Social Isolation

We just got back from a short holiday on an island. Well, not an island with palm trees and resorts and beaches but an island with farms and mountains and beaches. And not all holiday either as we were there to help a friend who lives on the island celebrate her birthday as well as take a few days to look around.

It was exhausting. And relaxing. I wasn’t there long before the real world and my life at home felt like a distant thing I couldn’t easily bring my mind back to. Yet where I was felt dream-like and unreal. I was a visitor, welcomed by those who lived there, but I wasn’t at home.

The people there are isolated but social. Everyone knows everyone. Everyone looks out for everyone. Everyone gossips about everyone. That’s so different to where I live, in a city with lots of people but I’d have to drive for 15 minutes to an hour see any of my friends and I’ve only talked to three neighbours since I moved here four years ago – and only once to one of them.

I’m not sure what I’d prefer.

Because to be honest, I’m not that much of a people person. Oh, I like people, some very much… so long as I get to spend heaps of time alone. It’s curious to me to come back from such an isolated place all peopled out.

And yet it was a great trip. We really enjoyed ourselves. I think I have a bit of culture shock, though. In a good way. Travel lets you see other ways of existing and surviving and seeing the world. Before we left I was a bit wistful, thinking that in a few days life would be back to normal, but now I’m home I just want to settle so I can get the things done on my to-do list.

Though I suspect the to-do list felt just as overwhelming before we left anyway.

Finishitis, Stash Acquisition & Stinky Yarn

The Guild recently held their annual Textile Bazaar. I rocked up right as the doors were open and left with almost more yarn than I could carry. No cones this time. I wanted two things: rug yarn and maybe some knitting yarn to use on the machines if it took my fancy. I found both.

However.

Most of it stank of moth balls. The stinky yarn got wound into skeins then soaked in woolmix and left to dry and air. The big batch of caramel brown knitting yarn came up fine. The rug yarn utterly reeked, and while it was drying the whole house smelled like a chemical factory. I had to put it in the bathroom, turn on the fan and leave it for a day. Thankfully it’s much better now, though still with a faint mothball odour.

In the meantime, I’ve leafed through my books, to-do list, stash spreadsheet and visual journal and felt only a few little sparks of interest. Whenever I’ve had time for craft I’ve fallen back on existing projects. I’m all out of inspiration.

I got to wondering if am in the throes of a very long bout of finishitis. So I decided to go with it. I finished spinning the yarn on my wheel – some lovely camel fibre – and I plied some banana fibre I spun a while ago with some overlocker cotton.

The third iteration of the twill sampler came off the loom. When I labelled it I discovered I’d completely missed one of the drafts. No idea how that happened. I’m not going to warp up the loom for one 10cm sample, though. I’m not even sure if I want to finish the chapter, to be honest. I have all the two-colour warp ones to do – 27 in total. The realisation that it would take me 20 years to get through the book at this rate was rather off-putting. Maybe I should do something more achievable, like picking ten drafts from each chapter.

All I have left on the WIP list is the mosaic clock. It would be nice to wipe the slate clean, I suppose, but it would also be nice to feel the excitement of starting a new project. For the moment, however, I’m giving my creative brain a rest. It will fire up again when it’s ready, I’m sure.

A-Crafting We Will Go

So this week has turned into a sort of half holiday, half work week. I’m working on a novella that may or may not be a commission (long story – no pun intended). Otherwise I’m doing a bit of everything: weaving, mending, gardening, cooking, reading, walking, painting and enjoying a cuppa out on the deck in the welcome spring warmth.

I’ve done a little bit more of Stylebooking, adding a few garments I’d missed, and a bit more culling of the wardrobe. Five of my long-sleeved tshirts are from Uniqlo. They’re supposed to be a cotton polyester mix. I’m sure they were thick and cushy when I bought them. I don’t like flimsy t-shirts, so I’d have never bought them if they were. But after a couple of washes they’ve were all thin and now have that squeaky quality polyester has. After some deliberation, I’m going to donate them to the op shop, as they are still wearable if you don’t mind the feel of polyester. I still have plenty of long-sleeved t-shirts to last me through spring, and if I find I need more next winter I will buy some ethically/sustainably made ones.

