Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tea and Toast...or Why I Don't So Much Do Cozies

Sometimes, thank God, luxury is cheap. Particularly now that it's cold, I like to make myself tea and toast in the afternoon when I get back home from class. Lunch is wearing off about that point, and I'm cold and could use a subtle caffeine hit. In addition to fairly low levels of caffeine, tea contains l-theanine, a sedative compound naturally found in the body. This makes tea, in my experience, the perfect after-school drink. It relaxes you while it revives you. It won't make you feel wired and jittery, and it won't lead to a caffeine crash later on. And then what's not to like about sourdough toast with honey and blueberry jam? Mmmmmmmmmmmmm. Quick and easy and cheap and yum.

I really like my teapot. It's a nice cobalt blue that I think sets off my dishes nicely, and it holds enough for you to have tea even when you're not alone! I really like using it, and this is why I'm never going to knit a tea cozy. It's not that I object to cozies themselves (although I have heard from admitted tea snobs that they "stew the tea." I'm not 100% sure what that means). But why would I want to hide such a nice thing as my teapot behind some flouncy, squooshy dish-sweater?

I avoid tea cozies for the same reason I avoid tablecloths. My roommates have a really nice dining-room table made out of rich, dark wood. Why would you want to cover that up? I love the look of wood (although what you see pictured is "birch veneer," courtesy of Ikea. It's fake, but I still like the look of it). I suppose if you happen to prefer the look of lace to the look of wood, it would make sense to strew your surfaces with doilies and cloths. I prefer the surfaces themselves. I love the texture you can see in a smooth piece of wood. I love the way the light plays off of the shiny surface of my teapot. I guess I could go for a table-runner, as long as it didn't detract from the look of the wood.

There seems to be a cozy-craze afoot in the world of knitting at present. If you look hard enough, you can find a pattern for a knitted object that will fit nicely around anything. That just seems a bit excessive to me. Maybe it's just that my aesthetic happens not to involve covering things, but can't we think of something useful to knit? Is a layer of yarn really going to protect your iPod if you drop it on the sidewalk? Is your decoratively floral box of kleenexes really so hideous that it needs its own ruffly sweater? I thought I'd seen the cozy-craze at its worst when I found this ice-cream pint cozy, but then an image flashed into my head: I'm blundering toward the freezer in the dead of night. I need ice-cream. All I want is to stand next to the freezer blearily devouring ice-cream from the carton, but my hands...dear Gods, I can't feel my hands!!! That sweet, treacherous ice-cream has frozen them completely numb. So I'm willing to admit that the ice-cream pint cozy is absolute genius.

This cozy-craze is delightfully expressed by the character Emerson Cod in the shamefully canceled series "Pushing Daisies." Emerson is a tough, cynical PI with a heart of stone. He is also a stress-knitter. His office is filled with objects wearing little object-sweaters - there is a file-holder cozy, a pencil-holder cozy, he even tucks wads of cash away in a drawer, lovingly arranged in little green money cozies. It's the juxtaposition inherent in this image that tickles me. It's why I get a kick out of knitting a sweater on the bus with my rapier leaning against my seat. And it's why I am so pleased that this motorcycle cozy exists!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Angry, Sword-Wielding Feminist Seeks Peaceful Spot to Knit

Hi, I'm Sasha. I like swords, Star Wars, Russian literature and knitting.

I'm a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison working on my Ph.D. in Slavic languages. I have very little free time and even less money. I rent a room from a wonderful family whose decor I would describe as...unapologetially 70s. Alright, it's not their decor per se, but they haven't quite gotten around to ripping out all of the blue carpet yet. My boyfriend, who shall remain nameless, is in his last year of law school in a different state. The two of us look forward to buying a house, shacking up and, with the help of a bit of disposable income, making said shack a home. With the job market the way it is, it's lookin' like I'll be staying in my rented room for a few more years.

For Christmas, my mother gave me Jane Brocket's The Gentle Art of Domesticity. I love it! I'm at the point, both in my knitting and in my cooking, where inspiration is at least as valuable to me as straight-up "how tos," and I found this book to be very inspiring. Lush, even. Perhaps a bit heavy on the pink for my taste, but it's really Brocket's appreciation of the value, both sensual and emotional, of domestic creativity that strikes a chord in me.

