Monday, December 20, 2010

This blog needs smell-o-vision

The tree is up:

and it smells amazing.

In other news, I have been blanketstitching fingerless gloves like nobody's business and I have a whole lot more to go. More in fact than I need for gifts. I'm not sure why I have given myself this task - unless I want to have backups in case people really hate the ones I chose for them, enough to tell me so, and to demand another option? This seems unlikely. The last two parts of that equation, anyway.

Perhaps because I'm already going totally overkill on the fingerless gloves business but probably because I am essentially selfish, I took a break from giftstitching to finish a pair for myself:

I mean, you gotta test these things out, right? Just like a cookie tasting before you hand out cookies you miscounted the sugar scoops for. Which I might have done this year to advantage, unlike the time I made a pumpkin pie and forgot the sugar entirely. Urg. I hope the cookies are better than that but I won't know for sure till I try one of the non-burned ones, which almost taste good, which bodes well for my not having to make another two batches.

But back to this glovewarmer business. They are both warm and attention-getting. I like them. Probably that explains why I am making so many - that and the procrastination problem.

And while nobody with a stash of scrap felted wool is likely to be visiting here for last-minute crafty gift ideas that will be viable for this year's Christmas gifting, I do plan to break from cookie-baking to pull together some images of how I've been doing it.

In the meantime, the one pictured above is the cop-out version, useful when a sweater felts perfectly to the requisite width:

cut the bottom 6 - 7" or so off a felted sleeve

cut a slit in the seam for your thumb

stitch the raw edges with complementary yarn or embroidery floss.

(in the next easiest version, the only further revision is to machine stitch the bit from the top of the thumb to the finger opening at a bit of an angle so it tucks in closer to the shape of your hand, rather than moving further outward as when its job was to protect an arm.)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Felted wool fish

Time for another installment in my series of Before and After moments:

The all-reddish orange one is baby alpaca, and the green trimmy one is super soft merino. Both were dotted with a ton of moth holes, making a big project impractical. It was however the obvious choice for the smallest of my extended family members who likes sea creatures.

I should have done a proper tutorial for this project but I didn't have much time - it only took about 90 minutes start to finish, which is about what I had, and in less than stellar lighting for photography purposes. But I can tell you that I simply cut out two layers of a fishy shape and opted for topstitching, so as to maintain said shape. It would have been a lot cuter if I had bothered to get red thread into the machine but - did I mention the 90 minute time limit?

Most of that went to improvising and then lining up his features, and to a lesser extent the side fins. I sewed all those bits onto one side of the fish, then used it as a template and put the other side of the fish nose to nose with the first to make sure everything lined up well. After all that was securely in place, I pinned in the top fin and topstitched all but a 2" span of belly, through which to stuff the stuffing.

Here's a tip: if asking the opinion of other children about a project that you think may be lame for the person you intend to give it to, be prepared to have to make more of said project. Seriously. This fish is going to a 7-year old boy not because I think 7-year old boys like handmade stuffies but because he is severely disabled and has difficulty even holding onto something. I figured anything in bright colours and supersoft fabric was a good idea. On completion I panicked, but unnecessarily as I discovered when I took the finished project to be judged by boys of similar age. Far from scathing, they were all - "make another one for him and give that one to me!" and "I want mine to be green!"

There is still a lot of fish-sized fabric left in each of these sweaters, so maybe I can make those boys some fish of their own. But not until my Christmas tree has had its moment and gone back out for composting, because the sewing machine is all tucked away behind it for the rest of the season.

(that doesn't prevent me from handstitching, of course. Stay tuned for one more project next week!)

Monday, December 13, 2010

From three felted sweaters to one fabulous skirt

On Saturday I finally had time to fix a skirt I botched in the fall, and it's so cool I thought somebody else might want to know how to make one. Sorry this isn't a real step-by-step pictorial, but it's such a dead easy project you probably don't need one anyway.

This is one of those lucky find kinds of projects. You need at least three merino wool sweaters because they tend to be thin and felt softly - ask me how I know a sweater that felts to the thickness of board won't work - of which one has to have a torso that felts to exactly your hip size.


One merino sweater with a torso that felts to your hip measurement and a ribbed cuff around the waist

At least two merino sweaters with a folded or flat (as in, not ribbed or gathered) hem, buttons and pockets a bonus


First, you will cut the flat-hemmed sweaters off at the armpits, thereby freeing yourself to use the flat hem as the hem of the skirt.

