Sunday, September 28, 2014

And There's Knitting Too...

I'm making progress with my second version of the Indicum pullover.

I wish I'd noticed that patch of light when I was photographing this...
It looks very straight though there's a differential of 2 inches between the bust, waist and hips. The thing is that this yarn is SO spongy that it obscures it. I actually think that Quince Finch might be too spongy and a bit robust for this sweater - though I'm reserving judgement till this is made and blocked. Pre-blocking, it feels a bit like it's wearing me.

Then, there's the matter that I really just don't know my thoughts on corrugated rib (the kind of 2-toned ribbing at the hem and neck. It's weird and, while I know it will block flat, it does like to roll (which drives me nuts). I know I've said this before. I think I may be erring towards not liking it (even though it does make for some cool colourwork).

The yarn, I've come to realize is a very pink version of brown, which is why the pink accents are great. But I don't know if I like the tone.

Hmmm... It's not looking good for this one at the moment. Wish us both luck :-)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Some Actual Sewing, If You Can Believe It

Today, I abandoned all plans. I'm actually sewing without a plan. Like, that's the plan.

I also decided that I couldn't be motivated - under any circumstances - to pre-fit whatever I sewed. So I sewed a) without a plan and b) according to some abstract shape that might or might not be mine. (And really, what's the likelihood that it would be mine.)

All in all, it worked out amazingly well:

Yeah, I made sweatpants - but they're CHIC sweatpants...

I didn't follow any of the directions and I went off-road with the pattern. And you would be correct, that waistband stitching sucks...
For starters, I almost didn't show you photos of these completed True Bias Hudson Pant because they are rather crappily top stitched. Part of the reason for this is that I was making things up as I went along. I don't want a string-tie to highlight the thickest part of me. I don't need pockets (same deal). So it messed with the waistband and hence the sewing-flow. But whatevs. Look on, if you will. I'm keeping it real.

A note about what I changed at the waist: I actually opted to stitch the elastic into the waistband before I put the waistband on the pants. Next time, I may stitch down only on the wrong side (leave the band open as I ease the elastic into the inside of the waistband) then fold over the top (which won't move) and then sew that unit into the pants. It will give the waist a more finished look and I won't have to care quite as much about how straight the stitching is. Also, I really hate zigzag stitch. It always looks rookie. Keep in mind, if you choose to try this - you'll need to keep the length of your pants waist fairly close to that of the elastic and the waistband fabric. A bit of easing is fine, but the 3 plus inches (to shirr the waistband) would not fly.

A note about what I did re: pockets: Remember (as I did not) that if you don't sew the pockets, you'll need to add paper onto the front outer hip (to give it the regular curve pants have at the hip). I ended up having to create a fake piece and stitched it on cuz I'd already cut my fabric when I realized my mistake. I actually like the look. If you do this - ensure that you include a seam allowance on the part that attaches to the pant front. You could do this wedge in a contrast fabric but I don't like that look because it seems like the inside fabric of your pocket is pulling out. These faux pockets actually look pretty real when you're wearing them. Contrast thread would probably give them a bit more pop.

Of course, I ended up fitting in numerous (though remarkably small) ways:
  • I cut the 10 because my fabric only had 50% stretch. Note: The pattern explains how to determine the appropriate stretch, which it calls "40%". In actually fact, you want a 4 inch swatch to stretch to 7 inches - which is 75% stretch. I know there's been some debate about this but I don't buy it. I think the instructions are erroneous (although the explanation is excellent so it doesn't cause any problems). I should have cut the size 8. No one's talked about whether these pants fit big or small - I think they fit generously, even if you use a fabric with less stretch than is called for.
  • Now, the reason I think they fit generously - and the reason I could make a totally wearable muslin of these with nary a change to the original pattern (though I did change it as I went) - is because it's drafted for a slim-legged frame with proportional hips and derriere. If pants fitting is your nightmare because your hips and legs are proportionately large, these are probably not the pants for you.
  • They are supposed to fit a 5'5" frame. I'm 5'3" and the legs were way too short. I've added an inch for the next go, but I might decide to add 2. I like slouch above the ankle cuff. Admittedly, my legs are long for my frame, but I think that most peeps are going to have to add.
  • My other changes were made by cutting the pattern back down to a size 8 (incrementally). I went to a 6 in the front crotch depth and waist. So these pants are cut for someone pretty straight.
  • The waistband elastic and corresponding waistband are too large (my fault - I overestimated how much room I'd need). Of course, this makes them ideal for sleeping in. Anyway you slice it, there's way too much ease in the waistband piece, IMO. A bit of shirring can be nice in a waistband. But I think the amount the pattern calls for would add a lot of bulk and make it very tricky to ease. Keep in mind, I did my own thing so you may disagree if you followed the original pattern.
What I Like:
  • Well they're cut for someone with my body type...
  • The crotch depth and curve are quite well-drafted - especially the back piece which has more of an L cut than a J cut. This works better for those with some fullness in the mid-derriere.
  • The instructions would be good, I sense. They're clearly written. I just didn't follow them because a) I know how to put together pants and b) I went rogue with the waist.
  • These pants are remarkably on-trend. You can spend 100 bucks at Roots, J Crew etc. to buy them. Why not make them for 10 bucks and call it a day!
  • My fussy teen is totally impressed. She wants me to make a pair for her next.
So, there you go. I will most definitely be making these again - and probably soon because the kid will bug me till I do. I just need to restock the fabrics and elastic.

Whatcha think of this pattern? If you've made it, what do you think of the sizing? I sure wished I could find someone who'd written about that before I cut these (not that it's the end of the world, by any means).

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Practice Makes Perfect: Part 1

People often ask me what I look for in a yoga class. What I interpret this to mean is: What do I like in a practice? because I often practice by myself, using a sequence devised by myself. Needless to say, this is not a class in the traditional sense.

My answers are as diverse as the 3 decades during which I've practiced. But some things are constant, it would seem, so here's what I can tell you about what I look for - either in a classroom setting, or in my own yoga room:

Words Matter: Interesting, when I work alone, I mentally narrate my practice. I'm a verbal person - as you know - and language merges with my physical response when I do asana. For me, the words are synch mechanism like breath. If a teacher is inarticulate, I cannot stand it. For better or worse, tone of voice and vocal speed are also very important to me.

