Monday, December 15, 2008

Product Review: Brittany Needles and Hooks

A few years ago flipping through a Knit.1 magazine, I noticed Brittany knitting needles, and for my Christmas knitting needs purchased several of their DPNS in varying sizes.  These knitting needles are my very favorite that I have ever used.  I always prefer wood needles to metal (especially in this cold weather-- I took a pair of metal Size 17 Buoy Straights out of my car this morning, and they were so cold I had to hold them by the plastic end!), but have always used Clover Bamboo needles, because they are so widely available, and affordable.  Since I knit on DPNS a lot (which all knitters know are the easiest things in the world to lose), I like that I don't feel put out buying another set to replace the needles I have lost to the couch cushions, the bus stop, or the bottom of my purse only to be re-found after I purchase another set and complete the project!
Brittany needles, however, are made of high quality birch wood, and only slightly more expensive than the bamboo.  Their wood is sustainably harvested from small lumber distributors, and at every step of production, Brittany considers the impact of their product; the packaging is 100% recyclable, and if you remove the label, the packaging can be put in the compost pile!  They make crochet hooks (which have a lovely carved end that makes me want to learn crochet even more) from D to K,  and knitting needles in straights at 10" and 14", and double points in sizes 5", 7.5", and 10", sold in sets of five, from sizes 0 to 35 (though not all sizes are available in all lengths).  They guarantee their product for up to five years, and will replace any broken needles. 
Ecological and economical friendliness aside: my favorite part of these needles is they all have the company name (along with the size) printed into the needle, so all my needles say "Brittany."  It's like having a customized set of needles for free!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Day Without a Gay... and More Twinkly Lights!

As I mentioned in another post, Wednesday December 10th was Day Without a Gay, as well as International Human Rights Day.
Well, I took the day off of work and headed over to Wesley United Methodist Church to help bag up some food for those in need, then picked up trash on Christmas Tree Lane.  
I think Day Without a Gay was a success in Fresno-- we received media coverage from at least two TV stations here in Fresno, which given their biased coverage of the move against Prop. 8, was quite nice.  Although they did refuse an offer of hot chocolate while doing an interview at Christmas Tree Lane.  Who can refuse hot chocolate?!?  Anyway,  if you click here you can see KMPH Fox 26 and their report of the day's actions.  Just click on the number 2 link, entitled "Valley Activists Mark 'Day Without A Gay'."  One of my co-workers saw the broadcast and said, "You were on TV last night!  I recognized your hair!"  I found this pretty hilarious.  Almost as hilarious as trying to pick up trash in the middle of Christmas Tree Lane while people with strollers are running you over in their haste to view all the twinkly lights.
Something about this broadcast really bothered me, however; if you listen to the reporter, he repeatedly uses the phrase "lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender people," in the context of, "LGBT people took the day off of work," or "LGBT people picked up trash on Christmas Tree Lane."
Well, I have news for you, Mr. Anchorman-- I am not a lesbian, nor am I bi, nor am I transgender.  I have no problem with people assuming I am any of the above, as I am very comfortable with my sexuality, but I do have a problem with the media reporting this issue as if only the LGBT community cares about it.  I am a person who identifies as a straight woman, and I care about this issue.  Very nearly half of California's voting population this November agreed that Prop. 8 is illegal and unfair, and I am willing to bet that they don't all identify LGBT.
This is not to appropriate the struggle; I can't identify with so many of the fights the LGBT community deals with everyday.  I have never come out to my family, or to my coworkers; I've never dealt with police violence because of my perceived gender; I've never been discriminated against for the way I choose to love.  But it is a struggle that I acknowledge, and a fight I want to support and ally myself with.
If only the oppressed party worked for change, change would never come.  It is about community, and togetherness, and recognizing the humanity of each one of us, and taking action to make a world where this is the modus operandi, and not the exception.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Best Gifts Are Tied With Heartstrings...

