PunkconformityLife, history, and the pursuit of knitting.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Complaints about complainers

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One of my biggest pet-peeves is people who take the joy out of knitting through their complaints or by saying, "You can't do it that way, it doesn't work and it's not the RIGHT way to do it."

The first group of people are the ones who pick out and knit a pattern, and when they're done criticize it not in any constructive way, but for all the things that make it that pattern.  If they knit the Jaywalker socks, they might complain that they're too stripey or that chevrons are ugly.  If they knit a Clapotis, it would be too ruffly and they can't imagine that the designer possibly thought this through all the way.  That kind of criticism is absolutely pointless, but if the person saying it is a well-respected blogger, it can cause needless damage to the pattern designer's reputation as all the people who read the blog come away with the impression that there's something wrong with the design, when in reality there's something wrong with the blogger's expectation.

There's nothing wrong with legitimate criticism, and I have no problem with someone commenting that the pattern had a lot of errata in it, or that it would make more sense to do this step before that one, etc.  That's useful information, as it helps the designer create a better pattern next time.  But it's ridiculous for you to choose a pattern to knit out of the thousands that are available on Ravelry, and then lambaste it for the things that make it that pattern and not any other one.

The other group of people are the knitting police, who think that their way is the only or the best way.  The awesome thing about knitting is that as long as you're happy with the end result you get, then you did it "the right way."  There are always different techniques to learn, but that's all they are - different.  You might decide that they are better in particular instances, but in no way is any technique inherently better than another one if you prefer the result the other one gives you.  For example, I've read and been told repeatedly that casting on over two needles to get a stretchy cast-on is dumb, and that it doesn't actually give you a strechier cast-on.  But every time I do it, I get a stretchier cast-on.  So even though the knitting police tell me that it's "wrong," I'm going to continue to do it, because I'm happy with the result it produces.

I guess the reason both of these types of people bother me is that they both seem to assume that their view is right, and that people who don't adhere to the same view are wrong and somehow less because of it, and that bothers me.  Knitting is about sharing joy, not making people feel bad for not doing it the same way you do.
Saturday, November 9, 2013

Podcast love

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When we moved, back in March, my commute went from 12 minutes to 45.  That definitely took some getting used to, but one of the things that has made the drive easier has been podcasts.  Getting to spend the drive listening to other people geek out about yarn and nerd stuff and Shakespeare as much as I do has made the drive go by so much faster.  While I think most of these are fairly well-known, I thought I would share my favorites all the same.

1) The Knit-Knit Cafe.  Abby is so personable and funny, and she has the greatest laugh.  It's really like getting to hang out with a close friend.  Just be prepared for the fact that the audio levels vary wildly between her titles and when she's actually talking.

2) The Knotty Girls.  Jen and Laura might be my favorites, just because their sense of humor and range of interests align pretty much exactly with my own.

3) The Knitmore Girls.  Jasmin and Gigi remind me a lot of my mom and I, except they manage to finish a lot more projects than we do.  They're very educational, and I've learned a lot of new techniques and fun terms from listening to them.

4) Craft-lit.  I don't listen to this one as often because I have a hard time staying focused on my driving during the "lit" part of the podcast.  I get too involved in the story.  But it's a great podcast, and if you don't have that problem, you should listen to it.

5) The Knit Picks podcast.  I really love listening to Kelly think through her knitting goals, and she often has the best interviews.

6) Never Not Knitting.  Alana is super sweet, and I love the stories from listeners at the end.  Plus her theme-song is really funny.

Non-knitting podcasts:

1) The Giant Bombcast.  Video-games, geek culture, and humor.  Generally full of swearing and mocking one another and the rest of the world.

2) Chop Bard.  The tag-line is "The cure for boring Shakespeare." I never thought Shakespeare was boring in the first place, but Ehren does to Shakespeare what I do to medieval history, which is to take off the white gloves, pull it down to our level, and treat it like it was meant to be treated, instead of like this reified, sacred thing.  It's AWESOME.
Wednesday, November 6, 2013

St. Denis

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Let's talk for a minute about the tragedy of my new yarn obsession.  St. Denis Boreale is the most wonderfully textured, beautifully colored 100% wool I've ever laid my hands on.  It knits up so neatly, and has an incredible springy texture that makes you want to squoosh your knitted fabric every couple of minutes.  The colors are gorgeous.  It doesn't make me want to scratch my skin off the whole time I'm wearing it.

