Thursday, September 30, 2010

crafting for life

My grandmother, Betty Jo Skiver, is an incredibly crafty woman. When she was younger, she made money here and there by creating stamp designs or selling her paintings. As we matured under her watchful eye, she made absolutely sure to incorporate creativity into almost everything that we did. We started simply by choosing materials and patterns for clothing that we wanted her to make for us. Soon after this, we graduated to helping a little with the sewing of clothes for our Barbies. By the time I was sixteen, my grandma Jojo had taught me to use a sewing machine, draw, paint, make designs for my grandpa to incorporate into his work in the woodshop, and to throw together “clothes” with pins and needles for “modeling shoots.” This ignited my passion for drawing and painting. My first painting was actually one that my father had started when he was about 17. When I was 15, Jojo pulled it out and thought that I should attempt to finish it up. Anyone who has felt the power of a paintbrush could probably understand why at this moment I became an addict. Every close family member has at least one of my grandmother’s paintings somewhere in their home. She has been such a huge role model to me. When my parents started hanging my paintings and drawings around, I thought I would be content doing this forever. By the time came that I started getting pushed a little too hard to compete, however, I started to lose the fever that I experienced originally. Today, I haven’t touched a paintbrush in a few years. But the influence that Jojo has had on my life will never fade. When I showed her my swatch from learning to knit this summer, her eyes lit up. One major goal in my life is to impact someone’s life the way that she touched mine.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What is craftivism?

Students provided words and phrases that encapsulated their thoughts after reading a series of blog posts from Click the image below to go to the word cloud that emerged from their contemplation of the intersection between crafting and activism.

Wordle: craftivism

A posse ad esse (from possibility to reality)

When I first thought about beginning to knit, I was excited and went wild with idea of my possible projects. However, when I actually began, all I felt was frustration. It took a lot of time and is still taking time for me to create my knitting “rhythm.” I am constantly unraveling and starting over because I would lose the rhythm which results in a hole in the scarf or a clear difference in tension. I started to investigate what it is that was causing me to get “offbeat” and become frustrated. So this weekend at a retreat, I started jotting down all the possibilities that were inhibiting the completion or even continuation of my projects: Did I hate the yarn? Did I hate the pattern? Was I resenting the project as a whole? Was I unhappy with the class I was making it for? Was I scared of something? What is it?!

The last questioned stuck with me for a few minutes. It was my fear of turning in anything with a mistake. So I came to realize something pretty cool about knitting-- it’s a human activity. It’s perfectly acceptable to have it look like a human made it. My sister was really kind and told me knitted things are very much like their makers in that they have a way of looking beautiful, despite the flaws.

So, as I am working on my red scarf project, I am very excited about the process of making it a reality again. All I had to do was find out within myself why I had lost that feeling and why I allowed frustration to take over!

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Magical Realm of Handcrafting

My crafting journey began at the beginning of this past summer while I was working at the Sterling Renaissance Festival. Not only was the Renaissance theme inspiration to create, but this particular Renaissance festival in upstate New York happens to be one of the only festivals in which vendors must present stock in front of a panel, and all items sold at festival MUST be 100% handmade. I was living in a realm of handmade goodness! :) I worked for an artist, Lorna Trigg, from Eureka Springs, AR selling her ceramic doumbek drums and frame drums. The entire booth consisted of handmade ceramic drums and bamboo flutes made by Lorna and her husband, Craig. My best friend Kodi and I worked at the booth. We were "wenches," and our jobs consisted of dressing in garb, saying ridiculous things in old english, and selling musical instruments.
The picture on the top left is of Lorna, the drum builder, drumming on a doumbek she built. In the background you can see other doumbeks she built, as well.
The bottom picture is of Kodi gettin' down with some ceramic rattles. She has a handmade 4-holed ocarina (whistle flute) around her neck. On the display to the left are Lorna's handpainted timbrels along with bamboo rhythm sticks. On display to the right are the Italian Ocarinas (also known as the "Ocarina of Time" for all you Zelda nerds).
Living with craftspeople/artists, I was constantly inspired by them to create. I made music all summer, but Lorna also taught me how to wire-wrap crystals, bead-stitch around sticks to make smudge fans, and assemble childrens' drum from recycled food cans and goat skins. Most importantly, she taught me how to KNIT! :)

