Saturday, April 30, 2011

Some flowers and some writing

I thought I was going to get the article I started revising last weekend done much sooner, but due to the amount of revision it needed, I sat at my desk and wrote basically all week.  Which sounds like it should be a good thing, but like my MO on research trips, my MO in writing tends to be to sit down and be consumed by it until it's finished.  This tends to preclude blogging, cooking, interacting with J, and feeding the cat for a few days in a row.  Maybe this gets it over with faster; I don't know, I've never written another way.  Since I figured out how to be good at writing papers sometime around sophomore year of college, I tend to gather gather gather material for a few weeks, and then sit down and finish the writing in one extended burst.

TR has had a discussion up this week on the health hazards of being an academic, so of course I spent most of my week sitting and writing.  Part of why this article took so long to revise was that, although I have mostly gotten my bibliographic house in order with Zotero, my digital house is a mess.  I do most of my work on a little netbook, and I used to work on a desktop computer I brought from college to grad school, and the netbook got a virus and had to undergo a major wipe last year.  I fortunately still have all my files, but they are spread over backups on my desktop, and buried in various levels of a very annoying external hard drive I bought because I thought I was so smart.

I got it when I was still actively using both computers because it came with a preinstalled sync system which would supposedly only update new versions of files, so that the newest version of the file would always be available.  Not as good as cloud computing, but many of my archives and a lot of the places I travel don't have internet, so having a copy of the file to carry around is important.  But the stupid hard drive makes it almost impossible to access the files, so now I need to pull everything off it (and between the wipe and all the shuffling, there are now some very important files which only exist on the external harddrive--dangerous).  So I'm in the process of pulling everything off, wiping the thing of its software, and turning it into a big flash drive, besides uploading everything I have to Google Docs.  And then copies of everything will be going to J's computer as well.  I don't know if this is going to make more headaches for myself later, but it's not workable right now--I spent way too much time looking for my data that I could have spent writing.

Tomorrow will be spent brunching and finally sewing up the RTW jacket, because I get a stack of final papers to grade on Wednesday, and there will be nothing accomplished after that.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Self-Stitched Easter

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Just a quick note about the weekend.  The RTW muslin is in a place I'm happy with, the fashion fabric is partially cut out, and I had a productive research weekend.  You all have seen the outfit I'm wearing above; the shirt J is wearing is a shirt I finished literally Easter morning.  The construction turned out well, and J loves it, but I HATE the fabric.  It's some kind of poly blend (mystery thrift store fabric) that's got a weird silky hand, but J loves it.  And although I didn't do the MPB Negroni shirt sewalong, I definitely learned the value varying stitch lengths for different areas--I don't love this shirt because of the fabric, but I feel good about my work on it.

I didn't get the editing/writing done that I wanted to, because I ended up chasing about 140 years of footnotes, but I found the source of an annoying scholarly myth that's been bugging me for several years.  It's the sort of thing that doesn't even get cited anymore because everyone accepts it as true--everyone in the 19th century cited primary documents, so we'll cite the 19th century writers, and not examine their evidence.  

However, when you chase down the 19th century citations, all these writers are basing their arguments about both the 17th and 18th centuries on a single document written in 1689.  It's used as the sole source for the price of retail goods sold to Native people in French Canada and New York, and A. it was written in Paris by someone who had never been to North America, and B. the prices it quotes are way off base from the account books I've found for both French Canada and New York for the same period.  

It boggles my mind that no one has examined these numbers, because entire books rely on the assumption that this document is accurate.  I'm rolling around in my head how to write about the problem of relying on this document and why it's wrong without it being horribly boring, but I'm excited about the find.  And with the magic of the interwebs, I can find pretty much everyone who has either cited this document or someone who relies on other scholars who do.  

Have you had an exciting breakthrough lately, in work, sewing or something else?  I didn't accomplish my stated goal for the weekend, but I did accomplish something, and that made the weekend feel pretty productive.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Saturday Morning Reading List

I'm taking today (and possibly tomorrow) to rework an article in hopes of submitting it this summer, so here's a roundup of webcomics and cartoons I indulge in.

The Abominable Charles Christopher This is sometimes sad, usually sweet, and beautifully illustrated.

Wondermark Historic illustrations captioned awesomely.  My favorite is "In Which Education is Vital" because sometimes I think it would be better to defend a dissertation that way.

Atomic Robo Robot hero defends the world from vampires and dinosaurs.  Nuff said.

Hark, A Vagrant!  Canadian history comics, Lois Lane, and sass.  Occasionally mermaids.

Dr McNinja  Basically what it says it is.  Too ridiculous not to read.

