One List Shorter, One List Longer

I’ve abandoned the woven cat food mats project. Slinky gets so enthusiastic about eating that he pushes his food bowl across the floor. I figured a woven mat might provide enough texture to stop it slipping. It was a project that ought to have been simple, but became ridiculously complicated.

(Alert! Technical weaving terms begin.) I thought I’d try warp-faced rep on the knitters loom using some Lion Brand cotton. The warp needs a small dpi – the strands are threaded closer together so only the warp shows in the fabric – but when I went to weave it the yarn stuck together and wouldn’t form a shed. I tried spraying it with hair de-tangling spray and using a pick up stick, which helped, but then I found the warp strands still weren’t close enough to form a completely warp-faced fabric.

So I re-threaded the warp to use plain weave, which caused a flare up of RSI. But because the weft in warp-faced rep doesn’t show, I’d used most of the yarn as warp – so most of it was now cut into lengths. I needed to buy more. (Alert! Technical weaving terms end.)

Well, it turned out there was only one shop in Australia that sold Lion Brand yarn. When I went to order it, they were going to charge me over $15 in postage, even when I reduced the order to one ball. So I went looking for similar yarns and found Sugar & Cream at Yarn Over. Two balls = $6 shipping & handling.

In the meantime, I decided that a non-slip rubber mat would do just as well for the cat. So I’m going to weave hand towels out of the warp on the loom, and concentrate on other projects on my list.

My ‘Books Read in 2011′ list just got longer. I finished two books, but I have to admit the one about bookplates was the shortest in my To Read List. Is that cheating? Well, I hadn’t read it and it was in the list, so I don’t reckon it was.

Small Steps

I am SO looking forward to delivering this book to the publisher. Even though it means we move into the painful and annoying part of the process: editing (painful) and proofing (annoying).

My wrist felt like it was back to normal on Tuesday. The knitting was calling, but I resisted. Wednesday morning I re-warped the small loom (long story) and though it hadn’t bothered me the first time I warped it, I wound up with a sore and burning hand again. Not too bad today, though.

Slinky has gained a lot of confidence. Perhaps a little too much. He’s started being a bit naughty, scratching carpet and chewing on the laces of Paul’s shoes in the wardrobe just after I go to bed. But yesterday I finally saw him go down the stairs and yes, he does move a little bit like a Slinky. Front legs, back legs. Front legs, back legs.

I finished another book: Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World, which was a biography of the guy who started the synthetic dye industry. Mauve led to many other inventions of modern chemistry, including cancer and malaria treatments. It’s the 26th book I’ve read this year, if you don’t count me rereading five of my own books in order to refresh my memory. I’m wondering if I can get to 30 books before the end of the year. That’d be three times the number of books I read last year. (At that rate, it’ll only take me under four years to read through my To Read List.) But I have one more of my own books to reread as well. Perhaps if I choose short books from the List…

And the List is still growing, as I tackle new sections of my book collection. I’ve added short story collections by single authors and more recent non-fiction purchases, which increased the List to 111 books. I still have to go through short fiction magazines and anthologies and my older non-fiction (collected when I worked for Oxford Uni Press) to root out what I haven’t read and/or don’t want to keep. I’m a bit dismayed to find that, of the 26 books I’ve read this year, only two hadn’t been acquired recently. I need to get some of the old stuff read. And stop buying books!

(update) I’ve now gone through the old non-fiction and found I’d missed the small collection of Fantasy Masterworks, and the list has now grown to 134 books. Eeep!

Last Knitted Garment?

Is this the last garment I’ll ever knit?

Pattern: River Tweed
Yarn: Cleckheaton Country
Alternations: As suggested on Ravelry, I added 4 stitches to each underarm. I also added an inch to the arm-to-waist section, which it turned out I didn’t need to do because the yarn relaxed after washing.
Comments: I love everything about this except the button bands. I’m not thrilled about the way they sit at the neckline. Not having the collar begin from the button band makes the band look like an afterthought. But I’d probably be less critical if the band wasn’t garter stitch. It doesn’t make a firm enough fabric to resist bowing between each button. Still, if it really bothered me I’d frog and reknit the band in ribbing. Though perhaps I would be more motivated to do so if I didn’t have RSI.

