Me Made May Report

I learned a couple of things from participating in Me Made May this year: It’s pretty easy for me to wear something that I made every day for a month, but photographing myself every one of those days is pretty hard, though I managed it most of the time (evidence here). The project was further complicated by the fact that I broke my toe early in the month and had to spend a couple of weeks wearing running shoes, which ruled out a lot of my skirts and dresses. So it’s a little hard to know what I would have worn otherwise, but the pieces that I reached for over and over again were my Endless Sumer Tunics and Staple Dresses.

chambray Endless Summer Tunic

silk/cotton Staple Dress

It was an interesting exercise to see which handmade items I reached for most often and which ones I felt most comfortable in. I’m a big fan of making multiples of the same garment; I love the idea of a uniform. I wish I had half a dozen of those silk/cotton Staple Dresses. I wear it most often like that, over slim jeans with a cardigan, but it’s long enough that I’m comfortable wearing it as a dress, especially with tights. I had bought the fabric years ago and can’t find more of it, but this rayon might be a decent substitute. The version with the high-low hem needs fabric with a lot of drape; I make it with a straight hem when the fabric doesn’t move as well. It’s also easy and pleasant to sew. If I leave off the pockets, I can do the whole thing with French seams, which I find extremely satisfying. I actually hate sewing the Endless Summer Tunic, since it involves a number of things I’m bad at—gathering evenly, sewing down facings tidily, hemming a sharp curve—but I love the finished garment so much I’m willing to grit my teeth and get through it.

The piece I got the most compliments on, though, was my navy leopard Hollyburn Skirt. It’s a flattering shape and shows off prints really well. I’m really looking forward to Erin Dollar‘s fabric collection this summer; I think there may be one of these skirts in one of her prints in my future. (I do wish they were doing her prints on more than one substrate—Essex isn’t my favorite—but I’ll take what I can get.)

pre-toe break


Since the last time I wrote here, I got a nice promotion at my full-time job, got pregnant, moved (about half a mile from where we were, but still), developed preeclampsia, spent a week in the hospital getting loopy on anti-seizure medication, had a baby, went on maternity leave, and went back to work.

This is Virginia. She is delicious. (information about the hat here.)

I’ve struggled to write here for a while, and I also struggled to articulate why I was having such a hard time. But then I read this post from The Wednesday Chef in which Luisa says exactly what’s been on my mind:

…it has felt dissonant at best to be immersed in the heady, joyful and exhausting world of caring for a newborn simultaneously with what has felt like the breakdown of so much that we as U.S. citizens hold dear about our country. I am heartsick and enraged by what is happening at the highest levels of government and by the many accounts of cruelty and intolerance trickling down to the population at large. But I am also heartened and proud of my fellow Americans who are resisting as best they can through protest, activism and civic engagement.

Having a full-time job, a three-month-old baby, and a side hustle (not to mention increased levels of civic engagement) doesn’t leave a tremendous amount of time for making stuff, but there’s not none. I just find myself in the not at all unpleasant position of having to be very deliberate about what projects are worth spending that valuable time on. Complicated cooking? Nope. But some knitting and a bit of sewing, sure. Not everyday, but again, not never.

I’ve been working on streamlining my wardrobe, which is a thoroughly pleasant task and one about which I’ll write more in the future. That process has really affected how I think about potential projects; basically, the finished project needs to justify its existence in specific ways, rather than just being fun or interesting to sew or a good way to use up yarn purchased without an end use in mind. In fact, I recently finished knitting a sweater, Carrie Bostick Hoge’s Uniform Cardigan in cast iron Shelter, pinned the pieces together, realized it looked extremely similar to other sweaters I have, and am unraveling the whole thing.

The cat investigates before the sweater meets its fate

I love how the yarn knits up and this cardigan would have been perfectly good, but it’ll provide much more wardrobe utility as a pullover (possibly this one) (or maybe this one?) than as this particular cardigan.

2015 Book Report

I read 68 books in 2015, which seems low but doesn’t include anything I didn’t finish completely. Nine of the total were read for a professional obligation of some kind, whether for a review or our best books deliberations or they were written by authors who were appearing on a panel I was moderating.

