Saturday, March 26, 2011

In Praise of Designers

I am by no means a designer. I'm a good problem-solver and modifier, but an ideas-man I am not. I often find inspiration in others' work, but rarely do I sit down and pull something out of the air that is entirely my own.

During my last visit to L.A. I purchased two skeins of madelinetosh vintage in Tart. I was absolutely in love with it, so much so that I couldn't stand to walk away from it. When I got it home, I knew what I wanted it to become, but I just wasn't sure how I was going to do it.

I pictured the undulating curves of a calla lily, smooth and round, that would make the most of the dark shadows that lived in the yarn. I wanted a scarf or shawl or cowl, something I could wear near my face. I played around with ideas about how I would make them for weeks, searching patterns for inspiration, reading stitch dictionaries, drawing pictures... I had some idea of how to proceed, but not really how to start.

Then, I found this pattern. Fagus, by Ann Lundblad.

It had everything I wanted: the beautiful petals that resembled calla lilies, simple lines, and beautiful shape. And it was so clever: I wanted the petals to line up diagonally, but I couldn't figure out how to do that if I started knitting from the straight edge. This pattern starts from the point, and that made it perfectly simple to place each petal.

It was even beautiful in progress:

That's a ball wound by my friend, dkzack. I stopped every so often to admire it, because it looked so much like a budding rose.

It's not a huge shawl, but large enough to keep my back warm in my office (where the climate swings from tropical to arctic on a regular basis), and small enough to wrap around my neck to keep it warm when I wear dressier coats and jackets.

It always takes me at least an hour to take photos of my projects, and Rascal is normally irritated by the whole process (he hates the puppy paparazzi, and he usually whines when he hears the click of my camera), but today, he was at my feet, pawing my leg for attention. I picked him up, and took a photo with him, but his usual irritation with the camera resurfaced. Oh well.

I'm very happy with it, and it has reaffirmed my admiration and astonishment of knit/crochet designers. They are different from fashion designers, because they don't just think of beautiful things to wear, but they can also tell you how they did it. That, in my opinion, is the toughest part. People often ask me how I made my Copycat Cardigan, but honestly, it's so difficult to convey how I did it, that I can't see myself ever writing the pattern.

All in all, this pattern was well worth the $3.50 I spent on it. Sure, I could spend a bit more and get a whole magazine full of patterns, but in the end, how many of those am I actually going to knit? And yes, there are tons of free patterns out there (believe me, I've got lots of those queued to start), but it's also important to support designers, because without them, I wouldn't have this wonderful inspiration that fuels my obsession.

And yes, it is an obsession. What of it? I could be into worse things.

I could be part of the puppy paparazzi. What would Rascal do then?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ripples in the Flag

My husband became a citizen of Canada today. We went into the city last night and stayed with friends, then we got up early this morning to make it downtown in time for him to take the written test. He passed no problem, having spent the time to study the book that came to him after he applied for citizenship. This afternoon, we attended the oath-taking ceremony.

Since I was born in Canada, I'd never attended something like this before, at least, not in my memory. Most people born into democratic countries tend to view these sorts of events with a large degree of cynicism, the final hoop that these people have to jump before they get the privilege of getting a passport, the right to vote, and the right to continue paying taxes. I have to admit, my cynicism was right there, right under the surface.

At least, it was until I went into the auditorium with the other guests to the ceremony.

I looked around the room, lit mostly by the light streaming through the large windows, the focal point a large desk where the judge officiating the ceremony would sit, framed by two flags. Large screens played a video of Canadian landscapes, splashed with images of the many different faces of Canada. I recognized sights from Winnipeg, from the Rockies, lots of lakes and rivers and trees, flat prairies, ocean shores... music based on the national anthem played in the background. And then, I looked at the people.

112 people and their friends and family sat waiting, waving the little Canadian flags that they picked up after their papers were processed before entering the room. I saw little children dressed in their best, young men and women, elderly people... They all had different faces, but they all wore the same smile. I could feel myself getting a little emotional, sitting in the midst of all this happiness.

