Sunday, January 31, 2010

Plans... and some progress

This sweater has been sitting in my to-fix pile for about a year. I bought it at the Gap last February or so, and wore it constantly for about two weeks before one of the shoulder seams ripped out. Another sweater that I bought at the same time was improperly finished, so the cuffs were coming undone from the sweater at the wrists, and I tried to return them, but was only able to get about $40 of a $110 purchase refunded. I had second thoughts, and decided that even if their finishing job was crappy, I could fix it pretty easily.

And then it sat in my to-fix pile for about a year. The pieces were originally crocheted together, and I thought that I really needed to maintain the same seaming if I wanted the sweater to look right. But, a few nights ago I got fed up and sort of haphazardly stitched it back into place instead of attempting to crochet the seam... and what do you know, it looks fine and is wearable again.

It's a very, very cozy sweater. I kind of want to recreate it in wool at some point - it's made of cotton, which works well for this particular sweater, but I also think that an oversize sweater jacket might be really beautiful in a fingering weight merino. Sort of like a combination of the Minimalist cardigan and Pas de Valse. Mmm.

Hopefully next up in the sweater knitting will be the Bubble Pullover, which I'm scheming about making in Cascade Lana Bambu, a gorgeous, slightly variegated aran weight single. I used to have a turtleneck about the same color that was ruined in Indonesia, so I'm excited to have something similar back in my wardrobe.

And, lastly, the coat (now christened the Narnia Coat) is growing. It looks huge and silly here, but this was before sewing the side seams, the bottom and sleeves are still not hemmed, the back needs a dart, and the collar is going to be a shawl collar and not the gigantic rectangle seen here. Progress has been made, but it still has a ways to go.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Crunch time

So, um, this needs to be a coat by next Sunday.

This week: pinning and sewing and cutting and sewing and pinning and stabbing underneath my thumbnail while pinning and sewing and cutting and pinning.

Yesterday, I spent two hours staring at my fabric to make sure that both of my sleeves were the exact same size and placement on pattern. I measured eighty billion times from eighty billion different guiding marks to make sure that the curves of the sleeve caps were the same on both sides and on both sleeves. People started making fun of me because I just couldn't stop obsessing with the pins before sewing in the guide threads.

I feel vaguely as though this process should involve calculus.

Well anyhow, today, I did the same thing, but with the easing of the sleeve caps into the shoulders of the coat. I finished at 6ish, after pretty much doing the same dance of pin, sew, cut, furrow eyebrows at fabric for an hour and a half, for five hours. Sheesh. But tonight, the shoulders were sewn and sleeve set in - a great success after much contemplation and consumption of cookie bars.

And, luckily there are still enough hours in the day for fun - yay for housemates returning!

I'm going in this weekend, too. With any luck, this baby will be finished, with a lining and a proper hem, a little more than a week from now.

Hahahah. Sob.

I feel so much more kinship with Project Runway contestants than I used to.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Revelation

Failed G-Rocks Jaywalkers of 2007

Here's a story: many years ago, I bought my first skein of Socks that Rock (STR). For those in the fiber world, you know that Lime and Violet have spent tens, if not hundreds, of hours squeeing over it; it sells out super fast at fiber festivals; and, lastly, there seems to be a sort of polarized mass of opinions on it. On one hand, you have those who are obsessed with the colors, no matter the pooling situation, and would sell their left kidney to get into the monthly sock club. On the other, you have people, who, like me until two hours ago, were sort of "meh" about the whole thing.

There's only one really ridiculous problem with the above statement. Okay, ready? I own six skeins of the stuff. Granted, two are in a semi-solid colorway, Oregon Red Clover Honey, which is a prime example of Color Greatness. But the other four are variegated, all bought from Tricoter in Seattle on one of my trips back home.

Now, the first skein is easily explained away. I had heard a lot about Blue Moon, and had read many a blog post that extolled the tight twist and incredible colors of STR. So I went with my mom and we bought some. I picked up a skein of G-Rocks, and knit it into a Jaywalker sock that pooled in an ugly, lopsided way and was entirely too small. Then I changed needles and knit it again, and the colors were beautiful and stripy, and it was too big. Then I changed needles again and the colors were happy.... and the damn thing was too small again. I began to see a pattern, and shoved the yarn into my closet so I could cool down.