A Mind-Numbing Pastime

My first piece of Creative Non-fiction was about knitting, and I gave it the derogatory title of "Mind-Numbing Pastime." Of course, to me, that's one of the things I love most about knitting, just being able to back out of all the stress from the world and delve into a peaceful rhythm with my favorite Knitpicks needles. Here's a short chunk of my story:

The cold aluminum needles felt odd in my amateur hands, a sharp contrast to the hot room in the middle of an Arizona summer. The open window provided little relief. My fingers clutched stiff beige yarn and fumbled to maintain tension with the two needles. The first few stitches came out disfigured, some hugging the needle too closely while others nearly fell off. "Casting on" seemed simple compared to counting stitches and reading the impossible pattern that came with the "knit-it-yourself" kit. I knew nothing about "slip, slip, over" and "double lift increases."

My mother's slow voice guided me past the first line. Under her careful supervision, it took me fourteen tries to cast on the sixty stitches necessary for the front of the lacy halter-top, my first project. I stumbled through the next six lines of the pattern before my mother realized I had made a mistake in the third row. We had to rip the entire thing out.

I only set aside my needles when my mother had to go to work. As a traveling nurse, she lacked the time necessary to really teach me to knit. She promised we would finish the lesson some other time. When she got home that night, we rode in awkward silence to the airport in Phoenix; all of our silences had been awkward since the divorce. A nonstop flight took me back to Little Rock, where Daddy was waiting to take me home. We began the two-and-a-half hour drive to Fort Smith at three o'clock in the morning. Our car broke down on the way.

Within weeks, I had forgotten everything that my mother had taught me about knitting. I couldn't even remember the difference between a knit and purl stitch. She never had time to give me another lesson because after her two-month assignment in Phoenix, she went to New Hampshire for another three months.

I received the knit halter-top for Christmas when I saw her again that year. It was too small.


We all have a story to tell about learning to knit. Some people were taught by the grandmother, and others while staring at a Youtube video in utter frustration. What's your "casting-on" story?

My story also helps to illustrate the three words I chose in the first class period that describe hoe the things I make, make me: warm, original, imperfect. No, not the halter-top. My real story. When I really learned to knit, the day I picked up the needles by myself, taught myself, a few months after my summertime lesson from my mother, and never put them back down. I taught myself by looking at diagrams, watching the little DVD that came in the kit, and consulting youtube for my biggest problems. The first project I ever finished all by myself was a shawl that I designed all on my own. It was made up of simple stockinette and reverse stockinette. There was no shaping, and it was really wide enough to go all around my shoulders, unless I found a long safety pin to keep in in place. I have no idea where it is now. But I was so very proud of that thing once I had finished it. I constructed it out of a very soft acrylic, probably Caron Simply Soft. It was warm, a design completely original, though not very impressive, and above all it was imperfect. Just like me and my entire knitting experience.

Project Overload

I first started knitting this summer, and once I got past the initial frustration of figuring out the basic stitches, I realized just how much potential there is in this craft. By potential, I mean the almost infinite selection of things we can make. There are tons of designs and patterns to choose from, and my mind automatically churns out ideas for projects. My preoccupation with ideas has its pros and cons. Just like with writing stories (another hobby of mine), brainstorming is half the fun. I get hooked on an awesome idea, but partway through the project I think of something even better and can't resist starting that project too. Soon enough, I've got multiple projects going and not enough time to work on them all. These scarves are a few of the things I'm trying to finish right now.

