Wednesday, 29 October 2008

wildlife alert

Woodins, previously known only to live in Central Park, New York City, have been spotted in Washington Park Arboretum, not two blocks from my house. Fancy that!

The Vital Statistics

Pattern: Woodin by Anna Hrachovec from Knitty.
Yarn: I used Cascade 220 rather than the suggested Elann yarn.
Needles: 4mm bamboo dpns. Lovely.
Start to finish: oops, lost track - just recently.

Talk about knitting with a porcupine! I'm usually ok on the dpns but the first few rows of these woodin legs are tricky and then joining it all together with the body ... well, it was a bit of a struggle but successful. A really fun, quick knit. There were no progress shots because it was all over and done with in an hour or so. Then there was the felting and finishing which of course I dragged my heels on a bit. But not too long because this was the third and final gift for my secret pal, Shannon at Livin' in the Sticks.


A couple of Saturdays ago baby bear and I drove Tim to the airport to see him off to Ohio for a week (conference; not sure who got a better deal).

Comedy - they say that it's all in the timing. Not three hours after he left it was time for a nappy change. "No nappy, undies", baby bear told me. We had a try and a very quick mishap. Any suggestions on how best to go about toilet training?

Monday, 27 October 2008

i knit a hat

How 'bout that?

The Vital Statistics

Pattern: Wide-brimmed hat, pattern #14 from Vogue Knitting's Fall 2007 anniversary edition.
Yarn: recycled - whoo-hoo! I took a bit of a gamble on this one. I had some lovely grey lambswool recycled from a Nordstrom men's cardi (purchased at the thrift store) and figured that if I doubled it, that would probably work. And it did, spot on gauge.
Needles: horrid 5.5mm aluminium circulars - why do I still have these things?
Start to finish: started last week on Monday, wore it on Saturday.

: I am not a beanie wearer, so when I saw this pattern in VK I thought, hmm, that might be something for me. It might be. I'm still getting used to wearing it. Knitting with
worsted thread doubled on the brim (and I had doubled my thread in the first place to get worsted weight) was hard on the hands but the result is good and sturdy. I omitted the casing for elastic because it was already snug enough on my head. I also knit the hat all in one colour, instead of contrasting brim and crown.

I think that I could have made the crown just a tad longer so that I could really jam it down on my head. Yes, I could undo the three-needle bind off and knit a few more rows. Never going to happen. Using a worsted thread doubled on the brim (and I had doubled my thread in the first place to get worsted weight) was hard on the hands but the result is good and sturdy. I'm happy with the way that the hat turned out, we'll see if I get used to actually wearing it. The pattern is quite simple, particularly if you omit the casing, but there are a couple of errata so check the website if you plan to knit it.


That's Finnish for gold (according to the online dictionary - if you're a Finnish speaker, please correct me). Yes, today I struck gold at Value Village - Marimekko!

Brasilia -
definitely enough for some children's clothes.

Kioto - again, kids' stuff.

Lumimarja - my favourite, possibly enough here to make myself a dress!

I am absolutely delighted with these finds! (Can you tell?! Can there be more exclamation marks?!) I have a genetic connection to Marimekko (apparently there was a Marimekko shop in Melbourne in the 70s and that's according to my mum, who worked there) and I love their designs.

I'm also quite fascinated by Finland. I spent a couple of weeks there about 10 years ago (ten, already??) and really enjoyed it. I also really like foreign languages and would love to try Finnish. Did you know that Finnish has some fifteen cases (that is, form of a word to indicate its function in the sentence)? It's a member of the Finno-Ugric language family and is most closely related to Estonian. It is not a Scandinavian language which is why, I have heard, Finland is not part of Scandinavia. Again, please correct me.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

a natural part of life

Dear America,

I know that a lot of people here are overweight and that many are very health conscious but 'evaporated cane juice' on the list of ingredients? Since when did sugar become a dirty word? Particularly when so much here is loaded with high fructose corn syrup, which quite frankly tastes revolting.

Sugar - it's a natural part of life.

