The Texas Book Festival happened this weekend, and although I missed most of it, I did manage to ride my bike down to the state Capitol for the event with Gore Vidal and Maureen Dowd. I vaguely knew about Gore Vidal as the writer of hefty tomes, but Maureen Dowd I adore--I frequently used her op-ed pieces as rhetorical analysis exercises in my Rhetoric and Composition classes.
So I'm sitting there in the Paramount Theater in the half-dark, knitting away on my Mistake Rib scarf in Noro chenille (which used to be the Opera Scarf, but no more, I'll tell you later). The Paramount is one of those beautiful vintage theaters, reminding me so much of the theaters in The Prestige, which I got to see on Friday. The seats, therefore, are somewhat narrow, and the woman next to me, who'd been chatting away with her friend, abruptly peered into my lap and said, Oh, you're knitting! Aren't you too young for that?
I explained that there were lots of young knitters these days, but she looked doubtful. I floated my theory about the post 9/11 drift back to tradition, and she nodded, and then her friend asked me if I'd been to Hill Country Weavers
(which is really the only LYS in the city limits and therefore like a church to me) and volunteered that they had a knitting group there called Stitch and Bitch. She said my yarn looked like it came from there. Meaning colorful and not acrylic? Well, the line is getting more fine with the new yarns at Hobby Lobby and Michael's, but it was true, I did buy the Noro there.
I'm not sure why I was amused by her comment about my age, although i guess I'm not surprised that there are still people out there who haven't rediscovered knitting (imagine! ;-) She looked like she was probably in her 50s, which makes me wonder...knitting obviously is expected of the over-60 set, and has clearly taken hold of many young women in their 20s and 30s, but does this woman represent a demographic that either deliberately rejects the knitting (it's for grandmas), or has otherwise been just out of reach of the marketing?
Because to know knitting is to love it, right? Why would you reject it?
Anyway, Gore and Maureen were entertaining--he is a crotchety old man who makes thudnering, unequivocal pronouncements about GWB, and Maureen surprises you at first with her dry, nasal voice, but then wins you over with her wit and humor. One of the most interesting things they talked about was the speculation about who would run in 2008, and of course the question of the day is whether a woman or a black (Maureen's term, but I just heard it today again on The View...what, is "black person" or "African-American" too much of a mouthful?) would have a better chance at winning. She opined that a black man would probably have the edge, because people ultimately seem more concerned about masculinity than race (I'm paraphrasing here), and a woman would have a harder time proving herself there.
Which is interesting, and I could go on about, but I have to shower and get out of here, so let me just say that this is exactly what nauseates me the most about Iraq rhetoric--the "cut and run" arguments, or the "you can't play Monday morning quarterback." You could just choke on the testosterone.
48 Things You Could Care Less About
1. FIRST NAME? Olga
2. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE? My mom. I am Olga Lydia, and she is Olga Maria. She, in turn, was named after a shop in Monterrey called "Olga's Novedades."
3. WHEN DID YOU LAST CRY? Last Saturday. I connected in Chicago on my way back from Detroit and cried because I couldn't stay.
4. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING? It's a-ight. It's legible.
5. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LUNCHMEAT? Roast beef.
6. IF YOU WERE ANOTHER PERSON WOULD YOU BE FRIENDS WITH YOU? I think so, except I'd probably spend the first week wondering if I really liked me (I have been told that I am somewhat inscrutable, but I'm actually just shy).
7. DO YOU HAVE A JOURNAL? No, and I have never been able to keep one. I don't like being alone with my thoughts.
8. DO YOU STILL HAVE YOUR TONSILS? Yes.
9. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP? Oh, absolutely.
10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CEREAL? Banana Nut Crunch. But I eat Special K. :-/
11. DO YOU UNTIE YOUR SHOES WHEN YOU TAKE THEM OFF? Not unless they won't come off otherwise.
12. DO YOU THINK YOU ARE STRONG? Yes.
13. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM FLAVOR? Vanilla with some kind of chocolate or caramel mixed in. Nuts are sometimes part of the equation.
14. SHOE SIZE? 5 1/2 or 6.
5. RED OR PINK? Cherry red.
16. WHAT IS THE LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOURSELF? My incomparable ability to procrastinate!
17. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST? My family.
