Posted in Finished object, Knitting, Life in general, Yarn stash, Year in review

2019 in review: Yarn

2019 wasn’t a terrifically productive year for finished projects, probably due to the fact I did four plays. But I did get some things made.

100_5070 (2)First thing finished was the Lochlan Cardigan in February, briefly blogged here.  I wear this cardigan a lot.  It’s really warm; I often throw a sleeveless vest over it, and away we go on weekend errands. No heavy coat needed unless the wind is really sharp.  This was my first project with zipper installation, and it was easier than I expected.  Fear of zippers will no longer restrain me!  It’s also the first time I doubled a fingering weight yarn instead of using a DK as the pattern requires.  My gauge was a little off, but math fixed that, and the fit turned out great.

100_5139 (2)After getting home from Stitches United in June, also briefly blogged in the link above, I made a swimsuit coverup from a pattern I’d had in my queue forever.  The blog entry for this project is here.  As I suspected it would, the coverup shrank in the wash, and now fits much better through the neck and shoulders. When I wash it, I tumble it until it’s damp-dry and then lay it flat and block out the length.

MicheleMeAtAvilaI took the coverup to California with me in August, completely forgetting how cold Northern California beaches are.  I wore it with my swimsuit, shorts, and a denim jacket against the chilly shore breeze.  Although we didn’t get a picture of me wearing it, the coverup actually got used in the way it was intended when the spouse and I went to Sandestin (Florida) for Labor Day.

100_5168The Cabled Yoke Cardigan, finished in July, was part of a Vogue Knit #19 in 2019 Challenge. The Vogue Knitters group on Ravelry does this challenge every year: knit the corresponding pattern number for the last two digits of the year out of any Vogue Knitting magazine.  The blog entry for this project is here.  I was still mildly unhappy with the size after wearing the cardigan several times. So the other day I ran it through the washing machine in a mesh bag on the handwash cycle, and then laid it out flat to dry.  The sweater did exactly what I thought it would do: felted just the teensiest bit, just enough to make it fit better and not be so loose and long.  Yes, I was gambling.  Yes, I got lucky.  Don’t try this at home, kiddies.  Now I need to re-sew the buttons.

Mom'sPullover1 (2)My mother’s pullover was the final project for the year.  We picked out this yarn last Thanksgiving, and I gave her the finished sweater this Thanksgiving.  I haven’t blogged about it yet, so here are the details.

Pattern: Delsea Pullover by Lisa Shroyer (click here for link to project page)

Size: 56

Yarn: Universal Yarn Deluxe Worsted Tweed Superwash, colorway 917 Steel Cut Oats, 1143 yards

Needles: Addi Turbo Circulars, US size7

Mods: None, except for giving the bottom ribbing the same number of rows as the ribbing on the sleeves.

Satisfaction with end product:  My mother loves it.  She plans on wearing it over long-sleeved tees and turtlenecks to keep her toasty warm throughout the winter.

This pattern is easy television knitting, and I would have finished it much sooner had I not gotten bored with the endless endless stockinette and taken time out to make the swimsuit coverup and cabled cardigan mentioned above.  No matter: I always intended to give it to Mom around Thanksgiving and that deadline was met.

100_5146 (2)In the acquisitions department, 2019 was a year of extreme stash enhancement.  I’ve blogged about a lot of the new pretties, but not all of them, and I’m not going to take the time now to chronicle everything I skipped writing about.  Suffice to say, between January 2019 and December 2019, I added 86 new skeins, and a total of 23,468 yards, to stash.  A few (a very few) of those skeins were gifts or prizes, but most of it was purchased. I know I’m lucky and privileged that I can afford to buy yarn of such quality and in such quantities. Believe me, I’m grateful.  And I refuse to feel guilty, but dang, I really need to get to work on reducing this stash.  It’s damn near unmanageable. Especially considering this year I used only 7,122 yards in completed projects.

So, without making any resolutions, because those are doomed to fail, I’m going to set a 2020 goal of using two skeins of yarn for every skein I might buy in the coming year.  So far I have used four skeins (I’m making a cardigan for my sister), so that means I can buy up to two new skeins.  A secondary goal is that any skein I buy will be something really special — like cashmere or silk or some other luxury fiber.  The cost of such yarn will be a secondary deterrent to willy-nilly fiber acquisition.  We’ll see how it goes.  Wish me luck!

Posted in acting, Life in general, theatre, Year in review

2019 in review: Acting

2019 was a good year for acting.  The coolest thing was taking part in a web series called “Black on Both Sides.” You can find it here.

BOBS

I’m seen briefly in Episode 2 (uncredited, but I’m the person taking notes while standing next to the CEO — played by my friend Scott Piehler — in a meeting).  I’m also seen (mostly from the back) at a party in Episode 7, and I even have one line!  Woo!  Okay, what all that means is don’t watch this show looking for me; watch it because it’s good, and my brief appearance is a bonus. 🙂  I hope to work with Alonge again in the future.

Side note: filming that party scene was an adventure. It was done on a Saturday afternoon after I had just gotten out of the hospital, having had surgery five days earlier.  Due to a reaction to the pain meds, I kept running off the set to throw up. Every twenty minutes. Between takes and trips to the loo, I laid down on the sofa and tried to nap.  God bless Shani Hawes, one of the producers, who made sure I had ice water and a clear path to the bathroom.

Stagewise, I performed in four plays in 2019.  I just realized that. Four plays.  In one year.  No wonder I’m exhausted.

