Monday, December 27

So ...

Yeah, I've been AWOL for a few months. My life is just not that exciting. Oh, I have lots of opinions I could share, but aren't there enough screaming heads blogging out there just now? Most of them aren't even literate let alone articulate, and that's just the people on my side of the aisle.

But my blog's been vacant too long, so here's some stuff ...

Finished crocheting this sweater about a month ago. It's made with Simply Shetland's Silk & Lambswool, a big favorite of mine. It's called Stepping Stones, by Kristin Omdahl, and can be found in the Fall, 2008 edition of Interweave Crochet, if you are interested. A slightly complicated start, but the top-down style means no seams to sew which makes it a lot easier than it looks.

Let's see ... Christmas was this past weekend. We got into a discussion of movies on Christmas Eve and boy is my cousin, we'll call him J, ever down on True Grit. I never knew J was such a fan of John Wayne, but he's taking the remake as an affront to the Duke's honor. It was pretty funny. Ordinarily I share his opinion of remakes ... why? Why remake something that's already a classic? Let's face it, they usually ruin them. However, they've done something right with this one, I think, in that they cast Jeff Bridges, who is not one of the new pretty boys. He's got acting chops, having been around for something like 30 years, so he just might do it justice.

I also made a few scarves as gifts, but due to the last minute crunch to get them finished (They were finished a while ago, okay? I just, er, forgot ... yes, that's right, I forgot to weave in ends and do the blocking and other boring stuff until the day before Christmas Eve.) they weren't camera ready until it was too late and I was too tired. But I do still have this scarf and mitten set, mostly because I made it for myself, heh. Oh, I did get a picture of this collar thingie I made for my niece. It's intended to dress up a tshirt or tank top.

What else? Well, I decided how to best make use of my new Kindle, with which I was gifted. Since I love to read, it was never a question of whether I'd use it. However, as nifty as e-books are, unless they are public domain, i.e., the author has been dead a long time, they still cost you something to buy, which is why I get a lot of books from the library; and since I know I'll still need to purchase hard copies of my usual keepers, I wasn't sure where e-reading would fit in. I got to thinking about the kinds of things I'm interested in reading, but don't usually want to buy. Magazines and nonfiction books top that list, so I went hunting and came up with The Scientific American Day in the Life of Your Brain, because I like science stuff. And I have it say, it's a winner. The folks at Scientific American have been doing this kind of thing for a very long time so they know how to make science stuff accessible to us non-scientist types without dumbing it down, all the while showing you how relevant science is to your life. It touches on things like Alzheimer's and autism, but it also discusses why men don't like to consult maps while women navigate best via landmarks; why you'll know your car keys when you seem them, even if they aren't where you expected them to be; why so many of us aren't morning people; why a word might be at the tip of your tongue but not at the top of your brain; and a whole slew of other interesting questions. If you enjoy learning something new, I can recommend this one. With or without the Kindle.
And that'll have to keep you until the next time ...

Monday, August 2

Long Live The Book

I was just reading an interesting article from this month's issue of Washington Lawyer, entitled "The Future of Reading," by Bob Kemper, which discusses the doom and gloom pronouncements on the death of the printed book now that e-books are becoming ever more popular. It isn't available online yet, or I would link to it; but I didn't want to wait to write this post lest I forget.

So many people are predicting the end of the printed book, but I'm not so sure. Don't get me wrong, I know there are a lot of benefits to e-books, not the least of which is their portability. You can carry a whole lot o' books around in one little e-reader. And it's an excellent medium for researchers, no doubt about it. And it's true that e-readers are becoming more popular, and are possibly encouraging more people to read, all of which is good. The article says that the number of readers in the U.S. declined by 20 million between 1982 and 2002, according to the NEA. But the article also says that the U.S. alone publishes 275,000 books in a year, which is even more than a true reader could keep up with, so I don't know that we can say that people have stopped reading altogether, or that people have completely forsaken the printed book.

