Archive for March, 2008

Lights out

March 29, 2008

For one hour: the second annual Earth Hour.

This is a fantastic idea by the World Wildlife Fund to bring awareness to our energy use and the need for conservation.

So today, Saturday, March 29, from 8 to 9 p.m. (whatever zone you’re in) turn off the lights and unplug it all.

There are several cities that have signed on to do this citywide I guess–like surprisingly Atlanta and not so surprisingly Vancouver.

More than 30 million people will be taking part…be one of them.



March 27, 2008

Handmade not by me. But by some Repetto shoe-makers in Paris.

This isn’t an advertisement for Repetto, but I respect craftsmanship, especially when done by the human hand rather than a machine–an art that seems to be becoming obsolete. There are a few episodes of the Twilight Zone (a show I watch every other day or so on YouTube) that stuck in my mind because of this very issue. One in particular is the”The Brain Center at Mr. Whipple’s,” where a factory manager becomes obsessed with replacing his workers with machines. Think of the cost savings–no paid vacations, no sick leave, no family emergencies. He believes that whatever a human can make with her/his hands can readily be replaced and even be made better by the use of a machine. Until the manager himself is replaced and he is confronted with both the obsolescence of the individual and the value of one–the value he sees in himself over another and especially over a machine. A machine couldn’t think, it couldn’t feel and it couldn’t give the thing it was making the character produced by human variation and error.

Even in the 60s, we recognized the romanticism of craftsmanship, but we still continue to ruminate on it in words and ignore it in practice. Several months ago I accompanied a friend to the opening of the new Bloomingdales in Chevy Chase. I was in the height of my China boycott and couldn’t believe how all the expensive Diane von Furstenbergs and Marc Jacobs were made in China…in a factory just like the ones used for the cheap Walmart and Target clothing. Overseen by humans, but mostly run by machines. Apparently I’m paying for the design, but at this point a wrap dress is a wrap dress and the same goes for a canvas jacket with jumbo buttons. I appreciate the innovation to a certain extent, but what makes Chanel Chanel is the couture. The unique and exquisitely artful designs of Karl Lagerfeld may be in a different class the normal, more everyday pieces being designed and sold by the aforementioned designers, but the pieces in the seasonal shows–the couture, the stuff made mostly (or entirely) by hand are what’s stunning. It’s the shockingly complicated and intricate handiwork, the knowing feeling that this could have only been made by a select group of people not because they are the only ones with the owner’s manual to the magic automated sewing machine, but because they have the skill to masterfully manipulate textiles running through their veins. This is why I have an obsession with Hermes–a label that has remained true to its traditional family practices and still makes its $5000 bags with multi-year long wait lists using stitch techniques that can only be done by hand.

I will never buy a $5000 handbag, but in my world, handmade is damn impressive and worth every penny. That price tag may just be justified.
But a machine is a machine and a design alone can’t be worth $500, especially when I can buy a knitting design for $5.

Bad TV Confessions.

March 25, 2008

This is a bad one. Real bad. But I use knitting as an excuse. I haven’t been able to keep myself on track with the several slow-going projects I have in progress, so I started the Rochefort Chapeau courtesy of the Purl Bee with some Alpaca Kid Lustre from my stash–not eco-friendly per se, but it’s from my stash, thus requiring no new purchase, production, transport, and so on. In doing so I needed some tv in the background.

I don’t have cable (which I think should count for something) and so American Idol was the only thing on. There I said it.

The thing is I felt some thoughts actually being provoked by the show…(I didn’t know this show could do that). To be fair I only have a couple of thoughts, so it’s not like I went crazy or anything.

First. This country girl on the show sang God Bless America, which Simon stated to be “clever.” Since Bush, I now find the use of that song to be of the boot-in-Al-Qaeda’s-ass variety that bullies people into patriotism. Apparently since she sang an I-love-America song it’s patently unpatriotic to deem her annoying and generic and not “vote” for her. And you could see that Paula and Randy hated it, hated the song and felt that those sentiments could not actually be expressed to an American audience. For Paula, I wouldn’t have said anything disparaging either–she’s half middle-eastern (Syrian-Palestinian no less). So country girl was alright, but my friend down the street sings better. I don’t have a friend down the street, but I know a woman across the river that sings WAY better. And she doesn’t give me the willies with one of those pre-Patriot Act I’m-proud-to-be-an-American-where-at-least-I-know-I’m-free (to have my rights ignored by the aforementioned Patriot Act) songs.