Thank goodness I'm an amateur with only a tenuous grasp on knitting -if I actually knew what I was doing, I'd probably be buried under a mound of projects. It's the same way with yarn. With all of those different kinds, colors, and textures out there, it's hard to pick out just one. So I end up with a whole drawer full of yarn that I won't get around to using for months -if ever. The possibilites may be overwhelming, but it sure keeps things interesting. If you ever find yourself getting tired of working on a project, I recommend starting a new one. It'll be slow going, but switching back and forth between projects is a good way to keep boredom at bay if you feel knitting turning into a chore.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Enriching Beginnings

For those of you bloggers who have yet to catch the crafting background of Craft Wisely: The Past, Present, and Future of Handcrafting, we, as in students, were each required to learn knitting and/or crocheting over the summer. I personally had never attempted either. So as soon as I had physically recovered from the rigors of finals week (a couple weeks into summer) I approached the assignment with a bit of enthusiasm. I set out on and ordered a groovy pair of multicolored wooden needles and a few skeins of yarn.

After receiving all the necessary supplies I soon found the instructional book to be much harder to follow than anticipated. I felt as if I was looking into an eye teaser color blotch that left more questions than it answered! Fraught with frustration I was forced to look towards alternative methods of instruction. Just as I was fixing to lose all hope, my parents strolled up upon a bit of luck. They work at my hometown’s Regional Hospital which just so happens to have a large volunteer community. My parents discovered that one of the hospital volunteers belonged to a knitting organization that held local weekly meetings. I had hit the jackpot! So a week and a half later, dressed up in my Sunday finest, I gather up my knitting supplies (still mostly in the KnitPick box) and head to the First Episcopal Church on Bolt St.

A bit apprehensive that I might stick out as the only male and individual under the age of 60, I was nervous as I approached the church. I entered and kindly asked where the knitting group generally met. With a warm smile, a lady working the front desk sensed my confusion and jovially escorted me to the meeting location. To my surprise, as soon as I entered the main room I was instantly greeted as if they were all expecting a visit from their grandson! Elated by the response, I made my way towards the likes of Mrs. Emily Hamley. Apparently she was the best at teaching so I became her newest pupil, although at times I felt more like a group project. While I was being taught the garter stitch, I talked to Mrs. Hamley about her past and of course, her precious grandchildren. Who, by default, all knew how to knit, even the males! She continued to explain how her mother was the one who taught her how to knit and how she was excited that she could continue the tradition on to me. It was at this point that I felt honored as if I was a beneficiary of some great lineage, a surprising emotion. By this time the hour was gone and I was on my way. I returned to meet with the group two more times over the summer, advancing my knitting (through baby steps) and finding out more about these fine ladies. I would always make sure to remember specific topics of personal interest from the previous session so that I could instigate additional conversation the next time I visited.

It intrigued me how all of these women, most of whom were highly educated and successful, were brought together in celebration knitting. For those of you readers not in the class, we have covered material that interrelates along this line of thought- feminism in handcrafting, the culture and tradition behind knitting as well as many more. Now, I only hope that I have the chance to return to their group at some point bringing the knowledge I will have gleaned from this course.

Knitting out of Necessity

So I will not tell a lie. Last year I attended one Knitwise event, tried to pick up knitting, and left after having tossed the needles and terribly mangled two rows of fabric to the floor. I swore this was not the craft for me, and I should just stick to what I knew. Then the recession hit my family hard. Normally every Christmas, everybody spends way to much money on each other. Well this last Christmas, just about every one of my family members were going through financial difficulties and that last Christmas was probably our last expensive Christmas. Then I remember someone stating we would draw names this year and make homeade presents. My first thought was, "Oh God, I'm screwed!". I have no visible talents than can transform into presents. I really thought I was going to be giving someone a mixed cd for Christmas. This is very shaming considering my dad is a carpenter, my mom can scrapbook and do a whole lot of other nifty things, and my sister is an artist and can paint, sculpt, and use a potters wheel. Everybody could make legitimate gifts that could actually be used, and I was going to be giving away mixed cd's. Of course no one wanted me to draw their name.

Then Craft Wisely came along. It was like my saving grace. I thought, well I was awful at knitting, but maybe if I am surrounded by a bunch of people that can knit, I will pick it up, and might even be able to give away the best Christmas present or at least one of the best. So I had to wrap my mind around the idea that I would be delving into this again.

Now just to be fair, I was still awful, and I think I had the worst practice swatches out of the whole class. I was working on these swatches with my family in Texas, and let's just say there was alot of teasing about my speed, the awfulness of the swatches, and just the fact that I was knitting.