The Teacher Has To Know What (S)he's Doing: You can see I put a lot of onus on the teacher. But in this respect, the relationship is non-negotiable. If you don't know what you're doing (and we all find ourselves at the edge sometimes, in practice), you need to be working with someone else who does. To link with the point above, a teacher who knows what she's doing (I'll use the female pronoun here) is more likely to speak articulately and in a tone that fosters confidence. Teachers who are highly knowledgeable and engaged seem to pull pertinent words from the air and those words are relevant to their students as they perform a pose.

But back to the concept of yogic knowledge... I always look for a teacher with a deep understanding of anatomy and the interconnections of parts of the body (from a muscles-in-movement perspective). I want someone with a long-standing experience of the poses she teaches who understands those poses well enough to be able to modify them for students, as necessary, so that they can achieve the benefit without risking injury to the body or ego. I want someone who explains things (back to language, it would seem), who demonstrates on her own body or on willing students and who pays attention to what's happening. If she's going to talk about breathing/yogic concepts/philosophy/psychology, she'd best understand exactly what it means - and how to teach it.

Creativity is Key: Your body is an amazing machine. It learns, retains, develops, regresses, progresses, heals but it cannot do this to its full capacity when its bored. Really, I'm not talking about the mind at this point. If the body is bored (or freaked out, for that matter) it doesn't thrive in practice. Highly interrelated with this concept is that of the structure of practice or sequencing. Those classes that blow your mind, that change your life, are those that engage your body creatively in ways you've rarely experienced before.

I always say: A good class gets around you and it does that because it's sequenced well.

I'm not going to get into sequencing in detail - it's an art and a science - but I will say that every class you've enjoyed owes much of its success to how the poses have been sequenced and timed. It makes the difference between achieving a new frontier and feeling stuck or even sick. So I will only work with a teacher who understands this premise as I do.

The reason that so many people struggle to create a home (or personal) practice is because they just can't find the creativity. They feel somehow inauthentic when they're not being told what to do - and they also tend to sequence things suboptimally (especially when reasonably new to yoga).

BTW, if you want to learn to practice on your own (and really, there should be a class on this!), the key is to understand sequencing. Also, to kit yourself out WELL. And to practice in the same spot. I could write a post or two on this...

But more pose-specifically, what do I like in a practice?
  • I love slow vinyasa - the kind of class in which movement does not stop but which gains momentum imperceptibly. These classes don't shock the body, but they work it relentlessly. I'd rather do a class at this pace than any other (well, variety is good but 7 out of 10 times, this is my preferred groove).
  • I like holding poses for a long time. That's not at odds with the bullet above. One can link poses (held for long periods) with movement. And, when the vinyasa part of one's practice comes to an end, long holdings can assist in making gains of strength and flexibility.
  • I like a practice that includes a healthy dose of seated forward bends. These poses are SO underrepresented in your average class these days. I realize that it's because they can be dangerous. They're not dangerous if they're taught well and, if you suffer from a host of things, they are some of the most effective poses you will ever do.
  • I like inversions - especially the fancy ones! (Don't misunderstand, I can't do many of the fancy ones right now, but I do like a good headstand and shoulderstand or a few handstands in a class).
  • I love iteratively-sequenced classes - the kind that move to an endpoint (e.g. hanumanasana (front/back splits) or urdhva dhanurasana (wheel backbend), by incrementally increasing physical awareness required, through specifically sequenced poses that precede that end goal.
Of course, there are a whole bunch of things I really don't like - and I'm more than happy to share that list too.

But, for today, what do you look for in your yoga class (or home practice)? What pace do you prefer? What style (if this matters to you)? What poses do you love? What features in the classroom experience are most meaningful to you? I want to know. Let's talk!

Monday, September 22, 2014


On Saturday, I went down the block to return a library book. While I was walking, I saw an open house sign at one of the new freehold town-home "complexes" that have been built not far from my home. What I mean by complex is that there are multiple units of homes that are attached and look largely the same; they span between two short blocks in either direction. They're all in this very "modern" vein. Actually, I find them verging on brutalist but then, I don't mind that look if the landscaping's good.

Before the reclamation of these blocks, for many years, a school and a church sat vacant. There was a murder in the church, which was then burned down. It was odd (to say the least) to observe the encroaching decay of a formerly religious structure, in a populous neighbourhood, which stood there, like a riot shell, abandoned. For its many dubious qualities, this isn't typical of the Toronto sensibility. We tend to just tear everything down before it burns - as long as it has architectural pedigree. And, though the area has certainly gentrified, it's always been a going concern, not the kind of place with burned out murder scenes.

At any rate, you can imagine that I wasn't overly disturbed by the influx of new housing.

I decided to check out that open house, you know, for research, because it is the first resale. So, it's big. The agent said "about 3000 square feet". I don't think so, but then I didn't add up the room sizes from the floor plan doc provided. Every floor is a long, skinny box. It's finished with high-quality materials (though I do doubt the overall quality of the construction job). I watched that thing go up, after all. It is built on a sort of hill (not that we have those in Toronto) so one has to climb up a zillion stairs, just to get to the front door. The house itself is built over 4 floors. It's more stair than anything.

The above-ground basement unit is touted as a nanny-suite or home office. It is outfitted with the plumbing for a kitchen. There are 5 bathrooms and 3 bedrooms plus den. All I can think when I see 5 bathrooms is that someone's going to have to clean 5 bathrooms. And, yeah, I do have a cleaner, so I know that's likely the route the homeowner will take. But still. That's 2 plus hours of bathroom cleaning a week?!?

The kitchen sits unceremoniously between a front and back section of a big rectangle. It looks onto chicly glassed-in stairs and, at an angle, the most horrendous backyard I've ever seen. The appliances are fancy.