Next, you will cut both bodies at one side, at least, to make a long strip of fabric. One of my two was a button-up vest with pockets, and I wanted to save one of those front pieces for a different skirt later, so I cut it in three pieces leaving the back of the vest intact and separating the button band for use elsewhere.

Now you want to stitch these sweater bodies together into one long strip, which when complete you will sew into a tube (leaving the upper part, where the armpits were, free to stitch onto your waistband later.) Because I had had to cut my vest, I cut the other sweater into two pieces so that I could have a grey-black-grey-black repeat. That sort of decision is entirely up to you; just make sure you get the hems lined up as perfectly as possible.

At this point you will address moth holes. My grey vest had several, but thanks to clever use of the button band, they became design features. (That's part of the button band over there on the right; the buttonholes are more obvious in person.)

I stitched my fakery over panels where possible, which is why I waited until I had a tube, but you may prefer to do this job before you join the strip.

Now you are ready to make your waistband. Cut the cuffed sweater across, just below the armpits, and turn it such that the cuff is now the waistband, and the torso the hip. Start pinning the hemmed tube to the hip section with eventual wear in mind, pleating the fabric to fit.

For my skirt, I wanted the pocket at the front of my right leg, as shown above. I also wanted pleats primarily on my left hip, so in addition to the one at the back part of my right hip for balance, I put deep ones there with two falling at the front and two at the back. Each set faces the other to make a flat patch at their centre.

Run one row of stitching close to the edge with the right sides of your hip and hem sections facing, then open it up and topstitch the seam along its hip side.

And - you're done! And I dare you to take if off again once it's on.

Monday, December 6, 2010


As promised, I have before-and-after pics of one sweater's journey past my sewing machine.


This sweater was in perfect shape which does make me feel a bit guilty, but also makes me click my heels with joy because I don't lose any fabric to month holes. You usually can't tell about moth holes until after the felting, have you noticed this? and sometimes the end result is more patch than project.

In this case I got not only a full set of metal buttons but enough fabric for two pairs of mittens:

I cut the second pair's back from the sleeve cuffs, and the palm from the upper back of the sweater; that of course meant no cuff, but I was able to cut extra cuff from unused parts of the sweater's body and stitch them on. I don't think it looks too bad.

That sweater was definitely worth the three dollars it cost me, wouldn't you say?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It's a start

I gave in and went back to the thrift store on Friday for more feltable sweaters, having convinced myself that I simply don't have enough for this year's Christmas-gift crafting.

This of course turned out to be Not True, but it was fun anyway and I got some great stuff - 7 sweaters, in fact, for $20. And one of them, though small and nearly sleeveless, was made of baby alpaca. I'll share pictures of them when I've made them into something so you can see the Befores and Afters.

A few weeks ago I had a little time to cut off a lot of felted sleeves for fingerless gloves, and yesterday I sat down to blanket stitch a trim on one pair of them:

The best thing about this project is that the yarn I used for the edging was a little present from Melissa, some vintage darning wool with a marvelous label. I love being able to incorporate bits and pieces from people I care about into the gifts I make, don't you? It's such a good way to spread happy feelings.

So - one down, 426 to go, give or take. Wish me luck for a pair of actual mittens this week!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Procrastination that paid off

Well, this is a first.

I've been too swamped this fall to get all the leaves up from the maple tree that generously shades my house. But if there is one thing I can't stand, it's not getting all the leaves up before the snow - because then when all your better-organized neighbours are joyfully looking out the window with their April morning coffees at pristine snow melting over green grasses and colourful crocuses, you're looking blearily at brown-dappled snow melting over brown sludge.

Last night, most of the leaves having been dealt with by somebody much less lazy and rather more generous than me, I went out in subzero temperatures to bag the remaining leaves the wind had raked for me into a few big piles. And this is where it gets good!

As I have learned to my cost in previous years, if you bag leaves after a rain, they will melt the compostable bag before the city comes to pick them up.

But as I discovered yesterday, if you bag leaves after a rain in subzero temperatures - why then, you can bag them with a shovel. Because the raindrops are now ice particles holding the leaves in one neat pile.

It was still a lot of leaves - 5 bags' worth, I think - but it only took about 40 minutes to do. And today: it snowed. Ha!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fabric with feeling

My cousin has sent me an article about an exhibit we wish we could visit together - Threads of Feeling at The Foundling Museum in London (by which I mean England, not Ontario!)

It's a collection of fabric scraps given as identifying marks for babies left in the 1700s by mothers who could no longer care for them, but hoped to be able to come back for some day. Apparently only 152 of the 16,282 children accepted by the foundling hospital over a 19 year period were ever reunited with their families, which says a lot about the life expectancy and economic hardship of the time.

