Sunday, October 30, 2005

back-tack #2


Have you seen Alison’s gorgeous back-tack ensemble? Or Diana’s? Or Stephanie’s? When I started seeing posts about finished back-tack projects, I was motivated to stop thinking about mine and actually get started.

I’ve been admiring the bags in this book. [I’ll post images tomorrow.] I’m always on the lookout for the perfect bag, which in my mind has Tardis-like qualities. Small or svelte, but surprisingly roomy on the inside. I decided to make something that fits a file folder, a magazine or a book and the other usual occupants of an everyday bag. At first, I planned on using a French linen tea-towel, but ended up deciding on a upholstery linen and red twill. Clearly, exposure to Japanese craft books has heavily influenced my aesthetic: this, this and this are frighteningly similar to the bag I came up with.

My person indicated that she’d like to try tatting, which looks to be an easily transportable craft. So included in the bag is a little pouch containing a shuttle, some thread and a pincushion.

I decided that I needed some expert advice on my project, so I headed over to my mother’s house. Asking my mother for craft advice is like heading over to Andre and Steffi’s place for some pointers on your topspin lob. She is a crafting genius. Also, she has all the technology one could ever need: an iron and a functional ironing board for starters. [Me, using a Rajah pressing cloth for the first time: This is really great! Mum: I’ll buy you one Me: Don’t worry, I don’t have an iron yet.]

Using a linen fabric that easily frays? Not to worry: she has a special machine foot with a little brush that keeps the threads in line. Have a vague idea that perhaps that same linen should be backed with interfacing? No problem: she has a special feather-weight iron-on kind that doesn’t crease or make the fabric too stiff.

As I fussed about with a paper model (Mum's idea), she read through some instructions I’d printed off Craftster about making a zippered pouch. No, she says, this doesn’t seem right. So she pulls out some lovely scraps and makes one up. All wrong, she decides (and I concur.) This kind of defeat spurs her into action. Within hours she’s redesigned the pouch, with French seams and nifty little inserts over the zip ends. Meanwhile, I’m over the lightbox tracing out the embroidery patterns that will be couched onto the bag and pouch. With an indelible pen! Lips pursed, I start to think I’m in over my head.

I hadn’t thought much about the couching. I’d seen it done, and like the look of it. I was thrilled to find that the vintage linen thread I bought from the Button Lady a while back was the perfect colour and weight. Mum had some pointers, making me nervous by beginning sentences “If Jane Nicholas [her teacher] was doing this…..” Author of this book, Jane Nicholas embroiders the most intricate beetles imaginable under high-powered magnification. Let’s just say, a more appropriate sentence would begin “If Jane Nicholas’ eight year-old were doing this…” I wanted the lettering to look like the script in my primary school cursive writing workbooks. Surprisingly, couching is really fun, and easy. (It is! I promise you!)

Alice has received the bag in New Haven, CT. My mother, coach, teacher and advisor is still mulling over possible improvements for pouch #2, and more than once has woken in the night with conceptual breakthroughs. Isaac, still uncertain about the concept, has started referring to the “bag competition.” I’m imagining future bags, and couching on clothes and curtains and upholstery. Thank you to Alison and Nicole for organizing back-tack II: I finished something I’m sure I’d have given up on if I hadn’t had both a deadline and a fellow crafter in mind, and it’s made me want to tat too.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Don't Look at the Man Behind the Curtain

For a long time I was dissuaded from starting a blog because I knew I wanted it to look good, but my eyes kept shutting every time I opened the CSS manual. After a brief foray on Squarespace, I settled on Blogger because I like the simplicity of Douglas Bowman's Minima template, and I saw how it was possible to customise it quite nicely. (Here & here, for example.) It’s not what I have in mind for my ideal site, but god knows those manuals aren’t going to read themselves, and it’s been far too much fun posting to worry about kerning or the ideal photo size or why everything underlines when you mouse over the Blogroll. But I do have lingering questions, and some of you might be able to help. Normal craft programming will resume tomorrow (I finished Kate’s Backyard Leaves!) so bear with me if you can.

