Book Review Break

I know I haven’t churned out a book review in a while. It’s because I got burned out on writing them. I’m sure in the future, maybe after summer, I’ll get back in the groove. Until then, I have created a new page you can surf to from my home page. Click on the button “Book Reviews” and you’ll see a list of all the books I’ve reviewed with links to their corresponding blog posts. I organized it all in alphabetical order by title and indicated whether the text is for knitting, crochet, or both. I do not receive books from publishers to review. Also, authors do not send me requests. I review whatever I feel like talking about on here.

Some friends of mine – including my good buddies from my knitting and crochet club – have asked me how and why I got so many books and patterns. In case you’re curious, here’s my answer:

First off, I’m a book enthusiast, a trained literary critic, and I like to have patterns just to have them. It’s sort of like being a coin or rock collector. I just like to have plenty of literature and I like to have special editions of my favorites. There’s a practical reason, too, which is that I find a lot of inspiration in patterns. When I see something I like, I buy it, after some thought.

Another method of acquiring so many is that people have given them to me. Friends and relatives alike know what my vices are. Also, my sister made a habit of getting me Amazon gift cards for Christmas and my birthday and I’ve been able to buy a lot of Kindle versions of pattern collections and other types of crafty things. When the gift cards were flowing I got a whole ton of goodies.

Over the years I’ve also had magazine subscriptions. I’ve recently canceled all of them, though, because I started to feel like I was seeing a lot of the same every month.

Additionally, the way my parents raised me has a lot to do with it. My mother and father encouraged me to read and take interest in my own education. When I was a little boy my mom took me to the library once a week so I could borrow books. I remember always getting excited about the regular library excursions. If I saw something in a book shop I liked and it wasn’t available in our local library my parents had no qualms about buying it for me, even though sometimes it meant waiting for when there was extra money to spend. Books and food were considered worthwhile expenses and there was no established limit on them. If I was hungry they fed me. If I wanted to read they strove to keep me interested. My dad also instilled in me the importance of taking care of my things, making sure they were kept organized and out of harm’s way. This means he also taught me not to write in my books. He turned me into a collector. So, in my adult life my library is something special to me and I don’t ever feel guilty about buying stuff to add to it. They’re educational so they are a good investment. Of course, we mustn’t exaggerate. I don’t spend all my money on texts and I’m certainly careful not to go overboard.

Lastly, all of this encouragement I got in my childhood turned me into a literature and language specialist. In high school my favorite class was English and I got really excited about all the literature we read in those classes, from Homer to William Faulkner. In college I studied Spanish and Anthropology and I went on to get a PhD in Hispanic Literature. My undergraduate double interest was due to my inner conflict about whether I wanted to study mythology, archeology, Spanish American colonial history and literature, or Spanish Peninsular literature. So, obviously, books are very much the center of my entire life, from when I was a toddler to middle age! I have special treasures in my library that are not crafty at all. For example, my very old Obras completas de Miguel de Cervantes (Cervantes’ complete works), my facsimile edition of the first publication of Don Quixote, my Complete Works of Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allen Poe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, respectively, and many more.

All of these factors have shaped me into the pattern and book collector I am today. I don’t think I’ll ever stop reading and getting extreme pleasure from discovering a new book, whether it be a literary work or a craft-oriented one.

Getting ready for Halloween

As many of you know, a lot of people tramp through my house because I tutor them in English in my living room. Well, after two years, I’m tired of looking at this leisurely work space. I need to add new colors and patterns to perk it up.

I’ve decided that it would be entertaining for the students to see festive decorations during particular key seasons for Americans: Halloween in October, Thanksgiving in November, Christmas in December, etc. So, I’m getting ready for Halloween by planning and creating little things to put out here and there in the living room. I’m pretty sure I’ll knit and crochet some things: how about some knit throw pillows with Halloween-colored stripes and some amigurumi bats? I’ve also decided to cross stitch some things to hang up.

This week I’ve started cross stitching some pumpkins I found in Just Cross Stitch. There are six different ones. I haven’t decided if I want to stitch all of them because I might like to mix them with other Halloween-themed items. I’ve finished one pumpkin and started another one. Here’s the one I finished this morning:

pumpkin

I like them because they aren’t the typical Jack-o-lantern, although I plan to stitch up one of those, too. Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to. How about you?

