Archive for April, 2013

Things are kind of in turmoil, right now.  Amongst other things, I seem to be having some rather serious difficulty accessing my Ravelry account.  I don’t know why.  In the meantime, here is this week’s Freebie Friday post, with patterns accessed thanks to a relative’s account.  Apologies if the post is a bit short on words, Stuff is Happening.  Sufficient to say I’ll be sorting out the problems with my Ravelry account when Stuff calms down enough that I have the time and energy to do so.

Freebie Friday rules are a little different to Ravelry Monday rules, and are as follows:

  • The pattern needs to be free.
  • The pattern does not HAVE to be a Ravelry download, but must be listed on Ravelry.
  • The pattern must have a photo clearly showing the item.
  • The pattern still needs to produce a professional looking item and have the necessary information for potential makers.
  • Clothing for adults must still be available in plus sizes.
  • An item showcased on Freebie Friday may still be showcased on Ravelry Monday, if it fits the brief for that day.

So, without further faffing, here are my favourite free designs of the week!


Lace Shawl with Diamond Pattern

A very pretty, delicate lace-wight shawl with an attractive leafy border.  Available as a free Ravelry download.


Tschuss Frau Holle

A simple but pretty aran-weight toque, with an attractive striped and spotted pattern.  Available as a free Ravelry download.


Construction Site Cowl

A unusual worsted-weight cowl with a fun pattern, ideal for working up in bright, contrasting colours.  Available as a free Ravelry download.

I want to start by saying that I understand other people’s perspectives.  This is an issue that hits close to the bone for a hell of a lot of people.  All the reactions I’ve seen to the post I’m talking about are VALID.  I just wanted to offer my own, and felt it better and less likely to fan the flames the Captain was trying to temper to wait and post on MY blog rather than adding to the masses of comments over there.

So, the good people over at Captain Awkward – both the contributors and the commentariat – have had a rather fraught few days since the Captain answered their latest letter, from a man concerned by the way his new-found feminist knowledge was interacting with his anxiety disorder.

The Captain interpreted the letter as being more about everyday, non-mental-illness anxiety, and as such as being yet another rehashing of the hundreds of comments on the original Schrodinger’s Rapist post, by men, upset that they suddenly had to think about the feelings of the women they meet.  The commentariat responded – and rightly so – by calling out the Captain’s complete dismissal of the part where the letter writer stated they had an anxiety disorder, as in capital-A Anxiety, and that in that context the “get a grip, stop bothering women” response felt ableist and triggering.

I’ve been silent in the comments and elsewhere, mostly reading and lurking a bit.  Now the comments sections of the relevant posts are closed, giving people time to cool down, I want to say a few things myself.  First, a bit of background information.

I’m a crazy person.

Well, okay, so actually I have some mental illness.  I have anxiety-related issues, depression-related issues, a long history of self-harm, and a list of Stuff the Doctors Note Down when Diagnosing that appears picked from a whole range of related disorders.  So I identify as Crazy.  I know it’s an ableist term, but I’m pro-reclaiming harmful words (I also identify as queer, for example), and I honestly find it easier to say “I’m crazy” than… that whole paragraph of non-answer I just gave.  Anyway, the point is that I am very intimately acquainted with the sort of emotional and mental baggage the letter writer deals with.

I also agreed with the Captain.

Now, that’s not to say I thought her reply was fine.  It was undeniably problematic.  And even if I didn’t personally think that, my own “I’m alright Jack” feelings do not, at all, in any sense, negate the triggers, the upset, the pain and the anxiety that others feel.  But I do want to offer my perspective.

Because having mental illness sucks.  Having mental illness that specifically impacts on your ability to Do People Stuff, like socialising, talking to people, etc, is especially fraught.  But when several people commented that it isn’t right to ask the letter writer to accept social anxiety as his lot in life, my thoughts went to this post and the comment threads in that.  The Awkward Dude Sagas.

In those posts, and the comments, there was quite a lot of discussion about the intersection between awkward/inappropriate behaviour and perceived disability.  Specifically, the fact that whenever a guy behaves inappropriately towards a woman, someone will defend him by saying that he might be AS” – that he might have Autism.  As people pointed out, having a spectrum disorder that can make social interaction and social cues more difficult to navigate doesn’t excuse the behaviour.  Put kindly, a person who behaves inappropriately should be called out for their behaviour.  If they don’t have AS, calling them out and following through on that  is the only way to make sure they know they need to behave.  If they’re predatory, it’s the only way to make sure they know they don’t have license to operate.  And if they do have AS, clear communication when they mess up is vital to help them learn.

