Sunday, February 26, 2012

I Want To Do All. The. IDEAS.

Okay, now is a VERY bad time for me to be desiring to try so damn many things out, and yet all of these wonderful and awesome ideas smite me all at once. It's not even karmic, really, so mucn as the Universe going "Hey, I notice life seems to be going good for you... here's a whole BUNCH of shit to try!"
Which is why everything I am dying to do is now on the same 2 weekends coming up in the spring, I am sure.
Sketch-A-Day February was a complete bust, mostly because I completely forgot to do it. The schedule change, the house change, all the junk going on at work.... I can make as many excuses as I want but in the end I just plain forgot. Not only that, I forgot to do something I LOVE to do. So there goes the shortest month of the year for goal-setting and whatnot; with it goes my faith in the ability to do long-term projects (I missed the Sketchbook Project and Project 365 for a while, and NaNoWriMo has been fleeting. Alas.)
Willing to acknowledge my suckitude in these matters and move on, I stumbled across something via Pinterest that seemed nifty, but ultimately doomed to failure so I initially ignored it as a potential project. That is the absolutely awesome Sky Scarf idea. What the hell's a sky scarf? you ask. Well, see, I would hope by now you guys know I'm about to go in to a thorough explanation but way to be pushy.
A Sky Scarf is where one makes an interactive scarf 365 rows long based on the color of the sky. Now, I know some of you caught that row number and have now realized the concept... you do this for a year. You lean out your window, look up, note if it's brilliant blue, or light blue, or dark and overcast, and then you knit a row to correspond to it. That way when you're done you have a record of every day for the past year, and you have a scarf that will look lovely to boot.
The initial scarf I saw shown was knit up in my favorite fiber of all time, alpaca. Sadly, I couldn't find anything in alpaca to snag, so I turned to an uber-fluffy mix of kid mohair and silk that will look utterly awesome once knitted. It also assures that I've got to hand-wash the bastard if anything ever happens to it, but hey, that's the price we pay for making awesome things.
I intend to go just a weeee bit bigger on the gauge than they originally stated - size 4 needles just don't seem like they're thick enough around to do this thing justice. So I will probably go size 6-8. We'll see. Maybe I won't. Maybe I'll knit it up on size 8's and go "Oh, THAT'S why they said size 4". Because, you know, that happens to me a lot when I like to think I know better.
The geek in me is already seeing a ton of practical applications. For instance, if you did one of these over several years (and really, knitting one row of 30 stitched a day doesn't eat that much time, so in theory you aren't really signing yourself up for a big timesuck) you might begin to note patterns. Things like when most of the clouds occurred, if there seemed to be fewer and fewer cloudy days... it's like a mini weather/climate tracking project. The metadata you could get off of these things is HUGE. I cheese simply to think about it.
And then the smartass in me goes "Wow, the people in the Pacific NW are going to need, like, 5 skeins of dark grey and half a skein of light blue."
A few other awesome ideas I've seen based on this initial idea are knitting what the front yard looks like (flowers vs. grass vs. leaves vs. snow? Kinda cool) and one woman who looks out her window at the mountains in the morning, and whatever color they are -be it red, brown, yellow, or grey depending on how the light hits them- she knits that row up. I thought tht was damned clever and a nice way to capture the storytelling aspect of the idea. It's got me thinking about other applications of things. Like perhaps a piece of artwork with one dab of paint for each day documenting an entire year. Artistes go crazy for that kind of shit. I should know.
Anyway, my yarn will arrive in a week I believe, and at that point I can start the knittening and hopefully it's a forgiving project if I forget a day or two. It'll be interesting to see if my brain remembers days as sunnier or cloudier than they were in retrospect when I go to catch up. Let's face it, I WILL be playing catch up.