They included:

  • Mystery/suspense/thrillers: 28
  • YA: 17
  • Memoir: 8
  • General fiction/literary fiction: 8
  • Nonfiction: 4
  • Sf/fantasy: 3

The format breakdown is as follows:

  • Library ebook: 26
  • Galley/advance reading copy (print): 14
  • Galley/advance reading copy (ebook): 13
  • Print: 14
  • Library print book: 1

The gender breakdown of authors:

  • Female: 60
  • Male: 7
  • Unsure: 1

As far as standout titles, these are ones that give me a particularly warm feeling when I see them on my list:

  • All of Louise Penny’s wonderful Inspector Gamache series.
  • Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies.
  • Dodie Smith’s classic I Capture the Castle.
  • Felicia Day and Shonda Rhimes’s terrific memoirs.
  • Rachel Hartman’s richly imagined YA titles Seraphina and Shadow Scale.
  • Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
  • Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
  • P.D. James’s The Children of Men.

When I compare the 2015 breakdown to the 2014, the main thing that jumps out at me is that I finished far fewer books this past year than the one before. Otherwise, though, the genre, format, and author gender divisions are about the same. I made some headway in diversifying my reading, but not as much as I’d like—I’d say nine of those 68 titles could qualify as such; more than ten percent, but not yet 20. So my goal for 2016 is for at least 25% of the books I read to have an author or protagonist who is not a straight, white, neurotypical, able-bodied person.

I spy with my wandering eye…

I have a whole whack of knitting projects underway already, but most if not all of them are great swathes of stockinette, either in the round or flat. It’s a little…dull. And I’ve been eyeing my Ravelery queue for something new.

1. Tatara. How amazing are these fingerless gloves from Brooklyn Tweed’s new Capsule collection? These are way up the queue, not least because I lost my favorite handknit (black cashmere!) fingerless gloves when we were in Iceland. In fact, I may run up to Purl at lunchtime today and pick up a skein of Loft so I can get going on them.

2. I have two lopapeysurs started already, but I planned those before I came across the Modern Lopi book and became a little obsessed with Rúntur and its very cool inside-out yoke. I’ve always liked sweaters that showcase the “wrong” side of colorwork, but I’ve never made one. I do recognize, of course, that this is another giant stockinette project, so it’s pretty far down the list.
Modern Lopi designs by Lars Rains

3. Speaking of another giant stockinette project—this time in fingering weight!—I can’t get my mind off Agnes, also from Brooklyn Tweed. I bought yarn to make this in Iceland so I’ll get to it eventually, but can’t justify casting on before I finish at least one other fine-gauge project.

4. The Guernsey Wrap has the kind of frequently changing simple knit-and-purl texture that’s both relaxing and interesting to knit. And it’s so pretty! But do I need another big scarf/wrap? Well… (but maybe?)

The yarn haul

While we were planning our trip, Rob mentioned that he liked the patterned-yoke Icelandic sweaters. I gave him the choice of me making one ahead of time that he could wear there or getting yarn there and making one once we were back. He opted for getting yarn there, so I gave him a number of pattern options, he picked one, and I made note of the yardage. One afternoon, the four of us took a trip out to Álafoss to the main Lopi store and he picked out two colors of Léttlopi for a Huron for himself, while I accidentally picked out almost the exact same colors of of plötulopi for a traditional lopapeysur for myself. The pattern I picked out was from an out-of-print Lopi pattern booklet, and the woman at the store kindly made a copy for me. I don’t think it would have been that big a deal to translate it from Icelandic—the colorwork is charted and there isn’t much in the way of shaping—but I did manage to buy a digital English-language version on Ravelry once we got home, so I don’t have to worry about it.

The plötulopi—the wheels of unspun fiber at the bottom of the photo—is interesting stuff. It’s fragile, yes, but not as delicate as I’d been expecting. It can withstand a bit of tension before it drifts apart. I swatched it double stranded on 10s, and the resulting fabric is very lightweight for its thickness and surprisingly soft.
IMG_6276.JPGThe yarn on the right in the photo is a fingering-weight wool from Finland that I’d never heard of, let alone seen before. Rob and I were running around buying some souvenirs and gifts on our last full day in Reykjavik, and on a lark I popped into the yarn shop upstairs from the grocery store where we’d been buying our dried fish and tea all week. Most of the wares were from companies I can get in the States easily enough—Debbie Bliss, Rowan, Brooklyn Tweed even—but this stuff is something special. Plain and utilitarian on one hand, but richly colored and hitting the perfect midpoint between soft and sturdy. I bought three colors for an Agnes pullover and should have enough left over for some smaller items too. The woman at the store said it’s her favorite yarn for mittens, so maybe I’ll make some in homage to her.

The trip against which all future trips will be judged.

