Tuesday, December 10, 2013

New Blog Home!

Hi Everyone!

It's been a while since I've posted anything here. I took a break from the blogging world and have been pursuing other interests, but this week I have something exciting to report: the launch of a new blog.

I know, I know--"But Renee, there are so few people who write blogs in the world, how are you going to cope with all of the attention?!" It's okay, I think I'll manage.

But seriously, I'd love it if you'd visit the new site. It's part blog, part self-exploration, all writing exercise. Each week I focus on a new theme, approaching it from a variety of perspectives: think, read, look, listen, do. I'm hoping this will challenge me to find different ways of thinking about a single concept, and allow me to explore all of my interests in a single place. I also hope that by doing this, I'll feel more content in my life, hence the double meaning of the title, Complete Content.

So come on over and say hello! This week the theme is, of course, introductions.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Spring Cleaning

It's funny how predictable I am.  Every year I go through similar cycles, with jobs and friends and activities and even foods.  One thing I can always count on is that around March I'll start to feel antsy in my living space, and finally in May I'll make some moves to change things.

This year I started by cleaning out my apartment of any unnecessary "stuff" (aka crap) and either throwing it out or giving it away.  I got rid of an entire dresser's worth of clothing (and managed not to refill it at the clothing exchange my friends and I threw last month) and yesterday got rid of the dresser as well. 

Thursday I rearranged my kitchen, creating more counter space and clearing out the piles of debris that had been forming in the room over the previous months.  Still not quite satisfied, I then turned my attention to an extreme source of tension over the last couple weeks: my craft space.

This entire month I've been thinking about how to best arrange my craft supplies and work area.  For a long time I've had my sewing machine in a totally ridiculous, polar-opposite-of-optimal location that really does not lend itself to my wanting to sew.  Not that I'm a big sewer, or that I aspire to be one, but it'd be nice if I didn't dread repairing the odd pair of jammy pants just because I don't want to fuss with the lack of sewing space. 

And the rest of the craft zone was pretty much a disaster as well.

So finally, after redoing the kitchen (since it didn't take that long, really) I turned my attention to the craft space.

This is not the first time I've completely rearranged my craft area.  But while it's been in adorable working order before, it's still always had a lack of good work space.

Also, note the sewing machine location.  I mean, come on, how are you going to sew with that little space, and that much crap bordering each side of the machine? 

Anyhow, I pulled everything out just like last time and eventually resituated all the counter space to be far more useful.  And voila!

A far more functional craft space is born.

Already this weekend I've re-covered four throw pillows, repaired my jammies and shirt that have been sitting in the craft zone for almost a year, and re-sized some straps to a new tank top from the clothing exchange.

Yay spring!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Fancy Cookies

My friend had a baby shower recently and the definite hit of the party was this plate of delicious salted chocolate chip orange pecan cookies.  They were so good we started pulling them out of the bag they came in before the person who brought them even had a chance to sit down.  At plating time there were roughly 50% fewer cookies than there should've been, and until they were all eaten we clustered around them like vultures, trying to justify our decisions to have a sixth or seventh (and hide them from people who hadn't yet had a first).

Cookies that good leave a definite impression, and since the shower I haven't been able to get them off my mind.  Finally this weekend I messaged the cookie person, Emma, and asked for the recipe, which she thankfully sent right over.  I had a batch made within 3 hours, and by the end of the night had eaten 13 of the 16 cookies I'd baked that afternoon.

If you'd told me 10 years ago that one day my favorite cookie would feature orange zest and chocolate chips, I would've hit you in the face.  I've always hated fruit plus chocolate (in truffle form at least) and nowhere was this more true than in terms of the orange-plus-chocolate combo.  But these cookies are AMAZING!

They're made with a blend of whole wheat and all-purpose flour, and oats, which gives the dough this great homey, comforting, wholesome texture and taste.  The pecans add crunch and caramel flavor, and the orange citrus is not just a delicious accent, but a visual and olfactory excitement as well.  Throw some semi-sweet chocolate into the mix and voila--you'll find yourself eating 13 cookies in a single day, too.