And it's been discontinued since the fall of 2012.


Luckily, Webs has the last of their stock for sale, so I've done what any sane knitter would do.  I've purchased four sweaters' worth of Boreale for the stash.

Oatmeal, Red, Balsam, and Eggplant


(which actually came from the lovely autumnsky on Ravelry, as Webs sold out of this colorway before I could convince myself of the wisdom of this splurge)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

On the needles V

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What I'm doing: It is peak advising season at work, so mostly what I'm doing is meeting with 8-12 students a day to help them plan their schedules for next semester and talk through how to make their long-term goals a reality.  It's incredibly fulfilling, but also incredibly tiring, which is why blogging has taken a bit of a back-seat.

What I'm reading: I just finished Cotillion, which is one of my favorite Georgette Heyer books ever, and which I hadn't read since high school.  I've started one called The Women of Britain, which was published in 1941 by a Polish diplomat's wife who was living in exile in London during the height of the Blitz.  She describes the differences between the WAAF, the Wrens, the MTC, ATS, and other branches of female employment for the war effort, and includes personal accounts from women in each branch.  So far it's very, very interesting.

What I'm watching:  Not much.  We've both been so exhausted when we've gotten home at night that focusing on a television show has been a bit beyond us.  I did watch the Boris Karloff Mr. Wong movies the other day, from the late '30s, and they were quite good.  I was expecting all the Asian characters to be played by European-Americans in eye makeup, as the last thing they were worried about in the '30s was ethnic stereotyping.  But surprisingly, Karloff was the only instance of that sort of ridiculousness.  All the other Asian characters were played by Asian-American actors.

What I'm knitting: Hugo, by Veronik Avery, from Brooklyn Tweed.  I'm working this up for the Boy in Berroco Vintage, because it never gets cold enough here for him to be comfortable in a 100% wool sweater.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Indie Designer Gift-a-long

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Christmas knitting can be stressful.  Every year I say to myself, "This year, I just won't do it.  I love my knitworthy friends, but I can knit for them during a much less busy time of the year."  And then every year I wind up deciding to knit six or seven things just weeks before the holiday.  But this year, there's the Indie Designer Gift-a-long going on on Ravelry to give me the extra push I need to plan things early.

From Nov 1 through Nov 15, a bunch of really talented indie designer are offering their patterns for 25% off their regular price.  Once you've purchased a pattern (or seven) you can participate in the Giftalong (which runs until Dec 31) and be entered to win prizes for completing projects you needed to complete anyway.  It's a win/win situation.

You can find all the awesome patterns here, on Pinterest, but here are just a few of my favorites:

1) Myrna by Kristen Hanely Cardozo - regularly $6.50

2) Oak Park by Laura Aylor - regularly $5

3) Lempika Headband/Hat by Ash Kearns - regularly $6 CAD

4) Magickal Quidditch Socks by Jennifer Dassau - regularly $6

5) Ink by Hanna Maciejewska - regularly $6.00

All project photos are taken from the individual Ravelry pattern pages unless otherwise noted. No copyright infringement intended.
Monday, September 9, 2013

American Duchess Claremonts

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I don't do this sort of thing very often (make posts encouraging you to buy things, I mean.  Except yarn, obviously), but American Duchess is worthy of the attention.  Everything Lauren produces is incredibly well-researched and of such high quality.  Basically, her shoes are amazing, comfortable, and awesome.

I will be making a post soon about the wonderful 23Skidoos I got for my birthday and how beautifully they painted up and how comfortable they are to wear. But for now, let me show you the Claremonts.

