Tuesday, September 29, 2009

*tap tap* 'Scuse me, is this thing on?

This week is Banned Book Week -- a week celebrating all of the books that the Uptight Citizens of America have deemed UNWORTHY in some way ... racist, pro-communist, anti-God, anti-Christian (ahem, there IS a difference, there's more than one God thankyouverymuch), pro-free-thinking, etc.

Now, I'm going to just turn my soapbox on the tall side so that y'all can see me for a sec. Banned books have been a sore spot for me since I learned what they were and discovered there were people on this planet trying to tell me what I should and should not read. A book should never be burned, NEVER. No matter what it's content. NEVER EVER. The only time it's okay to burn a book is if you're penniless and starving and freezing and a book is the only form of kindling you have near you and there's no chance of finding anything else around. And even then, you should feel really bad about it. If you don't agree with what the book says, here's the thing: DON'T FUCKING READ IT. People are going to think differently than you, and they have every right to put their thoughts down on paper, JUST LIKE YOU. Write your own stupid book so that other people can burn your thoughts! Jerk! If you don't like it, get over it -- burning, banning, and condemning books because you disagree with the content is a basic form of ignorance and intolerance and not a far cry from racism (literacism?). (And please let me take this moment to state the irony of Farenheit 451 being a banned book. There. Irony stated. But seriously?!?! WINNIE-THE-POOH???)

So -- here's the link to the American Library Association's list of Banned and/or Challenged Books. This is not the entire list, but there are some serious classics on here. I've only read a handful of these, and there were even a few that I read I didn't enjoy (personally, I thought The Catcher in the Rye was boring. Dude needed to get over himself). Take a look. Educate yourself. Or don't. That's your right as an American citizen. But please don't burn them. Because that's just dumb.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Great ... now I'm a spinster.

Crap. I have a new hobby.

This weekend, I drove to Navasota, TX to visit the lovely WC Mercantile and learn how to hand-spin.

Navasota is about an hour and twenty minutes northwest of Houston, and part of a lovely green farming expanse. I got to the shop a little early and was able to poke around at their nice array of already-spun and hand-spun (locally grown, of course), and their HUGE and well-priced selection of different fibers. I refrained from grabbing it all like a kid in a candy store, deciding that I should wait until after class when I could really take my time and have a little more education in my brain about what I would WANT to be spinning.
From more knitting stuffs

The whole place had this wonderful old-style farmhouse feel. There were antiques up on shelves and for sale all over the store, and creaky wooden floors and different sizes and styles of spinning wheels all over the place. It was a comfortable shop staffed with helpful and friendly folk – who were very kind to stand outside and wave until I found them.

We were learning on drop spindles, rather than spinning wheels. Drop spindles are much easier to control the speed of, so much less frustrating for a novice to learn on. The class was taught by the lovely Sue Ellen, who told us about the different kinds of drop spindles – top whorl and bottom whorl. We learned on bottom whorl, but I bought my own spindle at the end of class that can be used as either a top or bottom whorl, and I’ve discovered that I prefer the top whorl – it’s easier to control the speed and get it spinning faster, and so I find I get a tighter spin … but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Check this out:
From more knitting stuffs
A table full of fiber (and water bottles)! Our class kits each came with a sample of different fibers for us to practice spinning – blue-faced Leicester (BFL), which is a breed of sheep; merino; bamboo; cotton; a type of silk; and alpaca. We started out with the BFL because the individual fibers are very long, and so easier for a beginner to get used to. Sue Ellen showed us how to wrap the leader around the spindle and attach the first bit of fiber, and how to pre-draft the wool … then all we had to do was practice.

Look, Ma! I made yarn!
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Tradition states (don't ask me why) that you always spin your singles clockwise and you ply the yarn counter-clockwise (plying is wrapping two single bits of yarn around each other to make them stronger and give the yarn a different characteristic). The number of strands you ply together determines the number of ply – so 2-ply means two singles wrapped around each other, 3-ply is three singles, 4-ply is four, and so on. So we made two singles, and then plied them together.
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I have to admit, I was pretty dern impressed with myself. The other women in the class were lovely to work with, and we all got the hang of it pretty quickly. It was truly cool, and I’m already at work spinning some more BFL at home and thinking about how I want to dye it … what I’d really love to do is dye two singles different colors, and then ply them together … anyone have color suggestions?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

In which progress is made ....

