Monday, November 7, 2011

I've done software testing, so why not test patterns and readability with craft books...

Cool variation on stripey socks
Sock Yarn One-Skein Wonders: 101 Patterns That Go Way Beyond Socks edited by Judith Durant

The About: Third in the series of One-Skein Wonders, this book makes use of stashes of sock yarn that knitters love to hoard. Patterns are divided into mittens and gloves, shrugs and scarves, socks, baby clothes and random accessories. Each pattern is designed to use just one skein of sock yarn specified.

Thoughts: Being one of them hoarders of sock yarn and a very... frugal person, nothing delights me more than the idea of completing a project with one skein only. The problem with many socks I have made is that most, if not all of them, require about 1.2 skeins of yarn, and then I'm left with just not enough for another pair of socks--grr!

This book has cute but easy patterns from straight-forward knitting to lacy creations. In contrast to some other knitting books, the instructions here are easy and leave no room for ambiguity.

I ended up making two pairs of socks using one of the sock patterns that was easy to memorize and looked great, and as I followed each step by the word, I managed to make a pair of socks without any problems or needing to stop to scratch my head.

The only downside to my eagerness in knitting these was that I did not check what size this one skein was supposed to be, and so my first pair ended up using again about 1.2 skeins of yarn--which is why the first pair has non-matching toes...

There are patterns in this book where I'm thinking, "OK, so you can make a skein as big as you want--can you still call it just one skein pattern?" Most of the sock yarn skeins I have are less than 300 yards each, whereas most of the patterns in this book require skeins in sizes somewhere between 300-500 yards. I wish the introduction already had stated that most of the yarns here are high-quality, indie-made hand-spun sock yarns and not the kind that you can buy off Jo-Ann shelves.

Despite that, this is an extremely useful book for learning quick projects to be made out of a fairly small amount of sock yarn. Because instructions are written extremely clearly and are accompanied by illustrations you can't go wrong buying this book. Next I'll try out some of the scarves...

Friday, November 4, 2011

Painful images

36. In the Shadow of No Towers by Art Spiegelman

The About: This collection is a set of one-page comics that deal with Art Spiegelman trying to come to terms with the destruction of the Twin Towers in his city, all the while growing angrier at how the then-administration took advantage of the raw feelings people felt after the attacks. His art goes from obsessive reproductions of the burning skeleton of the second tower to scathing political commentary, none of which leave the reader cold.

Thoughts: I was not in the country on 9/11. Yet I remember being incredibly shocked watching the live footage on TV. I cannot quite grasp the extent to which 9/11 affected people here personally, although intellectually I can understand it. Art Spiegelman's collection is a concise look into how people in New York, specifically Manhattan, felt during and after the Twin Tower attacks. The images burned into his brain are not the ones from newspaper front pages known all over the world; instead, he remembers kids high-fiving inappropriately, or someone painting the burning towers on a canvas on the street. And then there is the image that repeats and repeats: the glowing foundation structure of the tower, ready to collapse, which looms over everything Spiegelman is attempting to create.

This is Spiegelman's personal hurt and anger collected into one volume. Strangely enough, I can imagine this very personal account to ring true for many of his countrymen and women.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

When the personal is public

35. Warriors Don't Cry. The Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High by Melba Pattillo Beals

The About: Beals was one of the nine black children to first attempt integration at a white high chool after the integration ruling in 1958. In her memoir, Beals goes back in time to the shoes of her teenager self to reflect on how stupendously close she got to losing her life, almost daily, simply due to ignorance and hatred.

Thoughts: Some autobiographies written by non-writers can be absolutely terrible because they cannot let go of a single detail, but Warriors Don't Cry has a fresh outlook on an extremely historical event. Each sentence stresses that Melba is like any other teenager who worries about boys, doesn't quite understand why she can't go to the community center in the evening to hang out with her friends (because an angry white mob would kill her, that's why) or who accidentally has a big mouth and tells the reporters something she maybe shouldn't have.

Because of how incredibly normal she is, it is especially hard to grasp that grown white women would break through barriers and run after her, genuinely wanting to kill her just for attending the same school as their kids, or how a boy would throw acid in her eyes in the middle of the school halls, and the head master wouldn't do a thing because the only adult witnessing the situation was a soldier who was hired as Melba's bodyguard. Perhaps the most sickening part of the story is--if the constant physical abuse during each school day isn't enough for the reader--the conversation Melba overhears in the teachers' lounge when the protesting crowd outside is ready to break in to the school: they actually contemplate for a moment about sacrificing one of the black kids to the crowd (to be hanged!) in order to get the others out alive.

I don't even understand how she stayed mentally sane. Imagine going to school every day, where other kids would kick you, hit you and try to burn you alive--and the school staff thinks that you actually deserve this treatment. A year of that? Incredible.

This was 1958. Not that long ago. That's perhaps the scariest thought while reading this book.