Mostly, I’m cross stitching

I’ve been knitting my socks and crocheting my table cloth some, but, for the most part, I’ve been cross stitching. I’m pleased with my progress, but it’s slow going.

cross stitch jul15

The part that makes this project evolve slowly is the border. It’s very detailed. I’ve considered just getting the rest of the border finished before doing anything else, but the border doesn’t run completely around the piece. There are other things that interrupt it and add interest to the design. Once I get this quarter of the chart all stitched I’m going to complete the backstitching in this section before moving on to the next. What I can’t decide: work to the right or go up? I suppose I’ll figure it out when I get this done.

A helpful tip: it IS possible to backstitch before completing the entire project, just as long as you backstitch in an area that has all the cross stitching around it completed. The cool thing about this pattern is that the backstitching only happens inside the borders. So, I can do the little details bit by bit when I finish cross stitching a quarter of the piece.

Today I’ll also be knitting because it’s knitting and crochet club day. We’re going to a new bar that has a large outside seating area. It’s a beautiful day for a beer and a little sock knitting with friends. I’m looking forward to it a lot.

Weldon’s Practical Needlework Deluxe Editon

This is not really a review. Instead, it’s more like a narrative of my experience with this large collection of books. Weldon’s Practical Needlework was a periodical publication that circulated around the British Empire during the Victorian era. It is believed that the first issue was published around 1888. It’s difficult to say an exact year because these bulky newsletters don’t have dates. The 20th century becomes discernible when the company’s phone number begins to appear on the front page of the publications. All of these newsletters were published by topic. The knitting ones, for example, had the title of Weldon’s Practical Knitter First Series. One of the selling points of these magazines was that they never went out of print. They could be ordered by title and series number. Another benefit to its audience was that it contained a lot of photographs and illustrations that were high-quality for the time.

Interweave sells the Weldon’s series in facsimile format. I decided to buy the deluxe edition because I couldn’t make up my mind which volumes I wanted to have in my library. Having never seen one of these before I was very surprised to see that there is plenty of text to read. There are many commentaries and suggestions to guide the Victorian crafter who wanted to do “Lady’s Fancy Work.” This makes it an interesting historical document about middle-class Victorian women who were eager to occupy their free time with various needlework activities. To my surprise, comparing the past with the present, an equal number of things are different as they are the same.

What’s the same? Well, to start with, a lot of the publications that intend to instruct the crafter refer to the days of yore, when past generations regularly did this or that craft but then it was “lost” or ceased to be practiced. The Weldon’s Practical Knitter First Series in fact presents knitting as a forgotten art and provides all the instructions necessary, with illustrations, on how to hold the needles, knit, purl, etc. Even tatting is treated as an “old-fashioned” hobby in the periodicals devoted to this challenging thread work. I had always imagined tatting as something that was considered “usual” in the 19th century! When I first read through these books I was also surprised to see the use of the word “cosy.” Apparently, it became a common way to talk about home decor in the British middle class in the Victorian days. Sock patterns appear in all the knitting publications, however there was also a separate series called Weldon’s Practical Sock Knitter. Victorian knitters, like many of us, were really addicted to sock knitting. There were even multi-colored sock yarns available! Sock knitting is presented as a useful and convenient activity that requires little thought, ideal for when a “Lady” is too tired to do something more complex. Does this sound familiar? There was also a series to instruct women on how to sell their makes which included “bazaar items” patterns to sew and embroider. Crazy patchwork, apparently, was very popular. I had no idea women made crazy quilts in 19th-century England. Above all, one of the things about patterns that hasn’t changed one bit since Weldon’s was the concept of trying to make everything easy to understand and execute for the crafter. Patterns in the Weldon’s newsletters are very often marketed as “quick and easy.” And, oh yes, let’s not forget the tea cozies. They abound in Weldon’s.

