Thursday, October 30, 2008

My kind of (US) political commentary

Jean, thank you - this site IS delicious.

Edit: And I can't listen to this without squirming. Oh those naughty Canadians.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Jenny's website

A website has been set up for my knitter friend Jenny. Updates on her progress will be posted there.

Please stop by the site and leave her your best wishes - she could use some good energy now, and when she wakes up.

A note on donation: read Karen's comment of October 31 - there is some question as to the accountability of those collecting for Jenny. Prudence demands that you refrain from donation at least until the uncertainty is cleared up.

Basket of Bobbles, Finished

Ruby's Christmas sweater is finished, blocked, sewn, woven, pressed, bezippered, betasselled and reblocked.

Pattern: from Better Homes & Gardens' Knitting Year Round
Yarn: Naturally's Loyal DK (pewter) and Sandnesgarn Smart DK (melon & lime)
Needle: 4.00 mm bamboo circular
Tension: not sure
Finished size: 3X

I bribed my daughter with a cookie again (sugar - the key to effective parenting) and got some FO pictures of this, my second commissioned garment (and third). She is four and a half, so the sweater is a bit too small for her - it pulls on the zipper a little. Shouldn't be a problem on a 2 year old.

I thought about captioning these, but they tell a perfect story on their own. Enjoy...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Imperfect, Inimitable

Erudite Mondays at HalfSoled Boots
Volume 6 Number 3
by Kathryn Berenson

I've been meaning to tell you about this book for a long time. I got it a year or two ago and I've been reading it off and on ever since, trying to work up the courage to try this beautiful incarnation of the textile arts.

Broderie de Marseilles is a method of quiltmaking in which two layers of fabric are densely quilted, by hand, with no batt in between. There are often several parallel rows of stitching on the edges of the piece, with the centres featuring designs of flowers, suns, and plants. There are extant pieces featuring more abstract designs, too - usually in a very romantic style. Lots of swirls and curlicues.

Once the entire piece has been quilted, the finished item is corded and stuffed - that is, each individual channel between quilted rows, or each quilted pocket, is stuffed with cotton. To do this, the quilter uses a needle to carefully open a space between the threads of the fabric until it is wide enough to admit a darning needle. She threads a piece of cotton cording into the eye and runs the needle through the channel until the entire channel is corded. She cuts the cord, manipulates the end in through the hole in the fabric, then wiggles that hole closed with her needle. If it is a pocket that needs stuffing, she opens a hole as before, then uses a needle to curl the cording tightly into the pocket, bit by painstaking bit. The holes are all closed up afterwards, and the entire piece is washed.

It takes an unbelievable amount of time, and careful work. When I first saw the book, I was drawn to the gorgeous finished pieces and declared to all, "I am going to learn this technique and make a bed-cover!" Then I read on a little bit and decided, "I'd better make a table runner instead." Then I got to the part with the templates and the instructions for cording and stuffing, and thought to myself "I could really use a coaster."

This book is a sumptuously presented, intelligently arranged blend of history, instruction, and eye candy. Stunning photographs depict gorgeous, brilliantly-coloured textiles, dated from as early as the 18th century. There are closets full of antique quilts, sofas covered in folded florals, and dress forms garbed in authentic Proven├žal regional costume. There are instructions and templates for 11 projects ranging in difficulty from an easy placemat (in imitation broderie de Marseilles) to an advanced single-piece, corded and stuffed wedding quilt in ivory silk.

What impresses me most about this beautiful book is not the inspiration to try the technique - although I am dying to, one of these days - or the respect I feel for these women who clothed their families in this incredible art. What I think about most is the concept of regional dress: the idea that at one time, any given People expressed their identity, their history, their place in the world, and their sense of community through clothing and textiles.

I thought of this book when I was at the Fleece and Fibre Fair, walking around the venue and taking in the knitters, crocheters, felters, and spinners all around me. There isn't one unified dress sense, at all, but there is a unified pride in our accomplishments. Some people are visibly....well I must say tickled pink to be wearing their first botchy, lopsided hat, while buying more yarn to make coordinating chunky mittens. Others are standing watching the spinners, their backs straight and their heads carried with quiet pride above dreamily soft, perfectly-executed lace shawls in baby alpaca.

