Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Silent and beautiful

Happy New Year to all! May we all look to 2009 with optimism, good health and an open heart.

And maybe a glass spinning wheel?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Year in Pictures

We returned from our Christmas visiting, each of us with a head cold. Normally I like to let the symptoms run their course without medical intervention because of a perhaps misguided belief that it strengthens the immune system. This time, however I have been a big phan of big pharma, guzzling the Robitussin like lemonade on a hot summer's day. Anything to stop the goo pouring from my nose.

Having staunched the flow for the time being, I offer you a year in pictures. Most are new ones. I hope you enjoy them as much I have enjoyed looking back at them.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Cup of Cheer to You

Dan is rushing me out the door, so only a quick wish for lovely holidays! I, for one, love that Christmas has become a secular holiday. So, no matter who you are or where you are or what you are: Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

In Between It All

In between the ongoing economic meltdown, world strife and unhappiness, Pastor Rick, Rod Blago's hair, post-water tower exhaustion, pre-holiday preparations, and our normal schedule of activities, I had a bit of good news.

The Queens Council on the Arts awarded my proposal Spindle 7 a Queens Community Art Fund grant. The idea is a simple one (now, now, no laughing!). I will bring my spindle on the #7 train once a week and spin from our stop at 46 Street/Bliss to Vernon/Jackson in LIC. My hope is engage my fellow riders in conversation about what I am doing, possibly teach them to do it too (I will carry some CD spindles and extra fleece) and connect with people who may come from places where spindle spinning is still part of their everyday lives. Along the way, I occasionally will document my activity and encounters with photographs and video.

Also, I like the idea of bringing this activity, which is almost as old as modern human beings, to the subway, or elevated train, as the case may be.

Our hands know how to do this, if we let them.

PS. Normally I would insert an artful photograph of my spindle and some fleece here as an illustration but...I can't find my spindle! A casulty of the above mentioned post-water tower exhaustion (and complete lack of housekeeping that happened, or not, during that whole time period). It's around here somewhere...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Weather Outside is Frightful - Hooray!

We just heard a giant rumble, like thunder starting up in the distance, but it turned out to be snow sliding, then falling, off our rooftop. It never fails to awe and delight!

Unlike many people, I love winter. I love the cold of it and frankly feel that global warming is cheating me out of one of my life's greatest pleasures - intense cold that freezes your face and takes your breath away. I love the darkness of it. I love it when it is dark early and we have to scramble home and and lead lives indoors. I love snow, even in New York where it quickly becomes brown and mushy and a pain in the neck (or back or rear end, depending how many times you slip and fall). I love sweaters and hats and scarves and mitts and hot drinks and, yes, I even love shoveling snow. I admit that delight wore thin the winter we were in Newfoundland and I was still shoveling three feet of the stuff in April. Little worry of that here, alas.

I have only met one person who I know shares my love of all things winter. We skirted around the idea until each of us felt safe enough to admit it and then, I think, we both felt a wave of relief at finding a similar soul.

I love winter and today is the winter solstice. So, hooray! Enjoy the clean, pure feeling of cold. Enjoy the limited palate of the landscape. Enjoy the delightful contrast between outside and inside. Enjoy the light that is bathed in blue, sharp and beautiful. Enjoy it!

Spring will be here soon enough.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Little Bit Jewish

No, I'm not. But Dan and his brother once heard someone on the subway explaining to his neighbor that Pope John Paul II was "a little bit Jewish." Who knew?

You don't have to be Jewish to enjoy this well-loved holiday tune.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hey Baby,

It's been so long since we were together but last night I knew that separation was only a state of mind. You were so wonderful - the way you moved, your touch, your rhythm. Our love is so right, baby. Don't let anyone tell you different. I know sometimes I have to go away from you and sometimes I even have to let others think they are the one, but baby, it's all part of the game.

There's no game between us baby. It's just you and me, doin' what's right.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

On Waste, Shame and Knitting for the Homeless

For the past ten years or so, I have been making art work that involves needlework on an ambitious scale. It was back in 1998 that I started a project called Baby Pictures that still hangs in our local family health center in Queens. The project consisted of about 65 little handknit sweaters that became backgrounds for baby pictures that I had collected and copied from people around the world. Each person also wrote their name, date of birth and three things about themselves. The piece was an attempt to encourage the people in the waiting room to feel less afraid, to remember that everyone has been a baby once, and that we all have more in common than we might think, especially in our wonderful, multi-ethnic neighborhood. At a certain point in making that project, a woman I knew said something along the lines that I should be making those sweaters for real babies not an art project because that was a waste of sweaters that could be doing real good. And she was an artist herself.

Since then, every time I have made a new project, sooner or later, someone and sometimes many someones tell me essentially the same thing: I should have been knitting or crocheting that for homeless babies instead of wasting all that yarn on art.