But there’s an extra layer there, too.  One of my favourite comments on that post was this comment, by Kaz, who said,

Guess what? Most guys are pretty okay with body language and social cues. Most guys are much better on that front than I am, in fact! Because, you know, most guys are NT and I am actually on the autistic spectrum! And nobody’s ever cut me any slack when I struggle with the social cues surrounding romance and dating. Never mind the fact that for someone who’s read as female, the consequences for messing up can be *much much* worse for than for a guy. I mean, the last time I seriously misread signals in that context I was sexually assaulted? And it left me achingly aware of how vulnerable I am to that kind of thing happening again? So I’m afraid I don’t exactly have much sympathy for someone whose main problem with the amount of non-verbal language and subtle cues that happens re: romance is that it makes it hard for them to find a date!

And later in the comments,

The extra fun thing is that being a woman with AS can make you particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment, too! Both because there is no allowance made for women struggling with interpreting social cues correctly – in fact, a lot of the shit women get is predicated on that kind of thing: let us contemplate how the entire “what did you think would happen if you [went home with a guy/invited him to your room/smiled at him/wore a skirt/etc. etc.]” line of reasoning works out for Aspies, hm? – but also because those nice other aspects of AS that hardly ever get talked about can play into things. Things like sensory sensitivities and difficulty dealing with unexpected happenings and certain verbal issues that can crop up… …I find it ~hilarious~ that the behaviour that usually gets the “but but think of the men with AS!!!” treatment is usually behaviour that may be very dangerous for people with AS to be on the receiving end of. Frequently my answer to “we should tolerate X behaviour to make men with AS more welcome!” is “if you tolerate X behaviour, I am an Aspie who could not participate in that space at all.

To take the sheer awesome smack-down that is Kaz’ contribution and rework it for this particular issue,

It is horrible having an anxiety disorder.  Anxiety can make normal social interactions more difficult.  It sucks to be a man who finds it hard or triggering to try and socialise with women because his feminist learning conflicts with his jerk-brain.

But guys aren’t the only people who have mental health disorders.  And you know what else sucks?  Being a woman, aware of Schrödinger’s Rapist not just as a theory, some hypothetical, but as part of your lived experience of dealing with harassment and assault.  And also having an anxiety disorder.  Because we get no free pass, no allowance from guys who totally get it and understand that their desire to interact with us is triggering and upsetting in extra ways.  But we’re expected to shut the fuck up and deal.  We’re expected to not only deal with it, but find the spoons to dig our way out of an anxiety cycle enough to be civil, and understanding, and receptive to the triggering and unwanted attentions of the guy talking to us. 

Every day, we have to separate and manage our normal, bog-standard anxiety-about-predators from our Anxiety triggers.  That’s not fun, but it’s not ableist.  It’s normal everyday fucking life if you have anxiety.  Just as I have to separate my paranoid tendencies to assume the worst from my practical experience that sometimes I am in danger.  You know how the Gift of Fear is supposed to be a tool to help us stay safe?  Try working that into your life when you know – because it’s a medical fact – that your mental health issues mean your instincts often need to be second-guessed.  When you know that you actually sometimes CAN’T trust your own judgement, and when learning how to differentiate between the two is a long learning process.  It’s not ableist to say that this is work I need to do.  It’s a statement of fact.

The advice that says:

  1. Keep working on your mental health needs.
  2. You need to separate the rational anxiety about these social things from your irrational anxiety.
  3. Schrödinger’s Rapist actually provides a handy check-list of things to help you determine rationally whether approaching a woman is okay right now.
  4. There is no blanket solution by which we can absolve you of your responsibility or free you of your triggers.
  5. Also, what you’re asking sounds a hell of a lot like what non-anxiety-having guys ask about this exact same thing.  Same rules apply to all of you.