It was, really, the incarnation of what people refer to as "the fibre arts community". We aren't neighbours, we share neither a place nor a history. We are united not by a common tradition, but by our love for the craft. Maybe there isn't a region, strictly speaking, but there is a regional dress: there was so much Handmade in that hall, it was exhilirating just to breathe such a creatively-charged atmosphere.

I don't imagine the Marseilles needlewomen felt quite the same way about their handwork as we do. In the days before widespread mechanisation, it was nothing extraordinary to clothe one's family entirely in garments made by one's own hands. The extraordinary thing, in fact, would have been to spend the family's money purchasing clothing and linens when you could make them yourself.

Then, as now, the beauty of these items is in their uniqueness: no two pieces are exactly alike. It's a little depressing to look around me, sometimes, and realise just how many things in my house are mass-produced, and therefore also in the homes of hundreds and thousands of other people. I like to think of myself as an individual, a non-conformist, but the reality is I buy the same Rubbermaid bins and Levis jeans as everyone else does.

Times have changed. Making your own clothes isn't unheard of, but wearing them is much less usual. I like to see people taking pride in the works of their hands. I like the feeling of wearing something I've made, and I don't mind when people ask me, "Did you knit that yourself?" As some never tire of pointing out, you can buy a sweater for $40 at the Bay. But nobody can buy MY sweater. I made it myself, and there'll never be another like it.

One of these busy, full days, I'll try some broderie de Marseilles. I have some fabric that I bought specially to try it, and I have even sketched out a template for a stylised sun, very much in the Proven├žal style. It's a little intimidating, but I think if I'm patient and careful I can do it. I'd like to have something that no one else has - even if it's just a coaster.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I get them, and they get me.

This morning I staggered out of my house in the chilly pre-dawn (okay, 8:04 AM, technically) to meet Brenda and Margaret for a little road-trip to the Cowichan Fleece & Fibre Fair. I'm not used to being up so early so I was disoriented and wild-eyed, and I thought I should take a picture of myself against the morning sky, just for the novelty of it and also to show Lizbon what the morning sky looks like.

Mascara, this time.

Then I looked at this for the next three hours or so.

I was in the back seat, working on the crazy Malabrigo shrug. Finished one sleeve.

There was a lot going on at the Fibre Fair today. I had my first look at silk cocoons, for sale and also being prepped and....what, wound? plied? Not spun, at any rate, though at first I thought it was.

The upright swift in the background is winding FIFTEEN strands of silk as they unravel from 15 cocoons bobbing in hot water in a crock pot across the table. Fifteen strands, together, looked something like the thickness of a human hair. The spinning wheel in the foreground is plying the silk, two bobbins' worth, into a cobweb-weight.

By the way, it was hard to get good pictures in the old, poorly lit hall with crappy fluorescents or what have you, but I did my best.

I love this label so, so very much.

Maybe my favourite part (well, non-fibre part) of the event were these magnets.

I wanted to buy the "bi-craftual" one (bottom right) but by that time I had given Erynn all my money. Happily she had given me some roving and top in return, but I still had to come away magnetless. I'll show you the roving and top when I can get a good photo of it - I took some but they look so, so unattractive. I need natural light.

There was a lot of cool art there. This basket was great, if very ominous feng shui:

Look at the poison arrows flying off that thing!

And these rendered me speechless with amazement. The little people were maybe four inches high. Again, excuse the poor lighting.

It was so great to be with people who were obsessed with textiles just as much as - or more so than - I am. I saw marvellous garments everywhere. People walked around in handspun, handknit lace shawls, sweaters, huge chunky socks, you name it. It was fantastic. There was even this woman with awesome felted HAIR - massive serpentine dreadlocks dyed screaming orange. I wanted to kinnear her but never got around to it.

There were lots of things I would have loved to own, especially an Ashford Joy for $774 (!!!!!), but there is really only one thing I truly wished I had bought and didn't. It's a wrist-distaff for drop spinning, and is just such a pretty piece of useable art that it deserved a home with me. I didn't have the $20 for it this time, though, so maybe I'll keep it in mind for next.

