Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Book Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Setepys

Before commencing this book review, I would like to let it be known that I am talking about Between Shades of Gray, not Fifty Shades of Grey. I quite enjoyed the former, and have absolutely no intention whatsoever of reading the latter because there are very few things I find less appealing than so-called erotic fiction, BDSM culture, and Twilight, and Fifty Shades of Grey is apparently a terribly-written mishmash of all of those things. After reading the excellent two-part review over at Book Riot, I feel that I can go the rest of my life without acknowledging its existence.

Moving right along, Between Shades of Gray is really an excellent book. I saw it while perusing the e-book section on the library website, and decided to download it because I was totally unfamiliar with the subject matter: the plight of the intelligentsia and their families in USSR-occupied countries. Lina, the narrator, and her family, are highly-educated, well-placed Lithuanians. After Stalin-controlled Russia annexed Lithuania, her family is torn apart by Soviet soldiers, who load Lina, her mother, and her brother into wagons and pack them off to Siberia (her father is taken separately).

Lina's tale is eerily reminiscent of Holocaust memoirs in many ways: families are torn asunder, innocent people are taken captive and brutally abused by soldiers, they must endure long rides in cattle cars with no food or water, and are eventually forced to labor in starvation conditions and freezing weather. Many, if not most of them, eventually die. In an effort to stay sane in that environment Lina, who had previously hoped to go to art school, spends much of her time drawing what she sees in hopes that she will be able to escape and tell the truth of what happened to her family.

Highly recommended. 4 out of 5 stars. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

FO Friday: Envelope Clutch

Slowly but surely, my sewing skills are improving. I finished this bag earlier today, and am pretty pleased with how it turned out. I used Noodle Head's Envelope Clutch pattern, which you can see and buy over here (yes, that's the same place where I got the pattern for my Runaround Bags).

I'm really glad that I decided to make the Runaround Bags first, as that pattern is way less fiddly than this one and is therefore a lot easier to execute. While I wouldn't say the Envelope Clutch pattern is especially difficult, it's definitely not what I would consider to be a beginner project. On a scale of one to ten, I'd give it about a five if you complete it without any extras, and a six or seven if you add the piping and wrist/shoulder straps. As I do not have a piping foot for my sewing machine, I chose to leave that part out. I did include a wrist strap, which you can see in the picture below:

Overall, I'd say that my skills are progressing nicely, though some of them still need work. I've become pretty comfortable with basic stitches and techniques as well as ironing correctly, though my detail work still needs some practice. I'm specifically thinking of zippers as I write that; despite having a zipper foot and watching a million YouTube videos on how to correctly install them, I'm still having some difficulties with getting them to look nice. You can see how uneven the stitching is in this picture. 

A word to the wise on the fabric allotment: If you want to make the smaller size, a quarter yard is enough for both the exterior, wrist strap, interior, and interior pocket/credit card slots. Personally, though, I'd recommend going with fat quarters, especially for the interior, as they'll give you a little more leeway (this bag was made from them, actually). If you decide to make the larger size, however, a quarter yard will give you enough to make the exterior, a small wrist strap, and the interior. You won't have enough fabric to make a full shoulder strap or the interior pocket/card slot if you only get a quarter of a yard. In light of that, I'd recommend purchasing a half yard of both fabrics if you're planning on making the larger size. 

That said, I'm a pretty big fan of the pattern. It comes with clear, detailed step-by-step instructions and has plenty of pictures and diagrams, all of which I find useful as a relatively inexperienced sewer. I plan to make a few more of these in the future-- I got a ton of fabric for dresses recently, and imagine that I'll have enough leftovers  from that to make a few small clutches to match. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

WiP Wednesday: Putting the Gloves Before the Scarf

A few weeks ago, I decided to make a clapotis out of some yarn a random Raveler gave me last summer. I have seven skeins of Filatura di Crosa 501 in the 600 colorway. Each skein contains 137 yards of yarn, way more than I need for the scarf itself. So, I decided to go ahead and make a set of mitts to go with it:

So far, so good! I'll be posting a picture of the scarf-in-progress sometime next week. I imagine it'll take me a good while to finish it; I'm only 1/6th of the way done as of now. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Book Review: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

A few months ago, I decided to turn over a new leaf in terms of how I choose books. Previously, I'd simply scanned the library shelves for something that looked interesting, occasionally asking for recommendations on Facebook and Twitter when I couldn't find anything or was after something specific. These days, I'm revisiting all of the authors whose books I have previously reviewed and enjoyed and am reading every book they've ever published. For some writers (like Michelle Goldberg, who's only published two books), it's relatively easy. For others, like Sherman Alexie, it's more of an undertaking.

