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The necessity of a deliberate home.

A couple of days ago I hit 23 weeks pregnant with my first baby, a little girl due mid-January 2018. Every day I wake up, remembering I have this swelling belly, and think of her. Usually she starts to move around a bit in the early morning and I’ve been waking up earlier lately. I hear from friends that this is a fairly common thing, as well as bouts of insomnia and disturbed sleeping patterns and vivid dreams.

But instead of vivid dreaming cycles, which I have always had and are historically 99% violence, fear, and running away, my dreamscape has been remarkably peaceful. In its place, however, is a bit of a haunting daylight possession of the mind. Maybe it’s pregnancy induced or maybe it’s just me growing and changing but I’m increasingly frustrated with “café life”. That’s my jam, my money pools at the base of my favourite cafés’ registers and I’ve rarely minded much because it forms this huge part of my quality of life. I like the hub of strangers that talk and can be overheard but I don’t have to interact with. I like the quick delivery of hot drinks and picking out parties to keep me going for the next three hours I spend there, consumed with study, knitting, reading, writing and shameless time-draining blog trawls and pinterest searches. I’m focused there.

Lately I’ve been more conscious of the money I spend on it that could be diverted to physical goods acquired rather than consumables. I’m going to be a mother with a real “family” in a few months and I’ll need to stay home more, cook, clean, organise, provide for them. And whilst thinking this I’m suddenly impressed by bloggers discussing home things… they bake their own bread, they craft furniture, they garden, have recipes for things they love and it looks better than anything I’d buy out. It’s personal. It’s more meaningful because it’s handmade and deliberate. They’re moving to country areas, deliberately taking an off-the-beaten-track approach to life and making things themselves. They’re crafting a beautiful existence the way that suits the vision they have for their everyday life.

Being an analytical type to the core, I can pick out the flaws of this all too. Always having to hand-make things makes the everyday, repeatable elements of life tedious. So repetitive. And so time consuming. It’s one of the reasons we buy all our shit straight off shelves and why we were all so excited about it as a society in the 1950s. It meant more time for the things that matter. And that’s the crux of the scale: what really matters?

We do it all ourselves we feel crushed by mediocrity and strangled by necessity. We buy it all we feel poor and soul-barren. So the balance must be found somewhere in the middle…. somewhere only we can find for ourselves, because we’re all weighing up different desires and demands.

As for me, my mind wanders back and forth like an impatient, uncertain, creature over the same turf: moving overseas for adventure and a new start in a more picturesque (cold) place? Buying a house of my own in a pretty area where coffee is close by? Begin a revolution of home living – start cooking my own café-worthy food? Start experimenting with new work endeavours? Use the money I normally put toward eating out to fund the design of my own home instead and making it a place I want to spend my time in a lot?

This last idea – crafting your own domestic space – is particularly on my mind! I don’t really pay a lot of attention to my home overall because I spend so little time overall in it. I don’t like staying in it except by night when I hang out with my husband at the end of the day to watch TV and enjoy his company. My husband is a giant tech/gaming nerd and I’ve been frustrated to bring about domestic adornment because he thinks everything is unnecessary. A new bookshelf? We’ve already got (a hideous black) one. New lounge? But this one’s fine. Hang frames and posters on the walls? …. *blank stare* So I’m largely on my own, trying to navigate a way to invest in our home without causing him to lose his mind over “pointless purchases”. He’s fine once he sees how good things look, how much better our home looks, but only after it’s bought and sitting in view. I do wish he could be more of a teammate who, if not also endowed with enthusiasm for design, was similarly impressed by the need for it. I really like the support of shared inspiration.

I’ve been getting a bit more of a green thumb this last six months, buying and growing my own herbs mostly and a beautifully successful violet. I feel it’s part of this changing movement toward drawing inward, turning my attention to the centre of my domestic life and increasingly wishing it was a haven rather than a place I just sleep and watch TV in.