The clerk came in and explained how the ceremony would work, then we all stood while the judge entered the room, a woman of middle age with glasses and friendly eyes. She bade us to sit, and then addressed the group, partially in French, but mostly in English.

I realized, as she spoke, how my parents sat in the same ceremony at a time when I would have been much too young to remember. I vaguely remembered the photos of them sitting in the room where they took their oath, my brother in a little suit, me, a toddler, wearing a dress. And I realized how much I'd been given and how lucky I am to be where I am. The judge began:
"A country's strength is not measured by its economy, or by its landscapes. It is measured by its people.

We know that many of you have had a hard road to this day. Some of you have escaped places of war, of violence, and you came here because you wanted safety, and opportunity, and to be a in place where you are free to practice your religions, to be entitled to our healthcare, and to make your life better.

All of you felt the wrench of leaving your friends and family, coming to a place where things are done differently, said differently. But you have accomplished learning one of our official languages, found a home, and have started to make a life for yourself here."
The clerk instructed those taking the oath to stand. I looked around and saw 112 people stand up and raise their right hands. Some held a book from their own faiths in their left hands. The judge stood, and said, "I invite any of you guests to stand and join us in this oath. Some of you might not have ever done it before."

Many more people stood. I looked around, and then stood as well, and raised my right hand. Soon, the whole room was standing.

We took the oath in French first, repeating each phrase after the judge. "Congratulations!" she said. "Now, you have all spoken French!" Many chuckled and grinned. Then, we did it again, this time in English. After that, everyone applauded, and she said a few more remarks, then the clerk began read out the names of all who had taken the oath, and people stood up, either alone or with their families, and came to the front to receive their certificates. The judge shook each person's hand, congratulated them, and said a few private words to each and every one. A little girl stood next to her with a basket of maple leaf pins. It took a while, but soon, all 112 people had their certificates, their cards, and a pin.

And a big, big, smile.

"I never get tired of this," the judge said. "People can look so serious while they wait their turn to get up here, and as soon as I shake their hand, I always see the biggest smile." We clapped. "Canadians clap to keep warm you know, " she joked.

She read the list of all the countries of origin that the 112 people came from. "Feel free to clap or cheer when you hear yours." The biggest cheer came from the Philippines. I grinned. "I sort of thought that would happen," she said. A lone man cheered ecstatically when Tanzania was named. We all turned and smiled happily at him.

While this happened, I realized more than ever, that while all these people were now Canadians, they were still strongly a part of their own countries of origin.

And they were free to be so.

"It's interesting," said the judge. "We can not all have the same past. But, we can all have the same future," she said. "Today, think about what this place will be like in six generations. It has been that many generations since my own family came here. We are all part of that future."

The ceremony closed, and people milled around, taking photos, chatting, all smiling.

I really did not expect to get so much out of this afternoon. I thought we'd do the oath, we'd pack up, and then head back home, but I was surprised by the happiness I felt, and the patriotism that welled inside of me.

I think that those of us who live in countries where we can sleep without the fear of bombs falling on us, and can wake up knowing that we have the power to make our own lives what we want, forget that we have so many rights and privileges. I think we also forget that we have a responsibility to focus not on the parts of our countries that don't work, the hiccups, the red tape that might seem unending, but to focus on the fact that we have the right to make it change. We should find the energy in ourselves to take this gift that we have been given and make the future what we want. Like ripples in a flag, our energy should start from the solid flagpole that is the freedom and safety that we have been given, and then should move outward into the atmosphere.

We can't just sit around complaining all the time: we have a responsibility to use what we have for our own good. It is easy to become complacent, to expect things to be a certain way because it has always been so, and to expect things to come easily because it always has been so. We are living as a generation that feels entitled.

The vast majority of the Earth's population will never know such ease.

And it's important to do our part to make the best of it, through our voices, our work, our art, our songs, our inventions, and most of all, through our words. Word of mouth is a powerful thing. Think what would happen if all our words were constructive, positive, and powerful.

