5 ways to make the world a better place

I have had a lot of feelings about the world in the past few days. Many of them have not been happy ones. On Friday night I had to steer clear of social media, because the news that Britain- my mother country- had voted to leave the European Union, in spite of the huge amount of support among young people (the ones who will have to live with the decision longest) for staying in, in spite of the fact that the campaign promises and claims of leave were largely unfounded… well, it left me deeply depressed. And it only got worse from there. People saying they wanted to change their votes because they “didn’t think it would actually happen”. The leave camp admitting they actually have no plan for how Britain is going to exit the EU. And worst of all, casual racism in the streets and people of many nationalities (including British) and ethnicities living in fear.

And then I had the horrifying realisation: if Trump is elected president, it will legitimise prejudice in exactly the same way that the leave vote has done in the UK…but the racists, xenophobes, and homophobes will have ready access to guns.

I can’t sit idly by and let the world go to hell in a handbasket. And while I know there’s not much I can do to change the outcome of the US election, and not much I can do from the other side of the world to help people in the UK, and while I know that what one person can do is just a drop in the ocean…I want to do something. If you’re reading this, perhaps you do, too. So here are just a few practical things you can do to make the world a better place.

1: Give some Kiva loans

Kiva is a microfinance organisation. They work by members giving small loans ($25) and collectively funding larger loans to communities where it is needed. For example, war-torn countries where credit is hard to come by. Here’s the beauty part- as the loans get paid back, you can re-lend the credit. So that $25 can help people again and again and again.

2: Make some twiddlemuffs

If you knit or crochet, you can make these. A twiddlemuff is for people with dementia. Put simply, it’s a knitted (or crocheted) muff with little fiddly things (beads, tassles etc) attached so that people with dementia have something to do with their hands. With the added bonus that a knitted or crocheted muff helps keep their hands warm. If you’re in NZ, the link above will take you to Knit World’s page for Twiddlemuffs. If you’re elsewhere, google ‘twiddlemuffs’ and your country or locale to see if there’s a collection going on in your area. Or just contact a local hospital or retirement home to ask if they need any!

3: Eat your lunch

If you’re in Auckland (or, soon, in Wellington), you can help Kiwi kids living in poverty by supporting Eat My Lunch. You buy yourself a lunch which is delivered to your workplace, and for every lunch you buy, a lunch is given to a child in need. Many kids in NZ have to go without basics like a packed lunch through no fault of their own or their parents, so this is a great way to stop them from going hungry.

4: Buy some underwear

Smalls for All is a charity that provides underwear for women and children in Africa, where many girls often miss days of school every month because they are having their period and don’t have any underwear. Then there are the women suffering with conditions like fistula. And even more alarming- having underwear in many areas is seen as a sign that a woman has someone to care for her- that she’s not alone and vulnerable. You can donate packs of underwear, or money (which goes towards helping get said underwear to people who need it). Or both!

5: Take advantage of peoples’ love of baked goods

Baking is easy- a while ago I shared a super easy recipe for scones. Three ingredients. No muss, no fuss, bake ’em, get some jam and cream and you’re ready to go. Or perhaps you’d prefer some three-ingredient peanut butter cookies (gluten and dairy free y’all!)? Why not make a batch, take them to work, and tell people ‘hey, if you’d like a cookie/a scone you can have one- just pop a coin (or neatly folded donation) in this tub for…’ and pick a charity. Time it right (Monday or Wednesday morning or Friday afternoon) and you should have no shortage of takers.

I guess what I’m trying to say is- there are lots of things you can do that don’t take much effort on your part, but which could make a world of difference.  All of us are drops in the ocean, but the more of us who do what we can, the better the world can be. If the world isn’t giving you much hope, you have to find a way to create some for yourself.

Never trust a panda

OK, I know, it’s been over a week. And I honestly sat down to write all about what I’m knitting, and what’s been going on in my life (the toran is coming along nicely, and mainly I’ve been cooking all the things because one of my flatmates is ill).

