and even that after a fair bit of persuasion.
But no matter.
--an FJ 45 Toyota Land Cruiser--
New to him, anyway--
though it might be more accurate to say that the truck has been newly liberated
from where it has been resting for nearly thirty years.
It could not, alas, make the break under its own power
particularly as only two of the wheels would turn--
and even that after a fair bit of persuasion.
But no matter.
It is a highly desirable vehicle
--an FJ 45 Toyota Land Cruiser--
with hood ornamentation
that matches my yarn.
If I were to claim an historic textile practice,
I would be needlepoint.
After nearly 30 years as a tapestry weaver I have spent far more hours in front of a loom than with needle and canvas,
but for as long as I can remember,
the marriage and yarn and image has been a given,
and that certainty began with with needlepoint.
My grandmother, unless she was driving somewhere very fast in her pink Volkswagen bug or cooking something with lots of butter, always had a piece of stitching (needlepoint or crewel or sometimes knitting), in her hands.
So did (and do) at least two of her five daughters (my aunts, not my mother who was otherwise occupied getting a masters degree, learning to program computers back and teaching mathematics). Grandma's stitching was an endlessly compelling and yet unknowable backdrop to many of my youthful imaginings.
Once, in my youthful innocence, I asked her why she stitched other people's drawings instead of making up her own. Apparently that was a ridiculous question,
but I was left with a longing to give form to my own ideas--
if only I could figure out how.
My Mother and Aunts now have most of Grandma's work (rugs, bags and more cushions than I can possibly imagine), but I've never needed the physical manifestation of her stitching to know that, should I ever need it, permission to draw with yarn and needle was already granted.
Not, of course, that one should make a career out of it.
Except, well, I did.
For all the goodness that has come from tapestry and knitting however,
stitching on canvas has remained in the background--
a secret hobby the mere mention of which causes some tapestry weavers to draw back in horror if the two words appear in the same sentence.
"Needlepoint is NOT Tapestry!!!!!"
Of course it is not.
But neither is it a lesser medium.
(It probably has not escaped your notice that my needlework and tapestries look an awful lot alike....)
Truth to tell, for most of my tapestry life, other than mending and sewing the occasional garment, there hasn't been time for needlepoint.
In the midst of constant weaving, knitting, teaching, spinning, dyeing, drawing, hanging out with my husband and son and doing the dishes, the last thing I needed was another thing.
Indeed, I don't recall quite why I picked up needle and canvas 10 or 11 years ago,
though I know a conversation with Sarah Haskell about embracing the grid of warp and weft (she loved it, I spent my weaving life trying to defy it), had something to do with it, as did learning about Knotted Pile from Sara Lamb.
I do remember that the desire was fierce and immediate, and that the moment I found a piece of blank canvas I snatched every second to stitch, enthralled by the sound of the yarn swishing through holes, riveted by the the glow of the stitches -- so different from tapestry even though I was using the same yarn.
I made some bags, and cushions (as one does).
Then I began to study comics.
And that, for a time, was that.
Stitching, sewing, storytelling,
dyeing, drawing, dreaming,
wild and magical and playful freedom to do as I pleased --
I'd never seen or done anything quite like it before.
When not tied up in knots about where the story was going
or how best to tell it once I knew,
I was entirely at my ease.
Needlepoint Comics provided a kind of elbow room I was not, at the time, getting with tapestry,
though those familiar with my work may notice that Stripes is connected to the tapestry book Casting Off, picking up where that book ends.
None of this stuff happens in isolation.
In fact, most of the work on these comics took place as I was writing the novel that would become the Rough Copy series of tapestries -- sequential narrative finding its way into tapestry in a different form.
When I began to actually weave those 13 pieces though, I had neither time nor creative energy for anything else -- and certainly not something as demanding and compelling as needlepoint.
But now I'm back.
And it was those tapestries that are responsible --
the addiction to words that was not entirely (even remotely) cured by weaving them,
led to unscripted writing at the loom (no cartoon),
which generated an idea that I might be able to write longer sentences on a backstrap loom,
and sucked me down the rabbit hole I'm currently in (discussed in myriad previous blog posts),
and then the lightbulb moment (lights are good down in rabbit holes),
that I have been weaving the linen grid I longed for back when I was making those giant comics panels above, but couldn't figure out how to do without a floor loom.