18. DO YOU WANT EVERYONE TO SEND THIS BACK TO YOU? I think most everyone's done this one already.
19. WHAT COLOR PANTS, SHIRT AND SHOES ARE YOU WEARING? My jammies, still. Black lounge pants and a thermal gray long sleeved shirt.
20. LAST THING YOU ATE? A Quaker Oats Oatmeal to Go bar. It was meh.
21. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW? The latest Ritmo Latino
22. IF YOU WERE A CRAYON, WHAT COLOR WOULD YOU BE? Oh, isn't that obvious? Red.
23. FAVORITE SMELL? My boyfriend's Old Spice.
24. WHO WAS THE LAST PERSON YOU TALKED TO ON THE PHONE? Laura
25. THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE ABOUT PEOPLE YOU ARE ATTRACTED TO? Physically, their smile. Personality-wise, their intelligence and sense of humor.
26. DO YOU LIKE THE PERSON you stole THIS from? I definitely like Elizabeth's
online personality, and one of these days we will cross the vast divide between Austin and Houston to meet, damnit.
27. FAVORITE DRINK? Right now, the Spiced Appletini at Fino
28. FAVORITE SPORT? Huh?
29. EYE COLOR? Boring brown.
30. HAT SIZE? Small/medium.
31. DO YOU WEAR CONTACTS? Mostly, I do, but I just bought myself a new pair of glasses. Like em?
32. FAVORITE FOOD? Burger and fries. Or sushi.
33. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS? Well, how about a scary movie with a happy ending?...nah, those are boring.
35. SUMMER OR WINTER? I'll take summer over a Chicago winter anytime, but not over autumn.
36. HUGS OR KISSES? Yes, please.
37. FAVORITE DESSERT? Brownie ala mode.
38. WHO IS MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND? I think Jennifer
should respond, because she hasn't posted in forever!
39. LEAST LIKELY TO RESPOND? Don't know...
40. WHAT BOOKS ARE YOU READING? Right now, Where are the Voices?
and Crystal Gazing in the Amber Fluid
, two collections of poetry by Carlos Cortez.
41. WHAT'S ON YOUR MOUSE Pad? I've got a laptop, but you can see my Vickie Howell sticker in the above photo. I also have a Maneja Beto
sticker on the other side.
42. WHAT DID YOU WATCH LAST NIGHT ON TV? I rented Transamerica
on DVD. First movie I've really liked in a while.
43. FAVORITE SOUNDS? Rain. My niece's voice.
44. ROLLING STONE OR BEATLES? Both.
45. THE FURTHEST YOU'VE BEEN FROM HOME? Paris.
46. WHAT'S YOUR SPECIAL TALENT? Raising one eyebrow. I used to practice a lot.
47. WHERE WERE YOU BORN? Monterrey, Mexico.
48. WHO SENT THIS TO YOU? Elizabeth said I'd be most likely to respond (see number 38). So of course, I had to!
I heart Detroit.
Wow, I can't believe it's almost been a whole week since I've been in Detroit! Thanks to everyone who left good wishes about the trip (hi, Ashley
! No wheels, so we couldn't get to Grand Rapids, sadly.). My friend Cristina was presenting a paper at a labor conference, and I planned to do some research in the Wayne State University library.
We left Detroit last Saturday, right before the World Series was to start, and the air was electric with excitement. Everyone, including the homeless guy who helped us squeeze out of our tight downtown parking spot, was positively giddy. A week later and...ew. Things don't look so good for the Tigers, but I'm sure those fans are hanging in there.
On the way back, while I waited for my connecting flight, I called Bill
for company. He asked me how I liked Detroit, and I said, yeah! I liked it a lot. He said, you're the first person I've ever heard say that about Detroit. But it was true! Wwe had Greek food, we got to see the Diego Rivera mural at the Detroit Institute of Art, and Cristina fell in love with Comerica Park. Maybe it was Tiger fever, but we found the city to be hospitable and charming, even.
OK, so the charm probably had a lot to do with the bed and breakfast we stayed in. The Woodbridge Star
, owned and operated by Alan Reid and Stephen Tezyk, is a lovely old Victorian house, located a few blocks away from the university.
