Wax on, Wax off

Questionable Karate Kid reference aside- one of my favorite parts of this new-found freedom I seemed to have developed (read: I had never realized how much creative energy school sucked out of me….) is the opportunity for new projects!

Batiking, for those of you yet unaware, is a traditional Indian technique for creating colorful patterns on fabric using wax as a resist, and multiple layers of dye.I’d always wanted to try it, but hot wax kind of scares me a tiny bit, and I could never really think of a project I wanted to do badly enough to bother with buying all the supplies. However, once I came up with a project, I did a bit of research and it turns out the tools you need aren’t all that expensive!

 

batiking fabric completed

I love it when a plan comes together!

I’ve so far spent two weekends batiking- It’s kind of an all day affair because of the waiting time while fabric is dyeing, and then drying. I set myself up a nice little workstation (on my handy-dandy-all-purpose-worktable-that-is-mostly-for-screen-printing) and put on some tunes:

batiking supplies

The fixin’s of an excellent day!

The Supplies:

  • Test Fabric (I used some scraps of muslin I keep on hand for days like this)
  • Dye (Fiber Reactive dye. You can’t use acid dye because the heat needed for that chemical process would melt the wax. sigh.)
  • Fabric (for your actual project! Stick to cellulose based fibers like cotton or rayon- not too delicate, and not too tightly woven, or the wax won’t penetrate.)
  • Batiking Wax (a blend of paraffin and beeswax. It’s available premixed, or you can buy them separately and mix them yourself!)
  • A wax melting pot (Not for food! choose one that’s as small as you can find, but deep.)
  • An electric burner (for obvious, wax-melting purposes. With a fairly accurate adjustment knob)
  • A clip-on thermometer (of the non-digital variety)
  • Tjantings (the copper tools for drawing wax onto your fabric)
  • Large wax pot (Not for food! Your project must be able to swim freely in this pot)
  • Wax tongs (Also not for food!)

There! That’s a start. We’ll get to the why’s of some of those specifications momentarily. None of it’s very expensive- the most expensive item was the electric burner, which I found on amazon for $17, and which I can totally use for other things. It’s handy. Even the Tjantings are hardly a budget breaker. I bought all my supplies at dharma which I love and would be nowhere without. Also, if you have questions about anything fabric-related, the nice people at Dharma will probably know the answers.

Here’s a closeup of the tjantings- I bought three different sizes- the holes in their spouts are different sizes so the molten wax will come out at different speeds, allowing for thicker and thinner lines. That said, I definitely used the thinnest one about 95% of the time, after I played with the three to get a feel for them. The largest one deposited so much wax so quickly that it dripped through the fabric straight down onto my hands, which was fairly unpleasant. Wax at this temperature will probably hurt a bit if it drips on you, but it shouldn’t burn or blister. It’s about the same as a low-temp hot glue gun. I’m a bit more sensitive to temperature extremes than most people, so I was careful. That one’s best used for thicker fabric, I suppose.

Don’t stick your fingers in the wax pot. Did your mother teach you nothing as a child?

tjantings for batiking in three sizes

note the copper,which is actually surprisingly thick and retains heat very well.

Wax On:

As to how one physically goes about the task, there are a few ways to do it. A lot of tutorials I found have you pin the fabric so that it’s suspended above your workspace, but if you look at most videos of Indian women batiking on YouTube, they’ll just be holding the fabric in their hands, suspended using their fingertips underneath and drawing lightly from the top with the Tjanting. Tjaps (the copper stamps used to make repeating and intricate patterns for batiking) are a different story that I’m not talking about because Tjaps really are out of my price range. By a lot. Which is unfortunate given how beautiful they are.

When starting to draw in each color, or when switching tools, hold the Tjanting’s head submerged in the wax for a few minutes so that the copper can heat up; your wax will flow more easily that way, and you’ll be able to draw for longer without a refill. Anyways- this is how I ended up holding my Tjanting- you, should you choose to batik as well- should obviously play around with it and decide what works for you. Especially if you’re a leftie.

tjanting proper holding technique

You can also see the wax lines on the fabric! Squiggles are good. Squiggles are easy. Nobody can tell when you mess up squiggles.

The wax burns at 245 degrees (Farenheit!)- and the internet tells me that it erupts violently in flames and is very difficult to put out once it ignites. This is why you need a thermometer and a burner with a fairly accurate adjustment knob. You need your wax to be around 23o in order to be hot enough to flow easily, but don’t let it get above 240! Also, don’t put water on a wax fire- use baking soda to extinguish infernos.

Now that we’ve gotten through the setup, the rest of it is pretty straightforward. Draw on your white fabric, with the wax, in whatever areas you would like to be white. Then, pop that sucker into a dye solution (cold water only, or you’ll melt the wax!) If you’re using a soda ash solution, which you should be if you’re using fiber reactive dyes, you’ll want to make sure to take your fabric out after no more than 30 minutes, because the soda ash has a nasty habit of eating away at the wax.

batik in progress

Here’s a tester after two dye baths- you can see the yellow and white areas that are protected by the wax!

Rinse (literally) and repeat: Draw more wax in the areas you want to remain that color, dye, rinse, draw… you get the picture…. The most awful part of the process is waiting while the fabric is in the dye bath, and waiting for it to air dry once it’s out (Can’t put waxy fabric into mom’s dryer. Would probably be disowned…or yelled at…)

In the above photo, you can kind of see the cracking in the waxed areas where the darker colors are coming through. That’s because of the wax mixture. Beeswax is very flexible at room temperature, but it gets gummy really quickly on its own. Parrafin wax is very flaky, and also doesn’t adhere well alone. The combination of the two produces the crackling, while still keeping the wax adhered. People who do this a lot make their own mixtures with more of one or the other, depending on how much or little crackling they wish to occur. I happen to really like it just how it is, so I’ll keep on keepin’ on with my 50-50 blend.

batik project in dye bath

Dye from lightest to darkest! I shouldn’t have to tell you guys this, though- I feel like you’re pretty smart cookies.