In the meantime I'll just have to content myself with the Ravelry group and the Flickr pool for this lovely idea.
If you are interested in participating, the pattern/idea/ready-made it are all right here, just clicky!
The other idea, this one trumpeted by my buddy Heather Zoppetti (she of the awesomeness in all things fiber and knitting), was the No Pants Summer. This was something proposed back in 2011 that she had seen previously, but then decided would be super awesome to attempt. I only even became aware of the idea because of her blog post a few days ago, and now she has MY brain on fire with the thought of things.
Now, me and skirts and/or dresses have a sort of acquaintanceship currently. For years I refused to wear them because I didn't want to look feminine, or weak. I hated the idea of looking "girly" with a passion, and I just felt safer wearing jeans. I even wore jeans in 90 degree heat, much to the consternation of my mother and a few of my friends. I'd often wondered if there was a reason for it, and if it might correspond to my sudden raging moods that came on at times. Time was I could get furious at the drop of a pin, which didn't make much sense.
Last year I started to take meds to help balance out my system after we discovered I had a little something called PCOS, and the change has actually been odd and amazing. Now that I am producing the proper amount of estrogen for my system I have discovered that I want to wear makeup, I really like pink, and I can no longer listen to thrash metal or other forms of very loud and angry music like I once did.
Dear God, you say, way to just set back feminism and bolster sexism right there!
Well, you know, your mileage may very with this stuff, but I'm telling you this is what happened. I became, as I started to joke with my husband "a REAL girl", with all the appropriate emotions and desires thereof. And that included the desire to wear skirts and dresses.
So THAT long story was so I could go back to the No Pants Summer. You see, I'm still very nervous when wearing skirts or dresses. That feeling of appearing weak creeps back in to my head. Yet whenever I wear a dress and pull it off, I can't help but smile. Partially because i looked good, but also partially because Nothing Untoward Happened To Me While Thus Arrayed. I'm not sure what exactly I'm expecting, possibly some giant perv to come up and stare at my knees, but there's this nagging thing in my head that tells me I am somehow asking for trouble by hopping in to a skirt.
Do you guys remember how I decided this was the year of working outside my comfort zone? This fits squarely in to that. I don't know if I can do an entire summer, but I figure I could maybe do something like No Pants Week. Maybe No Pants June. The idea is just so neat, and another thing to take from it was my friend's idea that it would be an awesome time to learn how to sew those skirts and dresses to wear during that time.
I have this utterly awesome Hello Kitty sewing machine sitting out in the cold garage right now that is begging to be used, and I can think of no easier way to get started than to whip myself up a really basic A-line skirt with some sort of elastic-type waist. We can get fancy from there. But I have always felt odd that I didn't know how to sew, especially when I utterly hate so many of the fashions out there. Being able to figure out what will flatter me, what fabrics flow the way I want, and how to make something when it's out of season/destroys itself in my dryer would be an incredibly useful thing. So I'm going to see about sewing a few things up and wearing them for the week. Even at work. Actually, ESPECIALLY at work, because that would leave me with several professional things to wear.
I'm setting the goal now of sewing myself 3 skirts. Maybe a dress, if I'm feeling really ambitious and organized. But for now, 3 skirts and I think I already have enough that they'll take care of themselves once I choose the week.
Hell, I just realized this gives me an excuse to finish my Tunisian Honeycomb Stitch skirt I've been working on forever now!
Only downside... to figure out if this extends to when I'm sleeping, walking around the house, walking the dog.... ugh. Rules.
Anyway, I'll let you guys know when it goes down. Maybe even take pictures.
I'm just hoping no other really awesome ideas come my way, because I don't think I'll be able to handle it right now!