Yesterday was the first day of autumn and in some strange turn of fate, the weather actually feels like autumn today. For those of you not in the Houston area, we don’t usually get autumn-like weather until November … and even then, it’s interspersed with still-hot-and-humid. After a day of heavy raining yesterday, there’s actually a nip in the air today that makes me want to stay at home in yoga pants and slippers with my knitting in my lap and a cuppa tea on the table next to me. Instead, I am with the rest of the gainfully employed, stuck at a desk and dreaming of wool sliding through my fingers … but I digress.

Despite the whirlwind of every day life that happens, I have made some good progress with my projects. I purchased buttons from High Fashion Fabrics and sewed all 36 of them on to my Owl Sweater. They didn’t have 36 buttons in one color, so I did blue and white. Turned out nice. Although here you can see the previously mentioned back poodge: Not too bad, but I still know it's there. I was also able to finish a pair of fingerless gloves meant for Hazel.
And worked a bit on my tie dye socks (my first toe-ups). That's Clio in the background, ignoring me because I'm not petting her. I also started Tina’s brother-in-law’s socks last night (my second toe-ups).
Started Mom’s Christmas gift after a nightmare of swatching (seven is too many) and that’s coming along nicely. No photos in case she’s peeking.

This weekend, I have my spinning class at WC Mercantile in Navasota, TX. I’m stupid excited. Check back for photos of my progress.

Also this week, I was all-but-sold on an iPhone. I’ve been thinking I need something to help me with my efforts in social media and getting my knitterly name out there … an iPhone would be a valuable tool for such a thing. I’m an Apple girl, I always have been -- so don't try to convince me to get a Blackberry. However, I have been putting the phone upgrade off for several reasons. 1) The cost. 2) I don’t have AT&T and it would cost another buttload of money to cancel my current provider, and then pony up the cast to start a new contract AND purchase a $200 phone. 3) I don’t really like the idea of having a piece of equipment that is capable of making me entirely unsocial (I do well enough on my own, thank YOU). However, it finally occurred to me that I am in control of how often I have the darn thing out to play with, and I should just make a conscious effort to still make eye contact with people I am sharing a room with. That being said, my iPod is on its last legs, and I figure if I’m going to pay for an iPod, I may as well pay for an iPhone. I have been asking around to see if there are reasons against getting one – so far, the most common (okay – the ONLY) is the complaint of an abundance of dropped calls with AT&T. So I ask you, gentle reader: what kind of phone do you have? Do you like it? Do you hate it? If you have an iPhone, what (if anything) do you not like about it?

Friday, September 18, 2009

I'm So Damn Proud of Myself

I have reached a new pinnacle. I have completed my first sweater. {Insert fanfare here.}

From smile and nod

I cast it off the needles earlier this week – the Owls Sweater by Kate Davies, knit with Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Chunky blend (a merino and cashmere blend that was a dream to work with). It was the perfect first sweater for me … knit entirely in the round, it starts at the bottom of the body and knits up to the armpits, using increases and decreases for the shaping at the waist, and short rows for the shaping near the shoulder. Then the sleeves are knit separately from the bottom up to the armpits, and it’s joined together at the yoke. The Owl cable is worked repeatedly over the yoke (mine is the small/medium size and has 18 owls around), and then a few more short rows for the shoulder shaping, then the ribbing for the collar, and *poof* your very own Owl sweater. I learned a couple of lessons on this –

1. Joining the arms to the body of the sweater pulled the arm pit really tight on the needles and stretched it out a bit. I can fix it with some creative seaming, but in the future I recommend casting off a couple extra stitches where the armpit seam is to avoid this, and to make it easier to join the arms to the body. (The pattern called for a total of four cast offs on both the sleeves and the body – I’d up it to six or eight.)

2. The back decreases could have been higher on the back. It’s not incredibly noticeable, but there’s a little bit of back pooch towards the top. I’m hoping this can be fixed with some more creative seaming, but I need to ask my wonderful seamstress/ master knitter friend Janet her professional opinion.

So all that really remains is to seam the underarms closed and add the buttons for the Owl eyes. Buttons are purchased from High Fashion Fabrics … they unfortunately did not have enough in one color for me to do the whole sweater (turns out 36 is a lot of buttons to buy at once), so I did half blue and half white. Final pictures coming next week!

