Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Make Do and Mend

I'm been feeling inspired by Brenda Dayne's Make Do and Mend series on her Cast On podcast. How to find creativity, beauty, practicality in the materials that already exist. How to make do, instead of acquiring more, or overspending, or discarding what can be used again. We needed blankets for our daughters' beds for their visits this week. So I headed off to one of my favorite places, the Goodwill store. The plan was to buy several wool, sweaters, cut them up and resew them into instant patchwork, and felt the blanket in the washing machine. But it's November, and all that was left were some sad acrylic pullovers.

Instead, I ended up with two wonderful crocheted, granny-square blankets - the kind of thing that I will never make, and looking for a good home. The Goodwill is like visiting a handicraft version of the Island of Misfit Toys. The most poignant thing was a half-finished piece of cross stitch bagged up with instructions and leftover embroidery floss: it was a novel in miniature. Who did this belong to? Why didn't she finish it? How did it make its way to the Goodwill?

I resisted this sad story and focused on the blankets, where there were lots of electric blankets without controls (remember those?) and some acrylic, granny-square afghans. Not being a crocheter, I scored a small blanket in blacks and whites for one room for $6. And a large lampshade, in perfect shape, for $2 (these go for at least $45 or $50 brand-new). On the way home, I stopped at one more resale shop about to close for the day. Score! Another blanket for $5, and this one larger and a happier color palette.

My goal this week is to get a warp onto the loom. I have always loved Randall Darwall's work and am trying to focus on something with lots of color, but using the material already in the house - several small cones of 10/2 cotton in blues, a clay color, and a gold-yellow. Today I discovered Unravelling and MegWeaves and am feeling inspired by her Desire/Euphoria scarves.

Friday, November 20, 2009


The dog has taken to oozing up onto the couch or armchair when there's no one in the room to notice.

I say "ooze" because, despite his size (recently analysed as a cross between a Lab and an Irish Wolfhound, but I prefer the Lab-German Shepherd guess), he can silently, slowly extend himself like a snake and wend his way from the floor onto the furniture. At the same time, he carefully avoids eye contact with any human nearby, as though to suggest that he's not actually climbing onto the furniture.

I need to slipcover the couch so that I can throw the coverings into the wash after his muddy paws make contact. I'm thinking of something super-easy, like just using the left-over navy linen or extra ticking fabric I found from a long-ago slipcovering purchase, and making large envelopes for the couch cushions with twill ties on the back to keep them closed.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie

We watched this anime movie last night in Japanese edit here with English subtitles. (You can also choose to have English dialogue, but the voices aren't as good, and you don't get the same pronunciation of Spike's name as in the Japanese.)

Great animation, reminiscent of my favorite cartoon, the 90s version of Batman. I'm always intrigued by animation that includes shadows, changes in light, and crowd scenes with plenty of different faces and bodies and clothing. There's an incredible crowd scene toward the end of a Halloween parade on Mars - it looks like a futuristic version of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

The movie is based on the cartoon series: a collection of misfit bounty hunters (including a Welsh Corgi with "enhanced intelligence" and edit here Ed (not George), a quirky, androgynous, computer-hacker adolescent) on Mars in the 21st century.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Work in Progress: Mitered Blanket Squares

I laid out all the squares done so far to get a sense of the size and the colors.
Almost twin-bed size, and I'm working toward a double-bed sized blanket. I haven't worked on this in several months, but winter is setting in to Chicago and I find myself craving color.
Seeing the squares together, after looking at Kaffe Fassett's Quilts in the Sun, let me notice that the pastels do not work. The earliest squares were those toward the footboard-side of the bed: pale pink, pinky-browns, Easter egg shades of yellow and lilac and green. The bible on this project - Mason-Dixon Knitting - warned me that a combination of dull and juicy colors seems to work best. I think, at the beginning, I was tentative about colors, and so was attracted to the lighter and more pastel shades.
I've laid those colors of yarn aside. The current plan is to work more squares in warm tones - oranges, bright yellows, chocolate browns, maroons - and more squares in cool shades - purples, acid greens, blues. And to put it together so that my favorite squares - the purples and greens - are at the center, and then the quilt evolves in opposite directions toward warm and cool colors.
At the moment, I'm knitting a square of yellow, orange, brown, and possibly dark green. The last color is a cooler shade, but it reminds me of pumpkins and Halloween.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Instant Patchwork

Instant patchwork!

You start with three or four different fabrics. Seam them together. Cut them apart, preferably in an asymmetric fashion (meaning not into nice, neat, matching pieces, but - for example - into one third of one end and two-thirds of the rest).

