April 2007 Archives

The Backstory to the Baby, Part 1

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As I started to think about my path to pregnancy, I realized that the story actually starts quite some time ago. Almost in high school. So you'll have to bear with me as I set up the story. Be cause the road to Baby Z really has two parts: dealing with my own hangups and dealing with some medical things that were beyond my control.

You see, I've always been a very career oriented girl. I had both my parents telling me as I grew up that I could be anything I wanted to be and that I shouldn't let other people put limits on me or tell me what I should or shouldn't like doing. Growing up in the 70's and 80's there were all sorts of exciting scientific things going on. My dad bought our first computer when I was 12 and I loved the thing, even though at school, the only people into computers were the truly geeky guys. But my first love was always biology. And when I got to my junior year in high school I discovered immunology and I was pretty sure I had found my calling. I was going to become a research scientist and save the world with my discoveries. Hey, I was 17 and I still believed I was invinceable. And I was a geek who wasn't very comfortable socially, so I needed to believe that there was something important out there for me to do.

So college was all about achieving that goal. I did undergraduate research, researched good grad schools, focused on science as much as I could. It was all about getting to the place where I could start to solve big problems in science. In the end, I was pretty proud of myself. I got to speak at undergraduate research conferences, I won a National Science Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship and was actively recruited by more than one prestigous graduate program. From a career standpoint, life was good.

During college I also met a guy that I thought was on the same wavelength as I was. Like me, he came from the midwest (he grew up in Chicago) and he was looking at a serious scientific career as an MD/PhD. We started dating sophomore year and by senior year we were picking our graduate programs together. Which is how I ended up at the University of Chicago. It was the one good university that we both got into together.

Time went on and after some intial bobbles, we ended up living together and engaged. That would have been all well and good, but it was about this time that I started to discover that he and I didn't have goals as similar as I once thought we had had. We both were driven by our careers, but it became clear that my career was really secondary to his. Whether it was comments about not wanting to get "just a PhD" or suggestions that I didn't spend enough of my time keeping a clean house, I began to suspect that in the case of the fiance, driven might be re-interpreted as controlling.

After we got engaged, he started planning out the future. He loved kids and definitely wanted to start a family. His own family relationships had been chilly, and he was always trying to prove to his parents that he was good enough for their approval. Which he never got. So he channeled all that insecurity into trying to control the rest of his environment agressively. He decided that we were going to have our first child when we were 27 and our second when we were 30. He didn't really discuss this with me in a way that was negotiable. It was just the thing that needed to be done. He didn't factor into the equation that I would be doing my postdoc in a competitive field that required as much of a time commitment as a residency and didn't cut women any slack for having babies. He didn't factor into the equation that he would probably be doing a residency and would be on call and would leave me with most of the child care responsibility. He just decided that this was what we needed to do. It didn't put me in a very good headspace. Especially when he followed it up with the fact that it was going to be very important for me to keep my weight in check during and after pregnancy. It was beginning to become clear that I wasn't much of a person to him... I was a child-bearing vessel and an arm trophy.

A smart, driven, self-confident woman would have handed his ring back and walked out the door at this point. I like to think that I am smart and driven, but at the time, between the fiance and the learning experience that is graduate school, my self-confidence was at an all time low, and I was convinced that if I couldn't make things work out with this guy, I might spend my life alone. A pretty stupid thing to think as a 24-25 year old woman, but my social skills had never been strong, and I was pretty painfully aware of that. So instead of just telling him he was a jerk and to find someone else to be his glorified arm trophy, I stayed around and started becoming very resentful about the idea of having children and got very religious about making sure that I took my birth control pills when I was supposed to.

One of the things I thank my lucky stars for every day is that we got engaged and then set a wedding date for a year and a half later. It created plenty of thinking time for both of us. Especially when I went to a conference in New Mexico in the spring of 1995. I came back with a new resolve to make things work. He came to the conclusion that things could never work. I was devastated. The real kicker? The reason he told me that he was doing it was that he didn't think I would be a good mother to our children.*

That split, while immediately painful, turned out to be the best possible thing that could have happened to me. People who saw me the next day as I told them what had happened said I seemed happier than they had seen me in ages. And in truth, I was scared of the whole being alone thing, but it felt like the great weight of a bad relationship had been lifted, and I was now free to focus on the things that were important to me again: my career, my hobbies and finding someone who would really value me -- although I didn't necessarily approach them in that order. The whole "having a family" thing went completely out the window.

And then, in the spring of 1996, I met John.

* I know all of this stuff makes the Ex sound like a real self-centered heartless bastard. In truth, he was just a regular guy with personal issues that he couldn't really get past, and he got focused on one very particular solution to those problems. At the same time, I wanted to rescue him from his demons, because I'd always had a warm, loving family environment, and I thought I could help him have that, and could change the stuff I didn't like. As a result, I enabled a lot of bad behavior on his part. After we split up, it was clear to me that we were better friends than partners, and that trying to change someone to get what you want isn't really a healthy relationship strategy. People are what they are. I don't really regret him, or coming to Chicago. But I do regret not having the strength to stand up for myself when I should have.

The Backstory to the Baby, Part 2

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I'll preface today's entry by letting everyone know that there is some content that might make you uncomfortable, depending on who you are and what your sensibilities are. There's nothing vulgar, x-rated or crude, but I'm going to talk a bit about birth control, some medical procedures that I dealt with and my general state of mind during all this stuff, and I didn't want to surprise anyone.

