Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oh yes. There will be a quilt.


I obviously went with cotton over silk or velvet because I am rather fond of my kidneys, thank you very much. I'm also aware that cotton is quite a bit easier to work with than silk or velvet, and given that I suck at sewing, I thought I'd spare myself the angst.

My boyfriend, who shall remain nameless, was very helpful in picking out these fabrics. Having someone whose taste I trust to bounce ideas and possibilities off of helps me overcome the paralyzing indecision that tends to strike me in fabric stores. Also, he helped with the math.

I am nearing the point of project-saturation. Right now, I have 3 knitting projects, two of which have deadlines (albeit not for a while), one of which is not my design (so it's very much at the bottom of my knitting basket). Then I have another very simple sewing project (also with a deadline), and this quilt. Meanwhile, school must continue to come first. Knitting is portable - I can get knitting done on the bus, or sitting around waiting for class to start (I tend not to knit during class. Only when we're derailed on particularly inane tangents will I knit surreptitiously under my desk). Quilting will have to stay at home, obviously, and I really just need to bang through this other sewing project...maybe today.

Right, so deadlines. I've decided to submit some of my designs to publications to see what happens. So obviously, I'm not going to tell you about them for a while. :-D I have two designs to submit at the beginning of March and two to complete by June. If nothing comes of the March designs, I'll post them here, but my fingers are crossed.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Is this sketchy? I think this is sketchy.

I saw a wonderful hat on the bus this morning, so I sneakily snapped a photo of it with my phone. Is posting it here the sketchiest thing I could possibly do? I kinda think it is.
I've tried to crop it to minimize the presence of innocent bystanders and anything remotely identifying about the woman...even though it was snapped from the back anyway, and the most identifying feature she had going on this morning was definitely her amazingly wonderful hat. Amazingly wonderful hat lady, if you read this, please know that in my heart of hearts, I do respect your privacy and anonymity, and I admire the buhjeezus out of your taste in hats! :-)

It looks a lot more blah than it did in person. Less soft, the colors less rich. But still. It made my bus ride.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

It's the Little Things

My boyfriend, who shall remain nameless, went back home this morning after spending the weekend here with me. This always kinda gets me down, for obvious reasons. My room suddenly seems so empty and quiet, and of course, we have a tendency to...rather...mess things up while he's here. ;-) Instead of cheering me up, all of those little pieces of weekend-evidence just remind me that I'm alone in here again. It'll be a happier space once I've got it straightened back up (and once that French press is empty). Also, I find it fascinating that all of my cookbooks are some form of red or pink (even the Japanese cookbook, not shown). I wonder what market research led to that decision!

Lemme tell ya what else cheers me up, though, and it's something I didn't really anticipate when I started this blog. You guys! (Whoever the hell you are out there reading this blog). I love waking up in the morning, checking my Google Analytics page and seeing what cool, international readers dropped in during the night. Y'know, I don't expect to be racking up hits and getting all internet-famous or anything, and I'm not. But do you have any idea how cool it is to see that your blog is being read by people in Poland? And Greece? And Germany? And Great Britain? And Slovenia? That's just freaking spiff!

Also, since putting my hot water bottle cozy pattern up on Ravelry, it's started showing up in queues and favorite lists, and that makes me smile a little bit too, in a silly, small-time kinda way. It makes me excited to share more designs, as they pop out of my head, and they are popping in, at least, at a faster than normal rate. I've relied very heavily on other people's patterns, of course, for most of my time knitting, and it's so cool to make something that's really yours, from conception to creation to writing up. It just makes me all smiley and stuff.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Pattern: Hot Water Bottle Cozy

Download the PDF here.
Errata available here.

You guys...this is my first pattern! :-D I hope you like it, and I hope it's clear. Please feel free to email me if anything isn't. Also, if you do knit one of these cozies, feel free to share pictures with me! I'd love to see what people wind up doing with this pattern.