But then I thought ‘hey, I really ought to print out the pattern for Mopsy Bird“, and suddenly I’m being presented with patterns with names like “A beret that is different!”.

beret

 

Which of course led me down the Trove rabbit-hole. Trove, that home of so, so many 4ply jumper patterns. It takes me long enough to knit a pair of socks using 4ply. Knitting an entire jumper? Probably insane. Which is why some time soon I’m totally doing it. But then I found this.

panda

Oh, it’s a panda, yup, totally ordinary stuffed toy panda.

perambulator

Wait, what? Why perambulator?

WHY IS IT STANDING UP UNAIDED? Is it sentient? Are there instructions somewhere in the 8th December 1949 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald explaining how to use your bloodstone circle for animating knitted toys?

Great, now I’m scared that if I make this it’s going to start walking around my house in the middle of the night.

babadook

I’m just saying what we’re all thinking. 

 

 

If nobody needs me I’ll be locking all my black and white yarns in a trunk and then hiding under a blanket.

Thoughts every knitter has on entering a new yarn store

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Where’s the sock yarn? How is this place organised?

Oooh, pretty colour!…oh no, but it’s lace.

Well, I could totally start knitting lace if I wanted to.

Oh man, this is so soft…I wonder if anyone would notice if I rubbed it on my face?

How much is it?…Christ, for ONE skein?

Oh, no wonder, there’s cashmere in it.

I want to put it down, and yet I can’t.

Well, one skein is pretty restrained. Look at me being restrained…oooh, angora!

That colourway…it’s not really my thing, but limited edition!

I should have got a basket. Do they have baskets?

I don’t have any projects that need buttons. But these buttons are so pretty. Maybe I should find a project that needs buttons…

This would be perfect for that sweater, I wonder how many balls I would need…

HOW MANY?

No, don’t you dare start looking at that yarn over there. I may want more of it.

God, I hope they take debit cards…

Oooh, free wool wash!

Oh thank goodness, there’s a swift.

Winding this into a ball is SO much faster with a swift.

I wonder if they sell swifts?

OK, I am totally not buying any more yarn until I’ve finished a project.

That beanie hat I’m nearly done with counts, right?

Mental Health Awareness Month

It’s Mental Health Awareness Month in the States. As the Bloggess pointed out, wouldn’t it be nice to only have to be aware of mental illness for a month a year? Yes, it would. For many people, though, it’s not that simple. On her blog, the Bloggess put a call out to people to share their experiences, and what they’ve learned that’s helped them. I think it’s a great idea, and part of something very important: we need to start talking about mental health. We need to remove the stigma about people discussing their own experiences with it. It removes one of the obstacles to people getting help- actually feeling able to say “I have a problem and it’s not going away”. She posted two questions for people to answer. Here are my answers. I hope they help someone.

How has mental illness affected you personally?

I’ve suffered from depression for a long time. I’ve been on antidepressants for the past 2 years, and have had to take them previously. I also suffer from anxiety, which is situational in origin.  I’m one of the lucky ones. I know that compared to what others have to deal with, my own mental health issues aren’t nearly as bad. I once had to take- and by take I mean frogmarch- a severely, clinically depressed flatmate to A&E because they were planning to commit suicide, which I only found out about because I read their blog. I’ve been to therapy, read books.

I remember the first time I was prescribed antidepressants, it took me several weeks to start taking them. I sat looking at the packet of pills, and then at the dose sitting in my hand, for several minutes, knowing what it would mean if I started taking them. I didn’t come off them right the first time I took them, in part because the doctor I had at the time hadn’t given me any information about coming off them. He had, in fact, told me that I should take them for the rest of my life “to save my marriage” (they didn’t save it, thank goodness).

What did you learn from it that might help others?

The biggest thing I’ve learned is this: not all doctors are created equal. This is not to denigrate anyone who works in general practice, it’s a damned hard job. But some GPs are better than others. We all know this. With mental health issues, that goes triple. Some GPs are better at understanding and treating patients with mental health issues than others- just like some are better with kids, or with elderly relatives who don’t WANT to go into a home, or with minor surgical procedures. It’s just the way it is. But that does mean it’s worth it, if you’re looking for help, to try and find a doctor who’s good at helping people with depression, anxiety, addiction, or the illness you have.