This pencil project has generated far more press than any of my past projects and so lots of people have seen it and commented on it and, inevitably, there are many who have said "what a waste, you should be knitting for the homeless".

To those who say that, I have ask this question in return: if you believe that it is a waste to use yarn and knitting skills to make art, then do you believe that it is a waste of ink and paper for a poet to write poetry? Should they be using their ink and paper to write first aid manuals? And what about painters? Should their paint be used to paint homeless shelters and the canvas to make clothing for the homeless?

I will probably always get those comments as long as needlework remains one of my main media. As a friend often tells me, I need to get a thicker skin. But then, if I had a thicker skin, maybe my art would be...even worse!

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Big Day for Pencils

We arrived at 395 Broadway, well dressed against the cold weather, at about 9:15 am. The piece had already arrived and was unceremoniously dumped on the sidewalk.

There ensued great discussion about how to get the ladder to the roof but finally it was decided that the four workers who had been hired to do the installation would pull it up the side of the building from the roof. (Disclaimer: the four workers were fully licensed and insured. They were very experienced, if not exactly in installing crocheted cozies on water tanks, then in many other skills. They were completely awesome and fearless and I love them dearly).

Here is one of them doing something that made me want to throw up. Remember, the building is 15 stories high. And there were strong gusts of freezing cold wind off the river.

Together two of them hauled up the ladder. When it arrived one of them turned to me and said (in a heavy Polish accent), "Don't worry, we are 80% done now." He might have wanted to revise that statement four hours later, but I appreciated his optimism.

Here are some other pictures of the installation:

Here are three of the wonderful crocheters who assisted with the project. Not only did they crochet a shocking amount of yardage, but they endured the frigid temperatures to see the project go up and still have smiles on their faces!

And the true unsung hero of the day! Dan Allen, aka Mr. Picky. But for Dan we would not have been able to convince the building to be the site for the project and he was indispensable at the installation. He made sure everything was done safely and kept everyone on track. Click here for a nicer picture of him.

A huge thank you to everyone who made this thing happen!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Step Away From The Hook

In the hoo-doo trance that was yesterday I began to think about making festive pencil hats for everyone who was involved with this project. Lord knows I have the yarn (I have about one case of yarn remaining in a mix of the three colours, mostly the off-white).

When I woke up this morning my arm and back were sore and the thought of crocheting one stitch was rather unappealing but by the time we were at our usual Friday morning class, I thought I could give it a try.


Take your mind out of the gutter! Note the clever design:

I whipped out these, maybe I should put that another way...I crocheted these items in about 30 minutes each. Even so, after two I am feeling quite done. I think I will retire my size "N" hook for the time being.

As for the giant pencil, it was carted away in the back of a pick-up truck this afternoon after being dragged out of our house and down the sidewalk. I tried not to be too alarmed and to accept the realization that it is out of my hands now.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

If it quacks like a pencil...

Done! And ready to be loaded into a van tomorrow...

I feel slightly numb after the experience of nearly 10 hours of steady crochet, but I am very pleased to be finished.

The Home Stretch

The thing is almost finished, sort of. I have all of today to work on it because Dan is doing all the bringing around of children work. I think that will be enough time to finish it. The piece is very, very heavy so my worry is now about how to get it on the tank without its own weight causing some rip or tear. I think it means leaving two open seams and lowering the sides down one half at a time. The people who will be installing the piece do not usually install art (who usually installs crocheted covers on water tanks?) so I will have to try to inspire them to feel concern for this thing and not just to get it done as quickly as possible.

For the past week or so, almost every night, I dream about the installation and all the things that could go wrong: the thing falls apart, a worker is blown off a ladder and over the side of the building, it just does not fit and everyone is standing around glaring at me for my supreme incompetence, etc.. During my waking hours I have been relatively calm and unstressed, but it gets out one way or another, I guess.

Today, a reporter and photographer from the NY Times are coming out to take pictures and do a story that will be in Saturday's paper (the Metro Section, so not sure if it will be in editions outside of the NY metro area). There has been a lot of other media interest as well. I am not sure how I feel about that - always at once seeking the limelight and wishing to stay in my little dark corner.

Here is a poem that I read recently that seems to speak to that, and much more:

From The Gift: Poems by Hafiz the Great Sufi Master. Translated by Daniel Ladinsky.

You are the Sun in drag.
You are God hiding from yourself.
Remove all the ‘mine’ – that is the veil.
Why ever worry about anything?
Listen to what your friend Hafiz
Knows for certain:
The appearance of this world
Is a Magi’s brilliant trick, though its affairs are
Nothing into nothing.
You are a divine elephant with amnesia
Trying to live in an ant
Sweetheart, O sweetheart
You are God in Drag!
-- Hafiz

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Pardon Me, But There's A Giant Pencil in Your Living Room

Having achieved the 14 ft diameter, my piece is done up to the point where I need to have the sides to finish it. I will have five of the six side pieces today and I will get started sewing them together. Then I have to fill in the off-white part to correspond with their shape - the pencil has a zig-zag shape like pencils have when they are sharpened.