There are two reasons for this. First, Alexie's written a lot of books. Second, these books are really heavy. Much like Toni Morrison, another favorite author of mine, Alexie doesn't pull punches when it comes to pointing out how incredibly screwed up and racist American society is, nor does he hesitate to honestly and brutally depict those realities in the lives of his characters. Reading their novels isn't just a literary undertaking; it's often an emotional one that can be more than a little taxing.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is the third novel of Alexie's that I've read and reviewed on this blog (you can see my review for Flight here and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian here). From what I've gathered from reading the back covers and reviews of his other works, this is more typical of his style. Rather than a cohesive narrative, the novel consists on a series of inter-related short stories that center on a few main characters, a reservation, and a nearby city that touch on Alexie's usual subject matter: racism and the social problems it inflicts on the reservations and their inhabitants, and how tribe members try to cope with and rise above everything that gets thrown at them. Most of the things I liked about Flight and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian are present here: the strong narrative voice, the intense social commentary, and the thought-provoking nature of the story.

Overall, I give this one 4 out of 5 stars. 

Monday, May 21, 2012


I just got back from the final installment of my Child Trauma mini-mester, and am absolutely delighted by the following things:

  1. I made it through the mini-mester with my sanity intact (it was a really challenging course).
  2. I now have three months of uninterrupted knitting, sewing, and reading time.
  3. I also won't have to drive to Cullowhee for three months.
  4. I will also have time to get this blog caught up on book reviews and knitting posts, yay!
I am seriously excited by all of these things. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

FO Friday: A Clockwork Scarf

I actually finished this a few weeks ago, but haven't really had the chance to post pictures of it.

Pattern: Clockwork by Stephen West (Westknits)
Yarn: Malabrigo sock in "eggplant" and "archangel" colorways.
Needle: US #4
Notes: I only used about half of the archangel and two-thirds of the eggplant. This scarf definitely doesn't use as much yarn as the pattern recommends.

I'd been lamenting that I wouldn't be able to wear it until it got cold again, but I  got a chance to on Wednesday. It poured all day long, making it pretty chilly that night. As I had a (what turned out to be a non-hot) date and didn't want to drag my jackets and sweaters out of their storage box, I decided to bring it along. It was the best choice I made all day; not only was it cute, it was surprisingly warm for how thin and narrow it is.

Also, you can see my shiny new haircut. :)

Lastly, here's a picture of the scarf all stretched out:

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

WiP Wednesday: A Baby Blanket for Andi

Keeping your sanity in grad school isn't always easy. I consider myself very fortunate to have a number of hilarious classmates who keep me entertained and my head (more or less) together through the darkest, most boring of lectures. We pass notes, surreptitiously text, and try to quote gangsta rap when we answer the professor's questions without them noticing, among many other excellent (and totally juvenile) boredom-reducing endeavors.

One of us got knocked up earlier this year, and I decided to make her a blanket for the baby. Sort of a "Thanks for being such an awesome classmate, sorry you're due at the beginning of the semester" present. I'm exactly two-thirds of the way done:

Hopefully, I'll be able to finish it early next week and get it blocked. While I'm really liking the project, it's too freaking hot to be working on a 100% wool, worsted weight baby blanket, even in air-conditioned buildings. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Slowly rising to the surface.

Since my second semester and first year of graduate school ended on April 30th, I've spent a lot of time decompressing. As I've discussed elsewhere, going back to school has proven a lot heavier than I intended, both in terms of how the coursework has impacted my headspace as well as a series of interpersonal curveballs that life has thrown at me. On the one hand, I am incredibly, deliriously happy with the direction my life has taken. On the other, I am equally exhausted, stressed out, and anxious because so much is still up in the air.

It shows. I have dark circles under my eyes that are big enough to own property, my face is more broken out than it ever was when I was a teenager, and I haven't updated this blog in forever.

Hopefully, all of those things will change sometime in the near future. Now that I'm (temporarily) less stressed out and getting enough sleep, I'll start to look human again, and much of my summer free time will be spent updating this blog in a timelier fashion. My primary goals on that front are to 1) get caught up with the Feminist Classics Challenge for this year and 2) write up enough book reviews to last until xmas break. I'm also going to be shifting the focus of this blog somewhat, as I'd like to write a little more about my day-to-day life, the things I'm doing, and what I'm interested in beyond knitting, sewing, and reading.

I have more rambling to do, but I have a hot date this evening and need to get ready for that. Apparently, leaving the house in a towel with wet hair and without a lick of makeup on is frowned upon by most of society.

One last thing: I officially pulled a 4.0 for the semester. Because I'm awesome. Go me!