Friday, December 25, 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

but i do loves the crochet

I used to joke that the best way for me to leave a project unfinished was to do it in crochet. For the longest I couldn't fully appreciate the form, though I've always liked the fabric it creates. My afghan endeavor has shown me the light I tell you. When Ellen put out a call for donations to the Orphan Foundation of America's Red Scarf Project a few weeks ago, I decided to answer, but my creative calendar is pretty full. I started knitting a scarf, using this pattern. In a full evening I got a little past what you see in the sample photo, and I realized knitting the scarf wouldn't do.

My favorite way to tie a scarf. Its slight ascot air makes even the poorest scarf look rich.

I needed to be able to complete the project in a day or two, and if granny squares have taught me anything, it's that crochet kicks knitting's ass when it comes to speed (another thing Ellen always told us). If you're looking for quick turnaround and don't want to use bulky yarn, there's no better way to go. I ripped out the knitting, found a simple crochet pattern, and worked it up lickety split. (I don't know if it was masochism or hedonism that made me plan to make two scarves, but the reality of finals week at work set in and I had to simmer down and settle for one.) The yarn is a more-than-decent acrylic, Hobby Lobby's "I Love This Yarn!" Beat that for a name. Under 3 bucks and I could've gotten two scarves out of it.

Here's what you see when you open my front door:

Sunday, December 13, 2009


It's nearly 3 a.m. Sunday and I'm up cooking turkey meatloaf, garlic mashed potatoes (heavy cream, heavy cream), steamed broccoli, and roasted zucchini squash. I'd planned to cook Saturday afternoon, but I swear sometimes I don't come to life until the middle of the night. I can't wait to see how the meatloaf comes out; I've never made it before, and as usual I combined a couple of recipes, didn't measure, and added a few flourishes. We'll see.

Thanks for the comments on the sweater blanket. I'm glad y'all appreciate it like I do. It defines cozy. The only bad thing about it is that it's hard to get up once you're snuggled underneath it. golden star asked a question about construction, and perhaps a few more curious souls might venture here someday. To that end, I'll say that since I don't yet have a zigzag foot for the machine I used, I straight stitched my blanket. It wasn't hard at all; in fact, what was born of necessity is now preference, as I would do it that way again. I think it's easier than fussing with the right zigzag width. It's cleaner and likely more durable too.

I tried to stick to a 1/4" seam allowance, maybe a little more, and where I went off I just trimmed down to that much. I basically sewed it like a regular quilt. To line it, I faced the right sides together and did the old sew-around-but-leave-a-hole trick. The hole was just big enough to pull the entire combobulation through. ("Combobulation" doesn't seem to be recognized as a word -- I am doing my best to change this -- but it's 3 a.m. and y'all know what I mean.) I closed the hole when I topstitched the blanket.

On the granny square front (is there any other place to be?), I'm now joining and edging my squares. I crocheted 168 of them, all approximately 6" x 6". I wanted my queen-sized bed to be well covered, and with edging and blocking, it will be.

Because Ellen does not play around when it comes to working in yarn ends while you crochet, neither do I. I don't have ends to weave in, only the last little tail on each square to crochet in as I'm edging and joining. This is a tremendous time and sanity saver. Another fabulous technique is the method I'm using to edge and join simultaneously. There are several tutorials on it, but the best one I found is here on YouTube. It's in two parts, and very easy to understand. You can read my gushing comment to the woman who posted the video, offering to have her sainted and telling her I'll send Schmin around to do her bidding. I've joined 18 squares so far, 150 to go.

I loved making the squares, but have to admit I'm relieved to be putting them all together. I wanted no two squares to be alike, and racking my brain to decently combine colors for the last 30 or so squares was borderline crazy making. Now it's white, ah, white. Actually a creamy color called Aran, but the point is I don't have to do any more thinking, which suits me fine.

ETA: 4:35 a.m. Shit this meatloaf is good.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

straw into gold

More like old sweaters and a sheet into a blanket, but six of one, half a dozen of the other.

I've been wanting to make a felted sweater blanket fo-evah, ever since I saw this one in Alterknits a few years back:

I don't know why I like this book so much. Some of the projects I wouldn't particularly make -- I mean, reference this guy:

How he got that girl while wearing that sweater, I'll never know. A moment of questionable taste aside, the book always inspires me. I think it's because it has soft, modern photography; a very open kind of creativity; quiet loveliness; and Portland as a backdrop.

The front took me roughly from roughly 7 p.m. until 1:30 a.m. I still get crazy to finish things and stay up all night sometimes, but I would've put this one down around midnight if it wasn't for the fact that I was having the absolute best conversation with my friend V while I was working on it. Between the making and the wonderful, wonderful talking, time flew by. At about 2:15 I lay on the couch to test the blanket out, and that was all she wrote until I woke up and got in bed at 6 a.m. I got up a couple hours later and cut and sewed the lining. I so didn't want to line it; I already miss the stretchy goodness of the sweaters flying solo, but it wasn't quite warm enough. I used a faux denim sheet, and now it's just right.

