consuming fiber by any means necessary

October 8, 2014
by yarnivore

Why I don’t support Double Union or the Ada Initiative

It was beautiful weather just like today, and I was driving down Mission Street in Liz Henry’s car, the ceiling covered with feminist badges. Blue skies, I’d just had a great doctor’s appointment, a nice lunch at Rainbow Co-op, and I was headed to our brand-new feminist hackerspace to fix the broken screen on an old netbook and install Ubuntu on it. All was right with the world.

Until I walked in and found my multi-thousand dollar donation bagged up and piled against the wall to go to landfill. This included: Garment-length cuts of fabric bought at retail in Manhattan, wools, silks, cotton. Fleeces from prize-winning flocks, hand-selected at sheep and wool festivals. Most of the books I had donated. Most of the yarn I had donated. The latter two, although I had been the nominal “Librarian” and “Yarn Curator”.

I’d spent hours the day before sorting through it all. It had been in a storage unit for awhile, and I needed to get it all out of the boxes and bags it had been in. I made excellent progress and had nearly finished. I talked a little about the donation at the meeting that evening, which was attended by eight early members of Double Union. After the meeting, Valerie Aurora and Amelia Greenhall stayed behind and bagged up 90% of what I had donated and piled it against the wall. There was trash piled against the wall, too, construction debris and IKEA packaging. This is what I walked into when I showed up that afternoon a year ago.

When I walked in, I was stunned. At first I thought I had misunderstood, because why would they be throwing away what I had donated? I wrote to the list quickly, asking if the stuff against the wall was intended for landfill. I got a response back quickly, saying that yes it was, but if there was anything I wanted out of it, I had until Sunday to take it out. So generous!

At that point, I began to cry and hyperventilate. I looked around the room some more. The decor items I had brought into the space were in the free/donation box, under the entry table. These were afghans my dead mother had crocheted, and which everyone to that point had admired aloud to me, saying they made the space seem homier. I had last seen them on the couch in the corner.

I took home everything I was able to carry, crying as I did so. There’s more to the story — emails, how I got (almost all) of my stuff back. But I walked out of Double Union that afternoon, and I’ve never been back. That day launched an eight-month-long suicidal episode, and a depression which only lifted in July. Although members of Double Union had every reason to know that I was in dire straits (they knew I am physically disabled; they knew I have PTSD), they did absolutely nothing to follow up with me.

This is why I do not support Double Union. This is why I do not support the Ada Initiative. This is why I suggest that you do not support either Double Union or the Ada Initiative.

October 3, 2013
by yarnivore

Why we need a feminist hackerspace

ETA: The guy I describe in this blog post wrote to apologize. [1] We’ve been having a kind and productive conversation in email, and there’s a whole ‘nother post’s worth of material there, about the importance of open-hearted communication.

So this happened: We had an open house for our feminist hackerspace, and this dude showed up (along with a woman who’d been to AdaCamp) and told a story about a guy jerking off and eating his jizz and wondering whether that made him gay. This was after he had monopolized the conversation continuously, talking three times louder than anyone else in the room. After he’d walked around the room, snarking on all our little signs, reading them out loud in a mocking voice: “Fake broom closet!” “Library!” “Quiet area!” “Carefully framed anti-harassment policy! <chuckle>” To which I replied, “Yes… that’s where we’re going to hang it.” [2]

“Nah man, that’s cool, I like all the signs, it’s got a good pretend-play vibe.” No one commented, so I’m guessing that the enormous clouds of steam coming out of my ears at this point weren’t visible.

In the lead up to the masturbation story’s climax I was actually disassociating — while he was talking I wandered around wondering to myself, “Is this really happening?” Then I heard voices in the hall — some of our “junior members”, age 10 and under. That’s what made me do something. I thought, “Oh, NO. They do NOT need to hear this bullshit!”

So I walked up to the guy, interrupted him, looked him in the eye, and said, “I did NOT work hard to start a feminist hackerspace to have some man come in here the first night and talk about jerking off.”

