12 Jun 2009

Episode 81: To Be of Use

An interview with author, Betsy Greer, while Cinnamon Cooper, Sister Diane, Felicity Ford and Otto von Busch, make good; meanwhile, I ponder the mystery of every day objects.

knitting-for-good Thanks to Betsy Greer, for allowing me to record excerpts from her book, and to some of the writers who contributed to Knitting for Good, Cinnamon Cooper, Diane Gilleland, Felicity Ford, and Otto von Busch. Thanks, as well, to readers Marceli Botticelli, Sister Diane, Felicity Ford and David Reidy.

Betsy’s wonderful book, Knitting for Good: A Guide to Creating Personal, Social and Political Change, Stitch by Stitch, is available via Amazon US | UK

Join @Platea’s next public art project, “hopes/dreams/fears”. To Participate add the hopes/dreams/fears page on Facebook. Meet @platea at FIGMENT NYC Arts Festival on Governor’s Island, NY and add your hopes/dreams/fears to their list. Or, host your own hopes/dreamsfears gathering, either in person, or online. For more information visit @Platea.

Join me at the First and Last Pub, in Pembroke Dock, on Saturday, 13th June 2009, from 10.30am-3.30pmfor WWKIP Day. (I will be there around noon.)

Check out the Make Do and Mend tagged projects on Ravelry, and do be sure to add “makedoandmend” to your project tags, so others can find them.

Catch the new podcast for knitting teens At the End of the Row, with hosts Alex, and Sonya.

Local, organic and cheap? Find out how to eat well for less. (Thanks, Cat!)

This week’s knitting mnemonic is brought to you by President Obama’s dog.

Portuguese Water Dog
Portuguese Water Dog


Portuguese Knitting

KniTunes were provided by and used with the permission of:

Additional music by Human Response, Brad Sucks, and Jeff Wahl, courtesy of Magnatune.com, and James Crisp, from his cd Celtic Seas.



  1. Felix wrote:

    Great coverage of Betsy Greer’s book! It was good to hear the voices of the other people in the book.

    Re: the puffed sleeves issue, I am SO WITH YOU on this one and my friend Kate is obviously of the same mind as us, since her most recent knitting design has incredible puffed sleeves.

    So there you go; I think you may be prescient to the global resurgence of the puffed sleeve in knitting.


    Posted on 6.12.09 ·
  2. Liz T. wrote:

    Puffed sleeves are back – check out this example: http://www.ravelry.com/projects/wazz/get-off-my-cloud

    Thanks for the great episode Brenda.

    Posted on 6.12.09 ·
  3. TheNatKnits wrote:

    PAIN FREE: A Revoloutionary Method for Sropping Chronic Pain. By Pete Egoscue.

    I have carpel tunnel, which is sometimes aggrevated by knittig. This book opened my eyes. It’s devided into chapters with excercises for different kinds of chronic pain–and there is a whole chapter on shoulders. Most of the excercises for shoulder pain focus on re-aligning the hips. Egoscue’s method focues on the whole body, not just the part in pain. I’ve has massage and accupuncture and even gone to physical therapy. But while these things helped, I wasn’t cured, and I felt pretty helpless. The book is empowering because I can do the excercises alone–and I notice a difference when I do and don’t do them.

    Egoscue’s theory is that the body is designed to handle repetitive motion. What breaks the body down is repeatedly moving joints which are out of alignment because the body’s muscles are too atrophied to align them correctly. Since reading the book, I am much more aware of my posture, when I’m knitting and otherwise, and I’ve revised everything from the way I sit to the way I hold my arms and needles.

    Egoscue’s tone is a bit preachy in places, but the man is a vet who reconditioned himself after serious injuries who practices–and believes–what he preaches. I’ve tried Portuguese knitting, and combined knitting, and they can help and I think Egoscue would definately be behind changing routines and using new muscle groups. But for me, at least, the pain has always come back until I’ve started addressing the root caues. If you’re at the place where you feel something has got to be done, please check out this book.

    Posted on 6.13.09 ·
  4. Yes puffed sleeves are back in fashion, keep your eyes peeled especially celebrities and in fashion magazines. I read in Vogue that also coming back are SHOULDER PADS! Gasp! Also returning tight leggings with tunic length tops, and also, stirrup pants. Also shiny lycra. I feel like I’ve gone back to the mid-1980s. LOL.

    Love your show!

    Posted on 6.13.09 ·
  5. Susie wrote:

    Oh, puffed sleeves, the friend of the pear-shaped – they balance out hips and are fun to boot.
    I am so enjoying this series – thanks, Brenda!

