Saturday, December 3, 2011

Friday, June 3, 2011

Yarn & Such

Last Saturday H. and I trekked out to the Mass Sheep & Wool Festival out in western MA (Cummington, to be precise). As per usual, the day was capped off with dinner in Northampton, a little college town I love more with every visit. This year’s festival seemed much smaller than last years, both in terms of attendance and vendors. In some respects this was good, as we had more opportunity to chat with some of the vendors (most of whom are fiber artists in their own right). I actually escaped with only three skeins of yarn, though admittedly some of this had to do with H. rummaging through my yarn basket before we left. It turned out everything she unearthed was bought LAST year at this festival and was still unused. I think that’s a good policy from here on out: before buying new yarn, first reacquaint yourself with your stash. It's a lot cheaper that way.

Anyway, I brought home some cheery bright yellow sock yarn from here, and some lovely periwinkle blue cashmere/merino from here to make a scarf. But the find of the day for me was sock yarn from into the whirled. Now, I haven’t knit this yet so I can’t say anything about how it knits up, but the colors were tremendous. I had a hard time choosing just one, and I'm excited to start knitting with it but I realized I already have three socks knit from three different yarns, all of which need mates. Ooops. So I'm forcing myself to finish one pair before taking this yarn out for a spin.

One thing I noticed was the plethora of superwash sock yarn. I have to tell you, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t like superwash yarn, at least not for socks. I don’t like knitting with it – I find it splitty and uncooperative, simultaneously sticky and slippery. I also don’t like how it feels on my feet. Since I have no problem hand washing my wool socks, I’m steering clear of it from now on. But it definitely was a bit of a challenge to find regular (non-superwash) sock yarn. I hope this isn’t a trend.

In other news, it's all quilt blocks all the time, preferably while watching Chopped on The Food Network. I don't really cook much, but for some reason I love this show. There's always one cocky contestant who makes you hate him (and it's usually a man), and the judges are so persnickety (dude, THEY HAVE TWENTY MINUTES AND YOU ARE PISSED ABOUT A CARROT PEEL???), and then Ted Allen stands there scowling trying to reign them all in. Who knew that would be a winning combination? But really: I think they should keep it a bit more real. I'd like them to have to use ingredients that *I* have on hand, with no spiffy pantry items to choose from. The true test would be, what can you do with tuna fish, an apple, some chocolate, and a liter of Diet Pepsi?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Random Wednesday Catch Up

Now that the apocalypse has been postponed (and I finally got over my terrible cold) I can get back to blogging.

1) First, a few reading recommendations: I accidentally read Ree Drummond’s (aka The Pioneer Woman) new memoir cover-to-cover yesterday. It is really excellent, a combination of an old western romance and Bridget Jones (if Bridget were a red-headed American from Oklahoma). Yeah, there are some kind of unbelievable parts, and my inner feminist twinged a little, but it's still a good read. Although fair warning: it will leave you craving cinnamon rolls. In fact, I’d probably make some before settling in to read it, preferably on a lazy, rainy afternoon with nothing else to do.

2) On the quilting front: Material Obsession 2 is a great new find. While it is primarily a pattern book, I’ve been lugging it around with me as train reading. I’m realizing I have a much too coordinated approach to color in my quilts, and this book is providing a lot of inspiration for a new project or three.

3) Colin Woodard’s blog. This is a must for any Mainer, or any Maine-lover, or anyone interested in astute socio-political observations salted with just the right amount of history. His book The Lobster Coast remains one of my favorites.

In other news, I have discovered yet a new way of slicing my fingers that does not involve a rotary cutter, heavy gauge guitar strings, or sharp bread knives. It’s called Hand Washing Your Blender, or HWYB for short. In hindsight this is probably fairly obvious to most adults with an IQ above 70, but nonetheless I nicked myself. It actually wasn’t that deep a cut, but one of those that bleed profusely and remind you all-too-well why you never considered a career in medicine.

Incidentally, I had actually forgotten I owned a blender - but I was glad to accidentally find it minutes before I set off to go to Target to purchase a new one. I needed one because my sister’s been doing this Shakeology thing and finally convinced me to try some samples. The first day I had no reaction whatsoever, which confounded my sister given my predilection for Diet Coke and chocolate and all sorts of other junk. However, after three days my intestines are threatening a walk out. I’m not sure if this is proof of just how slow my metabolism is, or just how many toxins had built up in my system. There’s no good answer, I’m sure of it.

This weekend: sheep and wool and yarn, oh my!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Great Cough Across Ireland

My favorite picture from the trip - taken from a golf course in Killarney

Well, I’m back from Ireland – a great trip despite being sick THE ENTIRE TIME and despite my conflicted feelings about doing a bus tour. My friend D. probably deserves sainthood for sharing a hotel room with me. I tell you what, it was INFURIATING to have not been sick in over a year and wind up getting a terrible cold right before my first major vacation in a decade. And as much as I tried to put on a smiley face and enjoy the trip anyway, there's just only so much you can do when you are tanked up on Sudafed. *sigh*

First things first: the Brattleboro hats I made came in quite handy, particularly at the Cliffs of Moher where the wind was whipping quite fiercely. My friend also wore the hand warmers I made her, and I wished I had made some for myself.

