Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Birth of Hosea: Leaving Birth Work: Lessons from Laboring

In the days that followed, we basked in the feeling that God had protected us. Still shell-shocked by what had unfolded, I could only be grateful for the pieces that could have gone wrong, but didn't. We went over and over the details we were grateful for: the kindness of nurses, the compassion showed by doctors, the well-being of our son, the mere chance (an oversight, really) by which we avoided NICU (not by need, but by policy), the incredible support we received from our community. We fired the midwife and learned what it was like to heal from abdominal surgery without any postpartum care. I was grateful for everything I knew about the physiology of bonding and I catered to it all. It took weeks, maybe months for the grief, disappointment, anger, questions to rise above the numbness.

I had hoped laboring would show me I was strong, but I learned I was weak. I wanted to learn that my body was capable, but I learned what it felt like to need help. I wanted to learn what pure, joyous love felt like, but it took two full weeks for me to feel the bone-aching, teeth-cracking love of motherhood. I hoped that the birth of my son would bring me back to birth work, a path I had taken some time off from.

Instead, my experience with this midwife may have ensured that I never do birth work again.
It's tempting to say that the midwife we hired was a cruel and uncaring person, but I don't actually believe she is. Perhaps this is all projection, but what has been hardest to come to terms with when I reflect on her behavior is that I think I can identify with it. I don't know what inspired this midwife to act the way she did, but I am quite sure it had very little to do with us. I recognize some of (though not to that severity) behavior in myself... feeling paralyzed in potential conflict, not feeling able to claim my own opinions, freezing or remaining silent out of fear of displeasing, wanting to project my own short comings onto others, to make other people pull the weight of my fears. 
 We all have bad days, days of self doubt, when our darkest parts rear their ugly heads and we forget the tools we have to overcome them. We take it out on our loved ones, ourselves, cars in traffic, people at the grocery store. We might slack off at work and feed the kids take out. And we get over it, we apologize, we go on about our week. Her bad day, her weakness, her blunders, they were just another day of work for her. One botched birth out of hundreds she has attended. But that one job for her was a monumental experience for my family. It was how our child came into this world. Her actions turned what would have been, on its own, an extremely difficult labor, into a trauma. Because of her, I had anxiety attacks whenever I left the house for the first 6 months of my child's life. Because of her, I might not get to have any more children. And, because of her, I no longer have any sense of vocation. It's not that I love birth less, or that I am more afraid of birth. I still believe birth is usually normal and can usually unfold at home, without intervention. 

In my years of studying birth, people would occasionally tell me that the idea of "holding lives in their hands" was too intimidating. That never felt true to me until now. I realize now that midwives, birth workers, OBs... they do hold lives in their hands. But it's far beyond the beating heart or breath in a body. A baby can be well and a life still wrecked by the actions of a caregiver. My loss of vocation comes from the realization that midwives hold stories in their hands. The stories they create are what parents carry forward into their lives, their parenthood, what their children carry with them. That is a huge responsibility. One I'm not sure I am ready for yet, perhaps not ever.
One way I grieved was to remember all the birth stories I had heard from families who loved their care providers. How many of those stories had I cringed at because they contained unnecessary, even unkind interventions? But these families loved their care providers, never questioning them, because they were kind and the family felt supported. I felt the midwives got away with putting their clients in jeopardy by being kind. Now, I find myself a little jealous. How different could my story have been, under the same circumstances, had my family been treated differently? What if I felt like my midwife saved me, instead of traumatized me?

As useful as that exercise might be to me as a birth worker, though, it isn't helpful to me as a parent. Wondering what might have been different doesn't change what happened. Finding all the ways my midwife was responsible for my family's trauma doesn't make my family less responsible for its own healing. I don't know if I will ever forgive my midwife (and I still pray I don't run into her at the grocery store), but I don't need to forgive her to move forward.

The most surprising thing about being a parent? (People ask me this all the time). I learned that there is life after birth trauma. I know that sounds simple, maybe even obvious, but it wasn't to me, until I had my son.
I didn't really expect I would get a baby out of my c-section. I blame that, mostly, on the sleep deprivation, but I think I also sort of believed that, if I didn't have a good birth, I wouldn't experience parenthood. But, I did get a baby. And though, in retrospect, I understand that I struggled with bonding for the first 2 weeks, I did bond with him. Fiercely. I get up and care for him every day and every day he does something (or a million somethings) that make my heart burst and I wonder how I managed to win the lottery of life and get to be his mother.