VaginaMonologues2019

First up was The Vagina Monologues with Bad Seed Theatre (partnered with Out Front Theatre) in February. This was an extremely limited run, three performances, all proceeds of which went to Camp Cadi. We did really well, raising over $7000 in support of their programs.  I had the monologue “Hair.”

TVM2019Cast

It was a fabulous experience, being in a show comprised entirely of a cast of women, speaking frankly about our bodies, our lives, and our experiences.  I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

RoundHeeledWomanBanner

From TVM with its HUGE cast, I went into a play that was very nearly a one-woman show.  Staged Right cast me as the lead in their production of A Round-Heeled Woman, based on the book by Jane Juska about her sexual adventures after posting an ad for, um, companionship in the New York Review of Books.  This show starts out with Jane (that is, me) having phone sex and proceeds from there.  I went on at the beginning of Act I and never left the set — and nearly never stopped talking — until intermission; lather, rinse, repeat for Act II.  The other five actors bopped in and out of the set according to the needs of their multiple characters; and some of the scenes (and much of the dialogue) were rather explicit.

RHW30

The truth is, if I hadn’t just done The Vagina Monologues and overcome some acting inhibitions that I wasn’t aware I had, I never would have had the gumption to tackle Jane. As it was, the three-page monologues nearly killed me: I was still calling for line on the Wednesday before we opened, but come opening night, we were good. Okay, truth time: I blanked briefly in the middle of Act I on opening night, but muddled through and got myself back on track; and the rest of the performances had no blanks.  A few skipped lines, but no blanks!  I am forever grateful to director Starshine Stanfield for trusting me with this character.

When Round-Heeled closed in late May, I decided to take the summer off (except for a dance class). Come August, I was ready to go again.  Act 3 Productions cast me as Juror 9 in their production of Twelve Angry Jurors.

12angryjurors-lg

Let me tell you, after Jane’s line load in A Round-Heeled Woman, I was immensely grateful for the fewer than 50 lines my character required in Jurors.  That’s one of the bonuses of large casts and short plays — the speeches are divided among many more characters, making it a little easier on the actors.

12angryjurorsCast

And this was a fun cast, too: most of the other actors were in their 20s, far younger than me, and it was sheer joy to spend so much time with people in that age group. I don’t get that opportunity very often. As a group, they had an attitude of wryly cynical hopefulness, an outlook that will likely serve them well in the future. As far as the play went, we had decent audiences and were well-received.  I got paid, too. That’s always a bonus.

As soon as Jurors closed, I went right into rehearsal for my final play of the year, 20th Century Blues with Live Arts Theatre.  This was my third production with Live Arts, and I’m always happy to work with Becca and the gang.

20th-century-blues-FB-event-cover

Much smaller cast, much larger line load, lots of fun.  I’ll steal the synopsis from the theatre’s website: “Four women meet once a year for a ritual photo shoot, chronicling their changing (and aging) selves as they navigate love, careers, children, and the complications of history. But when these private photographs threaten to go public, relationships are tested, forcing the women to confront who they are and how they’ll deal with whatever lies ahead.”

20thCBluesScene

I played Sil, a New York real estate agent who is reluctant to have photographs showing “forty years of her gradual decline” exhibited publicly.  This was another show where the cast was primarily women — all of us playing someone very close to our own age, for once, and discussing issues we actually related to in our personal lives.  Kind of cathartic, in a lot of ways.  It was a good show that, due to its timing, didn’t get seen by too many people. Unfortunately, we were competing with all the Christmas-themed shows, like It’s A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol, that were being presented at many of the area theatres; 20th Century Blues was most definitely not a Christmas show.  But the people who did see it really liked it.  We closed the Saturday before Christmas.  (And I got paid again, hurrah!)

I don’t know what show I’m doing next.  I have a couple of auditions coming up this month; and expect more to be scheduled soon as theatres start casting their spring shows.  I doubt I’ll do four shows this year; but I didn’t plan to do that last year: it just worked out that way.  We’ll see what shows up in the audition notices.  I’ll keep you posted.

Posted in Book review, Book stash, Books, Reading, Year in review

2019 in review: Books

Last January, I set my usual annual goal of reading an average of a book a week, or 52 books in a year.  I met that goal with 67 books read or attempted.  10 of those books went into the “didn’t finish” category, so 57 books were read in full.  Some of those were reviewed, but not many. I also included the plays I read or performed, because in my life, that counts.

One of my unstated 2019 goals was to read more non-fiction.  Of the 67 books, six were non-fiction. Two of those were left unfinished: one was character research for a play, and the other was Women Rowing North by Mary Pipher. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Pipher’s book; I did, but I also felt like I was not the right age to read it yet. I got halfway through, and then turned it back in at the library. I’ll come back to it in a few years.

Of the rest of the non-fiction, two were standouts.

First, Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat is hands-down the best cookbook I’ve ever read.  The spouse and I were introduced to Ms Nosrat and her cooking through the Netflix series of the same title.  We binged all four episodes in an afternoon, and I ordered the cookbook the same day.  Ms Nosrat is utterly delightful in both the show and the book.  She thoroughly explains why and how the four elements of her title are critical to good cooking, and how they all work together to create sumptuous savories and sweets.  My cooking has definitely improved, thanks to this book.

