Saturday, January 31, 2009

Irrefutable Proof that I Come from a Long Line of Non-Knitters

I was poking around the ’net the other day, and found a mention on a blog, or possibly Ravelry, that Canadian Living magazine tends to have great free knitting patterns. So of course I looked. (Read: Repetitive Work Postponement Syndrome) That’s where I found a pattern for the Knitted hat with wolf motif, which would be the perfect birthday present for an uncle.

This uncle is extremely hard to buy for. He has just about everything he needs in the whole wide world, so searching for appropriate birthday and Christmas gifts are a year-round proposition. But as Uncle breeds wolf hybrids, this hat screams “gift.” His birthday is in March, and then he heads back to his home on the Rockies mid-May where it will likely still be too cold to even have running water.

I called my mother to verify the approximate date she would be shipping a family gift box to him. Late February. Close, but shouldn’t be a problem. Then I told her that I found the perfect gift for him on the internet, and described the knit hat.

“Oh, that’s perfect!” she exclaimed.

“But he has a big head, right? Because they only give one size.”

She laughed.

“I mean that in both the literal and figurative sense,” I said.

“Of course.”

“So I’ll need to get his head circumference so I can adjust the pattern.”

“Oh!” she said. “You have to knit it??”

I’m not sure which part of her response is more interesting: the “have to” part, or that it apparently didn’t even occur to her that a person could knit a hat...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Bumping up Against Challenges

One of the items floating around in my OmniFocus task list for the past few weeks has been to determine proper gauge on my knitted pillows. The pillows, lest I have failed to explain them to you in previous posts, were inspired by a find at Zeilinger Wool Co. in Frankenmuth, Michigan earlier this year. They had a coil of taupe-colored wool pencil roving, and as soon as I saw it, an image formed in my head: over-sized red pillows overlayed with a large gauge accent skin of this wool. For the new living room, of course. Broomstick needles would give me the perfect gauge, I thought. I just needed to determine what that gauge is so I cast on the proper number of stitches.

This morning I was looking for one or two more smallish tasks to accomplish in my craft room before I started the day. (As for the motive of this search for smallish tasks, it is my youngest and shyest feral cat who has decided that that is her most favoritist room on the whole entire house, and she will often sit inside the doorway of that room as I putter around the house, hoping that I return before she goes to bed for the day. Because that room is apparently magical, and in that room she has decided she is not feral and never has been. And for those who heard my story at knit group this weekend, this is the cat that got too close to my spinning a few days ago and accidentally got one of her attached whiskers spun in the wool. Yet she still loves the wheel.) So I decided I could take 15 minutes to pull the pencil roving out and work out the gauge.

This is the first time I have examined the roving since becoming a spinner. I decided to examine the roving with a spinner’s eye, and in doing so I realized that the simple act of leaning against said finished pillow would essentially “predraft” the fiber and cause the whole thing to quickly come apart. Off to Yarn Barn to ask the experts. (Who I readily admit are “experts” in my eyes only as long as they agree with me, but not if they don’t, That’s how I roll.)

Turns out that my fears/concerns were well founded. “You’ll have to sacrifice loft for strength,” I was told. Also, since the red fabric that will form the base for this knit panel is corduroy, there is every chance that the lofty single ply fiber was going to felt, as well.

Our joint solution is to spin the pencil roving, and in order to build up the bulk again, ply it with another fiber. Our choice was a slightly darker corriedale roving. Bought up the last they had. Since I only have four Ashford bobbins total, and two of them now have learning singles on them, I’ll postpone this project a wee bit more while I finish filling the second bobbin, then ply and wind into a ball for temporary storage while I spin the wool for this project. Had no idea that I was going to need a spinning wheel to make two modest pillows for my new home.

Before I frogged the sleeves of bi-color cables, I decided to baste one of the sleeves to the body, just to ensure that the fit truly is off. You see, I re-measured and re-checked the project dimensions, and it turns out that I did knit it spot on with Modesitt’s pattern. When I thought it was larger than spec’d, I was looking at Modesitt’s measurements for the width of the sleeve panel, and not the length. That’s a side-effect of working on this project in two minute intervals between tasks. Anyway, I did knit it exactly has she outlined in her pattern. Yet it is way to freaking large. About 8" too long, as a matter of fact, and I confirmed this after test fitting the basted sleeve. Since the body fits well, then the only reasonable conclusion is that Modesitt designed this sweater for one of the more fashion forward aliens on Doctor Who.

I checked Ravelry to see if anyone else who made this sweater had a similar problem. The first thing that struck me is that even though this pattern has been available since the Winter 2005 issue of IK, only 18 people have cast on. Eighteen! Only a handful of those have finished, and most don’t comment one way or another. But one in particular did complain that the sleeves came out way to big, so they had to frog. Based on how over-sized this is, my first attempt will be on the smallest size. The length should be about right, but I’m concerned about the cap profile and if it will have enough length to fit in the arm hole for the body that was knit at a larger size. But that’s a hurdle I will have to cross later.

When Michael and I went to Kansas City a few weeks ago, we stopped at Rensen House of Lights and purchased a ceiling fan for the bedroom (finally, a room light that operates off a switch near the door), and two sconces for the walk-out basement level hallway. The previous sconces were...laughably inconvenient. You see, even though they were installed in a narrow hallway at head-height, the owners or remodelers had chosen sconces that stuck way out. At head-banging height, might I add.

Forgot to take a before picture, but here are their remains:

We hadn’t been looking for sconces at Rensen. Our only goal was that bedroom fan. But we spotted one that had that unique flair that we have been attracted to for this home, it hugged the wall quite nicely, and it was on sale. Who could ask for anything more?