It's been one year since my labor and his birth and I have come a long way. I am rarely haunted by flashbacks anymore. I still shake when I talk about his birth. I don't have anxiety attacks when I go to the store. I still cannot say that I gave birth. My partner and I have experienced the typical ups and downs in the transformation of parenthood. All the ups feel like victories and validations. All the downs are still haunted by the accusations of the midwife. They are heavier than they need to be. I am sharing this story a year later to release the demons that still haunt me: the shame and fear, especially around my experience with this midwife. I cannot change my birth story, but I am ready to claim the good memories. I am ready to remember the protection and gratitude I felt during those early days. I am ready to claim a story of resiliency for my son and my family. It is a practice, which telling this story is a part of. We are practicing resiliency- understanding that healing will never fix what happened, but will help us feel whole, help us feel enough. Enough for each other. Enough for our son.

The Birth of Hosea: Day Five

This is the only photo I have from the day Hosea was born. The rest of the post will be only words, as I cannot imagine what photographs would feel appropriate to space out these words.

A year ago today, I was given a hesitant countdown: "a couple more hours for your body to dilate that last centimeter, or we need to consider other options."

I swallowed hard, my partner locked eyes with me: "this is the time for prayer, ok?"
I allowed myself to fall back into sleep, and let the clock watch me.
2am came quickly and I prepared myself for the news that my cervix, after so many hours, was still holding fast to its edge. 

I liked this doctor. He wasn't condescending or dismissive. Neither did he sugar coat information or evade my questions in order to placate me. He was respectful and thoughtful and attentive. I prepared myself to negotiate the terms of a cesarean with him. The doctor's face brightened as he withdrew his gloved hand. 10cm.
My eyes welled with tears and my heart leapt as I thanked God for answering my prayers.
More rest. I was grateful for any more time to let the epidural drugs wear off, to let my baby get ready to be born.

Then, I pushed in all the ways I knew better than to push: Eyes-bulging, blood-vessel-popping, hernia-inducing, purple pushing. I didn't care about the consequences to my body. 1 hour, 2. Nurses praised me, and suggested I take breaks. No. Harder. Longer. I heard the nurses telling my support team to look at the head. One position, another. I pulled on the squat bar to keep my hips elevated over my rubbery legs. 3 hours, 4. Shift change. New nurse. New doctor. 5 hours. I tried not to look at the clock, focusing instead on the sensation of trying to move a whole person through me. I felt this little person shift within me, wiggle shoulders, a head.

"You have been pushing a long time, but your baby is doing fine. Let's try one last position?"
The instant my body's weight shifted to my side, the hot pain of 2 days prior came slicing through me again. Unprepared, I cried out, shaking, unable to shift my weight back alone. A flurry of nurses.  More epidural, lidocaine, locked eyes, coached breathing. I was sure my legs would be sliced ribbons by this pain.

My partner took my hands and our eyes welled with tears. I knew that our journey to birth was over and I couldn't say it out loud. "I know." I said. "I know." She kissed me.
"I've reconsidered a lot of my opinions midwifery because of this." The midwife said, as she stood at the foot of my bed, preparing to leave. She came closer and looked into my eyes: "I love you." She said, before she left.
It was 2 days later that I learned of the nasty things she said in dark corners and behind closed doors.

I watched florescent lights pass overhead through teary eyes. I was almost unaware of the entourage that came with my bed to the operating room. 

In a tangle of sheets, they lifted me from the bed to the operating table. Cold Hard Narrow Steel. Like something they put dead bodies on, I thought.

A spinal block, extra IV ports, do I consent to a blood transfusion, if necessary? O-, I kept saying, just to make sure they knew. O-.

Masks, hairnets, paper gowns. "It's me." My love had to tell me, as she took her place by my head.
"Do you feel that? Do you feel this?" Tugging, pinching, burning smell. I drifted in and out of consciousness.