112 people are thinking that right now. We should join them.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Being Rumpelstiltskin

I grew up with a surname that was difficult for people to pronounce, let alone spell. My entire childhood was spent helping people to pronounce it and spell it. Sometimes, I just learned to answer to some approximation of it. "What does that say? What is your name?" I sort of felt like Rumpelstiltskin, waiting for people to guess what my name was.

Later on, I remember reading the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale in a book. A miller tells people that his daughter can spin straw into gold. The king hears of this, and takes the daughter, shuts her in a room and tells her that she must spin all the straw in the tower into gold in three nights, or she will be killed. Rumpelstiltskin appears and spins the straw for her, but when she can not repay him, he demands her first child, and she agrees. When the child is born, she refuses to give it to him, but he asks her to guess his name, and if she does, she can keep the child...

I am not a little man who likes to blackmail miller's daughters, but this week, I sort of felt like Rumplestiltskin with my new spinning project.

This is 100g of Blue Faced Leicester superwash roving from Sweet Georgia yarns, dyed in beautiful yellow tones. Spinning it has been a treat, but I've also had to re-learn how to draft such nice, even fibres. I have no idea what it will become, but I'm enjoying watching the yarn form into sold columns of gold. I love this table full of sunshine...

I did finish a skein of the blue and purple pencil roving that I've been working on for the past few weeks. It took me a long time because I have only been spinning at work during my lunch hours these days. It's been a lot easier to do that than to knit at work, because it doesn't require so much of my concentration, and I don't have to worry about losing my place in a pattern. I can just spin, spin, spin...

Anyway, this skein is my first go at a plied yarn, that is, yarn that is made of at least two strands of spun yarn twisted together. It was tougher to do than I thought, but very satisfying in the end. The fibre itself was pretty difficult to spin at first, because I had to get used to the wool and the firestar (shiny nylon) drafting together... it was quite uneven and rough, with lots of bits sticking out in all directions. It's only a small skein, and I still have about 5g of the singles left, but it's all in one ball and I'm not sure I want to go through the trouble of re-balling it into two balls to ply together. Still, I'm proud of it, and like to show it off, even if it's hard to photograph the colours.

It's been working well making time to spin during my lunch hour. It means I get at least 30 minutes of practice almost every day. I'm still no pro, but it's been a relaxing way to learn a skill. I've made sure not to give myself any time limits, and to just spin for the enjoyment of it.

And no, I don't have any current plans for this little skein of yarn. And no, I don't know what I'll make with that yellow fibre. It probably will end up being a slightly larger skein than the one I just finished, so it won't be anything huge... but it'll be mine!

I am still toying around with the idea of getting a spinning wheel... maybe one day. I wouldn't be able to spin at work anymore, but it would be easier to get a sweater's worth of yarn out of it. On the other hand, my technique still needs work, and I like how easy it is to slow down on the spindle and how easy it is for me to fix uneven parts. It might be just as easy on a wheel, I don't know, but it's still a pipe dream for me at the moment. If I did get one, then I guess it would be easier to spin straw into gold... but that's a skill that seems to be reserved for little men who blackmail miller's daughters!
Today I brew, tomorrow I bake;
And then the Prince child I could take;
But that can't be my secret game,
For Rumpelstiltskin's not my name!
P.S. Did you know that Rumpelstiltskin is part of Window's spellcheck? Who knew?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Dreaded Triple B : Blocking Before Bed

I finished knitting my Etta hat last night. I sewed in the ends and tried it on. Meh. Since I've never really worn slouchy hats before, I thought it was just because I didn't know what it was supposed to look like on this melon I call a head. I took it off my head and stretched it slightly with my hands and thought, Well, there's plenty of stretch in it. Maybe I should block it.

So, at 11 o'clock on the night before the clocks changed, I got out a basin, soaked the hat, and then stretched it over a bowl. And, wow... did it ever stretch. I stood there, looking at it, wondering if I'd just made the world's most expensive apple-basket liner (it is partly cashmere, after all), but then I shrugged my shoulders, brushed my teeth and walked up the stairs to bed.

I got to the top of the stairs and stopped. I went back down the stairs to stare at the bowl. Hmph.

