Thursday, January 29, 2009

An FO in fabric

I never really know how I get obsessed with certain ideas. Suffice it to say, recently I decided that our bedding needed a facelift. We'd been using a tan duvet cover with a really basic pattern on it, somewhat leafy and flowery without offending Coffeeboy's lack of interest in overly feminine bedroom decorations. The comforter, however, was proving too hot for a house in the south with the heater located in the attic right above the bed, so we'd switched to using a lightweight down blanket covered by a nice quilt. I missed the scrunchy comfortableness of down, though, so I found a lighter-weight down comforter on sale and bought it. According to my measurements, however, it wouldn't fit in our old comforter cover. Of course, I now see that my measurements might have been wrong, which was perhaps simply an excuse to try a new type of project...


... that of making a duvet cover with a quilted top. I decided I didn't want to hurt the nice quilt we'd been using by making it into a duvet cover; besides, it would have been too warm. So maybe if I made a patchwork quilt top and quilted it to the middle layer, leaving the space between the middle and bottom layers to stuff the duvet into, it would work. I searched the internet and found this inspiration. Coffeeboy asked it it had to be so flowery, and I said, no, "not necessarily."  (It's still flowery.  Maybe not as flowery as he hoped to avoid, though!)

I bought some fabric and laid it on the bed to make sure it would look all right.  I bought a yard of each fabric in order to have plenty of material to play around with.  I also bought a white king-sized sheet for the middle layer and a pretty blue sheet for the bottom layer and borders.  The king size would give me room to fiddle with on a queen-sized bed.  (Actually, my first fabric purchases didn't work; they were too dark, so I went back and got others, which you see here).  Magellan, the most frequent denizen of the bed since she's there both night and day, watched on curiously.

fabric on bed

I cut the fabric into big blocks (less sewing that way), and laid them out on the bed to see what looked nice.

cut pieces testing a layout

Not bad, not bad! But now I had to sew.  And sew, and sew.

I don't know why, but the sewing machine sort of scares me. Ok, not quite scares, but it's so much more complicated than a wheel or two knitting needles. All those settings, sharp points moving rapidly... it's never been my forte.  Plus, you have to have the iron on all the time, heating up the room, and the bulb in the machine makes everything around it hot, too.   I also tore around the house trying to find the manual, just to make sure I was using the right needle and so on, and I couldn't find it.  The cats looked on in alarm: why was I running around and tearing into things as if I were as crazy as they are?

Eventually I plunged ahead without the manual, sewing, sewing. My goodness, was it a lot of fabric.

sewing the pieces

So much fabric that eventually the machine protested and I needed to do some basic maintenance, but I didn't have the manual. Coffeeboy, wanting me to return from the land of obsessive sewing, no doubt, found it online for me, and downloaded it, the better to get his spouse back, I expect. I had been sewing Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday... it was time to finish the thing so we could use it (and so that we could finally watch the Lost series premiere and retrospective, something the sewing hadn't permitted)!

I laid the quilt/duvet cover out on the living room floor, much to Juniper's amusement. "What is this new rug,"  she must have wondered!  Magellan came into the room and demonstrated that it wasn't a rug: she promptly pounced on the fabric just as she often does with our bedcovers.  Was it ever huge! It was as big as our living room rug!  Had I really sewed that much in just a few days?!

laying it out

A little more sewing proved that the effort was well worth it!

finished quilt object

Magellan also checked out her new napping environs, and seemed well-pleased with the results.

Magellan examines the new bed

The comforter and its cover are cozy, just the right warmth, and such pretty colors! I almost feel that I've never made such a "me" project before. I love the colors; they make me think of daffodils and spring days. The cover reminds me of my favorite childhood blankie, a patchwork quilt with colorful squares. (I swear, that wasn't intentional. I'm not sure what it means that as a grown-up, I've made a patchwork quilt for my bed. I'm sure Freud would have a word or two or three to say. I'm not going to worry about that, though; it's cute and cozy; I made it myself, and I learned a lot while doing so!) 

Coffeeboy seems to like it too; he keeps calling it "folk art." I'm not sure that's a good thing, as such a designation refers to things like my amateur attempts to add snaps, and when those didn't work, buttonholes, using those extra buttons that come with clothes that I've stashed for years on end.

a real buttonhole with a button, even

I'm really glad I tried out the buttonholes; this forced me to use the buttonhole foot on my sewing machine and realize that it's really not that hard, at all, to do. Maybe I can actually do this sewing thing after all! Next time, of course, I'll have to measure more carefully, get a little bit better at sewing a straight line, and well... I'm not at all known for my spatial and geometric abilities, to put it mildly, so if a lack of right angles, a slightly too-snug comforter cover, and some funky buttons make something "folk art," then so be it.  I'm quite pleased with the results; they are oh-so-comfy, and I'm a little bit surprised I did it at all! 

