Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hurricane Sweater

I tell ya, this hurricane thing has been pretty crazy. Having grown up in California, I had no idea what to expect. On Monday--the day the fun was due to begin--I sat at the dog park giving Camper a pre-storm run as another friendly dog owner explained to me how in Florida, coconuts can literally fly off the trees and kill you during a hurricane! He advised me to get some nonperishable goods and stay inside. While we don't have coconuts here in Brooklyn, I decided we should listen to him.

The day went like this: rainy rainy rainy, wiiiindy, rainy. Then really fucking windy! Camper and I stood at the back door and watched our puny little fruit trees flop in the wind. (In fact, below is a really boring video I took of the yard which is only good for the very end when Camper growls at the wind.)
For the rest of the day, I ate all of the nonperishable food first, like I wasn't supposed to, and only on day three of not being able to go back to work have I started in on the lettuce and fruit. Our power stayed on. Our internet worked. My phone stopped being able to make or receive calls (much to my mother's dismay). I feverishly searched the internet for updates on what the hell was happening out there in Manhattan and beyond. I let Camper out now and then and was a thrilled to feel the wind pushing up against the glass door (you really had to put your shoulder into it if a big gust was blowing). Four stacked lawn chairs blew across our yard, and our big green party bucket (you know, the things you fill with ice and put your beers in) got crushed. RIP party bucket.

We fared pretty well. Others we know did not (and seeing as a lot of people still don't have power and lost absolutely irreplaceable belongings, they're still not doing well...and my heart goes out to them and my shower is open to them).

But if there was one bit of good news this week, it's that I made some major progress on Robb's sweater. That's right, it turns out that hurricanes provide the perfect conditions for marathon knitting. When I wasn't shoveling my face with cheese-laden snack foods, I was working row after row of Stockinette. What I'm holding in the photo above is not, in fact, knitted long johns, but the completed front and back of a cardigan!
(So you can understand it better, I have tried it on for you as it will eventually be worn. And from the back. Note that it will have arms and will not look like a hippie cape, as it does here.)
We're still a long way off from being done, but finishing the back put the wind in my sails. As many of you know, it's been nearly two years since I started this sweater--and I'm still not convinced that it will fit Robb, nor am I convinced it will look good on him--but progress is progress. The sweater is currently being blocked on my kitchen floor, pinned down to a bath towel, and when Robb gets home from work, it's try-on time! And then possible sewing up the sides time! And then picking up stitches for the arms time! It feels like a miracle.

In other news of astonishing amazement, I finished the first draft of the story I have been working on, and I'm sure I will have lots more to say on that topic soon. For now, I am basking in the unique glory that comes with saying you're going to do things and then doing them. Now, both the story and the sweater have a lot more work ahead of them (I guess you could say the story needs to be sewed up and have some arms added to it, too). But phase one? Complete!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Jess's Future Stylish Child

So you know how in my last blog post I went on and on about how focused I am right now? How I'm not really crafting all that much? How I'm only working on Robb's sweater and the writing of an epic story? Well, it turns out I'm having trouble keeping that focus. This is hardly a surprise.

Last night as Robb and I watched the debates, I knit his sweater furiously (literally...these debates make me tense!), working row after row of knit and then purl, knit and then purl, trying my hardest not to watch the expressions on the candidates' faces (I hate watching men smirk). After an hour of knitting, I threw the cardigan over Robb's shoulders to see how much further I have to go in the back. Five more inches, including the ribbing. It's getting there folks, it really is! I'm in the zone now. However, I'm a wee bit worried that my gauge was off and we're discussing our options (there might be some panels added to the sides, beneath the underarms--a knitting maneuver that scares me. What will that do to the armholes? What do I look like, a surgeon?) At one point I declared how great I'M going to look in this sweater once it's done, so the confidence level is clearly shaky. We shall see, folks, we shall see...

In the meantime, I keep finding things that I want to knit (but can't yet) for my dear friend Jess's future stylish child. Jess is incredibly fashionable, and she's having a girl, so it only follows suit that this girl will be fashionable. (Though I'm sure that's what they all said about Chastity Bono when she was born, and that apple fell pretty far from Cher's fashion tree...which is probably a good thing.) Well, we'll have a few years of dressing Jess's little girl up before she starts forming opinions. But I MUST finish Robb's sweater before I cast on another. Really, it's imperative.

