Saturday, June 28, 2008

the final two

With only 2 days left in the challenge, it's time to post about my final two novels: All Times Have Been Modern by Elisabeth Harvor and Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay. Only just this minute have I realized that both authors are named Elizabeth. Huh.

So, All Times Have Been Modern. I took this novel to Paris and finished it there, and I remember closing the book and saying to Ragdoll, "well, I'm done." It wasn't that I didn't entirely enjoy it, but I didn't race through it either and I'm not sure I actually cared about any of the characters. I do think another writer would appreciate it more though; the main character is a writer who eventually takes time for herself to write a novel and struggles with the self-imposed task everyday. She enrolls in college again for writing and begins teaching to make ends meet and that entire lifestyle felt very authentic. The other side of the story is the incredible love affair she has with a younger man. I think what I enjoyed most were the ideas about men and women's relationships that the character had at this point in her life. On discussing the affairs both she and her ex-husband had had she says: "But his affairs were so brief and boring, they were nothing. I fell in love much more often than he did and so I was much more unfaithful than he ever was, in my heart." And a statement that just feels so right: "But he could also want more than sex, he could want what men have always wanted from women: consolation, conversation, to be truly seen by the other person." As I sit here and search my dog-eared pages, I realize that I probably enjoyed it more than I have let on, and I do think I will pick up another of Harvor's novels. She was a great find when all I though I had to choose from was David Adams Richards.

On to Late Nights on Air. This novel I flew through, and boy, was I distraught at the end. I liked Hay's writing style, it seemed to be equally sparse and descriptive, if that makes any sense. The characters were wonderfullyl crafted and I cared about them all. And what is so great - and why I think this challenge is so excellent - is that I really got a feeling for Yellowknife and for the landscape beyond. Before this novel, the emptiness and fear of the tundra was beyond my imagination, but Hay has since brought it to life. And the radio station setting was particularly fun for me - having worked in television for ten years I could relate to the technical details and the personality types. This is a novel I will pass along quickly and with high praise.

Now for my final knitting comparisons: I think All Times Have Been Modern felt like a fitted, slightly embellished sweater, much like the Sahara pattern I finished last year. It was promising at first (it seemed like an easy pattern), and it's not that the pattern got very difficult but there were many knitting stages and a few times I wasn't entirely happy with the finishing details. When it was done I knew it was a great garment, but I still haven't worn it because it is just a little too much for me to wear, although as soon as I dye it black I think it will become a favourite. And Late Nights on Air compares to the black cardigan I knit this year. It was a swift knit, I learned many new things along the way and I've ended up with a cardigan that will last for years and years...and be the perfect thing for a trip to Yellowknife (should that ever happen). And even better is that the pattern has lasting power - I'm about to start another in a different colour because it is just that satisfying. Oh, and since the two novels were both written by Elizabeths, it's fitting that both of these knitting patterns came from the same designer, Wendy Bernard.

So that's it - my first reading challenge finished. It was the perfect strategy for forcing myself to read regularly and learn about new authors. I hope the knitting comparisons weren't too off-the-wall, or the reviews too dull. Hopefully I'll get back to some serious "making" over the summer, but I just might join another challenge (or even this one again - there's no such thing as "too much" Canadian literature!) to keep this reading pace up. And for anyone looking to read more, I highly recommend the Canadian Challenge - it starts all over again on Tuesday! There's even going to be a very Canadian toque knit by yours truly as a prize - it's currently half knit and just waiting to be finished.

Monday, June 23, 2008

new york moment

Suddenly I just want to be at home. I have travelled almost too much in the last month and I'm looking forward to keeping within the city limits for the next while...or at least within arm's reach of my little lady. Last week I flew to New York for a work conference and I'm at the catch-up-on-all-the-laundry phase.

But yes, it was New York. I will never, ever pass up a chance to go there. In the tiny amount of free time I had to myself I finally visited Purl and Purl Patchwork - two adorable little shops that made me smile. Actually it was lucky I had limited time, because without boundaries I may have never left Purl Patchwork. As it was, I found enough to spend my money on and it turns out fabric makes your luggage quite heavy. See very cute selections above. Love, love the hand dyed wool.

