Saturday, January 24, 2009

sleeping beauty

Holiday sewing always happens last minute for me.  It isn't a big deal - I'm pretty used to my procrastinating ways - but it does mean that I cannot photograph what I've made until after the gift giving happens. And Sadie is rarely interested in modeling (hence the late January posting).

Last year I sewed Sadie a nightgown to give to her on Christmas Eve, and my plan is to keep up the tradition.  This year I chose to use a pattern, Simplicity 5695, to cut down on potential frustration, and it definitely helped speed up the project.  The material is a purple gingham flannel and I sewed 3 MOP heart-shaped buttons near the bottom, just for decoration.  Sadie looks pretty cute in it, but she's way more fond of the "Nutcracker Mice" pj's she got from Old Navy.  Such is the unalterable taste of a 4yr old .

Better luck next year.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

reading challenge #8

I took a chance on Marilyn Bowering's What It Takes to Be Human. Jay needed to increase his Indigo order to qualify for free shipping, and I never turn down an opportunity to pick a new book, so I did a quick Wikipedia search for female Canadian authors (which has been a very handy list for this challenge) and landed on Bowering.  I started reading the novel the day it arrived, and I spent two weeks happily turning pages before bed.

That being said, I'm at a loss when I consider reviewing it.  I enjoyed it, yes, but I haven't a clue what to say about it.  Definitely I appreciated the quick turn of events - just as I was being introduced to a young university student attempting to tell his family he wanted to enlist in WWII, suddenly the entire story switched to life inside a Vancouver Island asylum.  For much of the novel you wonder how the main character (the aforementioned university student), landed himself in such dire circumstances, but the sheer reality of asylum life is enough to fill in for this central mystery.  I found the hospital to be frightening, full of injustice and a blight on a civilized society.  I suppose it was this peek into a world so foreign and so irrational that kept me turning pages night after night.

As for the main character's backstory, when it finally emerges, it is quite heartbreaking and I was pleased that it wasn't sensational or predictable. Essentially a small series of events as a youth affects him as an adult and I found I could empathize with his actions, even though they were criminal. The leap was logical and connected all the pieces together. 

Hmm, I guess I could find a couple of things to say after all.  Bowering is a compelling storyteller, and I would certainly look into her other work.  Usually I dog-ear numerous pages that have phrases I like, but interestingly, this time there was just one.  In a sea of asylum life, perhaps this short thought was a romantic break from the story.  When I read it I simply stopped.  Looking now, maybe it's a bit obvious, but it was a lovely moment at the time.  

"Her eyes are steady headlamps.  I blink in their brightness."

And the knitting comparison: The setting of Canada during WWII, and the war efforts that the asylum participated in, brings to mind a particular pattern book, Knitting For Peace.  Knitting for a cause can be wonderfully rewarding, and I hope I can manage to do this someday (I'm especially inspired by Beryl Tsang's Tit-Bits and wish I had known about them when Margie, my dearly missed Mother-in-Law, was dealing with her breast cancer).  I did knit Jay a pair of socks for Christmas from the Knitting for Peace book, using the Peace Fleece Classic Wool Socks pattern.  I imagine socks for soldiers was part of the effort in the novel's time, and so it feels like a perfectly fitting comparison.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

lessons in unravelling

Another reworked, much unravelled project.  I must have started this in the summer, but I have lost count of how many times I picked it up just to hide it away again.  I started with Knit and Tonic's "Something Red" pattern (I was happy with it after finishing a "Something Black") and the body came together quickly.  The bottom band, collar band and sleeves were another story entirely.  

I worked the bottom band in a 2 x 2 rib, then picked up the entire collar band and knit to the button hole, doing the short row shaping and all. Then I tried it on.  Yuck.  Although the Misti Cotton I had used in my first sweater lay flat, this Patons merino wool (yes, I was using Patons) had too much bounce and the ribbing puckered...everywhere. So, without a curse word, I unravelled the collar and the bottom band, and worked a seed stitch border instead.  

Then it was time to pick up the collar band again. Because seed stitch would sit differently I basically guessed how many stitches I needed. First up, something like 250.  Worked 4 rows, knew it was too much. Ripped again, went down to 170 stitches.  Worked 4 rows, knew it was too little. Determined to get it right, I split the difference and picked up stitches - for the FOURTH time - to total 220.  Thank goodness that worked.  Then all I had left were the sleeves.  

I'm not sure why, but I picked up 10 stitches under the arm.  This made for a very wide sleeve, but I started decreases every 2 inches.  I tried the sweater on about three times, each time saying to Jay, "huh, I think I like the unfinished sleeve better".  He thought the look would be too "funky" (his code word for not good) so I figured I would need to finish the sleeve to know for myself for sure.  I finished it...and knew for sure.  So, I unravelled the whole sleeve and started again with less stitches picked up.  I also shaped the sleeve quickly to make the sleeve band fitted.  The decreases are all under the arm and although it's probably not what a professional would do, it works for me.

