Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Winter is looming but where are the knits?

Lately, with my free hours full of the interior decorating stage of the house project, I've been making an effort to create down time.  My friends are calling it 'me' time but I don't think it even qualifies as that.  'collapse in a heap' time is a better descriptor.

This sock has been my constant companion for what little 'me' time I've managed, which amounts to an hour or two over the course of a week spent in a chair watching Netflix.  Without the magic of online shopping it would be much less than that, though of course, without my being obsessive about getting things right so I never have to do this again, it would be much more.

In a way, it doesn't matter that I'm not knitting.  The house is worth the effort and I have lots of socks, so if I don't finish this pair before spring I will still have warm feet.  I would have warm feet even without handknit socks actually (thank you, in-floor heating system.)

Speaking of which...

Tile is one of the best distributors of in-floor heat and I am beyond excited to see how this particular tile is going to look on the floor of our front hallway (and side door, and powder room, and in front of our two fireplaces.)  It's got a little black and a little brown and a little rocky grey, and it's going to look fantastic pretending to be natural stone and butting up against our hardwood floor.  Honestly I've had this sample in the living room for about eight months now and I am not even remotely tired of looking at it.  Plus I found the perfect wall paint and the perfect curtain fabric to make it look even more wonderful.

To get back to my point: as I've finalized the fabric search it's occurred to me that winter is coming and also, Christmas.  I have never not given SOMEbody a handknit gift for Christmas but considering we'll be moving back to the house a week or two beforehand, and I still haven't made it out to an appliance store to confirm that I do indeed want to order Speed Queen/Huebsch laundry gear (not to mention that I still need to find a place to buy the hood vent fan we picked for the kitchen), handmade gifts might not happen this year.

Bathroom floors and shower walls.
I have freshly handspun yarn from the summer that I could knit into cowls very quickly, if I get around to blocking it.  I have a pair of freshly-designed lace fingerless gloves on needles too, for which I should really write up the pattern so you guys can knit some for your own presents, if you want.  I have yarn that would make a great sock present for the always-appreciative Jan, if I could just get around to caking it.  I am pretty sure I even have some other random yarn that would look lovely in a hat, never mind the in-progress hat for myself that I set aside last May.

But frankly, all I want to do is sleep.  Or stare at a screen while clutching a soft blanket.  Or languidly flip through a magazine filled with lovely, already-decorated rooms.

Clunch: for almost every wall in the house
Today I talked to Ray about my office, which is so tiny in person I'm not sure I will be able to keep my sewing machine and textile gear in it after all.  We calculated that my desk can be no larger than 68" long and 16" deep, and because he is the most generous contractor in the world and these dimensions don't exist in the wild or even at IKEA he said he would do a custom one for me.  On the other side of the room, it looks like my shelf zone is 19" wide, max.  So.... it would be good if I knit up a lot of yarn this fall and gave away the products of my labour, don't you think?

All I need is a little more 'me' time.
a little blue for accents, and maybe the living room walls, and maybe my desk
Well, that's odd.  I just noticed that almost every colour we're using in the house is in these socks.  It seems probable that that's why I keep reaching for them instead of for one of the other projects I'm ignoring, doesn't it...

What about you?  Are you getting enough time to knit up some winter treats?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Other knitting tools - new glasses

I have been wearing glasses since I was nine or ten years old, and most of them have been really, really ugly.  Not like my new frames, which - okay, they're glasses, not a tiara, but they are more interesting than they are blah.

Weekend eyewear

Actually I was shocked when I went in to pick out new frames a couple of weeks ago, to see how GORgeous kids' frames are now.  They don't know how lucky they are!

The last time I bought glasses, it was because the ones I'd been wearing were five years old and starting to look a bit shabby.  I didn't want to have my prescription checked because despite pursuing recommendations from friends and family I'd had some bad experiences with optometrists.  You know, crowded waiting rooms, long delays, rushed examinations.

(translation: I freak out about the eye drops that open your pupil and I don't like the glaucoma test either where you get a puff of air right on your eyeball.)

So, I did what I've done for the last twenty years or so - I went to see Haideh to buy new frames.  Haideh isn't an optometrist, but in addition to making glasses for people she is also an artist, and when she looks at a client she sees shape and colour and knows instantly which is the perfect frame.  Seriously, I've bought SO many glasses from her in the past twenty years and every time, no matter how many pairs I see and want to try on, I end up with one from the first grouping of three she shows me, two of which were invariably chosen by her to make me feel like I was exploring options.  She is always, always dead on, which is helpful because I got two pairs again.

... and my grownup professional persona

As well as being Always Right, Haideh is also very professional.  That last visit, she asked me several times whether I sure my vision hadn't changed.  And I said Nope, it's just fine, no adjustment needed.  And she made glasses for me that were very beautiful.  But...

They really weren't the right prescription.  They weren't terrible, but they weren't the right match for what my eyes had become, and five years down the road - well, I've had enough trouble seeing that I agreed to try the optometrist Pete's been happy with.

And he was GREAT!  He is a relaxed guy, and when I told him I didn't love the drops or glaucoma test he said You know what, let's put the drops in the corner of your eye while you keep it closed, and you can just blink.  And we probably don't need to do that glaucoma test because it isn't very accurate anyway.  If I see something that worries me when the drops get working, then we'll talk. 


And It turns out my eyes are very healthy anyway.  phew.

