Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Last Finished Object of 2008

Just a wee one.

The pattern is from Knitty, and I used some of the yarn left over from these socks. (Those tiny shoes you see peeking out were handmade by Eric. There are truly no bounds to his skills!)

The seaming was fiddly and difficult, as is generally the case with something so small. But the shoulders didn't come together to create the same neckline effect as in the pic of the original. When knitting the top of the body pieces, stitches are bound off and decreased until there are only two stitches left, but in the original picture it looks like there are more. Maybe there's an error in the pattern, or maybe I did something wrong. It's not perfect, but I like the final result well enough.

There's no reason why I should even require a pattern for something so little, and I think I will try my hand at designing by starting with little Blythe doll garments. Expect to see some creativity from me in 2009!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Two Reviews

Here are my final book reviews for 2008.

The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll: the search for Dare Wright by Jean Nathan

Several years ago I found a copy of The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright at the library where I worked and became fascinated by the creepiness of the supposed children's book. I had heard that the author had an interesting, if not disturbing, life and now I've finally read this fantastic biography by Jean Nathan.

Dare Wright was a model turned photographer who was inspired by her doll Edith to make a book documenting the adventures of the doll and her teddy bear friends, which soon grew into an entire series. The books are a little eerie and strange (do a google image search on "lonely doll" for a taste), but it's no surprise when taken in the context of her life. She had an unusually close relationship with her mother (and that is putting it diplomatically), who divorced Dare's father when the kids were young. Dare and her brother were split up for many years, only meeting again as adults. These were the primary relationships in Dare's life; she never married or even carried out a mature romantic relationship with any man and those around her speculated that she was uninterested or unable to have such a relationship. (It really begs the question if she was a closeted lesbian, but we'll never know.) At any rate, her life was rather solitary and ultimately, pretty sad.

Since she didn't keep a journal, the story was pieced together through letters and photos. Given how little she had to go on, Nathan did a great job of pulling together a comprehensive overview of Wright's life. Wright was such a complicated and unusual person that even after reading the book I'm still left wondering who exactly this strange and interesting person is, what her motivations were, and how she felt about her life and the people in it. Unfortunately they are questions that only she could answer, and she's no longer alive. Many parts of her life will remain a mystery, which I suspect is what she wanted.

A Winter Marriage by Kerry Hardie

Hannie Bennet's career is marriage. In her 50s and recently widowed, she arrives in Ireland seeking a husband. At a wedding she meets Ned, an aging writer, and they enter a marriage of convenience; she needs financial stability, and he seeks a woman's presence around his farm. Hannie finds it difficult to adjust to life in the small village and pushes away attempts at friendship. Her troubled teenage son arrives and is promptly sent away to boarding school, but he returns to cause trouble that ultimately reveal dark secrets in his, and Hannie's, past.

This is a very quiet novel with little action through most of it, not even much dialogue in parts, but lots of internal struggles and complex characters. It all moves along rather slowly, building towards an explosive situation that kept me riveted for the rest of the book.

It was no surprise to learn that Hardie is a poet, with her rich descriptions and clever metaphors. For instance, she aptly describes the week between Christmas and New Year's as a "dark, dank time stretched and sagging like an old rope." The novel is filled with such thoughtful descriptions, and her writing is even and consistent. The reviews of this book were disappointing and didn't do it justice. Kerry Hardie is a writer worth reading and A Winter Marriage is a hearty, satisfying novel.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


It was a very crafty Christmas here at our house.

I spent all day Christmas Eve making this gift:

I also finally made the Doctor Who hat to match the scarf and fingerless gloves:

But Eric wasn't the only recipient of crafty goodness. He made me a fantastic set of blocking boards. You can't buy these in stores, people!

He bought several pieces of homasote from a building supply store, covered them with fabric, put some nubs on the bottom to keep them off the floor, and added measuring tape around two edges of each board. It cost around $35 to make which is a bargain compared to the $80 to buy one. And this set is much more flexible because I can arrange them in whatever shape I need. I'm dying to block something right away!

Last but definitely not least, is Christmas dinner itself, also made by Eric.

That's the butternut squash and caramelized onion galette from SmittenKitchen. Yummy crust, veggies, fontina and fresh sage - heavenly! It was accompanied by mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy, green bean casserole, and cranberry sauce. The galette was rather labor-intensive, but totally worth it (says the person who lolled about on the couch all day while it was being made). Seriously, I cannot emphasize the yumminess enough. I could eat it every day for the rest of my life.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

FO: Yarn Pirate Socks

The weather we're having right now isn't conducive to taking photos outside in natural light, so I've only got a sub-par pic to show you. It's a shame, because they are truly lovely socks and this picture doesn't do them justice. (The picture on this post may have more accurate colors.)

