28 January 2007

All The Weirdness That's Fit To Blog

So once again I needed to disappear from the Inner-Nets and email. Thank you all for continuing to read despite my complete inability to return the commenting favor. I’ve been reading but when I go to type, I’m frozen trying to get out sentences about all the cute projects I’ve been seeing out there. I know this is decidedly lame, but to anyone who has commented and not heard back from me, I’m sorry for being oh-so-terribly rude.

Anyway, I’m trying again to get back in the swing o’ things. Marisa tagged me for the 6 Weird Things meme and I’ve been eeking out this list over days. I’ve been able to keep it to six, although I’m sure my mother would be happy to leave a list of all my quirks in the commens.

1. Funny that one of Marisa’s weirdnesses is a monkey issue. Personally, I can’t handle bananas. I gag at the taste, the smell, even the sight of them. I’ve actually had to have students eat their treats in the hallway because I can’t stand to watch someone eat a banana. And let’s not bring up the time I was on a long antique-hunting road trip in a cramped van when one of the ladies decided she needed a banana. At the time I was too shy and polite to ask her not to eat it so I sat in the back and suffered. Then I had to sit for miles with the stinking peel in the garbage. I’ve changed my ways and much more forceful about the anti-banana policy.

2. I have weird thumbs. They are short, flat and smooshed at the end, like little frog sucker feet rather than human digits. They’re an inheritance from my grandfather and I’ve had people tell me they are a birth defect which is a sign of either mental retardation or mental giftedness. All I know is that hitch-hiking won’t be an option for me because they bend so far backwards, passing drivers won’t see my plea for a ride.

3. This may not be weird for the rural readers, but most of my city slicker friends find it quite odd that I went to elementary school with fewer than ten kids in each grade. I think there were six of us and only one boy. Two grades were generally combined in a single classroom so the teacher would bounce between giving a science lesson to third graders and history to fourth graders. I was a shy, dorky little kid who didn’t really get along with the others so the set-up gave me lots of time to get lost in books. Even the teachers let me do my own thing for the most part, probably why I’m a bit of a bookworm, loner now

4. I have absolutely zero tolerance for the distraction of television or the radio. If there’s a TV on in a restaurant, I have to watch it. Friends know that when we go out, I have to be positioned so that I can’t see a screen if they want me to participate in the conversation. I once was on a date with a total hottie who deserved to stared at appreciatively, but I was unable to adjust my bar stool accordingly. He even had to ask me, “Do you really like watching wrestling?” My eloquent reply, “Uh, no. Do you?” Hottie: “No, I don’t particularly enjoy it but you’re staring so intently, I thought you were a big fan.” Oops. (Thank goodness my appreciation of half nelsons did not interfere with getting a second date… although I think that whole dork thing mentioned above interfered with getting a third date!)

5. I also have this thing where I have to walk in step to the radio. Too many years of marching band, I think. And let’s not even get into aerobics teachers who can’t do routines to the beat. I seriously have to leave the class. It’s just better for everyone involved when I can sweat in time.

6. Although I am a complete packrat, I get a great deal of pleasure from throwing things away. When I get to the end of the shampoo bottle, I feel as if I’ve accomplished terrific and wonderful things. You’ve got to find your moments of pride where you can, right?

I think I’ve seen most of you play on this one so I’m not sure there’s anyone to tag. I’ll do some investigating in your archives and tag those who’ve yet to share their psychosis!

22 January 2007

Ice and Roses

When the weather outside is like this:

You should fill your inside with fabric like this:

(Flowers for the Amy Butler CD and Desk Organizer Projects)

21 January 2007

And Then the Coffee Pot Died…

One of those weeks… one of those weeks that hovered somewhere between blah and bad, never really tipping the scales in either direction, just hovering and being funky.

I really don’t have a darned thing to complain about really, but this week I got hit with several “hard” facts of life. Losing weight and getting into shape are hard. Writing a dissertation is hard. Keeping on top of bill paying and dish washing and email writing is hard. Trying to get to the office on time when your coffee pot dies is hard.

