Tuesday, March 31, 2009


weird smell


slow drain


toilet plunger


2.5mm crochet hook


bare hands


the most disgusting half hour of my life.

Monday, March 30, 2009

THAT was weird.

Erudite Mondays at Half Soled Boots
Volume 8 Number 4

Susan Gordon Lydon

I'm not sure what came over me - usually I don't post when I feel like that, but last night I thought "Sod it."

And I've got to give props to Kate who wrote a haiku full of good advice.

Wool flows through fingers
Lights or no lights the wheel spins
Turning moods around.

Now, don't you feel refreshed? I do.

Speaking of wool therapy, I have just finished reading Susan Gordon Lydon's Knitting Heaven and Earth: Healing the Heart Through Craft. I read it because it sounded interesting, but now I've put it down, I must admit I probably won't pick it up again.

The premise is well enough - knitting brings healing of real problems by its meditative peace. The execution, though, is wanting. Instead of feeling connected with the author and convinced that knitting had helped her through her times of hardship, the disjointed narrative and surface emotions failed to either interest me or prove her overall point.

What bothers me is that there was so much potential for a really thoughtful book, written from the perspective of a woman who has been through a lot of bad and good, and has wisdom to share as a result. As a reader, I expected to cry in places - maybe laugh out loud in others. But I think Lydon took the easy way out - those surface emotions I mentioned earlier - and on the whole, the book falls flat as a result.

One thing that really bugged me was her constant use of quotations from pop culture, especially music, to express her emotions. It's like her own words aren't enough - she has to call in Joni Mitchell to back her up. Or Lucinda Williams. Or Woody Allen. And when I say "constant use", I mean it: I checked a random section for you, and in nine pages there were five excerpts from song lyrics. When a person is in the depths of despair because her lover has cheated on her and then left her for another, she should be able to do a better job of making us feel her pain than by saying:

During this time I clung to some lines from a Paul Simon song "Graceland" that said "Losing love is like a window in your heart. Everybody sees you're blown apart." I felt like I had been cracked open and there was a hole inside me where the wind blew through.

As I used to say, around 1989: "No duh."

I am attacking this book because I had such high hopes for it, and I'm keenly disappointed. I had originally ordered it to give to a friend who is going through a bad time lately. She's a knitter and I thought this book might make a nice gift to lift her spirits. I hoped it would be moving and thought-provoking - I found it shallow and inattentive.

Last year my friend lent me Eat Pray Love. I liked it fine, as a casual read, but found it overwhelming narcissistic and nauseatingly self-congratulatory. I completely lost patience with the constant cycle of self-destructive behaviour, lack of resolve, devastating heartbreak caused by loving entirely unsuitable and sometimes abusive men, and desperate search for solace in other people's words. Knitting Heaven and Earth can be best described as Eat Pray Love with yarn. Eat Pray Love is a hugely popular book, I'm aware, and I'm sure Knitting Heaven and Earth also has an enormous fan base. But they weren't meant to be literature, and they sure as hell aren't.

I'm beginning to wonder if maybe I'm just not a self-help-book type of person.
HSB Highly-Specialised Book Rating System
Knitting Heaven and Earth gets:

Reread: Unlikely
Given to Others: Doubtful, but not impossible.
Bookplate: No.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Exercise in futility? Check.

Well, yeah, we did Earth Hour. Not sure that it made much difference, as we were the only ones on the stinking street with our lights off.

Jeepers, people, get on the freaking bandwagon already.

There should be one of those big levers like Madeline Kahn pulls in the movie Clue. Then I could shut off the whole neighbourhood at once, will they or nill they.

Sewing update, as if you cared.

The fabric I was going to use for Em's dress is a no-go. Too heavy for a child. I took her to the fabric store and let her choose her own. HUGE tactical error. More on that later.

Knitting update.

Fern was going smashingly until I started bringing it to Wednesday knit nights, where I made mistake after mistake, resulting in me ripping the second sleeve back to the wrist and reknitting it. It's the stripes - I blame it all on the bloody stripes. My feeble brain has trouble remembering which is Colour B, which is Colour C, which is Colour D, and which Colour E.

Colours A and F are easy.

So basically things are going pretty damn crappy here at HSB. I meant to publish a review tomorrow but if I write it now I have a feeling Blogger will lose the entire thing and I'll have to start over. Not to mention I am in such a foul mood that I'll probably pillory the poor author, making my Blackstrap Hawco review sound like an epic hymn in praise of the purest, highest art.

I'm outta here. See you tomorrow if I can muster the will, with a review (hopefully) or more bitching (probably).

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Switch 'em off, flick 'em off, WAAAAY off.

Earth Hour 2009 is scheduled for this Saturday, March 28. It's a one-hour blackout, from 8.30 PM to 9.30 PM local time.