The other knockout non-fiction title actually scared the pants off me, as its title might suggest: Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward.  Now, it’s no secret my politics lean leftward, and I have always thought Donald Trump was an asshole, dating from wayyyyy back in the 80s when he made such a splash on the gossip pages with his marriages, affairs, and failed business dealings, but I think anyone who approaches this book with an open mind and a respect for Woodward’s reporting will come away absolutely terrified that such an unqualified, incurious, hate-mongering, self-dealing, anti-intellectual, prevaricating dipshit currently holds the highest office of the land.  But it’s 2020, election year; maybe the rest of the country has learned its lesson by now. We’ll find out in November, if the Senate doesn’t remove him from office first (not holding my breath on that happening, though).

Okay, fiction-wise: I read some good stuff, but honestly, not many lingered in memory once I finished them.  Here are the few that did.

My friend Alice recommended The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss to me several years ago. This year I finally decided to act on that recommendation, and picked up the book at the library.  Wow.  In a tavern in a quasi-medieval society where magic (of course) is real, over a period of one night, or maybe two, the bartender and owner of the establishment tells a scribe the story of his life, starting with his wretched childhood and then his unlikely enrollment at the local university of magic.  Along the way, we are given some hints as to our hero’s, um heroic past, and vague references to how he wound up as a humble tavern owner in hiding.  This is the first of a series. As soon as I finished this one, I read the second book (and the series companion about a secondary character) in rapid succession, and currently await the next installment. However, I understand Mr Rothfuss is struggling with writing Book 3, and thus it is delayed.  Hopefully we won’t wait as long for Book 3 from Mr Rothfuss as we’ve been waiting for Book 6 from George R.R. Martin.

As I’m sure you and the rest of the English-speaking world know by now, The Testaments by Margaret Atwood is the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. As I waited for my turn at the top of the library waiting list for The Testaments, I re-read The Handmaid’s Tale for the first time in probably 20 years. It’s still as horrifying as when I first read it back in the 1980s.  The Testaments is equally as horrifying, albeit it a tad more hopeful.  Telling the tale from the perspective of everyone’s favorite villain, Aunt Lydia, some 15 years after Offred got into the back of a van and vanished from the narrative, we dive into the inner workings of Gilead and learn, among other things, how Aunt Lydia came to her position of power.  Things are not always as they seem in Aunt Lydia’s sphere of influence: even the Aunts play politics.  I saw the twist coming, eventually, but enjoyed it nonetheless.

David Mitchell is on his way to becoming one of my favorite authors.  I’d previously read and loved Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks, so when Slade House popped up on my radar, I grabbed it at the library at the first opportunity.  The titular residence either exists or doesn’t exist, and is inhabited or abandoned, all depending on the time of day, the year, and one’s unique personality.  Those who permitted to enter the grounds are forever altered.  A fascinating take on the haunted house trope.

My friend Jenny says Black Swan Green is her favorite David Mitchell novel.  Since I’ve yet to be disappointed in anything Mr Mitchell has turned out, I think I’ll put that one on the list for this year.

Speaking of “the list,” for 2020, I’ve again set a goal of 52 books.  This will include plays, of course, because I read a lot of them. In fact, I’m taking part in a challenge to read Shakespeare’s complete works this calendar year.  The organizer has come up with a schedule that gets us through all the plays and the poetry between January 1 and December 31.  Epic!  Twelfth Night is up first.  If you care to join in, visit The Shakespeare2020 Project and sign up.

And if you’re interested in the complete list of books read in 2019, click here.

Posted in Crochet, Finished object, Knitting, Project planning, Technique, Yarn stash, Year in review

2016 in Review: Yarn

Last January, I proclaimed 2016 as the “Year of Knitting Selfishly”.  Out of a total of seven projects completed, five were for me, so that’s a win.  On the other hand, only seven projects were completed, so that’s a blow to the Ravelry queue.

The two gift projects were for babies:  Kaysen’s Blankie for my newest grand-nephew; and Davi’s Stocking for a girlfriend’s baby.

Both were knit projects and took far longer than I expected.  The two months it took to knit that baby blanket — size approximately 24 inches by 34 inches — gave me pause to reconsider tackling a couple of other knitted blankets I have queued.  I can crochet  blankets far faster than I can knit them.  I may stick to crocheted blankets in the future, especially for babies.

The five remaining projects were for me.  I’ve blogged three of them:  Ribby Striped Cowl; Wildflower Cardigan; and the Lacy Moebius Cowl.  The two remaining projects, a shawl and a pair of socks will be blogged shortly.

2016 Technical Accomplishments

I  designed and knitted three projects: Kaysen’s Blankie, the Ribby Striped Cowl, and the Lacy Moebius Cowl.

I made my first pair of toe up socks (to be blogged).  That same pair of socks also included my first short row heel.

I made my first real colorwork project with Davi’s Stocking.  Learned a lot about intarsia by muddling through and juggling bobbins.

2016’s Stash Accomplishments

I used 3,743 yards of stash yarn.

I acquired 5,576 yards of new yarn for a net addition of 1,833 yards.

I refuse to feel guilty.  Look at this one.  Look.

Silk Traveler 1

Fingering, 70% Merino, 30% Silk

*drool*

2017 Goals

I make no plans whatsoever to avoid acquiring new yarn because that’s a silly idea doomed to failure.  In fact, I’ve already doomed it by buying four skeins in January alone.

