Craft and the art of goal-setting

A couple of posts back, I mentioned that I was learning to crochet. This might seem odd since I’ve posted a lot about my somewhat manageable yarn obsession. You’d think that by now I’d have this particular craft under my belt or (like many other knitters) just refuse to learn it out of stubborn solidarity. Really, knitting is just a really satisfying creative outlet. That doesn’t mean I haven’t used it to learn new things, though.

Almost ten years ago, I became frustrated at my knitting speed, or lack thereof, and taught myself to lever knit. Also known as Irish Cottage Knitting, lever knitting is a variant on the English method of holding one’s yarn and needles. It gained new popularity with the current crop of yarn enthusiasts through blogger Stephanie Pearl McPhee, who learned the method from her own grandmother. 

As far as learning new techniques go, lever knitting wasn’t terribly difficult. I figured out how to hold the yarn and wrap it through my fingers for the amount of tension I required, and started slowly. I’d knit that way for about five or ten minutes every time I picked up my knitting until it just became second nature. Learning to knit two-handed for stranded knitting was an added layer of difficulty.

I left my long-term employer this past September, and started looking at courses of study. I’ve had people suggest that I complete my network training or go into security or development. Development is an area where I have a bit of interest and some small experience. I fell in love with web design back in the 90’s, and reluctantly left it behind when my career started leading into network operations. At the time, web developers weren’t really valued unless they lucked into a career in a design house. I’m really happy to see that’s changed, and it’s a direction I’d like to head towards. 

Blue Crocheted Afghan
Granny Stripes afghan. Yarn is Caron Cakes Faerie Cake.

How does this tie into learning crochet? When I’m learning new crafts and crafting techniques, I generally teach myself. I’ve had to learn to set small, achievable goals, and make them interesting enough to want to complete them. I try to build off areas where I already have some competency and proficiency. The payoffs for me are awesome in scope: I’ve learned patience and focus. I’ve gained dexterity in fingers that currently have trouble performing a simple scale on the piano. I also have some warm socks, hats, mittens and shawls. I’m not really seeing a down-side to this.

It doesn’t escape my notice that I’ve just described something called a S.M.A.R.T. goal. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Related. I’ve found that management makes a lot of noise about this method, but rarely gives you a real-world application for it. Having SMART goals sounds awesome. Being engaged enough to actually accomplish anything is another matter. Usually my interpretation of a SMART goal set by management translates to “How can we offload this thing we don’t want to do onto someone else so we can find something we like better.”

This attitude is probably why I tend to stick to crafts (at least for the time being).

When I’m teaching myself new crafts, I gain another side-benefit that I haven’t really talked about yet: an increase in self-confidence. I gain satisfaction in knowing that I’m not stupid, and that I can learn new things. I came out of my last job feeling pretty defeated. It’s taken me the better part of five months to start feeling like my old self again. I’m rediscovering a person who hasn’t seen the light of day in over a decade. I’m writing fiction again. I’m dusting off Photoshop and Illustrator. I’m digging further into WordPress and HTML and trying to teach myself Javascript. I have a lot of pans in the fire, and if learning how to crochet a shawl is the thing that helps me complete some of those tasks? Well then the extra acrylic yarn was well worth it in my estimation.

I’m not the only one who sees multiple mental health benefits to craftwork. Neuroscientists are studying people who craft and finding some really interesting observations about the meditative and social benefits. Even Lifehack has picked up the story.

The styling’ outfit my buddy Ollie is wearing was made by my Mum.

Crafts were a big thing when I was a kid. Growing up, there were always books on sewing, cross-stitch, macramé and knitting on the shelves in the family den. They were usually tucked willy-nilly between books on art history and the latest Stephen King or Kathleen E. Woodiwiss novel, but they were a natural part of my daily landscape.

My baby dolls had custom clothing and their own quilt. Mum made designer dresses for my Barbie dolls that were prettier and more durable than anything bought in a store. Cross-stitch and embroidered samplers were hung tastefully in certain rooms of the house, and crocheted snowflakes became a treasured part of the tree-trimming process.