The history is amazing and moving, but a side interest to the creative people who visit this blog is the fabric itself, real everyday fabric that would probably never otherwise have been preserved for people like us to look at. Even wedding fabrics might not have been saved for so long - cloth being one of the most recyclable materials, especially at the level of poverty we're talking about here. But a baby is different, and the giving up of one unimaginably significant.

If you've got time for a hot cup of something and a longer than usual read, the first link will take you to the news article about the story behind the collection, the second to the museum site and a few remarkable photographs of the actual scraps.

What a quilt all that would make!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Getting a start on gifts

It's really been bugging me not to have had time to start on Christmas sewing. I mean, I bought all those sweaters to felt all through August! and there they are in my sewing cupboard, folded up and waiting.

So yesterday when I had to do a tiny bit of sewing, I decided to take advantage of the machine being open and got out the scissors:

and a quilty tea cosy for a template and got this:

Which is photographed flat because it falls over like a much limper sweater than it actually felted to, when you put it over a teapot. I think it needs a liner, which it will get in the next 45 minutes of 'free' time that occurs post-solution-idea.

Meanwhile, taking advantage of the bonus hour we got from Daylight Savings Time or whatever it's called at this time of year, I decided that since the sewing cupboard was open I should cut a bunch of sleeves for fingerless gloves.

Not every sleeve felts suitably for such a project, but it turns out that sometimes you can get two pairs of handwarmers from a single pair of arms, so I ended up with I think 7 pairs. I spent a happy hour or so positioning the thumb openings and adjusting lengths and steaming the wool, and now I have 7 pairs of canvas for blanket stitching and other embellishments.

You know, next time I have 45 minutes of 'free' time.

A thought occurred to me as I did all this. Well, two thoughts.

1/ Is it a gift if all I do is cut off a sleeve with a pair of scissors and then cut a hole for the thumb?

2/ Yes. Because it took time, effort, and money to find the right sweaters to felt, and then more time to fit perfectly, and it will take time - no matter how much I enjoy it - to embellish them however sparingly I do so, and moreover, I have so little time, and people know that, that they will know how much love got poured into these little tokens.

Then I had a third thought:

Just because it's super easy for me to do these things doesn't mean it's easy for everybody else I know. It's okay not to undervalue my skills.

And it's okay for you, too!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Raccoons ate my pumpkin

I knew a smooth Halloween was not in the cards for me when I stepped out on the front porch three days before the big event to discover what had been making that curious thumping and crashing sound the night before.

Raccoons ate my pumpkin!

Actually there were four uncarved pumpkins marking the porch steps, and thankfully they only dug right inside of one. Another had some holes in it, and the remaining two had the sort of surface scratches that meant they were probably going to stay non-rotten until I actually had to cut in there and find out. Also, it was garbage day, and the trucks hadn't been by yet, so I was able to run the two wrecked ones to the curb for instant removal.


The one I cut into was fine; I didn't risk it with the other. The cut-into one became a cat, with spaghetti whiskers - and may I recommend boring holes for the spaghetti rather than expecting it to push in there on its own? I broke a lot of spaghetti while trying not to have to look around for a tool that would do that. The non-cut-into one became a canvas for a second cat drawn on with marker. I forgot to take pictures of either, mostly because they weren't finished and in place until about 45 minute before the first trick-or-treater, a neighbouring zombie with impressively cut-up pants, arrived to terrorize my house.

End Spoiler.

The night before Halloween I was invited to an outdoor movie party, wherein the guests would be watching a movie projected on a sheet at the back of some friends' house. I missed last year's party but I knew that good use was made of blankets and several layers of long underwear, so I dressed accordingly (which you should read as 'unattractively') and filled a bag with blankets and walked over - only to find the back yard was empty.

I didn't have the wrong house.

The party had been moved to indoors.

Also, a bunch of other people decided to wear costumes. So while I was in the bathroom peeling off layers and trying to decide what I could leave on that would look remotely presentable in a party situation, everybody else was wearing cool wigs and/or hats and crazy-yet-flattering outfits and taking silly pictures of each other.

It was a fabulous party and I had a great time in spite of being way too hot but about three minutes into attempting conversation with people I either knew well and like a lot or had never met but wanted to know better I realized I was about as exhausted as I've ever been in my life. I mean, I could barely string a sentence together.

Thankfully about an hour in somebody handed me the resident baby and I was able to spend the rest of the evening curled up in a chair with her. Sleeping babies are only slightly less restful than briefly awake babies that stare and stare at you before snuggling back in and nodding off again.