I'm not going to spend any time hear talking about how I met John -- I've talked about it before, and while it's a story that I always love to tell, it's not really relevant to this one. We met in 1996 and got married in 1998, just before I turned 30.

At that time, both of us were very career focused. John was working on cutting edge technology projects in networking industry and I was finishing up my post-doc. There wasn't really time to think about having a child. And I just wanted time to enjoy being a pair. My parents had waited 5 years after getting married to have me and I always loved that they seemed to have a relationship that went beyond just being parents which made them wonderful parents and people. I wanted the same kind of thing for John and I.

After that, I went back to school to add the computational component to my training and John launched into a new job working hours that went beyond even what I put in as a grad student. Still not time. I wasn't ready and it seemed to me like he needed the chance to really put all his energy into his career without feeling guilty about having a family at home that he wasn't paying enough attention to. And this was the tail end of the dot com era and John was at a tech company -- we had hopes that his labors would pay off in the form of incredible stock option payouts.

Meanwhile, in early 2001, I got a "real job" and we bought our house. Within about 6 months my job became unstable and for the next couple of years we dealt with concerns about unstable startup companies -- on both sides. It still seemed like a bad time, I still had time.

By now what you are beginning to see is that I was really good at finding reasons to avoid the whole "starting a family thing". John always jokes with me that every guy suffers for all the sins of every other guy that his wife/girlfriend/significant other has ever dated, and to some extent that was the case with me. I had a hard time wrapping my brain around why anyone would want to give up their freedom to have a family. And I also felt, in some weird, twisted place, that having a family was giving into the ex all over again. Somehow I would stop being myself and wouldn't be valued for me any more. I would just be somebody's mom.* And I was completely freaked out by how it might change my body. And the issue of labor? Well, that was beyond really what I could think about.

We actually talked a lot about the issue of starting a family... we were watching our friends kids get older and I had started to notice that my clock was ticking. One way or another we needed to make a decision. I needed to make a decision. And for a while I just couldn't. I was scared of all the physical and emotional potential on either side. John, in his own thoughtful and understanding way, felt either option was reasonable.

And then I had one of those cathartic moments when I looked at John and I just thought it would be the saddest thing ever if I never got to see John holding a child of his own. Here I had a guy who I loved more than anything and who I just knew would be a fabulous father and would never see me as just a walking womb. Here was a guy who really would be an equal partner in the process. He was supposed to have children. And the decision was made.

But that didn't make it easy for me to stop taking my birth control pills. It was summer 2004 and I think that was one of the harder things I've ever done... quitting that ritual of cycle regulation. We didn't start trying right away... I wanted to have a couple of "protected" cycles while my body normalized after 16 years of chemical regulation. I think this was really just the whole fear thing coming back a little bit and it was a small way for me to hold onto some control in something that I knew inherently that I couldn't control once it all started rolling.

Needless to say, I was surprised when I didn't get instantaneously pregnant the minute there was nothing to prevent the whole baby-initiating process to occur. It was kind of funny to me for a while... all the time I spent trying to stay un-pregnant and even without any barrier, it didn't seem to be happening. Granted, we weren't "trying" in a focused way. And it was an incredibly stressful year at work, which didn't make things any better. But I just couldn't focus on it that way. I needed it to sort of sneak up on me and happen almost by accident.

So you might find it funny to think that when we discovered we were pregnant at the beginning of November, 2005, I was actually pretty calm about it. Not only calm, but at peace with everything and pretty happy about it. Well, I wasn't happy with the three weeks of miserable morning sickness that I had, but everything else was pretty good. That is, until I had some cramping and bleeding at 10 weeks.

That shattered my calm for the 8 hours before I could get into my doctor's office. But everything came back into focus when the ultrasound showed that I was still pregnant and everything looked fine. False alarm. Sometimes these sorts of things just happen I was told. Oh, and by the way, did I know that I had a few fibroids? No, no, nothing to worry about, but I should be aware they were there.

Scientist that I am, I opted for some early genetic screening to make sure that things were going correctly. By 12 weeks we had a CVS screen and found out that we had a genetically healthy girl. And at my 14 week checkup, on December 22nd, everything looked good and I heard a nice strong heartbeat. We decided it was time to share with our families.

On December 25th, 2005 in the afternoon I started to have some cramping. I was uncomfortable, but I didn't think too much about it, I'd been told that sometimes that happens a bit as the uterus gets used to its new occupant. In the early evening I lost my mucus plug and a rush of fluid. My miscarriage happened shortly after that. Thank goodness my mother was around and is an incredibly strong person. I don't know what I would have done without her. I feel lucky that when everything happened, I was surrounded by my family. If anything brings into focus how important family is, this sort of thing does.

My trip to the hospital was really about stopping the bleeding. A pregnancy involves putting a lot of vascularized tissue in place, and my body was evicting all of it. With through the help of quite a few medical professionals, my family and some atavan, I got through the night, got home, went on. It's still one of the hardest things for me to think about. I felt like I had lost everything. I would just have these unexpected bouts of sobbing. John was totally there for me, but had a hard time understanding. He had just been worried about losing me. The miscarriage was followed up by a D&C a little over a week later. Which didn't really help my mindset, even if it did help me find the OB that I have now and I really like working with. When I was being prepped for the procedure, it was all I could do to keep from sobbing, even though I knew there was nothing to be upset about with the procedure. But it represented the ultimate end of my pregnancy. My daughter. And did I mention that I have a real fear of hospitals. Oh yes.

