Friday, December 30, 2016

Chanukah Socks 2016



Many times since I first learned to knit socks in 2006, I have given my girls knitted socks for Chanukah. Not every year, but usually. Now that Meital is in the army, she rarely gets a chance to wear handknit socks, but Liat is always eager for another pair to add to her collection. But this year I was busy finishing up that big blanket for our nephew, and making hats and fingerless mitts for the teens in our city. Suddenly, it dawned on me that I could paint a silly little picture of a pair of socks, and give that to Liat instead. So I did.

And when she unwrapped it, she laughed and laughed. I'm happy.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Watercolor Pencils


In trying to learn to paint with watercolors, I've been watching a lot of YouTube videos. A great one by The Frugal Crafter reminded me that I have plenty of watercolor pencils that I rarely use. Time to change that.

First I got out the pencils from the back of the cabinet, and took them all out of the big jar they were in. I remembered how, after buying a set in a lovely tin, I bought more colors in open stock and so had to find a new place to store them, so that they would all be in one place. Hence, the jar. But it wasn't very easy to see what colors I had, or to find what I wanted, and sometimes I worried that if the pencil dropped end first into the jar too hard, the lead inside might break. After some trial and error, I eventually remembered the tops to a couple of square tins that had once been filled with candy and given to my mother in law. She had given me the tins, which I used - without the lids - to store doubled-ended markers. Luckily, the lids had survived the recent purges of unused craft supplies. I glued some fun foam in the lids and now I have my pencils arranged so that I can easily find the colors I want. Plus, I made a color chart so I can see what each color looks like when activated with water.

And today, I actually started a small painting! With me, sometimes the organizing and arranging happens but the art doesn't. Does that happen to you, too?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Labels

Back in the days when I spent a lot of time each day on Facebook and Instagram, I sought out people and organizations to follow that would enrich my "feed" with inspiration. Artists of all kinds, people who cared about kindness... in short, positive, upbeat news items. All I can think of now is the saying, "be careful what you wish for."

One account I started following on Instagram belonged to the mother of a young girl who had decided she wanted to perform a specific number (I don't remember now what it was) of Acts of Kindness, in memory of her grandmother. Beautiful, uplifting, inspirational. But the longer I followed the account, the more uncomfortable I became with the almost daily recitation of activities. It all began to feel a little bit forced, a little too self-aware. And then the day came when, included on the list, was the time this little girl's act of kindness was... helping her father with something.

Seriously? Seriously?

I've spoken before about some of the problems I have with words like "charity." It seems like in today's selfie-driven world, Acts of Kindness and Random Acts of Kindness (always capitalized, naturally), are the trendy labels. It often feels to me like it's more about the label than the action. Maybe I'm just a dinosaur, a relic from long ago, but I get the impression that the emphasis has shifted from the emotion behind the action, to the  label and to the person performing the action. And of course, to the accompanying photo op.

Several years ago, in the course of an on-line conversation with my elderly friend Miriam in New Jersey (not a knitter), I learned that she did not own a winter hat. I immediately selected a pattern, grabbed the ball of yarn that screamed "pick me!" and made Miriam a hat. I didn't really think about it, and I certainly didn't consider it an act of kindness, much less an Act of Kindness. I'm a knitter, my friend needed a hat. End of story. (And to make it a really great story, Miriam later told me that the color I picked was her very favorite. Moral: listen when your yarn talks to you...).

All of this came back to my mind yesterday when I read in one of the charitable knitting groups on Ravelry that someone had made something for a co-worker. To me, that isn't charity. And it's not an act of kindness. It's being a good person. I wonder what has happened to our world, that some people think that doing something nice for someone they know, someone they presumably care about, is suddenly label worthy. Yes, it feels good to help others, and yes, it also feels good to be recognized for doing so. But if that has become our motivation - recognition, appreciation, compliments - then how "charitable" or "kind" are we actually being? Are we doing these things because we want to help others, or because we want others to realize how kind, how generous, we are?

I struggle with this myself. Of course it's fun when people tell you how great you are. But is that my only motivation? I have mostly stopped posting on social media about the things I do, with the exception of Ravelry, which is where I keep track of the things I make. In that charitable knitting group, we share what we've made and who it's for, and everyone gives each other a lot of support, encouragement, and appreciation. It's a great community, and people are lovely there. And I think most, if not all, of the people there do what they do because it brings them joy to help others. But sometimes I feel a little weird making an announcement to the group that I've done this, or that. It feels a bit self-aggrandizing to me. (Note: I don't feel that way about other people's posts, just my own).

Because to me, it shouldn't be about the label, or even about the action itself. To me, it should be about the emotion. Because the world doesn't need more labels, or more selfies. It needs more caring.

Monday, December 19, 2016

It's a Wrap



Or a blanket, actually.

