Conceptual knitting: sky scarf

The sky scarf, by Leafcutter designs, intends to capture the changing weather over the course of a year. Every knitted row represents the colour of the sky for each day of the year. The finished project is then like a beautiful documentary of the year in knitted form. I have wanted to do this project for eons, and on the turn of the year, I decided it was finally time.

When planning my sky scarf in late December, I realised I wanted to change it up a little. For one, blue is not one of my favourite colours. Warm, earthy tones are definitely more my thing. For another, Melbourne weather can be very unpredictable. We can have intense sunshine and heat, thunderstorms and hail within the course of a single day. So the only weather that we really rely on as a relative constant is the temperature. This is what I decided to base my scarf off of.

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The equipment I am using to execute and organise my sky scarf project.

I chose to stick with the five different colours as intended in the original sky scarf project. I chose a spectrum of red-hue colours, ranging from white, yellow, orange, rusty orange and bright red. Each of these colours has a dedicated temperature bracket that they represent: 0-15 (white), 16-20 (yellow), 21-25 (orange), 26-30 (rust) and 30+ (bright red) °C. The day will be represented by whichever colour represents the temperature range that day’s maximum temperature falls within.

Taking my cues from the yarn weight of the sky scarf kit, I chose Debbie Bliss’ Angel yarn for this project because I thought that a special project would deserve a special yarn. With a silk/mohair blend, this yarn is definitely that. It is luxuriously soft and wonderfully fuzzy. To complete my toolbox for my sky scarf, I got my first pair of bamboo needles and a small 2015 diary to keep track of scarf colours for specific days. All of these items are housed in the self-made green project bag pictured above.

This is the result after the first week of the year:
1420779556491[1]I am loving this project so far. I like how the colours that I’ve picked blend together. I’m finding myself being excited about the temperature each day when I think about what it will look like in my “sky scarf.”

The stitch I chose to go with is the 3-in-1 rib which combines a 3-by-3 knit & purl rib with an additional panel of seed stitch. I chose this stitch because I think it’s important for a scarf to be reversible — so stockinette is right out — and honestly I hate the way garter stitch looks. So far, the rib is not turning up very well in the scarf, but I believe it will become more obvious as the days go by.

I will definitely be posting updates on what my “sky scarf” looks like as the year goes on. I’m super excited about this project and I think it’s a wonderful way to keep knitting, even if it’s just a bit every day.

Blogmeister Silbena out.

 

Both pictures in this blog post were taken by yours truly.

 

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Road to Goldilocks

In the late months of 2013, I had my hair cut into this little fierce pixie cut.

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Although I adore this hair cut and this colour, I’ve decided that it is time for a change. I’m sick of how that fierce red fades into a dull orange that does nothing for the look I’m trying to achieve. I’ve decided to change up the colour to a light brown to go with the softer, more adult direction my personal style has been taking recently. I also want the cut to match the colour, and after long deliberation, I decided I would give growing my hair out another shot.

 

Growing my hair out has never been easy for me. In typical Scandinavian fashion, my hair is very fine, and very silky smooth. While I know this is desirable to some people, to me it has always felt like my hair simply hangs limply by the sides of my head and does absolutely nothing for me. I’ve dreamt of these voluminous locks that you see in the media and sulked about being unable to reach that tousled ideal. But as I’ve thought about growing my hair out, I’ve realised that the last time I tried it out, I wasn’t going about it quite right.

 

20131025_100131The picture on the right was taken the day before the pixie cut you see up above. The root of my major problem in most of 2013, which I spent trying to grow my hair out, are the couple of flyaways visible just above the crown of my head. I constantly suffered from this unattractive frizz halo around my hair which made me look constantly unkempt. It wasn’t even a good kind of frizziness — this frizz did nothing to provide me that volume that I absolutely craved. To be fair, though, I have to say that I didn’t take particularly good care of my hair the last time I grew it out. I washed and conditioned it, sure, blow-dryed it perhaps, and wore it in a bun or ponytail almost daily. Run-of-the-mill stuff. I never thought about it. In hindsight, I don’t think I took care of it like it deserved to be cared for — especially since I was dyeing it every 8 weeks or so.

