Friday, January 29, 2016

Socks for a friend

It's taken nearly a year since I got the idea, but I was finally able to go through my sock supply to determine which ones I foolishly knit smaller than I like to wear now, and wash them, and dry them, and sit down to remove any pills from whatever wear they received.

I don't like to pull away lumps of felted fiber from the inside, because I know it's still attached to the stitches and may weaken the sock more quickly, but ugh.

Who wants to walk on a lump of fiber? It's not much better than a stone if you let it get too clumpy.

I had a bit of a freakout when I saw a hole in the leg of one of them...

I realized it was the one that moths got into, actually while I was knitting it, one summer at the cottage.  I must have missed this weak spot when I was darning the ribbing on its mate.  Nothing for it but to try mending, in my inexpert way:

Okay, it's messy, but the inside feels smooth and it's not on the business end at least.  It won't show under jeans and it won't hurt inside shoes.

There.  Two pairs for Julia,

And four for Beth.

(I sorted by size, not favourites!)

It still amazes me that Beth especially would welcome used socks - Julia at least lives in a place where winters are brutal - but she's had a pair of new ones from me for a couple of winters now and doesn't know how to knit, so I guess that explains it!

Do you have places to send your outgrown knits too?

Whether yes or no, I hope it's Yes! to a wonderful weekend in store.  Take care and I'll see you on Monday!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Before Youtube: needlework instruction and inspiration

My collection of needlework books is very precious to me, and I found I couldn't part with any of it during the recent purge here at Hugs Central, Condo Edition.  The large sheets of detailed drawings are amazing for learning purposes but they inspire, as well, and best of all: they remind me of a time when the printed page was the only reliable means of conveying information.

It's hard to imagine books ever going completely away but when faced with books I bought in the early 90s, like a Vogue encyclopaedia of sewing techniques, I saw how much technology has shifted the way I learn how to do new things.  I haven't looked at any of those books in several years and not just because I have been too busy to take on new skills - it's so much easier to check YouTube.

Going through the books and deciding whether or not to give them space in my new life, I was most enchanted by a late edition Encyclopedia of Needlework by T.E. de Dillmont.  Maybe you know about this book but when I found out about it a few years ago I felt I had to have a copy, which was easily found in an online used bookstore because so many copies have been in print.  I've never actually used it to learn how to do something.  But as a window into the kinds of work that women did do, and in some cases still do, it is astonishing.

So, so beautiful and intricate.  Not just the work, but the drawings of the work.

The women who bought early copies of this book would have learned needlework from a very young age and would refer to it to expand their skills or remind them of techniques rarely used. 

It's so different today, isn't it?  We still indulge in needlework but for entertainment and relaxation, not necessity or to demonstrate affluence or taste.  I don't know about you but in my experience it's much cheaper to buy than than to make our own knits and other textiles.  Then, it was done to show love and skill and fill a need otherwise unmet.  Now it's mostly about the love and skill.

I love how compact this book is - so small it fits in the hand.  Small enough to tuck into a trunk when you're starting a new life somewhere else.  Full of every imaginable kind of needlework.  It's the Swiss Army Knife of reference books!  Of course I couldn't let it go.

And if I ever have time to learn how to do truly fine handiwork, I have beautiful illustrations to go by.

But I have to tell you - if you don't have a copy and you're wishing you did, THE WHOLE THING IS ONLINE!  Yep.  You can even get a Kindle edition if you want to download it and carry it around with you - after all, a smartphone is even smaller than this compact little book.

Live it up, friends!  And have a great day.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Proportion and colour and the great furniture hunt

Andy, our kitchen designer, needed to know how much space we're going to need in our living room for furniture, because we got talking about custom bookshelves and space is at a premium in every room of the house but especially there.  So: Pete and I went shopping!  First, we picked out a compact version of this sofa.

It'll seat three people if they like each other enough - otherwise two, and usually just me, stretched out and knitting in front of a movie.  If only the upholstery options had been more inspiring.  We ended up picking a blah beige similar to what's shown here, because I had been imagining undyed linen.  Sadly, undyed linen was deemed too fragile for our sofa and frankly, when you're looking at a rough polyester blend, the colour effect is pretty much lost.

