Friday, April 18, 2014

FO Friday: Meet Jeffrey Duck

I officially finished my Easter animals this week :) Unfortunately, I didn't get to take pictures of my bunny, but you will definitely see him soon. In the meantime, meet Jeffrey Duck:
Look at his cute little face! I just love this guy.
Jeffrey was made from the Silly Duck pattern by Fuzzy Mitten. I used Red Heart Value Texture in a nice aqua color for the body, Caron Sayelle in baby yellow for the beak and feet, and accessorized with some light purple Red Heart Super Saver - all of these yarns were in my stash and were either given to me, cost a stupid cheap amount at a thrift store (the Sayelle was 25¢ for the full skein), or were purchased more than a decade ago (the purple has been around since I was sin high school ... yeah), so I'm pretty much counting this guy as free to make :) Hooray!
I did have a bit of trouble with the weight distribution, so he doesn't like to stand up unaided (thus the clothing shaver in the photo, lol). I love how all his colors look together and I just love his body shape! The textured yarn came out better than I had hoped. It's just fuzzy enough without being impossible to see any stitch definition. You can even see some of the ribbed design on the wings.
I love the pattern on the wings as it seems to aid in the wings holding their shape. I love posing them :) This is one of my favorite shots.
I waited until Barbara Prime put up a tutorial on how to attach the beak and feet and I am so glad I did! The tutorial for the feet is here and the beak is here. It made a huge difference in how these pieces look - I had already attached the beak, but I cut it off and did it again to make it look right. I also got to use my tiny pompom maker for the top of the hat :)
So, that's what I have to show this week :) I just love my little Easter buddies and I can't wait to show my bunny. Head over to Tami's Amis' Blog to see what other lovely things have been made this week!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

WIP Wednesday: Easter Is Almost Here!

Well, as promised to my husband I have slowed down with my knitting crazy this week. I have managed to finish one item though (check back Friday) and almost finish another!
This is the Well-Dressed Bunny pattern from Fuzzy Mitten - is this not the cutest bunny pattern?! I fell in love with it immediately and knew I had to make it up for Easter this year. I managed to completely finish the bunny himself, but as you can see he is not very "well-dress" at the moment, lol.
The pattern includes several outfit options, but I'm going for the very dapper jacket and waistcoat look. I've already started the waistcoat :) Hopefully I finish it before Sunday!
I would have gotten much farther with my bunny if I hadn't finally decided to do some of the alterations that have piled up in my sewing room. I bought this skirt because it was on clearance for super cheap, but it was a size 1X - as you can see it was quite a bit too big on me (I could actually just slip it on and off without opening the zipper). So last night I buckled down with an audio book and got to sewing.
By the end of the night, I had a much more wearable skirt (at least it didn't slip off, lol), but it's still not quite there yet. Those wrinkles at my hips are driving me crazy - it's like mini jodhpurs. So this will get a bit more work before I wear it out and about. Definitely a great staple in the making though - it's a knee length black knit straight skirt. Totally filling wardrobe holes - hizzah!
I decided to listen to Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore last night while sewing and I am really enjoying it so far. It's completely different from my usual reads, but so far its a very cute story and it's interesting. Can't really ask for more than that, right?
So that's what's up around these parts this week. Head over to Tami's Amis' Blog to see what others are making!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Man, how do I even describe The Ocean at the End of the Lane? lol Just like most of Neil Gaiman's books, this one is incredibly imaginative, which makes it very difficult to describe to others unless you are familiar with his work. This book was most similar to his book Coraline in the aspect that it is told through the eyes of a 7 year old and it involves a sort of monster.

The book begins with a man attending a funeral in his childhood hometown. He decides to visit the home of his childhood friend, Lettie Hempstock, at the end of his lane and ends up remembering the adventure they had together. It all started when an opal miner who was renting a room in his house steals their car and commits suicide through monoxide poisoning. He unintentionally gambled away not just his own money, but a lot of money that his friends had given to him to bank for them, so he took his own life. After this, other strange things start happening with the narrator and other members of the town. Something starts giving them money - a very old entity living in the woods around the Hempstock's property. The Hempstocks are no ordinary family, consisting of Lettie along with her mother and grandmother. They are some type of beings that are in contact with other worlds of sorts (I know that is seriously the worst description, lol). Lettie takes the narrator on a journey to find the monster and make it stop, but while trying to bind the monster in its place something goes wrong and the entity comes home with the boy. The next day, his mother informs him that a new renter will be living there named Ursula Monkton - she will be watching the narrator and his sister in exchange for her room and board while his parents work. Ursula Monkton is the monster incarnate.