But the whole thing made me resolved to try again. I was going to have a baby. There was nothing that I had wanted that I hadn't been able to achieve. I was not going to let my body get away with rejecting the whole baby having process. My doctor recommended that we give it a month or two before we started trying again to let things "get back to normal", and it felt like an eternity. One of the few saving graces was that I could head off to one of my favorite happy places and have margaritas. In the meantime, we did a lot of testing, looking for anything obvious that could have caused my miscarriage. A lot of needles and blood later (I'm not much of a fan of needles either) we hadn't found anything out of the ordinary. Which was, of course, good. But frustrating. There was nothing to fix, nothing to change. We just had to try again.

And so we did. This time I was a bit more focused about the process. I charted my temperatures, knew the timings of things. We got pregnant for the second time right after MS&W. I figured that had to be good luck. But I was going to be wrong again. My doctor's office did blood work at 5 weeks to confirm the pregnancy. My HCG levels were a little lower than they liked, so I had another draw at 6 weeks. Worse news, my HCG levels weren't rising. A follow up ultrasound didn't give much hope. Fortunately my OB was wise enough to suggest waiting a few days before scheduling the D&E so that we could do another ultrasound just to make sure things were at an end. I miscarried naturally without any need for surgical intervention. It was a small blessing for me. And, as my doctor said, at least we had one thing going for us -- we could get pregnant. A lot of couples get stuck at that part.**

This loss was a little easier to deal with. It happened earlier and I had a good deal more warning. It was easier for me to chalk it up to a bad genetic outcome, which is usually what these early miscarriages are. And given how hard the first one had been, I'd had a harder time getting invested. I was consciously staying as reserved as I could.

Not too long after that, John had his retinal problems and I just couldn't think about our baby problems. If I'd been offered a deal of having children or ensuring John would always have his vision, it would have been an easy decision in John's favor. All that mattered was that we took care of him and his eye. By focusing on John it was easier for me not to think about the fact that my uterus seemed to be rebelling against me.

The ultrasound I had after the second miscarriage to determine if everything was clear or not tool me back to the fibroids. There was some suggestion that one of the mostly benign things was actually on the inner wall of my uterus. A sonohysterogram a bit later determined that this was, in fact, the case, and that the thing was taking up 3-4 square centimeters of perfectly good, baby -supporting uterine real-estate. My doctor talked to a reproductive endocrinologist and the verdict was that it would be a good idea to remove it.*** At the end of August, I was back in the hospital to have it removed -- it was a pretty mellow procedure as these things go. No incisions required. Most of the work was done as a D&C would be only the tool had a scope and a cutting tool that would be used to remove the growth. But I hadn't suddenly developed a love of hospitals, so this experience wasn't particularly more wonderful than the early January experience. But that's probably a story for another blog post.

Everything went fine with the surgery, and my doctor told me that I was going to have a period that went on for several weeks while things healed (fun, fun) and that I needed to wait at least two cycles before we tried again. John told me that the next time he wanted either of us to be in a hospital was when we had a baby. I couldn't have agreed with him more. And then he smiled and told me that he was sure the next time would go fine. After all, it seemed like I had to do everything three times before it worked.

Baby Z, is, in fact our third time. I consider it a sign of some kind of providence that we got pregnant on the very first try after my surgery. And it's been a very well monitored pregnancy. I've had 4 ultrasounds in 20 weeks (some as a substitute for the more invasive means of genetic screening) and a whole lot of blood work. I still spent (spend?) a lot of time convinced that something bad was going to happen, that something was going to take this one away from us, too. But so far, everything's been perfect. I was barely morning sick (more like a little dizzy for a few minutes in the morning) -- which of course had me convinced bad things were happening -- not very fatigued, and I've felt pretty good through the whole thing. Every time I've heard her heartbeat, its been a treat. Every time I feel her move, it makes me happy. It does seem like the third time is going to be the charm. Knock on wood.

I decided to tell this story because one thing I discovered after my first miscarriage is that it's just about the lonliest thing that has ever happened to me. It's not something that you can talk about easily to other people. It's a sad thing. You bring back sad memories for those who have been there, and those who haven't can't really imagine what its like.

I went back and forth a number of times about talking about it here, and finally decided that now was the time for me to share. I wanted other women out there who might read my blog and have had the same misfortune to know that they are not alone. In fact, it happens a lot more often than you might think -- some statistics suggest that as many as 30% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. So a lot of us have to deal with miscarriage. But not all of us get much support for the process.

Hence my post. If someone out there needs a sounding board, or to tell their story, I'd be happy to listen. I know how hard it is to see other pregnant women, and how it seems like every woman you see is pregnant. How it feels like you have lost everything when the biology doesn't work the way it's supposed to. I know how that fear of loss creeps into the next attempts and makes it so hard to believe that things are going to go your way (believe me... I'm still wrestling with that one), and the frustration with all the medicalization of the process. I've been there and I've wrestled with it myself. So to anyone who needs to talk. I'm here.


*this is not meant to be offensive to anyone out there who is a mom... being somebody's mom is a very special and important thing... this is just to help set the stage for where my headspace was.

** again, I'm not trying to make light of anyone's situation, nor was my doctor. I do feel very lucky that we don't have fertility issues that complicate the situation. And my heart goes out to those that do. When I think about what some people have to go through to have baby, it makes my ordeal seem pretty small.