The master-bath is gorgeous, in a clinical sort of way, but its wall of windows looked over the thing that this house is NEVER going to be able to transcend. The back view is of a Soviet-block style laneway replete with hideous garages, tiny patches of grass (like 8x8 ft) inset as unimaginatively as possible, cheap decking and concrete as far as the eye can see. Sure, you could langour in a tub, the size of my kid's room, but fuck - that view is beyond unsexy. Note: the view from the front of the house is better, but not awesome.

Oh, did I mention that the house is fully attached (on both sides)?

You may wonder what this post has to do with its title because I haven't said one amusing thing, so let me go there for you: The list price was 1.35M. Yeah, one million, three hundred and fifty thousand bucks. I actually told the agent that I thought her client was high on drugs.

Look, when a house on my (not-fancy) block goes on the market for 1.35, it only spells good things for me. But honestly, anyone who decides to pay that - even though it is tough to find that kind of space and 5 bathrooms in this city - is nuts. I mean, this isn't even considered to be a good school district?! (The schools are fine - but the peeps who pay that kind of money for their town home are probably looking into private... And that's a whole world away, geographically.)

It goes without saying, that reno is looking more reasonable by the day.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Resource Management

I woke up this morning with a puffy throat feeling miserable. Tomorrow I have a big meeting so I have to find some way to keep it together. My intention was to do a good practice today. I haven't had a chance to do yoga in three days and, y'all know, the essence of commitment is commitment. I sense there's a bolster with my name on it, but that's not exactly promoting my improved strength.

Here's the thing - and I'm sure I don't need to tell you this - as much as you are truly invested in whatever path you're on (just pick one) - the regular world is going to step in semi-regularly to fuck with the plan.

I can handle my current derailment in a variety of ways. I can decide to ignore how I feel and practice hard. That would be foolhardy as years of past experience have taught me. I can feel sorry for myself (actually, this is part of the plan regardless) and do nothing at all.

Did I mention that it's pouring misery outside?

I'm aiming for the middle ground: some knitting, the requisite cooking (Bolognese cuz it's comfort food) and these gluten-free brownies. (I haven't forgotten to tell you about my gluten-free experiment. I'm just choosing not to dwell on it. Thank God for the new GF bakery on my route to work because baking without flour is a whole new frontier...)

I'll practice some kind of yoga. It won't be intense. It may be fairly static. Mind you, as I start to move I may feel better. As with all things (impending but distant home reno), it's best to take the long view. I'm stronger than I was 2 months ago. Hopefully I'll be stronger (and less inclined to colds) in another 2 months.

But enough wallowing. Here are a couple of yoga resources I've been meaning to tell you about...

Yoga By Candace: I read very few yoga blogs. Actually, there are very few yoga blogs that are more than 5 posts deep or that talk about the topic in a way I can get with. Candace manages to be very engaging on a variety of peripheral topics, particularly yoga "style" (aka clothing and accessories). She's peripatetic. She stays in awesome hotels. She's not hard to look at (and there are many opps to do so). And she's struggled with a serious illness in the past 4 years, which makes her practice and lifestyle all the more impressive. This is an interesting blog for those of you who want to see yoga through the lens of a real person who happens to be a teacher. It's not granola in the slightest, but if you have hotel envy, trigger alert. BTW, while I'm interested in Candace's tutorials (as a fellow teacher), I don't look to her practice posts as a learning vehicle - so I can't recommend her on that basis.

My Yoga Online: Recently this site (one of which I've had longstanding experience) merged with Gaiam TV. I have to say, the merger has made a formerly good site 100 times better - in as much as the content had doubled and broadened. Worry not however, if you care nothing of any element of Gaiam TV's "channels" except for the yoga one. The inventory of classes taught by numerous teachers has doubled. Needless to say, I would never recommend a website over a studio with a good teacher who can observe your body and alter your practice in accordance with your needs. But as a supplement or if you live in an isolated place (or work odd hours), it's a really good addition to a home practice. There's not much Iyengar instruction, alas... Most of it is pan-yogic, which is not optimal, IMO. I haven't spent a lot of time looking at the volume of beginner classes so I don't know how useful they are, but I can tell you there are numerous very challenging classes of all lengths. My fave teachers currently are Kreg Weiss (Cdn) and Rodney Yee (Iyengar expat). Kreg's got many more offerings than Rodney - to suit me, however. There are also "yoga challenges" (sign-up events of a variety of lengths to assist in developing practice), articles, guides and tons of resources on anatomy.

Hopefully these sites may be of some use to you.

Today's questions: Which yoga blogs to do read? Have you tried My Yoga Online? If yes, what do you think of the revamp? Do you use another online platform to supplement your practice? Let's talk.

Friday, September 19, 2014

You Never Can Tell

Remember this?

Svalbard Cardigan by Bristol Ivy
Remember how conflicted I was about how it would look on me (given its boxy dimensions), how truly stressful the knitting experience turned out to be?

Well, turns out I wear this thing often. Like, probably more than any other sweater I've made to date.

It occurs to me that many knitting bloggers write about their lovely finished objects (or the process by which they make them), but you don't hear a lot about them after the fact. Ever wonder how those objects work within regular wardrobe rotation?

A few months on, what can I tell you about my Svalbard cardigan?

  • I really nailed the size and proportions. I couldn't have made a suboptimal (for me) garment shape suit me more than this does. But I worked my ass off to achieve those proportions, so I'm taking the credit. The point: If your sweater fits, you are more likely to wear it.
  • The yarn I chose (Quince and Co. Chickadee) was a sound choice for a sweater that gets a lot of wear. It doesn't pill. It's extremely resilient. The recovery on this fabric is excellent - which is important when you're wearing a heavy bag over your shoulder, directly against that yarn. This yarn does not create a luxe fabric, but it does create a very wearable one. And it's soft, even as it's not delicate.
  • If you're going to make a casual sweater to go with a variety of things, make it in a colour that goes well with that variety of things. You might say that denim goes with everything, for example. But unless you wear neutral tops with your jeans, you should carefully consider working in a neutral, if rich, yarn colour. The photos don't show the true colour of my Svalbard. It's richer than it seems in pics, more subtle than navy. And yet it goes with just about every other colour you could think of. I'm sure this is one of the many reasons it gets worn regularly.
  • This sweater is warm! It's an awesome layering piece but it can work as a topper on its own, weather depending. So I've got options.
  • The style is modern and chic. It's not fussy. You can throw this thing in your bag. I don't like to babysit my sweaters - and I don't like to wash them every 5 minutes. The Svalbard fits the bill.
  • But finally, it's a really nice finished product. I did make a mistake but it's so well-disguised, even I can't find it without a very good look - and I know what I'm looking for. I sort of love the error that lives in this fabric because it's a constant reminder that knitting is about problem-solving, not constantly ripping back to attain perfection. Over all, I did the difficult prep, really nice work and I chose my materials well. It's not often I feel this good about a hand knit sweater.
Today's question: What's the most worn hand-knitted object in your wardrobe and why? Let's talk!