I had grand plans to visit a yarn shop in Dublin but it turned out the day we were there was a bank holiday and the shop was closed (as were many others in the city). After getting lost on the Trinity College campus we were forced to eat croissants with real butter and drink tea at a cafĂ© (this one, as it happens). Hardly a tragedy, I assure you. In fact, one of the best things about Ireland was that there was always real butter (I didn’t see one pat of margarine the entire trip) and the default beverage was tea. This was a good thing as the Diet Coke tasted really weird over there. Not nearly as carbonated, for one thing, and for another it was labeled “contains vegetable extracts”, as if it were V-8. It makes me wonder what on earth is in my American Diet Coke – I probably don’t want to know. Also on the plus side: I am normally not a beer drinker but I found it to be much better when consumed on Irish soil…especially when served by cute bartenders with sparkly blue eyes (even if he did refuse to sing along with the rest of my tour group…which, really, one can hardly blame him for, especially after one guy loudly proclaimed that the US should annex Ireland as the 51st state).

But I digress. As we traversed the country to the western coast, we did make a few stops at touristy gift shops, a few of which had a tiny bit of Aran yarn for sale. Aran yarn – at least, the stuff I saw – is pretty hardy stuff; frankly, I can’t imagine hand-knitting much with it. It’s very dense and heavy, and not exactly soft. There were thousands of beautiful sweaters for sale across the country knit with the stuff, but alas I didn’t buy one. The exchange rate was pretty bad, and I had my heart set on buying a wool blanket, so I passed up the sweaters. We did find one yarn shop in Killarney, which was nice but filled to the brim with Noro and Debbie Bliss – all stuff I can easily buy at home. I felt like I had to buy SOMETHING, though, and found some Louisa Harding merino/silk blend yarn that was very reasonably priced. But I had been really hoping to find some in-country spun sock yarn. Next time, I guess.

Adjusting to the time change going over was fairly easy, though there was much coffee/tea ingested to keep us going. However, re-entry to my “real” life was hard, mainly due to the time difference and a very needy cat that was not impressed with my absence (my sister looked after her, but it was clearly not enough company for the cat). But now I’m all adjusted and oddly content. I was perfectly happy to trot off to work yesterday, and thankfully there were no dire emergencies to contend with once I got there. The train was late, as per usual, but there’s nothing I can do about that. And alas, my apartment is still a wreck, but it’s nice to have my fabric, yarn, and the cat once again keeping me company. Apparently, home is where your stash is.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Good Car (Taking Inventory)

Today's story is about the end of one of the best relationships I've ever had. The fact that this relationship involved an inanimate object that doesn't speak is probably telling, but still: it was a good relationship for me nonetheless.

At any rate, my trusty nine-year old Saturn has been retired, the poor thing. And I am quite sad about this turn of events. True, I don't want to think about the stupid car payment I'm about to commit to, which will seriously wreak havoc on my yarn buying. Or buying much of anything else, for that matter. But the Saturn was a great car, and I would have bought another one had they not stopped making them. I did not treat her particularly well, but she was pretty great to me up until the last year, when it became clear she needed more attention than simple oil changes (not to mention getting sideswiped on the streets of Providence). Attention that I really could not afford to pay for, plus when you spend $500 on repairs and triple the value of the car....well. Decisions must be made.

I bought this car the last year I lived in Memphis, and other than my graduate school degree it is the last vestige of my time there. I also used the car to drive all over the state of Maine - four years of community development work from Sanford to Van Buren, Norway to Eastport. We were a team, that Saturn and me; she carted my crap around in her trunk and she listened to me sing very loudly to the Dixie Chicks all the way from Tennessee to Maine. She was there all those weekends I drove to NYC, and put up with my attempts to parallel park her on those narrow side streets in Queens. And she never complained when I (yet again) spilled Diet Pepsi on her carpet.

Tonight I had to empty the car of everything. You'd be surprised - probably shocked - at the stuff that was in there. I was shocked, and it's my freaking car. It was especially shocking because a few years ago my dad, in a fit of embarrassment over the state of his daughter's car, cleaned the whole thing out while it was parked in his driveway those months I lived in NYC. However, apparently in my subsequent moves Things Accumulated.

In some ways, I kind of wish I had filmed the clean out because it has the makings of a genius performance art piece: nine years of my life to sift through. It reminds me of that Adrienne Rich poem when she talks about "diving into the wreck" -- the wreck that is the car, or the wreck that was my life, take your pick. It was a tinge morbid, too, because it occurred to me that our stuff is what is left of us, and someday someone (my sister?) will have to sort through all my worldly possessions, in all likelihood throwing most of them out. It simultaneously makes me want to pare down everything and start hoarding everything. I HAVE STUFF THEREFORE I AM.