*** if you talk to 10 different OB/gyn doctors, you will probably get about 10 different opinions on whether fibroids cause problems for pregnancy. It's controversial subject material. But it certainly gave me peace of mind to know the darn thing was gone... I know if I hadn't had the prorcedure and I'd had a third miscarriage, I would have always wondered if it could have been prevented by having the fibroid removed. But a lot of people don't think that a fibroid as "small" as the one I had can really have much impact. Hence the controversy.

The Nine Patch Begins to Bloom

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First off, thank you to everyone who left a comment yesterday. I enjoyed reading every one of them. I'm very touched by how many of you were willing to share your own experiences and the positive energy that many of you shared for John and I and the baby. We feel so lucky right now to get to feel her bounce around (yes, John has felt her too, now) and I hope everyone who commented or just comes by to read who is dealing with pregnancy/fertility related issues has good luck now and in the future.

In the meantime, it's not all about the baby chez Biologist. I have made some more progress on my quilt. All of the 9 patches are complete, and all the additional pieces have been cut out. I couldn't resist pulling out my big piece of black felt and laying them out to see what the whole quilt was starting to look like.

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My Blooming 9 Patch Blooms on the Dining Room Floor

My felt wasn't quite wide enough for me to lay out the whole quilt, so when I got towards the end, I just laid out the pieces for one of the short ends so that I could see how the "bloom" was going to look. It's hard to capture the better part of a queen-sized quilt top on camera and still get any detail, but I think the picture does give you a pretty good impression of what is going to happen. I like that there are some areas that stand out as bright (like the center and the band of reddish fabric towards the edge) and that there are areas that are more muted in between them and at the edge. I think if it were all bright, it would be a little bit overwhelming.

So the next step is to get the pieces sewn together. And this is where I've stopped to pause for a bit. My 9 patch squares are supposed to be 4-1/4 x 4-1/4 inches (this is what the solid squares have been cut to be) but in the direction perpendicular to the seams that were used to connect the pieces for the 9 patches, for many of the squares the dimension seems to be closer to 4-1/8 most of the time (the other side is close enough to 4-1/4 for me not to worry about it). So I'm trying to decide what to do. Do I trim my solid color squares? Do I just center my 9 patches on the solid squares as best I can, since it doesn't really matter how much fabric is taken into the seam as long as the blocks line up correctly?

I'm leaning towards the latter option, but wouldn't mind input from the more experienced in the audience...

Antique Ab Fab

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I seem to have a little thing about blankets and quilts lately. Right now, the only projects besides socks that seem to call my name are projects that involve creating a large warm covering for a human or a piece of furniture. My next project fits securely into this category.

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Ab Fab Afghan Beginnings, Antique Colorway

I purchaseds this Ab Fab kit some time ago when they could still be purchased for a reasonable price from sellers in the UK. The idea was that it would be an afghan in the "Den of Great Manliness", a.k.a. the home theatre. So I let John consult on the color. Given that it's Colinette, his options were a little limited from his perspective because nothing was either muted or black and grey. So he selected Antique as being closest to the palette he liked. It has some greens, and purples and deep reds. Of course, at the time, I was mostly interested in getting a kit because I knew they would be almost impossible to get from the UK in the future, not because I meant to start it right away. But I needed another project to work on while watching TV and I'm trying very hard to knit out of my stash right now (this has a great deal to do with the fact that my fiber room is going to become the nursery and I'm not going to have quite as much dedicated stash space as I currently do, but in smaller part because I just feel like my stash has gotten to the point where I have more than sufficient yarn for big projects... there can never be too much sock yarn) and this project appealed to me because of all the different textures and yarns that are contained in it.

Part of the fun for me with a project like this is just winding the skeins into balls. This gave the big ol' ball winder quite a work out. The more I use it, the more I like it. I don't miss my little plastic Royal at all. Almost all of these balls would have been too big for my small winder to handle. After that, I got to put the colors into an order. The kit pattern just puts them in order by yarn type, but since there are three skeins of brushed mohair, and 2 of that schlubby boucle yarn, there's still a little room for personal preference (it also means that, should I want to make another of these, I can mix and match my own colors and still order directly from the UK).

It also meant that I came face to face with the fact that this project has a lot of mohair... and a brushed mohair yarn is not my favorite kind of yarn to use when the words "mindless knitting" are meant to be applied. But after John picked it up and said "Oooh, soft" after I had knit a few rows at the beginning, I'm going to hunker down and not complain too much. After all, if it's soft and it's warm it will get a lot of love from the husband, who can almost always be found under a blanket when he's in his Den.

And in the end, a big knitted blanket is all about sharing the warmth of a little knitty love.

Curiously Springy Socks

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Toe Up Sock Started with Curious Yarns "Sprung"

Don't let the sunshine fool you, all the warm weather has left Chicago. We were hovering right around 40F for most of the day. But the sunshine made it a lovely day to take some pictures. I started this pair of socks not too long ago because I just needed a burst of springy color in my life. What could be better than this soft yellow and green yarn from Curious Yarns (they have a website, but it doesn't seem to be functioning right now) in the colorway "Sprung"?

There's not much exciting to say yet about this sock -- there will be more when I get farther along on the cuff, but I just think the color variations in this sock are both subtle and beautiful and even a bit mood lifting.

