Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Beating your smartphone addiction with socks

A shocking thing happened here recently, and it wasn't the fact that I finally finished the socks I was knitting myself for Christmas:

Nope.  Here's what is stranger than that: I was reading a magazine article and, glancing at an accompanying photograph that was a bit too small to make out properly, I reached out with my thumb and forefinger and attempted to enlarge it.  ON PAPER.

All joking aside, that scares me, and in spite of trying to be mindful of the format I am using when reading, it's happened twice more.  I can't pretend now that my brain hasn't been rewired to think that I can alter print reality with a touch.  Because it has.

Digression for boring science stuff:

The scary things you read about smartphones are much more scary than that, but they come down to the same thing - our brains are being rewired by the screens we use.  Teenagers whose brains are still developing, and who use social media, are getting a rush from Likes, and it's affecting their moods and the choices they make about what to post online.  Well, I can relate to that, because even at Ravelry or on my humble blog here, a friendly comment or a heart gives you a nice feeling, not unlike getting a piece of physical mail from an actual person in the mailbox attached to your street address.  It's not compelling enough to make me push myself beyond my abilities to post constantly (obviously!  I am so dropping the ball on my plan to post every weekday again.)  But I can absolutely attest to the power of it.

Becoming hooked on the rush you get from likes, and dreading the negative feelings you get from the reverse, means you are staring at a screen for a long time every day, and apart from anything else, that can't be good for a person's eyes.  It's also different from the neurological benefits of human touch and face to face socializing.

And obviously: if you're reading this, you already know all that because you're crafty!  Even if you use Facebook and Instagram, you probably knit in a group once in a while, and you're touching fiber and fabrics.  Like me you probably feel pretty safe from the changes smartphones are creating in our fellow humans, assuming you have a smartphone (and I have lots of friends who don't, so I make no assumptions here.)

But think about it.  I swore off Facebook years ago and never got around to making an Instagram account, and can't even be bothered with Twitter because what do I have to say that's so interesting, and also brief? and yet: I am still trying to make a photograph bigger while reading print media.

And now, back to the practical:

Pete gave me a Smartphone just before we started our home renovation project, and I learned to use it constantly because there was so much happening that needed to be dealt with immediately.  It was such a help to be able to search online, take photographs, send photographs, text, and whip off an email.

Then I discovered the fun things:

Reading books on a Kindle, even on my tiny phone, meant I could knit at the same time!

Subscriptions to the digital editions of The Washington Post and The New York Times mean I get to read well-written nonfiction all day long.  And access fabulous recipes too (thank you New York Times, especially for the lemon linguine.)

On the subway, I get to choose between knitting, reading on my Kindle app, or playing spider solitaire.

I can effortlessly check the weather forecast for outside my door, at my cottage, and where all my far-flung friends live.

I can play music and audiobooks, saving shelf space for our stereo system which we haven't even unpacked yet.  In fact I think it might still be in storage and will probably stay there, at this rate.

Watching a movie, I can look up online the name of the actor who I totally recognize but can't quite place.

Now that I can store my patterns as .pdfs on it, I don't need to print or carry paper.

When traveling, I don't need to pack a map.  Or a guidebook.

and so on.  It all adds up, and so does my pile of New Yorkers, which I used to devour along with every meal at my table.  (we are probably the only family I know who always eats together but saves all the chats for every minute we are away from it.  Mealtime is reading time!)

Can you imagine how many more things I'd use it for, if I did social media??

Since we've been back in our house and the last of the renovations have paused till the weather warms up again, I have been struggling to get back into my routines - posting here regularly, photographing finished knits and posting them to Ravelry, sewing the drapes I still need to hang - and over the weekend it hit me:

it's my smartphone. 

I am on that thing so much, my hands and eyes and mind are never free for anything else. 

So now, I'm trying to separate myself from my darling device.  It's not just a question of plugging it in to charge in a different room from where I am, though that does seem to help.  I am trying to allocate more time for watercolour painting.  More time out walking (but not texting at every stop light.)  More time cooking from a recipe I wrote out by hand on a card - I have enough pens I love to write with, after all. More time with my first love, sitting on the sofa and knitting while watching some fabulous old movie.