Thursday, September 18, 2014


A small shoe-disaster befell me earlier this week. We've gone from summer to (mid) fall very quickly. Sandals are so done. Y'all know that I revamped my summer shoe collection in light of foot miseries that have befallen me in the last year or two.* Well, apparently I haven't updated my fall shoe collection. Because, till Tuesday, I had but one pair of shoes that fits and doesn't cause me pain when walking long distances, and those are ancient Diesel leather sneakers.

Now that I cannot walk distances in shoes with hard bottoms (need padding for my collagen-diminished feet) and heels that are higher than the most conservative of one-inch, I don't even have a pair of fall boots that fit the bill.

This is a problem cuz I go to fancy meetings that require professional attire. And I can't wear sneakers to walk to work with said professional outfits. (That's just wrong.) Sure, I can put on work shoes when I arrive, but I spend half my time walking and I'm not going to do it looking comfortable.

If you think it's bad finding comfortable summer sandals, those which provide chic support, let me assure you that fall shoe-shopping is infinitely worse. Once you can't wear those 2 inch T straps or tall boots with a stacked heel, the options are dreadful. Dreadful. Actually, the options are basically variations on leather runners.

I went to no less than 30 shoe stores on Monday and Tuesday with the aim of finding a truly comfortable, elegant shoe with a bit of elevation (for shape) that will work with pants, skirts and dresses. I don't like black shoes. They're monolithic and they bring everything down. So some sort of neutral (that doesn't jump out) was also one of my requirements. Um, if you're prepared to spend 600 bucks (and I am not inflating this price), my list is achievable. In the 150 - 200 dollar range, I found one pair.

Please allow this to sink in. I found one pair amongst thousands of shoes available in my huge city with 8 shoe stores (of every description) on any given block.

So I bought it.

The brand is German: Remonte. The company makes a bunch of truly hideous shoes, and a few nice ones. This was by far the nicest, if my online research is anything to go by. I got this pair at a store that's so old-school, it doesn't even have a name. As my daughter would say, it's a bit sketch.

I will tell you that they could be slightly softer in the sole (though I am breaking in and I have added a padded insert), and I do wish the small heel didn't propel my foot forward onto my (decreasingly plump and gorgeous) toe base region. But the upper is soft, the line is gorgeous (for pants or skirts) and these shoes produce no chafing of any sort. For a serious walker, these qualities are key. Oh, and given that they're made of leather in 3 neutral colours, this shoe goes with absolutely everything.

So, what do you think? How do you manage to look great while you walk long distances (and I don't think that accepting runners as great-looking footwear counts, sorry :-))? What are the best shoes you've ever had from a style-meets-function perspective? I want to know.

* For what it's worth, the pain I'm experiencing is related to unhappy nerve clusters at the base of my toes. After years of taking my young feet for granted, and walking miles a day in moderate heels, now I must be able to spread my foot wide in every shoe or I experience a dreadful, searing pain. The attainment of natural foot-width is not easily accomplished in a shoe with any height because the nature of a heel is to propel the toes towards the front of the shoe. Furthermore, any shoe with an attractive narrow line at the toe is likely to produce an ergonomic scenario in which the foot has very little room to spread.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Why I'm Not Moving

You might be thinking, vis a vis yesterday's post: Um, why don't you just sell your crazy house and buy something else?

Great question! I've spent much of the last 15 years wondering the very same thing :-)

The truth is, there's no less pricey option than the one I'm currently in, unless I'm prepared to get out of the market. And I'm not. To wit: My house has almost tripled in value since I purchased it. I couldn't break into the housing market in my current neighbourhood, if I hadn't bought when I did. In fact, and I think I've mentioned this before, in the three years I dithered over buying a house (back in the late 90s), I was priced out of the 'hood that's 4 streets east of mine.

(As an aside: I tell this to everyone, so I might as well tell you too: If you want to own real estate, no time like the present. It's never going to get cheaper than it is right now (unless you live in a small town in America and the economy fails). The larger and more desirable the market, the more this rule applies. If you can't afford it today, you really won't be able to afford it in a year. Cuz the price will have gone up considerably. It's never easy to justify the expense of your first home. Just do it, eat some Kraft Dinner for a year, and we can argue about the merits when you're on the flip side.)

But back to me... I happen to live in an extremely desirable location, in a city where location trumps everything. When I say this, I don't mean I live in Rosedale (alas). I mean, I live in a "real" neighbourhood that's been on the path of gentrification since I got there. Hell, I'm one of those gentrifiers (hence my financial misery). What my 'hood has in spades is transportation options. I can't tell you how unaffordable it is, at this point, to find a place that has subway, bus and streetcar access - all within a 5 minute walk. My home has all of those things - plus a parking spot - and it's in the concentric zone that's right around the urban core. This is how I can walk or cycle to work. (Fun fact: I spend practically no money on transportation. No car, no transit pass.)

Furthermore, and this was more accidental than considered, I live very close to one long-standing, noteworthy urban drag, and another that's popped up in the last 10 years. It's the area where most of the good restaurants live (depending on who you talk to - and trust me, you're talking to someone in the know). There are numerous community services and amenities to be had. Whereas one time it was at the periphery of "good neighbourhoods", now it's well within the spans. From an infrastructure perspective, this is one of the best places in Canada in which to live.