I talk a lot about my Grandmother’s guidance on my love of craft, but I really can’t discount my own mother’s influence. By the time I was an adult, my mother had added Dene beadwork and moose hair tufting to her list of accomplishments, as well as leatherworked moccasins and mukluks. The parka I took with me to college was made and hand-embroidered by my Mum.

My mother also became an Amateur Radio Operator (HAM) in the early 1980’s, at a time when you needed to be fluent in Morse code as well as have an extensive knowledge of electronics to gain a license. Without that license, you were unable to participate in talks on various frequencies or attend meetings with other similarly-inclined persons. I can tell you from personal experience that learning Morse isn’t easy. I’ve given up on it a few times now, and I speak two languages (poorly, I grant you) in addition to English. Being able to draw on that background and meld it into the projects I’m currently working on? You have no idea how much this pleases me.

Red Heart Yarn doesn’t suck.

Yes, you read that right. No, I’m not shilling for Red Heart. Yes, I actually typed that sentence.

If you, like me, are a 40-something who plays with brightly-coloured string, you might remember the Red Heart of the past. Acrylic yarn so rough it made the scrubber side of a kitchen sponge feel like silk. That was my opinion of the spare yarn my Grandmother had lying around. The stuff that was purpose-made for teaching little fingers to knit. The stuff that convinced me that this knitting thing was the devil’s own handiwork and that I’d much prefer to go play softball with the boys, thank you very much.

This is the reputation that Red Heart has been dealing with for the past 80-some-odd years. I bought precisely two balls of acrylic when I was re-learning how to knit, and promptly shoved them in a storage box with the cheap needles I’d picked up as soon as I found access to Better Yarn soft wool. Soon my shelves where stocked full of merino and alpaca, and I swore I’d never touch acrylic again.

Right. Then my friends started having babies. Maybe you can see where this is going.

Yes, acrylic is improving.

I had an inkling that acrylic yarns were improving around the time someone suggested I knit a baby sweater or two. Instead, I dabbled in a baby blanket that didn’t get very far before I lost interest. At some point I bought some boutique acrylic from a local yarn store when I finally realized that baby sweaters need to be able to go in the laundry. A couple of years ago, I found that a slightly slubby acrylic had the kind of sheen I wanted for a pair of mittens for a co-worker. It’s been a slippery slope from there.

Speak Friend and Enter Mittens inspired by Tolkein's Lord of the Rings. Made for a co-worker using wool and acrylic yarns.
Speak Friend and Enter mittens made for my work buddy Lila

I recently decided to deepen my knowledge of crochet. Learning new crafts helps me kick-start my brain into learning other things. I think it has to do with being an experiential learner. At any rate, I have some very basic crochet skills, but haven’t used them beyond making the odd chain for a provisional cast-on. Mum gave me a crocheted doily she’d made years ago, and while I’ve tried my hand at it, I found some of the directions confusing (despite your best efforts, Leisure Arts).

I don’t like to start with easy projects.

I wanted to do something more than wash cloths or scarves, so I picked a shawl. A surprisingly easy shawl, once I found a YouTuber who was patient enough to film three videos on how to follow the pattern. Armed with this knowledge, I set off to Michaels in search of something I wouldn’t feel bad about accidentally destroying in a fit of pique. Hey, I can’t be held responsible where something lands when I pitch it across the room! I was surprised to find out that the colours I liked best were Red Heart Unforgettable. I’m a sucker for pinks, purples and blues. Some of the Unforgettable colorways seem to be calculated specifically to target me.

Virus meets Granny shawl in Red Heart Unforgettable colorway Candied. Posed thrown over the grey sofa in my office.
Virus Meets Granny shawl crocheted with Red Heart Unforgettable yarn

I was surprised at how soft the Unforgettable is! Granted, I’m crocheting with this, not knitting. Totally different way of holding the yarn. Even so, crocheting the shawl took surprisingly little time. I figured I’d be slogging away at it for a few months. It was done within a couple of weeks.

Hold on. There are still some drawbacks.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not perfect. It has a halo, somewhat like mohair, which means it sticks to itself. You better hope you find any problems quickly if you need to rip back, because after a couple of hours being manhandled, the fibres start locking together. Under other circumstances this could be a feature, but for my personal skillset, it was something to watch out for.

