24 November 2012

a single candle

Jar Candle
Tea lights and jar candle, made with soy wax
Candle flames are hypnotic. It's easy to sit and stare at the way the fire flickers, watching the heat and movement, following the colours of pale orange and red down to the tiniest trace of clear pure blue.

On dark afternoons, I sometimes light all the tea-lights in the varied holders I have, and let the flames provide warmth that the wall heater simply can't. 

The lights, the way they move, is peaceful, which has always seemed strange to me, given the damage that fire can cause. But beauty and danger have never been exclusive concepts. Nor has peace in the midst of chaos. My tendency to find some sort of beauty or peace out of something that is potentially harmful is not unique. Danger does not exclude beauty, nor does a sense of danger exclude some sort of peaceful transcendence.

With this in mind, I made candles out of soy wax yesterday evening. I read somewhere that paraffin candles release fumes into the air that we're better off not breathing. Since I breathe enough noxious fumes just walking down the street, I thought I'd minimize the ones in my home. Beeswax costs more, and it seemed better to figure out the technique with the less expensive option.

The pictures above include some of the first batch. I made a total of 25 tea lights and one larger candle. These are all unscented and undyed. The batches tomorrow will have scent and colour, and will be Christmas gifts. The basic process is easy enough. Heat, pour, let cool. The large candle managed to crack a bit in the centre, but it's in a jar, and the cracks will disappear as it burns. I'm not a perfectionist. Beauty that is less than perfect is, often, in my mind, even more beautiful.

21 November 2012

Book musings: The Origins of Sex

I've been working my way through The Origins of Sex, by Faramerz Dabhoiwala. The premise of the book is that the Reformation, followed by the Enlightenment, drastically changed the way people understood sexuality and that consequently, some of the principles we think of as crucial to human sexuality are in actuality, relatively new to our world. This book, of course, focuses on the development of Western views regarding sexuality, but it highlights points of commonality that the pre-Enlightenment understand of sexuality has in common with areas of the world that we Westerners find confusing today. Our base assumptions about personhood and sexuality are not the same as those of other people, and there are clear historical reasons for these changes.

It's been an interesting journey through the book, although it is awkward to read on the bus unless I'm hiding the title. Provocative book titles can be quite fun, though if I'm really into my reading, I hate getting interrupted by people wanting to know what on earth I'm reading (not that this happens often). Books are one of the devices which discourage social interaction. Knitting needles are not. (And I discovered that when a man wanted to tell me all about how his dog is like his child).

The earlier chapters discussed religious influence on sexuality and society. Something that doesn't get highlighted often is that pre-marital sex before the Reformation, when the Catholic Church's influence was at its height, wasn't that big a deal, particularly if the couple were engaged. The Reformers, reacting to the lax standards of the Church, disagreed. Then, changing moral attitudes from the Enlightenment slowly eroded those ideas. The double standard was always at work, too. Men were pretty much expected to have pre-marital sex, but not with "good" women, since that would contribute to the ruin of an innocent. It's rather narrow-minded of me, I'm sure, but I'm still of the opinion that if women have to remain chaste, men should, too.

Then there were the chapters on men vs. women and the assumptions made pre- and post-Enlightenment about how they responded to sex. The common view pre-Enlightenment was that women were insatiable, and even if a woman said no, she probably meant yes. Women were seductresses, and men were hapless in their hands. The view flipped after the Reformation and the Enlightenment, albeit slowly, creating the view that women were innocents and men were the ruthless seductors (given some of the citations in the book, I have to say this view had some definite merit, even though I'd rather not be a damsel-in-distress). There was a fascinating section on how this appeared in literature, particularly in the early novel.

The conclusion the book brought me to was that I'm rather profoundly grateful to live in the time I do, in the location that I do. Canada's far from perfect, and North American society has its own ways of damaging our perception of sex and the way we interact with each other, but at least I can challenge those assumptions without being too afraid of them. I'm a person, after all, not an object, and I'm happy to remind people of that.

14 November 2012

I haven't an inkling

 There are days when I really wonder why. Today was one of those. One of my best friends called me in crisis this evening, and I listened, we talked, and I think it helped, but I can do so little to help fix the situation, and ranting about it doesn't work. And it doesn't help that she's 5000 kilometres away, so mid-evening for me is almost bed-time for her.

While we talked, I wove, to keep my hands busy and my heart steady. The picture below shows the newest member of the fibre arts family at our home, an inkle loom which I've christened Miranda. The name seems appropriate, since (according to my favourite name website), it was created in the 1500s by Shakespeare, and the first recorded use of 'inkle' to describe narrow-woven tapes or bands dates from the 1500s. "Inkle" doesn't appear to be related to the word "inkling," from what documentation I can find from online etymology websites, but their similarity in sound is rather poetic.