"Do you hear that?" My partner asked, and I jerked myself awake. Squalling. Baby squalling. I hadn't even realized they had started the surgery. But, sure enough, over the sound of the vacuum emptying my womb of blood and fluid, over the clinking of instruments, a baby let out jagged, shocked cries.
In and out of consciousness. Tugging, sucking, pinching. More burning smells. Skin. That's my body being burned, I realized.

"Do you want him on your chest?"
"Yes" I knew that was what I was supposed to say. Gloved hands unwrapped his little body and held him to me. His big, grey eyes were wild and his mouth searched for me. He nursed while I was sewn shut.

We had planned to wait a few days to name him, but we both knew his name immediately. Hosea: God is help. His middle name, he would share with his great grandmother, who passed just 2 weeks before. 

That night, it snowed.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Birth of Hosea: Day Four

On this day, one year ago, the sun rose again and I found myself surrounded by eyes. Sitting in my tub, I felt like a seal in a tank at Sea World. My friend spooned honey into my mouth in between contractions, my partner held my hands. The air was electric, tense, and I knew we were at a cross roads.
"Do you think I need to go?" I asked
"No," the midwife said.
"You're so strong." My love told me
"You're so tired" the midwife said
"I believe in you."
"I'm worried about you."
"You can do this."
"You could rest...".

Terrified. Relieved. I folded.

The car ride to the hospital was the longest I've ever been on. I writhed in the back seat of our car, hugging the headrest, moaning into my partner's shoulder. The lazy traffic of an early Sunday morning passed us on the highway and I watched the woman in the car behind us. Could she see me? Could she imagine the story that this little box of steel was transporting? How could this just be a normal day for all of these people?

The hospital was grey and quiet. Though I had been to births in hospitals before, I think a part of me still expected the commotion of a movie scene. Nurses and doctors fussing over me as they whisk me through the hospital doors. But, it was just us: the midwife, the friend, the partner, and the crazy-looking pregnant woman with sopping wet hair tied clumsily to her head, wrapped in pajamas and sweats and jackets and blankets. And the security guard who insisted we register for ID tags, while the midwife shut the elevator door in his face.

They say there are actually 3 responses to danger and threat: fight, flight, and befriend. Trading my home for a hospital, the very insitution that I had spent years learning how to avoid, was not safe and I knew that I could not survive whatever would happen next alone. I lathered our midwife with undeserved compliments and gratitude. The nurses and CNMs were kind and sympathetic and I thanked them as many times as I was able. I accepted almost every intervention they asked my permission to do. It was easy. I had already given up having a safe, natural birth. There was little more to give away. I needed support, kindness, validation more than I needed autonomy. And, truthfully, I needed some of these interventions too. I felt as if I were watching a movie of a labor and I watched as the mother need the interventions that are overused and abused by care providers. I learned what useful intervention looked like. I saw what the cost was. But that mother couldn't be me, because I knew better. And this mother didn't care.

Hours ticked by. Shifts changed over. My labor unfolded as if in some other room, behind closed doors. I would awake to a nurse or a doctor asking me a question, giving me information, and I would choose What To Do Next with this mysterious labor that was unfolding, unseen by me. "No more epidural, yes pitocin." "No more pitocin, yes more antibiotics." "Yes, more pitocin, no, absolutely no, internal monitor." It was like a game that I played with no hope of an ending.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Birth of Hosea: Day Three

One year ago today, I turned 27 years old.

The daylight felt harsh against my tired eyes and my body couldn't get warm. I shivered in my wool sweaters and turned the heat up to 90. The heavy blanket that my labor had been yesterday began to feel tight, suffocating. My anxiety grew into a tightening in my gut, knowing that things could not continue as they were, but feeling utterly helpless to do anything about it. The midwife came and settled herself in, deciding without a word that today would be the day. My contractions were long and irritated, demanding attention, but in all the wrong ways. My feet ached from walking for days. I longed to rest. I sensed the growing worry in the house and, feeling defeated, I fought the sinking feeling in my gut I was disappointing everyone.

This was when I gave up. I gave away my intuition, my ownership of my body, my power. I knew the risks of what I consented to and I consented anyway. I learned, in that moment, that support and the threat of its absence is the greatest weapon a birth worker has. She never argued, never insisted, never cajoled or threatened. But the message was clear: I didn't have to follow her prescription, but if I rejected it, I rejected her support. She would sit there in silence, allowing my partner's confidence and comprehension to continue to erode, allowing me to continue to flip through my textbooks, too discombobulated to remember anything I had learned about labor and birth over the past several years.
I couldn't do this alone. I looked into the worried eyes of my exhausted partner. I looked into the depths of myself and, finding no resiliency, I broke.
Yes, fine, any of it, do it.