This time, I’ve decided to try to eliminate that problem and from the very start. I think the frizz halo may have been due to hair breakage, since my hair was probably extremely dry and brittle. I’m also going to take a real shot at achieving a bit more volume in my longer hair this time around. It is obvious to me from wearing my hair short that it’s not simply a matter of me not having enough hair that causes the volume to fall flat. Perhaps it’s just that my hair is not strong enough to grow to its full length. With these hypotheses in mind, I have armed myself for the coming year.

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All of the items I’m about to list were purchased from Priceline Australia and ranged in price from approximately 7-15 AU$.

First, in the front, I picked up Blackmores Nails, hair & skin vitamin supplement. This supplement contains biotin, which is a natural component of hair. Additionally, it contains silica, zinc, maganese, iron, vitamin C and various other ingredients, including, weirdly, Horsetail extract as the most abundant ingredient. I’m a little skeptical of multivitamins which claim to benefit a specific part of your body and yet contain a mishmash of ingredients like this, but I thought I might as well give it a shot. It can’t hurt, right? I do feel like I’m buying into the multivitamin lie right now though, and as a budding scientist, that does make me feel a little bit guilty.

In the middle, I have Schwarzkopf’s Push-up volume shampoo and conditioner, recommended for “flat, lifeless hair.” These products contain hydrolysed keratin and collagen, which are natural components of hair. There’s not much else to say about shampoo & conditioner, really. I honestly picked these because they gave me the most bang for my buck.

The remaining two products are intended more for styling than anything else. I now understand that hairstyles are as much about your hair (genetics, other biological factors) as well as how you use it (styling!). So if I want major volume in my hair, I’m going to have to work for it, not just sit here sulking when it doesn’t happen by itself.

The blue bottle on the left is  John Frieda’s Luxurious volume Root booster blow dry lotion, which claims to “transform fine hair.” Since blow-drying is the major way I style my hair while it’s short, I thought I might give this product a whirl. The product seems to be a mixture of polymers that somehow “activate” upon heating with a hair dryer and give your hair the volume it desperately needs. I’ll have to see how this goes. I’m curious, intrigued and excited, because this product has the potential for being an incredible blast of hair science in a bottle.

The last, white bottle on the right is something I was umming and ahhing about for a while. It’s Toni&Guy’s Cleanse dry shampoo. The reason I ummed an ahhed about it is that my instinctive reaction to dry shampoo is “gross!” If your hair is dirty, why don’t you just wash it? But then I gave it another thought. Unless I work out, I wash my hair every second day. I think my hair has the most life in it immediately after it’s been washed — it’s got this bounce to it that it never has on the second day. I thought that maybe by using dry shampoo, I might be able to recreate that first-day bounce — which I think is exactly what dry shampoo is intended for. It’s not intended for cleaning your hair, but styling it, really. And that makes me a lot less disgusted, and a whole lot more excited.

This has been my long ramble about what I want to do with my hair, why and how. I will definitely keep you posted on my hair-growing progress and post a picture of the new colour once I get it dyed. Please share any other haircare tips for long/growing hair with me in the comments – I’m a total newbie at this!

Blogmeister Silbena out.

 

All pictures in this blog post were taken by yours truly.

Time management: How To

I am a self-professed organisation freak. I live on note apps, lists of important dates posted all over my walls, planners and to-do lists. Making plans make me feel more comfortable and confident in putting myself out in the world, which I usually find quite difficult to do. On the flipside, when my plans go awry, my anxiety peaks and it can take hours for me to calm down at the worst of times. Nevertheless, I have had a lot of practice in planning and time management, most recently in managing my research project for the honours component of my bachelor in 2014. I thought I would share with you some tips and tricks I’ve picked up on the way.