As I was leaving I ran into a friend who was just arriving. I told her I had cool wig envy and she said she'd had hers on for 20 minutes and it was itching her like crazy and did I notice she had only one false eyelash on because they are super hard to glue in place? I had, but said that I thought it was part of the effect, which was true. I mean, how cool is that to show up in a weird dress with a crazy long-haired wig and one false eyelash? You're like creepy demented zombie lady, then. That is totally going to be my goal for next year, when probably it will turn out to be an outdoor party after all.

Of course the nice thing about having Halloween on a Sunday is that you really can spend the whole day just doing that. And since I have a thing about decorating the lawn, this is a super nice feature.

When I first moved here, there were no kids to take candy off my hands, which was problematic. So I started doing all these beacon things - several carved pumpkins all lit up and glowing in the driveway, an open door, lots of lights inside, and so on. Leaf bags became a fixture - I'd draw faces on a bunch of them and gradually I started adding branches for creepy reaching arms and putting floodlights on them to make them a focal point.

And more kids did start to come over the years, mostly because more kids moved onto the block. But now I've made a tradition of the Leaf Bag Ghouls and the Headless Man (coveralls stuffed with leaves, accessorized with an old pair of men's snowboots and a pair of filthy work gloves) I really have to keep up with it.

This year's big project was the Giant Leaf Bag Ghost, rendered by stacking up a bunch of leaf bags and throwing a length of white cotton purchased for bag linings over the lot of them. Why do I still have a huge length of white cotton when I could have sewed it into bags, do you think? Because it won't hold a press, which is just so unsatisfying. I will totally use it again outdoors though. It makes a great ghost.

The Leaf Bag Ghouls are usually in a row, starting with a happy oblivious one and leading up to a really terrified one who realizes he's standing next to a Ghoul of the demonic variety. This year, they were progressively more scared of Giant Leaf Bag Ghost.

Leaf Bag Ghost's arms are fallen branches, and his hands are white cotton manicure gloves.

His face is courtesy of hockey tape. I couldn't face drawing directly onto the fabric in case I find a better sewing use for it some day.

He looks too happy to be scaring the Ghouls, don't you think? But they are easily frightened, and they're probably too short to see the smile on his face way up where I slid a beach ball onto the highest bag. He had to be a smiley ghost, because there are some very little children on the block just now. And I needed them to come up the steps because it is Not Good when too much candy gets left over after Halloween.

Of course, once they got to the door, they had to park themselves near Headless Man.

Headless Man got a head this year because I found a broken broom handle in the garage that still had a partial broom on top. Somebody threw it on the lawn at some point in the summer and I never got around to throwing it out. Also, I decided not to be so attached to the white pillowcases I bought at a discount store 20+ years ago. I mean, you can wash these things after all.

As the day progressed, an improvement suggested itself, and the pillowcase was filled with leaves and the hockey tape was pressed back into service for a face.

Talk about luxury for Headless Man. The pumpkin with the cat on it went into his lap, so he spent a very relaxing evening indeed.

The other pumpkin should by rights have been in the driveway on beacon duty but I quickly discovered it was very easy to knock the spaghetti whiskers off its face while dashing past. So I moved it over to the other side of the steps where the Ghouls were standing, leaving the driveway dangerously empty.

Solution: dragging out the two evergreen topiary things that normally stand alongside the porch steps, and putting bags on them, and taping pumpkin faces to the bags.

It would seem that these were the most popular decorations of all, so I think they may make a return appearance next year.

The beauty of all of this last minute do it yourselfness with stuff you already have is that it can be quickly disassembled and put back where it all belongs - no need to find storage crannies for a giant skull or inflatable lawn-sized light-up witch's cauldron.

And now that it is for all intents and purposes November I can sigh a deep sigh knowing that everything is already back to normal except for a giant bowl of un-treated candy it is now my job to consume.

Oh, and Christmas sewing. But I will wait a day or two more before panicking about that.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Call me irresponsible

I have a massive shelf full of fabulous lightweight cotton fabric thanks to my sheet hunt at various thrift stores this summer (and here it is nearly the end of October and neither the felted wool bag nor the writing bugs have been biting, after all that prep and way-clearing)


I succumbed to some Liberty fabric at a craft show on Friday. I couldn't justify a whole yard of it since it was pretty obvious I just wanted it to look at and touch and smile over, so I bought a very small piece of the green sailboat one (it matches my new cardigan and I thought maybe, scarf?) and a slightly longer one, 54" by 18 I think? of the bolder print.

