Archives for category: crafting

As a knitter, the Intelligent Craftafarian, as I call Kate Davies, is at the forefront of the British fashion sustainability movement (I say it’s punk, and it is spectacular). She has been asked by the awesome women who grow and shear their own sheep at Juniper Moon Farm in Charlottesville, VA to design a sweater made from heirloom hardy wool suitable for outerwear. (Dr. Davies gently sneers at the little girlie merinos, silk blends yet, that I’m crocheting useless little girlie garments with, which, she assures me, will pill and look ratty before they’re off the needle. So femme, my bad.)

The straight skinny on sustainable choices for fashion design. My theory is that the British art and fashion schools developed these curricula from straight edge punk culture. Alexander McQueen was the apotheosis of this.

There’s nothing I love more than a process story, about how things go from the sheep’s back to my back. The women will shear, card and spin the hardy wool, commission sweater designs from masters like Dr. D and then commission master knitters to make them. All by hand, for a sweater of hardy wool, barely twigless, that will outlast hard wear on your herring dinghy in the North Seas, perhaps, or digging peat on top of Ben Bleak, for perhaps three generations. Dr. D’s post touches too on the celebration of 21st century sheep farming as women’s work in the logo the ladies have designed, featuring ladies as both shepherd and shearer. (And sheep, too, I think. No nasty horns there.)

Juniper Moon Farm logo for their sheep-to-sweater project.

I can’t wait to see the heirloom/21st century Ninja shepherdess sweaters Kate and her colleagues design. This has set me to thinking about my local heirloom Navajo churro sheep, their hardy wool, and getting somebody to design an undyed fisherman’s type sweater based on Navajo designs.

From To Walk in Beauty: A Navajo Family’s Journey Home, by Stacia Spragg-Braude.

My Old Hell Freezes Over Friend (OHFOF), who despite everything I still love, and I once walked into a gallery in the National Women’s Museum filled with headless, bowed, and seated human figures sculpted by Magdalena Abakanowicz out of glue, burlap, and three thousand years of Polish mysticism.

Backs, by Magdalena Abakanowicz

Tears shot out of my eyes.

An art historian, my friend explained that Abakanowicz had invented the medium of burlap stiffened with glue because there was nothing else to sculpt in Soviet Poland. No bronze foundries, no marble, no chalcedony. So she re-invented sculpture.

Just so, my friend explained, did the Poles invent and re-invent their clothing. Famously the Soviets made one size bra – enormous in the back and in the cups and light blue, as the New York Times reporter noted, the same reporter who noted that the Russians look like us but are not like us.


 The Poles are more like the Russians than they are like us. Unlike the Russians, however, they had all inherited a Savile Row tailored suit from their grandfathers, and a hand-crafted umbrella. Working with the venerable fabric like the genius Abakanowicz, they mended and refashioned and maintained their grandfather’s beautiful 1927 suit for the 50 years of the Soviet occupation. There were guys in tiny three-foot-wide stalls who made a living patiently repairing stretchers and ribs, tubes, tips and triangular waterproof silk panels of heirloom umbrellas. People stepped out in the meticulously mended and re-fashioned wool suits their grandfathers had been married in, carrying the umbrella he held up against Hitler.

They made eye contact, my friend said, on the sidewalk, as people in North America do not. There were no invisible men in Poland. Reinventing your inheritance, mending invisibly the cuff your grandfather’s 50 year working life had frayed, made the Poles the most elegant, the sexiest, and toughest captive people she had ever seen. It was she who also elaborated on the point, briefly noted once every 15 or so years in the West, that there can be no counterculture, no Abakanowicz, where there is no Stalinist socialist realism, no oppressive official culture, and the form-conferring clothes were just as much a part of the resistance as the form-seeking stiffened burlap.

So I started looking online for refashioning blogs and communities. I wanted to see how people in a recession were altering thrift store clothes for their children. This quaint idea I got from a vintage British sewing book recommended by the Intelligent Craftafarian, Dr. Kate Davies. It’s The Pictorial Guide to Modern Home Needlecraft, the 1946 edition of which emphasizes thrifty, mend-and-make-do counterculture strategies to deal with World War Two fabric rationing. My favorite is the maternity dress cobbled together from two old dresses, and topped with a Rosalind Russell chapeau. There’s also a tailored jacket from a swing coat, a bolero from a jacket, a child’s dress from a skirt, a layette from old silk nightgowns, pinafores from slacks, a day dress from “a dance frock”, a pinafore frock from a worn dress, blouses, rompers and children’s clothes from men’s old shirts, a lady’s suit from a man’s suit, blouses from dresses, cutting down children’s garments, enlarging children’s knits. What most interested me was how to make a child’s coat from a man’s, and how to make your own teddy, bra and panties from silk nightgowns.

