Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Who (or what) Is My Fiber Family?

From the Voie de Vie photo archives, circa approx. Spring 2014: an 
incredible melange of fibers and price points, from Mary Maxim 
acrylic to artisan hand dyed.
(Updated 2/7/19 to correct spelling errors/typos)

I have, in fact, been thinking a lot about this very question recently, and since it is a prompt in this Instagram February challenge (participation in which is quite robust, if you'd like to join us), I thought it worthy of a little deeper dive.

By way of case study, I want to use a recent Countess Ablaze Instagram post (as well as one of the post's comments) from a recent prompt in this very same February challenge. Please firmly note: I am an emphatic fan of the Countess!!!! She has leaned into her life in such an incredible way - not only becoming a marketing genie in the process, but perfecting being a human extraordinaire. 
Tools of my trade: the
hooks always lead.

In this post, she explains her first project - an acrylic crochet blanket, which her daughter still has displayed on a family bed. The Countess described it as a "gateway" project - and of course, her current business reflects that she has long since abandoned her inexpensive, acrylic crochet days for hand-dyed scrumptious natural fibers at considerably higher price points. (Do take stock of the fact that no matter the fiber, her trademark use of eye-popping color is constant.) A quick look at the accessories page of her website underscores this: only three entries for crochet hooks, yet considerably more for knitting. It goes without saying that there is no acrylic in sight in her hand-dyed yarn and fiber inventory.

Among many of the comments in response to this post is one that immediately caught my eye. In it, the commentor indicated (and I'm paraphrasing) that she always provides inexpensive acrylic and hooks to those who want to learn, since the yarn can be, in essence, ripped out and/or otherwise abused by the beginner without guilt (whose guilt, whether the beginner or the one commenting, is unclear).

I had to breathe deeply and remain calm when I got to this section of the comments, because in tandem with the original post, it paints an incredibly inferior picture of crochet (unintentional on the part of the writers no doubt, but evident nonetheless): crochet is a great vehicle to learn a craft, and cheap acrylic is acceptable at the beginning stages of the learning process, but crafters should (and probably will) aspire to something more lofty. Separate, yet aspirationally equal, takes on a whole new meaning, although I am certain there are knitters, too, who started on their crafty path with cheap acrylic yarn.


George Bailey, before he completed his life here on earth, on one of his
favorite blankets, made with hard-working Patons acrylic yarn. It will
work hard perpetually: I could not bear to keep it, opting (at the risk of
being too morbid), to wrap him in it before burying him.





I have written on this blog in a few places, but most recently
here that I am no yarn snob - and the photographic evidence underscores my writing. Additionally, I have written about the intersection between my working class roots and my approach to textiles and clothing here and here - and the upshot is, of course, one cannot escape one's roots, a person can only incorporate and transcend them. Nevertheless, our early associations with things and processes have a huge lasting effect: blame the 70s and early acrylic incarnations to explain why we still make references to cheap acrylic and crochet, despite the fact that both have come a long way since then.

I hope that everyone, who wants to gift the love of craft to a new maker, thinks about the materials beforehand. Those first associations can never be erased. An inexpensive blend (which one can purchase for the same amount as acrylic, in all the same places as acrylic) will stand up to a beginner's uninformed hook, yet still leave the crafter with an early association of the feel of at least some natural fiber and the good it can produce, however awkward the effort. That association will have a positive impact on that new crafter's willingness to keep a well-rounded stash in future.
The acrylic and the indie dyed, side by side.

I am not suggesting doing away with acrylic. It has its place, for a whole host of reasons. But making it into something one must aspire to overcome is short-sighted and, to many, elitist. I personally may limit my acrylic-blend use to certain types of projects for environmental, residual crochet-centric stereotypical, and other reasons, including my wallet: sometimes a blend is the best my budget can afford, and I know I am not the only one in this particular yarny boat, the Countess's excellent use of color notwithstanding.

Now, if she decided she wanted to hand-dye acrylic blends and sell them at lower price points, she might be onto something else. That dyeing mix would, of course, come closer to symbolizing my true fiber family.

Friday, February 1, 2019

The Next Big Thing ... from Tough as Lace Publishing

As many of you are, perhaps, aware, my first book, as well as certain other of my publications, are released through my tough as lace publishing imprint. 

I have been working, slowly behind the scenes, on a second book of designs! It's been simmering on a back burner for about three years, and I am finally able (and confident) to announce that it will be ready for its public debut in September, 2019. 



