knitting · Uncategorized

Unexpected grief, too much depressing TV and picking up old projects

This has been one of those weekends that hasn’t exactly turned out to be as relaxing as I would have liked. I found out yesterday afternoon that a coworker of mine, whom I used to work closely with for 4 years (not counting the past year since I switched to a different department) unexpectedly died. I have never been one to handle death of close ones well, but it’s especially difficult when it’s one I don’t see coming. I’m still kind of processing the shock of it and am in a weird state. This also happened on my day off, so I had to find out through social media – which is one of the worst ways to find out. It’s going to feel weird at work for awhile.

This news came right after I had been binge-watching season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale, which has turned out to be more emotionally taxing on me than I expected. Which is weird, considering I’ve read the book AND its sequel, so it’s not like I didn’t know the story…but WOAH. It’s still pretty intense. Reading it is one thing, seeing it acted out is another. I won’t even get into its political implications with how modern society, especially here in the U.S., still views women and bodily autonomy. I really wanted to get caught up on the series but as someone who knows her mental health issues, this put me in a bad head space, so maybe later.

So to cope with it all, I decided to visit an old knitting project and it has definitely briefly lifted my funk – it’s the Throwback Sweater by Andrea Mowry (Drea Renee Knits) that I started maybe about a year ago? I stuck an audiobook in (“The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek” ) and just zoned out. Which thankfully, since it’s just sleeves it’s pretty safe to do! Here’s a photo of the progress so far:

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It’s knitted mostly in Kraemer Yarns Perfection, which is a worsted weight acrylic/merino blend (mostly acrylic) and the colorwork portion were Dream in Color Classy, a SW merino worsted weight (except the red, which I think is maybe Lorna’s Laces). So even though the main part of the sweater isn’t super fancy, it was in my stash for a long time and I’m glad to have finally found a use for it and I’m hoping it can be an addition to my casual sweaters-to-wear-with-jeans collection.

Knitting may not always be the answer to grief or depression, but sometimes it can provide a momentary distraction.

knitting

Home Stretch for MHK Level 1

*Deep Breath* Almost there! For the past week or so I’ve been focusing on the final part of my Master Knitter (Level 1) submission, which is the project portion, in this case a mitten. I am not sure whether I’ve mentioned this on the blog before, but I have been knitting for about 20 years so I’ve knitted many pairs of mittens. Needless to say, I thought I for sure would fly through this. Only….not so fast. I started the cuff and it was a hot mess. The pattern called for making an open make 1 increase in the same spot every row – which for you knitters reading this – is not easy to do on subsequent rows because that slanted stitch from the previous make 1 stitch covers the stitch you want to use to do the new make 1. (Confused yet?) After a few frustrated tries, I did a little digging to try to find out what I was doing wrong and found a YouTube video by one Arenda Holladay, who has written many helpful articles in the Knitting Guild’s member’s-only magazine Cast On, for those going through this program working on this mitten. Turns out enough people encountered this same problem and obviously let someone know (or maybe enough people had to redo their work after submitting their project)? The video was all about tackling this project and the fact that the mitten cuff is a Latvian knitting technique. Anyone somewhat versed in the knitting world may know that Latvian mittens are known for their intricate color patterns and unique stitch techniques. So now I don’t feel so bad. Also, I finally got the cuff to look like it did in the picture!

Knitted mitten with cream colored background with red diagonal stripes, shown on knitting needles.

Authors · books

What I’m Reading: “The Island of Sea Women” by Lisa See

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

I’ve been interested in reading one of Lisa See’s novels for some time now. She’s probably most known for the novel “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” which was made into a film. Most of her stories take place in China during the 1940s and 1950s and center around women, especially women’s relationships (both friendship and family). This particular novel, which was her most recent, takes place in Korea and focuses on the women divers of Jeju island (which today is a popular tourist destination). These women divers are known as Hanayeo, and make their living from selling the different sea life and objects they collect from diving. They had existed on Jeju island for hundreds of years and for a time were the main breadwinners of their families, making them a somewhat woman-centered society, but not completely matrilineal (women still couldn’t own property or inherit land, for example). The story goes back and forth between past and present and follows the friendship of two Hanayeo women, Young-Sook and Mi-Ja, and their families as they live through Japanese Colonization and then American occupation during the Korean War. It’s at times heartbreaking but I have trouble putting it down. I also really want to learn more about the Korean war now, because there was a lot of stuff about it that I never learned about in school…I should also mention that I have a semi-obsession with Korean culture (okay, I love K-dramas, so I don’t know if that counts). It’s a fascinating look into such a hyperlocalized part of society, as I’ve only seen Jeju in pictures (and in K-dramas) but knew nothing about these fascinating group of women. Definitely read this if you enjoy historical fiction or Asian culture like I do – and read up on the Hanayeo, they sound like some pretty cool ladies.

