Monday, February 23, 2015

Inspiration Mondays: A Bow to the Tools

At the end of the New Year’s festivities, just as the hard work of the coming year is to begin once more, women gather at Buddhist temples with their worn-out pins and needles to offer them up in large blocks of tofu or jelly, adorned with ribbons and accompanied by the prayer chants of the temple monks. They show their gratitude and reverence for the collaborative work these things put into the labour performed by the human women. It is not only a utilitarian bond, but a personal and affective one, as well, a sympathy sutured by confidence and secrecy, as many women put their painful thoughts and feelings into the tools and entrust them to the gods. 
-via The Presurfer

A few months ago, I read about the Japanese festival called Hari-Kuyo. On February 8th each year, many Japanese participate in the funerary rite for dull and broken needles.

Why would you do this?

I think Nicolas S. Anderson describes this best in this post, where he says:
When it comes to consumer electronics especially, we show no gratitude to these things that we lusted after in the weeks before their launches, that we had been told and then believed would make us better workers, better and closer friends, more intimate and considerate sons and daughters and moms and dads... 
...What would it mean to ritualize the disposal of old, obsolete, or worn-out objects? Rather than dump them in landfills or send them for scrapping in some toxic village in Southern China or West Africa, what if we thanked with praise and reverence and ceremony in the yard or at a nearby church or temple?
Those of us who frequent the thrift shops and antique malls and vintage shops, poking at the tables filled with little... things... tools, booklets, clips, cups, saucers... marvelling over old tables and chairs and plates... I think this is what we feel when we see them.

We revere the things that stand the test of time, and we respect what they have brought to the world by their existence.

So, in my own celebration of Hari-Kuyo, I pulled out some of my favourite used tools that I use regularly in my home, and took a little family photo of them. I came upon them all in thrift shops and vintage stores, and each time I found them, I felt like I'd found a treasure. I am grateful to be lucky enough to have them, and I am happy each time I get to use them.

Thanks, guys. You do a great job.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

To Make

Sometimes we get so focused on the difficulty of our climb that we lose sight of being grateful for simply having a mountain to climb. -- Oprah Winfrey
I've been kind of whiney as of late. I'm not proud of it. I don't like whiney people, and so I really don't like myself when I become one of them. But I whined.

I've been whiney because I've become painfully aware of how many things there are to do each day. So many things to work on, so many things to make, so many things to wash and clean and fold and get ready. And I whined to the hubby about it once last week before I hauled myself up out of the couch to go make dinner.

"I guess I better go make dinner," I said with a big sigh.

"You could always just eat ready-made meals, you know," he said.

And yeah, I know I could. I could stop baking my own bread and buy a few loaves. I could stop making big batches of food for my lunches and packing them away in my own containers to freeze, and I could stop making my own granola bars and muffins and vegetable cups and breakfast smoothies, and just buy it all. It would be easier. Someone else would do it for me.

I was still feeling sorry for myself when I got up this morning and went out for my run. I knew I'd come home to my Sunday list of jobs: making bread, making breakfast smoothies, packing lunches and snacks and whatever. So I ran my scheduled 8 kilometres and came home and ate my cereal and brooded a bit before I showered and got dressed. I walked back down to the kitchen and opened up a recipe book to make these Hummingbird Muffins for the first time as a new weekday snack.

I measured and whisked and mixed and poured and sprinkled and then put them in the oven. I washed bowls, wiped counters, and then got out my blender to make a couple of breakfast smoothies, then chopped up my veggies for my vegetable cups, and then packed my lunchbox for tomorrow. And then the oven timer beeped and I took out the muffins.

Holy sheep, are they good. They are shut-up-and-just-eat-em good.

The hubby was out for most of the day, so I took myself out for lunch, then went for a walk down to the water.

I saw this burned boat, which I vaguely remember hearing about... I can't remember from whom or when they said it, but I wasn't surprised when I saw it. It made me sad, but it was strangely beautiful...

And then I walked down to the marina and took out these two tea towels that I ordered from the artist behind one of my favourite blogs - Lucy King, of The Bowerbird. I just love what she creates.

I even took a muffin with me and a cup of tea from the marina boat house, except I'd had such a good lunch that I couldn't eat the muffin. And then I sat in the sunshine and did some knitting for a while.

It was strange to be there without my Rascal. We often went there together.

And then I went home and made some bread...

... because I realized today that no, I don't have to make these things... but I it's not that I have to. I need to. It's inside of me to make and create... I like tweaking and figuring things out, and the challenge of making a muffin healthier and tastier at the same time, of making a sweater fit, or finding just the right stitch pattern for a skein of yarn I've been holding onto. And it's a privilege that I can choose to do these things, that it is not an obligation or a necessity. It's a choice.

And I choose to make.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Cheat or Genius?

Sometimes, I can't decide if a shortcut is cheating, or if it's actually a new technique in the making. I know a lot of software programmers who have taken tedious, repetitive tasks, and finished them instantly by writing a script to automate it. Is it cheating? Or is it just... a new way to do things?

