Wednesday, 30 June 2010

quick before I forget

I've been meaning to try my hand at these for a while and really they couldn't be easier. I'm writing to share and so I don't forget because there are surprisingly few recipes I could find out there. I made double this quantity and that saw me texting neighbours to offload excess! This lot makes 3 big or 4 medium sized okonomiyaki.

Crack an egg in a bigish bowl.
Add 3/4 cup of water or dashi or veg stock and give it a whisk.
Sift in a cup of flour and whisk until combined.
Using a big spoon mix in 1/4 small head of cabbage finely shredded - plus any other bits you like (I added a little bit of carrot and spring onion but meat, octopus etc are all OK).

Fry big spoonfuls in the fry pan with a litttle peanut oil over a medium to high heat, squishing out flat to make them pancake like.

Plate up with okonomiyaki or tonkatsu sauce (brown sauce) and a squiggle of kewpie mayonaise and cut into wedges pizza style.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

it's late and I should be sleeping

I'm just stopping by to say thank you for your lovely comments on my last post. It does make me feel particularly blushingly proud to be complimented on my thinking and writing (there's a big part of me that feels this is my true calling). The feeling that I have nailed something in words for people, especially something important, is a good one. The best. And it feels wonderful to be tuned into what is going on and to be looking forward to what happens next.

Right now I am off to bed - later than I wish I was. I have just finished the first week of D's absence on the current trip up North and as usual I am very tired, more than a little over the children (who have both been sick and on anti biotics, sleeping badly, housebound, missing their dad and generally being shitty - kaching!), feeling indebted to my neighbours on all sides and completely scattered. Plus I am pretty sure there's a cold lurking in my chest but I'm playing chicken with it right now and I remain hopeful.

But really, if you took the sleep deprivation out of the equation, I'm actually doing OK this time around. We've only eaten take away once, I took lifeline off the speed dial and I haven't even cried. Maybe I'm learning a thing or two after all this time.

Friday, 25 June 2010


For those of us living here in Oz who pay even the slightest attention to politics (which given our compulsory voting should be everyone), the last few days have been biggies. Days that will be discussed in high school politics classes, political science tutes and women's studies lectures for many decades to come. It has been a few days when dragging myself away from screens and speakers has been very hard indeed. I have been a total media whore.

There have been so many fascinating aspects to our change of Prime Minister that I hardly know where to start and I was thinking I wouldn't blog about it since the talk is everywhere and my own thoughts somewhat scrambled. But really, how could I not comment on such a monumental change?

For a start we have a woman PM for the first time. I have mixed emotions about playing this up - I think Julia Gillard is a deeply impressive politician and candidate for the job and that has nothing to do with her being female. I do not want to trivialise her achievements as an individual by branding her as a gender first and foremost. She is smart and calm and empathetic and rational and funny and strategic and communicative and did I mention clever. She doesn't seem to me to be pursuing power for her own edification. I think she's Ace.

But it would also be a complete whitewash to pretend that the elevation of a woman to this post is anything short of a major major milestone for women. We have a long and grubby history of stomping on smart political women and thwarting their careers over the kinds of things we happily cover up or overlook in their male colleagues. She has opened a door that has never been opened before and this is not to be underestimated. That my children will grow up in a world where that door is open is a thing to be celebrated long and hard. That anyone might think it is NOT a significant thing, that it seems entirely reasonable that half the population have never produced a candidate considered worthy is something I find deeply shocking.

I think the other big thing for me in this tangled up mess of thoughts is the social commentary about the process by which these events unfolded. That so many people view the change in leadership as a treasonous act leaves me somewhat cold. I've listened to talk back radio and watched TV coverage and read the tweets and posts about the viciousness of this knifing, how loyal Labor supporters won't support a party that behaves this way, poor innocent Kevin, scheming Gillard and the right factions blah blah blah. There's been quite a lot of talk from people, and Kevin himself, about how he was elected by the people and how the members of the Labor Party has no right to remove him from office.

But that's absolutely not true, and perpetuating this idea is to fundamentally misrepresent our system of government (not to mention overlook recent polls which cast doubt on his popular support anyhow). We as voters vote for local representatives and by default for the party they are belong to. Those elected members who are part of the party who holds the most seats gets to form government, and those elected members of government get to vote for their leader. While I understand that elections are run under the banner of the sitting leader, no party is bound to retain that leader and unless you actually live in the electorate from which the leader is elected you don't get a say about what you think of him. Sitting governments, like parties sitting in opposition, can and do change leaders all the time and for all sorts of reasons. This is not immoral, wrong or disloyal, it is the absolute nature of democracy and politics. Members of government owe no more allegiance to a sitting leader that voters owe allegiance to a sitting member of government and that's exactly why we get to vote people out and get to vote people in.