Girl Genius  Steampunk and romance, but not too much of either.  This one is huge and long running, so there's plenty of archives to read, but don't expect it to resolve any storylines anytime soon.  J and I started reading together when we started dating (3+ years ago) and the main storyline still hasn't been resolved.

Romantically Apocalyptic  Oil painting comics?  Flesh eating monsters?  Ridiculous pop culture references?  Check, check and check.

Saturday Morning Cartoons has a great weekly series in which they link to animated shorts; they're sometimes a little sad, like this week's, but usually fun.

Wish me luck writing today, and I hope you found something fun to procrastinate with.  Revising this article is both nervewracking and exciting; it puts me one step closer to putting my work out there for real and looking at the job market, which is frightening, but it's exciting because it's a piece I wrote a year ago and I finally feel like I'm in a place to answer the questions I left hanging when I put it aside.

A happy and peaceful Easter if you celebrate.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Reworked RTW Muslin

After some helpful advice from Carolyn, who writes a very pretty blog and is making the same pattern for the RTW Sewalong, I decided to take in the muslin quite a bit.  

(I had to take my own pictures without even a timer, because J left the house with my camera and I had a hard time figuring out his.  Please excuse.)  

I took in every seam another 1/4 inch, and reduced the width of the shoulders by almost an inch.  The sleeve cap will have to be redrafted as a result, but that's for another day.  

I think the pulling in these photos is a result of trying to hold up the enormous camera--when I look at it when not trying to take a picture, it hangs nicely.  I'm so much happier with the fit having taken it in.  I didn't take in the center back, and I think for the fashion fabric I won't take in the side back seams--it really just needed a reduction in the sides and front seams.  I'm also contemplating shortening the torso and adding a little more length to the hem, since I like the length of it, but the narrowest part of the waist sits a little too low for my liking.  But, when I just pinned a tuck across the torso to check before sewing, moving the waist up suddenly made the whole thing look much less slimming.  I may not move the waist, since it bothers me less in photos than it did while I was wearing it.  

I'm struggling with this muslin more than most things I've sewn, but I'm really enjoying the experience (when I get the time to work on it).  This is definitely the most complex pattern I've done, even more complex than the suit jacket I made for J and more complex than the historic patterns I've done.  (I started sewing because I got a job in a museum's costume shop in high school, and I stuck with it through college).  It's got so many pieces!  And I think the fit for women's clothing is less forgiving than for men's clothing, at least when it's tailored, since women's tailored clothing is meant to sit so much closer to the body.  But I'm also enjoying the difficulty of fitting this since I feel like I'm getting a better understanding of my measurements and making adjustments.  This pattern is definitely outside my comfort zone, but it feels like a good stretch.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why Groceries?

Here's a kitty chaser after the heavy polemic of the last post: why is our cat named Groceries?  J and his college roommate got the 3-year-old Cat-Soon-to-be-Known-as-Groceries from the shelter at the beginning of their senior year.  J and I had been dating for almost two years at this point; it was discussed and decided all around that the cat would move with J into my house in Overcast after graduation.  

Cat-Soon-to-be-Known-as-Groceries was named something stupid like Greyboy at the shelter, and who knows what before that (he came from the home of an animal hoarder, although we haven't noticed any behavioral problems because of it).  J's roommate got naming prerogatives, and named Cat-Soon-to-be-Known-as-Groceries after an indie band.  

The name didn't stick, though, because Cat-Soon-to-be-Known-as-Groceries sat inside of grocery bags all the time (still does) and J's college friends started calling Groceries Groceries.  This means, of course, that all the cat's adoption and medical forms have different names on them (who know a cat needed so many forms?)   

So there's your daily cat blogging.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

On empathy, politics and feminism

Anyone who has been reading for any length of time knows that I've been struggling this semester with teaching a 20th century political history course far outside my background or training.  I just got done teaching The Conservative Ascendancy by Donald Critchlow and Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory by Randall Balmer.  Critchlow writes about the social/political changes propelling the far right wing of the GOP into power since the defeat of Goldwater in 1964, and Balmer focuses on the social and emotional pull of evangelical Christianity in America.  What it's gotten me thinking about is the place of empathy in both politics and feminism.  Both Historiann and Echidne are relevant background readings for today's class.

The current narrative in politics seems to me to be about excising empathy from politics.  Barney Frank has called government "the name we give to those things we choose to do together."  The National Review, a right-wing publication, has called this "meaningless and stupid."  That, to me, sums up the problem we (in the US, and possibly Canada and the UK, with their right-leaning governments) are currently facing in the Right's rush to defund what social insurance the Progressive era won for the poor and middle class.  Government, even that which is not based on a Christian framework, should be about serving the least among us.

