“Handcrafted to Delight the Toes” – NYT article

Before I went to Italy, I heard people mention Italian leather, and even though I had a vague idea that I should look for good deals while I was there, I came away with only a small change purse that was stamped with gold scroll work and some flowers. I went to Venice, but didn’t take note of any hand crafted shoe stores.

After reading this article, I would approach my visit differently! It talks about three hand crafters, all women, that currently operate in slow-paced Venice, which is, of course, also a great place for walking, since there are no vehicles to speak of. And, it notes an intriguing historical trend of platform shoes taking off amongst the general population after being prescribed for courtesans in the 16th century to discourage “street walking.”

The comment I most appreciate comes from Gabriele Gmeiner, who says:

The fact that there are no cars slows down the pace of life, so that it fits in with the tempi of traditional crafts.

The article also mentions the average price range of these handcrafted shoes, which is anywhere from 700-1500 euros. To me, this says that although handcrafting shoes (or other) won’t make one rich, there is a clientele out there that appreciates the artisanry and is willing to pay for it.

Only one link mentioned in the article gives an idea of the shoes these women create, that of Gabriele Gmeiner, who has several other interesting projects described in photos on her site, including children’s boots made by Venetian prisoners.

You’ll have to follow the link to see these delightful creations.

Here’s an example on Flickr of Giovanna Zanella’s shoes, and a blog link with more info on this artisan.

Become What You Are


I’m not saying I plan to become a shepherd (though I’m not saying I’m not?). Just that this episode embodies something about my current thought processes of late. Plus, what a great story! Thanks to the Twisted Threads list for pointing me in this direction.

I Am a Shepherd
Susan Gibbs
Former CBS News producer and current full-time shepherd

A few weeks ago, I went to a friend of a friend’s birthday party in Washington D.C.. I didn’t know anyone and ended up talking to a nice young man who had just been accepted to an Ivy League architecture school. He was excited and earnest, and eventually got around to asking me what I do.

This may sound like a simple question but for some reason, it makes me uncomfortable. Sometimes I say, “I’m a farmer” which is perfectly true, but it doesn’t ring very true to me. I think because it brings to mind crops, or cattle or something. I have a huge amount of respect for farmers, but I don’t really identify myself as one.

Sometimes I just say something vague about being in the yarn business. Non-knitters don’t really have anywhere to go with this, which is fine, and knitters look at me like I’m made of cake, also fine. I’m happy to answer questions about my flock, my farm, and my lifestyle. But, in all honesty, the ‘business’ part of “yarn business” doesn’t ring altogether true, either.

What I want to say when people ask me what I do, what I like to say and what feels like the truest answer is, “I’m a shepherd.” And the only reason I don’t usually say it is because every time I say it to a man – and I mean every single time – the gentleman smirks a bit and asks, “Do you have a crook?” To which I reply, “Yes. I do.” It’s annoying.

Most people have never met a shepherd and the idea seems sort of silly or precious. But shepherding is a noble and serious profession dating back more than 6000 years. Being a shepherd means being responsible for the care of a flock and being a good steward of the lands they graze. It’s about surrendering yourself to the rhythms of the seasons, slowing your life down to match the pace of the animals and being ever watchful, ever vigilant. It’s about putting the needs of flock first, doing your absolute best for them and then worrying all the time anyway.

I’ve never felt like I became a shepherd when I got my sheep. It was more like I always was a shepherd and I didn’t know it until the sheep found me. They instantly gave my life a purpose and they’ve continued to do so every day since then. I am a shepherd to my boots. It isn’t glamorous or sexy or easy to explain, but it’s all I want to be.

So, when the earnest architect-to-be asked me what I do for living, I looked him in the eye and said, “I’m a shepherd.” And he surprised me. He smiled sweetly and said, “That’s really great. You should have business cards made and put ‘shepherd’ on them.”

I didn’t say anything. I just pulled one out of my wallet and gave it to him.

Why I knit – one reason of many

There is this thing that happens to me when I become overwhelmed with obligations that I don’t want to think about. My brain switches over to this other track where, in the back of my mind at work, I think about when I get to leave and go home and knit. This week has been all about going home and knitting. I was in the office late once, and now for the second time in three days, but when I leave, I do not want to socialize or read or do much of anything else.

