Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The year in knitting

Though I technically "learned" how to knit in 2001 (a friend from middle school taught me one day when we got together on a late summer day before my second year of college), I didn't do much, apart from a few ugly scarves, until one day in late 2009, when I picked up my needles and have barely been able to put them down since then.

Needles(s) to say (bah-doom ... ching!), most of the knitting techniques in my arsenal have been picked up in the past year. While I picked up the very basic skills at the end of last year (knitting in the round, ribbing, seed stitch, etc.), I'd say this year I've tried most of the techniques that an intermediate knitter should know:

Basic cabling
-Cabling without a cable needle
-Basic lace
-Several shawl constructions
-Laceweight yarn (just started my first laceweight shawl)
-Two-color stranded knitting
-Stranded knitting with two hands (extremely slow)
-Short rows
-Long-tail cast on
-Provisional cast on
-Tubular cast on
-Three-needle bind off
-Kitchener stitch
-Simple steeking (with unprofessional results)
-Picking up stitches
-Felting (not very successful since washing machines here have no hot hookup)
-Top-down raglan construction
-Bottom-up raglan construction
-Basic garment shaping
-Understanding yarn weights and gauge

I still have yet to try:
-Double knitting
-Three-color stranded knitting
-Complicated lace
-Complicated cables

But most importantly I don't have the experience to be able to predict when something will work or won't, so much of my experimental knitting (i.e., when I try to stray from a pattern) is completely on a trial-and-error basis. And I definitely don't have the control over most of the above techniques to incorporate them into my own design, unfortunately.

And, with some nudging from a friend, I've expanded my crochet skills beyond single, double, and triple, but I'd still call myself a beginner crocheter. I'm afraid to try any of those complex and lacy Doris Chan patterns, although I have a few in my Ravelry queue. I feel there's not a very clear "intermediate" level of crochet; the patterns seem to jump straight from easy to experienced.

Well, there's always next year. And the year after that, and that ...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Coordinating colors: purple

I've added far more purple to my wardrobe as of late than I probably should have. The round glasses were one thing, but then there was the cheap sweater dress from Hong Kong, and now, my two latest additions, a purple crocheted convertible shrug/stole and a purple shawlette with lacy border. Both of these last two items were pattern tests via Ravelry, and, for some reason, dark purple -- plum? -- yarn is what I came up with.

The problem is, I don't love purple. It's not that it doesn't flatter me -- I think it's all right, or at least better than other colors, like beige, orange, yellow, and brown, but I find it hard to wear because I feel like it clashes with most of the other colors I do wear -- cyan, magenta, black, white (yes, you can see growing up in a printed-matter-oriented household has had far-reaching effects on me). Last year, I've also been on a gray kick, which helps. Gray and purple go well together.

Purple and white, contrary to what I thought a week ago, is not where it's at.

But yesterday I found a combination that's perfect for the time of year, works well together, and allows me to wear a color that really isn't the best for me, according to my self-administered seasonal color analysis: Mustard and purple. Perfection. And because the mustard was in the form of opaque tights that I've been lusting after for nearly a year but just couldn't bring myself to lay 80 kuai (~$12) on at Uniqlo (finally spotted them at Trust Mart of all places for 25 kuai, w00t), they were on my legs, not near my face, and therefore not making me appear washed out and pale (heaven forbid!)

And the color scheme designer agrees with my assessment. (That's a fun tool to play around with if you're ever stuck for what colors to put together for, say, a design, or an outfit.)

For more on color analysis, see Wikipedia's rather extensive entry on the topic.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Chinese "Vintage" Design

Contemporary China is not known for its excellent design work in any field, as far as I gather. From architecture to graphic design, package design to fashion design, Western viewers tend to see the underlying concept of design in China as function over form.

And while I can certainly point to many aesthetically unpleasing examples of buildings, magazines, packages, and products in China, I have also been noticing not only an increasing number of boutiques that specialize in quality graphic T-shirts, notebooks, and trinkets, but also old-school package designs that I'm going to term Chinese "vintage." "Vintage" because to me, they look old-timey, and I do believe most of the examples I will cite are in fact well-established brands, but I deduce also that there is a growing collective yearning for nostalgia among younger generations and I wonder how much corporations play into that by creating new "vintage-look" designs.

In contrast to the graphic Ts and trinkets, I can't say that examples of this design aesthetic seems to be increasing in number; I think I've just lately been taking a closer look at the thousands and thousands of packages that I see on the shelves at supermarkets.