Well… it might be the last major garment I knit completely on the needles. If I can get most of the knitting done on the knitting machine, perhaps I can still produce them without aggravating my wrist. The next one I intended to tackle was going to be mostly done on the machine anyway. Just the cuffs and bands to do by hand. Or perhaps I’ll work through a garment slowly. It took me four months to knit River Tweed anyway, which is unusually long for me. I could whip a jumper out in 4 to 6 weeks if I stayed focussed.

That I’m actually contemplating knitting at all is thanks to my hand being much improved. Only the occasional flash of heat or twinge of pain now. I was able to sew the buttons on River Tweed with only a little soreness afterwards. On Saturday I warped up the small loom, which didn’t bother me until I had to tie the warp on. The little knots caused a bit of soreness, so I did them in two batches. That’s the secret to getting things done now: tackle them in short bursts.

And I seem to recall you can buy sock knitting machines. Might have to look into that, considering the size of my sock yarn stash.

The Towering Inpurrno Cat Tower

Front:

Top:

Rear:

The way I intended to finish this changed several times during the making. I was going to cover the tubes with material or contact, then I decided painting them would be easier, then I decided recycled denim attached with a hot glue gun for the big tubes and jute rope on the smaller ones would be easier on my hands. Paul did the painting for the base and the ends of the tubes.

I should have stuck with the first idea. Glueing on big pieces of material would have been faster. I was going to do this with the cloth from some old pairs of jeans, but I realised I didn’t have enough to cover all three big tubes. I did have, on the other hand, lots of pre-cut strips of denim left over from weaving rag rugs. Still, that meant I used black denim on the whole thing, which looks really good.

The last step was to make a removable and washable lining for one of the big tubes from some leftover fake fur, batting, black cotton and velcro. That only took fifteen minutes or so.

Slinky was already playing with the tower in it’s naked cardboard form after I did a test build, and the fancying up hasn’t put him off. He’s not noticed that the tubes are now scratching posts yet, and I haven’t drawn his attention to the fur-lined nest yet. But us humans are rather chuffed with how it turned out.

Making Progress

The dramatic improvement of my wrist after the hand therapist session, and the fact I didn’t go backwards in the days afterwards, has given me hope and reassurance that I won’t have to give up most of the activities I do for fun and relaxation. Still, I’m going to have to be careful from now on.

I’m making progress on the book. I’ll have to work every day until the end of the month, with careful pacing, in order to make the deadline.

At life drawing classes on Friday I only had the occasional flare of heat in my wrist. I can draw! Yippee!

Based on that, I decided I could spend a few hours in the morning each day working on the Towering Impurrno Cat Tower. So far it meant using a hot glue gun, which only needs a gentle squeeze. Paul has been doing the painting. It should be done in a few days, then I’ll post pics.

I’ve put a list up in the sidebar of projects I really want to get done. My rule is: one at a time. Other than the Sketchbook Project, I must finish one before I tackle on the next, and only do a little each day.

I’m reading a really interesting little book on art theory that tackles some of the questions I’ve been thinking about in recent years. It’s both opened my eyes and de-glamourised art and the ‘artworld’. It’s delightfully snarky in places, and yet made me see value in some kinds of art I struggled to find value in. I’ve always agreed with the ‘paint what you love/love what you paint’ and ‘paint what makes you smile’ philosophy, but this book really makes me want to forget all my questions about art and just enjoy making it. Perhaps with the spirit of exploration, following inspiration wherever it takes, that I found with craft two years ago.