I can handle a couple of podcasts, and I’ve been working my way through Season 1 of The Wire. Which is awesome. And you should all listen to the Radio Lab podcast on parasites to find out why hookworm might be good for you. Lots of learning during my knitting. [Lots of learning about things that may affect me more in Kinshasa than North Carolina? Lots of learning about why building latrines encouraged the economic resurgence of the southern US a bunch of decades ago?] Go ahead. Click. It’s right in the sidebar. Hookworms, asthma, economic rebirth: who’d have thought they’re related?

In between working a little bit on this and a little bit on that, I’ve been spinning up some mystery fiber that was given to me for knitting some socks. Oh, just looked it up in my email, it’s actually 65% Border Leicester lamb, 25% tussah,
and 10% superfine kid mohair! Just a bit more of 4oz. to go, and I’ll be ready to ply.

Normally this work is about unwinding, and about spending a little time creating.

The more I get into my new job, the more I feel like this unwinding and creating time is a necessity rather than a simple choice of how to spend my down time. I’m retreating a little bit from social activities, but hopefully with the result of recharging and feeling a sense of achievement of something I can feel proud of.

Taking my knitting to new levels

Hey what do you all think of my idea for a knitted pillow? Only, an image of knitting on a throw pillow! This cracks me up for some reason. I think I’m going to send my mom one for Christmas. And I’ll probably get one for me!

knitted pillow
Knitted throw pillow!

If you have to have one, too, click the link. There are some other items I pasted this image to, like tiles, totes, and Siggs. If you want a t-shirt of some sort, let me know and I’ll put one up!

[The photo is of my Parker Cardigan stitching.]

[Additional update: I won the photo contest yesterday! Thanks to everyone that voted!]


Guess what! This Thursday is going to be the inaugural meeting of the Kinshasa SnB! I can’t wait! I don’t know that we have many knitters, but I have two more friends interested in learning, and it should be educational to have other types of stitchers there, too.

I meant to do some photography over the weekend to update some of my Ravelry project descriptions, but, well, I guess I worked on knitting instead. And I was talking to one of my non-knitter friends about knitting, and I got so excited I pulled out a plastic bin of knitted goods, and we took every one out of the bin and tried it on. That would have been a photo opp, socks on hands, hats and scarves and sweaters piled on.

She said, you have a LOT of knitted things.

We sat in the AC with sweaters on and drank tea and talked about Shetland yarn (she’s Scottish), and I knitted. It almost felt like fall on the east coast.

These photos are from the Fells Point fest in Baltimore the weekend of October 3rd, some other types of handmade items instead of my own.

Is it a bonobo?
Who else was obsessed with these 20yrs ago?
Who else was obsessed with these 20yrs ago?
Makes me want to buy some eggs
Makes me want to buy some eggs

Also, thanks WordPress, I hadn’t used the “caption” function before but I like it.

Jazz knitting

Man, time really flies. This photo is from almost six months ago, when I somehow convinces three friends as crazy as I am that it would be a good idea to rent a car and drive overnight 14 hours to Jazz Fest in New Orleans, spend 3 days and 2 nights there, and then spend the last night again in the car driving 14 hours home. It was totally worth it. I could not have asked for better travel mates. Here, Cat is working on two socks at the same time amidst the musical fray in front of the Congo Square stage.

I’m only dancing! (or, well, Tad and Mel are…)

We watched performances that looked like this (band: Ilê Aiyê):

And I spent lots of time under my umbrella with a beer, not knitting.

And eating some softshell crab poboys…


ETA: OMG OMG OMG I’m so excited!!!  My yarn for the Bonobo project arrived! 

Kollage Yarns square needles

Recently I bought two different circular needles and two sets of dpns, both produced by Kollage Yarns. They were intriguing because they are square. Square!

I thought it was a little bizarre, but since two local yarn shops were carrying them, someone must know something, and they must be good. Their claim to fame is that they are an ergonomically correct construction and people with arthritis or other complaints can use these without any problems.

The other reason they are supposed to be wonderful is the super even stitches that they produce. As well, the cable in the circular needles is anti-knotting or curling, according to Kollage.

The reason that I bought their needles doesn’t have much to do with ergonomics or with some measure of stitch evenness. I can’t vouch for whether the needles prevent knitting pain, and I think I’m a fairly even knitter. To be fair, though, my knitting does seem pretty even and my metacarpals feel fine.

