something as important as my compass or even my conscience. The ground beneath my feet isn’t quite where it used to be. And that’s going to take some adjusting to. A lot of adjusting to. Have you ever had a heavy load taken off you? You go all wobbly for a bit, it almost feels like you’re still carrying it sometimes. That’s what I’m like at the moment, unburdened but very unsteady.
But I think that I was living with an impossibly heavy burden because life and relationships are going so much better now that I’m not dragged down, swamped in paranoid guilt all the time. That kind of guilt, that level of guilt is crippling and it’s not sustainable. Although I seem to have been carrying it for most of the last two decades. It destroys your life and you.
Without it, I’m having to get to know myself all over again. The survival skills that have kept me alive all these years are turning into positive qualities, when I have the confidence to trust them and myself. I’m probably even coming across as outgoing. That’s weird, very weird.
Guilt has held me back too long.
Now I need to try to find a life without it. I’m still a little wobbly.
I’m working on accepting compliments American-style, that is graciously. Instead of guiltily and self-deprecatingly.
I’m having to dare, to dare believe in myself and my talents (still questioning whether I have any though!), to dare to dream.
If the present isn’t a burden and the past can be forgotten then the future is possible. I haven’t believed in a future for a very, very long time. It’s a little scary. So I’m just going to take it one day at a time.
So when I received an email asking me to guest post on a proper writers community blog, I did look behind to see if they did really mean me. Maybe they got the wrong email address or something? No, it was me, they’re talking to me. Cue rabbit-in-headlights. I can’t do that! I’m not good enough!
OK, deep breath. Accept graciously. Be accepted. Panic. What on earth can this little idiosyncratic waffler contribute?
Decide to ignore it for time being.
Post idea slowly forms in head, doesn’t really want to be written down though because I’m probably blocking.
Deadline comes up rapidly.
Have to write post.
Why is that posts are never as good as when they were first drafted in your foggy head at some unsociable hour?
I get husband to proof the post, it would be mortifying if there’s a mistake in this one. This one post that introduces me to a world of proper writers.
Wait for post to appear.
Realise that with all the different time zones available, I actually don’t know when it’s going to appear.
Spend day anxiously checking website, fretting all the while.
I did it!
I have written my first ever guest post, it’s over at Studio30 Plus. Let me know what you think.
It’s been quite a journey.
Why do we put babies in pastel colours? We, as a society, have an obsession with baby blue and baby pink (gender dependent) with splashes of white and an occasional foray into mint and primrose. Who got to decide that these colours were what babies would wear forever? And when? In Good Wives (I think), Amy is described as putting a ribbon on the pillow of each twin ‘according to the French fashion’, blue for the boy, pink for the girl. That wasn’t really so long ago. Can we blame the French? Whereas the Dutch of Haarlem, in Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates hung pincushions on the front door to announce a safe arrival to the community, red for a boy, white for a girl. Perhaps this tradition lives on in the modern American fancy for new baby door wreaths.
It seems that, in this country especially, knitting is slow to move forward and often even behind times. If you’re going to receive a bonnet or matinée jacket then I’m pretty sure that they won’t have been bought but been gifted by some (likely, older but well-meaning) relative. If it is not one of those colours mentioned above (or perhaps your knitter had a reckless moment and went for peach, apricot or mauve) then I’d actually be quite surprised. And even more surprised if it’s not 100% acrylic. And it’s a real shame because it gives knitting and knitters bad press and it’s going to become more and more rare that those precious handknitted items are even worn much less become treasured heirlooms passed from one child or even generation to another.
Knitting and knitters need to move with the times. There is a place for pastels and bonnets and possibly even a place for the occasional matinée jacket. Well, they’re just cardigans by another name anyway. But I don’t think that all is old is bad, personally I don’t think mini branded trainers and stiff, tight denim jeans are really the most practical or comfortable outfit for a baby but that doesn’t mean I’m advocated swaddling. There has to be a balance.
I was a cloth nappy baby in a generation that had almost entirely turned ‘modern’, I still remember the smell of what parents of that generation cheerfully term as ‘rubbers’, the plastic over-pants to help with leak prevention. We had nappy pins (giant safety pins with protective covers so they didn’t undo into baby or couldn’t be undone by baby) turning up throughout my entire childhood. Some were pink, some were blue. Yes, I had a brother. Funny enough. Cloth nappies seem to be going through another spin of popularity, especially with parents who are questioning their own impact on the environment. And this means modern knitters, especially in America of course, have risen to the occasion.