The narrator goes through a pretty chilling ordeal with this monster, but the Hempstocks help him get rid of her, at a great expense to themselves. In the end, the much older narrator is surprised that he did not remember this before, only to be told that he shows up every so often, remembers, then leaves forgetting again - all because that's the way the Hempstocks want it to be.

While written through the eyes of a 7 year old, this book is not a written for children. That's not to say that it's trashy, but there are a few minor scenes that make it more "adult." Plus it's just really creepy, lol. I really did enjoy this story. It's just so creative - like Neil Gaiman's other stories it transports you into a completely different world that coexists with our own. You really never know what is going to happen next, so you just keep reading. It's very well written and I love his children's perspective on the things around him. I also loved this quote:
"I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things, or people, or moments that hurt, but I found joy in the things that made me happy."
What a great way to describe being a kid :) If you enjoy being transported into a completely different type of existence, then you should read this book. It was a quick read, a wonderful escape, and very entertaining. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Book Review: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina is one of those classic stories that you would think really needs no introduction - at least that's what I thought before I read it. I've seen 2 different versions of the film of this book, the one with Vivien Leigh and the ones with Keira Knightley, and neither of them was a very good representation of the actual story.

Anna Karenin is the wife of a well known political figure in St. Petersburg, Russia. She leads a normal life for a woman of her position in the late 1800s, and she has an 8 year old son. One day when visiting her brother in Moscow, her life changes. She was in Moscow to convince her sister-in-law not to divorce her two-timing husband when she meets the man her sister-in-law's younger sister is in love with, Count Vronsky. Vronsky and Anna have an immediate and unexplainable attraction that they can never shake. They begin an affair in spite of Anna's marriage. Anna feels extremely guilty for what she's done, but can't separate herself from Vronsky. After much turmoil, the affair eventually causes Anna to lose her place in society and drives her into such a deep depression that she throws herself in front of an oncoming train.

That is the story that most people think of when anyone mentions Anna Karenina - inexplicable deep love and personal torment. This story is of course what the book is named for, but not what I would identify as the main point. The story is not just about Anna and Vronsky (gasp!) - the story is sort of split in two and shared between time to describe Anna's life as well as Constantine Levin, the man who is in love with Anna's' sister-in-law's younger sister, Kitty. Kitty is head over heels for Vronsky and all is going well until Anna shows up and unintentionally steals him away from her. Kitty is devastated. She had just refused an offer of marriage from Levin in hopes that Vronsky will ask her only to have him toss her to the side like nothing. Vronsky never feels remorse for this. He's a very self-centered man who is only out to please himself. Kitty and Levin then break for a while, understandably. Levin becomes very deep in work at his farm (in spite of his social status, he enjoys the manual labor of farming), and just goes on with life - but he never really forgets Kitty. Kitty grows up quite a bit, and quite a while later (I believe it's over a year later), she and Levin meet again and become engaged and get married.

It is safe to say that the story of Levin is to serve as a contrast to the story of Anna. If Anna's life is about throwing aside everything in the name of love, Levin's' story is more along the lines of good things come to those who wait. Both stories have one chief concern: the pursuit of happiness. Levin is a very good (and very stereotypically Russian) man, and he not only loves Kitty deeply, but he also devotes a good deal of his life to being a better person. He is on the quest for the meaning of life, and while he doesn't really learn "the meaning", he realizes a great deal about man's relation to God and why it's important. Levin is a very level headed and realistic person, while Anna is wrapped up in being what she believes Vronsky wants her to be, which aids her paranoia that he will up and leave her. She is so codependent it's crazy. She is obsessed with being attractive at all times, spends time reading books on subjects she knows Vronsky is interested in, and can't stand to be separated from Vronsky even for an evening. This mental state would drive anyone nuts, and eventually Anna decides that Vronsky's life would be greatly improved if she wasn't in it, so she kills herself. Levin, on the other hand, achieves healthy and sustainable happiness. He works for what he has and appreciates it, never taking any of it for granted and always striving to achieve more.