Otherwise, I’ve found my Red Heart experience rather pleasant. To an extent where I’ve bought more. I figure there will be another Virus Meets Granny shawl in my future, possibly a Queen Anne’s Lace scarf. In the meantime, I have an afghan that I’m working up out of a bunch of Caron Cakes I picked up on sale after Yule. I’m almost convinced that the reason crocheters keep acrylic companies afloat is through the sheer speed involved in making afghans. Particularly if, unlike knitters, you don’t have to wrap the yarn around half the fingers on one hand.

Four balls of Red Heart Unforgettable yarn in the colorway Echo

No, I haven’t forgotten about knitting. I have a perfectly fine sock that I’ve been carrying around in my purse, thank you very much! 😃

Papa’s got a brand-new hat

I found myself a little behind on Christmas knitting time last year. After finishing my traditional socks and a couple of extras, the last item on my list was still outstanding: a hat for Dad.

The Baa-ble Hat knit for my niece
The Baa-ble Hat knit for my niece

Dad had been hinting about a hat for over 2 years. I had knit stranded hats for my niece and nephew, and every time the subject came up, he’d inevitably utter the words “You know, I’d wear a hat like that…”
But it wasn’t to be. Because I ran out of time. Because I’m a good daughter, I printed out the pattern I had chosen and the yarn that the husbeast and I had bought at the yarn store, stuck them in a gift bag and let Dad know that a hat would be forthcoming.
Needless to say, the old man had reasonable doubts he’d ever see the hat. This wasn’t his first Rodeo. He’d been given the pattern and not received the finished product at least once before in the past. Possibly more, as I’m pretty sure my mother and grandmothers before me had likely pulled the same stunt. I’m pretty sure the same trick wears thin around the third generation.
He went back to wearing his usual toque and promptly forgot about the promised hat.
Until last week, when I dropped by the house to deliver the finally finished Native Winter Beanie I’d found the time to finish! The yarn is super-soft merino. Not sure about the lighter colour, but the ball band for the dark brown tells me that it’s a superwash in Black Mousse by Zen Yarn Garden. The yarns are, unfortunately, not from the same companies.

Native Winter Beanie
Native Winter Beanie, hat designed by Sheri Fuller

The brim was probably the hardest part. It’s a ribbed brim, and it seems to go on forever. It’s a 144-stitch cast on, and you knit for about 6.5cm (2.5 inches). I get tired of knit 2, purl 2 rib on a 64-stitch cast on sock after about 15 rounds! 144 stitches is pretty brutal. I’d say it took 11 months to recover from the trauma, but all I can really chalk that up to is a bit of knitter’s depression — things happening in your non-knitting life that keep you from picking up the needles. To be honest, I’ve been stuck in a place where I essentially only had the energy to play World of Warcraft and make sure I get my requisite amount of showers per week.
I’m out of practice when it comes to stranded knitting. My fingers hurt for about three days afterwards. I’d gotten the pattern colour and the background colour mixed up, you see, so when I realized that the background wasn’t the lovely chocolate brown, but the lighter gold…I had to rip back. I’d been in the middle of the decreases at the crown, so it wasn’t a small setback. Luckily, even my mildly arthritic fingers are nimble enough to catch up. It only took one afternoon to get back on track.

Dad, enjoying his new hat
Dad, enjoying his new hat

I’m glad I managed to get this project done and out of the way. I’m even happier that Dad now has a warm hat to wear on the cold days ahead! Winter is coming!

Happy Hallowe’en!

Happy Samhain! We celebrated this year with three pumpkins: a real pumpkin carved with a black cat that sat on our porch, and two faux pumpkins for inside the house. The two faux pumpkins are, of course, Edgar Allen Poe and Vincent Price. All patterns, if I recall, were purchased from my favourite pumpkin pattern shop, Zombie Pumpkins!https://www.zombiepumpkins.com

Hats! On heads!

Last Saturday I apologized for not having a picture of hats in action.  My sister-in-law has remedied that situation.

Milo, Georgia, and hats!
Milo, Georgia, and hats!

I think they rank right up there as two of the best knitwear models ever. They also provide great quality control, as they live in one of the colder quadrants of Canada. Chances are pretty good that there will be more hats (and mittens, and scarves) in their future.

