Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Is stash reduction possible? Ever?

I'm finally getting over what must have been the flu. I've spent a significant chunk of the past week and a half in bed, knitting and watching movies. I started another beaded shawl and Mendocino, a longish cardigan from Alice Starmore's Pacific Coast Highway. I have a couple of finished projects, too, but I'm too tired to get the camera out now. Maybe tomorrow.

Before the flu hit, I was able to stop in at the annual sale at my favorite local yarn shop, Lost Art. Despite the fact that I already have enough yarn to keep me knitting for the rest of my life, I bought more. I am basically an anti-consumer; I don't shop for leisure and rarely go into any store that doesn't sell food. But I have a weakness for yarn. I plan more projects than I can possibly start. Now I'm starting to fear that the boxes of yarn stashed in my closet will become a source of guilt and stress. Except for the leftovers, every skein is attached to a planned project. Some have been on hold for years.

What I would like to do is resolve to purchase no more yarn until I'm completely out, both of commercial yarn and fiber to spin. I would like to force myself to get creative with leftover bits of yarn. At the very least, I would like to shrink the stash down to the four plastic bins designated for yarn. So back to knitting. Completing Mendocino will get rid of almost two bags of Peruvian Collection Uros.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Gandhi and Spinning

My recent hiatus from blogging was also a hiatus from blog reading. Imagine my surprise to come back and discover that the spinning bug had captured even Wendy, arguably one of the most popular and influential knitters on-line! (I am envious, but not surprised, that she is already more accomplished at spinning than I likely ever will be.)

I haven't yet had the leisure to check all 600 or so sites on the knitting blogs webring (from which mine has apparently been booted, with good reason), but I'm curious ... how many other knitters have taken up spinning? What are your motivations?

I'm an occasional spinner, but primarily a knitter. I became interested in spinning long before I took up knitting, but I lacked the opportunity to learn. A few years ago, I noticed an ad in the classifieds for a used spinning wheel and went to check it out. For $100, I purchased an Ashford Traditional, two large bags of raw fleece, a set of drum carders, and three extra bobbins. I ordered the "Hands On Spinning" book and attempted to teach myself. I couldn't get the hang of it. Then good fortune intervened. Our recent year in Colorado brought me into the orbit of the magnificent fiber shop, Shuttles, Spindles and Skeins, and its co-owner and gifted spinning teacher, Maggie Casey. Voila! I finally became a spinner.

My initial interest in spinning was spurred by my admiration of Gandhi. This originated during college, when I wrote a paper in a public policy and ethics class analyzing themes in Salman Rushdie's brilliant masterpiece, Midnight's Children. Researching background on the caste system and the religious struggles featured in this novel led me to the writings of Gandhi. This encounter with Gandhi's life and teachings was perhaps the key turning point of my life. It awakened me to different thinking and banished forever my previous goals of serving only the needs of my pocketbook by pursuing a lucrative career in something like corporate law.

Anyone who knows anything about Gandhi knows that the spinning wheel was the foundation of his plan for India's political and economic independence. He also advocated spinning on moral grounds. One of the most fascinating sections in the Gandhi Reader, (ed. Homer A. Jack) is a published exchange between the Mahatma and the great poet, Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore questioned the value of burning foreign cloth when it could be used to clothe the poor, calling it a "magical formula" instead of the "precise thinking" of economic science that he believed India required (yes, it is odd that a poet would make this argument). Gandhi replied:

"I venture to suggest to the Poet that the clothes I ask him to burn must be and are his. If they had to his knowledge belonged to the poor or the ill-clad, he would long ago have restored to the poor what was theirs. In burning my foreign clothes I burn my shame. I must refuse to insult the naked by giving them clothes they do not need, instead of giving them work which they sorely need. I will not commit the sin of becoming their patron, but on learning that I had assisted in impoverishing them, I would give them a privileged position and give them neither crumbs nor cast off clothing, but the best of my food and clothes and associate myself with them in work."

Gandhi urged all of the people of India, rich and poor alike, to spend at least one hour a day spinning. In addition to the political, economic and moral benefits, he believed that spinning was a deeply meditative act. Of course, he was right. Sadly, I don't spin on most days and it is a rare day indeed that I spin for an entire hour. However, I have sometimes become so relaxed at the spinning wheel that I actually caught myself snoring, while fully awake and still spinning!

(Warning... I'm about to get on my soapbox!)

I'm thrilled that spinning is catching on. While our western industrialized nations are not the India of the British Raj, we are not so different, either. Very few of us, if any, live independently from the sufferings of the poor. Sweatshop labor clothes us, toxic chemicals endanger the agricultural workers who harvest our cheap food, and oligarchs enrich themselves while oppressing the poor in the countries that fuel our vehicles. Even if comfortable Americans, such as myself, are spinning cashmere and silk just for fun (actually, I haven't the confidence to try cashmere or silk yet; I'm still working on basic wool), perhaps we might slightly, even if only for a moment, spin the solidarity that Gandhi envisioned.