Finally, I got to a place where I could go without dropping stitches or at least catch my mistakes and fix them. Then, I figured out how to purl. So I felt like I was the bomb dot com, and went from not having a decent practice swatch to making my sister a double seed stitched headband for her birthday. Let me just say, for a first project, it looked amazing, and I was pumped. I am an RA, and within seconds of me finishing it, I knocked on all my resident's doors and showed it to them.

I finally just cast off my red scarf project and am very proud of it as well. With each new project that I pick up, I want to learn something new. My headband had a new stitch. My scarf was multicolored, and my baby-blanket to be will be cabled. (which I am very scared of).

Although this craft started out as a necessity, I have quickly fell in love with it, and want to make things all the time, just so I can say, "Look what I made!".

Illusion knitting

So I'm going to talk about the project that I'm working on right now for this post. As most of you know I'm very new to knitting. I've kind of limited myself to making scarfs, because I'm afraid if I venture out to other projects they'll be too complicated for me :) (are smiley faces allowed in posts?)
For this scarf, I really wanted to do something special for my roommates birthday, which was this last Saturday. She's really into dragonflies so I searched Ravelry for patterns with dragonflies and I found this really neat pattern of a dragonfly using what is called an illusion stitch. Basically what this means is that from an aerial view the scarf will just look like a striped scarf, but from an angle the pattern becomes visible, it's like knitting magic! :D

This is what I have done so far:

And this is the scarf at an angle where you can see the dragonfly:

I didn't want to just use the dragonfly pattern over and over again as the pattern describes, so I decided to create my own pattern for the middle section of the scarf. So the scarf is going to have a dragonfly section followed by two K sections and then one section with the Greek letter Psi. (KKPsi is the fraternity that my roommate belongs to, and I thought it would be a great personalization for her birthday present, the colors that I chose are actually the fraternity colors as well lol)

I'm actually having some trouble with the letters in the scarf, it's just difficult to get the dimensions of the letters just right, but I think that I'll be able to work it all out.


I have successfully finished this project! And am pleased to say that my roommate, as well as several other KKPsi members love it!

The only problem that I really had was that the letters turned out a little smashed looking. Also the sides of the scarf have a habit of curling in, which I find very annoying. The best advice I could dive to creating your own pattern would be to draw out your letters on graph paper, where each stitch is represented by one box. Once you've done that I would look at your pattern from a more horizontal level, this will help you avoid the smashed look of my letters :)

Happy knitting!

P.S. I know this isn't the greatest image, but it is a very long scarf and it isn't easy to capture the entire illusion.

My Inspiration

Eating lunch with the sweetest group of kids
Anyone who knows me well, knows that I have a heart that beats to help orphans. I’m not sure when I my life I recognized it,  but from an early age I knew and fully believed that to whom much is given, much is required. At an early age I had birthday parties in which I asked my friends to bring gifts either for children at the Salvation Army or for the local animal shelters.  The most memorable birthday growing up was my 16th, not because I got a car, but because my friends were able to fill my newly acquired care with enough dog and cat food, cat litter, food bowls, and flea medicine to keep eleven animals alive for one more year!  I’ve grown up in a world in which I’ve always had clean water and food when needed. However most do not live with luxuries that we have. I’ve always had strong calling into helping those less fortunate, thus in my college years, this desire to help others has resulted in many mission trips.  Most memorable, this past summer, when I went to Peru to work with orphanages and campus ministry.  
Out of all the friendships, laughs, amazing Peruvian cuisine, and many good memories of Trijuilo, Peru, my favorite are that of the week at the orphanages. By our standards, these orphanages had nothing, but in their hearts, they shared more love than most will ever know.

Alyssa and I at the school with children
 I am especially excited that as a class we are all working on knitting red scarves for orphans. I feel that it is our duty as skilled and educated people to in some way, shape, or form to give back. I know that it would take my lifetime to knit scarves for the hundreds of orphans I worked with in CAEF ministries, yet I left them so much more- a piece of my heart and my first tie dye craft. Which, I did not expect to—the orphanage director asked for it. It is huge, parachute blanket used for games. I was hoping to keep it (selfish, I know—but I’ve always wanted to keep my first craft of every sort as a memento) but rather reluctantly gave it away.  Reflecting now, months after my Peruvian days, I’m glad those children have that parachute blanket. I made myself a t-shirt with a similar pattern and wear it in fond remembrance of those precious Peruvian kiddos!  
The children of Peru. Can't you just
 see how they captured my heart?

