Monday, March 28, 2011


No, not foundation garments. The actual foundations of buildings! (All photos are mine except for the one at Fort Pitt and the last one.)

When we were shopping for our house, being me, I read a couple-ten books on architecture, home building, building materials, and like that. It gave me a great background for looking at houses, but it also helped me know what I was looking at, in places I never intended to buy anything.

We're in an area that's been settled since the 1700s. So it's not uncommon to see a beautifully restored building, but when you take a good look at it, you see stuff like this:
Namely, original foundations of buildings, cobbled together out of gods-know-what. So, being me, I started poking at the history of things.

There were fur trappers in the area back in the 1660s, but it wasn't until the French built a fort in the 1750s that the area was stable enough to settle in a serious way. I'm sure the first shelters (I can't call them houses) were relatives of tents or extremely rustic log cabins built right on the ground, and they haven't survived. When first settling an area like this, Europeans were too busy trying to live though cold and heat and panthers and finding food to expend much effort on fancy buildings. The oldest surviving building in Pittsburgh is part of Fort Pitt built in 1764:
If you can see it, it's cobbled together with rocks. Some are dressed (smoothed into a brick shape of some kind) and some aren't. Back then, they were building with whatever they could scrape out of a river bed or hillside. They favored sand stone (it's soft enough to work with a hammer and chisel, which is about all they had) and shale and slate - both of which break in smooth chunks. You wind up with something like this:
This is from a place closer to my house, also built in the 1760s. It's kind of interesting; the back walls are built like this, with random rocks, but the front of the house is dressed stones:
So in the 1760s, dressed stone was still a good bit of trouble to go to.

Larger, heavier buildings like barns were also built in a 'compound' sort of way - the corners of the foundation are built up with super heavy, solid, dressed stones, and timbers were run from corner to corner to corner. The timbers support the upper portion of the building, and then the rest of the foundation walls were filled in with anything they could find in terms of stones. Most around here (no good pictures, sorry) look like they were done with slate or shale - I don't envy them the job. Even way back, builders realized random rocks weren't enough for load-bearing, and hauled in the good stuff for that. But they didn't haul any more than they had to. Considering they were using horses, block and tackle, who could blame them?

The problem with the 'pile of rocks' building method is the cement. (At least, here where I am. Different parts of the world have different problems.) Because the sides of the rocks aren't parallel, the cement is required not only to anchor the stones, but also to fill in uneven spaces and bear a lot of weight. And this was at a time and place when cement-making was done in people's back yards or a quarry, by people who didn't exactly have PhDs in materials engineering. (I'm talking about actually making the cement, not mixing it together.) So, many of the houses around here have either had entirely new foundations built for them, or have had all kinds of re-mortaring done.

Travel - and therefore shipping any kind of building materials - between civilization (East Coast) and the Pittsburgh area was problematic for many years. You could either go by land in a wagon (through malarial swamps, freezing mountains, and over horrific roads), or by river (also malarial) which required a trip through New Orleans and up the Mississippi. Because of that, building materials were still on-the-spot productions, so everything in this area was stone, wood, and sketchy mortar. In 1834 a canal and rail line went through from Buffalo to Pittsburgh, and in 1854 rail travel from Philly to Pittsburgh became possible. After that, shipping in cement became easier and the quality of buildings went up steadily. I'll bet you this area produced better window glass than cement, for a couple decades at least. It's all in what kinds of raw materials were laying around.

In fact, due to the raw material situation, there was a thing sort of like a cinder block made, that is in fact a type of stoneware/ceramic:
They're actually pretty good at load-bearing and were used for decades until being phased out by cinder block. Sort of. I bet they're still on the market. Of houses built before WW2, I bet 1/3 or more have foundations of these types of block. In this area, anyway. (We've got lots of clay and the stuff to make glaze.) See the coal chute? Love old houses.