This is not just a technicality, not some point of law that misses the deeply moral conviction that so many commentators seem to feel has been violated. This is a significant part of our democratic system of checks and balances. We do not elect a president as an individual, as is done in America precisely because our system puts faith in the notion that at times a leader strays from the path that the party as a whole wishes to follow. We do not put our faith in individuals so much as organised entities, and this is reflected in the rules, but also the practices and norms of our political system. And while I make no argument for or against our political system, I do think it is unfair to criticise individuals who operate well within its rules and conventions. Anyone who thinks a sitting government headed to an election would change leaders for fun has rocks in their head! It is a significant political risk to change leaders and would only be done if the majority of members believed the risks of instability were less than the risk of sticking with the current leader - ie if you can't win an election with the current guy, then you better get someone who at least has a chance.

I don't purport to know the minutia of what took place on Wednesday, or in the days leading up to it. Whether people were mean to each other or not I can't say, but I think that the balance of reportage and commentary over the last few days and indeed in the last few weeks, months and even years, has had much to say about problems with Kevin Rudd's leadership. And what is up for question here is not whether the man is a good man or worthy or has ever been a good leader, but whether he is the right person to lead the parliamentary Labor party and thus the government right now. It is the job and the responsibility of members of the government to exercise that decision making role, just as it is the job of voters to eject a local member they no longer support - as John Howard so clearly found out at the last election!

To me the real challenge of leadership, and what remains after the heat and dust are gone, is balancing the roles of propelling forward your agenda with bringing people with you. This is true of all leadership situations, but for elected leaders (as opposed to a leader you have to at least pretend to follow since they are, say, your boss) the feedback loop is direct and brutal. If you fail to lead effectively you lose your job and it doesn't matter whether you judge your own performance to be sound - your vote doesn't count. The government as well as newspapers and other media conducts polls to try and gauge how the voters feel they are doing and that tells them something about the performance of the leader. And recent polls have been damning of Kevin as leader. We all know polls are flawed as true predictors of electoral success, but they are none the less significant markers of trends and attitudes. But it is the people who work with the Prime Minister day in and day out - the other members of his government - who are vested with the power (and responsibility) to ultimately judge his performance. How he leads them, as well as the country are the criteria by which they must choose.

And choose they have done. Rudd's widely reported and substantiated leadership style of highly centralised decision making and narrow consultation has not surprisingly made members of his government vote for a change of leadership. I have heard lots of stories from people who have worked with Rudd and in his government that paints a very unpleasant picture of life under his leadership - both in terms of policy and process for government and workplace and personal practices. They didn't believe it was working for them or for government to be led in that way and acting on that is not just an OK thing to do, it is a good thing to do - to reflect, to evaluate and to embrace change where change is warranted. I think it is a sad indictment of Kevin's personal ambitions that he could not understand or be persuaded about the need for him to step aside. If he had been a better leader it should not have come as a surprise to hear that his followers were not following him anymore, and he would have had the good grace upon hearing the news to know his time was over.

I have remarked before that politics is a brutal game, but I don't think that's because it's run by brutes. I am not of the generalised politician bashing persuasion. Perhaps it is working in government, perhaps it has come from some of the very impressive politicians I have had the chance to work with, but I don't subscribe to the notion that because it is a rough and difficult game the players are all bastards. In the main politicians are motivated by service and doing good. I may not agree with what they do or how things turn out, but very few of them are the sinister figures we are used to portraying them as. The work long hours in incredibly unsatisfying work - a hideous mix of drawn out tedious mind numbing processes and adrenaline fuelled crisis driven roller coaster machinations. And no matter what they do, airtime will be devoted to every single thing they didn't do, or over looked, or messed up or fell over and they will be torn apart in vicious personal attacks and no one will ever stand up for them and once they fall from favour even their colleagues will run from them (because electoral disfavour is highly contagious). Brutal.