My  friend Alyssa leaving a message on the parachute.

We have been reading in the Ulrich text about  what our crafts says about us—and since day one we have examined how what we make, makes us  (JEEP commercial). So, what is that parachute blanket, down on the sandy shannytown beaches of Peru saying about me? I’m not sure. I’d like to hope that it conveys the love and care I have for these children. 

In the shantytown of Torres with the sweet kids!
My sweet friend, Dorcous Ayebare, an orphan in Uganda, shares my birthday although she is five years younger than me) has been the current focus of my WIP! (Sorry I cannot post a picture of Dorcous, Compassion International does not allow reproduction of the images of children in their program for safety issues). I’m attempting to make us matching green (both our favorite color!) scarves, however I just cannot perfect all these patterns without ripping out countless rows, only to start over at the beginning. My perfectionist self is too worried that if I drop a stitch or forget to catch a stitch that somehow this object that I have made for this precious girl that has captured my heart will somehow mean I love her any less. So, I stare at a wad of yarn in hopes to finish the project in time to be sent to Uganda by her birthday on February 10th! In my knitting/crochet I grow from the process and feel closer to the person in which the object is for. I devote all this time and effort into this object in hopes that the recipient will somehow see it as a gesture of love. Much like we read about the Knitting Sweaters for Our Boyfriends by Joanne Turney, I have that same anxiety and fear that the recipient will reject me or the gift. As silly as it sounds, I feel that a dropped stitch or accidently repeated row will ruin the gift. To apply the concept we began focus on, what we make makes us, then will a wrongly knitted row mean that what I make somehow imperfects my love for these kids. I sure hope not, but my type A personality drives onward to perfect. By the end of this class,  I hope to have made significant headway on Dorcus’s gift without having to rip it all out too many more times. My three little words from the beginning of class were helpful, providing, and unique. I hope that my products convey the love that these orphans inspire in me. What is your knitting inspiration? How closely related to your heart is your knitting inspiration? My love and desire to perfect my products for these dear kids is without a doubt is one of the main inspirations behind me knitting. Thank you sweet children for giving me a passion behind my knitting!
Fun and games at CAEF

Notice my shirt? Same dye pattern as the parachute!

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Craft Wisely Podcast, Episode 2: Finding Meaning

Each week, a group of students from the Craft Wisely course will invite listeners into the discussions taking place in our classroom. The conversation starts with ideas derived from our texts and our practice, and ranges into the podcasters' interpretations and experience.

The Dust Storms -- Ariel, Adrea, Lynn, and Anna -- lead us on a whirlwind (see what I did there?) trip through the various meanings that get attached to handmade items, the materials used to make them, the people that undertake the craft, and the process they undergo.  Is ripping out your work liberating or crazy?  How did Native Americans and English colonists differ in their perception of cloth and its making?  Get caught up and blown away by this week's podcast!

Download the podcast here.  To subscribe to the podcast, add the Craft Wisely podcast feed to iTunes or your favorite podcast reader.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ok. So crocheting isn't that horrible.

I thought that ever since I learned to knit last year, that it was going to be my thing. I loved to knit, even thought I didn't even think to learn purl until a couple weeks ago. I knew i was going to have to learn a new craft: crocheting, but i assumedit wasn't going to be as cool as knitting. And a first i was right. I HATED to crochet. It was hard, the book wasnt telling me how to doanything except make a slip knot (which i already knew how to do). So i was just going to give up until i could come back to school and ask someone to show me how to do it properly.
Then i found out that my mom used to crochet when i was little (i dont know why she keeps stuff from me) and she said that she loved it, having never learned how to knit. S
o i figured that since my mom loved it (but
has since forgotten how to do it) I would end up at least liking it too, so i gave it another chance. (even though i actually ripped everything up)
I decided my new attempts at crocheting would just be experimental. I did (what i have since learned is a) Chain Stitch, and then just kept on crocheting around and around the chain stitch. I already showed it in class, but it ended up being a weird bowel-like object.