And more time for writing fiction, which this post is keeping me from doing, so I'll end here.  Except to ask:

Do you think you're on a smart device too much?  And if so, what do you do to stay off it?

(also: the socks are mostly hand-dyed, fingering weight alpaca.  CRAZY supersoft.  the blue stripes are a DK weight superwash wool I thought looked nice with it.  isn't it great to figure out ways to combine totally different weights of yarn without throwing off the fit?)

Friday, February 16, 2018

Hand sewing as relaxation technique

Let's pretend for a few minutes that the project I'm showing you today was always only meant as a relaxation aid and never, ever intended to be a cute raccoon, shall we? 

UGH.  Okay, it is true that three years ago I started making a pair of cute felted-wool animals, before I got overwhelmed with packing us to get moved out of the house so we could renovate it.  Funnily enough, the kids for whom they were intended are now teenagers with no use for such things, but I still wanted to finish the job.  I am compulsive like that.

Apparently I was also compulsive about not wanting to move all the stuff that's piled up in front of my sewing machine.  You'd never know I designed the leisure parts of our house specifically to make room for a dedicated sewing table!  Sadly, that plan relied entirely on my finding a desk surface that would exactly fill the space I had, with sewing gear storage underneath.  The desk I ended up with is a little short, and it seemed less stressful to hand sew the parts than to move everything around to get at the machine and then back again to make space for the machine on my desk. 

This was foolish because it took two days to make Frederick by hand, and also smart, because I was super stressed when I started him and hand sewing is SO PEACEFUL.

It's like spinning at a treadle wheel, without the risk of ankle strain.  Even if you are a crummy hand sewer (Mary's arm shoots into the air) it is still a great way to relax.

Notice I refer only to the sewing, not the success of the project.  Because when you sit down to make a stuffed animal and start with a pair of scissors and some felted wool scraps and no pattern except a vague idea in your head, then wait three years to execute it at which point you've forgotten most of what plan there was, 'success' (in the form of an attractive, recognizable animal) is far from guaranteed.

For a start, you might consider the lack of coherent fabric selection.

I had forgotten even to cut out a tail for the raccoon, and all I had left in the felted wool department was the purple and blue sweater sleeve parts I'd used to keep my arms warm under my poncho after I broke my fingers last winter. This does not look remotely like raccoon parts to me.

Also: as the stitching went on, I realized that long, long body with a pot belly I hoped would make for an extra squishy hug was WAY too big for the head I'd cut out and pieced together and carefully embroidered a face onto. 

Another fun fact is that it takes a lot of stuffing to fill an animal.  This, I had.  But I kept jamming in more and more (a crochet hook is an excellent tool for this purpose, especially if you overdid it and need to pull some of the stuffing back through a narrow channel to spread it out a bit) and it still wasn't enough.

And the trouble with that is: stability.  Or lack thereof. 

I got poor Fred all the way done when I realized his head didn't stand up.  At all.  I tried a few positions and had high hopes for 'one hand on cheek, other hand on opposite elbow', but the only solution was 'two hands on cheeks in a perpetual state of surprise and amazement.'

Well, at least he's soft - and surprisingly cuddly!  Still relaxing, even after all the sewing is done.

I'm hoping not to need to recover from another busy two weeks like I did when I was making Fred, but I still need to sew the wombat, so I guess I'll be well equipped if it comes to that.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend with all your crafty projects done for pleasure only, and I'll see you again on Monday!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Socks and a porch

I was looking at a pair of mohair socks the other day - that's my go-to fiber for cold winter days like we're having right now in Toronto - and thinking, MAN these stitches are beautiful.

Somehow, after the socks are knit I just wear them and don't think so much about the work I put into them.  The making is a journey and then I go on another journey with something else, and it's a shame because some of the yarns I use are really exceptional.  And hardwearing! which is lucky because in the case of this particular yarn, there ain't no more to be had but what's stashed.

I love the browns and golds in this colourway and the hits of denim blue that brighten the whole, don't you?

