Sunday, October 31, 2010

Smarty Girl

This weekend's project brought to you amongst the sounds of the neighbor's pain-in-the-arse dog barking incessantly and me trying to drown it out with the music of Antje Duvekot, whose song "Long Way" is the current focus of my guitar lessons. I love this song, even though it is rather long and I can't remember many of the lyrics.

The project: a little bag for my youngest niece. A few weeks ago, I made my niece J. a bag, and her sister G. was not to be left out. (I was reminded of this not-so-very-subtly last weekend.) At my local fabric store I found this cute Heather Bailey pattern - "Smarty Girl Book Bag". I used fabric leftover from a baby quilt experiment (mostly from the Anna Maria Horner Good Folks line). G.'s favorite color is hot pink, so this worked out nicely for her.

The pattern is pretty easy-peasy for someone with a modicum of sewing experience. However, it took me three times to figure out that the ruffles get sewn to the LINING, not the outside of the bag. I was insistent that the pattern was wrong, but couldn't find any pattern errata online, so I finally had to conclude it must be me....and indeed it was. *sigh* Still, even with that hiccup, it didn't take much more than two hours to cut & sew.

For the top "flap" I used part of a leftover patchwork block, cut to the size of the flap, so if you are familiar with the pattern that's why it is pieced rather than a solid fabric. Also, I used one fabric for the top ruffles, rather than two different ones, just because I was using up scraps.

The one thing I would do differently on this project is use interfacing. It is optional in the pattern instructions, but I think it would give the bag a little bit more structure. G. is 8 and I guarantee she'll use it three times before it disappears in her closet, so I'm not too fussed about this one, but were I to make it again I'd definitely add the interfacing. I might also try to see if there's a way to sew the straps between the lining and outside, rather than tacking them on, just so there's no visible sewing line on the side of the bag.

Now, I've got to go pick up before the trick-or-treaters show up and see my completely fabric-strewn living room...Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Yet Unnamed Project Update

Following up on my post from last week about "Half the Sky" and global women's issues:

1) There was a great article in the New York Times today written by Nicholas Kristof, one of the authors of "Half the Sky", which has some great examples of women helping women. You can read it
here. I get chills up my spine just thinking about it.

2) I hemmed and hawed, and hemmed and hawed, and then tonight I was rummaging around the
TED website and discovered a talk by one of the founders of Kiva, a nonprofit that provides micro-loans across the globe (including the United States). By the time I was done watching, I was convinced it was worth at least trying out - and lets face it, $25 is the cost of a skein of sock yarn, which I have plenty of. So I donated (my lender page is here), and I chose to lend to a woman in Cambodia who SEWS for a living (technically, she's using the money to help her daughter's clothing business, but close enough).

3) I also signed up for action alerts at
Equality Now, because I'd like to do something in addition to donating money.

4) I really need to find a catchy phrase for this project...suggestions?

Getting Ready for Winter

I finally bought a new winter coat. Ever since I moved back to the Northeast in 2003, I’ve spent the winter months schlepping around in a series of cheap, ill-fitting, not-very -warm black wool coats. All of these coats attracted cat hair, thread, and yarn as if there were magnetic forces involved. Essentially, I was a walking lint brush for six months out of the year.

This spring, in a rare fit of closet cleaning, I threw the last two coats out – they were completely wrecked, with Wilbert the Cat’s hair imbedded so deeply that the lady at the dry-cleaner just shook her head and said in broken English, “We do best.” And both had holes and torn linings, so donating them wasn’t feasible. I knew this would force me into buying a new coat this fall, when the prices are the highest, and so I’ve spent the past few weeks bracing myself. Every day this month has been just a little bit shorter and a little bit colder than the day before, and I kept telling myself, “just one more day, one more day”.

Yesterday, though, I folded. I had on a long sleeved shirt, a sweater, a handknit scarf, and my lightweight jacket – and I was freezing. So I left work, made a detour into Macy’s, and twenty minutes later walked out with a new, bright red winter coat that was seriously on sale (I suspect it was a left-over from last year, but who cares). I will grant you that this was easy because they had very few coats in sizes above a Medium (what’s up with that?!), but I’ve always wanted a red coat, and it makes me really happy to wear it. The only problem? All my winter hand knits are purple, and I’m not quite ready to walk around looking like a Red Hat Society member. I rooted through the yarn stash last night and came up totally empty handed, so sometime in the next week or so I’m going to have to do some yarn shopping. (It’s a real tragedy, I tell you what.)