Miranda, my inkle loom, warped, with a few inches woven
The loom itself may be a more recent innovation--I've found conflicting information stating that the inkle loom only dates from the 1930s, but another site had one purporting to be medieval. I don't particularly care, since I'm not in the SCA at this point, and this is a way to learn to weave that doesn't involve me tying things to a doorknob and tangling the threads up. I can do basic warp-face weaving on this, and I can use it for tablet weaving (again, skipping the tying it to a doorknob, although I may work up to creating a backstrap loom, using a strap woven on my inkle loom--I've yet to get my hands on a table loom, and these are more portable, after all). I'm learning the basics of using this before jumping up to tablet weaving, which is more complex, though very interesting.

I bought the loom on Craigslist, from a seller who was actually in my area, so I didn't have to spend a lot of time lugging the strange arrangement of boards and pegs on the bus. I did get questions, and I had fun introducing people to the concept of an inkle loom.

When I arrived home, I watched a video, read a few how-to's, and then warped my loom. I did the shortest warp that this loom does, using leftover dishcloth cotton for my warp, and crochet cotton for my heddles. Then I wound some more dishcloth cotton onto one of my flat bobbins (it didn't come with a shuttle) and started weaving.

My first two woven straps, made of dishcloth cotton. Number 1 on the left (brown warp yarn as weft), number 2 on the right (crochet cotton as weft).
I'm on strap number 3 at the moment--that's what's on the loom in the first picture. I'm using some leftover cotton-linen-silk blend yarn that has a beautiful mix of colours. I'm getting better as I go--each piece gets a little more even, although my selvedges are still messier than I'd prefer. Not sure if that's a warp or a weft problem. Or both.

At any rate, it's something to do with my hands that's rather different than the knitting. Which, of course, I'm still doing. There's the first of a pair of slippers sitting next to me on the table, and I was knitting on a sock whilst having tea with a friend this afternoon. The new thing for my making repertoire is exciting, even if all I can make right now are belts and ribbons.

And it helps when I feel useless. At least I can make something, and put well-wishes into the fabric as I create it.

08 November 2012

musings: music and introspection

I enjoy writing, but I frequently find myself not really knowing what to write here. And here I have this blog as a writing outlet.

There are plenty of strands I could pick up and follow, see where they go. One possibility today is music. I know, everyone writes about music. My musician brother could tell you all sorts of fascinating things about the topic, but I really only know the basics--I can read bass and treble clef, and I can play piano, violin, and mandolin with varying degrees of proficiency, never tipping over into truly good. I can sing, but when I'm out of practice, my alto range isn't exactly pleasant to listen to, and I tend to "sit on the bottom of the note," which is a creative way of saying I'm more likely to sing flat than sharp. In a musical family, I'm one of the dunces.

This used to bother me, but eventually I realized that my drive lies elsewhere. I'd rather spend eight hours a day working on language analysis than practicing the piano. Granted, a bit more practice on my mandolin would be a good idea. We even have a guitar I could try learning. Because really, I do love music. When phrase has just the right resonance (and no, I don't know how to describe it in musical terms), it's amazing. There's nothing like it.

I've been listening to music more frequently than usual (remembering a thought I had last year--music soothes the savage Anna). Sometimes I can't listen to music because it's too much stimulation. Reading and/or writing while I'm listening to music can be too many things at once and I end up switching the music off and the lack of sound results in a visceral sense of relief, the same feeling I have when the dishwasher finishes its cycle.

I grew up in a household of noise: A busy street, a beagle who bayed whenever someone walked by, three younger brothers, a piano and a drum set in the living room. Noise was normal. I got quite good at tuning it out while reading, to the point that if I'm absorbed in something today, it takes a shout or even a touch on the shoulder to bring me out of it.

As an adult, my tendencies towards silence reflect the quiet girl who occasionally holed up in her closet with a lamp and book. I can spend an entire day without really talking to anyone, without listening to music, without making much noise other than the clack of my fingers on the keyboard. Right now, all I can really hear is the traffic outside, the humming of the fridge, and the keyboard. Oh, and my own breath. This I do enjoy, and appreciate.

However, one can spend too much time with one's own thoughts. Introspection, though important, has the potential to be dangerous, especially for someone like me, with depressive tendencies. Some music intensifies the darkness, while other types lift it. Guess which one I prefer?

07 November 2012


The remnants of having worked in libraries are, for me, the compulsions to straighten books on the shelves (at home, at the library, at the bookstore), to put books back in order when they are out of order, and to organize my own books. This is, as always, an interesting exercise.

