Monday, October 31, 2011

Inspiration Mondays: A Little Wonky is Nice

In everything... uniformity is undesirable. Leaving something incomplete makes it interesting, and gives one the feeling that there is room for growth... Even when building the imperial palace, they always leave one place unfinished. -- Japanese Essays in Idleness, 14th Century
Here's a question for you: When you put birthday candles into a cake, do you just throw them in willy-nilly, or do you prefer to put them in so that they are symmetrical? Six years old - three candles one each side. Seven years old - three candles on each side, one in the middle. Do you put them in in a circle? In a zig-zag?

Or do you do as I do and just get a candle that says, "7?"

I've never been one for symmetry. It's only recently that my job forces me to align to certain design principles, which I totally understand, but it beats against the insides of my brain like a mallet on the inside of an oil drum. It's not me. I don't care for it.

That might be surprising, given the fact that I love to knit cables and lace. Most of these patterns rely on symmetry to give them balance. I love the complexity of the lines, and how it forces the yarn into different shapes and to throw the light in different directions.

But if there's anything that bugs me, it's the feeling that something is contrived... that it is forced into perfection somehow.

For example, here are some mosaics I made a few years ago in a class. It took me hours to place those tiles in a position that I liked. I had to walk away from them for a few days before I could return to finish them. I wanted to feel like every single tile had been placed because it belonged there, and not because I forced it into a space. Nothing too symmetrical, nothing too contrived. I wanted it to look natural... as natural as a bunch of tiles could look, I guess.

When I painted these pots, I spent time making sure that each line, each petal, each dot, was in a totally random place. No mathematical equations, no rulers, no measures... just one by one, placing things where they felt right.

I don't like to centre things. I prefer them offset to one direction.

I don't like to wear my shawls draped over my shoulders evenly. I place them either slung over my left or right shoulder.

I like flicky, sticky-out hair.

I suppose this has come to mind because I've been thinking a lot about how we're supposed to find symmetry beautiful - that we like to see symmetrical faces, symmetrical bodies. Perhaps I rage against this because I know it's impossible, and I see people everywhere, girls especially, struggling toward this impossible ideal. Maybe I enjoy throwing a monkey wrench into the rules of beauty, and I like to see how people deal with it.

There is beauty in being outside of the box, in offset patterns, in imperfections. They make us feel emotions... feel reactions.

That's not so bad, is it? Is it?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

What About George?

Oh George, how I've neglected you. Since I saw you at Olds Fibre Week last summer, you have languished in your bag, waiting for me to come and spin you into beautiful yarn. I flirted with you for a few days, only to return you to your corner to wait until I finished so many other things...

So many other things.

I'm officially declaring publicly that I am on a yarn diet. And that includes spinning fibre, too. It's just all becoming too much.

I don't like being overloaded with stuff. It stresses me out when it all starts to take up space around me. I know it's getting bad when I have to start thinking about where else I can store my things. It's not there yet, but it's darn close.

This morning, I cleared out a bunch of fabric that was sitting in this basket and relocated it to a closet in the spare bedroom. I've replaced it with my finished shawls and scarves, and then put some more of my yarn stash on top. Then, I made up my mind that I need to work through that stuff as well. All these good intentions, but only clutter to show for it.

So, part of the yarn diet is to try to get through more of my stuff. I can either:
  • Quit my job and knit all day.
  • Grow another set of arms.
  • Knit less complicated projects.
  • Stop playing on the computer so much.
I'm guessing that the last two are my best bet.

Yarn diets are tough, especially when you have a circle of friends who are darn good at enabling you to break them. I think that the next yarn trip into the city will entail much adoration of things I could buy, but maybe more time looking at replacing some of my aluminum needles that I don't really like using anymore, and looking through patterns and projects. One does not need to spend to be happy.

But yeah, it's fun. Sigh.

Of course, if yarn happens to land in my lap as a gift, well it would be rude to refuse, right?

My birthday is coming up next month. Just sayin'...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Inspiration Mondays: Like the First Day of School

"You know what that poster makes me think of?" I said to a fellow at work. I was referring to this year's Alberta Arts Days poster that was hanging on one of the office walls. "It makes me think of a really nice set of pencil crayons. You know, the ones where, when you draw with the red pencil crayon, it's really red. Not pink or orange... just red."