But the coup de gras has to be the coarse sea salt, sprinkled (in my case liberally) over the balls of dough right before they go into the oven.  As a child (which is not to suggest that I don't still do this, mind you) I loved going to the movies with chocolate in one hand and salty, buttery popcorn in the other, and shoving bits of both into my mouth for a salty-sweet combo.  These cookies are a (far more) sophisticated version of that move.  I feel cheated, in fact, that I've had to wait 30 years before tasting the deliciousness of sea salted chocolate chip cookies.

I'm not sure where the recipe came from so if you recognize it as yours feel free to let me know and I'll happily give credit where it's due.  If you don't recognize it, I suggest you familiarize yourself with a batch of your own post haste (I don't want to be the only fatty in a bikini this year).

From Emma:

Salted Orange Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup butter, room temp
1/2 cup canola oil
zest of 1-2 oranges
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt (plus more for sprinkling)
1 cup oats
1 cup pecans, broken
2 cups semi-sweet choc chips

Pre-heat the oven to 350. Cream butter, oil, zest, and sugar. Add eggs and then vanilla. Dump flours into bowl, and before mixing, add in the baking soda and salt and mix into the flour with your tsp before incorporating everything together. Add oats, nuts & chocolate chips. Spoon onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet, sprinkle with sea salt, and bake for 9-11 minutes. Cool on a rack. If you can stop yourself from eating them all.

The cookies actually test better if you stick the dough in the fridge overnight. Nuttier. But you can't go wrong whipping them up in 15 minutes either.

Friday, May 20, 2011

How to Flatten Vinyl

I haven't even started on Peanut's new sweater.  What an awful pseudo-girlfriend I am.

I have, however, been working on a different project, which has involved an awful lot of sewing and a little bit of gluing.  I can't get into details, though, because it's for a product I'm designing with the intention to eventually try and market it and I wouldn't want you to swipe my patent-less idea.  :-)

In any case, part of the design for this mystery thing involved using clear vinyl, so I headed to the (lame) craft superstore in our town mall to pick some up.  Lucky for me there were several odds-and-ends folds of vinyl sheeting in the half-off section, so I grabbed a medium-weight flat and picked it up for roughly $7.  I didn't need as many yards as I wound up with, but who knows--maybe I'll want to make myself a see-through dress some day.

Having worked with vinyl before (the Happy Hooker has an adorable crocheted ipod case that's an animal face on one side and a clear vinyl panel on the other)

I knew that stored vinyl can get wrinkled, but I've never tried to unwrinkle it before.

Clearly, ironing is out of the question, so how do you make folded vinyl flat again?  I pondered this as I drove home from the store, thinking that microwaving would probably work, but since I'm smart I made sure to Google my options before actually throwing any plasticky sheeting into the oven.

Google had a couple different suggestions but the one that appealed to me the most was flattening via hair dryer.  As someone who still occasionally uses the hair dryer to get wrinkles out of the shirt I'm already wearing, I am familiar with the process.

I'm happy to report that blow drying vinyl works a helluva lot better than blow drying cotton.  I cut a few squares out of my big fold, stored it away, and then put each square on the carpet (maybe not the best placement but it didn't melt or anything).  It took about 30 seconds to a minute to get a nice flat piece of vinyl from what was previously a bumpy lumpy mess and wound up being one of the easiest things I had to do in the process of making the mystery item.

This morning, thankfully, I finished my project (wouldn't want to leave any loose craft ends before The Rapture) which means now I'm theoretically free to start working on a new pattern for Peanut.

I'm sure he will be thrilled to get a new sweater just in time for summer.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Baseball Redux

It didn't fit.
I knew it was a possibility--I've knit from this pattern before with dubious results (especially on Minnie's Chug-shaped body) but I'd hoped that was the fault of knitting inexperience.

It wasn't.

The pattern, which (for its sake) shall remain nameless, is, frankly, a fail.