The first doctor who prescribed me antidepressants was appalling. He had already made me feel guilty about physical illnesses (not kidding). He didn’t titrate my dose of antidepressants up. He prescribed me a sleeping pill to go with the antidepressants, and failed to tell me that the pill he prescribed me could be habit-forming. Ie, he didn’t tell me I risked becoming addicted to the pills he was giving me if I took them every day. He told me to take one every day. He showed no empathy, and little understanding of the situation.

The second doctor who prescribed me antidepressants was the complete opposite. She explained about titrating the dose of antidepressants up, told me I would need to take them for at least a year, and then there would be a slow process of coming off them. She made sure I felt comfortable about taking them, explaining that they were medicine to get me into the right headspace so that I could do the mental/therapy work I needed to do to get myself right. “Get yourself well so you can get yourself well”. She prescribed a sleeping pill but advised that I only take it when I had a sleep deficit to catch up on. She was practical and kind. She didn’t make me feel judged, or guilty.

Like I said, not all doctors are created equal. If you have the option to choose a doctor (which isn’t the case in the UK with the NHS, though you could try a different doctor in your surgery, or ask for a referral), then ask around, if you can. Maybe talk to a local mental health charity and see if they know of a good GP in your area. It really is worth it to go to someone who’s good with mental health.

Not all medicines are created equal either

And just like a particular antibiotic or painkiller may not work for you, and you need to take a different one, the same goes for antidepressants. I’ve had various friends struggle to get the right mix, or to find one that doesn’t have bad side effects. It can be a difficult process finding the right medicine to take- that’s why working with a doctor who’s good at this stuff is important. If the medication they prescribe isn’t working, go back and talk to them about it. They know their stuff. They can help.

Mental illness is just that- an illness

There’s no shame in seeking help. And there’s no shame in having a mental illness. It’s just a different organ- your brain- that has the issue. It took me a while to finally start taking antidepressants because I was ashamed of what it would mean. I know others who have suffered from depression who’ve got worse instead of better because they tried to think their way out of being sick. Yes, willpower has a role to play. But you can’t think your way out of being depressed or anxious (or out of any other mental health issue) any more than you can think your way out of having the flu, or a cold. It’s an illness. Get some kind of treatment.

If you have situational depression or anxiety, a therapist is really helpful

They can talk about what’s going on in your life and help you look at things in new ways. If your depression or anxiety is situational, a therapist can help you identify the triggers for it, and the reasons behind it. This is REALLY useful. Like doctors, not all therapists are the same. They also won’t be offended if you visit them and find they’re not the right person for you. If you don’t click with one therapist, keep looking. Finding the right one is worth the effort.

So that’s the main things I’ve learned. I hope they help someone out there.

5 golden rules for Facebook

Ah, Facebook, you drifted into our lives like a wave and now you’ve stuck around like an octopus on our collective faces. Like it or not, social media is there and most people with internet use it. I know only two people who have chosen not to have an account, and they’re both just fine. But most of us stay on it because we know we’ll miss stuff if we don’t. I don’t know when it became so hard to e-mail people to invite them to something, but it has.

Just like before mobile phones existed, you made definite plans and then stuck to them, Facebook has changed the way we interact with each other. But not everyone has good social skills on social media. Being at a keyboard and not in a room with people makes it all too easy to say things and behave in a way that you never would normally. Well, being kind and respectful never hurt anyone. Neither did choosing not to be someone who drains other peoples’ emotional energy. With that in mind, I give you:

Five golden rules of Facebook

1) Don’t vaguebook

If you don’t want people to know what’s really going on, don’t post about it. If you want to talk to one or two people about it, talk to *them*. You don’t even have to leave Facebook to do it- use instant messages. Vaguebooking is the equivalent of sitting with people and sighing loudly until someone asks you what’s wrong. Don’t go fishing for attention and sympathy. Be direct- “I’m having a really bad day and could use someone to talk to”- totally fine and upfront. “This thing happened and I won’t go into details but it was bad”- just no.

2) Don’t splash your bad mood all over everyone else.

In a similar vein to rule 1. Don’t make your unhappiness someone else’s problem.

3) Remember other people can see what you write.

