Thursday, December 30, 2010

Photo Gnobility

The end of every year (as well as the beginning of each new year) finds me in a more contemplative frame of mind. 2010 is no different. I have, recently, been reading essays from The Best Buddhist Writing of 2009. The first essay, Jack Kornfield’s “The Wise Heart” discusses how Buddhist psychological thought can counteract western psychology’s seemingly Pavlovian focus on the dark side of human nature. Man, reading this essay was timed to perfection. It would be easy for me (heck, any of us who have lived through 2010) to focus on all that went wrong and the bumps - major and otherwise - in the last year.

Kornfield, however, also briefly discusses the concept of nobility. No, not any royal family or blue blood lineage, but the concept from the Greek derivation –gno- meaning “wisdom” or “inner illumination.” If one has the willingness to practice the ability to tap into one’s inner light and wisdom, then true freedom is possible, no matter the external forces that will inevitably swirl.

For me, that practice has taken a creative form. There is no doubt that my 2010 was marked by a shift toward my own creativity. It’s been there all along. I hope for more of the same in 2011.

So I leave you with a series of pictoral collages from my 2010. Some photos may be familiar to those that regularly read the blog; I expect many will be new. All are a reflection of my gnobility. May each inspire you in the coming new year.

These photos are in no particular order, and they range from the beginning of the year through just a few days ago.

Of course, glaringly absent are my final shawl this year, as well as my most recent painting (but I'll certainly post that in the new year).

Finally, while this blog is certainly not focused solely on my pet, my year would be incomplete if I did not mention George Bailey. He is my furry, sleepy co-pilot. He always presents me with his truth. In a world full of  manipulative and/or surface interactions, he is definitely my breath of fresh air.

Happy 2011!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Creative Grab-bag Monday

I received an unexpected gift yesterday. Remember the mobius wrap I crocheted for my Ravelry swap partner? (You can read about it here.) I had asked for a photo of her wearing it, if she was comfortable with that. (I am, oddly enough, notoriously photo-phobic. I would much rather be behind the lens.) I was absolutely thrilled when she obliged and posted a photo on her Ravelry project page. I was even more thrilled when Samira (yes, she does have a name!) allowed me to post one of them here for all to see. 

Doesn’t she look stunning in this wrap, which she’s stylishly doubled around her neck? (I'll be happy to forward any fan email sent to the blog.)

Samira also reports that her new puppy loves it as well. Recipient-tested and puppy approved – what more can a gifty crafter ask for? There is no greater thrill for me than to make a gift and have it well-received. Thanks, Samira, for yet another holiday present.

Finally, I have been spending some recent time with my paint brushes. 2010 is going out with a creative flourish. (Please pardon the less-than-perfect photo. I just stood the painting on my table and snapped so I would have a record of it.)

Coffee Table Chaos
Acrylic on Canvas, 18" x 24"
Sold, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

It’s a Color-filled, Weaving Kind of Thing

Two projects recently completed have me in a “weaving” frame of mind. The first, a shawl interpreting the Rectangular Crow's Waltz Shawl pattern, uses a type of knit slip stitch that looks like woven fabric when completed. I used five different fiber colorways to achieve this finished look:

Since each colorway utilizes multiple colors to achieve its unique, variegated effect, all of them combined created quite a beautiful fall palate. Since that was my goal, I’m pretty pleased with the finished shawl - even if it is winter, now.

The second project, a scarf, comes from this pattern that utilizes a filet crochet mesh and long lengths of chain stitches that are “woven” into it. Since I stash-busted on this scarf (using up blue and green bits from the shawl above, in addition to other gold, blue and green laceweight and fingering weight yarns) I ended up with a tonal scarf with lots of pop. It's warm and colorful and perfect – well, at least I think so.

Happy holiday to you and yours. May it be filled with peace, love, joy and understanding – or, failing any of that, fragrant greenery and really decadent dessert.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


In terms of weather, the Pacific Northwest lowlands have been deluged in the past week. Roads have collapsed, houses have been washed away, and electricity has been intermittently knocked out to thousands. In the midst of all this weathering, Mother Nature smiled upon us yesterday – and I celebrated the gift with my camera.

