Saturday, August 30, 2008

Girls Just Wanna, Y'Know, Have Fun

And while it may not be fun for everyone, sitting down with an inspiring lampworked bead and my not inconsiderable seed bead stash, working through a couple of false starts until I finally find my groove really is fun for me.
This bead was made by Lori Lochner and although I really wanted a greener look (i.e. not quite so yellow), it turns out that size 5 triangle beads don't come in quite the right shade of green (they're either too emerald or too grey with no useful middle ground), so I went with golden, and I'm not dissatisfied, especially as the spiralling fringe beads and seed beads balance the colour actuality more than its depiction above.

For the curious and reverse engineers among those of you who stopped to read this far, this is a variation on my Nubbles design, using drop beads (I think these must be bigger than 4x6, but the tag at my local bead store didn't actually say) in a diagonal fashion.

I don't have quite enough remaining drop beads for symmetry and besides, the big mamoo already on the rope precludes same, so the other slightly-less-than-half of the necklace is more or less an open question at this point, one which I shall ponder as I (finally) paint the rest of my living room today.

Love the long weekend thing, I do.

Monday night I'm having people over for dinner, then menu for which (and this is not unusual) I somehow felt the need to constrain by a theme inspired by a favourite recipe for vichyssoise for which you see no link since it's an actual paper recipe book (most of what I make nowadays comes from, and which funnily enough, I have since rejected in favour of cold beet borscht since weather forecasts put highs close to 90 and I think a nice cold, clearish soup so much more refreshing than a rich creamy carb-laden one, not that I have anything against carbs; in fact quite the contrary: I love them quite sincerely, but we'll have enough without them this time.

On the menu: gravlax (I've always wanted to try it) with batter bread (lots of rye flour since the colour contrast will be so pretty), the aforementioned borscht, paella, some sort of salad, perhaps something antipasta-like, and Swedish liquorice pudding in phyllo-pignola cups (unless for some reason those don't work, in which case we'll have phyllo-pignola crunchy topping). Probably.

But first, the painting.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Who Learns What How

When I was a kid, there was a series of books, the publisher of which did something right, since they are branded in my mind: "Ladybird Books". They had a career series, one about what doctors do, and firemen (yes, firemen, not firefighters - this was the sixties) and teachers and nurses and engineers and receptionists and computer scientists, and even though I'm willing to bet money that the computer scientists book depicted men in white lab coats in a sterile room filled with large boxes with banks of flashing lights and reel-to-reel tapes, something must have spoken to me, because at age nine I wanted to be a computer scientist, even though realistically I had no clue what I was thinking.

As it turns out, it wasn't the worst thing I could have chosen, since some of the skills needed are pretty congruent with the way my mind works, which is also what makes me a quick study in any field in which you need simultaneously to be able to see the big picture and all sub-components and how they relate to each other and to the greater whole, and so on until you have a bead, a knit stitch, a pinch-and-pull, a switch statement. 

You also need a good sense of perturbations: if I change the way I pass through these beads, it'll make those beads lie that way, which will cause the corner to curl like this, and the other side to flatten out, and then I'll have an igloo. Or something.

You also need good navigational skills: I just did a knit two together followed by a yarn over and a purl three, which means I'm part-way through row four of an eight-row repeat and look! I made a mistake two rows down because that stitch is leaning to the left instead of to the right, but if I undo these three stitches down two rows, I can fix them this way and then continue with row four. Oh yes, good problem-solving skills too, although ultimately you can always toss or undo what's bad and start again, so perhaps problem-recognition skills is what's essential.

And oh yeah - run-on sentences. Not really, but you'd think, wouldn't you?

Which brings me to teaching beading, which has been quite wonderful these past couple of days.

I've been teaching beading for about four years now, I think, and of course I've had the full spectrum of students: those who have never threaded a beading needle to those who are off and running as you're telling the rest of the class about conditioning their thread. There are also those who pay absolutely no attention to the written and illustrated instructions, hanging onto your every word, to those who pretty much ignore you most of the time, speeding on ahead, inhaling the pages like oxygen. I used to feel slightly guilty about these over-achievers, wondering how I was giving them value, until I realised that their motivation for taking classes was often a more complex melange of personal details than simply wanting to learn a new stitch.

Two years ago, when I taught at Bead Fest Philadelphia which was that year held at a rather grody facility in Readding, I came across a whole nother type of person, which proved incredibly challenging.