Reviewing the To-Do List

Yesterday I went to a hand therapist. She confirmed that I have RSI, and we worked out which muscles and ligaments were affected. It looks like my pointer, middle and ring fingers are the most painful to use, and I use them a lot to scroll up and down, use the arrow and delete keys. I’d already noticed that typing isn’t as bad as navigating around a document. So this is was probably caused by editing, not writing.

On Saturday, Paul and I bought Dragon Dictate, a dictation program. Unfortunately, it’s better at taking down spoken text than navigating around a document. Of course, it mishears things so the text needs lots of editing. Which could actually make things worse rather than better.

The hand therapist used ultrasound on my wrist and hand. I’m feeling much better today, so either the ultrasound worked or the prescription anti-inflammatory is starting to take effect.

My main priority now is to meet my book deadline at the end of this month. After that my plan is to take December and January off. I had a whole lot of DIY, home improvement, craft and art projects planned for my ‘holiday’, but I’ve had to cull the list.

My Sekrit Projekt
It involves doing twelve drawings – one for each month next year. I might be able to do it, if I only do one drawing each month instead of doing most of them in December. I’m also considering getting an illustrator to do them for me.

The Sketchbook Project
I still want to do this. I’ve finally come up with an idea that fits the theme (which is ‘Stitches and Folds’) and it only involves doing quick, simple daily illustrations throughout December.

Life Drawing
I’ll give it a try this week. My teacher sometimes gets us to draw with our ‘other’ hand as an exercise. I may end up doing this for all of the class.

Cat Tower
I’ve been considering how I can change my construction plans to reduce the sorts of tasks that might aggravate my hand. I was going to paint the tubes. Maybe now I’ll glue fabric around the big ones, and jute rope around the small ones for scratching instead of weaving a band around the whole arrangement.

Knitting
I finished River Tweed before the RSI started. I just need to sew on buttons. Surely I can manage that.

Otherwise I won’t be doing any knitting for a while. This pile of mending and alteration will have to wait.

Weaving
I’m going to try a small project on the rigid heddle, to see if it aggravates my hand.

Refashioning
I got an undercoat onto the Painted Vest before my hand started hurting. I can probably apply paint now, using my left hand if the right hurts. It’s not like the brush strokes have to be ‘perfect’. I’ve got a pair of runners waiting for a spruiking up, but that mostly involves glue. Projects involving sewing have been packed away.

Projects for 2011
Will have to become Projects for 2012.

Oiling the Deck, Painting the Fence
Will just have to wait. Or maybe I’ll pay someone to do it for us.

Reading
Fortunately, I can do as much of this as I want so long as it doesn’t hurt my back. I need to get Paul to rig something up so I can read while walking on the treadmill. The console is too low to rest a book on.

Ouch

This is as far back I can bend my wrists, and it hurts:

Which is actually an improvement. Thursday I could barely bend my right hand back at all. I only noticed something was up on Wednesday night when I was trying to hold a rather awkwardly designed tea cup and kept losing my grip on it, with the rather embarrassing consequence of spilling tea all over myself. Twice.

I’ve been very clutzy lately. In fact, the last two weeks I’ve been feeling crap, physically, mentally and even a little emotionally. Yesterday I spent the afternoon in the city with a friend and fellow writer from Canberra. She pointed out that I’ve not just finished the writing of a book, but the third in a trilogy and the last in a four book contract that owned me for the last six years, during which Paul and I went through a house renovation, got scr*wed by the builder, I wound up having to ask for multiple deadline extensions because of it, and everything only really sorted itself out in the last year or so. And now I’m about to start another three book contract, which is always a bit scary, but after the last one any new writing project is going to have an underlying ‘what’s going to go wrong this time?’ anxiety to it.

Now I consider it, I think only a fellow published writer could have spotted and pointed out the obvious. I expected that if there was going to be any end-of-project effects they’d kick in after the editing was done and the ms submitted. That’s why I decided December was going to be my ‘holiday’.

