Sunday, March 30, 2008

15 years later

Most "making" came to a halt while I was sick, but there was one project that I managed to finish. The joke though is that I started this project at least 15 years ago. I'm pretty sure it was the end of highschool and my Mom and I scored a Vogue Crochet magazine (I say score because it really was a highlight, and yes, I was that geeky for crafting even as a teen). The magazine made granny squares look pretty hip. Not so hip however was my choice of wool; it seems I haven't always been the wool snob I am now. I purchased some (gasp) 100% acrylic boucle yarn for this endeavour in a surprising combination of black, gray, yellow, orange and aqua. How I managed to keep all the yarn and squares in one place for more than a decade is beyond me. And even more beyond me is how I remembered it while I was languishing on the sofa.

Fifteen years ago I hadn't a clue for calculating yardage, so I never would have had enough yarn for a full blanket. I managed to finish up a baby-sized blanket which has already worked well as a lap blanket/cat magnet. I ran out of the black yarn completely and used Fable alpaca for the last two squares and the picot edge which is hard to see in the photo (I must stop using black wool if I ever want a decent photograph!) Part of me is planning another granny square project, especially after seeing this, and this and this. You'd think after 15 years the style would have gone back into the closet, but there is still a really hip edge when you use the right colours and wool. I can promise wool snobbery for my next one, though I may be wooed by the ripple pattern instead. Who doesn't need a project to sit around for another 15 years, right?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

reading challenge #7

Knock on wood, but I don't often get blown over by winter bugs, but oh my did I get trampled last week. I only made it into work for one morning and I was dragging my heels the whole time. It was just some viral infection, but I barely had the energy to get off the sofa. Even sitting at the computer was unthinkable. When my eyelids weren't hurting I at least got a bit of reading done and even took a break from my Canadian list to read Belong To Me by Marisa de los Santos.

But back to the Canadian list. I think a review may have hinted at this allure, but certainly the short story title "The Day I Sat with Jesus on the Sundeck and a Wind Came Up and Blew My Kimono Open an He Saw My Breasts" gave me reason enough to try A Song for Nettie Johnson by Gloria Sawai. And I figured a collection of short stories would add variety to my reading list. Lucky for me, it was a delightful read.

All but the final three stories are set in one small Saskatchewan town and I appreciated being able to link characters and storylines. My only criticism is that the collection wasn't entirely set in this town; by suddenly changing locations and introducing new characters 3/4 way through, I felt a little cheated, like I hadn't been given notice that my time with this town was coming to an end. But it is only a small criticism because the stories that followed were compelling and complete themselves. And anyway, the very last story was the Jesus, Kimono and Breasts adventure so I sure wasn't about to abandon ship.

Whether through the voice of a teenager, mother searching for her estranged husband or a recovering alcoholic, Sawai's interest in faith is always present. However, there is not a single word that is preachy or absolute - faith is viewed through the thoughts of each character as merely a fact of their identity. Basically their identity is informed rather than formed by their religious belief. One passage that I just had to earmark was this:

"But one thing I do know. And no one can argue against this fact, whether they're Communists, Christians, Buddhists or Jews. There's no nation in the whole world, not a single solitary one, without mothers."

I think that calls for an "Amen".

And my knitting comparison: A Song for Nettie Johnson is like a 10 row-repeat lace scarf, something Louisa Harding would design. I can never memorize a lace pattern so I have to reference the row order for each repeat and I learn something new about lace each time I complete a section. Plus no repeat can stand on its' own, only the collection of repeats really creates the garment. There is just no match for lace - I am always amazed that something so pretty can be knit by hand.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

reading challenge #6

Phew. I just finished Swing Low: A Life by Miriam Toews and I had to jump up and start writing to save myself from tears.

Toews' father Mel suffered from manic depression all his life yet amazingly he managed to have both a successful family and career which many might regard as some of life's greatest accomplishments. Toews' tells Mel's life story from his point of view and indeed it was Mel's voice that was the highlight of the memoir for me. I can understand why he was a favoured teacher and an important member of the small town Mennonite community, and also, a much-loved father (even considering he was distant much of the time).