Eventually, you’ll either fill up your fabric with wax or run out of darker colors to dye your fabric. If you haven’t already, you’re probably wondering how to get all that wax out of there.

batik example fabric

My final color order went yellow->blue (for green)-> red (for red-orange)-> purple (for maroon), and black (for slightly darker maroon.)  We’re working on that last one. I wanted it darker.

Wax Off:

This is why I said not to choose anything delicate. The definition of that, in this case, is don’t choose anything that wouldn’t like to be boiled- because that’s how you get the wax out. I found my pot at goodwill for $4.50- it’s a canning pot, and will be just large enough for my dress when it’s time to make that.

This is a pretty fun part of the process- you fill the pot with enough water that your fabric is completely submerged (the more wiggle room the better), and boil the living daylights out of it. I don’t mean just bring that pot to boiling and then shut the stove off, you have to boil it and agitate it while you’re boiling it for a good 10 or 15 minutes, so that all the fabric that is caught in the folds of the fabric is dislodged and melted. Then, take your pot off the heat, and use your tongs to carefully drop some stones into the pot. These will weight down the fabric so it doesn’t float up and touch the wax layer while it’s cooling. I used some smooth river rocks that I stole from the garden in our front yard. If you get rocks from outside, give them a good scrubbing first, your fabric will thank you. You could also use any other object as a weight, as long as it’s heavy and rust-proof.

The wax will cool in a skin on the top of the water (Science!) and the fabric will remain safe and wax-free underneath. Now, you have to wait for the pot to cool entirely….

batiking wax pot cooling

The wax layer sometimes fractures as it cools- that’s alright, it won’t effect the awesomeness that’s about to go down.

Impatiences sparks ingenuity- I didn’t want to wait for it so I filled the sink with cold water and ice cubes so that the water inside the pot would cool faster. After you’re sure it’s completely cool (this next part won’t work if it’s not) it’ time to remove the wax. Take your wax-only tongs, and pinch the wax at one side of the pot, pulling up and around slowly. This bit reminded me of peeling Elmer’s glue off my fingers- it comes  off like a layer of skin. there may be some pieces stuck in a ring around the pot, but that’s okay, The water is cool so the wax can touch the fabric without anything bad happening.

wax removal from batiking pot

Voila! Wax off!

Put the wax on a paper towel to dry- the great thing about Batiking is that there’s very little waste! After you’re sure there are no more water droplets adhering to your wax, you can drop it back into your small wax pot and use it again! Then, get your stones out of the bottom of the pot so they don’t scratch it, pour the fabric out, and give it a good washing. If you can still see spots of wax, you didn’t boil it for long enough. and Voila! your batik project is complete!

finished batik sampler

Seems like I’m king of the blurry photos lately, but they’re the only ones I have…

After the test swatches, I made a head scarf using some of the rayon fabric I’m eventually going to make my dress out of, so that I could make sure it handled the dye adequately.

batik headscarf in progress

I got really good at those flower motifs…they look a tiny bit Hawaiian but I’m okay with that.

It dyed a little lighter than I was anticipating, and it seems like a lot of batikers have this problem. If you want to get dark colors, especially after multiple previous layers of dye have gone into the fabric, try some of Dharma’s after-soak. Basically, it sets some of the dye that’s still bonded to the water in your dye bath to the fabric,and you end up with richer, darker shades without having to soak for longer and risk having your soda ash dissolve the wax.

batik headscarf in progress

two more colors to go! The rayon was more tightly woven so the thicker Tjantings were necessary. They’re also excellent for filling in large areas.

After the batiking was done, all I had to do was hemstitch the edges and I had a brand new handmade headscarf! I’m so looking forward to this dress….

headscarf selfie

yay for grainy selfies!

There are a lot of applications for wax-resist color techniques- I sort of thought the most popular was batiking but that idea bubble was popped as soon as I started telling my friends what my plans were that weekend: “I’m Batiking!”… “You’re what?”… “Batiking!”… “That’s not a real word. You made that word up. What is that?”

India uses wax resist for batiking, the Ukraine uses it to make multicolored and beautiful eggs called Pysanki- something we used to do around Easter every year as a family before we ran away to college. China uses something called Guetta in place of wax to draw on silk, because part of the silk dyeing process involves very hot water (wax is no good melted!) There are some countries in Africa that do something very similar to batiking, but with different designs and usually earth tone colors.

This project was an incredibly good time, and I’m excited about more like it in the future. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t particularly matter what I’m doing but I’m happiest if I can learn something from it.

 

 

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The first dress of 2014, and its first day out on the town.

So, here’s the thing. When you’re a student, you spend most of your time either in a classroom or doing homework. Sometimes all of your time. Sometimes so much time that there’s none left to spend on sleeping. Or eating. Or friends. When you’re working, it’s the same although I’ve been lucky so far to not have the kind of work that comes home with me, past the occasional entertaining story at the dinner table. When you’re travelling, there’s no time for crafty business but it’s alright because SELFIES! Sorry..It’s alright because you’re enriching your knowledge of culture and diversity and taking pictures of all of the exciting things (ahem)…

There’s not a lot of time for craftiness, unless you make it.

Usually.

Unless you’re in a holding pattern between Job A, Job B, and more travelling- in which case, you attempt to make up for all the crafting time lost!

I made this dress last month- in October- and it was the first dress I’d made yet this year, which is tragic. I have since nearly finished one more and have plans and fabric for a third, but that number is still much too low for something on my list of favorite things to do.

Grey and Brown Floral fabric for dressmaking

Floral doesn’t have to mean ‘old ladies’- and besides, in my experience old ladies are pretty awesome.

I found this fabric without really looking at Joanns, and brought home enough to make ‘some kind of dress’… Sometimes there’s a plan, most times there’s not.

bow shaped spacer beads

I decided upfront that I wanted it to lace up the back, so I got bow-shaped spacer beads to thread the laces through.

I drafted the lace-up bodice pattern myself, and then just kind of made up the skirt part as I went. The fact that this pattern only exists in my head, though, doesn’t mean it can’t be learned from.