Part of me would like to knit a new striped Noro scarf, but those are so time-consuming; I knit right-handed so switching back and forth between knitting and purling every other stitch is a nightmare for me. And, I’m constantly stopping to check out how the color patterns are evolving, which is of course half the fun of using Noro but it seriously lengthens my knitting time. (Plus, the scarf alone takes 4 skeins of yarn; at $12/skein it becomes a pricey project.)

The other part of me is obsessed with the new Cascade 220 book, which is chock full of great hat, mitten and scarf patterns. I’m currently muddling my way through the Spotted Fair Isle Mittens pattern, which when finished will go to my niece Julia. She originally picked out the octopus mittens, but she’s 10 and really tall (with long hands/fingers), and it became readily apparent I would need to do some way-beyond-my-skill-set pattern tweaking to make them big enough for her. Julia chose navy blue and lime green yarn, which I initially grimaced at but as it turns out, actually go rather nicely together. (Also, don’t tell the Cascade folks but I’m actually using a different yarn, because the yarn store Julia and I went to didn’t have any; I'm using yarn from Ella Rae.)

I’ve never done any stranded knitting before, so this took some getting used to. I’m almost finished with the first mitten and I’m still not completely sure I’m doing it right. Initially I was twisting the yarns to carry them, but I read in one of my Elizabeth Zimmerman books that she believed you could safely let the yarn “float” for 5 stitches. After that I stopped twisting (because this pattern most of the floats are 5 or less stitches), which made the knitting easier. The floats almost create a second layer, and I suspect these mittens will be supremely warm. But it is tricky to get the tension right – it’s very easy to knit too tightly or too loosely. There are definitely some wonky places that I am hoping will block out (is this serious denial on my part?). The other tricky thing, which I haven’t gotten to yet, is the thumb. Usually when I knit mittens the thumb stitches stay live and get put on a stitch holder. In this pattern, you use waste yarn to hold the thumb placement, and then when you are ready you are supposed to remove the waste yarn to reveal the live stitches. I am terrified of doing this and dropping stitches! Photos to follow soon...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

What I'm Reading

As a result of my new job, I’ve become immersed in women’s economic issues. I’ve been spending a lot of time reading reports over at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and the UN Development Fund for Women, as well as reading about the UN’s Millenium Goal #3, Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women. The one thing that has stuck with me the most, and what I often find myself waking up at 3 am to think about, is this little gem:

Women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, produce 50 percent of the food, but earn 10 percent of the income and own 1 percent of the property.


Sometimes I get so self-absorbed in my own little dramas (usually self-induced) that I forget to stop and think about how privileged I am in the grand scheme of things: I’m a white, well-educated American with a full-time job in a heated/air conditioned office, whose idea of being oppressed is not being able to afford to go back to school and get a second master’s degree. (And I probably *could* afford it if I gave up discretionary things like guitar lessons, cable TV, yarn, and fabric.)

Further fueling my fire: I stumbled across the book “Half The Sky”, written by two (married) Pulitzer-prize winning journalists. It’s all about how women across the globe are being oppressed (though truly, “oppressed” seems too sanitized a word for what is going on out there). I’m telling you: if you are a woman, or if you have a mother or a daughter or an aunt or a sister or a niece, you have to read this book. It is at once heartrendingly depressing and oddly hopeful, impossible to read and impossible to put down. By page three of the introduction I was in tears (and truthfully, there were a few sections that were too difficult for me to read and I skipped over them; I can be unreasonably squeamish). [Also, let me just say I completely disagree with the Amazon commenters who claim the book is anti-conservative; I personally found it quite balanced. Yes, the authors criticize abstinence-only programs but also give props to a school in India heavily supported by the Catholic Church. Continuing to frame these issues in a western political context is part of the problem, which the authors address early on in the book.]

I’ll warn you, though, that I think it would be hard for anyone with half a conscious to read this book and NOT want to take some sort of action. I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do myself. On the plus side, I work for a nonprofit that helps low-income women start their own businesses, so in theory every day I go to work is a contribution. And there are plenty of other organizations I can contribute to financially (and there is an extensive list here). But there’s an itching to do something more, and I’m not sure what that it is. I can tell something is percolating, though, as evidenced by the 3 am wake ups. Plus, a good part of this year was focused on my Happiness Project, and while that’s been a valuable experience I’m thinking that the next thing is to focus on something external. (As Gretchen Rubin points out, making others happy makes you happy.) Stay tuned…

Also, on a completely different note: for you fellow cat people out there, make sure you read this.