When your framework is selfishness (or some mythical context-free individual liberty), as Flint Knits recently posted about, government action and even individual charitable action becomes unnecessary and even an impediment to those at the bottom of the economy.  The free market and voluntary regulation which this philosophy seeks to "reinstate" not only never existed, as any thinking historian of either Adam Smith or the late 19th century will tell you, but it also does not work. It assumes the privilege of the upper middle class applies to everyone, even as the middle and lower middle class erodes into simply a gap between the working and upper middle class, because the upper middle class perceive themselves to be the norm.  As the NYTimes and Dean Dad have pointed out, markers of a well rounded, upper middle class liberal arts education like unpaid internships exacerbate the income gap by shutting out middle and lower middle class college student from the credentials race.

So what does that mean about government?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Job Hunting

Another non-sewing post, another cat picture.  Groceries loves putting his face on J's mousepad for some reason; maybe it's warmer?  At any rate, it's not helpful when J is trying to look for jobs.  

We've found ourselves in a position strangely similar to that of AB and her husband J, and AB's blog is a good read if you're dealing with uncertainty (or want to see some awesome cactus hats).  We're waiting to hear about one last fellowship which would keep us in Overcast for fall semester, but otherwise it's mostly official that we'll be chased out of town for part of next year, so J is looking for jobs.  Not with too much anxiety, because we have at least three months and potentially as much as six months until we would have to move, but job hunting makes both of us a little anxious.

J has a degree in Theater, and he's trained as a carpenter and technical designer, so he builds sets and props and makes sure they're safe to union standards.  Hiring positions are surprisingly narrow, so much so that this theater search seems a lot like the academic job search I'll be doing in a few years.  Lots of decoding job ads, massaging the resume to fit, looking nationally for the few jobs in his narrow field.  And apparently, although there's a lot of theater in NYC, a lot of their sets are built out in Yonkers and beyond (probably because large spaces for building large sets is cheaper).  So there's the possibility we may end up in some suburb of NYC, which I know even less about than Brooklyn.

We--mostly I--are also wrestling with the possibility of moving home to Snowy State.  Not moving in with my parents, who live there, but with getting an apartment near where J and I went to college (which is also near my parents).  My parents and I get along great, and they love J, so that's not the problem--the problem is that my parents love hanging out too much.  I also used to volunteer with a group in Snowy State that demands a lot more time than I have to give--it was great in high school and college when I had no job and lots of free weekends, but now I have a dissertation to write.  

Snowy State is otherwise great for what we need--a large university, lots of theater jobs, easy access to flights to the archives I need to go to.  But I'm afraid my parents and my old volunteer group would demand so much time that I would get nothing read and even less written.  Not helping matters is that I'm the only person of my family or social circle who's gone to graduate school--no one seems to understand that, while the school will give me free money to write, that money won't last forever and writing takes as much time as a real job, because it is a real job.  Academia has its own problems with recognizing writing as real work--by demanding it for hiring and promotion, but progressively cutting back resources for faculty and graduate students to have time to write--but my extended family ranges from supportive but confused to outright hostile to the idea that I'm being paid to essentially write a book.  

That ranged a little far from job searches and moving, but the point is this: we're looking for jobs nationally except for the two places I really want to be, Overcast and Snowy State.  And it makes my heart hurt.  The good news is that this move will be for two years at most, so it's not a forever move, but I feel like these moves put life on hold for so long.  Not that that keeps me from reupholstering couches in the mean time.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A rainy day

We got our cool weather vegetable seeds put in the ground two days ago, and then I spent the next day hiding inside from the rain and hating all the photos I took in the archives.  Right now I'm just crossing my fingers that the seeds outside don't get flooded away; our back yard is apparently quite low and water gathered in parts during the snow melt.  The inside flower seedlings are looking good, although they got neglected during the couch re-do.

No heavy thoughts for today; I'm contemplating making these hanging moss balls or some macrame (oh noes!) plant hangers to get some of my plants out of the cat's nibbling range.  There is, of course, also the RTW sewalong, which I'm lagging on because I'm playing around with the fit of my muslin.  It seems very large, but I don't want to get rid of all the ease.  I've also got a post rattling around about the place of empathy in politics and feminism, but that's taking a while to come together.  

Otherwise J and I are gearing up for summer and trying to recover from the couch recovering; housework got neglected while we were both distracted by that and there are both piles of laundry and piles of dishes looming.  