At least knitting isn’t hard, or at least the knitting I’m currently doing isn’t hard.

Nor was it hard to dig out my extra coffee pot and get back into the caffeine-happy world.

Writing, however, seems painfully hard at the moment so I’ve crept into my little hermit crab shell* and will return tomorrow, ready to face the world, hopefully with comments on all your blogs, pictures of my growing Clapotis and a baby sweater, and shoot, maybe even a good mood.

*I’ve never been one for astrology but I’ve got to say, sometimes it creeps me out when the profiles of Cancerians hits pretty close to home.

16 January 2007

This is What Luxury Looks Like

Lest you think I was planning on becoming entirely Puritanical, I should confess that luxury still has a firm hold at Chez Leslie. On my travels east after the holiday vacation, I stopped at a cheap, roadside hotel and went in search of Chinese. Really, just after some sesame chicken, I swear. But hey, when you search for an eggroll and the universe gives you a fantastic quilt store, what are you to do?

Why, SHOP, of course!

Since I've developed a bit of a Kaffe Fassett fascination of late, I had to end my last days of fabric gluttony with a splurge on some fantastic florals. I've got some big, bright plans for these beauties. And the knitting? Yes, there may need to be some brights on my needles as well!

15 January 2007


1. a material object, service, etc., conducive to sumptuous living, usually a delicacy, elegance, or refinement of living rather than a necessity. 2. free or habitual indulgence in or enjoyment of comforts and pleasures in addition to those necessary for a reasonable standard of well-being. 3. a means of ministering to such indulgence or enjoyment. 4. a pleasure out of the ordinary allowed to oneself. 5. a foolish or worthless form of self-indulgence.

Over a year ago, I decided that it was high time I saw THE TREE, you know, the Rockefeller Center tree that graces every picture of New York in December. (And of course, this year it was better known as the site of those pics demonstrating the marital freedom celebration the world was waiting for… Britney being all healthy and glowy and wearing a stupid dressage hat …. if only we’d known then that her ‘freedom’ photos would include skivvy-free photos too, but I digress.)

So I saw the tree, shopped all over the city and bought yarn. Nice yarn. Expensive yarn. Clapotis yarn.

The Lorna’s Laces Lion and Lamb is most likely the most expensive, luxurious yarn to ever grace my needles. And it’s a darn good thing that I’ve experienced silk at the beginning of my yarn diet, when my resolve is somewhat still in existence, because oh mama, is this a whole new knitting experience.

As part of my resolution to read outside of the dissertation, I recently picked up Juliet Schor’s The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need. Somewhat paradoxically, I purchased this tome on overspending and luxury at a store closing sale and it set me back a whopping buck. I’d really recommend this to anyone interested in the consumption patterns of contemporary America and, probably more relevant to all those whose resolutions were of the financial nature, on how to get out of the patterns of competition and over-consumption which threaten all of us.

She writes about how “keeping up with the Joneses” has changed from the 1950s to the late 90s (the book is a bit dated, but I don’t think things have changed in the last five years). Particularly, she argues that our focus groups have expanded so that we watch people at work or on television shows in order to establish the ‘norm’ for our consumption practices. Because every sitcom shows a supposedly middle class family with a flat screen TV, we believe this is average. She cites statistics on how much viewing affects our perception of reality and our spending habits. “The more people watch television, the more they think American households have tennis courts, private planes, convertibles, car telephones, maids, and swimming pools. Heavy watchers also overestimate the portion of the population who are millionaires, have had cosmetic surgery, and belong to a private gym” (80). Car phones as the height of technology? Um, yeah… like I said, a bit dated.

But that distorted perception comes at a real cost. “Social theories of consumption hold that the inflated sense of consumer norms promulgated by the media raises people’s aspirations and leads them to buy more… Television also affects norms by giving us real information about how other people live and what they have. It allows us to be voyeurs, opening the door to the ‘private world’ inside the homes and lives of others” (81).