Crafting

A Brilliant New Way to Finish Projects

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Like a lot of crafters, I LOVE starting new projects, but hate trying to finish them once the novelty has worn off. Then I find a shiny new project, start that one, and set the old one aside, and repeat ad infinitum. Sometimes a project will sit in a box for a year or two before I attempt to finish it, and many times I still wind up unraveling it in the end (at least in the case of knitting or crochet) because I can’t even remember where I left off.

I’ve been on a mission this year to actually try to use up some of my yarn stash without buying any new yarn, but also want to finish up some projects that have been sitting in random bags and boxes for way too long. I’ve been avoiding taking on any new projects so that I can do this, but it can still get  pretty boring working on the same project for weeks on end while so many beautiful new possibilities pop up in my social media feeds, making my current project seem that much more unappealing.

However, I may have found a way to actually finish craft projects this year.

I came across a blog post by a lovely yarn shop from Michigan that I follow, Wool and Honey, that proposed a solution they call the Gideon Method (named for one of their friends who first made them aware of this new method of crafting productivity).

In this method (which if you are a fan of bullet journals or Marie Kondo, you will love) you select 5 unfinished projects that you want to complete and devote 12 hours to each one, in a consecutive order. Starting with the first project, you will work for 12 hours exclusively on that one before moving onto the next one. Once the 12 hours are up, you don’t pick that one back up until you’ve devoted 12 hours each to the following 4 projects (confused yet?). I should also note that you don’t start any new projects until you finish one of the 5 unfinished projects, so that you aren’t focused on more than 5 projects at a time. The 12 hour increments too don’t have to be all in one chunk, and can be spread across a week, month, etc. The idea is that by forcing yourself to devote a chunk of time to one project, you are more likely to finish it, but not spending so much time on it that you get bored. The original blog post explaining the process can be found here.

I really want to try this, especially since I like to jump around between different crafts too – beyond allowing me to work through hibernating knitting projects, it could also help me focus on working on stuff that I never seem to carve out time for.

What method do you use to finish your works-in-progress?

Authors · books · reading

What I’m Reading: “Boy, Snow, Bird” by Helen Oyeyemi

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I’ve actually wanted to read this one for the past year. Working at a library I run across a lot of books and I’m going to be honest here, sometimes I judge a book by its cover. The cover of this one intrigued me and then reading the description, I was like “ooh! A retelling of Snow White? Yes, please!”

To be fair, it’s more of a story inspired by Snow White rather than a retelling of it. A quick no-spoilers summary of the book: this woman named Boy runs away from home, meets this single father whose first wife had died and was raising their only daughter, Snow, alone. She was this perfect angelic child who everyone adored. Boy marries this man and they have a child together, that they name Bird. When Bird is born, it is revealed, through the color of her skin, that the man Boy had married was actually a light-skinned African-American who had been “passing” as white. I should also mention this takes place in the 1950s in a small uppity New England town. After Bird is born, Boy begins to resent Snow and sends her away. From there the narrative switches to some years later where this action reveals things about each of the characters as they try to navigate their relationship to each other and the consequences of their choices.

Although at first glance, this sounds a bit like a typical family drama plot, it’s told more like a fairy tale; woven through the entire story there are unexplained events and each of the characters have these odd quirks that connect them all together. I found the character of Boy the most intriguing for a protagonist, as she isn’t the most likable of characters but she isn’t completely unlikable either. I’d say that she’s perfectly flawed and I’m interested to find out what makes her tick (of course, I have about 40 pages left of the book, so maybe I won’t find out and it’ll remain a mystery).

As a side note, Helen Oyeyemi is an entirely new author to me, but I really enjoy her writing style. A few other novels of hers I may have to check out include Mr. Fox, White is for Witching, Gingerbread, and What is Not Yours is Not Yours. There are many more too. If you like magical realism, you’ll love her books.

knitting

Knitting Like a Master

TKGA Master Hand Knitting Program Level 1 Instructions

Ugh. One more swatch to go!