Bricks of course seem obvious to us as a building material. But the problem for a long time was transporting them, not making them. Here in PA, even with railroads, getting the bricks from a rail line into the valleys and hills to a building site was still brutal. Since this area is full of clay and gravel and other brick-making materials, they made a lot of them right on the spot.
Which led to a lot of buildings settling weirdly and otherwise slowly disintegrating because the bricks weren't fired right. See the patching being done between the first and second floor windows? Bricks need to be fired at about 1750F/950C to properly bear weight later and not gradually turn to dust. That's not a temperature you're going to produce with a wood fire out in your back yard, or at least not easily - not to mention, the temperature needs to be held steady for a while or, yeah, they slowly turn to dust again.

So, even though the valleys here are full of clay, bricks were still pretty tricky to make and build with.

Cinder blocks, our current go-to for building foundations, is a fairly new invention. Especially the mass-production of them. But like so much else, the real problem with cinder block isn't really making it - it's transporting the damn things. They came into 'common use' in the 1920s along the east coast, and from the looks of it around here, were used here since about the 1930s. But, just a decade ago, I remember hearing a friend in the building supply biz in Hawaii telling me about a shipment of cinder blocks coming in with a 50% breakage rate. That was about normal. Those suckers are oddly fragile.

Now, with the whole world of building supplies available, people who can afford anything, what do they do?

They build with barely dressed stone.

People are so damn weird.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Down the rabbit hole.

UP FRONT DISCLAIMER to lower stress levels: We are fine. Not even property damage.

I grew up four counties west of where I'm living now. Quite a distance in culture, but I didn't think so far in terms of geography or meteorology. This isn't even my first spring in SW PA. I survived last winter's three foot snowfall and all the rest just one county away. So, you know, I thought I kind of had a handle on the weather.


We had thunderstorm and tornado warnings go up around two this afternoon. Not so unusual. So, I opened the window and door (so I could hear high winds; with all the trees and hills the odds of me seeing a funnel cloud in time for it to be useful are about nil) and mostly didn't care. I'd just gotten done tweeting that a tornado was very unlikely when SOMETHING hit the skylight. Hard. So I went to the back window to look.
No, not a tornado. Hail. Lots of really big hail.
It pounded down for quite a while. Lots of reports of roof damage, busted windows, and dented cars. No damage to our house, though.

After, the Goober and I went outside to take a look at the husbeast's truck, and I found this:
This was the biggest one I could find. It's about two inches wide and three inches long.

After the report of a mine flooding someone's BASEMENT on Monday, this just tops it. It is official. I live in Weird Land.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Yee fuckin' haw!

About 3/4 done! I've already screwed up the shoulder decreasing, so that's something I don't have to worry about.

Also, the husbeast left the house wearing this today:
We're a stylish bunch. Should have taken a photo of my space monkey pajama pants.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Where the hell I've been.

Actually, believe it or not, I've been knitting. Figure that.

Since the 5th of March, I've knit about 2/3 of a sweater for the Goober. It's a simple, percentage-system raglan pullover. (In fact, that's what gave me the idea for the upcoming knit-along.) I did a sleeve in two days this week. The other sleeve is nearly done. Then it's just the yoke left. I'm really enjoying the Cascade 220, to the point that I think I'll be doing most of my design this year with it. "Designs", oooh, listen to me. Made up patterns sounds more realistic. ToMAYto, toMAHto.

I meant to take photos, but, hey. Brain fart. I'll be sure to do a full-on photo shoot with the Goober when it's done. She's very excited by the idea of me knitting something for her. (Even though I spun her a scarf and then knit it, this winter; apparently that's not 'real clothes'.) She picked the color, and so she's very happy. I can't wait until she's a little older and can draw her design ideas that I can then knit for her. That would be fun for both of us.

Is there something in little girls that hard-wires their retinas, so that purple is their favorite color?


When I'm not knitting, I've been wandering around the yard, pleased.
Bulbs of all kinds (except hyacinth, which make me sneeze) are my all-time favorite decorative flower. They're pretty much perfect. They don't require any special treatment. You plant them, you ignore them, you admire them for two weeks as they bloom. You let the greens grow for a month or two to 'recharge' the bulbs. Then you cut them back and ignore them until they bloom again. No watering, no pesticide, no fertilizer. No waste of resources. Just pretty colors and the thrill of spring returning.