I had a class of people who could not see patterns, who could not recognise a repetitive element and abstract out the commonality, and the more I'd say "See that cube bead there? See the one diagonally to its right? What bead do you think you should add to the right of that second cube bead?" the more they'd look at me as though I'd asked them for the formula for acetomenophin or perhaps even table salt or water, though that's probably unkind.

I came across a whole group of people who don't see large things in terms of the smaller things comprising them, and who don't see the way one stitch relates to the next, or how a diagonal repeat could possibly happen without fully specifying every contraction of every muscle in their hand (and seriously, while I know I can be wordy, I don't write forty-page instructions for a bracelet that requires two hours of effort), and it was humbling and trying and frustrating and although I have managed to help people understand in areas where they haven't before (as an undergraduate I tutored two girls in mathematics such that they went from failing to not only passing, but passing quite well), I'm not sure I was able to do the same for some of these people. 

I do hope they managed to finish their bracelets, but I'm willing to bet that most of them did not, and I have to say that I do not feel good about that, but it's just not realistic to write an instruction for the placement of every one of the thousand or so beads in a single project, and yes I have stopped beating myself up about that class, but I do think about it from time to time.

What I have discovered is that teaching beading to a group of knitters or weavers or spinners (who generally knit or weave or crochet their handspun yarn) who have never seen a seed bead close-up is very often easier than teaching beading to someone who has completed a couple of simple seed-beaded items from start to finish under the watchful eye of an instructor. Even though there are weaving and spinning and knitting and crochet classes, there's very little that one can actually complete in such a class, so the reality is that most of the work is done alone, without help, which means that these weavers, spinners, knitters and crocheters are good at pattern recognition and sorting and problem-solving and abstraction, and beading is just another modality.

Every person in every class I taught on Friday and Saturday was a delight, no matter their skill level. They all walked out understanding what they were doing, how they made and fixed and then avoided their mistakes, and how to continue when I'm not there. I believe that they will all be able to finish their projects (though not all of them will, which is their choice and Not My Fault) and I'm pretty sure that some of them will come up with clever variations that will make me wish I'd thought of that.

I feel successful.

I didn't have any full classes, but I had enough in each class to break even overall, and the zoo that was Meet the Teachers more than made up for the class numbers.

The best part of the Meet the Teachers reception was that I had so many people approach me and tell me how many of my kits they've bought and loved, which is always news, good news, since after a kit leaves me, I have no idea of its fate most of the time. Occasionally I get a disgruntled email, and generally after a few back-and-forths the exchange finishes with an "Oh I get it! Thanks!", but I almost never get a gruntled "Gee, this worked out well for me" note, so this was very, very gratifying.

It's a relief to know that I have repeat customers, to know that I'm doing something right, and it's very flattering to ask if I'd like to travel to teach classes at guilds or bead stores.

Now to find the time.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Oh Yes It Does Too


I mean look at it, seriously, it's HUGE. And gorgeous. And mine.

I don't have my lights or tripod and the bead is sitting on the cushion of the bed in my hotel room, so I promise you, it's much, much better in person. Deeper, less yellow, less opaque, more mysterious, swampy and otherworldly.

I'm still at Bead Fest, only just (I'm leaving in the morning), and while I'm thrilled and delighted by my few purchases, I'm staggering a little because I spent a profoundly wonderful (and no, this is not hyperbole) evening with a few people whom I barely know, and who have managed, just by being themselves, to help me on my way to somewhere I can only describe by its antithesis, a place where not only can others not be trusted, but even worse: where I can't trust my own judgement.

I know it's ridiculous, and a few raucous hours in a restaurant in a hotel in an area where going for a walk means "around the parking lot" can't possibly have significance, but I swear, they do. Nothing happened, nothing untoward (or toward, for that matter) was said but even so, something changed for me.

A few years ago I was emotionally back-handed by someone I trusted and thought I knew well, and thought knew me well, who not only treated me to an appalling betrayal of trust, but was almost clueless as to how I would view it, and honestly, what shook me the most was not so much the turn of events, but that previously I would never ever have believed it, and that I trusted so absolutely, and most frighteningly, that my trust was so absolutely misplaced and my judgement so poor.

I guess there are aspects of one's character which are not often given the opportunity to be expressed, and that new situations may activate facets which were previously dormant and unguessed at, and it's probably unreasonable to hold oneself to such high standards that one can anticipate another human's every reaction to every circumstance. After all, it's not as though we never surprise ourselves, is it?

I believe that there are people who can be trusted. I believe there are people who do take the high road and do the right thing for its own sake and dammit, I believe that some of them might even be fabulous fused glass artists, and if they aren't then someone else is, and I don't care who it is, because I own a fabulous fused glass donut, so all is right with the world.

