Thrifted yarn: (in which I contemplate unraveling, knitting, and redemption)

It’s been a long winter. A desperately long winter. A maddeningly long winter. A (re)learn-how-to-knit winter, because when it’s dark and dreary and snowy for days and weeks on end, there are only so many ways to keep from tumbling over the edge of rational existence.

Knitting helps.

Socks from thrifted sweater yarn (Photo: CKirgiss)
Socks from thrifted sweater yarn (Photo: CKirgiss)

But knitting – unlike me – is not cheap. So I am forced to thrift my yarn, which is to say that I rescue knitted things from the thrift store and then dismantle them into reknittable balls of lovely yarn.

Thrifted yarn (Photo: CKirgiss)
Thrifted yarn (Photo: CKirgiss)

The dismantling is neither fast nor easy.

These are the rules:

1. The knitted things must be worthy of dismantling. That is, they must be so out of style that they have no chance of being bought and worn. Or they must have a noticeable flaw – a big hole, a tragic snag, an irreparable run. Or they must be obviously unusable – a sweater shrunk to smithereens, a pair of socks stretched too large for Bigfoot, a winter scarf worn down to the weight of dragonfly wings – in other words broken, damaged, discarded. Knitted things in perfect condition are best left alone. They don’t want rescuing.

2. The knitted things must be the best of knitted things – “best” referring to how they are formed and made, not to their perceived social value – because only the best of knitted things can be dismantled, unravelled, and unmade with any success, for only the best of knitted things are formed with carefully shaped individual pieces held together with elegantly envisioned and precisely placed sinews.  Knitted things made from violently serged pieces that were cut from larger shapeless swaths are best left alone. They don’t want dismantling.

3. The knitted things must have redeeming qualities (in addition to redeemable faults: see #1). A beautiful color. A pleasing texture. A warm weight. A light caress. A workable thickness. Look beyond the ugly sweater, beyond the misshaped scarf, beyond the worn cap, beyond the tired skirt to see the underlying grace and inherent value. But beware: the most exclusive and haute couture knitted things, if made from stiff, stubborn, and abrasive threads, are best left alone. They don’t want disrupting.

Thrifted yarn (Photo: CKirgiss)
Thrifted yarn (Photo: CKirgiss)

I’ve become an expert unraveller of sorts, which is to say I’ve done a fair bit of unravelling this winter. All of that unravelling has set me to thinking.

These are the thoughts:

1. Unravelling hurts. If my rescued knits had feelings, there’d likely be a whole lot of crying, complaining, weeping, and whining going on. A whole lot. Because being unmade is neither easy nor natural nor fun. Being unmade is neither glamorous nor enchanting nor sexy. Being unmade is not something after which the masses clamor. Rather, being unmade is uncomfortable. Bothersome. Tedious. Humbling. Emptying. This being entirely unmade, piece by piece, row by row, stitch by stitch, thread by thread – entirely, thoroughly, completely unmade – is not the stuff of fairy tales.

2. Some things cannot be salvaged. The process of unmaking reveals things beyond repair. Things that must be cast aside. Things that must be left behind. Things that must be discarded.  Every now and then, the process of unmaking does more than simply reveal things beyond repair. Sometimes the process of unmaking leads to new unsalvageables. Sometimes a thread must be cut – completely severed – in order to unravel and salvage many other threads. Sometimes a whole section must be sacrificed – completely given up – in order for another section to be saved. If the standard unravelling causes discomfort, I suspect the necessary severing and the intentional sacrificing causes pain – deep, biting, shattering pain – that seems beyond surviving.

3. Glory! The uncomfortable, bothersome, tedious unravelling and the deep, biting, shattering pain are not lasting things. Rather, they are the early stages of transformation. The beginning of the new. The start of the grace. Going from broken, damaged, and discarded to beautifully remade requires more than simple rearranging and resorting. It requires restoration. Going from unmade to made new requires more than simple patching and repairing. It requires transformation, re-creation. From the bottom up. From the inside out.

And that is my life. My wholly broken life. My totally unravelled and thoroughly tangled life. My undeservedly, gently, lovingly recreated life.

I am broken, then rescued. Discarded, then chosen. Dismantled, then transformed. Unmade, then remade. Pruned, then sanctified. Dead, then alive.

I am created anew.

(Knitting is indeed a finely spun truth.)


What’s old is new

When you come from a long line of penny-pinching cost-saving repurposing thrifting immigrant farmers, it only makes sense that old suitcases become corner display units,old suitcases

old porch doors become vine trellises,

old porch door

old birch trees become coat trees,

old birch branch

old jars (not new jars that look like old jars) become canisters,

old jars

old barn rakes become shelves for other old things (and for the “R” surround-sound stereo speaker),

old barn rake

old bushes become living room art,

old branches

old windows become textile frames,

old window frame

old salon tables become corner kitchen desks,

old salon table

and old shed doors (with the help of a neighbor child and some crayons) become coffee tables.

old shed door

This inherent need to recover, refashion, repurpose, and remake things that I had absolutely no part of making in the first place is perhaps a tiny reflection of why the Maker of all . . . the Maker of me . . . is so set on recovering and remaking what He not only made but what He designed and fashioned with loving care.

What was lost is now found. What was broken is now whole. What was made is now remade.

And for that, the stars rejoice.

Not just another Sunday

When a Chicago girl marries a Minnesota boy and they live near Indianapolis, the NFL season is, well, challenging.

First because their teams are almost never on TV here.

Second because when their teams play each other twice a year, things get a little heated. Today, for example, the Minnesota boy is wielding a Vikings barbecue burger flipper so that he can “scrape the Bears off the floor” and “cook up some bear.”

That kind of thing.

Today is one of those bi-annual days of battle. The girl and boy are hunkered down at a sports grill where the food is grand, the crowd is loud, and the screen is larger than their kitchen wall.

