Getting Old

Sometimes it sure does suck to be a girl. Actually, it doesn’t tend to suck fully until you become a woman. I’ve been pretty lucky when it comes to The Cycle – until now. Though my doctor says I’m too young at 43 to have the big M word, she’s coming around to the idea. In fact, the M word is the best case scenario. I don’t want to think about the worst case scenario. (Nevertheless, there are unpleasant tests to look forward to, just in case.)

The upshot is I could be ambushed by my own body at any time. I won’t go into the gory details. The unpredictability wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t mean, without warning, find myself utterly drained and unable to go anywhere unless there’s almost no walking involved and I can get to a toilet at a moment’s notice, or unable to exercise for the discomfort, and finding my clothes are either way too big or way too small from week to week – but in different areas at different times.

I’m beginning to think I’m going to have to have three wardrobes, each a different size, so I can switch according to whether my body is currently bloated, and whether it’s the top or bottom half.

So, my dear friends, if I don’t commit to something until the last moment, suddenly back out of plans, leave a social gathering suddenly, or generally look a bit anxious about something (like the availability of your toilet), don’t take it personally. And it won’t last forever. Apparently I should get over it in somewhere between two to ten years.

Cat Scratching Post

Slinky has well and truly settled in now. As Paul says, he’s gone from cautious kitten to delinquent teenager, testing our limits and control with destructive behaviour and the occasional nip. The cat-deterring citrus spray I bought doesn’t appear to deter him from scratching once the smell dissipates after a few minutes. Fortunately he really doesn’t like being sprayed with a spray gun. Unfortunately we can’t be around all the time and catch him being naughty.

He’s still very playful and will curl up in my lap in the evenings. The Towering Inpurrno gets plenty of action, though it has evolved a lot since we first made it.

Slinky considered the furry lining something fun to rip off, so that came out. He also didn’t seem to recognise the jute covered tubes as something to scratch, and while he’d play with ping pong balls or rope run through them I eventually figured they were better put to the purpose of being an alternative nail sharpening surface to the sofa bed, carpet, clothe’s dryer, etc.

We have, however, realised a great deal of play potential in the simple addition of a rope fed through the centre of one of the barrels. He’ll actually pull it out one end until it stops, then race around the other side and pull it the other way again.

To turn the tubes into a new scratching post, we used a box left over from when we made the magazine rack, side table and vinyl album holders. After a bit of drilling, sanding, varnishing and tying on with rope offcuts from the macrame owl we had this:

Now we just have to convince Slinky to attack this rather than the carpet and furniture.

A Sketchy Plan

I haven’t kept a regular sketchbook for a while now. The itch to sketch faded last year after I started life drawing classes, though while I was overseas I managed to do a sketch per week. I do miss it, though. It was fun, exercised my artistic ‘muscles’ and I get a lot of satisfaction from looking through the completed sketchbooks.

This year I’m going to the same class, but drawing the faces of the models instead. My intention is to start doing portraits, and this is great practise and a warm-up for the ‘real thing’. It’s surprising how intimidating it is to draw a model’s face. It feels much more personal that drawing a naked body. I need to get over the reluctance to stare at someone’s face as well as learn to draw it well. Especially when nervousness on my part is going to make any sitter I work with feel less comfortable with me staring at them.

I’ve done some truly atrocious drawings, but also some that I’m not ashamed of. While I decided not to post pics last year in case anybody found drawings of naked people objectionable, but that shouldn’t be a problem with portrait drawings so here are a few:

I’ve noticed that I’ve stopped obsessively trawling through art and drawing blogs lately. I’m hoping this is because my search for direction is over. Drawing faces is proving to be even more of a challenge than I expected, but I feel like I’m learning something and making progress. It’s all about building up skills of observation right now. Later I’ll have to find a technique and medium that I like and is distinctively mine. I’m attracted to two quite opposite approaches: realistic black and white pencil drawings and abstract, colourful slap-it-on oil paintings. I guess I’ll have to try both, and see which I like better.

My teacher said last year that to be any good at art you need to ‘do it more than once a week’ – and, well, I already know she’s right. I’m thinking of holding a craft day again, and see if my friends will spare twenty minutes to sit for me. And I’ve been trying to sketch a few faces from a reference book of facial expressions one night a week. I do them in a sketchbook, filling pages where I’d faltered last year.

It’s making me want to reclaim that little weekly ritual of sketching the world around me and playing with mediums. Today I caught up with some of the art blogs I’d been neglecting and found a lovely post on Senioritis by Danny Gregory. It’s so much easier to do nothing. But so beneficial to exercise your powers of observation and get in the zone on a regular basis.

And it would be a great way to gain a bit of short term satisfaction in my lifestyle of year-and-a-bit long projects.

Painted Vest & A Crafty Convention

Done at last!

The black bias binding was exactly what it needed. The woman at the dry cleaner/alternations shop said “You should be a designer”. To which I replied “Thanks, but the ‘I’m not that great at sewing’ thing might be a problem”.