Isn’t this what blogging does as well? Crafting blogs seem to especially serve as sites for voyeurism, allowing us to peek into the creativity going on behind closed doors. On the one hand, we feel that we’re getting a complete picture of someone’s studio or knitting bag, but really, we’ve all commented on how blogging is somewhat artificial in that we stage photo sessions and cut out the dirty dishes and piles of laundry.

But to get back to where I started…luxury. As I was reading this, I was thinking about the standards of our knitting community and our sense of the common use of ‘luxury’ yarns. We apologize when we knit with $2 a skein Wool-Ease, justifying that it’s for a child and will need to be machine washed by a frazzled new mom. We don’t blink an eye at $20-$25 for yarn for a pair of socks. We even collect sock yarn, rationalizing that we’ll use it eventually and it’s only a skein or two to tuck away into our stuffed cabinets and boxes. I find it fascinating how we as a community have normalized $20 socks.

I’m not criticizing at all. I’m right at the forefront of justifying my yarn purchases. I just find it very interesting, and yes, personally alarming, how fast my perception has changed. When I first took a sock knitting class, I was appalled at having to spend around $15 for my supplies (something Regia, I believe). Now, it seems like I’m getting a bargain when I buy Koigu solids at $18 for two skeins. No longer do $20 socks seem to be a luxury, just as Schor discusses how the prevalence of advertisements for luxury products make their purchase seem average. We might call it the Starbucks-ing of America, when $4 coffee is “average” rather than a splurge. She talks about seeing ads for luxury pens every day in the newspaper. Before long, those ads are no longer shocking and we begin to believe it is normal, acceptable and even desirable that a pen costs $100 or more.

Of course, taking into account the amount of time we spend knitting a pair of socks, it makes sense to purchase yarn that feels nice and is enjoyable to work with. When we buy yarn, we are making an investment in how we will spend our time. I also do believe there is a quality difference in supplies. I can tell a huge difference between the $8 - $10 a yard quilt shop fabric and the $3 - $4 a yard fabric from JoAnn’s. (Although some of the new JoAnn’s materials are quite nice, which is yet another reason to avoid the quilting section for a long, long time!) My finished products are nicer when I invest in quality supplies. (I also seem to work more carefully when I'm using "quality" i.e. "expensive" products, but that's for another post.)

But what is the line between quality and luxury?

I suppose that line must be determined by the individual project and the individual knitter/quilter. Schor addresses this in the book and it’s something I want to think more about, but I want to go back to the idea of community influence.

She writes about a young chef who played a weekly game of squash in a league with an older, wealthier crowd. The young man enjoyed the company and never experienced explicit pressure to be part of their economic circle. Yet, just by being around them and unconsciously observing their more expensive clothing, cars and consumption patterns, he was feeling great stress at home and at work, constantly feeling inadequate and inferior. Before he joined the weekly game, he was content in his work and found the salary to be comfortable. The guy had to quit the league and take up a different sport in order to alleviate his symptoms of depression and stress. Schor argues that if we truly want to change our spending practices (and she discusses some pretty severe lifestyle changes, not just cutting corners here and there), we must change our focus groups and surround ourselves with people of like economic minds, even if that means changing hobbies, neighborhoods, schools for our children, jobs and even friends.

I certainly don’t think that anyone should quit knit-blogger or anything, but I wonder how we function as a group that unconsciously pressures members to spend at a level which may be beyond our means. I’d probably have to confess that I spend beyond my means on yarn and fabric. I don’t really think I’m trying to keep up with others. In fact, I’d be the first to admit that financially I can’t afford to spend as much as I would like and that really, I’m not that invested in making projects which require top dollar investment.

But how much am I unconscious about my own perceptions of a “normal” stash? How much do I participate in a luxury economy without realizing that I’ve left the realm of my financial equals? How much do I unconsciously change my sense of the world (and my yarn budget) as I surf through the blogs and look at all that glorious yarn?

