Friday, September 30, 2011

Crafts Gone Wrong

Y'all remember last week when I posted about doing our Crafting for Charity day? Well, let me tell you... our normally laid back event was an adventure in pure frustration.

As I mentioned, three of us decided to make baby kimonos this time around. We've been using the book Craft Hope by Jade Sims for months and have really liked everything we've made from it so far. For example, the Take-Along Quilt pattern was super-easy and allowed three non-quilters to get our hands wet with a new craft. So, the baby kimonos seemed like the perfect project - small supply list, weirdly simple pattern, and only a few steps in the actual instructions.

Lesson #1: Never assume that, because every other pattern you've worked from a book is good, that the one you're working on now is going to be good.

Seriously, the "pattern" itself should have been a big red flag.  I sew. Cassandra sews. Our third charity crafter sews. Why any of us thought that THIS pattern was remotely complete is beyond me:


Please note that the pattern instructions say to "Enlarge 500%". Yeah. This is all fine and good except that the average office copy machine will only enlarge 400% and there's no standard paper large enough to accommodate the full-sized pattern.

Now, I'm sure that our math-inclined readers (or our readers with better abstract analytical skills) will immediately have a solution to this little problem. In the aftermath of our sewing adventure, I've managed to think of a variety of ways we could have approached this dilemma. However, in the throes of having to have this pattern ready for a scheduled event, I took the "easy" route and enlisted the help of someone at Company X who has access to a plotter.

We arrived at our local fabric shop and set up in the big sewing room. Then, the three kimono makers started to cut our fabric. In the middle of cutting, we realized that something was amiss. The description of the kimono mentions "...special features, including fold-over sleeve cuffs that will protect a baby from accidental scratches." Unfortunately, there was no pattern piece for the fold-over cuff. No worries! We can improvise the pattern-piece. And we did.

Our next hurdle came when we started piecing the pattern together and begin sewing. The instructions were just short of gibberish - leading us to wonder aloud if anyone had bothered testing this pattern before it was published.  Let me provide a sample of what we experienced:
3. Lay the back piece right side up on your work surface. Note: if you're making the version with the envelope, lay the folded envelope on top of the back piece with the raw edges aligned. The fold will be facing toward the top of the garment. Lay the front pieces, right side down and one on top of the other, over the back piece (and envelope, if applicable).
Again, I'd like to direct your attention to the actual pattern pieces. Does anyone see instructions for a "fold" on the envelope piece?? So... how is the envelope supposed to fold and why? If we fold the envelope and align the raw edges, they'll be sewn into the garment and the envelope won't turn correctly.

Oh! and pattern has you finishing the the raw edges AFTER you sew the entire kimono together - which makes absolutely no sense.  Of course, we learned (the hard way) that, if you finish the edges BEFORE you sew this wonky pattern together, the pieces don't fit properly.

We are three, intelligent, educated women and yet it still took us about an hour and a half to figure out how to piece this craziness together to make something that resembled a giftable item. Once we divined the answer, Charity Crafter #3 managed to knock out two of them. I did 1.75 (I have to lay in the ribbon and fix the mislaid fold-over sleeve envelopes. Cassandra finished one.

Cassandra was so angry about the pattern that she, quite literally, couldn't blog about it. Once we've both calmed down, we're going to write to Ms Sims and suggest that she either remove the pattern or fix it before they publish another edition of this book. We also going to suggest that someone TEST every pattern before they go to print.

My issue is with the people who wasted over and hour of our time, including: a pattern designer who wrote a crappy pattern (inexcusable), an author who didn't bother to read/test the pattern before it went to print, an editor who either didn't know or didn't care that the pattern was crap, and myriad other people who touched this book before it went to print. They are directly responsible for putting out a bad product and creating frustration where there should have been harmony and good-will.

Is it wrong to expect people to deliver a basic level of quality? I don't think so. Maybe if we were talking about subjective quality - like, is the finished pattern pretty. But this is not "subjective" this is "does it work or does it not work." It's pretty simple to get that right and incredibly lazy to allow something so ineffective to be part of an otherwise brilliant book.