I'm pretty happy with them. Since they are knit in stockinette, I don't think they'll be as warm as some of my handmade socks. There are many stitch patterns that create a thicker fabric, but here I just wanted to show off the colors and striping. They were quick to knit up and they fit well. Plus I love the pink/purple/gray color combination. Yum!

I really want to cast on for another pair of socks, but I'm paralyzed by indecision. Should I start the Kimono Socks in my black Louet Gems yarn? Or the Stephen Colbert Socks with my green Smooshy yarn? Then there are the Sweetheart Socks from IK that I queued ages ago and bought some red Regia for, not to mention my Smooshy Sock yarn in Black Parade that I'm dying to use but can't seem to choose a pattern for...well, if this is the most difficult choice I have to make right now, I believe I am quite fortunate!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

December: Light

For this month's BAM Challenge I went with the "light reading" interpretation of the theme and chose Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris. It is quick, seasonal, and funny. This small book is a collection of Christmas-themed short stories of widely varying themes and lengths.

My favorite was probably "SantaLand Diaries", an account of the narrator's experience working as a Christmas Elf at Macy's. "Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol" was a hilarious review of Christmas pageants at area elementary schools. And of course, there is the ever touching and seasonal "Dinah, the Christmas Whore."

Sedaris's humor is frequently rather dark. Luckily, I like dark humor and if you don't, you may find some of the stories a bit distasteful. "Season's Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!" is a Christmas letter detailing family dysfunction that culminates in a baby being put through a laundry cycle. Similarly dark, in "Christmas Means Giving" two families compete to be the most generous at the holidays just to one-up each other, and take it to a rather grotesque extreme.

I think pretty much every story in this collection is a warning against taking the holidays too seriously, which is sage advice. Definitely a departure from traditional holiday fare.


This is the last Book A Month Challenge of the year, and I managed to post a review every month. Hooray! I don't know if it's being continued next year, but I think one of my goals for 2009 will to have fewer "assigned" books. There are so many books I really want to read that it seems a shame to read anything else. But stay tuned for more book reviews - I'm a bit behind in posting about some of the great books I've read recently!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Further thoughts on the Cozy V-Neck Pullover

- I really really love the neckline.

- The yarn is rather fuzzy and sheds a lot but I don't regret it one bit.

- The stretchy bind-off I used makes the sleeve cluffs flare out a bit. I like it, but keep it in mind if you're thinking of using that bind-off.

- I want one in purple.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I want to start a farm at my house: a book review

The Urban Homestead: your guide to self-sufficient living in the heart of the city by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen

I'm usually really irritated by poorly-edited books full of typos and errors, but this book is so jam-packed with great information, not to mention a healthy sense of humor, that I was able to overlook its minor faults. Urban Homestead is an all-around guide and reference source for making your household more efficient, self-sufficient, and environmentally friendly.

The book includes chapters on gardening, composting, urban foraging, livestock, canning and preserving, water and power, and transportation. Some chapters include detailed instructions for various projects and some are more general overviews, but all have specific suggestions and recommended resources for more information and instructions. There is also an extensive appendix of online and print resources at the end of the book. Helpfully, the authors also take into consideration that some readers may rent rather than own and they offer alternative suggestions accordingly.

Sometimes the two authors (who share a home) have different opinions on a particular subject so the text breaks for a little "she says/he says" portion, which I rather enjoyed. For instance, in the bike-centric transportation chapter, Kelly expresses her terror at biking in the city, and then Erik counters with an assertion that biking is safer than driving (but I have to side with Kelly on this one!) They similarly disagree over a couple of other issues, which nicely illustrates that living self-sufficiently is not black and white and often involves trade-offs of one kind or another.

There are some suggestions I found to be more trouble than they're worth, or simply impractical for my climate. For example, you will not see me hanging laundry on a clothesline, especially in a New England winter, and I am not desperately poor enough to dumpster dive for food. I think my only actual disagreement, however, is over compact fluorescent light bulbs, which they tout as a no-brainer, but I cannot get on that bandwagon.* (I was also a little surprised to learn that for all their talk of efficiency, their own house isn't insulated, but I've been very focused on insulation recently so I'm probably biased.)

Most importantly though, this book has given me some great project ideas. First is composting, which I've been wanting to do for quite some time, sighing and harrumphing over every bit of vegetable matter that goes into the trash. Thanks to this book's clear explanations, you can be sure I will be starting a worm bin in my basement as soon as I clear a space and buy the materials. In addition, the book's instructions for self-watering garden containers are very simple and may just be the answer to my unfortunate black thumb. I will most likely also use some of their recipes for cheap, non-toxic household cleaners and I'm hoping to utilize a lot of their suggestions for gardening next year (to use all that compost I plan to produce!)