In the meantime, I purchased the yarn for my Mom’s Christmas present. MOM IF YOU’RE READING THIS THEN STOP RIGHT NOW OR IT WILL GIVE IT AWAY. Unless you want to know. I purchased some fancy yarn from Knitting in the Loop (don’t want to tell exactly what in case my mom continued reading, giving away the fiber content gives away half the surprise), and found a great pattern from Wendy Bernard (go here to see the sweater I chose). Problem with knitting gifts is it’s hard to post about them, lest the giftee be reading. So stealth updates will be forthcoming.

I also purchased the yarn for Tina’s brother-in-laws socks. These are a Christmas gift for Tina’s hard-to-buy-for brother-in-law who apparently has everything. Everything except hand-knit socks! I’ll be using KnitPicks Stroll Sock Yarn in Russet Tweed.

Here is my gigantic list of things I have to/ want to knit before January 2010:
~One fingerless glove to complete pair to be sent to Hazel
~Aforementioned Mom’s Christmas sweater
~Aforementioned Tina’s Brother-in-Law socks
~Continue Big Brother’s afghan
~Baby Booties for pregnant co-worker Jennifer (due in January)
~Baby Surprise Sweater for lovely pregnant Paula (also due in January)
~Fingerless gloves for Bill (mom’s boyfriend)
~Humping Bunnies hat for Valerie

Holy shit. It’s really scary to see them all written out like that. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Don't Drink the Kool Aid

This weekend was Labor Day weekend, so I made it a point to be as anti-Labor as possible. I got all my errands done ahead of time so that I could do whatever I damn well pleased, and it was totally worth it! Saturday was my first foray into Kool Aid dyeing. I read a few articles online and holy crap was it easy (shhh, don’t tell).

First, I gathered all my materials:

From more knitting stuffs

Microwave-safe bowl, measuring spoons for dishing out the dye (I don’t have a turkey baster), latex gloves to keep the stains off my fingers, the chosen flavors of Kool Aid, and the yarn intended for dyeing (only animal fibers will take the dye - I used Lamb's Pride worsted, which is 85% wool and 15% mohair. If I had used, say, a cotton/ wool blend, the wool would have taken the dye, but the cotton would not. Which can be a nice effect, so don't rule it out completely). I wrapped the yarn around the back of a chair in order to make a dye-able loop, then let it soak in cool water for about ten minutes (I added a wee bit of shampoo and gave it a good rinse). Then I mixed up my dyes and laid the skein out on a garbage bag to minimize clean up:

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For the dye, I used one whole packet of Kool Aid and filled the mug up about halfway with water. The pink was a bit light, so I added a second packet and tried the same with the grape. I used the measuring spoon to distribute the dye where I wanted and ended up with this:

From more knitting stuffs

Then I smooshed it down a little with my fingers to make sure the dye went through all the layers of yarn and absorbed fairly evenly. I wasn’t too worried about this part, because I was starting with white yarn and didn’t mind some of that still showing through. Then I *put the skein (still wet) into the microwave safe bowl and zapped for two minutes, then let it cool off on the counter for another two-minutes ish. Repeat from * twice more. Then I lay the skein out on some old washcloths to cool off completely:

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Have you ever smelled hot wet Kool Aid wool? I hadn’t either. It’s not entirely unpleasant (at least if you don’t mind the smell of wet wool, which I don’t), but it definitely isn’t something I’d like to scent my car with. After it had cooled, I rinsed with cool water (it’s important to let it cool completely before rinsing, to avoid felting the yarn), then let it hang dry in my shower. As it was drying, I decided the grape/ purple color was too muddy, so I overdyed that portion using black cherry and got a nice purpley-red color. Finished product turned out quite nice:

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Houston Sunset. All the colors of the pretty Houston Sunsets.

Spent the rest of the weekend finishing, then frogging (while swearing), then re-making another hat for Hazel:

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Special thanks to Big Brother for the mannequin head. I feel I should say that it's a VERY SMALL HEAD, so the hat looks bigger than it actually is. And started my first toe-up sock pattern:
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Hooray for three-day weekends! I wish every weekend was a three-day weekend. More knitting!!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A New Direction

Hey there Hi there Ho there chickie peeps! Happy September … for most people, the air has a touch of crisp autumnal chill (or rain), but here in Houston it’s still a balmy 92 degrees, and will probably stay that way until November. However, today is cooler than most other days (it’s not supposed to get into the 90’s until later this afternoon, rather than by 8:00am!) and I’m bundled up against the A/C in my Old Navy cardigan, so it’s easy to pretend that the colors are changing and we’re only a few weeks away from warm comforting drinks and cozy socks.