The house was lovingly restored, but the rooms are a little quirky....there's a Doll Suite, y'all. And a Teddy Bear room.
Cristina and I stayed all the way upstairs in the Deco Suite. It was just lovely, with a tea nook, a copper lined tub, and a bedroom tucked underneath the eaves:
This was right about when my camera batteries pooped out, so I didn't get any more shots. Damn! And no convenience stores in sight...probably our only complaint about Detroit.
But I did get a pic of some fall foliage:
Isn't that beautiful? It was definitely a much needed sight for this autumn starved, STARVED I tell you, midwesterner. And! We saw black squirrels! I scrambled for my camera the first time we saw one, and then when I was too slow to catch that glossy little critter, we saw another two minutes later. And then another. I definitely felt like the out of towner, trying to get a picture of a squirrel
Did I get any sock knitting done on this trip? I did! I finished one sock! Socktoberfest has come and almost gone, and all I got to show for it is this one lonely sock. But just feast your eyes on the perfect fit that is the Longhorn Rib and Cable:
Cristina was only too happy to model her new sock at our favorite coffee spot, the Dandelion Cafe. But now she's expecting the other one. Well, I guess they do come in pairs...
Before I sign off, I have to tell you about the best flight attendant I had on United. I was sitting there working on my sock, and as she walked by, she asked, are you knitting a sock? Well, my jaw dropped; you sock knitters know that if someone asks you anything, it's more along the lines of, is that some kind of instrument of torture? To which you answer, no, they're double pointed needles. (Which some knitters may agree are instruments of torture, but I happen to like em.)
Anyway, she knew exactly what I was doing, because she's a sock knitter too! She admired my sock, and brought back a preemie hat she was working on to donate to charity. I gave her my card and wrote my blog url on the back, so I hope she stops by. Hi, Barbara! You guys were great! :-)
I know there hasn't been much knitting content around these here parts, lately. Truth is, I've been kind of piddling around with this project and that, not getting much of any of them done.
I started the Phyllo Yoke Pullover from Knitting Nature
, but with the holidays coming up, I decided I couldn't afford to knit anything for myself right now.
I messed around with different stitch patterns to knit a scarf out of some soft Noro chenille I got on sale a while ago, and finally settled on the Opera Scarf pattern
. It'll be fun to see what the heavier-weight chenille will do to the lacy pattern, but I haven't picked up the project in a while.
I bought some Noro Kureyon at the last LYS sale to make the Hurry Up Spring Armwarmers from Stitch and Bitch Nation
, but haven't gotten beyond the cuff.
Don't even ask me about the Trellis stole. Just don't.
Is this what the knitting blahs are? It feels more like the knitting blechs, especially after turning the heel on these socks:
These are the Rib and Cable socks from IK Fall 2005. I like the yarn (Hook Em Horns colorway from Hill Country Yarn), I like the pattern, but for some reason these short row holes seem more egregious to me than they have in other socks I've made in the past. I ripped out the gusset to pick up an extra stitch in that little valley between the dpns, and I'm still not satisfied. Me no likey.
I'll bet that Knitting Answer book
probably deals with this issue, and I know I've seen other bloggers whip those holes into submission (but why can't I find those posts now?). What do you guys do? Do you have the fix? Or are you happy to let handknitted socks be handknitted socks, in all their imperfect glory?
Because we're not machines, damn it.
Anyway, I'll be off tomorrow to Detroit for a few days to go poke around in some archives up at Wayne State University. Know what that means? Airplane knitting time! Maybe I'll finally finish these socks.
Knitting is my gateway drug.
There's been a little sewing around here lately.
Inspired by Kodachrome's
neat idea for making a needle case out of two placemats, I went and made a case for my DPNs out of one placemat. (She's written a whole tutorial
, if you'd like the expanded version.)
I simply laid out the placemat lengthwise, folded up the bottom end, stitched the sides together, and then stitched in the pockets. [WARNING, KNITTING NEEDLE SNOBS: ALUMINUM DPN CLOSE-UP.
You may want to avert your eyes and/or take the children out of the room.]
This way, there should be enough fabric at the top to fold down so that the needles don't fall out.