However: when it came to my prescription, he looked puzzled and asked how long ago I'd been tested, because he was pretty sure based on where my eyes are now that my current glasses would have worked for me ten years ago.


I got graduated lenses again this time, which is to say the top area of the lens lets me see distance - at Haideh's, I was reading accurately two lines beyond what is deemed 20/20 vision - while the middle gives me mid-range, and the bottom allows me to knit or read on the subway without repositioning my glasses to serve as a hairband.

When you have three different prescriptions in one lens it can be tricky to get used to where your eye should look at any given moment, and when you have two different frames - it feels like an indulgence to have two pairs, but after the time I broke the arm off my glasses while camping, I don't say No - it can be hard to switch between them.  Five years ago I chose narrow rectangles and larger horn rims and I don't think I wore the horn rims at all after the first week.  I was smarter this time and chose two pairs in a similar size and shape, but even so it took about two weeks to get used to the difference in strength!  It's almost double what it was ten years ago.

No wonder I've been having so much trouble seeing the TV while knitting.  For months I've been doing stocking stitch only, and sitting close to the screen: now I can move further back without squinting.  Between that and the new task-style floorlamp I bought ahead of when I will need it for the new living room, it is so, so much easier to close work now!  I am actually typing this with my glasses on, which I haven't been able to do in ages.

And just like when I was new to glasses, and learned for the first time that the green part of trees is made up of tiny leaves and not just a single, soft-edged mass, I am amazed to be able to look out the condo's window and see individual pine needles and distinct leaves.

(good thing I haven't driven my car for the last year and a half, huh?)

Monday, September 26, 2016

Where would you store your yarn?

I am still immersed in dull as ditchwater last-minute decorating decisions and furniture sourcing here, instead of knitting like I want to be - ARG - but yesterday something happened that was worth sharing.  We spent our Sunday in our favourite furniture store pinning down some dresser purchases and I saw something so beautiful, it made me rethink my entire office, all 44 square feet of it.

picture your yarn here

Okay, not this exact shelf, which is the Delano Etagere from Currey and Company, and is both larger and less expensive than the life-changing one.  The one I saw was polished brass with glass shelves and stood the exact width of the customized (aka narrowized) daybed that's going into my office.  I looked at this shelf and immediately saw it from my imagined place on the daybed with a notepad on my knee, standing against the creamy-white wall of my office and looking clean and crisp and empty.

Even emptier than it did in the store.

And at the same time I could imagine it with fabric folded neatly on it, waiting to be sewn, and with baskets of yarn for knitting... but only on the lower shelves, invisible beyond the tall side-arm of the daybed.

But that is so weird, because normally I imagine quaintly crammed shelves in white-painted hutchlike furniture at the end of the daybed.  Crowded, cluttered, colourful shelves full of vintage finds, not lean shiny bars supporting empty glass shelves.

In a way I blame the daybed for this vision, and others like it.  I have always wanted a chaise (plus, of course, a lifestyle that would allow me to relax on one) ever since I was a little girl and saw the pale blue velvet one in my aunt and uncle's bedroom.  I mean, who has a sofa in the bedroom?? Only very lucky people, that's who.  But a chaise seemed like such an extravagance for me personally - wicked, really, right up until Pete agreed that a daybed was a perfectly practical solution for my tiny office and, furthermore, that we should buy the one that's sitting in our living room today and waiting to move back to the house with us.  It's been here for weeks now and the thrill hasn't worn off - everybody calls dibs on the daybed first in spite of the amazing red recliners we bought last year.

I fear I'm ruined for anything but luxury.

(but not completely, because that etagere I saw is really, really expensive, and apparently I still have limits.)

Still: it was eye-opening.  For a start, I realize now I want a fairly airy office, rather than one jam-packed with all my fabric and yarn.  All this time I've dreamed of having it all in one place, and it turns out what I really want is for it to be out of sight unless I'm working with it.  The luxury of no visible to-do list.

So the question is, where should I put it?

There's almost no random storage space in our house-to-be for my supplies.  There's likely to be a little extra room in the gap under the stairs where I was going to put our suitcases and Christmas decorations, and there will probably be some floorspace in the laundry room for a little cabinet.  It's a given that I'll be putting some yarn into the living room cabinetry, but there's not much of that.  I could stash some in the attic, or on the top shelves of our kitchen cabinets now that we're going straight up to the ceiling with them.  I might even be able to sneak some into the front hall closet, or the tops of the dining room cabinets.  I guess it doesn't matter as long as I get to keep what I have and buy a little more yarn now and then.


Where is it reasonable to store fabric and yarn if not in the room you are fortunate enough to get for your very own self? 

If you were keeping your crafty habits in check, and you could choose your ideal location, would you keep it where you sleep?

Where you sit?

Where you eat?

Where you keep your out of season footwear?

(okay, that might be a little unappealing.)

Or would you keep it where you work, even if it makes that space so cramped you have to go work somewhere else?


I might have to think about this some more, behind the scenes while I try to figure out the best way to create a 16" deep, 70" long desk I will love working at.  Yep, nothing but fun here at no-knitting Hugs! 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Trends in textiles and yarn

Last time I had ten minutes to pop in here, I was utterly panicked (could you tell?) about finding a fabric I like, ever again.  Well - problem solved!

Sanderson 'Tree Poppy'

Now I like fabrics I can't afford.