But for some insane reason, I didn't stop acquiring it. I got another skein, this time in the colorway Rocktober, thinking that it would be nice for some Embossed Leaves socks. I knit an entire sock before realizing that it was way too big, again. Then my mom gave me the skein of Puck's Mischief that she had bought at the same time as me, after discovering that socks aren't her thing. Then, last summer, I bought a skein of Carbon Dating, pretty much because I am a total dork and could make chemistry jokes more effectively if I had carbon-tastic socks on my feet.

All of this would be a lot easier if I weren't such an insane perfectionist about my knitting. But I am really deeply bothered by pooling, and this yarn so loves to do it - especially in fancy, lacy, cabley patterns. Which kind of brings me to tonight's simultaneous facepalm and cry of victory:

Dear readers - all five of you, hi Mom and Mr. Charlie Weasley! - it has taken me nigh three years to pick a plain sock pattern, cast on, and see what happened. And it turns out that it didn't take any beating into submission, or cursing, or really anything other than watching Gilmore Girls and lazily knitting a Madder Ribbed Sock from Nancy Bush's Knitting Vintage Socks, also known as my favorite sock book ever. No, there was no fight; the yarn kind of cooed and rolled over so I could rub its belly.

AGHHH. I just... have no more words.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It's vintage

A few days ago I was feeling in a mood to paw through vintage clothes, so I went to Ratsy's to check out their latest finds. And find I did: a pair of cute shoes in size 10 (almost impossible to get my hands on in vintage or second-hand stores ) and a classic Liz Claiborne sheath. I was going to wear this today, but after checking the weather forecast decided against it. The snow has been melting, but today it was 34 F again and I decided to go with a slightly toastier outfit. I did keep the shoes, though.

I think the technical term for these pants is culottes? They were another Stella purchase from two or three years ago, and they are fun for dancing - they look like a skirt, but have none of the twirly dangers of even the longest skirt. They are pleated beautifully, and I'm a sucker for anything with polka dots. And the vest, although you can't see it too well, also has polka dots but in a much more subtle way. I have yet to get a very good picture of it, but here's an idea of the material.

It's hand-dyed using mud and although it's pretty thin, it's quilted so it's a really warm layering piece. I got it at the Pike Place Market location of Simo Silk, which also has cheongsams and other gorgeous Chinese style clothing.

I've been reading a copy of Alligators, Old Mink & New Money, a book written by the proprietor of what sounds like an amazing vintage store in New York. She writes about clothes in this way that is incredibly warm and visually oriented, and she explained her view of where vintage fits into fashion really well:

There are people I've me who think the "vintage" label is an all-or-nothing way of dressing, that people who shop at my store wear only vintage or "retro" clothing... for me "vintage" means using older pieces to help create a fresh, one-of-a-kind style, with almost no rules as to how that's achieved.

This really struck a chord with me. Because as much as I love the fit and style of so many vintage pieces, especially from the 50s, I don't feel the need to mess with pincurls or retro kitchen supplies because of it. I think the clothes were beautiful, but the political and social atmosphere is not one that I want to evoke in the way I dress; I don't bake, I find atomic kitsch more disturbing than cute, and I have no particular drive to get married. What I love is the way older clothes are cut to fit curves, and the way very classic lines look with unexpected elements of color or other clothes with more contemporary shapes. But in the end, it's all about how the clothes make you feel - it is always amazing to me, the ability of clothing to both create and convey a mood.

Ok, off to bed now!

Monday, January 25, 2010

The blues

Almost exactly a year ago, I was on Nusa Penida. This time of day, the rainstorms had rolled in and I was probably napping on the futon in Mark's kitchen house, swatting away flies from my bare ankles and cracking my eyes open when the others came home on their motorbikes, bringing bananas, rice, hundreds of tiny violet shallots and cooking oil stored in empty water bottles. The same empty water bottles that they sold arak in, the sweet, bitter bathtub-brewed hard liquor that was tolerable only after a Bintang beer or two.

One night we all huddled in the space between the metal gate and the inside of one of the family's cell phone shops, drinking Bintang and playing Mario Kart, all of the Indonesian boys smoking clove cigarettes and flirting with us American girls. I had a headache and went to bed early, but one of the boys walked me home and sat outside murmuring with my host family and drinking hot sweet tea while I unpeeled my sleeping bag and started my nightly battle with the heat and the bugs that drank my blood while I slept.

One afternoon instead of napping I listened to my headphones for the first time in three weeks. I stared at the geckos flickering around the ceiling and listened to Junior Wells sing a schoolgirl over to him with a harmonica and a voice that sounds like bourbon. I imagined the studio where he was singing so many years ago, stuffy and lit only by the tips of cigarettes, and felt very far away from home.