My second attempt wasnt much better but i finally learned how to do a turning stitch so it was still a significant improvement. First, i was
only picking up one of the two lines in the V so it ended up making a stacking crocheted swatch. Second, i was basically just(i don know the word for crochet, so ill use the one for knitting) casting off after every stitch and pic
king it back up again on the next one. It was very confusing until Tamami told me what i was doing wrong (Thanks Tamami!)
After doing these new, and CORRECT stitches for a few rows, i ditched that swatch and started on a red scarf that i will probably end up using for the red scarf project. Its no anything fancy, but to give it some texture i am alternating three treble crochets and two regular crochets. Its simple and pretty shade of red, and I'm really sad that the first thing i will make, i cant keep, but i hope i will feel good about it later. :)

Changing topics, i went home last weekend an noticed a new blanket on the couch. I went up to it, and recognized it as a shell crochet pattern! i felt so proud that i could recognize the stitches! (mom had gotten it at a y
ard sale earlier that day, from the woman that had crocheted it for fun, it is really pretty :D)
After that i started look at all kinds of fabrics up close seeing it can tell what kind of stitch is keeping it together. So far i
havent identified anything, but im pretty sure that i have a blanket that was weaved together on my bed...

I like crocheting so much now, that i find it hard to switch over to my knitting every now and then. Crocheting just goes by so much faster so i feel like i am accomplishing more.

Crafting! what a Joy it is knowing that you can actually make something that you can use. Back at home, I used to crochet but I never finished anything I started. I would start crocheting a table cloth, for example, and end up making just six rows at most, and get tired of it.

When the Honors college started the Craft wisely class for the Junior seminar this Fall, I was so happy and couldn't wait to register for the class. I thought this was something I would be interested in doing, and I would finally get to start something and finish it. I was caught by surprise when my Professor, Donna Bowman, posted our first assignment and a list of stuff we had to buy, because what I thought was knitting, when I was home, was actually crocheting. So, I had the challenge of learning a new craft which was knitting. At first I did not understand how I would do it because when I looked at the knitting needles I kept wondering how somebody would pick the thread with that kind of a needle. My ordered items finally arrived and I had a hard time at first just following the book on how to knit, but I watched a youtube video where I understood well how to do it, I guess it is better to learn something by watching somebody else do it :-). Now I am almost done with my Red Scarf, for the "Red scarf project" and I am so proud that I am finally going to finish something I have started, and what I am making will actually help somebody in need. I have posted a picture of my red scarf above(left) and I have ordered some other yarns, and will start making something other than a scarf, for myself as soon as I receive them. I am currently making rib-stitched scarf using a two-color yarn(right) and I am proud that I am motivated to keep practicing knitting. I really thank Donna for starting this class because I get to learn something that will help me in life, and leaving alone the knitting, the class discussions also help me gain a better understanding of some stuff going on in this world.

Knitting Family Ties

My grandmother has been a knitter for as long as I can remember. I have tons of pictures of me from grade school in Christmas sweater vests, knitted gloves, and one of a kind scarves. When I registered for the Handmade honors group I was excited to tell my Grandmother that I would be joining her in her craft. She has tried many times to teach me the basics of knitting, but I simply never had the patience or the perseverance to learn the craft. If you look on the top shelf of my closet at home you’ll find an array of 4 inch pieces of knitted projects that I started and never finished.

Now that I am required to knit (and learning to love it) my Grandmother and I have begun knitting a blanket together. It is a simple/complex afghan pattern (depending on who you ask) that we are helping each other with. She lives in New Milford, New Jersey and we have a strict mailing schedule to stick to that keeps us on track. She started the blanket and mailed it to me for the first time this weekend. We each knit for a week and then send it on its way. The pattern is hard for me because I am still learning, and I have a feeling that she wants to correct any mistakes that I make and am unable to fix myself. But we have decided to leave the mistakes that the other one makes because those give the blanket character. The tiny mistakes in our blanket represent the imperfections within my family. To others that may seem to stand out, but for me, and my Grandmother, we just take them in stride. We love them and learn from them and by the end of the blanket, they will be a part of what makes the blanket perfect.