My friends, I don’t think but we are an ocean or two apart, aren’t cloth nappy-ing but this designs were irresistible to an idiosyncratic knitter like me. They’re called ‘soakers’ which if you think about it too long is actually pretty disgusting so don’t! But it’s seems that, like any other specialist subject, cloth nappy-ing has its jargon: lanolising, soakers, shorties, longies, skirties, night, day … actually, those last two words I do understand.
This was a pattern that got plenty of chuckles, usually as a delayed reaction. What you knitting? (hand over pattern) Oh, cute, I-poo … hehehe. It’s also quite a good way of testing eyesight or whether someone is really paying attention to what you’ve just given them. Oh, cute. (walk away).
I like it better in the pastel colours actually. It takes longer for impact, subtle then deeply subversive. If you’re into toilet humour, that is. In the words of one of my lovely friends ‘it’s not like the baby things we used to knit in the Fifties and Sixties’. And that could be a good thing.
Isn’t that perfect for a baby gift?!
And at least it’s a change from bootees.
And yes, I did have a second pattern that I just had to knit up, it was in a similar theme.
I’m sure that all parents and other baby-looker-afterers will identify with that motif! Regardless of what fabric may clad the baby’s posterior, the result is pretty much the same.
I wasn’t as happy with the yellow yarn that I used, it’s a different brand and with the creaminess of the ‘white’ that I was using, it does get quite lost in too many lights but it was fun to knit them up.
It also has warning chevrons just in case you missed the point.
As you know, I’m a sucker for shaping and other little genius tricks that designers seem to find no problem in conjuring up and adding to their patterns so these really appealed on those grounds too. I had to learn to cast on stitches at the ends of rows for the first time (complex moment, with lots of research required)! And a magical system of decreases and increases forms a perfect v-shaped crotch which means, along with generous leg cuffs (you should see some of the ones that I’ve seen with little straight stick tubes for legs, it’s bad enough on women’s shirt sleeves but baby legs really don’t do wincy and straight, straight) means that these will always be a comfortable fit. Nappies take up a lot of space.
The legs and waists were knitted in the round. (Here’s some advice, if you’re knitting both of these patterns at once, then there is a difference in placement of the eyelets, I didn’t notice but apparently no one else will either!). I had to use one of my massive 60 or 80 cm circular needles on the legs which means shifting huge amounts of cable between stitch runs. It’s not easy. I really need DPNs! But they’re lovely and stretchy.
Learning to cast on stitches at the ends of rows was quite a challenge but there was a further significant challenge. That’s why it’s taken so long to post these as a finished object. The pattern says to make a crochet cord. Two words. Just two words. That totally inspire terror. Crochet! With a hook! It took me a while but I came up with a cunning plan. I know a crocheter. No, I didn’t cheat, thank you very much. I met up with her and she showed me how to knit a crochet chain. (Yes, idiosyncratic people do say knit a crochet chain, trust me). I was fine mirroring her but still had the feeling that was something not right. That was when we discovered that I crochet with my left hand. Honestly. That’s why I can’t hold a crochet hook comfortably when I automatically pick it up in my right hand or teach myself from right-handed instructions (or work out how anyone could ever pick up a dropped stitch with a crochet hook). I crochet left-handed. I think I may have to use the word ‘idiosyncratic’ again.
Anyway, like most of the things that I’m absolutely too scared to do at first but eventually cave and risk trying, crochet chains aren’t that bad. They knit up remarkably quickly and only need one person, unlike twisted cords which also ping when you really don’t want them to. I will bear them in mind for future projects now that I have conquered my phobia of the hook (for the moment at least).
But I’m not going to take up crochet anytime soon, believe me.
Knitting is enough of a mental and physical challenge for me and it’s got plenty more challenges for me, I’m sure. (And you know that I’ll be sharing them with you too!)
Whilst I was knitting up these pattern, I found a really cool blog post about wool and lanolising and stuff like that and in the future, if I was knitting for an actual cloth nappy wearing baby then I would just use a pure wool yarn rather than a blend. There is also an entire group of Ravelry dedicated to the art and craft of soakers and longies. It’s definitely been an interesting learning experience.