It may sound like I’m teaching your grandmother to suck eggs but you would be surprised how many people forget that their posts are public. Or that their friends-only posts can be screencapped. Nothing on the internet ever really goes away, and it’s just another form of gossip. And it WILL get back to the person you’re talking about. If you forget that your posts are public, then they’ll likely be able to read it right from your own wall. Don’t say anything about someone on social media that you wouldn’t say to their face because, chances are, that’s exactly what you’re doing.

4) Use your powers for good

If someone puts up a photo of themselves with a new haircut, say something nice. Or if they put up a photo of their kids doing something cute, say so. Or like that s***. Wish them happy birthday. Share things that make you smile. Put links on your friends’ walls saying ‘hey, this made me think of you!’. There are so many ways to be kind and positive on Facebook. Liking a photo of someone’s new look can be a real boost to their confidence.

5) Remember- it’s a tool

Complicated? Sure. Ever-changing? You bet. But it’s just a tool. It’s not a replacement for actual interactions. It makes some things easier. But remember, you’re the one in charge of how you use it.

So use it wisely.

 

Glory days part 2: 5 things from the past that should stay there

So two weeks ago (oops, Webstock), I talked about the idea that some people in the retro/ vintage community express of wishing they were back in the past. Nostalgia is big news. We’ve all done it- looked back to a different time and thought it was better than now, for whatever reason. With all the problems that still exist today, it’s an easy escapist move to imagine that once upon a time, things were better. But I think that while there are things about the past that were positive, being thankful for the time that we’re in now is also important. Here, then, are 5 things that really belong in the past.

Gender stereotypes

They didn’t just happen in the 40s and 50s, though the stereotype of the 50s housewife is still there. Feminism has brought us some of the way, but we’ve a long way to go if we really want to put this in the past. The expectation that women should be the ones staying at home with the kids, that the man must be the main wage-earner for the family, pink for girls and blue for boys…those ideas are still here, people. And they’re archaic. They belong in the past. I’ve said this before and I’ll keep saying it until we really have dismantled patriarchal society and built on a foundation of equality: the patriarchy hurts men, too. It says they can’t- and shouldn’t- be the main caregivers for their children. It says there are rules about division of labour in heterosexual relationships and says that it’s weak to be in a relationship with someone of the same gender. Of course it hurts women, ignoring the contribution we make or valuing it less than the equivalent contribution from a man, less even than a lower contribution from a man.

It needs to be a thing of the past.

Medicine

A lot of us today wouldn’t be alive if this was the 50s, or the 40s. Even the 90s. Medical research has brought us a long way forward, and it keeps improving our chances of surviving things that would have killed us in the past, like measles (anti-vaxxers, I’m looking at you).

No social security

I don’t care what the right wing would have you believe about the poor- I’m here to tell you that putting money into giving people a living wage, or giving them benefits so they can live, is a good thing. Most people want to be working, and helping their families. Most people want to contribute to society. Scaling back benefits prevents them from doing so. It prevents them from giving their children all they need- and in the case of many of the right wing, it then blames them for not being able to properly care for their children. It’s not on. But for all the flaws in social services and welfare today, it’s better than the past, when if you were out of a job, you had no income and that was it. You couldn’t get help from the government.

No internet

If you wanted to find something out, it was a lot harder in the past. If you wanted to keep in touch with someone on the other side of the world, it took a lot longer, was way more expensive, and you certainly couldn’t just video chat with them whenever you felt like it. The internet is a wonderful thing. Would you *really* want to go back to a time when it didn’t exist?

Culture

No, I’m not saying music or art or anything else belongs in the past, but my Goddess, think how many amazing bands have been around since the 40s. Go back to the 50s and there’s no Beatles, no Metallica, no Runaways (I may be listening to Cherry Bomb right now), no Rolling Stones. I’d say there were no boy bands but I’d be lying- but there wouldn’t be the ones *you* listened to and pinned up on your walls.

Think about artists- no Andy Warhol, no Molly Crabapple, no proliferation of wonderful graphic artists on DeviantArt and places like it.

Books? You want me to list all the amazing authors who hadn’t published anything in the 50s? There are way too many to mention. But Diana Wynne Jones. Neil Gaiman. Jim Butcher. Emily St-John Mandel. SARK.