What I plan to do is:

  • Make a baby blanket for my nephew and his wife
  • Make more socks
  • Finally tackle a Fair Isle project — probably a hat that can be knit in the round
  • Continue to knit from stash as much as possible — the baby blanket for my nephew and his wife may be the exception because I don’t have much yarn suitable for that purpose
  • Continue to knit through my library of patterns
  • Write out and publish the patterns I’ve designed

Everything else is on a wait-and-see basis.  I’m dropping weight fairly rapidly (down approximately 17 lbs since surgery), so I don’t intend to make any cardigans or other  garments until I’m much closer to my goal weight.

What are you going to make this year?

Posted in Books, Year in review

2016 in Review: Books

As the end of January approaches, it’s time to get on the ball with the wrap-up for the previous year.  Normally, I write these entries in the first week or so of January.  I plead that late December surgery as my excuse for the delay.

So.  Books.

I managed to finish 49 books this year, three short of my goal, but acceptable nonetheless.  Of those 49, three were re-reads, so 46 new-to-me books completed. Two were non-fiction, one was a collection of essays, and the rest was fiction from a variety of genres.  Like last year, the majority of the books I read came from the library or were books already in my personal collection.

Of those 46 new books, a few were standouts, and a couple that I expected to be standouts were disappointments.

25143155My chief disappointment was Gregory Maguire’s After Alice.  Maguire’s prose is clever, but the story itself was uninspired and plodding.  Click the link to read the full review on WordPress or click the book cover to go to the Goodreads site.

29440984Another disappointment — the fault for which I lay at my own feet rather than the author’s — was Neil Gaiman’s A View from the Cheap Seats.  This was the book that finally convinced me to avoid essay collections, because they just don’t work for me, and it doesn’t matter who wrote them.  Sorry, Neil.

22522808Happily, one of the standouts this year was another Neil Gaiman collection, this one of short stories.  Trigger Warning was fabulous.  Go read it.

22125258Another collection of short stories I read this year was also stellar.  Kelly Link’s Get In Trouble is filled with the kind of short stories I love: weird and off-kilter and a teensy bit disturbing.  Plus they’re exquisitely written.  I’ll be looking for more Kelly Link in the future.

21403302David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks  cemented this author’s position on my “favorites” list.  What an amazing, far-flung, rambling, glorious story of youthful passion, mistakes, and greed.

A few other books worth mentioning:  Listen, Liberal by Thomas Frank is a wake-up call for the progressive movement that’s especially relevant considering the unqualified narcissist this country somehow elected in November 2016 and who is being sworn in as POTUS as I type this blog entry.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff is an intimate look at a marriage wherein neither individual is exactly who they appear.

And finally, I Am No One by Patrick Flanery is as much a love story to the city of New York as it is the story of a man who reaches middle age and wonders how he got there.

Looking ahead to 2017, I set the same goal of 52 books, but I may reduce that number due to lifestyle changes and a few other priorities.  Or not.  We’ll see.

Happy reading!

Posted in Book review, Books, Reading, Year in review

2015 in Review: Books

Same as last year, 2015’s goal was to finish an average of a book a week: 52 weeks, 52 books.  The Goodreads shelf for 2015 shows 69 books in total.  That would be 69 books attempted, because Goodreads only counts the total put on the shelf, not the total I actually finished reading.

Analysis of that 69-book statistic reveals 15 books were abandoned very early on or in mid-read and never finished.  Most of those abandoned books were simply gawd-awful wastes of digital data space, but a couple of them were left unfinished because I stopped caring or never acquired any sympathy for the characters within.  Of the remaining 54 books, none were re-reads.  Goal accomplished.

I managed to write reviews of maybe half of those 54 finished books, which is too bad, because several books that were real standouts don’t have written reviews.  Of the standouts (below), if I wrote a review, I linked to it; otherwise, I linked to the main book page.

The Night CircusI read a number of books about magic this year.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern tells the story of two young people caught in an on-going magical competition, fueled by the ancient rivalry of their fathers. I came away from this book wishing I could visit Le Cirque des Rêves myself, if only to see the Ice Garden and the Cloud Maze.

The MagiciansLev Grossman’s Magicians series caught my attention a few months ago.  (It also caught the attention of the SyFy Network because its series based on these books debuts January 25.)  The series had been on my radar for a while but I finally picked up the first book from the library a couple of months ago. Many readers didn’t care much for Quentin Coldwater, who is somewhat of an anti-hero, and I admit he is a little hard to take. But the story itself is a fascinating twist on the The Magician Kingidea that magic exists, some people are naturally talented at using it, and those people are recruited to attend a special school. The first book, The Magicians, was good. The second book, The Magician King, was better. I’m waiting for the third book, The Magician’s Land, to become available at the library.

In keeping with a magical theme — although “magical realism” might be a better term, if such a term can be The Miniaturistapplied to a period piece —  I thoroughly enjoyed The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. Unfortunately, this was one of those books that didn’t get a review other than its 4-star rating.  From what I remember, it was beautifully written, gloomy and dark and mysterious.  I thought it was lovely.  Plus the cover art was simply stunning.

As Chimney Sweepers Come to DustAlan Bradley’s latest Flavia de Luce novel,  As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, is as delightful as all of its predecessors.  Flavia, now age 12, has been exiled (for so she sees it) from Buckshaw, her beloved if bedraggled home in rural England, to Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy, an all-girls school in Toronto, Canada, where her mother had been enrolled.  Naturally, a dead body is very nearly the first thing our intrepid heroine encounters, and Flavia is back in her default sleuthing mode, albeit in unfamiliar surroundings and absent her usual sources of information.  Pure fun.