Monday, February 20, 2012

I Heart You, Zoe Strauss

Ever have one of those days where you go in thinking you're going to do one thing, and what ends up happening is something totally different and yet utterly amazing?
That was my Sunday.
Initially my husband and I had planned a hot date at the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see the painfully popular Van Gogh exhibit. I adore Van Gogh, his sunflowers are one of my favorite things ever even though I run the risk of sounding uncultured and pedestrian in the speaking of it. So it was with great excitement that we parked the car (after sitting in Philly traffic for an hour out on the Schuylkill Expressway) and took the stairs up in to the daylight and the hill upon which the museum rests.
Except, you see, tickets were completely sold out. The exhibit had only been open one hour and they were GONE. The docent was at least apologetic about it and said that we could call up and make reservations for a time in the future whenever we wanted and that they would be free thanks to the membership my Dad gave us. So that was heartening, at least. Had I known my upcoming schedule we could have just rescheduled right there, but alas I did not. So we'll have to wait on that.
This left us with the looming fact that we had driven an hour to come to the museum to see something that we weren't going to be able to see.
Bob, being his ever-awesome self said "Okay, what other exhibits do we want to see, then?" immediately taking those lemons, squeezing them hard, and presenting me with lemonade. A quick look through the map -which we discovered, to our surprise, we had actually finally mostly all seen!- and we came across two exhibits.
The first and closest was an exhibit on Zoe Strauss entitled "Ten Years". The photographs were plain yet utterly amazing. As one who fell in love with the works of Ansel Adams, to see such untidy photography was initially a shock to the system. But as we continued through the exhibit, you began to see the thread of meaning in the images, how each one was utterly perfect in its lack of polish, in its every-day-ed-ness. I believe that every single image that was on those walls was the embodiment of wabi-sabi, perfection through imperfection.
I am, of course, struggling with every single word to describe what I saw because it was so visually striking and yet so utterly fucking ordinary that the only thing left in between is the emotional reaction I had. Try to describe wonder without resorting to describing what is physically happening in the body, and you'll understand what's going on. I'm a monkey slapping around at being an artiste with these thoughts and English is not my native tongue in these moments. Somehow she managed to sucker-punch me in the gut with a few shots around Philly and other locations and left me with a feeling of immense discovery. I loved it. I loved it so much that I bought her book, "America", on Amazon as soon as I got home. This woman has managed to do what I struggle with constantly in my own hobby photography and elevated it to a level I only hope to approach. The individual and imperfect moment as art, taken with an ordinary camera. God if I could only have such talent.
From there, with the assertion in my heart that I had found my new favorite photographer, we circled around to the museum store where I acquired the catalog book for the Van Gogh exhibit, just in case we never did actually make it back. Then from there we decided it would be nifty to go visit the Perelman building across the street since A.) It was a gorgeous sunny day and B.) there was another neat exhibit I was really hoping to see.
So we sidle on up to something that looks like an ancient stone with 20's federal building tendencies in the decoration and push through the glass and brass doors to find..... modern art. Once you get out of the lobby, the entire thing is plexiglass and aluminum and plastic. Fantastically beautiful, indeed.
We headed on in to the Zaha Hadid exhibit, "Form in Motion", where I was promptly nearly knocked flat from vertigo induced by the graphics on the floor. My brain insisted the floor was sloping to the right and my feet kept following that idea. I managed to make it out of the foyer and intensely focus on the sculptural designs beyond only by closing my eyes and hugging the wall.
You would normally think something like that would not make for a pleasant experience, but if an artist can manage to immediately throw me off balance, I can do nothing but give them credit.
Zaha Hadid is amazing. Her forms are a strange amalgam of organic and alien, leaving you with the sensation that you are familiar with all of these things, but knowing you have never seen them before in any form. I was staring in wonder at aluminum benched shaped like radiating flower petals, and necklaces that looked more like strange mathematical computations than jewelry. I fell in love with the lines of it all, and wished the floor were not so damned distracting so I could fully appreciate the few pieces being displayed.
We followed that up with panini sandwiches and the discovery that Snapple teas had switched from corn syrup to actual sugar in their drinks, so I could actually partake of peach tea again! Not so big a deal until you learn that I lived off of Snapple Peach iced tea my freshman and sophomore years of college! That, along with a few awesome photographs and the delicious paninis made for an excellent nomming.
While there we visited the 35mm Photo exhibit, which discussed the versatility of the 35mm film and cameras, and how it made the "snapshot" possible. Casual photography, street photography were all suddenly possible thanks to a thin little strip of celluloid with sprocket holes in it. They also discussed other film formats, and as i was sitting there chewing my panini and talking with the husband, I realized I could actually probably construct a massive pinhole box for large-format photography. The idea is still with me.
We then gathered ourselves up, headed back to the car and drove up to the comic book shop to grab my pull list, then home. This was followed by walking the dog, and me spinning up the last of my divided Jacob wool while we watched Alcatraz.
So here is the lesson I often forget... that just because the original plan doesn't work out, it doesn't mean that what's left to do next won't be just as awesome. I can't remember discovering anything quite so awesome or falling in love with art the way I did today. Getting to do so with the person who is most favorite to me in the world just elevated it to true memory status.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Actual Conversation # 106 - Wherein the feminine mysteries are briefly touched on.