In the meantime, I'm dreaming of this little potato sack sweater. I found the inspiration on Pinterest and followed the link to this fabulous Finnish blog. I have no idea what she's saying--or if there are actual instructions on how to knit the sweater--but it's so simple, so straightforward, so timeless, I really think I could make it up. (Famous last words, I know.) I mean, it's all garter stitch! And it's chunky as all get out, which means speedy results! And it's for a baby, so no shaping! Plus that little color-blocked tummy just kills me. I think I'd avoid the hood as that just seems like I'd be asking for trouble (especially since I'm talking about making up my own pattern).

After I sketched out the potato sack above, I started thinking I might prefer an A-line sweater for this little girl. I do suspect, after all, that she's going to be very girly. Though for a baby sweater, the lines might get lost (she's not gonna do a whole lot of strolling for a while, right?). So maybe the A-line comes for her first or second birthday. I picture it with goloshes. Don't you think? So I guess I really am saving this one for a rainy day...

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Writing Stories

I haven't been doing much crafting lately. It's true! And it's a rather strange thing for me not to give into every creative whim. (I usually begin each weekend by making a list of things I would like to make, practical or not, and making them just because they sound like fun at that very moment.)

Instead, I am using this lovely cool autumn to focus my efforts. I am reading a lot. I am going to finish Robb's sweater if it kills me. And, most importantly, I have been learning how to write again.

I have been reacquainting myself with that odd mix of anticipation and frustration that comes with yearning to sit down and write a story--knowing without a doubt that you have something to say--and then just as your fingertips are about to touch the keyboard, not being sure that you will say it correctly.

I will be in the midst of writing dialogue and think, no no no, this is all wrong. This character would never say it this way. And then I keep going, just doing it wrong.

I have spent too many hours on 500 words, rewriting, rephrasing, cutting, adding.

I have had moments of elation, where I strike clear down to the bone of what happened. And I have had moments where I am sick to my stomach, calling up my own stories--the ones I don't like to tell--and integrating them into the plot line. Sometimes your own stories are the most important ones to tell; to put them into a story is a way of extracting them from yourself. After all, if left to their own devices, these stories will knock against the walls of your stomach in endless circles.

There have been lots of treats. A tall canister of whipped cream sits in the fridge and occasionally gets shook up and applied to the top of extra fancy homemade iced coffee. There have been bowls of salty popcorn and cool slices of cheese that I eat before bed. There might be a sundae in my future tonight. These are my rewards for having sat down and continued the story.

I'm not sure yet if I'm writing a story or a novel. All I know is that it ends with knitted bikinis, and I feel relieved to know the ending. Aren't you intrigued? Me too.

I heard something recently that was said by Deepak Chopra in the back of a van while he was being interviewed by Rainn Wilson (it's really worth a watch if you have a few minutes). He referred to the creative process as "divine discontent." This is how we feel when we aren't sure how the story is going to tell itself, when it's not yet clear how we are going to create what is in our mind's eye. His theory is that this is when we are at our happiest. When we are making art that only we can make, and when we are solving the riddles that are involved in making it.

I adore this theory. I really do.

Which is why tonight I tried to write a scene with an old man and a young woman, and when I discovered that they didn't know what to say to each other, I didn't panic. I just haven't worked it out yet. Who they are to each other, how it would feel to be in their shoes. It will probably come to me while I'm walking, and I'll need to duck onto a stoop and jot down a note. It will be something mysterious that will only barely make sense to me later, like "Egg McMuffin!" or "His wife is dead!" (And yes, these notes usually have exclamation points, because when you figure out why your character is where he is and is behaving in that particular way, it really is quite exciting.)

It's all exciting. Every bit of it. Even the never-ending sweater I'm knitting which I will the rare moments when I'm not stuffing my face with reward cheese.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Textile Porn

Some weeks have a theme. The theme might be something as trite as "I watched a lot of Friday Night Lights" or "I drank a lot of Syrah." Some weeks I eat almost exclusively Mexican food. Some weeks I play an inconceivable amount of solitaire on my phone. This week, however, the theme has been textiles. Which photographs much better, I must say, than Mexican food or video games.