Oleg and I headed over to Elaine and Ken's on Saturday for a brief birthday hello, and while there delivered the new sweater to Mr. Peanut.  However, though he may not look it, Peanut is an elderly gentleman and the sweater, with its awkward arm placement, did not go on very smoothly.

Once fitted, Peanut had a helluva time trying to move around in the thing. All of us were disappointed, me especially.  I'd wanted to make a nice treat for my buddy, instead I wound up making him a torture device.  But from failure comes further inspiration--"Screw that pattern," I said, "I'll make a better one!"  And that's exactly what I'm going to do.

Since Peanut's joints are creaky with age, I've decided to redesign this little baseball look so that he can put it on front-wise, instead of over the head.  This means I'll have to split the back, and add a way of fastening it (I haven't decided what, but I'm thinking either velcro or buttons, or both).  And because the arms (which are really the greatest fail of this particular pattern) are a little too far out, I'm going to reshape the chest piece to bring them in closer--you know, in a more dog-like shape.

And here's the good news: once I'm done, not only will Peanut have a dashing new sweater, you'll have a free new pattern because guess what?  Suck it, old sweater pattern, I'm posting the redux so no one ever has to suffer through your dummy tight arms again!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Boyfriend Sweater

Lately the number of times I've found myself delving wholeheartedly into a new craft have been few and far between.  My mother's new pair of gloves (rendered entirely redundant the day after I started knitting them when the California sunshine came out in full force and said, 'Hey, Bay Area, welcome to early summer!') is not even half finished, the lone tube of magenta knit perched accusingly on my coffee table for the last few weeks.  And even less frequently than that do I choose to embark on a project that involves--shudder--sewing.

But the other night I was hanging out with my boyfriend and my buddy Elaine said, "You should make him a sweater."  And it's been a long time since I've made a sweater, but since my boyfriend is the most adorable thing ever, I thought, "You know what, I should."

This, by the way, is my boyfriend:

Jealous much?

His name is Peanut and he's an older Pomeranian gentleman who rocks a short coat and relaxed demeanor like nobody's business.  And I heart him--see, that's what his egg says, "I heart Peanut."

I haven't made a dog sweater in more years than it's been since I actually voluntarily sewed with yarn (there's just something about the texture of yarn for sewing that I hate) but Peanut is pretty awesome and one pattern in particular struck me as the only right choice for him.  So the other night I grabbed a favorite color combo and set to knitting.

The sweater I chose to make is knit in four pieces: a back, a front, and two arms.  You have to knit them on regular needles (can't recall the last time I did something on anything other than a pair of double-pointed metallics...) and then set them aside.  And then you have do another thing that I kind of hate: block them.

Blocking is weird.  If you're not familiar with it (though I don't know why anyone reading this blog wouldn't be--welcome, person who randomly wound up here by Googling something weird like pterodactyl baseball or kitten stirrup pants!) it's just a way of relaxing your knitting into a flat piece.  Plain knitting (without any fancy stitches) tends to roll in on itself, which makes sewing the edges together all but impossible, so once you've made a piece of flat stockinette (that's just a fancy way to say "plain") fabric, you have to do something to flatten it out.

roll in, much?  

Two popular blocking methods are to soak the thing in water and let it dry, or to iron it.  I find both unsatisfactory, at least with acrylic yarn.  Blocking robs the fabric of some of its bounce and fluff and leaves it oddly thinner and looser than before.  But if I have to choose a method, I think ironing is the way to go.  You've gotta use steam, and use it sparingly, and if possible iron just the edges so they flatten (though, as was the case for this project, sometimes you'll have to block the whole thing to completely eliminate the rolling issue).

Once blocked, the parts look much more like sweater puzzle pieces.

Then comes the next step: sewing.

When I first started knitting dog sweaters (long story...sad, too) I was a very new knitter and found the piece work very confusing and incredibly time consuming.  After a while I figured out I could eliminate a lot of steps by rewriting patterns to be knit as one piece on circular needles.  It was a pretty successful endeavor, and a great way to learn more about knitting and teach myself some pattern writing in the process.  It also made me hugely more confident about my knitting chops in general, which lead to better and more complex endeavors.

