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Slaying (and Making) Dragons

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I only had a few days of unfettered jubilation over the home pregnancy test that showed positive, before worry beset me. Call it intuition, but I just felt something wasn’t right. And as much as I wanted this baby, whom we had been trying to conceive for nearly two years, I couldn’t help but feel a growing sense of doom. I went for test after test, all of which showed up just hanging on the low edge of normal. At eight weeks, we had an ultrasound and saw our little butterfly baby’s heartbeat. I thought surely my doubts would be assuaged by this very hopefully sign. But when my symptoms changed a few days later, I scheduled another ultrasound, this time to discover that the baby’s heart had stopped, and the fear that had haunted me for 5 weeks was true: I had miscarried yet again.

That evening, as I sat in a state of mingled numbness and tears, I got a message on Facebook asking me to make an adorable little amigurumi dragon for my cousin’s new baby. Thinking life must go on, I accepted the order, and the next day, began pulling the yarn together for the project.

Now, the pattern for this dragon isn’t particularly difficult, and I thought it might be a good project to carry with me through the experience at the hospital and subsequent recovery rest time. How little I knew of the depths of grief this miscarriage would pull me to!

I made–and remade–the head for the dragon twice before I set it aside in total frustration. I could not keep track of my stitch count to save my life, and therefore could not get the shape correct! When I was gifted a ticket to Florida for some rest in the sunshine to recuperate, I found some lovely soft cotton yarn there, and decided maybe a new start with new, shiny and delicious yarn would be just the ticket for making this dragon. It *sort of* worked.

When I got home, I found I could actually count again, so I finished up the head in a few hours. But I just had no heart to make him. He was a reminder of the empty feeling, of the quiet slipping away that was too profound for words. And yet, he was also a reminder that miracles do happen. He was a gift for a baby boy whose mama and daddy had wished for and waited for, and I wanted to infuse him with love and hope, because I know from experience what that wishing and waiting is like. Here he is, eyeless and seemingly begging to be finished.

Just as I have had to make it a discipline to get through each day without falling into self-pity while still honouring my journey of grief, I used this little dragon as a tangible piece of that discipline. I worked on him every day–just a little bit. One round, one piece, or simply just adding some stuffing; slowly but surely, his parts were filling my project bag.

Today, he got assembled. He’s a little rag-tag. Turns out, my stitch counting was still a little off on some things. But that’s what this journey has been about for me. I’ve thought some days I was feeling at peace, hopeful for the future, when something simple and mundane would pick the scab on my heart and drench my face with tears. So, in all his adorable imperfection, I’m happy to be sending this dragon to a sweet little boy with all the promise and potential in the world. I hope he feels the love and hope that his gift brought to me.

Synthetic Fibres: Are They Worth It?

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The very first time I went on a mission to buy yarn, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was working on building a successful career in the healthcare field, and I simply wanted to make something for my daughter for Christmas. My assistant crocheted, so I figured I could get her to help me. Little did I know crocheting would change my life.

I headed to my local Walmart, picked out some purple yarn and a set of hooks, and came home, proud of my initiative to actually make something. Well, we all know it became an obsession after that. I bought more and more colours, and learned about different sizes and styles of yarn…and then I met a girl who wouldn’t be bothered with acrylic yarn. She laughed and called herself a yarn snob, saying she felt that she put enough work into her handmade items that she wanted to them to last, and synthetic fibres just didn’t stand the test of wear and wash over time.

She got me thinking, and a few months later, I found myself at the church charity sale buying ugly wool yarn, just simply because I wanted to see if she was right. Turns out, she was. Wool, when well-prepared and well-constructed into a finished product, doesn’t pill or lose lustre like synthetic fibres do. In some cases, it gets softer and more comfortable with repeated wear and good, gentle care. For those reasons alone, I thought it would be worthwhile to build a business whose identifying characteristic was natural fibres.

But then I read some things that really got my heart beating, and made me look at those cute little trendy baby blankets and accessories in a whole new light. It turns out, synthetic fibres have a major impact on the environment–every time you wash them! For instance, in an article on sciencenews.org, scientific research has found that our marine environments are being impacted. Here’s an excerpt from their article:

Every time a garment made from polyester or other synthetic fabric goes through the wash, it sheds tiny plastic fibers. Thousands of them. It turns out that these fibers end up fouling coastal environments throughout the globe, a global research team finds.”

Since most synthetic yarn available to crafters is made of acrylic, I want to focus on acrylic for now. Acrylic yarn is made mainly of a chemical called polycrylonitrile, or polyacrylonitrile. Check out the MSDS for this chemical. Now, when it has been spun into a fibre, and it’s not in a liquid state, the processes described in the MSDS are slowed, and you certainly won’t die of cyanide poisoning the first–or even the 10th–time you cozy up with your acrylic couch throw, or you wrap your toddler up in their adorable handmade mermaid tail or animal-shaped beanie. But cyanide builds in the system over time, and is carcinogenic. And again, every time you wash that item, small fibres are being released which look like food to microorganisms in our waterways. Cyanide for dinner is never a good idea. Our wetland and marine creatures have enough strikes against them: I’d rather not have my fashion choices be one of them.

Acrylic being a plastic, it is esentially indestructible. Burning it results in hard plastic beads, and a “burned plastic” smell. On a side note, having acrylic baby accessories in the event of a fire will result in baby being exposed to these fumes, and potentially having the acrylic melt to their clothing or skin. Wool, on the other hand, will smoulder without igniting, buying time for baby to be removed from danger. Obviously, Canadian children’s pajama manufacturers are required to treat their fabrics with fire retardant, but handmade acrylic blankets or accessories are not required to meet the same standards.

Maybe I sound alarmist or “crunchy.” I’m naturally a pragmatist, and like to examine issues from all sides before I make a decision–and even then, I give grace to people who don’t agree, because I’ve seen their side of the equation. But in this case, I feel strongly enough about leaving the world a better place for my girls that I have to speak up. I have to let my choices as a craftsman be my protest.

I’ve heard it said that, if North Americans simply gave up ice cream, the amount of food resources saved could feed the entire starving population of our planet. Small decisions, added up over a large population, can effect drastic change. So, my hope is that you’ll make even one decision to buy natural over synthetic. One accessory, one sweater, one pair of slippers. It may not seem like a lot, but as each of us shifts our weight just a tiny bit on the grand scale of environmental impact, we will find ourselves nearing the tipping point, where change for the better will become the norm.

Let’s make it happen.

What’s in a Name?

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I thought maybe it was time to explain the name of my brand. It’s pretty simple, actually, and totally reflective of my personal weirdness. Are you ready for this?

“Ilex” is the Latin scientific name for the holly plant. I thought it fitting to name my company after myself, as so many people do, but disguising it in Latin sounded a little better to the shy side of me.

I call my clothing and household products “everyday couture,” because I aim to produce things that you can wear on an everyday basis, infused with the magic of custom design and craftsmanship–that’s all “couture” means, so really, any time you support a local crafter or designer, you’re buying couture.

“Studio yarns” just refers to the fact that the yarns I offer are made in my studio. They’re either millspun and dyed by me, or they’re washed, carded and spun by hand and dyed in my cozy kitchen and hung to dry on my back porch. It’s rather idyllic, especially given that I live just across the river from Alberta’s government centre, in the heart of one of the nation’s fastest-growing metropolitan areas.

So, there you have it: my business name, explained. It’s simple, really.