The comments function, for starters. Sometimes, it’s hard (or impossible even) to find the commenters e-mail address. Other people so politely reply to my comments, and from their header it looks as if they have a function that allows them to simply reply to the comment, rather than scrolling back through Blogger profiles. I noticed that some of you use Haloscan: is this what I should be using? I test installed it, but lost all my Blogger comments in the process. But perhaps I just have to live with this, and move on? If you’ve left a comment and I haven’t replied, I’m very sorry. I get a thrill every time I see that someone’s visited, but I haven’t worked out yet how to best answer back.

Lots of you use Typepad, some of whom were previously using Blogger. Why? I’m not against paying for a host, but then again, I already pay for the girlprinter domain. Does anyone have a compelling reason why I should learn Movable Type and host my own site?

And Trackback. Don’t ask me what that is. Or RSS feeds, Bloglines or XML syndication. I’d like to understand what these are, and believe me, I’ve visited the appropriate websites, but I don’t get it. It’s like crochet: I should understand it, but I don’t. There’s no help at home either: I live with a medievalist and a cat, neither of whom blog. One doesn't even type.

And finally, I’m loathe to bring this up, as it brings my personhood into question. Does anyone else have any difficulty deciphering word verification combinations? I’m often stumped: is that a U? Or a V? What letter IS that? Am I a person? Or perhaps I’m a spambot, who just happens to knit?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

When Using Glue, Make This Face

Me and my best friend, circa 1980.

I still make this face when I’m concentrating (or so I’m told.) We were making peg dolls. [Knitters: If you look closely, you’ll see that I’m wearing a brooch. I made hundreds of these, knitting with toothpicks. I wonder if any still exist?]

Fiona and I did everything together for years. We had matching overalls (hers red, mine yellow) that we wore with striped, long-sleeved t-shirts when we went roller-skating. We spent a good deal of our time upside down both in an official capacity as calisthenics competitors and as playground gymnasts. I have a clear memory of wondering what made me me and not Fiona. We seemed interchangeable.

Fiona has two little girls of her own now. They live in Sydney, and I hope to see them before too long. It’s Fiona’s birthday today: Happy Birthday, dear friend.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Lack of Oxygen to the Brain

My first mistake was to work on Kate’s Backyard Leaves at Vicroads, waiting to exchange my Ohio driving license for a Victorian one. I was halfway through the last repeat when I realised I’d messed up, most likely around the time when The Bold & The Beautiful started playing on the overhead TV, and I was concentrating on not missing my number on the digital display.

Later, in the emergency room, the doctor asks if I’ve been sick recently. Yes, I have, I answer, oxygen mask strapped to my face, nebulised Ventolin swirling around my head. I’ve had a cold, or something, for more than a week, and my chest aches from coughing. But I haven’t had severe asthma in a really long time, and I thought perhaps that I might’ve grown out of it. Anything else that could have brought this on? he asks. Food? Stress?

Yes, I answer, far too urgently: I have STRESS. I’ve had to rip back. I’ve lost my place on my chart and possibly two stitches. I had to put it down to come in here. I can breathe now, thank you, but can anyone help me with this?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Sneak Peak

I mailed my back-tack parcel today. I am very happy with it, and hope my person will be too. I'll post more about it and it's making after it's arrived, but I won't be giving anything away to tell you that it took me quite a bit longer than I'd originally anticipated. For the past couple of weeks, I've had to answer friends' queries about my weekend plans with a terse "I'll Be Working On My Bag." On Tuesday afternoon, I called Nicole to see if she'd like to come over to help me chop down a tree, and, oh, would she like to see my finished bag? Yes, she did, and on the way over she called our friend Anne to tell her to come see the bag too. (I have wonderful friends.)