Last autumn I went wild and bought almost 100 bulbs - tulips, crocus, iris, daffodils. Several types of each. I'd never have gotten them all planted without the husbeast's help. But he did help, and pretty much the last nice day we had last October, we planted while the Goober ran around the yard. Now I've got those memories AND the thrill of spring coming up.

Next, I start ripping out the established landscaping to replace worthless deer bait with plants I'll actually use. I'm hoping to rip out the topiaries by the front door using brute force (my Jeep). I'd like to burn them and dance on the ashes. But I'll probably settle for planting some smaller flowering shrubs in their place. Something that doesn't need pruned with nail clippers twice a year. Eeesh. Who in hell plants topiary?


Oh - they think they may have really found Atlantis this time. I'm watching a documentary on it. Needs to be a blog post.


What else have I been doing?
It took me a full day to find the floor of the Goober's room. And I'm not done. My back hurts just looking at the pictures.


The other day, the Goob and I went to Target. I bought a pet bed for Sekhmet. The Goober, who is becoming even more freaky smart as she learns to read, spotted a dog bone embroidered on the front of the bed, and we had the following discussion. Paraphrased a bit, but I remember it pretty clearly:
GOOB: Mum, we can't get that for Sekhmet. That's a DOG bed. See, there's a bone on it. That's for DOGS.
ME: Baby, Sekhmet's bigger than some dogs. It'll be fine.
GOOB: But it's a DOG bed!
ME: Do you want your beanbag chair back?
GOOB: Yeah.
Two women nearby started giggling at that point.
The Goober's got her chair back. One less thing to yell at the two of them about. Woohoo!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Let's talk knit-along.

I've been plugging away at the Goober's sweater (mostly unraveling the sleeve, at this point), and thinking about how I could get a major series of blog posts out of it. So of course my brain took it one step further and thought, hey, we could do a knit-along as I wrote the blog posts. Which is usually fun. Here's what I have in mind:

In terms of writing style, this new knit-along would run somewhat along the lines of the Steek-Along, in that I'll start from scratch with the gauge swatch. I'll record my thoughts on each step as I do them, and then everyone is free to follow along, or modify at will. For instance, for the gauge swatch I'll get into all the gory details of how I knit and measure, but everyone can do it their own way, or skip it altogether.

However, since the project itself caused some brain-melt last time, I thought we'd go with something really super-simple: A percentage system raglan pullover, as discussed and laid out in this article. (I wrote the article, and I officially give myself permission to use it.)

We'll take, what, a month, six weeks to plan and budget so we can buy the yarn, before we cast on. Sound about right? (I hate knit-alongs that give me no time to prep. I don't have a huge stash, and I don't have the cash in the budget regularly to just go buy a sweater's worth of wool.)


-Size: Your own, or the size of a loved one you'd like to knit a sweater for. Because of the disproportionate head-to-body ratio on babies and small toddlers, this system doesn't work well for them without tweaking. But for anyone else, it's fine. In fact, I guess we'll do measuring for what size we want, as our first step. I'll talk about that a few weeks before the cast-on.

-Yarn: Whatever you want. We won't be steeking, so even slippery yarns are fine. Use whatever you like, whatever gauge you like. I will probably be knitting Cascade 220 if that matters to anyone, but you don't need to do the same. Medium to large size needles are a good idea, only so you can keep up with the rest of us. As for how much yarn you need, find a pattern for a stockinette pullover in the yarn you want to use, and use it as a guide.

-Skills: cast on, cast off, knitting, purling, a very few short rows you can skip if you want (back of neck shaping), grafting (underarms), k2tog, ssk. If you don't know how to do any of these things, you can relax, because I'll probably be doing detailed directions for all of them. I'm already planning to do video of my weird cast-on method that I've never seen anywhere else except "The Principles of Knitting". And like I said before, if you don't like my way and want to do it your way, simple enough: it's your knitting, do it your way.

EDITED TO ADD:  I've already had some questions about different necks and sleeve treatment. So sure, we'll discuss alternatives as we get to each specific bit of the pattern. It'll be educational! (Which is the whole idea, so thanks for giving me the idea.)