Well, I loved both of these patterns by Jane Burns and I’m looking forward to inflicting my very idiosyncratic humour and knitting on more new parents in the future.
And it seems that pastel colours have their uses after all.
I wonder if you remember seeing a sneak preview of the Toxic Soakers in a photograph in an earlier blog post?
The technology that we use for communication may have radically changed and advanced during my lifetime but we still facing the perpetual problem of what to say. How to you know what to say when? Is it easy to come up with something to talk about or to make conversation for you?
I don’t find it easy. I’m virtually a social phobic but my stubborn streak prevents me letting it take over my life, I have a certain pride in keeping appearances and putting a brave face on things. I hate to talk, I never know what to say, I agonise over saying the wrong thing, I get so easily embarrassed. But I try not to ever let it show. My so-called coping strategies mean that I can often even come across as being a good conversationalist. I’ve learnt to draw people out because I hate talking about myself, I’ve learnt how to put people at ease because I know how I’m feeling myself, there are so many ways that my challenges actually put me to an advantage.
But I still struggle.
I still worry about making an idiot of myself.
That holds me back.
Especially when I’m writing, I fear making mistakes. The kind of mistakes that everyone else will see immediately but you can never see yourself, no matter how many times you proof your words. I’m paranoid. I try to hide too that I struggle with the written word. I even taught myself script handwriting from the back of a literacy manual so that my handwriting doesn’t give me away. I don’t use biro either for the same reason.
Words give you away.
Words are much more than just words. They say a lot about the speaker or writer too.
Sometimes that’s too much for me.
I’m scared of giving too much away.
I hide behind masks.
But still get claustrophobic.
Writing, loving to write made me weird. It wasn’t cool, it wasn’t even normal.
I also had to accept that I wasn’t really any good at it.
So I gave up.
The words, the writing got suppressed within me.
I’m used to having my head whirling with ideas. This new improved dosage has given me back a lot more creativity too; I dream stories rather than fight nightmares in Escher-like landscapes.
Writing was something that was meant to come easily to a writer, or so I thought. Not only did it have to come easily but also had to come ‘good’. The quality had to be there from the start. No one ever thought to tell me that most writers spend years honing their craft or that, apart from in the novels, writers rarely produce a perfect first manuscript that makes their name as a published author.
No, writing is apparently like any other skill. It can come naturally to you but you still have to develop it. You have to grow in ability, honing that skill, perfecting it (even if perfection isn’t actually achievable). Writing needs training, exercise, practice, experience.
You’re not meant to get it right first time.
No one told me that.
So I humbly gave up.
But the words, the writing still comes.
I don’t if I have what it takes, I struggle to express myself and, I have to admit, I struggle with language and words. I can only get so far; I had the reading ability of a twelve-year-old when I was six. That was great. But the problem is that I still do. I peaked early, misleading people into thinking that I was gifted. And my literacy was good enough to hide my (significantly worse) numeracy problems.
There are words that I can still not remember how to say properly. I now go for a deliberate course of mispronunciation of a variety of words and place names so I can hide when I do actually make a mistake, opting for idiosyncrasy rather than admitting my problems. I always read place-boh, super-flu-us, amby-vale-ent. I’m likely to say them like that too. It embarrasses me. I can’t say words like py-jamas either. Well, I’m getting better at that one, I have to think very carefully about it first then say it slowly and deliberately. It tends to come out as juh-mahmas. Not cool. Not grown up. Not right.
I hate making mistakes.
Making mistakes is failure, right?
Should I be ashamed of myself?
Just because I struggle, does that mean I should give up writing?
And when it comes to writing, how do you know when you’ve got it right?
Only when you get published?
I don’t know. The world has changed a lot. There’s blogging now, you probably know about that.
So I think I’m going to try to keep writing, my confidence is in a very new and surprising place at the moment and I don’t quite trust that, but I love words and the words keep coming. Maybe I can keeping work on my weaknesses, maybe the mistakes don’t really matter after all. I’m doing what I love, what I have always loved even before I knew the alphabet, so that has to count for something.
Just promise me that you’ll tell me when I make a mistake, yes?
