Friday, January 29, 2016

"The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society"

A friend loaned me her copy of this book, which she's read for a book club. I'm a sucker for anything about those channel islands during World War II. Did you ever watch the mini-series, Island at War? Loved that one too. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was a blazing fast read, and very fun.

First off, its format. It's epistolary, entirely composed of letters written among the dozen or so people who play a part in the plot. Juliet, a young woman, new writer, just survived the war in London, is the protagonist. While looking for a new book idea, she stumbles upon Guernsey and falls in love with the quirky people there.

I won't spoil anything for you, but it is a fun read. The author worked for years to complete it, compelled and urged by friends and family. In the end, she was too ill to finish the final revisions/rewritings, and her niece did this piece of work for her.

Voice is such an important thing. The author did a good job generally of distinguishing among the characters using their writing voices. This is no easy task; most books really only need one voice, the voice of the author or of a single character. I congratulate her on mastering this challenge. Only one other character seemed to have a voice too similar to Juliet's, in my opinion.

Here's another book to add to your to-do list!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Good Smells

Do you keep scraps of paper? I found one recently tucked into a book. I must've written it in college; the handwriting has the neat, curly, controlled look of myself then. Underneath a long quote are these words:

"from Small Blessings by Celestine Sibley"

I have no memory of the book or the author, but the quote I wrote out must've left a deep impression. Here it is. Thank you, Ms. Sibley.

"The smell of onions cooking is an inviting smell, and a good garlicky roast attracts some of us. All greens, mustard, collards, turnips smell good to us.

"Let's see what else: fat pine, wood smoke, fresh milk, new shoes, old books, new newspapers, little children, chocolate fudge, lye soap, country stores, cedar waterbuckets, clean sheets, seed bins, damp earth, candlewax, spring water, new paint, ocean breezes, ripe peaches, burning leaves, wild honey, summer rain, new mown grass, old leather ... the list is endless.
Thank heaven."

And that's it. Isn't it lovely? Somehow it spells out part of the reason I'm so happy to be living on a small farm. So many of the appealing smells she mentions are natural -- of the country and not of the city. They are mostly things you'd find in a rural setting. The city has its own allures, but its smells are generally not among them.

Ms. Sibley's book is at Amazon. I don't think I ever owned it. Whoever's copy I once read, I thank you.
"garlicky roast"

"burning leaves"
"country stores"
"old books"
What are your favorite smells?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Finishing Susan's Book

Well, that was quick! I read Susan Branch's book Tuesday, finishing it at 10:00, just in time for bed.
And I enjoyed reading it. I like a writer's voice, and sometimes if I don't enjoy her subject matter, I'll read her anyway just to hear her talk.  I understand that some of you haven't considered this book appealing. I feel that way about a LOT of books :)
This is the first of two books that together are a prequel to her other book, A Fine Romance, which appeals to my friends: an account of Susan's ocean cruise in her 60s with the man she loves, followed by a leisurely tour of England. Who can resist that?

But the grueling tale of her youth, teen years, failed marriage, and abandonment of California? Ouch.

Here's the thing. Branch says right off the bat that this book isn't about her reader. It's about her. She begins: "Some censuring readers will scornfully say, 'Why hath this lady writ her own life?'" She answers with, "because I write it for my own sake, not theirs." (This is a quote from Margaret Cavendish, 1655. Branch's book is dripping with quotes from Charles Dickens to King Solomon and everybody in between.)

And I did start marking the book (a little). I noted every time she explained her philosophy of a fairy tale life -- how she got such a philosophy (from her parents), how she tried to implement that philosophy (with sheer grit and determination), and how it was disappointed (by her husband).

I find myself bemused by Susan Branch. She quotes the Bible and loves Beatrix Potter and Julia Child and Merry Olde England. She paints and snuggles kitty cats. She loves all the things we love, doesn't she? She reads all the things we read. And when she talks to us, she sounds just like a girlfriend! She even calls us girlfriends, and I believe she knows how to be a friend. I love her blog. But I do keep a distance; I study her. In spite of the sparkling wonder of her happiness, there are things that trouble me, and she doesn't address them.

Branch was born in 1947. Her mother was born about 20 years before, so about 1927. My mother was born in 1934. I was born in 1963, the year Branch graduated high school. '27, '34, '47, '63. Much of this book was about culture and how much it changed in the '60s -- the music, the pressure on women, their behavior and dress, and particularly the expectations put on young women and young men. This is about as close as she'll get to talking about the elephant in the room: In about 1960, she'd already moved out of her parents' house, gotten a small job, and was living with her boyfriend. She was living with her boyfriend! Branch readily admits that "The '60s" (the age of rebellion and sudden, inexplicable change) didn't start until 1964. In 1960, it was still "The '50s" (the age of penny loafers, braids, hop-scotch, and good girls). Only Branch wasn't a good girl. That's the truth that she never comes out and states. I don't know why.