So as I stared into nine years of my past, this is a sampling of what surfaced:

*one trash bag full of...well, trash
*three sets of fingernail clippers, which I guarantee were hastily bought on the way to a guitar lesson
*A copy of Obama's book "The Audacity of Hope" and the first Twilight book (the combination of which led me think about the Tea Partiers as vampires, which wasn't that much of a stretch)
*One round springform cake pan, three wine glasses, and one porcelain teacup
*A black jacket I forgot I owned
*A green blanket, queen sized, that I had thought was in my blanket chest
*A pair of black shoes that, three weeks ago, I tore apart two closets looking for
*An entire box of knitting and quilting patterns and books
*One bamboo double-pointed needle, size 3
*My original Tennessee registration from 2002
*My temporary Maine license from 2003
*30+ cds (including my "Spanish for Dummies" CDs that I bought before I moved to NYC)
*Various Sharpie pens in various stages of drying out
*Two big wall calendars from 2007 and 2008

There was more, but it was swept into boxes and bags and will have to be sorted through at some point. Ugh.

After all this, there was a mix-up at the new car dealership and I threw a hissy fit and came home car-less. I am choosing to believe it was an honest mistake because frankly, these boys just don't seem bright enough to be running a scheme of that sort of complexity. But at the moment my old friend is parked in their lot, devoid of my stuff and her plates, and I'll be walking to the train tomorrow without thumping her trunk as I walk by. And now, she is destined for an auction and I cannot bear to think about it. On the plus side? Now I don't have to listen to my dad lecture me about buying a new car, and I will actually have a vehicle that my sister will let her kids ride in. #winning

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Patchwork Brigade

I have so many unfinished projects around here it's ridiculous. Knitting projects are one thing - they can easily be stuffed into a basket somewhere. My quilt projects, though, are threatening to overtake my tiny living room. I love to sew patchwork, but since I don't machine quilt there can be a big backlog on unfinished tops. Alas, I may have to change my tune lest I lose the cat in the rubble.

I had grand plans of taking myself hiking yesterday afternoon to a local state park, but it was too cold out. So I holed up and did laundry and sewed charm squares - these from Moda's "Summer Breeze by Sentimental Studios". It needs borders, but will make a nice and simple baby quilt. Although really: I wish I had a beach house with a front porch with a white wicker sofa that overlooked the ocean, because this would be the exact sort of quilt to have on that sofa. The colors scream "summer in Maine" to me.

I also finally sewed my blocks together for this:

I may have blogged about this last summer when I started piecing the blocks. I used the Jubilee pattern by Marlous Designs (available all sorts of places including here) and a Bali Pop package in the "Cotton Candy" color way. I'm not entirely thrilled about how this turned out, in large part because I found it very challenging to sew up. It wasn't a technical issue (it's straight strip piecing) but a color issue. Even though the look is random, it wasn't random at all - I had to be really careful about putting too much of one color into each block. For example, look at the second row from the top, the first two blocks on the left. See how they almost read as one single printed fabric in the photo? I also had a very difficult time squaring up the blocks. This may wind up with my youngest niece when all is said and done (whenever that may be). It needs borders too, but I honestly don't have a clue what will work the best.

Also lined up are:

1) my friendship blocks from my quilt guild; I have until June to sew the blocks my mystery friend gave me up with some I've made into a top. I didn't really think this through: I asked for log cabin blocks because I love them, but hate sewing them. And now I have to sew at least 2, but probably more like 6 to turn the blocks into a usable-sized quilt.
2) every month our guild does a block-of-the-month, which are raffled off. The good news is I actually won this month. The bad news is, only 5 other people participated with me. But with a few more blocks I think I can wind up with a small baby quilt, possibly even a gender-neutral one this time.
3) Two summers ago I took a quilt class and have a fairly good sized quilt that needs to be quilted. I'd like to have it professionally machine quilted but aside from the cost involved, I kind of screwed up the borders a bit and I'm not sure it can be machine quilted without me fixing it. And fixing it might require buying fabric that may or may not exist anymore. *sigh*
4) I really want to make something modern out of all solid colors. I saw a book called City Quilts at the quilt store recently, and while I didn't buy it I definitely have my eye on it.

I Did Not Forget How To Knit

When I saw the Brattleboro hat in New England Knits I knew I would make one. Or several. I thought this would be a great hat to have in Ireland, since it will be May and may be chilly. And I'll take any excuse I can to knit something in Malabrigo (this little guy is in the Mint colorway). It took me a little over a week of mostly train knitting, mostly because I knit right-handed and throw, so anything in moss or seed stitch takes me FOREVER. The little button tab gave me a bit of a challenge - mine doesn't look exactly like the photo in the book, but it does look exactly like the sample I saw at the yarn store, so I stopped fussing with it. It is in need of a good blocking, but I need to find the right-sized bowl. Also - this used up about half a skein or so, and all indications are that I will be able to eek out a pair of hand warmers with the rest of the skein. #winning!

Halfway through knitting this, though, I remembered: I can't wear green. It makes me look green - not in an interesting, Elphaba sort of way, but in a sickly, quick-find-her-a-trash-can sort of way. So the hat's going to D., my friend and traveling companion, and sometime this week I'll march back for some more Malabrigo for me. (I think I love the buttons the most.)