What’s the biggest thing that holds you back from starting, from accomplishing, from finishing, from achieving? Fear. Fear is our biggest enemy and we all know it. But where does the fear come from? Sure, we are confronted, bombarded even in this day and age, by things that we are told are scary. But fear is still a choice. I know that sometimes I choose to take risks that might be unacceptable for some people, for example I’m quite happy to walk home in the dark, and the reason that I do that is because if I stop to become fearful, fear will overtake me. I’ve been on that verybefore and I don’t want to go there again. I choose not to fear because fear is actually a greater burden, an unacceptable risk. For me.
Fear is still a big part of my life though. And I know that I generate that myself because my biggest fear is that of failing. I joke that I am a failed perfectionist. Chronic health conditions certainly temper how much organisation, control and mastery I have over my own life but to be completely honest, I’m not good at it. I can line CDs up alphabetically and organise my wardrobe by the rainbow but it’s a token effort, an attempt to stop the tide. The tide of chaos, the tide of life. I am overwhelmed. But I still expect an awful lot from myself. Too much sometimes.
When I start out to do something, I want it to be the best, I want perfection. I expect perfection only from myself. I am tolerant, indulgent even of others. It’s just like that mystical perfection that we crave for our bodies, it doesn’t exist, it isn’t attainable. I start over thinking the project, I get bogged down in details. I overwhelm myself with my standards.
The thing is though that if I let go of that fear, if I don’t give into that crazy perfection desire, I still end up with something pretty good. Something that perhaps people with different Minds to mine might feel pride in. (I am still assessing and debating my relationship with the dread Pride, I will keep you posted if and when I discover that there’s a balanced approach).
I have to find the confidence to work through the slump, as L.M Montgomery may well term it, and to continue on. Sometimes I give up too early. Worn out, disheartened, crushed. But as you know, self-confidence is not something that comes readily to me, I have long had too little self belief to find the motivation, the hope and the strength to go on when I start to fear that I have failed.
This is why this project has taken most of the year to come to fruition, although of course the Bad Patch didn’t really help either. It’s hard to keep on top of your projects when you can barely lift the needles. And when I could physically knit, there was often a real psychological block holding me back.
But this time, I conquered. I didn’t let the fear win, I didn’t let it make me give up. I fought through it. I put the project aside when it all seemed to be going disastrously wrong and came back to it when I was ready. Even when it didn’t turn out how I originally envisioned, I took a break then made my peace. I’d still made something worthwhile. Something that I hope will put a smile on a child’s face. And you don’t need perfection to do that.
Actually, when I look back, this project has all been about facing new challenges and allowing myself the time to grow into them.
It started nearly two years ago when my husband bought me some knitting books that I had had my eye on for quite a while, part of a series called Twenty to Make, it was the four on knitted food that this idiosyncratic knitter just had to have. You have met some of the patterns from those books when I made my Lunchbox back in the summer.
I loved the books, of course, but there was one major problem. A lot of the patterns required knitting in the round. I couldn’t knit in the round and was pretty sure that I never would be able. So I bookmarked the patterns that were achievable and forget about the others, albeit regretfully.
When I knitted Fruit and Fairy Cakes (those patterns were taken from various magazines instead) for a young friend of mine and they were rapturously received, I knew I had the perfect victim for further creations. But what could I make with my limited abilities?
Well, this spring, as my confidence started to grow a little, I learnt to knit in the round. In slow baby steps, of course. But there was something that I definitely knew that I wanted to make for my friend.
I cast on in March. I knitted during car journeys. I knitted during a chillier than expected day at the beach. And within a couple of months, I had a half-dozen ice cones ready for filling. But those cones also tell their own story of my growing confidence.
The first cone that I cast on, I couldn’t work with so few stitches on the needles so I had to start a few rows higher up and even the I couldn’t manage the stitch pattern as well, so the first cone also has a section of stocking stitch:
The second cone shows that at least I was learning. Yes, I still had to start on a higher row but this one has the stitch pattern:
After that, I pretty much had the beginnings sussed:
(That’s now a chocolate cone, in case you were wondering. They’re all high quality waffle cones which are my favourite. There is something classic about the golden polystyrene cone that comes with a Mr Whippy, a 99, but the waffle cone beats that hands down every time. Actually, I think I prefer the cone to the ice cream, if that’s not a little too weird. Although ice cream is a very good partner to the cone. If there’s just ice cream available then I sprinkle over corn flakes or some other breakfast cereal just to make it bearable. That might be completely weird. But it’s genetic, my father did the same. (I also used to save the end of my cone (the best bit) for him when we were out without him when I was little. That might make me utterly, irredeemably weird but also very generous and loving).)