My other stop, and one I make on every trip to New York, is the Folk Art Museum. I just love that building, the collections and especially their museum shop. I found gifts for my Mom, Sadie, and a fantastic book for Jay (though I admit, I may take a peek or two at it myself). It's called La Porte, Indiana and is essentially a collection of photographs by one small town photographer, Frank Pease, that were found by Jason Bitner of Found Magazine. They were taken between 1940 and 1960 so the sense of nostalgia is fantastic, but what is so great about the collection is the variety of poses, fashions and expressions. These are regular people sitting for the camera with the sole purpose of being documented. And all in one package. I don't think we'll be shelving it any time soon.

Now back to that laundry. Oh, and the dustbunnies that are larger than our two cats combined. Sigh.

Monday, June 16, 2008


Glass of wine enjoyed. Coquette Lace Tube Top finished.

After such an angsty day, I was pretty surprised to finish and LOVE my Coquette top. With a glass of wine next to me I picked up the project for what felt like the 156th time, and quietly pulled out two inches of ribbing. Then I patiently put all the stitches back on my needles and proceeded to bind off loosely. The ends were woven in and that was it. And as soon as I tried it on, it was like a different garment than the day before.

My one big complaint with the pattern is that I struggled with the lace panel and restarted it 4 times before I figured out the mistake. And just as I did, I realized that the corrections might be on the internet and sure enough they were. Now, it was silly of me to figure out this so late in the game, but honestly - can I not trust the book to be RIGHT? I'm not the most confident knitter, so I was convinced that I kept screwing up the lace instructions, and frankly I don't know how I managed to hold out so long without throwing the whole mess right across the room. But in the end the internet confirmed my suspicions and the only other problem was that I knit it much longer than needed. For that I take all the blame.

The yarn was great - Pima Tencel from Fable. Cascade has a similar yarn and at Romni it was a whole $2 cheaper per ball, but the colour palette just wasn't the same. As soon as I saw this plum-based taupe I figured it was worth the extra expense (and I only needed 4 balls, so it wasn't a terrible cost). And really, the colour is a big reason why I love the finished thing...even if I am a pasty shade of white myself. The addition of the polka-dotted ribbon is also a detail I really like. Truthfully I am addicted to black and white polka-dots, you just can't go wrong with them. And the final mention is that I modified the panel by only doing 4 repeats instead of 5. I had a feeling this would "petite" it a bit, and I think I was right.

Phew. Am I ever glad that silly old angst passed. Next up - finding patience to finish my mushroom skirt. It's pretty close to the being thrown across the room too, but I think I'll give it another go. With wine, of course.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

i never learn

Today I am full of sewing angst. No wait, not just sewing, but knitting angst too. Maybe it's just angst, plain and simple. Yeah, that's probably it.

There is one sewing lesson though that I feel I should have learned about a decade ago. I always try to make skirts and dresses out of cotton that is just too stiff for a nice, flexible hem. This never occurs to me as I try it on while I'm making it, but as soon as I hit the final stage of hemming, suddenly I have a dorky garment on my hands because the hem is stiff and sticks out funny. Why do I get so seduced by heavy cottons? Why don't I just make all clothing out of reliable, wonderful linen?

I even did it on the skirt above for Sadie. At least she is happy to wear it, but the cotton is simply too stiff - even the gathers make me cringe a bit. Regardless, as soon as I finished her skirt, I started making a simple A-line skirt for myself out of some cute mushroom print fabric. I was so excited about it yesterday and then when I tried to fit in hemming it this morning (it's an ear-infected daughter and napping post-reception husband kind of day) it did the disastrous stiff hem thing. Anyone have suggestions? Would a hand sewn hem make all the difference? At this point I could handle the effort - it's much better than not finishing the skirt and wasting the time I have put into it.

Oh, and my Coquette Lace Tube Top is almost 2 inches too long, hence the other angst. Perhaps this just isn't the week to be crafting. Drinking a glass of wine, absolutely.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

fuzzy cupcake

One night, while watching Hustle & Flow, I decided to knit a cupcake. I had no pattern, just an urgent desire to make a soft and ridiculously fuzzy version of the special dessert. Using scraps of wool and a half attentive mind, I finished most of it and settled for believing I would complete the bottom soon. I even went so far as filling the cupcake with stuffing...but then it sat. And sat. And moved a few times when I needed more room on my sewing table. And then sat some more.