At the risk of making this much too long, I leave you with one other influential passage from another novel I read in that same college class. In Robert Stone's A Flag for Sunrise, a party of comfortable North Americans is traveling by car through an impoverished Central American country. Their conversation:

"What I wonder," Bob Cole said in his strange tremulous voice, "is whether the people down here have to live this way so that we can live the way we do."
"I'm just a soldier," Zeccca said. "But I think the answer to that is no. It sounds too simple to me."
"But it's not a simple question," Marie said brightly. "It's a really complicated one."
Cole turned to Holliwell.
"How about you, sir? You're something of an expert. What do you think the answer is?"
"I have to confess," Holliwell said, "that I haven't figured that out. There are lots of gaps in my expertise. I don't know what the answer is."
"We have to believe it's no, don't we?" Cole asked. "We couldn't face up to it otherwise. Because if most of the world lives in this kind of poverty so that we can have our goodies and our extra protein ration -- what does that make us?"
"It makes us vampires," Holliwell said. "It makes us all the cartoon figures in the Communist press."
"What if you found out it were true?"
"Me? What I do doesn't matter. I'd go on doing what I'm doing."
"How about you, Captain?"
Zecca took one hand from the wheel and turned partway around toward Cole. Marie kept her eyes on the road.
"What are you, Mr. Cole?" Captain Zecca asked. "Some kind of an agitator?" He asked the question humorously, with more of the Toledo in his voice that he usually permitted.
"Not at all," Cole said.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

As promised, the photo of my only finished knitting project of 2005:

A Peruvian-style hat, made with Peruvian Collection pure alpaca, from a pattern in Sue Bradley's 1991 book, Around the World in 80 Sweaters. Posted by Hello

That's it for the fiber content for this blog today. Tomorrow I will bring you musings on spinning and Gandhi. But for today, I have ...


If you haven't yet seen Sideways, by all means, go. Immediately. It certainly deserves its Oscar nomination, and I'm thrilled that for the first time in, oh, about 15 years, I've actually seen one of the Oscar-nominated movies before the big ceremony. Usually, my grown-up movie backlog allows me to happily mine the $1-for-7-days section at the neighborhood rental store. Actually, to be quite honest, I have enough titles on my "must see" list that cable TV is a "good deal" because so many of those films have a decent chance of being shown on TCM!

Anyway, an impromptu girls-night-out thing Sunday took me and two pals to the local cineplex. We eliminated the slasher and action movies, as well as the movies our kids might want to see, and finally those with inconvenient start or finish times. We were left with Sideways and Phantom of the Opera. One of my pals had read a lukewarm review of Phantom, so Sideways it was. We did not regret our choice. Not only is this movie very, very funny, it's beautifully filmed and it has something to say. I won't divulge more. The only possibly negative aspect, at least for me, was going back into the dreary northern Michigan winter after spending two hours enjoying the California wine country scenery. We all wanted to go to dinner in Solvang afterwards.

and restaurants

Unfortunately, we were left with the neighborhood pretentious-but-poorly-prepared-food place. While I appreciate the owners' intent of trying something hip and urban in Traverse City, I think it would work out better if they hired kitchen staff who actually know how to prepare ponzu sauce. Or at least lowered the prices to compensate.

I generally eat out for two reasons. The most prevalent is to avoid cooking and cleaning. When that is the motivation, almost any restaurant will suffice as long as the bill is reasonably representative of the quality. The other motivation is to taste something I could not have prepared at home. If I'm spending more than $30 for dinner for two, the second motivation is in play and I'm not easily satisfied. I would rather spend $100 for an exceptional meal than $40 for a mediocre meal.

Fortunately, we have a few very, very good $40 places in the area. We also have some exceptional restaurants. My favorite is Tapawingo, which is one of the best restaurants I've been to anywhere in the world. It's about an hour's drive and quite expensive (at least $150 for dinner for two with wine and tip), so consequently we only eat there for very special occasions (such as 5-year anniversary increments), but I would be happy to blow our entire dining budget there and make do with beans and rice at home every other night.

On the other end of my fantasy restaurant scale is Kathmandu, a small Nepalese-East Indian eatery in Nederland, Colo. During the year we spent in the Boulder area, I was a frequent diner at Kathmandu and I sorely wished I could have packed the place in my bags and taken it back to Traverse City. Besides having the best saag I have ever tasted, it was friendly and affordable. My daughter was in half-day kindergarten then, and about once a week, we would stop in for lunch after school. They never charged Leah, who only ate rice and a bit of fruit from the lunch buffet. Generally, I hate buffets; when I pay to eat out, I prefer to stay at the table and have someone bring food directly from the kitchen. Yet I could find no quibble with Kathmandu's $6.95 lunch buffet. I would always eat almost an entire plate of saag, a little rice, some of the yummy rice salad, a bit of the curry dish, and some of the other vegetable special. Naan hot from the oven was delivered to my table. It was perfect. I miss it dearly.