Even with the Internet, I have had a little trouble tracking down exact figures, but the gist of what I have found seems to say that while the publication of printed books has flattened out quite a bit, we are still way ahead of figures from the 1950s. In fact, according to the article, and contrary to it's own doom and gloom prediction, the latest NEA survey, released in 2009, says that the number of readers has risen across the boards for the first time in 25 years, with the biggest increases between the ages of 18 and 24 ... you know, that group that's supposedly too busy texting to read anymore.

They cite the rise in popularity of first the Harry Potter series, and second the Twilight series as reasons; but, honestly, I think it was more likely a natural ebb and flow. And does it really matter why? If people of any age are once hooked by a book, they will eventually read again. It's really just a matter of finding the right book for them. It doesn't matter whether they come, initially, by way of an e-reader. If they are hooked at all, I think the odds are that they will visit a public library, pick up a paperback at the drugstore, or borrow from a friend. Because once you fall in love with reading, it's a love affair for life.

And now I'm going to sneak in another little opinion of mine, a radical idea that has been niggling away at the back of my mind for a few years now. Is it possible that the publishing industry, itself, is to blame for what might appear to be a decline in book sales? Oh, I'm not even talking about the price of a book, which is becoming ridiculous, I admit. No, what I've been pondering is a theory more rebellious than even that. Did it, in a mad rush to ride the wave of reading popularity of a few decades ago, lower its own standards? Because I have to say that while I have always bought and read books, it has become increasingly hard to find really GOOD books over the last few years. So I'm wondering if publishing types, rather than paying attention to the quality of the books they printed, were, perhaps, letting themselves be led by the bean counters.

See, that's the only way I can explain to myself why, every few years, there seems to be a glut of some sub-genre in publishing. To be putting out that many books aimed at one small market and get them all out on the shelves in a fell swoop, I have to believe that publishing has been doing it deliberately, and I simply can't believe that whoever makes these decisions really believes that every single one of those serial killer paranormal romantic suspense chick lit mysteries is the next Tom Clancy or John Grisham offspring. Which means that they have been deliberately glutting the market with inferior reads. And rather than admit that the reading public has gotten disgusted and decided to be more selective and aim for quality over quantity, they are instead shouting that people don't read anymore. Huh.

Okay, I got a bit off topic there, but not too much. Because my point in all that ranting is that people are still reading, and the printed book is not dead or even dieing. It's biding it's time. In the article, Katherine Hayles of Duke University, herself a teacher of electronic literature, agrees with me, pointing out that traditional books have many advantages that digital devices will never have. Face it, you never have to recharge them. And when the apocalypse comes, which another depressing group promises is just around the corner, my hard copies will still work just fine.

Tuesday, July 20

Of course, Of Course

There are days on my way into work when I'm not paying attention. I wasn't paying much attention this morning either, at first.

Nope, not here. Let's try this again.

Oooh, so close, but just missed him. One more time.

See him now?

What about now?
It's K Street. He's probably a lobbiest. Oh, and there's a cowboy in there somewhere, too. He's hiding behind the horse. I don't know why.

Monday, June 14

Kinda Cool

What I like about crochet is its essential portability. I technically know how to knit, but I seem to be incapable of completing a row without needing to put down my wip (work in progress). This is problematic in knitting as you carry an entire row of stitches on your needles, and it can be confusing, if you have stop in the middle, to remember what direction you were going in. Well, it's confusing for me, anyway. With crochet, there's only one hook, and one active stitch/loop, so stopping mid-row is not a big deal.

Which is why I can crochet on the subway. I used to see people doing cross stitch or embroidery; but I've only seen one knitter, and she was was making socks using 3 (or maybe it was 4) dpn's (double pointed needles). Since I have difficulty with two pointy sticks, I was completely in awe of this woman. My point is, although I know there are knitters riding the train, I don't come across them very often.

