Monday, March 23, 2015

My First Fair Isle Knitting Project - Success!

Like everyone else in Nashville, I spent what felt like half of February stuck at home because of icy roads. Honestly, it was pretty great. Keith worked from home, and I spent more time than I want to admit snuggled under a blanket in front of the fireplace with a hot drink and a good book. I told my best friend, "It feels like a ski trip. Except, you know, without the skiing."

Those lazy days were well-spent, because I started and finished my first Fair Isle knitting project, and I love it. If you're reading this because we're friends, not because you like to knit, here's a quick primer on Fair Isle knitting (also called stranded color work): You knit with both colors at once. You hold the two strands you're using on the back side of your work, and consult a chart to see which color each stitch should be to create the desired effect. Every time you don't use a color, it just sits or "floats" on the back side of your work. Stranded color work creates a very dense, warm fabric, because the floating strands on the back make the fabric extra thick. That's why Fair Isle knitting is great for warm winter hats, gloves, and sweaters.

Now you can be like, "You guys, I know all about stranded colorwork. Psh!" *grin*

This project wasn't just my first Fair Isle piece. It was also my first use of Jeny’s Super Stretchy Bind Off, and my first project with the gorgeous fingering weight Knit Picks Palette yarn that my in-laws gave me for Christmas. To keep the project simple, I worked in the round and made it as a cowl. Working in the round on circular needles allowed me to focus on JUST learning how to do colorwork. No complicated DPNs that make me feel like I'm kitting on a baby porcupine. No purling. Awesome!

Of course, I made things complicated by choosing to adapt a sock pattern into a cowl. And to make matters worse, the sock pattern was written in Finnish! For you knitters out there, I used the Heijastuksia pattern. It's free on Ravelry. Yeah, I know how to make things simple. Pardon me while I smack myself on the forehead. But really, it wasn't so bad. I put all my project notes here on Ravelry, if you're interested. I think it was worth it, because I love the design; it reminds me of Medieval stained glass windows. I learned so much from this project, and I'm excited to try this technique again to make a matching hat. And mittens. And all the things for next winter. I really love Fair Isle knitting!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Sitting Pretty: New Tabouret Dining Chairs

It's been a while! Yesterday, my friends asked me "Why haven't you blogged lately?" I don't know... I guess I didn't want to update until I had something exciting to report. Snow days? Blah. Jury duty and dental work? Meh. New dining chairs? YAY! Let's talk about that. We got these chairs about three weeks ago, and I love them. LOVE.

It sounds nuts, but I spent the better part of a year searching for dining room seating that wouldn't cost an arm and a leg. When you need eight chairs, $200+ per chair is too much. And that's a problem, because I was picky. I wanted:
  • Low backs. I'd rather look at the china cabinet than the backs of chairs.
  • Simple backs. Spindly bits that press into the spine are no good. Ouch.
  • No upholstery. I don't want spills to be a big deal.
  • No DIY projects. I like DIY, but I already have enough projects on my to-do list!  

I was open to mixing and matching, with two big chairs on the ends of the table, but I couldn't find one chair style that fit the bill and stayed within budget--much less two. I considered dozens of vintage sets, but the chairs I liked always came in sets with five side chairs and one arm chair. I needed six matching side chairs and two arm chairs. I looked at modern plastic chairs, but Keith vetoed them. I looked at big box stores like Pier One, World Market and Target, and the quality was lacking. Around Christmas, I got frustrated and stopped looking.

And then last month, I saw a picture of a dining table surrounded by Tabouret metal chairs. I realized that (duh!) they would work perfectly. They had low, simple backs. They were low maintenance. I loved the gunmetal finish. And the price was right: We paid $428 for all eight chairs.* SOLD!

This is what we started with. The old chairs weren't horrible, but they were a bit too Grandma's Country Kitchen for me. The real problem, though, was that they felt like torture devices. My mother gave me those chairs because she and Dad couldn't stand to sit on them. And I agreed: They hurt my back and made me feel 80 years old. Mom encouraged me to sell them on Craigslist, and I was pleasantly surprised to get $400 for them. So I'm telling myself that the net cost of new chairs was $28. WIN!

The new chairs  make the room feel more casual than it did before, and I like that. This isn't a formal dining room; it's the only place in our house meant for eating. My taste often veers toward more formal things, but I don't want things to get too stuffy.

Another reason I like them? They're comfortable. They don't hurt my back or wobble. They're well made, with no jagged metal bits or welding issues. The metal seats don't feel too hard, but they do get cold. So I bought some low maintenance faux leather to sew box cushions/bun warmers. Ha! So much for no DIY projects! While I was at the fabric store, I also picked up fabric to sew draperies to flank the French doors. With those high ceilings, it gets a bit echo-y in there. This room needs draperies to soften the look, absorb sound, and draw the eye upward. As always, this is a work in progress. So please judge accordingly, and stay tuned.

