Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Creative Process, IX

The top of the cabin quilt is done. If that's not enough, the quilt has named itself. I usually find that the name of a quilt comes to me without much conscious thought, and that was the case with this one. I just have to hope that the English language skills of the Norwegian brothers to whom the quilt is going are such that they get the humor. What better name for a quilt destined for a mountain cabin owned by brothers than "Sibling Revelry." That said, I still need to pin the layers of the quilt together, which is not an easy task and, then, quilt it and do the binding. It's not done yet, and it won't be for a while. But here's the top, a bit less than six feet by six feet. If I were making this quilt again, I would make the cabin image smaller and more subtle. I'm not about to change it now, though. Somehow, I find it difficult to imagine that the recipients will look at this and say, "Gee, it would have looked a lot better if the cabin image were smaller."

The creative work isn't over yet, because I still have to quilt this. I'm thinking of doing some black lines on the porch to acentuate the diagonal direction of the boards. The original photo had space between the boards, which I did not show here, and the black lines might serve as a reasonable replacement. I may quilt some detail into the grass at the base of the cabin of the trees to each side. We shall see. When it's done, I'll try to post some close-up shots that show what I did. In the meantime, I need to piece the backing and then do the layering and pinning. I've already cut the binding strips though I have yet to sew them together and press them.

Since it also comes under the creative heading, I have finished working in all the loose yarn ends on what I called "the amazing thing" in an earlier post. Here is it, finished and laid out in my foyer. For reference, it is approximately 9.5 feet long and 3.5 feet wide. Next up is felting/fulling it. If you're not familiar with the process, I'll put it in the washer, with detergent, on a hot temperature but low volume setting, with a couple pairs of old blue jeans and let the heat, soap, and agitation shrink it. I'll stop and restart the process until it has shrunk to an acceptable degree, after which I'll let the wash cycle finish. Then, if it's shrunk to appropriate dimensions, I'll see if I can craft a sword bag out of it. If it's too large, I'll see if I can shrink it some more. If it's too small (which I doubt it will be), I'll use it as a rug or throw. Hey, there's always a use for things like that around here.

My newest project is a muff. Remember muffs? They look like a tube. Your hands go inside and stay warm. My friend the artist and art teacher gave me a rather large bag of yarn she spun and dyed years ago but never used. Because I think the yarn should go back to her, I wanted to make her something that showed off all the different kinds of yarn. Here's the pattern I'm using. It's not going to use up all the yarn, so I may try to make three, one for my friend the artist and art teacher and one for each of her lovely daughters. The muffs are knitted on circular needles, and the first one is knitting up fairly quickly.

Finally, coming up in two weeks is the Fall Fiber Festival at Montpelier, home of James Madison. I'll be working there on Saturday, at the booth of Mangham Manor, my friendly neighborhood sheep farm. I'm not a bad salesperson when it comes to a product I believe in, such as Girl Scout cookies or Mangham Manor yarn. I will take various bags, shawls, and a sweater that I have knitted with their yarn, which reminds me that I really need to felt the jacket I mentioned in the last post, since that's also made from their yarn. The best part? I work for fiber, which means that I may well leave with all the yarn I can handle for the next year if I hadn't just discovered New Zealand possum yarn, which I absolutely must have just for the heck of it. I'm going to order some of that right now, as soon as I proofread this post and publish it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Over the Moat (book review)

If there's any question about whether a book called Over the Moat can count for the "building" category of Annie's What's in a Name - 2 challenge, the subtitle is Love Among the Ruins of Imperial Vietnam. If "moat" doesn't count as a building, then "ruins" does. I actually read The Two Towers with the intention of using it for the building category but could never get motivated to write the review. It was different with this book.

I found this book by accident while searching for books to read before heading to Vietnam. This one especially intrigued me because it was set in Hue, the city in which we would be living for a month. I got about ten pages into it in the weeks before we left on the trip before, in the chaos that was my life, losing it. I searched high and low but could not find it. I finally figured I must have left it somewhere because I remembered that I had been reading it while waiting for a doctor's appointment. Oh well, I thought, **it happens. We went on the trip, came home, settled back in, and then, about two weeks ago, there the book was, on the bottom shelf of the coffee table in the living room, a place I must have looked in my search. As I said, **it happens.

But guess what? Reading this book before we went on the trip would not have been as magical as reading it after the trip was. Having visited and experienced Hue, I could relate to the book in a much more intimate way than I ever would have before going. Before I go into why, though, let me recap the book. In late 1992, the author, James Sullivan, was bicycling from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi with a friend in order to write about the trip for a cycling magazine. When all his clothes were drenched in a rainstorm in Hue, he happened into a clothing store in search of replacements. He found the clerk there, Thuy (pronounced Twee) attractive, and ended up getting her address so that he could visit her that evening. He and his friend never did find Thuy's house--there was a mixup with the house number--but Thuy and her sister found them after going out looking for them when they did not appear as promised. Jim did resume the cycling trip as scheduled but could not get Thuy out of his mind as he and his friend took the train from Hanoi back to Ho Chi Minh City and, then, home. Hopping off the train in Hue, he decided to see where things might go. He ended up "competing" with other suitors for Thuy's affection before he returned to the States. Thuy had told him that she would never make a life with him until he had lived in Hue for a year so that she could see his real character. He did return to Vietnam and, despite those other suitors, one of whom was a policeman who handled immigration issues, the story had a happy ending.