Have I lost sight of what luxury really is?

11 January 2007

Now It's Official

I can actually call myself a knit-blogger.

I have joined the Cult o' the Clapotis.

07 January 2007

Big Betty

There’s something not quite right about following posts about restraint and shopping avoidance with a project called the “Betty Shopper.” Sorta like starting a diet the day before you have to bake someone else a birthday cake. Sure, you can say you’re measuring sugar for someone else, it’s a rare and special occasion, you promise not to taste the frosting before you put it on, but we know better. We all know better…

Anyway, I started cutting this one out awhile ago and thought I better whip it up while I had access to my mom’s fancy new super dooper strength sewing machine.

Pattern: Betty Shopper by Amy Butler, large size

Materials: Vintage curtains found at a rummage sale; decorator weight fabric for lining; grommets; Pellon Peltex 71 F Single-Sided fusible; fusible fleece interfacing/lining

Dates: November 2006 – 1 January 2007

Notes: I think the fabric really makes this project. The curtains are marked “Inspired by Little Lady Toiletries” and must have been sold to match sets of powders and perfumes for little girls. I’ve looked around a bit and have found few items on ebay so I don’t know how popular the brand was. I wrote before that I’m not entirely sold on the cuteness of these little ladies and I wish I would have centered the pattern on the curtains differently so the ballerina would be in the center rather than the gardener girl. Oh well, live and learn. I do have just enough leftover to make some small zippered bags so I’ll be sure to get the cute girls on those.

The fabric is quite soft, nearly a flannel, so I decided to use fusible fleece for my interfacing. This gives it body while keeping the soft appearance and really helped to minimize the stretching that I noticed while cutting and ironing the fabric alone. I fused the fleece on my two outer panels and the handles at the point it calls for basting and found that to work quite well. I really like the added padding in the handles, even if it was a challenge getting them through the grommets with the added bulk.

The pattern has you really do a ton of basting, a step I’m often prone to skip, but it does help quite a bit in keeping all the layers together. And are there layers…. I honestly don’t know that my el cheapo sewing machine would’ve been able to put this sucker together, or if it did, I can only imagine the puckering, pulling and cursing that would’ve occurred. Word to the wise, test out how your machine handles multiple layers of fabric and the thick interfacing before you set out. Oh, and speaking of strength, we had to rope my father into installing the grommets. Be sure to eat your wheaties before whipping out the hammer.

The pattern warns you that the large is rather large. I think if I made it again, I’d start with the small bag. The bag is designed so that the top tapers in, keeping your purchases secure and making the handles more comfortable, but also limiting how you can pack it. I used the bag to haul holiday loot and was surprised at how little it seemed to hold. Granted, I was trying to pack it full of clothing and bulky items so I think that’s to blame. I’d say it really would be a perfect bag for a day of shopping where you planned to purchase small things, like, say, um… fat quarters and yarn, or maybe the groceries for that cake you’re baking for a “friend.” I used it on our last day of running to all the fabric and craft stores we could find and it was very easy to tuck away all my purchases, too easy to store away and forget all about, in fact. My only complaint in using it was that it was so stiff at the bottom that I was a bit clumsy. I sorta felt like I was trying to walk around with a sword and scabbard or something so you may want to practice in wide open spaces before hauling her out to a crowded market.

The bag has two pockets on the inside, but they seem to work more like dividers. Since the bag is so large, they can’t really stay perfectly flat against the sides to keep items like cell phones or keys from getting lost. Perfect excuse to make coordinating bags, but be sure to plan for that if you take this one on.

Like all the Amy Butler patterns I’ve used, it’s printed on heavy paper and you do have to do one bit of piecing the paper together. I’m planning to copy the pattern pieces onto other paper soon as I’m worried about all the pin holes even in making this just once. You have to cut many, many pieces out of the main panel so it gets quite a bit of wear. My mom has used something called PatternEase (sp?) for this before so I’ll give that a try if I make this one again. And speaking of all the pieces, pay attention when you cut. You do the main panels in the outer fabric, lining and interfacing and the pockets in both fabric and the Peltex/Timtex all from the same pattern piece but some with certain areas folded under. I cut my Peltex first on the pockets and then ended up cutting my fabric panels too small.