I do request two things, however, of those who make use of this pattern. First, please don't use this for commercial purposes. Make it for yourself, make it for your friends, but don't put it up on your Etsy shop, right? Second, I'm offering this pattern for free, so you're welcome to share it with your friends, but please don't alter the document in any way. By all means make alterations to the pattern as you knit, and tell your friends (and me!) about them if they work, but leave the PDF itself intact. That way my pattern stays my pattern and your innovations stay your innovations. :-)

This pattern is knit in three pieces, and I like to think there's a little something for everyone here. The front and back are knit flat, and the cap is knit in the round. If you really hate seaming, you can easily adapt this to be knit entirely in the round. If you're not comfortable knitting in the round, you can skip the cap. It's pretty much a cosmetic feature - the opening of a hot water bottle doesn't get particularly hot, I find.

The bottle is held securely in the cozy by the flaps that button over the "shoulder" of the hot water bottle. I find that it's easier to slip a bottle full of scalding water into the cozy given this nice, large opening than given the tighter, neck-sized ribbed opening common to a lot of other patterns. There's some subtle shaping around the shoulders that keeps the cozy snug around the bottle, instead of sticking out under the flaps at the corners.

And now, further remarks on seaming: Ok, I hate seaming too. I suck at it. The beauty of this pattern is that the edges are reverse stockinette, so even if your seams are ugly as sin, they'll be lost between the big, pretty cables and no one has to know! Also, the cables make for handy guides to keep the front even with the back while you seam. What could be better? For a very clear and thorough seaming tutuorial, see this article from Knit Simple.

Anyway, I hope you like it, and I do hope you'll be in touch with me if you have any comments, questions or ideas. Again, this is my first pattern, and any feedback I can get from the knitting community out there will only make my subsequent patterns better!

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License. Click here for an explanation of this term in plain English.

Friday, February 13, 2009

I'm going to make a quilt! I swear!

I mentioned earlier that I thought I'd make a quilt. I still think I'll make a quilt. I've always been interested in quilts - they're nice, they're cozy, they're homey, they can be quite beautiful, and they seem like they have the potential to be a staggeringly creative undertaking.

Until recently, I had never even considered making one. Not because quilts are something that "little old ladies" make (although I still find myself stifling a defensive response to that imagined objection whenever my intention to quilt comes up). Rather, quilts have always struck me as impossibly intricate. As a child, the mother of my best friend was a quilter, and I remember seeing her...quilting apparatus. She had this...rack of some sort with her quilt arranged in a certain way stretched out over it. There are...patterns to understand, construction methods to discern, ways of doing things to divine, traditions to bear in mind...add to all of this the fact that sewing has never been my forte. I can sew a garment, but there will be much yelling and flinging of fabric before all is said and done (I've stopped short of flinging the scissors...for now).

Quilting is one of the topics discussed in Jane Brocket's The Gentle Art of Domesticity. She doesn't offer patterns or step-by-step guides, but she presents it as something that's accessible. She makes it seem simple, she lays out the theory behind it, and she encourages you to just go out and try it. I have to tell you, I got really jazzed and excited when I read through this. I've worked out in my head what I need to do, what materials I'll need, how I'll construct and assemble my quilt. I haven't gotten started yet, but I'm no longer intimidated by the mechanics of quilting! I can do this!

So the other day, I went fabric shopping. I didn't get anything - it was more of a reconnaissance mission. Now I'm intimidated again. Jane Brocket is an avowed color person. She likes bright, contrasting colors, that's what gets her aesthetic juices flowing. I like color as much as the next girl, but I'm much more of a texture person. When I knit, I'll go with cables over stripes. Give me one, rich, lovely color and then let me drown in the subtle variations that texture creates.

So, of course, quilting is all about color. Go to the quilting section of your local fabric store, and you'll see bolts upon bolts of bright, loud, colorful cotton prints waiting to be sliced up and jumbled together in a cacophony of comfort. It makes my head spin. I love color - I love what people do with color, but it's just not how my brain works.