My library copy was almost a week overdue, but I didn't want to return it. I'll certainly be getting my own copy to have around the house. I would recommend this book to anyone in an urban area who wants to be a little more independent and kinder to the environment. Also, definitely check out the authors' blog, Homegrown Evolution. I think they will convince you to look at your city and your home a little differently.

*Compact fluorescent bulbs may save energy, but the mercury content is dangerous and bad for the environment. Also, in my city the only way to dispose of them is by bringing them to a hazardous waste location that is not accessible by public transportation, and is only open one Saturday a month from April to November.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Cozy V-Neck Pullover

Meet my new favorite sweater:

There's a tad bit of bagginess under the arms (like I've noticed in other top-down patterns) but it's not too bad. I had to block out the arms a bit because they were a bit tight at the top but it fits perfectly now. I intended to also block the bottom a bit longer, but I was using a sweater drying rack that wasn't long enough for that. It's not as short as it looks in the pictures though; the shirt I was wearing under it is especially long.

I've been wanting to make this sweater ever since I bought my copy of Stefanie Japel's Fitted Knits. It was such a quick project! It only took about two months, and I was working on other projects as well. I used the recommended yarn, Cascade Pastaza, which is beautiful and soft and cozy. The sweater is super comfy and since it's black it will match everything, which is great because I have a feeling I'll be wearing it a lot this winter!

Monday, December 1, 2008

I knit a whole sock last week

There is not a lot to do in Maine. I think all I did besides knit was eat, which I suppose is what Thanksgiving is all about. Unfortunately, Thanksgiving seems to last for several days (or as long as the leftovers are around).

I'm using the Yarn Pirate yarn I bought from boringknitter, and just knitting the socks in stockinette to show off the lovely pretty stripiness. Stockinette may not be very exciting to knit, but it goes very fast. I'll have a new pair of socks in no time!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

FO: Chevron Socks

I am almost embarrassed that these took me so long. I started them in June! But as the weather got colder this past week I was disappointed at the number of hand-knit socks in my drawer so I was inspired to finish them up. I have plenty more sock yarn too, so hopefully I'll be filling my sock drawer with even more. The store bought ones simply don't compare.

These were knit from Artyarns Ultramerino using the Chevron pattern from Sensational Knitted Socks by Charlene Schurch. If I haven't said it before, this book is a must-own for sock knitters.

Having said that, I have to express my displeasure with the forethought heel. I suspected it wouldn't be worth the annoyance and fiddliness of creating it, and I was right. On the first sock, it created a hole on the side of the heel. Also, when I kitchener stitched the heel closed, it left an annoying little ear on the edge. I managed to make the second one come out better, but I still prefer the good ol' heel-flap-and-gusset technique. I remain curious about other heel constructions, though, so I'll definitely keep trying them out as I find them.

Friday, November 14, 2008

November: Giving

Notes from the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonnenblick was perfect for the BAM Challenge theme this month (thanks for the suggestion, Christi!) but it was also just an all-around great young adult novel. I'm so glad I read it!

Struggling with his parents' divorce, Alex is at a particularly low point one evening when he gets drunk and drives over a neighbor's lawn gnome. He is sentenced to community service and must spend 100 hours with a cranky old man at a local nursing home. But as he gets to know Solomon Lewis, he becomes more invested in the home and begins to plan concerts to entertain the residents, and ultimately stays on for a summer job. Through the time he spends with Solomon, he also gains insights into his own problems and becomes more adept at dealing with issues in his personal life. This is a great story of personal growth that avoids being overly sentimental. The writing is witty, the characters are likeable, and it's a super quick read!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sock yarn, I wish I could quit you

I'm really not a yarnie. I knit because I love the process and I love making something beautiful and, hopefully, useful. I don't buy yarn randomly just for the sake of having the yarn; it's the projects I get excited about, and the yarn is just the material that will make the project happen.

But sock yarn, sock yarn seems to be another matter entirely. It's easy to buy because I know how much I need for socks and I know that it's intended for socks and it all knits to a similar gauge. Even if I don't have a particular pattern in mind, it has a purpose, and choosing a pattern for the yarn is easy! In addition, there are more color possibilities because the yarn appears in smaller quantities and is mostly unseen under my shoes.

Yes, I am leading up to something.

Pretty, huh? This colorway was dyed exclusively for the Yarn Pirate Booty Club. I bought it from boringknitter who, incidentally, has lots more tasty (and hard to find) yarns for sale.

The problem, of course, is that I have been acquiring sock yarn much more quickly than I've been knitting with it. Simple math will tell you where that will lead. Consequently, I've renewed my efforts with the chevron socks and I'm happy to report that I've finished the first sock and begun the second.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Zipping right along

I just started this three and a half weeks ago.

