Friday, March 28

Another One Wrapped Up

Ta da! Here's another project, hot off the hook. Please ignore the wrinkled t-shirt. This one is a cropped jacket from a Moda Dea pattern I downloaded for free. Not bad for free, huh? Okay, the yarn I had to pay for. I actually used Cascade Sierra for this one, as I think I mentioned before. I know, in the photo it looks more like a melon color, but it's actually a bright magenta in real time. Despite the open work design, the jacket is actually pretty warm which makes it just about perfect for spring/fall. Also, the yarn is mostly cotton with a little Merino wool for elasticity which means the fabric should breath well and be comfortable at a variety of temperatures.

I was really pleased at how quickly it worked up, and how well the pieces fit together. A sign of a good pattern, I think, when it all goes the way it's supposed to. The only thing that I did differently from the pattern was at the back of the neck, which you can't see here. I believe I mentioned in an earlier post that I had been reading up on techniques to create crochet garments that don't look homemade. The book is Couture Crochet by Lily Chin and I highly recommend it. One of the things she mentions in the book is the difference that a properly fitted neckline can make in the way a garment hangs. Go to your closet or dresser and pull out a shirt, any shirt. If you lay it flat and examine the back, you'll see that the neck area is cut about 1/2 inch shorter than the shoulders. This is because the back of your neck slopes slightly before it meets your collar bone. If the upper back is cut straight across, the garment will have a tendency to hang heavier in the back requiring the wearer to constantly jerk at the front to keep the garment hanging correctly. By cutting out the center, about 5 inches wide and only 1/2 inch deep, you clear the collar bone and the back hangs properly. Learning about this was a real eye-opener for me. It's not something I've seen mentioned in crochet patterns, and it wasn't written into the pattern for this jacket, but I figured out that I could accomplish the same idea if I switched to a slip stitch for those middle 5 inches of the last row. And it worked beautifully; the jacket hangs almost flawlessly. I'm so pleased with how it turned out that I might do another one before long, maybe as a gift.

But while I was finishing up the jacket, I was simultaneously working on this cardigan for my mother. Since I intend it to be a surprise for Mother's Day I've had to sneak working on it during lunch hours, sometimes working a row or two at night. This pattern is from a book called Style For You! from the folks at Leisure Arts and uses Caron Simply Soft yarn. Soft and inexpensive, it's been very nice to work with. I have the back and sleeves done, and have started one of the front sides. The interesting things about this pattern is that you don't work the pieces separately and then sew together. Instead, each section is worked out from the last. For example, when I finished at the upper back I continued on, creating what became the collar and sleeve. Once I figured it out, I really liked the idea because I hate stitching pieces together. I'm crossing my fingers, but I think the fronts should work up fairly quickly as it's all double crochet and chain spaces.

Wednesday, March 26

A Good Yarn

As I'm getting more involved in crochet projects I've been trying to learn more about yarn. This is turning out to be more complicated that I thought it would be. One of the reasons I've really dived back into crochet is the greater variety of yarns now available. In the old days yarn was yarn. You had acrylic yarns and you had wool. You had yarns of a weight suitable for afghans and you had the thinner pastel yarns suitable only for baby blankets and sweaters. The issue for crocheters is that a crochet stitch uses a bit more yarn than a similar knit stitch, which meant that crocheted fabric had a tendency to be bulkier and so were less likely to be turned into garments (except for those ugly granny square vests of the 1970s ... don't get me started on granny squares).

But fiber arts (that's what they call it now) have exploded in popularity in recent years and along with the interest (like the chicken and the egg, I'm not sure which came first) we're seeing yarns in an amazing array of fibers and thickness, although not necessarily at my local Michaels or WalMart which, contrary to the trends, have been stocking less yarn than ever. I can't figure that one out, but never mind. These newer yarns use fibers and spinning techniques that work up into fabrics with much better weight and drape than ever before which has been a boon to all the fiber arts, but most particularly to crocheters. With yarns spun finer and with more elastic fibers, the extra bulk in a crochet stitch is negligible. And as the variety of yarns has increased and improved, patterns have been written to take advantage.