Then it was off to the store we usually go to, where I'd seen a super compact but supremely comfortable armchair last winter.  It was still there! and still comfortable! and just enough different from the sofa not to look matchy!  But it had a super wild print.

Well, what's not to love about a wild print with all those great colours in it? The fact that the ovals are velveteen, mainly.  I knew we'd kill that stuff inside of a year, so we opted for plain red woven upholstery for the two we ordered.

That left us with this combo:

It would be great, I think, if the sofa was red and the chairs in beige, but - erm.  Big piece in bland, and little pieces in bright? At least I could throw red pillows onto the beige sofa, for much-needed balance.  I can live with this combo.

But... then it was back to the custom store to finish our order.  We were choosing the new, compact dining set there too, and we were starting to feel more and more blah about the beige upholstery.  Also, we hadn't added the daybed I really, really want for my office.

The daybed is the only thing I wanted for the house that I'm actually getting, so it is pretty important.  See how squishy the seat cushion looks?  Like it would be sort of heaven to crash out on?  It's even better in person.  soooo happy.

After the hassle of the first round of trying to pick upholstery we agreed to do the daybed and the sofa in the same fabric to minimize decision making, but I wanted to check again for something that wasn't the scratchy beige.  And this time, I spotted a gorgeous blue velvet - plus, moments later, a gold brocade accent fabric with the merest hint of blue in it. Voila:

The wood pieces are me trying to choose the leg colour. I have no idea what I picked - probably the darker one?

Anyway: picture it.  Gorgeous weathered navy velvet sofa on one side of an 11' x 11' space, and two bright cherry armchairs on the other, a very pale maple floor underneath, and white built-in bookshelves all around them.

Then try to sleep.

The next day I went back to the chair store and switched the bright red to a stone colour that matches the brocade fabric, and called the sofa store to buy more of the brocade so I can sew some tone-it-down cushions.  I mean: contrast is everything, but screaming is not really what I was after in my nice sunshiney living room, you know?  What I was going for was English Country Cottage.

Proportion: so much more important than I think it is.

Still awake? Want to see the dining pieces we picked?  Well, here's the chair:

Except we chose a mid-tone brown stain called 'caramel' and a warm brown leather upholstery to match:

I'll tell you something about these chairs - they are comfortable.  I mean, CRAZY comfortable . The rounded back just hugs you and makes you want to stay sitting, and the seats have a triple layer of squish so they're very easy to relax into.

They are so great, we decided to use them as backup for the living room.  As it is, we can seat four people in there - but if we bring in a couple of these dining chairs, it'll be six.  And to save a little on costs we bought a bench, too - you can see one in the background there, just to the left of the upper part of the chair back - to use for extra seating at the dining room table or in the living room, or even to serve as a coffee table.  Can you say, knitting party?  With me in a dining chair, using my spinning wheel?  Hurray!

In the end what we've got for base colours is warm brown, rich deep blue, stone, and gold.  And insane amounts of white, obviously.  I think this is going to balance a lot better don't you?

(please say you think so too.  I'm terrified I've messed up.)

Okay, onward and upward - have a great day and I'll see you tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

New yarn, new book

First up: the pretty!

I do so love getting new yarn in the mail... I don't even care that I'm swimming in yarn that came in the mail.  Sock yarn is therapy and very necessary and it would be bad if I ran out - so this is one area where keeping Stuff is totally permissible.  Also, yummy colours!

This one is called 'Friends and Family', which makes an appropriate segue to my telling you about Omigosh, the book you have to listen to if you can.

I am late to the party for Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple - it seems to be pretty popular and widely read.  I've had my eye on it for a while and thought Eh, can I really handle a story about a mother with emotional problems and a teen daughter who is affected by them?  (answer: no.)

But eventually it came up as an audiobook, and I kind of liked the voice of the narrator who recorded it, so I decided to buy it in that form.  Even then, it lingered in my Audible app until I became desperate during the whole Throw Everything Out project we took on last week.  Then, when it was either that, or the terribly dated vintage murder mystery, or the story about the potato famine, or silence while I worked through all that dreck, I finally pressed play.