Seam those together. Easy, peasy machine sewing, straight stitch, in a thread color that will blend into the background. (I used a vanilla white with fabrics of blues and greens and creams and pinks and yellows. Worked fine.) Press open the seams with a hot iron. Cut them apart again. Seam those pieces together. At this point, you should have some fun stuff going on as well as some areas where you wonder how you managed to put that strong floral pattern in so many places that, no matter what, it seems to lay up against another flowered piece in the "partner" piece you are bumping it up against.

Continue until you have the look that you want. If you stop sooner, you'll have nice, long stretches of a pattern with the occasional little block of something else popping up, a quirky surprise. If you continue along for a while - perhaps four sets of sewing and cutting - you'll have a more random look, somewhat crazy quilt and somewhat, dare I say, Gee's Bend-ish. (Ann and Kay, please leave a comment if you read this, pro or con!)

Here's what my patchwork looked like on the wrong side after three go-arounds. And below (I need to write this on my forehead, or at least somewhere on the computer: Blogger loads your photos in the opposite order of whatever literary development you'd planned for the written entry), the fabric after two repeats of cutting and seaming. Still at the rectangular strip, larger block stage of the process.

The inspiration? Kaffe Fassett's Quilts in the Sun. Especially the Log Cabin below and the Earthy Frames in the picture beneath.

My instant patchwork has turned into patches on some ticking-slip covered chairs in the living room. It feels very Bloomsbury. I'm contemplating a whole quilt-top made in this manner, in something bright and happy for a Chicago winter.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Have His Carcase

The first lines of this Dorothy Sayers mystery:
The best remedy for a bruised heart is not, as so many people seem to think, repose on a manly bosom. Much more efficacious are honest work, physical activity, and the sudden acquisition of wealth.
I could go on (okay, the next sentence starts: After having been acquitted of murdering her lover...) This is the right sort of book for reading as winter sets in. Or listening in the car to the audio version read by Ian Carmichael, who gets every voice (including the Honorable Sir Freddy and the crusty female dons in Gaudy Night and Sir Peter alternately foppish and war-wounded and very intelligent and Harriet Vane bright and independent and finally, in love).

Monday, November 09, 2009

Chanting. A Lot....

When you get to see someone who is really, really good at what she does, it is an amazing thing.

I spent this weekend at a workshop on chanting, given by a master teacher who has been studying chant for the last 35 years or so. She managed to get a motley bunch of voices all working together, with attention to fine details like - you have two consonants back to back and you need to sound both the first and the second - and attention to the bigger picture - you're not going to get it right the first or the second or the twentieth time - this stuff takes practice!

It may sound odd to those of you who don't practice yoga or chanting to imagine twenty-some adults, voluntarily spending the weekend in a classroom, learning to chant in Sanskrit. And the weather? My gosh, sunny, seventy degrees, blue skies, and still, everyone came back from the breaks.

We chanted Friday nght for two hours. We chanted and did a practice with movement and chanting on Saturday. On Sunday, we reviewed what we had learned so far and then dived into an extremely beautiful chant called Laghunyasah, or more familiarly known as Agnirme (the first words of the chant, pronounced ugg-nearrr-may.) That is a lot of chanting. Not only are you thinking hard (what word is next? is the note high, low or middle? is this a long vowel or a short? what does that little dot under the r mean?). You are also paying an unusual amount of attention to the way that you move your mouth and tongue (lips push forward for the 'o' in OM, bring the tongue back to the roof of the mouth for a retroflex n, roll all r's, bring the tongue to the back of the front teeth for a dental consonant...). And many, many other details - pausing after this word, pushing these two words together, and oh, am I off the note yet again?

I said to my teacher, during a private lesson on Friday, that my brain can only hold two pieces of information at one time. I can try to notice the proper pronunciation and the vowels, but then I lose the notes. Or the notes and the vowels, but then I lose the consonants. She looked at me, and this is one of the reasons that she is such a great teacher. "Janet," she said, "most people are doing well if they can hold ONE piece of information in their mind." Hmm. Always the overachiever. Chanting is another one of those darned yoga mirrors - letting you see all of your mental quirks and habits laid out in front of you.