What about a velvet quilt? Or a silk quilt? Can I find enough complimentary solid colors of silk in one place to make a quilt? And can I then acquire enough of said silk to make a quilt without selling a kidney?

Things to think about before I begin. I'd like to get started soon, as I'd love to have a nice, new quilt on my bed in lieu of my comforter when the weather starts to warm up. I just...need to get better at fabric shopping.

*(The images in this post were created by my boyfriend, who shall remain nameless, based on images I chose that represent colors I like. It is his talent you see, and my awesome taste in individual colors).

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I think this deserves its own post.

I did good!

The best weekend ever, from a chocolate standpoint.

Guess who's up with the sun and baking for her man? Ok...half of that statement is true (a scant quarter, actually, when you consider how much of the cake I intend to eat myself). :-)

One year ago this weekend, my boyfriend, who shall remain nameless, flew in to see me for the first time in...about a year, I'd say. We'd been friends for a while but were now living in different states and had just realized that the huge crushes we had on each other were mutual. So we decided to give it a go.

Also this weekend includes Valentine's Day. Also this weekend includes his birthday. There will be chocolate, friends. Oh yes. There will be chocolate. I never thought I'd meet a man who appreciated chocolate on the same deep, spiritual, I suspect neurochemical level that I do, but damn. It has enriched our relationship. :-)

Better pictures to come later today, when it's iced. I wish I could upload the way my house smells right now. This cake involves chocolate and cherries and BEER!!! What could be better, my friends? I actually have a number of ideas, but I don't want to mess with the little "adult content" flag Blogger offers, so......yeah. :-D

"Black velvet in that little boy's smile..." *sigh* Happy.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Economics of Knitting Part 2

When I first started knitting, back in college, it was Brand and Red Heart acrylic stuff. The cheapest stuff I could get my hands on, essentially. Since then, I'm afraid I've developed rather more expensive tastes in yarn. This wasn't such a problem back when I was working full time, but now that I'm back to being a broke-ass student, well...yeah.

I'd say that my strongest preference when it comes to yarn is natural fibers. I realize this is somewhat arbitrary. There are some nice synthetic blends out there. It's part a crunchy-granola thing, and part the fact that I grew up in The Land of Spontaneous Brush Fires, not far from The Land of Spontaneous Hurricanes, where we have a deep appreciation for the miracle that is 100% cotton. But cotton isn't all that's good and pure in this world. Natural fibers in general breathe better than synthetics, and even in winter, when you're wearing layer upon warm layer, acrylics will make you sweat when wool won't.

I'd like to be even pickier in my yarn selection. I'd like to buy more locally produced fiber, wool from manufacturers with documented humane standards of treating their animals. I'd like to buy organic cotton and yarn dyed with the environment in mind. There's lots of locally, responsibly produced wool to be had in my area, and some gorgeous hand-painted artisan yarns. I'd like to focus on these, to help my community and vote with my dollar, but damnit, I can't afford to.

Not only can I not afford to, being a responsible consumer sometimes seems like an impossibly daunting task. A lot of people are faced with unacceptable choices - if there's not much locally produced organic produce to be had, for example, your decision to buy organic might send a message to the industry that buying local isn't important to you. If you want to buy locally, you may be sending the message that there's no demand for organic produce. Industry can spin your economic vote to further restrict your choices, if it's in its own financial best interests, and that is so frustrating when I think about it. I'm lucky, in that I live in an area in which I can buy my produce at farmer's markets and, during the right time of year, not spend any more than I would at the grocery store. Locally produced wool, however, is still beyond the reach of my wallet.