I don't remember the contractions, just the hot, slicing nerve pain that shot down my legs. The emotionless, blank eyes of the midwife staring.
The night was long. I would lose consciousness, while standing, between each contraction and I would have to catch myself each time, before I collapsed. Twice, I saw the midwife arranging her kit and I knew she thought I was near. Both times she was wrong.
"I'm never doing this again!" I croaked to my partner as a contraction subsided, not because I meant it, but because I couldn't think of any words to convey how it felt to be in my body.

"You're so close, my love."
"No, she isn't."

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Birth of Hosea: Day Two

A year ago today, I watched as morning dawned again. A cold front had come in and the clean sunlight and bright leaves of the day before were replaced with an overcast sky and frigid air. My contractions continued as they had the night before. They felt lazy and whiney rather than demanding. We ate quietly, sleepily, planning the day ahead cautiously. My labor felt like a heavy blanket over the day, keeping us still and reserved. 

I retreated to the bedroom again, to privacy, hoping to keep my mind from distracting my body. I remember the quiet conversations between my partner and my friend as they sat at the dining room table. I smiled to myself, thinking it felt like Thanksgiving, to hear them together, to feel their love.
The midwife came with suggestions of things I could take to make my body contract. I declined. She left. The acupuncturist, who cared for me as I tried to conceive this baby and during my pregnancy, came and sat with me, turning needles into tender spots. Contractions came and went without promise of rhythm or regularity. Prodromal labor, it's called.

Evening brought low spirits, a hushed, unspoken anxiety. 2 nights without sleep already and I was still unable to lie down. The midwife came and went again, taking with her, my resolve to let my body and my baby lead my labor. I resigned myself to the regiment of herbs to make my womb contract. I sent everyone off to bed again and sat in the night.
In the very early hours of the morning, my partner woke. Having exhausted the "safe" use of herbs without much success, I was losing confidenence. "Let's do this" she told me, taking me by the hand. We lit candles, put on music, and went through all of my midwifery textbooks for things we could do to help my body welcome labor. She held me and we danced in the dark. She wrote down every song that played in a little book, so she would remember the soundtrack of our baby's birth. I had never known I could love someone so deeply. What a great preparation for parenthood, I remember thinking, to fall in love all over again.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Birth of Hosea. Day One.

At 12:30 in the morning, exactly one year ago, I awoke in the dark to the ache in my back that I had become accustomed to in pregnancy. Placing my hands around my great belly to guide it, I rolled over to my other side. As I did, I felt a distinct *pop* between my legs. My eyes flew open and I held my breath. As if in a movie, I placed an arm on my partner to wake her, uttering the timeless phrase: "Honey, I think my water just broke". Sure enough, as I heaved my heavy body to its feet, I felt a great flood of water drop from within me and I heard it hit the floor with a surprisingly loud crash.

This wasn't how it was supposed to be: A full week before my due date, no hint of impending labor, but there was no question that this would be "it". A trickle of water, a small leak, that could repair itself and I could continue to gestate, but not this. This would not repair. Our baby would come soon.
A call to the midwife, a call to our friend who was supposed to fly in on my due date, and I settled back into bed, shaking with adrenaline hoping, hoping to get rest before labor started.

 The baby moved gently within me, telling me they were well. By the wee hours of the morning, the gentle tightening of my womb strengthened and I could no longer lie down. I squatted on the birth ball by our bay window, head resting on cloth diapers piled there, and watched the sun come up.
That day, I felt strong.

Our friend arrived on a last minute flight, I ate small meals and felt the comfortable flurry of preparation around me. My partner glowed. I retreated to the bedroom mostly, noticing that contractions stayed strongest and closest together when I was alone.