(Some of them are seed bead artists and metal-workers, if you must know).

Friday, August 22, 2008

This Is Not Kansas

At least not as far as I can tell, not being overly familiar with Kansas.

I did some knitting on the flight to Philadelphia

but mostly I slept in the air and knitted in the airport waiting for the shuttle to take me to the hotel. The sleeping part was a great idea, since my room is too near the elevators and apparently there are guests with children small enough to run around shrieking at 6 ayem. And my neighbour in what would be the adjoining room should we each unlock our doors was really noisy around 2:30 ayem, noisy enough to wake me, though in all fairness, he did quiet down when asked to do so.

There had better be convenient coffee, better than the DIY stuff in the room.

My little jaunt did start of fabulously though, as Juno drove up from Olympus and we talked and ate and talked and had drinks and talked and had a delightful evening. Well, when you're dealing with the gods, what else could it have been?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Boxes, Little Boxes

Blogger is behaving so much better today.
I left a corner open so that you can see how it's put together.

And it looks pretty decent closed, I think.

I need to be at the airport in twelve hours and my new printer apparently inhales ink cartridges, because I just refilled it yesterday, and already it's complaining. It was a freebie when I bought the last iMac, and it's pretty nifty in that it's also a scanner and a copier and it's lightening-fast compared to my old printer and how brilliant, it uses separate cartridges for each colour, so if my printing is cyan-heavy for example, I can still use up all the yellow and magenta. 

Little did I know that no cartridge lasts more than about twenty sets of instructions and cover sheets, three pages of business cards and two pages of stickers (one of "Size 11" and one of "Triangles", twenty-four each). I hope that Office Whatever up the road opens good and early so I can print the last few cover sheets.

Although in real life I'm not much of a joiner, online I've been joining (and leaving) groups since usenet. I once spoke up on alt.abortion and was roundly flamed, but in general it's run the gamut in terms of value from Huge Waste of Eyesight to Extraordinarily Rewarding. I've met people on lists, some only once, some have become good friends (in real life, in the flesh) and overall it's enriched my life immensely.

Today on one of the few lists from which I get mail (and this list is largely content-free; it's a skimmer full of "Me Too"s and "Thank you"s with an occasional worthwhile tidbit) there was a kerfluffle when someone made a joke, liberally laced with emoticons - smiley emoticons - and someone else got all huffy and offended and then when someone else pointed out the meaning of emoticons, got huffier still and said that she'd read it without the emoticons, thank you.

Yes, this is the way of lists, but it made me think how sad it is to assume the worst of what you're reading. Unless you're on KnitFlame or BeadHell, one is in general not writing to piss people off. It's a pathetic indictment of someone's world view that rather than stop to think about what they think they read, they'd prefer to infer dire insults and base intentions. 

It's one thing to be cynical, but quite another to paint everyone with the brush with which you tar yourself.

Frankly, I prefer to think better of people.

And before you ask (as I segue ungracefully into something totally unrelated), yes I am getting ready for Bead Fest: I'm making a class sample!

Monday, August 18, 2008

I Know You're There

It's not that I don't care, really I do, but you're so undemanding that when the whining starts, and it's not you, you get neglected. I'm so sorry.

The main focus of my attention (apart from the headache) has been getting ready for Bead Fest Philadelphia. I'm teaching four classes, and while none of them are even close to full, two have a respectable number of sign-ups and hey, the other two aren't empty, and I won't be teaching one-on-one, which is in general not my favourite thing. I might be breaking even.

Packing is interesting, especially the clothes-to-beads ratio.
Notice the squinkle of fabric bottom left? That's most of the clothes. The checked-in suitcase will have two boxes of instructions and kits (to be made up into kits for sale) and the carry-on will have all the kits and instructions for my classes. If they lose my luggage, at least I'll still be able to teach, even though I'll have no toiletries or a change of clothes. 

Notice the space in the red carry-on? That's for my knitting - what, you thought I'd forgotten to plan for knitting? Are you simple? I will only be bringing the one project though. I think I'm safe, since I've only just started the sweater: I'm perhaps three hours in and even though I'm the ultimate vacation knitting optimist, I don't think I'll run out of knitting. Besides, I'll have beading in a pinch (travel beading doesn't take up much space).

For months now, actually years, but intensely only for months, I've been trying to figure out selling kits at bead shows, and finally, as time gets squished, I figured it out.

Here's the problem: I package my kits in 6x9 zipper bags, and even though an eight-foot table seems rather large, after one layer of 6x9 bags, they start sliding off, and even when they don't, it's a big mess.