The one thing that a lot of time management guides don’t seem to understand is that it is a very personal thing for everyone. The strategies that work for me will not necessarily work for everybody else. Time management has to be one of those things that is effortless to use and integrates seamlessly into tools you already use in everyday life. This is because if it doesn’t, the chances of you keeping up the habit of using those tools is almost nil. In this vein, I would like to present to you three ground rules on how to get your time management strategies organised.

Rule 1: Use available tools

If you’re reading this post, chances are that you’ve recently decided that you need a bit more organisation in your life. Given how capitalism works, chances also are that you’ve been window-shopping for just the right utensils to do so. My advice is to try to avoid spending money on time management strategies. It is a bad idea to splurge out for equipment that you think will help keep you organised, when in fact you really won’t know until you try it out. When you’re just starting out, I recommend trying costless or very cost-effective strategies so that if something doesn’t work for you, you don’t feel guilted by the cost of your tools to stick with something that doesn’t work, or, worse, just drop the whole thing completely.

One way to start immediately, without cost, is to use items that are already available to you. Most of us have a mobile phone, and even non-smartphones have had calendars available in them for years. Using this could help you explore what you like and don’t about using a planner and figure out what works for you. Most smartphones will also have a notes app, and perhaps even a to-do app which may be useful for tasks that don’t have a specific due date.

For those of you who do not enjoy using your smartphones or mobiles for planning and time management, a low-cost analogue alternative is called the bullet journal. This is not something I’ve personally used but since I’ve gone a bit planner customisation crazy these holidays, I’ve noticed it around online. The premise is simple: using an ordinary notebook, list tasks, events and other important information under a certain date. Different categories of entries are separated by a different type of bullet point. The format is suited to stream-of-consciousness planning, but honestly, I’m not quite sure how it would fare with time management. For students, researchers and professionals, some tasks need to be planned weeks ahead and I don’t see the bullet journal being useful in this regard. But for someone who may not need such strict time management, perhaps this would be a relatively effortless starting point. Besides, since I don’t know much about the bullet journal, I might be completely wrong! Look into it!

Rule 2: Keep it simple

Both Apple and Android’s app stores are full of time management applications. Being a time management freak, I’ve been through many of these apps looking for “just the one.” What I’ve found in this process is that a lot of them are needlessly complicated. Specific events are often a nightmare to set up, having to pick categories, icons, lists and sub-tasks at one go. I feel that it is important that you can log a task or event into your planner with as little time and effort as possible. For one, you don’t waste your time planning when you should be doing, and for another, the habit  is much easier to cultivate the more effortless carrying it out is. Once you have become used to keeping track of different facets of your life, you may want to look into more complicated systems, but for a beginner, keeping it simple is definitely the way to go.

Some examples of simple systems are the in-built calendars in most mobile phones as discussed in rule 1. Another “time management” app that I absolutely adore is Hashnote. It is a note app where your memos are separated to categories according to hashtags you manually type into every entry. This app is not useful as a calendar, but it is definitely useful for keeping track of and categorising any ideas that you have on the go. Its simplicity draws me: all you have to do is type your idea, categorise it by a hashtag, and then access it later from a list of hashtags.

Rule 3: Keep at it

I know, this is the most common and most annoying piece of advice anyone looking to change their lifestyle will inevitably encounter. The reality is, however, that most lifestyle changes require a change in habits, and the only way to cultivate a habit is to doggedly persist until doing whatever task you want is almost automatic. This is why I insist that planning should be as simple as possible when you’re starting out, and take as little time as possible — when the task is less disruptive of the rest of your life, it is much more likely you will go back to it. Other than this, this piece of advice is so self-explanatory that I will say no more on it.

 

There is always more advice that could be given on the subject of planning and time management. I have by no means mastered this skill, which is evident from my horrible work-life balance. There is always more to learn. As such, I would love to hear from any readers about your personal time management strategies — let’s compare notes and see what we come up with!