Of course, we can also observe how things have changed. To begin with, people don’t wear gaiters or fascinators anymore, along with a whole heap of other accessories. A gaiter was a long tube of knitwear that began below the knee and continued down to cover the foot’s instep. It was sort of like a leg warmer but with half a sock covering the tops of the feet. A fascinator was something women wore on their heads. They were often frilly and could be very extravagant. Also interesting is to see all the patterns for knitted and crochet underwear. For knitting I was very much surprised to see how double knitting was treated as totally run-of-the-mill and easy to do whereas today it is not very often done and is considered “extreme knitting.”  As for sock knitting, I counted more than fifteen different style heels. Furthermore, if you read all the Weldon’s Practical Sock Knitter issues you observe how construction techniques evolved over time, culminating in the now standard “heel turn.”

Some of the text in these magazines also gives some insight into middle-class Victorian attitudes in England. The author, for example, informs his or her audience without mincing words that one should buy cheap, inferior-quality wool to make shawls for poor women (not cool). Disabled people were also talked about insensitively, as demonstrated by a pattern for “invalid’s boots.” Ladies who made crazy quilts were encouraged to use them for decorating their servants’ or children’s rooms, implying they were too common for the lady of the house to use. These days a pattern that does not list gauge or measurements exactly is not even acknowledged as a pattern. In Weldon’s there are instructions for one size which is very imprecise. Garment sizes are vaguely described as “for a girl of 4” or “for a gentleman,” etc. It was assumed that if the “Lady” used the knitting needle sizes and exact yarn indicated then that was enough to create the perfect fit. I suspect that there were many Victorian “gentlemen” who found their handmade clothing very uncomfortable. However, I suppose people were more prone to say “good enough, it’s done!” in Victorian England.

I’m really glad I bought this. It is very unlike a lot of old patterns and books I’ve read from the Antique Pattern Library. I will definitely use a lot of the patterns, especially the afghan blocks, knit and crochet stitch patterns as well as the embroidery and cross stitch ideas. If I ever decide to knit a block from these bulletins, however, I’ll adapt them for knitting in the round, as the patterns call for knitting four triangles and sewing them together. I don’t think it is too difficult to adapt them for the modern age.

I really enjoy historical things, so this collection is just the right thing for me. It’s not something to get for practical purposes — how ironic given the title!

I can talk about my WIPs on a Wednesday

This morning I actually caught a break from working and had time to photograph my WIPs with some good quality sunshine. I’ve been knitting, crocheting, and cross stitching.

My sock made with Cascade Heritage Prints is taking its time. You’d think I’d be pumped to finish the first of the pair since I’ve already finished the foot and most of the leg. But, nope. My hands get too sweaty in this 90 degree (F) weather.

sock

The background for my sock is my crochet tablecloth, which is also progressing slowly because I only work on it for maybe twenty minutes a day. Again, it’s the uncomfortable feeling on my hands in the hot weather. Cotton breathes but while it’s doing that it suffocates my hands!

Anyway, as you can see, it is approaching the correct size of its intended wearer, which is the table that it is resting on. When I use up this second skein of cotton it will be time for me to start a nice border for it with skein 3. I’m thinking about using a filet pattern.

tablecloth

My crochet “Telegraph Sweater” designed by Peter Franzi is also coming along very gradually. If the cotton is uncomfortable in my hands, just imagine how the wool feels. Anyway, this garment can take its time. I’m in no hurry just yet to wear it, considering it’s July and I wish it wasn’t necessary to wear clothes.

Cross stitch – for the most part – has cured my need to create in uncomfortably hot Castilian weather. I’m glad I’ve got back into this pastime. I’ve been spending most of my free time cross stitching and less of it knitting and crocheting. The pattern I’ve chosen, which is Joan Elliott’s “Celtic Wheel Cushion” from her book Magical Cross Stitch, is a delightful challenge with very fine color details. The rose and the bunch of grapes you see have three or four shades. If you think the fruit and the flower look awkward you have a good eye. There is a lot of backstitching to complete for outlining things as well as to add stems and other little details. Right now the poor rose’s leaves are just suspended in midair and disconnected from the flower.

crossstitch

I have already become an over-enthusiastic cross stitcher and ordered more stuff for future projects. I’ve got plenty of Aida cloth in different colors and I’m waiting for some seed beads, floss, and Kreinik metallic threads to arrive in the mail. Yeah, you bet, when I’m in, I’m all in. After placing my order I forgot that I wanted some gold-colored Aida cloth for a bookmark I’d like to make, so I’ll have to buy some more supplies soon.