“Hey, I was just telling a story to my friend who also works for SFSI [San Francisco Sex Information] — I’m sorry you were offended”

“Yes, and you were telling it loudly at the open house for a feminist hackerspace!”

“It was just something that happened at SFSI….”

“That’s great — when you have an open house at SFSI, feel free to tell as many stories as you want about people putting things up their butts, too. Please don’t do it here.”

“Whoaaaaa.” [Hands put up in the air in the universal “I’m unarmed” gesture]

In his “apologies” he kept talking about how *I was offended* — not about his having done something offensive. Everything he said made clear that I was a prude who was spoiling a fun conversation. He wanted to know “can we get past this?” I said yes, but I wish I’d asked him to leave. I was incredibly uncomfortable until he did leave, and I walked around and marveled to myself about the chutzpah it takes to stay somewhere when you’ve made an ass of yourself — it seemed like an eternity before he left. I kept walking around the space because I was too agitated to sit — I didn’t feel safe or relaxed. But it hurts my joints to walk around — I ration my walking pretty abstemiously. I’m incredibly pissed off that I wasted a bunch of my walking-around energy on being agitated in my own hackerspace!

I’d like to control my temper if/when this happens again; it might be more effective to just say, “One reason we have a feminist hackerspace is because we don’t want to hear _______________.” If I can say that calmly, it seems like a more straightforward objection than my highly emotional one. But I’d also like to give myself a break; I was angry and triggered, and very surprised that the interaction was occurring at all.

While he was there, I kept wanting to go over and give my bona fides as a sex-positive feminist, as a speaker at Arse Elektronika, as a writer of erotica; I felt like I’d just provided the punchline to a thousand rude comments about humorless feminists, that *I* was the one who had something to prove. What fascinated me most about the whole thing was that I was only moved to act when I heard the kids in the hall. It seemed obvious to me that they shouldn’t be exposed to this boorish man and his lack of judgment. Up until then, though, I was tongue-tied; I had not yet arrived at the thought, “Hey, *I* don’t have to listen to this here!”

Everyone else was awesome and backed me up; my anxieties are my own. I’m only 42. I hope to have a few more decades to work on this stuff.

ETA, 10/4/13, 7pm : [1] Said dude has written to apologize, and did so very graciously. For me, writing this post was about processing what happened and how I felt about it, not about wanting to vilify the guy who did this. As I said in my reply to his email, I might well have found his anecdote hilarious in another context. His apology in full:

I am that person from last night. Let me start by saying I’m sorry. I think what I said was “I’m sorry for making you feel uncomfortable”, but if I said I’m sorry that you’re offended, that makes me a quadruple asshole and I’m quadruple sorry. I have a crazy (horrible and stressful) personal situation going on right now, so I can’t give you the respect in writing that you currently deserve, but I would be more than willing to have a conversation with you if you were open to that. I’m sorry.

[2] Quotes are my best approximation of what was said, but I can’t claim 100% accuracy.


March 30, 2013
by yarnivore

A mean beef stroganoff

Attacking the New York Times’ obituary of Yvonne Brill as an example of media sexism is complicated; a discussion of the piece has to go beyond the lede focusing on her cooking.*

Several friends have complained about the obituary. And its lede is obviously wrongheaded, I agree. Yet this is far from a “gratuitous gender profile of a female scientist” (as the Columbia Review of Journalism describes them). It would be absurd to write an obituary of this particular female scientist without describing her life as a woman; I would consider such an obituary a much greater failure than this one, its infelicities included. Erasing the specific circumstances Brill experienced over the course of her career would do nothing to help future scientists, but would instead gloss over the gendered realities of late 20th-century life.

The CJR article linked above describes the Finkbinder test (named for science journalist Ann Finkbinder), a set of rules devised by Christie Aschwanden to equalize the media coverage of female and male scientists. Aschwanden asserts that it is “not ok to turn a story about a scientist’s professional life into one about her personal life or her gender roles”. (I agree, and was delighted when the CJR article was linked widely and commented on by my friends.)