The midwife came and went, our friend made dinner and we enjoyed it together, quietly, full of anticipation. I sent everyone off to bed, knowing that they would need rest for what was to come. I turned off the lights and lit a fire in the fireplace. My contractions strengthened, lengthened, and came closer together. 4-6 minutes apart for a few hours, requiring breathing and gentle moaning. The cusp between early and active labor. I filled the birth tub with water boiled on the stove. I felt sure I would wake my love in the early hours of the morning for support. "Please sleep," I told her, whenever she would wake. "I'll need you."
I remember the sound of the fire, the wind outside. I remember a deep feeling of calm as I rode my contractions in the dark.
Then, like a switch had flipped somewhere inside me, the contractions nearly stopped. Every 10-20 minutes, one would pass over me, weaker than before. An invitation to rest, I assumed, remembering the wisdom of so many birth workers to sleep whenever your body lets you. But upon laying down, contractions would feel like knives from within me, taking my breath, restricting my movement, doubling up on each other... I had the distinct feeling that it wasn't the right kind of pain. My body or my baby could not handle lying down, so I knelt on the couch, my head resting on the back cushions, swaying back and forth, waiting for morning to come.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Reflections on Slow Fashion October and new projects resulting from it.

I dropped the ball on posting the last two weeks of Slow Fashion October. It wasn't because I didn't have things to share, it was because my son's nasty cold/virus/teething mess lasted a full 2.5 weeks, ending right before Halloween.
My little Pileated Woodpecker on his first Halloween!
Slow Fashion October has left me with a lot of thing the sort through and inspired some decisions that I want to share. I've walked away with two sets of "tensions", I think I will call them: 2 good ideals that need to coexist, but require opposing action... or an action that could shift easily to represent 2 very different values. The first that has come up for me in this month is the idea of a capsule wardrobe/quality materials/ethical practices vs. using what I have/mending/wearing out/making do. Both are important pieces, but they often look really different and can compete to be the representing principle for our decisions, our actions. The second, is this tension I feel between integrity and a disguised consumerism... even idolatry. It's that first tension I want to focus on in this post, though certainly these tensions intermingle.

A pair of pants I cannot let go of. I inherited these pants from the Cool Older Sister of a friend in early high school. They represented some vague, seemingly unattainable essence of... Effortlessness. Nonchalance. Too-Cool-For-School-or-Fashion. I was a steward of these pants for many years, stitching my own fabric on top of her's, writing my own favorite song lyrics in the spots where her's faded. Then, I got older and my style and taste changed. I no longer feel great in these pants, but I can't let go of them either. The patches are my history: scraps from old clothing, scraps from other projects. I see the patch of fabric that I made my first serious girlfriend a bag out of. I see fabric that belonged to my mother. I have a secret hope that a child of mine might discover these in the scrap pile during their teen years and see the same potential in them that I did. A big dream, perhaps, but one I can't let go of.

 Using what we have, mending, wearing out. It is so easy not to do these things in modern society. In fact, many companies have made these practices near impossible: Our cars are full of little plastic bits and computer chips, requiring us to bring them in to the shop, rather than fixing them in our driveways. Small machine/small engine repair is near non-existant. If your blender breaks, good luck getting it repaired. It is easier, cheaper, often necessary to go to Wal-Mart and buy a new one. When it comes to our clothes, we have a bit more control, it just requires some adjusting of skill and expectation. Still, much of the clothing that can be bought nowadays is so flimsy that mending is near impossible. This same clothing is what now saturates our thrift stores, meaning that buying second hand often means you are only saving clothing from the garbage for a few extra months, rather than adding long term fixtures to your wardrobe.

My teenage obsession with Ani DiFranco is still legible on these pants, and perhaps appropriate to this post: "We get a little further from perfection every year on the road. I think it's called character, I think that's just the way it goes. It's better to be dusty than polished like some store window mannequin. Touch me where I'm rusty, let me stain your hands."

And, let's be realistic about societal expectations. As much as we may want to buck all of societal pressure to bend to consumerist practices, many people have job to keep and we can't show up in tattered jeans and stained linen tops. We also want our clothing to represent us to the world. My work on Queer Closets helped me shift my perspective on this cultural practice we engage in. Would living in a world where no one is judged or categorized by what they chose to wear be better? More fair and kind? Maybe. But we live in a big world with a lot of different people, ideas, communities. It's easy to feel lost and lonely. We desire shared life with people we share values with an so we move in the world in ways that we hope make ourselves recognizable to those people. We see this in religious traditions, we see this in queer communities, we see this in our knitting/making communities. When I chose how I want to present myself, I am choosing the way I engage with the world around me. I am, consciously or not, attracting some people and repelling others. Fitting in some communities, standing out in out in others. I am always making a statement, regardless of my intention. I am also engaging my body and how I feel in it. As a woman-identified person, it is an inherently radical action when I chose to do that in a way that is pleasing to me.