Friday, January 09, 2009

Paris stole my needles

Coffeeboy and I had a great time in Austria, eating wonderful food, seeking out vegetarian and fishy alternatives to wienerschnitzel, tasting beers, and taking in the music of Hadyn and Mozart in churches filled with worshippers and fellow tourists.

But he's still in Salzburg, at a conference, and he has the camera, so I can't show you pictures yet. Instead, I have to tell you about my return journey, in which, among other things, the Paris security people took my magic loop away from me! Horrors!

The return started early on Tuesday morning, 4:30 am Vienna time, when I and my under-the-weather honey trudged to the airport bus. (He went with me, kind soul that he is, to make sure I got there OK). Turns out that in Vienna at 4:30 AM on a Tuesday, there are lots of bars still open, and enthusiastic drunk people stumbling around the streets. Other than that, it seemed pretty safe.

Once at the airport, I checked in on Austrian Airlines, en route to Paris. They checked my bag through Cincinnati, because I'd have to go through customs in Cincinnati (but I still needed to fly from there to Atlanta to Asheville to get home!). On my way through security, I could tell they were scrutinizing my knitting materials. In English with a strong flavor of Austria, they asked me, "You have scissors?" I showed them my little 1" sewing kit scissors, heroic travelers on many flights. "No, bigger," said the guard. So I pulled out my Monkey sock, sitting on a knitpicks size 1 (2.25mm) 32" needle. They examined the needles, checking out the way in which, when laid side by side, they resembled scissors, and sent me on my way, needles and sock intact. After that, everything went smoothly; I slept on the flight.

I arrived in Paris, Charles de Gaulle, at about 9:30 AM. I had a couple of hours to change flights, which was good, since I still needed to check in with Air France for my connecting flight. Or so I thought. After wandering around a terminal, trying to figure out where, on earth, to check in for flights, I finally found an Air France person to ask, and he looked up my flight. At first it seemed he couldn't find my flight, but then he realized I needed to check in with Delta, who was operating the flight, a ten-minute walk away in another terminal. So off I went, tired, needing a bathroom, badly wanting a pain au chocolat. (This was as close to Paris as I'd get this trip, so why not?)

Finally I walked into the Delta part of a terminal, where I was confronted with a seriously long line, and the unfortunate sight of very tired people sitting on the floor huddled around their baggage, with further bags under their eyes. I heard an American accent, and asked what was going on. Apparently the 3" of snow I'd seen upon landing had caused considerable delays and cancellations the day before, and the long line was full of people from yesterday trying to check in. There went my plans for both a bathroom and a lovely pastry treat. I stood in line, and stood in line, and stood in line.

Finally, after about an hour (and about 40 feet and one small cup of coffee they were handing out) I got to a small desk about 2/3 of the way up, where two women were asking passengers questions about their luggage (has it been with you always, has anyone given you packages, etc). In my sleep deprived state, I think I answered one of the questions wrong. Since my luggage had been checked in Vienna, that was suspicious. Since I was flying alone, they were even more suspicious and then somehow it came out that I'd been traveling with my husband, but he had stayed behind. So then they asked me how long I'd been married, and how well I knew my husband. This wasn't very funny to me; Coffeeboy is a wonderful upstanding man, and the thought of him using me to smuggle things into the US was just plain absurd. I couldn't say that to the woman who didn't speak English well, though, and needed to be polite, so I held my frustration and conveyed my faith in my sweetie's honesty. She might have marked something on my travel documents, though, as you'll see later...

Once passed that hurdle, I darted off to find a bathroom, locating one that actually didn't have a line, and then to find myself a much-desired pain au chocolat. Luckily there was a French bakery chain right there, Paul, so I stepped inside. I couldn't remember how to ask for anything in French, because my head was too full of German (and I actually know a bit of German, whereas I know about 5 words in French), so I simply said hopefully, "pain au chocolat"? And the cashier shook her head. Darn. I saw a basket plain croissant, though, and said, "due croissant." At least I'd get some sort of tasty treat out of this adventure!

