29 April 2006

The Big Box Store

In case you haven’t checked your current JoAnn’s flyer, this weekend is a big sale with lots of extra markdowns on clearance items and a 50% off coupon for each day. Those coupons are brilliant marketing. Really, whoever is in charge of JoAnn’s sale calendar should be enshrined in the marketing hall of fame.

We all patiently await our coupons in the mailbox or email, then inevitably we have to use them. I mean, really, it’s basically throwing money away if you don’t stop by and use your discount. And let’s not get into the big markdowns that happen every so often. Need I tell anyone what happens to rational people when flannel is marked down to $1 or $2 a yard? If you need a refresher, I wrote about Black Friday back in November.

Depending on your perspective, JoAnn’s (or Hobby Lobby, Michael’s, A.C. Moore, etc.) is either Crafty Mecca or Where Bad Crafts Go To Die. For those who prefer the latter reading, it’s everything wrong with American capitalism, a virtual monopoly which woos would-be crafters with cheap prices and promises of easy output, yet fails to actually offer service to those in need. Woe be to the knitter in search of guidance in the warehouse aisles. However, it can also be a pleasure ground for exploration. Who hasn’t wandered into an aisle and discovered a previously unknown crafting universe? Oh, the possibilities. If only I’d known what you can do with craft sticks and a glue gun…

Lately, I’ve tried to avoid the siren call for a variety of reasons. There’s that whole yarn/fabric diet thing… bah. I’ll also confess that I’m swiftly embracing my own snobbery, yarn, fabric and otherwise. Red Heart? No thanks, this chic demands Rowan. Give me Kaffe Fassett or give me death! But, as my recent flyer announced, JoAnn’s now carries Alexander Henry fabrics and more. Course, I couldn’t find any of said fabric in my recent aisle wandering, but the idea that it’s there to be discovered kept me looking for far too long Thursday evening.

My economic theory is pretty rusty, but I believe it was Adam Smith who said that capitalism demands creation of markets where there previously were none, i.e. the niche. Need must not just be met, but more importantly, need must be created. Do I need Alexander Henry fabric at the moment? Nope. But darnit, I do need it if I can get it with my 50% off coupon which I need to spend.

So, in true Leslie fashion I celebrated the end of my semester on Thursday with some shopping. Hit up a JoAnn’s (since there are several in the area, there's even more need to check out the differences between the stores) and the mall (for a birthday present which I really did need to buy). Found the skein of yarn I needed to finish my socks and some double points that I need to make Shedir from Knitty. Then since I had a coupon that I needed to use on Friday, I returned to a different JoAnn’s and added a skein to my slowly growing stash of yarn for a felted bag project in the works. And since I had another Friday coupon that I could use at A.C. Moore, I snagged a book that I didn’t need at all, but I did the ol’ justification routine and put it in my cart. It’s a great resource; I’ll probably buy it anyway at some point. I have to use my coupon and the yarn that I intended to buy is already 50% off. So, really, I need to get the half-price yarn and the book at half-off to save money. It’s a savings, really. Ah, the logic or lack thereof in my universe…

Oh, and for those eagle eye readers who may be wondering how all this yarn purchasing jives with my yarn diet, remember my little caveat about buying yarn that I need to finish off projects? All three skeins that passed through my front door are already promised to projects awaiting finishing. So long as I already had some yarn for a project prior to Dec. 27, I’m allowed to buy a skein here and there to finish things. It may sound like I’m being pretty easy on myself, but trust me, the no new project yarn is restrictive enough. I almost broke down when I discovered new sock yarn at A.C. Moore, but like the Knitpicks sale, I only resisted because I didn’t want to break my streak with cheap sock yarn, at least not yet.

So, now I just need to do some knitting. Of course, I still have two Saturday-only coupons and I'm just sure I need something or other.

Thursday, 27 April: $4.13 venti nonfat hazelnut latte (we all have our coping drugs); $11 JoAnn’s sale round one: Paton’s Wool and sz 3 dpns for a hat; $xx Rachel’s bday present: silicon muffin baking pan, Le Gourmet Chef

Friday, 28 April: $6 breakfast/lunch sustenance; A.C. Moore (to use JoAnn’s coupon): $21 for Sensational Knitted Socks, summer candle and 1 skein Paton’s Wool; JoAnn’s Sale round two: $3 Lion Landscape to add to growing stash for felted bag; Rachel’s BDay night out: Taste of Thai: $12.50, Shadow Lounge: $12, Elmwood Lounge: $10

Saturday, 29 April: so far, zilch, but I may do my Wegmans run later

26 April 2006

This Post is Brought to You by Amvets

Well... I'm certainly glad that little visit is over! It was fine, nothing earth shattering, but I also didn't yak in the middle of the lecture. So, eh, it's over. Next!