I refuse to knit them socks (and sweaters) until they stop growing. Even Auntie has her limits 😉

Hats! I knit them!

I knit a couple of hats!

I actually knit them a while ago, but I was waiting until they landed in Yellowknife with their new owners before I posted anything. You see, one of them is an early birthday present and the other is a belated birthday present. Unfortunately, while I have a picture of the duo in their new hats, I do not have permission to post it (it’s pretty informal). If, however, winter action shots of the hats in use come my way with permission to post, I shall happily do so.

Milo's Hat
Milo’s Hat

This is what happens when Auntie Maire sees her niece and nephew wearing commercially knit toques in family pictures. Seriously.

sheepies
Georgia’s Hat

Georgia’s hat is Baa-ble Hat by Donna Smith, and Milo’s is my own variation on The Force Awakens Hat by Mrs. Luedeke. As always, I can’t help myself from messing with a pattern. I added  a Y-Wing fighter, the Rebel Alliance logo to the first row of icons. I added Boba Fett (because he’s awesome), and Darth Vader to the top, and got rid of the light saber-ish thing. Last, I used “May the force be with you” instead of branding the hat to the movie. Essentially turned it into a general-purpose Star Wars Hat. Because that’s the way I roll.

bewithyou
The back of Milo’s hat

The only things these hats are missing are wonderfully ridiculous pom-poms, and that’s only because I wasn’t sure the kids would want wonderfully ridiculous pom-poms. They’re at an age where pom-poms can be a point of contention.

So I will patiently await a publishable action shot of the hats and the final word as to whether pom-poms are go.

ps: I also made yarn. But that’s a whole other story.

I made yarn! Into The Whirled "Andraste" on English Shetland
Into The Whirled “Andraste” on English Shetland

Mittens!

With my love of knit socks, it’s no wonder I’ve gravitated to mittens. I particularly love stranded mittens, but I’ll happily knit away on a pair of cabled or plain mitts as well. Small projects seem to be my forte. While I’ve knit at least one sweater, mostly to prove I could, they’re not my current obsession.

This is knitting that isn’t going into the Yule Gift Pile for next year. Once in a while, I have to make something for myself and the husbeast. These are for me, mostly because they’re way too small or girly for him!
I will note that he works in trucking and delights in wearing colours not generally associated with diesel fuel and testosterone fumes just to piss off his co-workers, so girly really isn’t a problem for anyone but me…because I don’t always want to share.

2♥s Beat As 1 mittens

2 Hearts Beat as One mittens

First up, a pair of 2♥s Beat As 1 mittens by Yvette Noel. Lovely cable mitts made out of Burgundy Cascade 220 Superwash Sport. At least, I think that’s what I made them out of because I lost the ball band. Hopefully that will be less of an issue this year, because most of the ball bands that went missing did so when I cleaned up my little craft cave in the basement. Now that it’s relatively clean down here, I should hopefully be able to keep track of my ball bands.
The mitten was the December “Pattern of the Month” for the “I Make Mittens” group on Ravelry. I was very happy to take part because the mittens are lovely! I think that my only minor criticism is that cables are slow-going for me, like speed bumps to my knitting. Maybe that’s a good thing, and maybe I should try to slow down a bit more, but there’s always that part of me that says…

mustgofaster

Rubywhat mittens?

Ruba'iyat mittens

These look finished, but they’re not. I can tell because they have a provisional cast-on in bright pink yarn. Gorgeous Ruba’iyat Mittens designed by Heather Desseraud. I plan on lining them, so while the pretty exterior is done, the interior linings are still waiting for me to decide what colours I’m going to use, and whether I’ll just use leftover sock yarn or some other yarn that I’d intended to use for mittens but found were a little difficult to work with. Updates will be posted when I figure out where I’m going with this!

Christmas Knitting 2015

I honestly meant to update well before now, but while my intentions were good…my followup was crap.

The knitting content has been almost non-existent on the blog for a while, so I will offer up an apology for anyone looking for knitting and finding everything else. My knitting has had a tendency to go in fits and starts the past couple of years. First it was a full-out sock obsession that went into overload, after which I took some time off from serious knitting. I really did burn myself out. The past two years, I’ve recovered in just enough time to get the Christmas Knitting over and done with before sinking back into well-earned break that turned into extended sabbaticals.