A haven…. that’s it. I want a haven of my own, a place that makes me want to stay in, that supports us and gives that feel good atmosphere that I have always gravitated to cafés for.   When I was a little girl my parents never devoted themselves to domestic design either. My father gives none of it a thought, and my mum devotes herself to cleaning everything in a control-freak type way to make up for my father’s careless approach to his home. She does this instead of decorating, and it takes her a long time to get the courage to mix it up. As for me, I’m a creative and the aesthetics of my environment are incredibly important to me. I’m one of the “Highly Sensitive People” you read about (finally…) and I’m affected by everyone and everything around me in a very immediate, emotional, and personal way. Whether you like it or not, I will absorb you into my own state and adapt to reflect back an alchemy of you mixing with how I was before I encountered you. It’s forced empathy, really. All the more reason, then, for me to give a lot of thought – and action – to what we want in a personal space. Not what everyone else is doing, not buying a daily substitute down at the local café, but figuring out and deliberately going through our own space and creating an individual expression of what it means to be happy at home.

The times are changing. A baby girl is coming soon… and I want to welcome her into a home that embodies all the love, beauty, comfort and provision that I’ve been lately imagining for her! xx

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Pregnancy

I’m pregnant! It only took 3.5 years…

Everyone, guess what!? OMG! I AM PREGNANT! My husband and I only found out just over a week ago and it’s our first baby!

EDD: 12 JANUARY 2018

But this is not just a standard pregnancy announcement. Hidden behind the exclamation marks and elated adjectives is a cruel history of infertility. Unbeknownst to everyone but my closest family and friends, we have been trying for 3.5 years to conceive, and in that time I’ve had a zillion bloods taken and been needled like a pin cushion, I’ve learnt I have an auto-immune disease – Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis – and come to terms with a lifetime of medication, I’ve had two surgeries for Endometriosis (one major), ultrasounds, fertility appointments, basal charting, weight loss – you name it, I’ve had it. The point is: I am pregnant, but I am absolutely emotionally and physically exhausted. There have been so many tears and breakdowns; every time my period arrived, every time I walked past a baby aisle in Target, every time someone else announced their pregnancy, baby’s birth, or invited me to a baby shower. The pain of 3.5 years of constant disappointment relived over and over cannot possibly be made light of.

It turns out Endometriosis was most likely the reason why I couldn’t fall pregnant and now, 5 months post-surgery, I’ve fallen pregnant with my very first, very own, baby – and I am currently almost 5 weeks! Nearly every day since I’ve gone out and strolled around baby shops, feeling for the first time like I actually belonged there. When you’ve been trying for so long you feel like you’re a fake; you feel like an imposter, a poser, a pitiful wannabe to a club that everyone else seems to be in except you. People who have had kids – be they new or seasoned parents – talk about their kids and then give you that look that says “But you wouldn’t understand because you don’t have kids…”. I had the cruel experience of watching as my younger brother and his partner had two gorgeous babies all whilst everyone knew we were still trying.

 

Yarn dyeing

Too White For Wooly Unicorns: The victim of the unprepared yarn-dyer.

Just have a look at this! Just look! It may not be quite so obvious in a photo but I assure you this is a picture demonstrating the nasty nature of hand-dyeing yarn: inconsistency. In an earlier post I was talking about the intuitive nature of creative processes, such as dyeing yarn by hand, and inconsistency is the natural trade-off of this enterprise. Subtle as it may seem there’s a distinct change between the yarn I started with and the second skein, a much less colour-saturated one. Unfortunately for me I just thought it would come out as a natural variation of the first yarn. I thought, stupidly, as long as the colours I used were the same, and the technique was the same, the product would be compatible – if not interchangeable. Evidently, I was wrong. I was brash, unprepared, happy-go-lucky (as usual).

If I did a third skein that looked more like the bottom one (which I personally prefer) and used it for the rest of my work I’d see a white stripe form. Since this is my first garment made with my OWN hand-dyed yarn, it’s very special to me and I’m particular about how it turns out. So, finally convinced this was not going to work, I grimaced and began unravelling literally hours and hours of knitting…

Unravelling mistake skein 2...
Trying to remember where to put my marker after I unravel the mistake now known as Skein 2: Too White for Wooly Unicorns.

Some of you may wonder why I knitted up so much before unravelling and the reason is simply that with speckled yarns the colour variations are naturally random which makes it difficult to distinguish clear changes. My sister-in-law A, who I asked for advice, said that you’re supposed to avoid skein variations by changing skeins every few rows so they get evenly distributed… but then she added that nobody ever bothers with that! Alas! I was going to have to work out a new solution evidently!

