A visit to Heath

I have the good fortune to live across the bay from Heath Ceramics. Heath makes tiles and dishes in a fantastic mid-century style in their factory in Sausalito, California.

A few years ago I helped my parents re-tile their kitchen counters and bathroom floor (I’ve written about the process before) and we used a large selection of tiles from Heath. My Mom decided that she wants to tile her shower too, so we went back to Heath to pick out more material for the project. While we were there I had a great time drooling over the dishes, mugs, teapots and especially the brightly colored serving bowls.

Another treat greeted us at the factory store, SkinnylaMinx! I knew that Heather had done some work for Heath before, but I didn’t realize that they stocked a full array of her tea towels and napkins! I’ve been giving sets of napkins from SkinnylaMinx as wedding presents the last few years. I love her sense of design and I see why it works so well with Heath.

We ended up buying mostly subway tiles in off white and gray for the shower, but we did get a few of the signature Heath oval tiles to add to the mix. I think we will use them as a long skinny row around the shower, but I’m not totally decided yet. Occasionally I’ll spot Heath tiles like these ovals around town – they are so recognizable and distinctive.

One of the wonderful things about the factory store is that it is part of the actual factory. To get to the tile room you actually have to wind your way through the factory floor! Seeing the factory really gives you a sense of how small scale an operation Heath still is and how special the pieces they make are.

What I appreciate most about Heath is the functionality of their products. They make beautiful dishes which are meant to be used everyday. Owning something beautiful that you get to enjoy all the time makes so much more sense to me than owning dishes which only get used a few times a year. That being said, though I am officially an adult I’m not in a place in life where I feel like I can buy a set of dishes from Heath. I aspire to it someday, but I’m just not there yet. Maybe when I have an actual income? At least my lack of current ownership can’t stop me from dreaming about the shapes and colors!

I’m writing my dissertation

Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

I’ve been traveling on and off for a few months now (hence the photos in this post). Mostly for fun but with a little bit of science thrown in there. Looking forward, I don’t have so many plans, aside from a job interview in Boston in a few weeks. Mostly I’m trying to write my dissertation. That statement is becoming almost a joke to me now — the task is so large and progress seems very slow.

Fall in the High Sierra

I think the traveling has been good for me so far. It has given me a strong motivation to get particular tasks finished and the conference I went to in Australia got me thinking and feeling good about the level of my knowledge. It can’t go on though, not with all I have to do. I think a few weekend trips will still be needed for de-stressing, but nothing that takes much thought to plan. I don’t have any brain power to spare right now.

Our campsite, Long Valley Caldera

Occasionally I turn down invitations to participate in some event or organizing committee with the excuse that “I’m writing my dissertation” but the task still seems un-doable. Even just organizing the idea of what should be included seems daunting to me.

Pyramid Peak, Desolation Wilderness

Despite the nagging feeling that I’ve completed too little in these last 4+ years, the document will be the biggest thing I’ve ever produced. Bigger than any quilt project, more consuming than my masters degree and all of my undergraduate education, and necessarily larger than either scientific paper I’ve written. All that, and only a handful of people will ever read it. I feel like I’m standing at the bottom of a very big mountain which seems mostly, but not entirely, impossible to climb.

Kepler Track, New Zealand

Needless to say, I’ve found work very consuming lately and my normal outlets – of sewing, spinning, knitting and such – have sounded like a chore. I’ve been too tired to get beyond cooking and eating. And seeing as how I have 1 of 4 chapters completed, all of these things are likely to get worse before they get better.

Mono Pass (the southern one)

Maybe I needed to say this to make excuses for myself and justify the lack of crafty output. There are so many projects I have in the queue, but I can’t seem to muster the energy to finish or start any of them. I bought a polwarth fleece in Australia (and brought it back on the plane – declared!) but can’t imagine dealing with it right now. I washed another fleece I got as a gift last year and, same thing – I don’t have the concentration to decide how it should be spun and what should be made from it. Is my only hope right now is to work on things which require no thought at all?