Quality is important to me and Cassandra. It's one of the things we bond over. This experience is the kind of thing that really upsets me (in case you hadn't noticed) because I know that someone, anyone, could have taken a 1/2 hour of time and prevented the ripple effect that caused us to have a bad experience.

So... my two cents... Always do your best to ensure the highest quality you can provide and remember that your output is going to affect someone, somewhere. Maybe even a little crafting group from Madison, WI.

- Alex

Monday, September 26, 2011

Decisions, Decisions...

After much gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands, I have decided what sweaters to knit for the boys this season. (For those not in-the-know, I knit them new sweaters each winter.)  Last year the sweaters were cabled, so this year I thought that I would change it up and go with stripes. The pattern I decided on is the (aptly named) Boys Striped Sweater. And it happens to be free...score!

Boy's Striped Sweater photo courtesy of Prima Knitting Magazine.
Love the way it hangs, especially the straight bottom. I'm pretty excited to cast-on and can't wait until my yarn arrives from WEBS. And...speaking of the yarn...

Admittedly, my indecision on this yarn selection has been annoying to everyone around me. I have been pouring over cotton DK weight yarn choices online...looking for the perfect color/texture for the stripes. I know, I should be shopping at my local yarn shop (and I'd rather), but they aren't open after I get kids to bed. And lately, that's all the time I have.


The problem I have with shopping online is that the options are just so overwhelming. Color-wise, do I go with heathered, saturated or subtle tones? And when you can't see and feel the actual fibers, it's hard appreciate the qualities of each brand. I have been shopping online for this yarn for weeks. But I threw the gauntlet down (with myself) yesterday, I'd had enough. I needed to narrow the playing field so I could focus. Tick-tock. The leaves are turning already.


I decided to go with something I knew. Milk yarn. I love that stuff. I've made a couple things in the past out of Rowan's Milk Yarn. It knits up beautifully and time has told that it wears like iron. Sadly, when searching online, I discovered that my beloved Rowan was phasing out this line. They still seem to have it in "fine", but the DK is discontinued. Sniff.

Abel jumper knit in Rowan's Milk DK.
Farmer Fox was also knitted (and washed many times since) in Rowan Milk DK.

Luckily, a company called Viking of Norway is carrying what seems to be the same exact milk yarn fiber in a delicious array of colors. I stumbled upon them when searching on WEBS and promptly ordered 2 skeins each of green, blue, and brown to add to a couple of beige skeins I already have in my stash. It was on sale for $5.29/skein so I was pretty stoked that these sweaters weren't going to end up costing me a fortune. It looks just like the Rowan I am used to, hopefully I will fall in love when the package comes in the mail. I'm sure I will. I'm notoriously "easy" when it comes to soft, colorful skeins.
Viking of Norway's Milk and Honey collection...yummy!
Let's hope by the weekend I will be casting on for a green-beige striped sweater with brown trim and a blue-beige sweater with brown trim. My plate is very full these days dear friends...there will be so much to share here the next few months. :)

–Cassandra

Friday, September 23, 2011

Giving It Away

Multi-tasking (note the iPhone for tweeting while I craft)
It's that time again, folks! Our little craft group at Company X is off to make stuff for charity this afternoon.


For the uninitiated, Company X generously gives its employees four hours each quarter to do volunteer work. They don't really care what we do - pick up litter on the side of the road, help out at the local retirement home, volunteer at your kids school for a day, etc - they just want us out in the community doing something for the greater good.


At the beginning of the year, Cassandra found the book Craft Hope by Jade Sims. Thus began our Crafting for Charity group. Every quarter a group of us get together and make something to give away to people in need. We've made quilts that were sent to Japan after the earthquake, little girls' dresses that were sent to Haiti, fleece blankets for a pet shelter, tiny knitted caps for preemie babies, and more. Today we're going to be working on baby kimonos.

We're making the envelope bottom so little toes can't escape
Doing this every three months has turned out to be one of the most fulfilling parts of our job. As a team-building activity, it's been great. I love doing something fun with people who I work with. All the politics and wrangling gets left behind and I get to know the real person. Plus, packing the boxes and envelopes to send off our finished crafts is a huge soul-warmer.