There are times to make or buy new things and, when it is time to do that, I really desire to make and buy things that will last a long time. This means I want to feel good in them and look good in them. I means I want them to be made with materials that will last. Ideally, these materials would be produced in a sustainable way, or recycle something, thus keeping it out of a landfill. And so, I have options: use fabric from my stash or buy recycled or sustainably sourced materials. As a birthday treat/SFO splurge, I've made two recent purchases: First, the 3 yards of linen from Jessica that I mentioned before. Second, 1200 yards of this lovely yarn from a small farm in West Virginia. It is a blend of Bluefaced Leicester, Romney, Coopworth, and a touch of Merino. It was a splurge, but it was also a steal. Honestly, it was less than the Quince and Co. Lark or Elsawool worsted that I had been resisting the temptation to buy, but it originated much closer to home and came from the sweetest ladies at our local Fiber Fair. A worthy splurge.

Buying beautiful stuff from producers I like is always fun and inspiring, but is buying ethically produced material really more ethical than using the stuff I already have in front of me? I don't think so (though my inner consumerist wants it to be). I am making an early New Years Resolution to make-down my stash, hopefully, until it's pretty much gone.This will be much easier for my knitting than it will for my sewing.

The thing is, about my stash, is that it isn't serving me. I own a lot of fabric, mostly cottons in lovely prints, but most of it is not stuff that serves me and my wardrobe. I would buy a yard or two of fabric I like, which amounts to a lot of money spent, a lot of space used, and not a lot of garments for me. So, what do I do with all of this fabric? Well, that brings me to my other big decision: I am going to turn it into things to sell.

For many years, I have dreamed of starting my own line of children's clothes. I want to combine my picky taste with my love for pint sized clothing and commitment to sustainable materials and I want to share the results. But, honestly, now is not the time. I don't have the time to design and sew an entire line of clothing, nor do I have the resources to start such an endeavor. Maybe someday. What I do have is an entire collection of lovely snippets of fabric and the time to design and make small things: accessories and, perhaps some toys. In an effort to kick the Hoarding Habit and support my family, I can offer people beautiful handmade items that are made with careful craftmanship. I can also promise that no extra materials (save some thread) were purchased to make these, which means that, without the cost of organic certification or sustainable labor, I can promise you aren't supporting the creation of new materials at a cost to the environment or human welfare.

I'm starting with bonnets, as the weather is cooling and babies need some warming. I will expand from there, as I am  able. I would be so honored if you would support me in this endeavor.

Presenting: LittlePennycress

Saturday, October 24, 2015

October in beeswax

As much as I find myself clinging to the last weeks of my son's infancy, I am already throwing myself forward into his childhood. I will see a craft or a project and think: I want to do that with Hosea! How can I manage to remember this 3 (5, 10,15...) years from now??
When I just can't wait, I sometimes do it anyway, telling myself that modeling a life of handwork is important too ;)

And sometimes the perfect time to do a craft is when your baby has been sick for a week and a half and your haven't slept in just as long and none of the dishes are done and you are really behind on Being An Adult. Yes, that is the perfect time for a messy project.

Because in the midst of exhaustion and tending to the crankiest, clingiest baby on the planet, sometimes you need to feel like a person again... and doing laundry, much as it needs to be done, never helps me feel like a person. So? Messy crafting it is.

 It is the perfect time of year for this sort of thing, after all.

With Amanda's and Jessica's recent craft projects on my mind and a bar of local beeswax waiting in my apothecary, I strapped my sickypoo on my  back and set about collecting things to dip in beeswax.

Before I get into the process, I feel I should make a social media parenting disclaimer: my cranky baby who refuses sleep did not sit serenely by me as I did this. I had my wife put him in the car and drive him around for an hour so he would sleep!

So, I invited J* to join me for craft hour and he begrudgingly agreed (oh, he doea humor me and my hairbrained ideas).