Something must've changed drastically in her early teen years, in her world, in her culture. Or maybe 1960s California was radically different from 1970s Mississippi. I was a teen in the late '70s. I didn't know anybody who moved in with her boyfriend. Nada. No one. Branch invokes Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra as if they were her neighbors who behaviors she was naively following. How did her parents feel when she moved in with a boy younger than her? She doesn't say. Did they approve because he was incredibly financially successful for a 21-year-old, because financial success was the value they loved most? She doesn't exactly say. She avows that her parents' generation (children in the Depression, then fighters of WW2) valued financial security and fun. How could they condemn her behavior when she was only following what they'd instilled in her?

I found the book mildly disturbing. She cries as her world falls apart, her husband plays the field, she doesn't know what to do with herself. She has no college degree, no career. She knows how to keep house, cook, garden, paint a little. In that arena of her life, she'd followed her mother's generation: keep house, stay at home, be dependent on a husband. These values only work, however, when attention to marital rules are carefully followed. She played the good little wife. He wasn't the good little husband. Only ... a good little wife doesn't live with her boyfriend for six years before marrying him.

Susan Branch is satisfied with how her life turned out, and she still believes in fairy tales and dreams come true. I'm not here to condemn her. But I do find her life a study! She presents herself as a naive, flighty, innocent girl, dancing through life with good-luck fairy dust sprinkled on her head at just the right times. But under that ... I think there's a hard-working, gritty woman with lots of determination and rigorous habits who's decided she will make her dream world happen. And she does. Not the life I'd chose for myself, but then that's the point. It's her life. If you enjoy the study, it's worth reading.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

In the January Cold

In addition to weaving, I've been doing a little of this:
People are still buying scarves. And Anna has been doing a lot of this:
She's in embroidery floss heaven! A friend sent her some cross stitch stuff. She loves it.
And Adam (Adam! Can you believe it?) has succumbed to yarn temptation. He's making a hand-knotted rug, using a Persian knot method.
 He made the frame from cedar wood scraps.
I'm wondering if his man-card is in jeopardy.
Monday night in the quite-cold, I got together with my market buddies for an evening of Mexican Train Dominoes. We all brought dinner: stuffed eggs, sausage/cheese dip with scoops, Adam's French onion soup, salad, and turtle cheesecake for dessert. I think we were more stuffed than the eggs.

How 'bout some boat shots? At Saturday's farmers' market a lady strolled around with a baby and a few rambunctious boys. Actually, the oldest teenage boy came first, carrying the baby. They'd clearly just crawled out of bed.
They are live-aboards on this lovely boat:
This stunning vessel is 64 feet long. Don't know her name (didn't want to be that nosey), but I did talk to the lady.
It's her husband's dream and passion, she said, to sail such a boat and travel with the family. They are from Alberta, Canada. No wonder they are this far south in January! They've been living aboard for 3 months. The two oldest boys are plenty big enough to help a lot, but I'll-tell-ya, that's a lot of boat to manage!
She is a beauty. Three tall masts. If they had a blog I would read it!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Two Christmas Books

Adam bought me two books for Christmas, Elizabeth Goudge's A City of Bells and Susan Branch's The Fairy Tale Girl.

The first is fiction. The second (in spite of weak protestations on the author's part) is not. The first is serious, well-written prose. The second ... well, time will have to tell. I love reading Susan Branch. Goudge is elegant and old. Branch's easy, friendly style makes me feel like we're curled up on the sofa together, sharing secrets. I've been longing to finish Goudge so I can read Branch.

As I read A City of Bells, expecting to find an all-time-favorite-novel, I circled page numbers and underlined (albeit with pencil) wonderful quotes. And sometime I'll get around to sharing them with you. Goudge is an examiner of existence and the human heart, and she shoots straight at you. Here's a quick example at the end of the book:
"And suffering, he had discovered, could be the gateway to renewal, than which no more glorious experience can be man's on earth." (303) What a statement! The next time some woeful person asks, "If there's a God, why must humans suffer?" perhaps I'll answer, "Because suffering can be a gateway to renewal, a glorious experience humans cannot have otherwise." Hmm.

And how 'bout this beautiful lyric, showing how death is conquered: "'This shall die,' says death, his sickle laid to a blade of wheat in its glory and the love of a man in his pride; and the fallen seed is a green shoot and the dead love is a poem." Chew on that for a minute or two.