There were descriptions of Hue that jumped out at me because I had been there. One example: "Hue inspired that kind of poetry in people. Pedaling north on Highway 1, I'd found that the Vietnameses loved Hue unconditionally. It didn't matter whether you were from the north or the south, a truck driver told me ouside Saigon. "Everybody agree about Hue." It wasn't the guidebook stuff he was talking about, not the Imperial Citadel or the Forbidden Purple City or the pagodas as much as it was something else, less easily defined, qualities better communicated by gesture, by the aroma swirling off a bowl of bun bo Hue soup and a limning of moonlight over the Perfume River, by whispers and by secret. An old woman in Danang had told me that on quiet nights gold seeped out of the ground in Hue: Believe it. Back in Hue now, I was prepared to believe that anything was possible."

And: "If Hue was the most regal city in Vietnam, it could also lay claim--perhaps mroe than any other in the country--to the Vietnamese soul. Its landmark pagodas had turned out Vietnam's most renowned Buddhist monks: Thich Quang Duc, who set himself ablaze in a Saigon intersection in 1963, hailed from Thien Mu Pagoda; and Thich Nhat Hanh, the prolific exile who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King in the 1960s, was reared at Tu Hieu Pagoda."

And remember Mr. Cu, the owner of the Mandarin Cafe and the person who developed a walking tour of Hue that the sons and I took one very, very hot day? He was in here, too, mentioned as having just begun the photography we marveled at in his brochure and on the walls of his cafe. Had I read the book before we went, I doubt I would have remembered the brief mention of Mr. Cu; reading it afterwards, I almost shouted with glee when I saw Mr. Cu's name.

My one complaint about the book was that its proofreading or editing was not very carefully done. I corrected more typos than I usually do in a book. Still, I would highly recommend this to anyone who has visited Hue. If you haven't visited, go first, and read the book after. It will mean much more that way.

The Unofficial End of Summer

Monday was Labor Day, another unofficial end of summer as surely as the start of school is. Labor Day was also when I was supposed to collage a box or two with some of the many random pieces of paper I brought back from the Grand Spring Adventure. Alas, I worked on the proposal for the slightly more certain that it used to be statistics book I'm supposed to be helping to write. With four publishers expecting proposal packets around October 1 and a working title (Methods and Strategies for Sample-Size Analysis: Fables in Statistical Planning), it's all more real than it's been since I was first asked to get involved with it a bit over two years ago.

I am making progress on the cabin quilt as evidenced below. The cabin piece shown most recently has now been surrounded by two rows of blocks, each six inches square. Since the photo above was taken, I've added a 1.5-inch border of black. I've also pieced enough (I hope) sets of 3.5-inch long random strips that, when pieced together will form the final border. I hope to get that added in the next day or two, after which I'll be awaiting the arrival of a new bolt of black cotton from which will spring the quilt back. I also need to check my batting supply and Joann Fabric coupons, because obtaining batting will be the next chore. Will it be done in time to send it across the pond to Norway for Christmas? What's the expression--"God willin' and the creek don't rise"? Yeah, we'll go with that.

And while I'm waiting? Well, at some point, I'll be felting this large brown thing. I almost didn't post this photo because I look like crap in it, old and drawn. It was the end of a long day, and my hair was still pulled back and sweaty from karate. But back to the large brown thing. It's a jacket, knitted incredibly large to be felted or fulled smaller. The pattern came from something called the Twist Collective; you can see what the finished jacket might (if I'm lucky) look like here.

I also have what I'm calling the "amazing thing" to keep me busy. In my downsizing zeal, I decided to use up all sorts of single skeins or leftover bits of wool yarn. I started knitting bits together, with two different colors of yarn doubled together. Some time ago, I knitted a large wool afghan and felted or fulled it, thinking it might end up large enough for me to fashion it into a sword bag. Well, it didn't, so it now serves as a magic carpet on which my four-foot high stuffed orangutan sits each day. The amazing thing was for the same purpose, to be felted or fulled into something out of which I could craft a sword bag. The only problem is that I've gotten a bit carried away, and I'm betting that this one may end up too big. I'm almost out of yarn to be gotten rid of, so I'll be taking a before picture soon. The after picture will come much later since it's going to take me a while to work in all the loose yarn ends. I decided that rather than have large random places of color, I'd have many more smaller areas, so each color gets used for only a couple of rows at most. And I change colors randomly, one at a time rather than changing both colors at the same time.

And that's where things stand on several fronts. There is other news to report. I've been invited to test for my black belt in Myo Sim kendo in November, but I don't want to jinx anything by talking too much about it. I'm going sailing on Saturday. Younger son is back in the dorm and feeling quite at home there. His room here has been declared a disaster area and off limits for now. Life goes on. I need to write a book review now, after which I'll watch Obama's speech on health care, after which I shall take fountain pen in hand and write a letter the old-fashioned way.