Sunday, January 30, 2011

I Need More Time

My head's been exploding lately.

This week has produced pages and pages of sketches and notes for beaded things I want to make, and as usual, I was rather too optimistic about how much I could accomplish in a single weekend. It wasn't nothing, but it wasn't a bajillion pieces either.

Remember this?
I thought it might be interesting to Add Stuff.
It's kinda interesting, but I didn't enjoy making it that much (it was tedious adding twenty-four little herringbone spikes), and I'm not all that thrilled with the way it looks. It looks messier than I'd anticipated, too organic really. I suppose I was hoping for something that looked more architected and less like random growth (even though each outgrowth is exactly the same as every other one).

As a nice counterpoint to the frustration of realising ideas, my brother sent me a picture that his hospital superintendent (who is married to someone with whom I went to primary school) sent him.
Looks like a green crepe paper wood nymph or seaweed-wearing mer-creature or something. I think I must have been about eleven or so.

The first iteration of the next idea that I tried to bead was so bad that I didn't even finish it or weave in the ends.
Instead it was deconstructed into separate components.
One set reusable, the other destined for landfill.
I love cutting things up.

Meanwhile I worked on the second iteration which is better, but the finish on the seed beads wasn't ideal for this application, and there was too little contrast (I don't think you can actually see that I've used two different seed beads) between the seed beads.
Usually I like silver-lined, especially matte silver-lined seed beads in herringbone stitch, as it emphasises the herringbone-ness very nicely. As you can see above, it makes peyote stitch look very bitty, not unified or uniform enough, but the pendant itself has most of what I wanted.

The last iteration used most of the same seed beads as the first, but in different places and in different proportions and although I think it could be better served by colour contrast rather than mostly a difference in finish, I think this is acceptable.
What you may not be able to see is that it's largely hollow with pointy peyote bits, a bit like the arches in Gothic cathedrals.

I did Something to my camera when I was in Australia, probably related to beach sand, as it makes a grinding noise every time I switch it on and the lens cover irises open and the lens extends. Also my rechargeable batteries seem to have turned into princesses, as they absolutely refuse to hold a charge for more than a couple of days.

My camera is about five or six years old and of course has been replaced by a number of newer models whose chief disadvantage is that they don't have the view-screen that folds out so that you can position yourself when using the self-timer for self-portraits; not that I use it a lot but I do use it sometimes and I hate to buy a newer-better-costlier camera that doesn't have a feature that I really like in the current one.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sometimes More Isn't Better

So you know how sometimes you have an idea, and it works out pretty well?
And then you think: what I just did to the rivoli, I can do AGAIN! And it'll be so cool! And so much better!
Yeah, it really isn't always better.

I know what my scissors will be doing seconds after hitting "Publish Post". Hasta la vista, baby.

[A couple of hours later:]
See? Much better!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Colour Chicken Soup

I wonder if there's comfort in certain colours? Goto colours that always please you and never let you down?

Like green and purple with golden-bronze accents.

The medallion is big, almost four inches across, and sits close to the base of my throat. Yes, mine. I guess I could take orders, but this one I'm keeping.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

One For You, One For Me

Before my wonderful vacation which after less than two weeks of dreary grey home seems like a vague and distant dream, I'd started beading a sample for a kit I'd planned for my Etsy shop. It didn't quite get done, and I optimistically took it (along with two other beadweaving projects and a beaded kumihimo project, not to mention two other knitting projects that didn't even get started) with me to Australia.
I managed to finish it over the weekend. Guess I should list it one of these days.

Even though I'm teaching next Tuesday and the instructions aren't quite done, and even though I just submitted projects for the months of February through May but should anyway be thinking about the next set of classes, I decided to work on something for me. I guess it could in theory be teachable.

It starts off with this long zig-zag strip which has to be twisted on itself before joining, and that's already problematic in terms of explaining it, which I think will not be teachable as the strip took about four or five hours to stitch.
That's not counting the false starts for size and colour.

It was quite straightforward to insert and attach the embellished bezelled rivoli.
It's a little floppy, though I think it'll be fine as a pendant hanging against a chest (mine, preferably), but I'm not too sure about the neck-strap.

It needs something flat. I'm a little tired of diagonal peyote, though that probably makes the most sense. The flat spiral I started looks ... not ideal. Perhaps I should try St Petersburg stitch, but that doesn't really give me anything that diagonal peyote doesn't, though it may be quicker. Or not. Or I could do some daisy stitch variant.