"Yeah," he said. "The ones that you love so much on the first day of school..."

Each day I passed it, I got thinking about those first days of school when I was so happy to have a new set of pencil crayons. I thought even further back to when I got my first set of Crayola crayons, the 64-pack with the built-in sharpener, complete with the exotic copper, silver, and gold crayons. I remember saving those colours for only the most special pictures. Not everything deserved the use of those waxy metallic beauties.

I've never really considered myself an artist. I think most of us get that drummed out of us during school when we realize that our pictures of cats/dogs/houses/cars aren't as good as the resident artistic genius. We prefer to guffah and huff when people ask us to draw things. "Oh no, I couldn't do that," we say.

When I was in university, in my final year of my Bachelor of Education, I was fortunate enough to be in a special program for Early Years Education (early years meaning kindergarten to grade 4). One of the main elements of this training was not just to teach, but to be "lifetime learners." We were to challenge ourselves all the time to do the things we were asking our students to do: write stories, play, sing, dance, run, and draw.

Draw? Hmmm... I thought to myself.

I went out and and got myself the a sketchbook, as we were all required to do. I started out tentatively, trying to draw the things around me, criticizing my every pencil stroke, every shape and line. My hand ached with the effort. I searched vainly for something interesting to put in there.

Then, something strange happened. I learned to play.

I got some watercolour paints and spent time playing with them. I was delighted by how the water took the paint and stretched it across the page. I tried restricting the water and loved how deep the colours could be.

I found some charcoal pastels and smudged my way through several drawings... some of forest scenes, some with just lines of different weights, different thicknesses. I walked around my house with black smudges on my cheeks. I started looking at plants and wondered what they would look like in my smudgy drawings.

I spent an entire afternoon looking at myself in the mirror and trying to draw a self-portrait. I learned how to draw a nose, an eye, the ridge of my brow. Then, I drew a picture of my cousin's daughter from a photograph. I was becoming a good observer of life, and how it could be depicted on paper.

Then, I graduated school and promptly stopped drawing.

Lately, I've been itching to feel the slippery feeling of oil pastels on paper, and to hear the sound of a pencil scraping a line into a drawing. My brushes and charcoals and paints had all disappeared - some gifted, some given away, some thrown out. So, I've begun to collect supplies again.

Some of them are economy brands, others aren't. Since I have no formal training whatsoever, I had no idea of what I needed, just that I wanted to explore again. I haven't done anything yet... for now, I'm just enjoying having these things in the house. I took them out tonight and looked them over, touching the colours, smudging my fingers with the charcoals, sliding brushes between my fingers.

And those pencil crayons: They were recommended to me by a friend. They're the kind that are strong enough to withstand lots of sharpening, and that don't fall to bits each time you do. I'm loving them so far...

They're like the ones I loved so much on the first day of school. Ah, yes... those ones...

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Mission Ballwinder: Report from the Front

Mission: Ballwinder
Report by: Agent Yarn Smoosher

Monday 1800: After reconnaissance mission the week before, Agent Yarn Smoosher secured the location of a ballwinder in Knit n' Caboodle Yarn Shop in Canmore, Alberta. Resources: committed.

Saturday 0900 hrs: Agent left base quarters in vehicle with Agents Hubster and Wolfpup. All equipment and supplies were packed early.

0915: Scheduled stop at flooring shop. Completed by 1030hrs. Agent Wolfpup began navigation duties. Agent Yarn Smoosher operated vehicle until next scheduled stop.

1130: All agents stopped for scheduled pee break at rest stop outside of Airdire, Alberta. Agent Wolfpup requested permission to hunt squirrels in the park. Permission was denied. Wolfpup's attitude began degeneration.

1230: Scheduled food stop. Wolfpup took security post while all other agents consumed assigned Arby's and Greek food.

1345: All agents arrived in Canmore. Vehicle was parked at agreed upon location and all agents exited. Wolfpup began scentmarking procedures while Yarn Smoosher proceeded to target location. Hubster accompanied Wolfpup on his mission.

1400: Ballwinder located in target location. Mission was almost compromised by several obstacles of fibrey nature. Both outside agents temporarily lost contact with Yarn Smoosher.

1420: Ballwinder secured after intense negotiations with Secret Agent Yarn Hoarder aka Yarn Smoosher's alter ego. Yarn Hoarder released the ballwinder after Smoosher agreed to take home three skeins of Shi Bui sock yarn in Mulberry colourway.