Saturday, April 16, 2011

All Sewn Up; Or, a Philosophy of Reupholstery

Ta-da!  There's some welting to add around the feet, the underlining to staple up, and white wooden accent pieces to nail back along the bottom, but the major work is done.  We actually finished the couch in an extended afternoon/evening.  

The interior got put in first, right over the old fabric.  That look on my face is probably consternation when our cheap electric stapler decided to stop working.  Thing learned from this project:  buy a Power-Shot brand manual stapler instead of an electric stapler.  We bought an electric staple gun several years ago for our first upholstery project because I didn't want to deal with squeezing a trigger every time I stapled, but the electric one we got was so weak that it took way more force from me than the manual stapler did in order to sink the staples properly.  My hands are still pretty sore two days later, but no blisters.

One of the other big secrets I wish I'd known when I did my first reupholstery project: you can sew your furniture closed.  Not in a slip cover way either.  In the photo above, I used a couple of staples to kind of pin the fabric in place.  In newer furniture you tear apart, you might see tack strips used in those places where you can't staple it from the inside.  I've found tack strips to be difficult to use and set properly, but with sewing, you can tack the fabric temporarily in place with staples and quickly sew it in with an upholstery needle.  

The seam is put together like a blind stitch on a hem: into the fold of one side, into the body of the other side.  the curve of the upholstery needle helps send it back out as it pushes against the wood of the frame, since you can't bend the fabric to get the needle out.  

So there you have it: a couch reupholstery in two evenings and a long afternoon.  Sewing and putting the welting around the feet (to cover the currently raw edges around them) will probably take another short evening.  J and I are both pretty sore from the pulling off of fabric, the prying of staples, and the bending and other work of stapling fabric back on.

So why reupholster a couch when we may be moving across the country in a few months?  Well, the easy answer is that we've owned this couch and the fabric to recover it for almost a year (since before we moved into our current apartment), and it was about time to get the mystery fabric put to some good use.  

But also because we're going to be here for at least another three months, and the three days it took to recover the couch is worth those three months of not looking at the old one.  If I'd known it was going to take only three days, we'd have done it sooner--I was thinking it would take a week or more, since our last two projects were five days each for armchairs.  There's also the experience value: the next couch we recover will be that much easier because we recovered this one.  And there's the defiance part: I may not know where we'll be living in six months, but by damn, I know where we're living now, and that's here.  And I'm going to make it as nice as possible in the mean time.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Too many staples

Ready?  The couch destruction went fast, only about three hours.  Maybe because this is our fourth upholstery project, maybe because we left some of the previous layers (and by some I mean a lot).  Before pulling everything off, we took out a permanent marker and wrote on each piece what it was, which side was left/right/up/down, and what order it came off.  We were going to use the old pieces as patterns for cutting out the new pieces, which we've done in the past, but this ended up not being necessary because the pieces were almost all rectangles shaped with a pleat here and there.  One thing we did this time which made it easier than previous projects: cut all the pieces much larger than necessary, then staple them down and cut back everything is stapled down.  On previous projects we cut all the pieces to exact size and then didn't have enough fabric to grab when stapling.

Part of the reason we left some of the pieces was that we found previous layers of upholstery, and it amused us to layer over it.  It's been reupholstered at least once before, which I think is a good sign of the frame's longevity (and when we opened it up, the frame, foam, belting and spring ties all looked in good shape, so we didn't have to do any tune up there.)  The oldest layer of the couch looks like it was some pink and metallic gold brocade, and without pulling everything off, it felt like the first layer might have been actually tufted instead of mock tufted like the yellow layer.  

What's tufting?  It's the buttons on the front of the couch, which usually anchor decorative pleating.  Here's what it looks like from the back.  We ultimately decided not to tuft the reupholstered version, but we took lots of photos to document things as they came off.

After getting everything stripped down as far as it was going to go, we draped everything we own in plastic and painted the legs.  

Here's the finished legs, which are maybe my favorite part of the whole couch now.  

Ultimately the legs (and the cushion) took the longest of the whole project--the drying time alone took longer than it did to rip up the couch or to recover it.  Demolition took about four hours, recovering took about eight hours, including dinner and stapler replacement breaks.  There's still some details that need to be finished, but pictures of the recovered couch will go up tomorrow.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tearing Apart Your Couch; Or, A Photo Essay of Madness

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The before.  Goodbye, yellow velvet.

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So you can see just how threadbare the velvet has gotten.

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Strip the cushion overs off and tear them apart (we salvaged both the zippers, and used the old covers as a pattern for the new).  Gaze on your naked couch and despair.

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Sew like mad; curse while stuffing cushions back into new cushion cover; tape off all the thread and tiny pieces of foam which got onto your new cushion cover; put cushion back on couch and appreciate.  Watch cat appreciate new couch cushion.