This was one of those projects that I wanted to make in an instant. I told Natalie that I didn't want it to become a thing. The granny square afghan is enough of a thing, among several other things, now that I think about it, and I was after a quick and dirty fix. Not to mention that it was in the 20s last night; so I needed a cozy couch blanket post-haste.

The process of making it was fun and liberating. I started a section without too much thought to anything but not cutting the sweaters into too many pieces (thus increasing my workload), and other sections evolved from there. I love it when something takes over and you just go with it. I like the end result a lot, even though it's on the masculine side. Left to me, there'd be orange and brown here, probably instead of the gray. But finding 100%-wool sweaters to felt is the hardest part of making these blankets, especially when you live in Texas or California. In the men's section at Value Village, I managed to sort through the acrylic Cosby sweaters and come away with a decent haul, and I got a couple more from The Salvation Army. I paid from 2.80 to 4.90 per sweater (would've been more, but The Salvation Army was having a half-price day). What I wanted was a fabulous selection at 5 bucks all-you-can-grab, but that didn't happen. I'm definitely going to make more of these, and if ever I find the perfect sweaters to suit my liking (orange, orange, and more orange), I'll pass this one on to Mister Stevens or some other dude.

You should make one of these. You can get all fancy pants, stay more true to the one in Alterknits, or patch to your heart's content. Anything goes. My best advice is to iron your sections as you make them. I wasn't, but had to Stitch Witchery a couple of holes and noticed how nice ironing was making the thing look; so I kept it up. When am I going to learn that the iron is a true blue friend to mankind?

Oh, yeah. I almost forgot. I made this blanket on my new-to-me sewing machine, Blanche II, a Kenmore 1781.

I had to give the original Blanche away because it was too heavy to ship from LA, being in a table and all. That about broke my heart, as that was then my main machine, and I truly enjoyed sewing on it. I've been using this one for the little sewing I've been doing, but it's more temperamental than I like. Enter Value Village, my new hot spot, once again. A week or so ago, Blanche II was there to be had for 26 dollars. For shame, I neither cleaned nor oiled the machine before I used it, but it sews something fierce. It didn't come with any attachments or feet, not even a zigzag foot (or a manual), but because it's in such good shape to be 30-years old I broke my declaration only to buy tricked-out machines and picked it up. So far, I'm in love, but Blanche II will have more company one of these days, I'm sure.

Mira, my non helper in the sewing room.

an open letter to snow

Well played, Snow, my arch-nemesis, well played. You had them running for cover here in Houston yesterday, dismissing school, closing businesses early, preempting Oprah with endless talk of no one but you. You even fooled them into calling you a storm when you were really just a light dusting.

But when it was all said and done, I won this match, because I know you well. Yesterday I met you having journeyed through the Blizzard of '77 (and '78, and '79, and ...) in Toledo, and the Blizzard of '96 in New York City (and several more winters that were damn close to blizzardy). Zero Visibility is my middle name. I knew you were only teasing yesterday. You didn't frost me into a panic, oh no. Instead you made way for me to have a lovely, leisurely day, browsing an otherwise empty bookstore and noshing in a quiet restaurant where the service was excellent because I was one of only three patrons. And so I say to you, dear Snow, Thank you. This time, that is. If you keep coming to town, I'll go back to Southern California, where you won't find me, and if ever you do, there's always the blue skies of the Caribbean, from there, the Horn of Africa.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

other than grannies (but grannies, too)

I've been so obsessed with granny squares that I haven't talked about much else since I've been posting again. Welp, there's not too much going on, thankfully, and the biggest thing is the best -- my sisters live here in Houston now. Have I mentioned this? I don't think so, but in my granny square haze, everything is foggy. Anyway, they moved here in August, and for a while my youngest sister, her daughter, and one of my middle sister's sons lived with me. I love my family, but that was painful. Now they all live in a big house about 15 minutes from here, and that's where I'm going for Thanksgiving. I'm in charge of macaroni and cheese. This weekend my niece will be coming to spend the night. She's 10, and we have a ball together. I'm teaching her how to sew and knit, which I'll blog about later.

For now:

* More granny squares. I've made 80 so far. I figure another 40 should do it.

* A paint job. I got this set of metal drawers at the Rose Bowl swap meet a few years ago. I keep thread in it, separated by color. It's very handy, but I've always been iffy on the two-tone green. I love green, just not in this case. I thought silver and cream would be better.

* A great book that I'm reading and visually feeling up every chance I get.