But Pete, the steadfast voice of reason in all this, says we should get what's right, regardless.  We planned this renovation for too many years, and have put too much work into it in the last two, to end up with a compromise we will only replace later, at further expense.

Sanderson 'Amanpuri'

These fabrics are both reproductions that originally appeared in the 1920s.  A little dated for our 1940s house, but plausible as fabric that might have been left over and therefore available to a family setting up house in wartime.  Or perhaps that they are recycling from their early years together.

I've tried to stay close to the backstory that ties together the choices we're making for the house because otherwise it is just a sea of decisions that are overwhelming and easy to get wrong.  And that takes us firmly off-trend.  But what a relief that is, when it's possible!

We see trends all the time in knitting too, right?  Patterns everybody just has to try, or yarns that somebody else used to great effect that we can't resist having for ourselves.  Even so, there are still so many yarn makers out there - manufacturers large or artisanal, hand-dye artists, producers of roving for us to spin into our own creations - we have no need to follow those trends unless we want to.

When it comes to construction and design though, I'm finding the choices are actually more limited than they seem, and within the range of options, you are almost always restricted by price or specific application.  'Trends' are what sell, so that's what affordable retailers make available, and are therefore what sells, until eventually everybody is so sick of seeing the same thing everywhere the trend goes out of fashion entirely. 

If you want something unique, you will be paying for it, or making it yourself.  And there is huge pressure coming from all the interior design blogs I read, or advice I get from people who work in this field, to avoid trends that will date and choose what is really 'you' and 'timeless.'

So even though it meand having to pay more for fabric that fits, I'm grateful for the backstory I created for our house.  It lets me look to older things I can find in antique markets and furniture designs that have been around for decades.  If it all comes together, we'll have a beautiful home that is fixed in a time so far back, it will be more Homey Museum than Dated Time Capsule, and I won't have to sew EVERYthing just to stay on budget.  You know, other than everything that hangs in windows visible from the street, because I'm not 100% sure I trust myself not to mess up the linings - especially with my sewing machine heavily surrounded by packing boxes.

Meanwhile, check out Tree Poppy in red and gold.  The poppies are huuuuge!

image from Sanderson
And in person - the fabric is 100% cotton, brushed for softeness, and it looks like velvet.  Love this fabric so much.

Today's happy story:

I'm working with an upholstery and interior design shop near our house that's been in business pretty much forever and has tons of repeat business in the neighbourhood and farther afield.  They are lovely, but they don't have all the samples I needed to see in stock so last week, when I realized that all the fabrics we like are from Sanderson, I asked whether I might go to their Toronto showroom.  I got the address and walked over the very next day in gorgeous, perfect weather, and told Beth at the desk who had sent me because of course, the showroom is Trade Only.

Well, it was like an Open Sesame to one of the happiest mornings of my life.  I knew what to expect - lots of fabric in large swatches to look at and touch - but in reality it was like walking past eight- or nine-foot-tall books, each page a full-width cutting from a larger bolt.  You just stand in front turning the pages and imagining each design on your window or sofa.

I have a picture or two and will tell you more about it another day when I am not pulled in six directions, but for now let's just agree that I should totally go back on my birthday and just sit there, absorbing the quiet beauty, while drinking tea.  It would be the best birthday ever if I did!

Hope you are well - see you again as soon as I can manage.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The great fabric hunt - part one

This past weekend, I focused on knocking down as many house decisions as possible.  I want to clear the slate so I can focus on the back yard plan and, you know, work... and maybe some knitting, so I have a new hat before winter settles in.  Apart from laundry room choices, this has meant choosing fabric! at last, something fun.  And yet... not.

 I think we need to start this post with something gorgeous.

All weekend I burned with love for this cabbage rose fabric from Sanderson, called Devonshire Place.  You never know from the online pictures - in person, the blue might look wrong, and the stone colour might be the wrong undertone for the paint we zeroed in on, and the scale might be bigger than my head - but it is cheery and bright and a cabbage rose.  I love cabbage rose prints.  They make me feel so happy and calm, I could look at them all day.

Looking at fabric usually makes me happy and calm too - or rather, jumpy-uppy-down excited because I love fabric so much - but it has been surprisingly difficult to find any fabric to work in our house.  I guess if I can only have one or two prints, it's natural to be picky, but this is getting ridiculous.

Here's the deal: Ray is going to want to paint the house in a month or two.  My dream is to have our house painted once, by professionals, before there's any furniture in it.  Not now and again in two years when I'm sick of the colours.  To achieve this longevity of satisfaction with our paint choices, I want them to coordinate with the fabrics we bought for love and perfection (and not for panic and proximity.)

Looking through the sample books at the upholstery store is a daunting task... and yet: they don't have everything there.  I've found a few likely patterns online I couldn't see in person until the swatches came in a week or two after we ordered them.  And as I might have mentioned, the prospects from last time all turned out to be awful, which is why I'm still looking. Cue the Time Crunch.

Thank goodness the house is taking as long as it is, huh?

And now, I will tell you today's story.

On Friday, I borrowed the fabric sample book for the upholstery I'd picked for recovering the old sofa we still love but have no space for, except in our bedroom.  It's just simpler if everything starts from that, right?

It's a nice soft fabric in a herringbone weave - a mix of cotton and linen and manmade fibers to make it strong enough for heavy use, and astonishingly, it's within our budget.  I'd chosen a neutral that turns out to be the colour of unbleached linen.