If I could have dreamed up the perfect shoe, this would be it.  I love 1930s and 1940s footwear, and I completely trust that these shoes will be comfortable enough to wear while teaching, because Lauren knows her stuff, and my 23Skidoos are so well balanced I can dance in them (which cannot be said for most heels).  The pre-order is running right now (all  American Duchess shoe designs are crowd-funded), and I need enough people to buy it that she is able to make a run of the equally awesome black version, because yes, I will, in fact, probably end up buying a pair in each color.

You can also enter to win a pair here.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Hand-dyed inspiration

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I took a two-week vacation from work, in the hopes of not injuring the incoming class of freshmen with my bad attitude (born of too much rah-rah orientation spirit and not enough me-time).  While some of this time was spent at the beach, at least a day of it was spent dying wool with my mom.

We've done dying days before, with rather less than stellar results.  Either the colors weren't quite right, or the yarn didn't take the dye evenly, or in the end it didn't align with the vision I saw in my head.  So this time, we changed up our system, worked a little more diligently and patiently, and came out with four skeins each of yarn that made us (for the most part) quite happy.

I thought I would share the photos that were our inspiration, and the resulting yarn.  All of these are on KnitPicks bare bases, some of which have been discontinued since we stashed them.

source: pinterest.

source: pinterest.

source: Pyrex Collective via pinterest

source: pinterest
Sunday, August 25, 2013

On the needles IV

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What I'm doing: School started this week, so I have been busy helping students ensure that all is right with their schedules before they are permanently locked.  While our office usually requires that students make an appointment, during the first week of classes we allow walk-ins, which is exciting but very tiring; we can see anywhere from two to eighty students in a single day.

I've also been attempting to fit exercise back into my daily schedule, which is less fun, but probably better for me.  I have a whole rant that I'll make on some other day about how we have produced a society in which it is okay that work take precedence over personal health, and where it is just expected that you will be on the brink of exhaustion almost all the time.  It's really quite horrible, and I'm trying hard to nip my couch-potato-ism in the bud now, but it is an uphill battle (literally and figuratively - the goal for this week is to be able to jog up the hill behind the health center without getting out of breath).

What I'm reading: I just started Ahab's Wife, which is the retelling of Moby Dick from the perspective of the young wife Captain Ahab left behind.  Thus far, I must say I am less than impressed - in the first vignette alone there is a fairly unbelievable description of childbirth, someone freezes to death, and a young slave escapes across the river à la Eliza in Uncle Tom's Cabin (an artistic choice made for no apparent reason at all).  It seems to be a lot of the author saying, "Look how much I know about 19th century literature!" and not enough of the author saying, "Look at this choice I made because it was an integral component of the narrative!"  I know 19th century literature, and you, madam, are no Harriet Beecher Stowe.  At this point, you're not even a passable Emerson.  I'll give it another 50 pages, but unless it gets significantly better, I will be taking this one back to the used book store.

What I'm watching:  We're still in the process of finishing up the last season of Fringe.  I almost don't want it to end, because I have so enjoyed having Joshua Jackson in my life again.  But once that is completed, I think we'll move on to Broadchurch, about which I have heard only amazing things.

What I'm knitting: The Trimmed with Roses Cardigan, with a few modifications.  I'm knitting in the round to the armholes, and I added two red stripes above the ribbing.  I cannot explain how much I love this yarn, and how beautiful I think this pattern is going to turn out.  I haven't decided if I'm going to do the short-sleeves of the jumper or the long-sleeves of the cardigan - I think it will depend on the amount of yarn I still have when I reach that point.  I might also do fewer buttonholes when I get to the button-band.  We'll see.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Review: Thames: A Biography

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I love London.  Some might say I am a little obsessed.  My first project as a research assistant was to help design a course that tied early novels to the geography and social structures of London.  So when Peter Ackroyd uses the city (or in this case, the river Thames) as a backdrop for his wild, outlandish, pet theories, I get a little peeved.

I just finished Thames: The Biography, and as the Boy can attest, it left me spitting mad.  Having read several of Ackroyd's other works, I should have known that this would happen, but every time he sucks me in with the promise of interesting anecdotes about my favorite city, and then disappoints me with bad scholarship and poor argumentation.