Blogmeister Silbena out.

Cathartic pleasures: Knitting

Let me talk to you about something I’m almost passionate enough about to go door-knocking over: knitting.

I first picked up knitting way back in textiles class in primary school, as an unavoidable part of a Scandinavian girl’s upbringing. There is a strong tradition of knitting, crocheting and sewing in Scandinavia that I might post about some other day, but the important part is that every little girl definitely learns it at some point up north. From the beginning, I hated it. My palms were always sweaty, making the whole process disgustingly damp. Combined with my way-too-tight stitches, the activity became a nightmarish chore.  I did not knit outside the required projects at school and once those diminished toward the end of middle school, I never even wanted to look at knitting needles again. That is, until one day years later when I saw some cute, chunky bright red yarn at my local craft store and on a whim, decided to give it another go. With the aid of tutorials on YouTube (some of which I will link at the end of this post), I found that the basic skills I learnt when I was a child came back surprisingly easily. More than that, I discovered that I was actually really good at this stuff.

I quickly became obsessed. I discovered Ravelry, a social media website dedicated to knitters and crocheters which also serves as an endless repository of beautiful, fascinating, amazing patterns for anything from cardigans to soft toys and quirky mittens and almost anything else you can imagine. The current number of pieces of clothing that I own that I have made is reaching the double digits, and the amount of money I have spent on expensive yarns is definitely high in the triple digits (oops). Knitting is slowly taking over my life. That is most obvious in how much knitting is present in my room. I have a shelf dedicated to my yarn “stash”, and my collection of knitting needles, and a bin full of unfinished projects.

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Shelf for knitting needles and yarn stash

Closer look of my yarn stash (right) and a bin of yarn scraps from other projects (left)

Closer look of my yarn stash (right) and a bin of yarn scraps from other projects (left)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bin in the corner of my room where I house my unfinished projects

Bin in the corner of my room where I house my unfinished projects

Look on the inside of my "unfinished projects bin". Mostly occupied by squares for a periodic table knitting project

Look on the inside of my “unfinished projects bin”. Mostly occupied by squares for a periodic table knitting project

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The main reason I love knitting so much is that at its core, it is really very easy. In knitting, there are essentially two types of stitches: the knit stitch, and the purl stitch. Once you master those, everything else — including increases and decreases which allow you to make rows larger or smaller and hence control the shape of your project — is at your fingertips. And yet, it is so versatile as to allow the creation of scarves and shawls and mittens and little stuffed toys. It’s incredible.

The second major reason I love knitting is because of its nature as a cathartic, calming activity. I suffer from anxiety, and my work and many other aspects of my life that I feel like I cannot fully control can trigger it pretty badly. I find that when I get home from a day of work that has left me feeling like Sisyphus, knitting helps settle my mind and stave off the anxiety that plagues my life. There are two parts to this: one, knitting involves a repetitive motion which has a calming effect on its own. It is engaging enough to settle a wandering mind but not too much so, so that having a conversation or watching a TV show while knitting is entirely possible. Two: knitting is inherently rewarding. You can see the progress you are making as the piece you are working on grows in your hands. And at the end, you get a piece of clothing or item that you can show to people and proudly proclaim “yeah, I made that.” That is still one of the nicest feelings I think I can experience.

If you want to give this fantastic craft a go, you just need to purchase some yarn and needles. Simple woolen or acrylic yarn can be quite cheap; have a look around your local craft store. You’ll also need needles — check the label on your yarn for a size recommendation. I personally knit with aluminium needles, because they are easy to slip stitches on and off of, but for beginners I may recommend the grippier plastic or bamboo needles. Then, finally, here are a few YouTube tutorials to get you started:

When I was starting out, I also purchased a book called Stitch ‘N Bitch by Debbie Stoller which is a handy reference to basic techniques and a fascinating, well-written book all around. I do suggest that beginners stick to YouTube more than to books, since seeing a technique performed is so much easier to learn from than trying to figure out the sparse illustrations in a knitting book. Trust me — I speak from personal experience.