And don’t even get me started on movies.

I guess what I’m trying to say with this is, yes, there are things to love in the past. But we have it pretty great, and if we work at it, it’ll keep getting better. Lets not focus our energy on wishing ourselves back in time, lets make now an amazing time to live in.

Glory days part 1: 5 awesome things about the 40s and 50s

I’m definitely a retro lover, as you’ve probably already realised. History interests and excites me, and I have made love for a lot of things about the past.

A lot of things. But not all the things.

Recently I got myself a couple of issues of a vintage and retro magazine called Glory Days. It’s a very good read. But I have a problem with the title, and with the attitude that’s so frequently expressed of “[historical era of choice] is amazing, I wish I was back there!”

Do you? Do you really?

Yes, there are wonderful things about past times. But there are also plenty of things that make me *very* glad I live now, not then. Today, I wanted to look at the good things. Next time, we’ll look at the bad.

The Good:

1) Make do and mend. 

Clothes have gotten much cheaper over the years, but only financially. The cost to underpaid workers in other countries, to child labourers, to people living in de facto slavery, is very high. They pay with their lives.

When clothes were more expensive, and fabric harder to come by, people took better care of their clothes. You didn’t just throw things out if they got a hole. You mended them. You made them last.

I’m not a fan of disposable fashion, because it encourages corporations who believe that people are disposable. Less clothes, better cared for and made ethically- it’s pretty straightforward. It doesn’t just benefit the people making them. It benefits us. More space in the wardrobe. More money in the bank because we’re not spending it all on things we don’t need, that won’t last. But it requires us ALL to learn how to make do and mend.

It also gives you a reason to save up a bit more money, and buy investment pieces- clothes you know you’ll be wearing for a long time to come.

2) Actual, useful skills taught in school.

Cooking. Sewing. Mental arithmetic (not going through your maths class with a calculator permanently attached to your hand). Even PE (Phys Ed, for US readers) is on its way out. Now admittedly, cooking and sewing were girls’ subjects (and we’ll come on to that issue in part 2), but teaching young people how to cook proper meals, how to mend (see above) their clothes, and make their OWN clothes, how to do the maths they will use all the time as an adult (because we all have to manage money)- these are things that would stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives.

3) No credit cards.

Yes, I know, I know. Credit cards have their place. If you are in a position to pay them off in full every month, and stay within the limits of what you can pay for, they’re great. But for my grandparents, if you couldn’t afford something, you didn’t buy it until you could. Or you just didn’t buy it at all. Now, you buy it on your credit card and the bank (or the credit card company) gets rich. This idea that we have a right to have things immediately, that we shouldn’t wait, is dangerous. There are many, many people drowning in credit card and other debt, because of it. What’s wrong with waiting and saving up? The payoff after the anticipation, of finally having the thing you were after, is pretty great.

4) The fashion.

I mean come ON. Clothes designed for women with curves. Underwear designed to make the clothes look amazing. Elegance. Fun. HATS.

5) Readily available yarn and fabric.

It used to be a lot easier to get materials to craft. Wool shops were all over the place. Most big department stores had a fabric department. A big one. As a kid, I remember going into John Lewis with my Mum, and walking through the ground floor, which was almost entirely fabric shop. Nowadays there are only a few chains (only one chain store in New Zealand sells fabric) that sell craft supplies and a few other shops in cities, or in larger towns if you’re lucky, and if you know where to look.

And what crafter wouldn’t want to be able to get their craft on more easily?

Join me next time for a breakdown of some of the stuff that should stay buried.

F*** the patriarchy: a message to men who want to craft

To all the men out there who want to craft,

We see you. You watch how we knit. You look at craft shops. You ask us what that is that we’re doing. Occasionally you confuse embroidery and crochet. And we know that if you were given the chance, you could make great things just like we do.

The problem, of course, is that you’ve been told your entire lives that crafting- at least, the crafts that don’t involve wood or welding or leather- are something women do. It’s reinforced even by women. And you’ve been told that anything ‘feminine’ is somehow weak, ‘unmanly’, that you’re less of a person if you, as a man, try it love it, do it.