I don't actually wear or even see the point of a cotton scarf, though this may change as I get to the stage of feeling bad about my neck, so maybe I should make little bags, such as drawstring ones for knitting so I can touch the fabric a lot. Or linings for heftier bags, because I don't have enough cotton sheets for lining those, obviously.

What can I say? I have such happy feelings about Liberty from my time in London. And it didn't help that the booth had clever packages for little-girl patterns with a paper doll and one cute outfit as the front card for each design - a different doll and outfit every time, I mean. I don't have any little girls to sew for and I don't collect paper dolls but I do love Clever!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Pumpkins, in life and art

The last two days here have featured all the things you associate with your dream autumn:

Just-cool-enough-for-wool temperatures

Richly blue skies

Brilliant sun

Equally brilliant leaves, in some cases still on the trees

And, in my case, pumpkins.

Yep, the annual pumpkin hunt happened Sunday and was its usual success, right down to the butter pecan tarts ingested by me and the locally-produced honey that will be, by way of tea.

The local United Church also held its Awesome Fall Sale (not to be confused with its Awesome Spring Sale). I was pleased to find that whoever baked the toffee cookies for the Spring Sale was back again for Fall.

I scored some vintage knitting things in the back corner of the housewares room:

And - you knew this was coming, right? - a big New Wool sweater to felt:

This thing is huge, with a 44" chest that looks bigger, to me. And for some reason it didn't shrink when it felted; could it be superwash wool? I hope not. I hope it just magically retained its shape after both the hot water wash and the dryer and will not fall apart when I cut into it.

I've been avoiding the unexciting colours of my own wardrobe in feltable sweaters lately, thinking I had more than enough of them for all the houseware/accessory projects I prefer, but then last month I looked at a previously felted sweater upside down, saw some light dawning, and cut it to get this:

aka a very wide waistband to which a long strip of pieced-together bits could be sewn.

You will note I am not showing more pictures of how the resulting skirt turned out. Let's just say the concept needs some fine-tuning, shall we?

Getting back to the argyle-esque sweater - it's very matchy with the rest of my wardrobe, and it's so ridiculously large I could cut it off at the armpits, turn it upside down, gather up the waistband a bit, and have a warm quirky knee-length skirt in the time it takes me to do a blanket stitch hem. And... I can't believe I'm saying this, but...

it's also perfect just as it is, worn Boyfriend Sweater-like over a pair of tights.

I am so far from being twenty years old and able to get away with Boyfriend Sweaters it's pitiful, but I'm gonna wear it that way today anyway; it can be a whole pumpkin for now, and if/when I get sick of it, I'll wave the ol' magic wand and transform it into something dressy-uppy. Or what passes for it in this house.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

I never have trouble thinking of things to be thankful for, no matter how dire the time, but when I stepped out into this morning's cold Canadian Thanksgiving Day and saw this

well, I just had to feel thankful that there are so many things in this world that can take the trouble to be beautiful while going about the business of being on this earth.

Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Princess FishCat - a felted wool project

Last week was Abby's fifth birthday party, which meant present-shopping, which I love, usually. Her father told me that Abby loves everything pink and girly, especially The Little Mermaid and dress-up. I also know she loves cats, having two new kittens of her own.

Sadly the toy store options, though vast, were limited. Disney is putting a huge push on Tinkerbell just now and frankly I found the displays a little depressing anyway, not least because I guessed that many other people would be bringing many of these very same gifts.

So I went to a card store instead and bought this:

I had an evil plan to use up some felted thrift-store sweaters and hit all of Abby's favourite things, all at once.

First I took measurements (design tip: Lands' End is a great place to get average measurements, using their Size Charts) and made these three pattern pieces:

I did try to get a child's crown pattern online but none felt really right - what I did in the end was to cut out a half-triangle to trace for the point that goes onto the fold, then used it as a template for the two sides of each subsequent point until I had half the dimension of a small child's head. The tabs on the back, cut to taper so as not to obscure the gems if the crown is taken to its smallest size, are extra inches to allow Abby to go on wearing this for a while.

The cat's crown didn't need tabs because the cat isn't going to get bigger, so when I realized I could cut the piece out of the top of a felted sweater sleeve I folded the tab in when positioning the pattern.

I didn't have enough of any one colour sweater to make perfectly matched crowns for Abby and the cat, so I made them complementary. After I sewed on a lot of gem pieces I stitched a small piece of the grabby side of Velcro onto the inside of one end of the tab (using bobbin thread that matched the fabric - ha, remembered!)

