Day 22: Proekt 365 (Getting back tenfold what you put out there…)

Day 22: Proekt 365 There is not better thanks than this

Day 22: Proekt 365
There is no better thanks than this

When friends of mine from Moscow decided to move back to Europe after a few years in Asia, I was delighted to make their young son a few wooly items to help ward off the winter chill. That his mother is a fellow knitter made it all the more special for me.

The logistics of making things for someone so far away aside, this was a delight of a project. All of the items were made not using patterns available, but by modifying existing ones (I guess you could say that I designed them, but I am by no means a designer). Finally mailing them off last week to welcome these fine folk to their new home gave me a bit of a thrill, I confess. Whilst I was anxious that a) they’d approve and b) everything would fit the little darling well and allow him to grow a bit, shipping off that particular care package was a real treat. The wait for them to arrive safely has been torture!

Today, I received a notification that a photo had been posted in which I was tagged to find the above image. If you aren’t smiling, you should be. I certainly am.

No thanks is required really when images like these land in your inbox. At least not for me. Today has been that sort of day — another friend finally received her welcome blanket for her soon-to-arrive daughter, which was another lovely image on my desktop, and another friend received a little something to brighten her day.

Just knowing that those things mean something to each of these people who make  my world better is enough. The thanks and pics are added bonuses. If I can’t be there to personally hand them over to their new owners, I’ll gladly take the photos. They make the time and effort infinitely rewarding and worth so much more.

Be warm, you adorable bundle of cuteness! And, when you grow out of these, Auntie V will gladly work on some other wooly bits for you.

Day 13: Proekt 365 (‘Community’)

Day 13: Proekt 365 An unexpected gift from folks in my 'community'

Day 13: Proekt 365
An unexpected gift from folks in my ‘community’

One of my favourite spots in Helsinki is a yarn shop, Snurre. It’s not my favourite simply because of the yarn it stocks; it’s my favourite because of the people who own and run it—Anne and Mikko.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Snurre as a customer, teaching knitting classes, at various knitting / crafting events and to help celebrate milestones in the store’s brief history thus far. It’s evolved incredibly since opening a little over two years ago, and I’m thrilled to see this local shop doing so well. It’s a great place to spend a little time with fellow crafters and in fine, fine company. In addition to being a place my knitting friends and I enjoy going together, I’ve made a few new friends there as well.

Obviously, Anne and Mikko are two such friends. Today, they surprised me with a holiday gift (above) that was so, so unnecessary, and so incredibly thoughtful. Wine and yarn. And, knitting needles for the yarn. (Like I said: perfect!) I am touched beyond words once again, not just by their generosity, but that they have included me in their community.

There are plenty of yarn shops in Helsinki, but Snurre will always be special to me because of Anne and Mikko. Always ready to greet those who enter warmly and with friendly and genuine smiles. Always ready to help those who enter find just what they are looking for. And, always interested, genuinely interested, in how you are doing and what’s new — not just in the world of all things fibre, but in life in general. Because of their sincerity and the care with which they treat those of us who return again and again and because they are such great people overall, I’ll do whatever I can to support their business and to help it thrive. As members of a ‘community’ of crafters, it’s a great thing to have Snurre amongst the tribe and the go-to place for all one’s fibre needs. And, it’s a local business I feel incredibly good about supporting in whatever way I can because they make the community a better place.

Thanks, Anne and Mikko, for your kindness! And, thanks for helping make me feel so incredibly welcome in your community!

Day 12: Proekt 365 (Flowers & Fish in Snow)

Day 12: Proekt 365 A friend sent me this pic which combines snow and a yarn bomb. Perfection.

Day 12: Proekt 365
A friend sent me this pic which combines snow and a yarn bomb. Perfection.

It is sooooo much brighter today with just a few centimetres of fresh snow on the ground. The day was made brighter still when my friend Andrea sent the picture above of a yarn bomb a few of us did several months ago (on 16 November, to be exact). That it has survived this long is quite impressive. That it is still hanging as the snow falls is an added bonus.

Knit and crochet flowers and fish adorn this fence along the shoreline at the southern edge of Helsinki. Hopefully, along with the freshly fallen snow, they’ll brighten up the day for all who pass by. It certainly makes my day more cheerful, even if just viewed as a photo. Thank you, Andrea!