I hope that our group will continue and that our idea will expand. I'd love to see other groups form to do charity work like this.

Maybe next week we'll post some pics of our day and our finished products. Have a great weekend everyone!

- Alex


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Definition of Distraction

Yeah...I have a lot of stuff I need to be doing right now. Sewing projects are half-baked, pattern designs need completion, supplies must be sourced, yada, yada. So what am I actually doing? Starting a Beekeeper's Quilt.

Photo of a finished quilt courtesy of Tiny Owl Knits.
I spent some time browsing Ravelry last weekend and stumbled upon this curious pattern. In short, it is a knitting pattern that appeals to the quilter in me. Each little honeycomb hexagon is knit separately and then tossed in a basket until you have enough to assemble the quilt (384 yikes!). I love the idea of little portable bits of knitting to keep in my purse for down times. I have always envied sock knitters and their portable projects!

This is a baby sock I abandoned 5 years ago...when I decided it wasn't for me.
Yarn will be re-purposed for the quilt.

Speaking of not sock knitting, I occasionally have a moment of insanity when I purchase sock yarn. It's usually the siren song of the pretty colors and soft fibers. It's when I get into full justification mode where I tell myself I will double it and use it for a scarf, or maybe some lace knitting. And then it sits in my yarn box. Forever. So, another reason for loving the pattern is that I can use all of the sock yarn I have on hand for this and it still won't be enough. Great stash-buster!

Sparkly pink sock yarn I bought ages ago...because it was pink and sparkly.
 This project is so darn cute! I am not the only one who thinks so. As of today, Ravelry has 1522 active projects for The Beekeeper's Quilt. Pretty awesome considering that the pattern was published in July of 2011. Way to go Tiny Owl Knits!

I am looking forward to seeing how I customize this project as I go along. The pattern really lends itself to embroidered bits, interesting color choices, shape, etc. I plan on taking my time with this...just picking it up here and there...letting it evolve. Love.

Tiny Owl designs some of the most fanciful and charming knitting patterns I've seen online. Very clever, lots of attention to detail. Take a look and a listen. The designer, Stephanie Dosen is an incredible professional musician as well.


–Cassandra

Monday, September 19, 2011

Soup's On (Again)


Late in the game today - having forgotten it was my turn to post - I decided to review some of our old posts for inspiration . I discovered that my post on 9/24/10 (a year ago this week) was about autumn's untimely arrival and soup. Interestingly, the entire post is applicable to today - autumn came to us last week without warning and, yesterday, I made my favorite Three Bean Soup (recipe below).

So, in the spirit of laziness and procrastination, I offer you last year's post for your reading pleasure....

Soup's On!

Autumn came unceremoniously to Wisconsin - as it often does. There were a couple of "transition" weeks thrown in there where it rained and got a little cooler but, for the most part, it was summer one day and not-summer the next.

This season is bittersweet. I hate that summer is over because I love the sun and the warmth and the activity. Plus, the end of summer means that winter - my most hated season - is just around the corner. (Argh!)  But there's something lovely about autumn too. The crisp feeling in the air. The smell of crumbly leaves. Wrapping up in a favorite sweater. And, for me, the return of comforting soups.

Now, don't get me wrong - I eat soup year round. I'm a huge fan of cold soups in the summer with Cold Cucumber Soup being my favorite. But there's something so nest-y and "mom" about a good, solid hot soup that I think of autumn and the subsequent unmentionable season as the seasons for this particular food.

There's also a nice dovetail with soup and the dreaded "garden clearing." The last of the tomatoes (which look kind of puny), the overgrown and flowering basil/fennel/oregano/etc., the squash, etc. all need to be dealt with. They're generally not nice enough to stand alone at this point so they need to be cooked into some lovely concoction and soup is the perfect vehicle.

Coincidentally, Bon Appetite Magazine's September edition has a really nice article about a woman who taught herself to cook by making soups. It's a fun story and I recommend it for both the treatise on soups and the provided recipes.