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Subtleties in Sprung

Just enough variation so you can see it, but subtle enough so that from a distance it blends together a little bit and just gives you the impression of spring grass and daffodils. The subtlety surprised me, because in the skein the greens and yellows seemed so distinct.

Since the striping/pooling/repeating color pattern were so subdued, I decided that I could probably do something more interesting with the top. The red yarn is a lifeline so that I could play and rip out as needed. Which I did several times before coming across a eyelet and textured stitch that I liked and seemed to keep with the spring theme. These socks aren't entirely mindless knitting (I might need to start another pair in straight stockinette for that) but the pattern stitch isn't that difficult, either. I figure if I can't knit myself sweaters for a while, I'm most definitely going to work on filling up my sock drawer!

The First 8 9-Patch Strips

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The First 8 Pairs of Pieced Strips

So, on Friday, I got to the business of thinking seriously about my Blooming 9 Patch quilt again. I know there are probably faster ways to do this, but I approached it by sewing together all the pieces for one pair of strips (there's symmetry in the strips) and then moving on to the next, starting with the outermost strips and working my way in. I figured this way I could line things up as I went and look for any systematic problems that might be creeping in. It also just turned out to be fun to line up the strips every time I completed a set. The picture only shows how the first 8 pairs would look if I stopped at that point. The first 8 pairs of strips gets you a pretty respectable sized baby quilt/throw. Which goes to show that this design is pretty versatile. But since there are 15 total pairs of strips (and the center pair is actually a trio), I'm not really even halfway done at this point.

The more I work on this project, the more I enjoy watching the colors come together, and the more I like the whole process of piecing a top. Everytime I sit down to sew, I learn something new about my machine or how the process of connecting two pieces of fabric with thread really works. I still have an awful lot to learn, but I can see major improvement from my first project to this one, and that's pretty satisfying to me.

Now... back to my strips!

Sock Top Texture

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Springy or Not? An Interesting Texture for a Sock Top

A while back I got the chance to go to a Japanese bookstore with Bonne Marie. This was my first voyage into such an arena, and I found it very intriguing, even though the bookstore was a mere fraction of its normal size due to renovations. I didn't buy much except a book labelled "Knitting Patterns Book 300" (ISBN 4-529-041727) and it's been a great source of inspiration. Some pattern stitches are relatively common or are just variations on a common theme. Others are new to me, somewhat bizarre or both. Given my love of stripey sock yarn, I was hoping to find some that would bias in interesting ways, and there are definitely a few that fit that bill that I will try when I am workin on something that I can focus on. The stitch that I ended up with for this sock has a six stitch and 6 row repeat, making it a pretty easy pattern to commit to memory and work up on the leg of a sock (if you have the book, it is pattern #134). It has, to me anyway, an interesting combination of eyelets and angles. It actually reminds me of little trees -- which seems rather appropriate for a spring colored sock.

Now I just need to decide what type of ribbing to put on the top of it to finish it off. 1x1? 2x2? It probably doesn't matter, but since the pattern is rather loose and open, I'd like to have something with a little pull and traction to make sure the sock stays up when I put it on.

The First Repeat of John's Blankie

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Ab Fab After the First Repeat

With all apologies to John for anyone who would think that he would refer to any item of warmth production in his Den of Great Manliness as a "blankie", I present the first iteration of "Scallops" pattern of the Ab Fab kit. I find myself wishing that perhaps the darks and lights were not so concentrated (this is my own fault as I selected the ordering for the three mohair yarns and I didn't pay attention to the fact that the color order in the pattern was different from the color order in which the yarns were listed), but other than that, I think it's quite an attractive blanket, all things considered. I'm not going to suggest that it is stunningly masculine at this point, but so far it still seems to meet with the approval of he whose Den it will grace. Which is all that really matters.

What is amusing me most, however, is John's concern that something so light and airy (he means the mohair regions) could keep him warm. He's definitely suspicious of those holes produced by the yarn overs. I just keep telling him that it's mohair and that the "mos"* produce remarkably warm, airy fiber. He just raises one eyebrow and lets me keep on knitting.

* yes, I do know that mohair comes from angora goats and not some mythical creature called a "mo"...

A Lesson In Quilting

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Close to completing my Serenity quilt top, I was at KIP. And I had just blogged about the fact that I thought I was going to send it out to let someone else machine quilt it. So one of the questions that came up a lot on that night was whether or not I was going to go that route. As it turned out Carolyn was at KIP that night and she spent a good deal of time trying to convince me that I should at least try machine quilting Serenity on my own. I protested about my lack of time, lack of equipment, etc. Carolyn gave me a number of good reasons in the opposite direction: machine quilting isn't that hard, doesn't take that long, you can trust the person doing the quilting, and the equipment isn't that hard to find, especially if you have access to a sewing machine. But then she hit me with the kicker: if you don't do it at least once yourself, you've never really actually done any quilting -- you've just sewn the top together. You should go through the whole process at least once. And then she volunteered to give me a lesson.

How could I refuse? Especially when Serenity was supposed to be for my own baby. And the good thing about babies? They are not so picky about how things look. The quilt will keep Miss Z warm no matter what I did to it.

So last Saturday I got to have my lesson with Carolyn. Carolyn has a very nice machine to use for quilting and is a great teacher. I learned about the kind of batting that's good to use; how to create the sandwhich of quilt top, batting and quilt bottom; why you can never have enough safety pins and how to deal with wrangling a large quilt on a small machine. And I also got to do some quilting using some muslin and cotton batting.