Typical sheepy vista, New Zealand

I’m sure that my task isn’t has hard as it seems right now. I have moments of optimism here and there and sometimes I even feel like I’m making progress. Maybe the whole exercise will help me throw my over-controlling tendencies out the window and embrace a more fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants approach to projects and adventures. I hold out hope for this outcome – I went on a backpacking trip recently and didn’t over-plan it. In fact, I think we had just the right amount of planning, resulting in a lovely (relatively) stress-free weekend.

campsite, Desolation Wilderness

But the truth remains that I like control, and I like knowing what to expect. Sitting at the end of this grad school adventure is the prospect of moving. More importantly, unspecified moving. I don’t know where we will go, or how long we will be there.

Lake Aloha, Desolation Wilderness

I keep having fleeting thoughts about how the time passing may be my last months in the Bay Area. Ever. This is hard to imagine, but also not out of the realm of possibilities. The Bay Area is my home and I can’t imagine not living here for the bulk of my time. But there are a lot of things about my future that I can’t quite imagine now… Much uncertainty looms.

Doubtful Sound, New Zealand

I’m trying to stay positive and just execute the task rather than spend too much time being philosophical about the process. I’m inherently an over-optimizer. There is a fine line between relaxing by ignoring all the things I have to do and relaxing so I can make progress without stressing. I haven’t sorted it out yet, but maybe this will have to be an unwritten chapter in my PhD in order to write the sciency stuff that I need to graduate.

Swingbridge on the Routeburn Track, New Zealand

Paralysis of Analysis

Actually, a lack thereof.

This quilt had a deadline and my main goal while making it was to not get bogged down over-think everything. I didn’t plan it out ahead of time, I didn’t shop for fabric and I didn’t let myself think too long about any design decisions. I think my design intuition works just fine like this, my analytical side really just gets in the way. I don’t really enjoy planning out projects, I am usually itching to just get started, but some aspect of my neurosis feels like I have to think through the project before I start so I make sure to do it in an efficient way. I have been known to get so tied up in the planning of projects that I never actually start them.

Paralysis of Analysis is a phrase my dad has been repeating over and over the past year. It seems that he has finally discovered internet forums (in a very 1998 style) and is having a blast posting photos of his car creations for other people to comment on. It is also not something from which he suffers. In fact when we do projects together I will be drawing out plans and calculating distances while he already has a drill or saw in hand. Clearly there are merits to both approaches and some sort of middle ground is probably a good place to be. Since I seem to suffer mostly for over thinking and I have to work a little harder to just jump in I wanted to focus on not getting tied up in the planning.

I made this quilt for a new baby of some good friends who just moved away to Europe. I used fabric entirely from my stash making it quite nostalgic for me. I know that it won’t mean the same thing for baby Amaya to see my parent’s waterbed sheets from 30 years ago, but I’m sure she will form her own attachments to the colors and patterns.

Pattern Details:
I based this on “Flock of Triangles” from the Denyse Schmidt quilt, but the color layout is obviously quite different. I looked at a lot of zig-zag colored quilts like this, but what I ended up making was somewhere in-between.
It measures 39″ by 58″
The fabric is all from my stash, mostly cotton but a few old sheets that are probably cotton-poly blend.
The batting is organic cotton-bamboo.
I machine quilted it in a zig-zag pattern using a walking foot attachment on my Singer 301.

City Museum

A few weeks ago I went to a wedding in St. Louis MO. I had never been there before and I didn’t know anything about the city other than the fact that it was on the Mississippi River and has a big arch. I was pleasantly surprised about quite a few aspects of the city (public transportation, re-purposed industrial spaces, pedestrian oriented streetcar communities still in tact) but I was in complete awe of the City Museum.

The ethic of the place was all about exploration and it appeared to be built completely from recycled and salvaged materials. It was a place that I am pre-disposed to adore – in fact, I’m actually fairly shocked that I had never heard of it before!

From their website:

Reaching no farther than municipal borders for its reclaimed building materials, CITY MUSEUM boasts features such as old chimneys, salvaged bridges, construction cranes, miles of tile, and even two abandoned planes!