Is spot on.  Right on the money.  Guys with AS do not get a blanket free pass from not acting creepy.  Guys with Anxiety do not get a blanket free pass from not thinking about the needs of others.  I agree that the original response was overly-snarky (although snark is the default style of the CA archives, and the Captain is notorious for being strong-minded and direct when it comes to calling people out when they try and weasel for cookies and free passes), and I can see why some people were triggered by it.  But that doesn’t make it wrong advice.

That said, I know I get stuff wrong.  I don’t see what the difference is between the way we deal with the suggestion that AS people can’t help being socially awkward and the way we deal with this, but I’d be happy to listen to other people’s perspectives on that.

But what I think would be more helpful, is a round of suggestions.  Fellow Anxiety-sufferers!  How do you balance the additional pressures of social interaction with a feminist mindset, with your triggers and mental health needs?

This is Ravelry Mondays, a weekly event where I pick three-five patterns seen on Ravelry that week, and share them on this blog.  Some weeks will be themed, and there are some rules.

In order for a pattern to qualify it must:

  • Be on Ravelry
  • Be available for download either on Ravelry or from another website – no patterns only available in print or magazines, but it doesn’t have to be free
  • Have at least one photo clearly showing the item as a whole
  • Have at least one photo where the item is not being manipulated, so we can see accurately how it hangs and fits
  • Must have the necessary minimum information on the ravelry page – sizing info where applicable, yardage, yarn weight, etc
  • Clothing items will only qualify if they are available in plus sizes*
  • Only one pattern per designer per week

*And the plus sizes given must have MEASUREMENTS.  Calling the sizes XS-XXXL means nothing if you never tell us what XXXL is.  I’ve seen a 40″ bust called that, before!

This week we’re looking at clothes for women – cardigans and vests, specifically, suitable for Spring weather.

In accordance with my rules, all of these are available in plus sizes.  Unfortunately, Ravelry designers can fall into the same traps that other fashion designers do, so plus patterns tend to be relatively thin on the ground when you’re just looking at the offerings for a single week.  I had to choose between sharing fewer qualifying patterns, or sharing some that only barely scraped into the plus-size requirements in in-betweeny sizes.  Following the heart of the brief rather than the letter, I chose to share fewer patterns and make sure those I did share had at least a decent number of plus size options.  It’s a damn shame, and I’ll be writing a post on that soon, but in the meantime feel free to check out my Master List of Ravelry Plus Patterns, which will be kept updated.


Escarpment is a simple, attractive worsted-weight cardigan with a sweet, single closure at the bust that hangs beautifully past the bust and onto the hips.  It has some gentle hip darts for shape, and the pattern is available for up to a 57″ chest, making it one of the better, more generous offerings this week.  I especially like that the information provided also includes stating what size the sample shown is, which gives some nice context to the images.  Sometimes simple designs are the best, and this elegant offering is available for download at Ravelry for under £5.

Sweet Hooded Vest

The required inch measurements aren’t provided on the Ravelry page, but looking at the link provided in the details, the 3X size of this pattern fits a 54″ bust, so that’s something.  This is a worsted weight hooded cardigan, making it thick enough to keep the wind out, but the open, sleeveless style and lace pattern makes it a lighter piece, suitable for Spring weather.  It’s an unusual and fun design, that’d work well layered over clothes, and is available for download at Ravelry for just a few pennies over £5.

Window to my Soul

Joji always makes beautiful patterns in a decent range of sizes, and I’ve fallen a little bit in love with this particular pattern.  From the sweet shape to the patterned bodice, it’s a classic-looking cardigan with just a few tweaks to make it fresh and interesting.  Knitted in fingering weight with short sleeves, this is a great light cover-up for sunny but breezy days.  I especially appreciate the photo showing three different women wearing it together, so you can see how it fits different body sizes and shapes.  This pattern is available up to a 56″ bust, and can be downloaded at Ravelry for just a hair over £4, or purchased as part of an ebook of four lovely Summer patterns.

That’s it for this week!  Disagree with my selection?  Seen a great pattern you think should have qualified?  Want to suggest a theme for next week?  Let me know in the comments!

Fresh Samphire

Fresh Samphire (Photo credit: Denna Jones)

Don’t get me wrong, I love Winter comfort food.  Rich beef cobblers with pickled walnuts, spicy haggis and mashed potatoes, thick, vegetable-rich bacon soup with dumplings, creamy chicken pies, and brussel sprouts and chestnuts as far as the eye can see.  But this Winter has been a long one, and it gets to a point where you want something that tastes fresh.  Something simple, that takes no time at all to cook, something crisp.

