Thursday, August 30, 2007

cris the critter

I always have such good intentions for keeping trains of thought going and connecting one thing to another on the blog... oh, well. I'm easily distracted, I guess. So here we are, just a few weeks behind schedule, with the latest installment of Felted Animals that You Didn't Imagine You Might Want to Knit, But They're Kind of Cute So What the Heck?

Please meet Cris.


She is a felted & stuffed version of Condyluria cristata, the star-nosed mole. Please note that she has exactly 22 tentacles around her nose and 5 claws on each foot, just like her real-life cousins in the wild (I-cords are a mole's best friend). Read all about the amazing world of star-nosed moles here.

For those of you who find moles kind of icky (I know not everyone gets as geeked on wildlife as I do), I hope that you don't find Cris too freaky. She is a sweet and snuggly little mole, but she's the terror of earthworms and other underground wigglies. If you're a grub, you better watch out. Those tentacles can grab 14 grubs per second. Felted grubs, I mean (should I make some felted grubs for her?).

Poor Cris has been sitting around my house for weeks waiting to be stuffed and sewn shut. I don't know what it is about a needle & thread that can make me procrastinate for so long. I can pick up the knitting needles 1,000 times to start a new project before I'll pick up the needle & thread to finish one.

I'm glad she's finished though. Cris's body is made from Lamb's Pride worsted, which makes her very fuzzy and soft. Her nose, claws and tail are made from Cascade 220. She fits nicely into the palm of your hand or a large pocket, and would make an excellent good-luck charm while spelunking, digging holes, or exploring an underground steam tunnel. Hopefully I'll get to take her on an underground adventure some time soon!

Our next animal for felting will be selected by Les, who had his birthday yesterday. If he picks a cute animal that other people might want to knit & felt too, perhaps I'll publish the pattern. But as for Cris... if you really want to knit a star-nosed mole, I'd be glad to write up the pattern and put it on the blog - she was not very hard. But somehow I am not expecting a clamor... we'll see. It would be fun to see a rash of stuffed star-nosed moles all over the internets!

off to find a wiggly treat

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

happiness is...

...a moth nursery.

Yesterday I was sitting on the porch waiting for a ride, and I swear I could hear chewing. I looked to the left, and saw this beautiful guy on the moonflower vine twisted around our front porch railing:


I ran inside to get the camera. And then I saw this one:


And this one:


And this one:


And then I noticed all their poop all over the porch:


I don't know exactly which kind, but I'm pretty sure these are all the babies of a sphinx moth. I think these are three different phases of the same caterpillar (Bugheart, help me out here....). Their mama, who I *think* is a Carolina Sphinx moth (a.k.a. Tobacco hornworm), was hanging out on the front door last night. In case you don't know, the sphinx moth is a big giant moth that makes beautiful green caterpillars who strip your tomato plants, moonflowers and other things absolutely bare, and then they go on to the tomatoes. HWWLLB is out there right now trying to move some of them into a big bush in the front yard that we don't like. But I think they're too smart for him (and I'm secretly cheering them on).

I love a sphinx moth. HWWLLB calls them "flying shrimp." They are about the size of a jumbo shrimp, actually. Some are scary looking, and some are quite beautiful. I think the Carolina Sphinx fits into the beautiful category, myself. I think I am officially declaring the Tobacco hornworm / Carolina Sphinx moth larvae to be the new Hot Critter.

...happiness is also a long bike ride.

Before the moth nursery discovery, I was feeling really bad. Bad mood, sad, grouchy, just miserable. So Sis and I decided to take a long bike ride. We rode about 15 miles, I think, out to Umstead State Park, a big loop inside the park, and then back again.

these are our bikes at the park entrance - just to prove we were there.

It's amazing how some vigorous exercise can make you feel better, especially when it comes with a little change of scenery. Riding around the city, you see some interesting things, but mostly you're just dodging cars.

But once you get to the beltline crossing, (which you do over an amazing bridge above the highway), you're in the park system, in this case the woods around the Art Museum. You get to ride through the Art Museum park, full of wonderful statues, then out on the road to Umstead, which is the only road I've ever seen in Raleigh with bike lanes.

We passed horses with babies, long-horned steer, and a pond full of painted turtles. One of the turtles came up to the bike path for some sun. As we descended into the shade of the park, the temperature seemed to drop and drop, and it was like we were entering another land.