The couch cushion process alone took several hours; two hours to make a ton of bias strip per Colette patterns' continuous strip method; another two to sew the cording into the bias strip to make the piping.  Then a half hour to cut everything out and an hour to sew in the zippers.  Forty five minutes per side to pin the cushion surface, side fabric, and piping together, and a half hour to sew each side.  Fifteen minutes of cursing and stuffing, and voila!  Not even half way done.  But the cushion was all accomplished in a single evening.

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And in case you're wondering what the upholstery fabric is made out of (I am), here's what the burn test looks like.  It's got a slubby, slightly shiny finish like linen, but it burns and melts like a synthetic.  No smoking on this couch!  When it lit fast than I was expecting and I dropped it into the sink, I was scared for a second when it looked like it had melted itself securely to the bottom of the sink.  (But it came off).  But cat hair doesn't stick to it, and it's already (!) been spilled on, and the liquid just beaded off, which I take as a good sign.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

RTW Muslin and Fellowship Dress #2

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I'm so far behind on the RTW Sewalong--they're already fusing things, and I've only just got my muslin put together.  And it looks crazzy!  I think I might have to go down a size since it doesn't look that big in the photos, but there's so much extra in the side and hanging over the shoulder.  But the finished product will also be in wool with a lining, so I don't know if it's supposed to have that much extra room.  Or maybe I'll make some seam allowances bigger.

I'm sure the horrid thrift store acetate lining I used for the muslin doesn't help any.  And also rushing through sewing it before going to office hours.  Maybe I should put my sewing machine in my campus office so that I can get something done with students don't show up.

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On AB's suggestion, I decided to go with the periwinkle.  J and I have been doing a spring closet cleaning/clothes purge, and going through my rarely-worn conference clothes, I think I do have enough to make outfits with a blueish blazer.  I mean, almost all my conference clothes are black, and everything goes with black.  But I think I'm going to sit on the muslin, and maybe iron it, for a while before cutting the real fabric because I'm so uncertain about this pattern.  I've made J a suit coat before, but I think this pattern has more pieces and more complex techniques than anything else I've done before.

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In other news, I've FINALLY finished the second fellowship dress, and while I'm happier with it than I thought I'd be, it's not everything I'd dreamed it would be.  It's ok.  It's a self drafted pattern, so it has some crazzy in it because of that, and also some crazzy because the satin lining would not cooperate.  The inside is basically a trainwreck of the lining being way too big for the fashion fabric, despite being cut from the same pattern.  It also adds about two inches to my waist measurement because of the thickness of the fabric, making me feel very large in it despite the fit actually being pretty good.

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But I also look like a super spy with sunglasses on, which is a plus.

I don't know about this dress.  Have you ever made something and then gotten rid of it?  I have another dress that I made for a holiday party, wore once, hated it, wore again a year later and still hated it, and I can't bring myself to get rid of it.  I'm afraid that might happen with this dress.  I don't hate it yet, but I can't see myself wearing it anywhere because it's so different from the rest of my wardrobe.  Since it's a dress, it doesn't really have to go with anything else, but I'm afraid it borders on costumey.  What do you think?  (Either about sewing outside your comfort zone, or about giving away/selling/getting rid of something you've made?)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

On Funding, Waiting and Nesting

Is it wet yet?  When will it be wet?  Will I like it when it's wet?

A non-update (and a cat picture, because when in doubt, cats illustrate many things).  I have had meetings, meetings, meetings the past week or so about my "funding situation," which is to say, various people want to know whether someone else has given me funding for next year so that I can be checked off as a problem to be taken care of.  For funding which various people are in charge of, though, the answer is: we'll know next month.  Wait and see.  We don't know yet.  

The problem seems to me to be a lack of planning.  I am not in the situation of needing a job or not having an income next year--I have two years of guaranteed funding left, so for at least two years I won't be kicked out into the cold.  But exactly what kind of funding I have, and whether it depends on my teaching in Overcast or not (and therefore, how much travel I will be able to do for research) is partially dependent on how many graduate students are admitted to the program for next year, and whether applications which my advisor has put in for me are accepted.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

That was quick

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I love the pattern for this sweater--I've never really made a sweater for myself (except for one shrug/vest), because they seem like such a huge time commitment, but this went together so much faster than I expected that it gives me confidence to try a larger sweater pattern.  Although I've already started a second project with the same pattern in a different yarn with a different lace pattern, so a big sweater will have to wait.

