The Sea Change

Full fathom five thy father lies;

Of his bones are coral made;

Those are pearls that were his eyes;

Nothing of him that doth fade,

But doth suffer a sea-change

Into something rich and strange.

– The Tempest (I, ii)

Lately I’ve been finding a part of myself protesting this project. Some little part of my id panics and starts to shout “I never wanted to be a knitter! No one ever asked me about this! I don’t want to change!” It’s completely irrational and actually kind of funny. As if changing into a knitter were something dramatic, worthy of protest or fear. I doubt it’s the “knitting” part of this equation that gives me the queasiness. But change… now that’s something humans tend to fear on such a base level. Impermanence.

10,000 Hours is an unusual project this way. The change is at the core of it… the knitting is just the vehicle I’ve chosen to hitch a ride in. Constant transformation is the goal. When I find myself wanting to settle into a technique that’s become familiar and that I’m comfortable with, it’s time to push myself even harder and try something new or difficult for me. The whiny little toddler id doesn’t like it. Tough. This is what I’ve signed on for… for another 9,500 hours. Lucky for me my curiosity and sense of commitment outrank this little whimper of laziness and I forge ahead. But change is happening.

I’ve started a discussion group on Ravelry (an online knit & crochet forum). I’m so excited about the conversations taking place there! People sharing their own stories of practice and learning, ideas about what expertise and mastery really involve, and a great sense of community. One person asked, “How do you choose?” No one had asked me that yet. I think to some degree people have just assumed that I’d always wanted to be a knitter. I haven’t. It’s not that I didn’t want to be a knitter… I just had no knowledge of and consequently no real desire to learn knitting. What I knew I wanted was to take a 10,000 hour long journey. What I needed for that was: 1) Something I could do often and virtually anywhere I went, otherwise 10,000 hours would take 10,000 years. 2) Something that would give me visual evidence of my progress since this is, ultimately, an art project. 3) Something I could easily seek instruction for.

Knitting fit the bill. I also loved the idea that knitting is a measurement of time in its own right; and time is such a big part of this project. So this is how I chose knitting. I was a hitchhiker on the highway of expertise and knitting stopped to give me a ride.

This project is a transformation in many ways. At the basic level I am turning into a knitter, but I am also developing a new and intense practice ethic. 10,000 Hours is also helping me to not be attached to ideas about outcomes. I am learning to “do” with the highest level of effort, to keep working, and to deal with dropped stitches as they come. But there is no place for throwing up of hands and swearing off techniques on this trip. I have to keep at it. And that’s okay. It might take me thousands of hours… I just keep stitching ‘til I get it right.

To commemorate the first 500 hours (1/20th of the journey) I knitted a “Sea Foam” stitch lace swatch, attached it to a printing block, shellacked it for durability, and have run a limited edition print & watercolor on 100% rag linen paper. This print, Sea Change, is currently available through  10,000 Hours Sponsorship at the $100 level. The block is pictured above.

To join in on some of the discussion surrounding 10,000 Hours please visit the 10,000 Hours Ravelry Group. It is free to join Ravelry and the discussion group involves non-knitting specific conversations as well.

This Woman’s Work

(Alternate title: The Elephant in My Mind)

I have finally been forced to confront it. From the outset of this project I’ve pushed it to the back of my mind hoping it would just go away. Apparently it never did.

I’ve joined a fun knitting group in downtown Kansas City; they’re laid-back, interesting, welcoming people. This past Sunday it was just me and two of the men in the group. We were chatting and knitting and in walked some non-knitting people. Then it happened. The thought “I’m so glad the guys are here,” went flying through my head. I cringed. This might not seem like a particularly evil thought. But the moment I was conscious of the thought, I knew I couldn’t ignore the “elephant in my mind” any longer.

You see, why I was glad the guys were there was because it  might validate knitting in other people’s eyes. Not because they are particularly good at it (although their skills are just fine) but because they are simply men. Before you write me off, follow me here for a second.

  1. When I first went to art school I was constantly asked whether I was an Arts Education or Fiber Arts major. (Kind of the art equivalent to Pediatrician or Ob/Gyn for female med students.)
  2. Even in the short time I’ve been knitting, each time I’ve knitted in public some middle aged man comes over and in a very patronizing voice says something like, “It just amazes me how women can do that. You must be so patient. I could never knit.” Subtract the tone of voice and the “how women can do that” portion and it would be a polite conversation starter. Instead it’s a pat on the head and ‘little girls are sugar and spice’ and a 33 year old woman is suddenly 12.
  3. Look in your local art galleries and museums. How many textiles do you see? Especially contemporary textiles. The fiber arts haven’t been well-respected historically. Traditionally “women’s work” and pushed into the “craft” category, even non-functional fiber arts have had a rough run of it.