One such product is Bee & Flower bar soap. I was recommended these by a friend and former CHENGDOO Magazine columnist Jessie Levene, and I noticed on a trip back home that they are available at the grocery stores in L.A. Chinatown as well. I think these are a fantastic example of the type of package design I'm talking about: the printed-paper wrapping allows the fragrance of the soap to come through; a brief introduction to the soap (in Chinese, English, and Spanish) is included and attached to the package with the gold medallion sticker; each of the four fragrances comes in a different colored paper (sandalwood, brown; rose, pink; jasmine, green; bouquet, dark green) for easy recognition. The soap, by the way, is lovely as well. I've stowed a couple in my closet to ward off bugs, and I use them to wash with, too. Like the introduction claims, they do leave my skin soft and fragrant.

The iconic Shanghai bicycle brands Flying Pigeon and Phoenix offer more examples of this aesthetic. (See logos for both). I'd point you also to photos of my beloved Feige bicycle (which I bought twice, both secondhand; neither lasted more than a few months under my careless ownership), but I couldn't find any.

Much has also been already written in English about the Chinese wushu shoe brand Feiyue, whose design has been licensed to a French company that sells much pricier versions of this classic all around Europe; such shoes have been spotted on the likes of Orlando Bloom. Funnily enough, the shoes are trendy among subculturists in China as well, and they're apparently not very easy to obtain in Chengdu. Last year, I met a guy from Hangzhou who had brought several bags full of the shoes to Chengdu to sell during the Zebra Music Festival. In Shanghai, these shoes go for around RMB30 per pop. The Hangzhou roadside entrepreneur was taking in upwards of RMB100 a pair, he said.

And, of course, with the rising popularity of vintage design, here's a modern take on classic bicycle design.

Images from:
Bee & Flower soaps

Bee & Flower closeup

Phoenix bicycle ornament
Modern vintage bicycle
Flying pigeon logo

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

China street style, finally!

[Photo credit]

I have been wanting somebody to do a China street style blog for a long time. In fact, I would do it myself if I had a digital camera. Alas, I have only a film camera with a broken shutter, and although a top one-third blackout with a soft edge might pass as artsy, I cannot afford to constantly develop film, nor take the time to scan it.

But I can be satisfied for a moment because recently I discovered Stylites in Beijing, and while the fashions may not be as outrageous or exciting as those featured on FRUiTS or Hel-Looks, they're sophisticated, understated, and show the occasional flash of color (turquoise tights, anyone?). I do find it interesting that a good number of the subjects either come from or now live in other countries. But I like how each one has a little story, unlike many of the U.S.-based street-style blogs which simply just show a photograph, and that the stories are in both English and Chinese. I'm generally not a fan of bilingual publications, but I think for such a thing, especially centered in China, it would be ideal to be in English and Chinese.

One of these days I'll have the cash to buy a camera (maybe the day I decide to stop squandering all my money on kilograms of wool), and I'll record Chengdu fashion too. And maybe one day the sun will come out, too.

Well, I can't post one link without another, can I? These days I am having fun at 爱手工, a Chinese social-networking site for handmade enthusiasts. I say Ravelry is something like a Facebook for knitters due to its high level of interactivity among members, but this really is, complete with update/status board, event pages, etc. Too bad there are only a handful of users in Chengdu.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Link roundup: We're in the news, and funny stuff

Milestone! On the eve of our third anniversary, our little project has made it into the Chinese news! Click here to see it. (It's a clip, largely translated from marketing prose by yours truly that appears on our media kit, talking about how our readers voted Zebra Music Festival the Best Cultural Event of 2009.)

Apparently it's not "just me" who gets annoyed. The general public's "inability" to "properly" apply punctuation is alarming. This post from The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotes made me laugh out loud.

That was a lame link roundup, but I've already spent half the day reading blogs that I don't want to link to, and I want to do other things with the few hours left before the week is over. So I'll also add this: For all three of you reading (Hi Coloradan!) I changed the title of my blog because I thought the old one was stupid. I thought it was stupid the whole time, but I thought it was even stupider to use, ahem, "not being able to come up with a name for my blog" as an excuse to not blog, and I did like the way it filled the space on the screen. Anyway I think this title is a more accurate representation of the blog, and it sounds funny, both in English and Chinese. I "think." I do not know why the last two characters are being rendered in a different font than the first three, however, and I also do not know how to "fix it." If anybody does, "please help!"

Oh, all right ... another one. This guy's pretty funny, too, sometimes.