Last year we plunged ourselves into darkness for an hour and wondered why, since it's so easy to do and it saves so much energy, we didn't observe Earth Hour once a week. Life is all about habits, though, and turning off every light in your house for an hour a week (daytime doesn't count) isn't one of them - it takes some remembering.

Anyway, I'll be shutting everything off, computers and all, on Saturday for an hour. You should too.....and you can sign up on the Canadian site and be entered to win a trip to see the Churchill polar bears.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Altar Ego

When I was a kid, other girls got "Easter Dresses" every spring. You know the type of thing - confections of polyester ruffles, nylon lace, satin ribbon, lots of eyelet (it was the '70s). For the very lucky, there were matching hats. Going to church on Easter Sunday was an exercise in self-control, so as not to give way to envy - my parents weren't the Easter Dress and Hat type. I think I got one once, but I'm not sure I'm remembering that correctly.

I don't think Easter Dresses are as ubiquitous a phenomenon as they used to be - on this continent, probably more people don't go to church, than do. Not that the dress can only be worn to church, but there are very few other suitable places to wear such a garment.

I've lived to thank my parents for not giving me what I wanted all the time, or even terribly often. "I don't need all that I think I need" is a valuable lesson. I haven't even thought about Easter Dresses for ages, but a couple of weeks ago I remembered that tradition, and thought my daughters would like to have a new, springy dress for Easter Sunday.

I have plenty of fabric stashed away - much more fabric than yarn, as it happens - so I went through it and chose a linen and cotton blend for Charlotte. The one true thing about her is her palette (to misquote Nigella Lawson), so it had to be pink.

I used Burda 9755, in a size 8/10. This garment came together well - I like Burda's patterns, and construction, although their written instructions can be a little terse and their pattern markings (notches, particularly) are sometimes easy to miss.

The pattern includes an apron, which I thought was completely darling. I made it out of a satin-finish quilting cotton, and it is such a sweet addition, although I'm not sure how often she will wear them together.

I paid close attention to the details on this garment - it IS an Easter Dress - and when I got to the handwork stage, the thought of buttons and buttonholes didn't seem quite right. Instead, I went for the smoother finish of hooks and thread loops. I cut some individual flowers from the remnants of the daisy trim used for the neckline, and sewed one over each hook.

The centre back.

Hooks & thread loops.

I have three more meters of the same fabric in a pretty, light aqua, which my younger daughter has requested for her dress. I haven't chosen a pattern yet but I'll be getting on that quick-like - Easter is coming awfully fast.


And remember when I was sick and I said I was going to make myself a new pillowcase to improve my mood? I made it that very day, but forgot to show you.

And that concludes the sewing update for this week - if I can get my act together, next time I'll have Emily's dress to show you.

Friday, March 20, 2009

That's just cool.

Yeah, baby. What I want to know is, is there anything sheep can't do?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Like PB and J

Erudite Mondays at Half Soled Boots
Volume 8 Number 3
by Jane Gottelier

This beautiful book came last week, and I loved it at first sight. In Knitting and Tea, Jane and Patrick Gottelier celebrate two of the more potent "antidotes to modern-day stress" in a blend of lush photos, serene text, sumptuous recipes, and inspirational patterns.

The first three chapters contain some really gorgeous pictures, taken by Patrick Gottelier, of Sri Lanka's high-altitude tea plantations. Patrick's father was an English tea planter in Ceylon, as it was then called, so the authors bring a wealth of interest and knowledge to the book. There are little snippets throughout the pages, such as "Five Golden Rules for Making the Perfect Cup of Tea", from the Tea Factory, in Newara Eliya, Sri Lanka. (All five of which, by the way, I was very proud to see that I already religiously observe.)

After flipping through to look at the knitting photos (of course), I started quickly scanning the text, but within a few short moments I had to get up to put the kettle on - I was compelled - and realised it would be a mistake to rush. This book is best experienced slowly, and quietly...I waited to finish reading it until my children were absorbed in watercolour paints.

Sometimes I wonder how well it works when a book attempts to combine two or three different things - in this case tea, knitting patterns, and recipes. I've seen some books that definitely fall flat, after overextending themselves. Here, it works beautifully. When you take the time to actually read the thing, it comes together very well. The authors bring a lot - their lovely pictures, their working knowledge of tea, and considerable knitting chops.
The Garden Jacket - I've always wanted to knit a trowel.

I am having a hard time picking a favourite. I'm inclined to say the Garden Jacket, but then the Boy's Planter's Vest is just too delightful - I think my daughter needs that to go with the corduroy knickerbockers I just made her. But then, the Biker's Jacket wins for wearability, I think.
Boy's Fair Isle Planter's Vest - too wonderfully Beatrix Potter NOT to make.

The Biker's Jacket - I want this.