I wanted to show that in the midst of all this thinking about things, I've also been pulling out some crafty projects to polish off. I bought a new sewing machine on ebay back in January (which is really a good story that will have to be shared at some point) and decided to give her a try. I think she passed. By the way, this is a very boring post. I'm out of steam. I gots a whole lotta nothin' by way of creativity right now. Ugh... end. of. semester.

American Slasher Bag

I'm naming this one in honor of Hilda who cautiously approaches all striped sweaters as if they channel Freddy Kruger. In its previous life, this sweater could've been chopping up teens, but once I grabbed it off the thrift store racks, it made a rebound as a felting project. I intended it to be a sleeve to protect my laptop from the bumps and bruises of life in my bag, but it felted too short and caused static when I tried it on the machine so crafty insight to the rescue. I lined it with a plain blue chambray and did canvas straps which wrap all the way around for support. The only real crafty aspect of it is the plastic canvas that I put between the sweater and the lining to help it keeps its shape. No pockets, no fasteners, just a plain jane felted bag which may or may not make its way into my rotation. Basically it's a project that I finished just because it was on the top of my sewing pile.

These are some pretty horrible pictures, but I just wanted to show that I finally managed to whip together the duvet cover that I've had the materials for for years. I found these two chenille bedspreads waiting in the Amvets aisles and liked the complementary nature of the colors. While it may not look like it, one is a nice denim blue and the other is a washed out green. These were originally intended to live in a pale green bedroom, but that was a year and an apartment ago. At least they are joined together now...

Finally, just to show that I haven't forgotten what the knitting needles were all about, I present a work-in-progress shot of Lara from the Debbie Bliss Alpaca Silk collection. I started this when I was feeling all bad-ass in my post Knitting Olympics glow. It was abandoned for awhile as it grew too unruly for travel knitting, but I've been pretty faithful as of late. I'm doing it in some Brown Sheep worsted so it's got a very different texture than the original, but I think it will turn out wearable. As far as a knitting project goes, it's perfect for me right now as you have to think for a few minutes every so often and then it's back to knitting 30 rows of plain stockinette or 2x2 ribbing. And when you have over 200 stitches on the needles, those are long and mindless rows. Love it. Yes, I'm perfectly content to be mindless... just means I can devote more attention to the higher things of life, like CSI...

Tuesday, 24 April: nadda... too scared to contemplate spending money

Wednesday, 25 April: three solid meals at the Student Union... $1.85 for a bagel, $6 (which is highway robbery) for mozzerella sticks and a juice, and $3 for a milkshake... gotta love the end of semester for all the healthy eating options. Sure, I could've bought a salad, but a salad ain't gonna get these #@$%% papers graded... all fat and caffeine around these parts for at least a few more days. This teacher (and her real-food craving tummy) can't wait for summer break!

24 April 2006

Scary Scary

Monday, 24 April: $6 for Burger King dinner deeeeee-lux

My advisor is observing my class tomorrow.

Figured I may as well blow the diet on fries and a strawberry shake since I'll be yakking constantly until this whole nightmare is over in 18 hours.

Egads, only 18 more hours... If you need me, I'll be in the bathroom with Jane Austen and my laptop.

By the way, if you have any extra good vibes lying about, could you send them my way about 2 p.m. EST?

23 April 2006

You Are What You Eat

Shortly after those economists diss your latte habit, they demand you get in touch with your inner Julia Child to avoid the financial pitfalls of eating out. From take out to gourmet, restaurant patronage is bad for both your wallet and your waistline.

But is it good for your life?

I enjoy eating out. Restaurants are a topic of conversation with both my grandparents and my friends here. Have you tried that new place in Allentown? What about looking for something new on Hertel? Ooh, I read a review of that one. Let’s check it out.

When I was little, I remember it being a huge treat when Grandma and Grandpa took my brother and I to A&W Root Beer for cheeseburgers and a float. Being a “country kid,” we weren’t raised on the drive-thru since the nearest drive-thru was a 30 minute drive away, so restaurants were something special, an event for Saturday night.