So, I stayed up and nervously dyed myself two new skeins, attempting to make them more colour saturated. I can’t remember if it looked as gruesome the first time, but when I’d finished these two attempts at the original I stood there, unsettled and frustrated, feeling like I’d just created something so hideous it belonged in the bin… Still, I’d come this far. I cooked them up in the microwave, cooled them off, washed them gently with soapy water, rinsed, and hung them up to dry (on my standing lamp…).

img_0349
Colour comparison showing skein inconsistency.

Here you can see better what I mean. The photo above shows very clearly the difference between the second “white” skein, and the two I’ve deliberately attempted to make more colour-saturated to match Skein 1: The Original Wooly Unicorn. Although the bottom skeins are still wet (which does change their appearance a bit – so don’t go comparing skeins officially until they’re fully dry) it’s clearly much more speckled than Skein 2: Too White for Wooly Unicorns.

Today I’m going to knit with one of the new skeins, and watch closely to see if it matches Skein 1 enough to pass for “natural variation”. Admittedly, it could also go badly! Still, this post is an important one for new hand-dyers who want to avoid making unnecessary mistakes:

  1. Every skein you dye, take lots of photos! NOT just of the pretty end result all twisted up in a finished skein (top google result for “pretty yarn”, anyone?). Take a few of your unravelled wet skein just as you’ve finished your dyeing – close ups and of the complete skein – so you can see exactly where your dye has gone and how it looked newly applied. Don’t use flash, I find it changes the appearance of the skein and confuses you later.
  2. Keep a decent amount of your original dye in a little sealed bottle (I use glass test tubes with cork-tops because I like pretending I’m a dangerous Dr Frankenstein-type chemist…Childhood dreams). Even better, just make giant batches of the dye so you don’t have to worry about making more later! Especially if you concoct colours by mixing dyes together, you will find it extremely difficult to get the same shade twice UNLESS you either have an exact measurement written down (e.g. 2 tbsp water, 1 drop of yellow, 1 drop of green) or you keep a dye sample to refer to later.
  3. Dye TWO skeins at first go or dye another skein to match the first before you actually knit it up. One original skein kept for comparison when dyeing up new skeins is the best way to ensure they all match! If looking at it dry isn’t helpful, just wet the original and put it up against the new one to compare better! But don’t do what I did: knit up the only skein example I had, and have no idea wtf it looked like later on!

So, progress! I’m learning, one stuff-up and experiment at a time like all the best lessons are received, and whilst it’s a massive relief when you watch that last YouTube video and go “OMG so glad I realised this before I attempted —-!”, there is a singular sense of empowerment that comes with learning by experiment and experience, because you taught yourself!

 

Reflection

Who is the Girl in the Bookstore?

I think its strange how the concept of the nerdy girl in the bookstore – the one with her nose in a book and several under her arm, the one who strokes the pages nostalgically and holds each book she picks up as though it were an ancient document – somehow unites so many women in a common identity even though we must all be completely different people. Somehow, there must be some part of us that unites decisively. I don’t think it’s even the part where we all value learning. It’s more than that, at least. It’s the introspective nature we share, our sensitivity, to some degree social ostracism on account of our diverging approach to knowledge – the idea that there is more to know before we “know”. We pick up books with delicacy because we expect it to contain a new perspective on life that we might be able to identify with, learn from or be inspired by. The book is a living thing, a powerful object, a meaningful totem of someone who is undoubtedly attempting to reach out to us through the paper. That’s the girl in the bookstore. Whether naturally quiet or gregarious, we are the women defined by our open-hearted, introverted, reflective nature, arousing curiosity and emanating an air of mystery and intrigue because we defy the stereotype of girls as flippant, erratic, garrulous, insecure and shallow. These days we ourselves, as the “girls in the bookstore”, have become our own stereotype and I am more than pleased with it!

Still, there must be uniqueness to each girl who proudly owns this stereotype. I am the ‘girl in the bookstore’ who defines herself by the isolation of perspective and values that has made it so impossible to connect with another human being. I am the girl who seeks books to find inside an open invitation to share another’s most personal experiences to sooth the trauma of never feeling understood in real life. Books have always been treasure, artefacts of the past in their own right and more powerful than other items because nothing can speak so much, so profoundly, as a book. No ordinary artefact can communicate beyond its fabric but a book can.

So, the older it is the more precious the book is. My first trip to the British Museum and the British Library in London was like one hundred Christmases all compounded into one! I pored over the volumes of old texts I could access, gently and deliberately running my fingers down the edges of the yellowed pages and feeling an immense surge of love and emotion at the knowledge that the fingers of readers centuries preceding me had done just the same thing, in the same way, on the same page, taking in the same words as me. Connection.