This vista is truly memorable. In December. In the Pacific Northwest.

Additionally, I thought you might like to see, below, the neat scarf I received from my Lion Brand swapper, made with Amazing yarn.

I also received holiday ornaments (including little metal trees with bells on them!), as well as a few handmade items for donation – but more on that in a future post.

Have a great, last weekend before Santa’s big day – and may you celebrate all the gifts of the season, no matter their source.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sneak Peek Revealed

I have, for approximately the last six months, moderated a Ravelry forum in which we have swapped goodie packages with paired partners. The overarching thread is Lion Brand yarns, and each swap has its own particular theme. The most recent swap was holiday- and charity-themed. Each person spends a particular amount on items swappees have identified as favorites in a previously answered questionnaire, and at least one item should be hand-made using the aforementioned yarn.

And here comes the revelation behind the sneak peak – I made a crocheted mobius wrap (pattern compliments of Red Heart) for my swap partner, in one of her favorite colors – purple. As you can see from the photos, I added an edging of mohair and lurex in lavender and silver.
The edging gave the piece just that little pop of color and sparkle next to the face. I also positioned the twist in the back on my dress form for a different look.

While I can’t say I’m a huge Red Heart fan, some of their patterns are quite lovely – especially if you can imagine them made with different yarn weights. While worsted weight was super for this project to ward against the cold, this wrap would also look elegant in laceweight or fingering weight yarn (plan to use between 500 – 600 yards, depending on size and gauge).

Most importantly, my swap partner loved it! Additionally, we both made something for a charity each had respectively identified at the beginning of the swap, and I sent along two blanket squares for Project Night Night:

Since I am stepping away from my mod duties to focus on other goals in 2011, it was a nice note upon which to end.

So – go out there and make something for somebody, alright?!!! And, once I receive my package (which should be very soon) – I’ll let you know what goodies I get.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Crafty Weekend

This past weekend saw some glorious weather in the Pacific Northwest (meaning sunny and rain-free on Saturday), as well as me getting my holiday craft on. I completed a hand-made item for a swap gift (more on this in a later post - but see the bottom photo for a teensy sneak peak!), as well as checking out the holiday season edition of Urban Craft Uprising.

What, you ask, is UCU? Well, it’s a mecca for all things DIY and handmade. Over 100 vendors and authors – crafty artisans to be certain – are gathered for one weekend so that we, the crafty public, can ogle the wares and get some holiday shopping completed. At a great entrance price (it’s free!), plus swag bags for early risers each day, how could I not check it out?

The greatest strength of UCU is the varied selection of vendors, many of which offer a $6 special item in addition to their normal inventory. I checked out painters, jewelers, t-shirt makers, fiber spinners and dyers, and all sorts of textile crafters. There is something for just about everyone (including the family pet), and all of it original and not mass-produced.

A note to those who might take in a future UCU event: because virtually all of these artisans are small businesspeople, you may encounter some payment restrictions/irregularities. Some vendors might not accept credit cards for purchases under a certain amount, and/or some might request information because the credit card transaction will be completed later. While nothing to necessarily worry about, just something to keep in mind (and knowing where to find the closest ATM is helpful).

It was a mob scene, making browsing difficult at times (which was a happy turn from the summer edition of UCU I attended, which was a little thin on foot traffic). So, after completing my once-over circle of the room, I picked up a neat gift for someone (at least I hope it’s neat to the recipient!), and some fiber for myself. I am excited to try this hemp (on the left) in one of my future shawl projects from Blonde Chicken Boutique:

I cannot believe that skein contains over 600 yards of the slightly linen-feeling, yet surprisingly soft, fiber. Additionally, I am so thrilled with the happy-colored fingering weight skein I also managed to snag – it’s made from mill ends and hand-dyed. At 480 yards it, too, has a spring shawl (with beads, I suspect) written all over it.