So my reaction to Liz Hunt's review in The Daily Telegraph was one of surprise...and then surprise at my surprise. Hunt, through exasperated sarcasm, accuses Brocket of popularizing yet another set of "impossible standards [for] the rest of womankind via beautifully illustrated books and websites." I must admit, from time to time I myself fall into the trap that seems to ensnare Hunt.

Let's face it: I'm young, I'm broke, I can't even set up a home with my boyfriend, who shall continue to remain nameless. I live in a rented room - I can't splash brightly colored paint all over my walls to brighten up my living space. I don't have an expensive digital camera with which to take gloriously luxurious pictures of my finished projects. I certainly don't have time to bake all the damned time.

But then Jesus, who does? How many of us actually are, as Hunt describes them, "women who have done the career bit and, looking around for a new diversion and cushioned by private income or a wealthy husband or generous alimony, target the home and impose impossible standards on the rest of womankind via beautifully illustrated books and websites." Who really has the kind of time to create a home as airy, as peaceful, as lush as Jane Brocket's? Who are these women? And how on God's green earth will I ever find the time or the money to make my home the bright, cheery, welcoming haven that I see in all of these beautiful pictures?

Decades ago, women in America were relegated to this domestic sphere whether they liked it or not. They had the time, and some of them had the money, but they had little choice. And they too, through the spread of television in particular, had impossible standards to live up to. Then the feminist movement blasted out a place for women in the workforce. It wasn't easy, but women could find productive, fulfilling, rewarding work outside the home, if that's where their interests lay. And for a while, the worst thing that an energetic, intelligent, educated woman could do was to chain herself to the home in defiance of her new, hard-won freedom.

The craft movement is a sign of things changing yet again. Women, by baking, quilting, gardening, knitting and most of all by being proud of their work, are reclaiming parts of our femininity that had been devalued. Men, by finding the same delight in the same pursuits, are showing that traditional concepts of femininity are not dirty or shameful. Just as I can put on a suit, grab a sword and go conquor the world, a man can knit an afghan to enrich his home. Creation and domesticity are empowering. I learned to knit at Wellesley, for Chrissakes!

But now it's in the media. Now we have books of inspiration - or standards - published by women with means far beyond those of most of us. My stockinette will never be that even. I will never get this damned bulb to sprout. I will never be able to afford a house that would ever look like that. And who the hell quilts? I have blue carpet, and it's not going anywhere. Is this liberating development yet another set of impossible standards - new shackles for my hypothetical daughters to break?

Every time we break through the walls of what defines feminity, we set up another, newer, shinier set of walls, but they're just as constricting. So fuck it. My home, my little room, is going to be every bit as gorgeous as Jane Brocket's, blue carpet and all. Because I effing said so. I can't afford much, but that's one reason I love making things: doing for myself. I will make this the home I want it to be. It's not going to look like anyone else's, and that's what will make it perfect. That's what will make it mine.

I'm done looking outside myself for standards to live up to. There's inspiration, and then there are standards. Inspiration is at its most delightfully surprising when it comes from outside of you. Standards, to have any validity, must come from within you. I will be inspired by Jane Brocket's books and blog and beautiful photographs, as she intended, but I will never expect to resemble her. I will not be knitting tea cozies, but I do think I'll make a quilt. I will stay in this rented room, but I will be home. In place of my boyfriend, who shall remain nameless, I will live with my hilariously blue carpet. I will make this room a haven. A place of warmth, of comfort, of ease, of beauty. And I will do it on my terms - less pink, more swords!

If anyone ever follows this blog, I hope it inspires you to do the same. Not to embrace my undoubtedly quirky esthetic, nor my necessarily frugal budget, nor my giddily rabid feminist ideals, nor my insistant use of the words "nor" and "whom," but to redefine, to destroy entirely the standards that my gender - that both genders - have been duped into falling short of. I like knitting, and I like fighting, and I have blue carpet, and that just freaking rules.

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