Tuesday, 29 July 2008

this is ... my chance to catch up

Oops, I completely missed the topic 'this is ... what makes me happy', partly because it really set me thinking and it's taken me this long to gather up my thoughts. So, I'm going to use last week's open theme as time to catch up and also as a chance to incorporate the ‘Tree of Happiness’ award that I received from the Vintage Detective - thanks Chloe! This award involves listing six things that make me happy and passing the honour on to six other bloggers.

But, and this is where I got stuck, can things really make you happy? If it were that easy then we could all be happy, all the time. It would be as simple as eating another piece of chocolate. But constantly eating chocolate doesn't keep you constantly happy; it just gives you a tummy ache.

Happiness, it seems to me, is beyond that. It's an a priori state of being. There are a number of things that I am unhappy about at the moment - the frustration of not having a bank account or being able to work, missing my friends and support network in Melbourne, the stress of settling in here - but regardless, above and beyond those things, I'm happy.

So, in short, I think that there are things that you can be happy about (or unhappy about) but it's not within the power of things to make you happy. Having said which, here are six things that I am happy about:

1. My family - just delirious. The absolute joy that baby bear brings to my heart, the depth of love for my husband.
2. Where my creative processes are taking me; sometimes I feel a bit overwhelmed but am constantly inspired and that is uplifting.
3. Moving to a house in Seattle proper this weekend, out of this drab serviced apartment.
4. Having found some great knitting groups here - Kirkland Knitters, Purly Girls and Capitol Hill Knitters of Doom (all on ravelry).
5. Lovely new friends that I have made since moving here - hi Lisa, Anna, Blair!
6. The stunning natural beauty of the Puget Sound area (photo by Andrew Hitchcock, originally posted on flickr - thanks Wikimedia Commons).

Jenaveve, Jeanne, bird bath, Lisa, A, Pherenike - what are you happy about?

Further, the very lovely Angela of Three Buttons who hosts 'this is ...' has given me the opportunity to nominate this week's theme. And it is 'this is ... my trade secret'. Any tricks of your trade/craft, snazzy gadgets that give a lovely professional effect, any techniques that the rest of us would also benefit from knowing? Go on, do share!

Monday, 28 July 2008

an affair to remember

I'm having an affair. That grand old dame St Kilda is not famed for her morals (well she is, but not in a laudatory sense) so I'm sure that she will understand my fling, my passionate fling, with King County Library System.

It was lust at first sight. Here is the evidence:

This is the best public library service that I have ever encountered and certainly one of the best aspects of the US for me so far. In a country where public administration falls (in my limited experience) somewhere between dismal and appalling, the library is just fantastic. Look at the books! Yes, I know, many of the craft titles are American and so more likely to end up on the shelves here but they have multiple copies, just standing there for the borrowing. These are books that took several weeks to turn up when I requested them from St Kilda.

As well as the usual access to computer workstations, each library patron gets 75 free printouts ... each week! I've been stocking up on BurdaStyle.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

not happy amy

I quite like Amy Butler's products, not a the rush -out-and-buy-some kind of like but certainly a leisurely-leaf-through-this-book kind of like - Amy Butler's Midwest Modern : A Fresh Design Spirit for the Modern Lifestyle. The book is indeed a visual feast, full of colour and pattern, excellent photography, a bit of text.

As I was leafing through the book though, getting quite excited by a particularly nifty little dress, it slowly dawned on me that there was not going to be a patterns/tutorial/how-to section at the back for some/any of the projects illustrated. There's just a
recipe for a foot bath (but I don't think that counts) and some instructions on pillow covers. I was so disappointed. It made it seem more like a vanity project, a big hardback promotional catalogue. Yes, I know there's a heap of sewing projects in her other book and I see now that she has a heap of free patterns on her website and ... ok, I love Amy.