Materials

  • 3 yards Brown Floral Fabric  (100% Cotton)
  • 1/2 yard Contrasting Grey Floral Fabric (also 100% Cotton)
  • 12 ft. of Grey Paracord
  • 10 Spacer beads (for lacing)
  • Contrasting silk thread for topstitching
  • Zipper (I eventually replaced mine with a metal one, after my invisible zip ended up having a flaw)
  • Lining fabric (I used some undyed muslin from the stash because I’m thrifty like that)

Having a bias tape maker was also helpful, since there’s a lot of that in this dress. Also the usual sewing machine, needles appropriate for the job, etc.

IMG_3624

And of course, I’d be nowhere without my mannequin, the trusty lady Lucille!

After making a mockup out of cheap woven fabric I keep around for precisely that job, and making sure it fit how I wanted it to, I started working on the bodice. I consists of 7 panels- center front with princess seams, then side front, side back, and center back. The center back piece supports the lacing. I had originally planned for the zipper to be at the center back, but that kind of went out the window when I decided there needed to be bias tape at the waist and a little design under the lacing. Side zips are easier to manage getting in and out of anyways.

floral dress bodice dressmaking process

Progress! This is where I figured out placement for the back laces. They’re functional but they also aren’t necessary because of the zipper.

After I had the bodice  constructed, I made the entire 1/2 yard of grey contrasting fabric into 1/4″ Bias tape. If you’re unfamiliar and you wish to be, there are excellent tutorials for this in most quilting books, which is how I refreshed my memory. I used a few inches of the tape to bind the center front, and then cut two 72″ pieces that bound the reset of the top edge, starting with the center back at the base of the lacing and then going up under the arms. When these pieces met the princess seam in the front, they became the straps, which cross in the back and then lace down. The bias tape is handstitched (invisible mattress stitch- my favorite!) closed over lengths of paracord which I used to add strength and roundness to the straps. I finally found an use for the stuff!

back of lace up floral hand sewn dress

Finished! My favorite part is the lower back… also check out those glove tan lines…

After adding the skirt (just six triangular pieces- take the waist measurement of the bodice, divide by six- that’s the measurement of each skirt panel, add seam allowance of course. The hem measurement was based on maximizing the fabric I had leftover.) I decided it needed some extra flair, so I used some of my (plentiful) leftover bias tape to add interest at the waist and hem. These pieces were pinned in place while Lucille wore the dress, and then machine top-stitched with yellow silk thread. I like silk because it tangles less, and the thread has a different sheen than cotton or polyester- and it stands off the surface in a lovely way. I also generally try to avoid sewing with polyester thread if what I’m sewing into is cotton. I’m not actually sure if it matters, but I like it anyways.

front of floral lace up handmade dress

Finished! Thanks to Val for taking pictures while I tried to figure out what to do with my face…

The hem is more bias tape (continuity!) with a top-stitched piece 2 1/2″ from the bottom. Because of the way the bodice is made, the skirt is lower in the back than it is in the front- the perfect length so that I’m not sitting my bare legs down on chairs and such! The nice thing about making your own clothes is that you can account not only for the way you’re shaped, but the way you prefer to wear them. All my store-bought dresses are a bit short, so I compensate by making all my handmade dresses a bit long. Things even out.

front of brown floral handmade lacing up dress

Yay for fashion shots of pretty dresses! Finishing projects like this just makes me want to start more…

I hope that if you happened upon this blog because you’re interested in dressmaking- that I have provided you with at least a bit of an explanation of the proceedings. One of the best parts about making new clothes is getting to wear them though, so that’s what’s happening next!

detail of floral handmade corset back dress

Check out that fabulous silk top-stitching!

Less than a week after finishing this dress, I drove up to the lovely city of Chicago for two days to catch up with Jon.

sheep selfie at the Bean in Millenium Park, Chicago

What actually happened was that Sheep decided he wanted to go on an adventure, and we spent the weekend running around Chicago taking photos for his instagram page.

The weather was spotty, but acceptable. We were for a short time trapped in a Starbucks due to the rain, but even that wasn’t too bad. We spent a day in the Museum of Science and Industry which was fantastically awesome- albeit dimly lit so photos were difficult.

IMG_3689

Blurry. But still a cool photo! It looked a bit like mars..

The building the museum is in is mostly underground so it looks oddly small on the outside- and then you wander in and realize that there are 12 planes including a Boeing 747 hanging from the ceiling…

Inverted Jenny

The ‘Inverted Jenny’ was a postage stamp from 1918 which, due to a printing error, featured an airplane then commonly called a Jenny upside down. They’re very rare now and worth up to $2.7 million dollars. I know this because I spend too much time in post offices.

This is a wonderful place! Full of not only exhibits that teach science in interesting ways (Launching balls across rooms over innocent bystanders below, anyone?) but also some pretty excellent historical artifacts.

museum of science and industry airplanes in chicago

 Sheep was enthralled by all the different methods of air travel. He’s very excited to do some more flying, and would maybe like to sit in a cockpit some day…

There was a special exhibit while we were there called ‘Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives’ which had a whole chronology of Disney- from the movies and shows to Disneyland itself. There were examples of the multi-plane camera technology he used early on, plus lots of models, sketches, and video clips, and some incredibly exciting newer stuff…like, say, costumes from some recent films…!

captain jack sparrow selfie at the museum of science and industry

The actual, real live Captain Jack Sparrow outfit from Pirates, because I am a Huge Nerd and not even sorry that its grainy…

I had no idea that these would be here and I think there was probably a scary amount of excitement going on…especially when I turned around:

IMG_3717

THE ACTUAL MAD HATTER OUTFIT (Also Alice was there holy crap) I may have died and gone to heaven because how is this even real life?

I MADE Alice and the hatter from photos right after this movie came out- I may have taken some liberties with the hatter, but seeing in person that my Alice was spot on- that was such a cool feeling. I’m sure that I got some strange looks for the complete freak out I had about the whole thing…. even Sheep was looking at me like I was a little nuts-o. Worth it. Worth it times a million.