It’s not true. And this is one of the many ways the patriarchy is hurting you. It tells you that there are ‘women’s’ things and ‘men’s’ things, and it locks you into a pigeonhole based on what’s between your legs.

But you have a choice. You can let it lock you into your rigidly constricted role, or you can break out of it. You can pursue your interests, regardless of whether your Grandma or your Grandad was the one who used to do what you want to do. You can ignore the haters.

Feminism, which you may well have been taught to look on with fear and suspicion, is on your side in this. As a feminist, I want to see a world where men and women are equal, and free to go after whatever aspirations they have for what they want to do, to be, to learn, without being told that their gender is a reason not to do it. I want to see a world where men AND women can have a go at the crafts I love.

Imagine it-

Knitting groups made up of all genders, all bonding over a shared love of their craft.

Men proudly showing off the shirt they sewed themselves at work- or indeed the dress!

Men and women both busying themselves creating handmade gifts for loved ones.

Guys complaining about the girlfriend sweater curse.

Expectant fathers preparing for the arrival of a new baby by making clothes and quilts for them, and later scrapbooking photos of their family.

Men frantically hiding the new stash they just bought because they weren’t supposed to buy any more yarn.

Complaining they don’t have enough time to finish all their Christmas crafting.

Admittedly it would make yarn sales all the more cutthroat, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay.

Crafters need feminism. EVERYBODY needs feminism. But most especially the people who think that they can’t do something just because of their gender. We’re here to tell you that actually, yes, you can.

And you should.

 

Twenty one COMPLETELY VALID reasons to buy more stash *

1) You just got paid.

2) You’re getting paid tomorrow and you’re worried it won’t be there when you come back.

3) Your friend talked you into it.

4) Your friend tried to talk you out of it but you think she/he secretly just wants it for themselves.

5) It was on sale.

6) It might go on sale and then it will sell out.

7) It accidentally jumped into your hand at the store and now you can’t put it down.

8) It accidentally jumped into your online shopping cart and you accidentally clicked on ‘check out’, and you don’t want the web people at the other end to judge you for being indecisive.

9) You need it for a project.

10) You might need it for a project.

11) You don’t need it for a project, and wouldn’t it be good to have at least SOME materials that aren’t already earmarked?

12) You’re on holiday. Holiday purchases don’t count.

13) You’re going on holiday and you want to make sure you take enough crafting with you.

14) You’re on a day trip in a new town.

15) The craft store *just* opened.

16) The craft store is independent and you want to make sure to support it.

17) It’s just so soft/so beautiful.

18) You’re trying a new craft and you need supplies.

19) You’re getting your mojo back on a craft you already do, and some new materials would TOTALLY motivate you.

20) You just want to buy yourself something pretty, OK?

21) If you stuff it in a pillow, there’s totes room for it in your house.

BONUS REASONS

22) You were worried your existing stash was getting lonely with nothing new for it to play with.

23) You didn’t buy it, you swear the stash is multiplying when you’re not looking.

You’re welcome.

*I have used at least half of these.

What third place in a knitting contest taught me about judgement

You know how it goes.

Yes, even if you’ve never entered a competition in your life. Maybe you’ve watched one, like ‘The Great British Bake Off’ or ‘Project Runway’.

That end-product you entered that you thought was great? Something else was better. Someone else tells you so.

In my case it was a third place certificate in a village knitting contest. Yes, I entered one once. It was even for the village fair! How trad can you get?

I was beaten by (if I recall correctly), a baby jumper. I had made a lace shawl. A simple one (the Tuscany Shawl by Amy Singer, since you ask), but still, a lot of work.

Of course I was disappointed to come in third. But the important thing is, it was still a good finished piece. It was still pretty. The work was still the work. Sure, I could have started telling myself that this was proof I wasn’t as good as other people.

But I didn’t.

You have to be very careful about whose judgements you pay attention to. Whether it’s judgement of something you’ve made, or of your abilities, or, well, anything.

Even if a person knows the subject, even if they have more experience than you- it doesn’t mean they know YOU. And it doesn’t mean they’re using the same criteria you would.

So don’t beat yourself up.