So...unfortunately, regarding this area of the economics of knitting, I just don't have any answers. I'm not going to give up my knitting because I can't afford to be as responsible a consumer as I'd like. That's not going to happen. I'm obviously not going to give up my graduate studies so that I can make enough to afford all-natural, organic, humane, locally-produced yarn. And I'm not going to start knitting with cheap-ass acrylics, which frankly, for all I know, could be environmentally destructive to manufacture (I really don't know. If you do - comment!).

It goes back to my reasons for knitting. It's a sensual experience. If I hate the yarn I'm using, I won't enjoy it enough to continue. But I also hate the idea of spending more than I would for a store-bought garment. I can pretty much knit small things, hats and scarves and whatnot, for considerably less than what I'd pay in a store, but I start to get diminishing financial returns when I move up to, say, sweaters. Sometimes you just gotta suck it up and pay through the nose for what you love. But I will not pay ~$100 for a sweater no matter how nice Rowan Cocoon is!

So I continue to bargain hunt. Every once in a while, you'll find some nice, yummy wool in a gorgeous color for $6 a generous skein, and then you buy those puppies up! I'm going to start looking in thrift stores for sweaters to frog - we'll see how that goes, I'll post about it here when I get around to it. Gift cards to yarn stores allow me to splurge. Felting being all the rage these days, the big yarn companies are coming out with more 100% wool yarns, so if I'm knitting, oh, say, a blitz of Christmas gifts, I can actually find wool that's worthy, nice and not too expensive at my local big-box fabric store. I'd still rather support local businesses and...y' in a store that feels like a store and not a warehouse.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ok, ok, I knit a cozy!

It's a hot water bottle sweater! Aint it cute? My boyfriend, who shall remain nameless, thought it was a sleeveless turtle-neck when he first looked at it. Heh.

Anyway, just a quick post to say, "Holy crap! There's room in my life for a cozy after all!" The thing works great. The bottle warms my sheets up just as well as ever, but now I can also snuggle my feet up to it, if I want to, without burning myself. If I want to move the bottle while it's under my sheets, I can just nudge it with my feet. Before, my feet had to find a kind of sweet-spot where they were close enough to the bottle to be toasty, but far enough away that they wouldn't accidentally touch it in the middle of the night (which happened one time. Didn't scald me or anything, but I definitely woke up going, "OOOOOOOOOOOW!!! What gives?").

Anyway, I maintain my general attitude toward cozies, but I make an eager exception for hot water bottle cozies. And motorcycle cozies, but we've discussed that already. :-)

I'll post my pattern here soon, if anyone wants it.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Economics of Knitting Part 1

Why I Knit
I knit for 4 main reasons, at least...4 that I've been able to think of just now.

1) Relaxation: If you've read Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon, you may remember that when Morgaine spins, she enters into a sort of trance state. I'm not saying I have visions when I knit, but it is definitely a meditative experience. When I knit, it gives my mind a chance to wander, to passively mull over things that are on it, rather than actively stressing about them. As my mind wanders undirected, it often finds paths that wouldn't have occurred to me in a more deliberate, active frame of mind.

2) Luxury: Leaving aside, for a moment, the delicious things you can get as a result of knitting, knitting is a pleasing sensual activity. Yarn is nice. It comes in pretty colors, yummy textures, it feels good in your hands and it looks luscious as the fabric you're creating grows like some living thing into whatever shape and pattern you've chosen for it. Yarn is soft and pretty and good.

3) Creativity and control: Once you get the hang of it, making things for yourself ensures that what you end up with is exactly what you want. I don't have to spend lots of money on a beautiful scarf that's kind of itchy, or a wonderful sweater that fits not quite just right. Fine, shaping and fit is something I'm still in the process of mastering, but in a materialistic sense, knitting and making things makes you the master of your own fate. This is where my reasons for knitting really intersect with my reasons for making things in general. If I want legwarmers to match my hat perfectly, then I shall have them! If I want carbonara that won't kill my boyfriend, who shall remain nameless, with cholesterol, then I shall leave out the egg yolks! If I want a pot-holder that matches both the mustard yellow of the kitchen counter and the avocado green of the stove top, I shall make it so! Creativity is liberating.