0AXuANpTuKjpfwAG60wybzzGRsTpDshzDg0nIj1ibms,PC5F0DIy67OOTgvL5I4joosGpMGg2FE_tR8VX3Nmyt4,My89ULVudsPsmlWiUwh9xxYuurj_Fim6oiL_m9uL5GM__1446690643_76585Last week, Rob and I came home from a truly amazing trip to Iceland.

We rented this little cottage in the city center with Rachael (whose excellent writeup of the trip is here) and Lala and used that as a home base for trips outside the city as well as exploring Reykjavik itself. We probably spent a little less than half of the time together, and it was really fun both to hang out with them and to go our separate ways and reconvene to compare notes. I doubt I’d have gone to the very cool Settlement Museum without Lala’s urging, and I definitely would have been too intimidated to go to the neighborhood baths, which ended up being some of my favorite things to do, without them.

We did some touristy stuff, like the Blue Lagoon. We ate lunch in their fancy restaurant while wearing bathrobes and drank prosecco from the swim-up bar while floating in the water.
We ate the famous hot dogs, which were, in fact, delicious.


We saw unparalleled natural splendor, like the black sand beach with basalt columns at Vik:
UXpxyNc2bqn_v4aUtU_u0cBTXfuljqMJ7X5Di8zj18I__1446691379_76856_eJEGImcq6jXX8kiJZw2X_ODX51_jBmvIJrgIJTVR_c__1446691619_25043and the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon:



DOiTPeTuPeRgj9Kbe_2eSH7ZVJCQ5m59lMV7ujF7nw4,nlCk4MQcJztfxeoQn4fE6tx0TvLL4lEi3ytCHq31l_I__1446691742_39594We saw the northern lights twice and hiked on this glacier:




I ate a different kind of fish at almost every meal, went to a number of the excellent public geothermic hot baths, saw a couple of good bands, and danced to deep house music in a subterranean nightclub in the wee hours. Iceland is lace curtains on the windows, tiny backyard greenhouses, house cats prowling the sidewalks, knowing that a freaking volcano heated the water you’re showering with, streets named after Norse gods, sheep and horses everywhere, a deservedly legendary nightlife, and traditional sweaters worn without irony by people of all ages. It was a stunningly easy place to visit; everyone speaks English, every business happily takes debit cards for even the smallest transactions (we never took out any cash; I never even saw any until our last day there), and Reykjavik is small enough to navigate without much difficulty. Dried fish spread lavishly with butter turns out to be delicious, and chocolate-covered licorice is my new obsession. I never tried the fermented shark, but I tasted both whale and guillemot and genuinely loved Brennivin, the caraway-infused “black death” liquor, which is best ice cold and served in tiny glasses.

Looming over me

I don’t know if there’s an actual etymological connection between the weaving tool and the expression of doom, but it has seemed more and more likely over the past couple of months. After a loom was passed along to me last Christmas, I put a lot of work into getting it ready to use—assembling it, cleaning several decades of someone else’s basement off it, buying some missing parts, figuring out some light repairs, buying a (very good!) Craftsy class to relearn how to put a warp on—I realized that it had some technical issues I wasn’t prepared to deal with. I reached out to the Textile Arts Center to see if they had anyone who did one-on-one teaching/loom setup and repair, but none of the weavers they passed my request along to ever contacted me. And so the loom sat, taking up a not insignificant amount of space and making me feel terrible every time I looked at it. For months. And since it was set up in our bedroom, it was one of the last things I saw at night and one of the first things I saw in the morning.

Finally, over Labor Day weekend, I was forced to confront the fact that getting the loom into fighting shape and getting myself up to speed with weaving again were going to take time and energy I’d really rather spend on other things right now. So I listed it for donation through Materials for the Arts and someone from a girls’ afterschool program in Harlem came and picked it up today. And I swear the apartment feels lighter and brighter. I’m even breathing more deeply. It’s like the loom was sucking up all the light and oxygen in the room. If I’m in a position where I want to weave again in the future, I’ll take some time to research looms and find one that fits my needs instead of trying to work with something that turned out not to be right for me.

One thing this frees me up to do more of is surface design experimentation, which I’m really excited about these days. I took a great workshop on stenciling on fabric from Anna Joyce when she was in town recently; I made these napkins and table runner with the Schoon logo design.
unnamed-1I’m also signed up for Jen Hewitt‘s online block printing workshop in a few weeks. I’m so excited!—I’ve been a fan of her work for ages and I’m really thrilled to have the chance to learn from her.

