Friday, 23 February 2007

The long promised book review........

After promising a book review so very long ago today I decided to kick myself into gear and write about Yarnplay by Lisa Shobhana Mason. This book review business is much harder than you would think. I find myself not wanting to say anything that may hurt the designer's feelings should she come across my lowly blog but on the other hand I don't want spout bullshit. A rock and a hard place people.

This was a book that I was really excited about receiving, one that while has merit was unfortunately disappointing. Lisa Shobhana Mason is an incredibly talented designer but this book feels rushed. It feels as though there was much filler put in in order to meet a publishing date. It seems that more and more of the new books are this way. Not many of the new books are as whole as "Knitting in Nature" and that is okay, that book is a masterpiece, but do we really need another washcloth and purl scarf pattern? I am not sure if I would have bought this book if I was able to view it beforehand (and this coming from a book junkie, well former book junkie now the finances will no longer support this habit).

This is a beautiful book with moments of Lisa's talent shining through so lets get the bitchin' out of the way first then finish with the good stuff.

1. Like I mentioned too many basic patterns; washcloths, bathmat, table runner, cushion cover - all in plain garter or stockinette, no pattern needed. The designs that are the most appealing are the sweater patterns but there are simply not enough for the cost of the book. For this I blame the publisher not Lisa. I don't think publishers are giving knitters enough credit and failing to see that we are original creative beings who want this reflected in the books we purchase. Most publishers think they can take a designer with a few great patterns then put together a book and throw lots of filler patterns in and we won't notice. Well guess what, we do. Why can't they allow the designer to take the time needed to truly develop a full range of patterns? Now Lisa's main theme on this book is colour and she does have a great colour sense but this still does not excuse the basic patterns. One of the patterns is for a K2 P2 scarf. The pattern instructions read to cast on the required stitches, do the required length in K2 P2 and then cast off. Is it really okay to even publish this pattern? It isn't original for goodness sake. Oh by the way this is given an intermediate skill level. It does come with a basic hat that requires knitting in the round and picking up some stitches but for intermediate knitters?

2. When are publishers going to allow the designer to direct the photography? The photos in this book are beautiful but entirely inadequate for viewing the design. Lisa notes this on her blog. I love Chelsea. It uses some techniques I have a bad attitude about (dropped shoulders, reverse stockinette, too long sleeves) and it pulls them off. However look at this picture, it is the best photo of the sweater and tell me how long this sweater is or what the bottom looks like. The photographer decided to tuck up the sweater because it would look better, yeah thanks for that.

Have publishers learnt nothing from the complaints about Scarf Style. This book is right up there for being as hopeless in it's photos. This one doesn't even show a knitted item, it is for the shawl can't you tell! The photo is as bad in the book.

The best photo of the shawl

Of the table runner

Of the copperhead scarf

3. Why oh why do all of these new knitting books put how to knit in front of them? No one can learn from the directions given and it takes up valuable room. Do the right thing and just direct newbies to the books that can really help, the ones that are truly designed to teach someone how to knit. Give us another pattern or something interesting to read, a new or more difficult technique, another reason to buy the book.

Okay now the good stuff:

The sweaters are adorable. I love Poppy on the cover. I am just mad about Everything But The Kitchen Sink. I definitely plan to make this one.

She makes sweaters that are very flattering for most women.

Her use of colour is great.

It is a beautiful book; glossy photos and beautifully laid out. There are schematics for all of the sweaters which is helpful.

My verdict: If you are buying this for men's, kid's or baby's sweaters don't bother there is only one of each and while nice are pretty basic. For household items stick with Mason-Dixon Knitting. But for some lovely women's sweaters it should be considered. Lisa Shobhana Mason has a point of view and it does come across in her work. I would be interested in seeing her future work though I would be more inclined to purchase it as individual patterns. I think I am tired of pattern books at this point and feel as though I need more in my book purchases. For those who have this book or have seen this book do you agree? Am I on the money? I would love to hear what you have to say.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

What superpower would you choose?

I am still here.

We are continuing our family visit marathon with my Mum. She arrived 4 days ago and will be around for another couple of weeks. Posts may be thin on the ground and for that I apologise. It is difficult to get the privacy or time to write at the moment. I don't do well with a lack of privacy or time so I am just focusing on being a reasonable human being at the present (and dreaming of the day I have a laptop to run away to a cafe with).