So I’ve been kind of avoiding this post, mainly because it’s  been one of my biggest crafting projects and most stressful (though an educational and somewhat enjoyable kind of stress). The Master Knitter certification. Those who aren’t familiar with this, The Knitting Guild Association, the largest knitting organization in the U.S., since 1987 (I think?) has been issuing a Master Hand Knitting Certification to knitters willing to take on the challenge based on a set list of criteria. Knitters looking to achieve this certification must submit a series of knitting samples showing their proficiency in a particular technique, conduct research, answer a series of questions and submit a project (which in later levels include complete original designs from the knitter). Some people use this certification to get jobs in the industry, hone their skills or just to challenge themselves (I fall somewhere in the latter two categories). There are three levels to this certification which get increasingly more challenging and require more time to complete. The first level you get 1 year to complete it, the second level takes 18 months, and the final level is 2 years. Once you pass the final level you get a shiny pin and you get invited to a swanky ceremony put on by The Knitting Guild Association and are awarded the title of Master Knitter. Pretty cool, eh?

Let me tell you, this is no walk in the park. Like I mentioned, each level requires knitting a series of swatches, answering a series of questions, doing a report of some kind, and a project. In later levels there are also literature reviews of different types of knitting books/magazines and you have to create your own designs. Also, everything, I mean EVERYTHING (right down to basic techniques that everyone thinks they know) needs to be researched and cited. There is so much research. Luckily, being a librarian this is something that I love to do and am pretty good at (not to brag of course…) I’m only on level 1 and I’ve already learned so much from it. I started it in July and took about a 3-month break from it but recently got back into it at the beginning of December. The first level you get a year to complete it – which means I have until July 4th – which will get here fast. I have to knit 19 swatches. They all have to be near perfect, so I can’t just throw them together, because they are going to be judged and I will be made to rework anything that is sloppy. (I mean, I’m trying to prove I’m a master here). I haven’t even started the project (a mitten) yet!

I’m so close though…I just finished my 18th swatch, so only 1 more to go! I am so tired of looking at those white little squares and quadrilaterals. I can’t wait to mail the binder off, even though I expect I may have to rework a few things, but at least I’ll be on my way to being a much better knitter.

Here’s a photo of my most recent swatch being blocked!

Knitted swatch with white background and light pink stripes with blocking pins.

 

books · Uncategorized

What I’m reading: “Children of Virtue and Vengeance” by Tomi Adeyemi

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Oh I’m enjoying this so much. If you follow Young Adult fantasy to any degree you may be familiar with the first book in the series, “Children of Blood and Bone” which was a big hit a couple of summers ago (2018). It was really one of the first books of its kind to really focus on West African (particularly Yoruba) mythology and incorporate it into a novel. This particular series tells the tale of a young reaper woman whose mother is killed by a tyrannical king and all magic is eradicated from the kingdom. Of course, those who are born with magic, are ostracized from society and often hunted and killed by this king. The first book follows her journey of bringing magic back to the Kingdom while she becomes entwined with the lives of the tyrant king’s children, one of whom she develops this very, shall I say, complicated relationship with.

I don’t want to get into too many details of the second book for those who haven’t read the series though, but it is definitely a strong follow-up to the first. It starts off right where the last book left off and the aftermath of decisions the characters made in the first. It’s already so heartbreaking but also with typical teenage angst, so to be expected, many of these events could have been avoided if these kids could keep their emotions in check before making rash decisions…it IS a YA novel though, so that would just be unrealistic.

Definitely check this one out. Actually, there are so many amazing Nigerian writers right now (including the author Tomi Adeyemi), check out any of them.

Crafting

2020 (crafting) Goals

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I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions because they have kind of a bad reputation of being guaranteed to be broken. For the past few years though, I’ve tried to set a few fun goals (okay, and maybe one not-so-fun but necessary one) and it seems to work out pretty well. Sometimes I reach the goal, sometimes I don’t, but no big deal.

Also, I try to avoid anything workout or exercise related because those immediately feel like a chore which just doesn’t work for me. Eventually I’ll figure out how to make exercise fun, just haven’t found it yet.

So mostly, I like to make crafting goals for each year – sometimes they are small, sometimes they are big. Usually by the end of the year I forget what it was. I think this year’s was to learn to dye yarn. I DID achieve that goal, but that first time was such a disaster that I’ve been hesitant to re-try it. (Let’s just say, that I wound up spending two days untangling it because I did not have it secured enough in its water bath – lesson learned!)

So what’s the goal(s) for 2020? Other than the not-so-fun goal of sticking to a budget and cutting my habit of compulsive buying (this will be very challenging with my crafting habits) I’d like to do two things: first, I’d like to complete one embroidery project (because I have embroidery supplies for DAYS but have never actually done anything beyond embellishments on knitting) and I want to complete one tapestry weaving project. I finally purchased a tapestry loom I had coveted for a LONG TIME, a Mirrix Big Sister Loom (you can purchase one here) and am very excited to try it out.