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The first picture is probably more representative of the actual color, but I wanted to show off the back lace detail.  I like this pattern because it has good spaces to play around with lace patterns which don't change the stitch count, and it goes so quick.  It's cast on from the neckline and worked down, with the sleeves worked separately when the underarm is reached.  The other reason I like this pattern so much is that it doesn't require seaming, which I hate.  The pattern as written calls for seaming the sides of the sleeves together, but I picked up a few stitches in the underarm and worked the sleeves in the round--seamless!  

It's a nice feeling to finish something when so much else is in limbo.  Besides the move, I feel kind of adrift in my research right now.  I had a direction before going to New York, both in planning the trip and because I had a colloquium (workshop) deadline to meet, and before that I had the fellowships to work on cranking out.  Part of the problem is summer--my first summer in grad school I had a finite research project to work on, and my second summer I had exams to prep for.  Now I have a master's and I'm supposedly qualified to figure out my own research direction (that masters supposedly qualifies me for a lot of things I don't feel prepared for, but that's another post).  

I've spent the weekend (and really, the last few weeks) kind of bouncing back and forth between transcribing/spreadsheeting what I already have, reading secondary sources, and trying to track down primary sources.  (Part of the problem with trying to write a dissertation which breaks old paradigms with new research and new sources is that you can't just raid old footnotes to find your sources).  My dissertation covers about 300 years, and I haven't got a clear chapter deadline to work towards.  

Knitting, sewing, and garden projects seem so much easier to start right now because they have definite start and end points, and gardening time comes up whether you're ready for it or not.  And the end of grad school (or at least my funding for it) will come up whether I'm ready for it or not, but I have to find some way to break the next few years without teaching or outside deadlines up into manageable chunks, because even right now, at the beginning of the gathering stage, I already feel overwhelmed by my sources.  Organizing my bibliography and primary sources helped make it feel more manageable, but cataloging it all isn't the same as finishing going through it.  Would that research projects could go together quickly and seamlessly.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

On the Possibility of Being a Trailing Spouse

What you mean I got to move, two-legs?
All those fellowship rejection letters are rolling in (with a few yes-letters), and they've thrown my comfortable grad school routine of enroll-TA-complain out of order.  I didn't get the big fellowships I applied for, but I have gotten enough small ones to patch together a year of funding not dependant on being a TA.  Which would mean a year of research and writing as my full-time job (which is a thought terrifying by itself).

But Snooty U also requires that if you don't TA, you have to be at least 100 miles away from Overcast during your non-TAing semesters, and now requires a lease or some other proof of this (they didn't used to be so strict about it).  It's like an academic restraining order.  (Not to diminish the importance of real restraining orders).  But what it means is that the one place I cannot be is Overcast.

And since J has had a year of not working in his chosen field (theater) since there is no theater in Overcast, we've decided to look at moving some place that has both a large university and/or archives for me, and a large theater scene for J.  Those places have been narrowed down to Chicago and Brooklyn, but for a while we were looking at basically the entirety of the northern Midwest and the Northeast.  Terrifying.  My advisor Dr. Asiago has voted for Brooklyn, since my dissertation is New York centered and there are more archives there, but somehow the thought of moving out of Overcast not for a tenure-track job didn't occur to me.  Like I knew it was a possibility that I would go somewhere exciting for research like London or Paris (still in the list of possibilities) but the reality of moving somewhere kind of random half way through grad school didn't really sink in for me until all of these funding sources started to fall into place recently.  (I know, what a problem to have, right?)

The lovely Ethel Louise had a post up a while back about frogging graduate school--in a knitting metaphor, to rip out all the foolish things you did and redo it with knowledge of those foolish things.  It's not directly related to the possibility of temporarily being a trailing spouse, but it's been rolling around in my head thinking about where my life is going and whether I'd have made the choices I've made over again.  This moving thing has really given me pause, but I think it's more about the moving than about graduate school causing me to move.  I grew up living outside a town of less than 500, and went to school in a town of less than 5000, so the thought of living in Brooklyn or Chicago gave me a little panic attack when it went from "wouldn't it be cool if" to "the university says you have to be out of town by January 1."

And in a lot of ways, I'm fortunate in ways some trailing spouses aren't: our decision to move is going to be largely shaped by where I can work in archives, and the impetus to move is coming from my job and not J's.  So I guess this is all a long way of saying that the change in my situation has made me appreciate the uncertainty traveling spouses like AB deal with.