If you are looking for unique, hand-made gifts that sustain artisans, are (in many instances) eco-friendly, and just plain cool, definitely look for an UCU-type of event in your area. For example, should you be in the Portland, Oregon area this upcoming weekend, definitely check out Crafty Wonderland.

And have fun getting your craft on!

The crafty sneak peak ...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Pattern, Languish No More!

While I currently have two other knit shawls on the needles, I’ve just completed my eighth crocheted shawl in Ravelry's 10 in 2010 challenge – with mere weeks left. (December 31st at the stroke of midnight Norwegian time [!] is the witching hour; oh, the fun quirks of an international challenge.)

All my completed shawls in this challenge have a creation story, and this one is no different. A few weeks back (sometime before Thanksgiving), several of the crochet challengers were virtually chit-chatting about patterns and what we would next make. A few put forth new patterns, one of which was Lyn’s (Shepherd's Crook) Festival Shawl.  For those of you non-Ravelry readers, she also is CGOA's book reviewer. According to Lyn, she had worked on it a bit, but then just let it fall to the wayside, in a somewhat raw form.

Well, even though I am not too keen on triangular shawls, from the prototype photo she posted, it looked like something that I might find interesting to craft. I already could see the bead possibilities (which were not a part of the original design), and I wanted to complete at least one triangular shawl so I could learn about this type of shawl construction.

So, stash diving I went, and initially came up with about 800 yards of hand-dyed laceweight I had received in a swap, along with one ball of Drops Vivaldi in a honking green colorway. Hoping to be able to get my hands on more of the Vivaldi in online de-stash or trade, I tucked into the pattern. After using up all of my on-hand Vivaldi, here’s what it looked like:

Of course, I could not scrounge up any more of the Vivaldi, so I went to Plan  B. While visiting the frog pond (and it was quite a visit because Vivaldi is mohair), I ordered two balls of Drops Kid-Silk in an apple green colorway. My second attempt then looked like the next photo, prior to starting the beaded edging:

As I was working on the body of the shawl, I quickly got a vision of the completed shawl, and thought it would be perfect for a formal affair like - you guessed it - a wedding. So, after I added the simple, yet effective and very pretty beaded edging, as well as performed the requisite blocking spritz, I started to search for a place to take some photos. A few establishments into my research, on a cloudy and overcast Pacific Northwest early winter afternoon, I found Blue Sky Bridal, a consignment/new bridal dress shop with an eco-friendly focus. I knew my search was over even before I telephoned with my unorthodox request to take photos and received a warm yes from Jen, one of the co-owners.

I am so thrilled with the finished shawl. It has “formal spring affair” written all over it. Against the backdrop of a classically-styled off-the-shoulder gown, this pattern comes to life. I hope Lyn feels the same, so this beautiful pattern can be sent out into the crafting world. Yeah!

And, of course, thanks so much to Beth and Jen at Blue Sky Bridal for a friendly and fun photo shoot – even absent a blue sky.  Now, if only I could learn how to use my camera's flash ...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

On Instinct and Art

At a recent used book sale, I picked up a copy of Denis Dutton’s The Art Instinct. While the title tapped into, at least in part, a subject that I have discussed with numerous former students – that of the nature of art – reading further, I found Dutton’s premise rather provocative. Basically, he sees the concept of art, and what we find aesthetically pleasing, as something that has been honed through natural selection from the time we branched off from chimpanzees.

He initially illustrates this point by discussing the concept of the landscape via a study conducted by Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid. In “America's Most Wanted,” Komar and Melamid conducted polls and focus groups in ten countries (funded by a grant) to study individual artistic preferences. The results? Across countries and cultures, individuals expressed an overwhelming desire to see landscapes with water, people and animals, with blue the predominant color, and rejected abstract designs along with yellow, orange, gold and teal. Since I strongly favor abstract painting over landscape (preferring to let my camera do the landscape talking), does this mean evolutionary doom and a solitary life? Komar and Melamid went on to create the “perfect landscape painting.” No one wanted to take it home and display it, so there’s hope for me just yet.