So, to kick off your autumn the right way, make a big pot of soup this week! Here are a couple of recipes to get you started. One uses up the last of the garden and the other is a fast and easy soup created from canned beans. Enjoy!

Squash & Tomato Soup

3-4 large tomatoes or the equivalent in medium to small tomatoes, skin & seeds removed, chopped
4-6 cups of various cubed summer squashes (eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, etc)
1/2 a large onion diced
1-2 cloves of garlic, diced
2-3 T olive oil
Basil, oregano, thyme, (or Italian-blend seasoning) to taste
Salt & pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese, grated, to taste
(optional: diced bell pepper; kale; spinach; cabbage)

Heat soup pot on medium to medium-high heat. Add olive oil. Saute onion until translucent. Add garlic and saute for one minute. Add chopped squash. Saute for a few minutes - until squash is a bit soft. Add chopped tomatoes. Stay with the pot, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have cooked down enough to make a broth. If your tomatoes don't have enough juice to make a broth, add a small can or two of diced tomatoes with their juices. Add your herbs. Once the consistency is sort of stew-like, lower heat to simmer and cover. Let it cook for thirty minutes or so and check that the squash is done. As soon as you're happy with the consistency, salt, pepper, and cheese to taste. Serve hot with a cheese to sprinkle on top.

This is the base soup. You can add many different veggies to this (see "optional"). Any vegetables you add, just saute for a bit before you put the tomatoes in. Common sense says that harder veggies (eggplant, carrots, celery, etc) should cook a little longer. Softer veggies like spinach and summer squash need less time to cook so plan your sauteing accordingly. :)

Three Bean Soup

2-3 T olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small head of green cabbage, chopped
2 cans of garbanzo beans
2 cans of canellini beans
2 cans of black beans
Stock (preferably vegetable) to cover
1 Bay leaf (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion in the olive oil until translucent. Add garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Add cabbage and stir well to coat cabbage with oil/onion mixture. Cook until cabbage is wilted and a little soft. Add the beans and mix well. Cover with stock – I use vegetable stock but chicken is also good. The use of vegetable stock means no additional fat is added to the soup. Add bay leaf and salt if desired. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for one hour. I usually cover it to ensure less splatter but if you simmer uncovered, the soup will boil down a bit and be thicker.

edit: When I made this soup yesterday (9/18/11), I added some browned ground Italian sausage. It really adds a new dimension to the soup - if you're not a vegetarian of course.

Buon Appetito!

- Alex

Friday, September 16, 2011

You Are Number 6

Today's Speak Out with your Geek Out post is about a retro British TV program Alex and I love very much. As big fans of the old-school shows from across the pond, we could be referring to Monty Python, Dr. Who, Dave Allen at Large (this might technically be Irish), or even Benny Hill. But no, our geek lies today at the foot of The Prisoner.


Mod, mod, mod.
The Prisoner is an adventure TV series that ran from September 1967 to February 1968. Part spy thriller, part sci-fi, and part mod. Think Lost...by way of Carnaby Street.

He spends most of his time in the Village brooding.
This show starred the dashing Patrick McGoohan (of Danger Man fame) as a disgruntled secret agent who abruptly resigns from his position to then find himself abducted and held captive on an island called "The Village". The other residents of the island seem to be in the same boat as him, although, they are maniacally happy.

All names have been stripped away and everyone is assigned a number. McGoohan is No. 6. An (ever changing) individual called No. 2 seems to be running the joint...with instruction from a never seen No. 1. No. 6 often asks "who is No. 1??" only to be told "you are No. 6". Obviously, this answer does not satisfy his keen spy-man mind and adventures ensue. He wants out of this nuthouse and uses all his wits to make that happen. Though, should you try to escape The Village, a huge balloon named "Rover" will chase you down and you're caught. So, our man spends a lot of time avoiding that menace.

The location of this show is AMAZING. Almost the entire thing is shot at the Hotel Portmeirion in Penrhyndeudraeth, North Wales. It is enchanting, eerie, and otherworldly. Alex and I have schemes to visit this place someday...possibly during the Prisoner Appreciation Society festival! Oh yes, we are not alone in our geek on this.