The body is done and bound off using this stretchy bind off, which seems to have worked well. I've started the first sleeve, though I'm knitting it in the round, not straight as the pattern instructs. I forgot what a pain it is to knit the sleeve right onto the body rather than knit it separately and attach it later. I have to hold the entire project in my lap and keep flipping it around. But at the rate I'm going, I won't be doing that for long!

Once both sleeves are completed, I only have to pick up stitches around the neckline and knit a few rows and that's it. No seaming! I'll have a finished sweater soon, and hopefully a nice day to model for pictures outside, because photographing a black sweater inside on a dreary day is for the birds.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

FO: Lace Ribbon Scarf

Lace Ribbon Scarf
from Knitty.com in Noro Sock Yarn. I did one less repeat of the lace pattern than called for as I don't really like wide scarves. It curled a lot even with blocking, which is ok as it will be wrapped around my neck. (I do wish I had a decent blocking board, though, but I think that's a subject for another post.) This scarf felt like it took forever. I started it in May and then entered it in the Ravelympics WIP Wrestling and still didn't get it done. But once I was free of St. Enda it practically finished itself.

Although I like the Noro Sock Yarn, I wouldn't use it for socks. It's very thick and thin, and there was actually one bit that was so thin I didn't use it. The rest is fine for a scarf, but for something like socks that will rub up against shoes and be walked on and stretched out around a foot, I wouldn't recommend it. I think I found 3 knots in the skein which is annoying enough as it's hard to weave in ends in lace, but to make matters worse, where there's a knot the color changes quite abruptly. (Look at the third pic for an example of this). That being said, I love the colors and very much enjoyed working with the yarn.

I finished this a week ago, but the weather has not cooperated with me enough to get pictures until now. These were taken at Fresh Pond in Cambridge yesterday. It was the perfect day for a brisk fall walk, because not only were the leaves beautiful but the squirrels were busying themselves preparing for winter so they were both extremely active and adorably plumptious.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Forethought Heel

I have come to the heel in my first Chevron Sock, and was surprised (because I had not read the whole pattern ahead of time) to find in the instructions something called the Forethought Heel. Disappointed not to be knitting a heel-flap and gusset, I had to remind myself that I have been itching to try all these different heel types I keep hearing about (Eye of Partridge sounds particularly enticing!) and forged onward.

My first surprise was learning what an Afterthought Heel is. I don't know what I thought it was, but apparently you knit the sock as a tube and then - the horror! - CUT the yarn and add a heel. What silliness! I don't know about you, but I do not spend time making all those little stitches only to cut them and rip them out. I like to plan ahead and just make the heel when I get to the part where the heel will go. The Forethought Heel is apparently Charlene Schurch's way of getting a heel that ends up looking the same without the equivalent level of pain.

To make a Forethought Heel, you set aside your instep stitches as normal and then cast on the same number provisional stitches, which you join with the remaining heel stitches. Then you knit in the round, decreasing every other row. Or, if you're like me, you decrease in every row until you are almost done, realize your mistake, then rip it out and begin again.

Here is an out-of-focus shot of what it looks like near the end.

The yellow stitch markers are on the unused instep stitches and the curling part above that is my provisional cast-on (together they will be joined to continue along the foot towards the toe). The narrow part at the top is the heel, just a few rows from being finished.

Once you have decreased sufficiently, you graft the last stitches together using kitchener stitch, as you would for a toe. This would be a deal-breaker for many people but I am pro-kitchener stitch as it has magical properties which create an invisible seam when you are done.

Now, all of this is done with yarn pulled from the opposite end of the skein as you were using previously. You are supposed to pick the part that matches the point of stripiness where you left off before beginning the heel. I still don't exactly understand this, but it is supposed to create a bulls-eye sort of pattern on the heel.

Not exactly, but it's still a nice enough heel. I don't know if it's nice enough to justify how annoying and time-consuming it was to make though. I will only know once the socks are finished and on my feet.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

NELA Conference

I've just returned from the NELA (New England Library Association) Conference in Manchester, NH. This was my first conference in a few years and I'm so glad I went! I did things the right way this time; first by splitting a room with two other librarians which equals cheapness, and also by not even trying to pretend I was going to attend sessions relevant to my job or that would help me in my career.

Perhaps it seems like that defeats the purpose of attending a conference, but it doesn't. The fact is that I work in reference, which is boring, and conference programs relating to reference are boring. Also, it's stuff that I could learn elsewhere. So I just passed by all those workshops on genealogy research and government documents and attended the sessions that looked interesting to me.

