Sea and Land

What I saw today...
(brought to you by the lovely hotel-supplied internet access)

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Last minute franticness

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The amount of time monopolized by pre-vacation must-do’s at work and wedding-attendance/family/friends related events the last few days completely took me by surprise. I've been meaning to post about my first quilting project and other sundries for several days now but here I am, in the early morning hours of the day we leave on our road trip hurriedly putting up a rather lame “I’ll tell you all about it when I get back” post. Really, where did the week go? So, I beg pardon and leave you with a peek at my first fabric-piecing attempt. Have a good week and see you five days hence!

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If wishes were fishes...

...I would be somewhere much cooler and wetter than where I am now. Among those that make the short list of things I would desire to occur, I heartily wish that I had more time to work on Icarus. I’ve finally made it to Chart 2 but given that only three days remain and the finish line lies behind Charts 3 and 4 as well as several long uncharted final rows, it looks like I will be wearing my usual grey wrap to the wedding. I am of the suspicion that the Powers-that-be just never meant shawl-wearing on this Saturday to happen as we were hit with a record heat wave just as I was becoming intensely focused on working on the shawl. High temperatures, the lack of air conditioning, and alpaca fibers just don’t mix well so the knitting progress slowed to a crawl. In fact, the heat managed to drive off my interest in doing anything besides moving as little a possible. Thus, another of my top wishes: I really wish that I had some new project to share…a swatch, a stuffie, a piece of embroidery, anything remotely crafty and interesting to show you. But alas, I spend the last few days, in the interest of not moving, hunched over these

and intently reading. There’s nothing like the fantastical to take one’s mind away from something so mundane as high temperatures. If you enjoy reading fiction involving other-worldly characters, I would highly recommend the Robin McKinley book. Sunshine is a bit of a departure from McKinley’s usual settings and writing style but just as enthralling as her best works (and not at all like anything in the genre that the publishers have shoehorned it into). I was hooked as soon as I read the first page and didn’t put the book down until it was six am. That was last Thursday and I have reread the book twice since then. I love finding books like this that just grab hold of my imagination. It’s almost like finding an old, dear friend you didn’t know you had. Do you have any books that you feel the same about?
(Just so I’m fair to the other three books in the pile, they were enjoyable reads as well. Tanya Huff doesn’t write as well as Robin McKinley but the stories were entertaining. Nothing I would reread but a pleasant way to pass the time. Did I mention my wish for more well-written, non-clichéd plotted books in the fantasy genre? If you know of any, do share!)
So, most of my wishes aren't likely to be fulfilled (like having my experiments work out for once...hahaha). But, I am getting a major one granted today that goes a great deal towards making up for all the unfulfilled ones. I. the fiancé will be flying in and staying for two whole weeks -- more than enough to make me forget all about the heat and any disappointment in not finishing Icarus.


Booking Through Thursday: Imperfection

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The questions today are from Deb.

  1. What is most battered book in your collection? The one with loose pages, tattered corners, and page edges so soft that there's not even a risk of paper cuts anymore?

    Well, I searched through the bookshelves and couldn't come up with any, which is probably a good thing since I'm a bit zealous about being nice to books and keeping them in good condition. For better or worse, I’m one of those people who cringe that the mere thought of folding a book page, creasing a paperback spine, or, horrors of all horrors, actually writing notes in a book. I always felt like I was committing an unpardonable atrocity if I actually damage or otherwise irreversibly mark a book. For the same reason, I always feel irrationally annoyed and angered when I come across abused books that are stained and torn and decorated with unnecessary marks (like unrelated doodles...I do understand the need for people to occasionally underline passages...).
    I did used to own a paperback of a beloved novel in middle school that was in horrible condition, though not by my hands.

  2. Why is this book so tattered? Is it that you love it so much that you've read it a zillion times? Is it a reference book you've used every day for the last seven years? Something your new puppy teethed on when you weren't looking?

    So about the tattered paperback that I used to own...I had lent it out looking brand-new to someone who subsequently returned it stained, torn, and so beat-up that the cover promptly fell off as soon as I touched it. That person didn't give a flying bleep about what they did to my poor book either. This was the first time I realized that not everyone treated books like little sacred objects. Came as a bit of a shock, really.