After that came the security lines. If the previous lines were an hour long, you can imagine how long the security lines were. When I finally walked through the x-ray, I could see that the technicians were spending time on my bag, yet again, and once more, and I thought, oh no. Sure enough, when my carry-on came out, they took it to the special desk and beckoned me over. They quickly located my magic loop sock (it was near the top as I'd been knitting in line), and frowned. Then they spoke amongst themselves in French and the only word I caught was "crochet." I didn't know if these two French men were simply ignorant of the finer points of fiber paraphenalia, or if the word for "knitting" in French indeed sounded like "crochet," but it didn't matter, because they switched to English and uttered my fate:

"Is forbidden."

I replied: "But in Vienna they said it was OK."

"Is not Vienna. Is Paris," came the entirely expected answer. I thought to myself, oh yes, I probably shouldn't have stepped on those particular toes! Then they asked, "Do you have scissors," gesturing that I could cut off the offending five inches of metal. At that, I could only stare. Did I have scissors? Wasn't this a security checkpoint? Shouldn't I not have scissors, not even my little 1" sewing scissors which they seemed not to have noticed?

Because it was a security checkpoint, I said, "No, I don't," and hoped they didn't find the little scissors. Instead I asked, "Is wood OK," but they apparently didn't know the word for "wood." So I pulled out my 6" bamboo DPNs and asked, "Are these OK?"

The security guards consulted. "Is OK." Then while standing at the security table, I laboriously transferred the heel onto on DPN, and the held stitches of the top of the foot to the other. Had I been less tired and felt that comedy was appropriate, I might have dramatized it, transferring three stitches and glancing at the guards, then transferring three more. As it was, I just did them all, and then held the magic loop needle for them to take. At least I had the DPNs, but oh my... never had I had my knitting meddled with by security!

I arrived late to Cincinnati, of course, because of the delays in Paris. I went through customs just fine -- the only thing I had to declare was 6 balls of Regia sock yarn, bought on sale in a real live German knitting store (more on that later). I got my suitcase, rechecked it on US Air (onto which I'd been rebooked), and went off to get my boarding passes. I took the train to one terminal, and found that Delta didn't have them, so I hiked over to US Air and got my passes and went to security.

Whereupon they asked to see my other boarding passes. I thought, Great, they'll see I've been through security at least three times today, and let me through. No such luck. The "$$$$" on my ticket meant special screening, not "already screened way too much, with needles stolen besides." Had my confused answers to the security questions put a black mark on my ticket? I'll never know...

Now, Cincinnati had a device I'd never seen before. A box into which you step, and then it blew a loud and vigorous puff of air at me. I jumped and started to panic while I waited for the light to turn green and the doors to open. I hadn't expected that - and besides, it was 6 pm on the East Coast, midnight in Vienna, and I'd been traveling for about 20 hours at that point. Finally the doors opened, I went through the usual x-ray device, and a woman who in any other situation would have looked kindly took my bags and started poking through them. It was all I could do not to cry as she swabbed things and fiddled with my beloved iPod touch.

Finally I got out of there, got myself a bagel for dinner, and sat down to wait for my flight. I flew from Cincinnati to Charlotte, and from Charlotte to Asheville, sleeping on the flights so I didn't crash on the drive home. I got home just after midnight, or 6 AM in Austria. The cats were hungry and happy to see me. I had been awake for twenty-six and a half hours. I had traveled on four different airlines and seen five different airports, lost some needles and good bit of sanity. Day was dawning across the ocean, I fell asleep right away and slept the whole night through. The absolute worst travel of my life was over.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Hats off to the holidays

My previous felted hat turned out well enough that I decided to do some quick knitting, and I finished up two more felted hats, one for my mother-in-law (blue and black), and one for my mom (in her favorite shade of green, to match a scarf I knit a couple of years ago). 

Black felted hat Green felted hat

I figured the moms would prefer it if a lampshade modeled the hats, rather than their faces! Both women admired their hats and forgave things like seeing the hat drying on the bowl+orange juice jug hat-drying contraption and seeing me stitch the contrasting bands onto the hats in their very presences... during which I'd reveal that this hat was not, in fact, another felted knit for myself, but something for them to take home. I didn't exactly intend it to go this way, and would have preferred the whole official opening-the-present routine, but life being what it was, I'm just glad they were finished on time!

Coffeeboy and I had a lovely week with first his mom, and then my mom and her friend. We celebrated the first night of Hannukah one night early with my MIL, and then we celebrated Christmas two days early with my mom... and ever since then, my clock has been somewhat messed up!

The big triumph of the week, on December 21st, was getting the antique wheel to spin!