This location is made-to-order for this show.



Luckily, this series is available on DVD. Our library system here in Madison even has it to let. Totally worth the time...give it a watch...you might want to travel to Wales with us someday :)

–Cassandra

P.S. The AMC Channel has recently done a modern adaptation of this story. It's fine, but not the same. Much like The Twilight Zone and Dark Shadows, it's hard to recreate the ethereal quality of those shows for some reason.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Nothing Geekier Than This

It's interesting that the Speak Out With Your Geek Out project came along when it did. Perhaps it wasn't random that it would be planned during, what I refer to as, "Con Season." 

For the uninitiated, July to October is when a large number of geeky conventions take place. From the mac-daddy of all conventions - Comic Con in San Diego - to smaller, regional cons, it is possible to get your geek on for months on end (assuming you have a big travel budget and lots of vacation time).

My convention-going started by accident. I lived in Atlanta for many years and one of my very best friends still lives there. A few years ago, my friend decided to attend Dragon*Con, a gigantic geek fan-convention held in Atlanta over Labor Day weekend. My friend was there for about a half a day when she called and said, "start saving your money now... you're coming here next year." I did and, with the exception of the year my grandmother died, I've been going every year since.

Labor Day weekend has, historically, also been host to PAX Prime (aka Penny Arcade Expo: The Original) a gaming convention held in Seattle. While I'm not an avid gamer, I've always lamented having to choose between these two conventions because, honestly, Wil Wheaton (high-priest of all geekdom) and a number of other super-cool, super-geeks choose to attend PAX instead of Dragon*Con. Made me curious and a bit jealous.

Then, this year, like some sort of miracle, PAX got moved to the weekend BEFORE Labor Day. *queue angelic music here* 

Within days my plans were set. Traveling with a friend who has attended PAX but not Dragon*Con, we would go to both PAX and Dragon*Con and introduce each other to our favorite conventions. August 25: Milwaukee to Seattle. August 30: Seattle to Atlanta. September 6: Atlanta to Milwaukee.

I had a blast. PAX was everything I thought it would be and much more. The convention was a bit overwhelming at first but once I found my place (table-top and retro games plus panels on the sociological impact of gaming) I was in heaven. The con is estimated to have about 35,000 attendees but it felt pretty small and intimate to me. Of course, I wasn't standing in the 3-hour line to play Mass Effects 3 either...  My best moments were getting to meet some of my geek heroes: Wil Wheaton (first meeting!), Felicia Day, Paul & Storm, Jonathan Coulton, and MC Frontalot. The people at PAX - attendees and staff alike - were fun and really nice. Plus we got pretty good swag.

Me & Wil
Me & Felicia

Me & MC Frontalot
Me & Jonathan Coulton


Me & Paul & Storm (note the hover hand)
The ultimate geek - Live D&D for an audience
Second only to the actual convention was just being in Seattle - one of my favorite cities. We visited the Pike Place market (of course), drank a lot of coffee (of course), and went to the Space Needle, the Experience Music Project (way cooler than I expected), and the Science Fiction Museum (AWESOME). We also ate in some fabulous restaurants. 

Then we were off to the insanity that is Dragon*Con. The actual attendance numbers are a mystery - I've heard that the organizers don't publish the real numbers for some reason - but people have estimated that it's between 50,000 and 60,000 over four days. I would totally believe it. The place is a mad-house of everything geeky - I couldn't possibly begin to capture the variety of programing tracks available. Suffice it to say, whether you like LARPing or Skepticism, books or TV, anime or science fiction, and on and on... there's something for you at Dragon*Con. I even attended a panel on ham radio operation.

From Storm Troopers...
To Severus Snape...
To My Little Ponies...
For me, Dragon*Con is mostly about seeing celebrities from movies and tv shows that I love. This year included seeing cast members from Eureka, V, True Blood, Battle Star Galactica, and The Guild, among others. Other highlights included seeing William Shatner speak (again) and meeting Colin Ferguson (from Eureka) and Mary McDonnell (from Battle Star Galactica and The Closer). And, because PAX and Dragon*Con were on different weekends, I was able to see Wil Wheaton, Felicia Day, Paul and Storm and Jonathan Coulton again - a week later. It was, pretty much, geek Nirvana.

