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!’”

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.