A miracle occurred today

I walked into the LYS, picked out the above skeins for Secret Pal exchanges and some gift knitting, purchased them, and walked out without buying anything for myself.
I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in.
For those of you who have this thing called self-control and are unimpressed, well, you see, this is quite an achievement if one is of the “one for you and one for me” school of thought when it comes to yarn gifting. In my admittedly screwball world of gifting, yarn for me always comes home with yarn as presents as a sort of bribe to enable me to actually let the gift yarn go. Until today, that is.
Of course, there is a slight (miniscule, really) possibility that I was quite the paragon of selflessness and fiscal restrain today because I had succumbed earlier this week to the ruby slippers sale going on over at Flying Fingers Yarn as well as a skein of Cherry Tree Hill Supersock on ebay. Is it a bad sign when you have your credit card number and security code memorized?


And the knitting goes on

Even when one excitedly starts in on Chart 2 (at last!) only to discover that the pattern was not read with sufficient care so as to allow one to notice that between Chart 1 (all five lengthy repetitions) and Chart 2, contrary to all expectations of the stockinette and yarn-over exhausted knitter, there exists a rather crucial partial repeat of Chart 1…
So I consoled myself with some berry snacking

and the second viewing of the night of My Neighbor Totoro (this time in French just to make things more interesting),

as I tinked my way back, started those skipped rows of the partial repeat, and studiously ignored the melted puddle of wax that was the fluttering hope of wearing Icarus next weekend.


Should you think that I’ve abandoned knitting altogether…

…look, yarn!

Yarn that was lost and yarn that was sent back. It all arrived in one great, inspirational lump in my mailbox on Saturday. The light colored skeins in the first picture are some beautiful hand-dyed sock-weight in the colorway Ocean from Curious Yarns in the UK. The first shipment disappeared without a trace somewhere on its journey from London to San Francisco but they were kind enough to send another, along with these pretty stitch markers.

I really wish my camera were capable of capturing the exact colors of the Curious Yarn fiber. The yarn in person hardly resembles those washed-out looking skeins in the picture. Think green sea-glass and go a bit lighter in intensity and you have something close to the real colors of this gorgeous yarn.
The other sets of skeins make up the order that my post office managed to send back before I could pick it up. Robyn of Red Bird Knits (an online shop whose wares I spend an inordinate amount of time drooling over --- they carry Jaggerspun Zephyr, Fleece Artist, and Handmaiden yarns, need I say more?) was incredibly understanding about the post office mishap and sent the whole thing right back as soon as she got it. So, after much coveting and anxiety, I finally have my hands on a skein of Jaggerspun Zephyr (1260 glorious yards in elderberry!). This tussah silk and wool blend is quite amazing --- the luscious squooshiness of merino combined with a wonderful subtle sheen. I can hardly wait to try knitting with it!
When I was placing my order for the Zephyr, I must have been struck with temporary amnesia about all the variegated yarn I already own but don’t know what to do with since I bought those two other pairs of skeins as well. Yes, more Lorna’s Laces shepherd sock. Purple Club and Gold Hill. Well, at least they can lie around the apartment in the skein being pretty and decorative while they and I wait for the perfect sock pattern for hand-painted yarns.
Even without knowing what I want to do with the Lorna’s though, the other skeins are more than enough to give me that burst of motivation to finish what I have on the needles now so that I can cast on more projects. So, more work on Icarus and Pomatomus and Traveling Plum this week while I dream about new, intricate shawls.


A bird in the hand…

...is worth more than…uh…a few hours of sleep?
You see, last night found me suddenly in the mood to try my hand at learning that often maligned-by-knitters fiber art of crochet. So, meet Bosc, my little beginner’s crash-course in crochet. Single chains, turning chains, increases, decreases, joining in the round…this little guy had me do them all.
I’ve been vaguely talking about learning crochet for months, ever since I was seduced by cuteness into bringing this amigurumi book (ISBN4-309026572-3) home.