And if you’re poor like me, if the food shopping is dictated by what’s cheap and what’s on sale, maybe you’re also craving something that tastes of the sea.

My usual supermarket recently did something glorious – it started selling stripey-label smoked mackerel.  Affordable smoked mackerel.  Now, I’m a big believer in buying local and buying from small shops, but right now I am reliant on supermarkets for a lot of things.  I have a great greengrocer, but the butchers closed down and despite this being a coastal town, the fishmonger himself sells more imported, packaged fish than fresh caught local produce.  The wonderful co-ops for food springing up around the country like Catchbox haven’t yet reached my corner of the UK.  So this was BIG, for me.

What better to go with it than a punnet of delicate samphire sprigs?

Mackerel and Samphire Pasta

Mackerel cold-smoked for eight hours and then ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes simple is best, and this recipe is definitely simple. 



2 fillets of smoked mackerel, flaked, skin off

1 punnet fresh samphire

4 servings pasta

1 knob butter

4 handfuls watercress, washed and picked over

4 radishes

2″ long piece of cucumber



Bring a pan of water to the boil – do not add salt.  Once boiling, add the pasta and cook until al-dente or to your preferred consistency.  Just before the pasta reaches that point, add the samphire to the pan and cover.  Drain, return to the pan and leave to one side.  Toss the mackerel in with the pasta and samphire.  In a small milk pan, heat the butter until melted.  Finely slice the radishes and cucumber.  Arrange a bed of watercress on the plate, sprinkle around with the radish and cucumber.  Spoon out a serving of mackerel and samphire pasta onto the watercress and drizzle over with melted butter.  Add a little pepper.

I swear I tried to keep it simple, this time.  Honest.  Serious.

I swear it.

While I was browsing fabric bundles for my knitting needle roll WIP, I came across a couple metres of some nice, drapey, heavy microdot jersey fabric for next-to-nothing on Ebay.  Not having the income to buy new clothes, and not wanting to miss the opportunity to create something using polkadots – one of my favourite patterns – I snatched it up!  I figured I could make a pretty dress of some sort without too much trouble, jersey being a little tricky to sew but nice and stretchy, so easy to fit.

Keep it simple, I told myself.  So I looked online for some simple sewing patterns that wouldn’t require me to spend money.  Not easy when you’re plus size, as it seems the selection of clothing patterns to fit you is extremely limited even if you’re paying for them, let alone looking for free.  Not like with knitting, sadly.  The simplest design seemed to be this:  Four rectangles, sewn together, with arm and neck holes left open and then hemmed.  Of course, it needs something doing in the waist to shape it.  The usual way with this pattern is shirring.  You can’t really add shirring to a stretchy fabric like jersey, though.

You can smock it, of course…

But then I remembered that smocking, depending on the way you do it, can be much less stretchy than shirring, so the pattern would need modifying.  Instead of adding shirring all the way around the body below the bust, it’d be best to just add two smaller panels of smocking – either one at the front and one at the back, or one at each side.  And the way smocking works means I’d need to use more fabric than normal, but since I’m not smocking all the way around I’d need to work out how large I want the panels to be, multiply that by 2 and add that number to the width of the dress body to make sure I had enough fabric for 3x the width of the smocked panels.

I remembered I have some lovely polkadot picot bias binding in the craft box that’d make a lovely hem for the dress.  Of course, I’d need to do something to tie the picot edge in with the rest of the dress, since there isn’t enough to do the neckline and the hem.  I could always do proper embroidered smocked panels, smocking in thread the same colour as the picot edging and using a smocking pattern that would in some way emulate the picot shape.

Oh!  And of course dresses need to have pockets!  Nice, simple, uncomplicated patch pockets.  Nice patch pockets with a bit of the bias binding at the top, to tie them in with the hem.  Nice, smocked patch pockets with a bit of bias binding added.

So I’ve gone from a simple rectangle-based dress I could probably machine sew in an hour to an embroidered English-smocked dress with matching patch pockets, that will need quite a lot of hand stitching and probably take me a few days to make.

Watch this space…