So...dear readers... that's pretty much the geekiest I've ever been. And, probably, the geekiest I ever need to be.

- Alex

 PS: if you're interesting in wading through my as-yet-to-be-edited photos please feel free to go to my Flickr sets for PAX and Dragon*Con.

Monday, September 12, 2011

If I Did Cos-Play, I'd Be Half-Pint

This week, Alex and I are participating in the "Speak Out with Your Geek Out" movement. A quote from the organizer, Monica Valentinelli:
Let's show the world why we're awesome and why there is nothing wrong with being a geek.
We are sharing some of our geekier sides in the next few posts. Those of you who are regular readers of this blog might find this amusing considering we don't normally hide our freak flag. (i.e. the Misc. tab above) Hopefully, we can even outgeek ourselves this week!

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Half-Pint
I love Little House on the Prairie...and I just can't hide it. I know, I know. It's a paradox to most. (Hence Alex's suggestion that this be my geekout today!) This is the equation they concoct in their heads:

Me (snarky and more than a bit jaded)
+
Little House (sweet to the point of saccharine)
=
WTF

Oh, but no. That's not how I see it. It makes perfect sense to me. Why I am so drawn to Little House is because those Ingalls worked so hard (they get my respect), they were honest as the day is long (I admire their humility), and they...especially Laura...were never going to let someone make them feel second best (I see that as loyalty to themselves and their family). On this deeper level, they don't seem as two-dimensional as some may imagine.

We might look sweet...but don't tread on us!
 I also think that their "make-do" and "waste-not-want-not" philosophies touch my heart in this modern, throw-away society. I am sickened by the packaging and the gross waste of our times (i.e. individually wrapped precooked bacon strips). These stories are a reminder that the world doesn't have to be sacrificed for the sake of human convenience. Slowing down is better for the environment and for us as people.

Granted, most people have the experience of the 70's TV series as their point of reference to all things LHOTP. But, the books are really where it's at. They are an amazing chronicle of a way of life in America a century and a half ago. The stories are chock full of peeks into the domestic life of a pioneer family with detail on things from making straw hats to butchering a hog. They contained thrilling adventures of life and death - that were TRUE! Sure they were written from the point-of-view of a small girl, but they were written by a woman who knew exactly how and what she wanted to tell you. Laura Ingalls Wilder was brilliant.

The real Laura.
My crafty side gets really geeked out by all the skills Laura's mom passed down to her girls. Reading through those pages makes me want to chuck the corporate grind and go churn me some butter. And seriously, how the hell did she sew dresses or knit sweaters and mittens without a pattern? Laura never mentions that her mom was referring to some Time Life Books series on being a pioneer. I think Ma Ingalls was a magician. Sure, Pa was awesome too...but he didn't make beauty on the prairie like Ma did.

As I mentioned last week, when I was a kid, the Little House TV show was on the "can't watch" list at my house. The show featured women doing nothing but domesticity and that wasn't to be tolerated. (I'm pretty sure we were watching Tony Orlando and Dawn at that time slot.) As a consequence, I got to experience this show with adult eyes. Maybe this was better because it became a happy surprise when I did finally watch an episode. It was not the women-oppressing waste of time I assumed it would be. Ma and the girls were tough as nails...with a smile and a kind heart. I aspire to such dignity and I admire their sensible natures.

Laura ain't takin' no sass from Nellie.
So yes, if I were going to do cos-play...I would braid my hair, strap on a bonnet and slip into a calico prairie dress. No sexy cat for me either!

–Cassandra



Friday, September 9, 2011

So Much Yarn


http://theloophalifax.wordpress.com/
Cassandra and I have a tradition - when we travel, we try to check out yarn shops in other cities. And, while most yarn shops are eerily similar, it's cool to meet people from the crafting community when you're in a strange place. It's like making instant friends.

Of course, the danger of going to yarn stores while traveling is impulse purchasing and then having to pack your awesome finds.