Now, what my neighbourhood lacks - which is why it's still vaguely affordable for your reasonably-tenured, double-income, white-collar family - is architectural homogeneity. There are some pretty ugly vistas to be had. If you don't like graffiti and the occasional front lawn full of garbage, if you can't get with a house that needs some serious help abutting one that's worth a million bucks, this ain't the place for you. Let's just say, it's suburbia's polar opposite.

But let's dwell for a moment on my home itself...

I live in a diamond in the rough. Depending on how long it's been since the last serious expenditure, it's more or less diamond. It contains @2000 square feet of entirely livable space (not including the basement, which is a nightmarish pit) over three floors. It has 4 bedrooms of decent to large size, 3 bathrooms and a third room on the main floor (very rare in houses of its type). It's beautifully landscaped (and yes I am bragging). It has 2 decks in addition to front and back gardens (which I've worked very hard to bring to life and to sustain). The third floor is gorgeous and renovated to suit our needs specifically. The kitchen is large (by downtown TO standards).

In order to replace what I've got already - if you factor location into the equation (and keep in mind I've already invested a couple of hundred thousand bucks to maintain and improve this place), I'd likely end up having to spend 200K more to move than it would cost me to improve what I currently own. And those improvements wouldn't be tailored to my personal specifications. Furthermore, that new-to-me place would decay, just like this place has decayed, and I'd be once again be on the hook for maintenance and improvements...

There's also the fact that I don't like the look of most new homes. Sure, I'd be thrilled with a true mid-century find (very rare in these parts), but that's still pretty old (from a maintenance perspective). I love Edwardian and Victorian options. They're beautiful and stately. The ceilings are high. They speak to a time and place we can barely imagine. I don't want to live in a new-build town home - even if I don't want to pay to live in a century home. What can I say, I'm fussy.

But what really cinches this reno (vs. move) is that I'll probably get back 2.5 dollars for every one I spend once I sell this place - and I'll be improving the quality of my life until I opt to do that. That kitchen will reflect my every desire (within the realm of what I can reasonably finance). It'll work for me in the way someone else's kitchen layout is unlikely to. Of course, I've been living with kitchen hideousness for 14 years, so apparently the ideal kitchen is hardly a necessity when it comes to getting the job done. But you can see what I mean...

Let me close by acknowledging that I do know this is an entirely first-world problem. I'm profoundly lucky to be firmly entrenched in the first-world - even if the renovation-to-be will not be negligible for my bank account (or my fortitude).

Today's questions: Why do you stay in the house where you live? Do you love it? Is it the lesser of many evils? Have you had the means to perfect it? Do you secretly want to build a tent in the wild and be done with all the stupidity of home ownership (or renting)? Let's talk!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Fucking Carlsberg Years

It's 18 degrees Celsius in my house today and my husband won't get with turning on the furnace until Oct. 1. Should I have to suffer because autumn's hit hard? I'm trying to type but my fingers are blue...

At any rate, here's what we did this morning. We made a list of the innumerable things we have to fix, and soon, in this century home of ours. We should have done this before Scott's third-floor reno. I knew that but I was overruled. And truly, the third floor, which was a total pit, is now fantastic. However, last winter truly fucked over whatever sort of delicate detente we had going with the first floor.

For your viewing pleasure (and to make you feel really good about living in some box put together in the 80s - that would be the 1980s!), here's the list:

Foundation / Basement:
  • Rebuild external basement door
  • Replace concrete walkway with another material (pea gravel?)
  • Address foundation and stack issues (Kitchen)
  • Address foundation and shifting in frame (Back Room)
  • Re-route dryer vent
  • Stabilize water tap (outside)
  • Address leak in ceiling
  • Recessed lighting
  • Cabinetry on north wall - vertical storage for pans
  • Island
  • Wood floors, insulated floors, radiant heating
  • Bigger window
  • New appliances with cabinet facings
  • Address bulkhead in kitchen
  • New under cabinet lighting
  • New counters (stone or Corian)
  • Under-mounted sink
  • Move drain pipe for sink and dishwasher
  • Ceiling mounted pot rack
Back Room
  • Remove back door and back window, replace with French doors
  • Replace south window
  • Kristin doesn't like bookshelves, Scott wants refurbishment
  • Replace heating duct in ceiling with one that's smaller
  • Recessed lighting
  • Swedish hanging wood stove
  • Insulating floor / possibly radiant heating in floor
  • Move ceiling heating vent
  • Natural gas line extension for BBQ
  • New deck if they can't preserve the old one
  • New lighting over the deck
  • Fix drain issues
  • Fix potential water damage in kitchen at source (God help us if it's the shower...)
Dining Room
  • Replace dining room window (if possible)
Can I just say, what the fuck?

If you don't want to throw all of your money at things (other than fancy travel and luxury goods) for the rest of your life, I have two serious recommendations: Don't have a kid (or more than one). And, really, don't buy a house that's almost 150 years old.

My other serious recommendation is to just be rich. But that's perhaps trickier to control.

We've been putting this off for 14 years but the original kitchen - which used to simply be a blight on an otherwise charming home - is now a liability. Furthermore, the back of the house was completely unsettled, to put it generously, by the racking cold of the winter from hell. Oh, I have another piece of serious advice to help you keep your money: Don't own a home in Canada (or any other arctic clime).

I have no idea of how this is going to go from a list on a piece of paper to reality. It must, however. Regardless of the cost, regardless of the stress and misery a reno is likely to cause, it's our responsibility. We bought this home with an intention to maintain its structure, to bring (pridefully) it into new centuries.

In case you're wondering, living with this knowledge (in the place that must be fixed) is a great stressor. I cannot abide disorder. At the best of times, I feel that everywhere I turn, everything is falling apart. Imagine how this environment casts a spotlight on that harsh truth.

So when I say that I'm tired and that the week's been tough, often times it's because another thing in this place where I live, a place I'd desperately like to take for granted, has broken. Add in a mouthy adolescent, and a busy job and I really don't know how I have the wherewithal to do an hour of yoga, much less to make a sweater or to re-fit a sewing pattern.

I don't know if I'm at a particularly transitional moment or if they're all like this. All I can say is that I'm very aware. Now I've got to focus on detaching from difficulty. How do I observe this without becoming overwhelmed?