In a way, my restaurant outings are still “special” even if they do happen more frequently. I’m pretty sure that my friendship with Erica was cemented over a shared dessert at Le Metro. Little did she know then how often she’d have to listen to me blather on at our regular dinner outings. Those meals together are amongst the most important things I do here in Buffalo. It may just be another round of chicken enchiladas, but I’d have to say that that’s where life is processed, rehashed and if need be, redirected. When I broke up with my ex, I had a hard time eating. Erica took me to at least three restaurants in one night, trying to find a place where I could find something to eat that wouldn’t make me yak. Now that’s friendship… especially considering that the magic stay-in-my-tummy potion was a milkshake from the dirty Denny’s.

Perhaps it’s just because I’m writing about food and consumption in the current dissertation chapter, but this week I really noticed my major food expenditures. Actually, almost all my expenditures were for food, be that groceries, beverages or restaurant meals. Wednesday it was my turn to treat for lunch with my former boss. She picks up the tab nearly every time so I try to make it appear fair by chipping in every now and then. Last night I joined friends in celebrating a completed dissertation and a return home to Hong Kong. There’s part of me that’s feeling the guilt of spending so much money on a single meal. $36 for dinner? Even if it does include wine, dessert and leftovers… that’s a chunk of change when you have to write it down for all to see.

But what all those economists tell you is that restaurants are a rip-off because you pay for ambience, for overhead, for convenience. You pay for the privilege of sitting there and telling someone else what you want while you focus on your companions. And just like the lattes, that’s something I’m willing to pay for. I enjoy the process of deciding where to go, reviewing the menu, giving the D. family rating at the end. (If only more places earned better than the “fair” evaluation...) I’ve tried to practice restraint and give up on eating out. I try to still avoid the drive-thru even if it is just around the block now. But I’m not so sure if it would be a good idea for me to give up my restaurant habit entirely.

In my research I write that food isn’t about sustaining the body. It’s an act, a ritual that determines the community. Sunday meals at NicNac with the grease and the roaches and the bizarre combination of sausage gravy and biscuits with a vanilla milkshake are a fundamental part of my identity. Perhaps not a part I should brag about, but still, those experiences were what my life was while I was growing up. Now, the restaurants have changed and I’m picking up the tab, but I’m still formulating my life around my food consumption. My life is determined or perhaps created by the action of consumption, both actual nutrients ingested and consumption of other people’s service. Now if restaurant economics are fair or not is probably another post, especially considering the news piece I saw the other day about how the current immigration debates ignore the fact that there are very few restaurants with “American” workers in the kitchen because Americans won’t work for the low wages offered most food service workers, yet we demand low priced (and huge portioned) meals.

I suppose it comes back to what I was trying to define as conscious consumption. I know that $36 for a meal is excessive for my budget. However, that same amount is a bargain for enjoying an evening out with a friend that I may not see again.

So, economists be damned. Waitress, can I hear the specials again?

Saturday, 22 April: $36 dinner and dessert with friends

Sunday, 23 April: nadda

21 April 2006

Grander Than a Latte

The first item on any economic advice columnist’s list of ways to fix your finances and retire with ease is inevitably: “Cut the latte habit.” They wave their magic money crunching wand and show you, bibbity bobbity boo, how sticking with Maxwell House at home will net you enough stashed away to buy a vacation home in Palm Springs.

Wednesday, one of my expenses was a coffee that set me back $4 and some change. “Geez, how can I admit that on the blog? I’m so awful, breaking the first law of frugality. $5 for coffee… what a waste.”

But that’s not the purpose of this experiment. I’m not tracking the money flow to be a martyr to my checking account, or lack thereof. Been there, done that… and expect an entry on that this weekend, since my other expense Wednesday (lunch out with a former boss) brought up a whole slew of other thoughts about penny pinching, food and social relations. I just want to understand how I relate to my world through consumption. And I don’t mean just consuming in terms of fat grams and calories, although, that frappacino also surfaces as a big no-no on the “how to wear a bikini in two weeks” lists.

In random internet reading I came across the term “the Starbucks Set.” The writer was using this as a code word for young professionals who worked and played in cafés and wanted to live in urban areas where walking to the daily cup o’ joe was a possibility. Although, again, there’s much to be said about café consumption and lifestyles, for now I just want to start thinking about how those lattes aren’t just lattes.

Wednesday afternoon the stress level around the office was rising. More projects were being put on my plate and I felt myself losing perspective on what needed to be finished and how to tackle the work. The Starbucks run coincided with a legitimate errand and conveniently gave me a few minutes to get out into the spring air, take some deep breaths, and figure out how to make it through the remaining hours of my afternoon without tears or screams. Often, my Starbucks runs are treats, incentives to check off three more things before I get to escape. They’re a little bit of splurging as well as regularity in an otherwise dreary yet crazy day. I don’t go every day, probably no more than once, maybe twice a week. Should I be saving that money? Absolutely.