It was the icing on the cake was to have my hands, tools of my trade and of the hobbies that keep me sane, pack it in. I thought at first it might be carpel tunnel syndrome, after looking up the symptoms on the internet and talking to my hairdresser, who has it and had an operation to fix one hand. When I had my usual physio session for my back on Friday, he initially thought the same thing. But when he looked closer he said it was unlikely since I’m not getting pain in the right places. It looks more like a sprain and/or RSI.

Carpel tunnel might have been better. The idea that I might have an operation eventually and it’ll all be fine is very attractive. RSI… well, I’ve never heard of anyone getting over it completely. But everyone says it’s better if you tackle it early. Is this early? I don’t know. I’ve always been careful to stop doing anything that causes pain. I’ve done stretching exercises for years in the hopes of staving off RSI or carpel tunnel syndrome. This seems more like damage that has accumulated to the point where my precautions are no longer enough. I’m off to see my doctor tomorrow and get a referral to a specialist – which my hairdresser and physio recommended.

One thing that seems inevitable, is I’m probably going to have to use my hands less. That means being choosy about what I do with them. The days of going wherever crafty inspiration took me are over. I need to prioritise.

Writing – earns money, so highest priority
Art – I’d be sadder if I never drew or painted again than if I gave up crafting
Reading – so long as I take care with my back, I can definitely read more
Craft – some crafts are easier on the hands than others. Bad = hand knitting, hand sewing, macrame, crochet, jewellery-making, printing (some kinds). Possibly okay = weaving, machine knitting, machine sewing, bookbinding, paper craft, printing (some kinds).
Gardening – going to have to get Paul to be my hands for pruning, and use poison instead of weeding by hand
Housework – thank goodness we have a cleaner, who I decided to hire because of my back problem. Well, we had one, but the poor lady injured herself on another job and the company is trying to find us a replacement. We still do some things ourselves, like washing clothes. I’ll get Paul to take over pegging things to the line.

Looking at that list, I suppose knitting less is the main change I’ll have to make. I’ll miss knitting socks the most so perhaps, if the RSI settles down I’ll be able to sneak a little sock knitting in now and then. The rest of the stash… well, if I can’t make it with the knitting machine it goes in the weaving stash.

It’s a good thing I’m not as obsessed with knitting as I was a few years ago. Thankfully, I’d mostly decided not to start a BA next year, or I’d have been panicking about that now. Though, so long as I don’t do really intricate art, I’m hoping I’ll be able to paint and draw without much pain or strain.

Retaining Good Neighbourly Relations

When Paul first bought this house, the garden was a bit overgrown, overcrowded and contained a few plants I was allergic to. So the first thing we did was thin out and simplify so it would be easier to maintain. When I moved in, six years ago, I began to make more considered plans.

The neighbours on either side had well-tended gardens, though there was a bit of a problem with ivy invading. Unfortunately, in the years since, one neighbour changed a lot of their front garden into car parking and stopped looking after their garden or even mowing the lawn, and the other sold to a couple who have let what was once a lovely garden go wild and weedy. Which is a pity. It was a nice street, but a lot of the houses in it have changed hands, and these days it looks shabby.

There’s one garden bed here that I’ve never planted out – the one along the driveway. My plan was to grow roses and lavender all along it:

(The cherub was kindly left by the previous owners, and I’ve kept it out of a sense of irony.)

However, there’s a retaining wall along the fence. The previous owner’s boarder built it years ago. He left a big gap where the remnant wall of an demolished shed stood a foot or so this side of the fence. We couldn’t remove the shed wall. The mulch and topsoil of our garden was already washing around it into theirs, but to remove it completely would make the erosion worse. I asked the owner if she could fill the gap in the retaining wall. She said she couldn’t afford it. There wasn’t much point me planting anything if it was likely to die when the soil washed away, so I waited.

The new neighbours suggested it was entirely our problem.

Even if I’d agreed, the retaining wall couldn’t be fixed without replacing the fence, which was also falling down, as the posts were part of the retaining wall. The new neighbours kept delaying the fence replacement, saying they couldn’t afford it, first because they’d only just moved in, then because they wanted to do other work on their house first.