The mermaid's tail pattern is half the width of the cat's tummy, and stays that width for the length of its lower body, then tapers in to make the fins. These measurements will vary depending on what animal you're making fishlike, so I will leave them to you. I did add in a little seam allowance but not much, since stuffed cats squish and sweaters stretch and I didn't want the tail to just fall off.

This black wool, though textured in a nicely scaley way, was too heavy to sew and generally Ew, but I had this wavy-cabled Aran sweater used initially for mitten backs that offered the perfect shape and allowed me to use the ribbing as the cat's waistband:

I folded the tail inside out stitched it from the ribbing to the start of the fins, then flipped it back and did a blanket stitch border around the fins. You have to do the blanket stitching twice - once with each side facing - to finish it properly. And then I embroidered a little heart on the back.

The crowns took one evening, and the tail about four hours the next day, mostly because it took so long to decide on which sweater bits were best. I'm pleased with how it came out though. She looks pretty cute, don't you think?

Monday, September 27, 2010


Ever since I was little I've had my most creative ideas in church. I would like to think this isn't because I'm not paying attention but because it's a quiet meditative place filled with many people leading many kinds of lives and all with their own stories and struggles and, um, really cool clothes.

Yes. I design clothes in my head in church. Have I missed my calling?

This weekend I had an actual breakthrough, after weeks of thinking I would like to make a skirt with some of the felted sweaters I've stockpiled. Specifically, a super comfy skirt of many panels I can throw on over tights and wear with boots all winter. The problem was figuring out how to get a longer length when felted sweaters are so short, and in church it hit me: I can do a 12 or so inch waistband all in one colour and then do a second row of scrap panels below that.

This solution leads to another problem, which is basically how to make the pattern pieces. Tissue paper or a big piece of inexpensive cotton would do, but either way I have to decide on how many panels and how much seam allowance and where exactly to put which curve and the button opening I had in mind and so on, mathematical challenges I can't see getting too excited about for a while.

(Clearly I have not missed my calling.)

Mere hours after said breakthrough - serendipity. I found myself in a sewing type store with a lot of very old stock alongside the new, including this little gem:

It seemed like it might be kind of like those hard cardboard shapes that tailors use to mark out the pieces for men's suit - on the cover, there are exciting messages like the number of styles of skirts you can make with it and the fact that you'll never have to buy another skirt pattern, etc.

Inside, it's exactly what I hoped for:

You can adjust the form for how much flare you want and what measurements, then set it right over fabric that's set over a mat and use a rotary cutter for minimum fuss and bother.

I'm not yet inspired to sit down in a pile of felted sweaters and decide which to put where, but I'll bet you anything the first day I set aside for writing, which will occur on the day I finish my knitting obligations, I will think of nothing else.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Lost and found

I found the book!

And that wasn't the first find, either. Yesterday I got to sit in my big armchair for the first time in ages, turned to look at the books on the shelf beside me and


A library book I had to report returned or possibly missing back at the beginning of the summer was sitting right there with its spine neatly presented.

I was thrilled, but then annoyed that I hadn't found the mitten book, because I am essentially an ungrateful person.

Also: overly suspicious. I was really starting to think that there might be a prank-loving ghost living in my house because I not only lost that book, and the mitten book, and a bottle of sunscreen that was expensive and hard to source for replacement purposes, but also my compact umbrella (pink with little cars, now out of production and purchased to celebrate having got my learning-to-drive permit.)

Having found the library book on the shelf today, and the mitten book just now - it had fallen down the back of a drawer in another IKEA cabinet and was slowly getting bent out of shape in there as parts of it eased out the back where the particleboard rear had come loose, as happens with IKEA cabinets, which is how I managed to find it, noticing the weak pleas for help from those few escaping pages - I'm wondering

will I get my umbrella back now?

I mean, I've fulfilled my obligations on that front. I've stopped looking, and I've bought a replacement. But luck being what it is, I suppose it will be the sunscreen instead. I'm not nearly as likely to need that in fall.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Procrastinatory Guilt

Well, here we are at the last day of the first two weeks of my New Writing Life and I have written...

nothing, including this blog.

Though I did buy a spinning wheel, which I needed for research for some of the short stories, because it's much better to experience something than to just watch somebody else do it, if you're writing it. And experiencing spinning on somebody else's wheel just wouldn't be the same at all, honestly.

I also haven't pursued any of the felted wool art ideas I had in August while collecting sweaters, which makes me feel even more guilty about the fact that I am spending all my writing hours thinking about or playing with my spinning wheel.

That's not why I popped in though.