So that the book would be more useful than just decorating my bookshelf, I even dutifully purchased The Happy Hooker as soon as it hit bookstores so that I could teach myself. But alas, learning crochet turned into one of those things I “really should do” and “will do someday,” and the books collected dust on my bookshelf. Whenever I had craft time, it was always easier to pick up a project in progress than try to learn something new, that is, until last night. For whatever reason, I came home after several happy hours of teaching an expecting friend to knit baby bootees and headed straight for the crochet books on the shelf. After a good hour of puzzling through the directions and diagrams in both books and some ugly false starts, I was on my way to making a little pear in Cascade 220. My size E hook that had proved amazingly ineffective in the dropped-stitch pickup capacity for which I purchased it was infinitely more useful in making a chain stitch. Gee, who would have thunk?
Bosc is inspired by the parrot pattern in the amigurumi book. I say inspired by rather than from the pattern, as I really wasn’t able to really understand it (it makes much more sense now that I have gone through the making process) and fudged a great deal. Happily, crochet seems quite amendable to fudging so the end result looks more or less like the one in the book. I had to make up something for the wing tips and tail since there was no diagram but fortunately they came out in the shapes that I wanted.

I really quite like crocheting so far. There is something very fun and satisfying about chaining my way around and around to make some spherical shape. In terms of the teaching material though, I was a bit disappointed by The Happy Hooker. The book organization is not terribly amendable to dipping in and searching for certain ways to do things. Also, the written instructions sometimes seemed more preoccupied with incorporating the trying-too-hard, pseudo-street lingo typical of the Stitch’N Bitch books than clearly explaining what to do. Still, I think it will make a decent reference, especially if the only other book I have on crochet is written in Japanese.
After finishing Bosc (and sleeping like the dead until noon today), I found myself picking up hook and yarn again to make a friend for Bosc.

Say hi to Snow.

Hmm…I seem to have developed yet another addiction.


Booking Through Thursday: Perfection

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The questions today are from Deb, the new question-creater of the meme. Thanks, Deb!

  1. What is the most pristine, perfect book in your collection? The one that looks like it's never been opened (and in fact may never have been)? Whose binding is uncracked, the corners still perfect?
    This is a question I rather trembled at the thought of contemplating, as I have many a yet-to-be read book purchase littering my apartment but the most recent pristine, perfect book in my collection is that big, gorgeous volume below: Ralph Steadman’s Untrodden Grapes.

  2. Why is that book so perfect? Was it a gift? Is it a coffee table book too beautiful to use? Something you simply have no interest in and haven't bothered to open?
    This book was an impulse buy last Christmas. I’ve always loved Steadman’s whimsical illustrations, many of which often crop up in the most unexpected places, like on this striking wine label (I have a tendency to choose wines by the aesthetic appeal of their labels).

    When I saw this book, which Steadman wrote and filled with beautiful illustration about his tour of the world’s various wine-producing regions, I had to get it. Of course, once I got the book home, I somehow never found the time to sit down and enjoy it. So, the poor volume has been collecting dust on my bookshelf. It’s not that I’m not interested…I mean, how could one resist lingering over these…

    but I just haven’t gotten around to the reading and lingering yet. Unfortunately, this neglect seems to happen quite often to many of the books that I buy. So much so that there seems to be a required incubation period for a purchase on my bookshelf before I will actually read it. Hmm…is this a sign that I have too many unread books? Does this happen to anyone else?


Ah l’ennui...

There’s nothing like being in the middle of three lengthy projects with no immediate end in sight to make me want to go drape myself, sighing and clad in a diaphanous gown, over a chaise lounge. However, since I lack for both the gown and the chaise lounge, I had to content myself with restlessly picking up and putting down the various pieces of knitting, all to the tune of many an exasperated sigh. I itched to be making something but that something certainly was not Icarus, Pomatomus, or the Traveling Plum.
Images of knitted items I covet flitted across my mind but the thought of casting on yet another project sent me sinking back down on my mental chaise lounge with hand to forehead. When I found myself starting to play metal games of bribery (one page of New Yorker reading for every 4 rows!) to keep on knitting, enough was enough. Into the bag went the needles and fiber and out came the fabric and crafting books.
As often is the case, a little sewing quite soothes the need to create and leaves a delightful physical product to boot. This time, the result was Squee.
(Warning: gratuitous multi-angled photos below...I got a bit carried away).