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Straight Lines Using a Walking Foot

After getting my sandwich pinned together, I got an introduction to using a walking foot (a special foot for your sewing machine that essentially makes sure that the top piece of fabric moves through the machine at the same rate as the bottom piece of fabric). The first thing I did was stitch the horizontal and vertical lines. This helps to set everything in place so that you don't need the safety pins any more. After that, I put on the diagonal lines and the mild curves. Kind of fun, I have to say, and not hard. I also got to try out "stitching in the ditch" using a quilt block that Carolyn shared with me -- this is where you stitch into the indented area created by a seam. Also not hard. And likely to be what I do with Serenity.

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Quilting with a Darning/Free Motion Foot

The next part of the lesson was even more fun than the first. Let me tell you, if you like to doodle or scribble, attatching your darning/free motion foot to your machine just lets you doodle with stitches. You can make wild curves, funky flowers, butterflies, strange squiggles. We quilted some straight lines first in order to stabilize the quilt sandwich, and after that anything could be done with the free open spaces. It takes a little practice to get the hang of balancing the speed of moving the fabric with the speed of the machine, but once you've got that, it's an opportunity to be really creative. I'm going to have to get some muslin of my own so that I can play with this on my own machine.

So now I have a basic understanding of quilting, and all I need to do to get Serenity taken care of is to buy a walking foot for my machine (who can complain about a good excuse for new toys?), find some Serenity friendly thread, a boat load of safety pins and some cotton batting.

Thanks again, Carolyn for a great afternoon and being an excellent teacher!

WPI Tools

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An Assortment of Hand Turned WPI Tools

It's always nice to visit my parents in Ann Arbor. I get to check out what's going on in my mother's sewing room and I get to see what's going on in my dad's workshop as well. Dad, whose spinning just keeps getting better and better, has been inspired to create some spinning related tools. In the picture above are 4 wraps per inch tools that he turned using his lathe and some exotic woods that had been cut for pen blanks, but which work equally well for his purpose.

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WPI Tool In Action*

For those of you who aren't familiar with these tools, they are actually quite useful for knitters as well as spinners. You take your yarn and wrap the yarn around the tool between the gauge lines and measure how many wraps fit in an inch (for bulkier yarns or yarns that do not have a regular diameter, you might measure how many wraps are in two or more inches and divide as appropriate). This measurement tells you a couple of things: first, WPI can give you an estimate of the size of your yarn. For instance, yarns in the 21-17 WPI range often are considered sock weight yarns. You can also use this tool to determine if a yarn will easily substitute for another yarn. For instance, let's say you've got a pattern that calls for a yarn that, when measured, gives you 12 WPI. However, that yarn is wool, and you're allergic to wool and you want to substitute a cotton yarn. All you need to do to determine if you're likely to get gauge with that cotton yarn that you have in your stash is to take it out and measure the WPI. If it's close to 12 WPI, it's going to be a decent possible substitute (at least when it comes to gauge, WPI definitely can't tell you about elasticity or memory or other similar qualities which help factor into making a substitution decision).

* The yarn shown here is one of my dad's hand spun and plied yarns from his first stash of BFL. It's beautifully soft and lofty and I love the irregular quality of it. He's done a three ply as well and is spinning some blue corriedale fiber that is going to be absolutely gorgeous when he plies it up.

A Sock Has Sprung

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Sprung Sock and Daffodil

After much hemming and hawing I finally settled on a K4P2 ribbing for the top of my Curious Yarns "Sprung" sock. It seemed to be the right combination of simplicity and compatibility with the leg pattern. And it fits pretty well, too.

I'm pleased with the overall look of the sock. I think the pattern stitch is well matched to the delicate colors and the open/airy pattern makes for the right weight and warmth for a spring and summer sock. A number of folks asked for more information about the pattern. The whole sock is really quite simple. When I complete the second sock, I'll put the outline together and make it available to everyone and anyone who wants to try it out for themselves.

Hawaiian Turtle Pincushion

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Turtle Pincushion in Hawaiian Prints*

My dad is not the only creative person in my parents house. While my dad works on his wood working projects, my mother does a lot of things with her sewing machine. This time, however, she did something with my sewing machine! Since she's never worked with a Bernina before, she wanted to do a small project to try out my machine. That little project was something I got to take home with me to celebrate my entry into sewing: a turtle pincushion in Hawaiian print fabrics that my mother has collected -- some of which were even purchased on her recent trips to the Big Island.

I picked three fabrics, all with a hibiscus motif. The pattern itself is a nice simple pattern where the turtle is supposed to have a quilt-pieced shell. However, since time was of the essence (we really only had Sunday afternoon) and there are many fun stitches to play with on my sewing machine, Mom decided to try a different approach -- the blue fabric and the purple fabrics are actually connected via some fusable interfacing and then stitched onto the body using a decorative stitch to help mimic a patchwork seam. Pretty clever, I thought! And to think all I did while I was in Ann Arbor was work on my second Sprung sock and played with my new walking foot for my sewing machine!

He still needs a little embellishing -- but I'm fresh out of fun googly eyes, so that will have to wait until my next trip to JoAnn's. In the meantime, I still have a great new little buddy to help hold my pins while I sew.