Monday, October 11, 2010

This Is What Productivity Looks Like

Finally, a long, quiet and uneventful weekend to finish up a few things. The first order of business was a baby quilt that had been malingering in the workbasket, something I started after sewing up a batch of charm squares (back in May, in fact). As per usual, when I pulled the quilt out I realized I really didn't have a lot more to quilt, just a few squares and the border, and then do the binding. It would have been a fairly fast job...except Callie the Wonder Cat decided the quilt was her property. You know how cats have this uncanny ability to know exactly where you don't want them to be, and then be there? This was exactly that, times ten. When she wasn't jostling for position on my lap, she was sitting next to me, giving me The Look:

I manged to finish it last night, and then spent an inordinate amount of time getting the cat hair off from it. It's not my usual "thing", so to speak; some of these fabrics I would never use. But it's an interesting mix of pastels and brights, modern and old-timey prints. (This was a Westminster "Free Spirit" charm pack, which had a lot of Heather Bailey prints). And I think that after being washed a few times and loved a little bit, it will be a nice soft blankie for a little girl to lug around:

And, this evening, I whipped up a little basket to kinda-sorta match (pattern from here), and stuck the booties I knit inside.

The other thing I did this weekend? I got my baking mojo back! I made some excellent bread, with some new yeast -- I think the problem I had last weekend was a dud batch of yeast. I also made some chocolate cake, which was excellent with peanut butter frosting. My nieces and nephew came over this afternoon and helped me finish it off.

I love weekends like this -- but they make it really, really hard to shift focus back to work!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Fall Sports Schedule (Lori's Version)

It's been a weird fall here in the northeast. The leaves started turning much earlier than usual, but up until this weekend it's been mostly unseasonably warm. This weekend, finally, the weather decided to turn cooler; so cool, in fact, that I woke up this morning shivering. While it's not time to turn the heat on yet, it's finally time to stop sleeping with the windows open.

I've admitted before that fall is my least-favorite season. Living in New England, this is about as treasonous as routing for the Yankees would be, but it's the truth: I hate it. I can't explain this coherently, but it has to do with the light - it changes in the fall, and the shadows get longer, and it makes me want to hibernate. Over the years I've learned ways of dealing with it; in fact, I find the less I try to fight it the better I am at getting through it. I let myself sleep more, take longer and hotter baths, and re-read children's books I've loved in the past (the Wrinkle in Time series and Harry Potter are in frequent rotation at the moment). And, while I'm still taking guitar lessons, I just don't beat myself up if I go a few days without practicing. It sounds awfully self-indulgent as I write it, but I've learned the hard way that forcing myself to be more energetic and social during these months just makes me miserable and lands me on antidepressants.

And then there's the sock knitting. Like many sock knitters, I don't really like wearing mass-produced socks anymore, preferring to wear my comfy and soft hand knits instead. But a casual survey of the sock drawer this morning was a little guilt-inducing: to wit, there's been an awful lot of sock yarn purchased in the past six months but very little in the way of sock knitting done. And so, despite the oodles of unfinished projects littering the apartment, despite the fact that every single room in the apartment needs a good cleaning, and despite the state of my laundry, I curled up on the couch and commenced knitting a pair of socks. At this point, I have memorized the basic sock recipe from Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's book
Knitting Rules, which means that these make excellent travel knitting projects as I don't have to pay a whole lot of attention, just knit.

Fall is also the start of baking season. This year is not off to a particularly great start - last weekend I made bread that was an unmitigated disaster (hockey puck on the outside, raw on the inside). On Friday, armed with a 40% off coupon and the remnants of a gift card, I went to Borders and bought the
Baked Explorations book, then came home and tried making the Maple Cupcakes. I was up until 11:30 frosting the suckers - and...well. Let me just say that when a recipe calls for 2 cups of maple syrup, and you only have one cup, and you are too stubborn to either a) leave the house to get more maple syrup or b) admit defeat, you should not count on spectacular results. They weren't terrible or anything - just a little bland, and the cream cheese frosting sort of turned them into cream cheese cupcakes. It's a little telling when you bring cupcakes over to your sister's house and her three kids ignore them. Later this afternoon I may break out the bread recipe again, or perhaps I'll try the red velvet whoopie pie recipe?

(This book, by the way, has reasonable facsimiles of both the chocolate whoopie pie and no-bake cookie recipes that I've written about here before. It is also so beautifully put together that I felt a little guilty bringing it into my kitchen, where it was unceremoniously christened by an exploding box of powdered sugar.)

And now, I must gather all the gumption I have to go watch my sixth-grade nephew play football...