 

After the Museum, we walked around the zoo for a bit (I love cities with free zoos. St. Louis’s is totally better though…Sorry, Chicago) and then headed off to Gino’s for some super tasty Chicago-Style Deep Dish pizza.

sheep visits ginos chicago style deep dish pizza in Chicago IL

In which sheep gives us insolent looks for not sharing.

The thing you have to understand about Chicago style deep dish pizza is that it’s basically cheese, flaky crust, a little bit of tomato sauce and toppings, and then some cheese… and some more cheese.

The thing you have to understand about me is that I love cheese.

That’s really all you need to know.

 

Day two of Chicago was some exploring of shops, and general walking about the city. What more fitting than to see this totally epic two story display of old sewing machines in front of a clothing store… in a dress I made myself! Many selfies were had by all… especially since we have some of the sewing machines that were displayed behind me.

old vintage singer sewing machine storefront in chigago selfie

I was a little sad to see hundreds of sewing machines in a place where nobody could access or use them, but it’s nice that they get to be seen by so many people this way, for they are beautiful.

I got lots of complements on my dress while we were walking around the city, and I love when strangers tell me I’ve done a good job on something like that… They have no motivation to lie to you so you know you’re doing alright.

chicago

We wandered into this building because it looked cool… It’s some kind of government building where none of the signs really tell you what goes on inside

We sat in a park to people-watch and were at one point offered free cookies- which is the marker of a fantastic day- and sheep was indeed very unhappy when it was time to leave.

sheep in Chicago

First time Sheep has gotten a perplexed look from a Taxi driver while posing for a picture… Worth it.

Chicago is another city I hope to be able to explore more at some point, and it seems like a pretty spectacular place to live- if a little windy. It’s nice also to be in such close proximity to the great lakes, because those are always good for an adventure or two. I’m so happy to be able to finally get back into making moderately large-scale projects again, something I’ve missed pretty incredibly basically the whole time I’ve been in school. Obviously, having a job slows things down a little but not as much as school ever did. There are so many more dress-related projects and assorted other crafty adventures to come, and I have never been so excited with the prospect!

 

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A Rainbow in Maine (with a little help from my friends)

It’s incredible to me- and I don’t think you can understand it unless you’ve experienced it- how quickly the people you meet in the places you end up go from strangers to best friends. I met so many people at camp, and I won’t forget a single one of them. They’re all such wonderful people, and sure, some of them got on my nerves sometimes (six cups of my coffee at once, Wojciech. We have to ration the caffeine!) and some of them I didn’t get to know as well as I would have liked (Brodsky- even though I’m still not sure if you’re a bigger feminist than me, you’re still pretty awesome.)

The only thing I can think that might be responsible for all the bonds we’ve formed is the environment that camp has created for us. Whatever it is, these people are my people now- and I love them all.

jonandsophie

Here’s my people taking selfies on my computer! (One of them didn’t know a selfie was happening. Does it count as a selfie if one of the participants is unaware?)

One very special and particularly important person is the reason I not only retained my sanity, but also ended up with rainbow hair for half of the summer! Ashley, it seems that this is the only photo I have of us together- which is tragic- but at least that night was loads of fun! I’ll have to come to New Jersey and then we can take a million selfies and I’ll do a blog post all about our adventures.

We both stayed up way past bedtime and painted a Manic Panic rainbow into my hair:

rainbow hair dying manic panic selfie

Excuse me while I have a moment where I miss all of my camp friends intensely…

After sending her an early-morning completed-hair selfie so that we could make sure that she was the first to see it (that’s only fair)- I paraded this new look around for the rest of camp!

As a side note to all you boys and girls out there who are afraid to dye your hair interesting colors because you’re afraid you’ll reduce your job prospects- that is silly. If I can do this, so can you. Rainbow hair, much like Camp, is all about expressing yourself in ways the rest of the world may not necessarily agree with, and it’s a good way to test out things before you take them out into the real world. I, for the record, also got hired and currently have a full time job in the field I went to college for and was hired for said job with this very head of rainbow hair.

Take that, society.

 

rainbow dyed hair

Don’t say tie-dye. It’s not tie dyed. There was no tying involved. Tie dye without the tying is just dye. It is, however, a rainbow- and that is excellent.

My freshly rainbowed hair coincided (totally on purpose) with my last two days off, which were spent wandering the busy streets of Boston and having Huge Nerd Moments about history (and teaching a certain person from New Zealand that The Boston Tea Party was not a literal tea party)…

sheep at the paul revere memorial and cemetery in Boston

Sheep had an excellent time in Boston, as it is full of photo ops, and sheep loves nothing more than having his picture taken! (except travelling. He likes travelling more than having his picture taken…)

Boston is a really excellent city for history-viewing, because it’s all in a very small, walkable area and they even have these clever lines in the sidewalk  (the freedom trail) to let you know if you’re close to something, and what it is. Paul Revere, incidentally, is buried in the same cemetery as Mother Goose, so we got to see that too. After time spent in some really interesting and cool graveyards, we headed to a shopping area to people watch (and, okay, maybe shop a little tiny bit…)

I found this giant rainbow slinky in Newbury Comics, and obviously a girl with rainbow hair who finds her first giant rainbow slinky has to document the experience…

Rainbow hair with a rainbow slinkey at newbury comics

Rainbow hair? Meet Rainbow slinky! I didn’t buy it… photo evidence is good enough.

Day two centered around a field trip to the Science Center- which is located next to a loch, and whose main set of windows overlooks a pretty spectacular skyline. There’s also a butterfly house on the roof (also overlooking said skyline)- which makes it practically the coolest thing I can currently think of.

They say if a butterfly lands on you it’s good luck- but what if it doesn’t stay there long enough for you to take a photo? One of this little guy’s friends sat on my wrist for a couple of seconds until he was distracted by a colorful flower.

These butterflies (much like the sheep in Bath or the ones in the pasture next to Stonehenge) don’t know how jealous I am that their views are better than mine.