This afternoon we installed them.

Very cool.

Tutti still is not living in a care facility, but my main concern (my aging mother running herself ragged looking after both Tutti and her great grandchildren) has been taken care of. Seems that Tutti has finally found the straw that broke the camel’s back. She has been inviting herself over at lunchtime with only 30 minutes notice, and telling other people that they are invited as well, with absolutely zero notice. We’re talking babysitting days when my mother is heating up small amounts of leftovers for her and her small g-grandchildren. She’s been talking to my mother’s large yellow lab in an excitable voice which is getting the dog all souped up and impossible to control, and refusing to stop talking to the dog when asked directly. And then she started having people drop her off at my mother’s house without any notice whatsoever.

Lately my mother “hasn’t been home.” Closed garage doors and privacy glass on the front door help to create this illusion.

I call my mother and ask her what she is up to. Instead of saying that she’s taking Tutti to the grocery store, or Tutti to the doctor, or Tutti to her ex-mother-in-law’s house, my mother says “I’m making a puzzle,” or “I spent the morning cleaning and organizing the refrigerator.” My mother is about to celebrate her 54th wedding anniversary. I think it’s high time that she find a little peace in her life.

As for Tutti, by refusing to admit herself into the care center, she is doing nothing to help herself. And as long as my mother and others like her are always there to rescue her, Tutti’s social worker and attorney have little incentive to pressure her to move.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Good News (?) is that Both Sleeves Match

After casting off the collar of bi-color cables, I decided to do a quick test fit before blocking and seaming.

The body, despite my predictions to the contrary at knit group yesterday, appears to fit like a glove. Knit Group, you were so right to argue with me. (And remind me next time I need an ego boost to whine and cry at knit group... Apparently my knitting does not suck as much as I thought it did...) This may actually fit well and be a good slimming design. You guys rock!

However, the relatively easy sleeves that are comprised of only stockinette and measured increases and decreases?

Only 6" longer from underarm to cuff than designer Modesitt specified for my size.

Do over!

Looks like the end of bi-colors will be a bit further down the road than it appeared earlier today.

Had a bit of a cat-astrophe this morning. Caper was heading upstairs but just as he reached the last step, Eclair came into view and prepared to attack. So he opted for a last minute and ill-measured jump on the pony wall at the top of the stairs.

Except his feet didn’t land properly, and his back feet slid off the side into the void. The freeze frame I have in my head is of his body completely vertical hanging from the top of the wall. I reached, but it was too late.

He fell a story onto the bottom step you see here.

Nacho, the other male in the house, had been nearby, and thought he was under attack, (“he came out of freaking nowhere!) so I had to avert a cat fight as well as determine Caper’s well-being. Remarkably he appears physically fine. He isn’t limping, and he’s been sleeping curled up with his belly, chin and legs in the air, so there’s no indication of internal injuries. On the other hand, he’s been hanging pretty darn close to me all day.

It was bound to happen some day. I’m glad we were here when it did. Perhaps now they will exercise caution when using the pony wall as a roadway.

Or not.
Closing in on an F.O., More Ridiculous iPhone Love, and Making Plans for Me Week 2009

I am achingly close to completing Bi-Color Cables. Between knit group Saturday and two episodes of Law & Order in the pre-dawn hours this morning, I have only seven collar stitches left live on the needle. I could have achieved more on that front Saturday, but I spent a goodly part of the pre-dawn to mid-morning hours faced with the nearly impossible task of transferring a digital video file from a DVD to my computer so I could finally complete a long-standing personal project. Without going into details, I was basically attempting to put the last two pages in a video scrapbook. I finally achieved my goal, but only after hours of cursing, and combinations of dozens of electronic equipment and cords.

Knitting during this was not going to happen. Neither was sanity or civility, for that matter.

Then it was time for our grocery store orientation. Michael told his parents he was on his way to a class about how to use our grocery store, and they quipped, “now we’ve heard everything,” and “what are they going to tell you, how to find the freshest milk on the shelf?” Well no, actually. It took over an hour, and covered the ins and outs of all the departments. I know now that if I want to make an oxtail soup, I can get oxtail and just about anything else I need from their meat department. I also know they sell forbidden rice, which is a purple rice that only the Chinese royalty was allowed to eat way back when, and I had never heard of before yesterday. As it was winding down, several merchants had set up sampling tables, so we got to try pizza made with amaranth and absolutely no gluten or eggs, and piergogies fresh off the grill, and humus, and a took home a sliver of prairie sage soap made from the milk of a jersey cow. Then we were all awarded with a 70% dark chocolate candy bar. I joked to our teacher that the class was very informative, but that I would probably need to take it again next month. For the chocolate, of course.

Thursday had been so delightfully warm, but as the sun came up on Friday and the lawn crew began their work, north winds drove the temperatures down, down, down. They persevered. The cats hid.

At times the lawn looked like crime scene investigators had been searching for buried remains. I meant to take a picture, but it was too darn cold to step out of the house. Except I did briefly to bring them steaming mugs of hot chocolate made with whole milk and Ghirardelli cocoa, which they thanked me for but turned down. So I returned to the house, added a dollop of whipped cream, and Michael and I gladly drank it instead. Shortly after noon the foreman rang the doorbell. They were done. I glanced around the yard, and except for the dozens of flags that marked utilities, valves, and sprinkler heads, there was little evidence they had been there at all.