I Googled re-fashioning and upcycling and came up with hundreds of blogs about turning t shirts and pillowcases into little girl’s clothes. How can I put this nicely? I am a veteran of the laborious embellishment of sow’s ears, with hand-crocheted lace and loving embroidery, from new cheap shitty sheets into cheap shitty sheets with about 200 woman-hours of labor rendering them painful to behold, painful to launder, the only sheets I have which require ironing. These prodigies of labor did not render them passably comfortable to sleep on. I had fun, the sheets are almost useless, and,  but for the handmade lace and embroidered shamanic phrases, look terrible.

Imagine expending far less labor on turning your old Metallica wife beater into a dress for a little girl with a gelled Mohawk. Or, 10 thrifted t shirts, lovingly cut up and re-assembled into a piecework masterpiece Joseph coat, with a gigantic Hobbit hood, of many colors no child would be caught dead in, because her homeys in the old Metallica wife beaters and Rihanna booty shorts would beat the living piss out of her.

A popular internet upcycled t shirt project.

You couldn’t even get away with it for Halloween because you basically freeze to death in an ankle-length Donny Osmond coat made out of t shirts.

Osmond on Broadway in the Bible musical.

And, little girls in midi-length sundresses made out of dingy, pilled-up, flowered polyester pillow cases have a nasty affect redolent of ‘70s sex. And not the pastoral, innocent shepherdess fantasy kind, either. I was similarly skeezed by numerous blogs in which gorgeous thrifted men’s jackets were “upcycled” into tote bags. How many hairy hobo bags, chafing the tender underflesh of your upper arm, does a girl need? There’s a reason they call tweed jackets outerwear. As someone else has said of cooking, “It’s not easy, and it’s not creative.”

I think the homeys in the Metallica t shirts would also beat little girls wearing tweed coats cut out of old men’s coats, which  have their own unsavory affect. But if artistic and useful recycling of vintage tweeds, silk, and wool knits is the goal here, small garments of larger worn ones is going to be the end product, and our idea of what cool children wear will have to change. So they’ll look like like John Roberts’ children at the announcement of his appointment to the Supreme Court. We can teach them how to fight.


Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, his President, and his family.

A truly useful, and sustainable, refashioning tutorial would teach parents how to make children’s coats out of thrifted adult  fleeces and down jackets, which are the clothes children can wear at the bus stop without attracting driveby shootings. I have Googled every which way to locate such a tutorial from an experienced blogger, and have found no one willing to tackle it. I suspect the principles, as outlined for cutting a cloth coat down by a Depression-era granny in a sewing forum, would be the same for down jackets. You carefully pick it apart, have it cleaned, pin your pattern pieces to the non-worn parts of the down jacket, with many pins to prevent the escape of the down insulation, and then sear the seams as per this expert’s instruction.

Children’s hats and gloves can be made from thrifted  fleece; the best fashion forward look I’ve ever seen involving a fleece vest was a street fashion shot of Vogue editor Andre Leon Talley striding down Fifth Avenue in a tailored suit with an orange funnel-necked fleece vest over the top and, I believe, a yucho.

Yucho patterns from Ravelry.

Hand-knit hats, as ALT demonstrates, are always preferable, and you can, according to the 1946 needlework book, cut knits down for children. I cut down a fake Fair Isle vest for a hot water bottle cover.

Six-dollar thrifted Fair Isle vest becomes hot water bottle cover.

The Big Book of Needlecraft,  Odham’s retro masterpiece, contains patterns for knitted undershirts and underpants for adults and children. For, you know, when the lights go out.

So Yvonne Eijkenduijn is probably one of the most influential DIY interior designers on the internet.

She purveys the popular northern Euro all-white aesthetic — well exemplified by Suki in Helsinki or  Benita Larsson who also DIY it —  of what is, I think, an essentially Gustavian Swedish style to offset long grey winters, where evening falls at 3 p.m., with glowing white or pastel interiors.

Eijkenduijn and her husband are meticulous renovaters and crafters; she adds minimal pops of floral color and hand-crafted or peeling vintage things to her white rooms, which makes them seem less twee than beautifully ordered and sculpted. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like Eijkenduijn’s style. Essentially Eijkenduijn and Gustav solve the problem of how to make uncluttered modern interiors femme. It is the moral question of the 20th century: where is a girl supposed to sit, and concatenate the moral community home represents, in a Bauhaus living room?