Squee's sitting on my ipod for size reference. The pattern I made him from is in this lovely Japanese craft book (ISBN 4-7778-0011-3). While the directions were fairly clear, the fact that Squee is made from real fabrics and not good ole forgiving felt caused there to be a surprising amount of finagling in order to get the various small pieces of fabric to fit together just so. Even with the fussing though, poor Squee still ended up a bit lopsided in the back since my sewing skills, alas, are not equal to my ambition. Still, I'm quite happy with the little penguin. He looked a tad chilly when he was all done so I made him a scarf from some linen. I think it gives him quite a festive air!
Changing crafting mediums certainly did the trick to chase away my vague feelings of discontent. Now, back to Icarus…


A slightly disconcerting observation

The other night, the evening of the 4th, to be exact, some persons in the vicinity of my apartment window began merrily setting off (illegal) fireworks. When I heard the familiar whines and whistles of flying sparks, my very first thought was “gosh, I hope they don’t set the building on fire.”
Dear Lord, I have turned into my mother.

(detail of Chronicle photo by Liz Mangelsdorf


Booking Through Thursday: Non-Fiction

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This week's questions were suggested by Christine.

  1. Do you read non-fiction books for pleasure, not counting books required for courses or for work?
    Of course!

  2. If so, what areas of non-fiction interest you the most? If not, why not?
    I will read anything that catches my eye but most of the non-fiction books I have read seem to cluster in the areas of natural history, travel writing, food writing, history, and biographies of writers.

  3. What are some of your favorite (or least favorite) books from those areas?
    My very favorite non-fiction book has to be Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. This book is an absolutely awe-inspiring feat of science writing. Not only does Bryson manage to accomplish what the title suggests by cramming in virtually everything on the history of science, he manages to do so with wonderful clarity and humor. The book traces a meandering path through the development of the sciences from early alchemy and natural history to their much expanded modern day equivalents with many an interesting factoid or fun anecdote along the way. As usual, Bryson has an amazing eye for the little coincidences and absurdities that litter the lives of "great" men and their discoveries. I never thought I would laugh so much while reading about chemistry or quantum mechanics. The scientist part of me was also quite gratified by how well everything was explained without cutting corners on the facts or clouding the information with metaphor in a perverse attempt to simplify it, both frequent pitfalls in science writing.
    Really, I would heartily recommend all of Bryson's books, especially Notes from a Small Island and In a Sunburned Country.

    Aside from Bryson's writings, I'm also quite fond of Jeffrey Steingarten's collections of food essays, It Must've Been Something I Ate (good food is a close third in importance, after books and yarn, for me), and Mind of the Raven : Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds , Bernd Heinrich's extremely interesting text on raven behavior.
    I still have yet to find any history books that I can count as favorite reads, especially on the topic of pre-1900 English history. Can anyone make any recommendations?


Red, white, and

um...baby blue.
It would appear that I own absolutely nothing in navy but in any event,
HAPPY 4th!


Instant Gratification

A week spent with nary a stitch knit but lots of knitting related reading inevitably results in a serious case of Startitis. By Saturday, my arm felt fine and while I was dying to knitting something, I didn’t feel like working on any of the projects I had on the needles. To stave off starting yet another long-term needle hog, I picked up Weekend Knitting (as inspired by Areli) and churned out some petals.

A few more hours of cotton chenille manipulation while chuckling to Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me and To the Best of Our Knowledge and I had a finished object to satisfy the worse of my knitting cravings.

The details:
Pattern: Reverse Bloom Flower Washcloths from Weekend Knitting by Melanie Falick
Yarn: Crystal Palace Cotton Chenille in teal, less than one skein
Needles: Size 6/4mm DPNs

This couldn’t be a better instant gratification project -- mindless but very fast with only a bit of fussing required at the end for the center of the flower. The inelasticity of the cotton chenille is a bit hard on the hands but I still found it better than knitting with Rowan cotton glace. Also, the chenille creates a wonderfully fluffy fabric that hides any issues with even gauge that comes from using yarn without any stretch. Happily too, since you knit in the round towards the center of the flower, the stitches become fewer and fewer in number as you go (unlike some other projects *coughtIcaruscough*). Now, excuse me while I go give it a test run with my new soap...