This bleh shade is not terrible in itself because we wanted a pretty inoffensive, flexible, low-contrast room this time - see "No More Paint For Me" policy described above - and Pete liked it too.  Then I noticed that the same fabric is good for drapes so I said, I haven't been able to find a single floral fabric I like yet; why not have our drapes custom made in the same plain thing? and Pete said, Great!

We found a paint colour that matches it, thanks to the huge paint boards I bought from Maria Killam.  These things are not cheap.  When I took her colour course I met many budget savvy professional interior designers in a position to make good use of them who had not bought even one set, let alone the two I did.  (That changed after they saw them in action during the course.)  But WHAT a time saver they are.  We are really hoping to choose only two, or maybe three paint colours for the whole house to simplify leftover paint storage, but you go through a lot of options before you can narrow that down.  In the course, I also received a Benjamin Moore fan deck and that's been helpful too.

There's the good news.  The bad news? The paint that matches our bedroom sofa fabric is called Cedar Key, and it's beige.  Designers call it 'greige' because it's a mix of grey and beige but for my purposes, it's beige.

I should have seen this coming.  Every picture I warm to when I look at inspiration images for the house have beige walls, or else some version of very dark grey - how could I miss that?  Plus, I just wrote a whole blog post the other day about all the pale colours that are making me breathe more slowly and calmly.

And yet I love colour.  I grew up in a house that was all beige and brown all the time apart from the turquoise walls in the dining room, and later the avocado banquette (left over from our second home's previous owners and never reupholstered.)  I feel like I've done my time on beige.

Okay, so we could choose a contrasting pale colour and not need to match the sofa and curtains. I could pick a blue or green or purple if I wanted; I'm sure there's one that would look lovely.  But that would mean even more time spent choosing paint.

Can you say, AIIIEEEEEEE.  Plus I wouldn't get that layered tone on tone look I'm going for.

Thankfully I found a lighter, more ethereal shade that doesn't exactly match the fabric but is still friendly with it.  It's called Pale Oak and naturally, it's also kinda beige.   Sorry - greige.

It was at about this point that I panicked and ran to Lynn for reassurance, and got it.  Also I spotted this peaceful bedroom at Laurel Home, with walls painted in Pale Oak, and that made me feel better too.

Yes, this looks like it could be a tiny shot of a hotel room, but that's kinda what I'm after - a room with just literal, not mental, baggage.  The better to sleep in.

What I have to remember is what I decided at the beginning of all this nonsense - that the neutral is just the background.  There will always be colourful knitting lying around, and we still have blankets and sofa cushions to choose, too.  Which is where that gorgeous blue cabbage rose comes in.  We were pretty sure it would work for cushions on the bedroom sofa, but Pete felt it would be too overwhelming as a print for the stairwell curtains.

Cue the doom music

This area is fabric problem number two.  At the landing on the stairs from the main floor up to the bedrooms we have a stacked window which runs four feet wide and will require a covering a little short of thirteen feet tall, if you include the drop to floor level and room for a curtain rod at the top.  And I do, because I can't really see cutting a curtain that big off at the knees, can you?  It's probably better if it goes most of the way to the floor, or at least as close to the floor as necessary to balance the gap at the top.

A thirteen-foot curtain is going to have to be custom made by someone, and unless it's a plain fabric or a simple stripe, it has to be made by somebody other than me.  I know my limits and matching a massive half-drop floral repeat is not within them!

That said, I don't want something plain or even stripey for that window - I want something we are excited to look at.  This has turned out to be the only place in the whole house where I can have a spectacular fabric (except maybe the laundry room and there are no guarantees there either) and I don't want to give up on that dream till I have to.

It turns out there is another complication.  Even though we are not fancy people, the fabric that goes into the stairwell is going to have to play nicely with the very fancy wall sconces that face the landing on the walls that frame the window, and which I found at a massive discount or I would never even have let myself aspire to them.  Forgive me if you've seen this before:

It probably doesn't look too crazy on the screen but, um, this fixture is 17" tall.  It's in scale for what is basically a massive air shaft, but having a pair of them is a pretty big statement.

That's a black metal strip at the top and bottom of the glass cover, and the ceiling fan at the top of the shaft, and the railing, and the custom curtain rod will all be black too, so having some reference to gold and/or black in the drapery fabric would be good.

HA.  Like I can pick and choose.

I've gone through every UK fabric designer I can find, plus Waverly, Ralph Lauren, and all the other standard American companies on the hunt for something that's right for us, drawing the line only at Lee Jofa because we do not have many hundreds of budget dollars to spend on just one yard of fabric, let alone ten yards.

Although if I was going to go with Lee Jofa, I'm sure I could find a way to live with something like Ashridge Print:

But I say No to Lee Jofa. Instead, here are the fabrics I found that made it as far as me showing Pete.

'Ottoline' from Sanderson, features both copper and teal.  I like it but I feel like the drawing style for the flowers is a bit 1960s, and Pete was a bit iffy about it too.

Sweet Bay, also from Sanderson, in Ebony/Ivory, is lovely but has an awful lot of green in it.  The rest of the house is more blues and caramels and red. 

This fabric is listed as being sort of polished, which put me off because I don't want a sheen but - spoiler alert! - I actually saw a different colourway of it today at the upholstery store, and the sheen is minimal.  So is the pleasantness of the way it feels in your hand (and it turns out the flowers are indeed the size of my head.)