Last weekend was all about craft. Saturday I went to the guild for the weaver’s meeting, then stayed on to try to fix some looms. The talk at the meeting was about using a fan reed on an Ashford table loom. The simple and ingenious way Mary hung the reed gave me a great idea for using the Vari Dent Reed on my Katie loom. The loom mending went well – at least, I hope my solutions worked! One loom I couldn’t fix on the spot. Someone has replaced a missing pawl pin on one of the Ashfords with a screw, which is inelegant and not particularly successful. I’m going to have to come up with an inexpensive way to undo the damage.

On Sunday afternoon I hosted another Craft Day. Three lovely hours of nattering and craft with friends that felt like three minutes. I started with some bag mending and refashioning followed by cutting up t-shirts ready to weave more seat pads.

I’ve finished those pads now. I’m in a bit of a finishitis phase at the moment. I still have to sew up the red jacket and finish the green beanie, and those bag refashioning projects.

And then what? There are some more variable dent reed ideas lurking in my visual diary, and my wardrobe edit hasn’t put me off weaving some summer weight fabric for clothing. I also want to machine knit another cotton garment out of the white, green and purple Bendy Cotton in my stash. And I have a few clothing refashions to do.

Plenty of projects to finish. Plenty waiting to start.

Spring Stylebook

The trees here burst into blossom weeks ago, but it still felt like winter. Then a few days into Spring it suddenly began to feel like Spring, with warmer days (but still chilly nights) and heavily pollinated air (achoo!).

I completed a work deadline two weeks ago so I’m having a few weeks ‘break’. There are single quotes on that last work because in the first week I did plenty of physical work: gardening, cleaning up outside, cooking for Paul’s birthday. And for two days of that week I was sick, too.

Then on the second Sunday I decided to do something completely frivolous. I downloaded a wardrobe organising app called Stylebook and over the next week, whenver it was sunny enough that I had good light, I photographed, entered and categorised most of my clothes.

The app enables you to put together ‘looks’ – a bit like a paper doll minus the doll. Obviously I’m not going to add all my underwear and such, or the trackie dacks and old cargo pants I do the gardening in, as the former is waaaay too much detail and the latter hardly going to be part of a ‘look’. I’m not sure I really needed to put all my tshirts in either, to be honest, as tshirt plus jeans is hardly a creative ‘look’. Where the app is most useful is in pairing up clothing in new and (hopefully) stylish ways, and that’s most relevant to the nicer end of the wardrobe.

It wasn’t long before it became clear that the reason I don’t wear some items is because nothing else I have goes with them. In those cases I could make one of two decisions: get rid of it or buy something to match. Since I have plenty of clothing as it is, I’ve mostly chosen to remove the item. In only one case am I sure I need to buy a new item, though the app did draw my attention to one match I hadn’t considered that might work, so we’ll see.

That’s the other benefit: the app has me easily considering matches that weren’t obvious. I thought I needed another evening top, since I only had one. But looking through the tops in my ‘neat casual’ category, I can see some pieces that would definitely work as evening wear in the right situation.

Down at the casual end of the wardrobe, I wasn’t surprised to see I have lots of long sleeved tshirts and skivvies. This is because I’m sensitive to wool, so need to have a barrier between my skin and the many handknits (and handwovens) I’ve made or bought. Every year or two I cull out the black ones that have faded and buy replacements, and having handled and inspected what I had I realised that time had come again. But as I looked at this category in the app, I realised I don’t need to. I have no trouble combining colours, so why have these in black at all? When black fades it looks old. When colours fade they just look like lighter versions of that colour. Not only do I not need to buy more black long-sleeved ts & skivvies, but I can probably not bother buying them ever again!

