This morning, Elizabeth Caplice—writer, archivist, artist, knitter, and Iceland enthusiast, amongst so many other things—died from stage IV bowel cancer. She was thirty-two. Elizabeth had a long and storied history with us at The Lifted Brow, going all the way back to the first issue that we published, in January 2007. (Her work also appeared more recently in last year’s art issue.)
Her death did not come as a surprise—her clear-eyed candour about her cancer, and what it means to have a terminal illness as a bipolar queer person, especially on her blog Sky Between Branches, won her writing many admirers—but that does not mitigate or lessen the hurt we feel today, not one little bit. Today we mourn the loss of a brilliant writer and friend.
As a tribute to Elizabeth’s remarkable life and writing, we are republishing her piece—and her knitting pattern—from the first-ever issue of The Lifted Brow. Vale Elizabeth Caplice, 1984–2016.
I’m known online primarily as veritas. There is the odd place here or there where that username is taken, but at my main community, where I have established myself, I am veritas.
Veritas is Latin for ‘truth’. There is no meaning behind this; I simply typed words that I thought were profound into a Latin converter on the internet when I was in high school, including things like ‘darkness’, ‘pain’, and ‘think’. I liked the way veritas looked. Now when I see the word veritas, I feel the same sort of familiarity as when I see the name I was born with.
My time with Knitty started almost a year ago. I had started knitting again after two severe panic attacks that were misdiagnosed as a possible brain tumour, then psychosis, then frontal lobe epilepsy, causing me to defer my honours thesis and move from specialist to specialist to try and work out what was wrong with my brain. I needed something to help me relax and to fill time in waiting rooms. When searching for knitting patterns on the internet, I found an online magazine for knitting with free patterns and articles and a link to a message board.
I have been using the internet on a regular basis since I was twelve. At the moment, I move between two part-time, menial jobs. I can’t afford the internet at home, so I use either the wireless connection across the road in a café, or an unsecured wireless network that operates sporadically in my suburb. Perched on my bed, near the sliding door for the best connection, I’ll press the refresh button repeatedly in Firefox, waiting for the connection to work. Knitting is a useful way to fill time while waiting to connect to an online message board about knitting.
Gugmup is from Vancouver. She is a nurse specialising in breast-feeding, whose preference is for cotton rather than wool, and like all North Americans is embroiled in the current vogue for sock knitting. So far, we have traded soaps for sock yarn and Kool-Aid; when heated, the acid in Kool-Aid powder makes an excellent non-toxic dye. Other close friends include Astaral, a twenty-four-year-old Harvard Medical PhD student and straight-edge metalhead who knitted in a Tool concert in New York and has made more than thirty pairs of socks this year. We traded a ‘Mind the Gap’ shirt she got from a friend in England for a limited edition AFI record.
Woolfmaav is an undergraduate political science student in Texas, just starting her first year on a full academic scholarship. She is one of the main forces in the community, having been around since the board began in 2004, and was a moderator until political differences with the other administrators caused her to resign. She is a right-wing, dreadlocked eighteen-year-old. I have sent her crocheted doilies in spider web patterns, and she has sent me an armadillo fridge magnet. I first ‘met’ her when reading her blog; she wrote a furious entry about how the ugly hedgehogs she had knitted in ten minutes got four times the number of comments that her doily did. Aiomika is an Asian-Canadian architect who lives in Greenwich Village. We trade photos of our respective cityscapes, and she tries to convince me to move to New York, and I reiterate how I wish I could.
No online place I have ever participated in has compared to the sense of community at this message board. The community is overwhelmingly North American, with a majority of people from the United States, and many from Canada – knitting is a lot more popular there than in Australia. Connected to the message board is an IRC room. We discuss SEX in detail, SEX being an amusing term for going to buy yarn: a stash replenishment expedition. One’s yarn collection is called a ‘stash’ and one becomes ‘sable’ when one’s collection reaches ‘stash accumulated beyond life expectancy.’ The message board is far more focused, with multiple rooms for various discussions, such as ‘the experienced knitters’ venting space’ and ‘yarn sale spotters’. It is the most heavily moderated board I have ever visited, with a strict rule of no political or religious discussions. This is part of what makes the board so effective.
We all knit, in various states of effectiveness. Some people own yarn stores. Others have just learnt how to cast on from the internet, where there are many excellent websites with videos illustrating techniques. Some women are grandmothers who have been knitting since they were children.
The knitting-specific debates are the most heated. Issues that constantly cause problems are circular needles verses straight needles, copyright, yarn snobbery and picking versus throwing. Copyright cannot be mentioned without someone getting infuriated; the argument regarding the distribution of patterns versus protection of the rights of the writer of the patterns are especially contentious as many of the board members are designers as well. Yarn snobbery arises from some knitters being arrogant towards those who use yarns other than natural fibres, like acrylic, as it is inferior to knit with but cheaper. Picking and throwing are the two major gestures of knitting; ‘picking’ is done by holding the yarn in your left hand and using the needle to ‘pick’ the yarn through the stitches, while ‘throwing’ is when the yarn is held in the right hand and looped, or thrown, around the needle. There are vegan knitters who discuss the ethics of ripping wool jumpers from op shops. The question of the superiority of cheap yarn over expensive yarn tends to polarise people into debates about brands of yarn, often turning into ethical discussions over acrylic yarn (colloquially known as ‘petro-yarn’, as acrylic is produced from a petroleum by-product) versus cotton, which is also environmentally problematic. Merino is often a forbidden subject, due to the aggressive arguments regarding docking sheep in Australia.
I prefer straight, double-pointed needles. I am a yarn snob, but not with regards to other users. I prefer plant fibres like ingeo (a fibre synthetically produced as a by-product of corn), soy, bamboo and cotton, but have a fetish for silk. I throw. I keep away from merino, but the verdict is not yet in for me regarding the finer points of docking.
I’ll restrain myself from a lecture on the historical movement of knitting throughout culture; it has not always been a derided women’s hobby. But it is, in the very nature of knitting, something done alone. Yet this solitary action also forms communities where techniques are exchanged, people share experience and commiserate over both life and knitting. There is a tradition of women coming together for craft, in the ‘stitch and bitch’, and the quilting circle. The message board is overwhelmingly female. There are fewer than five regular male users, and only one is straight. It is a place of women.
We are not content to stick with the internet for communication. SP (Secret Pal) rounds are organised throughout the year, moderated by one or two women, and are large-scale, present-giving weeks of fun. Everyone sends in a profile, they are swapped around, and each person is allocated another member of the community to secretly ‘spoil’ with gifts and emails and letters. There is also a section for RAKs, or random acts of kindness, where you can send a random present to another board member. We organise international art projects, such as the ‘fuggablog’, which is an exceedingly, intentionally ugly piece of knitwear made out of our collective yarn scraps being sent around the world and photographed in various locations. It has been in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, inside a Midwestern brewery, and wrapped around my head in a local coffee shop.
One of our members, punkrawker87, died a few months ago. The board managed to raise a few hundred dollars to donate to charity in her name. When Woolist’s jaw was broken from being hit in the head with a bag by an irate person during an ‘Amber alert’ at Walmart, people rallied together and knitted her a blanket. We have long-running in-jokes and share recipes for fudge and marmalade.
In some ways, this intimacy is as real as connections I forge offline. I’ve never made eye contact with these people. It hardly matters.
GriefLine operates a free, confidential telephone service with trained counsellors between 12 noon and 3am, seven days a week: 1300 845 745.
Lifeline operates a free, confidential 24-hour online or telephone crisis support service with trained counsellors: www.lifeline.org.au, 13 11 14.