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!