Here are the highlights:
- Storytelling workshop with Motoko and Eshu. I could have listened to them tell stories for hours!
- Dinner banquet with speaker Simon Winchester. He is a fantastic author and interesting speaker.
- "The Internet is Not Flat" with Ethan Zuckerman of Global Voices. He is everything I could want in a presenter - dynamic speaker, multimedia presentation, interesting topic, and plenty of humor
- The Life and Times of Beatrix Potter. Why aren't there more sessions about authors? She had a fascinating life and wrote some of the best-loved books of all time!
- Hot Teen Titles: Sexuality and Teen Fiction. Librarians generally aren't great speakers, but Amy Pattee is funny and animated and did a great job!
- Drop-in Demo: Games and Gaming. I learned how to play Guitar Hero. I have no illusions that this will help me in my job, but it was fun! Apparently, I rock.
- Several of us had dinner with children's author Jarrett Krosoczka who is super nice and totally rocks his argyle sweaters. He has a graphic novel coming out soon, which I am rather excited about.

It was an exhausting three days, but I learned a lot and got to hang out with many fun and interesting librarians. I need to do this on a regular basis to remind myself why I got into this profession!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

New project!

I didn't waste any time after finishing St. Enda before casting on for a sweater for me, me, me!

This is the Cozy V-Neck Sweater with Deep Ribbing from Fitted Knits by Stefanie Japel. It will be my third project from that book. I'm using the recommended Cascade Pastaza, which I love. I used it for a hat once (also in black) and it is softer than I remembered.

Despite my past lessons regarding the importance of gauge swatches, I cut a few corners in my typical, impatient way.

I started a gauge swatch on the recommended size 9 needles, then realized the sweater would be knit in the round and ripped it out. Then I thought a bit about how it is simply impossible to get an accurate in-the-round gauge swatch, and that the sweater has parts that are knit flat, and started a gauge swatch again. I washed and blocked the swatch. It seemed a bit tight, so I made another swatch with size 10 needles, washed it, and pinned it down next to the not-yet-dry previous swatch. It still looked a bit tight. So I began yet another swatch, this time on size 10.5 needles, got halfway through it and said "fuck this," ripped it out and started knitting the sweater on the 10.5. I think it will be perfect.

I've come to the boring part, which is several inches of stockinette. But hey, I started this sweater just days ago and already have those cute shoulders and v neck. This will be so much quicker than that last sweater that I can hardly stand the excitement!

Monday, October 13, 2008

St. Enda Sweater

I can't believe I made this.

Pattern source: Aran Knitting by Alice Starmore
Yarn: Jamieson's Shetland Heather
Started April 9, finished October 11

Other posts related to this project, in reverse chronological order:
End of September Status Update
For those about to block, we salute you
St. Enda back completed!
Summer knitting goals
Sweater front is done!
Progress, I has it
Aran sweater progress
The proper way to begin a project

Thursday, October 9, 2008

October: Haunting

I haven't been in the mood for horror, so for this month's BAM Challenge I opted for a book that is haunting in other ways.

Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried is a collection of stories about his experiences in the Vietnam War. Part fact, part fiction, they are woven together in such a way that it feels more like a novel than a short story collection. It doesn't matter what is true and what isn't; the important part of this book is the general feeling of that time and place, and the author does a fantastic job of conveying that. The characters, and the author, are haunted by their experiences, and you will be too.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Malabrigo Hat

Lovely, lovely hat. Soft, warm, yummy! Sadly not for me, but I hear my sister is enjoying it.

I used the Top-Down Hat pattern from The Knitting Man(ual), which so far has been worth the price of the book as I have made three hats from it. The yarn is Malabrigo Merino Worsted, and the colorway is such a beautiful blend of greens and blues and reminds me of the ocean. I want an entire blanket knit of this yarn, but I am not wealthy - or patient - enough for that.

There is actually a decent amount of yarn leftover so I want to do something with it. I don't know if there's enough for another hat, but I may try for it.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Last Night at the Lobster: a review

What a great little book! I was just introduced to Stewart O'Nan recently with The Good Wife, and now he's two for two. Last Night at the Lobster takes place at a Red Lobster restaurant in Connecticut, on the last day that they are open before being shut down permanently. Because of the imminent closing, many staff don't bother to show up, and to top it off there's a snowstorm. But the manager, Manny, persists in keeping the restaurant open, determined to make the most of his last day.

The simplicity of this novel appealed to me, as did Manny's sense of responsibility and attention to detail. I loved the descriptions of all the little tasks he performed around the restaurant, from clearing snow from the walkway to clearing tables for the waitresses and appeasing customers. His work ethic is far beyond that of many people I've known and worked with, and was really admirable.

The flip side was the disorganization of his personal life, which he mused over throughout the novel. His girlfriend Deena was pregnant, but he still longed to be back with Jacquie, a Red Lobster waitress. But that was not to be, and his dissatisfaction with Deena did nothing to help him move past it. One gets the sense that conscientiousness he displays on the job is compensation for the lack of direction and responsibility in his personal life.

