19 May 2007

Tote Bag Lady

Now that my schedule has let up and I feel like I can breathe a tiny little bit, I need to catch up some of my finished objects.

Shocking friends and family alike, for the first time maybe ever, I mailed this year's Mother's Day gift on time. At least a little bit of good came out of having a sick day at the sewing machine the weekend before.
I made a simple tote bag out of cowboy/cowgirl fabric using iron-on fleece on my outer pieces. Just for the sake of keeping track of these things, I based my bag measurements on View A from McCall's pattern 3894 and improvised the straps based on other tote bags and what size scraps I had leftover. Simple bag but fun results!

Pics to come... guess I was so excited to get it in the mail, I forgot to snap some images. That's what I get for being on time with something!

On the second version of the bag I made for a friend's birthday, I used decorator weight fabric for the exterior so I matched it with a medium weight iron-on interfacing. Both projects were made using supplies entirely from the stash, which goes to show how big the stash is if I can wake up sick on a Sunday morning and complete two items without ever changing out of my jammies!

I met Christina through a secret pal exchange awhile ago and as she was such a great pal, I wanted to send her a small thank you present. She's a great knitter and I have a sneaking suspicion that she's the kind of gal you'd want at a party... all calm and nice with her knitting until she starts telling stories about jumping out of airplanes and speeding down the road on her motorcycle. She's the only person I know who has earned the right to have something made from the great biker-skeleton-hell-raiser fabric from Alexander Henry. The whole time I was sewing the nice, well-mannered Amy Butler tote bag I kept giggling at this insane fabric. (It's probably a good thing I live alone.) I also made a matching notions bag lined with kitschy knitting fabric but again, seem to have forgotten to take a picture.
These fairly simple projects are such a fun way to let the fabric shine. I definitely see more like these in the future. There's a biiiiiiiig stash in there that needs to be toted right on out of the storage room so there may be tote bags for all for Christmas this year!

15 May 2007

Brain.Full.Now... Too. Full...

Well, nine knitting hours later, I can finally say that I’m a little tired of talking, thinking and doing stuff with sticks and string!

The Guild workshops were great and I thoroughly enjoyed picking up all the tips and tricks she had to offer. In the first session, we covered top down raglans and started our own mini cardigans. Getting a neat little comparison of the different methods of increases was worth the price of admission. Who knew that you should match your increase method to the fiber content of your yarn? The second workshop covered finishing techniques, skills that I could always improve. Edge stitches? Yep, I read about those somewhere… and promptly forgot to use them.

By the time I got to our monthly knitting group last night, I was pretty much spent so I gossiped instead of stitching and was, for once, perfectly content to let the needles stay in my bag.

I think my brain was soooo full of knitting, actually, that it’s thrown off my sense of balance.

Today in my torture session with the trainer she brought out the infamous medicine balls for a little fun, or um, embarrassment. The instructions were for me to sit on one of the exercise balls, catch the medicine ball she tossed at me, then extend for a back bend, touching the floor with the weight above my head and then coming up in a crunch before tossing the ball back to her. Okay, preschool exercises here… catch, toss, back bend… no biggee…

Or so I thought until I do a back bend, get dizzy and honestly fall off the stupid exercise ball, flat on my face in the middle of the gym. Excuse me, please ignore the idiot who clearly hasn’t earned her sneakers.

13 May 2007

Summer Vacay Here I Come!

School’s out for summer! Only something as glorious as summer break could make me channel my inner Alice Cooper. Technically, this doesn’t really change much of anything for me as I haven’t been in classes (teaching or taking) all year and I will be continuing my usual writing job throughout the hot and sweaty months. But… I’ll be doing less of them, so there. And… I won’t have to fight for a parking spot. And… whatever, it’s close enough to being a summer break that I’m celebrating!

Now to tackle that list of things that I’ve ignored for the past month of work and illness insanity, a list so long that I may get it done before the pesky undergrads return in the fall if I really hurry. (If I owe you an email, work project or just basic contact, be on the lookout. I’m trying to return to the land of the living but it may take me awhile!)