On the subject of the knitting patterns, I have two little criticisms. The first is, the authors have not included any chatty intros for the patterns, and I find myself missing them. I like those glimpses into inspiration and execution. Those notes, which are so common now, are second only to photos in the list of things that will incite me to cast on a particular project.

Cricket Blazer - Love. It.

The second criticism is a bit more important - there is a spotty incidence of charts. The cabled trowel and fork designs on the Garden cardy are charted, but the cover design, a heavily-cabled men's cricket blazer, is written out line by line. What on earth?
The Swirl Tablecloth - pretty, beaded, elegant, and.....chart-free.

Some people (Karen and Kate) won't care about the lack of charts, but other people (Me) will find it hard to overcome. I think I'd probably end up doing up my own chart, especially if I were to knit one of the overall patterns, such as the cover model, or Summer House.
Summer House is made from laceweight merino and sequins.

Those two issues aside, there is one thing that really impressed me - the sizing. There is a great range of sizes - there is something for busts from 30" all the way to 53".
Ceylon Cardigan - delicate in fingering-weight alpaca.

If you get a chance to look through this book, do take it. You won't get the full impression of it by standing in the bookstore flipping through, but it'll be a treat for you all the same - a little moment of calm beauty. If you do read it, let me know what you think.

HSB Book Rating System
Knitting and Tea gets:

Reread: Yes
Given to Others: Yes
Bookplate: Yes

Thursday, March 12, 2009

It's been - One Week since you looked at me.

That was kind of a long break. Things got away from me a little.

Actually I was busy. See?

Fern is coming along beautifully. I thought this would take me forever, but no - the end is nearly in sight. I'm 3/4 done the first sleeve.

The ends will take me a fair few days to weave in, though.


I finished spinning the purple top, and ended up with two bobbins of nearly the same size. I let them rest for a couple of days, during which The Intentional Spinner arrived, and I got to read all about plying.

Judith tells me that you should rewind your bobbins before plying - that it evens out the twist and makes for a smoother finished yarn. Yes'm, boss, I said, and, not having a bobbin winder, spooled it onto my ball winder over a TP core to keep the centre from twisting inward.

It turns out Judith was right - I could feel the twist running up and down the length of the single "like water", as she promised. The singles were much more even afterwards. And if you're going to try this, you get the best results with a long distance between the lazy kate and the winding device - I placed mine about seven or eight feet apart.

I popped the two balls of singles onto the lazy kate, and started plying. HORRIBLE MESS. The TP core wouldn't spin properly on the shaft of the kate, so the singles started slipping off the edge of the ball, and snarling themselves around it. Then they'd break, or too many strands would slip off at once and they'd become hopelessly tangled in plybacks. I had to break out quite a few sections of singles, and couldn't seem to get them to splice together properly. I got very frustrated.

When I say I got very frustrated, I mean I almost went off in an apoplexy.

I put the balls of singles into two separate bowls, and let them roll around while I plied. Still not an ideal solution - I think I'll be hunting around for a bobbin winder.

I started out by adding approximately the same amount of twist as I had put into the singles - did this for about 25 meters before I tried hanging a loop, and realised I was putting in about twice as many twists as I should be.

I ended up putting in four foot-beats per arms' length of yarn, then two to reel it onto the bobbin. That seemed to work out well, and before long (actually it was exactly the length of Batman Begins) it was all done.

I skeined it

and it's soaking now.

Until it's dry and swatched, I won't know if it's at all useful or successful. I can confidently say, though, that I spun this too hard. Being a novice, I did what felt right. This turned out, on further research, to be the "worsted draw"...easy to spin, but man does it kill all the softness in the yarn. Live and learn, though - I'll be working on my woollen draw for the next project, the Romney.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Well Begun is Half Done. Again.

It seems I've run out of post titles - this one sounded familiar (more than just Mary-Poppins familiar) and it turns out I've used it before. It is apt - and therefore it will stand.

I started to feel like I was half done the merino/silk top I bought at the Cowichan Fleece & Fibre Festival, but I couldn't find the label for it, which would have told me how much it weighed in the first place. I ended up getting around it by weighing an empty bobbin, the full bobbin, and the remainder of the top.*

This photo makes the top look silver - it is far more purple in real life (i.e., without a flash).

The empty bobbin was 50 grams, the full was 150 grams, and the remainder of the top was 100 grams. So I was exactly (well, as much as my analog scale can be exact) halfway through.

Switched bobbins, tied on a new leader, and am now on the downhill part of this, my first spinning project.

Speaking of, Annalea asked how much I had spun before embarking on this purple. The first yarn I ever spun was those few meters of corriedale, shown in their entirety in this post. I tried to get the photo in here, but linky be brokey.

After that - which I did at my niece's drop-spinning lesson - I spun a bit of Briggs & Little pencil roving. I had to stop when I got a sore shoulder from the vertical draw. I don't know how much is on there, but it isn't a greal deal. I do plan to ply it onto itself eventually, though there won't be much finished yarn.