1421: Mission almost compromised again by unforeseen complication: Yarn Smoosher was awarded a free $20 gift certificate as a result of random selection. Yarn Smoosher was released from the premises after agreeing to take home one skein of Bohoyarns Fingering Weight Yarn in Fraggle colourway.

1425: Agent Wolfpup was awarded with a new squeaky toy and chicken treats from the Mut Hut Pet Shop for completing a successful scent marking exercise. Agent Hubster was awarded with a cup of tea for supervision of Wolfpup's activities.

1515: All agents proceeded to next locations: bank machine and art supply store. Wolfpup was not scheduled to assist in either activities and attempted to thwart the main mission by trying to destroy the target ballwinder and one skein of yarn. Attempt was unsuccessful, but damage was detected on some packaging. Wolfpup received reprimand from Agent Yarn Smoosher and was sent to the backseat for the remainder of the mission.

1545: All agents arrived at assigned rest location. Ballwinder is tested and works perfectly. Agent Yarn Smoosher takes photographic evidence of the successful mission.

1600: Agent Yarn Smoosher revokes Wolfpup's reprimand and awards him with several cuddles. After several attempts to photograph Wolfpup's cuteness, Yarn Smoosher resigns to sharing this photo of the agent in another cute position.

Mission successful. Report submitted for approval: 10/22/2011

Monday, October 17, 2011

Inspiration Mondays: So, I'm Supposed to Be Writing...

You can't wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club. - Jack London
Sooo... what to talk about today.... *cricket, cricket... tick, tock...*

I'm afraid I didn't really have much to inspire me today, and yet I feel the need to address that situation.

Or, maybe I just like to hear myself think. One of the two.

Instead of forcing out some great profundity to share, I thought I'd just share a list of things that have been making me think, catching my eyes, making me tilt my head like a puppy:
  • Items that are dark and deep in colour. The trendy term for it is "jewel toned."
  • Watching an elderly person going for a walk, either with a cane or walking frame.
  • Small kindnesses, like a smile or a "thank you."
  • Someone telling me what the radio says about what this winter will be like. (How do they know?)
  • Seeing a photograph so fascinating that my eyes reach for the edge of the magazine, screen, or picture frame, hoping that there will be more.
  • Feeling how different fibres affect the skin of my hands, especially how working with acrylic is drying mine out.
  • Understanding how single words can affect people.
  • Hearing the creak of my bad knee when crouch or bend.
I suppose that, had I taken the time tonight, I could have contemplated further on any one of these things and written something from that, but it's been a long day, and I feel grateful that I was even able to come up with that list. Perhaps it can serve as a store for future ramblings, who knows? For now, I feel satisfied that at least I looked for inspiration today, even if I went no further than looking.

At least, for now.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

How to Buy a Ball of Yellow Yarn

Yesterday morning, I stood waiting at my front door, Rascal standing next to me. I had my purse, my knitting bag, a bottle of water, and a couple of granola bars, my jacket on, my shoes on my feet and my Fagus shawl around my neck. I'd had a nice, warm breakfast of oatmeal and a banana. I looked out the front window, looking at the frosty grass and the sun warming the chilly air.

A couple of weeks back, my friend, Tara, informed me and dkzack that it was International Yarn Day (or something like that) on October 13 (or something like that) and that we should honour it by making a trip into the city for some yarn appreciation (or something like that).

Well, who were we to ignore a holiday like that?

So, on a frosty Saturday morning, we left town with four excited ladies (we have a new recruit, Susan), and we headed off with plans to appreciate yarn as much as possible. We thought we'd hit a few yarn shops. I had plans to get some fabric to line a the dragon hats I've been working on, as well as to find some yellow yarn to make the eyes for them. We brought projects on the needles in our bags, but mostly chatted all the way. dkzack brought a plethora of things to show us: yarn and fibre that we had not previously had the chance to fondle and sigh over. She very kindly allowed me to sit with one of her bags so that I could admire them as much as possible during the drive in.

I had to constantly remind myself that I needed to get that yellow yarn. I needed it to get this project done this week. Yellow yarn, yellow yarn, yellow yarn...

We managed to fit in visits to two yarn shops during our visit. It was interesting to note how differently the four of us perused the wares.