At 146 pages, the pay off of this novel far exceeds the time investment. If you haven't read anything by Stewart O'Nan, this is a great place to start.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

End of September status update

I'm ahead of schedule on the stupid, hateful St. Enda sweater. As you may remember, my goal was to have one sleeve finished by the end of September. Although I do not have one finished sleeve, I have two sleeves which are both almost finished.

I finished the first a few weeks ago, I thought, until I realized that Alice Starmore apparently designed sweaters for gnomes. It looked a little stubby to me, but sleeves always do look funny before you sew them up, and the schematic measurements are all in metric so they are meaningless to me (the US really should go metric, but that's another rant for another day). I trusted in the pattern and after washing and blocking the sleeve realized that not only was the saddle part too short, but the whole dang sleeve was a few inches short as well.

By that time I had already begun the second sleeve so I will finish it and then go back to the first one, rip back the saddle to the bind off, add a few more inches and do the saddle again.

Actually, I only have about 2 more inches of very short rows and can feasibly finish this sleeve by the end of the month (i.e. tonight), thus fulfilling my goal. But who knows what I'll feeling like doing when I get home from work at 9:30 tonight? I may just have a glass of wine and some ice cream and call it a night.

Here are both sleeves side by side, just because it makes me feel productive. The little blue markers on the left indicate where I originally would have bound off, following the pattern instructions. Also, notice how nice the sleeve on the right looks, perfectly illustrating why blocking is so important.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

American Wife: a review

Curtis Sittenfeld's new novel is a fictionalized story of Laura Bush's life, but don't let that deter you. As she says in this interview, although it is loosely based on Bush's life, about 85% of it is totally made up.

An epic novel, it spans Alice Blackwell's life from high school until middle age. Alice is a very likeable and complicated character, and the book explores some themes I've thought about a lot, such as how the private lives and opinions of political figures contrast with what they show the public, and the responsibilities of presidential spouses. Charlie Blackwell, her husband, I found much less appealing, and I'm sorry to say he reminded me a great deal of George W. Bush. I didn't understand Alice's attraction to him, but it didn't lessen my enjoyment of the book, and in fact their complicated marriage provided great food for thought about the way marriages work (or don't work). For the most part I didn't think about the Bush family as I read this, but just enjoyed it as a novel. So if you're concerned about reading a big long book about someone you don't necessarily like, please don't let that keep you from reading this. Sittenfeld is a great author and American Wife is well worth your time to read.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Librarians: Czars of Acceptable Information

So this article is interesting. The piece seems to be saying that librarians are bullies who decide what is appropriate to have in libraries with no consideration for what taxpayers have to say (because clearly, librarians themselves must not be taxpayers.) The major example in the article is a situation in Nampa, Idaho where some people complained about The Joy of Sex and The Joy of Gay Sex, and recommended that they be moved to the director's office where only those who specifically requested to could see them.

Imagine this. Imagine going to the library and looking up one of these books in the catalog. The call number includes "director's office." Now you have to approach a staff member to ask the way to the director's office. They, of course, question why you need to see the director. You then have to say, "I'm looking for The Joy of Gay Sex." Remember, now, you are in Nampa, Idaho. You are shown to the director's office by a staff member who now knows that you are interested in gay sex, and you need to make the same request of the director. "Hi there, I'd like to look at The Joy of Gay Sex!" Most people wouldn't go any farther than seeing that the book is in the director's office before giving up. Even if you persist, what if it's in the evening and the director is gone for the day and the office is locked? Do you have to make an appointment?

This is all so that children will not come across the book laying about and look at it and see pictures that are not appropriate for them. What people - like the author of the opinion piece - seem to forget is that public libraries aren't for children, they are for everyone. There are a lot of things in the library that aren't appropriate for kids, which is why libraries all have a separate children's section, and why parents are expected to go to the library WITH their children.

Getting back to the bully librarians, the author asks, "Does this sound like democracy in action, the free exchange of ideas?" I would argue that yes, actually, it does sound like the free exhange of ideas. The only way to HAVE a free exchange of ideas is to allow lots of different opinions and views on various issues. If you don't want to read about sex (or worse yet, GAY sex) then by all means don't pick up that book. But shouldn't it be there for someone who does want to read about it? Allowing the few "taxpayers" who complain to dictate that certain things be removed from library shelves, well, that sounds pretty undemocratic to me.

Near the end of the article is a point I've made in a previous thought-provoking post about how librarians do actually censor collections to some extent, based on what they choose to buy or not buy. But then he goes on say "Not only that, they’re regularly removing books from the shelves for being out of date or suffering from a low check-out rate." Which, seriously, are you suggesting we keep out of date books and books that nobody at all wants to read that are just taking up space? And get rid of books that some people may actually want to read (even if you don't)? I really want this guy to learn just a teensy bit about collection development before writing an opinion piece about it.