Angela Floral in cream, from Ralph Lauren, comes very close to fitting the bill in terms of colour and print, though it's more weathered than I had in mind:

I asked for a sample today anyway and am crossing my fingers.  Maybe it will turn out to be the floral I dreamed of for our bedroom and couldn't find.

All of these fabrics are 54" wide, and to cover a 48" window two and a half times without a contrasting band of some sort, we need something that is 60" wide.  That's really, really hard to come by, so I was inclined to look kindly upon the only contender I found in that category.

This baby is 61", but it looks more than a bit like the wallpaper you'd see behind the misery-stricken heroine of a 1930s movie drama:

It's another Ralph Lauren - Vintage Ashfield - and in spite of the association I really like its simplicity.   There are other colours in this print that look less like old film, but they aren't quite right either.  The whites look like true white instead of the off white I need, and the taupey version looks like it would make our honey maple floors very very unhappy.  At least pewter gives a contrast and blends with all the black?

On a second pass of all the likely fabric manufacturers I found this print, which I'd rejected at first because the background is SO blue.

But I smiled when I saw it first, and I smiled again the second time and decided to show Pete, who smiled too.  So I asked for a sample and am crossing my fingers harder than is strictly comfortable.  It's another Ralph Lauren (Garden Harbor) and Ralph does not charge Lee Jofa prices.  Or even Sanderson prices.

While I was looking through the Sanderson books today I was able to see Devonshire Place, the fabric pictured at the top of this post, and it is - well, I say this with apologies to anybody who reads this and has decorated much of their home with it, but frankly I found it hideous.  The fabric is not a luxuriously woven linen or cotton linen blend, it's more of a figured weave with a texture pattern running under what is already a pretty busy print.  So it's not for us.

Then I noticed a washed-out, dreamy linen with faded cabbage roses in front of a tiny-petaled bloom and was seriously smitten.  The flowers were smaller than the palm of my hand, the colours were soothing, and I thought: bedroom?  Clearly I don't love love love the faux-unbleached-linen of our sofa upholstery for curtains.  But alas, the background of that fabric is a yellow beige and looked deeply horrible with the sofa upholstery we picked.  And every other shade of the sofa upholstery, in fact, except the yellow beige one, which I do not love.  So, no to those cabbage roses.  I'm not even going to show you a picture of that print because I am still sad about it.

But after that?  I flipped the page to this crazy bird print:

It's 'Swallows' (from Sanderson, of course) and it's a vintage design from the 1930s, which makes it perfect for the original age of our house, pre-facelift.  I love these birds, and love that the colours that pick out their details match the two paint colours we shortlisted for the bedroom sofa, and especially love the idea of birds flying against a blue sky on either side of our ridiculously tall stack of windows.

But - there's nothing in this print to make our fancy gold sconces feel welcome on the landing.  When I got home I did some more hunting and found this bird print on the Sanderson site - Finches.

This time I am beyond smitten.  The colours are right for the house, right down to the blue, and the print includes branches.  I love branches, a fun fact about me that you may have noticed if you read enough Hugs to see all the pictures I post of branches in the winter.

In fact, I think this print, in these colours, would look lovely and appropriate in every season - except maybe the fall?

If you look closely you can see that the birds and branches are not totally lifelike, as you would expect from a botanical print.  They are more like something Edward Gorey would draw.  And this is another huge draw for me because all my favourite books as a kid were illustrated by Edward Gorey.  This fabric is so perfect for us.

But... I need ten yards, and it's pretty pricey fabric for that kind of volume.  Not Lee Jofa pricing, but definitely not Laura Ashley pricing, and for a girl that has always been Laura Ashley On Clearance pricing - and even then, only for truly special situations - it's a little bit heart-attack-inducing to think of buying Finches for reals.  So I'm still looking.  (I'm totally asking for a sample of this one next time I go into the store, though, because perfect is perfect.  And maybe it won't be perfect and I won't live the rest of my life wondering What If.)

We've since found another couple of possibilities but really I think this is enough for the first part of The Great Fabric Dilemma. If you've read all this way down I would like to apologize for dumping my convoluted thought processes regarding what is clearly a first world problem all over your screen.  And I will leave you with a question:

Do you ever agonize this much over YARN??

Yeesh, like we needed another example of why knitting is tops...

Friday, September 9, 2016

Grafting toes and blocking socks

It's Friday, and since it's nice to have a sense of completion at the end of the week I thought it would be nice to share pictures of a finished pair of socks.  Well, almost finished.

Since I am me - which is to say, Always Obsessing About Something - I decided to share my current angst as well, which is:

what on earth am I going to to about a washer and dryer for the new house?

Omigosh could I be more boring, especially since I am pretty sure I wrote about this issue the first time I looked into the problem many months ago.  Let's have another look at the socks, shall we?

I can't believe how closely the stripes on these guys match up.  There must be - what, four inches of overlap between one sock finishing the green stripe, and the other starting the blue?

Love when that happens.

So, here's my laundry dilemma.  I haven't had to buy a new washer in, I don't know, ten years?  Maybe fifteen.  And the last ones I chose were not expensive.  I'm not fussy about appliances - I don't need something that looks pretty, or has a lot of extra features, or is in any way the latest thing that you can run a quartz countertop over.  When it comes to a washer I just want clean clothes in the least possible amount of time, and I want the machine to work every time I turn it on, because I always seem to be stuck doing a ton of urgent laundry and there don't seem to be any laundromats near the house or the condo.