The girl is wearing a 99-cent Bears ‘jersey’ from Goodwill that is really a Gap Kids XXL shirt that has a company slogan on the left chest.

The boy is wearing an old shirt while his legit NFL licensed #28 jersey hangs in his closet at home, protected with a plastic garment bag, tags still attached a year after acquisition.

She’s weirdly cheap like that.

He’s weirdly careful like that.

Their NFL loyalties are not the only thing that distinguishes them.

And yet more than 27 years after saying “I do,” they still watch the game together, cheering and jeering in turn. It’s a win-lose kind of day for them in the NFL but a win-win kind of life for people whose NFL loyalties are weirdly secondary to the things that really matter.



Writing an unlined life

Photo: CKirgiss
Homemade journals. **Details at bottom of post.

Confession: I’m a journal freak. A blank-book maniac. Whatever.

I like journals. I need journals. I crave journals. (And pens to go along with them. Lots of pens. Lots and lots of pens.)

Over the years (like every other journal-freak-blank-book-maniac-whatever) I’ve worked my way through more pages than I can count, shifting from composition books to sketch books to notebooks to whatever happens to be on sale.

In the process, I’ve learned there are only two non-negotiables for this slice of my life.

One: no lines. I want the freedom to write sideways, crossways, or diagonal; to doodle, sketch, or chart; to meander, march, or stall; to shout, chat, or whisper; in short, to write or draw in any direction and in any size I want. I totally get that lines help keep things straight and neat and orderly. Not interested. That’s what closet organizers are for. And calendar apps. Journals are for life, and life is usually unpredictable, messy, spontaneous, and slightly (or greatly) out of control. A journal is meant to reflect that, not cure it.

Two: sewn binding. I want to know that my pages aren’t going to fall out. (Journals are meant to reflect life’s messy spontaneity, not mimic it.) I want my pages to lay conveniently flat. (Just because I want the freedom to write up, down, sideways, and around doesn’t mean I want to write over the side of a tumbling paginated cliff or into a valley of stiff binder’s glue.) I want the comfort of knowing my pages are each connected to another page just across the row of signature stitches. (If journaling is an exercise in solitary discourse, it’s reassuring to know that the pages upon which the discourse lives are not themselves solitary but rather sewn permanently into a larger community.)

If this sounds weird or obsessive or (gasp) even a tad neurotic, well (cough), yep.

It is.

Too bad for me, unlined sewn-binding journals aren’t easy to come by. At least not if a person cares even just a little bit about style and flair and appearances. And cost. Which means there are actually two more non-negotiables for this slice of my life.

Three: looks matter. At least a little bit.

Four: cost matters. A lot.

Even more too bad for me, cheap, stylish, unlined, sewn-binding journals aren’t easy to come by. So I’ve started making my own.

If this sounds silly or time-consuming or (gasp) even a tad snobbish, well (cough), yep.

It is.

But it is also thrifty, rewarding, and even a tad delightful. Wrong. A ton delightful. Oh my, yes indeed.


Photo: CKirgiss

These journals are made from the boards of old, discarded, rejected Readers Digest Condensed Books. You can find them anywhere. Everywhere. Often for free. Free is good. Spines are made of Tyvek tape (right) and duck tape (left). People who know what they’re talking about say you should never use duck tape for this. I used it anyway. (And my needle got kind of sticky.) Innards are made of printer paper, folded, cut to size, sewn into place.

Photo: CKirgiss

These journals are made from old leather wallets. You can find them at thrift stores for cheap. Cheap is good. Gutting them takes a while. A long while. To do it right you really need to rip out all the seams and then resew the edges neatly. Innards are made from printer paper. My good friend Joanna Benskin gave me this idea. (Her innards are made from lined composition paper. We are still very good friends.) This idea is probably out there on Etsy or Pinterest, but I don’t look at those sites. Sensory overload. I’m sick just thinking about it.

Photo: CKirgiss

Inside view of wallet journals. (I should mention that part of the motivation for these is that a good piece of leather shouldn’t go to waste. Ever.) Endpapers may or may not adhere. I left the pink one plain because really, what screams competent-and-independant-jeanswearing-thrifty-egalitarian-nonprincessloving-moderndaywoman more than a PeptoBismal Pink Journal-Wallet free of any design distractions?

Photo: CKirgiss

Confession: I didn’t make this journal. It’s a Moleskin skinny, which is neither cheap nor stylish (non-negotiables #3 and 4). But since I already owned it and didn’t go out to buy it in order to retrofit it, it’s sort of like I got it for free during the makeover stage. Really. This idea wasn’t mine. I saw it at a craft fair. Which had only ten exhibitors due to torrential rains. Ten exhibitors was enough to send me into sensory overload. No, that’s not the original old photo sewn onto the cover. What do you take me for? And yes, I know the people in the photo. The one on the left is an amazing mother and grandmother. The one on the right is a journal freak. A blank-book maniac. Whatever.

**Top photo: these journals are made from covers of old books. Look – I love (adore, collect, cherish, fondle, drool over) old books as much as anyone I know. I would never sacrifice one if it had even the barest hint of life, value, or that delightful fusty smell so many of us love. But these books were on their past breath – cracked, torn, crumbling, and unhinged. Really, their covers were all that remained of their former glory. I like to think I saved them from the grave and gave them a brand new life. Innards are either printer paper or unlined-and-sewn innards of cheap sale journals with seriously bleh covers, sliced out of their sad and sorry homes (which will be remade into happy, schnazzy book boards at some point), then rebound into these delightful covers from long ago. Spines are made from (variously) Tyvek tape, duck tape, or scraps of leather salvaged from thrift store stuff – you know – jackets, pants, vests, boots, bags…