    Posted on 6.14.09 ·
  6. Elisabeth in France wrote:

    Hi Brenda!
    I discovered your podcast some months ago, probably following a link from David Reidy’s Sticks and Strings podcast (BTW, is that David’s voice I recognised on podcast 81?) I stopped kniting when I started to learn to quilt about 12 years ago but there are very few quilting podcasts and once I had exhausted all their archives I had to find something else to listen too while doing those daily chores like peeling vegetables, hanging the laundry out to dry and basting quilt sandwiches (ok, I don’t baste quilt sandwiches daily but that’s a step in the quilting process I don’t enjy a lot so having something to listen to while I do it helps!)
    I find there are many similarities between quilting and knitting: all those UFOs, yarn/fabric stashes, making projects for charity, how quilting/knitting can be healing, etc. The knitting community doesn’t seem as caught up in the craft/versus art debate as the quilting community though, judging by what I hear from you and David. And yes, making do and mend and recycling is an important aspect of quilting although quilt historians spend a lot of time demystifying a couple of things here. (BTW, Are there knit historians?)
    I’ve listened to your first 22 shows and 20 last, I’m looking forward to the rest of them. It’s a lot of fun to see how much you have evolved and how much you have stay the same at the same time! So far, my favourite show is….the one Franklin Habit guest hosted ! Sorry!!!
    Keep up the good work, I love it! You make me feel like visiting Wales and OK, I must ‘fess up…you also make me feel like taking up those pointy sticks again…

    Posted on 6.15.09 ·
  7. Liisa wrote:

    Hi Brenda,

    I confess with others that I listen whilst I walk the dog in the mornings, and sometimes it takes me a couple mornings. So I hope you will forgive me if you address what I am asking in the part of the podcast I have not yet heard.
    Have you got any more information on that little project you were working on for the Smithsonian? I live near DC and The Smithsonian FolkLife festival is a must for my family. And of course Wales is one of the featured sites.
    So, will we be honored by your presence? By your audio work somewhere? What can you tell us about that wonderful interview you did with the singing men in the pub?

    Love the cast, and as a native Oregonian, I love to hear talk about Portland too!


    Posted on 6.15.09 ·
  8. Thumperina wrote:

    Hi Brenda,
    I have recently been suffering with pain in my shoulder which I thought might be caused by my dignoses of DDD. However, I am pretty certain it is from the repetitive motion of knitting. Like you mentioned the pain is excruciating during ones sleep and I have been suffering from this daily. So I am so glad that you researched an alternative way to knit. I am eager and excited to get back to knitting as I REALLY miss my favorite hobbie. Thank you so much for posting your podcasts. I always look forward to listening because I learn something everytime I listen and you make me feel so inspired.

    Posted on 6.16.09 ·
  9. Val wrote:

    Hi Brenda,
    I was so happy to hear you mention the Portugese Knitting video on You Tube. I have had two operations in the last two years on my right shoulder and I am right handed. The repetitive motion of knitting becomes quite painful since I have not fully healed. I have attempted to change my knitting style from “throwing” but never liked the outcome. I have a very even and steady gauge which I don’t want to loose. I have watched the Portugese Knitting video and will give it a good effort. Thank you for pointing out this method.

    Posted on 6.16.09 ·
  10. T2 wrote:

    When you mentioned puffed sleeves, all I could think of was Anne of Green Gables and her dream of having a dress with frivolous puffed sleeves rather than functional straight ones.

    Thanks for including a couple of my favorite poems (in your essay and in the penultimate song). I knew you had great taste!

    Posted on 6.17.09 ·
  11. Ana wrote:

    hi, Brenda!

    I was wondering if you could post the title/author to the poem that you read in this episode. The poem and the discussion of the intimacy of craft really resonated with me. I have been making/making do my whole life in a family that has had needlewomen for generations. All of my great-grandmothers quilted as did their mothers and grandmothers. One of my great-grandmothers was also a crocheter, embroiderer, and professional seamstress. My grandmothers both sewed and embroidered, one also knitted. My mother sews, crochets, knits. All of them did the necessary work of craft through the depression, through World War II, through 1970’s recession, through raising children, through attending college and medial school. I grew up with 100 year old quilts, hand-sewn dresses, hand-made dolls, and superfly granny square afghans. Growing up, we often made do and mended, but it was with pride that I learned how. I am now teaching my 5 year-old son to knit, sew and crochet (as I will teach his sister when she stops cutting teeth on my knitting needles.) It is as heartening to see others embracing craft, as it is to see craft getting the appreciation it deserves.

    Posted on 6.17.09 ·
  12. Mary Oba wrote:

    I’ve been enjoying your podcasts and especially the personal stories by various people. I think many would work into a nice book.

    I’m sorry you’re having pain in your shoulder. I have been on a knitting fast for about 6 weeks now because of the pain in my thumb, hand and forearm–tendonitis I think and made me remember why I’d given up knitting about 25 years ago. I’m really sad about it as it’s always been my favorite pastime. I think I shall be doing some very Zen knitting for a while. So I was excited to see the videos on Portuguese knitting. At least it’s the opposite thumb that’s involved. I think I can do it because I learned to pick after throwing and also learned to knit back and forth on the same side of the fabric. I couldn’t believe it could be done, but someone had told me their mother always knit that way. It was a life saver when I was knitting a purely knit and purl pattern that I would always screw up on the wrong side.