Dutton goes on to describe other important landscape features, derived from other social science hypotheses, that include certain trees, the ability to derive mystery from the setting (like, is there a path that leads to somewhere beyond the scope of the painting?) and the concept of “prospect and refuge” – an ability to survey the vista, while also having an ability to hide somewhere in the scene. So, a house, or a cave, or some other sort of shelter is also important. Hmmmm … see the connection to our hunter-gatherer ancestors?

In The Hermitage - 2009
Acrylic on canvas
While I am still reading the book (so I’ll hold off on a final critique until I’m done), I did have to then look at the one landscape painting I have in my home. Based on a photograph, it has several of the elements described above … and it also incorporates orange, since it is an autumnal scene. It also reflects my deep appreciation of post-impressionism, but that’s another post.

What do you think of Dutton’s hypothesis? Reflect on your own artistic preferences – do they echo the above, or are they counterpoints? The jacket to the book includes “Heart of the Andes” by Frederic Church (1859). While I appreciate the quality of the composition and the artistic craftsmanship of the work, it leaves me cold. What is your initial reaction to the book cover’s art? I would love to hear your thoughts on this, so do feel free to leave comments.

More later on the rest of the book, but in the meantime, enjoy my Thanksgiving day montage.


Monday, November 22, 2010


I woke up this morning to a muffled kind of stillness. It took me mere seconds to look out the window and consciously realize what the stillness meant – snow! Gray, white, cold, wind-driven, commuter-walked-upon snow. This is very early in the season for the Pacific Northwest lowlands to get such a dusting. Don’t tell my deck, however; it is currently covered in about an inch of the stuff.

So, warm woolen mittens in hand, I went out into the white fluff to do some quick snow removal. No shovel needed – just a light whisk, whisk of a broom, to be followed by salt later today, once it starts to really cool down.
Fifteen minutes and two ruddy cheeks later, the deed was complete. There is nothing like a little snow to make everything indoors all the more cozy. The coffee tastes richer and warmer. The cat is just that teeny bit more excited to stare out the window. It gives the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday an especially thankful glow.

So, with that in mind, I’ll share with you my simple recipe for fresh cranberry sauce. Make it and think of snow and the play of jewel tones on white. Happy warm and cozy Thanksgiving!

Fresh Cranberry Sauce

12 oz. fresh cranberries
1 cup champagne or good, dry rosé
¾ c. sugar
½ c. dried sweetened cranberries
¼ c. any other dried fruit of choice (raid the cupboard – hey, it’s Thanksgiving!)

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, stirring a few times. Remove from heat and pour mixture into a serving dish.

Let stand, and serve at room temperature with the meal. May also be made up to two days ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated until about an hour before serving, when you can remove from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature.   

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fidelity and Passion

In case you missed it, Bruce Springsteen spent an hour with Jimmy Fallon on Tuesday’s Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. It was the only late night outing for Springsteen as he promotes the The Promise: Darkness on the Edge of Town (the re-issue of the 1978 album, with all kinds of musical and personal extras).

I still have goosebumps remembering the musical highlight of the evening, when Springsteen, Roy Bittan and Steven Van Zant, along with The Legendary Roots Crew (hands down the band of late night television) did a version of Because The Night. Watching it was part out-of-body experience, part spiritual revival. It was, quite simply, fidelity and passion personified. Fallon reported Wednesday night that there is a permanent dent in the floor of the set.

I am, admittedly, a late convert to the church of Springsteen. While I am certainly familiar (!) with the Born in the USA album, it was actually Tunnel of Love that truly started the conversion, which was completed with The Rising. While timing may have played some part (released in 2002 after 9/11), its spare, plaintive appeal struck a deep internal chord.

Here’s the link to the YouTube clip of the performance that absolutely brought all who witnessed it to their knees. It is one thing for a young Springsteen to write "... they can't hurt you now." It's quite another to see him perform it with such authenticity three decades later.