I can’t wait for the end of the day when I finish work and relax with a little WordPress browsing so I can see what you’re up to with your WIPs.

 

I like where I live! (Really!)

It’s WIP Wednesday and I was working all day so I didn’t have time to photograph all my WIPs. It’s a shame, actually, because it’s worth photographing them and showing them off. My crochet sweater is coming along nicely. I’ve also turned the heel on my sock and it’s really showing off the colors from the Cascade Heritage Prints skein. However, I came to WIP Wednesday with a Plan B. A couple of times when I’ve been out on the street to work or run errands I’ve taken photos of where I live, saving them for a day when I feel like blogging on WIP Wednesday but don’t have the projects properly photographed. I’ve known for a long time that the title was going to be “I like where I live!” The reason is because I’ve lived here for five years now and I think maybe by year three or four I started talking about this city like the natives. In other words, I didn’t always have something nice to say about it. This happens to all of us that gradually transform from “new resident in” into “really from” a city. I’ve hated all the places I have lived in before (except my hometown, in the state of Maine in the USA). This is just because when you’re originally from coastal Maine you are spoiled for life. Anyway, I think I should be more grateful. I really live in an awesome place with so much to appreciate and be happy about.

Five years ago I moved to Valladolid, Spain. Valladolid is the capital of the Autonomous Community of Castile and Leon, famous for its excellent wine and long history. Beginning with the reign of Charles V in the sixteenth century, it became the capital of Spain because it was the place the Holy Roman Emperor decided to hold his court almost permanently when he was in his Hispanic kingdom. This tradition sort of started with Isabel and Ferdinand in the fifteenth century, but he made it much more official and permanent, as his predecessors often held spontaneous courts in other cities and towns throughout the country. Of course, we all know now that the present-day Spanish capital is Madrid, and that shift began very early on in history.

One of the wonders of living in a city like Valladolid, as with most European cities, is the fact that your everyday routine is filled with beautiful architecture from a long time ago: usually as early as the Middle Ages or Renaissance. Americans living in the US do not have this privilege. This, in fact, is one of the things that I always remember if I find myself whining about how I miss American things I can never find around here (I’m looking at you, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups).

It’s pretty amazing, for example, to pass the University of Valladolid’s Law School on my way to teach a class.

 

I walk through here just about every day. The sculpture on the front of the building is a fine example of early Baroque art. The columns that stand in front of the Law School are much older, probably from the late Medieval or early Renaissance period (early sixteenth century). The truly marvelous thing for an American to notice about this place is that, after hundreds of years, it still serves as the university’s Law School. One of the things I love about where I live is that I am surrounded by living history. Everything old and beautiful continues to serve a public, social end that is relevant to the present day, often the same one it had when it was created.

After passing by the School of Law, I have to move through “La Antigua” which is a very old street that flanks the main cathedral. The cathedral, although historical, showing off a blend of Medieval and Renaissance styles, is actually not Spain’s best example of religious architecture. The cathedrals in Burgos or Leon, cities to the north of Valladolid, are truly amazing. The one in Burgos is also the burial place of the Cid! Valladolid’s cathedral sort of pales in comparison to those other ones. However, the street is amazing and walking past the cathedral, so close to its enormous stone walls, makes me feel very small. In “La Antigua” you feel like you have traveled back in time for a moment, actually, because you are surrounded by high stone walls that have stood there for hundreds of years. I took pictures of the opposite side of “La Antigua,” in the area that approaches it, on the Plaza de la Universidad, to capture the enclosed and very ancient feel this religious architecture can communicate to a passer-by. Unfortunately, you can’t see “La Antigua” from this angle, but you can imagine how it might feel to walk past this cathedral which is flanked on all sides by other old buildings. Some time I want to photograph “La Antigua” to share how it looks. It’s very popular in the summer for sitting at an outdoor café to have a drink or a coffee.