In any case, my dislike for sewing flat pieces of knitting together continues to this day.  Yarn begins to unravel when you're knitting long seams with it, and it feels squeaky, and if you're sewing for too long your fingers will get sweaty and then the squeaky, unraveling yarn will become moist, and that's enough to make you frog the entire project right there.  Not to mention that after the first seam I tend to get impatient (or maybe just bored) and the quality of my stitches begins to deteriorate, making me like sewing even less.

But I was mentally prepared for all of this, and since I knew it'd probably be the only time I'd sew knit pieces together this year, I was okay with it.

Most patterns tell you to use mattress stitch when you're sewing pieces together.  Let's see if Google can find you a graphic illustration.

Hey now!  That's not what I meant, Google!


So if you're not clear what's going on there, when you knit something it's got a front and a back side.  The front side looks like this:

And the back looks like this:

When you use mattress stitch you sew the yarn under the back loops (shown above) so that they've hidden by the knitted loops on the front side (previous image).  Kind of clever, I guess.

Anyhow, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my years of crafting experience have made me a much more capable mattress stitcher than I'd previously been.  Check out this quality craftsmanship:

Pretty darn lovely, I have to admit.

But still painfully tedious, especially when you have 6 seams to create.

After a while, though, the sweater finally started to take shape.

And five episodes of Sons of Anarchy later (I know, but my real boyfriend kept telling me it was a good show and damned if, even though it's about bikers, it is.  I credit the Hamlet allegory...) I did a little round of crochet edging and voila!  It was done: a boyfriend sweater for a furry boy friend.

Stay tuned for what's sure to be the cutest follow up post ever: Peanut models his baseball jersey boyfriend sweater.

Monday, April 25, 2011

So Long, Old Friend

Craftastrophe is about to shut down. 

Back in January, the site's founders Samantha and Karen, mentioned the option of closing the site down and the rest of the writers (who've been on "staff" since last summer) gave a resounding please, no!  But life interferes, as it tends to, and over the past few months they've concluded that it's time to put the baby to bed.

A lot of this is Regretsy's fault, of course.  I came on board to Craftastrophe at the suggestion of my friend Stephanie, who saw their open call for new bloggers and forwarded it to me with an emphatic, "You should do this!"  And while I'd seen the site (probably via Stephanie as well) I wasn't an avid reader or anything.

The same can be said of Regretsy, minus the part about me eventually blogging for them.

If you read a blog that trashes other people's crafts, it's likely to be Regretsy.  And this is not because Regretsy is inherently better or funnier, but because the woman who started Regretsy was already famous when she created the blog.  And if you didn't know, being famous gives you a leg up on publicity.  It also makes it really easy to get books published, which in turns brings in more readers, and on and on. 

Being more of a mom n' mom operation (and Canadian to boot), Craftastrophe couldn't really compete.  In years past Craftastrophe was easily clearing several thousand hits per day, but over the recent months traffic has dwindled to the point where the expense of the site is exceeding its income, and Karen and Sam have made the executive decision to pull the plug.

My boyfriend said I should ask to take over the site myself, but honestly I have so many side projects going on at all times that the thought of another endeavor (at least right now) is more tiring than fun.

One of the things I've been trying to put together over the past 2 months is a book proposal, which is almost finished.  It feels like bad luck to talk about it before it's done though so I don't want to say anything more, but the majority of my before-regular-job hours have been taken up by it, so much so that today I woke up thinking, "You know what, let's not work on the proposal today."

Nevertheless, I am bummed to see Craftastrophe go.  I'd been the top trafficked writer since September (which meant a $100 bonus each month) and looked forward to my weekly search for awfulness.  But everything comes to an end eventually, and now that I'm not posting for them anymore, maybe my own blog will experience a resurgence in update frequency.

I can hope, right?