I was listening to This American life a few days ago and there was an essay on a woman who had decided against the normal desired superpowers of flying and invisibility and instead wanted to be able to experience all her firsts again. The first time she read a beloved book, the first time she tasted chocolate, that kind of thing. I was taken with the romantic notion of this and for a few days was completely sold on this idea.

And then I remembered.... most first time things suck and the good ones well they are generally just as good if not better the next time around.

Each time I taste high quality dark chocolate it rocks, as good as the first I swear.

The first sip of great beer on a hot day, does it get any better? (remember the first time with liquor, yuck, well actually I don't but then I was raised in NZ where they start kids young but I imagine I said yuck).

Okay we have the obvious first, the big one, that sucked, doesn't it always?. Let it be said that virginity on the wedding night is for suckers who want a bad wedding night, there is something to be said for practice there I tell ya.

The first time we got really drunk on creme de menthe, thank god it was the last.

The first time we knitted a garter stitch scarf, ugly and painful.

The first time we turned a heel and all we could think about was how the hell are we going to do it because those directions, they are hard and dumb, know what I mean.

Don't get me started on first husbands, lets just say the second ones, they are the keepers, the first one well he sucked but was a lesson learnt.

Those first yarn purchases, almost too painful to remember, when we thought that Joann's was where you bought yarn, that or the second hand store.

So what superpower would I choose? Would I be like a scary majority of woman who would rather lose 10 pounds over gaining a higher IQ? I don't think so. As my sister says "I don't want to be 35 and still worrying if my bum looks too big in a pair of jeans". Flying, maybe. The power of association; a friend chef here, a person high up in United with lots of extra frequent flyer points there, a hair stylist everywhere. I may have spent a little too much time thinking about this.

What superpower would you choose?

Thursday, 15 February 2007

Honey have I let myself go?

I am mad, steaming mad.

I just came back from the mechanics and after spending way, way too much for having a tow bar put on it seems I still have be treated like a "pretty, empty headed little girl" by a patronising old fuck. Now I don't know squat about cars, don't ever want to but that has nothing to do with being a woman. My partner possibly knows even less than I do about cars and he is most definitely a man. Apparently that does not matter, just having a penis between your legs entitles you to some level of respect at this mechanic. And I thought that is why I pay a mechanic, I don't know anything about brain surgery and yet it wouldn't make me stupid to use a brain surgeon right?

Still we have come a long way; let me tell you a story.

I was at local auction (we buy and sell "stuff" for part of our living) and to my surprise the bloke who shows the things for the Auctioneer (you know like Ivana) holds up this kinda cool looking retro bag and says "bag filled with old knitting books" and well my head swung around so fast I made the smelly, smoky woman next to me jump. And then before I know it I am bidding on it and it is mine for $7. Sight unseen. It was filled with lots of different mags and patterns. None newer than about 1980.
I now have a complete collection of Golden Hands, a gem for crafts that have been forgotten. Macrame anyone?

Good for lace shawl patterns - yes?

And - then - I came across this magazine from 1958,

and this wonderful article.

Apparently I have not been a good wife. I have allowed my husband to see me without lipstick. I wonder - does lip balm count? Not only do I not jump out of bed each morning before him so I can get myself presentable and pretty, and this kills me to say, but I won't get out of bed until I am sure he has coffee waiting for me.

I quote "I once asked a very successful business man what part his wife had played in encouraging him. "She never came down to get breakfast - even after the babies started to arrive - looking anything but pretty", he said promptly and proudly. The article goes on to tell me how I must leap out of bed in the morning before hubby wakes and sees how truly hideous I am and do an entire beauty routine as well as making sure I change into a "trim blouse and skirt or slacks". Now if the children's needs are not too demanding I should sit down to breakfast with hubby because "that is the way he thought it would be -the prettiest girl in the world facing him over the table". Then I must walk him to the door and kiss him even though I will get lipstick all over him. But he will be secretly thrilled that I have taken the time to put lipstick on (and this is the best part) because it shows I care. (Forget about that committed life partner stuff silly, it is all about the lippy.) Did I mention this is in a KNITTING magazine. Pass the Valium.

