Sunday, March 18, 2018

Why we do what we do.

This is not a knitting post, although I'm going to talk a little bit about knitting.

I spent part of the past week attempting to knit a zipper into a sweater. Yes, this is a thing you can do. I even took a class with knitting designer Ann Weaver to learn how to do it. For the knitters, I'll explain the technique (and save you the $60 or whatever it cost me to take the class); the rest of y'all can skip down past the photo to the rest of the post.

The trick to knitting in a zipper is a gizmo called a knit picker. If you were ever into making latch-hook rugs, you will recognize the design right away: it's a teeny-tiny hook with a latch that pivots to open and close the hook. The knit picker also has a fairly sharp tip. You take your knit picker and poke through the zipper tape at even intervals -- Ann recommended making them a quarter-inch apart. You grab your yarn with the hook, flip the latch shut, and draw up a loop, which you then put on a knitting needle. Hey presto, you've now got a stitch. Keep doing that 'til you run out of zipper tape. Then use a different needle to pick up stitches on your garment. Now you can do what amounts to a three-needle bind-off to join the zipper to the garment.

Here's one side of my zipper partly loaded onto the needle. The knit picker is in the middle of the photo. (Yes, there's a squirrel on the edge of my yarn bowl. The Groot mug doesn't have anything to do with the process; it's just there for fun.)

As it turned out, knitting in the zipper didn't work for my sweater as I'd hoped it would, so I'm hand-sewing it in place instead.

Why a zipper for my sweater? The pattern (it's the Killybegs by Carol Feller, for those who care) calls for a bunch of hooks and eyes, but I think a zipper will work better. Why not use a sewing machine? Because the presser foot can catch on the stitches in the sweater, among other reasons.

But why not just, I dunno, go out and buy a sweater?

The answer to that question is more complicated.

I recently read a book by Leland Dirks called The Hermitage at Ojito Creek. It's a compilation of blog posts he wrote while building his own house in southern Colorado. So I'm reading along, and when he starts talking about building this house, I'm envisioning a small place -- a cabin, essentially, with maybe a couple of rooms and indoor plumbing. But then he mentions a guest bedroom. And the library. And eventually he admits that his house is 1,800 square feet. That's twice the size of my apartment. 

And he built the thing from the ground up. By himself. Well, he had some help, but it wasn't like it was a crew of twenty guys -- it was mostly him.

My mind boggles. I can't even imagine building a doghouse myself, let alone a house to live in. Part of my fascination with tiny houses is that someone else would build the thing and drop it on my lot. Poof, instant house!

So why didn't he just, I dunno, go out and buy a house? He talks about that. He wanted it to be as energy-efficient as possible, for one thing. He wanted to make sure he was living as lightly on the land as possible. There's a lot of waste and a lot of reliance on fossil fuels in traditional building methods -- he wanted to avoid that. Bottom line: he wanted to make sure his house was built exactly the way he wanted it.

Why didn't I buy my sweater? And why am I putting in a zipper instead of sewing in a half-billion hooks and eyes? Because I want to make sure it's done exactly the way I want it.

We humans are just crazy that way, I guess.

But if I ever decide to build my own house? Two words: general contractor.

These moments of handcrafted blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell

Sunday, March 11, 2018

We've sprung forward.

Here at hearth/myth, we are in the Eastern time zone of the United States -- and so, as sure as spring (eventually) follows winter, we set our clocks forward an hour last night.

Not everybody in the US observes Daylight Saving Time (DST). Arizona and Hawaii don't. Neither do our territories, which include Puerto Rico, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands. However, the Navajo reservation, which is partly in Arizona, does observe DST.

I hope the National Trust doesn't sue me for using this.
And folks in Europe have another couple of weeks before they have to set their clocks to Summer Time -- which explains why the National Trust thought it fitting one year to post the accompanying photo, showing workers moving the standing stones at Avebury in preparation for the time change in Britain (note the date on the article is April 1).

We go through this folderol twice a year -- setting our clocks an hour ahead in the spring and turning them back in the fall -- supposedly to help farmers. But as it turns out, it wasn't farmers who wanted daylight earlier in the day. No, this brilliant practice first began in Germany in 1916, with the hope that it would help save energy during World War I. But the original idea came from Britain -- from a fellow named William Willett, who suggested in 1907 that it would be fabulous if we had more daylight hours after work to enjoy ourselves in. He also thought we'd use less artificial light if the day started later.