Speaking of the condo - when we got this place I expected to have to replace the washer and dryer that came with it straightaway, because they were so old and ratty looking and mismatched and not appealing for a prospective tenant or buyer.  But I quickly discovered they are WAY better than the Whirlpool set I had at home.  The washer, a Kenmore at least ten years old, zips through a load in about 15 minutes and then does a quick but effective rinse, and the dryer has a light inside and a super accessible lint trap.  I feel love and gratitude for these qualities every single time I use them, and I would move them home if I thought they'd survive the journey.  I might try, anyway.

But I might not, because the washer has never leaked.  This feature can't be valued highly enough for the prospective landlord of a rental condo, even if it is just on the second floor over a grocery store that doesn't have hardwood floors to ruin.

Our laundry room at the house on the other hand - that's in the basement, and it will have a tile floor with a drain in it, along with a sump pump.  All of this is lucky because what I discovered on my first attempt at choosing a new washer is still true.  The top rated readily-available brand for washers today has been known to leak, sometimes more than a little, at random intervals.

And you know what else I've learned about modern washers? They are all about water efficiency to the point of not always using enough to get clothes clean, and needing as much as an hour and fifteen minutes to get through one load.  Bonus: often, there are problems with a moldy smell.

And they aren't built to last any more, either.  Some brands have crazy statistics for repairs and replacement, such that you might well find yourself buying something new after three years of frequent repairs.  I can't even process what that ends up costing, because I am too busy being a deer in the headlights over how not being able to do laundry at home would destroy my schedule.  It's already as tight as it can be.

Plus...we are knitters, so I know you know what I'm worried about.  Most modern top-loaders don't have agitators any more, and they are so water-efficient they don't always even get the whole load wet (apparently people get around this by washing small loads with the highest water level possible, or by adding water manually).

How on earth are you expected to felt wool in a machine like that?

Or in a front loader, where you can't check the fabric's progress??  UGH who cares about steam clean features when there are knits to felt.

Time for more sock.

Grafting toes is such an orderly process.  You have your darning needle, and you have a freshly cut 9" tail descending from a pair of needles, and you go back and forth weaving the opening shut.

(you don't need a Churchmouse Yarns and Teas tin full of stitch markers.  that's just where I keep my darning needles, for safety.)

SO much easier than choosing a washer.

So much tidier than keeping all the features and known issues straight.

The way I see it, the solution for this situation can be narrowed down to three options.

1/ I could buy a top load washer from Huebsch (that's Speed Queen to you folks in the United States, owing to I think a patent dispute.)  Those things are built like tanks, and get through a wash in around thirty minutes, and don't leak.  Word is, they don't always clean as well as front-loaders... but I am not washing out mud, most days anyway, and a top loader with an agitator has always worked great for me.  They are supposed to last about 20 years for somebody who washes as much stuff as I do.  They have a smaller capacity than most new machines, but OH, what a heartbreak... not.  Because I can do two small loads in less time than it would take to do one large one in a fancier machine.  Excuse me for not needing a tissue to dry my tears as I take my giant blankets to the drycleaner instead of washing them myself.  The matching dryer is not super well reviewed for function or reliability but if I'm going with a very basic looking white top loading machine, I can't make the situation much less attractive than with a non-matching dryer.

2/ I could buy a gorgeous LG front-loader, which has a huge capacity and is very fancy and might not leak (yeah, this is the brand that gets leak-related complaints) WITH the new LG 'Sidekick' pedestal that would let me do smaller loads in a top-load form.  The Sidekick has a very small capacity for almost the same price as the bigger machine which makes it a crazy purchase... but you know what?  Delicates and felting and washing just a few pairs of socks when I want.  Plus a backup washer, when the big one is out of commission and needing motherboard repairs.  Crazy like a fox, is what I say.

3/ I could buy a washboard, or maybe something a little fancier than that...

... and with the thousands of dollars I save in purchase expenses, downtime for broken machines, repair and replacement of floors and machines, and overall stress, I could pay for catered meals so I have time for scrubbing and wringing.  Heck, a system like that might even replace the need for the exercise equipment I wanted to sneak into the laundry room, and may not have space for.

Pete's feedback to that third option was, "You're really not well, are you" - but think about it.

If we're going to go past knitting to the point of spinning our own yarns and weaving our own fabrics, then on to buying the fleece from a sheep to process ourselves, or - we all know or have heard of somebody who's done this or at least considered it seriously - buy a farm to raise sheep on personally... where do you draw the line?  Are we really going to sneer at a pair of rocks and the cascading icewater of a nearby creek?

I sure wouldn't.

Or I could utter the two magic words: laundry service.

Just for the tough stuff.  When it comes to cleaning delicates and silks, and blocking socks and other handknits, all you really need is a bowl of water, some Soak, and a towel to blot out the excess water.

Plenty of time left over to run in a lot of yarn tails.


(here's my thought: have a great weekend and I'll see you Monday!)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

New yarn!

I don't consider myself a diehard shopper or a person who lives for retail therapy, but that might be denial.  I mean, I did just sign up for another round of the Vesper Sock Club yesterday.