Actually, what I love the most are the comments. Did you know that making books about sex available is a communist act? And that Russia is still a communist nation? The same commenter also said "Americans won't have immorality paraded in front of children" which totally made me laugh out loud. Has this person turned on the tv lately?

CNS news apparently exists as an alternative to the liberal bias prevalent in the media, so I would expect an article about libraries to take a similar stance (though I'd hope it would be better thought out.) But as a librarian, I am all for the free exchange of ideas and availability of differing views, so carry on.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


I bought this yarn at Windsor Button this week, and it is so luscious! It is Malabrigo, and amazingly I've never used this yarn before. I can't show you the project yet, as it is a gift and not yet ready for public consumption (but if you're on Ravelry, check my projects page - I am threegoodrats - and there is more information and a project photo).

The colors are a bit off in this photo, and my camera has left the building so I can't retake it right now. It should be a little darker, more jewel-toned than it appears. But what the photo does capture is the shiny, lofty, lusciousness. It is a dream to knit with! Don't you just want to touch it?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Knitting Teamwork!

A group of us at my library all pulled together to make this baby blanket for a co-worker. Between knitting the squares and sewing it together, I think there were 15 of us who took part. It's a very simple pattern - just garter stitch squares - but the combination of colors and the whipstitching gives it a great patchwork look. The edge squares were left unsewed to give it the fun flaps, which I think look great. We gave it to the new mom-to-be this week and she seemed to love it!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

For those about to block, we salute you

Despite the amount of math and swatching and blocking of swatches I completed before beginning the St. Enda sweater, I began to doubt myself about the size and fit. I'm almost halfway through a sleeve and it just doesn't look right, though I've checked and re-checked the pattern schematics and my gauge. I knew that I was erring on the small size with my knitting and planned to block the sweater to size, but still I worried.

To allay my fears, last week I washed and blocked the back piece. The difference is amazing. The front and back were the same size, but look at them side by side now!

The back looks really fantastic and finished and boyfriend-sized!

It is only recently that I began knitting items on the too-small size, and blocking them larger. It's a great way to control the finished size of your garment. Knitted items tend to grow when washed so you can always block something to a larger size, but you can't make them smaller (not without felting anyhow). Eunny Jang taught me this in response to a question I posed on Craftster a few years ago.

There are different methods of blocking including steam blocking (which is terrifying as it involves an iron near knitted items) and spray blocking, but I use the simple wet blocking method as described in Stitch n Bitch. I wash the garment by hand, roll it up in a towel to remove excess water, then lay it out on my blocking surface and pin it in place. This seems like the most logical way to block because eventually I will have to wash the garment and I don't want there to be any surprises. No doubt that whatever the results of steam or spray blocking, they won't predict how the fabric will behave when it is washed.

As for the surface on which I block, that is another whole subject worthy of an entire post. Suffice it to say that I don't have a professional blocking board but I may end up buying one. Though many say they're not worth it, I haven't found a good substitute yet.

The St. Enda is ahead of schedule right now. My goal is for one sleeve to be done by the end of September but I think it will be done a week from now. Let's see if my prediction comes true!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

September: Change

I have not ever finished the BAM Challenge book this early in the month, but I had been dying to read Uglies by Scott Westerfeld so I started it on September 1st and finished it today. I may have previously mentioned my love for YA books, and this book did not disappoint! I only wish I had planned better so I could have started the second book in the series immediately, but alas, I need to wait for a library copy.

Uglies takes place in a future society in which everybody is made pretty through surgery when they turn 16. The idea is that if everyone is pretty, nobody will feel bad about themselves and because of this equality society will be peaceful. Tally is just a couple of months away from her 16th birthday when she meets Shay. They have both been left behind by friends who have already turned 16 and moved to New Pretty Town. As they become friends, Tally learns that Shay does not want to undergo the operation to become pretty. When Shay runs away to join a band of outlaws, Tally is forced to go after her and expose their settlement to the authorities so it can be destroyed. If she doesn't, she cannot undergo the operation herself: she must either forego becoming pretty, or betray her friend.

Though this book was a very quick read considering its hefty size (425 pages!) it touched upon a number of great themes, such as beauty, friendship, sacrifice, and environmentalism. The characters are likeable and the premise is fascinating. It is fast-paced, vivid, and completely enthralling. The next books in the series are Pretties, Specials, and Extras. I can't wait to read them!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Still no goals

If you know me, by this point you just laugh when I talk about life goals and not having any. It is a source of stress to me, which has not been helped by Brian Souza's book Become Who You Were Born To Be, subtitled - like an ad in the back of the National Enquirer - We All Have a Gift...Have you Discovered Yours?