When I folded the flap down, I found it easier to roll the ends inward if I flipped the whole thing over so that the back of the case was facing up. So I stitched a ribbon on the top flap so that when it's rolled in, I just tie the ribbon to keep the whole thing together.
I'm quite pleased with the outcome--it was super simple, except for all the thread ends I had to tie off!
I also never got around to showing you the Knitflix swap package I put together for my pal, Becky
She had Bridget Jones's Diary: The Edge of Reason
on her wishlist, so I got her some British candy and a bag of Tatyos to go with the movie and the Lorna's Laces sock yarn I picked out for her. I'd never tried the Taytos, so I got her the relatively harmless sounding Wuster Sauce flavor, as opposed to the questionable Prawn Cocktail.
I also had this fun zebra upholstery fabric, so I made a little zippered pouch to hold the treats. I found the tutorial
on Craftster, and I swear, it took about half an hour. It might have taken less if I hadn't insisted on sewing the zipper on the wrong way THREE times. (Note to self: limit red wine intake while sewing machine is in operation.) Anyway....yay! I would have made another one on the spot, except I didn't have another zipper.
I also had to show you what's on the label of this Yorkie bar:
What's up with that??? Of course, I HAD to buy it, especially to go with such a girly movie. Apparently, it's Britian's "Hungry Man" version of the candy bar. Check out the Wikipedia entry
for the naughty joke about the Yorkie (it's the last paragraph). Oh, and I found this
while doing "research" for the candy...isn't it cool?
I cracked up when I saw this because I always
get mistaken for Asian. The website actually returned quite a few more Asian actresses/celebrities, but I didn't post them--not because I have anything against looking Asian, but I just don't know who the heck they are. I don't know who these two are, either, but the one on the left resembles me most at 86%
Barbara Mori is the gorgeous actress from La Mujer de mi Hermano
, a delightfully cheesy, melodramatic Mexican film released here recently. I love Jennifer Lopez, but I can acknowledge that I don't look anything like her. But Madonna was my fashion icon in high school, so needless to say I was pleased as punch to see her come up.
No wonder this is fun!Thanks to Bill for the original photograph.
Red sweater days.
Thought you all might to see this picture:
You might recognize the sweater from an earlier post
, but here it is on the intended recipient. Nico was born in August to my friend Jennifer, whom I've known since she and I worked together as editorial assistants in New York. Since then, I've been a bridesmaid in her wedding and seen her and her husband become a family with the addition of Cece and Nico.
Given new mama's busy schedule, these kinds of pictures, where baby actually models the gift knits, are like gold! Thanks, Jennifer!
Socktoberfest comes to Yo La Tejo.
While every other knitter in the country knits away on warm wooly socks, anticipating frigid temperatures, I am merely awaiting a break in the heat so that I can turn off my air conditioning. Waah, waah, I know what you're thinking, cry me a river, so it's year-round summer where you live, poor thing.
I miss the seasons! Here in Austin, there's only two: summer and Christmas. Having grown up in the northern climes, I don't miss the blasts of freezing air coming off of Lake Michigan, but I do long for the crisp days of September and October. So I joined Socktoberfest
, hoping that at least knitting socks will create the illusion of oncoming fall days.
By the way, Chicago peeps, what's going to pass for Oktoberfest in the Loop now that Berghoff's
is closed? That was one of the best parts about working downtown; sitting in my office on Dearborn and Adams, listening to German accordions and drunk businesspeople whoop it up in the post office plaza, and going downstairs at lunchtime for some beer and bratwurst. UPDATE
: I got a comment this morning that this post was excerpted on a Berghoff's memorial blog
...go check it out for a fun picture of Oktoberfest happening around the Alexander Calder sculpture!
Although I have to say, we had some very tasty beer brats at the Texas Barbecue Festival today. A handful of meat purveyors from throughout central Texas got together to sell their wares at the farmer's market and so we sampled, and sampled, and sampled...that was some good eatin'! Anyway, the brats come from Shiner, which also produces what is commonly considered to be the state beer. As it so happens, Shiner is hosting Bocktoberfest
(I know it sounds funny, but because the beer is Shiner Bock they had to get clever with the name). All I gotta say is, thank goodness those German immigrants came to Texas.