* The turtle is sitting on a little gift brought back from Hawaii for Ms. Z -- her first bib and burp cloth set and first official gift from her grandparents. Yes, we do like the turtles in my family. And, yes, I think my parents are a little excited about the upcoming grandbaby...

In And Out or Birds in Trees

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There's not so much new on the crafting front right now. I'm working on the second of my "Sprung" socks and I've made it through the second pattern repeat of my Antique AbFab. I made no progress at all on my Blooming 9 Patch quilt, but I did finally get my hands on all the things I need to quilt my Serenity quilt. And I've bought some other fabric, too. No, we will not say anything about developing a fabric stash. Not at all. I'm just thinking ahead to my next projects. Ahem.

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In and Out Pattern from Blue Underground Studios

This pattern is the general idea for the quilt top. "In and Out" has two different types of squares: one with a large piece of focus fabric bordered with a narrow border, the other with a small center square where the border fabric has the starring role. These squares are pieced and then alternated.

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Fabrics for the In and Out Quilt

This is the collection of fabrics that I purchased to test out. My working title/idea for this project is "Birds in Trees". The top two fabrics will be my primary focus fabrics. It's impossible to tell from the pictures, but the red floral looking fabric actually has pairs of birds on it. I'm going to fussy cut center squares for the squares with the narrow borders from this fabric. The fabric with the cream colored background has a tree trunk motif (closer picture below) and is also going to be used for larger center squares. I'm going to alternate the large square blocks bird, tree, bird, etc. If I decide I need a bit more diversity, the brown fabric that is the 4th from the top, has leaf motifs and I will scatter a few of those around, too.

The borders and the squares with the small center fabric will be composed from the rest of the fabrics. I'm more or less going to mix and match those in whatever way feels right to me. I'm thinking that I may actually scan the fabrics in and play with them on my computer screen before I start cutting anything. But I did get a reasonable amount of excess fabric so that I could play a bit. I'd like the final size of this quilt to be in the same range as Serenity -- a good quilt for curling up on a couch with.

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Some of My Favorites in the Group

This quilt was inspired by the fabric with the bird print. Birds are pretty popular in my family, and when I saw the fabric I knew it had to come home with me. After that, I started to search through the fabrics at Quiltology looking for fabrics that co-ordinated and fit the theme I had building in my head. In the end, I ended up with batiks, modern prints, and some more traditional looking quilt fabrics. The fabrics in the picture above are the ones that appeal to me the most at the moment. I love how the tree trunks give you stripes without really making stripes. And that batik with it's odd pastels really does work with the other fabrics. The other two fabrics come from a collection that Colette found that look like the end papers from books. Ever since they arrived in her shop, I've wanted to do something with them. This quilt will give me the opportunity.

I've told myself that no progress can begin on this project until I either complete Serenity (i.e. get it quilted) or finish my Blooming 9 Patch top. So right now this quilt is just percolating in my brain, and I'm looking forward to getting to work on a new color study in a different set of colors than I normally gravitate to.

A Basket Full of Potential

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A Basket and a Color Study

Last December I travelled to Montana on business and managed to include a side trip to Mountain Colors
. I hadn't really been intending to acquire much yarn, but when I found the box of 3 Ply Targhee mill ends I did what I could to make room in my suitcase to bring home my own version of a Bitterroot Rainbow*. When I got them home, I couldn't resist coverting them from hanks into balls so that I could play with some simple but randomly colored log cabin squares.

For no particular reason (other than, perhaps, being easily distracted) the yarn got wound into balls but never actually started it's journey into log cabin squares. My fiber room is now on its way to becoming the nursery,** and as a part of the transformation, I re-discovered my basket of 3 Ply Targhee balls waiting patiently for me. And since it's still going to be a little while before I get back to sweater knitting, and I'm done with the other log cabin blanket project, I decided to play around with some new log cabin squares.

This time, however, I am coming at the project with very few pre-conceived notions of where I want to go. I think, instead, I am going to use this project as an opportunity to play with color. One thing that intrigues me greatly about quilting is how easy it is to do color studies. I love to start with a simple idea or favorite fabric and then run around a store looking for things that work with it. You can do this in knitting, but it is somewhat more complicated because knitting a log cabin square takes a good deal more time than cutting pieces out of fabric and machine sewing them together. But this targhee yarn is a heavy worsted so it knits up on fairly large needles. The variagations provide the same kind of opportunity to do a color study as if I was pulling fabrics down froma store wall. Knitting up a simple block (a center square surrounded by an outer square) takes relatively little time (probably an hour and a half or so) so I can start to see the results quickly, at least from the perspective of a knitting project.

I have created a few simple rules for this project:


  • Each log cabin square is composed of 5 color sections. Each section must be a different color.
  • The first colorway can be pulled from the basket at random, but the remaining 5 colors should "interact" with the first colorway by sharing some color component with one of the other blocks that it touches.
  • A block is not considered finished until the ends have been woven in.

Initially I was just going to pull balls at random and let things lay how they would, but I have a great deal more of some colors than others, so I need to determine the order of the colors so that colors I have more of end up in the larger blocks. Otherwise, I suspect I will end up unable to maintain my desire to have 5 different colors in each square.