To answer that: no, I have not discovered my "gift," even after reading your book, which I think was supposed to help me in this arena. Never trust a book if the cover has a picture of a smiling guy wearing a suit. You know they are smiling because they now have your money (presumably to buy more suits.) Thank goodness I read a library copy and have lost nothing but time.

In all seriousness, it wasn't all bad. The first part of the book actually gave me a lot of food for thought. In this section Souza talked about identifying your "burning desire" or "burning discontent" and turning it into a goal by making it more precise, visualizing how you want your life to be, and examining your life patterns that prevent you from moving in the right direction. He talked about brainstorming and trying different things out, and exposing yourself to new experiences and new interests in order to find direction.

Other than that, it was mostly filler. The topics covered included having a postive attitude, committing to excellence, dealing with change, and facing your fears, as well as reminders of how lucky we are to live in America compared to many other places in the world. I can't argue with anything he said, but he didn't really say a whole lot. It was fluff. Each chapter also contained an inspiring story of someone who overcame their life circumstances to be successful and (usually) famous. Though these stories were meant to illustrate the concept of that chapter, sometimes I couldn't see the connection.

Aside from how insubstantial it all was, I had a bit of a problem with the generalizations he made about his readers. Much of it seemed to be based on the assumption that we are all caught up in a rat race, we have all lost our core values and are completely materialistic - there are actually several chapters on these themes. But it is SO not where I'm coming from. I mean, I'd love to give up my 6-figure income and sell my yachts and discover what is really important in life but, you know, I have to do some shelf-reading in the fiction section and clean the cat's litterbox and whatnot.

Most of the book is encouragement and not helpful if, like me, you don't have some childhood dream you are still waiting to pursue. Despite the promises of Smiling Suit Man, I finished this book no closer to discovering my true purpose in life. In fact, I'm even more convinced that there is no such thing. Sure, some people do have a calling, but not everyone.

Luckily, when I found this book I also grabbed a copy of one called Living Without a Goal. This one feels more promising since I'm already doing what the title suggests. I'll let you know how it goes!

Friday, August 29, 2008

St. Enda back completed!

Sorry for the sideways-ness, but it looked funny when I rotated it. I have achieved my goal of finishing the back of this sweater by the end of August. For some reason I'm very surprised by this!

Just to prove that it's not just another picture of the front, here are both pieces together:

I'm happy to be on track with this project. Now I only have to do the sleeves, which will undoubtedly be the most complicated and time-consuming part. The front and back are just big rectangles but the sleeves, of course, are narrower at the cuff and the top has to fit in the armhole.

To complicate matters further, these appear to be what is called saddle sleeves, which I've never made before. I thought this sweater was drop-shoulder and that's how I measured, but there will actually be a strip of fabric from the sleeve separating the front and back of the sweater. I think. I clearly need to figure this out soon.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ravelympics: Over

Ah, the sweet sweet taste of failure!

I did not finish my scarf by the time the Olympics were over, but I've made so much progress that I can't be disappointed. During the Ravelympics period I managed to go kayaking for the first time, went boating, planned and hosted a party, finally saw the Dark Knight, and read a couple of books. All in all, it was a very productive time.

My greatest accomplishment, however, was this:

It would be appropriate for my Ravelympics event - WIP Wrestling - except that it's not knitting, but as far as I'm concerned I won this one. I bought the pattern and fabric back in November of 2005, according to the receipt I found in the bag. I cut out the pieces of the pattern, and then got stuck trying to figure out how to lay them out.

I used Simplicity's It's So Easy pattern 4909 which is not, as the name proclaims, so easy. I'm sure it's a piece of cake if you are an experienced seamstress used to following poorly written instructions but if you have never made a bag before, it's completely bewildering. I cannot tell you how many people I went to for guidance on this, just on the layout. Confusingly, this pattern has you lay a piece on the fold, but then says "cut 2." I couldn't tell if you were actually supposed to cut 2 separate pieces, or just cut one (two pieces attached together at the fold), or cut 2folded pieces. So unclear! It turns out that you cut it on the fold, so it's two pieces attached together, and then cut them apart. How much sense does that make?

In addition to the difficult instructions, this is just not an appropriate project for a beginner. It requires outer fabric, lining, and interfacing, which must all match up, not a particularly easy task. Ironically, I really wanted to make a skirt but thought I should start with a bag as it doesn't have to fit me. I really, really should have just made a skirt.

As far as the instructions are concerned, this bag isn't actually done. It's supposed to look like this:

I was never happy with the stiff square-ness of the bag in the photo, and was happy to find that a few confusing steps from the end it looked pretty cute. So that's how it's staying!

Despite my setbacks on this project, I'm very happy with the result (which may replace my plastic iPod bag as my new knitting bag) so I'm planning to do more sewing. I'm on vacation at home all this week so it may happen quite soon!