Check out the sock.
Bet you couldn't do this Mr Asshole Mechanic, bet you couldn't even if you did want to. Making these socks - that is easily as cool and difficult as putting on a dumb tow bar anyway. And you know what else Mr Asshole Mechanic if you came to a Stitch n' Bitch and asked to learn how to make these socks we would be nice and helpful to you because knitters aren't like you, we are good.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Lets Pretend......

Today I decided to pretend I was the best Mum in the whole world. And for some reason I got the best kids and the day was easy, really easy. Hmmmmmm............

Saturday, 10 February 2007

Monster Rug.

I know a rug, a rug that has been named Monster Rug. This rug is destined to live in my son's bedroom. It is not a mean rug, nor even ill natured, in fact it is quite exuberant. But it is a monster make no mistake about it. To date it has devoured 120 t-shirts and it is still hungry..............

In our home I want to make all of our floor rugs (never said I was sane, nope never did). I have a passion for all things recycled so I decided to start with a crocheted t-shirt rug. Luckily I have access to cheap t-shirts; one of my local op shop allows you to fill a bag for $3 and I can cram a bag with the best of them, let me tell you! I estimate this rug will cost about $20 total once complete - a bargain by any standard.
It is very labour intensive however I think the end result will be worth it. It is cushy, hard wearing, original and warm with lots of love woven into it. This the third rug I have made. The last was about 3 years ago out of my daughter's baby clothes. I couldn't bear to get rid of some of them but just packing them away for no good reason was silly too so I cut them up and made a small bathroom rug. It is still going strong, it came with us to NZ. I just love it, mainly because every time I look at it it brings back memories.

I thought I would share the process I go through, not that it is difficult or any great secret.

Firstly treat your local op shop (or family's closet) like a yarn store and just start grabbing all those colours that give you fever or work in with your design plan. For this rug I have used knit fabric, you can get anything that is a tube; pants, t-shirts, sweatshirts, skirts. You can easily make this rug out of other fabrics. I have been collecting denim, wool sweaters and corduroy because I think these will make great rugs also. Ask at the counter - frequently they have items that are too stained or torn to be sold that they will let you have for a song. Keep in mind how many t-shirts you will use, depending on the size of the rug, so don't pay too much for them. You don't want t-shirts that have that rubber printing on them or lots of embroidery.

Back at home, waiting for a wash. One - to get rid of the op shop smell and to make sure they are all clean. Two - in case any of the colours run, you want that to happen now not once the rug is done. For ease I wash everything together and if it did run you can still cut it all up and not really notice. Be wary of small busy patterns, sometimes they can look muddy.

Now the time consuming process of cutting them up. A rotary cutter and board are a life saver at this point. For this rug I only cut out the "loops"- the body and arms. I make the loops about an inch or 3cm thick. For the last rug I cut strips and then machine sewed them together, you have a lot less waste that way. However since I plan to do a prodded rug in the near future I am keeping all of the cutoffs and will use them up for that.

Now you will have a basket full of loops. Sit down with a good cuppa (or plonk) and some good entertainment (catch up on all of those great podcasts, speaking of which "we miss you Brenda!") and start knotting those loops together. You know just like you will do with your luggage tags at the airport before you leave for your year abroad in Italy and India - wake up, refocus! Okay so chain loop all of those puppies together. It will take a while but is pretty relaxing and mindless, lots of good boob watching, a little Top Chef, a little Project Runway and you are there.

Wind up into balls and put the basket of pretty fabric balls somewhere you will see. They are pretty cool looking and worthy in their own right. Don't make the balls too big as they can become unwieldy to deal with.

I single crochet them together. I tried some other crochet stitches and did not like them as much. I don't think this rug works as well knitted. For one thing it would quickly become too heavy for your needles and for another the crochet gives you a much more dense fabric more suitable for a rug. Another plus about crochet for this project is you can easily add on where ever you fancy if you want it to be wider, etc. I am not an experienced crocheter but even I can handle single crochet so don't let the "C" word put you off. When you need to join in a colour just undo the last chain loop on the current colour and loop your new colour in; no ends to weave in.