Seven weeks, fourteen plus skeins of yarn, two crochet hooks, and lots (and lots) of ends woven in. Michael said he wanted dark colors, with an accent color (visualize hands weaving through the air) wandering through. Well, hopefully my wobbly attempts at surface chain stitching will be wandering enough. Now to get the blanket to his parents' house in Jerusalem and wait for him to come home for a weekend. Not sure when that will be, medical school is keeping him pretty busy down south in Beersheva. Hopefully he will come soon, because winter is finally here and I'm sure a warm blanket would come in handy about now.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Made My Day



The other day I got a text message that made my day. 

Six weeks prior, I had donated a bunch of hats, cowls, and fingerless mitts to an organization that serves at-risk youth in my city (the photo only shows a small sample). The coordinator, Oren, even came to my house to pick up the stuff, which is almost unheard of. He is a very sweet guy, who showed me the van they use to drive to a different neighborhood each night. The van is outfitted with a small table and a couple of benches, plus a stack of plastic stools, games, everything needed for making coffee and tea, and - for this time of year - blankets. He explained that the teens they meet are very hesitant to accept help, including gifts. He told me they would probably wear the things I made while they hung out with Oren and his volunteers, but would leave them behind when they left. He explained that the teens he sees do have a place to sleep at night, though it's not what you and I would call "home." 

A week later Oren sent me a bunch of photos of the teens wearing the things I had made. Is there anything better than getting pictures of the gifts you made being enjoyed? I asked Oren what else I could make for them, more mitts perhaps since I didn't get a chance to make many pairs. He replied, thank you so much but what we have will last us for quite a while. I confess I felt a bit sad, because I wanted to think the teens would keep the hats and things, and enjoy them every day - not just once a week when Oren came back to their neighborhood. And, selfishly perhaps, I wanted the pleasure of making more things for them. Certainly I had not been able to make enough that every teen Oren sees would get something.

Then the other day, Oren texted to tell me that the teens loved what I had made so much that the things were all gone, and would it be possible for me to make more. Wow. Of course it's possible! 

I don't think I can describe how happy it makes me to know that these teens felt able to accept a gift, to feel that they deserve to have a hat of their own. I hope they can feel the love that went into each stitch, and know that they are lovable just as they are.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Thankful


I have made a conscious effort this year to remember things I am thankful for at the end of each day. Some days this is super easy, but some days it can be very, very hard to do.

One thing I am very thankful for is the wonderful group of women in England and America who have given a new home to my neglected cross stitching stash. It has made me so happy to pack up the patterns and kits, write a quick note, and send them off.

It can be tough sorting through long-held possessions and making the decision to, shall we say, deacquisition. It's easier when you know where to take these no-longer needed items, even if it's only to the recycling bin. Tossing them in the trash is the worst. But when you know they are going somewhere where they will be appreciated, it's a terrific feeling. 

Imagining these gals looking at the patterns and the accompanying photos, then starting to create, is almost as good as making them myself, as I had once intended to do (and, to be honest, many of them I did make). Today I learned that the first package has arrived. And I feel very thankful.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Creativity and Snobbery



I promised myself a while ago that one day I would give watercolor painting a try. Like many others creative people, I have experimented with lots of different outlets over the years: cross stitching, needlepoint, rubber stamping, scrapbooking, collage, mixed media, sewing, bead making, quilting... and more I have forgotten to include. I didn't even include knitting and crocheting, because those are things I still do every day.

I finally decided to stop just thinking about trying watercolors. Stop just reading blogs and articles, stop just watching videos on YouTube, and actually sit down and give it a real try. It's easy to spend a lot of time observing but not actually doing. After a while, you start to feel like those other people out there know absolutely how it should be done. The "right" way. Then the doubts creep in, and you start to feel frozen... but what if I can't do it the way they do? I don't have the "right" paper, the "right" paints, the "right" brushes. I don't have a background in fine art, don't have an art degree, don't have a former career in graphics, and so on.

I have a million questions, but I realized the best way to answer them is to just try, and see what works for me. It's funny, though - if you look at comments on YouTube, most people ask about equipment brands, not about techniques or inspiration. I guess I'm not surprised to find that the world of watercolor is just as full of snobs as the world of knitting.

Some knitters are very proud of the fact that they will only knit with the finest wool, silk, cotton, whatever. They boast about being "yarn snobs." If that's what makes them happy, good for them. It would be nice, though, if they kept their judgmental comments to themselves. The knitters I hang out with on the knitting/crocheting community Ravelry are not yarn snobs. Like me, they are perfectly happy knitting with 100% acrylic, or acrylic blends. Those yarns are more affordable, and garments and blankets made from them are easy to care for. Sure, knitting with nice quality wool is a pleasure, but I have a lot of fun knitting with my humble acrylic yarn, too. And for me, that's what it's about - having fun.

Right now, I don't have the top of the line artist grade paints. I don't own any sable brushes. I don't paint on the handmade, cotton paper the "real" artists use. If I get to the point that I use up all of my economy grade paint and inexpensive paper and feel motivated to keep painting, I might look into buying something that is a little better quality and give that a try. But I'm in no rush, because - guess what? I'm having fun.