The MartianSpeaking of pure fun, The Martian, even given its serious subject matter of a lone astronaut marooned on Mars and struggling for survival, was something I read with a big grin on my face nearly the whole way through.  Andy Weir wrote a rollicking adventure yarn filled with gee-whiz moments, and created a hero who maintains a can-do attitude if only to ward off depression and despair.  I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it’s on my list.

SevenevesOn a more serious note, several of this year’s standout novels dealt with an apocalypse and its aftermath.  The masterpiece was Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves, a spectacular hard SF novel that tells the story of mankind’s efforts to save itself when some mysterious force wipes out the moon.  Filled with all the math and science anyone could ever hope for, but still accessible for readers like me whose formal math and science education stopped with high school trig and freshman biology.  This novel ended in a way that leads me to believe a sequel may be forthcoming.  Nothing on the author’s website currently says any such thing, but one can hope, right?

The Water KnifeThe Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi addresses a different apocalypse, one fueled by climate change and inspired by the raging drought currently suffered in the western United States.  In this near future novel, cut-throat corporations feud over water rights with brutal force and no one stands in their way.  Scary as hell.

Station ElevenA more conventional end of the world sets up the events in Station Eleven, but the setting itself is unusual.  After a worldwide plague wipes out most of the population, a traveling theatre troupe roams the Great Lakes area of North America, eking out a living while practicing their art.  But then they run afoul of the leader of a religious commune, and their travels become a race for survival.  Emily St. John Mandel wrote a breathtaking piece of fiction that bounces between the events that led up to the disaster and the post-disaster consequences.  Don’t miss this one.

The Lathe of HeavenUrsula LeGuin’s The Lathe of Heaven can be seen as post-apocalyptic if one looks through the eyes of its main character, George Orr, who awakens in a new world every day — a world that changes based on the content of his dreams — and he’s the only person who remembers the old.   I don’t know why I haven’t read more LeGuin; this is only the second of her novels that I’ve picked up (the first was The Left Hand of Darkness, read in 2006).  I’m putting the rest of her novels on my library list right now.

Finally, there’s The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber, which I reviewed in the blog entry linked in the title. While the slow-moving catastrophe taking place on Earth isn’t the focus of this novel, the background tension it creates for our chief protagonist helps drive his choices.

I read so many excellent books this year that it was difficult to choose the titles to highlight.  Books deserving “honorable mention” follow, and any of them are worth reading:  Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro; The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt; The Scar by China Miéville; Life After Life by Kate Atkinson; and How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer.

In other 2015 accomplishments, all of the year’s reading material came from the library or free from Amazon.  I didn’t make a single new book purchase this year (except for a few knitting pattern books and some nutrition books recommended by my doctor: I hereby decree that those doesn’t count).   I did buy a few used books from a used bookstore while on a day trip to an unfamiliar city.  Looking ahead, 52 finished books is once more the goal for 2016, plus I’m adding the goal of writing at least a one-paragraph review of every book I finish within a day or two of finishing and posting that review here on this blog. I’d also like to keep up the pattern of reading from material already owned or acquired from the library.  We’ll see how that goes.

Posted in Crochet, Finished object, Knitting, Yarn stash, Year in review

FO Friday: 2015 in Review, Yarn Edition

So here it is, January 1, 2016, the start of a brand new year.  As is my custom, I’ll start the new year by taking a look back at the old.  And, because today is Friday, this look back will include all the FOs that haven’t been seen yet because, um, Christmas.  In fact, let’s start with that first.  You can click on each of the pics to be taken to the Ravelry project page for all yarn and pattern details.

Two of my colleagues had babies near the end of the year.  Colleague number one received a version of what has become my go-to quickie baby blanket, the Great Granny, from the sadly defunct magazine, Crochet Today.  This one was made with acrylic worsted left over from the Tunisian Terror.

Jason's Granny 2

Colleague number two received something I called the Jets Stroller Blanket, from another Crochet Today pattern.  This was also a repeat use of the pattern: I made my mother a larger version of this blanket several years ago.  Why “Jets Stroller Blanket”?  My colleague is a huge New York Jets fan; he was expecting a baby boy, so naturally said boy will become a Jets fan (unless he suffers through a major teenage rebellion phase, but that’s years away, so let’s not worry about it); therefore, the color scheme of the blanket is the Jets’ team colors.  This is made with a chunky washable wool that feels marvelous.

Aaron's Baby Blanket 3

A young friend (the woman who was the stage manager of the play I did in May) had a birthday late in the year.  She is a big Harry Potter aficionado, so I found out her Hogwarts House and made her a Gryffindor Scarf for her birthday.  This is my own pattern because I couldn’t find one I liked that I could knit fast enough (I found out about her birthday late late late).  I haven’t decided if I’ll write it up and put it on Ravelry — there are so many other Hogwarts scarves out there already.  Regardless, she loved it, and that made me happy.  The yarn is Universal’s Uptown Worsted, which is fast becoming my preferred acrylic now that Bernat Berella 4 has been discontinued.  (I borrowed my husband’s college robes and mortarboard for the picture.  You must imagine him rolling his eyes while shooting.)

Gryffindor Scarf 3

Now let’s take a look at the Christmas gifts.  I started working on gifts early in the year — and have posted blog entries about several finished projects already — but even with that head start, I had to rush rush rush to finish the projects shown here, and a couple of them didn’t get finished until the weekend AFTER Christmas.  Oops.