It’s been a tumultuous last few weeks … I left my old job at the wonderful Alley Theatre and have started anew at the Children’s Museum of Houston. I’ve been here for a little over a month by now, and am plugging away at all the things one does when learning a new job. Introductory emails abound! In the shifting-of-jobs that has been happening, I’ve been asking myself: is this what I want to DO for the next ten (or however many) years? (For those of you who don’t know, my previous title at the Alley was Promotions Manager – I handled audience-building programming, audience events, the annual Open House, and a myriad of everything else. For the Children’s Museum, I am Group Promotions and Facility Rentals Manager – so I’m in charge of bringing non-school groups in to the Museum, promoting the Museum to the community-at-large, and convincing people to rent out our various available spaces for parties, meetings, presentations, and whatever else they may be hosting.) The answer to my question was a resounding and unhesitant NO. It's certainly a good way for me to make money, but I just don't want to DO this for ten years. So then the next natural question is: “well, then, what DO I want to do?” The answer: knit. I can’t think of anything that has given me such pleasure (and frustration) as knitting has since I discovered theatre in high school. So when asking the question “what do I want to spend my time doing the next five-to-ten-to-however-many-years?” the only answer that sounded appealing to me was: knitting. So how do I do that? How do I create a career for myself with – of all things – knitting? Well, I have to start by learning more. Learning more techniques, more aspects of the craft (finishing, embellishing, designing, sewing), and while I work a "day job" to save up enough money to leave this knitting-unfriendly-hotter-than-the-seventh-circle-of-hell city for woollier climates, I can take classes to teach me these things and practice at night, and create more of a name for myself online using this blog and Etsy.com.

SO … after months of idly posting random thoughts and photos of my latest WIPs (work-in-progress for you non-knitters kind enough to follow me), I feel like I have a direction I can take this thing. I’m going to talk about the things I’m learning as I learn them, and post photos of my progress. I’m going to ask those of you who read this far to share this blog with anyone you know who would be interested or remotely care for long enough to add themselves to my followers, and to check out my Etsy shop (
www.knotforknothing.etsy.com, or click the link in the “Talk to Me, Babe” section at the top right of this page) and order things from me, or send me a message with a request for a unique item. There are tons of things that I can make that don’t have photos in my gallery, because I just haven’t made them yet. I have ideas for patterns for sweaters, fingerless gloves, mug cozies, hats, blankets, anything knitted – I can also do felts, napkin rings, baby stuffs … hand-made gifts are making a comeback, people! Nothing shows you care more than something that was made by hand – even if it wasn’t made by you. So check out my store and if you don’t see what you’re looking for, then all you have to do is ask.

That being said, here are a couple of things I’ve finished lately – a kinda Fair Isle hat for sale at Hazel in Chicago

Another hat for Hazel – it has a thistle cable pattern knitted in that’s very subtle. I’m naming the hat “Sassenach,” after the nickname given to the main character in the series of books I’m reading right now (and totally obsessed with – it’s the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Sassenach is Gaelic for “Outlander,” or someone not from the Highlands of Scotland). The thistle is subtle, but you can see it if you look closely.

From more knitting stuffs
And a gift for my Nana – it’s another cable swatch, called Secret Garden. If you look closely, it looks like two people hiding between trees. I knitted this for her, because when I was younger my Nana read the entire Secret Garden book onto tapes for me and sent it to me as a gift. My Nana is a National Treasure and she deserves a statue in a park somewhere.

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And my first pair of needle-toppers -- they're cups of tea! (13" size 7 bamboo needles - for sale in my Etsy store.)

From more knitting stuffs

As for upcoming classes you can look forward to me reporting on:
*Basic Sewing – a private class with my good friend Janet Copestake, date still TBD
*Beginner Hand Spinning – September 26
*Edging Magic & Flower Power -and- Designing Embroidery on Knitting with Nicky Epstein – November 15

And I’m hoping against hope to make it into the Cat Bordhi tutorials being hosted at my LYS (local yarn store, again for you non-knitters) in November. I’m on the wait list. I’m also planning to take a Dyeing Workshop at the end of October, but I’m not sure if my schedule will support it right now – but I’ll take one at some point, so you’ll get to see plenty of pics of a messy kitchen and stained fingers.