He gave us a brief synopsis of the system (did I mention that it was effing freezing?), referred us to the 69 page owner’s manual, and said they would be back to test the system and explain it again in the spring.

Later that night, curled up under a blanket watching television, I picked up my iPhone and opened the Weather Channel application. You see, that particular application not only tells me the current actual temperature, but also gives the “feels like” temp. Sure, I knew it was cold, but my morbid sense of curiousity insisted on more. I navigated to the current conditions page and frowned, then I closed that application and went to the weather application that comes native with the iPhone. My frown deepened. I turned to Michael.

“Did you know it is snowing,” I asked?

He frowned and went to the door. “Hey, it’s snowing!”

We are both very grateful that the iPhone is there to inform us of these necessary and apparently otherwise unknowable facts about the world 6' to our left.

I have been in touch with author Alison Lewis of Switch Craft as I round up the final supplies I need for the Firefly bracelet. Some of the merchants listed in the sources section of the book no longer carry those supplies, and they are specialized enough that I can’t pick them up at just anywhere. Like RadioShack for example, which seems to be eliminating that product line altogether. She was extremely helpful, and I appreciate her taking the time to look over my supply list. I have one more order to place to a very small supplier out of Colorado that produces hand-made LED beads (they were closed for vacation until today, I believe). But the all-critical conductive thread is now in the house, and ready for Me Week 2009 festivities.

Which begins exactly one week from today.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Men at Work

When we sold our old home, we had plans for the proceeds. We weren’t going on a shopping spree, though we allowed ourselves a few indulgences. Like that spinning wheel, for instance. Necessary indulgences. No monolithic entertainment system that would be fantastic for watching the Super Bowl which neither of us care to watch, for example.

One destination for the money was landscaping. You see, we have a terrible foundation, landscaping-wise. Years of renters and short-term owners with bad taste has wreaked havoc on the yard. It has lots of potential. We have elevation changes built in to the property, including swells and dips, that lend themselves to interesting possibilities. Instead of taking advantage of that, these previous caretakers of the land installed a mishmash of landscaping pavers and edgers around oddly shaped plots containing a handful of poor choices. Like the dogwood that is planted two feet from the edge of the driveway, and which leans over the driveway ready to scrape the sides of over-sized vehicles as they pull in.

Many people would think our money placement choices to be odd, so far. For example, even though the kitchen is a disaster, we’ve done very little to it other than have the upper cabinet doors trimmed shorter so they no longer scrape across the ceiling, buying a stove (which we had to do since the one in the home when we bought it was a non-working doorstop), replacing the fluorescent ceiling fixture with a more tolerable but inexpensive incandescent choice, and replacing the kitchen faucet (which we had to do after the old one developed a leak). I’m tolerating the poorly fitted drawers including the one that is missing the back completely so that things methodically work their way out the back into the lower cabinet as the drawer is opened and closed.. I’m tolerating the general lack of storage. I’m tolerating the island that was installed backward and tiled with similar but mismatched tile that clearly came from a clearance bin at the dreaded Home Depot. And I’m tolerating only having two outlets in the entire room.

But immediately and without pause, I spent a week scraping the cottage cheese-like popcorn off the ceilings and then invested a ton of money to have the ceilings sanded and skim coated. They were ceilings before. They are ceilings after. But it brings them down to a clean base. A fresh start. A positive place on which to build all our future alterations. Because even if we had started with the kitchen instead, we would now have a fantastic kitchen with a crummy-looking ceiling. Which means we would still have a crummy-looking kitchen.

Plus, it would have been a much greater inconvenience to do the ceiling work after we had moved in.

We have approached the yard with the same mentality. Yes, we could have immediately purchased trees, bushes, and decorative grasses, and planted the heck out of the front of the house and existing beds. But after spending that money and going to all that work, it would still have been a crummy yard. So we are approaching the yard in a similar way to the kitchen: ignore and overlook much of the disaster, and instead lay the foundation for what will be a great yard later. With our travel schedule, there is no way that we can successfully re-seed the lawn or establish new plants without a way to water them.

When we were working on our previous house, we often thought wistfully of installing an irrigation system. There were do-it-yourself kits on the market at that time, but it still would have been a chunk of money, and we never got around to it. The result was a poor looking lawn, and hours and hours of me dragging a hose around the yard, up and over the pickets on the fence, in order to re-seed the lawn every spring. It never lasted. Which meant more work and more money the next year.

So when we bought this house and gazed over the expanse of dead grass, we knew that an automated irrigation system had to be one of the first items on our hit list. We called professionals. I’m not sure that these do-it-yourself kits are even around anymore. Just googled. I guess they are, but I have to wonder about the quality. At any rate, we certainly don’t have the time to mess with it. Enter the men.

They showed up early, walked the yard with us and the landscape designer to discuss valve and bedding placements, property boundaries, and future home expansions. They brought with them trenching equipment and enough pipe to reach Kansas City. Then they got to work.

It was an unseasonably warm day, and they were grateful to be able to get a full day in on this before winter returned.

The designer was here for over six hours, taking measurements, photos, and sketching the property. It’s not easy. Nothing lines up.

The trencher sent rumbles through the house, and brought neighbors out to the street to spy on our activities. Wow they put those pipes deep. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to hand dig as deep as they are going. They hit something hard. Inside the house something crashed (though we still don’t know where or what it was) and the cats set aside all their grudges to huddle en masse under the bed.