I’m thinking that the convention I’m going to in June will be the place to wear this. Though it’s the yearly science fiction and fantasy con, this time it’s called Craftonomicon. There’ll be all kinds of crafty sf & f goodness happening.

I’ve volunteered to run a workshop called ‘Con Bag Craft’, which will use bookbinding and papercraft methods to make use of the stuff that usually comes in the con bag. I’m also helping brainstorm a community art project that’ll run over the weekend, have suggested a panel on craft in sf & f stories, and am considering doing a weaving demo.

I’ve heard that knitting and chain mail jewellery workshops are in the works, plus t-shirt refashioning demos. There’s going to be a craft market, so if you have sf & f/book/film/games related products it might be worth looking into setting up a table there. I’m considering bringing in and demonstrating my looms.

And if you like designing geeky craft projects, there’s a book called Stitch in Time Travel that’s open for submissions.

Owl Always Love You

Yonks ago I got all keen to do macrame again, bought some materials and made a small pot holder, but that’s as far as it went. Using up the rest of the materials – or at least the bulky rope – was one of my Projects for 2011 list, but had to be abandoned when I got RSI.

The Towering Impurno was supposed to have used up a lot of it. The tower was supposed to be wrapped with a wide band of woven rope. I got as far as cutting and tying on a warp, but the weaving was so rough on my shuttle it tore a piece off the side. That left me with lots of already cut lengths of rope.

Looking at the lengths, I figured there was not much I could do with them except a small macrame project. So I started searching the internet. And, as you do, I found some very amusing links. Like this worthy cause. And this awesome artwork. And I just had to buy one of these.

But I didn’t find a macrame owl pattern that I liked. So I emailed Dad and asked him to take a photo of the one I made in primary school. Yep, they still have it, and the Macrame Owl Sanctuary volunteers would be pleased to know he’s in good condition.

So, working out the knots from the photos, I made another one.

Why? Well, what else was I going to make with several cut lengths of rope?

Getting Stuff Made

I’m still getting used to thinking differently about craft and DIY projects. Instead of trying to think of ways to do things myself, I need to think of clever ways to not do them myself. Sometimes it’s a matter of keeping my eyes open for opportunities.

I had the idea a while back of making a cross between a brush roll and a work apron. What with the table in my studio taken up with the Bond, and sewing low on the priority list of things to spend my quota of hand-using craft time on, I figured it was going to be a long time before I got around to making one. Then at Lincraft the other day I spotted brushes sold in a bundle with a brush roll and it clicked: why not buy one and add a tie?

I went looking for cotton tape to use as ties, but couldn’t find any. Don’t you just love how Lincraft has the same item in three different places by three brands, or else not at all? But near the counter they had these cute shoelaces, so I grabbed a pack.

A few minutes of hand sewing later I had my brush apron.

So I’m feeling chuffed at my powers of adaption, even if I’m a bit sad that I didn’t get to make it myself, and that at $15 someone’s probably working for less than $1 a day to make these brush rolls. Perhaps I could have found a sewer on Etsy or Made It to whip one up for me, but I’m still getting a handle on this ‘getting others to make things’ thing.

Like the painted vest. I finally got the right bias tape and dropped the vest off at the laundrymat to be sewn. I’ve also ordered some custom made pillows from an Etsy shop. Now I just have to find a painter to do our fence and deck…


I’m calling these my Pre-RSI socks, because they were the project I was in the middle of when my hands stopped working properly last year. So it’s with particular satisfaction that I can say they are done:

One was done by hand, the other partly done on the Passap. Can you tell the difference?

The first sock was mostly done – only a bit of the ankle and the cuff to do. I thought I would have to finish them over several weeks, hand knitting for half and hour each night (and only if my hands weren’t sore), because they were done with alternating rows of two yarns. Though I’d used a short row heel, I knew I couldn’t easily replicate doing it with two yarns on the machine, and I already knew that gusset increases were difficult to do.

But then I discovered that my machine does do colour switching really easily, so I could at least produce a tube:

That left me with hand knitting the toe (top down), doing the section from the gusset increases to heel to gusset decreases, grafting another section of tube on, then the ribbed cuff. It still took several nights to work through all that – one for the toe, two for the gusset and heel, one each for the cuffs – but it certainly kept the hand knitting down to a manageable level.

I’m now working on adding the length to a garment during my half hour hand knitting sessions, but by the time that’s done I should have another pair of socks ready for handknitting cuffs onto. A pair for Paul next, I think.

No Short Term Satisfaction

A thought popped into my head yesterday that amused me:

“I want a new list. I don’t like the current one any more.”

I used to put my to-do list on LJ, but these days I have it in Evernote, which synchs to the iPhone app so I can consult it pretty much anywhere. After I got RSI I deleted a whole lot of things or altered them from ‘do thing myself’ to ‘get someone else to do thing’. What was left were the items I thought I really wanted to get done. The good part was it became a much shorter list. The bad part was that wanted actually meant needed for most items, and it’s not as much fun getting someone else to do things as doing them yourself.