In just the last two weeks, however, I've encountered two other people crocheting. In the first instance, I sat down next to this woman and we both pulled out our hooks and yarn at the same time to our mutual amusement. In the second instance, I was waiting for a train one evening and a woman walked up and said "you were crocheting this morning." Yes, I was. She then pulled out her current project and we had a brief but pleasant chat about yarn.

And then just last week I was sitting on the train and two women who sat near me remarked that they, too, crochet. And I think the one woman might have been inspired to bring a project with her on the next ride.

There's this idea out there that knitting and crocheting are for "older" women. Huh. It's practically trendy, if my recent experiences are anything to go by, and those were just the crocheters. There are knitters out there, as well. I think there are more of us yarnies out there than is generally realized. It's like being part of a secret but wide-spread counter-culture movement. How cool is that?

Tuesday, May 11

This stuff ain't for wimps

I know you all are ever so impressed with my happy Harriet homeimprovementmanship. However, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you this story:

So I bought these big tubs and pots for the deck a few weeks ago. I got a couple of kinds. One doesn't drain very well, I discovered, so I figured I would just drill some extra 'drainage'. I get out the drill and it's cordless so I charge it for a few hours on Saturday while I'm doing something else. Then Saturday afternoon I slip a drill bit in and tighten it up real good using something called, I kid you not, a "chuck key." Mind you, the tub is full of dirt and a few plants at this point so I have to be very careful about tipping the pot in order to get at the bottom. Well, I do this and find a way to prop it while I drill and it's all good, except I'm finding that the bit is only barely marking the plastic tub (did I mention it was plastic? Made to look like wood, but not). So I figure probably there isn't enough power and decide to recharge overnight and try again on Sunday.

Sunday I recreate the tipping of the pot and put the bit back in, use the chuck key to tighten it up, and give it a few experimental whirls.

I try again to drill a hole in this plastic tub and again all I accomplish is to scrape a few curls of plastic off. I'm impressed with how well made this thing is. Maybe I'm using the wrong kind of bit? There are bits for drilling different materials, I know; I don't know how to tell them apart. So I go and look and select one that is, at least, different from the one I'm currently using. Replace the old bit -I'm getting good with the chuck key - and try again. Still nada. And I'm thinking, is this thing made of plastic-coated titanium? My frustration level is rising. I try a different place on the pot, same thing. Maybe I need more pressure? I brace the pot and try putting a little muscle into it. Still no results.

I've been sitting there on the deck trying to put a *&^%$ hole in the *&^*%* pot for 20 minutes and at this point I'm considering using the &^%$& drill as a blunt instrument and hammering a &^%$& hole in the thing. Then, as I'm looking at the drill bit and giving it a few more experimental whirls, fuming over what should have been a really easy 5 minute project, I notice that the threads on the drill bit appear to be going in the wrong direction, spiraling up into the drill, instead of down into the still nonexistent hole. Huh.

Turns out, the drill has TWO DIRECTIONS. One for drilling in to a surface, and one for extricating the bit from the resulting hole. And if you have it going the wrong way, there ain't no way you're going to make a hole in anything thicker than paper.

I timed it. I put 10 holes in the bottom of that pot in 4 minutes. It only took me two days.

Wednesday, May 5


My first exposure to crochet was watching my mom crochet covers to protect our couch and chair arms from the kind of wear and tear that happens. She used heavy thread, I think #3, and did her own pattern of chains and doubles to create a version of what is called 'filet crochet'. That's when a pattern includes closed and open spaces and, if carefully planned and charted, it's possible to create simple pictures and text that way. Think "Victorian sampler." Usually that's done in a much finer thread.

Thread is rated according to a number system that goes up as the thread gets finer. A #3 is roughly equivalent to string. It's very sturdy and often used to create things like dishtowels and facecloths because it will wash and wear very well. #10 is what you usually see used for doilies and such. #30 is extremely fine; more like sewing thread. And I think it's possible to get thread even finer than that, although you probably can't find it at your local hobby store. If you are looking for fancy lace trim on your wedding or ball gown, that's the stuff you want. The finer it is, the more drape the fabric will have. Makes sense, right?