First up is the Saroyan Scarf, a free pattern made using Cascade 220 Superwash in a brilliant red.  I like making these crescent scarves knit from side to side.  The knitting is more manageable when done along the short edge, not to mention the ease of casting on.

Saroyan 1

Then there’s the Gansey Cap from Vogue Fall 2015, using Cascade Longwood in Navy.  The Longwood is an Aran superwash, silky soft and perfect for people who, while not allergic to wool, may have sensitive skin and get itchy with wool worn right next to their skin.  This wool is not itchy in the least.  It may become my new 100% wool hat yarn.

Gansey Watch Cap 4

The Harald Watch Cap is an Elsebeth Lavold pattern that kept my interest the whole time I worked on it.  I had to pay close attention to all those crossing cables.  Unfortunately, the photographs turned out like crap, so you can’t really see the intricate detail in the finished hat.  The yarn is from Copper Corgi Fiber Studio and is a deep chocolate brown worsted that somehow showed up as nearly burgundy when photographed.

Harald Watch Cap 6

In another photograph fail, this striped watch cap (using Ann Budd’s Basic Hat pattern) is made from the same yarn as the Jets Stroller Blanket shown above, although you’d never guess from the picture.

Striped Watch Cap 2

I learned the braided yarn technique while making the Brim Braid Hat (an Interweave Knits pattern).  I also economized a bit by using Cascade 220 Superwash left over from previous projects.

Braided Brim Cap 1

I used Cascade Longwood again, in a bright blue, for the Vermeer Hat (free pattern if you’re a Rowan member).   The pattern also includes fingerless mitts with the same cable pattern, so you can knit a matching set if you wish.

Vermeer 4

Back to the Cascade 220 Superwash for the Windsor Hat, another free pattern from Rowan — part of their 2012 Jubilee Collection to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s 60th year on the throne.

Windsor 1

Finally, I pulled out an old old finished scarf that had never been blocked and plopped it into the gift pile.  The yarn, as best as I can remember, was Plymouth Encore, and the pattern is the Forever Scarf from Interweave Knits.

Forever in Camo 1.JPG

And that’s it for the FOs.  Well, at least the FOs that can be shared.  I actually finished a project today but it hasn’t been blocked or photographed, so we’ll save it for another blog post.

Now for the rest of the year in yarn.

Projects completed in 2015: 19 total, and every single one of them a gift for someone else.  I didn’t make one single thing for myself this year.  If I have to make a New Year’s resolution, it’s that 2016 will be the year of selfish knitting.

Techniques learned:  The braided brim technique shown on one of the caps above, which involved two colors in the same row, convinced me that, yes, I can indeed handle Fair Isle.

Yarn used:  This is the reason I use Knit Meter.  The visual representation is cool, plus it’s easier to keep track in one spot, especially since it does the math for you.

Yarn purchased:   59 skeins of lusciousness, including a couple of skeins of 100% cashmere and several more skeins of cashmere blends.  A number of yarn stores within a reasonable drive of Atlanta closed their doors and put their stock on sale at a deep discount.  My friend Alice and I went hog wild.  Plus I went on a couple of trips.  I always have to buy local yarn when on a trip.  *sigh*  I don’t even want to add up the yardage acquired.  Another friend and I were discussing our stashes recently and she figures that, if I never bought another yard, and if I knit at the rate of three sweaters or seven small projects (such as scarves and socks) per year, I have sufficient yarn to last the next 40 years.  I’m in my mid 50s, so that’s enough yarn for the rest of my life.  Personally, I think I’m good for more knitting per year than that (ahem, 19 projects this year!), so let’s call it a 20-year stash.  I’m ready for the apocalypse,or retirement, at the very least.

I can’t find anyone to link to for an FO Friday round-up.  If I thought I had enough self-discipline to manage such an undertaking, I’d start one myself.  If next week is the same, I’ll investigate further.  Perhaps an automated post with a “Mr. Linky” set-up might work.

Stay tuned, please.  A project planning post is forthcoming in the next day or two, as is a post about the year in books.

Oh, yeah, and Happy New Year!

Posted in Crochet, Finished object, Knitting, Technique, Work in progress, Year in review

2014 in review: Yarn

2014 wasn’t a productive year for yarncraft. I finally figured out why this past weekend, after Jacquenetta was gone. When she became so ill, she spent so much time in my lap during the evenings that knitting and crocheting came to a virtual standstill. I couldn’t work on projects without getting her fur all over them, but I could read, so I traded yarn for books. Snuggling her for the last few months of her life was worth every moment, and be damned to lackluster productivity in the yarn arena.

Projects finished in 2014: Three.

Wanderer Scarf 2The first, finished on New Year’s Day 2014, was the Wanderer Scarf, seen here modeled by spouse. The pattern and the yarn are from Rowan. It was intended as a gift for a friend in Washington, and finally was mailed off to said individual shortly before Christmas.

Buds and Blooms 21Next was my new favorite cardigan, A Rose in Winter, finished January 31. The pattern is “Buds and Blooms” by Alana Dakos. The pattern calls for endless endless stockinette, but that only serves as a backdrop for the gorgeous details: the buds and vine pattern up the back, the flowers on the pockets, the deeply ribbed collar. I also loved the yarn I used (Chris by Schaefer, now sadly out of business), and that gorgeous pomegranate color.