Sincerely, Amelia


I am painfully aware that op shopping has been an element sadly lacking from this blog since we came to the United States. Please rest assured that this is not for lack of of actual op shopping, but rather that it has taken me this long to come to terms with the amount of stuff that is here in the thrift stores. America is full of stuff (and as for its corollary, nonsense, well, I'll leave that for another time).

It's actually hard to know where to begin. Well ok, maybe with Value Village which is where my thrifting career took off. We were living in temporary housing in Kirkland at the time (on Seattle's Eastside) and this was one of my closest thrifts. And we're going to talk thrifts from now on, partly because that's the lingo here but also because it feels unnatural to talk about op shops. To me, op shops are run by charities or churches or community organisations, to benefit those organisations or deserving causes. In Melbourne, for instance, I don't consider Savers to be an op shop.

Value Village is the same company here in the Pacific Northwest. It's run for private profit with a bit of money being donated to charities. Incredible business model - receive a large portion of your inventory for free from people who are willing to donate to charity and keep a large share of the profit made. But anyway, having said which, I love Value Village. I don't donate anything to them (I save that for the volunteer-run shops) but I love to shop there. On Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday all items with a tag of a particular colour (orange, blue, purple, whatever) are half price. These are the items that have been sitting on the shelves the longest. Then on Monday those same items are 99 cents. So technically, yes, you could score a couch on a Monday for 99 cents (but it would probably be a very ugly couch). I have been at Value Village on a Monday morning, just incidentally, and there are queues at the door. Queues.

So, the volume and array of stuff to be found at Seattle (and area) thrift stores, like Value Village, is amazing, astounding, awesome. The result of a rampant consumer culture crossed with a throw-away mentality is that you can find pretty much anything that you want or need at the thrift store. Yes, you can head there with a shopping list and just pick up what you're looking for. Until last night the only things that I had had no luck with were Scrabble and a digital kitchen scale. Now I'm just looking for the Scrabble.

All of which brings me around to telling you about my stay at The Last Resort. To be continued ...

il conformista

A day and a half without internet - ouch!

Anyway, another sneakily named 'this is ...' post. This is my favourite movie, Bernardo Bertolucci's Il Conformista from 1970. To begin with, I just love the way that the title rolls off the tongue.
I can't even quite remember when or where I saw this film but it had a major impact on me - the storyline, the visuals, the narrative. I believe that this was one of the earliest films to experiment with splitting the narrative's timeline. It's a long time since I've seen it but the film plays forward from the beginning and I think from halfway through the story in alternating episodes.

I won't go into the storyline except that there is a real sting in the tail. A fabulous film!

(Quick note of linguistic interest - those familiar with the Italian language will know that words ending in the letter 'a' are most often feminine and preceded by the article la. Il conformista is an exception and this is because the word is derived from Greek rather than Latin which is the basis of Romance languages.)

In other film news, we went to the cinema on Friday evening. The first time on many months and the first time since we came to the US. Joel and Ethan Coen's Burn After Reading - a complete farce but very funny. I laughed a lot, out loud, along with the rest of the cinema which is a good join-in thing to do. But oh Brad - I'm sorry, you don't look so good.

Oh and a quick reassurance to my dear readers - I am completely not the Vegas type. Perhaps that's why I'm so excited about going. There will be no shows and no gambling, just the aquarium, some op shopping (what happens to those old costumes, I wonder?) and general shuddering at all the neon of it I expect.

Image details here.

Friday, 17 October 2008

monte carlo

Whooo-hoo, we're off to Monte Carlo! Well, the Monte Carlo that is. We're actually off to Vegas, in December, but I'm still excited (in a totally post-modern, self-reflexive, so-awful-it's-great kind of way, but yeah - I am excited)!

rl for ikea

Ok, so we've all heard about Isaac Mizrahi for Target and Comme des Garcons for H&M or whatever, but what about Ralph Lauren for Ikea? Well, maybe just at my house.