But still, instead of going out and buying the lotus dress pattern, I went out and bought this top second-hand instead. I see a resemblance, shape wise, and I know that this fits me a-ok. This is an issue because it is almost impossible for me to find woven fabric blouses or dresses that fit me across the bust. I am tired of always wearing t-shirts and want some items that are a bit smarter. And dresses are so great for summer so I am taking matters into my own hands.

My plan is to pick the top apart (done that) and reverse engineer a sewing pattern from it and add a skirt, possibly with help from the Sidonie pattern on BurdaStyle. Am I crazy?

In other sewing news, I have made a quilt top out of this fabric. Yep, just whipped it up.

Ok, it was just five straight seams but I'm still proud of myself, if not only because I actually did it instead of dreaming about it. Have you noticed that many of my ideas don't get off the ground? Sometimes I feel as though I am swimming in them. This past weekend I bought seven panels of this floral fabric from a garage sale for $3.00. Someone had used them as curtains and I think they were cut down from something else in the first place (a tablecloth perhaps?). So I have re-repurposed them by sewing them back together. Inspired by the very straightforward ideas in Make Your Own Contemporary Quilts I am planning to simply add a layer of cotton batting, back it with plain fabric and do some very simple machine quilting (or maybe just some knots ...) to hold it all together and then bind.

walk straight across the road, don't run

And all this time I had thought that it was self evident that you stop so as not to maim or kill anyone.

Saturday, 19 July 2008


Well, it is my blog. Jeanne at Four Chickens has been kind enough to tag me and give me the opportunity to share a bit about myself. There are rules but I'll let you click on over to Jeanne's post to check them out (and to learn more about her, too).

1. What was I doing 10 years ago?

Ten years ago - 1998 - I was 23 years old. By mid-July I think I had moved to Amsterdam to study for the second time (either that or I was still working in a dreadful customer service role for Australia's largest telco; let's just talk about Amsterdam, yes?). I went there to study art history for a year. Technically, according to my enrolment, I was there to study general literature but as I was just there for the experience I took whichever classes took my fancy, namely art history. I have a vivid memory of a gorgeous summer day, cycling down the street through the dappled sunlight. I was wearing a red v-neck t-shirt and I remember that I had a particularly nasty blemish on my poor delicate decolletage, so nasty that it warranted a bandaid. It left a little purple scar which I still have to this day. Lovely.

2. What are 5 things on my to-do list today- not in any particular order?

Oh dear, it's bedtime so my list for the next 24 hours is: go to bed; go to the Microsoft picnic; get some knitting done; take some photographs of a finished project and even try and get it in the mail; and the perpetual supermarket shopping.

3. Snacks I enjoy.

Corn chips. Olives. Carrot sticks.

4. Places I’ve lived

Armadale, North Caulfield, East St Kilda, Prahran and Balaclava - all suburbs of Melbourne. Nagoya and Tokyo. Amsterdam. Annandale in Sydney. Kirkland on Seattle's eastside.

5. Things I would do if I were a billionaire

I think that I would probably pass out from the shock of it and then develop crippling anxiety about what to do and whom to help first and end up a blathering mess. It does strike me often though that I would love to have the money (and nothing better to do with it than) to do up old rundown houses that everyone else would consign to demolition. The kind of renovations/refurbishments that are completely uneconomical and wouldn't be done by anyone in their right mind. But as I've said, becoming a billionaire could well send you that way.

I would save this old house in Redmond from the condo developers.

6. What are some jobs you’ve had

Hmm, retail, retail (sales assistant in a bookshop - not as pleasant as one might think, I got held up); all-singing all-dancing hostess at Tokyo Dome's Baseball Cafe; more retail; and then an illustrious career as a public servant, most recently as
senior advisor in the strategic policy unit unit of Metro Health at Department of Human Services. I am currently a completely financially dependent not-working-outside-the-home stay-at-home mother and am studying to be a health economist. One day I will have a job with the World Health Organisation and get transferred to a country where my husband cannot operate a bank account. But forgive me, I gripe.