Eijkenduijn has been blogging for seven years and has made a design career from the success of her blog. It carries no ads, which seems to be a point of pride — and an Old School WELL-era  internet campaign — among the professional DIY home design visionaries like Anna Dorfman, for example. Others, equally inspiring and creative, seek sponsors, like Morgan Sattersfield,  for example,  with her hard-core thrifted mid-century-modern Palm Springs Cali aesthetic,  or suburban DIY nesters who have monetized their blogs and, in the case of John and Sherry Petersik, for example, do a terrific professional job.

Eijkenduijn has always seen the blog as a cottage industry marketplace to sell books or yarn, other peoples’ creations and, less often, things she has made. She solicits sponsors and swag in a way the Petersiks, who live off the income generated by their sponsors, do not. The Petersiks, for example, both of whom have creative backgrounds in advertising,  clearly state they don’t accept products for review, and recommend only things they actually use. It is the foundation of their trustability and, I believe, their huge traffic.

But Eijkenduijn recently asked her readers to pay her back for all the time she’s put into the blog by contributing money to build her a new roof. Lots of readers are pissed off. I am slightly put off too, as if I had been lulled into thinking she’d invited me to dinner and then presented me with a check.

What do you think? Should we chip in for Yvonne’s roof? Has she made a faux pas? Is it a cultural thing that her American readers are pissed off and the Europeans aren’t? Are Americans, who generally believe that journalism is about hustling your music video, naive? What’s happening?

Update 5/22/12: Eijkenduijn has taken down her roof fund posts with  strange rancor.

1. [Redacted from private blog.]

This goes into the iron box with the fork. I’m done.


I have been thinking that 17 per cent lung capacity (2010, gift of second-hand smoke) cannot cash the checks 67 per cent (2009, gift of glaucoma medication, invested all my money in a large house and garden) wrote. It’s not true. I have my Safco collapsible hand truck at hand, and moved 300 lbs. worth of planters in under 10 minutes.

Yeah, it’s a buzz saw. I walked into it. Because I am immune, invisible, and bullet-proof.

I’m done. Moving into Forgiveness 401, which is this.

One of the fruits of sitting in the garden crocheting is you realize that solutions to your practical problems, as well as happiness and heaven, are at hand.

The rosa glauca, having moved on from lovely blossom, concatenates hips, while I concatenate lace.

I have been dreaming of Dean Riddle’s garden, and having runner beans on bamboo tripods, for at least 10 years. Last year I planted them along the 120-degree Muralla del Muerto and they were toast.

I planted them in a better place this year.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore– And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over– like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

— Langston Hughes

It might could grow in the desert. Where it is planted.

Penstemon palmeri.

1. One of my craft blog ladies lives in an isolated and remote place in Scotland and is a big religious person. She hasn’t been to church in more than a year because the last one she tried was “too legalistic”, and chased away her now adult children from the practice of Christianity. So she literally has gone without much company for 18 months. She writes about keeping house, and she knits, masterfully, the kinds of things a four-year-old girl would like, in the same kinds of colors. Each post has a greeting card-like illustration and her header shows her laundry blowing in the wind. I am mesmerized. Finally she went to a “non-denominational” ladies’ Bible study which she seems to find congenial. A lot of the British craft bloggers — if not all of them — are very much into the baking and knitting and tea pinny porn mode. But there is a lot of struggle in people’s lives, and sometimes that breaks through the iron grip of the stiff upper lip. I do wish she’d write more about living in Bumfuck, Scotland, than the Lord, however.

2. My absolutely excruciating four-day peregrinations to reinstall wi fi at the Rancho Atomico led me to a big fancy mall in the striving white people neighborhood, across the six-lane highway from the mall where the Apple store is. CenturyLink has their “store” in a kiosk next to a carrousel run by one of several young women at the mall in skintight jeans and 8-inch heel, porn star platform shoes.

I said to the big ‘n’ tall, buzz cut 30ish Chicano man who ran the kiosk that I’d once spent three days in a mall gathering signatures for a petition, and I’d go home at night, get into bed, close my eyes, and the Muzak would play on. He made Real Eye Contact and said, Oh man. Sometimes I just go out and sit in my car. For the silence.