Beltaine (May 1) is a good day to start a new project, don't you think? Shall we make it a date? Who is with me?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Vogue Knitting, spring/summer 2011

Pictures from the web site, things in quotes are from the magazine, all else is mine.

NOTE: I AM NOT GIVING OUT FREE PATTERNS, NOW OR EVER. So don't e-mail and ask me for them. Vogue has an on-line pattern store. Go buy them. There's also a free pattern section. I don't care much about all the copyright crap, but I'm not stealing stuff, and that's what this would be. Designers deserve a break, no matter who they publish with. VOGUE PATTERN STORE. Knock yourselves out.


Meg Swansen discusses Bohus Stickning and their methods of blending colors, as well as other uses for the purl stitch. Since I am a huge Bohus fan, I consider the whole magazine worthwhile for the pictures alone. You may not. But it's a very cool article. Honestly, Meg Swansen could write about anything and I'd say it was awesome, because she is. I make no secret of my fangirl status.

Looking at the ads, there seems to be a trend of models standing all hunched over. No idea what in fuck's up with that, but it's annoying.

The 'Yarns' section once again is a wad of yarns (cotton this time) stacked up, with a list of others on the side. Supposedly everyone at VK knits, according to the editor. So why in bloody hell don't they produce a few swatches for us to look at? What, they don't have some unpaid intern out fetching coffee, they can't have them knit some swatches one day? We're talking a day's work by one person to produce actual editorial content for the magazine. Not difficult. So why do we keep getting useless piles of yarn?

Designer (?) spotlight is on a woman named Ruth Marshall who knits replicas of animal pelts and snake skins. Very interesting, but I wish Vogue had commissioned a clothing design from the woman and published it. That would have been much cooler. And made sense as to why she's in the magazine.

Nicky Epstein does macrame with I-cord.

Carol Sulcoski produces another excellent article about yarn, how it is spun, and how that affects your knitting. There's also a lot about different types of high-end fibers and blending them with other fibers. Good stuff, particularly for those of you who don't understand yarn substitution (who does, really?)


Section one: "Knits Bloom! Fresh and fanciful, warm-weather knitting is at its essence a luxury, pure and simple." Sure, luxury, even though white cotton yarn is some of the cheapest stuff out there, CONSIDERING SOME OF IT IS NO DIFFERENT FROM KITE STRING. I know lots of us wear white in summer, and that's cool, but an entire section of it, when yarn companies are working at producing new, pretty, bright summer colors? MUST WE? Plus, seriously, white cotton yarn looks like kite string.

1. Cardi vest by John Brinegar.
Five sizes from 32 to 48 inches/81 to 122 cm. The yarn's acrylic/nylon, which is cool for summer, if a bit creepy-crawly on the skin. It's a tape/ribbon for the crinkle effect seen above. Yup, it's a vest. Nice enough. Dude, what's up with the flowers?

2. Scoop neck dress by Mari Lynn Patrick.
Four sizes from 32 to 39 inches/82 to 99cm. Pullover pinafore thing with ribbing to suck in the bottom and a kangaroo pocket to make your stomach look extra poochy. Woo. Flattering. I like how the fringe-stuff around her neck obscures the pattern so you can't see what's going on with the knit.
What's the thinking that goes behind this 'fashion shot'? Whose idea was it for the model to stand on the bed waving two giant artificial flowers around? Is this supposed to be art? Whoopi Goldberg in a tub of milk is art. This is just 'do something weird so we can pretend it's art'.

3. Drape neck top by Jacqueline VanDillen.
Six sizes from 33 to 48 inches/85 to 122cm. Does that neck drape, or just stick out? I don't know. You be the judge. Don't know what's up with the model canted over in the magazine photo.Looks like a nice enough tunic.

4. V neck pullover by Carol Meldrum. "The color-blocked scheme... adds interest... and calls attention to the lovely sheen of the fiber." Uh huh.
Yet again, the web site doesn't use the magazine photo with the giant flowers. I can't imagine why. Six sizes from 36 to 56 inches/91 to 143cm. Yup. It's a V-neck pullover, all right. If you have to knit one, this is a decent pattern, though you'll always have to wear something underneath it, due to the deep V. (Not saying that's bad, just saying.) $227 USD to knit the 43in/109cm size. Plus, silk is hot.