4) Saving money: As you may have deduced elsewhere on this blog, I am a broke-ass graduate student. Saving money is, for me, a necessity, but that doesn't mean I can't still have nice things in my life. I can knit myself a matching hat and scarf pair that's nicer and cheaper than one I'd find at, say, The Gap. I can make really great shirts and skirts out of old t-shirts that I never wear (more on that when it warms up outside). I can't afford to eat out much, but that doesn't mean I can't afford to eat well at home.

I know that I won't always be a broke-ass graduate student. At some point, I'll have the degree and the job and the house and the disposable income. At this point, I expect my first two reasons for knitting to really start conflicting with the last two - actually, more just #2 with #4. I think, however, that even then I'll value knitting as a means of saving money, and not just out of habit.

As much as I like pretty things, I have a definite anti-consumerist streak in me. I like showing "The Man," "The Powers That Be," "The Gods of Capitalism," or whomever that I am not a slave to the market, that I don't need what they're selling, that I can do perfectly well for myself. There are, of course, limits to this. I'm not about to run off and start homesteading. But I take pride and a subversive glee in not being a predictable consumer. If a company wants my money, they're going to have to put some effort into it, and not treat me like a non-existent generic member of my demographic. Give me real options, or I will make my own!

The next two installments of this series on the economics of knitting will deal with being a responsible consumer within this framework - because even as an independent, unpredictable consumer, I am still a consumer of yarn, of materials, of patterns, of ideas. But it will always boil down to why I knit.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Quick and of Interest

Miss Manners on knitting in public.

"For centuries, ladies sat quietly doing needlework while gentlemen conversed around them, and didn’t miss a thing of what was going on."

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Cold Feet

Behold the glorious trinity of foot happiness! Blanket + fuzzy slippers + hot-water bottle!

Right, so. I live in The Land of Cold. This much is very clear. My roommates, having grown up in The Land of Cold, tend to keep the heater on low during the winter and wear sweaters around the house. I, having grown up in The Land of Spontaneous Brush Fires, am not so used to this (though I have spent winters in Boston and Moscow, so I knew what I was getting myself into, thank you very much). When I moved up here, I decided that I'd roll with it - learn to wear sweaters during the winter and acclimate my wussy Texan tushy to the realities of my new climate. I should emphasize that my roommates have made it perfectly clear that I'm welcome to crank up the heat whenever I want - they're not ogres or misers by any means. But for financial, environmental and macho reasons, I've decided to acclimate.

It's worked quite well, actually. During the day and before I go to bed, I'm perfectly comfortable walking around in my gloriously long sweater-duster and fuzzy slippers. It's at night that the suffering begins. When I climb into bed, it is so cold under my covers that I have to lie there unmoving until my little patch of sheets warm up. Only then can I tentatively venture to roll over or otherwise shift position. On a cold night, my feet never warm up. I can bundle the rest of me up in nice, warm PJs, I can even wear socks to bed, but my feet stay cold. The warmth never quite makes it all the way down to the foot of the bed.

I knew I needed a hot-water bottle. More economical than cranking the heat, charmingly old-fashioned and I hear they're good for cramps, too! So imagine my surprise when every grocery and drug store I went to was completely bereft of hot-water bottles. I'm not sure "bereft" is the right word, it seems to imply that there were some to begin with. They had electric heating pads, electric blankets, even those weird stick-on hot/cold pads, but no hot-water bottles. Finally, I went to a Target in Minnesota. My boyfriend, who shall remain nameless, and I searched every possible aisle to no avail. We finally asked the woman behind the pharmacy counter if she had any. "No! Yes! Special order!" Someone had to special order hot water bottles in order to find any within a two-state radius. HELLO!!! HAS ANYONE ELSE NOTICED THAT IT GETS EFFING COLD HERE IN JANUARY??? I mean I know I grew up in Texas, but this can't just be me.

