Thursday, September 2, 2010

A word about Althea

A fellow-Raveler (who happens to have a family full of Altheas herself) just asked me how my new Althea cardigan and skirt patterns got their name. Well, their namesake is third from the right in this photo--she's the determined-looking woman in the patterned frock who's looking right at ya:

For those who don't recognize her on sight, that's none other than Althea Warren, who was City Librarian of Los Angeles, CA from 1933-1947, and president of ALA from '43-'44. During her tenure, Warren led the Victory Book Campaign, a nationwide book drive that eventually directed more than 10 million volumes to those serving in the armed forces in WWII. This project was totally in keeping with her philosophy as a librarian, which was distinctly populist. "Not all of a person's reading is or should be in pursuit of information," she wrote, in an article on "The Needs of Readers." As someone who reads at both the high and low ends of the literary spectrum, I'm down with that. Of course, Althea Warren held that opinion at a time when it was still pretty radical--when many library board members still felt that libraries should be places for people to "better themselves" or address "the higher interests of society," and that putting mystery novels and penny dreadfuls on the shelves would attract an unruly class of patrons. This debate about the fundamental public role of libraries, and how that should shape their acquisitions and services, continues to this day--it's a fierce 'un!

To pay tribute to Althea Warren, then, I designed a knitted outfit that's bold in color, but entirely straightforward to knit and quite serviceable to wear. Think of her when you wear it--and while you're at it, you could even donate a book to a soldier in her memory.

(Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library's photo collection.)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Who's got two needles and a scholarship?

<----- This girl!

I'm very pleased to be able to share the news about the scholarship I was just awarded from Jimmy Beans Wool and Vogue Knitting. Now in its second year, the Beans for Brains scholarship program is providing some much-needed tuition support for the many college students out there who also happen to knit and crochet. It's the first program of its kind, and JBW and VK deserve a big pat on the back for coming up with it.

I'm pretty sure I'd think that even if they hadn't awarded one of the scholarships to me. (But they did, so a huge THANKS to you, Laura, and all the great folks at Jimmy Beans!) Having paid off the loans and debt from two college degrees myself before heading back for a third, I'm a big fan of scholarships--and ones that take care to recognize special talents and well-rounded students are just the berries.

It's nice to see the link between craft/creativity and academic achievements being made, too. I've grown considerably as both a knitter and a scholar since starting the degree program I'm in now, and I think those two pursuits have informed one another in some interesting ways. For one thing, practicing and communicating about both knitting and information science was radically transformed by the Interwebs, which continue to have an influence on trends in both fields. (Examples? Ravelry. Google. Discuss!) Absorbing difficult new ideas can be discouraging, but as I plowed through the really dense articles and books for my introductory doctoral research and theory class, I'd tell myself that if I could learn to knit lace, then the theoretical traditions of information science should be cake.

Perhaps most importantly, though, I've been publishing knitting patterns pretty regularly for the last few years, and that has definitely made me more comfortable with the idea of publishing in general--one of the imperatives in academia ("publish or perish," they say). Whether it's a journal article or a charted lace design, you're putting yourself out there when you publish. You know your readers are going to be a bunch of people who have a keen interest in the subject, often know waaaaaay more than you do about it, and won't hesitate to call you out--publicly!--on the bits you get wrong. The work ultimately has to stand on its own, and you have to stand by it. Scary, right? It really can be...but for me, having a sort of alter ego who publishes knitting patterns (and has to push out the occasional revision-with-apologies when a sharp-eyed knitter finds one of the goofy errors that are entirely my fault, and occur despite, not because of, the efforts of my fine technical editors) keeps the academical me more philosophical about the peer-review process, and the inevitable setbacks and rewriting that good, responsible scholarly publication entails.

For Jimmy Beans and Vogue to be sponsoring an award that recognizes students who knit, then, means to me that there might be a lot of people out there for whom knitting (and crocheting, of course!) is more than just a retro hobby. It's a true creative outlet, an intellectual challenge, and maybe a way of working on something that engages the "play" part of your brain while the "school" part is chewing on something tricky. It's also what I do on the bus to and from campus, and with my best non-school friends here in Texas, so it's a way of staying sane and grounded and having something other than my research interests to discuss at cocktail parties.

BTW, the nice photo that I grabbed for this post appeared with the front-page article on my receipt of this award that my school paper ran (slow news week, I guess!). It's by Tamir Kalifa, who is clearly a very talented guy. He gets extra points for somehow minimizing the infamous Knitter's Double Chin...but someone gets points off for naming the image file "DOM2010-09-01_Knitting_Lady." Yowch--apparently, even though I'm a student, I'm a lady now, and my girl days are behind me. In all fairness, though, I think I have underpants that are older than the reporter who interviewed me for the article. I may in fact have been wearing them when that picture was taken.