So yeah, I am watching all this unfold and the tears that Kevin sheds are real, and I feel empathy for what he has lost and how diabolical it must feel to have fallen from grace and how many things he did right. He worked hard and long, and let's also be clear, he led the party into government and that was a wonderful, meaningful victory. But I also know he understood the rules when he stepped up to the plate, he knew the deal and he was happy to play the game while he was winning and only cried foul when he lost possession of the ball. In the end he claimed the government and its achievements as his own at his own peril. In glossing over the role of the party he represented he made himself an outcast from it.

I haven't got the guts for politics, most of us don't, but I don't feel good about vilifing those who do. I think those of us on the outside have little to no idea of what it takes to make democracy work and so we probably aren't the best critics of the choices politicians make in how they run their governments. I don't think we can know what's necessary and what isn't - and that's exactly why I think our system doesn't make the choice of leader ours, and why no matter what happens or why, there's always a bunch of people who are shocked and appalled. It's easy to sit in judgement when you really don't know much about it. It's easy too to mouth off about how easy it would be to do better when you know you will never be called on to test your claims. Just like any job, it might look easy from the outside, but it rarely is.

So I'm staying tuned big time for all the mini dramas (Lindsay Tanner leaving politics! Adam Bandt with a good chance to get Melbourne for the Greens! Who will be on the front bench! What will all this mean for the Victorian election!) and trying not to get too frustrated with all the ill informed hot air that inevitably comes out a time like this. And above it all I am hoping that Julia continues, slow and steady, in the manner she has so far. I hope she pulls a rabbit out over the mining super profit tax (don't get me started about that) and manages to bring it home, and shortly after shits all over the mad monk and returns for a second term.

Friday, 18 June 2010

and then I woke up and it was all a dream...aka the best day evah

exhibit 1

I got out of bed and didn't look too bad, but I realised it was definitely time I gave this skirt a bit of attention. The fit has gotten a bit wonky around the bottom of the yoke and when I pull down a tight fitting T, it wrinkles up a bit. So I headed down to do a spot of sewing when I remembered that my number 1 priority for a while has been to make a new doona cover.

exhibit 2

Teegs and Lara have been trialling up some exciting sample basecloths of late and when I was on a visit recently I managed to wangle myself some lovely organic slubby natural jersey knit with charcoal acacia print. It's a heavier weight than I would generally use for tops and I sat with it for a while trying to work out exactly what it should be made up into. When I hit on the idea of a jersey doona cover, and managed to locate some black jersey that was organic, GOTS certified and made in Australia I was off at the trot! But as I started churning my way through meter after meter of stitching I felt the thing I feel every now and then when I am working on something where the grunt factor of my machine really counts. My sewing machine is really crap. No, that's an over statement. My base model Janome machine has done me excellent service over the last 15 odd years. It has done more kms than most people's machines do in a lifetime, it has sewn leather and quilts and winter coats, toys, felt and more bathers and jersey than you might think possible. It has never broken down, it has never really failed, I have loved it long. But it is S L O W, and small. And as I sat sewing I wished I had a machine at least on par with the ones all my beginner students have. So I stood up and walked out to the kitchen and had a conversation with the man in my life about thinking it might be time, at last, after a few years of thinking and justifying and not acting, to act. And it took a very few words before he was pushing me out the door with the car keys in hand to go and seize the day.

exhibit 3

So I was convinced by a very heavy price reduction (end of financial year sale+discontinued model=bargain!) to get something a bit more than a simple upgrade. It has some truly lovely bells and whistles, but the real selling point to me was the full metal construction and the size of the motor. This is a workhorse machine, as close to an industrial as they come in the domestic models, and well suited to high volume sewing. I felt giddy as soon as I decided to actually get it and I'm still kind of drifting around not quite believing it's mine.

exhibit 4

The new machine thrust into action and doona cover thus produced. The machine did purr and the cover is soft and snuggly and a delight to the eye, so all round very very pleasing.