So I waited. For over five years now. Finally, earlier this year, the fence was replaced. I pointed out again to the neighbour that we had to fix the retaining wall at the same time, and suggested they see if the fence company could do it. We’d pay half each.

Now, I’ve replaced fences in co-operation with neighbours twice before. The fencers ask you to tidy up the garden along the fence – enough to allow access, necessarily to remove everything. They’re supposed to put the boards on facing the same way along the street (so the fence on one side of each block shows boards and the other shows uprights and crossbeams). This meant the fence should have been built with the boards on the neighbour’s side, and that meant they’d have to do a lot of cleaning up since they’d let it get all overgrown.

The neighbours said they’d get in a skip, and we could throw the vegetation we cleared in with theirs, so we didn’t have to book one for ourselves. Despite back problems, and with very little free time because we were about to go overseas, Paul and I got out there and worked hard to tidy up, including digging out a whole lot of creepers we didn’t want anyway. There were just a couple of plants left when we were done, all easily avoided by the fencers.

My neighbours barely lifted a finger to clear their overgrown garden – mainly removed some of the creeper. They never got a skip, which we only learned the day the fence was built, which was the day before we went overseas so we wound up with a pile of vegetation that had rotted down and dropped seeds onto our drive by the time we got home. The fencers, who turned out to be friends of our neighbours, put the boards our side (which does look better) but they still managed to trample some of the few plants we’d left.

This was annoying, but you just roll your eyes and move on. What angers me is the shoddy job the fencers did of ‘fixing’ the retaining wall. It turned out to be in much worse condition than we knew, since we couldn’t see it from our side. The fencers only replaced wood where they had to. Wherever they could, they reused the half rotted out pieces of the original wall, mostly at the base where they couldn’t be seen, but some at the top like this green piece here:

I spotted the problem yesterday, only because rain had washed soil away, leaving gaps between the wall and garden bed that revealed the rotten boards at the base.

For part of the wall they actually moved the fence line so the retaining wall is now on our side. It’s about where the feral tree is that spreads by putting up shoots from runners. Now it has a gap to grow into our garden through.

In a fit of resignation, I bought these and spread them over the bed:

If they don’t wash away in the next rain storm, maybe I’ll have a bit of colour to look at by summer. In the meantime, I’m considering my options. I could:

a) take it up with our solicitor (retaining walls are covered by The Fencing Act according to my local council)
b) pay to have a new wall built even though they’re meant to pay half
c) pay to have someone do what the guy at Bunnings suggested: line the inside of the retaining wall with shade cloth and fill in with rubble. Which would be only a temporary solution.
d) pay to have someone remove the retaining wall and soil so the bed slopes steeply down to the neighbour’s ground level, and grow plants that bind and retain soil.
e) see if soil erosion damage is covered by house insurance

Wrap Skirt into Wrap Top

There’s a few thing I’m hoping to check before publishing the second post about our garden, so for now here’s another project that came out of my wardrobe cull.

As soon as I saw this post on the Recycled Fashion blog I thought straight away of two wrap skirts that I’d culled that were perfect candidates for refashioning into wrap tops. Here’s one of them:

I made the skirts a few years back. I’d worn them quite a bit, but was a little tired of them and I have plenty of summer skirts after last year’s refashioning. They’re essentially a rectangle with some darts, and ties. So is the wrap top. The skirts used a little more fabric than required for the top, and the longer tie could be reused. Less tie sewing = good thing.

About an hour and a half unpicking and sewing later…

The main change I made to the ‘pattern’ was to use a ‘T’ style neck opening instead of a round one with two ‘v’ splits.

When I tried it on I found that the shoulders were a bit too perky and sticky-outy, so I made a seam across them. I also found the outside ties were too low, causing indecorous gaping at the underarms, so I unpicked and raised them.