When J. and I got married and combined our libraries (admittedly, mine was much larger, but he contributed a number of very heavy science books), I decided that since we were combining libraries and moving in, I might as well alphabetize things and stick them in some kind of file so I'd have a list of what we had. The document included author's names and titles, and no more detail than that. I'd separated the fiction from the non-fiction, but didn't bother to organize based on any other system (admittedly better than my previous system, which involved book size and favourites).

That has changed. When we moved again, having sorted the books into boxes based on alphabet section, re-organizing was easier. Then, last summer, I went on a cataloguing kick. Our nonfiction is now arranged according to a bastardized version of Library-of-Congress and catalogued in an excel document that includes publication dates, editors, translators, and other salient details.

I've been meaning to properly catalogue the fiction and tidy it up (skipping the rearranging by genre, since the collection isn't really big enough to justify that yet--alphabetizing the fiction is fine for now), but it's taken a while to get there. I've been doing it by letter over the last few days. I just finished the "E" section. Eco, Eddings, Edwards, Eliot, Ende. A very short section. The "C" was impressive for my selection of Beverly Cleary's work. I don't own all of her books, but I do have most of them. I'm almost looking forward to the "J" section: between Brian Jacques and Diana Wynne Jones, there's a lot of books there.

Is this symptomatic of some form of OCD? I delight in arranging and re-arranging things. They just don't usually stay organized (which means I get to re-arrange them again). If this is OCD, it is at least a form I can live with. I'm not quite so bad as my brother, who immediately goes to the kitchen and re-arranges the drawer of measuring cups whenever he visits my parents. Speaking of, I re-arranged my measuring cups the other day. The drawer is much tidier now that the odd items that J. put in there are back in their proper places. I have a system. Really. You just wouldn't know it to look at my kitchen right now.

04 November 2012

Tailor's Chalk Tea

Tea and my design notebook; yarn bowl and soan papdi in background

 When one has no car, while living in a city designed around cars as a primary means of transport, one becomes accustomed to public transit, occasional rides from friends, and long walks. Today was a long walk. The florescent lights in our kitchen all decided to go at once--all three of them--so we walked to Home Depot in the pouring rain carrying one 2-foot and two 4-foot glass tubes, to match sizes and to recycle the old ones. We stopped in at Canadian Tire on the way, reasoning that they might have lightbulb recycling. They don't. Not for another couple of months. We got to Home Depot to discover that they'd discontinued their lightbulb recycling and we'd have to go to London Drugs. Fortunately, another person with the same dilemma offered to take ours over, since they were driving, and we were drenched.

After procuring more lightbulbs, since after wandering around town feeling like Jedi warriors, we couldn't possibly stop now (not to mention I'm tired of cooking in the dark), we wandered into the liquor store, where I finally found kirsch liqueur. I've been looking for it all over the place. Now we can do Black Forest cake properly.

In line at the register, the man in front of us took one look at me, and accused me of being seventeen. While handing the cashier my ID, I informed him that I was on the wrong side of twenty-five for that. I know I'm short, and I have a round-ish face. But do I really look like a teenager? Last time I checked, I had to look at least 20. Oh, well. Maybe if I develop grey hair at some point people will stop accusing me of being a teenager.

J. and I got pretty close to completely soaked from the rain on the rest of the walk home. While he put the lightbulbs in (he's the designated tall person in the marriage), I dried off and put the kettle on. Steaming hot tea always makes me feel warmer and happier after a long chilly walk.

I finally got around to drafting a pattern based on one of my skirts this evening. I found some really fabulous wool fabric at the thrift store, enough for a skirt, and I've based the pattern off of my favourite pleated skirt. I've changed things, of course. It has this weird appliqued side pocket, which I appreciate it because it is a pocket, but I'm just doing side-seam pockets. And the buttoned straps on the hips are gone, too.

Fabric, newspaper pattern, rotary wheel
I traced the yoke portion of the skirt onto newspaper, and then drew the skirt piece based on measurements from the skirt. You cut the yoke on the fold and one half of the skirt on the fold and the other half as two pieces, for the zipper. A back zipper lets me do pockets more easily. Plus that's what the original skirt has. The original has knife pleats which I've made a bit shallower here (not enough material), and a box pleat beneath the zipper which I haven't figured out how to replicate yet without essentially adding a gusset.

I'm not a professional at this by any means. In tightening up this version so I could fit the pieces onto the fabric, I managed to cut the skirt pieces short a bit in width (whoops!). I'm adding a couple strips along the zipper to fix it. There's enough in the scraps for that. It's not going to be super noticeable--it'll blend in with the pleats and the zipper line--but it is a bit silly of me to think that would work. I have a blue-and-white houndstooth that I'll probably do in this pattern too, and I won't have to worry about having enough there. I probably have enough for a dress and a skirt out of that one.