Enter Sadie. Being 3 1/2 means looking at everything as potential doll clothes. She spied the unfinished cupcake, yanked the stuffing right out (onto the floor I might add, being 3 1/2 means also being messy) and placed it on dirty Baby Julia's head. And instantly, it was the cutest little hat I ever did see.

So Sadie is officially my WIP Fairy Godmother. Time to leave a few more sad and lonely projects in her path.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

a fresh pack

I have to say, the guy really knows his gum.

Jay is exhibiting 15 new pieces in a solo show at LE Gallery here in Toronto up until June 29th. There is an opening reception this Friday, and the gallery has graciously posted all the works here. I find the overall feeling of the pieces to be darker, more serious than his previous work, which is a curious evolution. Perhaps others will see this too; besides being"cool" to find the show written about on today, it seems the writer had a similar reaction. And as usual, I'm pretty proud of my guy.

Hopefully with the pre-show tension over and life returning to normal, I can get back to a few creative projects...and actually have something new to share here. My Coquette Lace Tube Top is almost done, but it will involve a quick trip to Mokuba for some ribbon, and I have a couple of sewing projects on the go. So with a can of Coke and some chocolate raisins, I may just get somewhere.

(P.S. edited to add: oh Blogger, how you frustrate me. All I tried to do was place photos within the text and now every time I post I have to insert paragraph breaks into the HTML. Arghh.)

Thursday, June 05, 2008

favourite things

On the sunniest day, after visiting Sacre Couer and walking around Montmarte, we ventured downhill in search of the highly recommended shop "Le Comptoir". Thank goodness for knitting blogs because this little shop was simply delightful and one of my highlights (yes, I am There was a comfy bench for Ragdoll to relax on while I poked through all the wares. It was a tiny shop, but every surface held gems and I'm sure I annoyed the fashionable salesgirl by repeatedly saying "oh, I'm done. Yes. No. Wait, what is that over there?" I picked up buttons, ribbons, knitting needles, embroidery thread, fantastic wooden bag handles, cross stitch linen...and more. It was hard to stop. The wooden shelves and cute displays added to the charm and I left that shop with an enormous smile that stayed with me for hours. Rewind back to the "I am geeky" part.

The other shop we found on a very rainy day was "La Droguerie". Even though I picked up some nice buttons, I could have lived wthout finding this spot. For those in Toronto, it was like comparing The Knit Cafe to Romni; sure the latter has lots of wool, but it kind of lacks charm and if you're not in the know it can be an intimidating place. At the very least it was the one place where I used what little French I knew and managed on my own to choose and pay for buttons. But the wool seemed so-so, and I'm much more excited to seek out the Debbie Bliss Luxury Donegal Tweed we spied at Le Comptoir here at home.

Right after my "Le Comptoir" highlight we ate at what instantly became my favourite cafe (which I admit, may have been influenced by the notion-intoxicated mood I was in). It was part of our "literary" walk - a spot where Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre frequented. The atmosphere was very Parisian and quite nostalgic. Red leather booths and an army of pleasant middle aged waiters made me forget that I was spending 7 euros on a simple coke. And as the napkin photo shows, I was taken by even the smallest of details.

Sacre Couer, a special knitting shop and Cafe de Flore. Add to that list the prison where Marie Antoinette was beheaded, and I've covered all my favourite things. But I have one more very important mention - my wonderful travelling companion. A week in Paris with a good friend is definitely the memory I'll carry with me forever. Buttons and ribbons may be enchanting, but they hold nothing next to her.

Monday, June 02, 2008

ooh la la

There is simply no way to say everything about Paris in just one post. And right now it's late and I'm sifting through my photos, trying to figure out where to even begin. So for now, here's the most obvious shot, but at least with an unusually moody presence. Tomorrow night when Sadie drifts off to sleep I'll begin with a gem of a knitting shop...which I'm sure will lead into a few other perfectly Parisian moments.

Ahh, Paris.