Today's questions: What stresses you out? Do you have a house that takes as much attention (and money) as your average child? Do you see disorder in everything? How do you manage chaos, even if it's just in your own mind? I really need some pointers.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

So Many Things To Say About Knitting (And Something for Everyone!)

For starters, here's what I've decided to knit (for the second time):

Indicum Pullover by Hilary Smith Callis
I made it about a year ago and the only thing I don't like about it is the yarn I used. Remember this stuff? Um, it pills like a bitch and the colour scheme is iffy. Honestly, I've never experienced yarn that is more pill than stitch.

Please tell me (because I'm feeling a bit concerned) that this colour combo is going to channel a totally different vibe than my last version:

My circular swatch in Quince Finch... (I realize it doesn't look like a tube here...)
These are the colours I'll use:

Finch in Petal

Finch in Twig
It's been months since I've knit with wool?! I've been working with cotton/bamboo, linen, silk... It feels utterly odd to have pure wool on the needles. People, wool is SO SPRINGY! I mean, it recovers like a coil, not that it's in any way reminiscent of spring, alas.

What is it with me and the browns, when it comes to this sweater. I'm not really into brown, though I do feel that the cool pink of the petal offsets it beautifully and I also don't think of Twig as a brown. It's more like a mushroom tone so let's call it a true neutral.

I bought this yarn specifically to remake the Indicum and, it occurred to me, if I really don't want to reinvent the wheel (aka spend a lot of time fitting), I should do what I aimed to. Hilariously, my knitting tension has changed so much in the last year, I might as well be knitting a different sweater.

About Knitting Tension (which is so dependent on other factors)...

What factors are these? Well, namely knitting style and (weirdly) needle length. I'm not speaking of the gauge of the needle, but of the proportions of needle to cable (I always work with circulars) and the length of that cable. The shorter the cable in relation to the work, the tighter the gauge - at least for me.

Y'all know I switched up my knitting style last year. I now flick (a right-handed method that maximizes efficiency of movement) rather than throw (regular British-style wherein ones right hand leaves the needle to wrap the yarn). It's impossible for me to quantify this (cuz I haven't bothered), but I'd estimate my speed has increased in the degree of 30%. This method is also so ergonomic that I rarely experience any muscular tension as a result of long knitting sessions. I highly recommend it!

Of course, knitting methods are as individual as the knitters who use them. I say, give a knitter some needles and yarn, and you'll see every method you could have (or couldn't have) imagined in your wildest dreams.

I have tried Continental (left-handed) knitting a few times and, while I can swing the knit stitch (with weird tension) the purl stitch continues to elude me. Mind you, I've got a great groove going with flicking.

However, my knitting has gone from uber-loose to, um, in the realm of moderate-tight. I've been knitting with very slippery yarns this summer so the full impact of my tighter gauge did not make itself known till I made the swatch (above).

Last time I made this sweater, I didn't get gauge on the recommended needle size (my stitches were larger / the sweater would be looser). This time, I've had to go up a needle size - and I still wont' get gauge, cuz my stitches are relatively tighter than the recommended gauge. That's a pretty bizarre shift.

In order to ensure I'm going to get the size I need - and the fabric I prefer - I may actually have to knit on a larger needle than recommended?! Given that I'm the girl who usually goes down 2 needle sizes to approach recommended gauge, that's bizarre. In general, I do prefer my new tension - it creates a more knowable finished product and one the fabric of which appeals to me more. But it's never helpful to be at either extreme. I suppose this could be a momentary thing?

About That Swatch (Above) and How New Knitting Styles Facilitate My Work:

The swatch above shows double-stranded knitting (colour-work). Those who can work 2 colours of yarn do so in a variety of ways. Previously, because I threw the yarn (hand comes off the needle) and I couldn't work in both left-handed and right-handed styles, my only recourse was to drop one colour strand when I'd pick up another (all done with right hand in throwing style). However, when I learned to flick (and the hand doesn't leave the needle), I realized that I was half way to being able to work both colours without having to drop one strand. Alas, it involved learning how to Continentally knit (left-handed, hand doesn't leave the needle) for one yarn strand while flicking, for the other yarn strand.

The net result is that each strand of yarn is worked by a different hand, to improve efficiency. (FWIW, it takes a long time to pick up and drop each strand (my former way)... And it's SUPER fussy.)

But seriously, to knit 2 ways at the same time, with two different threads, takes a wholesale shift in brainwaves. You really have to stop thinking and just work.

Long story longer, I can produce a knit stitch (though not well) with my left hand but I still cannot purl left-handedly. I can, however, purl with my right hand (happily I can do it all with my right hand). To clarify, most of the time, when one does colour-work, one knits only. You tend to work in stockinette stich, in the round, so all the stitches are knit stitches. However, this sweater's colour-work is in RIB, specifically K2, P1. So, in creating the fabric I have to knit with one hand and purl with the other. Yes, it is harder and I can't choose which hand I'd prefer to do which action. Currently, I can only purl right-handedly and knit left-handedly.

I know that flicking has facilitated my ability to perform colour-work in a new style because the way one holds the yarn in the right hand, while flicking, is not dissimilar to the way one holds the yarn in Continental-style. So my brain has developed some plasticity which I'm applying to my (much less amenable) left hand. I can see a time when I might be able to do Continental knitting quite well.

So, that's today's news. What do you think of the colours I'm using for the Indicum? What do you think of the Indicum? How do you perform colour-work? Let's talk!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

To Feel Well is to Be Well

Vanity's all well and good, but when it comes right down to it, I don't know if I'd be sticking to this New Regime if I weren't feeling so much fucking better on exercise that it's ridiculous.

Of course, my body is often sore and I'm constantly reminded of how much I allowed myself to lapse, but exertion is having a palpable effect on many of my recent struggles:
  • My cycles have lengthened by 3-4 days to bring them back into the distant realm of normal and the "hemorrhaging" is much less extreme.
  • I'm less puffy.
  • I have more energy.
  • My heart arrhythmia (which isn't terribly affecting but certainly makes itself known) is quieter.
  • My mood is improved.
  • I'm much stronger.
  • I'm much more flexible.
  • I feel strangely younger (not that I'm old...) - more vital, more agile...
I would have said that my headaches are less frequent and severe but I don't know that this is true. I've been dealing with a hideous one for more than a week now...