"When I was a young man I vacillated wildly between thinking everything mattered, that every word, every action, every task was important, to thinking that nothing at all mattered, that everything was futile. I had a gambler's mentality, all or nothing. Just as I appeared close to achieving normalcy and balance to a point where I could say Life is Good, I would notice myself cracking under the pressure of its goodness."

I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been for Toews to write this memoir after her father's suicide, but it is so gentle and fair and truly a treasure to read. At times I had to remind myself that this was a daughter piecing together the reasons why her father acted the way he did and how he became afflicted as he was. But definitely his story is worth telling, and the strength of Mel and Elvira's marriage is nothing short of inspirational, giving me a healthy dose of perspective. I had almost picked up A Complicated Kindness, but I'm so glad I got sidetracked by this one instead. And the baker in me is still in shock that Mel's mother was an alcoholic her whole life by drinking vanilla! Vanilla! The lengths she would go to drink and deny her drinking were simply fascinating.

The knitting comparison: a simple, seed stitch scarf that you knit for someone you love. I'm reminded of a scarf I knit for Jay that I started when we spent a quiet week at a cottage with Sadie. He helped me pick out the wool and I asked for his advice on width and style. The scarf was just about him, and as I knit and purled away I contemplated all the things that make him unique to me. It's not a quick stitch, but it is simple and in the end I had a garment for someone who meant more to me than I maybe realized at the moment I cast on. Reflection is a wonderful thing.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

small progress

Two weeks ago now, I took a week of vacation. Sure, the Christmas holidays weren't long ago, but I just needed it. And I made a promise to myself to keep all pens safely locked away in case I tried to write a to-do list.

My Dad is a man who cannot sit still and I'm slowly coming to terms with the fact that I am the same. The only way I can justify watching TV is by having knitting or embroidery in my hands. Admittedly, the first three months of Sadie's life were very hard on me because she was a 20+ times a day nurser and I would sit on the couch wishing I had a hobby that could be done with one hand (I finally realized I could read, so that was something). But the flip side is that she taught me how to relax, how to just sit and how to enjoy the tiny moments. So here I am, 3 and a half years later and I'm becoming the old, utterly unrelaxed me again. I don't doubt the crazy pressures at my full-time job are partly responsible, but suddenly I'm back to craving accomplishment in every small pocket of time I have to myself.

At least there is one change this time around: I know exactly what is happening. To force a relaxed pace I didn't make a single to-do list on my vacation and beyond making a cushion on my first day off, I just spent hours and hours alone in my studio playing. Many of those hours were spent embroidering the tiny piece above (onto raw silk, so the counted cross-stitch was making my eyes go buggy) which is one of many "unsaid" thoughts I've been embroidering over the last year, part of an idea that's been lingering. And the next photo is just the groundwork for something else but I love seeing old paper quilted. The taking apart to put back together again is such an interesting and insightful process.

But the week was over almost as soon as it began and I'm back to the regular whirlwind of our lives. Perhaps Spring will bring with it reminders to stop and enjoy the quiet moments, the fresh air and happy times with friends and family. And maybe I should spend more time sitting down with Sadie, because really - it doesn't get much better than that. Let's just hope she'll want to sit down with me...little girls can be a wee bit fickle.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

the things she says

Sadie on whether she'll learn to knit: "Maybe someday when my feet is big and my bum is big, then I knit."

Of course.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

perfectly practical

Clearly there is a huge problem with knitting a black sweater - it is simply impossible to photograph. Combine that with our dark house and it's game over for getting a nice shot. I stretched the levels to the limits in Photoshop to try and bring out a detail or two, but this is the best I could do before turning myself Martian green.