The blues will always sound a little like those afternoons, too, in the space between when the rain came in across the mountains and when the sun came out and lifted it out of the ground again.

I'm knitting a scarf out of blue cashmere and sometimes forgetting for a moment there is no old army-green jacket hanging on my coat rack, no cold toes in bed, no more burritos eaten while shoeless on the rocks of a northern California beach even though it's too cold to go swimming. I keep little things - memories, letters, a bottle of sand, a length of fabric - and bring them out until they are creased and soft from handling.

Cashmere has memory but no strength, and needs no care to be soft. Sometimes it feels as if it will break apart in my hands, but it hasn't yet. And it looks like it will be a beautiful scarf when it grows up.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


First off, I finished the Five-Dollar Hat. It was Ella Rae Silkience that I got in a $5 grab-bag from Smith's this last fall. As with so many other people on Ravelry, I found that the cuff is way too loose. I might end up stringing some elastic through it so it will actually stay on my head. It's probably partially my yarn choice, since cotton is not very bouncy, but I mean... it cost five dollars. I'm not gonna complain.

And what is that cardigan you see? Why yes, it's my Fair Isle Cardigan from Winter Term of two years ago - in fact, the reason that I started this blog in the first place. Hooray!

On a side note, I have yet to knit a beret that doesn't make me look like a dork wearing a shower cap. Maybe my head is not properly shaped for a beret? Perhaps it's because my hair is too straight? Who knows. They keep my head relatively warm, and today that's all I'm gonna ask for.

But on to the weaving! Today I made some serious progress on the fabric for my coat, which may have a name eventually but doesn't yet. The pattern is turning out differently than I had expected; I guess I'm used to color dominance in knitting, when the main color really pops from the background color. I think it's also because my warp is Pearl, and the only Navy introduced into the pattern are the lozenge shapes.

Towards the end of the day, I did a pattern repeat (which is 24 rows, I think?) in about four minutes. In between my groove periods were flying bobbins, broken warp threads, and me cursing very emphatically under my breath. During the groove periods, though.... oh wow. I sat down at 2 pm and didn't get up until 5:30 except to wind more bobbins and advance my fabric.
It helps, of course, that long stretches of grooviness were punctuated by conversations about homeschooling, fabric, and circus. (Oberlin's circus community, conveniently called OCircus, is quite impressive and at least one of the 10 weavers in this month's class participate.)

Today I also had a chance to get lunch with a PhD candidate who is interviewing for a non-tenure faculty position as a Japanese history professor in the East Asian studies department. It was interesting because the other students were two junior history majors and a sophomore East Asian studies major who seemed to have very different ideas about the stages of their life after Oberlin. The candidate asked what we thought we would be doing in ten years, and other students shrugged. I thought about mentioning my current plan: to work at a conservation institute working on Asian textiles after spending two to three years in Japan and then getting a masters in historical fashion and textiles at FIT. Then I felt like a jerk, and didn't. But it's nice to know that even though I'm not sure where I'm going to go abroad and for how long, I finally have an idea of what my "I become a five-year-old whenever I get to go to work because it makes me so excited about life" job is.


Anyhoo! Just another 3 yards to weave! Can I do it by next week? Stay tuned...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Dressing the loom does not involve pants

This week I pretty much spent dressing my loom. I started off by measuring out my warp on a warping board, which is a big rectangular frame with pegs on the sides that are spaced to be just about a yard across - very handy! That took Monday and Tuesday, after which the instructor helped me get the bulk of the warp onto the warp beam, which is the big roll of yarn behind my heddles above. Because of the way we wound the warp on the warping board, there was a handy little cross that helped the threading process immensely. Wednesday and Thursday I worked on threading my heddles.

The threader that I used looks kinda like a modified crochet hook. And, as with a crochet hook, I am not terribly fast or skilled at using it. I also decided to take my ring off, since I was reaching around in the guts of the loom with my feet on all of the pedals to keep the heddle frames up at a reasonable level for working.

By the end of Thursday, I had all of my heddle threaded. Now I'm just hoping that I got all of my pattern right... I made a really dumb mistake early on, by calculating 14 full repeats that came out to a lovely 312 warp threads. Then I read "300" as the final number and didn't get enough warp threads for my beautiful full repeat. However, at the point at which I realized this, like hell I was going to go back... so 13.5 repeats will have to do. Grr.