I've put some more of my recycled fabric stash to work making cushion covers - there's the Ralph Lauren bedsheet in there and the Ikea floral one side, coin spot the other. I just cut the sheets up to the dimension of the cushions, which was 26 inches square (actually, no I didn't, I didn't even cut them, I just ripped them) and sewed them up with two fabrics overlapping by about one-third of the width on one side. No zips, no buttons. Each cushion cover features all three fabrics. The fit is a bit wonky here and there but hey, the cushions are wonky too (two from the op shop, four from a garage sale) so that's fine. They will create a nice little reading corner in baby bear's room to snuggle up on and, dare I suggest it, to even take a little nap - please, pretty please?

ps - I started the slip stitching on the roses quilt last night. It's going to be a long haul but very satisfying.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

art & fear

This is actually my 'this is ...' entry but who could resist a post title like 'art & fear'?

Have you ever read a book that you just instantly wanted to internalise? Wanted to have its contents permanently lodged inside your head so that you would always know it without having to go back and read it over and over again? This may just be one such book for me - Art and Fear: observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. I don't know whether I make art but I sure know about the fear associated with making - that it won't work, that it won't be any good, that I won't like it, that others won't like it, that I'll muck it up, that I don't have the skills to do it, don't have the skills to do it well, that I'll never get it finished, that so-and-so does a better job of it
anyway, that it's not original enough, that ... oh, I could go on (and oops, I already have).

I know these fears and have, in some part, gotten over them. Perhaps that's why much of what's in this book resonates so clearly - it's a common-sense talking-to about getting over them and getting on with it. The book is divided into nine chapters and addresses topics such as 'talent', 'acceptance', 'canon', 'competition', 'craft' and 'creativity'.

One of the early gems is this: "Artists don't get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working" (Stephen DeStaebler). How I know that feeling, of a project germinating, germinating until you can't bear it any longer and all the fears about making it are overtaken by the absolute need for it to sprout. I have a couple of blanket and fabric design
projects that have been in the germinating stage for a long time and are almost at the point of breaking through but I'm happy to wait, the balance hasn't quite tipped on them yet.

I also really liked the part in the book about how your work does not have to be, in fact should never be, perfect because the seed of your next work lies in the flaws of the piece that preceded it. It's amazing, and liberating, to consider the 'masterworks', revered as being masterful and complete, and to think that Vermeer, Picasso or Morisot or whoever didn't actually think that it was quite right, that there were some muck-ups in there which lead him or her onto the next piece. Fantastic.

I also love that the authors talk about 'artmaking' as opposed to 'making art'. If someone asks you what you're doing and you reply 'oh, I'm making art' it sounds so pompous and is so focussed on the finished product. But, 'I'm artmaking' is all about the process which I think is a great place to be.

The book is aimed at visual artists, writers, composers, photographers - I highly recommend this book to anyone who makes anything.

(Complete aside here - did you know that Picasso's full name was
Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Martyr Patricio Clito Ruíz y Picasso?)

vintage quilt update

The top is all sewn up!

I have never really done any patchworking before so am delighted that most of the junctions between the blocks came out very precisely.

Friday, 10 October 2008

this is ... my favourite kitchen tool

This is a hard one as all of my kitchen stuff (and there's not that much of it) is all packed up in storage in Australia and we've been keeping to the bare minimum here. One bare minimum element though is a wooden spoon. A year or so ago I was on a campaign to find a good wooden spoon. I bought one of Huon pine and was chastised by a co-worker because apparently the tree is endangered. I also bought quite a nice rustic-looking one from Country Road made of olive wood. But neither of them were quite right.

This one, however, is quite possibly perfect. It's just right - the bowl of the spoon is the right size, the handle is the right length, it has good proportion. I have no idea what wood it is, it appears to be made in France. No matter where we end up, this wooden spoon will be coming with me.

Thursday, 9 October 2008


Ok, here's where the whole raincoat thing becomes a saga. Monday just gone I decided to try again with a tried and tested pattern - the hooded beach coat from The Golden Hands Book of Sixty Things to Sew for Children that I had previously used to make James.

I have long pondered the idea of recycling clothing not just for the fabric, but also to take advantage of he existing structural features - the hems, buttonholes, pockets. Hence this purchase from Value Village, a tomato red Old Navy raincoat, 100% cotton but certainly treated with something as water just beads on it.

