Spring-a-ling

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, here it is. Spring. It’s not only the chipmunk who has noticed!

It happens really fast here, so in order to ensure I pay proper attention and don’t miss it, I’ve been taking photographs! The thing with spring is that, although you can feel it all around (not least with the sudden appearance of bare skin), the devil is in the detail; the magic of tiny signs of life:

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And there’s a change in the colours. Gone are those moody greys and blues of winter, there’s a brightness and crispness to nature. I love this new contrast with our built environment, how the dynamic between the enduring cement, concrete, and brick, and the sudden rush of all things to grow:

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese new shades of yellow, green, and chartreuse are the perfect foil to our browns, greys, and beiges, and lift even the most perennial structures:

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Whereas autumn has a way of blending back into my beloved reds, oranges, browns, and greys, spring bursts out of them and defies us to ignore the nature that lives among us. So we embrace it: we dust off our barbeques and washing lines, welcome the sunshine back into our lives, and step into the light:

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs much as I’m a rain-child who adores wool in all its forms, loves winter, and lives for snow, I also relish the freedom (and general nakedness – glee!) that summer brings, how everyone moves outdoors and starts to breathe clean air again, and the long days that never seem to end. Last week was the first one in months where I enjoyed the scent of line-dried laundry and wore shorts with no tights. It was a good week.

I also took some other photos yous might enjoy… Well, I enjoy them, anyway.

1) I love this. I have no idea what it is, but I love it:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA2) If you view this through my eyes, the brickwork (sigh!) on the Hill Auditorium looks like a kilim rug:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt also reminds me of those Fair Isle colourwork epics where there’s a different pattern inside each of the O’s. Marvellous! And an idea for a colourwork epic, perhaps? Hmmm…

3) And a spectacular rust gradient:

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Can’t forget the Motor City

Detroit03As anyone who has known me any length of time has already learnt, I have a tendency to fall long and hard for post-industrial cities (both well-loved ones, and those with a reputation for being hard, ugly, and mean). And I mean properly fall. I google photos of them and sigh over their best angles, I write love songs to them (for realz), and obsess over whether they’re right for me.

If my recent posts since arriving in the US have seemed a little downcast, it’s the lack of great industrial architecture in my now-small town life. There are some stunning collegiate buildings in Ann Arbor, don’t get me wrong, and I’ll be writing more about some of them soon, but it’s the concrete tower blocks on the edge of town and the few remaining small brick warehouses in the centre that make my heart sing.

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However, I discovered this weekend that Detroit has the sort of buildings that leave me breathless. I had rubbish technical difficulties whilst there, so don’t have any photos to share except these 3 taken from the steps of the Detroit Institute of Arts, but I plan a return trip in a few weeks with that precise purpose (armed with plenty of back up options) so there will be some forthcoming! In the meantime, I’m not the only weirdo in the village: dETROITfUNK is a website dedicated to cataloguing exact details of its daily splendour, and I dare you to spend just 5 minutes on it (I can’t yet bring myself to close its tab in my browser window, each page yields yet another lover’s eye view of a bewitching city).

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What’s in a home?

So I promised a post about setting in a bit and nesting in this brave new world, but when I thought about what I wanted to write about I realised that it’s really hard to write about personalising a space and creating a home without focusing on things, possessions, the material content of our lives. And I know that many people are uncomfortable with the idea that things should have such importance. So I set myself a challenge: to work out what it really is that makes a place feel like home, and to be honest about the answer if that turns out to be just stuff, rather than to try and wrap it up in some transcendental bullshit.

WorkingI realised that possessions have a place, in so far as our lives are a series of interactions with things, and those things that facilitate our interactions with them enable us to live more comfortably. And comfort is one characteristic of home. There is nothing wrong with wanting nice things and better things. Growing up in a home where my parents worked hard and did little in the way of relaxing, we didn’t surround ourselves with comfortable things, only practical ones that performed the task for as little expense as possible, compromising functionality and cost. It took me a long time to find a balance between this approach and just spending all of my hard-earned wages on whatever unnecessary clutter I fleetingly desired.

If I believed that life was simply about ease then I probably wouldn’t love walking and cycling up steep hills or knitting complex and time-consuming patterns as much as I do, so this isn’t a simple calculation of comfort = c/effort! However, well-fitting shoes, a smooth-running bicycle, thoughtfully-engineered needles, and a favourably-textured yarn all render comfort to these tasks that I undertake for the motivation of pleasure rather than duty. (And I imagine that these tools would be desirable even if they were chores instead of hobbies!)

KindredMugAnd this is where one value of things comes into play: as tools. So a mug shaped to be easy to hold, with a pleasing texture makes for a more enjoyable and appreciated morning coffee (and compensates a little for the blandness of many of the coffees I have been trialling from local roasters). Likewise, music sounds better from a speaker than it does from a laptop, and I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t enjoy a nice pen (although our ideas of nice may differ).

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To be honest, I do find a lot of this “perfect life” theory to be an exercise in futility, and just a more self-righteous version of consumption = c(happiness) (as long as you consume “properly”) – because for all the elevated rhetoric out there about “curating”, I was brought up to believe that we are what we do not what we have - but things also act as memory-aids to recall emotions and relationships. They can also contain data and act as memory banks in themselves. Like the Hebridean, Shetland, and Gotland wool blankets I packed alongside a British Breeds fibre sampler, anarcha-femiknits (sic) cushion cover, Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift stash, Sabah Tea, Orientalism, Leuchtturm1917 notebooks, Highland Park, and multiple external hard drives containing identical back ups of 24-hour Party People, In The Loop, Luther, Trainspotting, and other cultural treasures like Belle & Sebastian, Burial, Led Zeppelin, Elton JohnFatboy Slimand The Smiths… We possibly brought too many Žižek books and headtorches!