Last night while knitting for a change, I watched a profile on Mavis Gallant that included a personal appearance in a bookstore in which she was asked questions from the audience about how she writes, and suddenly I thought


that is a part of the job I'm not sure I would enjoy, should I ever reach the point of bookstore appearances, which at my present rate of inactivity is unlikely. It really threw me off my stride, I'll tell you. Not that there's any striding going on, but you know what I mean.

I also watched a special presentation of popular performances from Andy Williams' old TV show and whoa! was he ever dishy around the time I was born. His intro to his rendition of 'Call Me Irresponsible' reminded me that another thing he was doing around the time I was born was singing the title song for the film Charade, which I love and now want to see again, which prompted a very messy hunt through my old video tape collection looking for my copy which appears to have gone missing.

So now instead of just not writing I am
a/ spinning
b/ stealth knitting
c/ hunting to replace a movie so I can watch it.

I guess on the bright side, I'm good at guilt. Maybe I should include some guilt in the spinning stories to balance out what I don't know?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How do you like them apples?

It's early in the season for apple picking, I think, but everything was early this year - even the leaves are falling off the trees a month ahead of schedule after unfurling themselves in late March.

The day my friends and I chose to visit the farm was more like late fall - bitterly cold with a high wind - after days and days of heat and humidity.


Mary = blue feet in sandals and numb fingers peeping out from the 3/4 sleeves of a thin cotton cardi

Everybody else = winter hats, down vests, boots

Still, the view was nice.

None of the trees were marked and nobody was around to tell us what varieties of apple were growing in the orchard, but I didn't have any trouble recognizing this baby:

Russet apples are my all-time favourite. They look sort of ugly but taste oddly sweet and are only available for a short time in the fall as they are poor keepers. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that.

I tried to get a variety but I mostly got russets.

See these clouds?

That's what the whole sky looked like by the time my friends and I laid down blankets and pinned them with folding chairs against the fierce wind for a determined little picnic of sandwiches and fruit. I brought chocolate-covered digestive biscuits to share. It was lovely but I was longing to wrap the one extra blanket over me the entire time.

When we paid for it all plus some local honey and Saskatoon berry jam I can't wait to try, the girl at the counter said she loved my sweater and thought it looked warm. Oh that this were true. And then we ran through the rain to the parking lot.

The next day, I started sampling apples for baking vs. eating, grating the sour ones for some muffins I was about to make.

Guess what?

They're all sour. Even my beloved russets - inedible. The Honeycrisps, too. I have no idea what happened - was it the weird weather in the spring that did it, the early heat and then the cold before summer settled in? Is that they needed more time to sweeten on the branches?

All I can tell you is that there is a lot of apple crisp in my future.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Trixie's Household Tips

Man, I can't believe how many household and safety tips got written into Trixie Beldon. I'm reading The Red Trailer Mystery and here's what I've got so far:

Pantry supper idea - heat dried canned beef fried in oil, add a can of mushroom soup, add a can of peas if you're lazy about pot-washing, and smear over toast. (I haven't had breakfast yet, so I'm hungry enough to think this sounds pretty good.)

Saving a drowning person - swim out but instead of grabbing, throw a towel for your quarry to grab, tell them to flip onto their back, and tow them to shore - that way they won't flail and drown you too.

Peeling an onion without tears - do it under running water. (no word on how you chop it without tears, though.)

Cooling a minor burn - mix baking soda and warm water and smooth it over the affected area.

I love how Julie Campbell slips this stuff in without slowing the story. Makes me think I'd be pretty smart to acquire the other ones she wrote, and not just self-indulgent...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Done with Dell

Remember when it used to be exciting and crazy expensive to buy a home computer?

I remember my first - a $5000 desktop I bought to start my own writing and design business. It was such a space hog and I loved it so much. It and the ergonomic keyboard I had to buy to go with, because I've been staring down carpal tunnel syndrome since I started typing. It was a Dell and any time I had to call in for support, which wasn't often because it ran so well, the people there were so nice.

Eventually I handed it down and bought a laptop from Dell - $1500 I think, and much more space-efficient. Yay!

I love buying Dells - customizing everything, knowing that it will just turn up in the mail with all my favourite software pre-loaded - it's bliss.

But no question, Dell isn't the company it used to be in the profitable old days. No more super nice perky cheerful people - even the LiveChat people cut off communication abruptly without letting you know. Long hold times on the phone are a given, but I also find the lines themselves are scratchy and make it hard to hear. Last time I had a problem - a big one, requiring access to all the files I'd paid to store offsite on a Dell server after my hard drive fried - they wouldn't help me because they wanted a password on my hard drive. Which had fried.