The back wound up shorter than the front. I don’t mind this, but for the second wrap top I adjusted for it by placing the neck opening 10 cm or so closer to the front hem. I didn’t bother trying to seam around a hole in the middle. Instead I cut the top in two at the shoulder line then sewed it back together with a gap, to form a boatneck opening.

I didn’t bother with the inner ties on the second top. While the front wrapping around to the back seems sufficient to hold everything together, the ties do make it easier to keep the back in place while you’re tying the ouside ties.

The outer ties are long enough to go around the back, cross over, then around to the front again.

The second top only took about 30 – 45 minutes to make.

The fabric from the second skirt, which had bit more drape worked best. I’m tempted to try some cheesecloth next, or go op shop hunting for two square scarves. I also reckon you could makea dress by simply using a longer piece of fabric, too. Or use an oversized tshirt.

Spring in the Garden

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with gardening. I love plants…

… I hate that my body isn’t up to the physical side of gardening. When I was younger I quite liked the physical side. Then, around 28, I wound up with chronic neck pain and had to give up a lot of activities I enjoyed. So I paid a landscaper to do most of our garden and, since there were a LOT of drainage problems (house has flooded three times now) and the builders who renovated left the place looking like a tip, it wasn’t cheap. Whenever I’m tempted by the thought of selling this place and buying another, one of the deterrents it the thought of having to fix up a new garden.

There’s so much here that we tailored to our own needs. Like this huge cat run Paul built:

My favourite plant here is the nasturtiums. They grew all over the builder’s rubble, cheering me up when the whole thing had us feeling very low.

There’s a bit of a herb and vege garden at the end, but it’s looking a little sad and neglected at the moment. I haven’t had the energy or time to think about planting tomatoes this year. Though there’s still time…

Paul bought me this cool compost bin for my birthday. It rolls around on the base, aerating and mixing the contents with little effort (a big advantage when using a fork or shovel hurts), and you can roll it to the place you want to put the compost.

I love trees. We used to have two big ones. The pussy willow had to be removed, but I’m holding onto this flame tree for as long as I can. Usually it has the most amazing, almost fleuroescent red flowers, but this year the possums have got stuck in. Not much I can do about it. They get onto the tree from the neighbour’s house.

Beneath it the liliums are flowering. I removed them from the cat run after I found out they’re toxic to cats.

There’s what I think are irises, saved from the original garden along with ginger, which grows way too fast. In winter bluebells come up, transplanted from a friend’s garden a few years ago. Mostly I try to divide, take cuttings and adopt plants rather than buy new ones. A few years back, when the structural landscaping was done, I bought a few hundred dollars worth of plants. Mere months later I lost most of them during a particularly severe summer heatwave.

I replaced the tree I removed with a maple, which is looking healthy. It’ll be many, many years before it’s as big as the tree it replaced, though. I miss the shade of the old pussy willow, and how the local rosellas, cockatoos and parakeets would feast on the new flowers just outside my studio window.

The bottle brush is my favourite native. The first photo in this post is of a small ground cover in our front yard. I planted trees across the back fence. They should eventually provide a bit of privacy from the neighbour at the back. Though I haven’t seen him in a while, a creepy old guy used to stand there and grin at me when I was in the studio. Ew!

They make great cut flowers for the house, too.

During the drought, like many Aussie gardeners, I discovered succulents. Growing them was a bit hit and miss. I got a whole lot by walking around the local streets and taking a tiny piece off the hardy remnants of gardens lost to neglect since their owners died or moved on, and their descendants turned their homes into rental properties. The Camberwell market is a great source, too.

Then I made the mistake of buying a few plants from the supermarket, and introduced a fungus that killed almost everything. I had to start again. They’ve finally started to thrive again. I have them all around the base for the water tank.

The one stretch of garden I haven’t been able to do anything with since moving here six years ago is the beside-the-driveway bed. There have been issues with the neighbour. But this post is long enough already. I’ll save that story for another time.