By the time we got home, I was pooped, but smiling. There is nothing like a long bike ride to work out whatever funk has a hold of me.

And then there was all that caterpillar poop waiting for me on the porch. A perfect Monday.

Friday, August 24, 2007

new things to share

There is this amazing cosmic balance. At work, just as I am really beginning to believe that things have lightened for a while, a side project suddenly makes everything so weighty and emotional. If this lesson hasn't smacked me on the nose enough times yet this year, here it is again: treasure every moment on earth. We're here to be loving and kind, and everything we do, and everyone we touch, are what make us who we are. It's a lesson I'm grateful for, even though I wanted to stay in the lightness a bit longer. Hm, I think there's a Kundera book on this subject...

Anyway... new things to tell. First, a new blog. Another one! Crikey. But this will be different: the class I'm taking this semester requires us to keep a journal with responses to our weekly readings. I love reading journals - my most favorite professors always assigned them in college. Anyhow, this professor suggested we use a blog as our journaling tool. Mine's called Reading is good medicine, in case you should care to stop by and weigh in on the making of modern health care, or whatever else pops up, as I doubt I'll be able to stick to just one kind of reading-response.

I think it's rather telling that while I have yet to read even one page of the assigned book, I have spent several hours on the layout and design of the assigned blog. But most of you probably don't find that very surprising, because I know you do the same thing (right?).

Finally, I must share this beautiful little thing with you:

fawn necklace
from happy owl glassworks

A prize from Bugheart! She is the most incredibly lavishly generous friend. I am always surprised and a bit sheepish opening her beautiful packages. This one was an unexpected thrill in the mail yesterday - I haven't stopped wearing it yet (except to take the photo).

The part that really made me smile, though, was the tag:

witzig tag

I recently said that her wonderful little gift tags kill the suspense... so this tag did no such thing. I really love all her gift tags with their sweet drawings (even the highly informative ones), but this one made me laugh and laugh. That monster is so damn cute, too.

Thank you, dear Bugheart!

See you all at school! It seems wrong for summer to be "over" when it's still 100 degrees outside, but I'm not complaining.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

three things...

A few recent learnings, and an announcement.

First, the announcement: The rumors are true. HWWLLB is blogging. You can read his musings and join in the discussion at yclept. I keep waiting for a post on how various spaceships look when they explode, but so far it's all been pretty high-brow stuff (comparatively).

On to the learnings:

1. I really shouldn't try to knit with multiple colors when they don't belong to a color family that I particularly like. I can't be trusted to put decent-looking colors together.

I've been making this hoodie for a friend of mine who is about to turn five. She looks great in bright, pastel-tone colors. They aren't colors that I like or understand, but I make things for her with them because they look so good on her. So I've been slogging along on this hoodie, which I've been calling the Fruit Stripe Hoodie, which will be purple with pink striped sleeves. Sounds good, right? But the pink stripes are kind of reddish-purplish, and though they look perfectly fine to me, well-meaning (and trustworthy) people keep politely asking me whether I actually meant to put those colors together. As if perhaps I'd made a mistake and not noticed that these two yarns clash horribly. Well, truth be told, I hadn't really noticed, because pink and purple are kind of a mystery to me, so I figure they just look sort of generally bad because I don't like them - not because they actually don't go together.

This is a new rule: Don't knit with colors you don't like. It's not that much fun. Also, the thing will probably turn out ugly.

The rule has a second part, which might be Learning #2: Don't knit with fibers you don't like. It makes the not-fun even worse.

Did I mention that this is acrylic yarn? Well, it is. I was going for easy-care, trying to be nice to the parents who do this kid's laundry... well, forget nice. I like knitting with alpaca and merino and silk, and that's what I intend to do from now on.

The Fruit Stripe Hoodie, by the way, has been wadded up in a plastic bag and shoved to the back of the yarn cabinet, never to be heard from again. And I don't even feel guilty. Except that this girl's birthday is coming up soon and I need to figure out an alternate plan... maybe a sock monster?

Learning #3:
If you intend to ride in a bike race around downtown on a Saturday night, use your flashers, and don't even think about riding the wrong way on a one-way street.