This weekend I kicked off my summer celebrations with some wild and crazy cleaning. Before my eyes close tonight, laundry and dishes will be caught up, the floors will be mopped, the porches will be swept and who knows, I may even be totally wacky and dust or file the stack of papers sitting on my desk. But then, if I put away the papers, I may have a clean desk and actually have to do some dissertation writing. Maybe I’ll procrastinate on that a little bit longer…
On Friday night, our guild hosted Maureen Mason-Jamison for a trunk show before her three-day teaching stint. From looking at her website, I wasn’t sure if she was my cup of tea. I’m not really an “artsy” dresser who can pull off mitered square jackets or wild colors. I get images of those whacked out, hippie-fried art and English teacher stereotypes and I quickly scuttle back to my safe wardrobe of black pants and grey sweaters. I occasionally throw in an unexpected bit of color here and there, but I tend to stick to solid colors and tailored lines, nothing too foofy, nothing too flashy.

Wasn’t I surprised when by the end of the evening I was dreaming up Kaffe Fasset-inspired colorways in which to knit a mitered square vest. I managed to take a deep breath and cool down my brain long enough to realize that maybe I should try wearing a bright scarf before I plunge into a complicated colorwork sweater jacket, but nonetheless her talk was wonderfully interesting and inspiring.

I took away several great tips and am really looking forward to Monday when I’m taking two workshops with her, one on finishing techniques and one on top-down raglans. She really has an eye for fit and adding tailored details to her garments, something that doesn’t come across as well on the mannequin shots on her website as when a real person models the garments. She had members strut their stuff wearing her trunk show samples and it was amazing to see what looked like a basic, boxy piece turn into a flattering, structured garment when given live arms and shoulders to fill it out. One of her lessons was that since the brain always processes warm colors before cool, you should design colorwork pieces with the warm colors in the center of your body and keep the cool shades to the sides. The brain will focus on the peach or pink and won’t register as much of the purple or blue, making you appear slimmer and narrower. And if our knitting makes us look skinnier, doesn’t that mean fewer hours at the gym and more hours on the couch knitting? Pass me my needles and a cupcake!

The other aspect of her talk that was inspiring was her sense of play and whimsy combined with studious design. On the one hand, it was clear that this was a woman who thought about her work down to the tiniest, tiniest detail. She didn’t just knit, she studied knitting. She briefly mentioned learning about Japanese buttonhole techniques as if she was learning a whole new craft. Shoot, I’m pretty darn happy if I manage to get the right number of buttonholes thrown into a project, let alone how they look around the edges! Yet, on the other hand, she never made those details tedious or boring because they were part of a larger program where she would wake up and decide to knit a hat, rummage around until she had just the right colors and go for it. Even then, though, her play is always part of a program to get to a wearable garment, maybe just not wearable for a boring grad student who loves her plain grey sweaters.

Too often I think I get caught up in “good taste,” quilt or knitting designs that are practical and resemble what might be featured on the shelves at Macy’s. I love looking at color and playing with design, yet only recently have I really started challenging myself to do projects which may not follow all the rules of subdued presentation or neat order. I still want to avoid the “artsy”-flowing-hippie-robes wardrobe as it just isn’t me, but I’m enjoying breaking into new territory like my latest quilts out of Kaffe Fasset fabric (to be shown this week) and the Lizard Ridge afghan pictured today. Maybe if I line up the warm colors in the center of my afghan, I can use it on the couch while I’m knitting and it will make me look even slimmer as I laze about. Hmm… pass me another cupcake while I think about it!

A few years ago I took an introduction to sweater design class, came up with some sketches and basic numbers and, of course, purchased the yarn. Last summer I realized that I had absolutely no idea what my swatches meant or where the pieces were in my plan so I frogged it all and dumped the bag in the stash. I have a feeling that before Ms. Mason-Jamison leaves town, I’ll be restarting that project.