I always knew that one of the benefits of craft and home improvement projects was that I get the satisfaction of finishing something far more often than I ever do with writing. The trouble I’m having at the moment is that even the things I’m doing myself are refusing to let me finish them.

Like Summer Solstice. Well, I’ve got rid of that item the other way – giving up on it – but that gave me no short term satisfaction.

Then there’s the painted vest. It needs to have bias binding sewn around the edges, something I find a chore so no point aggravating the RSI over it. I’ve found a laundromat that does alterations and is willing to do it for me for $35, but the first time I popped in it turned out I didn’t have enough bias tape and the second time I’d bought the wrong kind. I’m sick of the sight of this project now, even if the reason it’s taking so long to finish is because I’ve been a bit of a doofus.

It doesn’t help that the house improvement projects on the list are going nowhere as well. The garage project is crawling along. The concreter said we had to get the old carport’s legs removed completely, as the foundations need to go below ground level (and the drive is raised within a retaining wall. So we got a guy in to do that. Only he’s left his excavator behind, and the concreter is taking his time coming back to do a quote, and I’m beginning to wonder if the foundations are going to be ready by the time the garage turns up. And to think I was disappointed we had to wait five weeks for the garage to arrive.

We need to get our fence painted, our deck cleaned and oiled, the retaining wall our neighbours failed to fix replaced, and the garden and drainage on that side sorted, but it’s all waiting on the garage.

I’m finishing a pair of socks I started pre-RSI, and knitting some extra length onto a garment, but only half an hour to an hour per night so it’s slow going. The current weaving project requires several more hour long sessions. Even the book I’m reading is plodding along.

I swear, I’ll soon be washing the dishes or baking cookies just to get my project completion ‘fix’. I just want to get SOMETHING DONE!

It’s Not You, It’s Me

Enough. I’ve frogged Summer Solstice one time too many, admitted defeat and put the yarn back in the stash. The pattern and all my notes and plotting out on graph paper are filed away.

What? I’ve been working on it for three months. Made seven attempts since I first bought the pattern. If I’d knit it by hand I’d have done it in half that time.

The grief I’ve had with this project has been 10% due to the pattern, 50% issues with the Bond, and 40% me making mistakes. Though I’ve fixed almost of that by simplifying the pattern, ‘fixing’ the machine to a price of wood, buying two- and three-prong transfer tools, and doing a lot of research and learning from the mistakes I’ve made… I think if I actually succeed in the next attempt I may never wear the darn thing because I’ll be sick of the sight of it.

In other news, my order from Bond finally arrived. Along with the accessories and a book of hints and tips, I bought this:

Which cranks out i-cord. Which is fun for about the first minute. But a lot less tedious than doing it by hand.

First Machine Knit Socks

So did I do the next project in the Passap manual? Nope! I went straight to the tube tutorial and made this:

Then I made the beginnings of a sock from the toe up:

I discovered that gusset increases on the sides of socks are doable but hard to keep track of, as you have to keep moving stitches from the front needles to the back. I also decided that top down socks might be easier on the knitting machine to begin with. So this got frogged, but at least I had a gauge for the yarn to work out the length of foot.

Next I needed to know how to do short rows, so I went back to the manual and did enough of the skirt project to pick up the method. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the result, though. The way the manual has you do short rows doesn’t wrap stitches so you get little holes. YouTube came to the rescue. There is a three part video of a woman doing a child’s sock on my machine. After watching it a few times I did this top down version:

I got around the fact that my feet are narrower than my ankles by decreasing four stitches about twenty rounds down from the heel. I expected that having no gusset increases to allow for my high arches would mean the sock wouldn’t go on easily, but it did and fit just fine.

A weekend too hot for being in the studio followed, so I didn’t make the pair until the next Monday. Then I found that it didn’t match the first one. Little differences in tension and row count led to a narrower foot and the stripes not matching. So I frogged and redid the first one. (Note to self: always make both socks in the same session.)

The next step was to kitchener the toe and hand knit the ribbed cuff. You can’t do ribbing in a tube on the machine. The video tutorial shows the knitter doing the cuff flat then moving half the stitches from back to the front needles, with the band to be sewn up later. I’d rather hand knit the ribbing and have no seam.

I also knit two more stripes in stocking stitch before I did the ribbing to make the socks the length I like. That’s why it’s taken me so long to finish them. I’m restricting myself to no more than half an hour’s knitting at a time to avoid stirring up the RSI.

Here are the finished socks:

Next I want to try a toe-up sock again, either with a short row toe or trying a different method of increasing stitches. Apparently there’s a way of doing heel flap heels, too. I’ve a hunch that my super secret special way of knitting socks from graduated yarn will work on the machine too.

I did worry that using the knitting machine would be too, well, mechanical for me to enjoy it, but there is something addictive about the way it just whizzes out the rows. It means you can experiment without having to wait days or weeks to see the result.

And my hands don’t hurt. That’s always a good thing.