Now I have 2 balls left over, but even if it was bargain wool, I really like how it worked for this sweater.  I'm fond of heathered colours, and this will be easy to wear with most of my clothes. It does nothing to hide my bulging belly - as seen above! - but I like the slightly higher neck and short sleeves, even if it's "funky".  And really, what do men know anyway?

(P.S. I'm undecided about the spelling of "unravelling" - I can find both, and it would seem my natural pull to the two l's is very Canadian of me.  So if I'm going to stick with "our" in colour, I should support the two l's.  There's my english research for the day.)

Friday, January 09, 2009

mushroom bag

Ahh, some sewing.  I love having a week away from work.  When I get over the guilt of sending Sadie to Mira's everyday (because shouldn't a mother taking time off work want to spend it with her little girl?) I get down to something wonderful: making things (urgent note here - spending time with Sadie would be wonderful too.  Not over the guilt yet, am I?).  I have finished two knitting projects, will be starting another this afternoon while I finish up Mad Men, planned a quilt for our sofa and made the bag above.  I try very hard not to think about what life would be like if I had more time like this.  Sigh.

But the bag.  I found the wooden handles at Le Comptoir in Paris (one of the trip highlights!) and the fabric is more from Shinzi Katoh.  When I ordered the blind fabric last January I had to order it right from Japan, so I chose this other pattern of his to make the whole shipment seem worthwhile.  I was never sure what to do with it, but now that I have a red over-the-shoulder bag (secret: it's a diaper bag, but I like it as a regular bag) I thought this fabric would make a great smaller bag, and they would be fun carried together.  I had no pattern and first planned to gather the fabric around the handles, but that proved difficult with the canvas weight material, so I improvised.  Truth be told, I think I like this shape better anyhow.  I just feel like the pocket needs a little something - maybe a button or brooch, just something to give a spot of colour.  But overall I'm quite happy with it and I'm sure it will help me carry around a knitting project or two.

It's Friday, 2:15pm.  Only a few more hours to go before this vacation is over.  Koigu cowl, a can of Coke and Donald Draper here I come.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

teeny tiny cardigan

One knit baby garment officially out of my system.  I'm actually quite superstitious, so I'll hold off on any more baby knitting until we get much closer to the due date (or beyond), but I've been wanting to use this great wool for a while now.  It's a fingering weight merino wool by Nature's Palette in a perfectly gender unspecific rust shade, and I picked it up at Lettuce Knit two years ago.  I only had enough for a small item, and I've learned that I'm horrid at estimating yardage because I thought I would have just enough for this sweater, but I've still got more than half of my second skein left (baby hat perhaps?)  I will need to handwash it though as the linked review mentions that some dye will release the first time.

I was going to follow a Debbie Bliss pattern but I couldn't imagine piecing this together when it is so easily knit in the round.  I started with her stitch count and then realized 5 inches in that the neck was too tiny, so I stopped under the armholes and went back and unravelled 1.5 inches from the beginning (not an easy task, but worth it).  So in the end, this cardigan resembles nothing from the Bliss pattern and seems to be the way I knit nowadays - I consult a pattern, and then make up everything as I go, which generally involves lots of unravelling and reworking.  At least this one worked out without any real frustration and I think it's super cute (as does Sadie, who has earmarked it for her teddy bears).  Also, I finally got to use buttons I found in Paris, but if we end up with a little boy they may have to be changed.  Or not.  As a funny aside, my belly is already big enough that I could balance the buttons and thread spool on it while I sewed.  And I'm only at 17 weeks! 

With all this making-up-as-I-go knitting, I think I'll start to actually document what I do.  That way, if something turns out well, I'd be able to share the pattern here.  I'm helping a friend with a toddler vest right now, so perhaps that will work out (and her two year old Asher would make an adorable model in photographs!).  And speaking of this friend, she sent me a link to a fantastic and easy pattern for extended wristwarmers - "Those Mitts" at the blog A Friend To Knit With.  It's one of those blogs that I hadn't come across before and will now visit often.  Plus, the blog has inspired me to give Classic Elite Portland Tweed a try - it looks great.  But I think my New Year's Resolution is to avoid going to Romni, so I'm looking for a Canadian online retailer that would send it to my door (my other resolution sounds like I'm okay with being lazy).  Any suggestions?