I bought the needles because I was looking for sock dpns that don’t bend, and I’m not willing to spring for those really expensive ones from the company that won’t tell you how they do it. You know the ones. I saw them at MDS&W and had to keep walking.

So – back to the square needles! I like them. They feel nice. The yarn doesn’t stick but they are also not super slippery. For dpns, I’m pretty convinced – they haven’t bent that much but I can feel that they may end up a little bent. At least I feel more secure than I do about my bamboo needles that are super bendy and not so resistant and I feel like at any moment they may just snap in half.

The only reservation I have about the circular needles is the join. The cable is fine, although I’m used to a more substantial cable with Addi Turbos or a more resistant plastic cable. This one feels a bit floppier, which isn’t necessarily a problem. But the yarn that I was using, Elsebeth Lavold’s Hempathy, was a little splitty, and the not-very-smooth join on the circulars exacerbated the problem. I feel like I’m exerting a lot of force to shove the stitches back onto the needle from the cable.

One yarn store owner at one of the spots I made a purchase said that she didn’t really like the circulars either and decided to carry only the dpns. I know that I would buy more dpns. I’ll have to work more with the circulars to see if I come around.

Not a post

Dear all, I don’t have anything new to show you but I lied about being away. I’m going tomorrow, not yesterday, and you won’t hear from me till next week. We have to take a satellite phone we are going so far into the middle of nowhere.

I am bringing five changes of clothes because I’ve been told I won’t want to wear anything twice after all the dirt and sweat. I am bringing the kilt hose and “The Portable Graham Greene” for entertainment because I doubt there will be TV, although I am hoping for electricity because I can’t knit and hold a Maglite. I am bringing jerky and trail mix and handiwipes and gifts and bug spray and mosquito coils and remedies for malaria, worms, and diarrhea (oral rehydration salts). It should be a blast.

T minus 6 hours.


I’ll be going to see my boyfriend again soon. Just kidding. For those of you who don’t obsess over central African news the way I do, let me introduce you to President Joseph Desire (that’s deh-sir-ay) Kabila, inaugurated Dec 6, 2006, after three years as a sort of illegal leader (following his father Laurent’s overthrow of Mobutu Sese Seko and Laurent’s subsequent assassination) of the ‘transition government.’ Transition as in, going from five years of civil war to something a bit less violent.

There was quite a bit of campaigning during the lead-up to elections last year, but I’ve seen very few slogans on T-shirts or bumper stickers. In DR Congo, it was primarily billboards, printed cloth which can be made into all manner of garments, and – apparently – watches. The watches are more rare, but cloth, commonly called a pagne when it is cut into a 2-yard piece and wrapped around or used to carry something, can be ordered to advertise your organization, your slogan, or to commemorate the Pope’s visit to Africa. I am not kidding.

Leaving my job and the travails of hanging out in a central African capital city out of it, I will say that although there is definitely not a yarn shop there, you can find all manner of crazy textiles. Here are examples from my last trip.

1. Heureux Mariage (Happy Marriage): 1+1=1

2. Celebrating corn! I for one would love to have a dress or skirt made from this fabric. Sewing skills – well, maybe I should just hire a tailor while I am there.

3. They say “shrimp” (actually, they say cossa cossa), I say CRAWFISH! Four years living in New Orleans had its effect, what can I say?

All of these fabrics are cotton and many are imported from Europe and then printed locally. You can find western-style fabric shops for different materials, including synthetic fabric or uphostering. And there are batiks and tie-dyes, some very beautiful, imported from West Africa.

But those shown above came from CongoTex, formerly UtexAfrica, which is a company in Kinshasa recently purchased by a Hong Kong business man who allegedly owns a fabric business in every African country. I have some concerns about the recent surge in Chinese involvement in the African economy, though it has nothing to do with China per se. It has to do with the fact that it’s painfully obvious that Africa needs the economic input but doesn’t have the investors within its own borders.

As well, I can’t find a good link for you but I have heard that the mass import of second hand clothing from organizations such as Good Will or the Salvation Army effectively handicapped the textile industry in Africa. WTO-initiated new trade rules effective since 2005 have also negatively affected textile industry in Africa.

Nonetheless, Congolese use lots of bright fabrics purchased locally, though some are imported, and have their clothing made by local tailors. Someone has pictures of me in one of my outfits, but I don’t have any on hand to show you… But I’ll be sure to take some fashion photos on this visit, because the full-on effect of outfits fashioned from these fabrics is stunning.