Wednesday, July 21, 2010

sow's ear

Last week I crocheted a market bag using recycled t-shirts for yarn. As an unabashed fan of I had been destined to take on this project for months, but it didn't come together for me until late May, when Elana listed a bag of about 20 old t-shirts on* -- free to anyone who would come and pick them up -- and I realized it was time to start trying Cindy's techniques for making and using t-shirt yarn.

RecycleCindy instructs her followers to cut t-shirts into 1/4" strips to make what she calls
t-yarn or tarn, and that is exactly what I started doing as soon as I got home with Elana's old t-shirts. BTW, Elana was moving out of her apartment about six blocks away from our house. She felt that the shirts weren't in good enough shape to give to charity, but, though she'd never heard of t-yarn, hoped they'd be of use to someone. I loved that she was so conscientious about not dumping her discards, and we had a pleasant though short visit among her boxes and bags.

Cutting t-shirts into 1/4" strips is a pretty tedious operation, and I soon found that I had more compelling things to do with my time. Days later, I returned to it while watching TV, but somehow the 1/4" strips became 1/2" to 5/8" strips. As my ball of
t-yarn grew, I started trying various crochet hooks with it, and ended up with my beloved wooden 'Q'-sized monster, which quickly created a very heavy fabric with a nice floppy feel to it. Not bothering to check Cindy's patterns, I lost sight of the fact that my t-yarn was twice as heavy as hers.

Suddenly a couple of weeks ago, when I finished a crochet project for our five-year-old granddaughter, it was time to get serious about the t-yarn. I checked some patterns and settled on a market bag style because I liked the idea of a single handle strap integrated firmly into the design rather than being stuck on like an afterthought.

I decided to use only 100% cotton t-shirts -- all white or with white backgrounds. Of course some of the shirts were whiter than others, so as the work developed, it took on a subtly striped appearance when I changed from one shirt to the next, while the flecks of printed color produced a slight tweediness. The handle prescribed by my chosen pattern didn't seem right at all, so I reoriented it to the ends rather than the sides of the bag.

Last Wednesday night I was going to an art lecture**, so I decided this would be a good time to field-test the bag. Alas! The handle stretched to an unacceptable length while tiny white dandruff-like particles of cotton appeared all over my black pants. Reluctantly I cut Elana's last white cotton t-shirt and started a row of reinforcement around the handle and top opening, but it was too white for the quasi-natural look of the bag. So I pulled the new stitches out (crocheters call this
frogging because we "Rip It"!) and completed the process with an old t-shirt of Steve's. A careful laundering reduced the dandruff effect considerably, and I have faith that it will all go away soon.

Is my bag finished? Probably not, but I will field-test it again at this evening's Historical Society picnic. It's a bag with a history so should be very appropriate. I'm thinking in terms of lining it with a piece of another old t-shirt so that my crochet hooks and knitting needles won't work their way out.

When my bag IS finished, I'll post a picture of it, along with a draft of a pattern. Maybe someone else will want to make one.
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* I wouldn't have found the t-shirt posting if I hadn't listed some plants in craigslist's 'free stuff' section. Elana's listing was adjacent to mine, so I spotted it serendipitously when I went to check that the info on my proffered dudleyas was correct.

** The artist, Salomon Huerta, repeatedly uses a power sander to obliterate the portraits he paints, until he gets them JUST RIGHT and sees that they are truly finished. One of Huerta's guiding principles -- simpler than his esoteric preoccupation with the look of the face -- is that his laboriously constructed canvas-covered boards should not be thrown away. 
My more mundane ripping out and re-crocheting was a delightful coincidence. Recycling is where you find it. 

Friday, July 9, 2010

courage under fire

Writing about Gram's garden tools last week has kept that venerable lady in my recent thoughts. As our children's generation procreates later in life than we did, fewer and fewer will grow up knowing their grandparents, great grandparents, and grandparents-in-law. This sad fact calls for more memoirs, and I will try to fill the gap.

Today's title and the tone of my opening paragraph notwithstanding, I want to relate a humorous anecdote about Gram. Steve and I have laughed about this story many times over the years, but kept respectfully straight faces when it happened.

The scene was a four-generation holiday dinner at Steve's parents' home. Gram was in her late eighties but in good health, mentally and physically, largely due to the strong discipline she imposed open herself in her daily life. Alice set a dish on the table and one of the men (Steve or his dad, Homer) started to pick it up, but drew back immediately when he felt how hot it was.

Gram observed: "Women can stand to hold hot things better than men can." Instantly sensing that the men at the table might have been offended, she added: "Of course, men are brave in time of war." I must have been in my late thirties or early forties, but was sorely tempted to giggle. Fortunately the kids, grade-school age, were too young to see any humor in the situation.

Gram's hasty equivocation was the rhetorical equivalent of "shoot first, ask questions later," and it was not the only time I heard her use this technique. Once she was praising a pianist she'd seen on the Lawrence Welk Show and added, "But Steve sits up straighter than any of them."

I sense that as a young woman Gram (Bess) must have tried hard to curb her impulsive tongue. As a girl, she had ridden horseback with her father and three sisters from Denver, Colorado, to Bend, Oregon, yet she was always looking for refinement and self-improvement -- reciting poetry to herself and repeatedly saying the alphabet backwards to keep her voice from growing weak in her years as a widow living alone.

Last night at dinner Steve picked up a hot ear of sweet corn and dropped it unceremoniously onto his plate. I made sure to hold mine for several seconds before setting it down gently, while quoting for the zillioneth time: "Men are brave in time of war."

Saturday, July 3, 2010


The same year Steve and I were married, his paternal grandmother, Bess (always known as 'Gram' to her three grandsons), moved from her home in Lynwood into a small apartment in a Sun City retirement community. This was a miracle of timing, as we were able to furnish our tiny house in married student housing from things she had left over in her move: a sofabed, a kitchen table with four chairs, an ornately carved upright piano with a set of piano-tuning tools which had belonged to Steve's grandfather, a classic footstool cum storage cube, several blankets, and an array of garden tools.

Gram's piano, which she had personally stripped of enamel and refinished with a thick varnish, only moved with us once. It was traded in on a new Yamaha 3/4 upright. Having the old piano picked up at Point A and the new one delivered to Point B was a clever ploy to expedite our moving. BTW, Steve still has his grandfather's set of piano tuning tools and uses them to this day, along with the Yamaha piano, which has graced six homes in four states.

Gram's garden tools were of little or no use to us in student housing where the grounds (basically an old avocado grove interspersed with struggling lawn) was maintained by the management. We moved twice before we were able to use the tools, but most of them have been in use ever since. Along the way we've collected a few more: a smaller shovel and pitchfork at Pennsylvania farm auctions; an aluminum trowel left in our Evanston, Illinois, basement along with a lot of other stuff abandoned by the previous owner; a brand-new spading fork, pruning shears, loppers, etc.

Last year I replaced Gram's ancient folding saw with a new one from Home Depot. What an improvement! The pushbutton lock keeps it from collapsing on me as Gram's always did, and the stainless steel blade goes through branches in no time.

We've had little use for Gram's half-moon lawn edger (whose name I have just learned after over 45 years of ownership) but this spring it struck me that it could be used to cut through the decaying cardboard that underlies our mulch. Thus my three sisters tableaux were planted with the aid of an heirloom tool with no moving parts. Somehow this makes it seem even more traditional.

Moebles? Here's a simple definition.

I treasure old things that are worth carrying along for continued use, be they words or more tangible tools, from pitchforks to tuning forks.
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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License