Mostly it's made of cotton. In recent years, a blend of cotton and bamboo has become trendy. Bamboo is incredibly soft, but also terribly stretchy with no elasticity, so blending it with something else is a good idea. But it's lovely stuff for wearables. 100% cotton thread tends to feel a bit stiff when you are first working with it; but it loosens up considerably as it is worked and more so with blocking, the way an old favorite t-shirt will soften over time. I've also heard of silk thread, although I've never seen it in a store.

When I was a kid, people used doilies and lace tablecloths a lot to protect a finish and show off their whatnots. Today, you don't see it so much. I think the current trend is for less clutter and to show off the beauty of wood furniture. We've gotten away from using doilies, table scarves and so forth. I think, though, that it's going to come back around again eventually. Most things do.

The above projects, in case you were wondering, were done with #10 thread. I did the bookmark first for a small project. It was a way of getting my feet wet with thread. The second is a beaded scarf, still in progress. The beads are about the same color as the thread, but I think you can just make out their glint at the edges and at the motif centers. In the third photo, I've included the two crochet hooks I'm using. One to work the thread, and one to work the beads. Yes, there are hooks on the ends of them. One hook is 2.25 mm, and the other is 1.3 mm. The pen is by way of comparison.

These tiny thread hooks are made of steel. In theory, you can make a crochet hook out of nearly anything that's rigid. Most hooks used for yarn work are aluminum. I have a set of bamboo hooks, too. But thread hooks are inevitably made from steel because the heads are so very fine, and yet need to stay rigid. Aluminum hooks that tiny would bend. Other materials, if you could carve them to such thinness, would be fragile and probably break.

And that's your lesson on thread crochet.

Here's something else to look at. It's a baby afghan I'm almost finished with. I'm using yarn, not thread, so I can use my bamboo hooks. In this case, it's 6.5 mm. I'm using the Tunisian stitch in a technique called entrelac, which makes it look like woven strips to get the diamond pattern. I think I talked about Tunisian before. It's a cross between crochet and knitting, neither one nor the other but incorporating elements of both. You use a hook - that's the crochet element. But you cast on a series of loops, which is more like knitting.

And that's your refresher on Tunisian.

Monday, March 29

No Idle Hands Here

That's so not my problem. It didn't used to be this way. I was happy with the occasional afghan or baby blanket, secure in the knowledge that I could drop this habit anytime I wanted to.

I can't say that anymore. Thanks to the Internet, I'm discovering new designs and new yarns everyday that make my hands itch. Sometimes it's the challenge; sometimes it's the novelty. Whichever, my meager discretionary funds are more meager than ever.

Take those winter gloves, for example. I have very small hands, and finding gloves that fit is a never ending problem. Especially since I'm prone to losing them. And then one day I stumbled across the answer to my problem when I discovered a pattern for crocheted gloves. And when I spotted the Mini Mochi sock weight yarn, it was love at first sight.

My latest longer-term project is this tunic in last fall's issue of Interweave Crochet. I've got all the pieces done ... I just have to do some tweaking and get it all pinned and sewed together. I'm using a really lovely yarn from Cascade called Venezia Worsted. It's a blend of Merino wool and silk that feels soft and drapey in the hand, especially after a brief soaking. I don't know why, but you can never really know what a yarn will do until after you have washed it. It was nice before, but the stitches loosened up so beautifully that the fabric just flows now.

All the putting together steps take time (I'm hoping it will be ready to wear before it gets too warm out!) though, and I get impatient. Which is why I like to have a smaller, quicker project, such as these socks. For these I used Karabella's Superfine Cashmere. Yeah, cashmere socks.
Ain't that a kick?