And then it was time to dash off and get the boy child from childcare and when I got back (still walking about a foot off the ground) D announced that now my 'real' birthday present was here, the one which hadn't arrived on the actual day. On the actual day the kids had given me a book each, one of which had been a request of mine, and D had made comment about the difficulty of getting one of the other books that had been on my wishlist. So when D said the real present was here I figured the other book had arrived from book depository. That it was wrapped in a box did seem odd, but I swear I was still totally expecting to find in praise of shadows or hand dyeing as I levered the top off the box.

exhibit 5

Can you believe it? I tell you, I totally can't. I mean, I know D knows me well enough to know that if there was anything I'd want in the way of outrageously extravagant toys, an iPad would be it. But I so wasn't expecting it. I'm still kind of overcome. I mean, wow! And on top of the whole new sewing machine thing, it's just like holy heck, I've been touched by some kind of magic! And it's an especially big thing because D is not in general a big one for either spending lots of money or techno toys - not in a bad way, he just doesn't see the need to consume much. In many ways he keeps me honest, or more honest than I fear I might otherwise be when it comes to indulging in my consumption wants. So it's especially overwhelming to have all this giving me exactly what I want stuff, I'm really, well, there just aren't words for how excited and pleased and honoured and grateful and lucky I feel. I'll just say it's a lot.

Thank you D, you are a continual surprise, in the very best possible way. Mwah!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

what i wore today june 17

I taught a very good group at sew inn today, and it was lovely to pull on my outfit and realise not only was it all homemade, it was all Tessuti fabric too! I felt good all day - both comfortable and stylish. Very satisfying.

And now I am off to slip into these -

New silk satin PJ pants made from some really lovely remnants I picked up on my birthday at the Clegs annual remnant sale. Even at the super bargain remnant price these are still definitely a luxury item - and to get them out of the not really big enough piece I had to cut creatively and make a very wide doubled over sideways cuff on the bottom, but they are very nice. I decided some new PJs were in order when I altered/mended for the second time the really crappy ones I bought to wear to hospital when I was pregnant with Amy. I figure at 42 I deserve something better than target gym jersey pj pants 2 sizes too big. I had plans to make a lovely coordinating top (another too small remnant I was puzzling how to make fit) but whilst standing in the queue at ghastly chain store central buying children's gifts for weekend birthday parties I spied a plus size slubby cotton long sleeve T-shirt reduced to $5 and I am ashamed to say I saw an out and took it. So after the jeans in March that racks up as my second clothing purchase so far this year for anyone in my household - all up still under $50.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

just like a queen

Queen's birthday long weekend often coincides with my birthday and the extra day almost makes up for the crappy weather one has on a midwinter birthday. Thank you for all the lovely well wishes on the blog, facebook, twitter and RL. I'm definitely feeling the love.
I am happy to report it was a truly excellent few days - great meals out, lots of fun, a delicious breakfast in bed, a sleep in, presents from near and far. I even slipped in a wee refashioning project that converted a long merino tunic I made a few years back and never really wore much into a pleated hem top I absolutely love. (I added this photo below - it's not great I'm standing all awkward and pregnant like so you'll just have to take my word that it looks better than this in real life!)

And in between all the other stuff I got a lot of knitting done. So much I'd say I am about half way through Amy's Tiny Tea Leaves - in 5 days! I'm pretty darn excited I can tell you. Might be time to get some dyeing done in preparation for my next adult garment!

As I set our for work this morning it was still mostly dark, and it was the same when I got home. But as I was walking to the tram in another fully homemade outfit I was thinking I actually quite like my clothes at the moment, it's a shame I'm not documenting them more. It's almost like now that I'm feeling like I have made some progress in dressing myself less like an overweight slob I've lost the impetus to out myself and force my own hand. I'll try to do better though I suspect that until the days get longer I won't be doing too well.

It's a busy week this week. I had to try and shoehorn 2 days of work into one (hence the setting off in the dark this morning) and as has been the consistent theme in recent times, there's been some challenges in that. I'm keeping things together but it's not fun. I do wish I was in a position to blog about it more - there's much to be learned from reflecting on and analysing our work - but it's not wise so I will exercise some uncharacteristic restraint.

I also have 2 days of teaching this week, and D is off for a few weeks of teaching up north on the weekend. Wil has also come down with a nasty chesty cough so I'm hoping against hope that (a) he gets better fast (b) Amy doesn't follow suit (c) I don't follow suit and (d) if a, b and/or c don't happen it doesn't peak just as D's plane takes off. Totally par for the course but would shit me to tears none the less.

So you know, I'm off to sit on the couch, knit and mentally rest up.

Friday, 11 June 2010

a very nice brew

I know I've been leading up to this post for quite some time - there's been more than a few mentions of the knitting of the tea leaves.

I started out by asking you all for pattern recommendations after I determined that I really wanted, what I would really wear and what would look good on me. I also had some pretty clear ideas about how best to use the luscious soft, warm and slightly fuzzy possum and merino yarn I had stashed.