His particular bug-a-boo in Thames is the idea that the river has been used for religious rites throughout history, and that the modern incarnations of religious houses, commercial buildings, law-courts, etc, that border the Thames are there due to some sort of primordial understanding of the river as a spiritual medium.

Okay, I'll follow you down that rabbit hole, Peter.  What's your evidence?

1) There are lots of churches dedicated to Mary along the river, so that is proof that the river is connected to some sort of ancient fertility goddess.  Huh.  As opposed to the numerous churches dedicated to Mary that aren't along the river?  Somehow those are just churches, but these are tied to internalized remembrances of our ancestors?

2) Lots of the great early modern English astronomer-philosophers lived along the river, which suggests that the flow of the river has always inspired people to look to the heavens and investigate the stars. Sure.  Or, you know, it's darker along the river, because it's a place on which humans find it harder to build things.

3) The existence of henges, cursus, barrows, etc, along the Thames (in conjunction with our modern buildings of power) suggests that for thousands of years, "the Thames remained a sacred and highly charged area." (65) Maybe.  But considering that the most famous henge is on a plain 72 miles to the west, maybe it's just that England is an island, and after multiple thousands of years of human habitation things start to pile up.

He also makes the statement that "London Bridge is Falling Down" was a nursery rhyme dating to the 11th century, when Aethelred the Unready's Viking ally, Olaf, pulled the bridge down with his boats.  The 11th century destruction of the bridge is a highly contested "fact" that is attested only in skaldic verse (which, due to embellishment and generic tropes, has more in common with fiction than with history), and most folklorists agree that the rhyme dates from the 17th century (though it builds on medieval children's games).  So it is extremely problematic that Ackroyd chooses to state these things as absolute fact, with no qualification and no sourcing.

The fact that he includes these unsubstantiated "facts" and makes such poorly substantiated but somewhat titillating arguments suggests to me that he is not confident enough in the significance of his subject matter. He's afraid no one will really care about the Thames qua Thames, that the river only matters to moderns in some larger, Ancient Aliens kind of way, as a gateway to our past beliefs.  He clearly thinks that no matter how tenuous his argument in support of this bosh, it will still be more engaging than an actual history of the Thames.  And that is what makes me the most angry.  The river doesn't need Ackroyd's pet theories to make it more interesting; between 17th century frost fairs, mudlarks, London Bridge actually falling down, Battersea power station, Jerome K Jerome (to say nothing of the dog), the disappearance of the Fleet, Ceasar's incursions into Britain, and all the other amazing things that the river has produced/experienced, why would you ever feel the need to embellish it with bad history and even worse argumentation?

So save yourself the frustration and gnashing of teeth I experienced.  If you're interested in the history of the river and its human inhabitants as they were and are, and not as someone with an obvious ideological agenda wants them to be, read something by a different author.
Monday, August 19, 2013

The Garden

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This year I decided it would be fun to plant a real garden.  The townhouse has a back patio that actually gets sun, and has a spigot to make watering a breeze, so I thought the time had come to try growing some veg.  We eat a lot of potatoes (as good Irish folks do), and I think we consume our weight in spaghetti sauce and salsa every month.  So I planted a small container garden of potatoes, tomatoes, chili peppers, zucchini, and herbs (rosemary, basil, parsley, sage, and cat-mint).

Shortly after I planted them, it looked like this:

But sadly, things did not quite go as planned.  I combated the bugs - beer traps got rid of the slugs that were eating all my basil.  I fertilized and Mother Nature watered consistently.  And still, the veg did not appear.  The plants grew green and tall, but without fruit.

Apparently, my back yard does not get quite enough sun to truly be full-sun.  So a few weekends ago I pulled out the tomatoes and the potatoes.  The zucchini strung me along for another three weeks, blooming with gorgeous yellow-orange flowers in the morning, which promptly fell off by dinner time, before finally turning yellow all over and dying. 

Now the growing season is over and I have no veg.  But that's okay.  You win some, you lose some.  At least it was a convenient excuse to by a spray-nozzle for the hose that not only has different settings, but has an honest-to-goodness throttle on it, which is, without question, awesome.

And at least the herbs are happy.