Details, baby, it's all about the details!

Speaking of details, here they are about the installation:

The piece will be installed beginning around 9:30 am. We are hoping that it will only take two hours or so. The building where all this is happening (395 Broadway) is a private, residential building so there will not be access to the roof except for people directly involved in the installation. You can view the piece from the street. Two places that seemed particularly good when I was scouting out the neighborhood were on Canal Street to the northwest of Broadway and to the south on Broadway. You need to be a couple of blocks away to really see it as the building is 15 stories high and in a densely packed neighborhood of other buildings.

As far as I know, there are no plans to do anything celebratory after the installation. I have to run up to yoga classes immediately afterwards so I won't be able to really savour the deed for too long. Time swiftly passes by!

I will be taking lots of still photos and TAXI will be videotaping the installation. Indeed, this whole project (for them) is all about the 90 second video they will produce and put up on youtube and elsewhere. Sometimes I have to shift my mind away from the relentless fact that all this work is for 90 seconds.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Treble Trouble

Sorry to be so boring - there is little to report. Yarn is still being distributed - I think the sides alone will use up 5.5 cases of yarn (that's 330 skeins). My original calculations were way off. It turns out I have the most loosey-goosey of gauges when it comes to treble crochet. Who knew?

One person has finished her piece, the rest sound like they are on track. My piece is almost finished to the point where I have to stop and sew the sides together. I had a momentary set back when I actually went to the building and looked at the water tank in real life (note to self: before embarking on a mammoth crochet project, remember to visit actual site of installation). It turns out the ladder up the side has railings that actually go up and connect to the roof. I had a brief moment when I thought I would be ripping out two feet of diameter to accommodate that railing, but I think I can make do with only minimal tearing back. It took me a day of staring at the thing in my living room to work it all out. Sometimes you just need to sit and stare a while.

Yoga teacher training continues onward, so all crochet comes to a screeching halt. It makes for a nice change of pace: treble crochet, treble crochet, treble crochet (x 1,000,000), contemplate pure consciousness, treble crochet, treble crochet, treble crochet (x 1,000,000)...

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Politics, Politics!

If you were worried that life would be deadly dull after the US election, please worry no more. There is still interesting stuff happening out there.

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

And if you have had it up to here with US politics, check out the Yarn Harlot for a good description of what is happening in Canada. Someone needs to tell Nicholas Kristof over at the New York Times, however. In his op-ed piece today he describes Canada as "ernest and dull" and recalls a contest in which the most boring headline ever was "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative".

My fellow Canadians, will we stand for this? Can someone please make a hilarious faux musical about it that we can put on youtube?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Big Shoot

The monster continues to grow. We measure in body sizes now. As you can see, it is well beyond a Lucy and it has even topped a Finn.

This morning, five people arrived with large suitcases.

Kevin from TAXI came for a whirlwind tour of Sunnyside and lower Broadway, complete with total immersion in a world of crochet. He handled it pretty well, although he later admitted that he "had no idea that this whole culture existed".

Honey, this is just the tip of the iceberg!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick...

Thanks to all who offered advice and words of encouragement! I decided to let the tip be for the moment, and if I have time, I may make another and sew it over this one but I am not making it urgent, at least for the time being.

I think part of my restless dissatisfaction with this project is because it didn't come from me, unlike most of my art projects. It is a challenge and it is fun and I am NOT complaining about getting a commission, especially in the current economy. No, just acknowledging the different flavour of this project compared with some of my other ones that grew out of more personal interests and ideas.

But as Mr. Picky says, enough introspection, let's see the goods!

The tip isn't quite as nipple-like as this picture suggests, although it does have certain nipple-like qualities.

The fruited plains of treble crochet...

The piece is now about five feet in radius. It needs to be about seven feet but, as any shawl knitter knows, it is those last long rows, and each one getting longer with increases, that wipe the self-satisfied grin off your face. Think you're nearing the end? HA!

Here is some of the yarn I am dipping my paw into at an alarming rate (I think I use about a skein every 1/2 hour or so). Once again, Lion Brand has been very generous towards me and my work. They offered me a very discounted rate for all this Thick 'n Quick. I feel like I should be wearing a Lion Brand t-shirt while I official sponsor of endurance needlework projects.

Tomorrow morning two people from TAXI in Toronto arrive to film the process of making this monster pencil. Nearly all the people helping out also will be here, as well as a person from Crochet Insider, an online crochet magazine, who wants to write up a story about the piece. I think Lucy and Finn's chess coach might be here too. TAXI said they wanted a scene of chaos and I am always happy to oblige.