Oh. My.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Month of Books Continues

While the timing wasn't planned, I now have a third book to share with you in November – I have just received my copy of Nicky Epstein’s Knitting Block by Block.

Just in time for holiday gift-making, Knitting Block by Block is a compendium of squares – an amazing array of knitting techniques and stitches – as well as tips on how to utilize the squares. Of some interest is a pictoral index of all the squares, made to be copied, cut, and individually placed into one’s own potential design templates. Additionally, there is a brief section on edging and square joining techniques (most of which are crochet) to help the crafter in the all-important finishing aspect of projects.

The blocks themselves are gorgeous – from the simple to the sublime. Epstein also includes several projects to make; however, I viewed these as merely so much imagination grease.

I attended a day of classes taught by Nicky this previous August in support of the book, during which participants could pre-order Knitting Block by Block. Each student was instructed to bring up to three 12x12 squares to class in either garter, stockinette or seed stitch. I, along with many of my classmates, only brought one – but still walked away with a completed project. There are three adorable animals included in the book, each needing only one square, and I made a cat. All students also walked away with many design ideas – and this is the strength of Epstein’s latest book. The blocks are fresh and fun, and there are many design possibilities.

My only issue with the book stems from Nicky’s one criticism (and it was very gentle!) of my work during the workshops – my, shall we say, lackluster sewing skills. It was clear after completing my cat, with its seam down the belly that would have made Frankenstein’s forehead stitches look like excellent plastic surgery, that sewing is not my strong suit. I knew this prior to class. I avoid sewing at all possible costs. Really.

In Knitting Block by Block, however, many knit embellishments are sewn on to completed blocks, and several projects have sewn block seams. This is the downside of the book – many knitters and crocheters just don’t want to deal with seams, or more generally, sewing. Given the various, virtually seamless garment construction options available to the experienced knitter, it might appear that Epstein is bucking current trends.

I choose to overlook this aspect of an otherwise well-conceived crafting book. Instead, I’d rather focus on the wide array of new stitches/combinations I can explore, as well as the portable nature of anything made from the book. I already have a project in my contemplation, using my own choice of blocks. Stimulating the designing and crafting imagination are strengths of Epstein the instructor, as well as Epstein the author.

So along with all that holiday baking, and dreaming of Sicilian multi-course meals, you will probably find me making blocks for the next few months. If my imagination is greased by any more books in November … I’ll definitely let you know.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

It Weighs Eight Pounds

bon appétit’s Desserts, that is.

Yesterday afternoon, Barbara Fairchild, bon appétit’s editor-in-chief, stopped at Grand Central Bakery in Seattle on the Desserts book tour. Those in attendance were treated to several of the tome’s recipes, whipped up by Grand Central’s bakers, prior to the start of the presentation.

After tasting the goodies (I was in cookie heaven – classic chocolate chip (p. 530) and caramel (p. 547), as well as sipping some sparkling wine, Barbara treated the packed
room to everything from her favorite recipe in the book (the pumpkin cheesecake with marshmallow-sour cream topping and gingersnap crust, p. 188-89) to one of her essential baking utensils (a big Sears mixing bowl bought many years ago) to tips on how to break into all aspects of the food industry – since she’s done just about everything during her extensive run with the magazine.

Barbara’s hope for Desserts is that it becomes the go-to baking book for every baker. At a whopping 686 pages (including extensive indices), one cannot imagine needing any other baking reference source.  “The cookbook for all things sweet and wonderful" has tips on how to stock a dessert pantry,
as well as a basic techniques section to get the uninitiated … well … initiated. Jam-packed with gorgeous photos, the recipes are rated on a whisk scale: one whisk is easiest through four whisks - when one should be prepared for a baking extravaganza.

While Barbara graciously signed many, many books, those of us waiting in line started discussing the book, our own baking histories, and the current general state of cooking magazines. Personally, I am a Joy of Cooking gal – I own only five cook books (six now), so Joy is my go-to cooking and baking bible. In fact, once I had an opportunity to sit down with Desserts, I immediately looked
for a recipe I've been making the last few Thanksgivings from Joy. It’s in Desserts, so I expect the baking comparisons to begin.