Then I counted up all the casual summer tops and dresses and realised I had enough to wear something every day for all but ten days of summer. That’s ridiculous! But I’ve got there because I tend to refashion Paul’s shirts and too-small tshirts into sleeveless tops, and I have a weakness for convention and souvenir tshirts. So I culled a few I didn’t like so much and didn’t fit well, and relegated a handful of tshirts to the pajama top pile, and got the overall number to two months.

Of what I’ve culled, five of the best pieces went to the op shop (where I overheard one of the staff say “ooh, that’s pretty!”), I’m hoping to hand at least one of three skirts to a friend, and the really worn things went into the rag bag.

I was worried that the app would make me want to buy more clothes. Instead it’s shown me that I probably don’t need to. It’s helped me say goodbye to a few pieces I don’t wear (and I’ve found a new owner for one already) and shown me some new ways to wear what I have.

It’s pretty robust, and hasn’t crashed or lost information yet. I wish it had a way to show the proportion of handmade/refashioned/bought second hand/bought new as well, but I was able to add ‘refashioned’ and ‘second hand’ into the notes for each piece so a search brings them all up, and I can see how many items I’ve marked as such. I did put ‘handmade’ in the Brands section, so my stats show that 20% of my clothing was made by me. I’m pretty chuffed about that.

I don’t know if the app will be useful in an ongoing way, but it could be if I find myself doing some unplanned shopping. If I was tempted to buy a garment I could tell myself I must find five garments it will go with. Or if I was stuck on a delayed train or in a waiting room I could entertain myself making new ‘looks’.

But even if I have no ongoing use for it, I have had a lot of fun already and got some useful insights. That was well worth the $5.99 it cost!

Housebound

A couple of months ago Paul started getting severe back pain and sciatica from a bulging disc. Several visits to the doctor, pilates, physio, medication, a scan and a cortizone injection later he has improved, but in a ‘wait and see if this lasts’ way.

As the weeks passed, with Paul unable to sit let alone drive, it became pretty clear that some of our plans for the rest of the year had to be shelved. Then a few weekends ago I drove us to a family birthday celebration, with Paul lying on the passenger seat with the back fully down, and after two hours driving on roads that seemed to constantly require gear changes plantar fasciitis reared it’s ugly head again.

So suddenly neither of us could drive. At that point I either cancelled, or warned of likely cancellation, everything else on the calendar.

And that’s also when I decided to try online grocery shopping. Which has been… interesting. I didn’t want to shop with Coles since they deliver orders in plastic bags. Finding online stores that use minimal packaging took a bit of googling, but I soon located a bulk store a few suburbs away and a grocery store with a policy of avoiding as much plastic as possible.

Fortunately Paul can now drive for short trips, and I’m tentatively driving his car now and then, which is an automatic so at least my left foot gets a break. We’re both hoping life will get back to normal soon, but only very cautiously committing to outings.

You’d think I’d be getting lots of craft done, but I’ve done almost nothing. This is because I was doing the household tasks that Paul usually does and taking him to appointments. But it’s also because shopping at online stores and watching the War on Waste second season had me trying things like cooking up and freezing beans and lentils and making beeswax wraps. And it’s birthday season in my family. And there has been some house and garden work happening, too.

And I am chasing a work deadline as well as dealing with lots of little publicity tasks for the paperback release of my last book.

It’s amazing how tired you can be at the end of a day spent avoiding being on your feet.

Which I have to say, I’m not managing to do as much as I should be.

The Gentle Art of Maximalism

Some years ago, I started culling my wardrobe thanks to Trinny and Suzanna. Every Christmas another book would come out, which made for an easy present for Paul to get for me, and I’d be inspired to review my clothing and remove anything that didn’t fit, suit or thrill me.

To their credit, Trinny and Suzanna urge you to have clothing swaps or donate clothes rather than toss them away. In those days a lot more clothing was made of natural fibres that would rot away eventually, so the last resort wasn’t such a terrible thing.