*Bob is playing TF2 and I am surfing Etsy when a twinge happens in my lower regions*

Me: *blink* I think I just ovulated.
Bob: *freezes, then turns to look at me* Like, just now? Right then?
Me: Yeah. They say to feel for a pain that's only on one side of your body and there's a pain that's only on one side of my body. Like, right there. *points at approximate area of ovarial-things*
Bob: Okay then. Let's call it. Helen ovulated at 9:53pm.
Me: Okay. *pause* Now what?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Necessity is a Real Mother.

I decided I did not want to Navajo ply my second spinning project, since that would mean reducing the beautiful sunny yellow stuff to a twisted mess like the first skein I plied up. Instead, I decided it was CRAFT TIME! and went around the house trying to find various supplies to create a Lazy Kate so I could ply the yarn together off 2 bobbins and see what I got.
This does NOT remedy the whole problem of being without a niddy-noddy, but that's okay. Turns out the chair back worked beautifully for that.
The idea was to use strictly materials I already had lying around. If it was ~literally~ lying around, so much the better. So here's what I did.

Got together 2 cardboard drink holders from a well known donut chain that also sells coffee and stacked them to keep them more rigid. Located a media mailer box that was set up to protect one of my albums that arrived off of eBay that already had 2 pieces of inner cardboard inside for extra security. Grabbed 2 size 10 aluminum needles (purely a guess on the width vs. the bobbins) and then set to work.

I placed the drink caddy upside down on the album box to get an idea of how to center it, then I drove the aluminum knitting needle down through the bottom cup holder on both caddies and straight through to the album box. Then I kept pushing until I felt it hit carpet. (NOTE - I did this on carpet because sofas and wooden tables and counters do not play well with jamming aluminum sharp things). You can see where I screwed up the first hole and then made holes matching up the box and the caddy.

This next part is sort of a foregone conclusion, but I then stuck the needles up through the botton and through the drink caddies. Because of all the cardboard it had to go through to be upright, they're pretty much set there and unless some idiot and/or a giant animal messes with it, those needles are very stable. Best part that I forgot to even check for, not only are they raised so that the base will be more free to rotate, but they're far enough apart that they won't hit one another or get tangled!

I finished it up by dropping the finished bobbin on one and stored my other currently unused bobbin on the other. It looks rather fetching, and I can't wait to try and ply off of it to see if it holds up well! In the very least it'll hold me until I can get a more sturdy Lazy Kate to work off of. See how perfectly the size 10's fit?? I'm pretty psyched at my DIY-ed-ness on this thing.
I thought I might as well share this just in case somebody was stuck without a Lazy Kate and also potentially very broke. Also, its eco-friendly and dolphin-free and whatnot, so you can feel good for using things in an unusual way!

You Spin Me Right Round, Baby....