Friday, April 9, 2010

AUTOBNOXIOUS: Celebrities on Bikes

Why do I feel like I'm always seeing photos of Miley Cyrus on bikes? Perhaps more importantly, why am I always seeing photos of Miley Cyrus? I don't even really know who she is or what she does, except that she's the daughter of achy breaky Billy Ray--and even that I didn't know until a month or so ago, when my nearly-60-year-old dad clued me in. Does she sing? Act? Be a Mouseketeer? Who knows, and who cares? What's important is that mostly I see photos of her tooling around town on two (non-gas-powered) wheels.

While a certain Huffington Post blog post might try to half-assedly posit otherwise, unfortunately, I don't think this is some greeny celebrity trend: I think that Little Miss Cyrus is just too young to legally get behind the wheel of anything else. Wait, no, according to Wikipedia, she's 17. Well!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Teaching English in China

The American Citizen Services in China finally did something quasi-useful: They've put up an information page for people interested in teaching English in China. Only about 20 years after Americans started coming to China to teach English. Well, better late than never.

Here's the link.

Honestly, I haven't read the whole thing in detail, but it looks fairly thorough, and I think I'll make it my new go-to link when people ask me for advice on teaching English in China.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Knitting links, plus a crafty one too

A knitted bus, does it get any better? Part of the trend called "yarnbombing," also known as knit-tagging. I'd heard of this but only as stop-sign cozies. Wonder how it would go down in China? Could be a big fat waste of yarn if it gets taken down two minutes after being put up.

Also, an entire knitted village. This one's definitely more the product of the "old-lady knitting" that knitting is often stereotyped as, but whatever. It's still pretty neat. More pictures here.

Finally, you patrons of the arts, an architect-almost-out-of-work (apparently the unemployment rate for architects in the States is over 50 percent) friend of mine is turning over a new leaf by selling handmade prints on her Etsy shop. Have a look, and if you like, support!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Thoughts on Knitting, plus, fat baby cookies

My relatively recently acquired knitting obsession is concerning me not because it's an obsession but because it is still an act--a ravenous act to which I am totally and admittedly addicted--of consuming.

I spend almost as much time finding, downloading, hoarding, and printing free knitting patterns and coveting, looking for, and buying yarn, as I do actually knitting--apparently all "normal" behaviors of the typical knitter.

That's not even the problem. You might argue that knitting is also/still an act of creating, but at this point in time, acts of creation, whether they are giving birth, inventing instruments of death and injury (the car being among the top of that list), or designing fashion garments, seem to be more destructive to the planet than they are, in the Grand Scheme of Things, anything else.

To be sure, my rabid desire to buy and own clothing has decreased markedly since I have been knitting, but buying secondhand or making one's own clothing; taking the bus or riding a bike, are still acts of consumption and are neither "ecological," "sustainable," or "environmentally friendly." Everything is relative.

Sorry for the poor alignment of these photos and for the lack of captions. These are photos of the only two completed knitting projects I have photos of, thanks to the generosity of the projects' owners (or project's owner's parent, in the case of the baby sweater).

P.S. I am eating, by the handful, those melt-in-your-mouth cookies that are shaped like tiny little buns and that in my mind are always connected to the fat, bratty Asian kids begging their moms for sweets at the Chinese supermarket. It's probably been 20 years since I've eaten these, and boy are they tasty in that nostalgic baby-food sort of way.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Chengdu thrifting: Capes

At Chengdu's mostly unknown* secondhand shops near Chunxi Lu last weekend I was persuaded to try on a cape by the savvy shopkeeper who caught me eyeing it in semi-adoration, semi-confusion. She said something like, "Hey, you should try that on! It'll look great on you since you're tall!" Before I'd even responded she'd pulled it off its hook high on the wall and handed it to me.

(An aside: Here's a link to a great if heavy read on clothes shopping, with a long glance at secondhand-clothes shopping, from one of the very best blogs on fashion that I've seen.)

I wasn't sure about it because it didn't seem all that warm, nor all that functional (where would I wear it to? the opera? the Sichuan opera?) but when I asked the price, and was told it was RMB25--pre-negotiation--I was drawn in. To make a long story short, after much hemming and hawing I ended up buying two wrappy/capey garments--for a total of RMB25 (less than U.S.$4). I'm a sucker for a bargain, and I think that was a good one.