I realize this is a very small snippet of what the story actually conveys - it was an incredibly long book. I really enjoyed the entire story though. Not only is it a story about love and happiness, it's also a great look into Russian history in the time that lead to the crazy events that would change Russia forever. It's very interesting to get into the minds of those who lived in that time, and it really does make the Russian revolution in 1912 make much more sense. This was an excellently written book as well - I was quickly struck with how modern the writing style is in spite of it publication date. I can completely understand why this book has been cherished for its entire existence and it is really worth adding to your list. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, April 11, 2014

FO Friday: Zombies and Turtles and Mysteries Revealed

This past week was filled with far too much knitting than is good for anyone, lol. I've had to promise my husband that I will cut back a bit just so the house doesn't get covered in funk. At least I got everything finished by the time I needed to :) I warn you - this post is very picture heavy. I look at it as the amount of pictures is in direct relation to the amount of time the items took to make. So without further ado ... I present the most complicated item I have ever knitted: Briggs' Birthday Zombie.
I used the Classic Zombie pattern from Knit Your Own Zombie by Fiona Goble. I just love that shot above, lol, I had a lot of fun with my little photo shoot.
The cool thing about the book is that the zombie pieces and parts are designed in a pick and choose fashion, so you can mix and match patterns at will. I stuck to the Classic Zombie pattern except that I added a brain and a brain pocket.
lol As you can tell - my photo shoot was a lot of fun especially when I realized that he would stand up on his own. The eye sinew will soon have an actual eye ball on it. I checked everywhere for an evil eye bead like the book uses, but in the end I had to order some online and they hadn't arrived by Sunday. I'll update with a new pic when it's on :)
And here are all the pieces I made. The brain is removable, as are the stomach and intestines. I made the hole in the torso a deep purple color (to keep with decaying body realism, lol). The pattern calls for velcro that matches the yarn color for the head and torso, but in a design decision to keep it gruesome I hunted down some red velcro instead. I love the effect of it! Much more gory. The arms have metal snaps to join them together so they come off as well. The arm and one leg have nasty wounds on them. These are made by actually knitting a red limb, then the green outer limb, sliding the red inside the green, then embroidering with a burgundy yarn around the edges of the wound to attach them. This guy also has toe nails and finger nails that are long black bugle beads. The rib cage is (again) embroidered. The pants were knitted like normal, then I embroidered around a spot I wanted to make a hole and then (gasp!) cut the knitting! It was a scary moment and it didn't really work out as easily as the pattern made it seem and I had to whip stitch around the edge to keep the knitting from unraveling, but the effect is awesome.
lol I love this picture with the nubby arm and the guts sticking out. So gross. The entire face is embroidered on - no easy feat, let me tell you. It took a lot of time, but I really do love how it came out. The teeth are more bugle beads. I decided to use the black instead of white like the pattern calls for because, duh, dead and decaying body!
And here are all the parts laid out. The body parts are all sewn as separate pieces and seamed - holy crap did that take forever. Then I had to embroider everything, sew on beads, sew on velcro, sew on snaps, and make clothes. I had knitted all the body pieces over the course of about a week and then used my day off to put it all together. I'm not kidding when I say that this is almost all I did all day! And I still had to make the clothes!
I had to include this shot ... because it's awesome.
My brother definitely loved his gift, which made it worth all the work :) We kept teasing him that he got a doll for his 15th birthday, lol, but it was all in fun because everyone had to agree that it was gross and awesome.

I am super proud of how this project turned out, I can't lie. It was a crazy amount of work and the pattern certainly doesn't help in that. I'm used to American patterns that include a certain amount of (sometimes unnecessary) hand holding. This British pattern did nothing of the kind, and I've now discovered that this is common with British patterns. For example it would just say, "Seam pieces together. Embroider rib cage.," and the like. No walking you through how to do it, just referring you to a one picture diagram at the beginning of the book. In spite of that and in spite of how sick I was of making this thing when it was done, I would not be opposed to making another. The response from everyone who sees it is really great :) And even though it's gross, it's just so cool that it 's interactive. Even my 1.5 year old nephew loved to take the brain out (in fact we had to force him to give it back, lol). So, I would say there will be other zombies in my knitting future :)

