Wednesday, July 23, 2014

July 23 – That night

One of the good things about living in Toronto, I suppose, is that it is full of little nooks and crannies that are just there waiting to be explored. Today I had coffee with a friend in the west end – I'd never have discovered that part of the city if not for her. Thanks, Carolyn! (We went to Hello, Darling – super cute.)

Much later, with dinner done and the dishes washed, all the laundry finally put away, I went for a walk in a more familiar part of town. The air was cool and the clouds that had dogged the day had mostly blown away. The sidewalks were busy and the patio at the local pub was packed, people wearing sunglasses against the setting sun. In the park next to the church, little kids played soccer.

I decided on a whim to walk home through the graveyard – if you're looking for an unlikely workout, can I recommend finding yourself in the middle of a cemetery at dusk?  The security guard rolled up in a car and told me he'd be locking the gates in five minutes, and I don't think I've ever hustled through Mt. Pleasant that fast in my life. I'm not worried about ghosts, but I'd really rather not get locked in there with the racoons and coyotes, thanks all the same.

The Beltline trail took me home. Trees arch overhead, mostly, but at one point it pops out onto a bridge that crosses Yonge Street for a hundred metres or so. In the clear evening air I could see almost all the way to the lake, the CN tower a beacon in the distance. What clouds there were, were tinged with yellow and pink; iridescent, like mother of pearl. Vapour trails crisscrossed the sky; subway trains rumbled beneath. It was a perfect summer evening.

July 22 – A tree in the afternoon

A scene from the afternoon. This tree is most obliging, subsisting as it does on a steady diet of benign neglect.

Monday, July 21, 2014

July 21 – Four things

It's late and I'm tired but I have four things to share today, all knitting related. Ish.

1. My Pebble Beach shawl is coming right along. That's it up there, on the verge of 30%.
1b. I love, love, love Helen Stewart's percentage-based, checklist-style pattern – it's easy to keep track of my progress and easy to stay motivated. I was pondering it the other morning while I got ready for work and figured out how I could make Excel help me do this for all the things I make. I can't wait to try it out with the Pi Shawl I have waiting in the wings.

2. This blanket: wow. No, WOW.
2a. Pi Shawl? What Pi Shawl?

3. With just 5 months and 4 days till Christmas, there's still plenty of time to buy me (or another knitter you love and want to impress*) some of these stitch markers. Or these. Or both, I'm not fussy.
3b. Go on, impress me with some stitch markers. You don't have to wait till Christmas if you don't want to.

4. I just got back from watching a special screening of "The F Word." (Which will be called "What If" in America because, well, you can probably figure it out, although it's worth noting that in the film the F stands for friendship. Whose minds are in the gutter?) Pretty neat to see a film that was filmed in Toronto and that's actually about being in Toronto, and especially neat because there's a scene set in the wool store where I work! So go watch it, and pretend you're visiting me there.
4b. They didn't take the TTC once in the movie – they took taxis all over the place. Fiction!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

July 20 – A scene

A quiet moment this morning: tea, crochet and a bit of peace. Sunday.

July 19 – The Complete Encyclopedia of Needlework

Have you ever seen this book? I was looking for a calming bedtime read the other day (hey, some people read cookbooks in bed, this isn't that different) and I took this off the shelf. I've only consulted it a few times as a reference, but I realised the other day what I've been missing out on.

Thérèse de Dillmont was a 19th century needleworker who ran an embroidery school and eventually, in conjunction with DMC, produced this comprehensive how-to manual in 1884. If you can do it with a needle and thread, chances are it's in this book.

"Plain Sewing: Most people who open The Complete Encyclopedia of Needlework will say, on seeing the title of this chapter, that this information about sewing is superfluous, especially in these days when the machine so often takes the place of the hand in sewing. But, in reality, among all the branches of needlework there is none more important than plain sewing. It is the basis of all other needlework."

Apparently the idea of using coloured threads for embroidery was once revolutionary.

"If the various kinds of embroidery are compared from the point of view of their effectiveness, the first place must unquestionably be awarded to embroidery worked with gold and silver threads."

Steel-plate engravings – as clear as photographs – provide ample illustration of every technique, from linen embroidery... crochet... knitting. Speaking of which:

"Of all the branches of needlework, knitting is one of the oldest and also one which has been carried to the highest degree of is scarcely possible nowadays to invent new stitches or new patterns."

Duly noted.

There are also chapters on macramé, weaving, mending, lace work and tatting. Each chapter has a suggested project at the end – with written directions and engraved and diagrammed instructions. You know, just in case you're in the mood to make some pillow lace of a Sunday afternoon.

At 700 pages, it's actually not great bedtime reading (ouch, my nose! etc.) but if you're a needleworker with diverse interests and a desire to dabble, it's a wonderful addition to your bookshelf.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

July 18 – Meanwhile, back at the ranch

African flower hexagon production jogs on. I've got another five waiting for the outer border, which will bring me up to 25 —about halfway. They make a pretty impressive stack on the coffee table, when is where they were the other day when my friend Carole came over. She said, "That's a lot of coasters, dude."

So I guess I've got a backup plan if this blanket thing doesn't work out.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

July 17 – Choppy waters

A long time ago, back when I lived near the ocean, someone I knew and cared for used to check in with me with five words: "Calm seas or choppy waters?"

I haven't heard that in a long time, but I thought of it today. As I listened to the news this afternoon, all I could envision were big slate-coloured waves under a gunmetal-grey sky, rolling relentlessly ashore, booming and crashing on a beach, foam gathering at the based of jagged rocks and spray filling the air. And all I could think was: not again.

Way back when I was living by the sea, everything was new. I was living on my own for the first time, working at my first real job, driving my first car. Everything felt so exciting—but it also felt so unreal, so dangerous. It was not that long after 9/11 and the American army was rolling toward Iraq. The world was on tenterhooks, and in the back of my mind was a whisper—like the first bit of breeze before a howling gale—that told me everything could come crashing down at a moment's notice.

It was too scary. In between newscasts we turned our backs on the world. We ate and drank, talked in metaphors; stayed out late at night, watching the stars from the beach while the tide rolled in.

Time passed. I moved: once, twice, half a dozen times. I changed jobs. I changed provinces. People came and went from my life and I from theirs. I sought calm seas. But out there, the gales keep raging: ground incursions roll on, planes fall out of the skies. The whisper is still there, but I don't listen any more. The part of me that used to be horrified and enraged is just weary: Another war? Another?

It's hard not to shut down completely, but being present and paying attention is important. I'm lucky to live where I live, in a place where I have food, water and electricity, where my family is safe and the most major inconvenience in my day was a 3-minute subway delay. The least I can do is bear witness.

I'm also trying to remember two things. First, the idea that we might not be able to do great things, but we can do small things with great love—or at least a little bit more kindness than usual. Second, the idea that it's darkest before the dawn. (Because a little bit of banjo helps almost everything.)

I wish you calm seas and a starry, cloudless night.