Lastly, a little glimpse of what I will have for you next time, provided I get some of that natural light I've been talking about:

Friday, October 24, 2008

Insert Loot at Top

So this is the OTHER thing on my needles. It's a Christmas stocking made from Kauni Effektgarn 8/2. The pattern and the yarn are both from Fun Knits - Shelley designed the pattern and it's available from her website.

I've never knit with this yarn before and I wasn't too sure about it when I first cast on. It's very rough - scratchy and traditional. It's also a little fragile - I pulled the centre out of it, looking for the end, and a tight plug came out, in the process snapping the yarn in two places. It spit-spliced easily, though, so no real harm was done.

I love the pattern - the photo really doesn't do justice to it. Despite the scratchiness of the yarn, the knitted fabric is surprisingly nice. It's warm, drapey, and comforting. The colours are very much at home in my living room, so I think I'll keep this one as a decoration. I should have enough yarn to knit another, and I've got about 5 different recipients in mind for that one.

Anyone interested in a little casual knitalong? Comment if so - we can start one on Ravelry, or just blog-based, whichever. If you do want to join me, the pattern is available for $4.00 here, and the yarn is available here. You could probably use almost any Kauni yarn with beautiful results - Shelley suggests using one ball of EQ but starting at two different colour repeats. It would be lovely.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The New Yahoo

I'm talking Jonathan Swift here, not internet-mega-corporation.

I feel oddly disoriented. I've been off the internet for a week, except to post about Jenny and to spend exactly 135 seconds on Ravelry, checking for updates on the knitting group meeting, and now that I'm back on, it's a little weird.

Jeez, people, there is a lot of utter dross on the internet.

I had a bunch of wisdom all lined up to deliver today, but then things kind of fell apart earlier this week and pushed the 'net out of my mind. Now that I come back, it all seems a little no-pointish.

I do have one observation though - I follow way too many blogs. I've got upwards of 60 on Bloglines alone, plus more that I take the time to click to, without subscribing to the feed. So I'm going to drop some of them.

No, don't worry - not yours.

I am going to slow down on the comments, though. I leave about 15 comments per day and I'd just like to give myself a break from that obligation, unless I have something specific to say.

Now, the important stuff - the knitting.

As suspected, I did have more time to knit this week, but not a lot more. I filled up my 'net-free hours with school and the odd basket of laundry. I still had time for some, though:

Odessa, at last, a mere 9 months after I bought the yarn for it:
mental note: makeup next time.

But it's just a wee bit too big so I think I'll rip it back and do it over, using magic loop this time instead of DPNs. I don't like the droopy crown decreases.

It feels pretty good to have a hat though, since everyone else in the family keeps getting showered with knitwear while my ears remain cold.

So do my arms, and my neck. Hence, Teva Durham's Turtleneck Shrug, long-coveted. This is the book photo:

I'm sure this won't be the most flattering garment I've ever worn but at this point, with the thermometer down around 2 degrees, I'm flipping the bird to fashion.

I'm knitting this in Malabrigo Merino Worsted, colourway "Hollyhock". I got the yarn ages ago from Fun Knits and was saving it. Hoarding it, actually. I couldn't afford enough of it to make myself a sweater, and I figured a sweater would be too chunky for me anyway, so when I was hunting around for yarn for this shrug I threw caution to the winds and seized the Malabrigo. Carpe lanem, as David Reidy says.
I actually took a picture of my hand literally flipping the bird to fashion, but it was a bit blurry so I used the demure disembodied arm instead.

There's one more project I have on the needles at the moment, but I'll get to that tomorrow. For now, I've got stuff to do around the house. Having learned my lesson about clicking myself into a black hole where all time and space gets sucked inexorably into a lightless, sensory-deprived vacuum, I'm sure I'll do better from now on.
I'll post updates on Jenny's condition as I receive them. I haven't heard of any change yet.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Knitter down. Send help.

Jenny opened her eyes today. She was not conscious or responsive, but her eyes opened briefly. We hope this means that she will wake up in the next day or two. Her arm has been repaired and is in a cast. Her CT scans haven't changed - that is, they are no worse, there was no additional bleeding - so she hasn't needed surgery on her head. There was concern that she would lose one of her eyes, due to the severity of bleeding/bruising in her head and face, but this won't have to happen after all, thank God.

