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 lynda.com 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!’”

Five for Friday 4.17

1. Everything’s coming up culottes. Unfortunately, the culottes I made for myself from Liesl Gibson’s pattern turned out to be insanely unflattering on me, just a complete fiasco, legwear-wise. A couple of people on Instagram suggested running them through a laundry cycle to try to loosen up the fabric before making a final decision, but it’s hard to imagine it’ll make much difference.


unmanned culottes

2. This lipstick collaboration between Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge and a brand I’ve never heard of before looks great. I’ve been playing around with a matte red lip this year, but a rosy pink is more my everyday jam.

3. Madeleine L’Engle’s granddaughter has made public three never-before-seen pages from one of my favorite books from childhood, A Wrinkle in Time.  (tip ‘o the hat to my friend Natalie for bringing it to my attention)

4. This week was the week that Rob and I discovered that our cat, who has a pretty laidback approach to the world in general, reacts very strongly to hearing another cat on TV or a video online. It’s hilarious for the humans in the room. Less so for our furry friend, who seems to think that we’re either being invaded or someone’s having a party he really, really wants to go to.

5. A few days ago, I was talking to audiobook narrator Tavia Gilbert for something related to work and she recommended in the glowingest of glowing terms a book called Galileo’s Middle Finger. I made a note to look it up and promptly forgot about it. Then this morning I was suddenly seeing a lot of links to accounts of a scientist mom live-tweeting her son’s abstinence-only sex-ed class and realized that that woman is the author of the book.

Five for Friday 4.10

1. I made lip balm a few months(!) ago, using Mari Rayma’s peppermint cocoa lip balm recipe. I didn’t have any vitamin E oil on hand, so swapped in jojoba oil for that. My cocoa butter wasn’t as fragrant as hers apparently was, so mine balms are more of a straightforward peppermint, but the consistency is lovely and it made a lot for very little money. I’d like to add a lip balm or two to the Schoon offerings eventually, but I’d like them to be vegan, which this one isn’t (beeswax), not to mention that it’s not my recipe. It’s terrific for my personal use though and a good benchmark for starting to play around on my own.
meltunnamed2. I watched Going Clear, the HBO documentary about Scientology this week. Totally fascinating.

3. I signed up for my NYC Municipal ID today—I made the appointment back in January—but who knows if I’ll ever get the card. I never updated my address on my driver’s license and didn’t have anything with my current address on me, so had to use the old one on the forms unless I wanted to wait another three months for another appointment. The change of address forwarding expired two years ago and that was a goofball sublet situation, so there’s no official record of me ever living there and no one at the building will have a way to reach me. I supposed I could send a postcard to my old address and ask them to email me if the ID shows up there. What a mess.

4. How great is this Alabama Chanin dress made from a Vena Cava pattern? I just want to make everything.
Blue-Dress2-e13547306348425. But I also continue to flirt with minimalism. I’m toying with trying out the Wardrobe Workbook from Into Mind. I’ve been watching on Instagram as Jen from Grainline Studios works her way through, and it looks pretty great.

Bento tee prototype

I have nothing but good things to say about Liesl + Co’s new(ish) pattern the Bento tee, but I’m not really crazy about this iteration of it. Partly that’s because I made it out of some cheap jersey I had on hand and the fabric was thin and stretchy and hard to control. This silhouette benefits from fabric that has just a smidge of heft to it, I think. The boxiness is a big part of the appeal and fabric that’s too drapey doesn’t work; the way it falls into pleats off my bust points is all wrong with the shape and the higher neckline. I have some really nice, more substantial bamboo jersey washed and ready to cut out for the next one that should work better. Also, I need to add at least an inch to the body; this is unhemmed and it’s even a little short for my comfort level here. I just ran a line of zigzag stitches along the lower edge to keep it from unraveling. I haven’t tacked up the cuffs on the sleeves here, though I will do that when I make for-real versions.
unnamedMade in better fabric, it’ll look chic and modern with full skirts and culottes and slouchy pants this summer. The instructions are easy to follow, as always, and I really admire Liesl’s attention to detail, thoughtful construction, and consideration of trends while designing garments that can be worn for years. This was my first time sewing knits on my new machine and my first time using a stretch stitch at all. I hadn’t realized how slow it would be—stretch stitches do two forward, one back and it cuts sewing speed in half somehow—but it really does produce a stretchy, unbreakable line of stitching.

Five for Friday: Cativersary edition

1. The one-year anniversary of adopting Fuzz Ferdinand (3/30) happened while we were in California. I don’t know much about his life before he came to live with us, except that he was found in someone’s backyard in Queens and spent some time being fostered before we adopted him. Watching this little monkey slowly come to realize that we’re his forever people and make the shift from the nervous, cautious creature we brought home to a confident, affectionate member of our household has been one of the great joys of my last 12 months.

2. Rob used to live in one of the buildings (on the top floor of an illegal seventh-floor walkup, no less) that burned down after the terrible explosion in the East Village last week. I can’t stop reading about it.

3. For some reason, the narrator of this video approves of turning a perfectly cromulent beatnik teenager into her mother.

4. “ If you walked around New York you would think there was a terrible mirror famine.” Two of my favorite things that I read online this week: Fran Lebowitz on style and this incredible account of a young man who became friends with the man who ended up with his stolen iPhone and how they both became celebrities in China.

