Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Where I am Now

In Spring of 2009, at age 50 I went back to college. This left me nearly no time for blogging, as you may have noticed. But I can see the finish line from here, and I am now blogging over at The Travel Desk-- thetraveldesk DOT blogspot DOT com --where I will be blogging about my travels and studies as a middle-aged exchange student at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England.

I hope to see you there!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

I Know, I know

Dear Blog-

You thought I died, didn't you? Well... let me tell you a story.

A week after I last posted, I went to the Old Pueblo Knitters guild meeting. We had a fabulous presentation on using color by Claire Parks, who is the head of the Fiber Arts department at our local college. The rest, as they say, is history.

You already know that here in the Sorenson household the last two years have been very, very difficult financially. Last December or January I started na... I mean, strongly urging my husband to go back to school. On the surface he was perfectly willing, but to actually go down to the college and deal with all the paper work, and worrying about how to pay for it all--he just doesn't do paper work. In our house, he vacuums, takes out the trash, deals with car stuff and runs errands. I deal with the paperwork.

So after this truly inspiring class on color at the guild meeting, I thought to myself, "If there is a way that I can get myself into her color class at the college, I am so there." I went out to the car, called DH, and said, "I'll be there in ten minutes, be ready. We're going to go register for school."

This was Thursday at noon, mind you, and classes for spring semester were to start on the following Tuesday. We talked to the absolutely amazing Financial Aid ladies--Chanda, Brenda and the head guru, Janie. They were able to pull impossible rabbits out of various hats to get us full financial aid. In a matter of mere days. Saturday morning we took our placement tests, and by Saturday afternoon when Student Services closed at one, we were registered. DH for various computer classes, me for the Color and Composition class I had so lusted after. And the Mixed-Media Fibers class. And Italian 101.

Because here's my secret--I've dropped out of college three times in my much younger days. Once from a woman's college in the south that was just a bad fit. Once from a local college back east after the guy who ran the program I was enrolled in told us on the first day that out of all of us sitting there in the class, only half would finish the program, and of those, only one would get a job in the field. "Fine," I thought. So at the end of the semester I left and got a job in the field. And the third time at the same college we are going to now, 27 years ago, as a Fine Arts major in photography. I had an astounding photography professor whose work was internationally known, and he is still spoken of in revered tones all these many years later. I could write a whole blog entry about those years--many blog entries--but the short version is that I realized that every artist actually has to have a 'real' job, very few are fortunate enough to make a living from their art. So I quit again and went and got a real job, one that I worked at very successfully for 20 years until I developed asthma and had to stop working in that profession.

All my life, in the back of my mind in all of these ensuing years, I've regretted not finishing my degree. Then after being washed up on shore with asthma and finding myself losing our business that we had worked so hard to build, and my career that I had worked so hard to build, I needed to find something to do with my life. I've worked and taught in various knitting shops and loved it. But it's not a career. Or at least, it's not enough for me. And when I sat in that class at the guild meeting, I heard this great big WHOOSH! as the next door in my life opened with a vengeance.

I told my husband the other night that I remember very clearly that the summer before I started at junior high, I was completely convinced that the big kids in school that year were going to whip my butt. I don't remember why I thought that they would, or even what put that thought into my mind, I was just convinced. I think I spent the whole summer in terror.

But let me tell you I LOVE this new phase of my life. It took me 50 years, but I have found my thing. At first I went into it with the attitude of, "I don't know where this is taking me, but I'm willing to go along for the ride."

In the Mixed Media Fiber class we started with coiling. Playing with various techniques and cores and just goofing off. I have to say, that class was filled with some of the funniest people I have met. All toddlers, for the most part. Who looked at me like I was the ancient, out-moded crone. But I can still give as good as I get.

Anyway, we started by experimenting with coiling...

When I wandered into the library one day I found a great book on Faberge. And I got really inspired by their pieces that showed nature, using elegant materials to make something that looked as natural as possible. Roses carved from crystal, lily-of-the-valley made of pearls and diamonds with stems of gold, and enameled leaves. Inspired by that, I made my Bird of Paradise.