    Take care and keep up the good work. It’s always enjoyable and know that if you have to take a little vacation from knitting to heal that you will survive, and you’ll have a lot more time to read. Not much consolation I know.

    Yours, Mary O, Scottsbluff, Nebraska

    Posted on 6.17.09 ·
  13. Sue wrote:

    Well, I’m up early to get some work done so am delighted to be able to download another podcast to listen to, thank you Brenda.
    We have quite a frost here this morning but our 2 beautiful Portuguese Water Dogs are waiting for their walk. These dogs are just fabulous. Such loyal animals with great personalities. My daughter found them when researching to find a dog suitable for her as she has many allergies.

    Posted on 6.17.09 ·
  14. Lydia wrote:

    Hello Brenda
    Just listened to your latest this morning. Having been knitting now for nearly 50 years I think the idea of empowering oneself and others through knitting in a sort of warm woolly subversion is just wonderful. Your podcast pushes me to think deeper about what I do with knitting and how elastic the craft is in more ways than one!
    I have now caught up with every podcast and it has been such a pleasure. You have sent me rushing to my rather extensive knitting library for a book you mention. I wake up in the morning with plans, yes, plans for future projects in mind. Discussions with my daughter about swatching, knitting in the round, yarn. Oh, the list goes on.
    So, here’s a heartfelt Thank You from me….. Dioch!!!!

    Posted on 6.18.09 ·
  15. Belinda Thompson wrote:

    I choked up listening to Cinnamon Cooper. My gran had a Singer just like she described. I also have a machine like that. I came upon it at a flea market and bought it in memory of Gran. I’ll have to give the Portuguese knitting a try, just to see if I can do it. I’m in the process of using up all of my leftover yarn and other craft supplies. Hubby and I are moving to a mountain top in the Ozarks and I want to move as little as possible. Everyone in my family and the local charities will getting all kinds of stuff. I love the podcast. You give a lot of inspiration. For your shoulder, try 2 drops of lavender essential oil in a tablespoon of warm almond or jojoba oil, massage into affected area and cover with a warm, damp compress. Replace cloth before it cools. You’ll feel better and smell great, too.

    Posted on 6.19.09 ·
  16. Gaidig wrote:


    Here’s another puff sleeved cardigan: http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/puff-sleeved-feminine-cardigan

    Posted on 6.19.09 ·
  17. Monique wrote:

    The entire poem, To be of use, by Marge Piercy can be found here:

    I am of Ojibwe heritage and an archivist and I want to add that there are some Native American peoples who believe that handmade objects (baskets for example) have souls and should not be preserved forever in museums. They were made to be used and should be allowed to live out their lives fulfilling their purpose (like your sweater).

    Thanks for a great episode.

    Posted on 6.20.09 ·
  18. Manisha wrote:

    Hello Brenda,
    Just made a group called "makedoandmend" http://www.flickr.com/groups/1129474@N20/
    You are inspiring! Thank you. This is just after my heart 🙂

    Love Manisha (Ravelry) /Storebukkebruse (flickr)

    Posted on 6.25.09 ·
  19. Oh my, this just gels my current thinking about design, and making and craft and knitting
    Thank you so much, you have delivered one of your best (they are all great – but this is the best!)


    Posted on 7.1.09 ·
  20. sandy wrote:

    having had canes and walkers and electric wheelchairs. i can tell you you are right on about needing to individualize or make it less serious. i used stickers all over both my walkers (first too tall, second just right)…one flowers and one winnie the poo. i used an obama sticker on the back of my first chair to advertise for him. i haven’t had the new one long enough to do anything with/on it yet…but i will.

    Posted on 7.1.09 ·
  21. Kp wrote:

    I just about freaked out when the final song came on because it is one of my absolute favorites. You have such wonderful taste in music.

    Posted on 7.19.09 ·
  22. Scott wrote:

    Thanks for the link to Portuguese knitting. I had a look and just had to try it. Like you said it is difficult to learn a new way to knit. I have tried knitting continental in the past and found it a bit awkward. The Portuguese method seemed much more natural for me. I intend to keep practicing so I’ll have an alternate method in my skill set. In fact I just frogged a lace pattern skull cap because I was having a difficult time figuring out the best way to do the decreases. I think I’ll start the cap again in a plain stockinette
    knit it up Portuguese style.

    Love the podcast. Keep ’em coming.


    Posted on 8.2.09 ·
  23. Monica wrote:

    Hello to the lovely Brenda! I know I’m a bit slow on the comments – I just listened to most of this podcast while out on a short run yesterday. Yay for cast-on! Anyway, I do hope your shoulder improves with the adoption of the new technique. I too have pain issues – but in my wrists and forearms. I have learned a 2nd way of knitting, but tend to go back to my first way, mostly because I get SO frustrated by the slow progress and the shift in tension. You’re right – I think most of us won’t go to a “new” way unless forced to, and at least in my own case, I think laziness! I don’t want to sacrifice my speedy knitting technique – even at the expense of my own physical wellbeing! LOL…

    Thanks once again for a wonderful podcast. *love* Monica

    Posted on 8.11.09 ·

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