Day 7: Proekt 365

Day 7: Proekt 365 And, now, a little time for rest and relaxation.

Day 7: Proekt 365
And, now, a little time for rest and relaxation.

I love being busy. And, the last few months, I’ve been exceptionally busy. Between work commitments and the holidays, I’ve scarcely had a day since November when my to-do list wasn’t overflowing.

Today, that daily fact of life shifts. All of my work is completed and all assignments have been returned to my various clients. Aside from a few administrative matters, I’m free to resume socialising and participating in life beyond my desk!

So, what’s on my now-clear agenda, you ask?

First and foremost, a little quality time with my husband. The poor guy has had to contend and be patient with me and my weary, muddled brain. So, he gets to decide what we do, and we shall do it. Rest, rest and a little more rest. Catching up with the various friends I’ve been neglecting lately and who’ve been quietly cheering me on in the background. (Y’all rock!) And, a little knitting, of course.

Mostly, it’s just nice to enjoy a few days free from the stress of impending deadlines and demands whilst juggling the busy holiday season. Most likely, it won’t last, not that I’d want it to. I’ll enjoy it whilst I can, though. I’ll enjoy it very, very much.

I love my work, and I love being busy. But, we can all use a little reprieve now and again. Finding a happy medium between work and life is necessary and I’ve not always been successful in finding that balance. I’m working on it. But…, it ain’t easy when one is a freelancer.

For now though, the pendulum swings in favour of rest, and, this girl’s break begins in five… four… three… two… one…

Day 4: Proekt 365

Day 4: Proekt 365 My first finished object for 2014. It will not be the last.

Day 4: Proekt 365
My first finished object for 2014. It will not be the last.

What on earth did I do before a friend re-introduced me to the world of knitting and other needlecrafts a few years ago? Has it really only been three years since I picked up a pair of needles and dove into the fine fibre world of k2, p3*?

It’s hard to believe, but, yes, just 3 years ago my friend Brad (who lives in Amsterdam with his fabulous husband and bestest of hounds, Rusty) talked of knitting, and I asked if he’d be willing to show me how at some point. At the time, I was quite stressed and thought it might be a way to re-focus my mind, whilst also providing a creative outlet. It had been years since I’d knit anything and I never really finished a project. I was more of a happy hooker in my youth (minds out of the gutter, please!). In an incredibly kind gesture, Brad gave me a set of bamboo needles and provided a bit of instruction and inspiration just before / after New Year’s Eve 2010-11.

Little did we know….

When I returned to Helsinki after that New Year’s trip with my husband, I found a group of expat women in Helsinki who are a part of the American Women’s Club in Finland and who meet regularly to knit, crochet, craft and generally support and help one another. Not only did I get some incredibly helpful guidance on knitting, but I’ve also and perhaps more importantly forged lifelong friendships with quite a few talented, brilliant and exceptionally kind women.  I honestly don’t know how I’d have mentally and emotionally survived these past several years without knitting, but more specifically without the friends I’ve made through my crafting journey.

Knitting has also reminded me of one of the most amazing women I’ve ever been fortunate enough to have in my life — my grandmother. Katharine ‘Babe’ Louise Baring Fuller was not only one of the wittiest and strongest of women I’ve ever known, she was incredibly gifted with a rare and precious talent.

Born and raised (in Texas) at time when women’s roles were very much different to today, and when skills such as sewing and crafting were expected rather than honed as luxurious hobbies, she took her craft seriously. When I was a young girl, she taught me the fine skill of touching and feeling fabrics before looking at labels to determine quality and fibre content. When working on a particular craft, she demonstrated how patience is just as important as technique — if you rush a project, you’re likely to mistakes no matter how skilled you are (which is a lesson that transcends all of life it seems, and one which has taken a long, long time to finally learn).

In addition to her random acts of silliness and infectious laugh, I will forever recall how zen-like she was when crafting. She was an expert seamstress who made her own clothes and whose sewing ‘station’ I would do just about anything to have now. Sewing for her was more a matter of necessity since she was so, so tiny and petite sizes were rarely if ever an option. We would browse the latest fashions  on offer at Saks and Neiman’s and then she would go buy the fabric and make it herself. Her skills were impressive then; but, I am even more in awe of her now that I understand just what goes into making one’s own clothes without a pattern. She was incredible.