Another reason that I didn't include the rules is because I don't intend to play by them. I'm not going to tag other people but should you read this blog and haven't yet received this meme, I would love to know more about you. Please do leave a comment to let me know if you choose to.

ps - Apologies for the sardonic tone of this post. It's strange how the writing sometimes takes on a life of its own - I had no idea that this was the mood I was in tonight.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

this is ... what gives me goosebumps

Goosebumps are a funny thing - a bit like blushing. Not something that you can make happen just by willing it to, something that you can't stop from happening when it comes along. What actually gives you goosebumps is also unpredictable, and I don't think necessarily causes them every time. For instance, I was chatting on Monday with someone about Australian cinema and she mentioned Rabbit Proof Fence (fantastic film) and there they were - goosebumps. I saw RPF several years ago when I lived in Sydney and have heard it mentioned numerous times since and never before has it caused goosebumps. So, there you go.

So, for this week's topic I've gone with quite a literal interpretation and, after all, extreme cold does often and reliably cause goosebumps. And really, I was just waiting for an excuse to tell you about my current preferred form of extreme cold - Snoqualmie icecream (and gelato and frozen custard!). Sooo delicious and the only ice cream that I could find in our supermarket freezer that doesn't contain high fructose corn syrup.

Things have been a bit quiet around here on the blogging front this past week or so. It is no reflection of what is actually going on here in real life. Or rather, it is not for lack of anything to say but having too much to say. I have any number of partially composed posts floating around in my head, getting entangled with each other, petering out, crystallising, coalescing ... individualism, thrift shops, traffic, cross walks, accommodation, uni, deferred exam, invigilator, library books, Amy Butler, sewing, knitting, pattern drafting, reverse engineering, block printing, parking tickets, 'no parking' signs, convenience, Department of Motor Vehicles, social security number, Department of Homeland Security, over-engineering, property rights ... in no particular order.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

this is ... my most treasured childhood possession

At the moment my childhood seems like a long time ago and a long way away. Having a child, however, allows you to recapture some of your own juvenile history and coming to the US allows you to avoid prohibitive postage costs.

I had forgotten about this vintage Fisher-Price garage that I had as a child until I found a very battered example in the toy cupboard at baby bear's playgroup. Instantly I wanted one for her. Upon arriving here one of the first things I did was got on ebay and bought one. It came with the four cars and little people, the gas pump intact, decals in fair condition and with the grease rack. My only disappointment is that the bell in the elevator doesn't make quite the same ping that I recall.

I loved this toy as a child. I love remembering this. I love it now too. (Oh, and so does baby bear - she is allowed to play with it!)

Saturday, 5 July 2008


Some weeks ago when I was browsing in the Rizzoli bookshop in Milan (oh sorry but the trip has almost worn off) I came across this book, Knitalong.

It's a well presented book, a good introduction to the whole knitting scene so possibly a little basic for someone who is already familiar with it. Even so I have since found it worth a read (having borrowed a copy from the library). The knitting patterns are fairly basic and didn't inspire me although, again, a new knitter will find some good projects there to start out on. (Note, however, that this is not an instructional book - I mean someone who can already knit and is ready to try a few things out.)

The best part of the book, for me, is the chapter on recycling and not least because it's all about my friend Nichola and her cyber-progeny Wardrobe Refashion. It was so fantastic to be in a big bookshop in a foreign land reading about the achievements of your friend. And I'd like to add that she now has three little girls. This section also has the one thing in the book that I was instantly moved to make - a pincushion (one of which I have wanted for ages) from a felted jumper. No trouble.

The instructions are in inches which just swim before my eyes so I just used a square quilting template and cut out four squares, cutting two of them further in half. Then I followed the general instructions. This is my first effort here on the far right - the jumper came up very fuzzy so the fair isle pattern definition has been lost. I also hand sewed my pin cushion which may explin the lack of definition at the seams compared with the book's version. I also have some tarnished metal buttons that I think would match better but that would involved re-binding the whole thing. I'll have to think about it. I would also recommend not over-stuffing the pincushion so that you have more leeway with the binding process.