Stay tuned. And happy baking - all eight pounds worth.  

Friday, November 5, 2010

Anatomy of Blanket-Making

1.  Find a blanket you want to make – in this instance, I chose the Mod-on-Mod blanket from one of my favorite books – Lisa Shobhana Mason's Yarnplay.

2.  Purchase yarn. And purchase. And purchase. And purchase. Which I did, since I decided to double the size of the original, in order to fit my bed.

3. Start making square motifs. And make motifs. And make motifs. And make motifs. I did for about three months. Fortunately, not every day.

4. After finishing the blanket pieces, pile them up and behold the leaning tower. Also focus on color, because it will be important once you start putting the blanket together.

5. Lay out motifs on floor in an order that pleases you. Then, repile your motifs (on, say, the kitchen counter) in that pleasant order, remembering your ordering system. This is very important.  Ask me how I know.

6.Decide on your method of attaching the squares. I avoid sewing at all possible costs, so the single crochet method was my preference. Besides, it added an additional textural note. 

7. Put squares together, and then, if desired, create a border for your blanket. I desired. I slip stitched four rows around this behemoth. It added a clean finishing touch, and used up most of my remaining yarn.

8. Finally, put it on your bed (or wherever else you plan to use your blanket), let your pet conduct quality control, then enjoy. My blanket received the George Bailey paw of approval.

9. and 10. If you're truly feeling the matchy-match love (like I did), go ahead and craft a co-
ordinating pillow.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

An Evening of Sicilian Word and Wine

On November 1st, Robert Camuto put Sicily and its wine and vintners front and center at two Seattle venues.

Initially, at The Elliott Bay Book Company, he read an excerpt from Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey before a curious crowd willing to brave the damp November rain. Camuto deftly fielded audience questions ranging from current Sicilian winemaking practices to the present state of the mafia on the island. He also graciously signed books and chatted with everyone at the completion of the reading.

Camuto, avec famille, then took his Sicilian tour to Columbia City’s La Medusa for an extensive wine tasting. Showcasing many of the winemakers in Palmento, La Medusa expertly poured whites, reds and dessert wines for a hearty crowd in its warm and inviting dining space. The crowd was a friendly cross-section of wine industry and food service professionals, writers, travelers, foodies, and at least one group rigorously taking extensive tasting notes (you know who you are – good luck with the Thanksgiving Day cranberry sauce!). Many left with Palmento, or wine bottles, or both; all exited the event with a new-found (or renewed) appreciation for Sicily.
While my photos are slightly art house-ish (thanks to dim indoor lighting and no flash), they nevertheless capture the warmth of the evening. Thanks to Robert for stopping in Seattle on his book tour, and to his patient wife and son for sharing their journey with us.

Read Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey and Corkscrewed: Adventures in the New French Wine Country. Let Camuto’s words inform and inspire your next wine or travel discovery.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Rustic Elegance

I have been participating in a challenge on Ravelry – craft 10 shawls during the year. I have completed six so far, each crocheted from other designers’ patterns. I am truly thrilled that number seven is my own design. My very first. I am, admittedly, just a little bit proud of it. I might not design another this year for the challenge, but no matter.

One skein of Blue Moon SilkMo in the Cloudy with a Chance of colorway
a portion of one honking skein of 100% Estonian laceweight wool (a gift from a swap - yeah!)
a size M crochet hook 

= my Rustic Elegance Textured Stole!

A back view - it's really warm, and I love the smell of the wool.

The matte bronze-covered buttons continue the rustic feel.
Some #3 Japanese silver-lined gray beads along the upper edge of the  stole
add a touch of elegance, without being out of place.

And, finally, a close-up of the fabric - post stitches and fans.

If someone at the beginning of the year would have told me I would complete 10 shawls, let alone design one of them, I'd have laughed out loud. It happily continues to be an amazingly creative year.