Monday, January 05, 2009


Every holiday season, Jay and I need to change something in our ever-so-tiny house.  Last year it was the kitchen "cubby", this year it was the big black box we stare at every night.  My Dad had given us a 27" mammoth TV a few years ago, and up until Boxing Day 2008 we had never purchased a TV ourselves.  In a very anti-Jay move, my courageous husband decided to brave the Boxing Day chaos to come home with a new, smaller, flat screen TV.  Which suddenly meant our furniture was all wrong (enter need to change something here).

Our old TV sat on a dresser we borrowed from Sadie, so it seemed easy enough to give the dresser back.  But what to replace it with? We set out - like everybody else in Toronto it appears - with visions of a sideboard, but our travels on Queen East revealed only a couple teak mid-century pieces that just wouldn't do.  Firstly, our style hasn't really touched mid-century and we don't own any teak, and secondly, we need an open section so the DVD player and VCR (yes, we still use a VCR) are remote accessible.  Jay ran ahead a block to see if there was one more store open (it was a cold Sunday, and late in the afternoon too) and waved us into Guff.  At first glance we didn't see anything, but we stopped to chat with the guys there who let us in on the secret that everyone was looking for the same piece of furniture for their same new flat screen TV.  Cue the immediate thought in both of our heads that we were no longer original.  So we turned to leave and I caught site of an industrial coatrack sitting behind a few things and said to Jay, "hey, too bad our hall isn't big enough for that piece". Then he stopped in his tracks, looked at me, and said "you're right, but it could fit in the TV room".  Sparks flew and we both saw the possibility, as strange as it was.  My dear friend Kristen was with us, and she's been there for similarly unusual decisions, and she gave a quick thumbs-up too.  Sadie also agreed, and we were sold.

Two days later we had the piece in the house, the TV mounted on the wall and a full display happening to help hide the cords while Jay plans out the shelf part he wants to build.  This is an example that reminds me what it is that I love about my marriage.  Together we make a good team, which was a surprising thing to learn soon after we moved in. We both thought our tastes were wildly different (I mean, in art school he was the gum guy while I was sewing quilts and dolls) but together we liked all the same things, and for 10 years we have been having fun playing with the little canvas we call home.  Now, not everyone may agree with us, and surely some will think this coat rack idea is ludicrous, but we love it. Both of us.  We loved it so much we spent New Year's Eve setting it all up.  And when Jay gets the shelf built (which will sit under the TV and make closed shelving for the components, while adding the visual weight at the bottom that the piece needs) we'll love it even more.  I can't imagine either of us growing tired of that great "Office Valet" decal any time soon.

I also can't imagine what we'll tackle next year.  Did I mention we have a teeny-tiny house?  Adding one more person into the mix is bound to cause a reshuffle somewhere.  Luckily, we're the crazy sort that looks forward to the challenge, and finds it both entertaining and fun.  After we had hung Jay's work in Chicago two years ago, the owner told us that she was surprised how well we worked together as a team.  It's one of those observations that impacted me deeply, and it gives me strength when we go through the usual marriage woes.  Marriage is all about teamwork, and I hope ours will take us into our old age - or, at the very least, into the realms of unusual home decorating.

(P.S. The small army of figurines on the floor aren't meant to be permanent - Jay set them up for Sadie to see this morning.  He had been saving them - all of them - until she was old enough.  Such are the things our house stores.)

looking back

If I'm going to quote my first line of every month's first post next year, then this one better be a doozey.  Oops, better luck next time.

I found this approach to recapping the year by way of Postcards from the Mothership, by way of Hello Josephine.  And looking it over, it does a pretty good job.  All the best things are accounted for, and truthfully, if I take away the extreme nausea of the fall, I think 2008 was a great year in our home (after what I will admit were a couple of very tough years by comparison).  I naively think it all balances out in the end, and the arrival of a new family member in June should make 2009 an eventful year too.  Being in a particularly reflective mood today (thank you pregnancy hormones) I am wearing my heart on my over-sized cardigan sleeve, and thanking the two best people in my life for making this recap feel as good as it does.  I can never tell them enough how much they mean to me.  So here is the first line of each month:

1. And by housework, I mean the good kind.
2. When it snows, at least there are thrift shops within walking distance.
3. It turns out that I am teased for the way I say the word "red".
4. Ragdoll finished her book.
5. April was National Poetry Month, and in its honour I had a full-on spring romance with poetry.
6. There is simply no way to say everything about Paris in just one post.
7. Very serious note to self: When you are a full-time worker, cook, laundry mistress, wife and mother, never, ever think that you can sew without a pattern.
8. Oh, what a vacation.
9. This little guy is from my "quick and dirty" category of sewing.
10. A certain little girl turned 4 yesterday.
11. I heart Hallowe'en.
12. Sadie spent the weekend at her Grampa's, so I broke down and cheated on her.

Goodbye, good year.  Howdy 2009.