And - WOW.  I don't often love a book enough that I can't keep it in, and this is a biggie. I totally loved this book.

There are so many long monologues in it that could have been incredibly boring and instead made me laugh.  There are so many plot point setups that could have been obvious and were just so entertaining in the moment that they didn't look like setups, at all.  The main character is completely flawed, even potentially unlikable, and I absolutely loved her.  I learned so much about Antarctica.  I couldn't stand it when I realized the story was nearly over.

But the best surprise was the narrator, Kathleen Wilhoite.  She voices so many different characters so charmingly - a rare feat - and made dramatically funny scenes both dramatic and hilarious.  Any writer would be blessed to have her interpreting his or her words.  I couldn't get enough!  I might actually listen to the whole book again, this week, just to relive it.

Seriously, if you're looking for something to read, take a look at this one.

And either way - have a great day!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Packing up: how to let go of stuff

I try to make January a quiet month because since we took over my aunt and uncle's cottage, life from September to Christmas is always 100% crazypants and right about now I'm ready for a break.  But this year has been different and we decided I would do our packing up now to minimize the pressure when it's actually time to move in July or so.

Clearly, we are nowhere near July.

I know, I know, July's a long way off.  Originally we were to be in a position to move back in April and do it gradually, but most of the people who were recommended to us for this project have turned out to be what my gut said they were.  Gut feelings: so important not to push them aside for the sake of being polite.  So it was just logical to pack now, while we're waiting for a new design for one key component on the house that's holding up progress on two or three others.

Of course, when I say 'pack', what I mean is 'get rid of stuff', which we were supposed to do before we moved into the condo but couldn't seem to do.  I know I've talked about this many many times over the years, and I am sure practically everybody here has heard of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by now - it summarizes a lot of what I've discovered first hand in the last couple of weeks.  But until you're doing it under pressure you aren't forced to examine why you're holding on to things you don't use.

I get distracted by the colour and the pretty and I want to bring it home.

In my case, I realized the deep impact of my poor decision making skills, and saw that they are the result of unreliable levels of self-confidence.  The more stretched I am for time and energy, the more I try to avoid getting things wrong or running out of what we need.  So when faced with a choice I just buy two, or buy the thing that *might* work, or will work *for now* with the intention of replacing it later.

Then, once I have things, I have guilt about getting rid of them.  Either they cost a lot, and I feel like parting with them would prove I wasted money, or they came from someone special who's now gone, and I feel like parting with them will take that person even further away.  I'm sure you can relate!

Bark with moss on it feels timeless to me, and meaningful, but it doesn't need to be in my home.
Neither does bark that I want to knit the shape of.  I can go and visit it in the park.
I need more things to look like bark, aka, like something I can enjoy without bringing it home.

The other factor is that I love shopping.  I love finding something new to wear, or to look at on the shelf, or to refer to when I want a particular historical detail.  I love the aspirational quality of things that create a setting at our homes in which we believe we can shine the brightest.

It's inevitable if you put yourself in a position to buy things that you will be tempted, and of course, now that you can buy lots of things online, you don't even have the deterrent of not being sure it will be a good buy (you can research it) or not wanting to carry it home (they deliver.)

Finally: there is the emotional comfort of having things.  They create a soft barrier between us and the cold outdoors, a sense of a created space that is a reflection of our independent spirit, a resource just in case things go horribly wrong elsewhere in our lives.

Too many things become a blur - you can't make out the individual pieces any more.

What I found in this round of getting rid of stuff - and I got rid of a LOT last week - is that it is much, much better to be free.

The less you have, the smaller the space you can live in, the less you spend on real estate, the more liquidity you have to experience life.  Who doesn't want that?

The things you don't use every week have had their time.  Life changes. We are always moving forward, and even if you used something a lot ten years ago - if you aren't using it a lot now, it's ready for somebody else to enjoy.

The clothes you loved ten years and twenty pounds ago may fit again some day, but you won't look them same in them as you did then.  Let somebody else love and look beautiful in them.