Nothing excites me, and sampling is so dull and annoying.

I think what's really at play here is my current knitting frustration.

Back in November I started knitting for the nieces and nephews and my cat-sitter, and so had not been able to work on the project that was languishing until about a week ago.

It's a sweater which started with set-in sleeve knitted in the round, then the underarm stitches were picked up and the side panels (about two or three inch wide strips to be positioned essentially along the side seams) were made. I picked up stitches from hem to hem along the side panel, the armhole, and down the other side of the side panel, knitted a row to make a garter stitch ridge and left them live. Both sleeve/side panel pieces.

I did a provisional cast-on for the back (or perhaps the front), and started knitting back and forth, joining to the side panels as I went.

I completed the back, and worked the front using a different yarn. This was the plan all along: the sleeves and side panels are striped, and the back and front were supposed to use two of the yarns (I had three yarns in sufficiently large amounts).

Here's the problem.

Back is lovely. The yarn is something in a light taupe superfine wool, perhaps a merino or polwarth, I don't actually remember, but it's next-to-the-skin soft and cushy.

As planned and expected, I don't have enough of that yarn for the front, so I used a creamy white slightly novelty-ish yarn comprising one ply of a wool and something blend, and two plies of two other things I can't remember. To the eyes, the yarn has a slightly boucléed texture, caused by the difference in draw-in between the plies. To the fingers, there appears to be a little angora. To the chest, it actually feels like kid mohair. Very, very soft, but definitely poky.

I can't tolerate the poky, but I could work around it (wear something underneath or repurpose it as the back where I'm less sensitive).

The yarn unfortunately yields a slightly bigger gauge than the back, so it's about half an inch wider and half an inch longer. That could work if it was the front, but a bigger back is just wrong.

Since each ply is a slightly different shade of creamy white, the knitted fabric looks a bit dingy in spots, and since the bouclé is so slight, it looks like Bad Handspun. It would probably be fine in some sort of textured stitch pattern, but as stocking stitch it just looks messy - as either the back or the front.

So I ripped the whole thing out (the white front, not the whole sweater).

The other yarn of which I have enough for a front (or a back) is slightly more lightweight - not enough that it matters in the striped area, but it'll make a smaller back/front, which would make the sweater altogether too snug and I'd need to adjust the row count but my swatching has over the years proved to be inaccurate and unreliable though I suppose I could guesstimate and fudge it, but I'd so been looking forward to Knitting Fun For Me and so suddenly it's not.


Perhaps I should start a new project.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Back in July I promised Nancy a pair of earrings to match her necklace, and I'm ashamed to say that I only got to them this week.

The thing is, the colours (each is a slightly different coppery-burgundy) are just not very Nancy-ish, so I had to make another pair.
They're more purple, more suitable (I was out of the metallic red that I really want to use. The bead store is having 50% of all seed beads. I know what I'm doing later today).

And then I was enjoying the little leaves so much that I made another pair.
I rather like them two-toned.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I Love It When This Happens

I sell beading patterns in my Etsy shop, and sometimes people buy them, and yay! Sometimes people make things from them!

As If Not

I didn't get my cat-sitter's socks finished by bedtime Sunday night, but I was able to give them to him on Tuesday, and he claimed to be happily wearing them on Wednesday (although I do not have visual confirmation), so now I cam get back to my own knitting, from which I've endured a forced abstinence for about two months, what with nieces and nephews and cat-sitters.

Well, "forced" in that I did it to myself and stuck to it and didn't cheat (except to dye and wind yarn for myself that I ended up not using after all. Yet).

Sometimes though, I get it right when I plan things.
I was convinced that if I was completely prepared, it would be perfectly fine to teach a class three days after returning from Australia, and it was, due in part to the inexplicable absence of any symptoms of jet-lag.

I've been going to bed and waking up at my normal everyday times, and feeling my normal everyday OMG-I-don't-know-how-I'll-last-the-afternoon tiredness at work (but you know, if I was beading, I'd be all zoom-zoom), while my kids are feeling the effects of hurtling across a gazillion time zones, but my instructions were finished and checked before leaving, so Tuesday was a breeze.

When I teach locally, I invariably pack a portable beading kit, though I'm not always able to actually get any beading done.
This time, the project was sufficiently straightforward that I was able to be quite productive.