First, I'll tell you about the tree. Rather, the three trees. Ever since we moved into our house, we've discussed getting rid of three cypress trees growing under a beautiful silver birch. You might think, reading this, that we have a garden, and if so, you’d be wrong. All four of these trees were growing in a strip of dirt approx. 2m x 0.5m (6ft x 1ft) along the back fence of our courtyard. For a long time, I believed that the silver birch would slowly kill the cypresses once they touched the birch branches. Unfortunately, it appeared to be happening the other way round. I'm not a gardener, and, to be honest, felt queasy about destroying perfectly healthy plants, even ones intent on murdering our only source of shade. But today was our once-yearly hard rubbish collection, and if we wanted to get rid of the trees, they had to come down now.

Nicole and Jamie have a gorgeous garden, and think nothing of undertaking hardcore landscaping projects with their own two (four) hands. Just last weekend, they constructed a brick pillar (Nicole), laid a driveway (both) and installed an automatic watering system (Jamie). In general conversation, I’ve brought up the cypresses and my misgivings, and have come away reassured at the ready availability of an axe, and something else I’ve forgotten the name of. Under Nicole’s supervision and the hard rubbish collection deadline, I was ready to tackle the cypresses. I even bought fancy slip-proof gardening gloves at Bunning’s [US readers: think Home Depot.]

Nicole arrived on her bike in a lovely dress she bought in Paris. As I discussed the two saws I’d borrowed for the exercise, she assessed the littlest tree, and proceeded to pull it out of the ground WITH HER BARE HANDS. She pulled the next one over 90 degrees to the ground, and Isaac sawed it off. The last, biggest one, involved a little more effort (maybe two attempts with the dull saw.) All in all, the three trees were down in no more than three minutes, and we retired to cheese, a bottle of wine and many kind words about my bag, and how at least I’m pretty good at something.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


For Imogen.

I love this pattern. (Debbie Bliss' Two-Color Shoes from The Baby Knits Book.)

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Gone Pear-Shaped

Not my back-tack project. Or my SYNO scarf, either. (Phew.) But in the absence of finished objects, or photographs of such (note some cross-offs on the To Do list) I’ll continue to write about my failures (with a hard-won success thrown in.)

This pear must have been abandoned sometime in the late seventies. Tapestry never really did it for me (however, I was a cross-stitch prodigy) which is why it is hard to fathom my enthusiasm for this project. The kit was purchased at Sunspun sometime in the late eighties by my wonderfully generous (and craft-enabling) mother. Kaffe outdid himself on this one: there are tens, if not hundreds, of shades of green in the design, requiring the kind of light conditions enjoyed almost exclusively by microsurgeons in their places of work. It is almost impossible to tell which shade should go where, something I found blindingly frustrating.

There was an initial burst of work around the time of purchase. I went off to university, and have a single memory of working on it at my friend Emily’s house on Rae Street as she worked on a cross-stitch sampler for her sister’s wedding. I moved to San Francisco. Then New York. At some point, it was retrieved during a trip home, and I worked on it a bit during Seinfeld re-runs and NPR broadcasts of the Democratic and Republican conventions. I was working on it during a particularly nasty marital spat on Cape Cod sometime in early summer, 1997. We moved to Ohio. It was here that I really committed myself to finishing it, unemployed, snow-bound and with a full subscription to cable TV. I fudged the shades, taking a free approach to the tonal make-up of the cabbage. Isaac offered me $1000 to stop working on it and toss it out. I perservered, finishing sometime in 2000. It’s now quite a lovely cushion, sewn up by my mother with a lovely green velvet border and back. Current status: in storage.

Over the eleven years or so in production, some realisations were had:
1. That a single cabbage cushion does not a Kaffe Fassett interior make. Where are the mosaics, the riotous plays of colour and pattern, the frowsy tulips in the blue and white Ming vases?
2. I don’t like a craft in which the instructions are printed onto the actual item. I don’t think I believe in grown-up colouring books either. Too Paint-By-Number (although I agree that this kind of thing can be strangely compelling.)
3. Unsurprisingly, I still don’t like tapestry all that much.

