The Ulysses Project – Part 2

Why bother?

I mentioned in the Part 1 post that I’ve never processed a fleece by hand so it’s a fair question to ask why would I start now after the industrial revolution successfully removed this kind of drudgery from women’s lives. There are piles and piles of beautiful yarns available for easy purchase in my little town, let alone the bounty of the internet. So why bother making it.

One reason is that I have an interest in history. Lanark was once a major center for textile production in Ontario, much of it wool. In fact, the last working mill here, the Glenayr Kitten Mill closed in 1997 – which really wasn’t that long ago. The wool mill in the big living history museum near here is (for me) a fascinating place and I wanted to try my hand at it. And finally, I have a lingering, probably highly romanticized fascination with ‘traditional women’s skills’. By this I mean household production tasks which traditionally fell to women such as yarn and cloth production, candle making, beer and cider making and food storage and preservation. I do all of this except the candle making – I have to draw the line somewhere.

This is where the interest began and is still the root of why I’ve put effort into this but over time it has morphed into something more. Last October, Instagram exploded with #slowfashionoctober where everyone who had anything to do with fibre was talking about how and why they were pushing back against fast fashion. This really struck a chord with me (and the rest of the world considering the 1.25 million hits returned by Google) and gave me an opportunity to really think about not just why I was knitting, but why I was making yarn.

Clothing with Terroir

I realized that I wanted to create garments that had a sense of ‘terroir‘. Much like a wine or cheese has a taste of where it was produced, I wanted my clothing to have that same feeling. Subconsciously, I have been moving in this direction for a while. All the fleece I have – wool, alpaca, and llama was raised on farms very close to me. There is mohair and angora around here too, but I don’t have any (yet).

Ulysses lived 20 km from me. The mill which did the processing is 26 km away. Short of raising sheep in my backyard (which local bylaw says I’m not allowed to do), you can’t get much more local than that.

The Christmas Stocking Tradition

There is a fun Christmas tradition in my family. I’m not sure when this tradition started but I know it was my maternal grandmother who started it. We all have the same hand knit Christmas stocking – they have our names and the year of birth in Fair Isle at the top and a Santa Claus worked in Intarsia on the leg.

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I think it must have been a Herculean effort for her when she started. A stocking for her, and my grandfather, their four children, children’s spouses and all the grand kids. To be fair, I’m the eldest grandchild so there was time to make stockings for grandchildren. But there are eight of us. That’s a lot of hand knit stockings! And now the grandchildren are (almost) all married and having babies of their own. And those babies all have stockings.

My grandmother died about twenty years ago and that’s when my mother took over knitting the stockings. My partner and my son have stockings made by her as do the spouses and children of many of my cousins.

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Last year, the pattern was passed to me. I am now the keeper of the stocking pattern and it’s my role to produce a stocking for new babies and spouses. I have three to make this year.

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I still have the first page of the original hand written pattern and a ‘chart’ of sorts which was produced later for the Santa picture. But the chart I have doesn’t match the pattern on my stocking so I’ve made a new one (and then I changed it a bit. Don’t tell.).

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And maybe I’ll actually write the second page of the pattern which is about turning the heel and knitting the foot and toe.

I’m not sure who I’ll be passing it on to. I know my niece has learned to knit. Who knows, maybe in another 30 years, she’ll be the keeper of the pattern. And oddly, for something that is more than 40 years old, it doesn’t look all that dated. Then again, I’m looking through the lens of love and nostalgia.

Edit – by popular request, I am making the pattern available. You can download it from here

Reframing November – Update

Ya know – I think there might be something to this idea of consciously choosing to view challenges and obstacles as opportunities. Of responding rather than reacting. I’m starting the draft of this post on November 21 and even though there have been some difficulties, globally and personally this has been my best November in years – possibly ever.

I ended October with a list of all the great things I was going to do for myself. I was going to journal regularly. I was going to go to yoga. I was going to pay more attention to diet. As it turns out, I did none of those things (all these things appeal to me but I’ll save the question of why I never did any of them for another time.) I made a few notes in the journal, but not the brain dump I was planning. I never got to a yoga class and my diet was average at best – if Shiraz is a food group.

But here I am, after attending the funeral for a friend’s 41 year old husband who died in his sleep of no known cause and after hearing about a break up in my family which involves an unborn baby (she’s since been born and honestly, I’m not sure I’ll ever get to meet this child I have a close blood relation to). After the outcome of the US election. I’m looking at all these events and I know that in previous years I would have struggled with them. Yet here I am. Smiling and knowing that I cannot effect change in any of these situations.

I’m heartbroken by events, but I’m not broken. I’m mystified by other people’s decisions but not discouraged. And I have great faith that I’ll be able to repeat what I’ve learned next November.

Reframing November

For most of my adult life, I’ve really struggled with November. It’s cold, dark, rainy and generally unpleasant. There are no major holidays or festivals and nothing to look forward to. It’s an endurance test on the way to December – which is still cold and dark, but the snow which is usually on the ground helps to brighten things up, there are Christmas lights everywhere and of course, there is Christmas to look forward to.

But to get there you have to get through November.

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I’m not alone in this sentiment – as I was flipping through Instagram this morning, I noticed there are a lot of people with the same opinion. So I’m going to try something different. This year, I’m reframing November.

Reframing is a term I’ve heard a few times recently – typically in business literature to mean looking at a problem from a different point of view; to see how you can turn that problem into an opportunity. If you want more detail on what I’m talking about, Tara Swiger has a great podcast that you can hear here.

Shortly after I heard this podcast, I listened to Truly Myrtle talking about November. Her opinion is totally different than mine for a variety of reasons. She is planning a month of spoiling herself and encouraging listeners to do the same. Frankly, it sounded like a lovely idea.

So I’m going to put these two ideas together. Rather than treat November as an endurance test, I’m going to reframe it and treat it as ‘me’ time. A whole month for me. This is made much easier because my partner is away for the first two weeks and my son is old enough that so long as there is food on the table each night, he doesn’t really care what I do. So the focus is on the little things I can do to help buoy my spirits and stay happy. Self-care of body, mind and spirit.

This isn’t about ‘drink 8 glasses of water a day’ or ‘limit alcohol’ though they are both undeniably good things to do for ourselves. I’m thinking more along the lines of re-establish a journaling practice, getting into a routine with yoga. Permitting time to sit and do nothing – and not feel guilty about it. Planning and doing some prep work for meals on days when I work from home so the days when I’m in the office much of the work for dinner is already done. That kind of stuff. I also have a goal to have all my Christmas shopping done by the end of November to alleviate that pressure in December. Since I do a lot of shopping online or in the little towns outside Ottawa, this is actually a do-able thing.

I’ll be posting shorter updates through November to let you know how this is going. If you have any ideas to share about this, I’d love to hear from you.