By the way–um, totally proud to be an American…(don’t hurt me).  In all honesty, I really am proud to be an American.  I’ve traveled a lot and lived abroad a few times now.  My life in America is something I feel truly lucky to have and it’s something I miss strongly after a few months living in a developing country.  However, I do not need some country singer that I assume has zero global perspective to tell me I need to feel proud and lucky to have her/his God bless America.

Ok, so second. There was a guy at the end of the show that was pretty damn impressive. He sang a quite original arrangement of Billy Jean and it was gooood. I was wowed. Wowed by American Idol. That in itself is wowing. But, seriously this last performance was stellar. I can’t imagine that he came up with the arrangement, but his delivery alone was enough to put him far above the others. It was artist quality. So all you folks that won’t vote in the presidential election, but never miss an Idol vote–vote for this one.

Now let’s never speak of this again.

The Knock-off Necklace

March 23, 2008

I made this last night after acquiring all my necessary supplies at a bead store in Dupont Circle and after spotting this necklace in a catalogue of a major chain store that shall remain nameless because I’m kind of embarrassed for shopping somewhere so…generic. I blame having to go to an office in DC. People dress pretty conservatively here and it seems to grab people’s attention when anyone even kind of steps outside the suity box, which isn’t really a good thing when you’re at work.

So here it is. The color is a little off, it’s more of a lapis blue than the turquoise it looks like in the picture. I haven’t strung beads and made a necklace since I was 12. And I didn’t completely know what I was doing. So the clasps are kind of screwy and required an emergency Etsy buy of brass bead tips (which are these fantastic devices that hide your knots, keep them more secure, and generally make the process much easier). So it’s not actually completely finished and will have to be restrung when I get the bead tips, but it’s functional right now.

I like the idea of seeing something in a catalogue and figuring out how to make it instead of buying the thing, which in this case is almost definitely made in China. The China thing is even more important to me these days as the Chinese government trashes the Dalai Lama. It seems shocking that this would be an advisable political move for them considering the worldwide, deserved adoration for him, but apparently invoking the strong nationalist identity of the Chinese is working among the domestic populace and they do in fact seem to agree with the government. That a group of people can be condemned for peaceful protest in the face of persistent human rights abuses against them is something I simply cannot understand.

Unfortunately as a normal American without much political power my identity is little more than consumer, so the power of the purse will be my vehicle for expressing myself.

I have never really made a “nice” necklace so this kind of proves it’s more possible for most (if not all) of us to substitute our ready-made purchases with home- and handmade stuff (not to mention I saved more than $50). And I learned from a coworker the other day that fabrics sold in the US are almost always made in the US because of tariff laws, which do not apply to ready-made clothing. I haven’t checked this statement out, but it sounds like I’ll be sewing a lot more than I have been.

Finished! Meridian Tunic “Dress”

March 22, 2008

Pattern: Meridian Tunic Dress from Twinkle’s Weekend Knits
Louet Euroflax Sportweight in black, pure white and shamrock
March 2008

I’m not sure in what skanky world this would be considered a dress, it covers not even half my ass…I even had the right gauge.  I swatched and everything.

But I like it as a shirt.   And I had been wanting to do the Twinkle stripes since I hadn’t with the shopping tunic.  I think doing the stripes with the chunky wool would be horrible on most people that aren’t unhealthily skinny, so this was a good opportunity since I used the very un-bulky linen.  The linen was actually nice to work with–not so soft but I think the stitch definition and the vibrancy of the colors are beautiful.  And it does feel quite nice and cool on.  A little like chainmaille but I like it.  And I’ll be washing it soon to soften it up.

One issue I had with this yarn was weaving in the ends later.  Having four strands of it made it especially difficult, but linen itself is so smooth and hard that the weaved in ends tend not to stay in place.  So the inside looks horrendous with all sorts of long ends poking out.  I suppose that’s not so much of an issue, but I have to make sure when I put on the thing the ends aren’t poking through on the wrong end (you can see a stray end in the first picture).  Any way to fix this problem?

