Saturday, April 29, 2023

Spinning and also - spinning

This has been another big week, but more on that in a moment. Let's start with some spinning-related eye candy!

This gorgeous stuff was once roving, purchased from Twisted Fiber Art back in the day - it's the Downtown colourway. I recall knitting socks for somebody with the yarn I bought, and thinking I'd use up the remains somehow with this chunky handspun. Obviously I haven't gotten around to it yet, because I just found it in my yarn cupboard this afternoon.

Spinning was one of those things I thought I would never, ever manage to do until suddenly a used wheel came available via the owner of my favourite (sadly long-since closed) yarn store. It wasn't easy for me to learn, and I had a lot of bunchy, clunky yarn coming off it for the longest time! but I understand that's normal. Eventually I got so I could nod off while spinning. Eventually too, I got so I could spin quite fine singles, and ply them together for sport weight or even lighter yarns. I heard that once you can do that, it can be very difficult to go back to spinning for chunky yarns, as with my Downtown roving. I found that to be true and when I had to take a break from spinning, I hoped my bulky skills would come back to me.

Boy, did I ever love spinning! My favourite thing was to take the wheel to the porch in summer and sit in a comfy chair, listening to an audiobook and enjoying the breeze. Neighbours would pass the house and sometimes come up the porch steps for a visit. Bliss.

I stopped spinning while we renovated our house - I was just too swamped with organizing it all. Then when we moved back to the house and I was out of the habit, I couldn't find a place to keep my spinning wheel. It used to live just inside a closet, but weirdly, we don't have closets any more... except in the front hall, where we keep our vacuum cleaner.

In the end I planted my wheel on the landing of the stairs, where I can see it going up and down. The landing is large enough for a small chair, and it's lit naturally by a big south-facing window, so I thought I might sometimes sit there with the wheel, perch my phone on the sill to play an audiobook, and while away a noontime sunpatch.

Didn't happen. And that was so many years ago now! I try to keep it dusted, but it needs a really good cleaning. I have some vacation time coming up this week - nothing fancy, just fewer deadlines than normal - and I'm thinking I will get the wheel all cleaned up nicely so it's ready when I am.

This roving was in the cabinet today too - must be an early effort because of all the size variance. It's Twisted Fiber Art again - handspun, with some sport weight. I saw some solid grey sportweight alongside it which is putting thoughts of a woven scarf in my head. The colourway is called Big Bad Wolf.


So, like I said, this was another big week for me. I cannot quite comprehend this even now, hence the 'also - spinning' of the title, but my novel SNOWED has been longlisted in a second literary competition! This time it's the Debut Dagger Award from The Crime Writers' Association in the UK. Apparently they had hundreds of submissions this year, which makes it such an honour to appear on a longlist of only ten.

I'm starting to think this project might have legs, you know? The shortlist announcement for the Debut Dagger Award is still a couple of weeks off but I'm already so nervous hoping it makes the cut.

In entirely unrelated news, it came to my attention the other day that Jellycat makes PURSES.

We already have Toast in regular Jellycat form - he's looking at me right now in fact, from the armchair across the room - but I can't help thinking having my own Toast purse to liven up a black outfit might be kind of fun. Like great, conversation-starting costume jewellery, the like of which I don't bother wearing any more. 

That's just another kind of spin, though. I know perfectly well I would look eccentric at best with a slice of smiling toast on my hip, its legs kicking gently as I moved around at a party.

Still... a sock in progress would fit perfectly into that bag, don't you think?

Okay: I'm going to wrap up there and wish you well for another week, whatever it holds for you. See you next Saturday!

Saturday, April 22, 2023

This was a big week

I had some huge news on Thursday: my most recent mystery manuscript was shortlisted for this year's 'Best Unpublished Mystery' award from Crime Writers of Canada! I get to show off this badge now and everything:


As you know, I stepped back from knit design and frequent Hugs to do more fiction writing, and my shortlisted novel, SNOWED, is my third since this shift in focus. It's about an 80-year-old widow who has to solve a murder to hang onto her home - and fast, before the local police uncover her own sideline in blackmail. I know, she sounds so unsympathetic! But she doesn't blackmail for money. She swaps her silence for home repair, because her late husband left the house to the local historical society and they can take possession immediately if their monthly inspection reveals so much as a single peel of paint.

I had a great time with this one, playing with cozy mystery tropes and putting a fresh spin on the meddling old lady sleuth character. And it is such a vote of confidence to be a finalist for Crime Writers of Canada! It seems like everybody who ever thought they might like to write a novel, did so during the 2020 lockdowns. As a result every literary competition has been flooded with double or more the usual number of submissions the last couple of years. In that context, knowing the panel liked mine enough to put it into the top five... that's really something.