Butterfly house overlooking Boston City Skyline

Am I learning about butterflies, or am I devising clever plans to move in to the butterfly house on the roof of the Science Center without the employees noticing…?

On our way to a fantastic little Irish Pub for dinner, we passed the site of the Boston Massacre, and Sheep insisted that we stop for selfies. Sheep insists that this is the epitome of American tourism and is not an opportunity to be missed.

sheep travels to visit the site of the Boston Massacre

There were a lot of people around for this photo. I think it’s possible that you actually get fewer looks when you’ve got rainbow hair and you’re taking photos of a stuffed animal than when you do it with ‘normal’ hair…. (I’m having a hard time with this. This IS my ‘normal’ hair….)

City Hall, where that particular historical event occurred, obviously still exists in Boston. The incredible thing about it, though, is that nothing else that originally surrounded it is still intact. Instead, it’s been blocked in by tall skyscrapers and taller skyscrapers. That little building has a completely different view of the world than it did when it was built, and I think it’s really wild that we get to experience it in this way.

City Hall at downtown Boston, Massacusettes

That’s essentially all of Boston, though. These small bits of historical oldness sandwiched between modern buildings and new-ness.

Boston was a great city, and perfect for doing all those touristy things you think about doing in places like that. It was, however- and very surprisingly so- the first city I’ve ever been to that I don’t think I’d want to live in. Places give you vibes I think, and Boston is a place of rushing and doing and getting done, and I’m not really looking for that kind of thing presently. It seemed disconcertingly… normal. Weird.

fourth of  july fireworks photography

Fireworks on the 3rd of July because we were all trying not to get blown away in the storm on the 4th….

In between all the sports photography I was up to during the day, I used my nights (and occasional early mornings) to my advantage. I love nighttime photos, so that sort of worked out. Opportunities like this sort of make up for all the balls you get hit with… occupational hazard.

star photography skyline

The deck of the wood shop overlooks Coffee Pond, and some pretty spectacularly starry nights are visible when the clouds are gone. (30 second exposure)

Just as things were beginning it seemed, the end of the eight weeks was upon us. I made my end-of-summer slideshows, we packed all the kids into busses to airports and trains, and suddenly camp was much emptier than it had been. I was feeling a little down when I got on my plane, but was swiftly cheered up by a very friendly delta flight attendant who presented Sheep and I each with a pair of Delta wing pins. Sheep wore his all the way home, and so did I.

sheep with a southwest airlines pin

Sheep’s face has a way of always fitting the mood. Clearly, he knows what’s going on in the world. And maybe secretly pleased that he got his very own seat on this airplane…

Camp couldn’t have been a more wonderful experience. I don’t actually know what I was expecting when I signed up in February (other than that I’d be able to delay getting a grown-up job by a few more months) but it turned out to be one of the most incredible summers I’ve had in my (short? long? time is relative, grasshopper) life. I’ve made friends from Canada to New Zealand, and I have couches to crash on all over the world. We all made some pretty spectacular memories, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing (except I maybe would have brought, like, three more hoodies and a sweater. Nights are cold in Maine…)

In addition to having made approximately 90 friends (and four or five new best friends)- and getting a chance to spend at least a little bit of time with that pesky sister of mine who was too busy travelling the world last year to be home pretty much at all- I also somehow evolved from a sun and physical activity/sports hating indoor person to a fairly outdoorsy, somewhat tanned person who hates sports slightly less. Okay, perhaps ‘evolved’ is too strong a word…No miracles were performed at camp (at least none by me…) but I realized there’s a lot more on the list of things I can do than I previously thought. I managed, for example, for the first time in my life to kick a soccer ball in exactly the direction I intended for it to go. I climbed (the easy side of) the rock wall, and took photos of kiddos from the top. I even attempted baseball, which hasn’t been a thing for years. I swam in the ocean, and I climbed a mountain.

I did literally climb a mountain but it’s also a metaphor.

It’s possible I would have learned all that stuff and tried all those things on my own accord, but it most likely would have taken me years to make it happen. Camp provides a safe and supportive place for everyone who shows up-campers and staff alike-to try things before they go back out into the real world; I took advantage of that, and it has instilled in me a desire to climb more mountains. As for the meeting of the people- there’s no way that would have happened without camp, and I’m so happy to have met every single one of them. Even the weird ones.

Especially the weird ones.

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A story starts in Maine

Post graduation and Grand European Adventure, I took a job at a summer camp in the lovely state of Maine in an effort to delay the inevitable onset of Adulthood. For the record, this turned out to be an excellent plan. Besides, travelling by yourself on an airplane for the first time is kind of like adulthood…a little bit. It’s like a test run. I met a woman at the airport on the way out who asked me what I was knitting, and through conversation it turned out that she was a pretty successful children’s book author. I told her I wanted to be an illustrator (This is not an untruth, it’s just that I also want to be a screen printer, dressmaker, editor, small business owner, knitwear pattern designer, photographer, and a graphic artist. The whole point of The Void is to give me more time to choose). She gave me her card, which is excellent and very exciting! I was off to a great start- knitting in public places is one of the best ways to meet people. Especially knitting in public places with unusually colored hair.

 

This is as close as I have ever been to New York City: My flight had a connection in LaGuardia, and we flew almost right over the city.

 

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Look at all of it! There’s so much! and look how the water goes all through it! Someday, New York. Someday. When I have some money for fabric and and empty suitcase to fill with it…

Sheep had a grand time looking out the window, because he has never seen New York either. I think. I mean, he could have taken a trip while I was sleeping or something. Regardless, I get the feeling he was feeling pretty excited about the whole thing.

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Nothing screams ‘wishful thinking’ like a sepia instagram filter.

When we got off the first plane (and you must understand that by ‘we’ what I actually mean is ‘Sheep and I’)- we were greeted by a much smaller one for the next leg of the trip. Much Smaller.

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Sheep feels that he is bigger than this airplane. I tried to explain perspective but he remained skeptical.