Aside from the bicycle-complaints-related tickets that were handed out to some unfortunate bicyclists (including Heather Why! Poor Heather), we had a blast at the Back-to-School Alleycat on Saturday. An Alleycat, in case you didn't know, is sort of half bike-race, half scavenger hunt. Mitzi was my partner - we raced all over downtown Raleigh following clues, performing silly feats of trivia, and generally having a great time. For all you lady bike lovers out there in the greater Raleigh area, the women-only Pussycat is coming up this weekend. Don't miss it! (P.S. I haven't posted links because the site seems to be down... I'll try again later)

It's now back-to-school time for me, and though I have loved these last two weeks of no homework and no evening hours parked in front of the laptop, I do realize that sitting in front of the computer does mean more blogging, blog reading, flickr tomfoolery and other productive modes of procrastination, and I'm glad for that. Hooray for productive procrastination!

Friday, August 17, 2007

free pattern friday: elph cozy


Everything shiny needs a case. I love felted cases for gadgets because they're durable, thick and cushiony. Felted cases provide a bit of shock-proofing for gadgets that rattle around in my daybag bumping up against keys and whatnot.

This is a case for my tiny new camera, so it's likewise tiny and takes only an evening and a some leftover stash yarn to make. It is sized to fit an itty-bitty Canon Elph, but you can adjust it to suit whatever sized gadget you have.

less than 1 skein worsted-weight 100% wool. shown in Lamb's Pride Worsted, color #M-06, deep charcoal.
size 8 (US) needles, any style
size I (5.5 mm) crochet hook
one large button (around 1.25 in)
sewing needle & thread
tapestry needle

gauge: (before felting): 16 st and 24 r / 4 in

size: one size

finished measurements (post-felting)
circumference, width-wise: 5.75 in
circumference, length-wise: 8.25 in

knitted measurements (pre-felting)
width: 3.5 in
length: 12 in, with a 1.75 in tapered flap

re-sizing to suit your gadget
Felting shrinks a piece of knitted fabric more length-wise than it does width-wise. Every yarn is different, but my rule of thumb is that after two ten-minute washer cycles, the width shrinks by about 20%, while the length shrinks by about 35%. Use this rule of thumb to help you resize the pouch to fit your gadget's exact measurements.

For instance, if the circumference of your gadget (length-wise) is 8.25 in, multiply by 1.35 = 11.14 in. Then round up to 12 in to leave a little extra room for the fold-over flap. If the circumference (width-wise) is 5.75 inches, multiply 5.75 x 1.2 = 6.9 in (I just round up to 7 inches). Divide the width in half, since you'll be folding it over and sewing it up, so the two sides are knit separately. The width will be 3.5 in. So you'll knit a long strip that is 3.5 in wide and 12 in long, plus the tapered flap.

knitting the pouch
CO 15 st
Knit flat in st st until piece measures 12 in.
Next RS row: K2 tog, K to last 2 st, SSK
WS: Purl
Continue dec on every RS in this manner until 4 st rem.
WS: Bind off, leaving the final loop. Do not cut tail.
To begin chain, insert crochet hook into the loop that represents the final st in the final row. Ch 14 st sc, finish, leaving a long tail. Sew the chain down to the first st of the last row, creating a loop.

Fold over the pouch, WS together, so that the pouch is 5.5 inches long with a large, tapered flap. Sew up sides.


Place the pouch into a pillowcase (or garment bag) and tie the end. Felt as usual - I usually use two ten-minute washer cycles, but check it after the first cycle to see whether it has shrunk enough to suit your gadget. One easy way to check is to stick your gadget into a small plastic bag (to protect it from moisture) and stick it into the pouch. You want a nice, snug fit. Continue felting until the pouch fits the gadget snugly.

Shape the pouch by sticking the plastic-protected gadget inside and allowing it to dry. (Alternatively, you can use a deck of cards or other object of a similar size).

Once the pouch is dry, place your gadget inside and fold over the flap, marking it for button placement with chalk or a stitch marker. Sew on button. You're done!

important notice: This is a free pattern and you are welcome to use it for all the non-commercial purposes you like. However, you may not reproduce this pattern to sell, and you may not sell what you make with it. You may donate what you make with it to charity, and you may use it for charity fundraisers only if 100% of the proceeds are donated to the charity (and by charity I don't mean your kid's college fund). Thanks for understanding!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

chaos, from a distance

I suppose that the answer to this missive about how to go about leading a meaningful, peaceful, developed-world life as our nation wages war in a chaotic Middle East will be something about taking pleasure in small things and finding meaning in everyday kindnesses, or something like that. But today I find it hard to write about the things that have been filling my free time - bike rides and knitting and garden tribulations - when more than 250 Iraquis were murdered yesterday in the bombings in Qahtaniya. It's a matter of perspective, I guess.