I've been kind of sitting on this post for a while because it's been hard to write.  And some of my funding is still uncertain, but as of now, it looks like we'll be in Overcast for the summer and fall, and moving (somewhere) in January.  I can't really bear the thought of deciding what of our stuff to sell and what to move right now, which is silly, but like I said in my post about gardening, this apartment feels like the closest to home right now because of the marks J and I have put on it together, and of course another apartment would have that eventually, but it's hard to think about right now.  Hopefully there will be a post soon about some happily finished knitting and sewing projects to make up for this downer.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

On Handspun and Handmade


I have a terrible secret to tell you, dear reader:  I used to hate handspun yarn.  It's lumpy, it's irregular, it comes in crazy colors, it slips around on the needles, it's hard to afford enough of it to make anything bigger than this:

That is, if you can't tell, a fluffy mohair handspun knit in an open pattern which will hopefully be put together into a pillowcase soon (it was my project on the train to and from NYC).  I prefer more tailored clothes and a more sedate home-look, and something like the above is not really my style (although I'm hoping that in small doses it can be a nice accent piece).  Because I don't care for handspun, I've ended up with an entire drawer full of it:

Why do I have a crazy drawer full of yarn I supposedly don't like?  My mother.  My mother doesn't knit, although she crochets a little, and she's friends with handspinners and likes to go to craft fairs, so she sends me tons of yarn for birthdays, holidays, whenever.  (She also sends me a ton of thrift store cloth and vintage clothing "to make something cute out of" which is why I have a dresser and a rubbermaid full of stash, but that's another post).  What a problem to have, right?

I think she likes the idea of these yarns: she gets to pet them, pick ones she likes, and be involved in the things I make without having to commit the time to making things or storing them in the meantime.  She's a full time RN with a long commute, so she doesn't get a lot of down time or bus knitting time like I do (I'll say this for academia: it's a good thing there's a recent trend towards knitting in meetings and at talks, because otherwise I'd be bored out of my mind). 

But back to the yarn.  As part of my recent efforts to de-stash, I've been trying really hard to knit down/sew down things I already own, and finding patterns to fit the yarn, rather than find new yarn to fit a pattern I want.    I just started this shrug sweater pattern on Ravelry, and paired it with the blush-to-raspberry yarn at the top of the post, and it's changing my mind about handspun.

The pattern is fairly tailored, and the yarn, while not slubby, has a lot of thick-n-thin which gives the otherwise tailored look a little interest (I'm also doing an inset chevron lace detail on the chest, arms, and middle back which shows up as holiness here, but which will hopefully add a little interest when it's blocked out).  The yarn was dyed in the wool and then spun, so it's giving a nice ombre/tequila sunrise effect as it goes from blush to pink, and there's a lot of pretty changes in the yarn to look at as it knits up.  The reason this yarn and pattern combo is changing my mind about handspun is because it pushes me outside my comfort zone and will hopefully add a little twist to my otherwise fairly tailored (and increasingly similar-looking) wardrobe.  I think part of the danger of sewing or making so much of your own clothing is that it's really easy to make a lot of similar things (at least for me).  It's easy to make patterns you know work well, it's easy to select the same fabric types or colors over and over because they work, it's easy to make similar styles because they go with things you already own.  And as much space my mother's presents take up, it's kind of fun to jump into something feet first that I wouldn't have done if I didn't want to get rid of stash.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A very quick lampshade

J and I got this vintage/antique floor lamp a while ago--I don't remember how long ago, but it was long enough ago that it was still warm out.  I found it at the local Salvation Army thriftstore, and it was only $5 because it was missing a socket (the one that's now shiny in the picture).  J has done some electrical work in theater, and we've rewired lamps and ceiling lights before without blowing anything up or starting fires, so with a five dollar lamp kit from the hardware store, we got a new, cheap, awesome antique lamp.

The metal is cast iron, and I'm not sure whether the rest of the base is glass or stone, but which ever, the whole thing is quite heavy.  The only other problem with this lamp was that it didn't come with a shade.  It turns on by pull cords hanging from the sockets, which I thought was a cool vintage detail, so we didn't change that when we rewired (there are lots of different switch types available if you rewire yourself).  I originally wanted a glass lamp shade, or a mod drum shade, but couldn't find anything in our price range that didn't look way out of sync with the base.  