The fabric is a plain weave wool plaid, but the colours are subtle, and have almost a dark rainbow feel to them. I'm lining the skirt, of course, since this is the sort of wool fabric that has a scratchy feel to it. Gorgeous stuff, but not against my skin.

While marking the pattern onto the fabric, I managed to toss my tailor's chalk into my cup of tea. That's right. So, there went that last of that tea, and that piece of chalk. Whoops.

02 November 2012

dressing up

Last weekend, I got dressed up in an outfit that included boots, a tunic, a cloak, and a big sword. No. This was not for Halloween. Truth be told, I'm not much of a Halloween person. Something about a holiday celebrating scary stuff has never really clicked with me. Probably something to do with how I was afraid of everything as a kid--spiders, skeletons, zombies, end-of-the-world, clowns, you name it. So, we don't really do much for Halloween most years.

However, I am not opposed to costumes. Quite the contrary. Right now, we're working on the cover image for a book, and this pic is one of the many images from our first shoot.

On the rocks
Obviously, this isn't really the greatest picture. Most of them didn't really turn out to be close to what I was hoping for. J. was busy snapping photos, and I was busy trying not topple over onto the rocks when he insisted I crouch dramatically beside the river and put my weight on my bad knee. Plus we have to re-arrange the cloak. Most of the pictures look like a blue-green plaid blob with a bit of sword showing.

This is the result of being a writer who's decided to take a chance at online publishing on the advice of a friend in the publishing business. You end up nearly falling into a river early on a rainy Saturday morning wearing a wool cloak and trying to hold up a sword that was designed for a bigger person.

But the book's almost done with the editing process, and I need a cover image, and my friend Mika's letting me use her copy of Photoshop to mess around with a photo once we've got one. I have this image in my head, and I'm hoping we can get close to it. Next time, though, I'm insisting on the trail with lots of trees instead of the bit by the water. More stable, and closer to my mental picture.

The book's called Comrades We, and it topples into the high fantasy genre. What happens when you put a group of trainees with an interesting mix of talents together and then add a few high-stress situations? This book's got magic, villains, musicians, some meddling gods, a few games of Go, a couple mysterious pasts, and a legend come to life, together with half a dozen young people trying to figure out how to react to it all. More information to come, including when I'll have the blasted thing up on Amazon and Smashwords.

A long-expected project

Most of the knitters I know have works in progress (abbreviated as WIPs) that for some reason or another, have been put on the back burner. I have a box for these, and when I just want something that's already in progress, I dive in there and grab a project. There's a sweater that needs its fronts finished, and a couple half-knit socks, a shawl or two, and a hat that still needs a brim. My practice of having multiple items on the go has spawned these things that aren't quite done yet, and that will be finished at some point. All of them are things I want to complete, and just because they've been in the works for a while does not mean they'll never be finished. See below:

Glass Slippers Socks
These socks were started close to 2 years ago (yes, I'm ashamed of admitting it, but it's true) on a trip down to Portland to visit my family. I was knitting them on the train and gritting my teeth at the charting and the tiny twisted stitches. I loved the pattern, loved the way it looked, but those twisted stitches were killing me. I managed to finish the first sock eventually, picking it up at intervals and working through a repeat or two before I wanted to pull my hair out. 

I pulled them out back in October, and realized that the second sock was not far from completion. The chart on the foot needed to be worked to the point, and then there was the toe. I figured I could get them done in time for the end of the month. The bonus to that was there's this group on Ravelry I'm part of. It's an extremely geeky sort of thing, but I'm an extremely geeky sort of person. It's know as the Harry Potter Knitting and Crochet House Cup. You sign up, get sorted into a house each term (there's 3 terms per year, each lasting 3 months, with a break month in between each term), and then turn in assignments for classes that fit prompts, most of which are general enough that with a little imagination, it's not hard to make them work with the world of Harry Potter. For month-long projects, you have to start and finish them in a month, but they do have this great class: Detention. For that you get a base number of points, no bonuses, for completing a project that was unfinished before the start of the month. Great incentive to finish that sweater that only needs seaming, or that sock that just needs a toe.

So my pretty blue socks were my October Detention project. I got points, and I finished one of my long-term WIPs.

Close-up of the Glass Slipper sock foot

Oddly, while I was finishing off the chart, it occurred to me that it was much easier than I remembered. I think those almost two years between start and finish have improved my knitting. Sadly, my gauge has not remained the same. I've tightened up ever so slightly from the looser gauge that characterized my knitting a couple years ago. I had to make the toe of the second sock slightly longer so they'd fit properly. It's not really noticeable in the above picture, but it is when I'm wearing them, because the points of the cables don't hit at the same place on either foot. Whoops! That'll teach me to finish things more quickly.