While they worked in the yard, we too took advantage of the warm day to get as many of the moving boxes possible out of the garage. Sifting and sorting and putting away can happen later, inside, when the highs are in the 20s and the wind is blowing horizontal bands of snow past our windows. But we needed to get them in before snow melt off the car, and rain penetration under the garage doors, ruined our towers of boxed possessions. Already several boxes were squishy from water seepage. Boxes of books. Sacrilege!

And I continued to trim and bundle limbs from the volunteer mulberries we cut down a few weeks ago.

This, sadly, will be it for landscaping in 2009. This, and overseeding, and us planting a row of arborvitae ourselves to replace the dead and dying evergreens that line the curb on the north side of the property, so that they can at least get a start on growth this year. And then we’ll be eating macaroni and cheese for the rest of the year.

But it will be worth it, because next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, it will all begin to come together. And previous owners and renters will drive past and say to themselves, “I don’t remember it looked this good. Why did we ever move?”

And I’ll smile and wave, and know that it only looks this good because they did move. And know that they only reason we could have afforded the home is because they made it look so bad.

And a treat for the cat lovers out there: This morning Nacho discovered the Sandhills and Whooping Cranes episode of “Champions of the Wild.”

Monday, January 19, 2009

Time to Put on the Big Girl Panties

While I try very hard to keep politics out of this blog, I cannot let this historic moment in America’s history go by without sharing a few reflections.

Many years ago, my parent’s yard backed up to the backyard of a boy called “Charlie Boy.” That name alone probably has you picturing some place in the deep south, or perhaps Appalachia, but no. We lived in a state capital of what would be considered a northern state. Charlie Boy was the eldest son in a home of moderate income. The father had a good union job, and made enough money to send his two children to private parochial school. You might, from hearing that, assume they were religious, which they seemed to be, and possibly associate all those good things that we are supposed to associate with religious people. But let me tell you, the father was the most blatantly racist person I ever met. N-word this, N-word that. I’m not even sure why this came up in conversation as much as it did, because our neighbors were all Caucasian.

Charlie Boy and I did not “hang out.” He seemed nice enough, but he was a year older, and attended a different school. We would only bump into each other if he happened to be in his backyard at the same time as me.

One day I asked him if his father’s racist comments bothered him. This was his response:

“It used to, but then I realized he was right.”

I’ll wait a moment while you let those words sink in.

That’s right. “...then I realized he was right.”

Charlie Boy has been coming to mind in these days leading up to the election. I wonder if he ever unlearned the lessons of his father. He had planned to go into the military, so I would hope that living and working in a situation where you depended on each other so greatly, that his racist upbringing would have come untangled. But perhaps not.

I would like to think that that mentality, even in that decade, was in the minority. But I fear not.

I would like to think that that mentality in this decade is almost non-existent. But I fear not.

I realize that we all have different political opinions based on our own experience and upbringing. I am a centrist. I have views that place me to the right, and views that place me to the left. I know that none of the rhetoric from either side is truly reflective of the truth. The truth is somewhere in the middle, with bits of left and bits of right. But for the rhetoric to work, the other side and other views are left out entirely, or brought up in a mocking condescending way, or brought up in a way that is meant to instill fear or anger. No “one” is right. So the voices I trust are the voices that bring several sides to the issue. These are voices that recognize that they are not necessarily the experts on every subject. These are voices that observe and listen and base their opinions and decisions on all the bits.

We are living in an amazing time. Tomorrow a decent, human being who loves his family and instills positive passion in our downtrodden nation, will become the next President of the United States. And he is black. And we, as a nation, voted him into office. We have come so far, so amazingly far.

And in the midst of this moment to celebrate, I hear the whines of people who complain that they are conservative and therefore they fear for themselves and us a nation, and how can we possibly survive four years of this.

Um... I’m pretty sure that we’ve had a conservative government running the country for the last eight years, and...maybe it’s just me...but things haven’t looked good for quite some time. So why would you prefer to keep things the way they are now, rather then take a different path?

When I hear those whines from people who can’t look beyond their own political viewpoint for five seconds to celebrate this momentous occasion, I find myself wondering how much of those whines are purely because of political differences, or if it isn’t a disguise for racism.

Of course, I’ll never know the answer to that. So if you are out there, reading my blog, I have just one thing to say: “You can choose to make a positive difference or not, but for the love of Pete grow up! The world is not as black and white as you apparently would like to believe.”

Knitting has come out of hibernation. There will be actual knitting content soon, I promise.
Soaking up the Sun

There is one room in our house that every human expert has implored us to tear down, and yet Michael and I, and our feline companions, are all in agreement that it must stay in some form or another at all costs: the solarium.

Such a fancy word must be for a fancy room. But in fact the solarium is shed roof greenhouse attached to one side of the main residence. Sure, it has a lot of faults. When we purchased the home, the exterior door was missing. We found a replacement at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, and had it installed. The exhaust fan was so old that it had rusted into a non-functioning brick, so I purchased and installed a replacement that kicks on when the room temperature exceeds 90ยบ. Several pieces of glass are broken and are slated to be replaced this spring. One pane broke apart so completely that we’ve had to temporarily block the gaping hole with glass blocks and old newspaper. The concrete floor was tiled unevenly with the cheapest blond tile that Home Depot sells, except for two corners that are rough poured concrete which our architect theorizes used to be exposed soil for plants. On winter nights it gets too cold to house plants. On summer days it gets too hot to house plants. So why do we like it?

Because when the sun is out, even on the coldest days of winter, that room gets toasty warm. So warm, in fact, that the exhaust fan kicks on. The cats love it. And when our bones are chilled to the core, all it takes is a few moments to feel like we’re sunbathing on a beach in Cancun.