The same goes for the home decor pieces you have long loved to look at.  If you've changed your colour scheme with new upholstery and they no longer blend with or stand out attractively from the rest, it's time to share the magic.

Cleaning is hard when you have to move a million unused things, and it takes up more of your time, which is the most precious possession of all.  Things that aren't in daily use get dusty.  If something is dusty, it's a clue you might not still need it.

Having one thing that fulfills many functions feels cleaner than having something for everything.  For example, a smartphone has the ability to replace reference books, leisure reading, a calculator, a landline phone, a stereo, a wristwatch, and more! And the only accessory it requires is a protective cover.  Which is small, so if you can't decide which colour you want, you can buy several (I bought three last time and now that the red one is chipped, I've moved on to black.)  (I did say I have a decision-making problem, right?)

Storage furniture is not your friend.  It seems like your friend, because it gives you a place to put all the things you aren't using right now and gives you a nice, clean looking space.  But if you aren't using those things right now, do you need them?  And if you put them into the storage furniture, can you even see that you have them?  Probably the storage furniture is just making it easier for you to have more than you need.

This is more pigeons than I would need in my living room.  No question.

So - if you read all this way to find out my advice on how to let go of stuff?  There's my advice.  And remember: things are just things - we aren't taking them with us, and their only purpose is to give us a positive environment today.  Too much of a good thing is definitely too much.

But this is just enough ice depth to skate on, if you had it over a slightly wider area.

Hope these insights are useful to you, whether or not you are decluttering, and I'll see you tomorrow.  Meanwhile, have a great day!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Cue the hold button music

*updated with hold button music, scroll down for the links*

Hello again!  I hope you had a marvelous weekend and that your week looks even better.  If not, please enjoy this photograph of luscious yarn.

I've had it for nearly four years now and never knit with it, but it holds promise and sometimes that's really a yarn's job, don't you find?  (It's 'Talisman' from Twisted Fiber Art, in case you're longing for some of your own.)

My weekend was less than marvelous and contained - well, not only no knitting, but not very much sitting either.  I mean I'm used to things coming up or going wrong and generally taking more time than expected, but I had two rather large things go wrong, and they are taking rather more time than imaginable.  Then in the middle of that I got some bad news about somebody I love.  This on top of the other bad news for people I love, for which I have been taking some time to offer comfort.

You know, business as usual for we crafty types.

The upshot: I did no Hugs writing, and no Hugs photography, and so today's Hugs post is this one.  Boring and whiny but the best I can offer.  There goes getting my life back in 2016 and posting every weekday!  I so enjoyed my two week run of uninterrupted daily posts, I can't tell you how much.

If I can pop back again this week I totally will, because I do have lots of pretty little things to tell you about, but if not, please forgive me and hum whatever hold button music occurs to you.

And please give yourself lots of small, happy treats and big, good thoughts because you deserve it!

* * * *

Updated with hold button music:

January 19 - Anita O'Day, Sing Sing Sing

January 20 - Bob Ross Remixed, Happy Little Clouds

January 21 - Bee Gees, Stayin' Alive (I know, I know, but just TRY not to dance in your chair.)


Friday, January 15, 2016

Seven socks for seven days

After I finished running in all the ends on the socks I knit during the packing and moving and construction frenzy I was finally able to look at them all as a group and you know what?

There are SEVEN PAIRS.  I mean that is a bonanza of new socks.  The most I've ever done is two pairs before getting around to finishing and blocking before I get them straight into use, so seven is quite a leap.

And holy crow, are the colours ever amazing.  It's like having an Attic 24 collage right in my very own home.

Fresh new socks that I probably won't even wear now, until the weather warms up again in spring, at which point I can wear new socks for an entire week.  Actually a week and a day, because there is one other pair in my drawer already that I keep reaching for and then putting back because they have been the only 'new' pair for a long long time and I wanted to keep them for a special occasion.