So anyway, on Monday -
thud. That was me coming down to Earth. All those pre-existing structural features - the binding, the facings, the interfacing, the pockets - all of it actually makes cutting out the pattern pieces and sewing them together very difficult. Thankfully I had bought jeans/denim sewing machine needles to cope with the pvc because that treated cotton was tough (see, silver lining to the first raincoat debacle - new type of sewing machine needle, new thread colour, an eyelet kit and a snap fastener kit).

And again, disappointment - I swear the armscye is too shallow, again. I'm not sure because I can't actually get baby bear to try the bloody thing on. She seems to have developed an instant aversion to it. More lessons learned though - what works in a knit fabric may not necessarily work in cotton canvas, that I must take my time sewing and must plan more carefully (yep, there are muck-ups because I was just in such a rush). I also altered the pattern a bit, adding a details from the previous raincoat pattern which was a facing around the hood through which you could thread a cord - hence the need for an eyelet making kit which I used very successfully.

I am going to finish this one off, possibly by
appliquéing some cut-outs from the leftover tablecloth pvc as decoration, adding the cord to the hood and a zip to the front. Which means I have to go shopping for sewing notions. More silver lining.

rainy days and sundays

... actually neither of these gets me down, I love them both. Just as well because it rains a lot here in Seattle. Unfortunately, there is no commensurate increase in the incidence of Sundays. So, baby bear needs a raincoat because playing outside, stamping in puddles and going for walks in the rain is very important activity for a two-year old.

With the best refashionista intentions, I decided to put the tablecloth plan into action - that is, a gorgeous pink gingham and floral cross-stitch print pvc tablecloth that I acquired some weeks ago which was always destined to become wet-weather gear. I knew that I had a raincoat pattern from Children's Clothes: French Style tucked away somewhere (ok, on my usb stick), so I printed it out, enlarged it, cut out the pattern pieces and started sewing. This is the bit that gets me down - the pattern is really crap.

My sewing skills and confidence are not robust enough to cope with a pattern that completely spoils my sewing project. The raglan sleeves on this project are nowhere near deep enough. All that effort wasted (small lesson learned - do not trust this book), even on a small project, is really dismaying, particularly as the pvc fabric can't be replaced.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

stitch stitch stitch

I am making some great progress at the moment on stitching projects, much to my delight. I think it is inevitable that I will be working on many things at once, it just seems to be the way that it happens. What I need to do is just keep working on things in small manageable doses, keep track of things and keep focussed. So, here's a bit of keeping track:

roses quilt

I sewed the last mechanical seam on this yesterday evening, that's the binding attached to all four sides now. Yes, last night's stitches were just to sew that last seam but I got there so it feels good. What remains is some serious pinning and hand slip stitching to completely finish it off!

gentleman's fancy socks for Tim

Yes, I still knit. I have been plugging away at the second sock every chance I get and have just reached the end of the foot. Toe to go (and toe to finish on the other sock because I ran out of yarn just a few rows from the end).

vintage fabrics quilt

I have finally had to add this to the works in progress list - 36 squares chosen, cut out, placed, pinned and now this evening six of them sewn together. I don't think that I can keep pretending that this one is just an idea. So, a little update on that - the Ralph Lauren blue and white stripe with floral bouquets didn't make it in - it's pretty, just a tad insipid for this quilt. I did cut up the dark purple doona cover but regret it - great colour but the texture of the cotton was just too overwashed. I used a dark purple pillowcase that I picked up later instead. The deep red sheet turned out to be a twill and I couldn't cut a square square from it, no matter how hard I tried so it was replaced by another red sheet, not quite such a deep hue but easy to cut.

The curtain swag, blue sheet and polished chintz made it in, as well as three more florals and the purple geometric floral pillowshams. I also added (contrary to my mother's advice but hey, isn't that what mother's advice is for, to lead you in the opposite direction?) the very graphic black on cream print. I think that it will balance out the florals and help to lead the eye around the quilt. We shall see.