Next came a rather traumatic dyeing session. It ended up OK, but it took a very long time over a dye pot and a very conscious decision to be happy with something I hadn't planned on.

And then bit by bit I've worked away at something that I really hoped would work out well. I've said before I don't knit a lot of adult garments and my success rate hasn't been good and this was a project in which I set out with the determination to do everything I could to put the odds in my favour.

I even blocked it in a totally anal fashion.

Now I have the irrefutable evidence that putting in the effort pays off. The fit is, dare I say it, perfect. As perfect as something I had sewn and cut and then altered to make it exactly right. It's warm, it's comfy, it looks great from a design and finish sense. There isn't anything I would change about it and that is most definitely a first.

So here is all the vital stats.

Pattern is Tea Leaves Cardigan, size 46"
Yarn is 450gms of posmerino 8ply/DK weight from the now closed Knittery.
Dyed tomato, then plum (=burgundy) then black (=goth purple).
It took exactly six weeks to knit, including swatching - which for me is very quick. I give big praise to swatching this one (and washing the swatch too), I very nearly knit the size down because it was closer to my actual size and I hadn't read the pattern that this was the actual garment size, not the garment for a person that size (ie with built in ease). When I swatched and did the maths I realised I should do the bigger size and again, whew disaster averted!

Modifications: As did quite a few others, I added some short rows to raise the back a bit. I did about half the stitches for one short row in each of the garter stitch bands except the cast on one. I think that was exactly right.

I also added some waist shaping - three rounds of decreases and four of increases at the centre of each front and the same in back (where you would put waist darts if you were sewing) to make the hips slightly bigger than the bust. Again, this was exactly right. It was an enormous help to be able to try it on as I went and make sure I had the placement of the shaping right - taking the stitches off onto waste yarn was a bore, but in hindsight absolutely worth it.

I had to go up a needle size to 5mm for the sleeves after I realised my gauge in the round was tighter than in the straight of the body. Apparently not uncommon, though I didn't know about it till I started trawling the rav boards to see if anyone else thought the sleeves were a bit tight. Again, ripping back was a bore, but again totally worth it.

I made the garter bands on the sleeves, bottom and button bands slightly wider. Like lots of designers, some of the finer details are thought about much in the resizing and it seemed more like the proportions of the original garment. I am also slightly concerned about the button bands sagging where the buttonholes are - since this happens all the time with knitwear. I haven't done it yet but I bought some black cotton tape and I intend to try sewing it on the wrong side of the button band is it does start to sag.

I did less decreases on the sleeves and I did them later too - again a product of the trying on as you go. I found this kind of modifying really easy to work out with this pattern and can see endless variations on the basic pattern in the future!

So yeah, I'm well pleased with myself. I will be wearing it on Sunday for my birthday (and the rest of today and no doubt tomorrow as well and basically showing it off every chance I get for quite a while yet. I would heartily recommend the pattern as an all round winner - especially to those who want something that is essentially very simple, but which offers the opportunity to tweak easily and with lots of trying on as you go. Just make sure you swatch and swatch well!

stuff going down

Presents! Yay!

From lovely people to celebrate getting older, greyer and hopefully wiser. Thank you friends!

Dyeing and swatching for Amy's cardi.

She's rejected the mini manu in favour of tiny tea leaves based on how fabulous mine is. Who could blame her? And delightfully it appears the Age of Pink may at last be over. Blue and green and random stripes is the order of the day so I mixed my meagre selection of blue and green dyes to make some coordinating 4 ply from the stash to be knitted two strands held together.

Speaking of tea leaves, here it is all blocking out. Quite anally, ahem. It looks fabulous but when I put it on to take pics the camera battery died, so you'll get to see it in a while. I'll do a separate post with details about mods and so on.

Here's Amy modelling her new boiled wool jersey vest (and an unstaged fully home made outfit all the way down to her socks - how cool is that?!). I had a big enough scrap left over from a jacket I made myself to cut out a rhombus, make some armholes, run some stitches over the cut edges (because 7 year old girls tend to be a bit rough with their garments) and add a couple of press studs. I used my wrap at a starting point, but the shape was very much driven by getting as much as I could out of the fabric I had. I was only after I'd made it I realised how closely it resembled a knitting pattern I currently have queued by a very talented lady. It was an interesting process to arrive at the same basic shape, and then see how utterly different knitted and sewn fabric can be (and made me all the more enthused about it knitting it!).