Oh, man.  I think I'm addicted to Etsy.  I mean, I've always enjoyed perusing the site, and gathering inspiration, and creating a wish list in my head of shops I want to purchase from (especially handspun yarn and roving... sheesh, there's a lot of gorgeous stuff out there!), but I just made my very first purchase-- which was planned-- but then, promptly made another-- unplanned.  I was only stopped by the fact I had to break into the Grad. School Savings for the second purchase (only four dollars, but still).
Part of what facilitated this is this year for the holiday season, I have pledged to only give handmade things-- either by me, or by someone else.  I am making the majority of my gifts, but I had something very specific in mind to personalize a hat I am knitting.  No details until after the holiday, though-- don't want anybody to guess what they're getting!  There is no way I could reproduce what I wanted myself, not having the equipment, but I found EXACTLY what I wanted, but better, at an Etsy shop.  I could spend YEARS picking out just buttons on that site...
So why handmade?  
Well, for several reasons.
First, the economy is kind of down the drain lately, and despite what we keep hearing, spending MORE at chain and corporate stores is not going to "stimulate the economy."  Much like trickle down, it's a big financial myth.  By putting money into something, you no longer have the money yourself, and unlike investment, where the money grows, money spent on consumer goods just cycles around, never increasing in worth, but in fact, decreasing as inflation steepens.  At least by purchasing goods that go directly from producer to consumer, a larger chunk of the money spent goes into circulation, where with large corporate stores, your dollars are split into lots of costs, such as labor, marketing, insurance, and so on.
Second, the impact of handmade goods is so much less than mass produced items; not that there aren't chemicals used in handmade items, but the energy resources and type of processing handmade goods go through is on a much smaller scale, and though super-glue fumes may not be the safest, they're quite a bit better than some of the byproducts manufacturing disposes of into lakes, rivers, and our air.
Third.  I can't say for sure, but I'm pretty sure most people who choose to make their gifts by hand, or provide handmade gifts for others to purchase, are enjoying the process.  While not quite a cottage industry, people who are good at one skill market or give it to others who have a need for that skill, or the product of the skill.  The result is a fair trade of money, goods, or services for a job well and happily done-- nothing like the sweatshops that are supported by the demand for cheap and quick consumer goods.  When you consider the working conditions that such a market creates, who wants to pass that karma along with a heartfelt holiday gift?
It's nearly impossible in today's world to live a lifestyle that is 100% sweatshop free, and economically and ecologically sound-- but with the biggest spending period of the year, making a conscious effort to put the dollars someplace where the impact is less makes the exchanging of gifts even better... And really, giving and getting gifts is part of the love of the season, along with lots of yummy food and twinkly lights.
I love me some twinkly lights.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Chronicles of Continental

When it comes to knitting, I've always been a thrower, sending big looping arcs of yarn all over the place with my right hand.  This is English knitting, and the way I learned when I was six years old.  When I picked knitting back up again almost fifteen years later, after being a sewer, the method of looping my yarn around came right back to my hands like I had never put my fiber down.  This is proof that "throwing" my yarn is engrained in my muscle memory like riding a bike.  I think this has been part of the obstacle to my learning to crochet, which is much more like Continental Knitting, or "picking," which is considered by most knitters to be a much quicker and more efficient way of knitting.  But with a list of Christmas gifts in front of me, I decided to give Continental another try.  There are many less hand movements, and when working with DPNs, which I mostly am (hats being at the top of my list), a much more controlled way of wrangling in those five needles.   So last night, I asked my mom to time me on a row of English knitting, and on a row of Continental knitting.  Even though this was my first time knitting Continental, it took me 46 seconds to complete the row, compared to the 40 seconds in English, which I've been knitting all my life, and can do in the dark without even looking!  That's craziness.  With practice, I'll be churning out rows of stockinette. This video has been the most helpful of anything I've ever read or seen in helping me grasp Continental-- and grasp my yarn in my left hand!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Today I went to Barnes and Noble, looking desperately for a funky card.  No luck.  But I was feeling down, so I perused the children's section (always a picker-upper) and the new releases.  
For one thing: are moths suddenly in, and I happened to already be on that bandwagon?  I saw a million and a half books that have moths on the cover (not to mention this adorable gypsy moth brass hanger from Anthropologie), noticeable for being moths that are recognizably MOTHS, not brown butterflies.   One of the books I saw was a pink book clearly aimed at tween girls with several moths on it, and tweens and pink usually go hand in hand with butterflies.  Hells yes.
But this is the really exciting part:

The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia

I want this book so bad I might not even wait for the library to have a copy available (my heart is literally racing thinking about it), or for the inevitable B&N gift certificates I am sure to receive for Christmas.
This book touches on so many topics that are close to my heart, and several I have written on academically, and contains a chapter that dives right to the meat of what I envision my grad. thesis to be about.  From what I gathered on the book jacket, Miller felt compelled to write this because she loved The Chronicles of Narnia as a child, but felt betrayed by the overt Christian theology later in life (oh, that ENDING! Why, Lewis, why?).  
Note: I am not knocking stories that act as religious allegories at all-- they are some of our most beautiful and moving stories (East of Eden immediately springs to mind), but C.S. Lewis and his personal move to Christianity, studied alongside the Chronicles, is an interesting and problematic view of the genre.
I felt the same qualms when I re-read the series as a high school senior, and was shocked to discover layers and layers to the series that were a lot darker and more disturbing then anything I could have understood as a wonder-struck child.  It's part of the quandry of an adult reader: how to retain the awe of a beautiful and amazing story, but to have the understanding of experience and the perspective of a generation several after the author's.  This is a particularly poignant issue for me, having decided to study children's books with the theory of my adult education, but to still approach them with a heart open to imagination and astonishment.
My senior year as a lit. major, my final project was to look at several children's books, both picture and novels, and analyze the relationship between gender and violence-- this project is ultimately what made my decision to become a librarian final.  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is the book that inspired the project: there is a scene when Father Christmas gives the Pevensies gifts: the boys receive weapons, and while Susan is given a bow and arrows, she is told that women are never to fight in battle except in the direst of needs.  There are so many gender issues in this; several I know Miller touches upon in the book, from the chapter I read standing up in the bookstore.
Part of me just wishes I had written this book myself!