Many of these things are related to places, events, people, and ideas, and their presence is comforting for the connections they represent. In fact, one of the first purchases I made when I arrived is this mug:

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It’s an illustration by my friend Julia of a grumpy-faced woman in a yoked jumper, and makes the most apt pot on my desk for drawing pens and pencils. Every time I look at it I am reminded of Julia’s friendship, talent, humour, diligence, and her abundantly creative, loving household in a fascinating historical city (I didn’t even know people ate cookies for breakfast until I stayed with them in January…). And inspired to knit more! I could use any mug for this job but one that reminds me of all the ways I should be more like Julia seems to hold a value that goes beyond simply containing pens.

And so I intended to write about nesting but instead ended up discussing the virtues of a friend. In some ways that feels like an appropriate conversation loop, whereby our possessions don’t have any intrinsic value other than a connection with the places and people we love.

Although I am sorry if I didn’t answer any specific questions via my convoluted navel-gazing!

Wrong turning

Sorry folks. I didn’t realise I’d come over quite so miserable in my last post, but your comments and the emails I got informed me otherwise! I still don’t read much negativity in my post, but clearly I said something that made it all sound rubbish. Honestly, it’s not.

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There is a lot of sunshine and the people here are very kind, warm, and inclusive. I love that people are more open about their opinions than in the UK (something I enjoy about most of the rest of Europe) and it’s assumed that everyone participating in a discussion is grown up enough to accept disagreement without taking it personally.

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There are hilarious fox squirrels everywhere, and we have a chipmunk living in the rocks outside our flat that takes up way too much time every morning just sitting around being cute and getting watched. Much like our furry friend, who appears to have just woken from hibernation in the past couple of weeks, I’m nesting like crazy, which is something I will post about later this week, hopefully.

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Tracey’s comment pointed me in the direction of an article discussing some agricultural politics in the US that allowed me to investigate further by myself, and I understand the economic mechanisms behind food prices somewhat better. It doesn’t make $7 for a loaf of bread sting any less, but I feel more sympathy for the majority of players in this exchange than I did when I felt like I was being fleeced!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPattern-wise, being in a new environment is great for creativity and I have plenty of sketches and swatches on the go already. I am also very aware that there are 3 patterns that I’ve been promising to finish for months, but the whole moving process massively disrupted that, so I look forward to getting those completed and released. There is plenty to be positive about, squirrels aside, and much to look forward to!

Chilling in the Midwest

SnowfunSo, I’ve been in Michigan for over a week and only just had a chance to get on here to write a quick update. It has been all sorts of temperatures from bloody freezing to t-shirt weather but it’s back to something overcast and cool today.

This time last week it looked something like this:

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I was really glad to have completed my Stovetop by TinCanKnits on the flight out, it’s New Lanark Aran in Limestone and just knowing where it comes from adds greatly to the warmth I experience when wearing it. As is clear from this blog, knitwear is never just clothing to me, it has an emotional significance that relates to time, place, colour, texture, construction, and biography. This hat is deeply embedded in all of that. And the pattern is good. Try it. It’s especially good for frigid temperatures when some home comforts are welcome in spite of the obvious joys of frozen water:

BeautifulLots of things about here are different to home. I find supermarkets stressful at the best of times, and had pretty much worked Manchester out, knowing where I needed to go for what items and making fairly straight beelines for them with minimal browsing. Here, I’m having to browse all over again and everything seems so expensive! It’s not just the conversion from dollars to pounds, which in itself would make equivalent-costing items appear more costly, but the fact that things I consider necessities really are more costly here. Broccoli is over twice the price after conversion, as are bread and ground coffee. Butter is at least 3 times the price, and forget decent chocolate.

However, the range of processed foods is far more extensive and includes such things of beauty and destruction as this brownie topped with melted peanut butter cups:

BrowniesThe city of Ann Arbor is a funny place. It’s almost entirely a university and very little else. It’s pleasant but very small and suburban-feeling. Thanks to the university it boasts more integrated public transportation than I’d been warned about expecting in the US, and it’s possible to live here without a car due to a comprehensive and reliable bus system (that, and most places being within walking distance). It doesn’t feel like a “real” place, though, and I’m glad we’re going to be here for the summer to see if that changes when it isn’t packed with students. However, things like this crazy mock Tudor building don’t really help with the reality check:

MadMockTudorAnd now I’m going to be completely honest because I think it will be interesting to some of the people reading this to chart my feelings about the US as I continue to live here, just to see if some things develop or change completely. None of this is a value judgement, and I hope no-one takes umbrage at what I write about living here. It’s obviously my entirely personal perspective, as a culmination of my life experiences, and I can’t possibly expect anyone else to understand it, but at the same time it’s not intended to offend or praise.

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We grow up in Europe with representations of the US as a country of extremes, and assume that most of what we learn is exaggeration or artifice. As I’ve discovered this week, a lot of what we’ve learned is true. It also disguises even more of the extreme differences between the US and the rest of the world. I’m not sure if growing up with roots in Asia and Europe has given me a false impression of the coherance of Old World cultures, but I feel like there are many significant aspects of life here that are in stark contrast to both European and Asian ways. It’s funny, but in spite of the over-exposure of American popular culture, history, politics, and economics in the rest of the world I’m still experiencing a massive culture shock following my arrival here. I look forward to seeing what happens next…