The other problem that I had with the cone pattern was that in the image in the book it looks like the ice cream cone is finished with a possible ridge of garter stitch then smooth stocking stitch. I presume that this must be folded back on itself to make a ‘hem’, if you will, because stocking stitch always has the distinctive, curled rolling edge. That’s not a problem, the problem is that when I worked the pattern instructions, I ended up with something looking like moss/seed stitch (can’t remember which is which, the definition is a little shaky).
I wasn’t liking that too much so came up with Plan B. Only thing is, I’m till not sure whether Plan B is garter stitch or reverse stocking stitch because I was purling in the round.
By May, I was onto the ice cream itself. This is where I met the most problems. I tried the ice cream pattern in the book and really couldn’t get on with it. So then I reverted to the basic rectangle that made the fairy cakes. I had to make a few versions until I got it the right size but then I was off.
I can come up with plenty of ice cream flavours, imagination is not something that I’m short of but there’s always the Internet for far too much inspiration too. The limiting thing is the way yarn colours behave (they don’t segue in a natural way) and that there only so many colours in my stash.
I wanted to make lots of different flavours that could be fitted into the cones according to a child’s, or their customer’s, taste. I love mix and match in toys, I don’t like things being rigid and prescriptive. And there I ran into another problem.
Knitted ice cream doesn’t stay cooperatively in the cone. (It’s possible that there are various experiences to suggest that real ice cream doesn’t always stay happily in the cone either).
I was miserable.
I had failed.
My ice cream wouldn’t work.
I was miserable some more.
I decided that I would distract myself by knitting up the bag.
I had big plans for that bag.
Patchwork. It is apparently possible to knit all the different colours together using intarsia rather than making lots of squares (ish) and sewing them together. I hate sewing.
I say apparently because I never got there. Too many tangles and not enough space, energy or patience. (This was at the height of baby bird raising too, remember, my knitting and me had been relegated to the bedroom).
I was miserable.
Now my bag had failed too.
I finally picked myself up again.
Eventually I went for Plan B in the bag department too. Stripes.
But I did cleverly design a gusset for my bag.
And then sewed it up the wrong way.
(Hey, what can I say? I’ve been Tired this year).
I also decided to go into a little appliqué work and stitch letters on my bag. (Well, I had done knitted motifs on the previous two bags, it was time for a change).
Did I mention that I can’t sew?
I can, however, create giant letters in a word processing program and print them then use my persuasive powers to get husband to cut them out accurately both in the paper and in the felt. This is very fiddly job, if you thought wallpaper was the way to damage a relationship then I suggest you think again. Felt letters are a definite make or break for any relationship. I think we’ve survived.
There are some cracking words in English but one thing that the language really isn’t any good at is shop names. I went overseas to find the wording for my storage bag, choosing a language that reflects the receiving family’s own cultural links and my own (literally) sweet memories.
I did that stitching myself, all by myself-some.
I was feeling better.
It was time to start making decisions about those ice creams.
They were going to have be sewn into the cones.
And I was only going to have half a dozen, the other flavours will have to wait for another time.
I lined the cones with upcycled thin plastic and then stitched the ice creams down.
Six different flavours in two types of cones. I think it may even be vegan friendly ice cream but it’s not entirely natural, I did make them from 100% acrylic after all.
Málaga Ice Cream in Chocolate Cone, Stracciatella Ice Cream in Waffle Cone, Chocolate Chip Ice Cream in Waffle Cone
Strawberry Ice Cream in Waffle Cone, Lemon Sorbet in Waffle Cone, Mint Choc Chip in Chocolate Cone
And the title of this post? My father always called ice cream ‘scream’ in honour of his little refrain, We All Scream for Ice Cream. We never knew where he’d got the expression from until very recently. I found a little beach hut with the same slogan scrawled on its front. This was clearly not just something in my father’s head. I took to the internet and we finally found its origin.
Do you scream for ice cream?
(And my sincere but unrepentant apologies for another humongous post on knitting, sometimes even small things require epic journeys. Thank you for travelling with me on this one).