So I’m going to try and do better this year. Maybe space out the Christmas knitting so that it’s not all being hurriedly done at once.

Excuses aren’t knitting, however, so here we go!

ONline Supersocke 4-fach Neptun Color
ONline Supersocke 4-fach Neptun Color

These were the first socks completed, sometime in June. I was experimenting with tighter gauge and had knit them on 2mm needles. They fit my foot, but they were somewhat too snug — so they are a perfect fit for my mother-in-law, Sheila. The tighter gauge will ensure that they will last a long time and stay nice and cozy.

momsocks

Socks for my own Mum! These, too, were at a slightly tighter gauge, but for a bigger foot. They were knit from the toe-up using a Fleegle Heel. I couldn’t tell you what the yarn is, but it felt like it was possibly a Zitron/Trekking product from the feel of the yarn. The colour, however, doesn’t seem to be part of that line. Ah well…it was still a good knit 🙂

dadmitts
Knit Picks Palette in Almond & Garnet Heather plus leftover Trekking/Cascade sock yarn for lining

Mittens for Dad! I had made mittens for everyone *but* him last year, and I really wanted to make sure that he had warm hands for this year. They were started last year on boxing day, and I managed to get one mitten finished before putting them aside. Picked ’em up again at the end of November, finished the second mitten, then moved on to the liners. The liners look pretty similar for both mittens, with the greet at the finger tips. I had two small balls of very similarly coloured Trekking (if not two dyelots of the same colourway), which I used for the liner closer to the openings. The fingertips are some leftover Cascade sock yarn. Dad assures me that the thumbs are the right length, and since my only worry was that I’d knit the thumbs too short, I guess we can call these a success!

lilamitts
Kroy Gentry Grey and possibly Bernat Baby CoOrdinates Ombres in Funny Print

A set of mittens for my co-worker Lila, who loves Tolkein and the Peter Jackson version of Middle Earth. She caught sight of these over my shoulder one day when I was glancing at Ravelry, and mentioned how she’d love a pair. She has knitters in her family, but getting them to make anything for her is a trial. These are my birthday/Christmas gift to her. The background is Kroy and the design is actually an acrylic baby yarn that was chosen mainly for the glittery bling that magic doors require. The wool in the Kroy will keep her plenty warm, methinks.

donsocks

Socks for my father-in-law, Don – aka “why do I keep losing the ball bands?”
The yarn is possibly ONline Supersocke 100 Forest Color, but I can’t be 100% certain as…well…I lost the ball band. Probably when I cleaned up my office earlier this fall. Oops. Again, stripey goodness. It keeps me amused.

tashascarf1

Last, but certainly not least, a scarf for my sister-in-law, who can be rather difficult to shop for. She apparently loves the scarf, however, and I’m not surprised…it’s 2 skeins of Malabrigo Mecha in the Lotus colourway. 100% Merino goodness! I used the 1-row scarf pattern, and it worked beautifully with the way the yarn was dyed.

Next time, I’ll try to show a couple of the other projects I’ve been working on but haven’t had time to post quite yet!

Well that’s that (Prix Aurora Award voting done)

I submitted my final votes for the Prix Aurora Award this morning. I have some mixed feelings about it.

First, I feel happy that I looked over as much of the work as I could within the time I had. I feel like I’m coming to know Canadian SFF fandom a bit better, and I am glad I had the opportunity to read and view some excellent and/or interesting work.

Read moreWell that’s that (Prix Aurora Award voting done)

Book Review: Echopraxia by Peter Watts






Echopraxia Book Cover




Echopraxia




Firefall #2





Peter Watts





Fiction




Macmillan




August 26, 2014




ePub




384




Prix Aurora Awards



It's the eve of the twenty-second century: a world where the dearly departed send postcards back from Heaven and evangelicals make scientific breakthroughs by speaking in tongues; where genetically engineered vampires solve problems intractable to baseline humans and soldiers come with zombie switches that shut off self-awareness during combat. And it's all under surveillance by an alien presence that refuses to show itself.