And all of these socks are knit longer in the foot than I used to knit, too, so they will be super comfortable than what I'd been wearing.  I don't know why I used to make my socks just a shade too short without noticing they'd be better a little longer, but once I found out (by knitting a pair for somebody else and then trying them on to make sure they were right) I did not want to go back.  In fact these socks are especially timely, given that I had to take a bunch of too-short socks out of circulation, instantly reducing my supply - but that's another story for another day.

For today: I am just so, so happy, I don't even know which I'll wear first.

Hope you have a happy weekend and I'll see you on Monday!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Knitting bags ready and waiting

Sometimes I fall in love with a product and keep buying more of it, which is crazy unless it's knitting bags from Melissa at tinyhappy.

I never get tired of looking at Melissa's work, but I have to say it was more than a little alarming to keep coming across these bags as I sorted out all the yarn for the new storage setup.  I really need to start cleaning up after a project before I start a new one... as I looked through another yarn cupboard for something else the other day I found even more tinyhappy bags, some of them superhuge favourites, just lingering with stalled project ideas stuffed inside them.  I'll have to go back to those ones and get them back into circulation soon.

Meanwhile: this is a lot of projects isn't it.  Even if I put a single sock in each one.

Six bags is three pairs of Vesper socks - more than I have needles for.  So maybe two pairs of Vesper socks and one pair of heavy mohair blend socks from Stoddart Family Farms?  Or one pair of Vespers, one pair of Stoddarts, and a matching hat and cowl?

I am so predictable with my knits, aren't I.

I have a lot of excess safety pins now too.  I love keeping those clipped onto the tag a the side of each bag, to use for marking rows, or the 40th round from the end of a sock heel gusset so it's quicker to see where I should start the toe.

One of these bags still has stitch markers pinned to the tag so I guess I used that one for a lace project or something else with repeats!  I should fill that up again with something pretty.  I haven't knit a hat in a while, after all....

I love the colours on the front of this one, don't you?  And the pretty, soft cotton a the top.  The linen is so soft and has such a nice drape after all its years of service, it's just fabulous to hold onto when it's full of yarn.  (the pointy needles are less of a comfort, heh.)

Oh, and there's this one...

... which is full of a sock I promised to have done by February, so I'd better get moving.

Hope you have a good day and I'll see you tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Green socks inside, white snow outside

We finally have snow in Toronto!  and I am finally finished the socks I started when snow was a far-off thought.

Seriously though, not to have any accumulation of snow until the second week of January is not what you expect in this city.  We are still seeing lots of tourists around our condo neighbourhood - I pass a youth hostel every day as well and often see young people there speaking all kinds of languages and demonstrating various approaches to one-bag travel - and I keep thinking, Are they disappointed?  Or maybe they are relieved, because footwear is the worst to pack and you really need a variety of options for snow and icy cold not-snow.

Fun fact: it was such a big deal when we finally got the white stuff, one of the churches near the condo played 'Let It Snow' during its afternoon bell-ringing concert.  SO CUTE.

I am often at home working during the day and it's actually quite nice to look out at snow as opposed to dirt.  This morning the evergreens outside the living room window were frosted with it.  And I so enjoy having a reason to wear my ultrawarm socks again.

These socks are more of a spring/fall option, but they are one of my favourite stripe combinations.  I had to buy it from the Vesper shop long after they were released in the club I'd joined, because my skein was lost in the mail!  It's only happened to me twice in all my years of online yarn shopping and this is the only time I was devastated.  I'm so glad I was able to get a skein in the end.

picture taken pre-snowfall!

Funny how the stripe at the ankle wasn't interrupted by a few stitches in another colour, as usually happens after I go to two needles for the sock flap.  I used to worry about things like that when I tried to wear shoes that showed off my socks - now I am grateful just to be comfortable, and to have beautiful stripes in my sock drawer to greet me in the mornings, and to touch soft wools when I am washing them and putting them away.  I am so glad I learned to knit such a practical everyday thing well enough to make it an everyday thing.

Oh I do love these socks.  But I also love checking things off my to-do list and they were on it for such a long time.  Now I'd better go and do some other things that were held up for them.

Take care and I hope you get some things done today too!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Filing the stash yarn

In a perfect world, we knitters would be content to work on one project, finish it, and only then buy the yarn for the next.