So I started playing around with the idea of making my own shade, based on these tutorials, but couldn't figure out how to make them open-bottomed to leave access to the switch pulls.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The utter sugary chaos

J's birthday was this weekend, and between that, his sister coming to visit for said birthday, and keeping up with the class I'm teaching, the above is what my Saturday looked like.  And yes, that's four kinds of jello and two bowls of cake batter.  J got marble cupcakes and this somewhat daunting confection:

J was deprived of jello as a child, so for the birthdays we've been in the same state for (not many, since we were long distance for my first two years of grad school), I've made him jello cakes.  (His sister hates jello, hence both the childhood deprivation and the marble cupcakes).  The first one I did had jiggler letters suspended in clear gelatin (which was a little disturbing even though it was sweetened and flavored), and I've been waiting to make this one ever since I saw this.  I couldn't find a bundt pan, which I think makes the original look even more epic, but the really thin-walled ice ring mold I had I think made it easier to slip it out when it was finished.  (When everything is set, the whole mold gets dipped in hot water, without the water going over into the jello, to loosen it from the sides and let it slip out).  

I used plain, unsweetened yogurt to cloud the pastel layers, and it didn't affect the taste or mouthfeel much except to cut the sweetness a little (a good thing, in my opinion).  I shook the jello and yogurt together in a small tupperware to mix them, since the yogurt stayed lumpy when mixed in with a spoon or fork, so that's why the yellow pastel layer has bubbles in it.  Each layer set for 45-60 minutes, and then I let the whole thing set for another two hours.  It came out pretty wobbly, and would have been less wobbly if it had set longer, but we were working on a deadline.  Overall, I thought it was pretty successful, and J was happy with it.  Definitely not something I would have made for myself, though.  Anyone else done any epic cooking or craft projects for someone you love/care for that you wouldn't have done for yourself?

Friday, April 1, 2011

On Making and Shopping, Craft and Art

Oh man.  The week in NYC totally defeated me.  Well, not totally, but since J was sick before we left, I got sick as soon as we got there.  Between the head cold and the freezing cold wind that descended on the city two days into our trip, it was just about all we could do to pick out restaurants close to our hotel.  As a sum total, the trip was really productive, and I got everything I went to the archive for and more, but we didn't end up doing as much sight seeing or photo-taking as I would have liked, because we were both so exhausted.

We did get to some touristy things, like the Brooklyn Art Museum, which had this awesome installation in a Beaux-Arts courtyard, in which all of the stately 19th century columns were wrapped with fabric over hoops to distort their classical proportions and lit from inside.  (More photos, including in-process photos and design sketches, at the link).  

We didn't get to the apparently awesome Armory red-and-white quilt show, because J's art major college roommate, who we were staying with, pooh-poohed it as "seizure inducing" and not real art.  Like "femininity isn't feminist" this "craft isn't real art" BS is old and tired, so why does it get dragged out by young and otherwise progressive people?  Friend was trained at the same SLAC as we were, in a radical philosophy but traditional methods art department, which I think points to the problem that craft and craft technique are still largely feminized and therefore undervalued. 

Like the awesome Japanese crocheted playground Hands Occupied (via Freshome) pointed to, installations like these show the potential in working with "craft" and domestic techniques on a monumental scale previously reserved for more high-art techniques.  Not that small-scale or homemade craft items don't stretch the boundaries of "craft" and "art," but I'm excited by these monumental installations because they expose more people to different definitions of high art.  And that's part of why I love and am excited by the craft/sewing/making community, because of the care people put into handmade items and the re-valuation of effort.  

Tiny dino provided for scale.  And yes, our house is full of toys.
Which makes shopping damn hard.  The air plant ball above, along with some art prints and another house plant, are the only things besides food which I bought in NYC, and here's why.  J has a hard time find RTW or thrifted clothes which fit him, because he's tall and lanky, and he doesn't like buying online before trying on in real life, so we did a lot of clothes shopping while we were in the city.  And despite all that shopping, I couldn't find a single thing that I wanted to buy.  Things I'd love to have, and things I'd love to make, but not buy.  I think my ideal vacation would be to take a sketchbook and camera and wander high-end clothing stores for a few days, but store owners might frown on that.  

Part of my own embrace of hand-made has been taking the fearful responsibility to say: "Yes, I made this."  I say fearful, because in making your own clothing, housewares, whatever, you are responsible not just for choosing from a limited selection for sale, but also for the details down to every last choice.  I used to agonize about wearing things I had made because all the flaws stood out to me, and because I feared being judged for having both poor taste and poor construction skills.  But there's a joy in that too.  A lot of my dissertation revolves around the idea that we all make choices about how we wish to position ourselves socially in the clothing we select, and in handmade that's taken so much further.  I find that the more involved I get in making my clothing, J's clothing, and things for our house, the more reluctant I am to buy something that isn't just right.  Part of that comes from being cheap to begin with, but more and more of my purchases are things that I can't make myself: plants, art pieces, raw materials, and consumables.  I don't know if that means moving towards handmade has reduced or just reoriented my commodity desire, but there it is.

Has your relation to handmade changed?  How has it affected your shopping?