I have Lena Corwin to thank for this week's theme. We have been shooting the how-to photos for her second book (her first book was the incredibly gorgeous Printing By Hand), and for this book, Lena and her team have camped out at the Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn--a wonderland for weavers, dyers, and screen printers. If it has to do with fabric, they teach classes on how to make it there. The works in progress on the looms scattered about the studio are swoon-worthy.
Also swoon-worthy are the textiles that will appear in the book. Like this screen-printed linen Lena designed. Just look at those crisp lines and that saturated dye!
And these woven place mats, with a solid fabric weft and sweet floral warp.
Even the wash rags at the Textile Arts Center are gorgeous, having mopped up countless ink spills in lovely shades of everything.
Back in my own home, I've had a few less exotic textile moments. Like this vintage dress I recently tried to alter. Check out those horrifying stitches around the armhole, made by the excellent teamwork of myself and the bobbin from hell. Last Sunday I worked up the nerve to take out the rat's nest of stitches, and now the dress is ready to wear. Win!
I also found a use for this funky upholstery fabric I've had kicking around for the last year. I've come to realize that funky fabrics are at their best on the inside of a bag--not all of us want to fly our psychedelic flag so loud and proud.
But on the outside? Why not keep it simple with a coral linen, accented by creamy white cotton straps.
Soon enough, I will start playing with some wintry wool fabrics for my HeyAllday Handmade bags. Not these ones, mind you. These ones are very fancy fabrics that I found at a men's suiting warehouse. Want to know how much they cost? Sixty dollars a yard, my friends. Oh but these cashmeres came in the softest blues and creams. I will dream of these woolens whilst shopping online for their more affordable brethren. (Any hot tips, people, let me know!)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Dear Tomato

Dear Tomato,
I don't usually like to resort to this type of language, but you suck. All of you. (Well, not the cherry tomatoes, they are just fine). But you? You are infuriating. You are stubborn and selfish. I gave you just as much as much sunshine as other years (and don't try to tell me the apple tree created too much shade...we all know how wimpy that apple tree is). And yet you refused to turn red! Here you are, bright green, plump, enormous, so very nearly delicious. But hello? It is October 3! You just aren't going to get ripe, are you. I can tell you're going to be a dick about it. I've been watching you since early August...I know what you're up to. And I think it sucks.

Why can't you be more like cherry tomato? Sure, cherry tomato was a little late to the game this year, but she came through. Cherry tomato was in the "shade of the apple tree," too, and she did just fine. I'm talking to you Supersteak. I'm talking to you Big Rainbow. WTF??

I hope you have enjoyed not fulfilling your destiny.


With that off my chest, I will now turn my attention to one of the crops that has worked this year: pole beans! These here are Kentucky Wonder Beans, and they are disturbingly large and plentiful.

Last night I used a ton of them in my favorite pasta dish: Orzo with Everything. This is a recipe that my sister made at my house years and years ago, and I have since then adapted to my own mish-mash of ingredients. It's like a big, awesome salad made from whatever you have in your crisper with some noodles added at the end. As a rule of thumb, though, it must contain some sort of pasta, some sort of crunchy element, some sort of bitter element, something salty, something acidic, and something fatty.

Here's how I like to do it:

Get a big pot of salted water going and turn the oven on to 350. Chop up any vegetables you want to roast (I used peeled beets, shallots, and garlic) and put them on a baking sheet. Toss them with olive oil and a bunch of kosher salt and bake them for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, what else do you have in your fridge?

I chopped up some radicchio, arugula, and basil and threw them in a big bowl. And then I blanched my pole beans in the boiling water and chopped those up, too.

Once the beans were boiled, I added my pasta to the water.

I grabbed some olives and capers and tossed a bunch in, and then for crunch, I chopped up some roasted almonds.

A whole package of feta joined the party, and so did the roasted veggies when they were done. And finally, in went the cooked noodles, which sort of wilts the lettuces and melts the feta.

To finish it off, I whipped up a dressing with several glugs of olive oil, a good squeeze of lemon, and a healthy dose of champagne vinegar. (For the record, I ate thanks to you, tomato!)