Daniel Bruks is a living fossil: a field biologist in a world where biology has turned computational, a cat's-paw used by terrorists to kill thousands. Taking refuge in the Oregon desert, he's turned his back on a humanity that shatters into strange new subspecies with every heartbeat. But he awakens one night to find himself at the center of a storm that will turn all of history inside-out

 

Echopraxia is the third book that I have read of the five Best Novel (English) nominees for the Prix Aurora Awards. I did not purchase the book; it was a part of the award’s reader’s pack.

I will be purchasing a copy of Echopraxia to join our copy of Blindsight on the Husbeast’s office bookshelf.

♥ ♥ ♥

What is the outstanding “trend” in the book? (ie: outer space, aliens, dragons, elves, parallel worlds, etc):
Outer space. Vampires. Aliens. Science. Immersive Realities. Emerging Dystopia.

Is there a Message?:
There might have been. I’m still trying to parse it all.

Any other genres incorporated into the book? Was it done well?:
I think that “outer space” and “vampires” covers that question rather neatly. And yes, it was done rather well. I’m impressed.

Is the “trend” realistic?:
Watts has made his vampires a biological construct — a re-emergence of a prehistoric genetic code that had died off at a time when humanity needed to thrive. He’s also built science into humanity’s base fear of vampires. So….yes?

Was the book easy to get into?:
Since I had just read Blindsight, yes.

Did you have to do any homework (pre-reading) to really understand the book?:
Echopraxia is the second in a series, so yes, I would recommend reading Blindsight first. You can also, apparently, get the books as a collection titled “Firefall” if you don’t want to pick them up separately. Blindsight lays the base groundwork for the universe, and as its main character Siri Keeton and the Theseus mission are integral to the story, you’ll want to read it first.

Was the world believeable?:
Amazingly so.

Were the characters believable?:
Yes. The characters that we fully engage with are very well-rounded, and feel like complete personalities. There don’t appear to be any “throwaway” characters. They all have their place in the story.

What “problems” did you have with the book?:
If anything, my problems with Echopraxia were comprehension-related. I like science fiction. It takes me a while to work out the jargon. Due to the fact that the main character is a biologist, there is a lot of science to work through. It’s also very prevalent when it comes to scene-setting. Even though this book is only set about sixty to seventy years in the future, there are a lot of world changes that require explanation.

My only other criticism is that it felt like the book only started to “wake up” around the midpoint. Even though there seemed to be plenty of action, that’s where I started to feel the most engaged. Your mileage may vary, though…I needed more time to wade through the science, and I had to break my reading into bite-size chunks due to my Real Life schedule 🙂

What did you like about the book?:
I got comfortable with Dan Brüks. I came to imagine an older, curmudgeonly gentleman  scientist and former professor, suddenly caught up in a whirlwind of action and opinion. And Dan has plenty of opinions. Much like Siri Keeton of Blindsight, Dan seems to be in the dark about most of the motivations of his fellow travellers, though unlike Keeton, is prone to intense flashes of insight that take the reader along with him.

You could probably stick Harrison Ford into the role. Or maybe Last-Crusade-era Sean Connery, if you want a little extra “grump” (which I did…oh, goodness, I did). It’s possible that Dan isn’t in that age-range and I totally missed it, but that’s where I put him, and it worked.

The book deals with science, religion, loneliness and intimacy in ways that are subtle and changeable — from the perspective of a person who is very obstinate and stubborn. It puts him into some degree of conflict with just about every other character he meets. It makes Dan’s journey richer in some ways, frustrating in others. He’s given the nickname “Roach” early on in the book, and you never really know how apt it is until the story is complete.

Last Thoughts:
This is definitely one of my award contenders. The book was sometimes challenging (and thus frustrating!) to read, but it was worth the extra brain cells. The only huge drawback is that the story really isn’t complete without reading Blindsight first. You probably could go on without it…but it gives the story much-needed context. Unless you already own the first book, you might want to pick up the aforementioned Firefall.

Watts has also left a few doors open for a third book in the series. There are plenty of loose ends that are strategically untied that would allow a nice, neat trilogy to bring it all together. I’m pretty sure we’d pick it up if/when he does.