So I decided my current Dell is my last, until my current Dell started showing signs of needing a replacement.

Did I mention how much I love being able to customize everything?

This time I ordered online so as to avoid the phone nightmare. Though actually, the online ordering experience is far from smooth. Still, it's the computer that counts, right? with the great screen resolution and familiar keyboard and crazy long-life battery?

Sigh. In the time it took me to turn on the freshly-arrived new laptop this morning and adjust the touchpad and cut the standard glaringly weird desktop image and key in my MS Office registration key, my wrist was aching. Why? Because the long-life battery is designed to protrude down from the bottom of the unit at the screen end. This not only makes it too big for my laptop sheath, but presents a non-adjustable tilt to the keyboard that is just murder for repetitive stress injury.

Well, I only got shunted between four people this time, and one of them had a clear phone line.

And after I explained twice what carpal tunnel is and how this particular design is horrible for it and there are no photographs of a laptop with this battery on the website so you'd know what you were committing to and no, a $100 refund to just keep the thing wouldn't solve my problem, the last person agreed to waive my return shipping fee. I think. So, you know, not so bad.

But I think this time I'm definitely done with Dell. Got another option you can recommend?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Trixie Beldon

I found these at a thrift store yesterday (my last thrift store run of the summer season, sob!):

Also, a boy-directed horseriding mystery entry that had been owned by the same girl who had the Trixies; I passed on the girl-turns-mermaid book from the same era, which I still sort of regret and am trying to get over.

These series books were pretty lame in a lot of ways I know, though obviously the concept still does well today, but when I look at illustrations like these

I can't help but remember the comparative innocence in which a child could grow up in the 50s and 60s. Obviously, not knowing about seamier parts of life leaves you more vulnerable to experiencing them when you might choose to avoid them if only you knew more. On the other hand, freshly back from picking up fruits and veg as I am? I gotta say I am glad I wasn't checking out of the grocery store with my 40-something mother at a time when Cosmo is considered an impulse purchase to be displayed directly above the batteries.

Seriously, most of the headlines on this month's issue are worse than Barbie!

(disclaimer: Barbie did not teach me personally that social success can be obtained only by fitting a certain mold, but I do blame her for my time- and energy-wasting love of putting together outfits.)

Anyway this is it, my last hurrah. I've got my work cut out for me this week to get ready for my return to the writing life, but I am carving out a few last bits of summer reading time to laze in a chair with my jeans rolled up and my hair in ponytails to solve a mystery about a red trailer. Yum!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Stocking up

I got into four different thrift stores today hunting for materials to use in the inevitable sewing projects that will overcome me this fall and winter. Why I feel the need to do this when I'm sneaking out to thrift stores in those seasons is beyond me, unless it's because I don't get out of the city to do it once summer's day trips are done and small town thrift stores are just more fun, but I'm trying not to question myself too much.

So far, everything fits into the storage space I've got, but I've noticed myself getting picky about what I bring home; I turned down at least five things today I would have leaped at in June. Good Mary!

Moderately good, anyway. I probably should have turned down a couple of these sheets because I have far more lining than I do outer fabric for tote bags... but I love the prints, and I know I won't be able to find them when I eventually run out and go looking for them in stores again, so I've washed and dried them and found some little nooks and crannies on the lining shelf.

And can you believe this tablecloth, the perfect size for my table?

I'm hoping my friend who's allergic (seriously) to the expensive holiday cloth I have had to stop putting under the turkey dinner won't have a reaction to this one because hello, fabulous? and not a single stain. (and $4.00, to boot.)

I checked every store for wool sweaters but there wasn't much on offer. You know, except for a single cashmere ($3.00) and a couple that turned out to fit me and have therefore been washed and set out to dry. And this cutie from New Zealand which is felting as I type:

and these three primary colours, the scraps of which will end up as raw material for some art objects I think.

The yellow has already been through the washer after a discussion with Trish about whether it was worth unraveling for its yarn (No.) It's come out as flat and as stiff as a board and I think wants to be a bag, with some cool lining from a sheet, probably the new one with the matching yellow cabbage roses in the top pic. The other two - indescribably soft - are quite thin and floopy and might make some really amazing mitten liners. I know that seems like a waste, but the hands of loved ones really do deserve a treat in winter, and you'd be amazed how many other projects the cut-up bits of a post-mitten sweater can go into.

Not to mention how much space they take up. Oh dear, and there's one more thrift run coming up next week...