Uh, got a little off track there, didn't I? Without further ado, here are my Socktoberfest questionnaire answers:When did you start making socks? Did you teach yourself or were you taught by a friend or relative? or in a class?
I started knitting socks on the car trip to Big Bend in March 2005. I'd bought a skein of Lana Grossa Meileinweit Cotton in some pretty sorbet colors, and wanted to teach myself from one of those Leisure Arts books. What was your first pair? How have they "held up" over time? What would you have done differently?
Those Meilenweit socks were my first ones, and I can safely say they were NOT a success. Pretty colors do not ensure a good sock, and neither does a lacy cuff, especially for your first pair. I picked the pattern because I liked the lace, but I didn't check my gauge, and when I finally got to the stockinette part of the foot and realized that the fabric was a bit loose, I was too far along to want to rip it all out. I finished them, but they're really too baggy to wear anywhere but to bed.
The other bad part about that experience was that I was knitting a lace pattern with thin cotton yarn on metal dpns. Can you imagine the nightmare? The headaches? The needles kept slipping off and I vowed never again to knit a pair of socks. Time healed my scars (or at least dulled the pain), so when I began my Cascade Fixation socks, it was like a miracle that the yarn stayed on the needles. I know better now about a good match between yarn and needle, and maybe about gauge, too. I would have knit these on size two or size one birch or bamboo dpns. What yarns have you particularly enjoyed?
I've knit with the Meilenweit, Cascade Fixation, and Hill Country Yarn. The Meilenweit Cotton is the plaything of the devil, but I love both Fixation and the Hill Country Yarn. I made my Sockapaloooza socks from the latter, and am now knitting with Hill Country Yarn in the University of Texas colors, burnt orange and white. Not my favorite hues, but it's amazing what wool can do for your appreciation of a color.Do you like to crochet your socks? or knit them on DPNs, 2 circulars, or using the Magic Loop method?
I've only knit on DPNs, although I keep saying I'd like to learn a different way. I'm comfortable with the dpns, though, and ever since I bought the Brittany birch dpns, I don't imagine I'll be ready to change anytime soon.Which kind of heel do you prefer? (flap? or short-row?)
I don't know. I've only knit three pairs of socks, and I can't honestly remember how the heels went. How many pairs have you made?
Three. The baggy cotton ones, the Fixation Broadripples
(love those!), and the Sockapalooza Rib and Cables, which I have to confess, I don't think fit my sock pal. I never saw a picture of her modeling them, and now that I've started my second pair of Rib and Cables, I think the gauge was way too tight. I had to go up a needle size for the second pair. Sorry, Sue! You deserve a do-over.
Thanks for coming up with the questionnaire, Lolly
! If anything, I've learned that my sock knitting experience is paltry and I have quite a ways to go. I'm planning, in addition to the Longhorn ones, socks with some lovely alpaca Laura
gave me and some green superwash I won in Ashley's
Guess the First Day of Snow contest last year.
In order to supplement my education (ahem!), I finally went and bought Knitting Vintage Socks
. Hooray! There are so many beautiful patterns in there, and I can't wait to explore the intricacies of a French heel versus a German heel.
Did someone say German heel? Pass the Shiner!
The trouble with grudges.
I was forwarded this email by a friend, and although I don't like to forward on chain emails, I thought you all would appreciate it. Dear Everyone On My Sundry Mailing Lists,
This is a direct response to the horrible tragedy in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania this past Monday when Charles Roberts gunned down ten young Amish girls, five of whom died and five who are fighting still for their lives. My friend Chris lives in this community and I emailed him Monday afternoon to offer him my... well, to tell him I was thinking about him.
Because it had been reported that the gunman carried out these executions due to a twenty year-old grudge, I told Chris that, to honor those little girls and their community, I am taking a vow from here on out to not hold any more grudges. (For those of you who know me or have read my work, you know that me vowing to give up grudges is akin to a dog voluntarily giving up its bark. This won't be an easy thing for me but it's something I've been needing to do for a long time. I'm just sorry it took something so horrible to get my attention re: the trouble with grudges.)