I only noticed one issue with the pattern: it lists two needles, a size 15 and a size 11, but it doesn’t tell you when to use one or the other.  A few months ago in my inexperience it wouldn’t have been obvious to use the 11s for the ribbing and the 15s for the body.  And anyway, I used 11s for the whole thing to get gauge and it was already holier than I wanted it to be (looser knit, not blessed…).  Four strands were annoying enough, I wasn’t going to go up to 5.

I like this one.

Vogue Knitting: It’s Green, Pt 2

March 20, 2008

Ok folks.  Major error on my part…sometimes I skim through magazines because I’m so used to ads that I actually miss something useful.

And here I totally did–the article accompanying the “eco-friendly” designs! (not totally my fault, as it is a special advertising section)

But the article is actually pretty good.

It takes you through “a tour of natural fibers” splitting them up by animal and vegetable, which is great for veggie/vegan knitters that would prefer not to use animal products.  One issue I have with the animal section is the mention of “vegetarian silk.”  I’ve learned tons on Ravelry about Tussah silk, such as it isn’t actually the amazing humane process we would like to believe it is.  Tussah is actually the breed of moth (and not a magical process).  After taking the silk from the cocoon, the moths die of starvation.  So I hear.

The article also provides a good list of known and new alternative fibers, like Sea Cell (which I’ve sampled with Handmaiden’s Sea Silk, and is gorgeous), soysilk, and corn.  But again, there’s no discussion of the energy and resource intensive process required to make them.

The author puts in a really interesting bit about bamboo being rapidly renewable and thus helping to fight soil erosion, which I appreciate.  But I go back to playing my broken record about bamboo (and other similar fibers).

I actually think she touches on some good points, such as the effort required for cotton to “earn the organic label” and the benefits of purchasing locally sourced yarns.  It can be a good source of ideas for people to begin incorporating “green” yarns.

So onto my tip of the day.

Yarnzilla is having a sale on all Rowan yarns, one of which is their (new?) Purelife Organic Cotton.  It’s organically grown with natural dyes–“From start to finish, no chemicals are involved.”

What I really love is when you click on your color of choice, it gives you a little “about the dye” blurb.

One of the colors in my order is Logwood.  “Logwood is a chipped and fermented wood grown in tropical America used in dyeing violets, blues, greys, and blacks. It is also a mild astringent and used in treating chronic dysentery.”   I think this is just super.

Vogue Knitting: It’s Green

March 19, 2008

I just got my new issue of Vogue Knitting and was pleasantly surprised by a special section on knitting green. Of course, I expected greenwash, which is generally the case.

Vogue does a pretty good job, although it’s anemic…I like that it couches the enviro-friendliness of the yarns in practicality by saying that they’re actually better fibers to use in the summer because they’re cool in the heat. But the section is just a few patterns using yarns of organic cotton, bamboo and soy silk. And I think most of the yarns are more of the alternative fiber/vegan variety rather than the specifically “eco-friendly” kind.  The two are often linked, but not always.

While bamboo is rapidly renewable, the processes by which it’s turned into yarn are by no means “treading lightly on the earth.” Soy silk was a bit of mystery to me until I looked it up. I wasn’t sure why soy silk would be considered environmentally friendly. I thought maybe it was because of the associations with soy from tofu and other meat substitutes being an environmental choice…but that’s obviously a whole different thing–meat is environmentally intensive to produce compared with any vegetable product. Taken alone I would guess soy is as environmentally destructive as any other crop (though I’m not sure about the fertilizer/pesticide requirements).  It’s grown all over the place and is taking over much of Asia as the crop of choice–and I’m pretty sure it’s not organic in most places. Apparently, according to Knitter’s Review, soy silk is actually made from tofu manufacturing waste. That sounds good to me–unless it’s the same kind of energy/resource intensive process like with bamboo.

So, I’m not sure about the rush to label these fibers “green”….though I think they’re great substitutes for vegan knitters. I just think this stuff has to be questioned for it to be effective (the point I was trying to make in my rant against “optimism”).

I wasn’t incredibly inspired by the magazine but there were a couple of designs I really liked and will consider knitting later:

I love the sweater dress:

And the back:

I love this, whimsical and girly:

Why I hate optimists.

March 19, 2008

Careful, this is a rant.

I hate optimists.  By this I mean people that say stupid things that they haven’t bothered to validate with any real information other than their own feelings or anecdotes and then bow out of the debate by saying, “Well, I’m an optimist.”

The implication of course is that I am unnecessarily negative.