* Since we bought our chairs, Amazon jacked up the price to $284 for a set of four. Not cool. I'm guessing the price won't remain high forever, so if you love these, I'd keep an eye on them and buy when the price drops.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Chinoiserie Chic Art: Kathleen Millay Portrait by Joseph Stella

The guest room is coming together at a snail's pace, but I can finally cross "hang art" off of my to-do list. I'm so happy, because I've been waiting so long to display this piece! Five years ago, I completed an internship at Cheekwood and received a large collection of beautiful and rare prints as a parting gift. For five long years, they sat in the back of my closet. Last weekend, I finally framed and hung this beautiful portrait of author Kathleen Millay. Yes, Kathleen is Edna St. Vincent Millay's sister. 

The original is in Cheekwood's permanent collection. Isn't Kathleen fierce and sexy? I love her piercing gaze!
Kathleen Millay by  Joseph Stella. Circa 1923/1924.
I apologize for the reflection in the glass; it's hard to photograph framed art!
The print is an odd size (22'' by 28''), and I couldn't afford custom framing, so I DIY'd it. I found a 22 by 28 backless frame on clearance at Michael's for $20. I had a mat custom cut for $7.50 from an Amazon seller, The shipping was $9, which stung a bit, but it was still cheaper than custom framing. Last, I bought a framing kit with a 24'' by 36'' sheet of plexiglass and backing board. I believe it was $10, but I can't find the receipt now. Derp.

The frame was originally black, and it drew attention away from the art itself. It needed to be a softer color, and some shine wouldn't hurt. So last week I applied multiple layers of Rub 'n' Buff, over three days, to make it silver. On Saturday I cut the plexi and backing board with a straightedge and razor blade and assembled everything. It's not an archival, fancy framing job. The backing board is held in place with masking tape! Yes, you can laugh at me. I'm laughing, too! But it looks great from the front, and the print is safer here than in my closet. Since it cost MUCH less than professional framing, I'm pleased with the result.

In the future, I'll avoid the plexi/backing board kits. The backing board was just a piece of cardboard! It wasn't acid free or archival. It was exactly like any old piece of a cardboard box. Next time I'll buy plexiglass, cut it to fit, and use a piece of cardboard box as a backer. Come to think of it, the cardboard box they shipped the mat in is the perfect size for this, and it (slightly) justifies the shipping price.

I'm amazed by how much better the room looks with a single piece of art on the wall. Next I'd like to hang something on the wall over the bed (but what?), replace the godawful light fixture that came with the house, and sew pillow shams and throw pillows. When the weather warms up and I can work outside, I'll paint the nightstands and dresser. It's so hard to pace myself--I want to do it all now!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Design Trends I'd Like To See Disappear...

... and no, I'm not talking about the ubiquitous chevron print! Lately, I've noticed that certain design trends aren't just overdone. Some are actually giving me headaches and ruining my nights out. And that's not good, functional design. I love the vintage industrial look, but I'm starting to see why some of these things were originally designed for factory use, not residential use.

1. Exposed light bulbs in cages
Yes, they look cool when you're shopping online. In reality, though, the unfiltered light burns my eyes and eventually gives me a headache. And the cage casts bizarre and unflattering shadows all over the room. I'd like to see more interesting light fixtures with glass globes or shades that filter the light.

Industrial Cage Light and Possini Euro Open Cage Glass Pendant Light

2. Hard surfaces with no sound absorbers
The restaurants and bars in Nashville are full of metal, concrete, brick... and nothing soft to absorb sound. I'm so tired of going out to places that are loud because sound won't stop bouncing off the hard surfaces! I have a librarian's quiet voice, and when no one can hear me, I give up and spend the evening in silence. At this point, I'd rather stay in, and that's a bummer. The problem would be so easy to fix with soft banquettes, draperies, rugs, or even wall hangings to absorb sound. Basically, I'd like to see more textiles and soft furnishings in restaurants.

At least it's undeniably beautiful. Design by Brinkworth
3. Reclaimed wood everywhere, just because
First of all, SPLINTERS. Ouch. Yes, reusing building materials is a nice idea. But I'm not convinced that using reclaimed wood is the greenest option. Because, HELLO! It's WOOD. Wood can be composted, which would save all the pesky environmental problems of shipping it. And since this look is so trendy, soon it's going to look about as cool as 1970s wood paneling. I'd rather see reclaimed wood used in smaller projects that aren't built-in and semi-permanent. Like furniture.

What design trends do you hope will go away soon?