09 May 2007


A few months ago our Knitting Guild hosted a night of mini-workshops where members selected a short course taught by some of our expert members. Small groups of us worked on everything from learning to cable to making tube socks. I took the opportunity to try one of those things that you see but just don't know quite what to do with... wire knitting.

Um, don't expect me to make any of those pretty wire votives any time soon.

After awhile I suppose I got it but I'm pretty sure I didn't really enjoy it. As with any new skill, it was slow and tedious. I'm sure that it would improve over time but for once, I met with a craft that I just didn't feel the need the pursue. Would I give up time with angora or alpaca to break out the wire? Um, no.

My sentiments were pretty much shared by everyone at the table. It was a resounding, "Well... that was interesting, informative, and now I'm pretty darn sure I don't need to add that to my knitting repertoire."

The cool thing about the whole evening was that we all tried something very different, gave it our all for a short while, met with varying degrees of success, and ultimately felt comfortable giving it up at the "trying" stage. In nearly all the classes and workshops I've taken, crafty and otherwise, we may say that we're okay with just "trying," but that's rarely the case. Some people just get it, they take to the task like ducks in water, whipping out a quilt before the instructor even finishes the pinning process or publishing a paper on the subject while the rest of us are still trying to decipher the introduction to the beginner's book. Others struggle through the designated hour or two, frustrated and almost angry that they wasted their time with something they weren't meant to do. Whether they trip over their step in an aerobics class or throw down their knitting needles in disgust, the effort of "trying" is entirely lost energy, never enough to please the student or the instructor who wants all the pupils to leave the room happy and content. We may tell youngsters to just give it a go, but really, I've never seen a group of 10 women sit around a table and be perfectly content with just "trying."

Perhaps it was the comedy of our trial, the fact that we were the only table who were offered safety goggles at a knitting event. Perhaps it was the general group failure where none of us had to glare jealously across the room at the person who was a natural. Perhaps it was because we were trying something entirely outside the frame of reference for the room. We weren't like the cabling class who had to look out and see three or four gorgeous sweaters made by members who had the gift of the twisted stitch or those struggling with double point needles while frustrated by members ogling the latest socks to hit the scene. No one walked by our table to patronizingly tell us, "Hang in there, you'll get it." No, the group pretty much looked at our wire cutters and pliers and walked slowly away, wondering what on earth we wanted to try that for.

So for an hour or two, we kept trying. We all improved. We all came up with all sorts of things we could make with this new skill. And then we all agreed that we didn't really plan to make those things. The evening's effort was enough and we'd leave the wire creations to our talented instructor. We tried, we knit, and we walked away without a successful project or the need to hit the craft store for new supplies. Sometimes it's nice to just try.

05 May 2007

Quilt Camp Redux

Thanks to all of you who sent out virtual search parties. I went home to see the family for a short visit and am still recovering. (Kidding, mom… kinda.)

You know how it is, vacationing… such an exhausting way to spend time! I think all that time having fun did a number on my immune system because all I’ve done since being home is cough and sputter. Now that I’m back, I’ve got a ton of catch-up to do so hopefully Ill be able to keep the blog a’going a bit better.

Back in the dark and blustery days of February, my mom did her usual Saturday check-in phone call from a place near and dear to our hearts… quilt camp. As I may have been a wee bit on the grumpy and jealous side, I told her to book me a bed because in April, I was hopping on a jet plane and treating myself to a few good days with a fabric-induced high. Just to keep the high going a wee bit longer (at least until I get the credit card bill for the fabric I purchased), thought I’d write a recap of our outing. This will probably take a few posts, as I’m a little, well, wordy. I’ll try to make the tale worthwhile with a picture or two along the way and maybe some knitting posts tossed in for good measure.

So, to begin…

In the heart of rural Illinois, otherwise known as the middle of stinkin’ nowhere,* lies a blissful, peaceful lodge perfect for a relaxing and rejuvenating weekend retreat with needle and thread.

Pshaw… nothing relaxing about it.

