Friday, February 20, 2009

Libraries Will Get You Through Times of No Money Better than Money Will Get You Through Times of No Libraries.

I borrowed Margaret Ohms' Ethnic Embroidery from the library recently and was very reluctant to return it. I have several other books on embroidery of world cultures, but I particularly appreciated this one. The author's approach stems from a deep understanding of textile structure and how design necessarily evolves from the constraints of thread count, evenness of weave, and available dyestuffs. Even climate and geography influence design.

Ohms charts out the diverse ways different cultures construct shared motifs such as the tree of life, pomegranate or boteh. Patterns for basic projects are included - simple things like bags that can show off intricate embroidery. The colour photos are so-so, but the charts and wealth of inspirational detail make up for any lack of glossy images. A keeper! (Although I did return it, don't want my borrowing privileges suspended.)

I also borrowed a book on Palestinian embroidery. Gorgeous, gorgeous colour photos of a rich textile tradition that is in danger of being completely lost by the conflict between Isreal and Gaza and the West Bank. Being bombed or homeless and without the necessities of life can wipe out the acquired skills of a thousand years in less than a generation.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Knitting

A True Story, to Warm the Cockles of the Heart of Any Knitter

It is mid-evening, the pajamas are on, and the good wife is sitting in bed, knitting, as she is wont to do. Her husband, the brave knight, is busy on the computer, as HE is wont to do. He has a project, and expects to be at it until the wee hours of the morning.

"Oh, this yarn is so soft, I can't believe it's wool. Come feel it against your cheek, darling", she twitters, interrupting his train of thought.

"Just a moment..." he answers distractedly.

"Please, honey."

"Oh, all right."

He gets up from the desk and comes over. She holds the knitting up to his cheek and asks, "Tell me how it feels."

His eyes close and a sweet smile comes to his lips. "It feels like warmth and coziness and being loved."

"Oh my", she coos, "You are one smooth talkin' man..."

And they slide under the quilts together, leaving the computer to shut itself off.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I'll Bet Descartes' Bedside Was Never This Messy...

Jacquie over at Wild Ink gave me an idea. She posted a shot of her desk (which looked very organised to me.) I thought I might share a glimpse into the shameful clutter of my bedside table. Since the dining room table is layers deep with computer parts, miscellaneous "important" papers, wool, old coffee cups and the like, I do most of my work sitting on the bed. Consequently, the area around the bed resembles a nest of tripwires and hidden hazards.

Added the next day:

Obviously, no magical elves came in the night to tidy up. I suppose this could make an interesting, if pathologically revealing, animated sequence if I kept taking photos from day to day.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Obligatory West Coast "Signs of Spring" Post

It's the time of year for us West Coasters to start tormenting those of you in the rest of Canada with images of burgeoning spring. I wouldn't be so cruel as to post pictures of the snowdrops that have been up for a few weeks, but yesterday I did notice the buds on this tree outside our building are ready to pop, and I couldn't resist snapping this shot. (It may be some consolation to see that the skies here are still cloudy and wet.)

I am working on a pair of sweaters that have been commissioned as an anniversary present for a friend's parents. It's been quite a challenge to come up with a pattern that will honour the requirements of everyone involved: flattering and wearable for the recipients; reflecting the love and artistic eye of the giver; and fulfilling the design standards of the maker (me).

I have come up with a Cowichan-style cardigan with intarsia images symbolic of different aspects of my friend's parents' lives. I wanted to use Briggs and Little 4 ply wool - it's a sturdy, springy yarn from an historic Canadian mill in New Brunswick. My local yarn shop only carries the 2 ply, and a limited colour selection at that, so I ended up buying lots of white, planning on dyeing it and knitting with 2 strands. I needed a light warm beige, easy peasy, right?