Haven’t these people heard of blissful ignorance?  Because that’s what it is.  Ignorance.  It’s not taking the time and effort to really assess reality, question what’s going on, and think of solutions to make it better.

What happened to critical thinking and problem solving?

What has ever been made better by simply pleading optimism.

Yes, global warming, war, aids–it’ll all disappear if we just try really really hard…in our hearts.  I’m an optimist.

disclaimer.  I am at work later than I should be.  And I’ve had my second run-in with the so-called optimist.

Are You Paying Attention? Do the Test.

March 18, 2008

Or go to: TfL

I don’t want to ruin it, but it plays off of an earlier post…

Did you pass the test?

(I didn’t.)

I’ll come back to this in a few days when I think people have had the chance to see the video…


I found out from a coworker that TfL ripped this idea off of a psychological test.  The creator was never contacted about the use of the ad and thus never gave them permission to use it. He’s been cool about it though, making one public comment and then never making a stink again…the blog linked makes the argument that this isn’t really stealing…I’m not sure–I think the creator should have been consulted.  But his alternative idea of having a cyclist that you don’t see sounds so boring.  So maybe it’s good they stole it.  It’s effective and it’s in the public interest…it’s hard to hate.  Had it been a faceless money-grubbing corporation I would feel differently.  The eternal battle.

Mona goes to the movies.

March 16, 2008

It’s true. I went to the movies. Spring is coming in Washington and for Mona that means leaving the house every once in a while. For you, that means witnessing my foray into movie reviews…well, not really reviews…but thoughts…

Last night I saw Be Kind Rewind, written and directed by Michel Gondry of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and maybe more forgettably The Science of Sleep (which I didn’t see but heard was appropriately sleepifying despite the participation of my secret lover, Gael Garcia Bernal). I adored Eternal Sunshine and so thought Be Kind Rewind was promising. Also promising was the cast: Mos Def (my husband), Danny Glover, Jack Black, Mia Farrow, and Melonie Diaz (who I’d never heard of, but was adorable and fantastic).

This is so not how a movie “review” is supposed to go, but I thought “Be Kind Rewind” was like totally the best name ever! No seriously, I thought it was pretty clever and cute since the plot revolves around a video store of that name still selling VHS tapes.

So onto the plot. It’s about the lovely aforementioned video store in Passaic, NJ, owned by Danny Glover and eventually run by Mos Def. Jack Black is their crazy friend…whose brain gets “magnetized” after a power plant sabotage gone awry. With this magnetized brain he then accidentally erases all the tapes in the video store. This makes no sense, but will if/when you see the movie. Long story short, in order to keep the struggling VHS-only store afloat (and from being taken by the city for modern “urban renewal”) they remake a bunch of the movies in the store…themselves. They do their own 20 minute versions of major movies like Rush Hour, the Lion King, Ghostbusters, Robocop, and so on. The town ends up loving the self-made shorts–better than the movies. The story goes on, but I think that’s enough information…I don’t want to ruin anything.

So, I thought the movie was great. Gondry has a way with fantasy that makes it palatable to even those that hate fantansy…It’s steeped in reality using the most innocent and simple twists (like being magnetized or having your memory erased), that aren’t outside the realm of even the most atrophied imagination. I think it’s sort of like magical realism without the typical style and imagery used in Latin American literature, like windmills.

The heart of the plot I think is brilliant-making 20 minute versions of blockbuster movies, which the characters really take seriously. It gets at the idea that when we can see the heights of creativity within our own limits it’s inspiring. When we see that 2 fools can use a bunch of crap in a junkyard and some intense and hillarious creativity (like instead of building a ginormously tall organ, assembling one on the ground and shooting from above) it makes it feel so accessible…and doable even by yourself. The movie you’re watching becomes more than an escape…Anyway, it made me want to make my own little movies.

It’s a little cutesy, but in this sweet way that you can’t really fault it for. For me, the sweetness actually may have negated some elements of the movie that could have been cliche, which if I elaborate on could ruin it for you.

Another thing I saw while at the movies was a preview for this movie, Young at Heart:

There’s an obvious shoutout to my fellow knitters in there, but the preview looked incredible–about a chorus of senior citizens singing rock and roll and punk, like the Clash, the Ramones, etc. They’ve performed all over, even at a jail in LA where inmates loved the performance and were genuinely inspired. Can’t wait to see it.