The basket itself is made with silk, wool and bamboo yarns. I used wool thrums at the bottom to 'feather' the nest. My process and choices were based on the thought, "What kind of nest would a bird make if it was let loose in my studio?"

She perches on double-pointed needles that were sanded and then stained green.

The bird's body was made of a needle-felted wool base, and then painstakingly coiled with Noro sock yarn. The feathers for the wings and tail were coiled in as I went. I added a neck band of copper yarn afterwards. The eyes are made with seed beads and Swarovski pailletes sewn on. The beak is coiled copper wire with a twist of silk yarn in it, as she works on building her nest.

As I coiled the basket and built it up, I added recycled glass beads, and using copper wire, wrapped some shapes that I hammered flat and then coiled into the basket as I worked.

I find it difficult to take photos that give an accurate account of the colors. Inside, the flash makes everything too dark. Outside, the sun washes it all out, but is a bit more accurate. The colors are more saturated and richer than this shows.

At our teacher's urging, I entered it in the Annual Juried Student Art Exhibition, held at the gallery that was built and dedicated to my photography teacher.

I was juried in. My first project, and I was juried in. That feels so big.

Next we worked with knotting. Like everyone growing up in the early 70s, I learned how to macrame around anything that would stay still long enough when I was 14. So when it came time to do a project for that section, I played with various textures and degrees of light-reflection. This is my interpretation of a river.

I used several bits that were left-over from the basket. And added various ribbons, including some wonderful metal mesh ribbon, thanks to my friend Monica. Wool and silk yarns stand as the river banks. Silk, organza ribbon and metal mesh ribbon as the water. Recycled glass beads as river rocks.

I wanted it to look like a rush of water moving fast.

Then we started plaiting. With anything that would stand still long enough. One woman in class made a huge piece as her project, using dried bamboo stalks, small trees, rusted wire and rusted bed springs that she and her kids found in the desert. It was incredible. And about 6 ft tall.

I played with paper, cork and dried palm fronds.

There was a picture of a third one here, but I seem to have lost it in Blogger in the process. I also made boxes with paper, cork, palm fronds, bark, copper wire, ribbon and recycled glass beads.

We're not talking about my crochet project.

Ok, it was meant to be a Green Man mask and ended up looking like Grace Jones with bile issues. I'm doing you a favor by not showing it here.

In the Color and Composition class we spent months doing color exercizes. Which are not nearly as much fun as they might sound. Albeit admittedly useful and instructive. We finally got to play, doing a collage design made by cutting up our beloved Color-Aid cards. Mine was based on one of my black and white photos of a koi in a reflecting pool with lily-pads.

Our final project for color had three parts: first, make a collage from magazine paper. Here you see a version of the view from our balcony, on a rainy late winter morning.

We then had to reproduce the colors exactly using paint. Not as easy as it sounds.

And finally, still using paint, to change it completely. Here it is evening after the storm, and you can see lights coming on in the buildings of the city to the south.

Obviously God didn't intend to make a painter out of me, but I had a wonderful time and learned a phenomenal amount. And met many incredible people who inspired me along the way.

I'll tell you about my summer break surprise and summer school next time...

It feels good to be back!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

So What The Heck Have You Been Doing in the Meantime?

Bobcat in our new backyard

Dear Blog-

When I was last posting here on a semi-regular basis, it was at the end of August and I was just finishing up my gift knitting for my middle sister. Oldest sister was next, but because she reads this blog and I was working on her gifts exclusively, I took a posting moratorium as I knitted September away. As October rolled around I started getting felted things ready for the fiber festival at the end of October. I'm sure the festival was good for some people, it really wasn't good for me, almost not worth the trip. The temps were in the 90s that day, and it was so hot and dusty and miserable. Who the heck wants to buy wool or wool felt at a time like that?

And as October came to a close we realized that we really had to move out of our house. Because of all the financial battering that 2008 visited upon us, we were at the point where we couldn't even come up with the full amount of money every month for our rent. The property where we have been living for the last 8 years is owned by a big group of people out in California as an investment. Apparently for famous people. So management here is known as 'California'. As in, 'I know your roof is leaking, and I'll talk to California and see what they want us to do.' The property started as a guest ranch back in the mid-40s with several casitas, and boasts the first in-ground pool ever installed in Tucson. Over time they built a couple of small apartment buildings on the property back in the 70s, and as houses adjoining the property went on the market, 'California' bought them up and added them to the property.