Occasionally, a yarn shop will carry something you've never seen before or it will have a vibe that's different and interesting. These are the real gems and the reason that our tradition continues. You may remember that Cassandra visited Loopy Yarns in Chicago and found some gorgeous Madeline Tosh yarn that is currently being transformed into a sweater.

Sunny day in Seattle
While in Seattle recently, I had an afternoon away from my traveling companions and the convention. The weather was gorgeous so I decided to find a yarn shop and, if it was close enough, take a walk. I checked Yelp! (which, if you haven't used it, I highly recommend) and found a place that was just a few blocks away called So Much Yarn. The website wasn't great and the location was totally bizarre - on the second floor of a building above a Cost Plus World Market - but it was close by and would satisfy my craving for a yarn store visit.

As I traveled the five blocks to get there, I enjoyed the gorgeous sunny day as well as the discovery of streets I hadn't walked yet. I approached the Cost Plus, which is on a corner, and followed the directions I'd found on the website:
(We are located on Elliott Avenue, north of Lenora Street-the entrance is past Cost Plus.  Look for the tall black gate and take the elevator or stairs to the second floor, Suite 204)
Weird hall
Fortunately, the owners had seen fit to put a big, old sandwich board sign on the sidewalk so there was no mistaking the "tall black gate". I entered and headed up the stairs to a hallway of office suites. Very weird. Again, a well placed sign assuaged my confusion and sent me down to the end of the hall. As I got closer, I noticed that So Much Yarn was the only see-through glass door on the floor and I caught a glimpse of a wall of color. Honestly, it was kind of a relief.

I opened the door onto what can only be described as heaven. The shop is fairly small but makes use of every available bit of space. Floor to ceiling shelves are brimming with color and texture. It becomes immediately clear that Cascade is their work-horse yarn of choice - I've never seen such a large selection of Cascade varieties in one place. Obviously it would be impossible to carry the entire line however her representative sample is the one of the best I've seen. The shop also carries high-end favorites such as Noro, Malabrigo, and Shibui. There are a few novelty yarns as well as some unique items like the yarn made from sugar fiber which I was compelled to buy. In the center of the space, there's a "room" that has a large work table and some notions - like buttons. Behind the counter by the front door there's a spare but complete collection of needles and accessories.


I bee-lined to the back of the shop for some reason and found, in the back room, a small sale area and some of the more interesting yarns. This is where I discovered the sugar yarn. I also met a woman heavily laden with skeins who turned to me and said, "This place is amazing! I love everything in here!" I felt the same.

Sometimes it's the little touches that make a difference. The knitted samples on dress forms were all lovely - lots of Louisa Harding (I was told that the previous owner really loved Harding's stuff) - and there was a rack of finished scarves so customers could see how the various yarns knitted up. I was able to see how my sugar yarn would look when worked, which made the decision to buy it much easier. The store is neat as a pin and beautifully organized.


To be honest, I think that one of the reasons I love this shop so much is because the owner has a similar aesthetic to me. I'm not a huge fan of multiple colored or self-striping yarns. I don't like novelty yarns. And I don't like anything that's too fussy. So Much Yarn delivers exactly what I'm looking for - good quality yarns in beautiful colors without whimsy (I kind of hate whimsy).

My two purchases - the tan is the sugar yarn
I know that the owner is concerned about her location but I'm not sure she needs to be. The steps she's taken - the signage, good directions on the site and on Yelp, etc. - help a lot. And, honestly, the place got really busy while I was in there. On a Friday, during work hours. Most everyone that came in bought something. And that woman with the armload of yarn... She's from Australia and was on her way to an Alaskan cruise. Based on what I saw in her hands, that wasn't stopping her. She may have been the shop's best sale of the day.

- Alex

So Much Yarn...
2107 Elliott Avenue, Suite 204
Seattle, WA 98121
Phone:  206-443-0727
Toll free:  866-443-0727                           

Store Hours: 
Mon: Noon-6 | Tues: 10-8 | Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat: 10-6 | Sun: Noon-5

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The ERA and Me


The past Labor Day weekend went way too fast for me. The new-found chilly snap in the air inspired a flurry of cleaning that ended abruptly on Monday when something inside me said to sit, and to knit, and to watch some TV. In scrolling my DVR'd selections, I ran across the new HBO documentary on Gloria Steinem. Sounded like the perfect way to pass a couple of hours - with knitting needles in hand. 

