“Unskilled Labor” is a scam

I am very proud of these slippers.

Would I show these on Ravelry, excited about the project and expecting congratulations on my knitting prowess?

No, I would not. The reason I am proud of these is a bit subtle.

They’re just slippers. They’re made out of leftover cheap acrylic yarn made on the spur of the moment because my husband’s old slippers had died and this was a way to get him some quickly. They’re not even interestingly awful, like something cruel, informed people would snark at a craft fair. They’re just something some old lady might make sitting irrelevantly in her rocking chair.

At least, that’s the cultural narrative.

They’re also the culmination of nearly 45 years of achieving mastery in several subjects.

You see, I didn’t open up any pattern book to make them, even though I’d never knit socks in that size or with that weight of yarn before. I didn’t even use a spreadsheet to do the calculations.

The learning process for these slippers started on a snowy day when I was a child. On snow days, because they were rare and had a holiday feel to them, my mother made cookies with my brother and I. But sometimes… Well, we’d want to make more cookies than the recipe on the back of the yellow Nestle’s bag of semi-sweet morsels. That’s when Mom taught us not only how to add, but how to add fractions.

The learning process continued as I got older and wanted to learn to write a computer program. My father didn’t let me turn a computer on. Oh, no. He handed me a pencil and paper and taught me to write out what I wanted to do with that program. That’s how I learned that thinking out the design phase of a project was important, even though I didn’t think of it that way in my grammar school mind.

On the learning process went, with math teachers explaining that fractions are really ratios and how to calculate, with my mother teaching me to sew garments and dozens of books on how to create proportional irregular shapes. It went on with me reading books on clothing and how design ease worked, and how much to create for different sorts of garments. It went on with learning how to knit, and learning from other books and other knitters various skills in creating garments and the ratios that tended to be consistent across body shapes. It went on with learning to use Excel as a tool to create garments so often that I memorized certain calculations.

On, until one day, my husband needed some slippers. I asked him to tell me how long his foot was. And then…

I just gathered up some leftover yarn, pondered for a moment about some ratios and I sat down to knit. I did it as casually as you’d drink a cup of coffee and tell your family about your day, with as little conscious thought as bringing in the mail.

People call things like manufacturing and garment work unskilled labor. I know better. I also wonder what other work is really a culmination of years of various studies that we dishonor like that.

Misunderstanding the Goal of Tidiness

“What can you do to give your house a show-room shine?”

This question brought me up short.

Have I struggled for many years to develop the habits that will allow me to have a neat, clean home?


My goal was never, not once, to have it be a home that you’d see in a magazine. I wanted decoration and color schemes that would make me happy. I wanted to be able to store my stuff neatly and logically. I wanted to let go of possessions that I no longer needed.

But the idea that I wanted my house to look… like a stage set or a picture in a magazine never once crossed my mind. Magazine articles are generic. They’re a least common denominator. That’s like having your home decorating ideal be a hotel room or something – pleasant enough, and will be close enough to most people’s tastes not to offend the eye.

What an awful way to live!

See? That’s my my view from my writin’ chair. Neat enough, sure. But is it staged as it would be as if I were selling the house? Made generic and magazine perfect? No. There are dragons and skulls and pictures and toys around that are unique to me and make me happy.

That is such an individual thing. I have dragons and yarn and books. My husband has action figures and movies and artwork he has drawn. My mother has teapots and depression glass and crystal figurines.

Sure, we want to make sure that we don’t use the sofa as a wardrobe. (Though I can remember having someone come over and there was underwear on the sofa. It can happen…) We want our bathrooms clean and our dishes washed.

But showroom shine? I don’t live in a showroom. I have a home. I like my knitting by my writin’ chair so I can pick that up and work on my projects.

The goal is to be able to get to my yarn and have a place where my knitting lives so I can grab it easily. The goal is to have clean clothes put away and dirty clothes in the hamper. The goal isn’t and should never be to have my home look static like a museum exhibit. Homes are a dynamic process, so they cannot and should not always look “perfect.”

Whatever that means.


I am blessed to live in an area, that though rural, has an incredible amount of community theater.

I saw a production of a musical called Working last night. The musical is adapted from the book Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, and is more a series of vignettes where characters discuss their working lives, and has some brilliant segues between different points of view.

While I enjoyed it, one scene kinda hit me between the eyes. It’s about a factory worker who makes luggage. As I was watching it, I ran my hands over a purse I bought at Wal-Mart many years ago because, well, it was cheap. I thought about all the interim steps to get that purse made, packaged, shipped to my local Wal-Mart, stocked, then checked out when I bought it. I thought about how many of those purses the person needed to make an hour to earn her (it was probably a woman, after all) wage.

The point of the musical and it’s an important one, is that every single thing you own, every product you use, every service you need, has a real, live human being doing that work. That’s an important point.

Go see the musical. It’s not just a Heavy Message. Parts will make you laugh.


March 1,2,8,9,14,15,16 at 7:00 PM

March 3,10,17 at 2:00 PM

at the Briggs Opera House, White River Junction, VT