Fall knitting

As the weather has been slowly cooling off here in the Northeast, I’ve been rereading the posts for Colette’s Wardrobe Architect project and thinking about what I’d like to be wearing this fall and winter, what shapes and fabrics make sense for what I do every day, and what external forces may come to bear on what I actually end up wearing on a day-to-day basis. The latter is something I need to pay closer attention to. I actually put together a pretty nice, mostly handmade capsule wardrobe for this summer: a couple of breezy skirts, a few pairs of pants, a few dresses, and several shirts in linens and chambray and cotton double gauze that all went together and worked for the office and most what I do when I’m not at work. But unfortunately, I failed to take into account the fact that our office air conditioning is set so high that it was too cold for me to be in there with bare legs or arms. (It’s out of our control; the thermostat is controlled by the building.)

I’m also thinking back over the last few years and considering what in my closet has gotten the most wear. Three of my current knitting projects for the season ahead are directly inspired by beloved items that I already own.

1. This summer I wore my Harper Tunic from Elizabeth Suzann at least once a week, usually more, both to work and on the weekends. It was a splurge at the beginning of the season, and one that was 100% worth it. Joji Locatelli’s Boxy is similarly oversized and, well, boxy; I’ve started it in a burgandy alpaca that I think will go with everything I own. The knitting is mind-numbing, but I trust that I’ll wear the sweater loads.

2. My Twenty Ten Cardigan is of my most frequently worn handknits.
I have high hopes for Beaubourg, which I think has a lot in common with Twenty Ten—high neck, short sleeves, some interesting design elements—but without actually looking that similar. I have a big cone of heavy worsted-weight black Donegal wool that should be a great fit for this pattern. The yarn is a little textured, so having the purl side out will show that off.


3. I have an a-line, vaguely mod French terry tunic that I bought from Uniqlo a few years ago and wear at least once a laundry cycle three seasons of the year. I’ve admired the Still Light pattern for years, and I think it would fill a similar wardrobe niche, so I finally just bought the pattern and ordered the yarn. Like Boxy, it’s a whole lot of stockinette on small needles, but more than 2200 people have made one, so it’s clearly within the realm of possibility.



Manager schedule vs. maker schedule

One way or another, I recently came across Paul Graham’s 2009 blog post about the difference in how “managers” and makers” prefer to allocate their time and it’s gotten me thinking pretty hard about how I choose/prefer to spend mine. His framework is a little different from mine, since he’s writing about start-up culture and the fact that meetings interrupt the flow that programmers and writers (his examples) need to be in in order to be productive. I tend to roll my eyes at the idea that you can’t create effectively unless you have long stretches of time—I know too many people who write multiple books a year while also holding down full-time jobs in addition to other responsibilities (family, charity work, exercise, seeing friends) to buy into that and I firmly believe that working on something for 15 minutes a day everyday is going to get you farther faster than working on for four hours every two weeks—but then I had a creatively rich and productive long weekend over the fourth of July and I have to reconsider my position.

And here it is: Working on a project for short intervals on a regular basis is exceptionally good for productivity, but only when it’s something you already know how to do. For instance, I do almost all of my sewing in 20-30 minute spaces between getting ready in the morning and leaving for work or between arriving home and when I make dinner. I don’t make a tremendous amount of progress in any particular session, but the cumulative effect is a closet that’s increasingly more handmade than not. But I’m pretty comfortable with my sewing machine and the patterns I’m sewing (which I really should blog about at some point, hmm?) aren’t difficult. I’m using a couple over and over, and even if certain steps are fiddly, I still know what I’m doing. Likewise, I rarely spin for long stretches, but 15-30 minutes here and there will produce full skeins of yarn in a surprisingly short period of time. (I’m in the middle of spinning for a really cool project that I should write about soon.)

Contrast that with shibori dyeing, which is something I tried out this weekend for the first time. I’d ordered the pre-reduced indigo crystals and other supplies a few months ago, so I had everything I needed on hand. The coconut oil I use for soap comes in 50-pound containers that are the right size for a small indigo vat and have a tight-fitting lid. I have a bunch of spares (if you’re local and want one or more, let me know), but first I had to scrub one very, very clean because I assume that any grease in the vessel could interfere with the dyeing action. Then I had to look up instructions for setting up the vat, find and lay out a dropcloth on the deck, measure everything, mix it up, and let it stew for an hour or so. I had to collect the items I wanted to dye and find a tutorial for tying them. (I used this one.) I had to do all of the folding and tying. And then I could actually dye the two dresses and two curtains I’d prepared, which was pretty messy and kind of time consuming, since you have to let the pieces fully oxidize between dips. (I really should do a whole post about this too.) Working on and off at it, it took most of Friday. And it was great! It was CRAZY EXCITING to see the cloth come out of the vat a weird, sickly green and then change, literally as I watched, into a gorgeous indigo blue. And then to undo all the ties and see the cool patterns. SO GREAT.
unnamedSo great, in fact, that the next day I decided I wanted to shibori dye all the rest of the curtains in the house, so I did. (There were only three of them.) And it took maybe an hour start to finish because I had the vat set up already and I knew what I was doing. Shibori is not quite something I can fit into my post-coffee, pre-commute time in the morning (unless I start getting up earlier), but it’s doable in a relatively short block of time, even shorter if I spread the tying part out over a couple of days. But if I hadn’t had a day to play around with the whole process, I never would have gotten to this point.