I like to call my style "The Traveler." I'm a yarn shopper that needs to concentrate and walk around a lot. I need to visit each shelf at least three or four times before I commit to even picking up a skein to carry around. My eyes scan the shelves carefully for anything that is begging for my attention, or for colours that fit projects that I've been yearning to make.

dkzack is "The Conflicted Artist." She finds colours and carries them around, trying to plan out what she'll do with them, her love of the yarn in conflict with its practical use. We often end up in discussion about which ones she should choose. My advice is often simple: "Buy it." That's usually the advice she takes!

Tara is "The Consultant." If you ask her, "What do you think of this?" she is the one helps you think it through. Would those colours work together? Does this combination deaden the richness of the colour? Is there something else that would work better? Do you think that fibre might be too warm/cool/slippery/rough? She talked me out of taking home a boring colour combo and helped inspire me to find something much better.

Our new friend, Susan is "The Collector." It's wonderful to watch her. She wanders through the store, asking lots and lots of questions, collecting armfuls of skeins of yarn, and after a while, she finds a spot to plonk herself down to sort through them. I loved watching her group them around her in piles, figuring out which would go home with her for sure, which were beautiful, but not quite right, and which ones she might have to come back for another time. Fascinating!

In the end, we came home with lots and lots of goodies. We even squeezed in a visit to a Michaels where I distributed my extra printed coupons to everyone so that we could all enjoy ourselves in there. I didn't buy any yarn there, but I did get some art supplies and felt squares (because it's impossible to find in this town), as well as some gifts for Christmas. The others brought home art canvases, kits, paintbrushes... all sorts of fun stuff. I nearly went home with some decorative Duck Tape, but restrained myself at the last moment!

It was a happy, happy day. I kept looking back at the hatch of the jeep and smiling at all the wares that were packed back there. It was soooooo nice to be in a vehicle full of art and craft and friends.

Oh, and the yellow yarn? I didn't have to buy any, because dkzack found some in her stash at home and let me have it. Yay! Way to take the responsibility out of a fun yarn day!

Man, I love my friends!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Saturday and the Stew Pot

Behold: my new slow cooker. 8 quarts of slow heating goodness. It came home with me this morning from the local Canadian Tire store.

Just last night, I remarked to my friend, Dawg, "Man, I love Canadian Tire. I could spend all day in there." And it's true. If you want a deal, you're gonna find it in that store.

When I got home from work yesterday, I plonked myself down on the couch and started leafing through the Canadian Tire flyer. Such wild Friday night antics often occur in my house, and usually you hear phrases uttered like, "Oh, that's cheap" and "Hmm, I wonder what that's like" as a result. I came across the ad for this slow cooker. It was on sale for $29.99.

"Oh, that's cheap," I said aloud to Rascal, who was lying next to me.

He snuffled, then buried his head in his paws and promptly began to snore.

I started thinking about what I would do with such a thing. I could make my famous stew and dumplings in it, I thought. That would be easier than trying to fit it all in my one pot.

Then the yarnaholic spoke up. Or, you could use it to dye a big batch of yarn, she said. 8 quarts is a lot of space.

I pondered it for a few minutes, then put the flyer away, confident that I could live without it. I wasn't sure if I had a use for it. If I still wanted it in the morning, I could easily go down and get one.

I woke up this morning, rolled over, and thought, Ok, I better go get it.

Hubby and Rascal and I got into the car to run a few errands after breakfast. They waited in the car while I went in to explore. "They probably won't have any left," I said as I shut the car door.

My heart began to beat a tiny bit faster as I walked in. I went straight over to the kitchen section and started scanning the shelves. I saw sign for another slow cooker that was also on sale, a self-timing one that held 6 quarts. The shelf was empty. Hmm. Then, another sign for another cooker that was also on special. That shelf was empty, too. Uh oh...

I walked to the end of the aisle and found them on the endcap. Hamilton Beach 8 quart slow cooker: $29.99. "Twenty-naaaaaaaaahn nahndy-nahn!" said the commercial playing in my head. There were two on the shelf. Yes...