Some already-present counselors picked a group of us up the airport, and we all headed back to camp. Upon arrival, I spent equal amounts of time being a reclusive weirdo, and attempting to present myself as a social and well-adjusted member of society (Lies! but it turns out nobody else really is either…) During the reclusive phases, I spent a lot of time wandering around camp (read: getting lost) taking photos of this new temporary home of mine.

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Treeeees. The same at home, and yet so different. Taller. And skinnier. Can trees be skinny?

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This beautiful landscape basically meant my editing this summer was minimal- it’s hard to take bad pictures of this stuff…

Obviously, I can’t post photos I took of the campers. I don’t even have them anymore- but don’t fear! I have plenty of photographic evidence that this summer happened. So much, in fact, that I’ve had to split it up into two blog posts. You’ll notice that in all these photos I have pink hair, and in all the photos of the subsequent post, I have rainbow hair. That happened.

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Spectacular sunsets are a nightly thing- and so far away from major cities makes for uninterrupted star viewing!

After a week of orientation, which mostly consisted of trying to decide whether as a photographer I was considered a counselor or admin (neither?), we were let out for one day off with our new friends. I went with a group of ten or so others to climb a mountain!

Okay, not a very big mountain and not all the way up- but it still counts.

Let’s just have an aside really quick so we can talk about this thing. I went to climb a mountain. Me. She who was in an out of physical therapy and doctors appointments for five or six years, and only recently what one might consider functional, and even then sometimes only with the help of braces and splints. She who gets winded climbing stairs, and flat-out refused ladders for years. She whose knees sound like grinding gravel, and who frequently loses feeling in her arms if she lifts them above her head.

I decided to climb a mountain. I decided to go to a boy’s sports camp and chase soccer balls so that I could photograph the action, and walked miles a day around and around so that I could catch all the kiddos at all the events. I do not know what possessed this little indoor Kat to leave her computer, but she did. And she climbed a mountain.

 

It’s a metaphor.

/aside.

 

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On our way there! Those lovely folks were all at some point asleep on the way home…Most of them the whole way.

 

Here’s the thing about Maine. You’ve probably heard that they have excellent lobster (true) and seafood (also true)- that there are a lot of mountains and lakes and beautiful landscapes (very true. you’ll see). You’ve probably also heard that Stephen King grew up there and wrote most of his horror stories based on that experience.

So there’s a certain dichotomy going on here, and if you know me then you know that dichotomy is a thing I love. We’d be driving along these country roads in the middle of who knows where, and it would all be beautiful when suddenly we’d come upon something that seemed startlingly like it was fresh out of Cabin in the Woods (related note: excellent movie. Do not watch before bed.) I don’t have photos of those things because I was for the most part busy being weirded out by ‘why is that gas station covered in hubcaps?’ and ‘who would put a boat in their front yard if it looked like that

But we were talking about a mountain.

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Tumbledown swimming hole!

So, Tumbledown is a mountain that used to be a volcano that has a crater in the top, and that crater is filled with rainwater- and there’s an entire ecosystem contained in that rainwater-filled crater lake. So we hiked up a mountain to go swimming! There’s a thing you don’t get to do every day. I have absolutely zero photos from the way up the mountain because I was trying not to die (d’you remember the bit about being winded climbing stairs?) but I did take photos at the top!

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This is what it looks like in the other direction- looking out over this from the rocky banks of a lake is pretty spectacular…

Sheep also quite enjoyed the view, although he did not go swimming in the lake.

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Sheep also instagrammed the experience, as is his custom.

So- I survived the upward journey, and I went swimming in a lake at the top of a mountain, and also had lunch and let some fish nibble at my toes- and after a few hours and loads of pictures, we headed back down.

Down was not actually better than up, but I did remember to take pictures.

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Sheep thought down was fine. Sheep didn’t have to walk.

English Peter (not to be confused with Irish Peter) led Sophie astray on the way down and they ended up lost for a period of time, but they turned up at the bottom, so crisis averted. It also turns out that walking downhill isn’t great for questionable knees (much worse than up, surprisingly) so I didn’t really do much in the way of movement for a while after that, but it was still totally worth it.

I climbed the heck outta that mountain.

It was late when we got back to camp, but we all ended up on couches in a basement watching Sherlock Holmes (The Robert Downey Jr. one)- and it was a great last day before the kids arrived. Orientation week at summer camp is a lot like actually being a camper, and it was a little disconcerting when the kids finally did show up…

 

Here’s a picture of a rock:

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Seriously, that’s all it is. A picture of a rock I found by the tennis courts at camp. I just thought it looked cool.

So, mountain climbing aside, camp started and things got hectic. I was taking a couple hundred photos a day, and uploading them to the website at night so the kids parents could see how much fun they were having. After I weeded out all the ones with the weird faces. Let’s talk about the faces people make when they place sports. It’s weird. you’ll have to take my word for it, as all those photos are safe on a hard drive in camp’s winter offices right now. Somewhere in between all the hectic days though, I had a spectacularly excellent 22nd birthday.

I decided to attempt to do all the things from Taylor Swift’s song ’22’, the first of which is ‘Dress up like hipsters’. I had to improvise with a pair of not-my-high-waisted-shorts, and at one point I had a plaid shirt. T Swift also has cat ears in the music video which I felt was appropriate, so I spent some time in the Arts and Crafts shed and made myself a pair.

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Lillian tie-dyed me this awesome Camp shirt for my birthday too!

Annie and Lindsey serenaded me with the song, and I definitely cried a little and am not ashamed. There was also cake:

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Cake! Mostly consumed by campers who came and asked very nicely for a slice, but still cake!

and Sophie and Jon left me a pile of pink balloons with entertaining things drawn on them, so I took selfies with them:

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There was also an astoundingly large bag full of candy but ‘only the pink ones’- which Jon’s bunk full of kids helped him pick out.

Overall, having accomplished nearly all of the things on the to-do list provided by Taylor Swift, this birthday was a wonderful one. There was some debate about whether ‘breakfast at midnight’ should occur on the midnight preceding or succeeding the birthday itself, but I ended up falling asleep before I could decide, two nights in a row… I did miss the ‘birthday girl gets to choose what she wants to eat for dinner’ tradition at home, but it was worth it. Especially when I went to take pictures of the littlest campers, and none of them were there until Karen yelled ‘Hi Kat!’ and they all came out from behind trees and cabins and started yell-singing happy birthday at me. Have you ever had 60 eight to ten year olds sing happy birthday to you all at once? I bet not. It was one of the best moments of the entire summer.