3. The manager of my local greasy (actually a locavore place with dynamite food) is going to Hawaii for the first time for her vacation. She’s more excited than I’ve seen her in two years. I finally figured out why she’s so hard-working and reserved. She’s German. Not from around these parts. We talked about Dogtown and Z Boys and how Hilo-born Larry Bertlemann’s signature move, touching the wave, created the classic ’70s down-low skateboarding style. (Watch the flick; it’s basically about how gangs help fatherless boys. There are references to Peter Pan; they were completely self-aware. Naturally, my favorite, Jay Adams, the youngest and most-talented, grew up to be a meth head.)

4. I can get anybody to talk about anything. The granny ass mein works as well, if not better than, the 20th century fox one did. The checkout chick at the supermarket said, Thanks for being human. I said, No, you !

5. Thinking about 21st century journalism and the real 300-word story, which is not a television news-lite story, I realized if I started carrying my teeny video cam and recording these convos, with their permission, that would be it. I just don’t feel like being such a paparazzo right now.

6. But it’s what I love to read on the internet. I read a list of about 10 craft bloggers every day, people mastering life. It’s what I’d love to watch, too.

1. Pondering the Tarot reading with the reverse Ace of Cups. It has to do with last year’s oracular voice saying You’re working out of the wrong energy.

2. Some mountains require no movement from Mohammed. Some, like the Mexican evening primroses which ambushed me this morning seed themselves. I found them glowing in the sunrise in the gravel of my xeric desert front yard. They are the desert blooms promised.

Mexican Evening Primrose at dawn in my garden.

3. Godzilla Pillow #7: Hiromi, after a three year hiatus, begins to take shape.

Hiromi, from Fruits, by Shoichi Aoki.

Instead of headphones, this Hiromi gets a prayer flag, made with hand-made kumihimo cord, upcycled Madeira embroidery, and old lace. Click for deets.

The Madeira embroidery for Hiromi’s prayer flag, located on e-Bay, was inspired by Kate Davies,  the Intelligent Craftafarian. Click for deets.

4. I got the plan, the 1881 lace, the kantha stitching, the fabric painting, the Madeira embroidery, the kumihimo loom, instructions, and supplies done in D.C.

I moved them across the continent to be with me.

I was a different person then.

Kantha stitching, inspired by Jude Hill at Spirit Cloth.

5. The challenge of the entire Godzilla Room project was to learn crochet, fine dressmaking techniques (French seams and lingerie finishes), smocking, embroidery, kantha stitching, shisha and sashiko embroidery, kumihimo cord weaving, omiyage small biomorphic sewn objects such as the Inca/samurai warrior butterfly morphed from one of Kumiko Sudo’s insects, rag rug making and…

I learned to do filet crochet in 2007, with lessons from the fabulous Karen Klemp and the coven at Aylin’s Woolgatherer in Falls Church, VA.

This is a chart, by me, for the Godzilla lace. If you steal it, make sure you’ve got the stones to make it on a .4 mm crochet hook.
I don’t think you do.

6. The Himalaya for Hiromi — after her trans-continental move, of course — is kumihimo, and an embroidered lingerie edging for the prayer flags.

7. Tried it, with some success, in glow-in-the-dark floss, on the banner for the afghan I made from Local Harvest, homeground, Clun Forest sheeps’ wool from Touchstone Farm in Amissville, Va..

Two embroidery projects. In the foreground, the banner identifying provenance of wool in afghan, to be displayed woven through the interstices of the lacey stitch. The scalloped edges of the banner were embroidered according to the instructions in the vintage Odham’s needlework book recommended by Kate Davies.

8. Ace of Cups reversed tells me I can’t do it for Hiromi.

Experience tells me I can.

Godzilla Pillow #3: Yuko: Inca warrior butterfly by me morphed from Kumiko Sudo and The Colonial Andes: Tapestries and Silverwork, 1530-1830

I had a friend once who worked in a titty bar. She was the head waitress, which meant she counted out the tip pool and could wear a jacket sometimes. She was a math prodigy, the smartest person with the least education I have ever met. Her deal was cross racial dating with guys who, to put it nicely, pulled her hair. Her idea of glamor was to be likened to Nicole Simpson, to serve boneless, skinless chicken breasts marinated in bottled Italian dressing, and perfectly folded pink towels to match her bathroom.

I think of her often, and what I worry most about is the pink towels. Being respectable will kill you.