Since then the level of ruthlessness with which we are being urged to employ in our decluttering has increased. For a time there The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was being quoted everywhere. I finally caved and read the book recently, and I couldn’t help thinking: “this woman is nuts!” even as I saw how her methods would work for a certain kind of person.

Decluttering is big business. You wouldn’t think so, since it’s about having less stuff. But the harder decluttering has been pushed, the more I’ve suspected that customers are being encouraged to chuck out and reorganise stuff because they will more than likely replace it. When the ‘capsule wardrobe’ idea became fashionable it didn’t surprise me that clothing brands were instantly behind it. Most people aren’t that minimalist, and brands only stand to gain if you toss all your clothing and buy a whole new co-ordinated set.

The words: “Decluttering is the conceit of the affluent” popped into my head a few years ago. Only people who can afford to buy too much stuff wind up compelled to declutter, and can afford to replace belongings if it turns out they actually need or miss them. Only affluent people can afford to buy snazzy storage to put their stuff in. What I found most disturbing about the Marie Kondo book was the idea that you put everything you cull into rubbish bags and toss it. The lack of consideration for where it ends up afterwards tainted the book with a selfishness that repelled me.

But then, how to get rid of possessions ethically is a huge and difficult subject. One of the saddest discoveries I made when looking into ethical fashion was that so much of donated clothing still ends up in landfill. The sad truth is, so many belongings are being culled these days that not even desperately poor people in third world countries want or need our castoffs.

And my assumption that good furniture put in the hard rubbish would find a new home dissolved when I saw antique chairs tossed into the back of a truck and crushed.

What to do. Well, I say… Be a Maximalist!

Keep your stuff!

– Repair your stuff
– Use your stuff until it falls apart.
– Alter your stuff. Refashion, dye, repaint, adapt.
– Play with your stuff. Look at your photo albums. Try on different combinations of your clothes. Use the good crockery set. Wear your jewellery. Use the time you’d have spent culling on finding new ways to use your stuff.
– If you’re the Instagram type, be creative with your stuff. Make arrangements and take photos. Draw your stuff. Write about it.
– Pass on your stuff to other people and adopt other people’s stuff. (Yes, that’s not keeping stuff, but it’s better than tossing stuff.)

If you love the idea of a capsule wardrobe, make one out of what you already have. Make several – one for work, one for home, one for travel, etc.. Then you have the benefit of having easy decisions on a work morning as well as something different and fresh and more suitable to wear when the weekend comes.

I am a maximalist, but I do cull. I’m not saying you should hold onto things you don’t want. But don’t let the fashion for minimalism blind you to the possibilities and benefits of keeping things. There is nothing wrong with being a maximalist if it does you and others no harm. It may actually be better for the environment, and in the long run that’s better for everyone, including you.

Onward

Well, my little burst of stash busting followed by stash building has passed. My store of yarn is now ordered and revitalised, and still under 35kilos. My work here is done. (Well, apart from the temptation to buy yarn for a jumper pattern in the book that came with the Bendigo Woollen Mills show survival kit.)

Over the last two months the itch to knit something warm to wear led to a dyeing session, machine knitting two large garments, buying two circular knitting machines, realising I don’t have much yarn for them, stash busting and culling, unexpected weaving projects and finally, a good bit of stash enhancement.

What next?

– I have a blanket to weave and sampling to continue.

– The guild has some events coming up I’ve volunteered to help with.

– I want to make the green hat to match the Green Lines Jacket.

– Now that I’ve re-familiarised myself with the Bond I’m tempted to see if I can remember how to use the Passap, and make some socks.

Looking further ahead, I have some mending and sewing lined up. I want to get a mosaic clock finished by summer. When my next writing deadline is behind me I’d like to try submitting a weaving pattern to a magazine.

And then there’s just life stuff. Lots of birthdays. Maybe a short interstate trip or two. Lots and lots of weeding through Spring.