It is a poorly kept secret that yours truly is a fiend for learning The Minutia Of How Things Are Made, as well as Things To Do With Yarn. A sub-section of that would be also Training Myself To Still Be Useful After The Zombie Apocalypse.
Unnecessary capitalization aside, all 3 of these things happen to intersect nicely in spinning. As in, you know, sitting in front of that thing Sleeping Beauty knocked herself out on and actually making yarn on it. Yes, seriously.
I was somewhat curious about it but mostly content to simply let others make the yarn for me when I was invited to the Lancaster Fiber Retreat last year. While there I met a metric ton of awesome people*, and a very large number of them were not just knitters but also happened to spin and dye their own yarn, too! How cool was that?
I like to research how things are made down to the finest details, part of what drove me to put together my previous 4 computers and get a programming degree. I wanted to know how this box in front of me worked, inside and out. I've done the same with cooking and food science, with exercise, with birds, with gardening (subset of cooking, btw, but became its own "thing"), with bookbinding and fountain pens and ink and you name it. I know some seriously useless stuff in the midst of the post-industrial era because of the drive to know the basic unit by which something can be considered created.
So I watched all of these people create yarn from fluffy things shaved off animals or stolen from silk moths, and I slowly realized that I seriously and very badly wanted to do the same.
A year passed, another fiber retreat came and went, and I had only my drop spindles and support spindle to play with. I had asked for a wheel for Christmas but, you know, this whole moving our entire lives 5 miles down the road occurred. I was happy to let it rest because so much was going on. But after seeing what all my friends were doing, and how awesome it was to have the ability to create your own yarn from whatever fibers you chose, in whatever colors, I HAD to be a part of it. Also, as always, I'm looking for ways to keep myself a viable member of society should we finally experience Oil Wars or Zombie Infestation, and I figure since nobody will want to wear that godawful Red Hart yarn against their skin and it would be the last fiber standing after all the mills shut down**, knowing how to spin and knit up things is not a bad skill to have.
So this past Wednesday in the midst of impending Snow Events, I moseyed on up to Lancaster county and visited Flying Fibers, where most of my nifty fiber-related friends are centered. They had let it be known that a certain Schacht Ladybug spinning wheel was there and waiting to go home with someone.
I was totally that someone. I got there, sat down, fed my fistful of fibers on to that spinning bobbin, and I was sold. Or rather, the wheel was sold and I was keen on it. But you know what I mean***.
I happily skipped home with the wheel and displayed it for the pets. Zen was particularly interested in it.
He actually sniffed it for the better part of 5 minutes, which really makes me wonder where that wheel had been before it got to me.
Perl's reaction was vastly different. She jerkingly snuck up on it like she expected it to leap from its sedentary position and pound her in to the hardwood flooring. She has approached it that way 3 times so far and sniffed it, so I guess it'll always be a weird surprise when she sees it.
Chaucer didn't care, as is Chaucer's particular idiom.
I was initially a bit scared about spinning on it, as I had overspun my sample stuff in the shop and created a big, knotted mess that wouldn't feed. I also wasn't entirely sure how to go about pinching the fibers and pulling them forward to spin, then feeding them in to the machine. But as you will see, I kinda learned, and rather quickly actually. The fibers began to fly out of my hands and while I think perhaps I'm not the smoothest and there is most certainly variations in width yet, I got past the "oh fuck, that is a GIANT slub of wool that just choked through my wheel's orifice there."**** I actually blame the presence of Blade Runner on TV as I spun as being a calming influence, just enough of a distraction to keep me from over thinking everything.
Eventually I had the full 2 ounces of practice wool sitting on my bobbin and I was thoroughly happy. I should spin another thing! I thought. Then I realized... wait... I needed to ply what I had to clear the bobbin.
Except I didn't have a Lazy Kate to rest the bobbin in. And normally I would expect to ply with 2 bobbins, but I only had the one. Which meant I had to use the only other method I had seen, which was Navajo Plying. And of all the techniques I decided to try, of course I decided to go for the one that required dexterity and timing to come out looking good.
But this is me doing it, so you know it didn't. And you know that bobbin rolled all over the floor like bonkers.
This was the result. A giant, awful mess. BUT... it looked that way because the stuff on top was the uneven first few yards I'd spun up, and I thought "Hey! Wait! It doesn't necessarily look that bad the whole way through! I should try to skein it!"
Except not only do I not have a Lazy Kate, I didn't have a niddy noddy. So in a moment of desperate genius***** I just wound it around the back of one of our kitchen chairs. It's still there, 24 hours later, mostly because I don't know what to do with it next. But as you can see, it's actually quite tamed down and not nearly so crazy.
I even like it a bit. I may keep it as a testament to my progress down the road. As of right now I think I'll just hang on to it and remember it fondly as "that skein where I did everything wrong and it still turned out yarn".
I've moved on to my next bit o' roving, and this one's the oldest I have, being literally the first thing I bought to spin up at last year's Fiber Retreat. It's a gorgeous sunny yellow with bits of orange and dyed silk in it. It's spinning up rather oddly, and I like it. No idea what I'll make with it once it's done, but I'm really looking forward to pounding it out and moving on to the bright pink I also snagged last time. I've decided I should practice with all my solid-colored pieces first so I can see mistakes and variations and not be caught up in a debate on whether it's the color or I really did something dumb.
I went on a roving-buying frenzy in the aftermath of the wheel's arrival and there are many, many super-colorful bits of proto-yarn headed this way. I'm trying to stick with types of wool for now, as silk and other things have proven difficult to spin (although that was on a drop spindle and that's a different beast altogether). I am waiting until I have an official Lazy Kate set up to work on the yarns for things I'm making for Bob, which is some lovely Jacob wool in dark brown, and some wool/alpaca in a light brown almost coppery color with shots of color throughout it. I can't wait! I want to make him a fetching hat and gloves from it to counter the ones that got felted from the snow last winter.
One last thing... as a Schacht "Ladybug", each wheel comes with a ladybug mascot somewhere on it. Mine is on the right side halfway down, and easily visible. I think it's terribly neat they do something like that. You can see it sort of in this picture, my phone is horrible for focusing, which I apologize for:

I was asked almost immediately "Did you name it?" Initially I scoffed at the idea of naming the wheel since it's just a tool. But then I thought that I had named my computer, my car and even the refrigerator (It is Galactica, and yes that's serious. The freezer is Galactica Actual. Don't ask, it was a silly conversation and a long night that brought it about.) and I thought what the hell, if the fridge has a name, the wheel can have one, too.
Siggi. No idea where it came from, but there it is. My wheel is named Siggi. And I have plans to customize the hell out of that thing with wood-stain and a wood burner and paints to turn it in to a lovely piece of functioning artwork. At some point once I figure out how to do it without affecting the balance, I'm going to put the contents of a Tibetan Buddhist prayer flag around the outer rim of the wheel, so each time it goes around... yup, it puts prayers out in to space. I'm sure I'm not the first to think of that, but I feel terribly clever that I did.
And there you have it. My newest obsession, the most relaxing and meditative out of anything I currently do. I will end up with a LOT of yarn, and I'm thinking I'll need one of those over-the-door shoe pocket things to store all the skeins I'll be pounding out. It's strangely exciting in an utterly-not-cool-in-any-way-whatsoever way. I dig it.

*There is some possible exaggeration in that number.
**I have a theory that Red Hart Yarn will be lying around after World War III with all those cockroaches that will supposedly outlast us. They can have it.
***If you don't know what I mean, you're probably not going to get much out of this blog.
****I giggled right after I thought that, too, it's okay.
*****I get those a lot, actually.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sketch-a-Day Strikes Again!

SO for anybody out there going "Ha! I bet she's already forgotten! Look, no pictures posted!"
I have two sketches, and I am LOVING this project. So much so, I dumped it on 43 Things to keep track of it.
But I wanted to post what I had so far as impetus to keep going. I present to you the following~

Day 1 - Swamp Thing in brush pen

Which I am REALLY proud of, btw... I actually made him look like a big walking terrarium!)

Day 2 - Li'l Depressed Boy in Sigma 0.5 Sepia and Pentel Manga light grey brush marker.

I don't suppose you truly need to know what I used on them, but I'm wanting to prove I'm using different techniques and items to do the sketching.
I have once again realized a universal truth known to all artistis - when you love what you're drawing, it will spill out of your pen or pencil without much prompting. Such was the case for both of these. I honestly finished them in about 30 minutes and it's making me wonder if I need to take more time, or push my boundaries by trying entirely unfamiliar techniques or subjects I'm not necessarily familiar with.

Or maybe just getting one sketch down a day is enough and I should just stop overthinking it.

Anyway, it's off to a good start.