I also made a change and used some of my outer fabric for parts of the lining so I’m sure my quantities are off what the pattern calls for. I’ve read that her patterns are both too generous and too skimpy on their fabric requirements so you may want to plan extra, especially if you’re going to make smaller bags to keep your cell phone and lipstick contained in the cavernous inside!

I substituted the Pellon Peltex 71F for the Timtex the pattern calls for, primarily out of my tendency toward cheapness. The Peltex can be found at JoAnn’s and with a 40% off coupon, is considerably less than the Timtex. I’m planning to do the CD organizer project from the In Stitches book and may try out the Timtex just for comparison. This stuff was a little different to work with so do follow the directions for trimming your seams and again, baste, baste, baste. I actually used a regular stitch set to the longest stitch length for my basting and didn’t remove any of my basting stitches after I was finished. I didn’t find that they showed anywhere and I felt any extra stitching would help hold it all together. The Peltex I have is fusible but I didn’t use it that way. The pattern calls for you to stitch it all together so closely, I don’t know that fusing would help or make it difficult to turn all the corners and do the shaping called for.

Overall, this is a great pattern and I know I’ll make it again. I think it would make a great sewing or knitting bag, or even a nice bag to take the library, if you were ever inclined to go and do some actual work rather than sitting at the sewing machine all day. Not that I’d ever do something of the sort…

06 January 2007

The Stash-Busting Challenge

Wendy’s doing it. AfricanKelli’s doing it. LoneKnitter’s doing it.

And now the family is doing it.

My sincerest apologies go out to all yarn and fabric shops from New York to Kansas, but we really must end our love affair, or at least take a temporary break in our fling. And yes, our family crack dealers really do extend the length of at least half the nation without even counting internet pushers. Shoot, I may be guilty of finding yarn shops while on vacation in Vermont, at a conference in North Carolina and in the middle of Thanksgiving vacation in Illinois. (At least I managed to wait until after the leftovers were put away before getting my fix.) We’ll just try to ignore that I drove to another freakin’ country with the sole purpose of buying yarn last fall. You should’ve seen the look on the face of the customs dude, but anyway, moving on…

The Girls (otherwise known as my mother, aunt and cousin) have asked for my stash-busting rules of 2007 so we can all be martyrs, er, I mean “resisters” together. Here’s my plan:

1. Purchase no new yarn, fabric, patterns or tools. Scrapbooking items may only be purchased if I intend to use them within 24 hours for a specific page that I’m working on. (Scrapbooking is a new hobby for the year. We’ll see how it goes and how much it affects my attempts to keep the hobby budget in line.)

2. I may purchase yarn, fabric or tools to complete a project that is already started. “Already started” status is only granted to projects which are well underway or at least 75% purchased. In other words, I can’t say I’ve “already started” something just because I have the pattern in a magazine or one piece of fabric that needs 12 other yards to match.

3. I’m allowed a certain number of “pass days,” specified at the outset. I’m going for five for the year.
a. Paducah, KY Quilt Show and Sale
b. East Aurora Fiber Festival
c. Kitchener-Waterloo Fiber Festival
d. Rhinebeck Fiber Festival
e. Freebie

4. I am allowed to receive gifts of fabric and yarn but only on actual holidays when I would be receiving surprises anyway. No, I cannot put in a request for a yard of Alexander Henry fabric for National Burrito Day. Fabric in the Easter basket, on the other hand…

5. I may purchase supplies to make a specific gift if and only if I’ve checked the stash and there is absolutely nothing that would work for the intended project and I absolutely must make this one specific gift right now. Seriously consider giving the person car wash gift certificates instead so I can spend my valuable time sewing or knitting something from the stash. Wouldn’t I rather work on that quilt than knit the mailman a hat anyway?