For the rest of this week, I'm going to show you the first four squares that I've worked up as part of this project, and I'll try to talk about why I put the colors together that I did in hopes that it encourages other people to take a stab at playing with color.***

* Mountain Colors is located in Montana's Bitterroot Valley and one of their signature colorways is called Bitterroot Rainbow.
** This was always what the room was intended for, it just took us longer to get to the point where we needed a nursery than I thought it would and since we weren't using the room for anything else, it became a space to store my fiber-related toys. Now, plans are underway to create a better creative space for me in our office so that Miss Z can have a creative space of her own.
*** And, hopefully, it will also give me some time to work on my other ongoing projects which have been going rather slowly as I work on house organization projects related to preparing for our new arrival.

Genomics in Quilting

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It isn't very often that I can find science that I understand intersecting with a craft that I enjoy -- so I'm interrupting my discussion of log cabin blocks with another quilting/color theory sort of post. Beverly St. Clair creates quilts based on an organism's genomic information.

Genome Quilts by Beverly St. Clair

Many artists have tried to use genetic information to come up with unique art. Some composers have tried to use the 4 chemicals that make up DNA to create music, for instance. But I have to say that these quilts are the first art form that I can really relate to. I particularly like the Hep C Virus quilt.

And given her approach of assigning each chemical a quilt square, it's an approach that could be modified for personal interests and used not only for genetic information, but for almost anything you wanted to "encode" in a quilt.

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Log Cabin by Random Selection

This is the first square that I did for the Mountain Colors 3 Ply Targhee project. I used US size 8 (5.0 mm) needles and cast on 8 stitches for the center square so that I would have a starting center square of about 2" and a final square of about 6" x 6" (gauge translation: 4 stitches and 8 rows to 1" in garter stitch). The resulting fabric has a nice thick texture, perhaps a bit thicker than you'd want for a blanket, moving into the range that I think most hot pads fall into.

For this square, I started off with the random grab idea. After I converted all the skeins into balls, I reached in and pulled out a color at random and started the square. The next four colors were more or less determined the same way. This is when I realized that if I really did things this way, I would probably end up with a lot of some colors left as I progressed through the project. But I was generally pleased by the fact that random selection led to something that was pretty coherent in color.

To begin with, this square is a good deal less bright in real life than it appears in this picture (I had to use my old camera to snap the photos because I had temporarily misplaced my little Canon) due to the camera's tendency to saturate reds and the fact that it was a very bright day when I took the photo. But the general trends are okay. There's not really much color selection process to speak of since the selections were random. But you can see how there is some brown that moves through almost all 5 blocks, there are muted autumnal reds in 4 out of the five, autmnal blues in 3 out of the 5 and golds and greens in 2 of the 5. I think this is why they work together in a not-too-jarring way. There's definite color overlap in all the colorways. If I was to replace any brick, it would be the one on the top left... in both this picture and it real life it's a bit brighter in tone than the rest of the colors. But for random, its acceptable.

My favorite colorway in the group is the one in the center. I believe it's called "Goldrush" (none of the mill ends came with any color identifiers) and the golds and greens and reds are lovely and autumnal. Very evocative of maple trees in the fall. Fortunately, I also have a reasonable amount of this color, so I'll be able to use it liberally throughout the project.

If you're wondering why my Thursday posts have become a little sparse, it mostly has to do with the fact that Wednesday night is "date night" for John and I and by the time I get back from dinner, I'm often feeling a little bit tired. In general, I've had pretty good energy levels while I've been pregnant, but it does seem like I get to a certain point at night where I just get sleepy. When that happens before I post, it usually means no post.

Anyway, onto my next log cabin block. While I don't have a lot of light colored yarn, I do have a little bit that I want to intersperse into the blocks. So for this next block I built my colors off of the central block (which has red/brown earth tones) but I also included one block of that light colored yarn that is a complete contrast with the rest of the yarn in the square.

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The Second Block: A Little Contrast

On of the things I've been thinking about since I started quilting, was building a series of blocks that were mostly black and white prints and having the occasional block that would have one small element of a primary color (inspired by some Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass pieces I've seen). In my head, what makes these blocks interesting is not the black and white prints, but that contrasting splash of color. In this block, I wanted 4 out of the 5 blocks to have the same depth of shade and to share one or more colors (in this case, the red and brown tones can be found in 4 of the 5 blocks and the blue and aqua tones can be found in 3 of the 4) and have the 5th block just pop out, but still have colors that would work with the colors in the other 4 "logs" in the log cabin. The light green block co-ordinates with the others (blue and green go together well in my book and there are some subtle yellow shades that go with the browns and reds in the other colorway) but also stands out because the depth of shade is so much lighter.

Does it work? It does for me, at least in this block. Clearly I'll have to make a few more and start looking at them all together to really know. But I think it was a good experiment.

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Bringing Bright and Dark Colors Together

I promise, this will be the last square for a while. This is probably the last one I can use to illustrate anything interesting about how I am thinking about color for this blanket.

This square started with two ideas in mind. I wanted to use some of th bright blue/green yarn (in the bottom log) and I wanted to find a way to use the very light green/yellow yarn from the last block (in the top right log) such that it didn't stand out quite so strongly.

The one color that extends through all the blocks in this square is green. Not all the greens are the same, but each yarn does have some kind of green element. There's also a balance of bright and dark yarns. The top left and right logs are colorways with lighter tones and brighter tones, the remaining logs are darker. I think by putting the two brighter logs on one side of the square and the darker logs on the other, it creates an interesting balance and makes the brighter logs not seem so contrasty and unexpected.

I think most of the next squares I make are going to be variations on these themes. But it might be a little while before I get too much farther because there's a good bit of quilting starting up again...

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