The second incarnation was a little more successful, made from a
jumper that I bought at a 'yard sale' just outside Issaquah (fabulous name, once called Squak) on my first weekend in the US (yes, I know how to start with the important things). That's already been gifted but I think that I have enough fabric left over for a version three. And it's given me some great ideas for other felted jumper three-dimensional shapes - what about a ball?

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

this is ... my best op shop find

I trust that much has been written long before I came along on the nature and essence of US culture. Regardless, I will add my two cents' worth. What has really struck me here, after the trucks (although not literally thank goodness), is what seems like an all-pervasive principle of individualism. One of the results of this is an amazing and overwhelming consumer culture where everything is available, in every possible permutation, for every possible market. Hence the possibility of ordering a low-fat double chai soy latte frappuccino (spelling?) and a take-home doggy bagel (to feed to your dog) without so much as a self-conscious blink of an eyelid.

A follow-on effect of all this, combined with a throw-away mentality, is that the op shops (yes, I know, thrift stores - bear with me) are AWESOME. They are chock full of the most amazing stuff - cashmere cardigans, espresso makers by the dozen, antique picture frames and
hand-pieced, hand-quilted patchwork bedspreads.

I have so much more to say about all of this.

vol ?

Alas, my series on Golden Hands: the complete knitting, dressmaking and needlecraft guide has been cut short by the fact that they are all buried away in a storage at present. I'm not sure but I think they were a British publication; if I do happen to see any over here I'll sneak in some shots (or something). In the meanwhile please do have a look back in the archives at the richness of volumes one to ten.

Happily, I have unearthed some craft projects which I have been working on. I had so intended to post more progress shots of my projects so here we are:
A child's tam from the basic pattern in
The Knitter's Handy Book of Patterns: basic designs in multiple sizes and gauges by Ann Budd. Yes, work in progress - I still have the little crochet loop at the top to go. That would involve finding my crochet hooks so it could take a while longer.

There has also been considerable progress on Mavis but unfortunately the stitch count seems to be off. Yes, off by a couple of stitches. A couple of stitches out of 280 in 4 ply - practically invisible. Can I live with it? Unfortunately, I doubt it but I certainly can't face ripping it just yet so yes, that one might take a while longer too.


Umm, well - it's big. I've been a bit under the weather this past week or so with a mild to moderate case of culture shock. Having visited the US twice before I must admit that I wasn't quite expecting it but this time around I have had to deal with more mundane things like social security and banking.

As an aside, it wasn't until I was at uni I think until I realised that the US is commonly referred to as such, and not as America. Why is that?

So, big - big cars, big roads, big coffees. I made the mistake of ordering my usual large hot chocolate and ended up with nigh on a litre of the stuff. We went to car dealer yesterday to buy a small, used car (hard to come by) and were confronted by a showpiece Lincoln of truly offensive proportions. Cars here are big - really big - and every second person seems to drive a 'truck'. I have no idea what they are transporting, or think that they need to transport, in these trucks. Perhaps just in case they ever need a piece of farm machinery here in the middle of the city?

So, you know how it is when you're sick - it's all too easy to just complain and complain. I will continue to document my symptoms over the next few (dozen) posts which may be very tedious for any North American readers - my apologies in advance. I promise, however, to balance any critical observations with a positive. Like the great public transport that we have here on our doorstep - some half a dozen bus routes run within a few blocks of our apartment. They don't run very often (maybe only three an hour) but so far I have found them to be very prompt. Many of them are wheelchair accessible and they have a bicycle rack on the front so that commuters can transport their bikes. I think that this is fantastic. Hooray for King County Metro Transit.

Oh, and for jumbo strawberries.