Yarn Tourist

This past week my mother and I took our annual trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. This time, however, was my first time there as a knitter. I carried in my pocket a list of all the yarn stores in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Chimayo.

My first fiber stop was Fiber Chicks in Old Town Albuquerque. I had arranged with one of the owners to have a private lesson on how to knit cables. Each time I would mention that I wanted to learn how to knit cables everyone would always say, “Oh, they’re so easy!” Well, that may be, but like everything else, until someone teaches you – they’re hard.

Lesley  Miller, the woman I’d spoken with over the phone a couple weeks ago, was very sweet and welcoming. We got to work. She watched me cast on, politely asked me why on earth I was using a long-tail cast-on (“Cause it’s the only one I know?”), and then taught me two more cast-on techniques.

When we inevitably got around to the question of “what made you take up knitting?” I told her about my 10,000 Hours project. Now, I keep expecting people, especially knitters, to go “What? You think you’re going to be a ‘master’ knitter?!” and then laugh me out of the room. But so far, everyone has been really excited by the idea. Other knitters visibly light up and non-knitters start talking about what skill they’d take on. Lesley was no exception. She started pulling out books & patterns she thought would be good for me and donated the entire 3 hour lesson to the cause. I made sure I purchased a hefty hank of handmade yarn and the needles she’d broken out for the lesson as a show of good faith.

Of course, I enjoyed the shops I found in Santa Fe & Chimayo as well. But out in the desert it is the land of wool, so my pocket book was (mostly) spared any real damage.

One afternoon I was left to my own devices on the plaza while mom had a cooking class. After a while I wandered into a coffee shop, purchased some hot tea, and sat in a cozy chair to knit. A gentleman in the process of “extreme couponing” sat next to me and struck up a conversation. He didn’t understand my obsession with yarn, I didn’t understand his obsession with little scraps of advertising, but we had a nice chat anyway. Occasionally I would notice that people outside on the sidewalk had stopped to watch me knit. I kept wanting to say, “Come back in about 9,000 hours… it should be far more entertaining then.”

Each evening my mom and I would return to our hotel, sit by the kiva (it was unseasonably chilly that week), she would make necklaces and I would knit. You can always tell what I hold dear by looking at what I’ve packed in my carry-on as opposed to shipped back or left to the (shudder) fickle fates of baggage claim. And yes, my knitting was tucked safely next to the chocolates for James and the gifts for my kids.

Baby Steps

I’m nearing the 400-hour mark which will be 4% of my 10,000 hour journey. I’ve actually learned quite a lot. It’s a funny trip. I think the mindset with which I have to approach the project as a whole has really helped open me up to accepting myself and my efforts at each step so far. I’m willing to acknowledge that I will make mistakes – a lot of them, that not every knitted item I attempt is going to “work” the way I’d intended, and some of these techniques are going to be hard and possibly just not fun. If I had picked up knitting as a hobby or with the intention to making something specific, these three concepts would have driven me batty.

I’m also beginning to crave learning. I’m starting to get a real kick out of attempting something, failing miserably at it for a bit, and then gradually figuring it out until, voila… I did it! The thrill of the entire experience and not just the “look what I can do” payoff at the end.

This week, it’s been socks. I am most of the way through my first sock. It’s a toddler-sized sock done in worsted-weight cotton for my youngest son and it’s hugely satisfying. Socks have been made for thousands of years. Many many people can knit socks. It’s not something new. It’s not avant garde or barrier breaking in the least. It’s basic. It’s small. Yet I still feel like I’ve done something amazing creating this funky little tube that will fit perfectly on my child’s foot. Not to mention that I still feel really fancy knitting with multiple needles at a time!

10,000 Hours is a series of baby steps. Countless sometimes microscopic steps. The enormity of it gives me no choice but to settle in and enjoy the ride and not fling myself desperately towards an imagined goal. Something I hope I can carry over into the rest of my life.

Ingrid Murnane & @Platea Mentions

AWWSelfPort by Laura IsaacI have been honored to have one of my first knitting-based projects featured on both @Platea’s blog & textile historian/artist, Ingrid Murnane’s blog.

Here is what Ingrid had to say: I have been following artist Laura Isaac’s work for a few months now, since fellow @platea member, Joanie San Chirico pointed me in the direction of her knitting project, 10,000 Hours. Laura attempted to learn to knit, from complete beginner to expert standing in the given, 10,000 hours to explore the theory it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something. Take a look – it’s a great project. More recently, continuing her knitting practise, Laura has responded to the arrest of the Chinese artist and activist, Ai WeiWei with a knitting vigil, marking time by knitting a sunflower seed pattern until his release. Below, she tells us more (reblogged with permission from Laura, from the @platea blog).