All of this is fabulous for the craft, of course, and great fun when it comes to shopping for yarn. Let me loose in a yarn store and I'm like a kid running wild in a toy store. But more choices mean having to choose what yarn will work best for each particular project and that means learning more about the characteristics of fibers and yarn weights. There's a little information out there, but you have to really look for it. I have not, so far, found one inclusive source on the subject. I'm thinking that I might actually have to start compiling what information I find and create my own resource file. Daunting. Especially as I'd much rather being working with the yarn than researching it.

Tuesday, March 11

Desperately Seeking

Lost: Inner Peach. If found, please return to owner.

I had it here somewhere just recently, I know I did. And then I turned around and it was gone. Pfffttt! Just like that. But it's my own fault. I wasn't keeping a close enough eye on it. I got lax and lazy. I got comfortable thinking it would just always be there when I needed it. And now it's gone and I'm not even sure when it happened. I'm hoping this is just a bid for attention. I'm hoping that if I show true remorse and make a real effort to change my ways, that Inner Peach will come back to me.

My new plan is to retrace my steps and see if I can figure out just what went wrong. I can't fix it until I can identify it, yes? I think I see part of the problem already. Too much clutter. I've been letting other people leave their issues in my head, trying to be a helpful, caring person, you know? But they just leave them there! They just dump them and go on about their merry business, leaving me to sort it all out and find someplace to store it all. I don't have that kind of room in my head. I barely have room enough for my own issues. I don't mind helping out, really I don't. But angst and insecurity are like guests and fish ... they start to stink up the place after a while. I mean, most of this is not even my mess, and yet I'm losing sleep over it. No wonder Inner Peach left.

It's even possible that Inner Peach isn't gone, just misplaced temporarily in the mess. So I'm going to spend a little 'quality time' reorganizing. I've got my boxes ready: Box 1 is for stuff that just needs put back in its proper perspective; box 2 is for old stuff that no longer has a place in my life and that I just need to get rid of; lastly, box 3 which is for other people's junk. I should probably alert them to come collect what truly belongs to them; except it occurs to me that in all this time if they haven't noticed that it was missing, its possible that I was placing more importance on this stuff than they were. No, I shall round up all those stray issues and problems from every dusty corner of my psyche and get rid of it all. Maybe I can find someone else to take them on. Someone, there's always someone, who takes pleasure in worrying about other people's problems. One man's trash is another man's treasure?

The trick will be to take it step by step and not let myself get overwhelmed by the size of the job. I can break it down into zones, maybe. First this relative, then that friend. Or maybe I'll start by sweeping out all those current events droppings left all over the floor. There are people who are paid to think about this stuff, why don't I just leave them to it?

Okay, I've got a plan. You know, I feel better already.

Wednesday, March 5

The Sum Of All Fears

Today I had to do math at work. I had to figure out currency exchange rates which meant percentages were involved. Percentages! I can never, never remember how to do that. Every time I have to start out with something I already know the answer to and then work backwards to figure out how I'm supposed to come to that answer. Yes, folks, not just percentages, but percentages done backwards! Ugh. And it's not like I enjoy doing math at the best of times.

My dislike of math goes way back to childhood. Third grade to be exact. Halfway through the school year we moved and I changed school systems. This would not have been an issue except that at my old school they were heavily into teaching us "new math." New math. What the heck is that? Who came up with the idea of reinventing math? It's numbers, for crying out loud. We've had the same math since the first caveman sat around trying to figure out how many clubs he had, and it worked just fine for a few millenia until some earnest young thing got a bright idea. Geez.