So when I moved here 8 years ago last August to get away from a psycho roommate, I rented one of the casitas. A year later in September DH and I were married, lived in the casita for another year or two, and then moved to one of the houses. We loved it there, lots of room, etc. And early this fall 'California' was very liberal and generous with us for a couple of months when I told them about our problems. I was talking to one of the managers here at the end of October and explained that we realized we would have to move, but that we were kinda stuck because we didn't really have the funds. She showed me this apartment, and three days late we began the exodus.

It took us three weeks to sort out the house and move everything, and then about another two to finally get everything unpacked and put away. It. Was. Very. Stressful. I think people who take years to unpack are either crazy, or they're... well, they're crazy. No way I could look at boxes everywhere for any great length of time.

And so the end of November melted into the beginning of December, and getting the holiday decorations up for our December book group meeting. Then came Christmas and the rest of the year just passed in a blur.

We like our new place. It has 500 square feet less than our house did, but with a very large living/dining space and the two bedrooms are larger than those in the other house. I think it comes down to a lot of wasted space in the layout of the other house. Our new kitchen is tiny but it does have a dishwasher, and I can forgive a LOT for that. Our apartment doesn't have the architectural charm of our house or the casitas, but what it does have is an absolutely stunning view out over the city of Tucson and at all the surrounding mountains. We have a 60 mile view in any direction, mountains in the daytime, city lights at night. We decided not to put the dining table in the obvious dining area in front of the glass sliding doors, and have instead put a couple of comfy chairs there, looking out at the view. I can't express it too much - our view is amazing.

And down below there is a small pond with a fountain, and with the doors and windows open we get a lovely sound of water falling all the time, very soothing. On Sunday I was doing something in the kitchen and looked out the window to see this largish creature walking up to the pond. What the heck was it? A house cat? Too large. A coyote? Too small. It was a bobcat. I dashed to the living room to grab the camera, and took this picture through our balcony railing as he sat by the pond. A moment later he stood up and sauntered away, off into the brush.

I was afraid when we moved that we wouldn't get to enjoy the wildlife that brought such wonderful spots of perfection to my days at the house. But we have tons of birds all around us, an owl that hoots almost every night, and now a bobcat. Ok, I can live here.

In October I also took a private three-day weekend workshop with Galina Khemelova. One of the women in the guild was hosting her for a small group at her house, and I'm not too ashamed to say that I called Sandy up and begged to be put on the list. There were ten of us at the class, and the experience was wonderful. All were on the same skill level so there was no time wasted on explaining things or waiting for others to catch up. Lunchtimes were potluck in Sandy's amazing kitchen, and I can truly say that these women were absolutely wonderful to spend three 6-hours days with.

In class we started on this Orenburg lace scarf, and while it has had to take a rest while holiday knitting has taken precedence, I look forward to getting back to it and finishing this beautiful scarf. I'm using Morehouse Merino 2-ply that was left-over from my Algonquin cardi.

I also, in a fit of wanting to knit for myself for once dammit, started the pair of Mermaid Mitts that I have been promising myself for a year now. I got one finished and just got the other cast on a day or so ago. this will be a project that I can haul around in my new little LL Bean mini tote bag that Santa gave me. For the mitts I'm using Lorna's Laces sock yarn in Baltic Seas.

And let us not forget the first of two pairs of socks for DH's Christmas. Poor man got three bags of yarn to open, and he doesn't even knit. This is a simple pattern of my own design, and he seems to be very pleased with them, as you can see.

And against all common sense I started a design that I have had cooking in the back of my mid for a month or two. A lace scarf using Noro Silk Garden Sock. This was knitted in one day! The pattern is very easy to remember and very addictive, as is the SGS. As always I enjoy working with Noro yarns and waiting to see which color is going to come out of the ball next.

A closer look...