And, finally, Friday I threaded the warp through the reed and tied it off. Now I'm just waiting for more yarn so that I can start making fabric.

And in the meantime, of course, I'm making fabric in other ways.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

bits and pieces

With my hair the longest it's been in my adult life, I've been struggling a little to find ways to keep it out of my face. I discovered the Dutch braid this summer, which is basically an inside-out French braid, and that has saved me a lot of times, but I have this problem where my hair is really, really straight and slippery when it's dry. This means that I pretty much have to braid it when it's wet, and it also means that cute little Heidi braids (pigtails pinned over the head) and other hairstyles that use bobby pins and regular pins for support just don't work. Enter the amazing hairclip of doom. This morning, I did Dutch braided pigtails and put them in this clip, and it hasn't slipped all day. Hooray!

My other recent favorite is what I think of as the Lara Croft braid: high ponytail with plain old braid.

And, braids aside, I dressed up this morning so that I could wear my new Miz Mooz boots and felt incredibly cute all day despite the wool long underwear necessary to step outside. Like, it was 24 F this afternoon and everybody was like, "Mmm, balmy!" To think that at this time last year, I was in frickin' Bali.

The yarn is Socks That Rock lightweight in Oregon Clover Honey, bought at the amazing Churchmouse Yarn and Tea on Bainbridge Island with my dear mother. Right now I'm so incredibly obsessed with grey, a particular shade of olivey green, and the orange/red/browns like Oregon Clover Honey. Another color jag strikes again.

Except in my weaving project. Some of our yarn came today and I started measuring out my warp in Harrisville Highland wool. I'll have more pictures later in the week when we start weaving, but for now we just have our cones of beautiful, beautiful yarn. These are Highland wool in colors Pearl and Navy.

And hopefully with a little math

And a little work

I'll have more to share on that soon.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Winter comes around

This week, I knit a stocking in four days on commission from a woman from knitting group. I knit the other one over vacation and really wasn't motivated to make the second, but it ended up going really fast. The pattern is from Spring/Summer VK, the aptly (and originally!) named #31 Lace Stocking. The charts didn't really match up with the written instructions, and I would make them a lot longer if I were to make them again - they were just barely past knee length, and they're supposed to be a true thigh-high. It was probably my row gauge, but now I know for when I make a pair for myself. 'Cause really, who doesn't need thigh high lace stockings?

Also, the yardage required was something like 645 and I ended up using something like 450. This perhaps should have indicated to me that my row gauge was off, hah.

Also happening: cooking! A friend (also from knitting group) gave me a ride to the IGA, and I picked up some veggies and general food to keep around the house. This is steamed collard greens with red peppers, garlic, and pepper. Kind of a weird combination, and I actually liked the collard greens a lot more than I expected to. I guess that's good, since there's another 3/4 of a bag in the fridge!

On a last note, I got my grades back for the semester, and got the first A+ of my college career, in Japanese. Take that, semester from hell!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Watch out, they'll gnaw your Manolos

While I was home, in addition to adopting a lot of really beautiful yarn, I also went along with my mom to adopt four pretty girl rats. They're pretty camera shy, and shy in general, but I managed to get some pictures of the naked ones. There are two naked girls, and two fawn hooded girls. We named them after the Sex and the City girls, and so naturally the naked outgoing one has to be Samantha.

I've never had a naked rat before, and it took a little while to get used to them. They're pretty delicate and have terrible eyesight, but their skin is really soft (despite its weird appearance) and Samantha especially is very affectionate. Plus they are like little furnaces - fun fact, naked rats need more calories because they lose so much heat through their skin.

And the one snuggling with Charlotte, the fawn hooded girl with dark red eyes, is Carrie. She's super shy and skittish. I think her eyesight is really bad, because she does this thing where she shakes her head back and forth slowly to help with depth perception. Hopefully she'll calm down a bit as she gets older and more used to living here.

Man, I missed having rats.

I wonder if I can find cosmo-flavored yogurt drops...

Friday, January 1, 2010

So this is the new year

In 2009
I went to Indonesia
took two upper-level chemistry courses at the same time
worked as a research intern at a nanotechnology company
changed my major
found my dream career
and let go of a wonderful two-year relationship.

I had ideas for what would happen in 2010 at one point, but with the number of upheavals and overhauls in my life lately, I'll just let myself be surprised. And in any case, yesterday I closed out the year with some seriously gorgeous yarn, a pair of amazing boots, and an alpaca lace top from my favorite vintage store.

Bring it on, 2010.