July 2022 Book Club: The Design of Everyday Things

Cover art for the Design of Everyday Things by Donald A Norman.

I really wanted to like this one but had the hardest time getting into it. Perhaps I need to give it a second try at a later date, but I honestly struggled to make it past the second chapter. Though the writing was dry, it reminded me of a time I enthusiastically purchased a teapot-cup combo from a thrift shop. In theory, it was genius. The teapot stacks inside the mug for easy storage and was designed so that you could enjoy two cups of tea using the included mug – perfect for a morning where you’re not sharing a pot with someone. In practice, however, the handle on both items was too small to use. This meant that you inevitably burned your fingers pouring the tea and again trying to drink it (the material of the pot was also too small. Despite paying $2 USD for the items, I couldn’t help but attempt to use them again and again over the course of two years before finally donating them.

I think this concept of design is interesting and can be applied to everyday life. There are things that seem like a good idea, but when you try them out it turns out they’re not a good fit. Maybe because it adds too much driving time to your commute so you never make the trip. Maybe the goal didn’t actually fit into your lifestyle. Perhaps the real point is that you give the idea the freedom to fail and then learn from your mistakes to improve the design. In thinking of my teapot/mug combo, the design would have worked better if the set was made of a thicker clay or if both items had a more practical handle. I will acknowledge here that sometimes items are donated to a thrift store for a reason and I should consider that when purchasing.

Back to fiction for August, which I tend to enjoy more by default. One of my friends lent me her copy of The House in the Cerulean Sea and it seems like the perfect book to slip into in the heat of summer:

Cover art for the House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune.

A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.

Other things I made during the 2022 “Make Good Stash Down”

This past winter, my Local Yarn Store held their second stash down knit along (KAL). The goal was simple, work through the yarn in your stash and finish projects on your needles. I actually knit most of my yarn! By the end of the KAL I only had two or three skeins left in my hatbox. During the KAL, I made (and have already mentioned) a Sorrel Mini, my Tic Tac Toe sweater, some quick knit cowls, a couple of gradient knits, and a hat for my husband. Since the KAL took place while I was patiently waiting for our little one to arrive as well as in the early days when I had to stay awake for long stretches of time, a lot more knitting took place! In addition to those projects, I also made:

Another pair of Flip-Top Mittens, this time in Blue Sky Fibers Extra. These are super handy for taking the dog out or for any day when a little extra dexterity is important. I believe this is the ninth time I’ve worked up this pattern? It’s a quick and easy gift that everyone seems to enjoy, so I’m sure it won’t be the last time I reach for the Red is Best pattern.

Socks, of course. Prior to this project, I had never worked with Urth Uneek Fingering and if I’m being honest it made for a crazy pair of socks! Part of me thinks it could have made a beautiful shawl as well, I’m thinking something that takes advantage of long color repeats. Since Hubs picked out the yarn specifically for the purpose of adding another pair of knit socks to his collection, I tried holding the yarn double when knitting the heel and toe. With any luck, this will add an extra layer of toughness and prevent holes just a little bit longer.

A baby cardigan, in Wonderland Yarns & Frabjous Fibers Mary Ann and Blue Sky Fibers Woolstok Light, held double. In my mind, I knit the larger size so that O could wear it longer… in practice, she won’t be able to wear it until the fall. Oh well!

The final project I was able to finish (just barely) was a woven scarf to match Hubs’ hat. The plaid is a little crazy, but I’m hoping the various fibers will keep him very warm next winter.

I still can’t believe how many projects I cranked out in the three-month period, and how quickly I refilled my stash when the KAL ended. My queue is long again, which is a fun place to be.

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Tiger Sewing: Matching Outfits

Yellow, orange and blue spotted tiger stripped dress.

Unlike yarn, I have yet to become immune to fabric fumes and can still spend hours looking at different patterns. On the one hand, I still tend to buy fabric when I have a project in mind, on the other hand, it’s still very easy for me to want all the fabric and to impulsively buy some. Several months ago, I opted to make our daughter four cribsheets when Joann Fabrics was having a sale on nursery fabric. If I’m being honest, I actually purchased enough fabric to make five, but “accidentally” purchased a non-flannel fabric that I didn’t end up using. This means that I’ve had vibrant multi-colored tiger print cotton staring at me, waiting patiently to be transformed into something.

Then I found out my sister was pregnant with her second and everything snapped into place, that is after all why one stashes right? I knew I wanted to reuse an overall and dress pattern I put together recently, so I printed out the PDFs, cut out my desired sizes, and got to work! Since there was a little bit of fabric leftover, I threw together two scrunchies as well. I’m not sure if they’ll be used, but it was surprisingly easy to throw them together.

Yellow, orange and blue spotted tiger stripped overalls and two scrunchies.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself it’s that I start to lose interest in a project when the project requires a higher level of focus. In other words, when the end is in sight and all the final steps are small detail items. This used to happen with knitting projects, so I can only hope that as I become a better sewist I’ll dread the final steps less and less.

Community Cardi

Young woman standing in front of a mirror wearing blue pants and a pink tank top under a grey cardigan.

It’s been a long time since I’ve made anything for myself in the realm of a garment. The reason for this has been twofold: 1) I didn’t want to make something that wouldn’t fit right and 2) I wanted to give myself the space to be patient with my ever-changing body.