So, dear Blog, that catches you up in brief with the here and now. Hope all is well with you, and thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sewing in a Zipper

My felted vest

Dear Blog-

I am still knitting Christmas presents. Christmas was two and a half weeks ago and I'm still knitting presents. I hate to sound like Scrooge but I am so ready to move on. I have gorgeous yarns burning holes in my stash, just begging to get out and be used! But no, dear Blog, instead I am passing through the dark vale of Felted Vest Hell.

Don't get me wrong, I am loving the finished vests. Somewhere in December, after our move was over and everything was unpacked, washed and put away, the apartment was decorated for the holidays, the book group holiday party was over, my mail-away gifts were finished and on their merry way, I asked DH one night what he wanted for Christmas. As usual, DH wanted nothing. I wasn't going to let him get away with that. I nagged and prodded until he said that he would love a felted vest that zipped up. Wonderful!, I thought. After a brief search of my felting books and through projects on Ravelry, I showed him the pattern for the felted vest in Beverly Galeska's Felted Knits. He liked the look of them. Come to think of it, so did I. So I'll make one for me, too. Heck, Mom said that she wanted a heavy outdoor vest. I'll make one for her as well. And I know my Dad would love one, so add him to the list.

But all that endless stockinette stitch by hand for miles and miles simply for the sake of felting it all when one was finished just seemed foolish. No fear, I'll just knit it up on the knitting machine, that is what I have it for. I swatched on the machine at the largest gauge it will give, and found that my gauge didn't match the pattern gauge. So I recalculated the pattern in two different sizes and dove in. DH suggested that I make mine first so that if I screwed it up only my yarn would be wasted. Makes sense, but writing this makes me now question his motives.

I knitted it up in pieces, and then seamed the pieces together. The pattern then asks you to knit temporary borders on all but your bottom edge in cotton yarn in order to stabilize them for felting and provide holes for picking up stitches later. Then you baste the center front edges and the armhole edges closed, and it looks something like this, though note that this is Mom's vest, mine is at the top of the page.

This behemoth is then put into a zippered pillowcase and gently, slowly felted. I prefer to make felted items with Cascade 220 for this very reason. The yarn felts slowly enough that you have a lot of control over the process.

After felting, it takes about two days for the vest to fully dry - an afternoon and over-night on towels on the table, and then hanging in the front window for 24 hours to get it thoroughly dry. Once that is accomplished, the temporary borders are cut off, and using your contrast yarn you knit borders on all but the bottom edges. A short mock turtle collar is also knitted. As you know from my Snowflake Felted Vest and from my Philosopher's Wool cardi, I have found a great way to knit borders onto a raw edge in such a way as to cover the edge completely, both inside and out. This time, however, instead of falling back on the edging method that I already knew I followed the pattern, and I was not only very pleased with the finished result, but I also found it easier to do.

Once the edges are finished, it is time to put in the zipper. Now, being so pleased with the results of the suggested edging treatment didn't make me excited about her methods of installing zippers in a knitted item. After looking at a few tutorials, I decided to fall back on the techniques that I knew from childhood on in garment sewing. I'll walk you through them here, because I think my methods are far, far easier.

First, turn your vest inside out and match up your two bottom edges so that they are perfectly aligned. Pin them together with a large basting pin. These are made by Clover, and I love them.

Do the same with the top two edges. Next, still holding the two sides together with one edge laying on top of the other, place a pin in the center of the two edges, and then at the 1/4 and 3/4 spots. Fill in all the open spaces with more pins. In sewing, you spare pins at the expense of having an accurately sewn seam or zipper. So don't be afraid of over-pinning. Your pinned-together edges will look like this-

Next take a length of single ply wool yarn in a contrasting color and baste the two edges closed right along the very top of the edge. Using your Chibi needle so that you don't split the stitches you are sewing through, make certain that you pick up two purl bumps on each side of the edges so that the basting won't put too much stress on any single stitch and pull it out of shape.

When the basting is finished and you open the vest out flat, it will look like this.

Now it's time to pin the zipper into place. Bit by bit, laying the zipper face down on top of your basting, center the teeth of the zipper over the center of your basted edges. Pin it in place as you go. I use big quilting pins for this.

As I pin the zipper into place, I like to drape the vest/zipper combo over the curve of my knee as I work. This keeps me from putting too much pull on the zipper, and makes it conform to the vest. This way the zipper will lay flat and smooth with with fabric later instead of pulling too tightly.