So there I was the new kid in a new school that was doing math the old way, the way every generation since cave guy had been doing it, and my first math class they might as well have been talking physics. I didn't even have a clue about times tables, that's how bad it was. Mom worked with me and got me up to snuff on all that stuff, because she learned her math the old fashioned way too. But in the meantime I had some self esteem issues because, hey, new kid, new school isn't bad enough I have to look ignorant too? No, my teachers weren't big meanies; we just didn't any of us have clue one where the other was coming from.

And I never really recovered from that. I mean, I went on to do just fine at all the basic math stuff and even took some advanced math classes in junior high. Well, to be honest, that was my counselor's idea. I was considered fairly bright so they kept trying to shove me in AP classes. So there I was this math phobic teen expected to play nice in first algebra and then geometry class. Again I say, ugh. Fortunately for me I had a great teacher, Mr. Mewborn, and was fast friends with another girl in class who suffered similarly.

Here's the biggest problem with math classes. It isn't enough that you know how to do the problems. They want you to do them fast. Why? What kind of instant, life altering decisions do they think you're going to encounter? Only McGuyver was ever in that kind of position. In real life, nobody's life or death hinges on how fast they can figure out the length of one side of a triangle. It just doesn't. So what's the big rush?

Back to Mr. Mewborn, Bob bless him. If it wasn't for him I never would have made it through. Talk about underappreciated teachers. He used to let my friend and I stay after on days when there had been a test. Then he would put a tough problem up on the blackboard and sit there listening while we worked out the answer. If we could prove that we knew how to answer the problem, given enough time, and came up with the correct answer, he would factor that into our test grades. Because he realized that all that really mattered was that we had learned what he was trying to teach us. I don't say it stuck with me, but without him my math phobia would have been much worse.

So thank you, Mr. Mewborn. I still don't give a rat's behind about theorems; but if I'm given enough time and a big enough blackboard, probably it won't kill anyone.

Tuesday, March 4

I'm Listening

You already know by now that I love books. I read across genres, having my favorites but not completely distaining any. My favorites are romance (when it's done well) and mysteries. I got hooked on mysteries when I was a kid and ran out of things to read that were suitable for my age. So Mom turned me on to the likes of Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Rex Stout.

A few years ago I got turned on to books of another sort: audiobooks. Funny to think that audiobook publishing is so big now. Initially they were intended for the visually impaired. Then folks who had long commutes, or just a long drive ahead of them, discovered them. And now, each year, the audio offerings at the local book store keep getting better. Audiobooks have gone mainstream, offering a welcome distraction to anyone who, well, needs a distraction. Need to exercise more? Reward yourself for your discipline by listening to a book while you sweat. That pile of ironing threatening to take over the house? Use it as an excuse to "read" for a while.

And these days you can even download them from the internet. And you aren't limited to listening from your PC, either. Many sites allow you to upload onto your mp3 player, in rare instances onto your iPod, and frequently allow you to burn the audio onto CDs. My county library system has that. Of course you have to pay for the CDs you burn them onto; so, although the service is technically free, it can still end up costing you. I'm actually collecting quite the library of audiobooks.

My favorites to listen to are the old standbys - the English cozy mystery. I have discovered that not all books translate equally well to audio. It helps if there is a lot of dialogue and a fair amount of activity in the plot. And the pacing must be good, otherwise it's much too easy to become distracted while listening. But a good, character driven mystery is perfect. Currrently I am obsessed with listening to all the Ellis Peters Brother Cadfael books that I can get my hands, or my ears, on.

But if the kind of book is important, equally so is the narrator. If the voice is too lyrical, too musical, the words get lost. Too flat and the characters won't come alive in your head. Good pacing and inflection are vital. I was listening to a book not long ago which was fairly enjoyable except for a tendency on the part of the narrator to insert odd pauses. It reminded me of that old grammar joke "what's that on the road, a head?" I've come to the conclusion that good narrating is an artform in itself.

If you haven't given audiobooks a try yet, you should. Doesn't everyone have that one dreaded task looming over them, that one that they keep putting off until it, like the ironing, keeps getting larger and more daunting? Go ahead, check it out ... possibly from your local library.