I haven't done a lot of dyeing lately, so I reviewed my notes and merrily set to mixing stock solutions and soaking the yarn. Then my inner mad scientist took over and the kitchen started to resemble a laboratory with smoking beakers and bubbling cauldrons. Halfway through I realized that I had used Procion MX dyes instead of Lanaset, and had a momentary freakout. But, guess what? Procion works just fine on wool as long as you follow the recipe for acid dyes, which, thank God, I had. So I learned something!

Of course, all that wool jammed into two big canning pots, and complicated by trying to dye a pale colour, resulted in no two skeins being exactly alike. This I am actually happy with, as knitting from two skeins at once should give a bit of a marled effect, and add a liveliness to the background. Luckily, the rich red colour I wanted for the motifs was available at the store, so I didn't have to dye that as well.

My bathroom is now gaily festooned with dripping skeins of yarn. I can't wait for summer when I can work outside.

To help me out, here is the Indonesian mermaid/angel/goddess who hangs in my bathroom and is supervising the drying of the yarn. She has her work cut out for her. I want to start knitting tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

More Randomness

Julie over at Handcrafted Life tagged me for Seven Random Things About Me. Considering my blogs are full of random information and asides, I'm not sure anyone will be very interested. But I would hate to be considered a bad sport (Does that count as one bit of randomness?) so I'll play - in any case make sure you visit Julie, she's a great knitter and has wonderful chickens.
1. I have been married a shocking number of times (3).
2. I was quite the hippie in high school, circa 1975.
3. My first course of study was photography. I dropped out halfway through the first year because I kept falling asleep during the seminars on film emulsions. Famous Canadian director Bruce McDonald was in my class.
4. I once had the opportunity to meet the Ramones, and was disappointed that all DeeDee had to say was "Anyone have a valium?"
5. My favourite food to cook is Middle Eastern (except for goat).
6. I am an oldest child (no surprise there, I'm a veritable Lucy van Pelt in the bossines department.)
7. I am tone deaf. Years of piano lessons had virtually no positive effect on my musical ability.

And now, sportiness worn off, I decline the opportunity to tag more people. Anyone reading this who is so inspired may seize the gauntlet if they like! Or start a new round of tag - how about "Share a celebrity encounter story"?

A Motley Assortment

A bit of a catchall blog today.

The above floral patches were found at my local thrift emporium (the only place I shop these days). They only cost fifty cents for the lot, which kinda broke my heart since they are made by hand. I am quite interested in this style of applique - I have several vintage tea towels and hankies done with the same technique. Yet I haven't ever come across instructions or patterns for this kind of work. Can anyone out there enlighten me?

A bit of progress on the embroidery. I embroider the words out of order so that any inconsistencies in my technique will not be so apparent (I hope). It probably isn't a random choice that the first words I was drawn to are "hand" and "threads".

In addition to my previous posting about my working method, I should mention that for the last ten years or so I have consistently thought of what I do as samplers. Starting with the traditional embroidered "exemplars" of stitching skills, and also playing with more modern ideas of sampling music, sound, and digital images, I work with fragments of text, image and idea to create a new object that hopefully is more than the sum of its parts.

And in answer to Jean-Pierre's question, I am always trolling for interesting bits of text or quotations. Usually I randomly come across one or two lines that really stick in my mind, then I consciously seek out more on the same topic. In this particular series, I first came across the line "The most practical way to deal with infinity is to break it into finite and usable pieces." in a book on middle eastern rug weaving. Then I started looking for more pithy comments about infinity, which led me to ideas of fate and destiny. The fourth one in this series will be "The last proceeding of reason is to recognize that there is an infinity of things beyond it." (Pascal).

And on the lighter side, here are some socks. From this pattern. Quite fun to knit. But for anyone considering making their own pair, I have to issue a consumer alert about KnitPicks Gloss. It is very soft and pills TERRIBLY. I made a whole sweater out of it and it was starting to pill even before it got off the needles. What a waste of time. I suspect socks made from it wouldn't last more than a wash or two. I used KnitPicks Essential instead, and those are Shaun's hairy legs not mine!