Once I have the zipper pinned into place, I pick a color of Paternayan yarn that matches my zipper and edging, and cutting a length that is good for hand-sewing, I peel off a single ply to use at a time, and thread this onto an embroidery needle.

I start by making tiny whipstitches along the edge of the zipper tape, sewing it down to the edging on the vest, and starting at the bottom of the vest. Make your stitches small and even.

When you get to the top of the vest at the neckline, cut the length of the zipper tape if needed. Use a fabric stabilizer such as Fray-Chek to keep the tape from fraying. Wait for it to dry, and then satin stitch the top of the zipper tape to the bottom inside edge of the collar. This holds the upper edge of the zipper down firmly, and also finishes off the edge of the tape so that it isn't scratchy when the vest is worn. Unthread your needle and pause here while you do these same steps so far to the other side of the zipper.

Once you have both outer edges of the zipper tape sewn to the vest edging, rethread your needle where you left off at the top of the zipper, and using a small, neat back-stitch, sew the center of the zipper tape to the center of the vest edging. This secures the zipper and makes the zipper and edging lay better together.

When you are finished doing this on both sides of the zipper, bury any yarn tails in the vest edging and turn the vest right side out. Remove your contrasting basting stitches, and Voila! You have just hand-sewn a zipper into a knitted or felted garment!

Mom and Dad are planning a small road trip tomorrow to go see if they can spot the sandhill cranes south of here. I'll try to drop off Mom's vest for them to find wen they get home. On to finishing DH's best!

Sunday, January 04, 2009


Dear Blog-

If I were to tell you how much my husband loves Starbucks, I believe that you would think I was lying. He goes to Starbucks nearly every day. Right now he is working nights at a crap job that he hates with people that drive him crazy, and gets paid peanuts for his efforts. He is incredibly demoralized right now about the work situation, but it is what it is in Tucson right now. There are no jobs, and he is lucky, in a horrid way, to have this one. So he gets home from work just before 7 a.m. - which is when I normally get up in the morning - and then sleeps for a few hours. He'll wake up anywhere from 9:30 til 1, wander blearily out into the rest of the apartment and gaze around as if wondering whose strange life he has just stumbled into. Once he wakes up he grabs his book and goes to Starbucks for about an hour.

I don't think it is about the coffee, so much, though I am sure that helps. What I believe is that for some reason that I don't understand - and yet I do - this hour spent each day sitting by himself in a squashy chair in a coffee shop reading his book and drinking his plain old coffee is the restorative part of his day. The still point. What a stolen hour of knitting is for me. It is time for him spent not thinking about the work, or the lack of money, and not having health insurance and how to pay the bills.

So I never object that he goes nearly every day, by himself, to sit and drink coffee. It makes him a happier person and, short of crack and hookers, anything that makes him a happier person works for me. One year while picking up a gift card for him, I remarked to the barrista that if I didn't know my husband as well as I do, I would suspect he was having an affair with one of her co-workers with the amount of time he spends there. She thought that was very funny.

Occasionally I teach private lessons outside the shop, and Starbucks is just a very convenient place to meet. They don't care how long you sit there or what you're doing, they're just as glad to have you there taking up space. So sometime back in November, I was walking into my local (which is different that DH's local, we have five - count them, 5 - Starbucks within a mile of our apartment) when I saw these wreaths on the door - with yarn balls!

I was absolutely in awe. Love at first sight. I mean, yarn balls on wreaths! How cool a thought is that? I mentioned them to DH, and he went to his local Starbucks and asked about buying one when they took down the decorations at the end of the season. And they told him he could just have one of the wreaths when the time came. I. Was. So. Excited! I remarked to DH that the powers-that-be at corporate Starbucks, trendy folks that they are, must have noticed just how many knitters they get in their shops. I dunno if that's it, he replied. Oh, yeah, I asked? Do the wreaths have lots of tiny laptops on them?

So imagine my surprise when he came home from work at 7 on Saturday morning, with not one, but two wreaths! And a giant yarn ball on a stick thing! Sigh!

I was all ready to take down the holiday decorations but now, I don't know. I'm ready to leave these up for the year.

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