I'm breaking my internet fast to ask for prayer for one of my knitters, the lovely Jen who modelled the Cap Shawl for me. She was in a terrible car accident last Friday night, the 17th. It seems she went off the road on a winding highway and hit something...a fire hydrant, or a telephone pole, or maybe both.

She was airlifted to a larger centre early Saturday morning. Her right arm and hand were seriously damaged. She has broken ribs and a collapsed lung. She has a fractured skull...the extent of damage to her brain is unknown as of yet. Doctors have kept her unconscious although she has been upgraded from critical to stable condition.

She is the partner of Karen-of-the-comments' son Bjorn. Karen's family has been in Victoria since Saturday.

Everyone needs to pray for Jen, okay? The above information is all from Karen, but I have heard rumours from other people in town, which I won't repeat but which, if true, indicate that the outlook is very poor. These people need help - Karen and her family, especially Bjorn, and most importantly Jenny. She is only 20 years old and her life has not been easy. She has no family and has had some very poor cards dealt her. She deserves better than this.

But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in are the helper of the fatherless.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Well Begun is Half Done

We Westerners tend to live about, what, 70 years? Well tomorrow I am officially half done. I am thirty-five, folks, and All That.

I spent this afternoon making myself a cake. It's lovely, my favourite cake recipe. You make a more-or-less standard white, butter-based cake, only without the eggs and with a teaspoon of almond extract. Then you beat four egg whites to soft peaks and then beat them into the cake batter. It makes a deliciously smooth and tender cake, delicately scented and so very moreish.


In addition to the cake, I'm giving myself a present. It's a good one - I have decided on one internet-free week. The week starts tomorrow night, the night of my birthday. I'll wait until the experiment is over before I explain the thought behind it - although I'm sure you know exactly what it is, because you are probably also telling yourself, "I spend way too much time on the damned Internet".

And one more bit of business before I bid you farewell - I am having a birthday bash on Saturday night at my house. Women only. You're invited - I will be providing the drink but I don't want to have to cook so bring appetizers if you can, girls, unless you are also stressed and busy, in which case skip it and just show up. Mr Half Soled and the little Half Soleds (Quarter-Soleds?) will be out of the house all night, too, so if you find yourself a little more well-to-go than you expected, you can crash here.

And for all of you who will be sadly unable to get flights in time to come to my birthday party, I'll see YOU next Friday.

Ta ta!

Edit: By request of my knitting group, I am posting the rules for my upcoming unplug. I won't be using a web browser at all for a week. No blog posting, no blog reading, no Facebook, no Google, no Yahoo. (So don't write to that sidebar address unless it's profoundly non-urgent.) I will be checking my regular email, though, because people LEGITIMATELY communicate with me that way, and if I didn't open Outlook I would have no idea when my library books are due.

At the end of the week I hope to have a deep, thoughtful post full of inner peace and tranquillity, and observations about abundance of spare time. This peace and tranquillity will have come out of my hermit-like separation from the outer world. A hermit with email, that is.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Call yourself a Canadian?

Did you vote? I'm not talking about that election, nor that one. I'm talking about this one.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The End is Nigh.

So I've finished Ruby's Basket & Bobbles sweater - all but the zipper and front bands. I haven't attached the sleeves or woven in the ends yet, because I want to wet-block it first. But I wanted to show it to you today anyway, in its unblocked state. Also it's on a 4.5 year old, instead of a newly-three, so take that into account.

It turned out pretty cute, see?
Pompom forthcoming.

"Hey Em, model this for me, would you?"
"No Mummy, I hate modelling."
"Hmm. Too bad. Well, you have to or you can't have any Hokey Pokey ice cream later."

"That's the spirit!"

After a few minutes she cheered up...until I reminded her that she wasn't supposed to be having any fun.

This will be all finished by the end of next week. I think I've got just enough of the coloured yarns left over to make some small pompoms for the zipper pull, as well as for the end of the hat. Then I'll be able to label it, mail it to Ontario, and turn my attention to the rest of the Christmas exciting!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Boring? I've got a surfeit.

Happily, this meme from Kristine features the unspectacular, so I am eminently qualified.