In my last blogpost, I was struggling with a rolling edge on my current sweater project. I knew that the only way to really get it to settle down would be to wet block the crap out of it. Trouble is, I really couldn't face soaking such a large cardigan and then pinning it all down. It was a long weekend this weekend, so I decided I was going to get it done, come hell or high water.

So, I automated it.

This is a photo what I am going to christen "The Blocking Roll." I took the lower edge of the cardigan and folded it to the inside, then slowly rolled it into one big roll. I then skewered it with a couple of knitting needles.

Then, I draped it over the sink into some soapy water (wool is hydrophobic, and needs a bit of help to get it wet. Soap helps the water to be transported via capillary action into the wool). I let it soak for about 20 minutes. I draped the roll near the heater and let it dry for a few hours...

Then, I unrolled it an laid it out onto the floor with the lower edge folded to the inside of the cardigan. I let it dry overnight. This photo shows it already dry, but it's still folded to the inside of the cardigan.

The next morning, I laid it out flat with the button bands touching and the bottom edge turned back down into the final position. I then sprayed the button band with water and patted it down so that it would lie flat. Each time I walked past that day, I sprayed and patted the button band a bit more. It was a nice, gentle way to block a sweater.

I baked my weekly loaf of bread. The heat from the oven helped the sweater to dry.

Once it was dry, I set about figuring out how to put some buttons on this thing. I was on a work trip this week which resulted in an impromptu trip on one of the local ferry boats. While I was sailing across, I wandered through the gift shop and found another sweater that had an interesting button closure. I stood there, entranced, examining this thing carefully... which is weird if you're not a knitter, but the others totally get it. I didn't want to copy it, but I was inspired...

I went to the inner edge of the button band on the wrong side of the fabric, and I used a crochet hook and slip stitched along that edge. Once I reached a point where I wanted a button loop, I chained 6, slip stitched it back into the same stitch, then continued on with the slip stitches until I got to the next button loop location.

After that, I pulled the loops through to the right side...

After years of sewing buttons on, I've figured out that the best way to make them sit in the centre is to actually sew them off-centre, closer to the inner edge of the button band. The loops are on the opposite inner edge of the band, and they tug the buttons perfectly to the centre. It's nearly invisible... can you see the button loop under the button?

I can safely say this is the best button job I've ever done.

It gives me the option to close the cardigan... if not all the way.

But I think I still like it better left open.

I am super proud of this sweater. It's light and airy, made entirely out of merino/cashmere/nylon sock yarn. I would have never dreamed that I'd knit such a long cardi with such skinny yarn, but I think knitting it in stripes actually helped a lot. Each stripe seemed to make the time pass more quickly, rather than facing endless rows of stockinette stitch.

Still, I think I'm going to work on a smaller project next... I'm due for some instant gratification now...

Except I've chosen a hat knitted with yet more sock yarn with size 2 needles. Yes, I know the definition of insanity. You only wish you were this crazy, baby!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Unruly Sweater

There are rules.

And there are reasons for rules.

And it irritates me to no end when someone breaks the rules.

And the rule breaker? This sweater:

I was coasting along with this thing... stripe after stripe, inch after inch, every single colour change managed, every single yarn end woven in. I got to a length that I liked, and thought, "Woo yeah. Time to knit the edges."

That's when all the chaos started.

Rule: Stockinette stitch rolls along each edge. Working edges like i-cords, garter stitch, ribbing or seed stitch will prevent this from happening.

I liked the idea of an i-cord. I don't like knitting them (I'm not very good at them, and they're time-consuming), but I liked the idea. So, I started working an i-cord along the bottom edge... but it wouldn't stop rolling. And the thought of slogging through an entire edge of something that might not work did not appeal to me.

So, I ripped back and picked up a crochet hook. I worked one row of half-double crochet stitch on the wrong side, and another row on the right side. It was a nice idea. I still have to work the edges of each of the fronts of the cardigan, and working a crochet edge would mean I wouldn't have to do the laborious job of picking up a gazillion stitches with a knitting needle.

But it rolled like Proud Mary.

I ripped back and knitted a seed stitch edge. It's a promising edge.

But well... yeah. It's kinda rolling.

I didn't rip back. I decided that I'm going to use a tried-and-tested blocking method for blocking rolled bottom edges on a long cardigan like this one:

I'm gonna sit on it until it stays down.

And no, I didn't try knitting a ribbed edge, mostly because ribbing tends to pull the knitting inwards, and I wanted the bottom edge to be more flat. But if this sweater is anything, it ain't flat.

I've gone ahead and picked up the gazillion stitches along each front edge and the neckline and I am currently working through a seed stitch edge for it. After that, I'm considering knitting a belt for it... but we'll see how sick of this thing I get. If I have to discipline this sweater anymore, it's not going to be pretty.

I better get out my stick.