After this purple laceweight (hopefully it's laceweight) is done, I have a new project planned. I bought this fleece from Knotty by Nature, the new spinning shop in Victoria. It is a Metchosin-raised Romney cross, washed but not picked (grass bits removed) or carded. I wish you could reach in and touch this wool - it is intensely warm. I will be hand carding it in batches, spinning as I go. I haven't decided what to shoot for in terms of weight, but my copy of Intentional Spinner was shipped today and I expect it by the end of the week....Judith can help me plan this yarn.

And this is my daughter's depiction of me at the wheel. She drew it for the "Living Room" portion of the "What is Going on in Our House" bit in her family newsletter. I think I look a little like Whistler's mother here - I quite like it.

I think I may need to work on my posture, though.

*I don't know whether this stuff I'm spinning is "top" or what - not sure about all the terms yet. I think it's a sliver.....right? (pronounced SLY-ver) but I think that just refers to the long ropyness of it.

Monday, March 02, 2009

I like the fancy kind, myself.

Erudite Mondays at HalfSoledBoots
Volume 8 Number 2

by Kenneth J Harvey

In my last post I called Blackstrap Hawco the world's most depressing book. I'm revising my statement - it's not the most depressing, it's simply the most disgusting.

Or, okay, I'll add the qualifier that I haven't actually read all the books in the world.

But I did read one written by the Marquis de Sade once, and I tell you here and now that I'd rather read that again than this one, for whatever it's worth.

intense character exploration
sickening characters.

Ostensibly the book is about a working-class Newfoundland family. The "family" bit was not much in evidence. Some characters are linked by blood and marriage, but not by friendship or love (unless you count incest, which I really don't). As far as I can remember from the bewildering cacophony of voices, temporal shifts, and narrative psychosis, there are maybe three characters that have any redemptive qualities whatsoever. There is one woman who appears to love her children, there is one young boy who appears to love his mother and siblings, and there is one man who appears to have a smidge of conscience and a sliver of concern for his family.

It seemed to me that, inasmuch as one could say the book is "about" anything, it is about the degradation of the human spirit, the misery of squalor and ignorance, and the consequences of inbreeding.

Excellent writing
miserable subject matter.

There's quite a bit of rape in this book. I know this is something a lot of modern (i.e., mid to late 20th century and present) writers seem to think a necessary plot element, but I would like to tell all you authors that it REALLY PISSES ME OFF. Not EVERY SINGLE WOMAN has been raped, y'know, and the whole theme starts to lose its significance as a plot element if EVERY MAN in the ENTIRE NARRATIVE forces himself on anything with a skirt at every possible opportunity. I was starting to hope somebody would rape a guy, just for variety.

But maybe someone did, later on - I wouldn't know. This novel is over 800 pages long. I got to page 195, where the bishop suckles and then rapes the newly postpartum mother, and shut the damn thing. Thought to myself "I think that's all I can read." Later that afternoon, once my stomach had settled a bit, I decided to give it another go. I picked it up and read to page 246, where a prostitute foster mother approvingly witnesses the rape of her ten-year-old foster daughter by a drunken john. The woman thinks it's all part of growing up.

I have no more time I wish to spend on this book. I've read 246 pages and it's going to take a good week of knitting and spinning and embroidering and cooking to expunge that much from vivid memory - I'd hate to think how scarred I might be if I persevered and read the entire miserable tome.

Blackstrap Hawco received glowing reviews from quite a number of fairly qualified people. The Ottawa Xpress, for example, said "There's - thankfully - not a snippet of faux sentimentality here." I think it might show a lack of something-or-other that I couldn't stand to read it...maybe it means I am fauxishly sentimental. Maybe it means I'm, what - shallow? fluffy?

Here's my newspaper-style review quote, where I palliate my conscience by saying something that could be construed as positive.

Kenneth Harvey has beautifully sculpted a terrible work - a textured monument to misery. Its edifice is blackened by time and blood, the chiselwork not fine but brutish. The face of it is scarred and twisted. There are children, rough-hewn, cowering around its feet - frozen in its shadow of hulking threat. Their postures are miserable, anguished. Some people see and avert their gazes, while others are drawn to it. All who see it, turn away changed - whether by revulsion or by inspiration - unable to forget Blackstrap Hawco.

There. My review wasn't ALL bad.

If anyone cares to read this book, leave me a comment to that effect. It might be interesting to have a guest review as a follow-up, and if everything magically comes right and it ends well, if any of the characters finds any kind of redemption or peace or happiness, you can let me know.

HSB Highly Specialised Book Rating System
Blackstrap Hawco gets:

HELL no, not if it was the last book on earth.
Bookplate? Ha!
Given to Others? Nope.