There are so many things I should say to introduce this blog and who I am, why this blog is entitled “The Girl In the Bookstore”, but here is my first word. Connection. Because in my heart, I feel that the girls in the bookstores – those quiet, beautiful, ethereal female spirits who glide along book aisles, peer briefly at you from over their glasses in secret moments before looking away, who take their time and lose time often without resentment. They are the ones most in search of understanding – of others, of themselves, and of the world.

Yarn dyeing

The Wooly Unicorn of 2017

It may be the first day of February but it feels like 2017 has just started, and I have a hunch it’ll be a colour-filled crafty one! To start this year off I’ve dived enthusiastically into hand-dyeing yarn, and boy-oh-boy, this is colour at its most addictive! I was originally inspired in January by my sister-in-law A, who is a professional yarn dyer and sells her products via her own online store. She put up a two-part video series showing the DIY of how to make one of her most popular speckled yarns, and it looked so easy I immediately was compelled to try it. There’s nothing like the ecstatic creative enthusiasm that erupts when you realise you can actually do something fun without too much difficulty! Crafty endeavours are most enjoyable when they’re easy to start, but have the potential to be very challenging and complex. The more complex it can get, the more avenues there are for experimentation and I really believe this is at the heart of all truly great learning. All my greatest moments of learning have felt more like alchemy, an enthusiastic pursuit of various paths of knowledge and skill without a time limit or someone looking over your shoulder. Even seemingly structured pursuits, like learning a language, are really made up of a plethora of branches of new knowledge, dynamically applying different types of words in different ways to exact a seemingly limitless variety of expressions! That’s why I love language too, although my brain doesn’t seem very skilled at listening/speaking… reading/writing is my bag.

As I watched the videos I realised I could actually do this! Soak yarn in citric acid bath, squeeze out most of the water, sprinkle yarn with acid dye powder, and stick in the oven for a bit! Wham bam thank you ma’am! Of course I wanted to start right now but the dyes she used were Landscapes professional dyes and I’d have to order them… *snorts* I don’t think so! I trawled youtube until I caught onto the fact that you can use plain old food dye instead, and cook up yarn in the microwave in 2.5 minutes. I jumped in my car, ransacked Spotlight for a handful of food dyes and Australian merino wool (acid dyes like food dye won’t work on acrylic or plant fibres) and sped home to begin…

You know the stereotype of Dr Frankenstein standing there laughing maniacally when he realises he’s brought his monster to life? I literally did that laugh, “mwahahahaha!”, when I saw my colourful creation, speckled with rainbow colours like the sprinkles on a pink donut. It was magnificent! Unfortunately the only colour missing was purple. As soon as I’d finished I realised I’d neglected to buy my favourite colour and it just didn’t look… well, like a wooly unicorn. It was my first colourful experiment – it had to be unicorn rainbows, y’know? It’s the crayon dilemma all over again. Think back to when you were six and you opened that fresh box of crayons. The whole universe of colour sticks out at you, infinite possibilities at your fingertips! Who the hell pulls out only one crayon? Which damaged child picks out the brown, black, or (dare I even suggest it?) cream crayon? NO CHILD, that’s who. You pull out as many colours as you can hold in two hands, sometimes with a crayon in each hand and colouring in two separate bits simultaneously because you can’t wait long enough to switch it up!

So obviously a couple of days later I got time to buy purple… and teal…and “electric purple” which is basically fuchsia. After concocting a new speckled dye using just those three colours (gorgeous, IMO), I attempted to capture The Wooly Unicorn. Successfully! The picture in this post is the final product, and I’m immensely proud of it. There’s something about speckled yarn; it feels more “me”-ish, at least when I’m excited or chirpy. Solid colour is dense and definite; speckled colours dance on the yarn like giddy children in a playground, colours everywhere in a haphazard but perfect balance, much like galaxies, even the Universe itself.

It is this colourful, haphazard beauty of movement and vision that I am drawn to pursue and embrace in 2017, and I wish with all my heart that it works its way into your life too. As 2016 ended I was amazed by the consensus internationally that it had been the shittiest year for a long time and we were all only too glad to see the end of it. So I’m assuming you could use a little upbeat creative happiness this year… as could I.