You can see why I'm throwing in the towel on just about every other discretionary activity in my life to continue on this path. Cuz, Lord knows, it's not improving my social life.

Mind you, it is a creative undertaking - even if there's no new dress at the end. Yoga brings out my problem-solving nature big-time. It tests my ingenuity, my ability to work in ways that create new pathways of communication within my body. And, really, there are few things that I love more than a good feedback loop.

But what about you? Today's question: What's the single most notable health improvement you've gained from exercise? I want to know!

Monday, September 8, 2014

The New Regime: Two Months In

So, I've been doing this lifestyle improvement thing for a couple of months now. I do have a lot to say about how I've changed from the vantage point of health and how I feel. But since I'm the first to admit that I'm hardly doing this for the good of my health, this post is a brief run down of how my figure is adapting. (Yes, this is superficiality incarnate. Feel free to skip this one... It's not exactly an opus.)

I'm one of those people who tends to gain weight gradually and evenly. There are obvious pluses to this tendency. Evenly distributed extra fat is easy to disguise. Alas, left unchecked, inevitably one wakes up one morning and looks kind of larger everywhere. It's kind of reverse analogous to that 100g skein of Abrazos I'm always nattering on about, the one I'm using to knit the Karner Wrap. I swear, I can knit for HOURS with that yarn - hours over DAYS - and every time I reweigh the skein the scale does not budge. Finally, after what seems like an eternity, the weight of the skein drops by 10 grams in an instant. Who can understand these mysteries??

Sidebar: I find it hilarious that I will not weigh myself (because I find it without merit) but I weigh my yarn obsessively. Obsessively.

At any rate...

A couple of months ago I took my measurements. It wasn't because I wanted to document them as a starting point of the New Regime. I constantly take my measurements to assist me in sewing. I noted however, on taking those measurements, that they were more robust than they had been in the 5 years I've been sewing. Which may have predisposed me to freak the fuck out and check out the local gym. Or maybe I was just having an enlightened fitness moment. I'll let you decide.

As you know I have no issues writing about my measurements - look back in the archives and you'll see numerous posts in which they arementioned  with nary a care. But that was to support a discussion of sewing. I feel, honestly, bizarre posting about my measurements in the context of how I look and specifically in the context of how I'd like those dimensions to decrease. It seems a bit crass, no? Furthermore, when I discuss those dimensions in the context of wanting them to decrease, am I sending unintended messages to others about their own shapes? I mean, seriously, even though I seem never to post new photos of myself, there are actually hundreds of pictures of me (as recently as 2 weeks ago), scattered on the blog, taken over the last seven years. It's not like my appearance is a mystery. 

In the interests of science, I've decided to share the info, though it goes without saying I am my own particular shape and size, and numbers are just useful from a relative perspective.

My "pre-Regime" measurements were: 34" upper bust, 38" full bust, 31" under bust, 31" natural waist, 35" lower abdomen/high hip (above hip, below natural waist - where most of my fat lives), 41" hips. Didn't bother with arms or legs. 

Note: Each of these measurements was between 1-2 inches higher than it had been 2 years ago. I opted not to go back in the notes farther than this because I didn't think I'd like what I'd see. In full disclosure: I was 3 seconds from getting my period when I took these, and it was about 5 minutes after I returned from the food-fest that was Europe.

After 2 months of 60 minutes of yoga (which is mainly what I've been doing) 4-5 times a week (in addition to my 5ish miles of daily walking as transportation), my measurements are currently: 32" upper bust, 37" full bust (mainly from increased tone in my back), 29.5" under bust, 30" waist, 34" lower abdomen zone, 40" hips.

While no one's said: OMG, you look so fantastically toned and svelte like an actress in the movies!, a comment I've heard a few times is: You seem kind of smaller. Not thinner - smaller. Cuz when I lose mass, I lose it like I gain it - a little bit at a time, all over. And truthfully, despite my massive personality, I'm a slight-boned, short person. I am kind of small when I get back to basics.

FYI, I'm pleased with the trend. I'm not as toned - or as small - as I hope to be in another 2 months. But it's a move in the right direction. 

I do want to focus for a second on what I've been doing on the mat - just to clarify that I'm working pretty actively:
  • 3, 60-75 minute active yoga practices wherein I move constantly and with an active core (vinyasa, power, flow, modified ashtanga)
  • 1-2, 60 minute moderate to restorative yoga practices (focus on forward bends and supported back bends)
Why, specifically, has this been effective to date? I really can't say. I'm certainly not eating less food. In fact, I'm loath to tell you that I've actually gone back to drinking booze mid-week. (What? I like booze and I have a teenaged daughter!) Maybe it's because I'm building lots of muscle mass. Maybe it has something to do with the endocrine-support element of yoga practice?

I do believe that I am experiencing these gains efficiently, with yoga, because my body is adapted to practice. My body knows how to move (even if it's not at its strongest). I am able to balance challenging postures with breathing which enables me to stay in those postures for a long time. I also have an entirely new perspective on practice - I'm doing it differently (an entire subject unto itself - but the gist is that I'm working less hard).

In terms of how I look (never mind the numbers): In my own opinion, I am definitely more toned. It's most noticeable in the upper abdomen, which has some nascent muscular ridges peaking out from under a layer of fat. I also see it in my arms and back. I've lost most mass at the under bust which means my band size is back at 30. I'll be fishing some bras out of the cupboard soon. It remains to be seen if the cups will also fit... I suppose if there's anyone who must restock the lingerie, I'm not a bad candidate. :-)

So, there you go. Anyone else on a New Regime? What have you noticed about changes in your own body? Are you a tape measurer, a scale-user or one of those who simply uses her eyes and clothes as evidence of change? Let's talk!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Vested Interest

Well, it took four hours, but I pulled this one back from the edge:

Forgive the armscye ribbing. It hasn't been blocked yet so it's doing its own thing. It will definitely lie flat once it's been washed.