I don’t know if I’d call this one fun so much as necessary, but I’m also going to try to reduce my massive yarn stash this year which means only making stuff out of yarn I already own, rather than buying more yarn as a way to reduce what I have (and also curb that compulsive spending habit which 9 times out of 10 is yarn). I’ll allow a few exceptions (like maybe one small yarn purchase every 3 months) but my yarn collection needs to be seriously downsized.

What are your goals for 2020?

books · reading

My Favorite Books of 2019

I wouldn’t be a librarian if I didn’t share my favorite books! I read a lot and across many genres and one of the best parts of my job is to recommend great books I’ve read. Since we’re closing in on another year (and another decade!) I thought it would be a good time to highlight a few of my favorites that I’ve read this year.

Book cover of Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

Written by the same author of The Thirteenth Tale (which I haven’t read yet, but heard is quite good), this tells the story of a mysterious stranger who brings a seemingly dead child into an inn on a cold winter’s night and the child miraculously comes back to life. The story is set in England and has an almost storybook, darkly fantastical feel to it. I definitely want to read more of her stuff.

Book cover of The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

This is the conclusion to an amazing trilogy heavily inspired by Russian fairy tales. If you are a fan of Russian/Slavic folklore or medieval Russia, I suggest this series! Start with book one, The Bear and the Nightingale. 

Book cover of Miss Subways by David Duchovny

Yes, this was written by THE David Duchovny. I was apprehensive about reading a novel written by someone known for being an actor, but he can write! I totally heard his voice too through the entire story. This is a retelling of the Irish myth of Emer and Cuchulain but set in modern-day New York City. This book very much reminds me of American Gods in that there are appearances of other deities across other pantheons as well. This one is probably my absolute favorite that I read this past year, but I’m a sucker for anything dealing with mythology.

Book cover of Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Technically I started this in 2018 and took a few months before picking it up again. I listened to this one on audiobook. The narrator was excellent and really brings the reader back to the scenes where the main character “travels” back to the Maryland plantation of her ancestor. It was very vivid and definitely was hard to listen to at points with the detailed descriptions of slavery – but they were not gratuitous and served a definite purpose of moving the plot along. I can’t believe it took me so long to read Octavia E. Butler, who was such a prolific science fiction writer. If you want to read any of her books, I think this is an excellent place to start.

Book cover of The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky

This was a book I picked up at work that I wound up liking much more than I was expecting to; this author was completely unknown to me, though apparently she wrote an entire series about Greek mythology (maybe a grown up Percy Jackson? I haven’t read them yet). This  novel is set in Alaska about 900 c.e. and tells the story of an Inuit two-spirit, a boy trapped in a girl’s body and how their family and village are changed when a group of Vikings come upon their land. This is somewhat based on actual historical findings of Vikings making contact with Inuit around this time period. It was meticulously researched and also extremely descriptive (there are scenes of rape and animal gutting/skinning, etc. so this book may be disturbing to some people). I thought it was extremely well written and the author was very respectful for approaching a story about a people that are not her culture.

Book cover of The Song of the Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning

This was another historical novel I read that dealt with a subject that I knew absolutely nothing about – the Jewish community that settled into China, particularly Shanghai, during World War II to escape the Holocaust. This is a story that goes back and forth between modern-day Australia and the past with two girls who grew up in this Jewish community in Shanghai. One of the girls is an Austrian Jew who had escaped with most of her family, and the other a Chinese girl whom she befriends. The present-day portion of the novel is told from the perspective of the Jewish girl’s granddaughter, who discovers secrets her grandmother had kept hidden from her and the rest of her family. It was a fascinating novel about a portion of holocaust history that we often don’t hear about in the West.

Book cover of Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Confession: I LOVE Latin American literature – my favorite book is Like Water for Chocolate. This book is set in 1920s Yucatan and follows a girl who somehow gets involved in a century-old dispute between two ancient Mayan death gods who are brothers trying to destroy each other. The story takes them on a road trip through Mexico to the U.S. border during the height of Art Deco. Yes, this girl is taking a road trip with the Mayan god of death, how cool is that? It’s wonderfully atmospheric with some Mexican folklore thrown in. I love it.