Nothing to See Here…

Crafting has been limping along here lately. My back has been playing up, so I’ve only got a little bit of each WIP done and work has the highest priority when it comes to time spent on the computer. I should soon be able to get a post done about some portraits I finished recently, though.

I’m getting a little scared of 2019. There are so many opportunities cropping up for cool stuff happening next year. And it’s only May. On top of that there’s a couple of ambitious projects I’ve come up with all by myself. I know I can’t do it all. The first half and the last few months of next year will be hectic, work-wise. I can do a few other things around that, but not everything I want to do.

I need to choose. Or maybe let circumstances choose for me. Hmm.

A Phoney Life

Late last year I came to the conclusion that I was addicted to my phone. Gosh, that’s a statement that would have made no sense fifteen or twenty years ago!

Earlier in the year a friend had shut down Facebook for three months because she was spending all her time there and not interacting with her family. Ironically, this is the same friend who insisted I sign up because I’d be left out of social events otherwise. At the end of the three months she reactivated her account. She said it didn’t make a lot of difference, as she had spent the time she used to waste on Facebook in other apps on her phone.

It seems like the phone is the problem, I thought.

After eye surgery, while I was sensitive to light, it became really obvious that I spend too much of my time looking at screens. I’d wake up and check my phone, get up and shower, look at my phone while eating breakfast, sit in front of the desktop computer, check my phone in every break, settle down at night to watch tv and check my phone during the ad breaks or if the show was boring, then go to bed and listen to podcasts, read on the phone and, most often, look at social media before going to sleep.

If I put my phone out of my reach at any of these times of day, I’d find myself reading for it without thinking. If I set it down next to me and told myself I wasn’t going to look, I’d find myself scrolling through Facebook minutes later.

That sounds like addiction to me.

Was this a bad thing? I loved my iPhone when I first got it. It replaced my watch, diary, Melways, notebook, book, torch, ipod Nano and camera. It connects me to the world and my friends. But was it having a detrimental effect, too? Like my friend, I tended to blame the apps for making me anxious or distracted. I hate the nervy feeling that I’ll lose friends and become dangerously uninformed if I don’t keep being a slave to social media.

So I decided to see what would happen if I cut back my phone usage. I decided to:

– charge my phone away from my bed
– remove Twitter, Instagram and Words With Friends from my phone
– leave my phone in the kitchen during the day, unless we go out
– during breaks I can check my phone, but I must spend as much time not looking at it
– go back to using analogue versions of a notebook, diary, and watch, and even books

After a few weeks I noted I was feeling calmer. I fall asleep faster and have had less and milder insomnia. When I wake in the morning I think about the day ahead and make plans, and don’t forget what they were so easily.

And the memory improvement was the most surprising. I realised that by stuffing phone use into all the little gaps of time between activities I wasn’t allowing my brain time to remember the small things. Letting it meander before sleep and rising, or during breaks, gives me time to not just recollect, but to see the big picture, rather than bouncing from one thing to another without an overall sense of priority. Also, my subconscious isn’t waking me up through the night to remind me about things I need to do as often as it used to.

I’ve also noticed that friends really do expect me to be checking the phone constantly. It’s not so much that they want answers to questions straight away, but that they leave decisions that might inconvenience me to the last moment, expecting that a Message will reach me instantly. Nobody rings when it’s urgent any more.

Another advantage of putting the phone out of reach is I’m not being constantly bombarded by advertising. Oh, such a relief!

Which has had me thinking… These new devices that you can talk to in your home… How long before they begin to chirp advertising at you? Because the ploy of social media was to get people to think they can’t live without it, then slowly introduce the ads. How long before your internet-connected kettle and washing machine are telling you what coffee or laundry powder to use?

Now there’s a nightmare of a future. Maybe I shouldn’t be spending all that extra time thinking!