Gloria's look is so awesome.
As a child of the 70's, I was fully aware of what to expect in this doc. The ERA, the issue of women's reproductive rights, and the evolving place of women in society were common household chatter when you are being raised by two single, working women (Mom and Grandma). I knew that Gloria Steinem was beautiful, fashion-forward, and tough as nails when it came to women's rights. And I know that today I take for granted all the hard work she and others did to enable someone like me to work a professional corporate job and know that my pay should be the same as a man's* or that I won't be passed over because of my gender. 

The doc ended up being really good, and I encourage all women to watch it, and invite young adult women to join you. They (my daughter included) don't learn enough about this subject in school. Women today owe a very large debt to the suffragettes and bra-burners. We need to remember them with the proper respect.

The Women's Rights Movement crossed all racial and cultural lines.
A funny thing happened while I was watching this. I had this profound moment. Looking down at my knitting needles, I realized that the pendulum has swung again. I am a mother of 3, full-time professional designer, and maker of all-manner of handmade things. I am a living example of the next-generation. I make no apologies for my career and I make no apologies for my home-making. It is the norm of today and it kicks-ass.

In the 70's, my mother (rightly embracing the "new" woman) eschewed ANYTHING that would have been considered "domestically oppressive" (i.e. The Mary Tyler Moore show was approved TV programming but Little House on the Prairie was a HUGE no-no.) She wouldn't have been caught dead with a handcraft on her lap! I get it though. To make their point, the women of the 70's sort of had to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Thankfully, we've come a long way, baby. 

Maude was definitely on our "must-watch" list.
I can happily pick up my needles, embroidery hoop, plan meals, or drag out the sewing machine...and it does not imply that I am a frail. I can have it all, and no one bats an eye. And if I choose to stay home and raise my family, that would be okay too. Women have a choice to be who they want to be...and live how they choose to live. Thank you Mom, Gloria, and crew. It was on your back. 

The (somewhat crooked) cake of equal rights.
 So, that night I celebrated my woman-ness by baking a home-made cake...and ate some before leaving for work the next morning. This liberated thing rocks!


–Cassandra

* Nationally, women still make about 19% less than men in comparable positions. However, this is great strides from 30 years ago when no one thought that a woman could be anything but a secretary. For interesting reading on gender pay equity, please visit the National Committee on Pay Equity and/or check out this publication - The Simple Truth About Gender Pay Gap.

Hear Me Roar Carrot Cake

Sift together:
2 cups sifted flour
1 ½ tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Add:
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 ½ cups oil
1 tsp vanilla

Mix well.

Add:
2 cups grated carrots
1 small can of crushed pineapple
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
¾ cup raisins (optional)

Grease and flour a 9x13 or two 9" rounds.

350 degrees for 35-40 minutes


Don't Tread on Me – Cream Cheese Frosting

2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
½ cup butter, softened
2 ½ cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter. Add the vanilla, then gradually stir in the confectioners' sugar. Spread it on thick!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Alex on the Road, Atlanta Edition

Oh yes, it's dragon*con time again!

First costumes of the con - the Hilton paid these actors to kick off the weekend. They had a Toto dog and piped in instrumental version of somewhere over the rainbow.

We registered on-site for the first time ever in order to avoid the badge pick up line that pre-registered attendees have to stand in. This was our line - took us 15 minutes start to finish

This was the pre-reg line. 2 hours and 15 minutes to get through.

Friday is supposed to be the "light day" but it's already crazy crowded.

Costumes can be lovely.

Or completely disgusting.

Dinner Wednesday at Woodfire grill was sublime. There's a reason Chef Kevin Gillespie was Top Chef Season 6 runner up. It counts as one of the best meals I've ever eaten.

Best item of the meal - pork belly appetizer.
Have a great weekend!
 –Alex