But my making didn't stop there! I was also participating in the Fuzzy Mitten Mystery Knit-Along and the final clue was released last Friday. Now that the mystery is over, I am left with a super cute ... kangaroo!
This was my first ever Fuzzy Mitten project and it did not disappoint. How cute are they?! When I finished them, my husband said that she should be named Charlene (only to be read with a heavy Aussie accent), so this is Charlene and Jake :)
This project was made over the course of a month for me (it was actually 6 weeks with 1 clue each week, but I came in late). I used Vanna's Choice yarn in Toffee and Beige for the body - both were in my stash and they seriously turned out to be the perfect colors.
The cardigan comes off and all the limbs are jointed, so I can make her sit or stand or put her hands up - so cool! I will say, she didn't really like to stand up without her tail on, but that's a non-issue now since she has a tail. The joey was part of the final clue and you want to know what is the coolest thing about him? ...
He's a finger puppet! This is pretty vital to the design because it makes it possible to shove this little guy into the mom's pocket. And the body is made all in one piece! No sewing on teeny little arms and legs - so cool! I'm now obsessed with the idea of making lots of finger puppets, lol. The joey has 6 mm safety eyes and the mom has 10 mm ones.
The obligatory back view :) I love that it's really a little play set. I imagine that I kid would love to play with these. And most of the Fuzzy Mitten animals have similar sized bodies, so you can mix and match their clothes. I would have been all about that when I was little.
The cardigan is made from Red Heart Pompadour in blue and Aunt Lydia's Iced Bamboo in Icicle for the white stripe (it has just a tiny bit of sparkle in it). The cardigan was the first item to make, but it sat unfinished because I was waiting on buttons. I had to order these from Joann's and they are 7mm size. At least now I have a bunch more for the next project. I love that the cardigan only has those two buttons at the top so it can be worn and still see the joey :)

I had loads of fun making this set! I really love the fun of a mystery knit or crochet along, and the Ravelry groups always make it 10 times more fun. I'm so glad I was able to participate, and I have already almost finished my next Fuzzy Mitten friend. I know that I will be making plenty more of Barbara Prime's designs!

And there's one more item! This wasn't really anything I had to make, but it was just too cute and I have a feeling it will be useful and fun at the same time. I've had Ana Paula Rimoli's book Amigurumi On The Go since my birthday last year and hadn't made anything from it yet! I had to remedy that :) So my nephew now gets a super cute turtle tote!
Isn't he fun?! This is made just like any other crocheted amigurumi - you just add a long bag part to the top :) The whole bag is just hdc and then you add the stripes. Originally I didn't know if I wanted to add the stripes since it looked cute without them, but I am so glad I did!
I think the stripes really take this bag to the next step and make it less homemade looking (not that 'homemade' is a bad thing!) I made my stripes in dark red, yellow, orange and gray - all yarns out of my stash. The green and blue are both Red Heart Super Saver. 
The top cinches in with the pull cord. The bag is much bigger than I thought it would be! He is 9.5" tall and  5.5" wide, but it fits a surprising amount of stuff. I hope that my nephew enjoys putting things in, and then taking them out, and then putting them back in again :) He likes to do this with other bags, so now he will have one of his very own that no one will mind when he unloads it, lol.
Phew! That's all my projects from the past week. Crazy! If you have endured this entire post, thank you! I know it was really long but hopefully the pictures were cute enough to stay interesting :) If you're still interested (lol), head over to Tami's Amis' Blog and see what others managed to finish this week!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