This is part of a sample for the upcoming roster of classes because I wasn't entirely happy with what I'd already made.
When I got home, I completed the last beaded bead for the sample.

I believe I noted that while away, I had absolutely no desire to bead, and didn't even daydream about what I might like to bead the next time I had the opportunity, but what I didn't say out loud was that in the recesses of my brain, I wondered if this beading thing had perhaps run its course, as can happen.

It's not a stretch to say that I might get the slightest bit obsessive on occasion, and that beading has been that way for quite some time now, though perhaps it was even more intense about four years ago but who remembers that long ago and what if I'm no longer interested in beading even as I have another four-month teaching commitment?

Yeah, that's not a problem.
I was looking at some beading instructions which I thought were stupid and annoying and the next thing I knew, I had this leafy thing ready to hang on a chain. I'm still there.

And then work. Work inspires beading designs: I always come home at the end of the day with a page or two of sketches and notes, and this week has been completely normal that way.

Beading still good.

Knitting for me: good.

Weather cold: good for knitting and beading.

No longer on vacation ... yeah that was better.

It's almost as if I was never gone.

On the other hand, we have a mystery at home.

Tuesday my son had a snow day, and my daughter was also home for much of the day. When I arrived home in the evening after teaching, I noticed two pairs of workman-style boots in the kitchen; you know, those honey-coloured suede boots with laces and thick rubber soles. I assumed someone had gone sledding with friends who had dopily left their boots in my kitchen, and went to bed.

Yesterday after work they were still there.

No one had had friends over (so they said).

No one knows whose they are.

Only two people [are supposed to] have keys to my house (besides those of us who live there), and my imagination fails when trying to invent a reason as to why either of them would leave boots in the kitchen ON TUESDAY, or really any other day, and I'm pretty sure one of them couldn't have, as she's visiting her mother in California.

I put them outside my back door because my kitchen is small and they were in the way, and in the process discovered that the kitchen door was unlocked, and no one went outside that way.

What kind of person sneaks into someone's back door and leaves boots in the kitchen?

If they haven't disappeared by next garbage day, the trash collector gets them.

Still, I'd really like to know how and why they got there.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Back to the Cold

Breakfast our last day in Byron Shire saw us once again at my brother's pie shop.
This time I took pictures.

In the reflection below, you can see a bit of the view upon which he looks out when behind the counter.
The shiny stripy things are petrol/gas (depending on English dialect) pumps, in case you were wondering.

After a morning in Byron Bay, we made our way to Sydney and its Northern Beaches, where my middle brother is currently living.

Below is Barrenjoey Head, where you can walk over the dunes on the left to reach the beach on the other side of the head.
The waters are clean, clear and blue. Some beaches have gentle swells; on others we enjoyed the adrenalin rush of big waves and a bit of a rip-tide.
My sister-in-law took us on a short scenic drive one afternoon. Pristine, uncrowded beaches follow one another around the coastline, each more beautiful than the next.

I need to be living there; every time I opened my eyes, any unpleasantness would dissipate, any problem could be handled, I'd live forever. Sadly, being neither independently wealthy nor supported by someone who is, being able to afford this is somewhat problematic: a house with a view (even without a sunset view) costs many millions. At this time I'm not able to come up with the requisite funding, so that phase of my life have to wait.

We got up early the last morning so my brother could take my son wake-boarding.
The sun was barely up, ditto the local populace, so the waters right at the cove in front of the house were still and uncrowded, which meant that we didn't have to go far. All the sailing boats in the background were moored. Or is it docked? Or anchored? They weren't moving at any rate.

Our timing was perfect. As my son hauled himself back into the boat, we were surprised by a few heavy drops of rain. By the time we climbed back onto the jetty there was enough rain for a rainbow.

By the time we got back to the house, it was pouring.

After the rain cleared, I stood on the top balcony, still in my swimsuit. I think the colours attracted this lorikeet, who perched on the railing about five feet from me.
A friend came to see what was going on.
Another two friends made it a party.
If I'd had some bread and milk and honey, they'd have eaten from my hands. Very biblical in their food tastes, apparently.

We spent our last night in Sydney proper, where we met up with my oldest brother, his wife and two little girls for a Peking duck dinner (my son and I fantasize about Peking duck from visit to visit. We always go to the same place) and then for coffees.