Another big thing happened this week.

This is a picture of a U Haul truck parked in front of our three-hours-distant cottage, so hidden by foliage after our long absence you can't really make out the excellent paint job Pete did right before we started construction on a new foundation and basement. The wishing well cover over the actual well shows up there though. I wrote a post a while back about yarn-bombing the bucket.

If you've been around long enough, you may recall that we bought this cottage from my much-loved aunt and uncle and had a ton of happy summers up there until we had to accept the listing sensation as we crossed the kitchen was not our imagination. The stilts it was built on were no longer doing the job, and it was time to bring in a specialist to raise it up and put a proper foundation underneath.

Given the choice between foundation and full basement, we opted for the extra living space, forgetting that it meant finding contractors to finish the new interior with walls, plumbing, all-new wiring, a heat source, a bathroom, and a stairway to the main floor - no mean feat in that pretty remote area! Plus, the foundation work started in the fall of 2019, so you can imagine how much harder it was to find a contractor to finish the job in 2020. Or 2021. Or even 2022, never mind that we were swamped then ourselves and couldn't have coordinated the work. 

So this was to to be the year we'd wrap up that job and get back to enjoying the beautiful lake at the edge of the property.

But in January, we had a letter from some neighbours asking if we'd be open to selling it to them. And after thinking it over, we realized this was the right thing to do. We love that very special place, but we're simply too far away to look after it properly: its new owners will live there full time and give it all the care and attention it deserves. Plus, they're in the area already and will have no problem getting trades in to transform it into a four-season home. 

They're just wonderful people and my biggest regret is that we won't be up there ourselves to get to know them better. 

My second-biggest regret is saying goodbye to the water!

There's still snow up there, but enough finally melted for us to get the truck in and clear out our things, almost a week after we officially closed the sale. So these photos are our last... in fact, we no longer owned it when we took them. 

I feel very fortunate to have had the wonderful news about SNOWED being shortlisted the same day we were saying our farewells. I mean, talk about great timing, getting that reminder of all the new possibilities that lie ahead of us, even as we close the door on something else.

Let's admire the lake together one last time, shall we? And then go and have a wonderful week till I see you here again next Saturday.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Hand Stitching

I love knitting and feel confident doing it, but I've long been interested in embroidery too... it can be so beautiful, don't you think? And what a wonderful way to message future generations.


Years ago I'd go a little wild in Melissa Wastney's Tiny Happy shop, buying up whatever little bags she had sewn from scraps of hand-embroidered textiles to keep or give away as special presents. They still give me enormous pleasure in my knitting. I don't always match the stitching to the knitting inside, but sometimes it works out that way, as above.

Even though I'm fascinated by needlework, I'm not good at all of it. I can't effortlessly embroider flowers or even laboriously so (same problem I have with watercolour!) Recently I was visiting French General's site and saw an upcoming, online workshop with textile artist Mandy Pattullo. Alas, it was already sold out... but Mandy's got a book out! I decided to buy it, and also a second one about women's pockets.

When I unpacked these two treasures I noticed right away an unusual feature of Textiles Transformed: the cover, front and back, is almost flocked with a textile finish. Pure luxury. 


Inside, the pages are full of gorgeous, colourful images alongside advice and instruction on how to work with textile fragments and combine them into new, quilt-effect pieces. 

I think stitching away at such tiny, complex, fascinating pieces would be a wonderful way to pass an evening or an afternoon with friends.

The Pocket, by Barbara Burman and Ariane Fennetaux, is an entirely different proposition - much more focused on social history and women's history in particular, which makes it a hugely fascinating read for me. I highly recommend the 3-minute video I linked there. There are wonderful photographs inside this book, too. I particularly loved the one on the right on this page, showing the access point curved to hug the wearer's hand as she reached inside. Such a human touch!

This photograph shows how a pocket was worn under a skirt and accessed through a slit in it. And also, how realistically dolls might be dressed. Girls learned early the value and privacy of a pocket.

I wonder what it says about our modern culture that women no longer require such large pockets worn daily - or from another perspective, no longer have the ability to wear them, amid streamlined and fitted styles. Statement bags, so easily stolen, seem like a poor substitute once you've seen how this older system worked.

For now, I'm going to carry on with my sock project... it's been very busy around here the last few months and that's the most I can take on. But I'm finding it's lovely to curl up with these new books for as long as it takes to drink a cup of tea, and escape into the past and the possible.

Hope you're having a lovely weekend - see you here next Saturday!