Book cover of the Women of the Copper Country by Mary Doria Russell

I never thought I’d enjoy a book based on a 1913 miner’s strike as much as I did, but I wound up loving this one. I’m originally from Michigan (I live in Kansas now), so part of this was learning more about the history of my state, and also it tells the story of a very strong woman, stories that are often left out of history. This particular novel is based on the real-life story of Annie Clements, who led an 18-month strike in Calumet, Michigan, which was the location of one of the top copper mining companies of its day. Ultimately, her efforts combined with World War I which followed soon after, led to the eventual demise of Calumet as a robust mining town. (For the record, I’m not from Calumet, but from the Detroit area, but anything Michigan history is still fascinating to me, as much of my family settled there in the late 19th century after emigrating from England and Canada).

Book cover of The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is one of my all-time favorite authors so I knew I was going to love this one. It’s been many years since I’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale so I wasn’t sure if I was going to be confused by this, but much of the background information I remembered came back as I read it. This book takes place many years after The Handmaid’s Tale so this could be read by itself without too much confusion. I will admit, there are parts of it that are very disturbing because of their relevance to today’s issues of women and bodily autonomy, which makes a work like this that much more important.

Book cover of Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins-Reid

This was a book I also wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did. I read this one on audiobook and listened to it on my trip to California in October and I must say, if you read this book, definitely check out the audiobook! This novel tells the story of a fictional rock band from the 1970s and is told in flashbacks, as each of the different band members and those around the band, recount the story of their early beginnings to how they eventually fell apart (anyone remember VH1 Behind the Music? It’s kind of like that). The audiobook has some pretty big name narrators including Benjamin Bratt, Jennifer Beals (from Flashdance) and Pablo Schreiber (American Gods’ fans – he’s the actor that plays Mad Sweeney). It was such a great book to listen to on a plane to L.A.! It put me right back to the Hollywood scene in the 70s, drug cliches and all. If you need a more laid-back read, try this one.

 

Honorable mentions:

These were a few other books I read this year that I enjoyed and also definitely recommend, they just didn’t stick out as much as the ones mentioned above.

There There, Tommy Orange

Another one I listened to on audiobook. Very good, though kind of dark and depressing. Tells a series of stories of intersecting characters – all Natives living in Oakland, CA that are attending a local pow wow. Deals a lot with what it means to be Native in modern America, especially in an urban setting and how they navigate a white dominant world.

The Gown, Jennifer Robson

The book is about embroidery! This is a historical novel based on the embroiderers who worked on Queen Elizabeth II’s wedding gown. Of course, as a crafter, I loved the parts about working in the embroidery room, but there’s also a bit of royal history thrown in there and of course, cozy little themes about friendship, family and love.

Educated, Tara Westover

This was one of the hot memoirs of the year. It tells the story of a woman who was raised by Mormon survivalists in Idaho(?) without a formal education. She decided at 17 to attend Brigham Young University, so she had to cram 12 years of standard education into 6 months in order to take college entrance exams and she eventually went on to earn her Ph.D in History from Cambridge and Harvard (I think? I read this one months ago). This story is one of those stories that sounds almost too unreal to be true.

Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens

This was another one of those novels people were talking about all year and I think was on the New York Times Bestseller list for a long time. It probably still is. I was intrigued, it was about a girl who grows up in a cottage on a North Carolina marsh who is cut off from society, doesn’t go to school and from about age nine, learns to fend for herself. She is ostracized by the people of the town and as she grows up, this misunderstanding leads to her being implicated in the murder of a local boy. It was very atmospheric and well written. What’s really interesting though is the story behind the author and how her husband was a suspect in the 1990s of the murder of poachers (in Africa)! (a link to the article about it can be seen here.

Waking the Witch, Pam Grossman

I love anything witchy or pagan related so this one definitely caught my eye. This was written by the creator of The Witch Wave podcast and goes pretty in depth about the image of the witch in popular culture and how that image has been used both to disenfranchise and empower women. She also intertwines it with her own personal experiences with her identity as a witch. This was a quick, fun and enlightening read. I still haven’t listened to her podcast yet, but maybe someday soon I’ll check it out.

 

Authors · books · knitting

Resurrecting my blog.

I was reminded today of how I have a blog that I haven’t written in in over a year (what?!). I have had quite a lot happen in both the librarian and craft-related sphere that I would love to share. First, my previous post about reading Circe, I got to meet the author back in September! One of the MANY perks of working in a library. (Yes, I have a picture to prove it, which I’ve posted below). Second, in the craft-related world, I am on my level 1 of the Master Knitter Certification, which let me tell you, will require AT LEAST its own post, if not several.

Picture of blog author with author Madeline Miller
I met Madeline Miller in September!

Also, I recently got a tapestry loom so I shall be sharing some of those experiments in the near future!