I have, however, been inspired to revisit cross-stitch, and branch into other embroideries. I’ve been having a lot of fun with my back-tack project, soon to be unveiled. Like almost everyone, I’m looking forward to this book. And, when Emily gets back from Paris, Mum is going to lace the back of her cross-stitch sampler for framing. Fourteen years, two nieces and a nephew later, she’ll present it to her sister and brother-in-law in honour of their wedding and the marriage they’ve made since then.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Back-Tack II, Part I

Saturday morning: Hoping I can pull this off.

Wednesday night: Still going, not quite so strong.

More soon, with actual product.

(I hope.)

[BTW: On Sunday evening, punch-drunk after the weekend's wrastling with my project (and er, just plain drunk), I find myself explaining the Back-Tack philosophy to Isaac. "You see, your person could be anywhere on the planet!" I exclaim. He asks, "So just how many people are involved in this?" "Fifty," I guess, without any real idea. A look of disappointment flashes across his face. "How many people did you think were involved?" I ask. "10,000" he says.]

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Was that a cough?

If you are anything like me, you have bird flu pandemic on the brain.

Naomi Ito, designer of the lovely nani IRO range of fabrics, sees no reason not to be both crafty and stylish in the face of medical emergency. This strange spread is from this lovely book (ISBN 4141878871) of nani IRO projects: dresses, aprons, bags, toys and more (does your dog need a quilted coat?)

I bought this book at Kinokuniya before I knew about the nani IRO range, and not long after SARS broke out. Since then, I’ve admired Hillary’s gorgeous kimono quilt, which features my favourite Nani Iro panel, and have been unsuccessful in working out how to order from Cotton Bow-wow. Which is just as well, I guess. There’ll be no stopping me once I figure out how to order this.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Foundation for a Legible, Fluent, Attractive & Personal Writing Style

Of all the certificates, diplomas and degrees I’ve earned, none is more meaningful to me than my Pen License, issued in 1980, when I was in Grade 4. My memory (and it’s an unreliable one) is that I was one of the first presented with a License, which permitted me to write with an ink pen, leaving lead pencils behind to messier and more uneven hands.

Even at nine years old, I was aware that this milestone wasn’t what it once was: my parents spoke of their school days using inkwells, nibbed pens and blotters. Ours were standard issue blue biros, but they were real, grown-up pens nonetheless. The License itself was a certificate, now regrettably lost.

What remains, however, is this book: Modern Cursive Writing Work Book Year 6. First printed in 1961, this copy a 1981 reprint. For some reason, the book is only filled out halfway into Lesson 8, so I missed copying sentences such as “We went to Sydney in Wendy’s new fawn station wagon.” Or “Sylvia got into mischief and suddenly disappeared.” Even more ominous, however, are these four sentences from Lesson 13:

Our government is responsible for Australia’s progress.

Our population supports the need for law and order.

Australia’s history is a story of wonderful progress.

We are grateful for the vision of our pioneers.

Got that kids? Let’s move onto Lesson 14.

If you’d known me as a child, with my stencils, my Letraset and my Derwent pencils, you won’t be surprised at all to know that I was on the first inaugural Twilight Typo Tour of Melbourne last night, along with fellow knitter/blogger/typophile Erin. Or that the night before, I was at the first inaugural Typo Film Festival, reveling in the mastery of lettering genius John Downer and watching jealously as the folks at Firefly Press cranked the Vandercook. Watching these craftsmen at work was the perfect antidote to another uneven discussion bogged down in theory and corporate-speak. Let’s just say, when you can wield a Speedball like Downer, I’ll start paying attention to your thoughts on branding. Until then, let’s try educate our students that there is more, much more, to a life in design than simply fun, fame or fortune, or any two out of the above three.