Charlie and Ruby get steamed milk with a swirl of caramel sauce and think they're highly privileged, especially as they get to swarm all over Stuart.
Our trip home was wonderfully un-delayed and un-beset by disaster or lost luggage or weather (there was some armrest-clenching turbulence about three hours out of San Francisco though); the biggest calamity was my media centre (the thing that allows you to watch movies on demand in-flight. I love Qantas) which periodically rebooted in the middle of almost every movie I watched (four).

My strategy for jet-lag to and from the Antipodes (loosely speaking, as the American Midwest has no true antipodes) is to sleep as much as possible on the way there, and stay up until a reasonable bed-time; on the way back I get as little sleep as possible to ensure a really good night's sleep once home. It usually works quite well.

I really needed the awake time on the way home because my knitting plans for the trip didn't exactly work out.

For starters, I completely messed up the sizing on both nephews' sweaters. I've never done that before. The sleeves were too short on Darwin's black sweater with cables running from shoulder to wrist, so I had to cut the yarn on the sleeve just below the raglan join, work another cable repeat and graft closed again. (Yes, across the knit-and-purl cabled section too) One sleeve was perfect, the other slightly less so, but (a) it's black yarn after all and (b) my nephew will be too big for it very soon, though it's really quite fetching on him right now.

Julien's sweater required a whole lot more time.

The sleeves were too short, so as I'd worked them down from the armholes, I simply undid the wrist ribbing, worked some more stocking stitch and then redid the ribbing. Unfortunately the sleeves were also much too narrow, though my sweet Julien insisted he really liked them that way. Against his protests, I undid the sleeves all the way to the armhole pick-ups and redid them. The body of the sweater still barely fits him. As his mother says, it's sporty-looking. Next time I'll get her to send me the critical measurements.

All this took time away from the cashmere-and-silk socks I'd planned to make for the cat-sitter.

I've knitted with multi-stranded yarn plenty of times, but I guess this is the first time I've knitted with such fine multi-stranded yarn. Five sewing-thread-fine strands arecombined to make a rather lightweight (lighter than standard) sock yarn which has the unfortunate effect, due to its not being a single nice, fat, round strand, of slowing the knitting process considerably on account of all five barely-visible strands lying flat next to each other on the needle, reducing the likelihood of scooping up all five strands for each stitch when knitting at my usual pace.

I have been unable to knit at my usual pace.

I also felt compelled to undo an entire foot, as my usual favourite heel (short-rowed, garter stitch over two-thirds of the stitches) just didn't look as good as usual. The redone foot took two or three movies (The Social Network, Inception, Going the Distance) to make, and then there was still another sock to do.

Salt kept me awake, but there's only so much you can knit in one movie, and after that I was pretty tired and required a nap.

Despite my best efforts, the flight from San Francisco home was fairly consumed with napping as well, so I'm about half a sock short at this point.
We were convinced that our cat would be really annoyed at us for leaving her with other people and cats while we were gone, but in fact she greeted us by doing the roll-and-wiggle, and we've been having quite the love-fest this morning.

She's purred more since we picked her up than I've heard in all the time before our vacation, and is currently glued to my lap, sound asleep - none of that sleeping-with-head-up-just-in-case nonsense, she's all passed-out and dreamy-twitchy.

Neither my daughter nor I (though really I should know better) could resist all of the shiny things at the gift shop of Crystal Castle, and it turns out that I'm expected to make wearable pendants from her purchases (well, mine too actually, but they'll just go into my stash for now, rather than dogging me as unkept promises), so even though wire-work isn't my forté, I completed two out of three (she took the agate mini-geode with her to work before I had a chance to photograph it) pendants.
The kyanite crystal scares me a little, as it's very fragile. In an ideal world in which I could do everything and had every relevant piece of equipment, I'd do some electroforming to coat its entire back and seamlessly join it to a bail, strengthening the piece while detracting as little as possible from its crystalline structure.
I'm not sure what I'll end up doing, as I have neither the knowledge nor equipment for electrofoming.

Besides, the sleeping cat on my lap precludes any activities which involve losing her current bed.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Crystals and Pyramids

Tuesday morning sitting on a deck chair and knitting on the back patio, I saw a fox on the lawn on the other side of the river. It was following a chicken, in that intent tail-out-nose-forward retriever stance.

Our last full day in Byron Shire saw us first at the Crystal Castle (that's Jennica at the buddha fountain).
The grounds are gorgeous, and as you can see, rose quartz is abundant. There were also some fabulous amethyst geodes, most notably the wizard's hat. Or perhaps the witch's hat. A hat-like shape.