Just saying "stop the war" isn't enough, as much as I want it to stop, for us to be done with it, for the bloodletting to end. The U.S. has unleashed massive, violent chaos in Iraq, and every step forwards or backwards seems to just make things worse.

As Rove steps away this week, I am so angry with the spectacular arrogance of the Bush administration and its chief architects, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, for thinking - or at least saying - that American troops would roll in, declare victory in a couple of weeks, and roll out again. And still amazed that the American people bought their snake oil (I hope the snake oil concocter himself is taking permanent early retirement. Goodbye, Rove).

I am so frustrated with the paralysis of Iraqui leaders in taking productive decisions - heck, any decisions - to move towards some semblance of cooperation with each other.

I am so anxious that another hurricane season is bearing down upon the Gulf Coast, and our National Guard troops and equipment are wholly occupied with this bloody Iraqui whack-a-mole project. I don't want to imagine that what happened in New Orleans could happen again, but the truth is that it could, because our recovery resources are otherwise deployed.

Today's article in the New York Times about the bombings yesterday and the general state of affairs in Iraq is what set me off. It's an excellent overview of the quagmire of violence and vacuum of leadership as it currently stands. So what do we do?

There are plenty of lovely distractions from this crisis, things to make, places to go, but what do we do? Where is this lunacy headed? How can we as citizens use our votes, boycotts, donations, whatever tools we have to urge our elected officials to find a way to create the conditions for a troop withdrawl, a cease-fire, a productive political discussion... any forward motion? And by the way, does anybody have a plan for those things? Is there a way out? Or is there just destruction, and an ultimate decision to move on, leave the sorting-out to someone else and hope for the best?

What do you knit when you can't stop thinking about your responsibility for massive destruction?

Monday, August 13, 2007

tag, you're it

I have a question for all you gift-knitters out there: do you make hang tags for your knitted lovelies? Sometimes I feel like a dork making up the hang tag, but I am driven by a nagging fear of lovingly-made handknits tossed into the dryer or worse, washed with Tide!

So I dutifully make up hang-tags with care instructions. I have an 'f.pea' rubber stamp that I got made up at the local print shop for about $15, and I use that to mass-produce little tags on scraps of cardstock from here and there (the recycling bins at work and the print shop are my favorite sources).


On the info side, I name the garment (so that the recipient will remember which sweater goes with which tag), list the fibers, and write in care instructions.


Some yarns, like my beloved Blue Sky Alpacas Organic Cotton (love you!) come with their own hang tags. In this case, I'll sometimes tie the manufacturer's tag on along with my own... you know, for the added laundry-related authority. Don't believe me that you shouldn't put this thing in the dryer? Well, don't take my word for it - just ask Blue Sky Alpacas!

I don't really talk to my friends this way, you know. Only in my imagination, and only while inhaling Sharpie fumes and writing out hang-tags.

So I'm curious... what kinds of tags do you make?

And coming later this week... the latest installment in the ongoing saga of Felted Animals that You Didn't Imagine You Might Want to Knit, But They're Kind of Cute So What the Heck? I knitted another critter. It's cuter than you might think... cuter than I would have thought, anyway, and it's almost ready for showtime.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

spawn of the tomato

This is the time of year when only the strong survive. Those little plants that never quite got through the early summer sunburns, or got shaded out by the over-acheivers before establishing themselves... they're history. Cooked. Gone!

But the ones that remain... they are supermutants. The other day I looked out the window and felt what was almost a pang of terror at the sight of the pumpkin vine, which I swear I could actually see growing, heading straight for the house. The watermelon vines have colonized a whole section of the backyard. The tomato plants, heavy with fruit, are bending stalks to the ground that take root and send new vines upwards again, taking on new lives of their own. Drought, heat, ground-level ozone, caterpillars... these plants have seen adversity and they have laughed in its face. I just hope they don't turn on me.

We were reading in the Sunday paper about garden tasks to be done in August (preferably at 5 am, before the sun comes up and the outdoors becomes unbearable). The garden columnist suggested pruning back tomato plants some to send the energy into fruit production. That I've done before. But he also suggested using cuttings to start new plants for fall. That was a new one on me, but a great idea, since growing tomatoes from seed seems to require some sort of magical formula that I don't have, and there is nary a tomato plant to be found at the farmer's market or the garden store these days.