Pregnancy is a crazy experience, the closest I can get to describing how you see yourself through the process would be to equate it to walking through a room filled with funhouse mirrors. Even as you accept what’s happening, you’re onto the next mirror which also brings dramatic changes. Then, just when you think it’s all over, you’re out the other side and you don’t really remember what the original mirror actually looked like. Sure, you can compare yourself to photos of what you used to look like, but you still have to come to terms with what you look like now — and even that continues to dramatically change over the next several weeks. I was back in my pre-pregnancy jeans by week 3, but my body still looked weird to me. They say 9 months in 9 months out, but as someone who has struggled with body dysmorphia all my life, I’m not sure exactly how long it will be until I feel as though I’ve truly stepped out of the funhouse.

At first, I thought my first knit sweater would be Puntilla due to its shapelessness. The hypothesis was that the forgiving design would give me time to adjust to my body and that it would fit as my body changes over the years. Then I rediscovered In Stillness and started daydreaming about how elegant it would look paired with one of my work outfits.

As this post is not called “Puntilla” or “In Stillness”, it’s safe to assume that those sweaters are still on my knit list. I have yarn set aside for both: Puntilla will be worked up in two colors of Wonderland Yarns and In Stillness will be worked up in Blue Sky Fibers. In fact, I was debating which sweater to cast on first (the yarn came in at the same time) when Alicia Plummer put out a test call for her Community Cardigan.

Community Cardi was inspired by exactly what the name suggests – the knitting community. The short version of the story is that Alicia was going to release a cardigan version of Justin’s Flannel, and discovered her design was too close to another that was recently released. Over the next few weeks, Alicia solicited opinions and feedback from her Instagram followers and the result is this sweater! Community Cardi is exactly the sweater I needed, something to be lived in day in and day out without fear of baby fluid. The pictures screamed knit me in a superwash and wear me every day, it was all I could do not to beg to be included in the test.

Real talk: the stitch pattern is so meditative I was actually bummed when it was over. I’ve already offered to make a matching cardigan for my husband and am thinking of attempting to make one in child size for our daughter. Usually when I work a pattern I need time before my brain can handle knitting it again. Like Justin’s Flannel, I see myself reaching for this pattern again and again. Surely one can have one of every color in their closet?

I did make some modifications to the pattern to ensure its everyday use: I ditched the pockets and buttons. I’m not a huge fan of buttoning my cardigans and didn’t want the (slight) additional bulk that the pockets would add. In hindsight, the pockets would have been fine, but I’m happy with the final sweater!

Young woman standing in front of a mirror wearing jeans and a blue tank top under a grey cardigan.

Gradients Galore

Yarn gradients are not a new thing, in fact, they’ve been around for years and I used to lovingly stock them when I worked for Webs Yarn Store. So why has it taken me so long to start playing around with them? I have no idea! Ever since working up Euphorbia and Mince Pie Fading Lines for my mom and designing Head in the Clouds, I’ve found myself reaching for the gradual color transitions again and again.

Bloomerang shawl knit up in a blue - fuchsia gradient being modeled by a young woman wearing a black shirt tucked into high waisted jeans.

First, came the Bloomerang Shawl knit up in Muscari, a gentle transition from blue to fuchsia (or fuchsia to blue depending on which direction you decided to work from). In my case, though the blue makes up the largest section of the shawl, it’s actually the purple-fuchsia end that speaks the loudest. I don’t often reach for boomerang-shaped shawls, something about the lack of symmetry makes it feel as if they’re going to fall off my neck during the day (they never actually do), but Bloomerang creates interesting color blocking when worn. It’s easy to enjoy the way the blue pops dramatically against the other colors when wrapped.

Solandis shawl knit in a white to blue gradient being modeled by a young woman wearing a charcoal sweater and black yoga pants.

Next came Solandis worked up in Aquilegia, whether or not you want to call this one a shawl or a cowl depends on your personal preference! I loved the simplicity that Solandis called for, each row dependably predictable and easy to put down and pick up again. My only regret for this one is that I started with the Whitish color instead of the blue, despite knowing that the starting color would take up the bulk of the showl (see what I did there?). In my mind, starting with the white would allow for the greatest contrast when worn, but now that it’s done I find myself thinking that reversing the colors would have provided more of a pop.

Ebb and Flow Arm Warmers knit in a yellow to purple gradient laid on top of each other on a gray table cloth. Each arm warmer begins with each end of the gradient and ends with the middle color.

Then came the Ebb & Flow Arm Warmers knit in Anemone, each arm warmer worked on a different end of the gradient so that the upper ends meet in the middle. Anemone is one of Wonderland Yarns’ more dramatic gradients, so the transition between the arm warmers isn’t as smooth as it could have been if knit up in one of the other colorways I worked with. Thus, the arm warmers are funky and vibrant, coordinated by pattern more than by color. I like the idea of running with them in winter, the bright colors helping cars see me on gray days. Plus, I sense they’d be comfortable on days where layering for runs is critical.

I don’t think this is the end of gradient knitting for me, if anything I’m just getting started. In terms of future projects, I’d love to make my daughter a Plumeria Mini in Jade Mar Flower (I love the way she looks in blues and have to take advantage of her lack of opinion on the matter) and I have a mini-skein set of Coal and Scuttles that’s dying to be turned into Longma’s Cowl. So there’s no “finally” to this post, “finally” would imply that I’m done working with gradient skeins – and I’m not!

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