But, her real artistry and talent was most visible in her needlepoint. From the very large Christmas stockings with images and scenes matching the passions and personalities of each family member she made one year to the various throw pillows around the house and pictures of idyllic scenes on the walls of every family member’s home, the woman was absolutely gifted. Her work was impeccably perfect and each viewing reveals further details that were all of her own design. Needlepoint mesh was her canvas, and she painted with passion through her needles and thread.

The image of her sitting serenely in her love seat surrounded by the tools of her craft with a look of utter solace and complete focus and joy as she worked is forever burned into my consciousness. Zen and the Art of Needlecraft, I say. And, it’s master is and always shall be Grandma.

Whilst I wish that I could share my projects with her now, it comforts me to feel as though I’m carrying on her legacy. (I’d say big shoes to fill, but the woman had incredibly tiny feet!) It may be a different type of needle and thread (although she did knit and crochet as well), I know she’d be proud and it gives me no small measure of joy to know that at least some of her talent seems to have made its way to me.

She’d also find all those various dropped stitches, and totally understand and relate to my quest for perfection in everything I knit or craft.

Knitting has given me infinitely more than I ever expected. I can’t imagine a day that didn’t include some form of crafting even if for a few stolen moments. From knitting to crochet to quilting or sewing, each stitch reminds me of the friends it has brought my way as well as how it connects me to my beloved grandmother. As if all of that wasn’t enough, it has also brought me an unusual form of mediation and a few lovely pairs of socks, scarves, hats and blankets to ward off the winter chill.

For all of this and infinitely more, I am immeasurably grateful. (Thank you, thank you, thank you, Brad and all the Helsinki Knittas!)

*k2, p3 refers to ‘knit 2 stitches, purl 3 stitches’, for those not in the know. 😉

Suffer the Little Children

It’s hard to imagine life in Syria today. Harder still to imagine that fleeing to Iraq would be preferable to remaining in Syria.

Being a child and experiencing either is unimaginable.

Yet, Save the Children estimates that as many as 1 million Syrian children are now living as refugees. One million.

War and conflict are tragic enough. But, robbing children of their childhood and all the attendant delights of youth is simply criminal. I cannot imagine a more helpless feeling than being a parent to a child living in a war zone or fleeing from conditions which are nightmarish at best and a living horror at worst.

How do you explain it? How do you try to shield your child from the reality of war without deceiving them into a false sense of security? How do you instill hope whilst living in conditions which leave little room for belief in a brighter future?

Children under Fire, Save the Children’s report documenting the reality in which children now exist as a result of the civil war raging in Syria, is gut-wrenching.

By their estimates, more than 2 million children in Syria now need some sort of assistance. Figures from a study conducted by Bahcesehir University in Turkey which is referenced throughout the report suggest that three out of every four Syrian children have lost at least one loved one because of the conflict. Three of every four. Many children have lost multiple family members. Many of those children have watched as those loved ones died.

In their own words, children describe the horror of constant shelling and gunfire, as well as living in houses which are shelled whilst they sit inside. They describe running for their lives through neighbourhoods they used to run around in for play. They describe the loss of their schools, either to serve as shelter to the millions displaced within Syria or which have since been burned to the ground. They describe watching friends and family members being shot in front of them. One child’s mother recalled the first word spoken by her young child, born into a world lived only in a state of war: ‘explosion’. That was the first word a mother’s child ever uttered.

Malnutrition is now the norm. Children go un-vaccinated because the manufacturing of medicines has declined if not completely ceased (along with all manufacturing in the country) or because it is impossible to get through the multitude of checkpoints set up by various factions within the country. Thus, the likelihood of epidemics are all the more real. When children do get sick, it is either impossible to reach a clinic or hospital due to the continued threat of sniper-fire or bombings or the impossibility of simply getting through or there is nowhere to go because most if not all hospitals and clinics have been destroyed in a particular area.

Young girls now face the threat of sexual violence as well as the violence of war, and are thus kept indoors for weeks on end. Young boys, some as young as 8 years old, are being recruited as child soldiers and have been used as ‘human shields’.