So I took two particularly nice trimmings from our italian paste tomatoes (I think they're called Big Mama) and stuck them into pots with lots of compost, potting soil and vermiculite. Apparently you have to keep them in the shade and pretty damp while they're making roots. Wish them luck - it's going to be over 100 degrees again today.

big mama, the donor plant

las mamacitas

They look a little droopy, but otherwise seem to be doing fine. Wouldn't it be great to be making fresh tomato sauce right up through the first frost? Last year, that was in mid-November. I'm determined to figure out how to get a nice fall crop out of the garden - because in this weather, it's not so enjoyable out there. In fact, I really just look at it through the window, and make sympathetic noises when HWWLLB comes in from the garden at 8 am streaming with sweat. He's such a hard-working gardener.

As for me, I have my feet up on the coffee table, a beer next to me and a pile of knitting on my lap. The summer semester from hell is finally over! And things at work have moved to a much more humane frequency... I plan to laze out the rest of August at a leisurely, 9 to 5 kind of gait, low caffeine, high relaxation, slowed to an appropriate pace for the sweltering weather.

Last night I started a knitting project that I can't wait to show you... it's not quite ready yet. But I can hardly contain myself...!

Friday, August 03, 2007

admiring portraits

august pumpkin

We have a ripe pumpkin from the garden. It's August. Is Thanksgiving coming early this year? Should I be concerned?

Lately I've noticed some of my friends and neighbors making amazing portraits. I particularly love self-portraits, but there's also that special genre of portraits taken by the beloved. They are the admiring portraits.

The two that made my heart go pitterpat this week:

a portrait of my next-door-neighbor, indiaromeo.

shari's portrait of her beloved T and his beloved homebrew.

This is a short post today... I'm going to be absent for a few days as I work on a final exam in my hideous evil epidemiology class. It's due Monday night... see you on the flip side.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

spoiled rotten

Sorry it's been so quiet around these parts lately. I have an explanation, but it's long-winded and boring... but I have missed you. I have been peeking in on all your blogs and crafty projects and wishing I had more time - always wanting more time to make, and talk with everyone about making.

Part of what I was doing while I wasn't blogging was having my 32nd birthday. Wheee! I am 32, and I've had the same haircut, job, cat, and pair of black birkenstocks since I left grad school... that was about 6 years ago. I've been wearing the same pair of jeans and black Gap T-shirt since high school... let's not talk about how long ago that was.

I am a far more committed and radical left-winger since I was 18. I remember back then, older people telling me that I was young and idealistic, and that I'd get more conservative as I got older. What baloney. I get more informed, more crafty, and more political every year.

The best things that have happened to me in the last decade... meeting and falling in love with HWWLLB, who I still can't believe is willing to put up with me... leaving grad school for my current job... and learning to knit. I have Bugheart to thank for that last one. She forced me to learn to knit so that she'd have a stitch & bitch buddy. She is the most loyal (and long-suffering) friend that anyone could have. Last weekend she took the bus down from DC so that we could go hiking in the mountains. I'll spare you the gory stories of all the various delayed and grueling forms of transportation that she endured to get here and back, or at least save them for another day.

What I want to show you are the amazing prizes that she made me. She is the queen mama felter.

bugheart toolkit
a zippered pouch for my knitting tools

nesting bowls

unstacked bowls
nesting bowls

...and no prize from Bugheart comes without her adorable tags:

bugheart tags
they kind of kill the suspense when you're opening the package, but they're worth it.

So you see why I might be feeling spoiled rotten. She also gave me some Tofutsies sock yarn, in the perfect color. (So perfect I had just bought it myself two weeks before - she is psychic. This way I can make knee-hi's). It was so great to see her, and so incredibly nice of her to come all the way down here for a weekend visit.

So in a tiny and vastly inadequate gesture of appreciation, I am hereby naming Bugheart a...

rockin' girl blogger

Thanks Macoco for tagging me! It's fun to rock.

Some other rocking girl bloggers that y'all should know, if you don't already:

Stacie at Mommy Mosh Pit, who is cooking super-local this summer.
Susanna at G.Love and Her Special Sauce, who also likes to go on long and grueling road trips.
Amisha, whose eyes I love to look through on Heavenly Days, and
Martha Snail at the Glass Doorknob, whose world is magical... and just down the road.

I wish big hugs, a visit from a dear friend, and hours of uninterrupted making for all of you!

(That means you, too)