Photo May 14, 17 18 50

This city has much more to offer than ancient ruins and monuments, though. I love to walk and there is so much to take advantage of in this pedestrian-friendly place, including plenty of greenery. Two rivers pass through the city: The Esgueva and The Pisuerga. The Esgueva River isn’t that impressive to look at in Valladolid. It seems more like a stream. In fact, before it was redirected by engineers in the nineteenth century, it was a delta that interrupted further urban development, as the river actually ends in the city. They decided to combine all the little stretches of running water into one larger stream that nowadays empties into the Pisuerga River. Walking along the Esgueva is very pleasant though, and you can watch the ducks swimming around and see people fishing or just chit-chatting with each other.

Photo Jun 04, 8 57 38

So yes, I like living here. You’re probably saying, “Duh! It’s Spain!” If you’re saying that, you’re partially correct. I love Spain. However, it isn’t a perfect country. Living abroad allows one to realize that no place is better than any other. As they say, “the grass is always greener.” I think it’s important to be positive, though, and appreciate the great things one has.

Check out my backside

This post is all about an x-rated cross stitch photo. Did you get the joke? I mean really… x-rated, cross stitch, x-stitch, backside. Slapping your knee yet? Last week my post about getting back into cross stitch inspired an interesting — and humorous — conversation about the wrong side of cross stitch. It also made me remember my mom inspecting my and my sister’s cross stitch projects. You must know that my sister is 14 years older than me and at that time I was 11 years old and she was already 25. Already a very accomplished cross stitcher, she did not need anyone – not even Mom – telling her what to do with her work. My poor older sister, depending on what she was working on, would either be labeled the “lazy” one or the “genius.” The problem with this is that my sister was never the lazy one. She was the smart one. This is the way it should have been, since she was thinking about the final product. Wall hanging? Lots of shades of one color or few colors? Table linen? Pillow? Cushion?

My sister the “lazy” one demonstrates that the purpose of the finished piece, its size, and the pattern you’re following will determine how “messy” or “neat” your wrong side can be if you’re more like my mother or more like my practical sister. Older sis could glare at Mom in the eyes and say, “It’s a frickin’ fridge magnet two inches wide with 10 shades, no harm done.” My mother was wrong and her daughter was right, and consistently so, given the way she cared for and then didn’t care for the wrong side of her cross stitching. She gave not a single hoot about our vigilant, hawkish matriarch who didn’t seem to care much about her lack of tactfulness. Unfortunately, my Mom somehow convinced brainwashed me that the back of the cross stitch was just as important as the front and, even after so many years, I seem to have not lost the principles she taught me, the same ones my sister very bravely defied day after day if she was working on something not backside-critical. In a short amount of time my mother even got me into using multiple needles with different colors, “parking” them and then stitching with them alternatively, to keep the reverse side neat and keep track of the chart without having to rip out much due to mistakes from miscounting gaps to be filled in later.

Please, have a long gander at my backside!

Photo Jun 26, 22 16 06

In my humble opinion, this is very neat and tidy. It has to be because it is going to be a cushion, which means there can’t be a lot of concentrated bulk in particular areas of the fabric. It needs to lie flat.

Here’s how far I’ve got on my project, by the way:

Photo Jun 26, 22 16 36

You might recall there was more gold towards the center. It was wrong and I had to pull it out. It wasn’t traumatic to undo it but it inspired me to start simultaneously working with the two shades of “gold” called for because they are really difficult to distinguish from each other: DMC 832 and 833 are my bane. 833 is like a bright gold color and 832 is a darker bronze color. As little skeins all bunched up you can see that one is obviously darker than the other. As double strands they look identical to me. I got so confused, let me tell you. My initial strategy was to stitch up large areas with 833 and then fill in the gaps with 832. So, I messed up and ripped, because I can’t count that much without letting my brain go numb. Working with both at the same time somehow makes it easier for me to stitch away without messing it up thanks to the blue and green areas that fill in what the general gold color outlines. I always park 832 to the left and 833 to the right to keep them distinguishable. That simple. Really, not a problem. I can work with three or four needles instead of two.  Plenty of parking here!