When I taught in 2006, I went to the Dollar Store and bought a whole lot of plastic crates, small cubes, each big enough for perhaps ten 6x9s. It worked out ok, except that the plastic was cheap and they cracked and broke and took up way too much space in the suitcase.

In Miami this past April, I found wire-framed clear vinyl baskets, but the size wasn't quite right, and they sort of collapsed, so I threw them away after five minutes.

About a month ago I came up with an elaborate design that I would build myself for a collapsible rotating display and I even bought the wood, pegboard, hooks and lazy susan hardware, but procrastinated since I don't have a power saw and hand-sawing sucks the big one. I realized that I'd have to pull finger if I wanted to get them done, and so, in a last-ditch attempt to save myself from sawing planks, I Googled "collapsible fabric boxes", hoping to just buy the stupid things, but it was even better: I found instructions. 

Decent instructions, hopelessly pathetic review comments to the contrary, but not an efficient design. I made alterations and made the prototype, found it good but lacking, bought velcro and now I have two excellent collapsible fabric boxes in my suitcase (see the turquoise-ish things on the extreme left?) which work very well holding kits such that they don't fall out or slip sideways, and are easy to flick through. I also have a serviceable extra (without velcro).

Here's the scoop:

I used stiff upholstery fabric and some stiffish cotton twill for the lining, with plastic canvas for stiffening. It's not as stiff as cardboard, but if it gets bent, it doesn't crease.

You naturally need the height, width and depth of your box. Draw two sets of parallel lines, one pair separated by the width measurement, the other separated by the depth measurement, like a double ninety-degree "X". The intersection rectangle is the size of the bottom of the box, and each line extends the height of the box. It looks like a big fat cross. 

If you want to use velcro, then in a chiral fashion, add an extension about three quarters of an inch deep, extending to about an inch from the intersection of the adjacent arms.  

Add seam allowances, and cut two. Place them right sides together and sew all seams but one. Trim corners and turn inside-out.

Place plastic canvas in the four arms of the cross, avoiding the tabs. This support is for the sides. Stitch around the base of the box, trapping the plastic canvas pieces. Close up the final seam.

In a very methodical manner, add velcro to the outside of the tabs, and to the corresponding inside of the non-tab edges. Sew them, even if all you could find is the stick-on type. Seriously, you don't want the velcro to rip right off the fabric.

Blogger's being fussy, so no pictures, but I assure you, they are most excellent and take under an hour to make. I could be the box maven, but I don't love sewing all that much. Interestingly enough, even though I used to do fun sewing (at one point I was making about ninety percent of my clothes), the sewing I do now is nasty: Roman shades, boxes, duvet covers, fitted sofa covers, futon covers - though the worst thing about sewing futon covers is getting them ON.

Still, boxes. Collapsible, light, no sawing. 

Monday, August 4, 2008

Cold Shoulder

You know how on facebook and myspace people manage to take perfectly nice pictures of themselves while holding onto the camera, rather than using the timer? Well I can't do that, except for my shoulder, as it turns out.
The reason I wanted to is that I just finished this top, watching The Graduate with my son, who just had a small surgery this morning and who may not utter one sound for ten whole days so that his vocal cords are able to heal. This is problematic for anyone, particularly a very talky almost-sixteen-year-old.

We were in and out of the Advanced Ambulatory Care Centre within two hours; on the one hand I'm delighted that the surgery and recovery were so quick; on the other hand I didn't get to two of my knitting projects or my beading project or anything. Being over-projected is I guess par for the course; it's not as though I've ever brought along too much travel knitting or anything. Even slightly.

I've been busy busy busy figuring out what I can teach in the fall at my local bead store. There's a cuff:
Which I believe could be reworked as a necklace too, and if Bead Fest and those preparations weren't also vying for my time, I'd be on it right now.

Instead, I've been finishing kit samples to take along to Bead Fest.

I can make two to three of the little snippets while listening to Fresh Air online, so it took awhile to get it done. I like this necklace, as it's substantial but airy. You get a lot of colour for not much weight at all.

My brilliant son has figured out how to talk to me when I'm at work (he has no voice for ten days, not even a whisper, especially not even a whisper). On our Mac, you can get TextEdit to speak the words in the current window, so all he has to do is to call me and hold his phone up to the speaker. Brilliant. I was thinking I'd have to set up some sort of chat so that he could get me any time, or check my email even more often than I do (my home email; I never use work email for anything but work), but we can talk on the phone, sort of.

I have to say, I love technology.