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Casting On

Last night Pete found one of those shows about the beautiful English countryside and we nestled into the couch for some vicarious travel. But not before I found myself autopiloting to my sock yarn drawer to set up a new pair on my beloved square needles:

My yarn choices were pretty limited. Two Halloween colourways and this one, called 'Feast', from the November 2014 Vesper Sock Club. That's a shock right there, isn't it? I'm still working through a stash from almost ten years ago! 

This stripe combo might be meant for fall, but the carrot colours, plus the bright pink, lean springtime too.

There's been some serious leaning into spring around here. Like, last week I spotted a massive sale on cake plates and felt I must have them. This week I set them up on the mantel for plants, having realized too late they are really more for display than for food.

Now the mantel looks like a retail display but at least it's a fresh take on the usual! And I do love the dot cutouts on the tall plates, not to mention the repetition. 

Repetition improves sock stripes as well, I've noticed. If you just look at the orange and brown, this sock resembles a1970s handknit afghan:

But once you get into all the colours the whole tone changes. 


And by the time I'm ready to start the heel flap, the colours will have built up into something new again. Sort of a 'more is more' situation.

And speaking of 'more is more', I think chocolate brownies are a good thing to make tonight before I go any further with the socks. This recipe for cocoa brownies by Alice Medrich from her book Bittersweet, which I stumbled across on Smitten Kitchen, can be measured out on a scale, and you don't even need to remember to warm any butter first! Spontaneous desserting with minimal spoons to wash up after: it does not get better than that.

I hope your weekend is going beautifully, with or without a new project and fresh baking! and I look forward to seeing you here again next Saturday.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Published again

I've been holding back some news for a few weeks, but now I can announce it - another of my short mysteries was accepted into an anthology! Before we talk about that, let's take a moment for some eye candy:

You may have spotted an anomaly on the right side of that run of stitches. Yes, I'm actually casting off a completed knit (if you don't count the braided drawstring I have to make next.) Two things to celebrate this week!

The new short story will be in the anthology for the 2023 Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, to be held August 30-September 3 in San Diego. All the stories had to be set in southern California, ideally in San Diego, and while I did my research I have to say: I got plenty smitten. San Diego looks so lovely and omigosh, the weather! Never too hot, never too cold, never too rainy or dry. From my little house in Toronto it looks like paradise. I'm still hoping I can attend the conference and see it in person.


The anthology looks fantastic, too. Check out that author list! I gotta admit, I got a little teary when I saw the company I'll be keeping. MURDER AT THE MARINA will come out late August and be available from bookstores and libraries as well.

August is still a dream for me, though it was warmer here today. We still have patches of snow. I haven't needed a hat but I haven't put any hats away, either. There's still hope I might find a use for my red stripey hatcowl before next fall.

It's been so long since I've had to cast off, I keep looking at the neat line of finished stitches like they're entirely new to me! I guess I really have been knitting nothing but socks. Those get a toe graft instead of a castoff, because I make them top-down.

Not to make this a weather-centric post or anything but - we've had some sun this week! And that means interesting light on the clouds and trees outside. I always get so excited when the sun reaches through our gate to paint stripes at our side door:

I don't have the same fine painting hand as the sun, but I did sit in on a fantastic art demo yesterday with Jens Huebner, who was showing how he uses Faber-Castell products for urban sketching. It was so inspiring, with all kinds of tricks for laying down colour and/or lifting it strategically. I haven't had much opportunity to do any urban sketching lately. But I do like to take a notebook and a couple of pencils outside and draw whatever happens to be going on with the birds or slow-moving squirrels or dogwalkers who've stopped to chat with a neighbour.

I'd like to do more of that and incorporate watercolour, which Jens talked about in the demo. He uses a watercolour pencilcrayon to lay down some colour, then wets it with his water brush (which he helped design!) and - eureka - rubs his finger over it to mute and blur the colour while drying the paper so he can rush to the next set of lines. In urban sketching, speed is key, but I'd never thought of this.

And... ugh. He demonstrated how to sketch out daisies in a meadow. He broke those petals down as simply as you could imagine so we could all follow along. And I still couldn't produce a recognizable flower.

What is it with me and not being able to draw or paint a plausible bloom?? I'm starting to feel cursed. I know I should be grateful I can come up with cartoony versions, but yeesh.

Here are some other flowers I didn't produce:

This little bouquet was on a card I received recently. Quilling is not something I've ever thought of doing but I think this is just beautiful don't you? And perfect for the first week of spring.

Thanks so much for popping by and reading what I've been up to this week. Hope you have a marvellous weekend and I'll see you next Saturday!