Also, I need to pace myself when I chant. I know, from past experience, that I am a lightweight: a little bit of chanting goes a long way for me. (I've tried to talk a few colleagues into doing a study on the relationship between tolerance for chant compared to tolerance for booze, but so far, no takers.) I chanted aloud about 65% of the time, did quieter chanting about another 15-20%, and then just sat and listened the rest of the time. Chanting not only takes a lot of brain power: it literally creates vibrations in the chest and head, as you make sound, and if you're not accustomed to this, you want to adjust the amount and type and level of loudness to what is right for you. Otherwise, you may find yourself staring at the ceiling at 2 am, feeling like you just drank three double espressos, but knowing, no, I didn't drink any coffee today. Hmm.
The best parts of the weekend were the more casual moments with my teacher. I ferried her about a bit from hotel to classroom. We had lunch and then took a walk at a garden foundation near the venue for the workshop on Friday and again on Sunday (nuts - the place was so packed that cars were being turned away due to lack of parking and there were more kids running about than at the zoo on a summer day, tunneling into leaf piles or tossing leaves on top of their mom's head - and then there were two tiny babies, sitting in a pile of leaves as if they were ruling from their thrones). A group of us went out for dinner on Saturday evening and had one of those magical Chicago nights - it reminded me of the evening that Obama accepted the presidency at Grant Park - unseasonably warm weather, a gorgeous sky, and we ate outside in the garden of the restaurant on Saturday night.
Today, not much yoga, except for a class with my mentor on the phone. Hopefully, plenty of sitting still and reading or knitting the sleeves (two at once!) of my Handy cardigan or the Noro scarf (a better choice, as it requires less brain cells, and I'm down to a tiny amount after this weekend.)

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Home Again

Home again after a few days in Pittsburgh.

I took along this scarf to work on. A skein or two of discontinued Noro color 47: manly shades of blacks, browns and greys. Mixed in with a new skein and an old one of blues and greens. I'm using a size 6 needle and the fabric feels a little floppy, but I think that it will be just drapey enough and right for a man's scarf. (I also took along yarn for a Turn a Square hat and Blue Sky Alpaca for a Shibori Felted Scarf. I used to have Shoe Anxiety when I packed to go away. Now I have Knitting Anxiety.)

Over the last three days, I spent most of my waking hours talking, eating, driving to the next place to eat, driving home from eating, and then a tiny bit of walking home from this restaurant or that. Yum. Very fun, and I spent some time with two old friends and taught yoga to a group of my sister's friends who were eager and fun and funny.

Little knitting got done. And somehow, on the way home, in a closed car, I managed to lose my knitting needle for five minutes. Finally found it under the passenger seat, and then managed to make a mistake in this idiot-proof pattern of two rows of one color, two rows of the other. Time to eat lunch and then take a nap!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Three Rivers

I'm in the real city of three rivers this week. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I don't have my camera but I'm hoping to find some good, on-line stuff to borrow for illustrations.
Some things that do not change:
  • the amazing view of the rivers and sunlight and bridges as you come out of a tunnel, only to have the city and water and buildings gleaming, laid out in front of you
  • the number of smokestacks and long, low, factories. Even when you are a dying steel town on its third (?) renaissance, there are still many reminders of what drove this city from the beginning
  • the name of Heinz. It used to be all about the ketchup and the factory (which I toured as a kid and still proudly own my Heinz green plastic pickle pin as well as a Heinz 57 ketchup bottle pin from a later trip). Now it's Teresa Heinz: wife of John Kerry, who hosted, as I heard it, the Obamas when they were in town for the G20. (Some Obama lore: the President says thank you each time a waiter brings something to the table, and after the meal, goes back into the kitchen to personally thank the staff. I love this!)
  • Pamela's. Before I stepped foot off the airplane, three different people had invited me there for breakfast or lunch. No wonder, and more Obama lore: the sisters from Pamela's served their best-in-the-world secret-batter pancakes to the Obamas during a visit, then were invited to the White House to serve same pancakes. (Apparently they had the secret batter but not the secret griddle, so the edges weren't as crispy and the pancakes weren't as neo-crepe-like-but with the hominess of a pancake in DC.)
  • As usual, a visit with and to my family is firmly anchored by food. We love food. We eat it, talk about it, cook it, eat it while talking about it, and then discuss it while waiting to eat some more. On the other hand, most of us are a reasonable weight or better. This supports my theory that the best way to change a habit is through small satisfactions in that direction (I'll have some cake, but only a small piece of cake) instead of denial (NO CAKE! MUST EAT CAKE! WILL EAT MANY CHIPS BECAUSE THERE CAN BE NO CAKE!) And that, at least in my immediate family of husband and kids, much of our talk about food comes while we are taking a walk or a hike. (Not sure of the scientific validity, but there might be a dissertation in here somewhere for a student of psychology?)
  • and some knitting is getting done: a Noro striped scarf worked on the airplane. (I got up to use the front restroom and realized, after navigating through half the plane, that there was a loop of yarn around my right ankle. So much for being incognito, if that had been my plan.) And my sister has a great swing-style cardigan from Knit and Tonic to try.
  • and we've already hit one vintage clothing store and have plans to do another one tomorrow. As always, my sister has the ability to look at a case full of old jewelry and then pull out of the melee the one piece that is distinctive and stylish and fun. This time it was a necklace with strands of carnelian beads and then strands of a burnished brass bead - very tribal and colorful but classy. She talked me into a pair of striped summer pants that will be super comfy with a t-shirt and a pair of sandals, and almost into a Marc Jacobs shrunken blazer.