I've been watching for a purple stripe yarn in the Vesper club so I can knit socks for Jan - Jan loves purple and wears no other colour - and what should show up in my mailbox last week but a second purple stripe yarn, right after last month's special?

I think I still like the first one better for Jan though - to recap in case you missed it last month, this one which is called 'Let's Dance':

because I love this one for me.  And as you know, I am a very selfish knitter, as contradictory as those two words are when paired.

Or maybe I'm not being selfish?  Because Jan favours bright outfits and I lean more toward muted, and in spite of that I really, really like Let's Dance, too, probably as much as I like Zoom!.  I think I might actually be thinking generously.  How unlike me.

Then today, in spite of the nonstop house-related purchasing, I found myself in the Eileen Fisher section of my local department store and got into a lot of trouble over silk tunics.  And some pants.  And a floaty Tshirt, sigh.

Part of the trouble is that Yvette recognizes me now and knows exactly what styles I am going to like, and another part of the trouble is that I am happiest wearing things that look like Stylish Grownup Person Outside Clothes but feel like pyjamas.  And how else can you describe Eileen Fisher's line?

I really need to stop shopping and start knitting though.  Even though it is 30 degrees Celcius outside today, and super humid, I spent about ten minutes looking at an elaborately felted scarf and a black cashmere poncho.  The last thing I need is to keel over, my credit card outstretched, onto stuff I could make with yarn I already have...

... except of course, I don't have black cashmere.  But I'm not saying that out loud.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Colour planning and other adventures with walls

For weeks now I've been sparing you all from any discussion of interior decorating, even though there is a ton of decision-making going on behind the screen here.  I'd like to tell you it's just the fun stuff - fabric and paint - but, Nope.  And I think that's why I am increasingly drawn to the palest of pale wall colour options.

What I am learning is that every decision impacts several others, and this is why interior designers are worth a lot of money and should be involved from the get-go.  At almost any stage of a renovation there are just so many ways to achieve the effect you want in the end - why not pick the one that will keep lots of options open?

Because you don't think of the options in time, that's why.  Not unless you're very clever and/or very experienced.

I'm getting better at this job, though.  Just today for example Brian called to make sure it was okay with me if he put our thermostat in the hallway at the top of the stairs to the basement, beside the light switch that's next to the doorway to the living room.  My gut reaction was Yes Please, because if he puts it anywhere else on the main floor it will be near a gas fireplace and any time we use said fireplace the temperature in the rest of the house will drop like a rock, just like it did in the previous version of our house.

And then I stopped myself mid sentence and said WAIT - is having the thermostat beside a light switch going to chew up that wall such that I can't hang a painting there?  Because I suddenly remembered we have very little space to hang art in the new house, and a lot of art to hang, and this particular wall was going to be a blank canvas for us.

(In the end we decided that Brian would choose what's best for him and then get Ray's okay, because Ray hangs a lot of art himself, and thinks about stuff like ideal thermostat placement, and ultimately the thermostat is important and I can always run a row of plates or something over the top of all the switches and knobs.  It will still look good in the end, somehow.)

The heating and ventilation system is influencing all sorts of design decisions actually, all over the house.  We went with in-floor heat to avoid losing precious square footage to ductwork, so instead there are some interior walls full of copper pipe with the size of the doorways adjusted, by which I mean narrowed, to accommodate them.  I pity anybody in the future who decides to make the place a little more open concept because we've already picked the most practical places for those to go - even if it wouldn't cost a fortune to move them, there's simply nowhere else for them to be.

And even the most practical place is not always wonderful.  We decided to put the manifold for the first and second floor heat into our bedroom closet to spare the custom cabinetry that's going into the kitchen and dining room, but that was before I realized we are talking about a panel 22" wide, 18" tall, and as much as 4" deep that has to be accessible so we can turn the water on and off if necessary.  The master closet is already pretty small for two people, one of whom owns a ridiculous number of shoes (and I'm not talking about moi, though I can't complain because most of them are for running and ball hockey and I should be more active myself.)

Andy, our genius kitchen designer, worked with Brian on how to get around this problem and came up with the best solution.  I am so grateful now that IKEA's very affordable closet options were the wrong depth, forcing us to pay a fortune for a custom closet, because it makes the manifold an opportunity instead of a flaw to disguise.  Check out the side view (both sides are the same, in mirror image):

adj shelf means 'adjustable'

Originally, we were going to have pull-out shoe shelves that ran right to the wall, but the manifold was going to block them from pulling and Andy didn't like that.  Instead he cut the shoe-shelf section short, added another 6" section that could be either a solid wall or a hanging space (guess which one I voted for), and designed a custom cabinet for the manifold on the wall between Pete's side and mine:

I'm thinking about vintage-look glass knobs for the manifold cabinet doors.  What about you?

I love that the cabinetry will become the perfect frame for a custom mirror from the fabulous place that Ray uses (we really appreciate the mirrors they supplied for the condo) or we can hang something with a big gorgeous frame around it, if we prefer.  I mean, mirrors do lose their silver over time and it might be wise to have one we can take down and deal with, rather than one that's glued to the wall... or maybe it's better not to have one that, being glued, will never fall on us, since we'd only start to see a problem around the time we turn 80.

Or of course, we could hang a painting.

Okay, now we're getting to the main point of today's post, which is not that you should totally work with Andy if you live in Toronto and need a kitchen, though that is true, because he is amazing.  Instead, it is: what colour wall paint to choose?