While I will not spill the beans concerning its contents (for reasons that will become apparent in just a moment, as you read further), I will tell you that it is bigger, by about 20%, than Leather, Lace, Grit & Grace. The designs, this time around, are all crochet. Gloriously, wonderfully crocheted in amazing yarns and colorways - both from indie dyers as well as bigger, commercially manufactured yarn producers. The artwork, photography, and layout are, of course, also mine, so this is my second multi-discipline labor of love. It is, however (unlike the first book), deeply personal. It is a read, as well as filled with all the things I love - design, art, color, fiber, photography.

I will be offering, over three months (March, April, and May, 2019), sneak previews of three book chapters, as part of a pre-publication book package, and of course the earlier you commit, the less money it will cost you. Initially, here is the package:

- a soft-cover edition of the book, signed by the author (me!);
-free, world-wide shipping of the soft-cover edition; and
- an electronic version of the book.

The chapters (to be released electronically via my Ravelry store) will start March 1st, the second April 1st, and the third May 1st, and the earlier you purchase the pre-sale package, the more you will save. Commencing today, February 1st, the above book package will be listed in my Ravelry store for $20.99; when the first of these chapters goes live March 1st, the price for the package will then increase to $23.99; when the second chapter is uploaded April 1st, the package price will increase to $26.99; finally, the complete package price of $29.99 will be listed once the final of the three chapters is released May 1st. After that, this package price will remain at $29.99 until the book's publishing September 2nd. On September 3rd, the $29.99 price will be for the soft-cover book only (no electronic version included, and no shipping either).


I will also tell you the chapters I will be releasing are not at the beginning of the book - they actually fall about two-thirds of the way into it. Once you see the first installment March 1st, you will understand why I am doing it this way. However, it also provides a healthy sneak peek well into the book's evolution, yet also still leaves enough mystery to make the anticipation of getting the entire book rather high. Finally, on the preview chapters: all chapters released early include awesome crochet designs, and the May release includes multiple designs.

I am, just as for the first book, excited and scared in equal amounts. I do hope this sophomore effort meets with maker (and reader!) approval.

Taking a very deep breath ...

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Remember This House


This is my first blog entry of 2019, and as is customary for me most years, I am usually fairly silent during the first few weeks of any new year. I have been busy with other things and on other social media, but somehow this first long weekend in January, when we remember and celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., it seems fitting to break the bloggy new year ‘s fast and put some thoughts to screen.

As many of you may know, MLK, Jr. figures prominently in my own notions of social justice. In my second year as a VISTA (Volunteer In Service to America) I, along with a group of other local VISTAs, spent our entire year dissecting institutional racism – what it was, how it manifested itself in our respective work sites as well as our everyday lives, and what we might do about it. King featured prominently in the supporting works I read, as well as my taking note of his own thought evolution on social justice. Along with a handful of undergraduate courses, that year-long inquiry, more than a decade ago, stays with me to this day. I still feed off the lightening-bolt moments I had as a result of an off-comment here, a well-placed paragraph there, as well as the memories of intense conversations we had as a group.

While my days of direct service are all-but over, my willingness to continue to dig deeper into the entire history of this country remains strong, and this weekend is always a personal reminder that I still have much to learn. In that vein, I highly encourage each of you to find and watch Raoul Peck’s excellent I Am Not Your Negro, his 2016 ode to James Baldwin, via one of his unfinished works, Remember This House. Using (as Baldwin was intending) the deaths of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and MLK, Jr. as a thematic link and backdrop, Peck masterfully brings to life Baldwin’s unfinished last work. Through it, Peck also (as he admits in an interview included as a video extra) keeps Baldwin alive through the current medium of choice – video and cinema. It is, of course, a meta nod to Baldwin’s final written material, as the writer was attempting to do the same (as well as so much more) with the examination of the referenced deaths.

Undoubtedly, this 2016 documentary also makes a singularly powerful statement on the current issue of race in today’s America. Using archival footage of Baldwin’s own speeches and talks (he died in 1987), it shows how far we’ve come as a nation, and yet how easy it has been to fall back. There is, also, a 1969 Dick Cavett show exchange between a white professor and Baldwin that is not, absolutely not, to be forgotten. Talk about not missing his shot.

There is so much more to say – both of Baldwin and King. However, it would be just my thoughts and impressions, and that is not what I want to convey. Read any King writing this weekend; watch this masterful documentary based on and inspired by Baldwin, himself a slave’s grandson. Determine how best you might be as light a societal presence as possible, and then live it every day. That is a legacy King (and Baldwin, I expect) would encourage.