Back up the stairs and into bed. Tossed and turned for a bit. What if it's just too enormous? Can I reblock it? Should I take the hairdryer to it in the morning and try to shrink it? No, I'll just make it worse.

The bad thing about blocking something before bedtime is that I spend all night feeling slightly worried. I dreamed about chasing an Irish wolfhound around my house (which was not my house, but a mixture of my parents' house and some other random place), and was getting progressively more frustrated because this was making me late for a taco lunch which my workmates had prepared in my kitchen. Just as I'd tackled the wolfhound to the ground...

I awoke to the sound of my doggie flapping his ears to tell me he was hungry. After I let him out, I sat and contemplated the bowl with the hat on it.

I had an extra bowl just like the bowl blocking the hat. I tried the bowl on my head. I looked like head of the kitchen army.


I left it to dry further in the sun, hoping some of the heat from the sunshine would take up some of the slack. I made bannock, bacon and eggs for hubby and me for breakfast, then whipped up two batches of lemon squares, kind of a lemon chiffon on a graham cookie base. I tried not to look at the bowl.

Took the doggie out for a long walk. Went swimming. Ate my lunch.

Then, I realized it was dry.

And it's actually ok.

I'm still getting used to it, and the unfortunate thing (for hat-wearing folk) is that it has warmed up outside. I actually got pretty overheated taking pictures of me wearing it, but it's still springtime weather, cool enough to warrant wearing a slouchy hat.

And, you know what? It looks way better than wearing a bowl on your head.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Elven Grandmother and the Forest of Pins

My Haruni is done, and it is quite possibly the piece that has required the most number of pins for blocking I have ever done. Check out that forest of pins:

I tried to use my blocking wires to pin it out, but it just wasn't looking right. I ended up using a single pin for every single loop. Every. Single. Loop.

I also stabilized the centre with pins so that I could stretch it out symmetrically without warping the shape. It took me about two hours (with a dogwalk in between) to get it all pinned out to my satisfaction.

Now that it's all blocked out, I am truly astounded at the power of blocking, especially for lace.

You may recall what it looked like in progress:

Once it was off the needles, I ruminated about how small it looked. It looked positively tiny to me, even when I stretched it out by hand to see how tall and wide it would be. I ended up not using up the whole skein of yarn, and I bemoaned the fact that I probably could have made it larger by adding one more repeat of the first chart before moving on to the second. I sighed, and just resigned myself to the fact that I'd made a tiny shawlette.

Thank goodness the blocking proved me wrong.

I don't have any photos of me wearing it yet, since every time I go to take photos of it, I've been distracted by things like dinner, sleeping, or television, and then I run out of daylight. I do have to say that it's a fun thing to wear, and I'm pleasantly surprised at how well the leaf patterns are showing on it, even when I wear it against my grey coat. It truly is a pattern for the variegated yarns for which I have such a weakness.

Speaking of, I'm totally in love with the yarn that I'm using for my new project. I loved it before, but when I wound it into a yarn cake, I was particularly smitten:

This is the skein of Pagewood Farm's Alyeska 5 in Fabulous Fall I got on my last trip to L.A., a wool/cashmere blend. It's not just the colours that have me going, but I think the cashmere is giving this yarn a beautiful sheen that make the colours glow. It's been such a pleasure to knit with so far.

I only have one skein of this stuff (it was pricey), but I think it'll be perfect for Etta, a slouchy hat that is simple enough to knit, but has lace bands every so often to keep it interesting and to break up the colours a bit. I can't find a photo to link to right now, but you can be sure it's lovely, and it'll be my first foray into the world of berets and slouchy hats.

The weather has been really cold the last few weeks, and it's given me the perfect excuse to knit up all my thicker yarns. It's somewhat stressful, because I want to be able to give these thicker knits a bit of wear before the weather gets warmer. I might be one of the few people who is really not minding the weather right now... but it's best not to say so around here, because most are totally sick of the frigid conditions.

And if it gets warmer? Well, then... it just means I have lots more springtime lace projects to get working on. And you know what that means?

It means I better go out and buy some more pins.

Saturday, March 5, 2011