Penny's Granny 2The only other finished project was a giant granny square baby blanket, made for the new grandbaby of one of my colleagues. I grabbed a variety of high quality acrylic leftovers in my stash and threw them together to come up with the color scheme for the blanket. This is the fastest, easiest baby blanket I’ve ever made, and the pattern become my go-to pattern for quickie shower gifts.

Projects started in 2014 and not yet finished: Three.

Wildflower 6The day after the Rose in Winter cardi was finished, I cast on another of Alana Dakos’ patterns, the Wildflower Cardigan, using Elsebeth Lavold’s Silky Wool in a deep caramel color. This is another cardigan with vast expanses of stockinette but exquisite little details that make those vast expanses worth the tedium. The back of the cardigan is finished; the right front has been sitting here in my craft room, waiting patiently for me to pick it up again. Soon, my darling, soon.

Tunisian Terror squaresAt Christmas 2013, Mom picked out a blanket pattern in one of my afghan books. In April 2014, she bought the yarn and shipped it to me. Thus, the Tunisian Terror was born. The thing that slows me down with this project is the boredom. Each square is the same: one color surrounded by a border of black single crochet. The pattern calls for some multi-colored squares, but I haven’t got there yet. And each square, once finished and assembled, will be cross-stitched, so there’s some excitement to be had down the road. The finished blanket has 63 squares. I’ve got roughly half of those done.

Ultra Pima cardi attemptCome summer, I decided I needed to knit a lacy cotton cardigan to wear over sleeveless dresses, which serves two purposes: warding off the air-conditioned indoor chill that is everywhere during summer in the South; and making said sleeveless dresses appropriate for the office. Yes, I know it’s old-fashioned of me, but some reptilian portion of my brain won’t quite accept that “sleeveless” is now in keeping with professional office attire. I am determined to use this turquoise-colored Cascade Ultra Pima that’s been hibernating in my stash for several years, but have had nothing but trouble in finding the right pattern. I think I’ve started three or four separate patterns with the Cascade and ripped each one of them out after getting roughly five inches into the piece. I’ll keep experimenting until something clicks.

Projects started in previous years but not finished: Nope, not telling. Let’s just say there is more than one (*cough*spouse’s socks*cough*)

New techniques learned:

  • Tunisian crochet: Learning Tunisian crochet (Tunisian simple stitch only) was easier than I thought. I will no longer shy away from Tunisian patterns, even if they call for something other than TSS, because if I can learn that stitch by reading the directions, I can learn them all!
  • Mitered squares: This technique was taught me in a class at Stitches South in April. I have yet to put the technique to use, but the instructions and my practice swatches are sitting right here in my craft room, just waiting.

Stash acquired: Um. A lot. A good sight more than I used, that’s for darn sure. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Stash used: Not very much. As noted above, I only completed three projects. I’ll never go cold sheep, because such is beyond my willpower, but this year will probably be a diminished year in stash acquisition because I’m not going to Stitches in April. It’s been moved to Nashville and the travel budget just isn’t available. So, yay for the bank account? And yay for shopping the stash!

So, here we go, 2015! New year, new crafting opportunities, new patterns to read, new AND old yarn to fondle, new techniques to learn or put into practice. It’s going to be a good one.

Posted in Book review, Books, Reading, Year in review

2014 in review: Books

I got much more reading done this year than I expected. Part of that was due, I believe, to acquiring a Kindle and being willing to take a chance on Amazon freebies, some of which were hits, others misses. It’s easy to read the Kindle on the train; that extra uninterrupted 40+ minutes of reading time each day added up to a lot of pages. 31,567 pages to be precise.

Goodreads said I read 83 books in 2014. I actually started 83 books. I finished 76. Seven books were set aside before finishing because they were just too awful to continue. (I told you some of those Amazon freebies were misses.) However, one of those set aside was The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos, so even Pulitzer Prize winners are sometimes misses for me. Anyway, out of those 76 finished, five were re-reads. So 71 new-to-me books in a single year. I call that a win.

Several of those 71 books were stand-outs.

The Many Deaths of the Firefly BrothersThe first five volumes of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire cycle consumed a goodly portion of the first quarter of 2014. I expect I’ll start re-reading them as soon as I hear of a publication date for Volume VI. I’m hoping that publication date will be later this year.

The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers by Thomas Mullen was a roller-coaster ride through the Depression with a pair of bank robbers who just won’t stay dead. This is one of those books that grabbed me first because of its enigmatic cover art but kept me intrigued by its premise and execution. I read this one on the plane during a flight to California.

Perdido Street StationPerdido Street Station by China Miéville astonished me, sickened me, disturbed me, and amazed me. I seldom give five stars to any book, but this one deserved top billing without doubt. As I said in my review, Perdido Street Station isn’t for everyone — it’s a challenge in both language and content — but I’m going to recommend it to everyone regardless. Seriously. Don’t miss it.

Max Barry’s Lexicon, which deals with a secret government entity that uses the power of words and knowledge of certain personality traits to manipulate people into particular actions, cured me of taking any more Facebook quizzes and posting them Lexiconto my wall. Barry has a gift for plot-driven stories that move forward at Warp 10 but still manage to give the reader decently-realized characters and generally plausible Night Filmstorylines. Lexicon is a fast fun popcorn novel that scared the bejabbers out of me.

I read Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl in 2013 and thought it was excellent. Based on that experience, I grabbed Night Film as soon as I found it in my library’s catalog. I was not disappointed. Night Film explores the aftermath of a suicide, the power of film, and the boundaries of obsession. It’s dark and dreamy and enigmatic and twisted and a disturbing pleasure to read.

