19 November 2009

Cute stuff.

Katy's been bugging me to put a pic of this little guy up somewhere, so here he is! His name is Elefante, and he's a cute free pattern I found on Ravelry. Sure, his ears are crooked, and he looks sad when he's not supported by a ball of yarn, and he looks like a clown barfed on him, but he's squishy, he's friendly, and he's mine...all mine!!!

He is but the first in a line of cuteness that has permeated my life lately. All of said cuteness is very welcome right now, as a dark raincloud has apparently permanently relocated to right on
top of Columbia, and the dark misty days are weighing on my heart.

What else is cute-ifying my life right now? Well, the cats, of course! Here's Atticus, in his second favorite bathroom sink, with his new favorite toy from his absolute favoritest auntie. How could you not love that pudge (which, as Bill is quick to point out, is actually muscle).

And last but not least, something not cute so much as delicious and squishy. It's Sherino, which is Shetland x Merino (you know how I love my punny/clever names) dyed green, with PEACOCK feathers in it. For real. It's lovely and squooshy and soo pretty...got it in a destash on Rav, and will have to make something for myself with it, I think. Mmm...sheepy birdy yumminess.

16 November 2009

Fiber Art.

Yesterday was my second Ravelversary! For those of you that are not fiber geeks, it means I've been a member of Ravelry for two years. It's a wonderful website, the future of the intertubes, if you will, and surely worthy of its own post. On this momentous occasion, however, I feel inspired to let you know how I view fiber these days.

This is my first handspun, hand-dyed, hand knit sweater. It's definitely not perfect. It's heavy and a little sloppy, and the skeins didn't take the dye exactly the same, but I love it. It's snuggly and fuzzy, it knit up quickly, and it makes me happy. Mostly because I feel like I've really created something, and no one else will ever have one like it, because the materials, the time, and the feeling of it can never be recreated.

That's what's so fun about fiber these days...I can take wool, or mohair, or ramie, or some other random spinnable fiber (cat hair? recycled soda bottles?) and turn it into something useful. Add some color, and the fun aspect increases even more!

I think this is such a revelation to me because I tend to undervalue what I create. I probably have at least 30 pairs of handknit socks in my drawer right now. I just crank them out, not for the product, but for the ease of travel and process of knitting. Talk to other folks over on Rav, though, and they'll tell you the real story...handknit socks are a definite commodity to some folks. Highly prized, highly coveted commodities. High quality sock yarn is expensive...a basic yarn can cost $10-15 per pair, and hand-dyed sock yarn can cost more than $20 per pair. So materials are expensive. Most experienced knitters would say it takes 10-12 hours to knit a pair, so at minimum wage, just labor would cost at least $60. It would not be out of the question for a knitter to charge at least $75 for a pair of handknit socks. Let's not get started on the hand-dyed, hand-spun aspect, either. I refuse to think of them as costing that much, though, because I walk on them everyday!

All of this musing basically adds up to one key concept: I create fiber art, but I don't like to constantly view it as art. I really like to share fiber stuff with other people, and I like to think of my creations as warm, fuzzy, hugs. I joke with people sometimes that if everyone were knitting when their hands were idle, there would be no more cold feet (or hands, or heads, or necks). But I really mean it. I knit for utility, sometimes for pretty, and mostly to keep my hands busy.

14 November 2009

New to the herd.

I keep meaning to write a post about spinning, and today I found a very good reason for bloggage.

First things first, though. Meet Lenny.
Lenny is my first spinning wheel, a Lendrum double treadle castle/upright wheel. I purchased Lenny after a short-lived love affair in July 2008 with some spindles that convinced me I needed more power. Things worked out nicely, since Yarn Barn in Lawrence, KS happened to have a Lendrum in stock, and Bill and I happened to be going in that direction for a wedding that week. Lenny's a great all-purpose wheel, and I've slowly accumulated accessories for it that make it serviceable and useful for many types of yarn. I would be happy with Lenny as my one and only wheel forever. But, as many fiber fiends will tell you, it's hard to stop with just one (wheel, bag of fiber, ball of yarn, etc).

Meet Betty.
I met Betty on Craigslist and decided she should come live with me (I know, I'm a smooth talker and move quickly). She came to me disassembled, so I had some fun putting her together and getting to know her working parts. Here she is in workable, spinnable glory.

She's a saxony style wheel, double drive, and has a distaff (that thing sticking up on the right) to hold fiber while I spin. She's a pretty sweet little girl, made in 1974 for a company called Haltec/Hallcraft that manufactured furniture and decided to make these wheels for decoration, but that also could be used to spin wool. I think we're going to get along just fine.

06 November 2009

Hate it.

As a graduate student, I attend lots of meetings in which we discuss research. Sometimes we talk about research articles. Sometimes we talk about theory. I meet with different groups of people, who all work on different research questions and organisms.

Lately, I've noticed a disturbing trend in the reactions of fellow graduate students when we discuss their personal (dissertation-related) research. The two situations that stick out in my mind right now involve discussions of research proposals. Obtaining funding for research is quite competitive. A research proposal that seeks such funding
needs to be rigorously evaluated and should pass muster from a variety of viewpoints, because not everyone rating your research proposal will be an expert in every subject your proposal explores.

I try to be a helpful peer, and I try to provide as much feedback as possible about possible advantages and disadvantages of specific research plans. Maybe it's my debate training, my nit-picky nature, or my current mindset from critically grading so many essays for my class. Regardless, I tend to be critical in my evaluating, and I tend to play devil's advocate as much as possible. The result, however, is lots of questions about methods, analysis, and a desire for an answer different from "Well, this is how everyone else does it." So I push, sometimes hard, for other students to think about why they do things certain ways.

The somewhat startling result, which I've encountered twice recently, is a proclivity for the person to get a little huffy and to respond with something like "I didn't know you would hate [this part of my research] so much."

OK. WAIT A MINUTE. I never voiced an opinion about other people's research that indicated I hated it. I never even stated that I thought the fundamental questions of their research was bad.

What I did was ask for justification about why they would ask a certain research question, or why they would perform certain tests in certain ways. I asked for cl
arification about research aims, and made them explain why they would draw that conclusion from that specific piece of evidence.

I asked them to fulfill the requirements of most grant proposals, and to be explicit in their scientific thinking. What kills me is that most of these questions are similar to the reviews I've recently received for my own (rejected) grants. Apparently, expressing any thought about someone's research that could be construed as negative means that the research is hated by the audience.

This is a new idea for me, and one I somewhat resent. As the first graduate student in my lab, I feel like I received relatively little feedback on my early research proposals, and I think I'm worse off as a scientist because I didn't face much constructive criti
cism then. I would much rather hear a question from a peer before I submit a proposal than in a reviewer's comments after a proposal is rejected.

Right now, I feel like I'm much more able to turn my critical eye on my own writing than I was previously able. I tear my own writing apart numerous times while writing, and I'm very lucky to have a couple of people in my life who can take a little time to look at my writing and tell me what they really think ("That figure is WAY too small, and I have no idea what that means!").

I suppose it's ironic that my graduate student peers are rejecting the very
thing which I currently seek.

And now, for the obligatory cat picture! Here's Fatticat hiding in a yarn bin.