It will be a little wonky as you go. Don't worry too much. It will kinda stretch out at the end plus that is part of it's charm. I plan to add a denim border on this one at the end which will also help to stabilise it.

Friday, 9 February 2007

Need to be tougher with the lace.........

I finally blocked my fan and feather scarf. It was good but not earth shattering. I don't think I blocked it hard enough. I won't be using a variegated yarn for lace work again, it just doesn't show the pattern as well as I would like. However a lace shawl is definitely in future plans. I can see why lace work is addictive for some. It does have a light, frothy feel to the scarf which I like.



After: (Sorry it seemed like a better close up before I posted it to the blog. I will get this picture thing down soon I am sure)

That's not all of the "making" going on in this house.

I present Montreal Style Bagels.

There are some things New Zealand are known for but unfortunately bagels is not one of them. I was craving some real bagels and we set to work one afternoon, doing it as a group so it didn't seem too overwhelming.

The reward: yummy warm chewy bagels for dinner with fresh tomatoes, salad straight from the garden and good cream cheese. Don't ask me how many I put away! They were good!

The recipe came from "Home Baking" by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, a gorgeous book we received last holidays. It is a 2 rise dough that takes about 3 hours total, allow about 5 hours for the whole process, about 1 1/2 hours are actually work time, the rest is waiting.

Rolled out ready to boil.

They boil for about a minute in water and honey, then are off to get rolled in sesame seeds (or whatever you have)

Boiled, ready to be baked for about 15 minutes:

For all of those that have not yet given bread a go I thoroughly recommend it. (It is time consuming and messy so if you aren't into cooking it won't be your thing.) It is the greatest thing to do with kids (think rainy afternoon). They can be involved in the whole process and what kid doesn't like fresh bread and butter (while you are at it have a go at making your own butter, only if you have kids handy as it takes a lot of shaking!). We tend to make our bread wholemeal with lots of seeds, flax and maybe some nuts and it is still a hit. You can easily minus the wheat with all of the other flours on the market if someone is gluten sensitive. And of course the aroma from baking bread is divine.

Does anyone have a really good tortilla recipe they can recommend? (Another thing New Zealand is not known for.) I don't want to use lard in them (ooh yuck!) but oil is fine. I really want to find a recipe like the soft chewy ones I use to eat from Tommy's in San Diego. The ones I have made so far have been blah. Oh and hot carrots, I seem to make them too pickley and acidic, any suggestions?

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

The Wild South

We have returned from our time down in the Catlins. It is a coastal forest park about 120kms south of Dunedin that is remote, beautiful and wild. It is dubbed the Wild South by kiwis and it is well worth a visit. For all of you that are still on the fence about whether New Zealand is a country worthy of a trip I hope this photo essay will help convince you. This part of New Zealand can be cold and the weather is unpredictable but there is no denying it's natural beauty. Keep in mind it is the middle of our summer and the peak of tourist season and it was cool and empty. (We have some wonderful beaches and lots of warm sunshine in our "sunny north" in case you were wondering). The local tramping (hiking) is worth it alone. The many wild animal and bird sightings are icing on the cake.

Our "local" bay at low tide. A wonderful kid's playground. This area is protected by a breakwater.

Relaxing at the end of a hard day.

A nearby bush walk.

The other side of the breakwater. A little rougher!

Yep local wildlife. We were happy to share the beach.

We took a walk over a local farmer's property to view Jack's Blowhole. It was about 30 minutes each way. There is no other way to view it and that seems to make it all the more special.

Jack's Blowhole : 55 metres deep, 144 metres long, 68 metres wide and get this - 200 metres inland. At the bottom of this blowhole is the ocean, right there, right in the middle of a sheep paddock, with a little fence to stop the silly sheep falling in. Very cool.

As for the sock and I, well getting away was just what we needed. I could see that I had been hard on it and well it could see why some days were a little rougher than others. We spent a lot of time together and that was good. I now see the lace scarf was warming me up for the sock. I didn't know I was alive with the scarf. If you really want to see something move s-l-o-w-l-y try this sock. We (as in "sock" and I, we are now one) are ready to turn the heel, I am very excited, somehow that makes me a dork in non-knitting company, if only they knew.