Energy savings sounded pretty good to Americans, who enacted Daylight Saving Time in 1918. But we let the states set their own dates for daylight time, which caused a lot of problems for shipping companies and everyone else trying to get somewhere on time. It got so bad that Congress enacted official nationwide dates for the time changes in 1966.

I remember the clocks in my junior high classrooms were set an hour earlier during part of the 1971-72 school year, but I can't remember why. Maybe it had to do with the 1972 amendment to that 1966 law that allowed most of Indiana to stay on Eastern time all year around. (By the way, that went out the window in 2006; all of Indiana now observes daylight time.)

Time was always relative in my neighborhood, anyway. I mentioned a second ago that most of Indiana is on Eastern time -- except for a few counties in the northwestern corner and a few more in the southwest "toe of the sock," which are on Central time. I grew up in LaPorte County, one of the Central time zone counties. Our house was three blocks from the Michigan state line, and Michigan was on Eastern time. Michigan and Chicago observed daylight time, as did we; most of Indiana, including South Bend (our nearest big city in Indiana) and Indianapolis (the state capital), did not. So we were always on the same time as Chicago; we were always an hour behind Michigan; and we were either an hour behind or on the same time as South Bend.

You get used to it. But then you go away for a while and forget. The first time after I'd gotten a cell phone that I visited my mother, the alarm on my phone never went off. Signal strength was iffy in Michiana anyway back then, and I figured the phone had switched from a tower in Michigan to one in Indiana, or vice versa, during the crucial period. I made a point thereafter to set my phone to the "show this time, not that time" setting when I visited Mom.

Anyway, compared to what I grew up with, changing time twice a year is a piece of cake. Still, it would be great if we could quit messing around with the clocks altogether. Farmers actually hate daylight time, as it turns out. And a study done in Indiana after the whole state began to observe daylight time showed it doesn't help energy consumption; in fact, it makes it worse.

So there is absolutely no good reason why we'll spend the next week groggy and cranky while our bodies adjust to a practice that's based entirely on a British guy's whim. Why, I'm feeling cranky already.

These moments of time-challenged blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

A maddening wind.

It's been a little windy around here lately.

Here in the DC area, we got the tail of the nor'easter that pummeled the East Coast from Virginia up to Maine. Further north, rain and snow were the order of the day on Friday. The wind and rain caused coastal flooding, particularly in Boston. Flights were canceled all up and down the coast on Friday and again yesterday, as the storm took its time moving out to sea.

Some folks whose flights got off the ground may have wished they hadn't when the plane tried to land. Passengers on multiple flights reported their planes were full of people throwing up. On one flight, the pilot said even the cockpit crew got queasy.

All we got was the wind -- which was substantial enough. We had gusts topping 60 mph, with some parts of the area registering gusts of 70 mph or more. As a comparison, a Category 1 hurricane packs sustained winds of at least 74 mph. Our sustained winds didn't get that high, but they qualified as tropical storm strength. We lost a lot of trees and tons of branches, and more than half a million people lost power in the DC area at the height of the storm on Friday.

Predicatably, the storm earned its own hashtag: #Windmageddon.

Ordinarily, I'm a fan of windy days. I have a theory that big winds can be purifying, blowing bad energy away. But this windstorm overstayed its welcome; the winds kicked up overnight on Thursday and didn't really drop back into a normal range until today. It didn't feel like a cleansing so much as a stiff hand in your face: "Stay back! Stay where you are! Come this way and you'll be blown apart!"

Strong winds were among the causes of a thing called prairie madness among the pioneers. Early settlers were isolated, living in primitive housing -- think tiny homes, but built of sod because there were no other building materials nearby -- and separated by long distances from other settlers. Plus there was no fast transportation and no means of communication with the folks back east. Once the snows came, they were pretty much trapped inside, staring at the four walls and each other, and listening to the moaning wind.

Authors like Willa Cather have used prairie madness as a literary device, but the condition was almost never as bad as it was depicted in fiction. People rarely went barking mad. They did, however, become depressed -- and their depression usually lifted in spring, when the snows melted away and sufferers could get outside again.

Today, we have all manner of ways to stay connected (maybe too many), and so prairie madness is a lot less common.

I'm grateful that my daughters and I came throught Windmageddon okay. Whether this big blowhard purified anything in DC, though, is still...uh...up in the air.

These moments of breezy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.