When I lived in England people around me were always using the phrase "At the end of the day", which was a real learning curve for me because the only related phrase I'd used was "In the end" and I kept thinking they were referring to an event to take place on a specific day rather than an ultimate outcome.  As in, "At the end of the day, will it matter which of these two press releases we go with? because frankly I'm just counting the hours until I can pick up chips at the tube station, good heavens they are delicious and I can't get them out of my mind."

However, when it comes to paint, there is no question about it: At the end of the day is the right phrase.  Because you can agonize about paint colours for a whole day's worth of angst, and then some, until you realize that

a/ if you want white, every paint company's offerings are pretty close to the same colour once they're on the wall

b/ most cabinet companies (in Canada anyway) offer Benjamin Moore's 'Cloud White' as a standard shade with no extra charge

c/ custom cabinetry is too expensive to be specifying a custom white that will end up looking almost exactly the same as Cloud White

And after you decide on Cloud White for the cabinets that are going to cover most of the walls in a room, however pedestrian and old-hat it may seem after years and years of being the go-to white, it makes sense to paint the walls of that room Cloud White also.  I mean, in our case, we are talking about a few inches, at most two feet, between a cabinet and the next door or window frame. How weird would a dark stripe of blue or gold look on that tiny irregular patch of wall that isn't even balanced by a corresponding patch anywhere else?

And if your floor is a light colour too - doesn't it make sense to keep the unbroken walls of other, cabinet-free rooms kind of airy and peaceful too so the whole house looks like it belongs together?  Especially if your brain is all cluttered up with boring decisions about where to put manifolds and the like?

I'm sure this is why I am fixating on the very very pale off-whites from Benjamin Moore for our bedroom walls.  I did pick some upholstery fabric - also off-white - for this room, so I will eventually narrow my choices to a colour that looks best with it, and since the walls are going to end up looking pale green no matter one I do because of the tint on our windows, I might as well choose one with either a green undertone or a pink one (to neutralize the green).

But omigosh, even within those guidelines, they all look so much the same.  Until you take a photograph and do an autocorrect on the image in your photo-processing software.

Here it is again pre-correction:

MAN autocorrect makes it easier to see the depth of a particular shade, and possibly even the undertone, though of course that might be the software messing with me.

Or you could just look at the whole spectrum with the autocorrect on, and breathe:

Or you could paddle around in the bliss of the names your favourites have been given:

OC24 Wind’s Breath
OC27 Balboa Mist
OC30 Gray Mist
OC31 Fog Mist
OC41 French Canvas
OC42 Old Prairie
OC43 Overcast
OC46 Halo
OC50 November Rain

(Okay, so 'Old Prairie' doesn't exactly sound like a foggy day that you spend at the window wearing muslin and reading Proust over china cups full of steaming tea, but you get the idea.)

(I have never read Proust.  have you?)

Or you could pick some curtain fabric for pity's sake, and match something in that, which is what I really need to do.  But apparently cabbage roses and peonies are not super hugely in fashion at the moment, and since they are what I want and I haven't found one I like from the somewhat limited selection it seems I can afford, I am Still Looking.

(Did you know that some English linen/cotton blend floral decorating fabrics cost as much as six or seven hundred dollars a yard? I didn't.  And I'm not going to risk pricing the matching wallpaper now that I do, I can tell you that much.)

Thank goodness Ray's decided it's more urgent to get the floor down and the cabinetry in than it is to paint before that happens, because I have a few more weeks to figure out fabric.

Well, that was a long post! Good bedtime reading, if nothing else, right?

(that was my exit line, but honestly: who can turn down a pale pale green called French Canvas?  I am totally rooting for that one to win.)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The satisfying sock

Do you ever look at some knitting and think, "I would like to eat that"?

Probably you don't.  And probably I shouldn't mention that sometimes I honestly do because that is just weird.  I mean, in my defense, obviously I am not about to go gnawing on wool.  It's just that there is something so adorable and huggable about some fibers or colour combinations and particular runs of stocking stitch - and I must say, this sock is looking very crisp - that the words leap into my head before I can tell them how very wrong they are.

What I should be thinking is, "I would like to never sleep again, so I can look at that forever."

But what comes out is "I want to eat this sock", so there you go: my cross to bear.

You know what, a few years back I posted a picture of a knit with a needle stuck through it, and somebody commented that I am a bad knitter for doing that because surely I am splitting the yarn.  So, just in case anybody is tempted to follow my bad example here, I will mention that I always slip the needle through an actual stitch so that it doesn't split the yarn, and, perhaps even more importantly, so I don't lose the needle.

I am really, really loving this Vesper colourway.  It's called Frost and I can't believe that beige and grey and white could possibly fill me with so much energy.  Or maybe it's the magnitude of the calm they induce that makes me feel like I could knit for days?

Hello, baby chompy sock.

As I've been knitting, I've been thinking of the cooler weather that's coming, probably in just another few weeks.  Soon I'll be wearing these socks and the others I've spent the summer working on, and I'll be wanting to pair them with other warm things.  And now that I'm not going back and forth to the cottage and countering the car knitting time with hours spent in the lake every day, I might actually get time to knit some of them.

But for now: I am enjoying every stitch of this project.  Knowing how to knit is such a wonderful gift, isn't it?