WIP Wednesday: Easter Animals Edition

I almost don't believe it myself, but I have finished all of my wips from last week! Prepare for a pretty epic FO Friday, lol. Luckily, there are always tons of cute things to make so I didn't go without a project ... or 3.
First up is the Silly Duck from Fuzzy Mitten. There is a sort of unofficial knit-along for this pattern this month, so I decided to jump in on it. It's a super cute design and the pattern is half price, so why not? I decided to use a mystery yarn that came in the big bag of yarn I was given. It took me forever to figure out what it was but I liked it so much that I endured the search, lol. Turns out it's Red Heart Value Textured Yarn and I absolutely love it. Of course, it's discontinued and you can't even find it on ebay anymore. Oh well. I'll enjoy the skein I have. This yarn is great for knitted animals - it's just fuzzy enough without making it to where you can't see the stitches. I'm also using some old Caron Sayelle in baby yellow for the feet - another thrift store yarn that I am newly in love with. It may sound strange, but the yarn is actually a little stretchy, so it makes the stitches hold together for a tighter fabric = perfect for animals! And I have this yarn in a bunch of colors - hooray! lol I'm really excited to finish up the duck. I'm about half way through at this point :)
This next project is a new/oldie. I was at a local thrift store on Friday night after work (I was actually there to buy knit fabric) when I saw this weird box in the craft section. It was all taped up and you couldn't see anything from the outside, but it had a little label on it that said Bucilla Yellow Brick Road Coverlet Kit. I asked the cashier if I could open it up before I bought it just to check it out and she let me cut into all the tape and I found all this stuff inside. For some reason, I loved the blanket and wanted to make it, lol. I know it's kind of silly and definitely 70s looking, but I think it's cute. The weirdest part is that the kit had everything - all the yarn and hooks to make it - except the pattern! I was so bummed! I didn't buy it that night, but I decided to see if I could find it on ebay that night. I found where someone else had put the same kit up for sale and they had taken pictures of all the pages of the instruction! Score! lol So having the pattern I went back and bought the kit the next day - and it was only $3. Everyone I show the blanket picture to thinks I'm crazy, lol, but I don't care, I'm making it. Incidentally, the center section is Tunisian crochet (thus the long "afghan hook" in the kit), so this will be a great opportunity to give Tunisian a try :)
And I have been dying to make my own Well-Dressed Bunny ever since I found the pattern a few weeks ago. I blame Watership Down for this desire :) Plus it's coming up on Easter, so what better time to make up a bunny? I put off making it because I really wanted a honey/brown color for the body and I didn't have it in my stash. Thank heavens for an April Fool's Day sale on :) I got 2 different yarns in hopes that one would be the right color, and this Patons Canadiana in Flax is exactly what I wanted. I can't wait to make him up! Maybe I'll really get on the ball and make the Bunny Puppet too. Here's hoping!
So that's my crazy list of things I'm up to now :) Head over to Tami's Amis' Blog to see what lovely things other are making.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Book Review: Watership Down by Richard Adams

I had never heard of this book before randomly encountering this list of books to read in your lifetime. The list was compiled from the most common suggestions on Reddit, which to me gave it much more weight than any New York Times list - Reddit is filled with real people, nerdy people, my people :) My husband is a big Reddit fan just to give you an idea, lol. This list is one of the better ones I've come across, so when I noticed it mentioned Watership Down by Richard Adams, I decided to give it a whirl.

Watership Down is a story about rabbits. Hazel and Fiver are brothers an done day Fiver has a sort of vision that something bad is coming and they should leave. Their warren leaders do not agree, so Hazel and Fiver along with a few other friends go off on their own to find a new home, not really knowing why but trusting in Fiver's premonition. Hazel inadvertently becomes their leader as they traverse miles of English countryside in search of a place to call home. They encounter many hardships and enemies, none worse than specific groups of other rabbits. Once they settle and start their own warren, they realize that they have no women with them, so they start searching. They enlist the help of a wounded bird to circle the area and find a very large warren with lots of females, so they make the trek to see if any of their women wish to join them (a normal rabbit practice apparently). This one seemingly normal action begins a war between the warrens and turns to a fight for survival.

That was an extremely watered down synopsis of this wonderful book. I knew nothing about this story going into reading it and I was really impressed with how "ageless" the story is, and by that I mean it's a story that all ages can appreciate. The rabbits all behave in their natural sphere, but they have reasoning and thought like humans which really pulls you into the story. The rabbits have customs and government and religion (complete with stories of their Gods that explain different aspects of their life). The introduction by the author at the beginning really gave a great perspective for me. He explains that he never intended this book to amount to anything. In fact, he came up with the story on the fly while on a long car trip with his daughters, lol. He eventually wrote it down just for the benefit of his children having it, and it turned out to be a best seller! The book is constantly analyzed for its political and social messages, when in reality that was never the author's intention. When this book came out in the 1970s, it was regarded as a classical epic and seemed to hold similar standing to Tolkien's stories. Over time, we seem to have just forgotten about Watership Down, which makes me really sad because it was an excellent story. I will definitely keep the tradition of Watership Down alive with my kids when the time comes :)

Even though it felt silly to tell other adults that I was reading a book about bunnies (lol), I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. It's a family friendly story that doesn't talk down to you. It may be about rabbits, but it really does break down the struggle of a people against a tyrannical force. This book truly deserves all the acclaim it received and should be revived for our coming generation!