These shaded red-to-orange plants are something(-which-I-can't-remember)-ginger, and collect water in the scallops of the petal-like structures, from which birds sip.
To tell the truth, the landscaping is so lovely and so well-done that the crystals for the most part seem at best redundant, though I guess they're the whole point of the place.

We lunched at my brother's pie shop, Uncle Tom's, which has been in continued operation since 1933. It's on the outskirts of Mullumbimby, at the crossroads where you can turn off to Brunswick Tweeds, where we spent a few afternoon hours.
I was charmed by the public library, suitably scaled to the size of the town as evidenced by the shopping district: just one block peppered with a surprisingly interesting array of shops.

There's swimming in the river too.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Australian Pastoral

Australia does fireworks for New Year's Eve, and in Port Douglas, there's one show at eight in the evening so the kids can enjoy it too, and then one at midnight, for which we were equipped with blankets and lots of bubbly except we all were really tired and so went to bed instead.

I'm glad we had an earlier show, but the birds weren't. You know the way a flock of very tweety birds will nest in a tree, so that as you walk past while they're settling in for the night, there's a cacophony of chirrups, and you can tell that the tree houses a bustling metropolis of feathers? Well, when fireworks are nearby the birds all leave in a huff, very unimpressed.

The next day we few into Brisbane to stay with my brother who lives in the boonies of Byron Shire. First and third Sundays boast a huge market in Byron Bay, and we knew we were in the right place when we saw this:
My daughter did much of her Christmas shopping, we both bought some soaps, were earnestly sold on the antibacterial properties of camphor laurel cutting boards (I'll admit I was tempted), Jelly Bush honey (the Ozzie version of Manuka honey), hand-crafted leather, spice mixes, tie-dye, jewellery, soy candles, and other delights.

We did succumb to frozen mango-banana goodness: chunks of frozen fruit are fed into a machine (I want one!) which extrudes something the consistency of soft-serve ice cream which is pure fruit yumminess.

Because there are so many of us (my middle brother decided to send my nephews with us at the last minute), we have a large mini-van which has to be driven along hairpin bends to my brother's house. The road travels along a mountain ridge, so that the sweeping valleys present themselves alternately to the left and the right. It's lovely during the day when you can (a) see the view, and (b) see a few curves ahead, and (c) have been on the road at least once before, but was on the nerve-wracking side the first evening when we arrived and had to navigate somewhere we'd never been before.

But there's wi-fi here, and a bathroom with huge windows because there are no neighbours in sight.

My brother lives on 3.8 acres, and this is the view from his upper verandah.
See the white tree with all the y-shaped branching? If you look carefully on the lowest branch on the right, you can see a small grey lump, a koala bear, just hanging out:
Today (January 3rd local time) we spent the morning at Minyon Falls.
Upstream a bit from the waterfall we swam in the river.
It was cool and sweet and burbly. If not for restless kids and no food and the approach of lunchtime, I could have stayed there for another couple of hours.
After that, we drove to the hemp capital of Australia, Nimbin.

The countryside here is gorgeous: lush and green with rolling hills, fields and horses and cows. I suspect it's a bit too humid for sheep (they'd get wool rot), but despite the moisture-laden air (which incidentally is marvellous for my daughter's cold), temperatures are very comfortable.

There's something very primal about being in this landscape.

It occurred to me that my burning desire to bead and knit and generally make things when I'm immersed in my regular daily life may be in part an attempt to reach for the serenity imbued by all this beauty. To be sure, I'm working on a pair of cashmere-silk socks (although "working" doesn't really capture the essence of what I'm doing which is more akin to fondling while I knit) so my Need To Make Stuff is satisfied, but at the same time, I'm not buzzing with ideas for things I have to make Right Now. I think I'm getting a good dose of visual stimulation from the surroundings, as well as duh, being on vacation where every day is full of "What sounds like a fun thing to do today?" rather than "Can I find some quiet time for me?"

It's rather nice, actually.

Nimbin is full of hemp-related everything, though some of the prices are a bit jacked for the tourists. It's a tiny little place, and I think every single shop-front on the main drag (which is perhaps one city block long) is painted in psychedelic designs and colours and mentions hemp or cannabis or smells of it.

We did have excellent burgers though.