This is the hot-water bottle I had been using. Harlot worked very well, all things considered, but she had one chief draw-back: she wouldn't pre-warm the bed. Harlot is completely uninterested in taking the brunt of a freezing bed for the woman who feeds her. She prefers it to be a more collaborative effort. I warm her up while she warms me up. This works tolerably well until she loses interest. This new water bottle I can slip under the covers 10 or so minutes before I go to bed. I can be comfortable from the moment I snuggle under the covers and never have that "want to roll over but don't want to re-warm a new patch of sheets" let-down that keeps you from drifting off unmolested. Didn't leak (of course it didn't leak, but I was paranoid). Its one draw-back is that it does get quite hot to the touch. It keeps me comfortable all night as long as my feet don't actually make contact with it. Seriously, though, not only were my sheets still warm when I woke up this morning, the bottle itself was still pleasantly warm. I'm quite impressed. And so is Harlot.

Monday, February 2, 2009


Not the most exciting thing in the world, mending, and I've been putting it off for a few weeks, to be honest. Taking something that's broken and fixing it - not as fun and creative as making something shiny and new. But it needs to be done all the same.

I think we waste too much in our culture anyway. We've become so consumer driven that we throw things out as soon as something breaks, even if we could fix it. My briefcase, for instance. If I still had a 9-5 job, I'd have thrown it out and bought a new one by now. I don't have a 9-5 job anymore, and I need to save my leftover money for things I really value.

The fake-leather covering on the handles had started coming off, exposing the mesh padding underneath. This more than anything made it look torn and shabby, and of course the mesh would start to go soon as well. So I rigged this up. I don't really crochet, but a basic chain-stitch is a useful thing to know. I had some leftover black wool lying around, so I crocheted it around the handles of my briefcase - a lot like you might do to a clothes hanger, or a provisional cast-on in knitting. It's not exactly chic, but it's functional, innocuous and not falling apart.

Our culture has become so consumerist that things aren't made to last - I don't think the makers of my briefcase expected me to keep it this long. I'm not sure I did, when I bought it. Shoes aren't meant to be worn more than 6 months. You're supposed to keep throwing things out and buying new things. I kind of resent that. Even if I had money to throw around, I'd like to have the option of buying something nice, well-made, lasting, of not buying trash, if I'm going to buy anything. And that's aside from the environmental implications of a culture based on producing and throwing away trash at the quickest affordable rate.

I guess you get what you pay for. I also sewed 3 buttons onto my winter coat this weekend. My coat has five buttons going up the front, three of which have come flying off since I bought it in November. I'll probably have to replace the bottom two before next winter, but for now, it fastens fine. I had a really hard time finding a coat this winter (having just moved to Wisconsin from Texas), and I finally found one at the mall for much cheaper than I'd expected. I got what I paid for, though. A nice, wool coat that's warm and fits me with buttons that fling themselves from the fabric when you look at them funny. I'm actually still quite satisfied with my purchase, all things considered.

Then there are the things you make yourself. I made myself a neck-warmer last year based on John Brinegar's "Fourteen" (pictured at top because it's the prettiest). I think the yarn stretched out somewhat with use, but I also think that the length the pattern calls for, while perfect for a man's neck, is a bit much for my skinny little girl-neck. It was loose enough to let the wind in easier than I preferred. Discarding it was, of course, not an option not only because I went to the trouble of making it but because I love it and the hat and leg-warmers that now go with it! So this weekend, I finally fixed it - frogged back until it felt tight around my neck, then re-knit the button-hole rows. Fits like a charm now. I'm currently knitting a scarf on the needles I needed for this mending, so I just shoved the scarf down to the bottom of the needles while I fixed the neck-warmer. It wound up looking like flags or banners while I worked. I dig it.