This does not however, affect how happy I am with the sweater. My plan last year was to make a top-down raglan with fuschia Cascade 220 after using the green for my first sweater (thanks to a class at Knitomatic). But Jay reminded me that I might be happier with black and he was so right. For all the effort of knitting something this big I should love it to death. So I picked up Sublime Merino DK, which is by far my favourite wool, promptly had yarn shortage anxiety, but in the end had just enough to complete the whole thing. It's soft and springy and I want to wear it everyday (plus it cold-water washes like a dream, and comes out feeling even better). The class taught me a bottom-up version, but I did a top down so I could better control the length. The cuffs, neckband and bottom band are seed stitch and I shaped the body ever so slightly to make sure the sweater clears my waistband.

I'd also like to point out that the last time Jay took a photo of me wearing my knit Sahara, I'm wearing the same pants. Perhaps I need more pants, and not more sweaters?

Pattern: my own
Wool: Sublime Merino DK, 11 balls
Needles: 4.5mm bamboo circs and Pony DPNs

reading challenge #5

Next up, Richard Wright's October. I almost never pick up a hardcover, as though I foolishly think they might take longer to read, but so far in this challenge the hardcovers are winning out.

I'm glad the story in this novel travelled somewhere different from where it started; the topic of cancer striking a family member is still a little too fresh for me. But a seventy-ish man running into a boyhood acquaintance who then asks him to be at his side for his final breath, well, that is a pretty intriguing turn of events. The storytelling is solid, the characters rounded and overall it was a completely satisfying read. The main character, who we get to know as both a 15 year old and as an elderly man, is incredibly self aware. In his own words:

There is a furtive side to me. I enjoy listening to the secrets of others, and over the years people have opened their hearts to me. This trait has made me seem more trustworthy than I really am.

As for my knitting comparison: October is most certainly a toque, a wholeheartedly Canadian garment and a steady, simple knit. You don't have to labour too hard, the time invested is rewarding and most of all, everyone knows how important it is to keep your noggin warm.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

test pattern

Distraction from what's important is truly an art. Even though making a quilt isn't a priority right now, I've gone and ordered some fabrics from Reprodepot (this, this and this) and made a cushion to test out my proposed colour scheme. You may laugh, but the cushion is already making me like the red paint the positive comments left about the red were quite a help too. And it was strangely serendipitous that I found this red fabric on the weekend which is EXACTLY the shade I needed. So the saga may be over, and there is a whole bunch of sewing in my future.

To keep my plate full this week while I'm home by myself I also walked over to Knitomatic and picked up some Fable alpaca on sale in a salmon colour to make the Juliet "cardigan" from Zephyr. I started it last night and so far it's knitting up quickly. Last week I actually finished a full sweater but I was so excited to wear it that of course Sadie smeared cookie on me and now it needs a wash. I'll also have to convince Jay to take a photo or two, which is never his favourite activity.

And now, back to my sewing.

(P.S. The "painting" in the photo above is a bubble gum portrait of Sadie that Jay finished last year. I'm going to hang it in my office at work, but for now it looks nice right there!)

Saturday, March 01, 2008

the red saga

It turns out that I am teased for how I say the word "red". For some reason I say it with a Southern drawl and I have no idea why. But maybe it explains why I had to have a red room this year.

It also turns out that having to have a red room and liking the red room are two very different things. I feel like I spent every night of this past week painting - it took three coats and a lot of delivered pizza to get through it. At this point I'm not entirely convinced I like it; it is definitely cozy at night and the colour is quite lovely, but I feel like I've broken up the main floor and I don't know how to tie it together again. Also, I've never explained that a certain painting (that I love) has been the catalyst for much of this change, and while it looks much better on a red wall, it has made everything else in the room look rather frumpy. The room is a mixture of bold choices and very subtle choices and nothing is working yet. So, I'm trying to plan a quilt for the sofa that will bridge the two lands, but my goodness a quilt is a large project. And I have a deadline set with Ragdoll to complete a series of drawings by May 1st (and she, in turn, will finish her novel!), meaning I shouldn't really add a new project to my list. Sigh.

Of course, these are trivial concerns. Life is good, making things is a pleasure, and I have a week away from work to overthink this whole red thing while catching up on being creative. I'll just be sure to avoid anything resembling a paintbrush.