The architect is right. The solarium must come down. It appears to have been built in the early ’70s from a kit. There are peculiarities about its construction that give my architect nightmares. Thirty+ years of rain and snowmelt have rotted its sills. Then there’s that funky way the builders used ripped lengths of PVC pipe to cover the outside roof seams. But it’s not coming down this year, and likely not next.

And when we do, I promise you my cats, we will bring it down to the foundation and begin rebuilding immediately, so that we always have a spot of warmth and light in a cold, cold, world.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Tying Up Loose Ends

Work on the craft room is finally progressing at lightning speed. Thanks to finishing the most recent round of curtains, I have been able to put away the sawhorses and hollow core door that were doubling as a work surface. Actual nails have penetrated actual walls in the course of hanging pictures and shadow boxes.

Selecting hangings is easy, as I want to honor the fiber work that takes place in that space. Thus the large antique battenburg lace butterfly I rescued from a horrible frame at an antique shop (the original frame was so small the tips of the wings and antennae were folded down so it would fit).

This antique dove frame is painted canvas glued onto a padded chipboard frame. My mother gave it to me years ago and I always wondered what I should do with it. It’s like a picture frame, but without a way to hold a picture. After hot gluing a small metal hanger to the back, it makes a sweet frame for the light switch.

And this unusual looking piece is something I experimented with about five years ago. There was an art student living in the basement apartment of our former office building. She was quite an activist, though she was missing lots of screws, too, as I discovered.

For example, she was big on volunteerism, Fair Trade goods, and worked at the local co-op. Yet the kitten she adopted never saw a vet, and when she and her roommate vacated the apartment, the new tenant was forced to leave within only a few days because the apartment was so overrun with fleas that it required professional fumigation. She also stole all the surplus toilet paper from the women’s bathroom on the office level the day she moved out, which inspired the landlord to limit women access to one roll only thereafter.

Anyway, back in the days when I believed she was a more stable person than she turned out to be, she and some other art students at her university banded together to hold an art auction to benefit the local domestic abuse shelter. I made this—a bobbin lace pattern using insulated monofiliment wire, paperclips, rubber bands and No. 2 pencils—to donate to the auction, then attended the auction and bought it back.

Okay, before you get stuck on the weirdness of this piece, let me put your mind to rest by giving you a B.S. artsy concept description: “This mixed media piece is a commentary on the shift in what is deemed ‘women’s work’ in recent centuries through the use of a traditional torchon lace pattern contrived out of ordinary office supplies.”

Taste differences aside, I invested in the materials and the frame, which probably cost around 50 bucks, then purchased it back for about the same. That’s a $100 non-tax deductible donation. Did she ever say “thank you”? That would be a big fat “no”.

On the knitting front, I’m down to the last stretch on bi-color cables, from the Winter 2005 issue of Interweave Knits. That was the first knitting magazine I purchased, having taught myself the basics of knitting the previous fall progressing in experience on two scarves and a large felted bulletin board. So of course the first time I went to Yarn Barn to buy fiber for new projects, those projects were the Notable Surge, River Forest Gansey, and Bi-color Cables. I laugh (bwa ha ha) at the folly of it all.

Three years later I’m still working on Bi-colors. The body is done. The sleeves are done. I’m down to the color and buttons, and I’ve finally picked up the collar stitches around the neckline so that headache is now behind me. You would think that I would want to buckle down and spend a Saturday getting this finished and seamed, right?


First, I’m going to rehash a complaint I had regarding the instructions for the body. This isn’t a complaint about designer Annie Modesitt. This is a complaint to the then-editors and art department of Interweave. The collar instructions begin near the bottom of page 43. It begins with instructions for picking up stitches, then explains that I need to work the first three and last three stitches of every row in DKSSE.

An explanation for DKSSE is in the stitch guide on page 38.

Back to page 43, it says that I need to work the first row in garter rib.

An explanation for garter rib is in the stitch guide on page 38.

Back to page 43, I’m to work short rows to shape collar as follows...

Continued on page 44,

But the explanation for short row shaping is in the glossary on page 136.

A third of a column on page 44 describes line by line what I am supposed to do in terms of how many stitches across I knit before I turn the work for shaping, while page 136 explains in detail how to handle the wraps for the RS of the work vs the WS.

As I near the end of the collar instructions, it tells me that I need to do a VDD.

An explanation of the VDD is in the stitch guide on page 38.

See what I mean? Flip flip flip. Flip flip flip.

Early in the collar process I wised up and created my own set of written instructions in Excel, which should smooth the process quite a bit. But here’s the thing. I actually have little hope that I will want to wear this sweater when all is said and done. The button holes are basically loops along the front edge with very little overlap. Once I crochet the buttons, then the instructions have me sew dressmaker hooks and eyes positioned between each of the buttons. In other words, Annie discovered that the sweater would gap and show flesh, so she added another type of closure to the instructions in the 11th hour. Even the magazine’s photos, which bear little resemblance to wearing knitwear in real life, the sweater gaps on the model.

Maybe I’m wrong, and I’ll be totally thrilled with the finished garmet and wear it every day every day until it rots off my flesh.

But I don’t think that’s how it will go, and there’s no way to test fit in the meantime to either give myself confidence or give me the courage to trash it and move on.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Lady, I Hate to Break it to You But You’ve Got a Mole; and an Actual Finished Object

Remember the mystery creature that had taken up residence in the wall of my garage? The one that made a huge amount of noise inside the wall, and flung the glue trap off its feet like it was only an annoying gnat? Turns out it was a mole.