And that’s why I purchased a $30 espresso machine a few months ago, letting me have my lattes and my bank balance.

But I still have days where I need that infamous white cup in my hands. It’s a lifestyle purchase as much as, or possibly even more than a food purchase. And it’s a lifestyle purchase that for now, feels justifiable in my own personal sense of budgeting.

This is all still pretty half-baked, or half-perked to continue the coffee motif, but in reading Lone Knitter and Emma’s comments about Secret Pal 8, I was worried that I was promoting a restraint that I don’t really believe in. My Starbucks trips give me pleasures aside from the coffee itself and so are worth every penny. It sounds like the Secret Pal exchange offers a lot of potential pleasures that make the investment worth it. I too have thought that I shouldn’t spend $60 on a stranger when I wouldn’t spend it on myself, but perhaps you’re buying the fun of getting the mail, getting the surprises, and participating in a larger community. The goods are great, but the social aspect of it all makes it more than just getting yarn and treats. And honestly, would you spend the $20 a month on little treats that make your day happier? I know I’d have an easier time dropping the cash on someone else than myself. I could enjoy a fancy pants candy bar that someone else sent me, but I’d probably only feel guilty about splurging even on a low end lollipop that I’d picked up.

I guess I’d describe my own economic goals (which I don’t live up to, so please don’t think of me as someone who has all this figured out) as conscious consumption on all levels. I’d like to claim that I thought about what I put in my mouth, in my shopping cart, and in my home. I’d like to think that I considered every purchase, acquisition, or nibble as a reasonable intake that brought about pleasure. That’s why I cut out the yarn… for now. It didn’t bring pleasure when it passed through my front door, even the good stuff. Same for fabric purchases, trips to the thrift stores, rummage sale outings, etc.

But Wednesday’s venti mocha light frappacino hold the whip, yep, it brought a whole afternoon worth of pleasure. Well, at least it made my afternoon with my computer a tiny little bit better.

I’m not a financial advisor and have no idea if this crack pot theory of conscious consumption really holds water. I’m pretty sure it won’t get you that vacation home in Palm Springs, but so far, when I actually practice it, it makes my little corner of B-Lo a little nicer.

Wednesday, 19 April: $18.38 for lunch; $4.xx for coffee

Thursday, 20 April: zilch

Friday, 21 April: zilch ditto

18 April 2006

A Little Spring Reverie

April is the cruelest month... for academics who see that spring has sprung yet they're stuck being the grown up and holding it together for the last few weeks. So hard to not cancel my own boring lecture on Pride and Prejudice to suggest we play frisbee instead... sigh...

Financial Foibles of the Day: $1.67 for a Diet Cherry Vanilla Coke

17 April 2006

Consumer Report Numero Uno

Thanks for the comments on my little kooky project. I just wanted to say first that in no way do I intend for this to be a criticism of shopping in general or yarn buying specifically. Buy on, ladies, buy on. Hey, I gotta get my yarn porn somewhere and since all is quiet on this front, I’m dependent on voyeurism for my kicks. And shopping, it’s an art form, a sport, a passion, a hobby, and if you do it well, an aerobic activity. I really don’t mean to curtail my shopping habits with this experiment, just be conscious of them. Granted, I’ve already felt guilt about today’s shopping, but I want to understand that guilt, not just prevent it by giving up all forms of consumerism.

So, without further adieu, the first two days…

16 April: Nothing spent… An entire day with Pride and Prejudice and knitting. Yes, you can be jealous if you want to. Jane Austen is yummy, that is, until you stop and ask yourself how likely it is that smart girls will be rescued by Mr. Darcy. And is it just me, or does dear Elizabeth go strangely mute once she actually realizes she’s in love? But I bet she could have all the yarn she wants when she moves to Pemberley! Ah, to be a kept woman… even if it does mean keeping your mouth shut…

17 April: The Grocery Getting: $80.84

Seems an awful lot to spend on sustenance for a single gal… but, of that $24.88 was for non-food items, things like shampoo and medicine, things that all seem to run out at the same time. Of that, $6.99 went to a quilting magazine, completely unnecessary but a nice little treat.

As to the groceries, well, the cupboard was bare so there was stocking up on granola bars and such, and as granola bars generally make up the vast majority of mealtimes around these parts, there were lots of granola bars to be stashed. And coffee… I dare not run out of coffee for fear of what might happen to the world around a non-caffeinated Leslie.

So why the guilt? Over a quilting magazine? And a really cute magazine at that… with projects I may actually make someday… I suppose it has to do with knowing that I have quilt books with cute projects waiting to be made, fabric waiting to be cut, etc. But $7 for a cheap thrill and nighttime reading, pretty cost-effective all in all.