The reason I am thinking about her today is that part of her blue collar feminist nexus was menstrual cramps. Or, no, PMS. All the girls at the titty bar had PMS. It was verb. I am PMSing. It was the de rigueur, don’t-ask, don’t-tell, reason for not coming to work. Apparently no boss who requires you to show your tits as a job description has the stones to question your PMSing 23 days a month.

Demi Moore’s 1991 VF cover, voted the number two best magazine cover of all time.

It is what the immortal Florence King, a Lesbian lover of women, called pelvic politics in her immortal discussion of Southern Ladies and Gentlemen:

The Southern woman is the world’s foremost practitioner of pelvic politics. She has more power over men when she is sexually hors de combat than other women have in the middle of intercourse, for the Southern man’s socioeconomic identity and masculine image are trapped in her bonny blue box. Being delicate means that she is both aristocratic and feminine — which means that he is both aristocratic and masculine. This is pussy power in the most literal sense.

Her obsession with her body is by no means limited to her pelvic region. She is launched on the road to self-absorption early in life because the notion that she has the power to drive men crazy is constantly drummed into her.

“I can’t wait till I get bosoms, can you?” my girl friend said when we were ten years old. “You can bump men with them and just drive them crazy.”

…As far back as we could remember, we had heard about driving men crazy. We knew that merely touching a man’s sleeve could turn him to mindless lust.

“Don’t be a lint-picker,” Granny warned me — when I was five. “A woman’s touch makes a man go crazy.”

This, and — dear me, what to call it? aside from a flood — an entire library of saucy, ironic, riot grrl zine books called Flow about how punk and saucy your menstrual war stories are, a kind of icky medical materialism closely aligned to prurient narcissist cervix porn, and a trend among bloggers like Penelope Trunk to Tweet their having a miscarriage at a business meeting, or to post a picture of her naked hip with the bruise on it allegedly caused by her husband, has given rise to the next stage in pinny porn.

I will call it gyno porn.

It afflicts home reno bloggers who may or may not be third wave feminists. I think not. I think they’ve stolen the valorized gyno affect of the serious third wave feminist cultural histories of menstruation, blendered it up with Sex and the City Me Me Me plus the Fear Factor gross vittles ethos and come up with gyno porn. I think the Sexting Generation is just talking about their periods, their prenatal mucus plugs, their aching uterus, their ovulation IVF sagas and posting the latest meme — month by month or week by week bump pictures* — because it’s saucy and transgressive and seems kind of pornographic. I mean, how saucy and transgressive am I to monologue on the fascinating subject of my own vagina, Fallopian tubes, perineum, taint, between really educational and artistic posts on how to craft your own sunburst mirror out of cheap wooden shims from Lowe’s?**


Is it a Lesbian or paganist kind of narcissism thing by which I accrue pelvic power and become aristocratic, as King suggests? Does it make my man a real man, and is it therefore shuck and jive? Is it a class prerogative, a kind of extortionate sorority girl hazing ritual, a blue collar or Southern or peasant thing? The other person I know who does this, that is, delectates on the whole process of ovaries popping eggs into the baseball mitt of the Fallopian tube, and all, is no southerner unless the harder scrabble purlieus of the Black Sea count. She has strange veins of queer female shame and narcissism, as if female trbbl actually made her visible, and transgressively sexy, the way hypochondria works for neglected children. (Shame is narcissism, or vice versa, as far as I can make out.)

It just seems like flashing your crotch — some starlet eating her own placenta was actually the subject of a recent item in the baby-crazed People magazine — in your home renovation journal is, for the twenty-somethings, that which matches the chandelier earrings and the tube top. Call me fastidious. But I do not want my shelter porn adulterated with tedious Girls Gone Wild personal detail.

I tell you what. It is not remotely transgressive. Transgressive is like inviting somebody with COPD to dinner at your house and smoking (Ptolomea in the Inferno). Or a teacher fucking his student (Judecca). Abuse of privileged access. Nothing half so cute or as newsworthy or as accessible as your prenatal mucus plug, of which you are the first human on the planet to produce one and discuss it on the internet! Wow! What a woman!

Lucifer surveys Judecca, home of the teachers who betrayed their pupils, and vice versa, in Dante’s Inferno, by Gustave Dore

Even educated fleas do it.

We are not amused.


*Britain’s Mail Online newspaper website recently became number one in hits due to its gossip aggregate feature, which has no less than five reports daily on celebrities’ “bumps”, accompanied by papparazzi shots.

**A project touted as one’s own invention, and bogarted without attribution, in one prominent gyno porn case, from This Old House.

(c) 2012, Jeannette Smyth. All rights reserved.

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