Tell the Wolves I'm HomeTell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt introduces us to a grieving 14-year-old June Elbus after the death of her beloved uncle Finn. June’s mother, who is Finn’s sister, doesn’t seem to care much that her only brother has died, and June doesn’t know why. Then June meets Finn’s roommate, Toby, and discovers hidden aspects to her uncle’s life. This novel works on a number of levels: an exploration of society’s reaction to AIDS in 1987, a not-so-typical coming-of-age story as June realizes her uncle had an entire life that didn’t include her, and a dissection of family dynamics when one member of the family is considered an untouchable by the others. Plus it’s gorgeously written. So, yeah, if you haven’t read this one, put it on your list.

WoolFinally, I want to mention a couple of trilogies. First, the Silo Trilogy by Hugh Howey, consisting of Wool, Shift, and Dust. I’ve read a lot, and I mean a lot, of post-apocalyptic stories, and the Silo Trilogy was hands-down one of the most original explorations of that theme I’ve seen in a lifetime of reading. In the not-so-distant future, thousands of people, survivors of an unnamed apocalypse, live underground in a silo. They don’t know how long they’ve been there; they don’t know how long it will be before they’re allowed to live above ground; but in the meantime, there’s work to be done, repairs to be made, and people to feed. Discontent is brewing, though, and revolution is in the air. This trilogy, while very well done, is not without its flaws, especially in Book 3, but its overall excellence makes those flaws worth overlooking.

The Last PolicemanThe other trilogy worthy of mention is technically “pre-apocalypse”, because the world-ending event hasn’t yet happened, but it’s post-apocalypse in the sense that global societal structure has already collapsed. In The Last Policeman Trilogy by Ben H. Winters — The Last Policeman, Countdown City, and World of Trouble — a previously unknown asteroid has been verified to be on collision course with Earth, and the date of impact is approaching. Detective Hank Palace of the Concord, New Hampshire, Police Department keeps showing up for work while more and more of his colleagues and fellow citizens bail out of their jobs, their marriages, and their lives to fulfill lifelong dreams or, as is all too often the case, to kill themselves in despair. Each novel takes us closer to the impact date and deeper into Hank’s efforts to find meaning and purpose in these last months and weeks and days. He clings to his humanity, to his belief in goodness, and to his life itself, despite recognizing that everything he knows and everyone he loves is gone. Hank is a gorgeous, generous, determined character, and this trilogy, although deeply sad, is a testament to the beauty of life even in the face of extermination.

You can see the entire 2014 list on Goodreads here.

Posted in Blog Week, Crochet, Knitting, Project planning, Technique, Year in review

5KCBWDay7 — Looking Back, Looking Forward

Blog Week 2014 Banner

Blog prompt: Look back on last year’s Day Seven post. Did any of the techniques, ideas and hopes for the last 12 months that you wrote about ever make it onto the hook or needles? Did anyone cast on and complete the project researched in last year’s Day 2 post? One year from now, where do you hope your crafting will have taken you to? What new skills, projects and experiences do you hope you might have conquered or tried?


 
Last year I discussed several things:

  • Making the cardigan worn by the little girl in the movie The Fall.
  • Organizing my craft room
  • Attempting Fair Isle
  • Attempting Tunisian
  • Making sock puppets for my friend based on a photograph

Success rate? 60%. I achieved three out of the five goals. Behold the craft room:

Craft Room 1

And the Tunisian:

Mom's Tunisian 9

And those sock puppets, which got their own dating profile in this year’s Blog Week Extravaganza:

Avatars 1

For next year, I’m putting Fair Isle and The Fall Cardigan back on this list. Also, I want to finally write up and publish the pattern for a pair of fingerless mitts I designed as a gift several years ago.

San Luis Mitts

I’ve gotten multiple requests for this pattern, but have procrastinated writing it up for so long that I may have lost my initial notes on the project. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because I originally designed the mitts in a bulky yarn and have since decided a lesser-weight yarn is a better choice.

Magazine Review: Vogue Knitting, Spring/Summer 2009Blog content-wise, I’m considering a return to magazine reviews. I pared my knit and crochet magazine subscriptions down to two (from a high of seven), Rowan and Vogue Knitting. Back when I had so many subscriptions, I was trying to review each magazine as it came in. That meant upwards of 30 magazine reviews per year, which resulted in a stack of unread issues sitting next to the computer, giving me guilt. I don’t need more guilt, thank you very much, so I stopped the reviews. Vogue and Rowan only may be manageable: Rowan publishes two issues per year, and Vogue publishes five (six if you count the special crochet issue, but that’s not included in the subscription). Rowan CoverWriting timely reviews will require a certain amount of self-discipline. I’m not good with self-discipline, and I need to be, because the next step for this blog — not next year, but within the next five — is to turn it into something that generates a little income. That means content other than me running my mouth about my latest project or the last book I read. It means patterns and tutorials mainly; perhaps little stuffies, if I ever design any. I don’t expect to make excessive bank here, just enough to cover the domain fees.

And that’s quite enough ambition for my little corner of the interwebz.

As Blog Week draws to a close, I just want to say I appreciate each and every one of you who’ve dropped by during this past week. I found a few new bloggers to follow and hope at least one or two of you enjoyed my articles as much as I’ve enjoyed yours. See you around! And y’all come back now, y’hear?