I looked around. People were walking around behind me, browsing the shelves. I immediately felt protective of my quarry. I widened my stance. I put my hands on my hips. I pretended to be fascinated in the George Foreman Grills that were on the shelf about so that I wouldn't draw attention to my prize. Then, when everybody passed and I was left standing alone, I ran quickly walked purposefully over to the shopping carts. I retrieved one, then returned to the endcap and loaded a box into my cart. Sweet victory!

So, what am I gonna use it for? Well, I could either cook with it or dye yarn with it. You're not supposed to use it for both purposes, because yarn dye can be toxic, even "food safe" dyes. So, I had to decide which was more important...

Well, I couldn't decide. So, I bought two.

Don't judge me. The guy in line in front of me at the store already gave me a strange look, even after I told him that I was getting one for my friend... yeah, my friend...

My friend, the yarnaholic. Or the stew-lover. They live happily together in my head. We're all one big, happy family in there...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My Wonderland of Toothless Considerations

“There is no use trying,” said Alice. “One can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” — Lewis Carroll
The hat bases for the Toothless the Dragon hats are finished. I'm just making tie strings for the earflaps, and then I can start putting the features on them before I line the insides with fabric. They look a little floppy at the moment, but the lining will make them more robust. So far, so good.

It's easy to psyche yourself out when you're making something without a pattern. I started out fairly confident that I could make these, then that confidence wavered a bit as I thought about what this character actually looks like. He's got four horns... does he? Or are two of those ears? What about those things on the sides of his face? Should I make those, too? And are his eyes yellow or green or... what?

In my (rare) idle moments, I've been flipping through my Amigurumi Knits book for inspiration on how to make these things look more like Toothless and less like... well, anything else. I'm torn between using the ears from the Jackelope (and turning them backwards) or the flippers from The Loch Ness Monster (and making them longer) for the "ears" of the dragon. And what kind of yarn for the eyes? I have plenty of yellow yarn from making this sweater, but it's more of a mustard yellow. Will that work?

It's these considerations that give me great pleasure. How will I make those eyes? Will I give him slitted eyes like a cat? Should I make the lining in flannel or polar fleece? Should I hand-stitch it in, or should I try my hand at machine-stitching it? There's nothing that I enjoy more than falling asleep while thinking of what I'm going to make next, or how I'm going to solve another yarn problem. Impossibilities don't have to be negative things.

The great geniuses in history (including the person whose company designed my laptop and who passed away yesterday) were ones that did just as The Queen did in Alice in Wonderland. They dreamed in impossibilities. You could call it mental exercise or brain gym... but I call it escapism, and a wonderful place to be.

Welcome to my Wonderland.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Inspiration Mondays: It's Cliché, But There You Go

I try to write about unique and interesting things that make people think in these Monday posts. I don't like to go with the obvious things that are going on, like holidays or trends or things like that. I like to respond to things I've seen online or on the news, things I've heard people say or things that have been on my mind. Today, I just couldn't avoid it.

I want to write about fall. The season, not the verb.

I much prefer the term autumn, just because there's something so poetic and beautiful about that word. As a season, it has all the things I like: warm days, cool, but cozy evenings, the opportunity to wear sweaters and shawls (I knit, for heaven's sake. I need to wear these things sometime!), and the colours... man, the colours...

These are the colours that my eyes search out each time I walk into a yarn shop, a clothing store, or even an art supply store. It's deep red, forest green, purple so dark you can get lost in it, and gold, pure gold...

I was swimming at the local pool yesterday, and every time I glanced out of the windows, I was met with pure gold... leaves that seemed to glow yellow, reflecting even more light from the bright sun that was shining. I thought of the sunflowers back home in Manitoba, how they would be ready for harvest, and how much I used to love wearing sunflower patterns. It makes me think of those chilly Sunday mornings when the sun ceases to be an oppressive force to be avoided at all costs, and instead becomes a source of warmth that my doggie and I can bask in on the couch.

A quick search for the word "autumn" in Ravelry brings up some beautiful patterns, many of which already reside in my queue:
I'm no fool. I know that winter is just around the corner and that I'll be longing for the summer heat and the long, light-filled days. Autumn seems like the shortest season of them all, but it's my season, and it is soaking into all of my pores as we speak. It's cliché, but there you go. I plan to enjoy every minute, every hour...

Oh, and you know, it also helps that this is also the season where the clocks move back an hour, and we all get another hour to sleep. Colour, shmolour, if that's not enough to like a season, what more could there be?