We went to the museum on the recommendation of some other visitors from the wedding. There were 5 adults, but from the smiles on our faces and eagerness to acquire rug-burns you might have mistaken us for 10 year olds. The place is one giant maze/jungle gym. It was a little bit like a 10 story tactile dome taken to the extreme. On Fridays it is open until 1am! The place was decidedly not an amusement park, nor was it a traditional museum in any way. Participation was encouraged (or required?). We even heard a museum employee telling all of the parents sitting around the outdoor structure that they needed to show the kids how it was done – i.e. get up and play!

The place had no maps (although I did find one on their website) and not much in the way of directional signage. This required visitors to find their own way and keep exploring to discover what other fantastic-ness awaited them. Several times I overheard kids discussing how to get back to some part of the maze that had a feature they really liked (a slide, or ladder perhaps). Problem solving and creative thinking were require everywhere. Everywhere I looked there were structures made from everyday objects. The top floor even had a vintage clothing store including vintage clothing printed with the museum logo.

We didn’t have adequate time to explore the place (and I didn’t have nearly enough time to take pictures because I was more excited about running around) but there were two main features that were big winners with our group.

The outdoor area, called the MonstroCity, featured airplane fuselages, construction cranes, a fire engine, a giant ball pit, and large metal mesh tubes suspended several stories in the air (you can see one coming off of the plane’s wing). Everything was meant for climbing on or through. I saw people problem solving to navigate their way, overcoming their fear of heights and mostly grinning from ear to ear.

The biggest single attraction was the 10 story spiral slide made from shoots welded from sheet metal. It looked like the shoots were part of the original shoe factory (in which the museum was built) that were connected together to make one long, very twisty, slide.

The slide is the spiral all the way on the left. There were no elevators to the top, you had to walk up a spiral staircase (into increasingly hot air) all the way to the top floor to earn your ride down. While sliding down it I kept thinking the ride would end but 10 stories in circles is a long way to go! The bottom of the slide dumps you out in a series of caves which were dark, eerie, and refreshingly cool.

If you ever happen to be in St. Louis you MUST visit the City Museum. The scope and scale of this place was inspiring and exploring within the museum brought back feelings of wonder and excitement from childhood that little else can replicate. My adult side was amazed by the structures made from re-purposed materials and inspired to build large scale sculpture. My child side just wanted to play like crazy and skin as many joints as possible.

Done and Done

Collegiate national sailing championship: DONE!
It went smoothly and the wind cooperated (like it does here in the summer). Whew!

A few views of the weekend:

Black vs. yellow headed out to the racecourse. In the background you can see the new custom crane which started work the same day as our regatta. To build the suspension section of the new Bay Bridge they had to have a custom crane built (the Left Coast Lifter) and shipped over from China. If that fascinates you check it out in action, read the press release (pdf) or explore this fancy looking site showing all the sections of the new bridge.

A yellow boat on land. This style of racing puts two teams against one another, 3 boats against 3 boats, and the best combined score wins. To make things easy to see on the water the sails are colored by team, red vs. blue, black vs. yellow and orange vs. green.

Me being in charge. I spent the whole time on my feet. N had impeccable timing and went away for the weekend so I could just come home and collapse in a pile each night. I survived though and now I can go back to my regularly scheduled life!

Vintage Singer(s)

I’m adding my 2 cents to the great sewing machine debate. Here is my response to the Sewing Machine Meme from Sew Mama Sew.

What brand and model do you have?
I have two machines, both 1950′s Singers. The first is a mocha colored Singer 301 and the second is a black featherweight (221). The 301 weighs in at 16lbs and the featherweight weighs in at 11lbs. The 301 has the same bobbin case as the featherweight but uses a slant-shank instead of a low shank. It is often called the “big-sister” of the featherweight and mine came in a portable case that looks like an old suitcase.

How long have you had it?
I have had the 301 for 4 years and the featherweight for 2 years.

How much does that machine cost (approximately)?
I recieved the 301 for free from a woman on craigslist (see below). Vintage machines don’t have very regular pricing, but you could probably find a 301 for between $100 and $200. You may find one for much less.

I purchased the featherweight from craigslist for $100 but they more typically cost $200-$400.