The arthritis in my Grandmother’s fingers is slowly making it hard for her to continue knitting, but the new found fire in my heart will hopefully carry on her tradition. Each stitch that I make in the afghan ties us closer together as a family. We share a common blanket, which will carry on our story. I may not knit for the rest of my life, but that blanket will have always come from our collaboration

Sunday, September 12, 2010

It's Medieval time!

Instead of dreaming of a home in the suburbs with a white picket fence, I've always imagined living high in the mountains in a medieval castle, complete with a drawbridge and all. You could guess how excited I was when I learned of a 13th century castle being built right here in Arkansas!

About 30 minutes south of Branson, the Ozark Castle Fortress is the project of the French architect, Michel Guyot, who wanted to build a medieval castle in the medieval way. He was inspired by Arkansas’ rural landscape and found it a perfect site for his fortress. “He created the concept of Gu├ędelon consisting of building a real medieval castle from scratch, recreating at the same time the old skills required for such a construction: stone masons, stone cutters, carpenters, rope makers, wood cutters, carters...” Everything was financed by visitor entrance fees. Building started in June 2009 and has been open to visitors since May 2010. They are expecting the castle to be finished by 2030.

Be still my chain mail covered heart! I was giddy with anticipation as my boyfriend and I made the trip. It was a beautiful sight. Every one was dressed in 13th century garb. Quarry workers were actually hammering limestone from the side of the mountain and transporting the rough rocks in carts (made by the carpenter) to the stone mason. I talked to the basket weaver for an hour who was putting the finishing touches on a tool basket for the carpenter (she needed to still get the rope for the handle from the rope maker). The blacksmith was creating a rough drill for the new trebuchet that was going up. All of these different skills were not just for show, but were actually being put into practice in a working setting.

Now comes the relevant part of the story. The last worker I met was the weaver. With her pasture of sheep beside her, she was in the middle of dying her latest skein of hand-spun wool. She was experimenting with different flowers and plants she got from the gardener as dyes. A dull yellow yarn hanging on the line to dry was dyed using a crushed up insect. She walked me through the process. After sheering the wool, she cards it, scraping the wool though two paddles with spiky teeth, getting the fibers to all go in one direction. Then, using a drop spindle, she hand spins the fuzzy wool into one long strand of yarn.

It truly was an eye opening experience. I was probably a little bit too excited to go. It’s a great example of how hard it was back then to get anything done. So much work goes into creating a tool basket. Labor had to be divide to get anything done! Being a weaver is a full time occupation. I was also talking to the rope maker, who was a volunteer fire woman in her modern life, and she said she wanted to be a builder, as she had previous experience in construction, but she wasn’t allowed to. I’m not sure if it was because they wanted to keep the sex divisions the same as back then to keep it as authentic as possible, or because the establishment didn’t think she could handle the work. Either way, it really opens your eyes to the divisions in labor both in type and sex back in the day.

I highly suggest everyone go check THIS place out. It’s awesome!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Craft Wisely Podcast, Episode 1: Caught in the Machine

Each week, a group of students from the Craft Wisely course will invite listeners into the discussions taking place in our classroom. The conversation starts with ideas derived from our texts and our practice, and ranges into the podcasters' interpretations and experience.

In this first episode, the intrepid students of Group C is for Cogs in the Wheel talk about their sense that the specialization and compartmentalization of labor contrasts with the holistic ideals of craft.  Tradition, prehistory, and industry constitute factors in our feelings about work and our attitudes toward craft activities.

Download the podcast here.  To subscribe to the podcast, add the Craft Wisely podcast feed to iTunes or your favorite podcast reader.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My Knitting Inspiration

Hey guys! Since learning to knit, I am finding myself very inspired by all of the opportunities to provide for people in need. Donna introduced me to this idea through the Red Scarf Project. I have been pursuing this further through ravelry. There are several groups that knit for breast cancer victims, children's hospitals, etc. if you look for them! Thinking about all of these organizations and friends and family that I could create for is inspiring me more than I expected. I am so excited to learn new stitches and patterns! If anyone knows of any groups, stitches, or patterns, I would love to hear about it!