I got a note back from Chris who told me he passed my message on to one of his Amish neighbors who said, "That is the best response I heard." Honestly, I wasn't angling for a reply, so I was surprised to get this message back. And so I am passing along to you a request that, if you have it in you, please, in honor of the Amish community, give up one grudge today, or at least try. This is what we call, in yoga, a counter pose. If you stretch one way, it's really important to stretch the opposite way for balance. Please, join me in stretching in the opposite direction of Charles Roberts.
Before I got Chris's email today, Herman and I were watching the news and there was a segment about the shootings. And I said to Herman that the thing that would be the most astonishing is that the Amish will find a way to forgive the killer and, I predict, they will reach out to his wife and children. This echoes two tales I recount in my last book. In one story, Amy Biehl, a young white American Fullbright Scholar working for racial equality South Africa was stoned and stabbed to death by blacks. Her parents forgave these men and went on to continue their daughter's work through the Amy Biehl Foundation. In the other story, a guy named Bud Welch, whose daughter was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing not only forgave Timothy McVeigh but
also befriended McVeigh's father. (My friend Hank Stuever wrote a wonderful piece about "Bud the Forgiver" for the Washington Post.)
I want to preface by saying that I'm not a fan of forwarded emails and yet I am going to ask you, if you like what I have to say, please forward this on to others who might be interested. I am going to go and let go of a grudge now so if you hear a loud groan or other noise of transition, that would be me, making a change.
With love and hope,
Like Spike, I famously hold grudges. But I've also learned that they don't hurt the person you're upset with, they only hurt you. Knowing this doesn't really make it easier, but I think I will try.
The Art of the Craft.
Sometimes our crafts aren't taken seriously as artistic endeavors. Heck, I certainly don't consider myself an artist in most of the stuff I make; I find I like to buy other people's patterns, follow them to the letter, and haven't yet designed anything more original than the first scarf I knit (where I tried out garter stitch, ribbing, and basketweave all on one piece of knitting. Not pretty.)
But often knitting or beading or spinning, traditionally considered women's work, isn't valued in the same way as a painting, for example, or a sculpture. I don't think I have to enumerate those reasons with this group (the same reasons women still earn roughly $.75 on the dollar compared to men); it's been covered before, by more knowledgeable people. Yet everywhere I look on the blogosphere, I see artists--I see originality and talent, and not just in the work but in web page design and photography, too.
I say this for a couple of reasons. I sent a good friend a book for her birthday recently, along with a little tank top I embroidered:
The book is Crafty Chica's Art de la Soul: Glittery Ideas to Liven Up Your Life
, by Kathy Cano Murillo. And that there, on the tank top, is supposed to resemble ebi sushi. (The design is from the awesome Sublime Stitching Kit
by Austin artist Jenny Hart.)
I thought my friend, V., would probably like the book; it's a great mixture of Mexican folk culture and personal narrative, and full of lots of great projects--jewelry, coasters, candles, a quilt, and more. V's very crafty in her own right; I own a beautiful box she decorated for me with a collage of saints, and use it to keep my beading tools in.
But I didn't expect the reaction I got: she looooved the book. She luh-uved it. Lurved it. She said that validated her passion for crafting, to see a book embody her aesthetic so well. She wrote about feeling worried that every time she gave something she'd made as a gift, the person would give it the old heave-ho into the closet (or worse!) as soon as she got a chance. God! That sounded so familiar to me!
Well, V., I can't wait to see what you whip up for me for Christmas!
The other reason (remember? I had two) was because I was privileged to go to an event this weekend with the quilters from Gee's Bend. I feel like I'm the last person in the world to find out about these stunning quilts. Funnily enough, I first saw them in the post office last week, when I walked in and bought a new book of stamps! I saw the Gee's Bend stamps and of course had to have them, but thought the designs had to have been stylized so that they could print more cleanly.
Uh uh. Nope. I hope you do see for yourself and go visit the Gee's Bend
web page or the Austin Museum of Art's
page, where they're having an exhibition that runs through November 5. Because these quilts are just. Amazing.