Once a month, the Kinderhook Lodge hosts 20 women and their fancy-pants sewing machines, bolts and bolts of fabric, buckets of baked goods and enough rotary cutters to chop off fingers till the sun don’t shine. If you have an image of quilting bees as quiet affairs with demure grannies sipping tea, let me assure you, this isn’t that kind of quilting bee. Those grannies are downright lewd, especially when they’re determined to finish that $##%@ quilt around 3 a.m.!

The weekend shebang kicked off around 3.30 a.m. on Thursday (yup, that’s o’dark thirty… and yup, I’d been packing until midnight, you can do the math on that one) when I had to haul my tired behind out of bed to catch my flight. Since recent Leslie travel adventures have included major delays stuck on the runway, a missed trip due to booking incompetence (my own, of course… can’t figure out how to read a calendar), and lost luggage, I got to the airport with time to spare. Even thought I was going to luck out with an entire row to myself for the first leg of the journey until a nice, confused elderly woman was escorted to join me. No problemo, she stays over there, I snore over here with room to stretch.

And then she brought out the cat…

True confession time, I’m not a huge pet person. I know there’s something genetically wrong with my cold-as-ice heart that I don’t love cuddling up to the furry ones, but I just don’t particularly care for them. Anyone still reading or have you banned me to the nether regions of hell yet?

It was pretty clear that this was not a frequent flier and the poor lady didn’t speak English, so I took a deep breath and made peace with the fact that the cat she was holding in her lap was her security blanket and even I can’t begrudge granny her beloved furrball in these circumstances. I tried to close my eyes and pray that the thing didn’t throw a fit upon take off or I’d have to get out my knitting needles and defend myself from flying claws.

Well, remember that part about it being really, really early? I had decided to delay my caffeine fix until after the first flight in the hopes of getting in a few more minutes of shut eye and, more importantly, to avoid using the loo on the plane. (I saw a CSI episode once where the blue toilet water from a plane killed a guy so I have this weird fear of causing damage on earth with my tinkle in the sky… anyway…) Point being that without my daily jolt (or twelve) I may not have been firing on all cylinders in my assessment of my seat partner.

As the engines start whirling, I figure I best keep at least one sleep-encrusted eye on the tabby beside me, just in case I need to make any fast moves to protect myself. Good thing, too, because as I look over, the lady moves from gently petting her little one to sticking her finger into fluffy’s butt to flip the switch.

Fluffy came with batteries.

Now, on the one hand, the idea of a robotic cat as opposed to an unpredictable feline with claws was somewhat comforting. Unless the thing pulled a Chucky on me and turned demonic, how dangerous could a toy be? And then I realized that I was sitting next to someone who was clearly terrified of flying, confused about what the flight attendants were saying and temporarily without juice to her electronic friend. Now this could be an interesting flight.

Lucky for us all, a limp, battery-less Fluffy was enough to keep everyone calm and the minute we were in the air, the flight attendant came over and let Fluffy be brought back to life. Hallelujah for small resurrections. The freaky thing purred all the way to DC.

Unfortunately, the second leg of my journey wasn’t quite so pleasant. Again I got to share my row with someone who was not enjoying the friendly skies. Only this time, no battery-operated device calmed things down. And things certainly needed to be calmed down. In particular, Mr. Stinky’s digestive tract needed some major calming.

For three hours on a somewhat bumpy ride, Mr. Stinky churned out enough gas to keep us afloat Hindenburg-style just in case the engines gave way. Add that much yucky to the air filtration system and well, it was a very, very long ride.

And that was only the start of my journey…

More to come about the weekend for those of you at home who wish to keep the fabric flame alive. Looking forward to checking out all your blogs and seeing everything I've missed the past few weeks. Happy Cinco de Mayo to all. Wishing you buckets and buckets of margaritas!

* “Middle of stinkin’ nowhere” = no Starbucks for miles and miles. Think deer munching in the front yard kind of place, a description intended to be praise. As I sit here writing while listening to my neighbors on one side fight over whose turn it is to do the dishes and neighbors on the other side prepping food for today’s big hockey game, the middle of stinkin’ nowhere sounds pretty darn wonderful!