And finally, some knitting…Lara progresses. I’m almost to the point of dividing for the front and back. Great mindless knitting… Pics tomorrow, hopefully. On the knitting front, I do have to give Lone Knitter a completely hard time for being silly. You knit gorgeous socks, a sweater would be easy-peasy! Granted, you may have to make time in your supergirl schedule for a sweater, but summer’s coming, right?

16 April 2006


The first email I opened yesterday was from Knitpicks: “Sock Yarn Closeout!” It was dangerous territory. Luckily, I’d run across this message before and had already experienced a first drool over Lone Knitter’s stash acquisitions. I thought I’d beaten the “buy yarn now” monster, but there was still a battle to be fought.

I’ve been on a yarn diet since 27 December, not that I’m counting or anything. I’d really like to make it until Rhinebeck and then I’d like to make it until I actually work through my stash. Basically, that means I get to shop at Rhinebeck and then never again, considering how big the stash is and how long it will take me to get through it.

But sock yarn… on closeout… from Knitpicks… Really, could I resist? It’s so cheap. And I really enjoyed knitting those socks.

But you have sock yarn still waiting to be knit up. And it’s for your mother at that. C’mon, there’s got to be some pressure to knit for mom before you knit for yourself.

But I could just put this aside as inspiration. It’ll be summer soon and I’ll need small projects.

You have an apartment full of small projects perfect for summer. And, um, a diss to write…

But the colors… oooooh, pretty.

But you’ll buy enough to get the free shipping. Do you honestly need $40 worth of socks?

But I’m buying not just the product, but the process, the experience of knitting.

You’ve got a lifetime of experience just waiting for you in the stash.

But…. pretty.

Are you honestly going to break the yarn diet for clearance sock yarn?

Oh, good point. If I’m going to blow it, I want to blow it on something big, something amazing, something worth announcing on the blog. Socks are great, but yeah, not worth it. Delete this email now. (Granted, the above reasoning process took hours. I really have very little self-restraint.)

So there’s a justification for blogging, saved me $40 this weekend.

I spend a good deal of time and energy thinking about stuff, things, shopping, acquiring, owning, and consumption. My diss is about this obsession. My apartment is evidence of my obsession. (It really is true that academic studies are autobiographical even when it doesn’t seem that they are… all a bunch of navel-gazing.) The yarn diet is only one way that I try to monitor my consumption. So far, it’s actually been a rather successful enterprise. I never kept track of how much I used to spend on yarn, but the fact that I haven’t made any purchases must be helping that checkbook balance. It’s also been helping my crafty-guilt. I used to “shop” the blogs for great ideas and then feel guilty because I wasn’t producing as many sweaters as this person or didn’t have the nice yarn this other person displayed. I’d buy the yarn, but never get to the project, so I was guilty for wasting money and guilty for not getting the darn project done. Now, since I know I can’t buy yarn for new projects, I can appreciate what others do and simply put my own head back into the projects and stash that I have going, knowing that there will always be great yarns and ideas out there later, when the stash is reduced and the bank account increased.

I’ve made a few other consumption changes in the recent past. I used to be a rummage sale junkie. Every Saturday morning, I’d grab my coffee and check off the list that I made the night before. I never spent a ton of money, but I’d always come home with loads of “treasures.” When I started feeling a bit cramped in my living space, I started thinking that perhaps it would be a better use of my Saturday morning to stay home and actually enjoy my possessions rather than acquiring more. Maybe I should crack open that vintage craft kit and enjoy the warm morning on my back porch instead of fighting with the masses for another pair of jeans for a quarter.

Come spring, a young girl’s thoughts turn to rummage sales, or they used to. Last year I only went to one sale here in Buffalo, one that caught my eye on the way to work. I did find some pretty great stuff, but all day I felt like I’d fallen off the wagon. I couldn’t really enjoy the purchases because I felt icky about buying things that I just didn’t need. In fact, in buying yarn and fabric, I’d actually just managed to put more things on my “to do” list. Buying is never just buying when it’s craft supplies or furniture to re-do or clothing that needs to be altered.

In my research I argue that things are never just things. Every inanimate object comes with a complex web of history, allusions, economic realities, and future demands. At the very least, you have to dust it. Or you should.