I had chopped up a pound of beeswax the day before and put it in an old, irregularly sized cake pan that I rarely use. I put it in a 400 degree oven, stirring occasionally, until it was all melted. I carried this OUTSIDE (because I didn't want to spend all night scraping wax off the floor) and placed it ontop of clean newspaper.

Leaves are easy and J enjoyed using a clothes pin to dip the leaves into the hot wax. We shook them gently as we pulled them out, to keep wax from hardening into drops on the leaves.

The other thing I wanted to make was un-plastic wrap. You know, waxed cloth to wrap sandwiches or cheese in to keep it fresh. This was trickier. I don't have photos of this part because it required more attention to timing and a faster pace. J was bored with me by this point, so I was on my own.

 It's a simple concept, dip fabric in wax, wax hardens. But, you want to ensure the wax doesn't cake on too thickly, or it will crumble off and the fabric won't be as malleable. This mean, you want to pull it out fast and try to shake the wax off before it hardens, while making sure the fabric doesn't fold over and stick to itself.

The bees wanted their wax back!

You can see that I wasn't super successful with this. The wax hardens quickly, once out in the air, which meant that it kind of pooled at the edges. I think a larger vessel would have helped this because I wouldn't have had to scrunch the fabric up. For the larger squares, I actually put the pan back into the oven, which kept the wax totally liquefied until the fabric was saturated and ready to be removed.

A little stiffer than I'd like, but it still works!

I let the leftover wax dry in the pan and I'm saving it for future projects. No prep needed, just throw it right in the oven!

Now, what to do with the leaves? I love the mobile that Jessica did with painted oak leaves, so I went about making a ring for the frame.

We live in the shadow of some big black walnut trees and, when they drop their leaves, the leaf decomposes faster than the petiole, leaving them littering our yard. I wrapped them in bunches to make a ring (and Hosea "helped").
The rest is pretty self-explanatory. I used the same hemp twine to make a make the hoop into a hanger. Then, I strung the leaves onto thread and tied them to the hoop.

It now hangs in the bay window in our bedroom and makes me supremely happy. Of course, this did not use all of the leaves, so maybe J will need one for his bedroom too. And maybe one in the kitchen? Maybe if I just dip the month of October in besswax, I can keep it in my house year round.

*My partner and I are "Alternative Family Living Home" providers. This means that our family, under State supervision, provides a non-institutional home and care for a member of our community who is unable to live independently. "J" has lived with us for 2 years now. While I have his parents' permission to share photos and stories on social media, I feel I am always walking a difficult line of wanting to respect his right to privacy while also wanting to include him in the depictions of our life. He is a big part of it, after all.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

(un)LOVED and (un)WORN: working with what I have.

Have you seen this? I came across this a few weeks ago and it was that moment when someone takes all the things that swim around in my mind and makes a really simple graphic of it and I realize that nothing I think about is very complicated at all. ::insert laughing emoji::

Do you need to hang this over your workspace? You can.

When I think about Slow Fashion October, I think buying small and making intentionally. I think of quality materials and wearing things for a long time and finding A Look that can work for me for a long time, so I am not constantly having to "update it". I also realize that it is really easy for me to turn this into an excuse to buy new clothes, buy new yarn, buy new fabric.

Have you seen Georgetown by Hannah Fetting? I need it. Have you seen this new tunic from Samantha Lamb? I need it. And oh! I just remembered SewLiberated... the Clara Dress... the Schoolhouse Tunic... all classic shapes that look good on me that are also nursing-friendly. Yes, yes, I need them all. Quickly. Now, even. Can I knit and sew them fast enough that I won't grow bored with them when the next new pattern book comes out? Oh, consumerism. You insidious beast.

It seems that I need to mash up Slow Fashion October with Stashless. They are sister-ideas, are they not? (and I know I have already mentioned the Woolful podcast where these two come together in one glorious podcast).