Huh. Who in the heck has ever heard of a mole living inside the wall of a house?

Mole #1 expired within the last day or two. I had forgotten all about the glue trap until this morning. That’s when I discovered it finally had a permanent occupant. Looked to be an immature model. Adolescent, perhaps. Not a baby, but not quite the 5-7" they are purported to reach at maturity. We’re pretty sure it’s a mole rather than a shrew, after closely comparing a photo of our dead carcass to ones we found online. (I chose not to publish it here. You’re welcome.) So the question remains as to whether there are more in its burrow. We shall soon see.

And the mouse/rat poison I set out? Laughably useless.

Now for an actual finished object. I finally finished the bobbin lace pillow display boards:

These are two 1 x 12's (or maybe 1 x 10's) covered in batting and fabric. The pillow slipcovers are all made from the August Fields family of Amy Butler fabrics, and they are secured to the boards with wide elastic. I have two more oddball pillows that I’ll eventually cover and hang off the bottom of the boards, but they will be from different and as of yet unpurchased AB fabric. And no hurry. Lots of other things to do in the meantime.

For anyone that knows or cares, the three on the left are cookies. The bottom right one is also a cookie, but this one has a subtle slope and is filled with sawdust. The middle right is a roller with a wide perimeter stuffed with wool. That pillow is my favorite for making yardage lace. I just love the way the bobbins bounce against the apron, and its slopes holds the thread in perfect tension. And the top pillow is a straw-stuffed antique pillow.

These boards elevate pillow storage to an art form, and the elastic allows them to be removed and re-inserted easily. Several of these pillows contain projects in process, so as long as the bobbins are appropriately secured before mounting (something you should do whenever stopping for the day anyway), storage mid-project is a breeze.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Finished Object, and Feeding the Geek Patrons

I finally finished Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Baby Surprise Jacket. Yippee! Forgot to crochet the neck edge before I blocked it (oopsie) but now it’s done, done, done. I’m totally in love with this jacket. The buttons are precious (thanks, honey), the yarn luxuriously soft, and the colors are interesting without being too season or gender specific. I have one show and tell to do at my mother’s house on Monday, but after that it’s headed straight to a young mother in Michigan.

Yesterday was one of those crazy long days where we didn’t get everything accomplished on our list, but got a substantial amount more accomplished than we thought possible. Got another episode of my vidcast posted, then headed to Kansas City to take care of a few things before my geek meeting. First up, I had an appointment at the genius bar at the Apple Store to have them diagnose a problem with my iPod. You see, not only did I manage to run my old flip phone through the washing machine the night before I was going to buy an iPhone, but a day or two after I bought the iPhone I dropped the old iPod, and it ceased functioning. It’s like the tech gods were forcing me to make decisions that I was finding difficult to make on my own. Because truth be told, the iPhone already does much of what I used the iPod for (watching videos, keeping track of contacts so I could make calls while on the road), and its unlikely that I would carry both with me as well as a laptop when I travel. When talking airline travel and one carry-on, every inch and ounce makes a difference.

I was hoping that perhaps a connection to the battery had come loose, but no. The genius pointed out that it was vibrating like the hard drive was trying to spin up, so it was in fact getting some power. Unfortunately, that’s all the thing does. I guess you could say it’s a high tech vibrator.

Did I say that?

I can contact another company to have them open it up (something Apple doesn’t do in their stores) and give a more indepth diagnosis. Perhaps it’s something that can be fixed for 50 bucks. And if not? Then I’m probably going to get a nano—a purchase I’ll postpone until we have another trip coming up. As for nano vs shuffle, I mostly listen to podcasts, so I prefer a player that will allow me to choose the order in which I listen.

Michael had drawn my mother’s name for Christmas, and we stumbled across the perfect under-$5 gift at Williams-Sonoma. It was a set of four blown glass Christmas ornaments that are shaped like cooking implements.

Original price $20, on clearance for $4. With that and the Singer holiday sewing projects book I found for my nephew’s wife a few weeks ago, that pretty much takes care of my side of the family, Christmas-wise.

We made an unscheduled stop at World Market and found the perfect lamp for our living room, then we went to Renson and bought a ceiling fan for our bedroom (the reason for our visit), and two low-profile wall sconces (an unexpected bonus AND it was on sale) for our walk out basement hallway to replace the head bangers that an earlier idiot renovator had installed.

Then it was time to head to the bar for my geek meeting. Picture this: a sports bar on the afternoon of a playoff game. One long table with around a dozen middle-aged to elderly people each tapping madly on their iPhone screens. Fifteen television monitors around the room are all tuned into the same football game, except for the television closest to that table. That one is tuned to Stargate Atlantis. Coincidence? I don’t think so. I pointed that out to the meeting moderator. He instantly launched in to a whine that that was final episode of the Stargate Atlantis series. The humor of the situation completely escaped him, caught up as he was in the despair of losing one of his favorite programs.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

BSJ—the Last Lap, and an Actual Finished Object

Most internet-savvy knitters will likely recognize the BSJ reference, but for those who are still somewhat baffled by the acronyms surrounding this world, BSJ refers to the Baby Surprise Jacket by one of the earliest rock stars in the knitting world: Elizabeth Zimmerman. Its construction is counter-intuitive, and it requires lots of “paying attention,” a phrase my MIL uses a lot when it comes to knitting projects she avoids, and loads of trust.

The BSJ has been cast off,

and the buttons bought.