Branch's book is quite different, a sincere account of one woman's personal history in the 1970s, in her youth and heartbreak. But Branch is always funny and light-hearted. She's an artist, and each page is hand-written and each page has hand-painted illustrations and quotations. It's a delight for the eyes. I turned the page (56, in fact) and read what must be the nugget of the book:

*  *  *  * *

"I turned my face up and asked him, because I really wanted to know, 'Can't we just make things the way we want them to be? Isn't life like a choice? Like you decide what's going to happen and then you just make it that way?'"

*  *  *  *  *

From reading other Branch books, I believe she views her life this way. Even as an early-20s, naive (by her own admission) girl, she believed that tenet fully. She was informing her then-boyfriend (later husband), a go-getter businessman, up-and-coming uber-confident, risk-taking young man with the world tied around his pinky ... she was telling him how to make your world what you want it to be.

I wanted to underline it, I really did. I wanted to star it and circle the page and put a star in the margin. But I can't bring myself to sully Branch's art. How do you take your pencil to someone else's art, her life, her belief in fairy tale, and scratch around it because you'd like to look back at your own 52 years and see such confidence?

But I don't. I don't think my life has ever been my own choice. I feel, year after year, that life has happened to me, sometimes as a summer sunrise but often as a train wreck. We make choices and find out they led us down the wrong road. We scavenge around for the trappings of a fairy tale life, but they're just that: trappings.

I do wonder -- is Branch's public, fairy tale self an image presented for the sake her audience, complete with sparkly wonder and kitty kisses, teapots and Beatrix Potter figurines? How deep does the fairy tale girl go? I too can surround myself with the trappings of sweetness and beauty (and they are wonderful), but they don't fill the void in me. There is a void that longs for God. And there is a void that longs for love. And there is a void that longs for personal self-fulfillment and meaning. This last one varies from person to person. Susan Branch filled hers.

She said that when she told those words to her boyfriend, that's the moment he fell in love with her. She can call it a belief in fairy tales, but it has a lot more steel to it than that. It sounds more like the ripping of your personal American Dream from the matted stuff of life and weaving it into your own garment. I'm not quite sure how a person does that. I haven't had the ability.

If there's more to tell about Branch's book, I'll let you know. She's a read and a re-read, that's for sure. Everybody wants more time on the sofa with a good friend.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Woven Purses

I saw a purse slung around a woman's neck at the farmers' market, and I instantly thought, "I want to make one of those." It was a smallish, square purse with a long strap, the kind that fit snug against your hip.
I've learned that generally the warp yarn does not become the dominant color in a piece; the weft yarn does. So I chose a muted gray for the entire warp and a bright red for the weft. Both are Simply Soft brand.
I didn't choose a complicated pattern -- gray weft pairs with a single line of black for interest.
Then near the top I ran a few shots of this railroad yarn to give it some texture.

I was guessing (I know, that's bad) about how wide to make my warp for the width of the purse. From the last blue scarf project, it seemed I would need about 70 warp threads. I'm not very good at this stuff yet. But when I'd warped on only 60 I felt it was too much, so I stopped. I'm probably not counting correctly. But the end result was that I had a piece Way Too Wide for a little square purse. My plan had been to weave it the width of the purse but twice as long, and fold it in half, putting the fold along the bottom of the purse. The difficulty with that is that I'd have to weave the pattern so that the lines of gray and black lined up with each other when I folded it.
As usual I asked Julia what she thought. She said, "Why not fold the piece in half down the middle instead, and make the purse half the width?" Brilliant! The more I thought about it, the more I liked it. The stripes would automatically line up! But ... I'd warped on enough yarn to fold the purse the other way -- to put the fold on the bottom of the purse instead of on the side of the purse. So I have all this warp left over. Hmm. Then I remembered a video I'd seen where a weaver said you can make multiple projects, one after another, using the same warp, as long as your warp is long enough -- stack the projects on top of each other. Just put a big spacer in the shed between projects so you can finish off your ends.
So I tried it.
I finished purse #1 weaving, cut a piece of cardboard and slid it above the top edge of the work, in the shed. Then I simply started in on the next purse. The fringe of the first purse will be on the bottom edge of the weave, and the fringe for the second purse will be at the very end of the weave. So, the two purses are head-to-head, so to speak, while on the loom.
I wove the second purse (similar to the first one), and removed the entire work from the loom. Then I cut the yarn in the middle to separate the two purses ...
The second purse, as I'm cutting ...
 The first purse, cut free ...
Now, to begin the finishing work! Second purse -- the long fringe is the bottom of the purse. I'll stitch up the side to close it. I'll have to find some way to finish off the top of the purse and hide all those gray yarn ends.
Purse #1. I'm tidying up edges, tying the gray stripes together. Tying small knots along the top to hold the edge in.