Since I've been getting my place together, I've been taken in by the decor websites, and by books on decorating. This one is called Home: 50 Tastemakers Describe What It Is, Where It Is, What It Means. It's not what you'd call a decorating book, more like biographical snapshots of designers, decorators, and trend forecasters in their own words, accompanied by peeks inside their living spaces. There are some recognizable names, like Paul Smith, Eva Zeisel, and Jonathan Adler, whose space I love, especially his bedroom.

How can you beat a bust of MJ on the coffee table?

Here are some other favorites of mine (so far).

Don't get the impression that everything in the book has a vintage/'70s vibe. It's what appeals to me, but there's a wide range of decorating styles here, and many unexpected interpretations.

There are lots of other names that if I were more in the know I'm sure I'd recognize, but I don't. This in my favorite quote, from (heretofore unknown to me) Li Edelkoort:

I also believe that creativity is life's insurance, because if you instill creativity even in the smallest children, they will have no fear, because they can improvise. Creativity is not about a nice interior or a nice wardrobe, or a sense of design. It's about a very subtle way to think and to realize, if this doesn't work, then I can solve things in another way; confidence and flexibility.

With its gorgeous shots of beautiful spaces and fascinating personal narratives, I can't recommend Home enough. I mean, isn't the place featured on the cover delicious? It's not particularly my taste (if I have any), but it's fabulous. Sometimes I reach for Home and stop myself from picking it up. I don't want the experience to end too soon.

I think that's all I wanted to share with you. Oh, except this --Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

this is not the way I planned things

I was walking past my sofa, minding my own business, when I noticed that the granny squares have taken it over. I pictured myself inviting someone in to take a seat, then having to clear the squares out of the way. It'd be like "Monk," where I'd painstakingly and meticulously put the stacks together, counting them and trying to preserve the integrity of the colors. It'd be a sad sight to see.

I finished the pillow cover from last post.

This is what's underneath. I'm showing you in case you ever need to make the world's easiest pillowcase:

And so the pretty squares are for my afghan. I'm working them with all Lamb's Pride Worsted, and it's love, love, love. I was fortunate to purchase boucoup skeins for 2 bucks each at The Great Black Sheep Knittery Closing Sale of 2007. That sale is the reason I'm not independently wealthy today. I even bought Lamb's Pride colors I didn't love much, in anticipation of knitting an afghan, maybe modular style. It's turned into a granny afghan, thanks to my buddy Ellen's influence, and I couldn't be happier. I did supplement a few skeins. I wanted a redder red than what I had, and it's impossible to have too much Chocolate Souffle, so I ordered that and a couple other colors today. I so enjoy the process of making granny squares, but this time around I'm rushing to the finish because I can't wait to get them covering my bed. I'll probably never get up again.

Mira says afghan schmafghan. The squares are good to go as far as she's concerned.

Waiter, there's a cat in my yarn.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

hook + cloth

Hello, lovely Internet (and real life) friends. Thank you for the comments on my granny pillow. Here's the one I'm working on now.

One side is done, and I started the other side today. Crochet is fast; I guess it's all the holes. It's fast, and it's glorious. I'm using the basic granny square pattern at Purl Bee.

I have some wrist pain; so the type of crochet hook I use makes a difference. I'd been loving the Clover Soft Touch hooks, pricey though they are compared to the old-fashioned all-metal kind, but then I needed a size 7. I hopped around to Hobby Lobby and found a 7 in Susan Bates Bamboo Handle hooks. The next day I went back for an 8 and a 9 because I like the SB Bamboo Handle even more than I like the Clovers (and I've always preferred the throat on SB hooks). The handle is longer, giving my hand a resting place. They're more ergonomic. I don't grip as hard to hold on to the hook, which means I can crochet longer. The SB's are priced well, too. Check out these reviews.

In other making news this week, I did up some curtains. I'd been living with mini-blinds for nearly a year because I didn't want to spend the money on fabric, but the other day I couldn't take it anymore. I remembered some drop-cloth curtains I'd seen somewhere a while back, and decided that would be my most reasonable option.

I wanted tone and texture, and drop cloth delivers for less than 10 bucks a panel. They don't call it the poor man's linen for nothing. I washed the panels, hemmed them, and voila. I also spray painted the Ikea curtain rods because this particular rod only comes in black and gray.

Here are some nifty instructions for working with drop cloth. And look at some of the cool things you can make with it. The upholstered chairs are my favorite.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

granny up

October already? 2009 nearly gone? No way.

Before 2010 knocks on the door, I want to blow the cobwebs off this here blog. The weather in Houston can finally be described as something other than south hell, and the yarn, the fabric, the painting, the camera -- all the happy pursuits -- are calling, along with a new interest or two.