So while this may not be knitting per se, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how and why we modify our relationship to things and how that relates to how and why we modify our lives in the immaterial sense. I think I decided to stop buying yarn because I have more than I’ll ever use and I felt rather guilty that I was wasting money on things I just didn’t need. I enjoyed the rush of all those new skeins, but I wasn’t feeling the rush of finishing projects, just guilt that there were more projects on the list. It’s been interesting to go through the process of resisting my old patterns of stopping by the yarn store to get one little thing and walking out with a bag of goodies. JoAnn’s is no longer a browsing experience. I’m there to buy the one thing I plan to use my coupon on and that’s it. I’m not sure if this is really happening or if it just feels like it’s happening, but the crafty room is actually cleaner than it was. I can see the floor at least.

I read an article recently about a woman who gave up shopping for 12 days. She, in turn, was reading a book about an academic couple who gave up all luxury consumption for their sabbatical year. While the project sounds a bit Jane Thompkins-esque, it’s an interesting idea to set up a modification of one’s spending habits just to see how consumption really affects life. I’ll be honest, I like to shop. I like pretty things. I don’t plan to become an ascetic any time soon, but I’ve been thinking about something small that I can do for a month to increase my own understanding of things. It may not really help the diss, but perhaps it will increase my own conception of the interface between people and things.

So, here’s the experiment… for one month, I’m going to document my spending habits. I know, how thrilling, right? But hey, it’s kinda like watching miles of stockinette grow, which is the other blogging option at the moment. I expect to see that I spend more than I think I do on the little things… a Starbucks trip here and an item not on my Target list there. I also expect that I’m going to be a little more resistant about buying those things if I’ve got to fess up for all the world to see. I don’t plan to consciously resist consuming, just be more conscious about it. I know that I’ll be doing a Toronto shopping day during this time period so that will give the credit cards a small workout. I also know that I tend to splurge during transition times and the end of the semester/beginning of summer will hit right in the middle of this experiment. (Thank goodness!)

What will I spend money on between 16 April and 16 May? Oh wait, that’s my brother’s birthday… better go start my shopping…

14 April 2006

Batter Up!

So here's one that slipped through the posting cracks. Gosh, I don't know how that happened considering I'm doing good to average a post a week. Anyway, I finished this just before the Knitting Olympics got me all hot and bothered about socks. So far, it has made its way into the sweater rotation and seems to be holding its own. [Note: This is a pretty nerdy knitting post so if you're looking for witty banter, um, I'll try to have something (bizarre) happen in life before my next post.]

Pattern: ChicKnits Ribby Cardi
Yarn: Plymouth Galway Worsted Wool colors 129 (blue) and 134 (grey)
Needles: Addis 6
Size: 42/43 on pattern
Dates: Summer 05 - Feb 06
Recipient: Yours truly
Notes: The virtues of this pattern have been extolled all over blogland so I don't need to add more praise. My only caveat on the pattern is that I'm not so sure this is a perfect sweater for beginners. Because there are both plain panel and ribbed versions given, the instructions skip around a bit. It's all written out, but it does require just a bit of attention to know where to go next. Also, the neck and arm shaping sometimes gets confusing to keep track of. It's not impossible, but I could see a lot of first-timers get frustrated.

I only made minor modifications like adding a few inches to the sleeves because I like to cuff my sweaters. I also used snaps instead of the suggested zipper. I've tried to add a zipper before and um, not pretty. Even the snaps were a bit of a bugger. I tried to use the ones that go all the way through the fabric and are installed with a little tool thingy and a hammer. There was hammering, but there was no snapping. I ended up with a hole and no fastener. Luckily, I was able to catch it and do some repair on the button band, right before I threw the tool thingy and the offending snaps into my sewing basket to be dealt with on another day... notably one where I'm drinking and crafting because I'm going to have to be a bit out of it to try that debacle again.

My knitting group has been debating the worsted wools out there, Elann's Peruvian Highland, Knitpick's Wool of the Andes, and the Plymouth Galway I used. Elann and Knitpicks get the award for price, although really the Galway is comparable. Personally, I like the look of the Galway best. So far I've had no pilling or even fuzzing. It feels sturdier than the Knitpicks, maybe a little heavier although I'd have to swatch to know for sure. I also find it an advantage to buy the Galway at the LYS. The practical advantages are of course benefitting local business and generally getting a plethora of free advice with your purchase. I wrote earlier about getting help on knowing how many stitches to pick up for the button band. No, they aren't going to sit there with you while you knit the whole thing, but if you just have a question or two, the shop is pretty good about helping out its faithful addicts.