The game works like this:
1) Link to the person who tagged you
2) Mention the rules
3) Tell six quirky yet boring, unspectacular details about yourself
4) Tag six other bloggers by linking to them
5) Go to each person’s blog and leave a comment that lets them know they’ve been tagged.

The first thing: I don't wash my hair often. Once a week. My hair and I are both happy with this schedule but I don't tell other people about it. Until now.

The second thing: I like it when my dog licks my toes. Luckily he likes it too.

Third thing: I have been thinking about doing a little bit of tooth whitening for about five years now, but I don't know whether you can do it on porcelain crowns, and I haven't gotten around to asking my dentist.

Fourth thing: In order to get to sleep I have to be lying on my stomach with my feet hanging off the end of the bed.

Fifth thing: I have violent and upsetting dreams, all the time.

Sixth thing: I have kept, and I annually read, all the notes my best friend and I passed in high school. There are a lot, and most of them are killingly funny.

I have never tagged before, but now I'm tagging Gwen, Ames, and Stace.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Where Craft and Comedy Meet

Erudite Mondays at HalfSoled Boots
Volume 6, Number 2

Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne

All right. Let's skip right to the point, shall we?


Thank you for your attention. If you wish more details, see below.

I haven't read the first Mason Dixon book...I got the vague impression, when the internet was buzzing with it, that it was a celebration of dishcloth cotton, in all its humble simplicity. It's related, in my mind, to all those state-themed dishrags people used to give to the Yarn Harlot when she was on tour. (I imagine they still do.) I had never visited the M-D website, either, so when I realised there was another one coming out, I had no plans to read it.

So for the second week in a row I'm admitting that I was mistaken. This book, just like A Fine Fleece, is freaking fantastic.

I have once or twice had knitting books that were good enough for me to read them all the way through like a novel, but I have never seen one this funny. I sat down to flip through a few random pages, catching lines here and there, and what I saw was so very hilarious that I turned back to page one and spent the next hour on the couch, reading the entire thing through. Midway through one section - the one about the traditional knitted Christmas stocking with Hunchy Santa on it - I was draped over the arm of the couch for support, laughing silently and painfully, unable to draw breath, with tears streaming down my face.

There's a great chapter on knitting for kids. It addresses that question of what to do once your intended recipient has reached what the authors call "the Age of Reason", and is no longer willing to be dressed like a doll in goofy, cutesy handknits.

There's a really wonderful chapter about the glory of state fairs, and the anguish of second-place knitting. Thankfully, the red ribbon-winning sweater is included...and I love it.

There are a few designs I'm longing to make for my daughters. I think I'm going to start the shrug with some stash cotton I've got, as soon as I'm done Ruby's hat. And the Avengers dress is darling: I'm trying to think which of my girls is more likely (less unlikely?) to wear it.

I really like this Advent calendar idea, although whether I'd knit it or not, realistically, I'm not sure. It's a lot of knitting and a lot of felting - 24 of these trees - not to mention the space it would take up. Maybe I could knit one tree and make 24 numbered buttons for it?

And the Margaret Gansey...this thing is beautiful. The sweater is knit, with purl rows providing the horizontal lines, then the wearer's desired message is chain-stitched over the knitting. The featured piece has three quotes on it: "You must be the change you want to see in the world", "The means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek", and "Never doubt that a small group of citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."*

The chapter on steeks and stranded knitting is a good one - some of the usual suggestions for lying down with a stimulating beverage to recruit your strength, but otherwise the advice is sound. And one of the patterns from this section hit me like a two-by-four printed with the words MAKE THIS:

There are so many great things in this book. The highly-amusing colour wheel is one:

and the tables for top-down raglans are another.

I got such a kick out of this knitted Swiffer cover

and the one on the dog as well. The photo is captioned Flip him on his back, give him a push, and that dog is earning his keep.

Thanks Kay and Ann, for a useful and hilarious book full of inspiring patterns and beautiful photos. When your next one comes out, I shall preorder.

Mason-Dixon Knitting Outside the Lines gets:

Reread: Oh yes
Given to Others: Yes
Bookplate: Yes


* In order of appearance: Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Margaret Mead