The thing is, I have noticed that, as I learn more about the impact of the fashion/clothing industry (<-- a great intro to this topic), my tastes change. Much in the same way my tastes changed when I learned that a tomato fresh off my neighbor's vine in August will taste way better than the one wrapped in plastic in my grocery store in February, my taste for material has been changing. The squooshy, slippery, bright superwash yarn I used to pet longingly just doesn't catch my eye in the same way, likewise for fabrics. I think ultimately, this is a good thing because I am less tempted by the walls of fabric at Jo-Ann's when I go to buy thread, in the same way that I am not particularly tempted by the clothing section at Wal-Mart. Unfortunately, it also means that the small stash of craft supplies that I have accumulated over the past 10 years falls a little short of inspiring me also. It's not just that the materials aren't what I would maybe pick now- I can still appreciate the beauty in a skein of Madelinetosh yarn, it's more that, as I think more about what I am willing to spend money on, I am starting to understand the difference between the things I like and the things that fit me (physically and in terms of my style). Shopping has always been hard for me because, once in the store, with all the well-dressed mannequins in front of me, I have trouble deciphering between what things I actually like for me, and what things I can appreciate as being presented well to me (that's what marketing is supposed to do- right?). Thanks to many people who give structure to the way one might think about these things, I am getting better at parsing these things out. I am also seeing that a lot of my stash is actually things that I just like or things that were a good deal, not things that really fit me.

My Taos Cardigan: something that seems like it should work, but doesn't quite. Maybe because my boobs outgrew it.

I am thinking of a few different ways to clear out my stash in the coming months, and one of those things is to figure out how to turn things that aren't me into things that are.

I think you see where I am going with this

Enter: natural dyeing.

Black walnuts sitting in water for a few days before putting them in the dye pot.

I know, everyone is doing it these days, and I sure am glad for that because it just isn't my thing. I WANT to love natural dyeing. I love plants and yarn, so why wouldn't I love taking plants and dyeing yarn with them? I think I am too much of a control freak. The idea of taking something known and voluntarily throwing it into a pot of unknown... some people call that magic, but I call it TERRIFYING. What if I hate it? What if it's unsalvageable? What if I took something perfectly fine and ruin it? BUT, the land we live on is littered with black walnuts, and I have 2 skeins of perfectly good undyed fingering weight yarn and it IS Slow Fashion October after all.... I challenged myself to try something new.

I simmered the walnuts, in their hulls, in the water for 30 minutes or so, strained the dye bath and added yarn to lukewarm water before slowly reheating it.

And while I was cooking up this dye bath, I came across this old sweater of mine. The yarn is some Debbie Bliss something that I found on megaclearance and I SWEAR in the store, it was brown. I don't know what Deal-Induced-Delusion I was under, or if the lighting in that store was really THAT bad, because this yarn is clearly, decidedly, aggressively PINK, which I quickly discovered upon taking it home. Unreturnable, and determined to salvage this purchase, I knit it into a Sibella Pullover, something sweet and feminine that could handle the pink. And it did! But, it didn't fit and I was not savvy enough of a knitter to know how to alter it to make it fit. So, I took on my first gauge modification and made it a Tea Leaves. I forced myself to wear it a few times, but... oh, it is so pink.

No, really, it was brown in the store

So, with just a little wincing and breath-holding, into the dye bath it went.

Guess what? Natural dyeing IS magic.

Fresh out of the rinse bath and onto the line to dry
 I had originally set into this thinking I would try to get a specific color, a rosy tan, perhaps. But, I realized that, if I didn't want to be disappointed in my first dye project, I should probably approach this with a curious heart. I should see what the thing the land was offering me had... to offer! Turns out, a lot.
Hosea is also impressed


I'm quite pleased with the results and I actually spent the whole day giddy about it. I took some things I didn't like and turned them into things I like better! I salvaged some of my stash!

Sweater post-die bath shown with a bonnet I knit in the same yarn, for contrast

sweater and bonnet again. the sweater is a darker brown than this washed out photo shoes.

Funny thing about the sweater: it turned out pretty much exactly the color I thought I was buying in the first place. Definitely brown, but a warm, pinky brown. A brown with a blush. And I'm quite sure it doesn't want to be this cardigan anymore. I applaud my first attempt at altering a pattern to fit my gauge, but there are a lot of things about it that make it one of the less likely things I will grab. I will frog it and it will become something more... fitting. The current top contender? A Sibella. Oh, how funny.

All The Brown (also pictured: some formerly white woolens I threw in at the last minute because, really, toddlers in white? I don't think so).