5. I can’t stop looking at these stunning photos of huskies walking on a frozen lake.

Made up my mind to make a new start, or, apparently the denizens of LA are all old friends of Rob’s

I went to California mainly to hang out with friends, read in the shade near water, and cast my eyes on things I hadn’t seen before. I’d only been to the Los Angeles area for work

unnamed-1We spent the first night in Santa Monica where we walked around on the pier and along the water, ate at The Misfit, and were asleep by 8:30. We stayed at the Seaview Hotel, which I’d chosen because of its convenient location, retro vibe, and relatively gentle price. While it turned out to be rather short on amenities—I had to wash my hair with soap because it hadn’t occurred to me that they wouldn’t provide shampoo—it was extremely long on charm. Rob and I both tend to get up early anyway and with the time difference factored in, we had hours to spend out on this deck the next morning before driving out to the desert.

unnamed-2Since we bought the tickets, I’d been daydreaming about drinking fruity drinks by the Ace Hotel pool. For years, I thought I hated sunshine and tropical anything, but it turns out that when there’s consistent shade available, it’s bliss to stare out at the mountains or float in the water or read with a fruity drink at hand. Who knew? (Everyone. Everyone knew.)

unnamed-3The other reason I wanted to go to Palm Springs, though, was to visit Joshua Tree. It was, unsurprisingly, spectacular. My only regret is that we didn’t camp out there, but that wasn’t in the cards for this trip. Just thinking about what the stars must look like out there though…swoon.

unnamed-9unnamed-8unnamed-4unnamed-6unnamed-5unnamed-7Then we went back to Los Angeles for the rest of the week. We spent a couple of days with a high school friend of Rob’s and his family who live in Eagle Rock. They took us to an unassuming strip mall in Burbank where I ate the best sushi I’ve ever had, to the Griffin Park Observatory, and for my first In-N-Out. (Confession: I kind of didn’t get the hype. It was perfectly good! But nothing special? But I’ve always wondered and now I know.) They had another old friend over for dinner one night and while everyone’s kids played, we drank wine and watched the sun set. It was magical.

unnamed-10Then, keeping in mind Benjamin Franklin’s words of wisdom about fish and guests, we took off, had dinner with a college friend of Rob’s and spent a night at a chic hotel in Koreatown, which has a gorgeous greenhouse-styled restaurant on its roof and concrete walls in its rooms that I was obsessed with.

unnamed-12IMG_4946.JPGOur last full day was spent running around indulging our various interests. We made a trip to The Fabric Store for me, where I got some spectacular material for a few projects, and visited Amoeba and Meltdown. We had been planning a trip to LACMA, but put that off since another old friend of Rob’s called in a few favors and got us on the guest list for an outdoor Van Halen show, which was fun and ridiculous—David Lee Roth had to stop the first song (“Panama,” for the record) halfway through because he somehow cut his nose on the microphone and had to go get taped up. The friends-of-friends section we qualified for was far enough back that it was easier to see what was going on onstage by watching other people’s phone screens.

unnamed-13(Fun fact: that hand belongs to Quiet Riot drummer Frankie Banali.)

Then, in a fitting LA-ish end to the trip, we met another old friend of Rob’s at the Chateau Marmont for a drink before crashing at an airport hotel and getting up early to return the rental car before heading home. Much like New York, Los Angeles is the kind of city that outsiders think is another, likely uninhabitable planet, but also like New York, millions of completely normal people live completely normal lives there. Everything everybody says about the traffic is true though.

Exeter, onward

I’m in the final stretch of knitting Exeter. The back is done, one sleeve is done, and both fronts are done, shown here pre-blocking. The construction method the designer chose is one I haven’t seen before: you cast on for the full width of the front and knit the ribbing and pocket lining, then you divide it in half and knit the cable panel separately from the ribbed section and collar, which are done on a smaller needle for added stability and structure.


It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that with all of the ripping out and recalculating and reknitting I’ve done on this cardigan, I’ll have knit the whole thing twice over by the time I’m done. I don’t mind redoing my knitting, generally speaking. I’m certainly not hurting for sweaters and since I’m on something of a mission to make fewer, better garments for myself, I’d rather put in the extra effort and end up with something that’s as close to perfect as I can get. Some of that extra effort on this sweater has been required because my row gauge is so far off from the pattern, so things like the increase rate of the shawl collar and the decrease rate of the sleeve caps have taken a lot of trial and error. But a whole whack of it has been pure boneheadedness, like when I left out an entire pattern repeat on one of the fronts or this buttonhole error:


The ugliness of the one on the left had bothered me all along, but it wasn’t until 30 rows on that I realized it was especially ugly because I’d put it in the wrong place. See how the one on the right just disappears into the fabric? That’s because the hole cuts across a knit column and the tightly pulled edges disappear into the recessive purl columns. The one on the left is exactly the opposite. I tried to ladder down to fix it, but that wasn’t happening. And because that row of buttonholes is located below where the two halves of the front were split, I had to rip out the entire, completed cable panel, the pocket lining, and a couple rows of the bottom ribbing until I could redo the buttonholes. It was not ideal, but the only way out is through, after all.


Lucky for me, I had a lot of help from this little monkey.