Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Old friends

I've been spending a lot of time putting projects onto Ravelry. It has been loads of fun -- I've dug into both cedar chests and the coat closet and pulled out stacks of things I've knitted over the years. I've gone through old photo albums, looking for pictures of knitting. It has brought back a lot of memories, most of them good. Even the frustrating projects are funny after a while.

I have a stack of old photos that haven't been scanned yet, but I can't resist sharing one project with you. It's my Gray Vest, which has seen steady use for almost 20 years.

The only pictures I can find of it date from about the same period in the mid 90's. That's my then-boyfriend, now husband, and me, first at my aunt's house where he first met the family, and later at a fish show where we were both judges. It doesn't look like either of us got a haircut in between!

The vest was really not terribly successful, considered objectively. The pattern is written in one size, 36 inches at the chest and 24 inches long, and I remember thinking, "oh, if my gauge is a little off, that will make sure it will fit." (Ha, ha -- guessing to make sure, get it? Oh, what a precise thinker I was!) The sweater is 46 inches at the chest and 26 inches long. This was my first inkling that gauge matters. On the positive side, I liked it baggy, and I can still wear it now although I am 40 pounds heavier than when I made it.

I know neither photo shows much detail, (gives me a new respect for those Polperro photos) but can you see the horizontal bands of garter stitch? Can you see how they bend at the chest? This was before I learned about bust darts, too.

The yarn is a superwash wool (from when superwash was kind of new and exciting). I can't remember the name right now, but I'm working on it. It has held up okay although there are a few odd worms where the sweater has been snagged. I think this is the kind of superwash where the scales are filled with some sort of resin, because it doesn't really feel wooly. It doesn't feel like plastic, either.

I don't wear the vest as much as I used to, partly because I live in a warmer climate now where I don't automatically put on a turtleneck & wool vest every day in the winter. (In the second photo I am wearing the vest over a Pendleton wool shirt over some sort of t-shirt -- winter in Minnesota.) Partly I don't wear the vest because I'm so much heavier that I don't think it looks as good. And partly, it just looks old.

I would make this vest very differently today. I have, in fact, tried to replace it three times, with a gray alpaca/silk shawl-collared vest, a big boxy black one, and a closer-fitting purple cabled one. Two of those vests have been quite successful (the black one was a mistake), but neither have replaced this vest for day-in, day-out comfort and ease of wearing.

Maybe this winter I will try again. Maybe I should just make the same pattern again (it's from a wonderful compilation of old patterns, Classic Knitting Patterns from the British Isles: Men's Hand-Knits from the '20s to the '50s, currently available on ebay.) (Not from me, I just love this book.) Or maybe it's time to move on.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Rest in Peace

A couple of months ago I signed up to be part of the Mother's Day Project (and see the main project site, too). I guess you would call it a protest against the Iraq war. People are embroidering the names of the female soldiers who have died in Iraq. The embroidered names will be assembled into tote bags, and each person who has embroidered a name will use a bag for a while.

I've had a lot of ambivalent feelings about this. I have been opposed to the war in Iraq from before it even started -- I wrote President Bush in October 2001 when he first started conflating Iraq and al Qaeda, asking him to please exercise restraint. It's pretty clear how much influence I have in the White House. But then I've been a liberal who votes Democratic or Independent for my whole adult life. I've watched the war turn into a worse mess than I ever imagined it could be, but I haven't really seen anything I could do about it (except vote, which I've certainly done, to what avail I don't know).

I'm not sure what good this project will do. And I wonder about using the names of women soldiers only. How is the death of a woman worse than that of a man? I suppose that most of us embroidering are women, and perhaps might be able to place ourselves a little more in the shoes of a female soldier. Really, though, I think it's just that the number of dead women is more manageable than the number of dead men. Horrible, isn't it? And who is embroidering the names of the Iraqi civilians? But in the end, I kept on thinking about this project, and so I volunteered.

In due time I got my name, but I didn't start embroidering. I put it in the back of my mind, and let it float to the surface every once in a while. I wondered about her, and her family, and I wondered what it would be like to be a soldier. My father was in the Army in the 50's, but he was a lifeguard at White Sands Proving Grounds. My uncle was in the Navy, I think, but we've never talked about it.

It wasn't until I moved to Oklahoma that I met very many military families. And I'm sure that the people I know aren't typical of the Armed Forces -- or at least aren't representative in any statistically valid way. But they sure have put a personal face on it for me. And it makes me wonder what the family of this soldier might feel about the Mother's Day Project. So I'm not going to use her name here. I just don't think my feelings have much to do with her, or her family.

A couple of weeks ago I was feeling discouraged and low, and decided to pick up this project, I guess as a way of reminding myself that hey, at least I'm still alive. Then that struck me as a pretty self-centered way of approaching this. So I spent some time googling the soldier and reading and thinking about her life and death, but I didn't start stitching.

For whatever reason, today seemed like the right time to get started. I had been thinking about thread colors -- black for loss? camouflage for the Army? red for blood? something else? -- when I remembered reading about her new car. I checked again and sure enough, her car was red. So I went with red for the car she loved, and red for her death.

I used some thread I had on hand. As I started work I realized it wasn't the best quality, but I decided to keep using it; it reminded me of stories I've read about the unarmored vehicles that soldiers were reinforcing on their own with whatever they could find in Iraq. And some of my stitching wasn't the best -- I'm not a very experienced embroiderer -- but I decided I didn't get any do-overs. She didn't. And it didn't take very long to do, which also seemed appropriate; she didn't have a very long life. I don't want to belabor this too much. What I'm doing doesn't have much to do with the soldier whose name I embroidered -- the choices she made, the things she was proud of, the way she voted. But I hope it's at least a small way of saying I hate what has happened -- is happening -- in Iraq, but I respect the soldiers who are victims of these terrible decisions.

It has been a surprisingly moving experience for me to embroider this one small name. I'm glad I did so.