The culprit that started it all is some sort of synthetic woven that seems to want to be wool; it's fully lined with ties at the front, a ruffle trim, and a fake fur collar. It hangs about to my knees; I'm wearing it today for the first time and I have to say it's surprisingly warm. Today was a rare sunny day so I decided it would be warm enough and thus a safe time to take it for a test drive. I do wish it had arm holes so that I could keep it wrapped around me while I'm typing, but all in all I think it wasn't a bad investment. My legs are a bit cold (two pairs of stockings and shorts) but my upper body with just the Heatteach turtleneck, a shirt, wool sweater, and the cape is quite toasty. A female friend told me I looked "so cool" today; the man told me I looked like Zorro.

The second, which I've yet to wear because even after a washing and an overnight airing out, is still reeking with that musty thrift store odor, is basically a giant scarf shaped to drape over the shoulders and with a ruffle. I guess it's not technically a cape.

During the shopping one of my friends also picked up a cape that doesn't look all that far off from the one picture above; a plaid, hooded variety with small armholes. It's also quite cute, and apparently, we're right on trend for 2010.

*Certainly unknown to most foreigners; penny-pinching yet stylish middle-aged women know about them, as do Tibetan men and younger, "Bohemian" locals--at least that's usually who I see shopping there, in that order.

Photo credit

Review: Uniqlo Heattech

My more well-funded friends in Chengdu have been raving about the opening of several Uniqlo shops since their opening months ago, so this past weekend during a secondhand shopping spree I decided to stop in the newest one, a behemoth and the Japanese retail giant's second Chunxi Lu shopping street location.

Mostly I was interested in the chain's HeatTech line. Since these days I Windows shop more than window shop and far more than actually shop, I did my research online first and was charmed by the retailer's own Heattech advertisements, in which models walk down wintry city streets in just their Heattech tops and a thin coat while passersby are spotted bundled up, and captions flash on the screen with the city name and sub-zero or near-freezing temperature. And the few reviews I was able to dig up spoke of the Heattech shirts favorably. There's supposed to be some milk proteins that trap warm air or something in them.

We found the Heattech rack of women's items--camisoles/singlets, scoop-neck T shirts, scoop-neck long-sleeved shirts, turtlenecks, and leggings in a range of colors--near the back of the store. The merchandise is packaged in space-age-looking silvery sealed plastic bags with clear size markings, descriptions in English and Chinese, and a window so that shoppers can see the color of the item easily. A sample of each garment in each size hangs on a rack nearby, and leading me to believe I should opt for a large turtleneck rather than the XL I initially grabbed.

I chose grey; it's a very light, almost silver, shade of grey. I would have gone for the black and white striped affair but it was only available in XL. It was on sale for RMB59--more than I would normally pay for a shirt but I was expecting some Japanese magic from this baby to combat my fifth Chengdu winter (let me tell you, they don't get any less painful with time).

Performance: Not as magical as I was hoping for. I've been wearing it under another shirt plus a sweater or vest and coat the past two days and while it might keep me a bit warmer than the average cotton shirt, I certainly wouldn't wear it with only one thin layer on top. The large is form-fitting on me so I wouldn't have minded the XL for a slightly looser fit; also, the sleeves are shorter than I'd like (a common problem for Westerners buying clothing in China). Given the numbers on the packaging (XL is made for a height of 165cm, and I'm 173cm), I guess I'm not too surprised.

On the plus side, I think it does look pretty slick and sophisticated to wear peeking out from other layers, and it's soft, smooth, and comfortable on the skin. While I was back in the States I picked up some long-sleeve cotton tissue shirts that were $9.99 each at Nordstrom Rack. Those shirts are my winter staples. The Heattech shirts have the added benefit of being turtleneck style and just slightly cheaper; if I have some money to spend I would consider picking up a black one and possibly the leggings--although the sizing issue is even iffier there.

While at Uniqlo I also bought the furry fleece coat, on sale for RMB199 (I see it's now marked down to 149!)--and I'm very glad I did. It's not the most flattering piece of clothing I own (it looks far better unzipped than zipped, when it looks kind of body-bag blobby), but it's so soft, comfortable, and warm that I think I'll be living in it for the rest of winter. I can wear it with just an ordinary long-sleeved shirt underneath and be warm enough; I can't say that about any other outerwear item I own. I bought the XL in grey; again, the sizing is a bit funny. It's a bit narrow in the shoulders, a bit wide in the waist, and the sleeves are as usual a bit shorter than I'd like. But with long gloves it's no problem.

Update P.S. Whatever you do, don't wear fleece to a bar. Some jackass will undoubtedly drop ashes on you and/or your coat, and your coat will sport a nice melt hole or three. Dammit.