The talk on Saturday was with Mary Lee Bendolph, her daughter, Essie Bendolph Pettway, and her daughter-in-law, Louisiana Pettway Bendolph, and also with the museum's curator, the organizer of the exhibition, and the art historian who wrote the catalogue (sorry! I didn't catch those guys' names.) The talk was just a fascinating discussion of Southern African-American folk culture, the experience of poverty, the disappearance and revival of a tiny town, and the reception they've gotten in the "art" world in New York and in other major cities.
The organizer hinted at the resistance he originally got when trying to put together a show, but he was deliberately and tantalizingly enigmatic. He wouldn't say anything specific, but it certainly sounded like some art world gatekeepers were not happy about a quilting show going up in a museum space and with quilts by African-American women, at that. Yet the New York Times
called these "some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced." Other reviewers likened the quilters' aesthetics to those of jazz and blues, improvising on a form and coming up with work that is completely original and uniquely American.
It stunned and thrilled me to hear that. Mary Lee Bendolph ended up sending her son to college on the money she received for her quilts. And had enough money left over to contribute to another child's education. The quilts have kept Gee's Bend, a tiny town with no jobs, from disappearing as children leave to seek better economic opportunities.
The women each talked about their method for designing a quilt--Mary Lee Bendolph designs as she goes, without a predetermined order, while her daughter-in-law, a more recent quilter, has entire designs come to her, and her daughter Essie sees inspiration on her drive home from work. Essie creates quilts from new fabrics, but Mary still uses patches from old clothing and scraps. For me, that is where the story was--having to take whatever is available and somehow ending up with a beautiful, coherent design. Her first quilt, as a child, took her a whole year to assemble because that's how long it took to get the material together.
One of the museum's staff members asked about the connection between African-American spirituals and quilting. Essie talked about how your foot can tap out a good rhythm as you work, but she wouldn't sing. Later, though, Mary launched into a song and the other women on stage began singing and clapping, and other audience members joined in. The auditorium vibrated and rang with music. It was so beautiful I almost cried.
I sat there through the whole thing, knitting and knitting away. As the women talked, I considered how and why making things is just so damned appealing to me, and I made a connection.
Even though I've only been knitting for about three years, the instinct and the drive to create isn't really new for me, even though I often think it is. My friends and my mom do, too, looking on at my sewing and knitting mania with bemusement. You know, like where the heck did this come from?
But I remembered reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books as a little kid, and being utterly entranced by the descriptions of Pa making things for the house. Or Ma sewing a new dress. I pored over those stories, visualizing how everything was being put together. It was just so beautiful to me, and sitting at that talk I remembered the scene where Pa makes a rocking chair for Ma. I became sort of obsessed by finding that scene again (me? obsessed?) and went to Half-Price Books to try and find it. But you know? There are like, nine books in that series!
By chance I picked out Little House on the Prairie
and I found the scene, with the help of the illustrations. It was just as compelling as ever. But even more compelling, now that I also am a dedicated maker of things, was the scene where Laura and Mary find beads scattered in an abandoned Indian camp, collect them, and bring them home:Laura stirred her beads with her finger and watched them sparkle and shine. "These are mine," she said.
Then Mary said, "Carrie can have mine."
Ma waited to hear what Laura would say. Laura didn't want to say anything. She wanted to keep those pretty beads. Her chest felt all hot inside, and she wished with all her might that Mary wouldn't always be such a good little girl. Byut she couldn't let Mary be better than she was.
So she said slowly, "Carrie can have mine, too."
"That's my unselfish, good little girls," said Ma.
Hey! Who hasn't been there?!!? Later, as the girls were stringing their beads:They didn't say anything. Perhaps Mary felt sweet and good inside, but Laura didn't. When she looked at Mary she wanted to slap her. So she dared not look at Mary again.
The beads made a beautiful string. Carrie clapped her hands and laughed when she saw it. Then Ma tied it around Carrie's little neck, and it glittered there. Laura felt a little bit better. After all, her beads were not enough beads to make a whole string, and neither were Mary's but together they made a whole string of beads for Carrie.
Leaving aside for the moment the problematic nature of the uncritical appropriation of Indian cultural objects and the representation of Indians in the book in general....oh, who's been in school too long? Anyway, I thought this scene was sweet and funny and honest and speaks to our greedy little crafters' hearts and why sometimes it is good to give the things we make away.
Our art, I mean.