Sometimes I am so dense.
Now, alas, I've gone on and on,
the work is calling
and I have not addressed the technical aspects of the thing
-- yarn, sett, materials etc--
which is what I meant to talk about.
Maybe next time.
I'll know more by then anyway.
But what does work look like?
And how can you identify a distraction when you meet it?
What are distractions anyway, if not the first tiny steps -
in pursuit of a dream?
Where they begin
and where they go
(if anywhere at all)
is the great mystery.
But the only way to find out, is to begin.
The plan was to knit the lovely Lang Ayre,
a large triangular hap designed by Gudrun Johnston
from The Book Of Haps by Kate Davies
which had just come in the mail.
In truth I could happily have embarked on almost any of the patterns in this compelling book,
or even tried some traditional techniques (lace edging first --who knew?), and made up my own. The book is awash in ideas and history,
and the essays--as with all Kate Davies words--are irresistibly readable.
When it came to actually casting on, however, my small stash of knitting yarn yielded only a collection of vaguely similar leftover bits that fell roughly into six categories --the number called for in Johnston's stripe sequence- so her enveloping striped hap is the one I chose.
Handily enough, I also happened to have a
super duper yarn organizer waiting in my recycling bin
with exactly six compartments
and a built in handle for easy summer transport,
What could I do but begin?
Garter stitch meant that I could read and knit at the same time (always a huge benefit for me),
and Johnston's genius way of joining the colors for the stripes
led to clean edges with absolutely no -- ZERO--ends to weave in afterward.
The pattern is well written and the stripe sequence (which I mostly followed, at least at the beginning and end of each square), compelling.
But when I finished the central square one evening at spinning,
I was suddenly confused. Shelley (the power behind The Yarn Underground , my LYS), said "garment," and almost immediately afterward Jaymi said "sweatshirt, "
and possibilities unfolded.
But were they right?
It might not be a triangular hap, but was it a sweater?
Did I want to deal with shaping and all the accompanying nonsense?
To hedge my bets I knit another bias square that could be a back, but also could be part of a rectangular stole.
The next weeks were lovely:
lots of reading and knitting,
and trotting here and there, six pack in hand,
endless garter stitch and no decisions.
By the time I finished the second square,
I was pretty sure it was a garment
but by that time my brain was immersed in backstrap weaving,
and I had to catch its attention long enough to focus on garment structure.
It took a little bribery:
"once you figure this out, you get to return to all that nice garter stitch and thefabulous book about Isobel Wylie Huchison..."
The book, Flowers in the Snow, won out, and I finally made some decisions.
First, I decided to join the front and back with a sleeve strap, which had three benefits:
1. it added a couple of inches to the length
2. it provided a neck opening (boat necks make me claustrophobic)
3. it seemed to do interesting things stripe-wise.
So casting on a few stitches and starting at the neck edge of the strap,
I knit back and forth, joining front and back as I knit,
then picked up the rest of the sleeve stitches at the edge
and knit out toward the cuff, decreasing slowly as I went.
As predicted, lots of happy knitting ensued, but another decision waited at the end:
Overhand? Kitchener Stitch? 3-Needle Bind off?
I finally chose the last, in part because I'd never done it before.
Picking up stitches along all the edges (one for each garter bump), I knit one ridge of garter stitch on each side and then cast them back off together on the wrong side.
As I hoped, it worked beautifully, the seams providing some nice structure to an otherwise incredibly stretchy garment.
And I think I like it!
It is light weight, super stretchy and fluid all at once.
The bias squares provide drape so that despite the lack of shaping (save for the sleeve decreases), it does not feel remotely like the rectangular sack that it is.
Better even than I hoped (and I'm a good hoper).
Yippee! New clothes for fall.
So now my nearly empty six pack and I will wait in comfort
for the next bossy knitting idea that happens along.
(sorry about that -- couldn't resist).
Or, more likely, we'll just get back to the backstrap Loom.
Some of the last leftover bits floating around the bottom of the six pack will be perfect for needlepoint.
Sarah C Swett