Granted, the color selection is a little on the limited side, but I'm one that likes the process of picking out my colors, lying them out on the table, playing with different varieties. It's the same with quilting. I love the process of planning usually more than the actual sewing. It's like playing dress up when you get to move around the bolts of fabric or the skeins of yarn, experimenting and enjoying the ways the colors interact. Even with a limited color selection, it's nice to see how the shades and undertones will work together, something you just don't get on the computer screen. I'll still order online, don't get me wrong, but I like the experience of shopping in the store and playing with the goods.

I do have some Knitpicks yarn to work with though so I'll keep you posted (since I know you're waiting breathlessly for the rest of this comparison study), but so far, I'm with Plymouth. (I just thought of the Lion Wool that's out there and I haven't had a chance to try it either... Hmm, more projects needed...)

Just for my own bit of bragging time, I finally got the mattress stitch down with this sweater, and although I forgot to take photographic evidence, those are some darn fine seams. Finishing really does make a huge difference.

Would I knit this pattern again? Absolutely. I could see this in a black or tweedy grey as a good fall sweater or possibly even in a lighter pink for a spring jacket-type piece to throw on for errand running. It looks a little boxy in the picture, but it fits like a comfortable, sporty sweatshirt. A lot of the sweatshirt or hoodie type sweaters out there now have waist shaping and are meant to be more form fitting, but personally, if I'm wearing my comfies, I like a little extra ease. I'm not sure if I'm fortunate or cursed to have enough, ahem, girly curves to fill out the top and make this look more like a cute sweater than a baseball jacket, but nonetheless, I think in the worsted weight fabric, I look better in a little boxier style.

So, all in all, we have a winner!

10 April 2006

Finishing Frenzy

First, thanks for all your well-wishes about my travel fiasco. Believe it or not, the trip went downhill from the time I posted. If you've ever attempted to get somewhere using United Express, I just have to say... Washington Dulles Terminal G, otherwise known as the fifth circle of hell. I assumed this little gem of a structure was temporary while a nifty new terminal was being constructed. I assumed wrong. There are architects and engineers who should be fired. Really. 26 gates in one tiny little building with one poor excuse for a food shop/newsstand/bar and 340 chairs for 5673 people. But I would've been happier in the terminal.

3 hours on the tarmac while we were being told that we couldn't return to the terminal of hell since there was a tornado warning and all the workers had gone home. Excuse me? The workers inside the building weren't safe, so we are sitting in a tin can on the tarmac? During our three hour tour of nowhere, our wonder flight attendant sent a child around the plane with the pretzels. She managed to get up once and pass out half glasses of lukewarm water. Once in flight, she was asked if she'd be coming around with beverages. "No, I already did that and I'm only required to provide service once for this flight." So, tired, hungry and frustrated, we start to get excited when the B-lo airport comes into view. But, just kidding. It took our terrific co-pilot three tries to make the runway. No, I'm not kidding. He came over the intercom with this: "Sorry, folks, thought I'd make our trip just a little longer. [chuckle, chuckle] Just going a little fast there, let's try it again." Meanwhile, the little paper bags are filling up and the plane is really starting to stink. Once we did finally touch down, pilot of the century was still going too fast so everyone had to brace themselves with outstretched arms against the seat in front of them. Needless to say, seatbelts were whipped off before the stupid little light went out and our flight attendant tried to make a funny: "No no no. I see seatbelts off before they were supposed to be. I'm going to keep you on this plane for one minute for every person who got up before they were allowed to."

Luckily a sane man was sitting in the front row interceded on our behalf. "Lady, you've got a plane full of tired, angry, sick people who need to get out of here. I suggest you save your jokes for another crowd."

There were no little pleasantries exchanged as we darted past our crew.

I think I'll just stay home for awhile now.

But on a positive note, there has been knitting. This past weekend I managed to finish two projects.

Pattern: Openwork Lace Scarf Version 2.0
Yarn: Fleece Meadows Alpacas Laceweight, 2 skeins
Needles: Crystal Palace bamboos, Sz. 6
Dates: 23 March - 8 April 2006
Recipient: Me
Notes: I made a white version of this scarf over the holidays for my International Scarf Exchange pal. (See archives for Jan '06.) Out of the blue I received an email from the owner of the alpaca farm that produced this yarn. She had been knitting with their laceweight yarn and found some problems so she wanted me to have two replacement skeins. She was going to switch mills but wanted to see how this yarn was. My initial impression was that this was produced at a different mill, but I found some of the same problems. First, let me say, this is gorgeous yarn. It's silky and very shiny for black yarn. However, it does seem to be inconsistent. It goes from very, very thin to rather thick. I didn't have as many problems with the plies separating with the black, but the twist didn't seem consistent. I really don't find this to be a problem though. It's not perfect yarn, but that only makes it seem less like a mass-produced commercial product. I like the final product and would order this again even if she does use the same mill.
My only reservation about the yarn though is that it isn't as soft as it seems in the skein. I don't think of myself as having particularly sensitive skin, but in trying it on for short periods of time, it is a little itchy against my neck. I've been working on another black alpaca scarf and have been fighting the shedding like nobody's business. So far, this seems to leave less of a reminder halo behind, but I'm having mixed feelings about this one. It's still chilly enough in the mornings here to do a test wear this week.