Eleanor spins

I haven't had too much time to play around with Eleanor yet, but I really want to confirm that she still works! I've found out that she was most likely not an old family antique; my grandmother says that neither her mom nor her own grandmother were spinners, so the wheel, so far as she knows, doesn't come from them. She had no idea where my aunt and uncle got it from, but all I can say is that I'm grateful it came from somewhere, because it's a beautiful treasure to have.

Speaking of being confused about the time, Coffeeboy and I head off to Austria and Munich, Germany, tomorrow, for a fun New Years' trip! His dean asked him to return to the early January conference he went to last year, so this time we took advantage of the advance notice and booked a trip for the two of us the week before the conference. Tomorrow we're off to Europe! I will certainly keep my eyes out for any gems of a yarn store in my travels!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A very special WIP

When I drove home from New Jersey last week, I packed a very special item into my car.  I took it apart carefully, I wrapped it in towels and secured it with seatbelts, just as you would a new baby you're bringing home for the first time.  (OK, not quite just as, but nearly so). 


Still confused? I may have alluded to this particular WIP a couple of months back, during my September trip north. I can't seem to find a reference, though, so we'll just have to pretend that I warned you that at some time in the future, something really, really cool would be coming home with me from New Jersey!


This is an antique wheel that, for as long as I can remember, has stood in the front entryway to my aunt and uncle's farm. Ever since I started knitting, and then spinning, I've eyed it occasionally, and when I visited my relatives in September, they got to asking about how spinning worked, and whether or not the wheel in front hall had all its parts. Finally my uncle just came out and said, "what we're driving at is that this wheel is just decorative for us, and we'd love to see it put to use by someone who knows how. Would you like to talk it home with you?" To which I said, in a voice full of emotion, "I would love that."  

This most recent trip, we cleaned and polished the wheel. My uncle has an interest in wood-working, and my aunt in horses (so she knows about leather), so with their help, we took parts of the wheel apart, cleaned it with a wood cleaner, and "fed" it with some Howard's Feed n' Wax.  My aunt soaked the leather that holds the flyer in some leather toner that she uses for her saddles, and my uncle brought in an awl and mallet to help with some of the small pegs, as well as finding soft cloths and the cleaning and polishing items.  

When I headed home, I put the wheel in one seatbelt and wrapped it with a towel, and the bench behind the other passenger seatbelt.  I wrapped the wheel's posts, the mother of all, and other parts, in towels on the floor of my car, and upon arrival at home, after greeting Coffeeboy, immediately set to putting it back together again.  So now my home has been graced by a truly beautiful wheel. My aunt thinks she remembers seeing it in her grandmother's home -- my great-grandmother's home -- so in her honor, I'm calling the wheel Eleanor.

The wheel has some problems: the maidens and mother of all were wobbly; the flyer and the bobbin don't quite fit right together yet; the drive bands are sometimes crooked and fall off.  But with help from the internet (and especially the Antique Spinning Wheel group on Ravelry). I'm getting her put back together again.  Hopefully I'll have this WIP up and working in just a little while! 

Monday, December 15, 2008

Third hat's the charm

Well, in my second-to-last post, I showed some funny pictures of a hat that didn't quite fit.  The saga has ended, but not without some to-dos in between.  The first hat ended up like a glorified cat bed.  There was the second hat, a Stirling cloche (Ravelry link) made out of Berroco Ultra Alpaca that ended up looking like a bit of felted muppet.  The third hat ended up - just right! Third time's the charm, they say. 

Remember this hat?  The cat is for size. 


Well, here you see the hat on the left - after felting - with a normal-sized beret to the right. Oops!  


Glorified cat bed, indeed...   Obviously, that wasn't going to work, and I wanted an actual, honest-to-goodness felted hat, only this time, I thought I'd try a nice, classic cloche.  So I knit up a bunch of Berroco Ultra Alpaca, foolishly held double.

Stirling 2A

Thus, the felted muppet. Again, oops. 


So, I tried again, determined to get it right this time. Third time's the charm, right?  This time, I broke out the Cascade 220, the size 10.5 needles, and about 100 stitches, and cast on for what I hoped would be a charming hat.  Cascade 220 is supposed to felt like a charm, right?  So why not give it a go, I thought. 

Stirling1B    Stirling-1a

This time, it worked out far better than I could have hoped!! 

Stirling2B Stirling2C

I love this hat! I love it so much I've cast on for another for a holiday gift, and am hoping to do yet another. When I really put my mind to it, I can crank out a big loopy stockinette hat in a few hours, and hopefully have them done for the holidays.