The Yearly Overview Post

My craft/art aims for 2017 were to paint more, try new weave structures, and dabble in other hobbies. Yeah, I did all of that. The first I managed because I held weekly art nights in January and February, and then monthly ones for the rest of the year. The second was achieved by doing the workshop with Kay in June. The third included trying basketweaving and mosaics on top of my usual secondary hobbies.

So what did I do?

In January I started the Photo Album Project, finishing the redo of my earliest album and all but the captioning of the 80s to 00s album. I still have lots to do for this, especially the holiday albums.

Weaving:
I made the Graduation Blanket, Pinwheel Tea Towels, Waffleweave Blanket, and Greenery Blanket. I finished the Denim Braided Rug, wove some fabric for the Tapestry Bag and a double weave blocks sampler. At the Ballarat Fibre Forum I learned to weave Summer & Winter. I went on a leftover warp using jape and made the Ikat Leftover Scarf, Scarf of Leftover Colours, the Plaited Twill Scarf, and the Falling Feathers Scarf, and then a thrum using jape and made Thrum Dishcloths, Spring Sampler Scarf, Anaesthetic-Brain Scarf and Thrum-Fringed Scarf. And finally there was my experiment with the Vari Dent Reed, producing three scarves.

My fave was the falling feathers scarf:

Loomwise, I tweaked the design of my Katie Loom, adjusted the height and pedal position of the floor loom and made laser cut heddles for my Vari Dent Reed.

Basketweaving:
I tried basketweaving at the Guild’s Summer School. But I eventually lost enthusiasm for it due to the non-spontaneous nature of the craft (because you have to pre-soak the fibre) and the wear and tear on my hands. I can see myself using non-soak-requiring materials to make baskets in the future, however.

My fave was the first basket I made at home:

Embroidery:
For the Fibre Forum in Ballarat I stitched some embroidery artworks to sell for charity. Including a pair I liked so much I decided to keep them. I’ve not had the courage to try embroidery since eye surgery.

My fave was the Bathing Beauties:

Nalbinding:
I made a too small Viking Hat, then got the sizing right for the Tapestry Thread Hat, and the Graduated Nalbinding hat.

My fave was the Tapestry Thread Hat:

DIY:
Paul and I turned an organ into a bar. We also renovated the laundry ourselves.

Sewing:
I had sessions of refashioning early and then later in the year, getting heaps of garments made, fixed or tweaked.

My fave was the red shirt to sleeveless top:

Mosaic:
I did a workshop at Bulleen Art and Garden, and was hooked. Aside from the Kookaburra I did there, and the mirror mosaic kit from Bunnings, I went on to make patches for the ventilation holes in the bathroom and entertainment room, and then two mosaic spheres.

My fave was the kookaburra:

Machine knitting:
I did only one project – the Scarf Jacket.

Bookbinding:
An artist friend came to stay and we made concertina sketchbooks.

Macrame:
I made an owl.

Jewellery:
Just before Christmas I made a couple of new pieces.

Of course, this list doesn’t include partially finished or abandoned projects, like the fabric I wove to make a skirt from, the mosaic clock I started or the longstitch embroidery I added dinosaurs to but disliked and threw out. Nor have I included all the gardening I did. I’ve left out artwork, too. I’m going to do a separate post on that.

Looking at all these things I made, I’m pleasantly surprised at how much I got done, especially of weaving. It wasn’t because I took five months off work. I did less craft than usual in that time – just the mosaic and weaving workshop. All my creativity went into home DIY and renovation projects, and gardening.

Setting achievable goals for the year worked. I had a secondary goal of making clothing from handwoven cloth, that I’ve partially achieved (the weaving part mostly, but also a little sewing). Of the new things I tried, basketry was fun but it was mosaics that really got me hooked.

I won’t be attempting to learn new crafts next year, but I will continue to try new weave structures and I’m organising a weaving week with a tutor for a small group of weavers for early next year – the first time I’ve tried something like that. I have an art project in mind, too. Overall, my craft/art aims are pretty much the same as those for 2017: paint more, try new weave structures, dabble in other hobbies.