Terrific Teal Tee
Pattern: Based on Glampyre's Top-Down Raglan
Yarn: Lion Brand Cotton-Ease, ?? skeins
Needles: Assorted circs
Dates: Summer '05 - 8 April 2006
Notes: Well, ugh. This is why I'm not a sweater designer. Last summer I wanted a simple, in-the-round project and thought a basic cotton sweater would fit the bill. I cast on 112 stitches and went to town, using YOs to make a nifty little pattern at the raglan joins. I thought some basic 2x2 ribbing would make this just a tad above the ordinary without requiring much thought or planning. And that's the thing... it looks like I didn't put much thought or planning into this one. The ribbing is fine, but it starts in just the wrong spot. Seriously, I couldn't have planned for this fugliness.

I tried to wear this to a birthday party Saturday night, but no amount of tugging, stretching, or accessorizing (thus, the cute little flower pin) could make it wearable. The neckline is fine, the length is fine, but the ribbing... not fine. It could possibly be the body beneath the sweater that needs the work, but for now, this one is going on the shelf to marinate while I decide to rip out the bottom or find a friend who needs a (potentially fugly) sweater. (Yes, I'm such a sweet friend.)

Coming tomorrow: a finished sweater that actually did make it into the wearable column and a cheerier outlook, promise!

03 April 2006

Travel Like a Rock Star

The next time I decide to travel like a rock star, I’m going to be a rock star… or at least whip out the Visa like one. Surely, were I a real rock star, these things would not be part of my trip.

If I was a rock star…

1. I would not have had the housekeeping lady banging on my door the first morning of my arrival, screaming at me while I was trying to put a shirt on and get to the door.
2. She would have actually taken the cigarette out of her mouth to yell at me to get my a$$ out the door since it was past check-out time… despite the fact that I wasn’t supposed to check out for three more days.
3. I would have had my assistant do a much better job of writing down the actual building where my conference was, not just the street corner. Thus, I would have been able to avoid wandering around the dormitories looking for someone to help me find where the grown-ups were.
4. I would not be discovering gross stains on the bedspread… after I’d already slept under it.
5. I would not be greeted with a “pool closed” sign when I trekked out with my essays to grade and sunscreen to apply.
6. I would not have to grade essays, period.
7. My waiter would actually be polite when he threw my chimichanga at me.
8. My hotel would really be “minutes from the park and university,” and not minutes away in a car doing 80.
9. I would not be hollered at by a scary man in a rusty Jeep just because I chose to walk down the street, clearly something foreign to Carolinians.
10. My bodyguard would talk care of said Jeep man when he circled the block twice to ask me if I wanted a ride.
11. I would have had fine dining options outside of Wendy’s and Captain D’s.
12. If I chose to go to Captain D’s, I would not be asked why I didn’t have my church clothes on when I went to get lunch on a Sunday.
13. I also would be able to eat my lunch at a table by myself without having to listen to three different tables talk about the strange girl would was sitting alone.
14. My 400 pound cab driver would not show up at my hotel wearing a thin Hanes t-shirt 4 sizes too small, boxer shorts as outerwear and white knee socks with his sandals.
15. He also would not ask if I wanted to stop and buy him a doughnut since we were driving past Krispy Kremes.
16. Nor would he spend nearly 10 minutes discussing White Castle hamburgers and how the grease made ‘em easier to eat.
17. He also would not pull up next to a car and scream, “How can you listen to that crap?”
18. When I finally got to the airport, ready to settle in with decent coffee and some Wi-Fi, the counter girl would be on this planet. Really, I had no idea ordering a coffee and pastry could involve a lengthy negotiation.

I’m a simple girl, really. I don’t need adoring fans or even a chocolate on my pillow. But hey, a clean pillow for watching Law & Order marathons would be nice.

So, I’m not a rock star, but I’m begrudgingly realizing that I’m a grown-up and no longer find “adventures” in flea-bag hotels to be enjoyable. My “personal assistant” (i.e., me, myself and I) will need to do a much better job of planning future travels. She at least better call and check to see how often they change the sheets.