Unfortunately, the other hat - the interview - didn't land me a job.  I had a good experience at the interview, though, and learned a lot about what I could do better next time.  Now we just need to keep our fingers crossed for a good outcome for both Coffeeboy and myself, somewhere, but that good outcome is looking farther and farther away, much to our disappointment.  We started the fall with many good possibilities, and they are all disappearing.  I keep trying to keep my chin up about it all, but sometimes it's hard to look on the bright side.  Maybe a happy holidays will make the time and waiting pass a little bit better.  

Monday, December 01, 2008

Finding a hat that fits

We've all heard the phrase "if the shoe fits" and "wearing many different hats." Well, this week my life has a little bit of both. 

Luckily, it's not shoes, but socks, and these socks fit admirably and they even match!

conference socks FO

These are the conference socks made with Regia (details at Ravelry link) that I knit in Chicago and in California, finished a couple of weeks ago and finally photographed. I love that I was able to keep the stripes aligned! This took some doing, unfortunately, in that about halfway through the second ball, there was a knot, and after the knot, the pattern started going backwards. Yes, backwards. So I had to wind down to the end of the ball and re-wind it from the outside in in order to get the colors to stick together. This happened somewhere on the middle of the foot of the second sock. As you can see, it all ended up just fine!

Slightly more scary of course are the hats I need to wear. This hat, for example, is scary just because of its sheer size - its unintended sheer size. Here is Gretel, and it's not half-done yet and it already envelops my face!


Clearly at this point I started thinking about making a felted cabled beret, not just a cabled beret! I also started wondering if this was one hat I just couldn't wear, one that was just too, too big.

There's another really big hat I'm desperately fit my head into (or around, as the case may be), and that's an on-campus interview!!! It's a rural SLAC (that's "small liberal arts college") in Pennsylvania, given that I'm not yet finished with my PhD, I'm really honored to have been asked to campus. Regardless of what happens with the job, this will be an excellent, if nerve-wracking, experience to have. So, while I've been working on a hat that's just plain too big, I've been preparing for my interview.

The toughest part to prepare is my sample class. Can you believe it, I've gotten through graduate school without having to plan my own class from the ground up? I've only been a teaching assistant, meaning that I've led entire classes on material other people (the professors) have picked out. So I have to give a sample class on a topic from the survey course they'd want me to teach. I need to create something that's engaging, that demonstrates my very-much still-evolving teaching style, that fosters discussion and also reveals how do at speaking for a longer amount of time (so, a very very short lecture), and that requires absolutely no advance preparation on the part of the students.

A big hat to put on, indeed.

The Gretel hat, certainly, came out too big. Way too big.  This is not a tam, nor a beret -- as Coffeeboy said, it looks like I'm wearing an orthodox Jewish woman's headcovering.  I thought perhaps I needed to grow a lot more hair and shape it into dreds or braids to fit the hat around, but either way, this is no tam. 

Gretel FO2 Gretel FO1

I can only hope that the hat of aspiring scholar, teacher and professor fits a little better... but first, we need to felt this fiber and see if it's destined to be a nice felted tam, a cozy cat bed, or something else entirely!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

A little belatedly, I'm wishing all of you a wonderful, happy thanksgiving, full of family, friends, and good food.

Thanksgiving table 08

Coffeeboy and I, after a summer and a semester of too much traveling, decided to stay home this year and have a cozy vegetarian Thanksgiving for two, complete with leftovers. We ate a soup in a pumpkin (a childhood favorite, always risky given the pumpkin's tendency to collapse; this we avoided by using a pie pumpkin), a cheese-nut loaf, cranberry relish, stuffing, and of course, pumpkin pie.

Mine turned brownish-gray and looked kind of gross, but it tasted fine! I'm not sure why this happened. Coffeeboy's google research reveals that this might have had something to do with either the inclusion of alcohol, too many spices, too-old cloves, or a lack of brown sugar. Whatever the cause, it was my first time using my great-aunt's recipe, which includes brandy and scalded milk, rather than no alcohol and condensed or evaporated milk. I also forgot to read my mom's notations ,which said things like "use 1/2 brown sugar," "use more spices," and "use 3 T brandy instead of 1 T." Given that her pies were never gray or brown, I bet it was my forgetting of brown sugar. Coffeeboy says this confusion necessitates a great deal of experimentation into the methods of pumpkin pie preparation. I'm inclined to agree! ;-)

Thanksgiving foods 08