Monday, January 24, 2011

A "strawman" scarf

strawman scarf 1

I don't know if you have ever heard the term "straw-man argument"? Loosely, it means arguments that are aimed at a problem that doesn't really exist. It's a classic debating technique. You make up an extreme version or caricature of your opponent's argument (the "straw-man") which is all the easier to knock apart.

So, the expression "but you're straw-manning me!" is a fair and useful term in some contexts (I have used it myself). It helps you point out and defend yourself against unfair criticism, and it helps you pass the rhetorical trick right back at your opponent as, by taking aim at the premise of their argument, it can be reasonably hard to think of a come back.

But the term can be overused. Sometimes what looks like a deliberately rhetorically constructed straw-man is simply a misunderstanding. It's accidental. In fact, it might even be the fault of the person claiming they've been straw-manned. If someone doesn't understand your position, maybe you didn't made yourself very clear in the first place?

Closing an argument with a call of "straw-man!" for a bit of oneupmanship in a debating chamber be all part of the fun, but if the aim is mutual understanding, I'm not convinced it's productive. I'd much prefer people took an interest in why they have been misunderstood/ are being misinterpreted. A lack of understanding can be a chance for everyone to learn: a chance to continue debate, not end it.

Having seen the term once too many one evening, I decided to exorcise my grumpiness the best way I know how: knitting.

strawman scarf 1

I thought about knitting a small straw-coloured toy, like the voodoo doll I made in a moment of whimsical annoyance at the structures academic admin a few years back.

But a doll's pretty useless - as much of my annoyance with the term phrase was that it's not productive, it seemed a bit silly. So, instead, I made a small straw-coloured scarf with a man symbol embroidered at one end. The stitch pattern is from My So Called Scarf, which I thought brought out a straw-y texture (see ravelry project page for full details about yarn, etc).

I've now posted it to a friend who was at the receiving end of some particularly unhelpful "you're just straw-manning me" bit of rhetoric last year. Because debate should be about sharing with others, not keeping the prizes for yourself.

strawman scarf 2

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Time catching up

2011 is the year I turn 30. This isn't something I'm especially worried about. You can't work in a university (as I do), surrounded by all the hope and energy of youth, and have a problem with feeling older. If anything, I quite like the idea of growing towards wise old biddie status.

Still, I admit that on opening a new calendar on the 1st of Janurary and realising this really was the year I'd leave my 20s, I painted my fingernails with purple glitter and dug out some very old CDs.

Luckily, I have a host of friends who have recently passed through the big 3-0 to guide me on my way. I've already blogged about flatmate-Kirsty turning 30. Here are two scarves I made over the Christmas break for other recently-turned-30 friends.

First up, a scarf for my old university friend, Uslan. You'll have to excuse the slightly dodgy iphone pics - I left my camera at home on the only afternoon I had the scarves before I wrapped them up to give them away.

me in Uslan's scarf

I've made a scarf for Uslan before (Exchequered, which is in Spring '06 Knitty) but that was about five years ago, so I offered a new one. We discussed size, shape and colour and after passing some example photos back and forth, this is the result: four skeins Colinette Point 5 knitted in brioche rib on giant 10mm needles (see ravelry project page). As Kirsty said about the yarn: it's as if Barbie was sick on a sheep.

The resulting scarf is also incredible long. A scarf to wrap yourself in and hide (or possibly just mask your wrinkles, not that Uslan has wrinkles, I'm sure).

buried in a Uslan's scarf

Secondly, a small shawlette for Anne-Marie, who I was at university with and worked at the Science Museum with too. Anne-Marie was also my old flatmate before I lived with Kirsty: we had a teeny-tiny little flat by Mornington Crescent (amazing views over Euston Station).

me in garter haruni

The pattern is Haruni by Emily Ross. This is meant to be entirely lace, but I subbed chart A for a bit of plain knitting, because that’s what the cool kids do. However, rather than the stocking stitch most people seem to opt for, I went for garter stitch. I'm on a bit of a garter stitch kick at the moment. I used felted tweed, which is supposed to be a DK weight, but is nearer 4ply so it's quite small, but a pretty little shawlette nonetheless (ravelry project page).

Monday, January 03, 2011

FO: Woodland Capelet

woodland capelat 1

A small shawl, knitted for flatmate-Kirsty as a Christmas present.

Kirsty always complains about her shoulders being cold, and wraps big scarves around herself as she sits at her desk to work. I thought this would help keep her shoulders warm, but also be elegant enough to wear out with a dress too. I wondered about bringing out some of the golds in the yarn with a bit of embellishment to glam it up a bit, but decided it was better to keep it plain. Kirsty can always add a broach.

woodland capelat 2

woodland capelat 4

The pattern is Woodland Capelet by Susan Mills. It was a fun knit. Unchallenging, but as I blogged yesterday, I've been so busy the last year, I couldn't really cope with anything difficult. It's all simple garter stitch, but the changes of the shoulder shaping and zigzaggy edge to stop you from getting bored.

I'm on a bit of a garter stitch kick at the moment, it as a sort of homespun sophistication (if we can even have "homespun sophistication". I think we can).

The yarn is a mix of recycled silk, cotton and rayon, which makes for a rather warm combination, despite not being obviously woolly.

woodland capelat 3

Full details on the ravelry project page.

I also made a pair of green socks for Kirsty's partner, Anthony. Simple toe-up in basketweave stitch (see that project's ravelry page). I made him almost the exact same pair last year, but brown. As Kirsty says: Anthony likes brown, green and things he has already.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

New Year, New Hat

red hat 1
So, I walked into a tree.

In my defense, it wasn't the trunk of the tree I walked into, just a bit of a branch. Also, it was snowing quite hard, and I had my eyes on the ground, checking for ice so I didn't slip.

It was on Clapham Common a bit before Christmas, and the point of this story is that I was so dazed from the cold branch hitting me in the face, not to mention checking my glasses weren't scratched, that I didn't realise my hat had fallen off. When I went back to look, it had gone.

I needed a new hat. I picked up a ball of kid classic and a 3.5mm circular needle. I cast on 4 stitches and started working in the round. I increased four stitches every other round until it was roughly wide enough, then worked a 4x4 rib until I'd nearly run out of yarn, and cast off.

Result: one pixie-point red hat, perfect for the Christmas holidays. Final finished piece of knitting for 2010. Ravelry project page.

Conclusion: New Year's Resolution number one is to stop walking into trees.

My New Year's Resolution number two is the more serious one: do less. I've been rushed off my feet all year. I've had so much work, I haven't left much time for many of my friends, time for myself, or even simple things like tidying my room, exercise, cooking properly or sleep. I've hardly had time for a weekend, let alone a holiday. I've gone from being one of the most organised people I know, to turning up late to meetings. I've also been late with a couple of projects, and rushed a few more. I hate that. "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing properly", and all that.

2010 was a lot of fun. I've made new friends and achieved things I've never thought possible, but I finished it absolutely exhausted. Next year: do less, but do it better and be happier. That said, looking at my diary for 2011 I have some really exciting things planned. I'm going to be writing and speaking about some amazing things, and visiting some fantastic places. I just need to keep it all under control.

Having finally taken some time off over the holiday season, I've taken time to knit a few Christmas presents and pieces for friends who have recently turned 30 (urgh, 2011 is the year I do too). Will post them all soon.

... and yes, my eyes are different colours.

red hat 2