What types of things do you sew (i.e. quilting, clothing, handbags, home dec projects, etc.)?
I sew anything and everything. I have made quilts, clothes, bags, curtians, pillows – you name it. In addition to sewing light-weight cotton and machine quilting I have sewn canvas, heavy vinyl, seatbelt webbing, bike innertube, and sailcloth on both machines. They are troopers.

How much do you sew? How much wear and tear does the machine get?
I sew at least a few times a month and sometimes every day. I ask a lot from my machines as far as sewing heavy duty and unusual materials but they don’t show much wear. Both of them had clearly been used by previous owners but are still going strong.

Do you like/love/hate your machine? Are you ambivalent? Passionate? Does she have a name?
I love both of my machines but they do drive me crazy occasionally (see below).

What features does your machine have that work well for you?
My machines only do straight stitch (both forward and backward). I have external accessories for zig-zag stitches, buttonholes and a walking foot. Both machines came with a variety of feet, I have only used the zipper foot and rolled-hem foot regularly. The featherweight is not large enough to fit a bed-sized quilt for machine quilting, but the 301 is.

Is there anything that drives you nuts about your machine?
Sometimes the tension can be disagreeable. I will get frustrated and stop for the day and often when I come back later and try again everything works fine. I also have problems with skipping stitches on the 301. I have tried to troubleshoot why it skips stitches (changing needles, matching thread and needle, checking bobbin tension) but tends to be rather mysterious.

Do you have a great story to share about your machine (i.e., Found it under the Christmas tree? Dropped it on the kitchen floor? Sewed your fingernail to your zipper?, Got it from your Great Grandma?, etc.!)? We want to hear it!
I posted a want-ad on craigslist for a Singer 301 and was contacted by a woman who had two and gave me one. Thats right, a really nice woman I met on craigslist GAVE me the machine in return for me working to “save the earth from the ill effects of humanity” (which is really what I do already, right?).

I had always wanted a featherweight. I have a nostalgic attachment to the machine I learned to sew on – my mom’s featherweight was her 16th birthday present. My featherweight was another craigslist find – the machine was not listed as a featherweight but I recognized it from the photo and drove down to adopt it from the son of the original owner. His mom ended up calling me later to give me an additional box of accessories she found. I was happy to get a machine that had seen a lot of use but was still in great working order. I have put plenty of hours on it since then as well!

Would you recommend the machine to others? Why?
If you have a little patience and a love for vintage machinery I highly recommend getting one of these two machines. They are simple enough to understand and troubleshoot. I don’t know much about other vintage models, but these two both sew an excellent looking straight stitch. They use standard shank styles so you can buy new feet if necessary and featherweights are dearly loved by the quilting community so there are reproduction replacement parts. Along the way I picked up a second 301 that does not run and I’ve been keeping it stored away for spare parts when I need them. A vintage machine is not for everyone though, you have to love the quirks and personality. They sure do look cute sitting on your sewing table though!

What factors do you think are important to consider when looking for a new machine?
I would consider strongly what it is you want to sew and what your temperament is in relation to machinery. Do you need to use a lot of different stitches? Do you want to machine quilt large things? Do you like knowing how your machines work and tinkering with them when things aren’t quite right or do you prefer to treat it like a black box? Knowing some of these answers ahead of time will save you some frustration later on.

Do you have a dream machine?
I had always wanted a featherweight but now I have one! The next machine I want is an industrial machine so I can sew even more ridiculous materials. My apartment can’t handle that now, but someday!

earth day, reprise

First GOES-11 Image

First GOES-11 Image

Following last year’s earth day post I decided to do a short reprise of a few images of earth. Above is the first image sent back by the GOES-11 satellite on May 17th, 2000. You may not be familiar with the GOES satellites directly, but this type of satellite provides all of the visible cloud and water vapor imagery that gets shown during the weather section of the news. One of the most amazing things I notice in this image is the strong linear feature of clouds just north of the equator. This is called the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) and is where the air from the northern and southern hemispheres meet and ascend. We write equations about it, talk about it in theory, but there it is!