Should I roll the edge over, enclosing the yarn ends that way? No.
Of course, the best way to conceal these ends is simply to line the purse with fabric. The fabric will cover those ends entirely.
Closing up the side seam:
I enclosed the bottom of the purse by tying good knots using all the fringe from both sides of the purse. The full liner in it will prevent anything from falling out of this purse.
I tacked down the top edge. Then I worked on the bottom fringe. I sat for two hours on the couch last night, carefully putting some beads on that fringe.
If you ever wonder why you pay more for a handmade item than for one from WalMart, this is why:  two hours just to put beading on. A factory somewhere would have a faster machine method to do thousands of yards of yarn and beads at a time. I don't know that a machine can tie knots. Some people just want a purse and they really don't care who made it or how it was made. The personal touches don't mean as much to them -- and that's okay! But some people truly enjoy an item precisely because there is a person, an artisan, behind it. It adds to the joy, and that's worth paying for all that time on the couch, beading :)
I like the upper edge.
Inside edge:
This morning I worked on the purse some more. I tidied up the fringe on the bottom.

 And I put the liner in the inside.

Now I only have to make a long i-cord for the strap and attach it, and it's done. I'll keep you posted on that.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Weaving for Me, Weaving for You

I finished the long piano topper in a red and cream checked pattern.
I like the look. For some reason it is tighter on the side edges and therefore puckered in the cloth, but that would probably go away if I washed it. But I was eager to put it on the piano, and I'm really not picky about the puckering. I'll wash it when it gets dusty.
Frankly, I'm not picky about the stuff I make for myself. I shrug off errors and set something on top of mistakes and don't stress about it. It makes little difference to me. However ... however ... I'm extremely picky about stuff that I sell.

This piano topper has a couple of weft floats visible. See that gray one below? I had to hand-feed the gray yarn because I only have two shuttles. That's why I made mistakes on the gray weft.

When weaving, if you make a mistake with your weft threads, you can't always see it on the top of the weaving, and you have to lift up your loom and peer under to see the bottom of the weaving. Who does that? The "top" of this weaving (where you work) has many little thread ends showing. Usually I would wash the piece and snip those ends flush to the fabric so they wouldn't show. (There were so many this time because I had to change colors so often for the plaid.) Instead of washing and snipping, I simply turned the fabric upside down, so the ends are underneath. But ... that means that the weft float errors are showing. I set my metronome or piano light on top of them and went my merry way :)
I'm more of a gray/black/melancholy-colors kinda gal, so this bold attempt at
 red/white checkered in my home is a challenge to the inner woman.
Now I'm working on another scarf. I spent time online looking at projects other weavers make. I love, love, love the look of some scarves in which the warp threads are varied in color and texture. It takes time to warp the loom with all that, but I felt it would be worth it. And look at the loveliness I warped up:

 If I could've kept the scarf looking  just like that, without any weaving at all, I would've. Unfortunately, strings alone do not a scarf make :(
Here are the yarns I chose from my varied stash for that warp:
A blue theme with lots of texture and shine variation.
This one has sequins and silver.
A simple, silky baby blue
A thicker (but not bulky) variegated yarn with silver and a good bit of bounce in it.
Ribbon yarn I bought at a temptingly dangerous yarn store in New Bern.
One more: The darkest yarn I chose was just a wad of thrift store yarn, two strands together with lots of blingy interest. When I warped only two slots of this yarn ... this is all I had left.
Okay, so I warped all that on, and I started to weave.
Ignore the beige yarn and the early thicker blues.
 I chose this 3-weight baby yarn for my weft. I was hoping it would just blend in with the gorgeous warp yarns, letting them dominate and being a background.
It did not comply as much as I'd hoped. It's more blue and less silvery.
 It is pretty, Adam said so. And I like it okay. I was just so enchanted by the warp look that the blue was a bit of a let-down. I want the warp threads to stand out, so I decided to begin integrating lots of deliberate floats, like this:
 That's three strands of the sequin yarn.
You use a "pick-up stick" to do floats like this. I'm using an old plastic ruler as my pick-up stick. I insert it behind the heddle, lifting up the yarn strands I want to stand out and sliding the pick-up stick right behind the heddle. See?
Those sequin strands are lifted up. I do this only when the heddle is in the "up" position.
Here's the look it's giving to the scarf. If you search you can find lots of patterned floats in there. On the reverse side of the fabric, the floats go the other way -- they are weft floats.

I hope to finish this scarf today. I'm wondering exactly what color of weft yarn would have produced the look I wanted -- accentuating the warp selections and down-playing the weft. Not sure how that works yet, but I'm doing a lot of reading online. There are articles and videos dedicated just to yarn selection.