We’re given a few days off throughout the summer (4) and my first one was spent in Portland, which is about an hour away from camp. Portland is wonderful, and from my day-long impression, a very hipster place. Young and full of life and just a tiny bit weird- in the good way. We spent a good bit of time just wandering and observing what we came across- for example the chain link walls of this small bridge are covered in padlocks.

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The rusty ones are the coolest.

My impression of Portland was that I would like to live there. It worries me that I get pretty much exactly that impression from all of the places that I visit. Maybe I’d like to spend some time in a brick apartment building like this, and people-watch passers by from the fire escape.

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I’d have a garden on the rooftop if I lived there.

We also did a lot of window shopping, because windows is about as far as you get on a summer camp budget- but there were some beautiful things that I may even be able to make in the future- like this hanging stained glass piece made with the bases of crystal and carnival glass wine glasses. Who cares if I don’t actually know anything about stained glass…

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note the reflection of my pink hair above the bottom left glass base.

A small graffiti bird on a huge construction wall brightened up a street corner:

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swirly bird!

Do you remember how I mentioned that Maine is known for its lobster? The state is mostly coastline, and summer is lobster season- so what better time to try it than on a day out on the town in Portland?

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Complete, you’ll notice- with a baked potato! I love baked potatoes.

We stopped at a place that was built on a dock overlooking the harbor. There was live music, an awesome atmosphere, and of course- the fresh-caught daily lobster selection for dinner! Although this wasn’t the first time I’d had lobster, it was definitely the first time I’d had A lobster. They literally come with instructions. I have mixed feelings about food that you need instructions to eat, but the glorious taste of lobster dipped in butter kind of negates any argument I was going to make about that. And I am absolutely wearing the lobster bib.

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the lobster bib and the at-that-point freshly finished baby blanket, which I wore as a shawl at every available opportunity until giving it to Mom when I got home.

So, basically- Portland is wonderful, lobster is awesome, and I would absolutely live there given the chance. It was a refreshing break to be able to walk around and just pick a direction whenever we wanted to. And there were no kiddos yelling “Hey Kat! Get an action shot!”- If I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me this summer…

 

Back at camp, things continued as normal. Someone left a can of temporary spray-in hair dye in my mailbox, so I went blue for a day which threw some people off considerably (“No!! I liked the pink!”). I sort of figured that the gift giver would come forward and claim responsibility for the awesomeness that ensued, but they never did- so thank you, random friend, for being such a wonderful enabler!

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The temporary tattoo says ‘party grrl’ – I matched with a couple of the boys that day. There are probably photos of that.

The next day off was spent on a beach.

Before we get further into this, you should know that beaches and I have a history, and it basically boils down to this: I am not fond of sunlight, sand, or saltwater, and beaches are all of these things.

We picked a good day for beachgoing though, because the sun remained hidden most of the day but the rain waited until we’d left. So that takes care of the sunlight problem. As for the sand, there was a bit there in the beginning where I was cursing whatever part of me agreed to this plan… (“there’s sand in my shoes! there’s sand between my toes, it’s going to get in my hair and everywhere. Whose plan was this? Why did I agree to come here?! I’ve been tricked! The cake is a lie!”)- and I spent twenty minutes or so on a bench with my feet tucked up under me and a towel over my head.

I adjusted, though. I think if this summer proved anything, it proved that I am capable of adjustment, and that I Tried New Things And Didn’t Even Die.

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The view from the pier. What a profound number of people in such a small area. And let’s keep in mind that this wasn’t normal people’s definition of ‘beach weather’.

There’s me, before I decided that I was going to actually get more than my feet wet. It was a little chilly but the kind that you get used to after you’re in. Eventually I stopped taking ridiculous selfies and went swimming. I went in all the way up to my neck, but I didn’t get my head wet. I didn’t know what the saltwater would do to my hair…

First time swimming in the Atlantic ocean in…. a lot of years! and it was just so much fun!

 

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There was a part in there where we lost track of where on the beach we’d left our stuff, but the crisis was averted once we located the loud Canadian family that we’d left our stuff near. That’s the thing about vacation spots in Maine- everybody’s Canadian and they all speak French.

There- we’re halfway through the Maine adventure, and you’ll notice that something very colorful happens in the next post. So far, the summer was turning out to be so much more than I ever could have expected it to be, and things were on an upward swing. I climbed a mountain, swam in the ocean, and took So. Many. Pictures. And- as someone said at some point- the best is yet to come!

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Sweet Home Ohio

We’re finally back in the States! Not caught up, though… There are still four or five posts before that happens. That’s what I get for being a procrastinating procrastinator. Alternatively, that’s what I get for having entirely too much fun to bother with blogging. Take your pick.

After Europe and a few days spent at home, we turned right around and headed to visit relatives in Ohio.

Part 1

We had a lot of family time, but also a lot of exploring time. We were all too young to go off on our own adventures when we lived there, but we took advantage this time.

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The Geodesic dome at ASM International! (AKA Materials Park)- it’s open to the public, although it’s also offices so some of the indoors bits are off limits. It was built in the 50’s and you can tell, which I love.

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Under the dome is a garden, which also includes rocks and minerals from around the world. Have I mentioned that I love rock gardens? It’s true.

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It’s just really cool, okay? And so hard to take a bad picture of this place.

We spent a bit of time here because it was such a nice day, and because the last time we visited I was still very very little. I only have very vague memories of it- but it continues to be excellent! It’s a very interesting feeling to be a tourist in the town you grew up in, but when you’ve been away for so long, I think it’s probably allowed.