Suffer the little children. ‘Suffer’ seems insufficient to describe the hell that is life in Syria today.

The easiest way to end the suffering is to end the conflict in Syria. As the US and others in the West beat the drums of war, peace looks unlikely any time in the near future. But, what of the children now? And, how to help even if we cannot physically be there?

In addition to prevailing upon our own leaders for peaceful solutions rather than violent retaliations, we can take steps to help in the seemingly smallest of ways.

As Syrians flee for refugee camps and as winter approaches, many of those fleeing have nothing but the clothes on their backs. One charity which is specifically designed for the crafty amongst us and focuses on helping children in need is asking for a very simple show of support and kindness—send knit or crochet squares.

LILY—or, Love in the Language of Yarn—is calling upon the community of knitters and hookers (not those hookers) to spend a bit of time busting their healthy yarn hordes to make squares, which are then pieced together and given to child refugees. As a knitter, I love this idea. As a humanitarian, it is so elegantly simple and yet necessary. As winter approaches and warm shelter, let alone a warm blanket, is often non-existent, I’ll gladly use some of my time and precious yarn stash to make as many squares as possible.

It may not be much, but it is something.

If we cannot give them security and safety, perhaps we can at least give them warmth.

Some of the squares I'll be sending in the hopes that they bring some 'security' to Syria's forgotten children living as refugees.

Some of the squares I’ll be sending in the hopes that they bring some ‘security’ to Syria’s forgotten children living as refugees.

Knitta, please….

Several years ago, a very close friend of mine gave me a set of knitting needles. It had been decades since I’d done anything craft-like, but I was inspired to pick up the hobby again. Little did I realise that that ‘gift’ would lead to an almost obsessive love affair with all things needle and yarn. (Thank you so, so much, Brad!)

Whilst I thoroughly enjoy creating items which serve a purpose—that is, hats, scarves, blankets, jumpers, etc.—guerrilla knitting fits with my overall philosophy in life in general. Guerrilla knitting—or yarn bombing and yarn graffiti—has taken root in many knitting circles as a way to bring a bit of beauty to urban landscapes through the simple act of leaving a colourful knit or crocheted fibre object on existing structures. Guerrilla knitting began with the works of a Houston-based self-taught knitter Magda Sayeg, also known as PolyCotN, who formed the group Knitta Please in 2005. Originally intended as a way to deal with unfinished projects or objects (which are affectionately known as UFOs amongst the yarn-obsessed), guerrilla knitters target public architecture such as lampposts, parking metres, telephone poles and signage with the mission of making street art ‘a little more warm and fuzzy’.

Think of it as fibre community activism.

Last summer, I engaged in my first yarn bomb. My own local knitting group has long discussed yarn bombing the city’s landscape with knit fish or kippers. Given that we knit in public, and the acronym most commonly used by the group is KIPpers, fish are an appropriate mascot. After finishing one of my larger projects and looking for a suitable purpose for the insane number of tiny leftover balls of yarn, I decided to knit a bunch of fish. As I was doing so, I came up with the idea of creating an aquarium at our local bus stop.

On a sunny Sunday summer afternoon, my husband and I strung up about 40-something knit fish and a few bits of crocheted ‘seaweed’ to go along with the fish. To our delight, that first yarn bomb remained in tact for the neighbours to enjoy for about two months. We both spied individuals gazing at the fish, taking pictures with their kids or just looking at it with puzzled looks and quiet smiles. It was a treat to see.

Another fellow KIPper has taken yarn bombing with the group’s mascots to an international level, leaving fish and signs in Iceland, Denmark and Germany along with those strung and hung in Finland since last summer. Just doing our part to bring smiles and a bit of fibre joy to the masses, you could say.

More recently, some of the ladies from my local KIPpers group decided to combine our love of fibre with a bit of civil disobedience in support of social justice. Marriage equality has been on the political agenda in earnest here in Finland this year, with various groups gathering signatures to demand a debate and vote in Parliament making marriage equality a right for all. As a part of that, we decided to yarn bomb Parliament with rainbow-themed knit triangles.

I suppose you could say this is simply our way of trying to make the world a little bit better for everyone and a little lovelier as well.

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