Sunday, October 23, 2011

It's the Little Things

I was at Office Depot this week getting ink for my printer (again), when I indulged in an impulse purchase. I bought a new stapler. I like the color, and it was only $4.

See? Isn’t it cute?

It wasn’t until I started using the new stapler that I realized how poorly the old one had been performing. Half the time it would jam, or wouldn’t push the staple through all the pages in my bundle. My tech editing work is paper intensive, so that old stapler was a daily source of annoyance.

The new stapler just works. First time, every time. A simple $4 purchase has eliminated a daily source of irritation. How cool is that?

How many small irritations and inconveniences do we put up with every day? The non-stick skillet whose non-stick has worn out. The closet door that sticks. The circular knitting needle with a join that snags the yarn. It is like a low level of static in the background that we no longer hear. What impact do these constant small annoyances have on our spirits?

How would the flavor of the day change if it was full of small graces instead?

I want to stop accepting little irritations as my lot. If a small expenditure of time and/or money can replace something that doesn’t work with something that does, count me in. I can find a new non-stick skillet at a discount store. I can sand the edge of that closet door. I can replace the snaggy needle. I can turn those little annoyances into little pleasures.

Along with this, I want to pay more attention to daily sources of joy and satisfaction. I want to notice and appreciate the perfect thickness of the lip of my coffee mug, the simply elegant functionality of my 5-year-old i-Pod, the smooth flow of my Pilot G-2 gel pen across the page, the soft supple leather of the wallet I’ve carried for nearly 20 years.

I think your dominant mood gets etched on your face in a way no cream or surgery can erase. Think of the way your mouth and brow screw up when you’re wrestling with a jammed stapler. Now think of what you face does when you breathe out a satisfied “ahhhhhh”. I want to focus on the people and things and experiences in my life that produce the “ahhhhhh” face. I want to notice and create and appreciate those moments of grace.

What are the little things that give you daily pleasure? What are the little irritations that you can, with minimal expense, eliminate?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

My momma always said "Life was like a box of chocolates

…You never know what you’re gonna get.”

Forest Gump

Here is the box of chocolates I’ve been working my way through over the past week or so – the September 2011 Phat Fiber Fluff sampler box.

Do you know about Phat Fiber? I read about them on the Knitty blog, and this was my first time sampling their wares.

Each month, a group of small fiber producers (who call themselved “Phatties”) provide samples of their work. These samples are collected into mystery boxes and posted for sale about the middle of the month. There are a limited number of boxes available, and they sell out in seconds. Really. Seconds. If you have a slow internet connection, you’re screwed. Just scoring a box feels like you’ve already accomplished something.

(Not a spinner? You can choose a box with all yarn, all spinning fiber, or a combination.)

Each month has a theme. For September, the theme was Enchanted Forest. Part of the fun of the box is seeing the different ways the Phatties interpret the theme. Some focused on the Enchanted part, and worked with faerie dust colors of peach and lavender and pale green. Others leaned toward the Forest part, and worked with deep greens and browns.

My box included everything from hand painted merino top to plucked Angora bunny fur to carded batts containing everything but the kitchen sink. Each fiber sample was about ¼ oz. The box also contained some cute stitch markers, a diz in the shape of a leaf, and a bag of delicious Blackcurrant tea.

So, I sat down to spin.

Now I’ve only been spinning a little over a year, so much in the box was new to me. I’d never before spun alpaca, or angora, or bamboo, or metallics. Some things were really beyond my current skill level. For example, my attempt to incorporate dyed Lincoln Longwool locks into yarn was a total fail. But like the Whitman Samplers we used to get when we were kids, it was a great opportunity to try lots of different things and see what I like.

I roughly sorted the samples by color value and spun them into singles. I plied the darker singles with some natural black Blue Faced Leister, and the lighter with some white Falklands wool. Here is the result:

What did I learn? Just like with chocolates, I prefer the soft centers to the nuts and chews. I loved spinning the multicolored tops, which draft like butter. The minimally blended batts with big chunks of different fibers, not so much. Some things, like the angora, were not my favorite to spin, but made lovely yarn despite my struggles. I’m not a big fan of “art yarn”, to spin or to knit, so the samples with beads, or artificial flower petals, or those pesky locks, were sampled, then discarded.

Kind of like taking a nibble from the bottom of the bon bon, then putting it back in the box for your little brother to find. Yes, that was me. Sorry, Jeff.

What will I do with the yarn? For now, I’ll add it to the stash. After all, no one expects stamp collectors to use their stamps on a letter – a yarn collection is just as valid as a stamp collection.

Will I buy another Phat Fiber box? Sure! October’s theme is The Witching Hour, which doesn’t much excite me. November, however, is Wine Country! How can I pass? I’ll be hovering over my keyboard when those boxes go up for sale, just waiting to pounce.

Are you a nuts and chews spinner, or a soft center kind of gal/guy?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Keep it Simple

Hooray! I have a design in knit.wear, a new publication just out from Interweave Press. Let me introduce you to the Cutaway Coat…..

It had been a while since I submitted to Interweave, so I was delighted to hear they wanted to publish this design. The concept for this magazine is “Simple knits for thoughtful knitters”. I think this coat fits right in.

The clothes I’m drawn to when I look at magazines and catalogs are simple, classic silhouettes with clean lines and luxurious fabrics. Clothes like this are versatile, flattering and a pleasure to wear. This is what I had in mind as I sketched this design.

Here is the original sketch.

The coat has a gentle A-line shape, roomy set-in sleeves, turn back cuffs and a stand-up collar that sits away from the neck. Four buttons create a focal point. You can see more photos on Interweave’s preview page here.

For me, this piece was all about the fabric. The yarn is from Beth Casey’s wonderful team at Lorna’s Laces. The body of the coat is made with a strand of Glory, a brushed mohair, and a strand of Grace, a boucle mohair, held together. The collar, cuffs and edging are two strands of the boucle held together. I knew the mohair would deliver warmth without weight. What surprised me was the play of light across the surface. The loops of Grace reflect the light in a shimmery way, and the halo of Glory diffuses the reflection. It is an extraordinarily beautiful fabric. Sadly, these photographs don’t really convey the richness and depth of the swatches.

My original swatch used Grace in Robot Overlord and Glory in Poppy, which added the element of color excitement. Working the two yarns in the same colorway, as Interweave chose to do, produces a more subtle yet equally beautiful result. The color they chose is Dusk, a steely blue.

Pro tip 1: It can be a challenge to measure your gauge when using highly textured yarns, because the texture obscures the stitches. See the white stitching on the blue swatch? I use a contrasting colored yarn to outline a 4” square. Then I can hold the swatch up to the light, and even stretch it if necessary to count the stitches within the square.

Another reason I loved this project: it was a crazy fast knit. At 11 stitches to 4”, this flies off the needles. I rarely use needles labeled in double digits, but the two strands of mohair liked being worked on a size 11 (8mm) needle. If you want a project that you can finish in time to wear this fall, here you go.

Pro tip 2: Many knitters shy away from boucle mohair. The loops in the yarn can catch on the points of your needles, which is annoying to say the least. I had no problems with snagging at all, because I used a large needle with a blunt point. This is not the project for your Addi Lace needles or Signature Stilettos. I used Suzanne’s Ebony circulars. See the size of the point in relation to the size of the loops in the mohair? No snagging here. I’ve owned and loved these ebony needles for years. You can get them at Webs.

Knit.wear is scheduled to be on newsstands October 4, but I understand some yarn shops have it already. It features 25 designs, from many of your favorite designers. Enjoy!