Collapsed Larsen B Ice Shelf

Larsen B Ice Shelf

This next image shows the Larsen B Ice Shelf (on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula) during 2000 before its rapid collapse (over 35 days) in 2002. From NASA “[the shelf] lost 3,250 square kilometers (about 1,255 square miles) — an area somewhat larger than Rhode Island — sending a plume of icebergs into the Weddell Sea.” The collapse of such a large piece of ice in connection with the warming observed at these locations (about 3 degrees since the 1940′s) makes it a physical realization of the climate change I know is coming.
For more about Larsen B see “Fragment of its Former Shelf” from NASA earth observatory.

Climate Models

CCSM3 T341, November

CCSM3 T341, November - click to load video

My last image is not actually an image of the Earth directly, but a computer model simulation of the atmosphere calculated at very high resolution. I use this same model (at a much lower resolution) to run experiments to find how vegetation can influence climate. The videos have water vapor shown in white and rain shown in orange. I could watch these simulations all day…

Look at the Amazon and Congo rainforests for the orange pulse of the daily cycle in precipitation! There are even hurricanes! Last year I talked about how the complexity and heterogeneity of the earth’s surface makes me think it is impossible to write down in the form of equations. This year I’ll go with optimism. These results look like a real atmosphere. Amazing!

(I have limited video embedding skills (or desire to gain such skills) so please bear with me for the screen shot and link) To see more months or view the entire year go to the Community Climate Model.

People often ask me if I get depressed studying global warming, but in truth, I don’t. I guess I feel good about the fact that I’m trying to do something about it in the best way I know how. I hope you can all do the same. Happy earth day everyone!

A Tour

photo by DC

I’m feeling fairly overwhelmed lately. I’m not as stressed out as I was last fall but I don’t feel like I have much room to breathe. I haven’t touched my spinning wheel in more than a month. A while back I made some things for a baby shower (discussed in my last post) but since then it has been slow going. I want to make a quilt for the new family but I just haven’t had the brain power to think it through.

Part of this is my own fault, for two main reasons:
1. Two years ago I volunteered to help run a College Sailing National Championship. Now I’m getting endless emails and phone calls about something that is not part of my daily life anymore (it wasn’t part of my life when I volunteered either, but somehow I didn’t think that through). I just have to spend the next month and a half trying not to go insane with all the details and hope that the event goes smoothly.

2. I’ve been keeping up my pace of going on lots of trips. Some are work related, but a while back I invited myself to go along on a backpacking trip to Utah with an old friend. It made my schedule hectic but the trip was so fantastic that I have no regrets about it. In fact, I think I should make a point of going on more trips like it.

Here is a brief tour of my trip through photos, you can see the whole set here.
We walked up the virgin river in Zion National Park. I’ve only ever done this in the summer and there is a good reason why. Between the 40 degree water, the 40 degree air, and the reasonably quick current, it was a bit treacherous. It was fun though, and there were no casualties. The light was reflecting twice in this photo, once off the canyon wall around the corner and then again off the wet surface on the wall opposite me.

We came across this grotto up a side canyon during our backpacking stint. It is rare to see so much water in the desert. This place was very special indeed.

There is something about the landscape in the southwest that makes the space seem vast and empty. Here we are standing on the rim of the Escalante river canyon just after ascending out of it. The vertical scale may be smaller than other canyons in the area but the red sandstone walls are close and imposing. The whole experience is very impressive.

The Escalante region felt very remote compared to my usual life in the city, but there are constant reminders that people have been there even when none are to be found. Some of the reminders are modern, like the brand new composting toilet we came across in Coyote Gulch, but some are more ancient:

I think Southern Utah is my happy place. I usually tire of camping trips at about one week in, but this time I was ready to keep going. After I got home (and showered) I was ready to go back for more. It was sad that N wasn’t able to get a week off from work come on the trip but that seems to be the way things go in his line of work. I wish it wasn’t so far from home because I can’t wait to go back again.

April Showers

My friend and co-worker is having a baby. The fact in itself is not surprising at all, but what is more unusual is that this is the first time I feel involved. By involved, I mean that it has fallen to me to organize things like baby showers and post-birth food deliveries. The new parents are not American and their families live far away so I feel like it is our responsibility to provide a support structure. I should point out that I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing when to comes to babies or baby related things. I have no siblings, I never babysat while I was growing up and I don’t know the first thing about dealing with small children. I don’t know what is supposed to happen at a baby shower either, but there I was having one in my apartment.