In fact I decorated our house in these colours, now that I think of it, with the addition of red and off-white.  I might possibly have been thinking of these socks, which are my favourites, when I came up with the idea to go heavy on the brown and blue.

Of course when socks are new around here, tradition dictates that they have get photographed on the porch.  Without said porch I kinda gave up on photographing them at all because the light at the condo was just not that appealing. 

I've been eyeing the porch, which is currently piled with the railings we didn't get installed when the weather was good and which we've all now agreed is too fake-looking and unsteady to get installed at all (ouch, since those materials are not returnable.)  It's not entirely the same as it was; instead of a glossy paint on wider planks, it's now a flat stain on narrow planks.  No more fitting the whole width of my foot on one plank with no breaks, I guess.  But the new floor still looks okay and the wood won't peel or curl any more which is a plus.

That's one of the chairs from the vintage seating set I bought in the fall.  The plan was to use them in the back yard on our soon-to-be deck, which will be best described as 'petite' (and will, with luck, get wide planks.)  But now that they're sitting on the porch for the winter I'm feeling like maybe they belong there permanently.  Certainly the colour looks pretty natural with the floor.  Of course: cushions.  The ones the set came with are brown and don't go with anything, and they are also not at all cushiony, so I get to choose between adding some squish and recovering, or just giving up and starting over.  But what colour should I choose?

(that's kind of a rhetorical question but if you have an idea of what would look great on a black and white house with a grey porch and rust coloured brick I would be very glad to hear about it. otherwise I will feel it's necessary to put them in the back where the brown cushions will blend with the plentiful supply of brown tree bark.)

I love this set... and I especially love that it doesn't weigh as much as the wooden chairs we used to haul up onto the porch every winter. 

But I will love it even more when the porch is completely finished and the cushions are on and I can just sit down at will and photograph socks.  I miss that so much.  I even miss embarrassing myself taking pictures of my feet on the porch steps on a Sunday, as the neighbours stroll by!

(maybe it's a good thing I haven't finished many socks lately, so I am not losing opportunities to do that when the porch is finally done?)

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

I have been unavoidably detained

Well I was pretty proud of myself for finishing up enough house renovation to go back to writing weekday Hugs and then BOOM!  Had to skip a week and a half.

Every time I take the train to see my aunt, I take pictures out the window of the bit of the route that overlooks Lake Ontario.  Then I e-mail them to my cousin (another niece) who lives in England now.  She loved that train ride and I love feeling like she's traveling with me for the visit.  She has been particularly impressed with the current batch of images, taken over the last several days of back and forth. I must confess I am too, so I thought I might force them on you guys.  It's not like I have any knitting to show you!

As you can see, the trips have been undertaken in crummy cold winter weather more comfortably spent at home under a blanket staring at the television. But: needs must, and now that the immediate needs have been addressed I can sit at my cosy desk admiring the shots I took.

It's kinda laughable to me, how much my cousin and I like these photographs.  My sole contribution is literally holding the phone up as straight as I can as I snap away, hoping to get a few images where the lights inside the train aren't superimposed on the images outside and stuff isn't too blurry.  A lot of them end up with small random light spots in the fringes... I see one in the picture above these lines, and another in the bottom left of the foresty bit below.

But somehow, quite a lot of them come out SO beautifully!  I kept about 63 of them... and I would show them all to you if I had more time to upload them so you can be grateful I don't.  I'm not sure why I'm so smitten, though I do think the colours are kind of amazing.  And the starkness of the trees against the clouded blue-grey skies... well, I love trees and clouds, so no surprise I love those shots. 

I was particularly excited to get this picture.  We were a few minutes out of Union Station and I glanced out the window, thought WHOA! The miracle is that I managed to dig out my phone, get the camera on, and catch the smokestack smoke almost at the centre of the image. 

I'm hanging onto these images in a special folder and when things are totally settled down again - there is more to do though thankfully, the immediate situation is resolved - I am totally gonna be trying to watercolour paint some of them.  Maybe not this busy industrial one though because that would be a ton of work.  But a nice tree scene... that'd be a very relaxing winter activity, don't you think?

Hope you've had a good week and a half and hopefully I'll be back to our regular meetups on Monday!