Now I only need to sew the shoulder seams, crochet the neck edge, sew on the buttons, weave in ends, and block. Sounds like something that could happen easily in a morning, but (sigh) postponed work demands can be postponed no longer.

What ever happened to work on setting up the craft room, you ask?

Same thing. I’ve made bits of progress on every front, but completed nothing save the final curtain for the kitchen (hung this morning). The fabric is Jessica II Moss, purchased at the Bernina store in Farmington, New Mexico last fall.

The bobbin lace pillow boards are covered, but at the point I needed to work out the attachment system for my pillows, I realized that the pillows themselves absolutely cried for new slip covers. After all, I had originally covered them years ago with the only quilt-y fabric available at that time: calico. Calico goes with my current decorating vision not at all. So a project of limited scope suddenly grew ten times bigger.

I’ve also made more of a mess in the process. Purchased supplies for over-sized pillows for the living room. Bought a wheel. Stuff. Some stuff that will always take up the same amount of real estate in my office. Some stuff that requires time to process, which I simply don’t have today or this week.

Perhaps most exciting is a meeting I had with my furniture restorer. I’ve used him for small projects for years, but I’ve postponed the largest of the work because of financial reasons. I am the generational conservator, I guess you could say, of several pieces of furniture that have been in my family for over 150 years. These are massive pieces, made before the industrial age, and until they landed in my living room, have had little positive happen to them. But through the aged finish and damage, the wood grain is breathtaking.

I actually moved this furniture to his shop over the summer, because I knew that I didn’t want it to be placed in my new home as is. Not only would it have been a sore spot in what I hope to be a nice home, eventually, but once here, inertia and inconvenience probably would have meant that it never would have gone to his shop. Since then, he’s been busy with other projects, and I had lots of expenses that held priority. But his timing and my timing finally joined forces, and he is starting work right away. I won’t show you the pieces at this stage, because their appearance is rather disappointing. But a hint at their inherent quality: it is likely that the head curator at the Smithsonian will be consulted.

The methods my restorer uses has shifted dramatically over the last decade, in large part to guidance from the Smithsonian curator, so I think we are all happy that this final work will happen now and not ten years ago. Today he’s gone old school, with boxes of pure dried shellac in a range of purities, ready to be mixed in project-sized batches and applied in its freshest possible state

After he finishes this work, it leaves only one piece to be restored, and this is all my baby. It’s a massive gilded mirror that my grandfather, God rest his soul, decided to “improve” by spray painting with gold paint. So I need to practice minimal stripping using only vapor pockets, which I’ve never tried and only heard described briefly. And then I need to carve molds for plaster of Paris to repair broken bits of decoration, which I’ve never done. And then I need to learn to gild.

This is clearly a “down the road a bit” project.

Had a “sigh” moment with my MIL the other day. She had tried to call Michael’s new cell phone to update him on his father’s medical condition (he’s fine, BTW), and reported that for some reason, the call wouldn’t go through. She had the right number and tried several times. Then she finally left a message on our business phone. I called her back. A condensed transcript of the conversation follows:

“What phone did you try to call us from? Were you calling from your home phone?”


“You don’t have long distance on your home phone, remember? If you need to call us, you need to use your cell phone.”

This troubled her, as she is able to call her grandchildren’s cell phones on her home phone all the time and they go through. And they currently live in the same town we do.

I offered that their phone numbers are probably local to her. (That’s where the boys used to live, where their parents still live, and they got all their phones at the same time on a family plan.) Our old cell phones were out of our old town so she could call them from her home phone. But when we got new phones, we got new numbers because I didn’t want our cell phone numbers to be a long distance call from our new home.

Understanding seemed to wash over her. Later that day she tested the system by calling Michael from her cell phone, and the call magically went through. Then he managed to confuse her even more by observing that if her grandchildren were to call our cell phones from their cell phones, that it would be a long distance call even though we are all in the same town.

That might have been too much to contemplate.

And lest it sound like I’m an intellectual elitist, let me assure you that I live in a glass house. Ask me sometime about the difference between ginGER root and ginSING root, and how accidentally cooking ginGER in a recipe that calls for ginSING can lead to unexpected results.

And speaking of living in a state of constant confusion, word on the street is that Tutti-Fruiti is going to be forced to move into a nursing facility. Following her dementia diagnosis last year, she obtained an attorney and gave him power to handle all her affairs. Wise move. Now, a year later, she is having more trouble living alone, and is creating unreasonable demands on her support circle. She has started getting panic attacks, so she begs to be picked up so she can spend the day with this person or that, But she has difficulty interacting with humans now, so her presence is as distracting and draining as babysitting a three-year-old. Tutti does not want to move. She thinks the other residents at her new-home-to-be are scary. But she has no idea how scary she has become.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Doctor Who-the-Heck?, and Master Ashford and I Come to an Understanding

First the geeky sci-fi part of this post. Did you see the announcement on BBC yesterday about the new Doctor who will be taking over for David Tennant? It’s a young Matt Smith. Very young. So young I can’t quite wrap my head around it.

I’m sure he’ll do a great job, but I adore Tennant so much that I’ll have to pretend I’m watching a completely different series in order to relax and enjoy it.

Now for the Master.

With the LYS finally open again after their inventory, I went toddling over there to compare their assembled Elizabeth 2 to my assembled version. Their’s seemed very close, but the brakes weren’t connected on any of their models. So I asked a spinning staff member to demonstrate for me. Brace yourself for the upcoming whine.

It seems that I had that part all wrong. The assembly instructions told me how to hook up the brake. It told me, sort of, where to put the second belt. But it did not explain that the brake should not be used when I use the second belt.