Adventure is Brewing

“Kate, I can smell that coffee coming down the hall!”

Since freshman year, much of my social life has revolved around first the coffee pot and later on, the French press. Pot. Not a fan of crowds, I found comfort connecting to individuals or small groups. I told my friends that I had an open coffee pot, and various friends would drop by throughout the week, groggy eyes begging for the miracles of caffeinated care. I quickly became dissatisfied with the white bread taste of, and I experimented with specialty coffees from Boulevard and the local company, Rozark Hills. My journey with roasting began with my boyfriend Wayne, roasting green beans in a dinted pan on the grill. The subtle nuances of the fresh beans were so delectable- I was tongue-tied to the possibilities of the coffee experience. Experimenting with coffee became an important part of my life, and I was soon addicted.

Roasting coffee personalizes one step of the many essential processes involved in creating a flavorful cup o’ joe. It is a complicated process that many coffee drinkers take for granted, and if you can call When buying coffee that is unroasted, I have more control over the ethically origins of my coffee. The coffees found in the aisles of Wal-marts and Piggly Wigglys are blends of beans purchased from several large industrial farms in a general region. As coffee crops are purchased through the system of middle men and ever changing commodity prices, those who farm the coffee are usually paid an unstable wage. I order my greens from a distributer works directly with farmers. This is not only ethical; it also provides a high caliber medium for crafting roasts, allowing me to explore the best way to the unique flavor of beans from a single region.

Beans selected from a micro lot or small farms have the potential for a unique flavor. The development of flavor is determined by the roasting process. This process is can be very creative, and a good roast relies on the equipment and experience of the roaster. The roaster can bring out the best unique characteristics of the bean, or ruin the origin traits. The roasting process for each origin is experimental. Some beans produce a better, more complex flavor when brought to the lightest roast. This was difficult for me to except; BOLD is not always best. Thankfully, light roasts are easily achieved. The beans are removed from the heat source immediately after the roaster listens to the beans enter the first cracking stage. Another easy roast that brings out the best flavor of many origins is the darker, second crack. However, for many beans, the finest flavor of a single origin coffee bean must be coaxed from the complex stage in between the two cracks. The roaster must have the experience to identify the smell of emitted smoke and color of the ever darkening bean in order to achieve a superior roast. Coffee begins to lose its flavor twenty four hours after it is roasted, consequently, to experience fresh coffee it is essential to purchase it from a local roaster or to roast your own beans. Once you become accustomed to the intimacy of the roasting process and the quality of the result, visiting star bucks is like going to Wal-mart on a holiday weekend to buy spam. Here are ten reasons to roast coffee at home.

Everything involving the production of coffee is part of its art. How the bean is picked, where it is stored, its origins, the way it is roasted, and the way it is prepared contribute to its unique enjoyment. Coffee making is a communal art, and our recent discussions led me to see how Adam Smith’s division of labor is essential for me to pursue my passion. Excluding Hawaii, the environment in the United States is not conducive to growing coffee beans. I must depend on others for my passion, yet by roasting my own beans and experimenting with the various ways to brew and serve it, I am participating in an interconnected art form. Not only is this a creative and introspective experience, I also end the day with a product that connects me with others. I travel often, camping or climbing, and people can often hear the whir of the coffee grinder at from our car. The Turkish say that coffee is the “milk of chess players and thinkers."(allabout Coffee is an integral part of world culture, the second only to oil as the most desired world commodity. It is part of the traditions of many cultures and people; it is a part of daily routines and the center of sacred rituals. With knowledge of other cultures available a click away, the coffee experience can be created by a mixture of these rich traditions. It is a product that you can then share, a connection with others in silence, deep conversation, or the comradely found in the I-have-a-paper-due-at-eight-all-nighter-cup. Whatever the case, adventure is brewing!

Here is the beginning of a docmentary on coffee (the rest can be found on youtube)