5. Two button vest by Jacqueline VanDillen.
Six sizes from 33 to 51 inches/84 to 131cm. Hippy vest. But it has a waist!

6. Eyelet wrap top by Theresea Schabes.
Four sizes from 33 to 45 inches/84 to 114cm. Yup. It's a longish wrap top.

UNDER COVER! Vogue brings in some Names to contribute patterns. I really wish high fashion would get over the obsession with big knits, already.

7. Hooded jacket by Rebecca Taylor.
"NOTE TWO: THE CHARTS RE DRAWN FOR THE SMALL-TO-LARGE SIZE ONLY." [Emphasis mine.] Meaning that only one of the sizes has charts. NICE! (Now I've looked more closely at the charts and it seems there ARE charts for both, they're just printed on the same page. Wow. Misleading as all hell.) Two sizes, 48 and 58 inches/123 and 148 cm. I assume it's meant to be oversized. I'm not sure why anyone needs a double-breasted lace hoodie, but if you want one, here's the pattern. The front bands don't go all the way to the front hem of the jacket. The designer will likely claim this is some stylistic element of the garment, but a lot of knitters would think it looks like a mistake. Up to you. Oh- it's a raglan with all the elements knit separately and seamed together. THAT would be fun.

8. Long cardigan vest by Twinkle.
Five sizes from 37 to 52 inches/94 to 133cm. This is a really cute jacket sort of thing to keep the chill off. Kind of plain, but I think it would look better in a color. $119 USD for the medium size.

Section, uh, beach. No color yet, but at least we've moved outside, away from the overgrown flowers and neutral everything interiors. "Exquisite openwork at the water's edge: High fashion hits the beach."

9. Lace poncho by Shiri Mor.
53in/136cm wide. Yup. That's what it is. But check this out:
See how the model emphasizes the shape of her body and manages to look slim, while swathed in yards of lace? That's darn impressive. On the other hand, you won't look like that while wearing the poncho, unless you stand like that all the time.

10. Mesh topper by Renee Lorion.
Five sizes from 36 to 55 inches/91 to 139cm. Ooo! Almost color! This is a cute little, well, mesh top. I'm a fan of lace over tank top outfits for summer: It's comfortable, shows off your body, and isn't freezing cold all at the same time. This one ought to be a relatively quick knit, for those of you who also like the look.

11. Lace cover-up by John Brinegar.
24x50in/61x127cm, unfolded. Near as I can tell, this is a long scarf, with one end gathered and stitched to the other end or side. The pattern is quite vague.

12. Bias lace scarf and
13. Bias rib scarf, by Lisa Buccellato.
Both approx 72x5in/183x13cm. Yup. Scarves.

14. Lace tunic by Brooke Nico.
Three sizes from 33 to 49 in/84 to 125 cm. CONTAINS NUPPS! CODE RED! (Haha, mostly kidding, but lots of knitters find them challenging.) Nice enough white tunic. Knit in the round with grafted underarms. Cool.

Next, "So hot it sizzles. The body electric: slinky bikinis in metallic yarns make the most of a minimal amount of fabric." Every year or two, VK publishes a knit bikni or two. In terms of wearability I think it's ridiculous, but I suppose it's a must-do sort of thing. Summer equals bathing suits, after all, and you sure can't knit a standard one-piece without it looking like ass.

Both suits by Elizabeth Kosich.

15. Gold tie bikini.

16. Color block bikini.

The real problem with these is the fiber. They're knit with a viscose/nylon/metallic blend. I don't know about the metallic, but viscose sags horribly when wet, and viscose and nylon don't cope well with chlorine or salt. So we're looking at bathing suits that can't get wet. I know favorite bathing suits often don't get wet, but I still think it's kind of nuts to publish patterns for bathing suits that will disintegrate or look bad when they're soaked in beach or swimming pool water.

"Set off Sparks" is the next section, with a fitted tank.