I knew that my new wheel had Scotch Tension, and that was good because it is easier for beginners. I knew that my new wheel had Double Drive, and that was also good. But I did not realize that Scotch Tension is Single Drive. And that the bobbin is inserted the opposite way when doing Scotch Tension. And that the second loop of belt is removed from the bobbin and placed on the whorl with the other. Neither the assembly instructions nor the How to Spin book that came with Ashford explained these facts.

I have come to the conclusion that the materials for the wheel are as dated as a vintage knitting booklet, and that like these booklets, it doesn’t bother explaining how to do things or what X means vs Y, because they assume you have learned to spin at the knee of a mother, grandmother, or aunt.

Sure, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me that the belt run in the same groove as the brake, but that’s what the picture and written instructions seemed to specify. And when I tried it without the brake, it back spun as soon as I stopped treadling, unspinning a significant amount of fiber I’d already spun.

I went home and removed the brake. This time when I stopped treadling, I stopped the wheel with my right hand to keep it from unwinding as the wheel found its center of gravity. It worked, and I’ve spun several feet of fiber with some success.

Master Ashford muttered a half-hearted apology for calling me a trollop earlier. I thanked him for the apology, but noted that I hadn’t realized he’d called me a name, and that if he’d told me I’d been doing something wrong I would gladly have fixed it.

But that is not, it seems, Master Ashford’s way.

Friday, January 02, 2009

We are Now Entering the Spin Cycle

The Ashford and I are getting to know each other. He (for the wheel is a precocious boy) does not yet trust me. He thinks that I will surely do something that will bind him up, break parts, or worse—make miles and miles of bad yarn that will reflect badly on him and never be turned into an object to be admired. And I make no guarantees that this will not occur.

But I will learn. It will take time, and there were be plenty of failures, but eventually the successes will outnumber them.

I find myself dwelling on the spinning class I took at my LYS in early ’08. This was not a positive experience. The class was too large for a true beginning class. There were around ten of us (in my mind this number leaps to upwards of twenty, but I might have been adding human-sized wheels in body count) and only one instructor.

Even though this was a beginning class, most students were already spinners. They may have played on a friend’s wheel, or had a wheel that they used regularly before their children were born, or spun on a drop spindle. I had never done any of this. In fact, I have never even sat next to someone as they spun. It was all new. So I needed more rudimentary instruction than she had time or patience to give.

Her goal was to make a skein of plied yarn by the end of the day, so the teacher was determined to keep everyone on track to ensure that happened.

I was doing fairly well on an Ashford, which I picked because it had only one foot pedal and I have a medical condition that makes it preferable for me to use one than two. Even though I told her that, she insisted on giving another student my wheel because it was a model she was going to buy or had just bought, and I was left using her two pedal wheel. (And the instructor is a professional nurse. Would have thought that would have meant something to her... sigh...)

My biggest obstacle was in take up. I would spin, but it wouldn’t feed onto the bobbin. That would cause my yarn to become overtwisted, which would make it even more difficult for it to feed. Several times she came over, critized my technique, fiddled quickly with the wheel, and left again.

I also had a problem adjusting the pinch between the fingers of my left hand and those on my right. The twist would often race down the yarn into the unspun roving. Several times she grabbed my hands between hers to show me how to properly pinch. (In retrospect I think half the problem with take up had to do with over-compensating my pinch, and the bobbin couldn’t tug hard enough to release the pinched yarn from my grasp.)

I spent most of my day practicing my breathing, trying to always keep a smile on my face, and controlling my frustration so that I would not close my mind to the learning process.
The day ended with a truly sucky skein of plied yarn that I mostly made by stopping the wheel and feeding the yarn onto the bobbin by hand.

Now that I’m on my own wheel (with a single foot pedal, thankyouverymuch) and can work on my own time table, I can learn in the way that I need to learn. That means breaking down the process into parts.

I tied on a leader and grabbed a length of roving. Quickly I discovered the same problem with take-up. I walked away from the project and returned later.

Reading the “How to Spin” book I saw that they recommended first practicing take up by tying yarn to the leader and doing nothing but pedalling so I can get the feel of feeding the bobbin.

I tried this, and noticed that it was not feeding. I unhooked the brake and tried again. It fed smoothly and efficiently. So I re-attached the brake and tried again. No feed. That indicated the brake probably was applying more pressure to the bobbin than the belt. So I moved the maiden bar further away from the wheel and tried again.

It fed.

In my opinion, this should have been part of the class. It would have given me a greater understanding of the mechanics of the wheel. It also would have also allowed us to see and understand that the wheel turning clockwise was putting in a Z twist, and feeding the bobbin counter-clockwise. Conversely, the opposite direction would have been an S twist, of course. The clockwise and Z twist thing was told to us in lecture form along with a host of other facts, but hearing information in a lecture vs. seeing it unfold before you as you hear it, are two different things and the first does not always lead to true comprehension. Probably anyone who had spun in the past wouldn’t have needed this step at all. But as a beginner taking a beginning class, I don’t think I’m out of line for believing this should have been part of it.

Now that my LYS has re-opened after their annual inventory, I plan to make a trip over there to compare their set-up to my own. And then I plan to practice more. I’ll spin fiber, but my end goal now is to work on feeding and not over-twisting. After that I’ll concentrate on my pinches, and figure out which of my hands work best for pinching vs. feeding unspun fiber. Then comes the amount of wool to feed in order to create a consistent wool in roughly the desired gauge.

Hang on, young Master Ashford. We’re in for a bumpy ride.