Here's a shot of the new "shoulder" I created out of picked up stitches which then I knit in k2p2 rib. After that, I k2, p2 ribbed the armscye to add extra span...

You can still see how the fabric torques slightly because my tension on one side was MUCH tighter than on the other and I had to do some surgery on the left side to get it to block to the same width as the right. It's not notable in any other way, however.
 Do I love this thing? Um, no way. Did I enjoy knitting it? Not so much.

About the only thing that I can tell you, happily, is that it's done. And that linen doesn't need to look like your granny's fabric.

About The Pattern:

What can I say? I didn't really follow the instructions so I cannot weigh in on them. I sense they are good, for what it's worth, and without error but my original concerns about the inability for most to get gauge most definitely stand. I don't know that I'd recommend this. I think the issue here is in the drafting, truth be told.

About My Version:
  • Well, I'm probably the only one on the planet whose version is on the verge of too small... On the plus side of all of my challenges (mainly caused by my own stupidity): the lower back garment (where everyone else's is way too large and ripply from too much fabric) fits really nicely. It's not too wide at all.
  • The shoulders are still too narrow - which gives this thing a bit of a racer back feel. I should have made the tab (that add on which gives more circumference at the shoulder and more room in the neck) longer and wider. Oh well, it is what it is. Since I haven't blocked the new bits (shoulder and neck tab ribbing), I really don't know if they'll grow. It's possible they will and then it'll all be fine.
  • The length is good and I do feel that my workmanship is adequate. But I sense that this isn't meant for those of us with the boobs, even if we're narrow and small elsewhere. I haven't tried to style this yet but it wouldn't surprise me if Andrea (who also wants to make this vest) becomes the recipient of a version she didn't have to construct.
About the Yarn:
  • Quince Sparrow knits up nicely, though it does easily turn into a stringy mess at a moment's notice. Winding it is challenging.
  • I weighed my skeins and they all came up short. I estimate I was out almost 100 yards but when I requested an additional hank, gratis, from Quince, I was told no dice. My option was to send all the yarn back and get 5 new hanks or to buy a new one. Needless to say, halfway through the project, I wasn't going on that path. I can't tell you I was thrilled with the customer service I received, given that I've patronized (and promoted) this brand on numerous occasions because the implication was that I was wrong (or lying). Eventually I was offered free shipping on the extra skein and I declined. I found that offer more insulting than useful, though I know that's not the spirit in which it was intended. FWIW, I've been told this hasn't happened before with Sparrow, ever, and that they'll be paying careful attention to the weight of the lots they receive from Italy in the future.
  • Will I order from Quince again? Very likely yes. The product is generally without issue and the price is right.  Will I be singing its praises any time soon? I doubt it.
  • The blocked yarn is not as inclined to grow as I'd been led to believe linen is (although, it's early days, I haven't been wearing it). I also knit this garment side to side, so one imagines it's more likely to grow in width than length. The finished fabric is lustrous and strong. Earthy, but in a chic way. It looks like something all those French ladies in Montpellier would wear.
So, there you go. Finally a finished object. I'm going to wait till the next Brooklyn Tween lookbook comes out, apparently tomorrow or the next day, before I decide on any new patterns.

Today's question: Whatcha think?

The Post In Which I Concede I'll Have To Get Creative

OK, this is going to be quick a) because I'm having one of my famed total body muscular contraction moments (and it's getting very old) and b) because, it turns out, I made a huge mistake in the Die Cut Vest construction and my only recourse is to fix it. Note: I'd be ready to throw myself out a window at this point, but I sense I can bring this one back from the edge.

What's the mistake?

For starters, check out the blocking garment:

I think you'd agree that's a very narrow back panel (the bit between the armholes in the middle of the frame). And, those armholes (which I adjusted, perhaps after too much vino?), they're pretty short (that's ok, I expected that) but OMG, they too are extremely narrow.

Turns out, the armholes are that narrow (leading to the back being that narrow) because I neglected to leave 4 rows between each increase and decrease row which created the armsyce curve. I actually left only one row between each. And that means I lost INCHES of width under the arms.

Now, the good news is that I am really narrow in the underarm. Alas, the back needs some extra fabric at the back armhole.

The thing I didn't predict was that the armscye (at 9 inches in depth) would be too shallow. How can that be? I need 6.5 inches of depth. Well, the construction of this garment puts the shoulder seam and the garment front and back at exactly the same height. This is hard to explain but I'll try... Effectively there's no "above-bust" portion of the sweater designed with a shoulder tab that goes around the armscye tapering to the shoulder seam. While the armscye fits my body, the sweater is actually crushing me at the neck because the whole thing needs to start lower.

What can I say, I've never made anything with this kind of construction before and, honestly, I'm not exactly into the relaxed fit.

Note: Taking apart the vest isn't an option. I'm almost out of yarn (so much so that I have considered fixing the issue with another material, but I think I'll just about be alright).

What's the Fix?

Look, I have no idea how this is going to work or if it will look stupid, but I have 2 tricks up my sleeve:
  • Pick up and knit a couple of rib rows around the armhole (to give more fabric around the back arm specifically and to finish the whole thing without having to turn under and seam which the pattern instructs). I most definitely do not have enough fabric to turn under. 
  • Add 1.5 inches to the shoulder (0.75 at front and 0.75 at back). This is where I'm a bit out of my element. When I do this, I'm going to create a fabric which goes in the opposite direction of the original. The extra length will run up and down (like in a regular knit sweater) rather than side to side. Which makes me wonder if I shouldn't do it in rib, so that at least it will be consistent with the armhole fix (above).
I also don't know if adding the extra length will look strange where the neck side meets the front of the garment because this additional fabric won't taper like the original would have. That's why I opted not to use another fabric to make this fix (i.e. 2 inch petersham) because it was going to be hard to finish the raw edge of that petersham without it looking a bit obvious re: stark differences in materials.

So, there you go. The stupidity is that this finished fabric is just beautiful. I never knew that linen could be so elegant (so not granola). I really do hope I can pull this one back from the edge. If only to have not wasted 2 months on a stupid mistake.