Likewise, I spent much of Sunday working toward getting the loom ready to weave, which has been a long, drawn-out process that hey! I really should blog about. Short version: the loom I inherited wasn’t in quite as good a shape as I’d been told and I am not mechanically minded, so figuring out A. what’s wrong and B. how to fix it had been frustrating. Also frustrating: weaving is something I used to do regularly and I was good at it, but it’s been 15 years and I have almost zero recollection of how to even dress the loom. I bought this Craftsy class, which has been super helpful so far, and I’m gradually getting closer to being able to make cloth. Again, though, at this point, while I’m (re)learning, I can’t just pop in and out of this project. I need stretches of unscheduled time to focus and start thinking in weaving terms so I can absorb the information.

And that’s the essential point for me. I work well on both Graham’s manager schedule and maker schedule, but for different things. Getting shit done? By all means, break the day up into tiny slots of time and assign something different to each of ’em. That’s terrific. But for learning and stretching and absorbing new information, that doesn’t work. For that, I need to jealously guard my time (I skipped a friend’s barbecue on Sunday that ordinarily I would have loved to have gone to), put my blinders on, and focus. And then I need to step back for a few days or weeks or longer even, and absorb the information before returning to the well. I can already feel myself approaching things differently. I have a goal for this year to improve my photography skills and learn Photoshop. I’d tried to work my way through a PS class (free with a Brooklyn library card!) earlier this year and got really frustrated, but it was because I was trying to dip into the course for short periods of time instead of setting aside the time for an intensive study session. Also, I should really get a halfway decent camera, but researching that is a minefield I’ll try to navigate at a different time. A time when I can focus for as long as I need with minimal distractions, of course.

Five for Friday 4.24

1. After spending so much time on those unwearable culottes (part of the problem, I realized later, is that I sewed one of the pockets in backwards. Fixing it would mean taking so much apart though that I don’t think I’m going to bother; I don’t think they’d be much better after) it’s been hard to work up a lot of excitement about sewing. This is especially true since I don’t have a lot of time to sew. I use our little office/soap storage room to do it and that only gets sunlight first thing in the morning. I should probably invest in a couple of lamps so I can be in there in the evenings, but until then, I only have what little time I can fit in before work or on the weekends. I decided that the next project I wanted to tackle is this terrific dress, another one from Liesl. This is one of her Lisette patterns that she publishes with Butterick and the terse directions and complicated cutting layout and basically everything about it makes me really miss working with indie patterns, but I love the dress and want to to wear it and will persevere. I had initially wanted to do the sewalong with her (how gorgeous is her hand-dyed silk fabric?), but underestimated how much time it was going to take to cut out the pieces, so I’m behind. It’s helpful to have the write-ups to refer to though.
I’m using double gauze that I bought from Fancy Tiger Crafts. I initially had ordered a blue-gray, but they sold out of it before my order was processed and I substituted this indigo color instead. It’s a really gorgeous shade, a very green-toned light navy that absolutely no thread matches.

2. Speaking of Fancy Tiger, visting their site is dangerous. How gorgeous is this linen gauze?
It reminds me of the work of one of my favorite lettering designers, Eva Black, who’s started selling paintings recently.

3. This site superimposes a map of New York City over maps of other cities. It’s pretty interesting to compare, especially since they also provide population numbers.

4.Emma Thompson interviews Hugh Laurie, wins hearts.

5. Clickhole’s oral history of Mad Men is pretty hilarious. “Elisabeth Moss (Peggy Olson): Even for scenes he wasn’t in, Jon would burst into whatever room we were filming in and shout, ‘No, I’m not Don Draper! Don Draper exploded! I’m Dick Whitman instead! Yowza!'”