And after three or four such peaceful, patient projects, we would make something with the scraps left over.  But in the real world... well.  I mean after all, we have to do our part to support the yarn industry that feeds us, right?

I am pretty sure that most of us have more yarn than we need right now or for the next three years probably, and in my case, that is many times too much.  The house is not going to give me any more yarn storage space than I have right now - in fact, it is going to give me a good deal less.  I'm not sure even now how that's possible but it is true.  It is also true that it will be a lot easier to hit the ground running when we do get back there, if I sort out the yarn situation now.

So I did!

These three baskets are serving as a telephone table and iPhone charging station at the side of my secondary office (I am more disciplined working at my desk, but the armchair has better light and is closer to my teapot.)  For years at the old house, they stored fabrics and finished projects I was sure I'd get around to using eventually.  I dealt with those before we moved to the condo, and as we settled in, I filled them back up with yarns that fit the same category.

No more.  Those yarns are gone, and now the baskets are for go-to knitting.

The top basket is all about half-done projects I'm not working on every day, and small ones I could start and finish at any time, like pom poms or felted wool brooches.

Yep, I decided on a use for all the ends of yarns I've been keeping just in case I needed to tie a tag on a parcel - they'll become pom poms, or they'll be embroidered onto felted wool, or they'll get knitted into little keychain-friendly holders for lip balm.  Done.

The middle basket is full of kitted-up projects I can start when the current roster is done.  This one includes socks and shawls and hats, their clear bags complete with a note telling the future Me what I intend to make with the yarn inside.

The bottom basket is the largest, and it's full of the current supply of wool/mohair sock kits.  Next time I go to cast one on, that's where I'll look.

I'm not sure this basket is full enough.  I heard yesterday that Silvia has decided to go back to yarn and fiber as something to enjoy for herself, rather than as a business for the rest of us. And while I totally applaud that - somebody as talented as she is should be allowed to enjoy her own fantastic yarn - I am kind of nervous about the possibility of my own supply running out.  Hmmmm.

There is more yarn in another cupboard, of course... and a basket full of fiber for spinning as well... but I have time to deal with all of that stuff because it looks now like we won't get back into our house till the summer.

Have you ever used categories to sort out your yarn stash?  All tips welcome!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Weaving in the loose ends

I had one knitting goal for this weekend, and it was to finish that pile of Vesper socks I've been needing in circulation since October.

It says a lot about what my life has become that, day after day, I didn't have time to graft a few toes and run in the ends on simple, self-striping socks.  I hadn't even knit a contrast heel or toe to make things interesting, so there were only two ends to run in on each sock, and yet: there's been a basket full of work to do on one side of my sofa and a lonely few finished socks on the other for more weeks than I can count.

Plus, one last sock that still isn't through its toe.  What kind of knitter stops halfway through a sock toe?

The unfinished socks remind me of the unfinished aspects of the house renovation.  There are so many moving parts when you design a house, and so many differing opinions on what is best at every stage - just like all these trailing strings.

The difference is that in a sock, the trailing strings are exactly what they appear to be and you know exactly how to deal with them.  In a house, you have to learn a lot about different areas of expertise to understand and, more importantly, to question.

Thanks to my being a fast learner with the freedom to Google unfamiliar terms and product lines nonstop, some of the strings on our project have been obvious, if slow to address.  Ray is a very patient man and a good friend to stick it out while I took care of those.

Others have been a sinky quicksand, like our ever shifting HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) design.  It truly is the gift that keeps on giving.  But I am hoping to put a stop to all that today when Ray and I meet with a new HVAC professional who has the right set of floorplans.

And as with the HVAC debacle, I have to ask myself...

How the heck did I get a break in the yarn halfway down the leg of this sock?

It's like the scissors slipped or something.  Gah.

Oh, that's an ugly mending job, isn't it.  Thank goodness it won't show under a pantleg.  I don't suppose the final HVAC arrangement will be any more elegant at this point in the construction process, but it will probably be as functional.

And just having it done will let us move on to other things.  Won't that be wonderful?

Hope you had a productive weekend too and I'll see you tomorrow!