The one part of this whole baby experience I do feel mildly comfortable with is making things. I started with my standard baby shower gift, a flannel blanket (monkeys above, tutorial here) but I wanted to make something more this time.

I decided on a baby sling. At the suggestion of collected orange I used this pattern as a guideline. I chose the most gender neutral fabric I could find in my stash (a waterbed sheet from my parents circa 1978?) and paired it with an undyed flannel. The result is cozy flannel on the inside, printed fabric on the outside.

I’m a little worried that I made it too big for Mom, but I think it should fit Dad. I have many other fabrics suitable for a mom-sling so if they like it I will plan to make another one a bit smaller.

I also wanted to knit some baby footwear. After 4 failed attempts (too small, too big, etc.) I settled on Saartje’s Bootees (rav link, web link see sidebar) and some Debbie Bliss Cotton Cashmere I had in my stash. The buttons are vintage from my grandmother’s button jar. I think the booties are adorable, I only hope that they will fit at some point!

The shower itself was fine, I made it a potluck and the new mom requested no games and no pink, so basically we sat, snacked and visited. I consider that a success.

Next up on my list is organizing some food for the new family post-birth. I don’t know if I should do this formally or just tell people about it and have a free-for-all of food getting dropped off. I have an extra freezer down the street lined up to help out but otherwise the only preparation I have done is to ask Mom what she wants and doesn’t want to eat. Does anyone have suggestions for me? What works well or doesn’t work well? I’d love to get advice from some people with firsthand knowledge!

Making a sweater from a molehill

I’ve been spinning now for just about two years exactly.  In fact, I think I had just purchased my wheel days before Stitches West 2007.  I guess I didn’t dive head first into it, but I’ve now waded a good way into the spinning world and I’ve got many skeiens of unknit yarn to show for it.  Sure, I’ve knit a few things from handspun, some silk handwarmers (from my first spindle spinning attempts), a few hats (all ravelry links- 1) and scarves (1, 2) and a pair of mittens (which each see lots of wear) but I haven’t worked up to anything big yet.  Part of this is due to my scattered fiber buying.  I have small quantities of a large range of fiber types and colors from which I have been teaching myself about spinning.  This has been great for exploring the variety available but not so great for knitting up anything requiring more than 2oz (or sometimes 4oz) of material.

I have a goal: turn some of my handspun yarn stash into a full sized wearable garment.  I’m hoping to mostly use things already in my stash but I will accept the possibility that I need supplements to make this work.  I also realize this might require a multicolored garment, but I also contend that I have to make something wearable so it can’t be too technicolor.

My first idea is to make a yoked sweater with some colorwork at the top.  I’ve got many lovely bits and pieces in a similar gauge which could contribute to the colorwork. I even purchased some of them together with this in mind. This is one of my favs:

Yak from A Verb for Keeping Warm

but I also have

Thai Iced Tea BFL from A Verb for Keeping Warm.


Jade Merino-Silk from A Verb for Keeping Warm.

What I’m really missing is a substantial quantity of something to use for the body and sleeves. I do have a fair amount (just under 9oz) of polwarth from A Verb for Keeping Warm

but would guess that this is not enough for the body of a traditional yoked sweater unless I skip the sleeves. There might be a savior in my fiber stash, a lovely brown polwarth secret (an xmas present from girlontherocks…) that is not even washed yet. Perhaps that can solve my sweater body woes?

Does anyone have a good estimate for what percentage of a sweater the body and sleeves comprise? I have some idea in my head that I need about a pound of yarn to make a sweater, but I’m not sure of the proportional breakdown of each part. Any references or books I should check? I consulted EZ (Knitting Around) and found the percentage system for measuring size of sweater but nothing to help for estimating yarn requirements… If I had to guess I would put the yoke section at about 1/4 of the total sweater. This would make my 9oz of Polwarth too small, requiring more like 12oz.

Another option is to re-think my pattern direction, but I just don’t have any visions. Any ideas out there?