When I was first putting together 10,000 Hours and searching for a skill to pursue, knitting was my first choice. I had honestly never touched a pair of knitting needles in my life, I knew I could knit often and almost anywhere, I’d have a visible record of my progress, and I instinctively felt that knitting is in its own way a measurement of time. But I kept trying to find something else to do. Something (and I really really hate to admit this) less traditionally feminine. I was afraid that knitting done by a female artist wouldn’t be taken seriously, and therefor that the project wouldn’t be taken seriously. Each time these thoughts would pop into my head I’d push them down and try to pretend that I hadn’t thought them.

Eventually I decided that knitting really was the perfect skill for this project and here I am. But every time some guy in a golf shirt comes over and praises the grace and patience of women I crumble a little. My foot slips on the rocks. And Sunday, in anticipation of another pat on the back I allowed myself a split second to rejoice in the company of the men because no one would dare come over and say something like that with them there doing the exact same thing I was. I felt awful. Like I’d demeaned my knitting friends by focusing on their gender and myself for being ashamed of mine, however briefly.

I have had to admit that when push comes to shove I really am worried about how my art is received as an artist who is a woman. I was once told by a gallery owner, “I don’t like that piece because I can tell it was made by a woman. I like these over here though, they’re less menstrually.” (That was in reference to my Song Birds suite. The first person who can correctly guess the “menstrually” print will receive a work from that series for free. I’m serious. Email me with your guesses.) I’m a little bit afraid of the “you throw like a girl” dismissals and picking up a medium associated with women (and not even women artists mind you) makes the road a little more tricky.

I have seriously had to bribe myself to finish and post this entry. I am THAT afraid to admit these feelings or call attention to them. Partly because it could be seen as “whiny” but mostly because I really wish I was above this. But this is a part of the journey. I have to cope with my feelings surrounding the entire process. So here they are.

I ultimately chose knitting. I am glad. It is perfect for this project and I am loving learning this medium. These moments of insecurity and cringe-worthy thoughts are momentary and often so subtle that I am able to let them go easily. Sometimes they are not.

I am turning back to Big Girls Don’t Cry by Rebecca Traister for reassurance that gender issues are complicated and therefor it’s not unreasonable that my emotions surrounding them are equally complex.

“J’Accuse!”

More than one person has now suggested that I did not begin the 10,000 Hours project as a complete beginner to knitting. My first reaction was to mentally go, “Hey, buddy! That calls my behavior and sense of ethics into question. What’d I ever do to you?”  That passed quickly since the people didn’t really seem to be out to slander my character. But then I wondered if they really understood the project. The real point is to find out what it’s like to take and to document a journey from absolute beginner to supposed master. If I had chosen a field I already knew something about it would negate the whole premise. I’m also not sure what I would gain from such a strange lie. Personally, I’m looking forward to the random milestones. When I get to 5,000 hours (what I’ve started calling Amateur Hour) what kind of skills will I have learned. And, of course, the ultimate goal of 10,000 hours… I can only imagine what that will look & feel like. Will I be knitting insanely complex and impressive objects? Will I be speed knitting? Or will I just be a really competent knitter? I don’t know. True, I can steer myself in certain directions, but at this stage of the game (a little less than 5% in) I have no idea what I will look or knit like when I cross that finish line.

I have to suppose that my accusers mean it as a compliment; that my knitting must seem to exceed their expectations of someone who started only four months ago. But it’s not your average four months of taking up a new craft. I’ve been knitting for well over 400 hours now, generally averaging 5 hours a day. Knitting is, essentially, my new part-time job. I’m guessing that given that kind of practice time and the amount of effort I’ve put into learning new skills and techniques we could all expect my finished objects to look about like they do. (The good and the bad.)

Even I have developed a somewhat skewed sense of what “beginning knitting” is though. I keep assuming that if it’s something I’ve managed to learn in the past couple of months then it must qualify as “beginning knitting.” But I should remember that close to 500 hours of directed practice probably pushes some of those skills into the intermediate category. I have no idea. It’s all pretty subjective which is part of what makes this journey so intriguing to me.

The second livestream broadcast will be this Friday, June 3rd, 12 PM – 8 PM Eastern Join the conversation and give us your thoughts on being a “beginner.”