 

We spent a day at the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame which is right in the middle of Cleveland. It overlooks lake Erie, which is also awesome. I can’t believe I’d never visited before, but on the other hand- aforementioned age bracket for adventures had not been reached. Notice that Sheep has a wristband, because while I was taking photos of him in the lobby, a very nice lady called me over and asked “If your lambie would like a wristband as well” and I said YES OF COURSE, and I don’t think that lady knows how happy she made me….

Sheep visits the Rock Hall and is loved by everyone there, as usual.

Sheep visits the Rock Hall and is loved by everyone there, as usual.

A wristband. Seriously. There are the people that think I’m a weirdo, and there are the people that smile and ask questions and start conversations. I never want to stop being able to have conversations with those types of people.

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It’s a really cool place! The first thing you do is watch a 15 minute video on the history of Rock n’ Roll- and then they set you loose on the place.

There are a bunch of examples of advertising from the early stages when the older generations were contesting the new directions that music was taking. One in particular was a headline proclaiming scientific evidence had concluded that Rock n’ Roll leads to Satan worship. So there’s that.

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Of course, there’s the obligatory Elvis exhibit

It was really dark so photos were difficult, but let’s just take a moment to admire David Bowie’s butt in this outfit- (suspend belief for a moment and pretend it’s his and not the mannequin’s)

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See? Appreciate the glory of the butt. It’s like the designer was just asking you to look with that lightning bolt pointing right to it. Might as well be an arrow- “Look at me! Look at this butt!”

This place was massive- we had all day and we planned to visit the Science Center as well, but spent so long in the Rock Hall that there was no time left! I’d love to go back, too- I’m sure we missed bits. There was a whole upstairs exhibit on music festivals, and while I don’t know too much about Woodstock- I would really like to learn more about it. It seems like kind of a pivotal moment in American music culture.

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Also let’s not pretend to deny my particular affinity for screen printed T shirts…

This is the Rock Hall from the outside: It’s a very oddly designed building, but in the very best of ways. It takes advantages of its unusual shapes in really excellent ways, plus there’s a basement area to capitalize on that kind of space. I like it. It welcomes visitors from the bay as the first part of the Cleveland cityscape that they see.

 

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Big, imposing, modern, and full of Really Cool Stuff

We spent some time on the William G Mather (a boat) -which was a cargo vessel used for supplying Cleveland with all sorts of things (Coal. lots of that, and timber and similar stuff). It’s permanently docked right next to the Rock Hall and Science Center and we had a good time exploring and taking photos from the deck.

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[Obligatory Titanic Pose on any and all boats]

Sheep also had some cool Captainy adventures in assorted areas of the boat, and took many photos.

Captain Sheep of the USS William G Mather- Full speed ahead, skipper!
Captain Sheep of the USS William G Mather- Full speed ahead, skipper!

Part 2

D’you remember how I said a lot of our relatives live in Ohio? Cool. It’s time for a lesson in ancestry and knitting!

See the lovely ladies in this photo? The one standing up is Granny (my Great Great Grandmother on Dad’s side), with her mother and her daughter. Granny was a pretty cool lady- I don’t know a lot, but I know she was clever and pretty crafty. I also know she had excellent taste in hats.

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Ask me. Ask me how I know she had excellent taste in hats.

Of course, you’re wondering how I know she was clever and crafty- and I shall tell you!

One yellow baby blanket, good for snuggles and keeping babies warm, of course.

One yellow baby blanket, good for snuggles and keeping babies warm, of course.

Granny made this blanket- I talked about it in a previous post when mom first brought it home on a previous trip to Ohio. She made it for my Dad when he was younger, and it has been passed around in the family since then. To give you a bit of perspective, it was made from acrylic yarn, two years after acrylic yarn was invented. When mom brought it home, I saw it in person for the first time since I was a baby, and I realized that I could totally make it! I figured I’d just copy the pattern, but then some time later when I was looking at other patterns on the internet, I stumbled across an oddly familiar blanket…

Sorry for the random baby picture… (link to website)

That photo links to the website I found that has the pattern….in Dutch. Instead of copying Granny’s blanket, I decided to use Google Translate to get it from Dutch to English, and use that. Except Google Translate doesn’t handle knitting patterns very well… (“place 3 loop on stick 1, pin stick out. Repeat for second and third stick” anyone?)- So I sort of had to translate the Google Translate. But, translated pattern and a few months later, I had myself a brand new old baby blanket! This pattern was loads of fun- I love old patterns. It’s just exciting enough to keep you entertained, while at the same time repetitive enough that you don’t have to be constantly looking at the pattern.

Mom gets to keep this one since she brought the yarn (and, by bringing back the original blanket she is basically responsible for the existence of this one…) but I’m going to make myself another one so that’s fine. Also, maybe I’ll make one out of acrylic for some future very lucky baby. Machine wash-ability is important for babies.

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Madelinetosh Sock weight in “Antique Lace”- 4 skeins, 100% wool.

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Look at that detail! This thing was so much fun. It has a pretty obvious Shetland influence (you can tell by the scallop lace inner border) and that’s apparently where the pattern originated, but the geometric outer border is something I’ve seen in a lot of Russian and eastern-type knits as well.

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Here’s a spectacularly grainy selfie I took when I first finished it- now you can see why I’m totally making myself another one in a more wearable color. I’m going to wear it as a shawl!

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Val was kind enough to do some Vouge-ing for me- even though it’s much too cold to take knitwear photos outside.

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It’s so big! I love this thing. It turned out exactly how I wanted it to, and if you know me at all, you know that doesn’t happen.

We’re sort of a family that has heirlooms- there are a few, but none of them are knitted, and very few of them extend back that far. I’m so very excited that I was able to learn about the history of that blanket, and the really cool woman who made it- and that I was even able to follow in her footsteps and make a version of my own. I know knitting is all the rage these days and many people are starting to pick it up again after a sort of period of dormancy that it had in the 70’s through the 90’s- but its important to not only think of it as a newly re-modernized hobby but also as a piece of social history that goes back for centuries. So here’s the first of hopefully many attempts at making sure the awesome crafty ladies of the world- like Granny, past and present, aren’t trivialized or forgotten.

 

 

 

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