The article goes on to say that Finkbinder and Aschwanden “emphasized that [the Finkbinder test] should apply mainly to the sort of general-interest scientist profiles that one might find in The New York Times or the front section of Nature, which are supposed to focus on professional accomplishments.” That seems to apply to this obituary, which is obviously a general-interest scientist profile, and which is even in The New York Times.

Aside from the aforementioned wrongheaded lede, however, this is an exemplary profile of a woman who was extraordinarily unusual for her cohort, and whose legacy comprises not just her rocket science accomplishments, but her notable efforts to promote the advancement of women in science. From the NYT obituary: “In her last week of life, she was still writing letters recommending eminent women in engineering for professional awards.” Dying of breast cancer, 88 years old, in her last week of life, she was writing these letters. I am deeply offended at the thought of an obituary of Brill that strictly follows the Finkbinder rules; she obviously felt passionately about her role as a scientist who was a woman.

This 1100 word obituary does not stint on explaining Brill’s technical achievements. It also includes her observation that a “good husband is harder to find than a good job.” She does seem to have found an exceptional one; a fellow chemist, with whom she shared a 59 year marriage and three children; she also seems to have had a surprising lack of difficulty finding good jobs. Part of my objection to my friends’ objections about this obituary is that I want another 1100 words, all about her life as a woman. How did she do this? How did she only take off eight years, for three kids? What were her daily challenges with men who underestimated her? Yvonne Brill knew that being a role model for other women in science went beyond just showing up; what did she do to help, in addition to writing recommendations? As a reader who is a woman who was born over 45 years later, I’m still dealing with the same crap, and I’d love to know what she did.

Christie Aschwanden’s rules will help keep lazy journalists from writing offensive, boring articles about their female scientist subjects. We’ve all read those pieces; I’d be very glad to see them go. The lede for this obituary should have said, simply, “Yvonne Brill, a rocket scientist who invented a propulsion system in the 1970s to help keep communications satellites from slipping out of their orbits, died on Wednesday at 88 in Princeton, N.J.” As it stands, this obituary, bad opening and all, situates Yvonne Brill in her context, the second half of the 20th century into the 21st, where women still cope with intense discouragement from participating fully in society. In the end, I’m weirdly happy the Times made a mess of it. I would never have read this obituary if it hadn’t been pointed out to me by my sharp-eyed friends.

* Note: The original lede was, “She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said.” After complaints from readers, and the attention of the Public Editor, the lede currently reads, “She was a brilliant rocket scientist who followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said.” Both are bad.


January 4, 2013
by yarnivore

Journey to Yarnia!

Today I was delighted to learn about a wonderfully creative yarn shop in Portland, Yarnia. Custom blended yarn is the norm there; all of the yarn offered is created (on a custom-made yarn winding machine) out of up to six singles yarns (although the singles yarns are also available for purchase).

Your choices include a wide array of colors, as well as fibers ranging from inexpensive acrylics to cashmere to tweedy mohairs. After you decide on your desired amount of yarn (by yardage or by weight)  the staff will wind it up to your specifications. They even keep notes on your choices, so that if you want or need more of your custom yarn, they’ll be able to recreate it for you.

Although you could certainly go with bright or wild color choices, I was particularly struck by a house blend called Suetado:



Suetado’s fiber content of wool, bamboo, and nylon, in muted neutrals, reminds me of the yarns used in knit garments at Eileen Fisher (at a fraction of the cost). At $22 for 435 yards, it’s an amazing bargain.

Handspinners have always had the option to combine strands for more complex yarns. And of course handknitters can do it by setting up multiple cones of singles, but coned yarn is often only sold in immense quantities, and knitting from multiple cones is awkward. The service Yarnia provides, blending and packaging exactly what you request, is an example of mass customization akin to Timberland’s Design Your Own boots or various custom denim companies.

Using a blend from Yarnia, every aspect of a knitting project can be knitter’s choice — fiber content, number of strands, colors, textures, pattern used, sizing — so you can be sure your handknit will be unique. I look forward to making a pilgrimage to Yarnia someday (or at least ordering from their clever online custom yarn builder).