And another quicky project also for Amy (Wil actually got one too but instantly decided he didn't care to wear it). She did a spot of helping out at up at Ink and Spindle the other day and was rewarded with her very own piece of fabric in her favourite print and colourway. She sifted through the button stash and found this cute owl and the scrap box and found some bits of red silk and voila.

And somewhere I saw this idea about a shaved asparagus pizza, can't recall where, so I made some. I added a pan full of finely sliced and softened leeks, some generous dollops of garlic dip, capers and olives and it was very very nice indeed.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

I think I can, I think I can....

This morning before I left for work I cast off the second sleeve for the tea leaves cardi.

On the tram on the way to work I wove in some ends and picked up the stitches for the first button band. Getting button bands right is hard so I am semi resigned to the likelihood I will have to rip back and do this at least once more.

Even with some setbacks built in I am pretty sure I will have this garment finished, blocked and ready to wear this weekend to celebrate another year passing. Which is very very exciting.

I am always very cautious to start knitting adult garments (especially plus size ones!) since it's such a lot of knitting and such a lot of yarn, and my confidence about ending up with a wearable and loved item at the end is fairly low, but this time I think I might have nailed it. Given that I started to knit this just under six weeks ago, I feel I may have turned a corner in my thinking on this subject.

At least in part I have to say Ravelry makes all the difference. The ability to look at other people's attempts at a pattern is a huge advantage, you can see who looks good in it, how often it comes out looking like the styled shots that come with the pattern, what people do that makes it look less than ideal. Looking through a gallery of yarn choices, degrees of ease, pattern modifications, common problems and mistakes all remove variables from the mix. One of the reasons I chose tea leaves for this project was the consistently good results people seemed to get.

I've also decided that unseamed garments, those knit in one piece, are generally easier to finish well, seem to knit faster, are easier to alter to fit and generally look better on. I'm telling my current lot of students that I think 'mastering' this construction style opens up a lot more options faster for beginners and generally results on better looking results and I really wish I'd worked this out long ago.

But I would also heartily recommend anyone who is feeling a bit nervous about adult garment knitting to read this excellent series about choosing garments to flatter your shape. And now that I really understand about gauge and ease as well as shape, I put a lot more time into preparation after pattern choice too. The right yarn knitted at the right tension and good garment sizing makes all the difference in the world.

So next up will be a mini manu cardi for Amy I think and then a good basic warm winter jumper for me (so I can finally pass on the enormous dropped shoulder boxy bulky one I've had since mum and I knitted it in the early 80's. Ouch!). I am thinking either the Ingenue or the Hourglass. Opinions?

Saturday, 5 June 2010

can't talk, busy adding new things to the to do list

It's gotten completely out of hand. Seriously. I'm taking the unusual step of making this work in progress public (it's over there in the side bar...).

I accidentally got lost in Ravelry a few days ago and woaw, if my hands could take it I'd do nothing but knit. Is it just me or is there an absolute explosion of great patterns popping up right now? I'm almost finished my tea leaves cardigan and I am absolutely in love with it. It used way less yarn than I thought it would - so now there's enough left over for me to make the mini manu for Amy. Since I almost knit the adult version for myself this will be a good chance to try the pattern out.

And then I went to help some friends with a spot of product testing and now I have some fabric that's really messing with my mind because I just can't figure out what it should become. I find it very puzzling, it almost wants to be quite a lot of things and yet it isn't quite any of them.

There's a whole stack of lovely fabrics in my I really want to use this right now box, and a fast approaching increase in work days means more work clothes plus less potential sewing time and energy. So the to do list has quite a selection of those too.

And I really really want to get my dress form properly fitted. My success with wraps last weekend has me thinking a bit more creatively about garment construction and layering pieces but it would be so much easier to do it on a form. And I was inspired by the method on Gertie's blog but I'm not sure I can devote a whole exhausting day to it.

I'm totally full of ideas and yet I'm not really getting much done. The workroom is still a pigsty and I can't get the momentum to do work until I can at least find the table to work on, and I am not getting closer to that either.

Instead I baked another batch of these, which really are just magnificent, especially when brushed with the pomegranate honey I started steeping the week before last. And this batch had a few variations since I didn't even bother checking stores until I started mixing and then discovered I had almost no plain white flour (so I used about two thirds wholemeal) and no brown sugar (so I used demera). So the texture is quite different to the last but no less achingly moreish.