6. Avoid the clearance aisles at JoAnn’s and the sale baskets at the yarn shop. No sale is good enough unless it’s offering up supplies for free. After all, doesn’t every clearance item need to be paired with a gajillion other items in order to make a project? And aren’t those gajillion other items never on sale? Better than all of that, just avoid JoAnn’s and the yarn shop altogether!

I’m not sure if this is too strict or too relaxed. There are certainly lots of loopholes, but I want to make this a project that I can keep up for the entire year. I want to take on this challenge not as a punishment, but as a means of getting out from stash overload. Seriously, the stash is out of control. If I’m feeling really brave, maybe I’ll share pictures of all my various hiding places but I’m not sure my wonky camera battery will hold out long enough to capture the ridiculousness of it all. You’re laughing, girls, but I know how many fat quarters you own. (Over Christmas we did a little organizing and counting on the fat quarter stashes of my mom and aunt and yet again I got proof that while these women are pretty cool, I’m not so sure they should be role models. We had to get out a calculator and notebook to take inventory. Not pretty.)

Whew, now that my shopping is all ruled and regulated, I’ll get back to business tomorrow… showing off purchases that I shouldn’t have made and a giant shopping bag that’s perfect for filling with future purchases I shouldn’t make.

05 January 2007

Restraint and Joy

Back to reality… Last night I returned from my holiday visit with my family and this morning started a whole new routine. I began the day with a painful hour with a personal trainer and spent the rest of the afternoon unpacking and cleaning on my fabric and yarn stashes. Ironically, this day of restraint was somewhat refreshing after two weeks of pure gluttony. Now don’t get me wrong, I sure enjoyed that gluttony and all its sugar cookies and shopping trips, but it’s time to get back to business.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with New Year’s resolutions. I’m terribly excited to get going on all my new schemes but suffer from the pandemic of Broken Resolutionitis. The goals are too high, the rules too strict. I once had a professor tell us to make “Goals” rather than “Resolutions.” Goals take into account the struggle that comes with reform and that there will be slip-ups along the way to change.

And that’s the key… change. 2006 was a good year overall, but I really hope that 2007 can be better.

So with that in mind, these are the 2007 Goals:

Improve my Health
1. Go to a personal trainer once a week and exercise on my own during the week.
2. Bring athletic activities such as biking, swimming and hiking into my regular routine.
3. Devote time to regular meal planning and cooking.

Improve my Intellect
1. Work on my dissertation at least one hour a day.
2. Increase my professional activity with conference attendance and submissions to journals.
3. Read twelve non-dissertation books.

Improve my Domestic Life
1. Avoid yarn and fabric purchases and minimize other expenses as much as possible.
2. Throw away or donate one item to charity every day.
3. Complete one cleaning or organizing task a day, i.e. clean out a drawer or cabinet or tackle mopping, bathroom duties, etc. or take on a scrapbook page or go through a set of files.

Improve my Overall Life
Search for happiness in every day, opening my eyes to new opportunities for joy wherever possible.

That last one is the big goal of the year: to increase joy. All the areas of restraint are in the service of freeing myself to have more time and money for the things that I really want to pursue. While it may not seem like cutting back on expenses or cookies will lead to joy, I really believe that in the long run it will. I know some of these goals will be difficult, but maybe by the end of the year I'll be able to knit up my stash of sock yarn while dictacting my dissertation as I run on the treadmill.

And now time for more Tylenol to free myself from the pain of an hour of lunges and bicep curls.

Bring on 2007!

02 January 2007

Dial-Up Dilemma

Blogging to resume Friday, 5 Jan with resolutions, holiday crafting reports and plans for the new year. Dial-up at the folks' is killing me so I've spent all my free time shopping rather than writing. Yarn diet must start now!

If anyone is still checking in on my all-too-silent blog here, hope 2007 is off to a great start! I'll be back to the internet world soon.