Here is what Joanie San Chirico of @Platea had to say: I was writing a post about responses to the prompt to show support for Ai Weiwei by using sunflower seeds. That post is still coming, but when I saw Laura Isaac’s powerful new avatar on Twitter depicting her Knitting Vigil, I knew that I had to find out more. I asked Laura for an image and some information and decided that her email warranted being posted in full.

And here are my comments about the project: I have always enjoyed Ai Weiwei’s work and his Sunflower Seeds (2010) had quickly become one of my favorite works of all time. It’s such a powerful and touching statement about individuality and mass consumer culture. I remember watching his interviews and sessions at the Tate during last October and really being afraid for him when he returned home to China. I have met many people who were “detained” by the Chinese government; they were lucky to survive. With Ai’s arrest we have the opportunity to get a massive protest going because he is so well known internationally. The trick is to not lose focus and not let up. The Chinese government is good at playing the waiting game and they’re hoping we’ll forget. We can’t forget about Ai, his associates, or the countless others who have “disappeared”.

I was really moved when I saw the first Sunflower Seeds Hour Count photo on Twitter. I thought it was a such a beautiful way to peacefully protest. I wanted to participate, but I wanted to mark the hours he’s lost in a different way. I wanted to spend time with each sunflower seed. I decided to write a knitting chart. (I’ve never written one before, since I only started knitting in February for another project.) I stayed up one night, charted out the sunflower seed, and the next afternoon I taught myself to knit the image from YouTube videos.

I decided to post the pattern for free on Ravelry for anyone else who would like to join my knitting vigil. As of this post, the pattern has been downloaded 45 times and there are 23 members of the Ravelry Knitting Vigil Group and more from my website. Members of the group have decided to knit the pattern on squares and send them to Chinese embassies. Others have proposed knitting the sunflower seeds while pacing outside of the embassies. (You have to knit and walk at the same time since it is illegal to “obstruct the flow of traffic” on the sidewalk.) Another member is going to knit it on little cushions and give them to her friends as a way of spreading awareness. I think these are all beautiful ideas. Sending in a knitted protest is powerful. It says, “I have taken a lot of time to tell you that I think what is happening is wrong”, but it’s also soft and comforting. It’s about as non-violent as a protest can get. I would love to see some group “yarn bomb” a public place with sunflower seed squares, and maybe include a “Release Ai Weiwei” sticker.

Meanwhile, knitting a little more on my sunflower seeds each day helps me cope with the idea that the world is not a safe place, that there are people I can’t protect, and that time is precious. I sincerely hope that Ai Weiwei and his associates will be released safely very soon, and that they will be able to see how so many people across the globe have made sure that they didn’t completely “disappear”.

@Platea describe themselves as “a global collective of individuals interested in the power of public art carried out in the digital megacity of social media. Some of the projects can be subversive, tucked away in hidden locales in online space for only the most dedicated to find. Others can be overt (but not obvious), causing most daily users to pause and take notice. Some can be playful. Some can be serious. Some ‘local’, some ‘city-wide’. Almost all, we hope, will challenge members of the digital city in the same way the best public art does.” Find out more about their projects here.

Ingrid Murnane is a textile historian, artist, vintage knitter, and self-described museum dweller. Find out more about her & her work here.

Click here to download the “Release Ai Weiwei” pattern on Ravelry.

Click here to join the Knitting Vigil group where we will share photos of our “Release Ai Weiwei” projects and news we find about Ai’s arrest.

The Tidal Pool

I am now around 350 hours into 10,000 Hours. It’s been an incredible ride so far. I’ve stumbled upon a whole world I had no idea existed. It’s like looking in a tidal pool and noticing the entire ecosystem that’s contained in that one puddle of water.

I’ve tried to immerse myself as best I can in knitting culture. I’ve been reading books, blogs, online forums, anything I can get in front of my eyes that has anything at all to do with knitting. This makes some of the hour tracking tricky. I’ve decided that when I’m doing purely “academic” knitting reading (when I’m actually learning facts or techniques) I can count those hours. But for the most part all of the other reading is on “my time.”

I have to say that I’m amazed (and very relieved) that I seem to adore knitting. This is a bonus since I had no idea what I was getting myself into back in February. I’m sure part of it is that I wanted to like it since I’d committed myself to several thousand hours of it. So a positive, “I may as well enjoy this” attitude has probably carried me a fair way. But, on the other hand, I think I may have been drawn to knitting subconsciously for a long time.

I have always actually wanted to spin yarn. In fact the only reason I didn’t choose that for my 10,000 Hours skill was that I wouldn’t be able to spin as many places as I can knit. I also didn’t think the documentation of learning to spin would be as compelling for the eventual show and publication; the difference between a beginner’s yarn and a really impressive expert’s yarn is probably way more subtle than the differences that can be demonstrated in knitted objects.