17. Fitted top by Melissa Matthay.
Three sizes, from 33 to 39 inches/83 to 99cm. "The ribbed lattice back will stretch to fit." Um. Not THAT much. If you've got the ta-tas to roam around without a bra and not scare people, this is a great top for you. This version is knit entirely with silk, which I don't think is the best choice for summer, what with sweat and heat and all. Maybe switch out with a viscose/cotton blend. $300 to knit the medium size. Not a typo.

"Citrus brights and coral spice infuse Carnaval style into our tropical tops." Finally, some color. Woohoo.

18. Cropped tank top by Jacqueline VanDillen.
...apparently VK defines 'cropped differently than the rest of the universe. Five sizes from 31 to 41 inches/78 to 104cm. Pretty standard textured tank top. It's a same it doesn't come in more sizes, because just about everyone would look good in it.

19. Triangle top by Halleh Tehranifar.
Three sizes from 30 to 35 inches/76 to 89 cm. A halter, but for those with the bodies to wear it, the color blocks are flattering.

20. Striped top by Loren Cherensky.
Six sizes from 33 to 53 inches/84 to 134cm. If you keep the stripes very close in hue and intensity, like this, you can mostly avoid the LOOK HOW WIDE I AM effect of horizontal stripes.

21. Wrap effect top by Mari Lynn Patrick.
Three sizes from 34 to 38 inches/86 to 96cm. OH COME ON! Just about anyone would look good in that top, because of the diagonal lines! NO MORE SIZES?!?! AAAAH!

22. Cable collar top by Norah Gaughan.
Five sizes from 33 to 50 inches/83 to 127cm. I have nothing to really say. It's a cute summer top, knit with reasonably priced yarn. A very cute t-shirt style knit for summer. Goes with everything. Can't go wrong. (I am a Norah Gaughan fangirl as well as a Meg Swansen fangirl. What can I say? I love genius knitters.)

23. Bowtie cable top by Cheryl Murray.
Six sizes from 32 to 51 inches/81 to 129 cm. Cute. Another great cabled tee for summer, that goes with everything. Not everyone can wear yellow, but shoot, that takes no effort at all to fix.

24. Diagonal front vest by Mel Clark.
Two sizes (BAH). 34 and 38 inches/86 and 96 cm. I'd considered knitting this to wear over tee shirts and tanks, because it's really cute, but OH YEAH IT DOESN'T COME IN MY SIZE. 38 as the largest size, TO WEAR OVER SOMETHING ELSE, is just ridiculous.

25. Lace panel top by Louisa Harding.
Five sizes from 31 to 43 inches/80 to 111cm. Cute.

"Summertime blues. Explore the pacific palette with a lace of a crystal blue persuasion." Uh, yeah, wut?

26. Lace top by Yoko Hatta.
Four sizes from 36 to 51 inches/92 to 129 cm. Another of the 'wear it over something else' laces for summer. It's knit on a size four/3.5mm needle, so be sure you want to make the commitment it'll take to knit it.

27. Buttoned lace vest by Pat Olski.
Three sizes from 31 to 49 inches/80 to 125cm. I guess it's meant to be oversized. !! Take a good look at how this one was photographed: The edging is knit with a yarn the same color as the shirt under it. So it's really hard to tell where the vest stops and the shirt starts. Take a good look at the schematic so you're sure you want to knit it.

28. Lace cardi by Courney Kelley.
Two sizes, 30 and 40 inches/76 and 103 cm. More lace to wear over something else. I'm not sure this one would be flattering, but then I'm not sure loose lace is ever flattering.

29. Chevron lace top by Mari Tobita.
Four sizes from 31 to 40 inches/80 to 101 cm. Nice. Another sleeveless pullover for summer. This one's done in the round to the arm pits and then worked flat for the yoke.

That wraps it up for this review. I think Vogue got the message about larger sizes, but I've heard some smaller sizes saying the selection for them kind of stinks, too. No, I don't expect VK to make EVERY pattern available in EVERY size, but with thirty patterns to choose from, I'd think they could make a significant choice available in every size. There I go thinking again.