I also got out of the house so D and I could go see Animal Kingdom, which I found powerful and compelling and very finely crafted (although it most certainly did not pass the Bechdel test. Patriarchy rides again I guess.) It brought The Boys to mind in many ways, not least for the role and nature of the matriarch. There are some scary worlds out there.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

in the bubble

When you have been away from it for a while, doing creative work can offer unexpected things. It is surprising how quickly such familiar things can be forgotten. At this stage of my life there should be nothing that surprises me about a stint of making but I wonder if part of why I love it so much is that no amount of repetition takes away from the uniqueness of each creation. The choosing, the indecision, the second guessing, the surging confidence, the sudden fear, the disaster, the resurrection, the final reveal.

And the wearing of the things I have made, deeply imbued with the memory and feeling of that creative process is such a rich experience, always richer than I remember it.

As though that wasn't enough, compliments on the wearing are a whole other layer, slathered on top. And the admirations of fellows who themselves know those feelings, who have travelled those paths, indeed who may have gently nudged me along or picked me up when things were sliding downhill, that admiration makes me feel shamefully proud. The cherry on the top of the 60% cocoa ganache and pecan praline just slathered all over it.

I took a very long list indeed with me to craft camp. A list that helped me gather supplies, a list that helped me gather my thoughts, a list that I referred to each time I needed to gather my energy to start the next thing. I never expected to complete it, that wasn't the point, but it was long enough and varied enough to offer something no matter what mood I found myself in. Simple things, complicated things, useful things, frivolous thing, new ideas and ones whose execution was well overdue.

It's not just the making of course. The compound effects of other people are always underestimated. And it doesn't matter that they weren't generally making garments, or even that they were not all actively making. It sounds so simple to say that other people make suggestions, offer advice, help you decide, provide you with the occasional critical addition to your supply box (like a length of perfectly matched ribbon all the way from Paris, thank you Al!), or even that their projects give you ideas and inspire you.

That's all true and important and lovely, but all those things don't come close to describing the change in the air, the sense of purpose, the camaraderie, the way in which there is no need to explain or justify why you might want to knit a pair of leg warmers for a garden statue, or start your first quilt for no other reason than because, well you just felt like it and heck start a second on the same day and stay up until 4am cutting and piecing.

Why even if you don't feel like doing making yourself you might want to wander amongst others who are, touching and asking questions. Why you get so much more done and in such a different state when you can turn off that whole other side of life which impinges on and taints the making. The constant inner (and sometimes outer) dialogue about best use of one's time, the justification, the rationale, the confidence, the shutting out of other demands and thoughts.

I've come to think that it is almost as though makers emit some kind of energy that grows exponentially more powerful when combined with others, and as time passes. And that energy creates a kind of force field, a membrane, that keeps the world out and the creativity in. An energy that is more potent than chocolate and mixed lollies and more insulating than an ipod with noise reduction headphones on a crowded train. Inside the bubble anything is possible, everything is free.

I am trying hard to avoid the worst kinds of cliches and emotional sweeteners but it is difficult to analyse the feeling without coming back to the suspicion that the essence of people's creativity is somehow visible inside the bubble. Infectious, nourishing, playful, warm, beautiful.

In its own way being inside the bubble is quite exhausting. Like a moth round a flame I find it extraordinarily difficult to drag myself off to bed, no matter what resolutions I made beforehand, and once there I find it very hard to sleep. The absence of parental responsibilities and work timetables in the morning do not result in a more leisurely pace or a sleep in. It's as though my body registers the minimum sleep allotment possible and my eyes spring open while everyone else is still asleep. I am compelled out of bed, hungry for a moment alone to enjoy the buzz in the air before others wake and arrive and the hum pitches up. Before the pelvic muscle challenging laughter begins and the sugar flows and the adrenaline takes over.

I hate to leave, but it also seems right when I do. The bubble is not real life - it's not a replacement for real life - and as people leave the bubble seems to drain of its own accord. The magic evaporates and the bubble doesn't so much burst as become thinner and thinner until it's imperceptible. For now I'm back in real life I am neither insulated nor overstimulated, but I know that membrane is there still and the next time I find myself in the orbit of other makers we'll feel the pull towards each other. Our respective bubbles will merge and fill.

A hearty thanks to my fellow travellers for a wonderful time and the inspired Jan for making the place where it all happens.