Dear Ellen wooed me into upping my crochet game. I have to make some version of the amazing white-bordered afghan you see in her post; so I buckled down and learned to make a decent granny square this week. I used this pattern, which is wonderful. I started by making a pillow cover for practice and quick satisfaction.

It took me many days to decide what colors to use. In the end I threw up my hands and made it reversible, because I couldn't decide whether I wanted a warm or a cool palette. Now I can flip the pillow at whim, which is nice.

Ellen has been right all these years: Granny squares are the building blocks of fashion. And they're an absolute blast to make. I'm going to do another pillow cover while I plan my afghan.

My couch is a place holder. I got it from a junkie in Montrose. I've considered what his drug of choice might be, and I decided it's crystal meth, because the guy was pretty scabalicious when I met him. The couch was dirt cheap, though, and it's not in bad shape for its age (probably it was made in the '60s). I've got it covered because I wanted a change of pace (it's green), and I usually have more pillows on it so it doesn't look like an amorphous brown ghost.

The painting behind the couch is the first one I did. I wanted an orange wall, but knew I'd never paint it because I'm way too lazy to paint it back when I move. My love of orange resulted in what I call "The Big Orange Machine." Schmin calls it "Saturn"; so technically it's "Saturn: The Big Orange Machine." (Please don't tell us we're not clever.) It's also an ode to Mark Rothko, my current favorite painter.

One of the many things I enjoy about living here is that this house isn't at all precious. There's no crown molding, no hardwood floors, no built-ins -- nothing that could be considered an architectural feature. Not that these things wouldn't be nice (especially the floors), but here I feel free to display the end results of my impetuous (read: half-baked) bouts of creativity.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Behold the world's tiniest grill, on which we prepare to barbecue at midnight.

The things I let Schmin talk me into.

Friday, August 14, 2009

what i love

My boy Schmin, first night in town, playing guitar on the porch. Add to that that I love having a porch. And a mean little cat watching us through the window.

ETA: And the 50 shrimp Schmin cooked for us to eat in celebration!

Monday, August 10, 2009

meeting up

The surest way for me not to do something around here is to say I'm going to do it. I'm telling you, time moves so quickly. Now an LA wrap-up seems passe, but I will say it was a great, productive, tiring, and lovely trip, and that I'm looking forward to another visit over the next couple of months. It took a village (My sister Tish, Natalie, Alem, Schmin and his girlfriend, Mister Stevens phoning in the moral support) to get my stuff out of storage and ship it back here, but we did it. I am now officially in possession of more fabric and yarn than I know what to do with when all I want to do is paint. In LA I held a garage sale quickly turned giveaway where I sadly parted with Blanche. I wasn't willing to spend the money to ship a machine in a table, so I kissed her goodbye. I also kissed goodbye a lot of other stuff; still 40 boxes came my way when I got home.

Having things in storage in Los Angeles was keeping me stuck, in a way. Now that I've closed that chapter (thank God and my loved ones), I feel like it's time to get to living, as V would say. I don't know if anyone reading this is familiar with, but it's great here in Houston. Folks down here are very active. I've joined a couple of groups for women of color, a couple of writing groups, a group that frequents plays and performances, and a group called Houston Single Friends. Houston Single Friends (the name is kind of sweet and corny, isn't it?) has 3,000+ members, some combination of whom are busy doing something every night of the week. Saturday night I joined a gathering of women from the group for dinner and Julie & Julia (long, but enjoyable, especially Meryl Streep). I was the only colored girl interested in seeing it that night, lol, but it didn't matter. The "sisters" who attended were warm and engaging. I look forward to seeing them again. (I would join a knitting/crafty group, but after a couple bad spins with a group that meets at a particular yarn shop, I'm thinking I'll start my own.)

I'm surprised I dragged myself out on Saturday night, because on Saturday morning I'd gone with another group, for women of color over 30, on a hike. What's really cool is that groups have cross meetups, so there was a wonderful set of about 25 people on the hike. Here are some of us.

Courtesy of a Meetup member. Yes, it was hot, but no one died.

And cell phone shots of the gorgeous path we hiked.

After we hiked, we ate at a place called CoCo's, located in Midtown. They feature paninis and crepes and smoothies.... Relatively healthy deliciousness.

I met some truly nice people. From the moment we gathered, I felt at home. The thing about Meetup groups, and I'm sure this is the case all over, is that they attract people who genuinely enjoy company, are friendly, and want to have a good time. Plus they sure as hell beat sitting in your house waiting for life to come knocking on your door. :)

I'm going rock-climbing (so excited!) with Houston Single Friends and wine tasting with one of the women's groups later this month. And I met some women who want to get serious about biking, something I'm itching to do. As soon as I get a bike, they're ready.

In the meantime, Schmin is coming to visit on Friday, and I'm beside myself with glee.