I hope I can encourage at least a few of you to give this wonderful craft a whirl. It really is so rewarding and can have a marvellous effect on one’s mental health.

Blogmeister Silbena out.

 

Apart from the icanhazcheezburger picture, all pictures in this blogpost were taken and posted by me.

Phoenix Wright makes a comeback

Let me tell you about a series of videogames called Phoenix Wright. They are essentially point-and-click adventure games (exactly what it sounds like) where you play (mostly) as the defense attorney Phoenix Wright. All games are set out in series of episodes (called cases), all of which begin with a setup of a mystery and then pan out as an investigation to solve it. You examine crime scenes, collect evidence and interrogate witnesses to build your case. You then enter the courtroom and cross-examine witnesses in order to expose the lies they are telling or information they are omitting. This could sound somewhat dry to some of you, but I have three distinct reasons as to why you are wrong.

Your face will resemble that of Phoenix Wright after you realise how wrong you are

Reason 1: Sense of humour

The humour in Phoenix Wright games is fantastically self-deprecating. Everyone in the world is out to get Phoenix and watch him stumble through his investigations and court cases. Mostly, the humour is subtle and situational, which is exactly how I like my comedy. For those of you who don’t, there are a few flying toupees:

Which brings me to my next point.

Reason 2: Characters

The thing that really makes Phoenix Wright as a series of videogames is the colourful cast of characters. They all have their individual secrets, quirks, and buttons to push to make their inner demons come out. Their personalities are also very well conveyed even without voice acting through the ingenious use of time-controlled text boxes which resemble the talking speed of actual human people. When synchronised with the character animations, the characters really come to life.

When playing these games, one becomes especially attached to the main characters. I have shed several tears in playing them, and I refuse to be ashamed!

Look at these characters and tell me you’re not curious about every single one of them. Collage not by me, but original deviantart account seems to be down. Click for expanded image.

Reason 3: Narrative depth and difficulty curve

As you may guess from the fact that I have shed tears over these games, the story usually goes fairly deep down the rabbit hole. All games have huge final cases that challenge you to use all the skills the game has masterfully taught you in the cases before to draw the game to its epic conclusion. The difficulty curve is perfect. The final case also usually ups the ante in terms of suspense and raises the stakes sky high. While this isn’t quite true for the first game but definitely is for the second and third game, the final case can also draw all previous cases together under a narrative umbrella in unexpected ways. I have had my mind blown while playing these games for the ways in which previously apparently unrelated cases ended up being related after all.

Why you should really consider playing these games

If all of the above didn’t convince you, let me say a few final words. For gamers, Phoenix Wright offers a fresh alternative to the likes of Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed, and even your average cookie-cutter RPG titles. It is a game the likes of which is difficult to find, and is well-loved by its relatively small fan base in the west. I have made friends on the subject of these games because they are just that phenomenal. Those who loved the Monkey Island games may very well appreciate Phoenix Wright for similar humour and the point-and-click mechanics.

For non-gamers, this series is an ideal entry to the world of video games. Each game neatly introduces the player to the core mechanics without unnecessary hand-holding, in a way which is seamlessly integrated to the storyline of the game. There is no time pressure in Phoenix Wright, so you can take as long as you want to figure things out. Saving at any point is usually possible, so making mistakes does not have to ruin your experience. The story of all games in the franchise is fantastic and solving the puzzles can be so very rewarding once things finally click into place.

Besides, now is the best time ever to pick up the first three titles to this five-game franchise since they have just recently been released to the Nintendo eshop on the 3DS. Click here for more information. I leave you with the launch trailer, as I prance around in glee over the fact that Nintendo has not forgotten that some of us still adore Phoenix Wright.

Blogmeister Silbena out.

Discovering femininity

When I was a little girl, I hated the colour pink.

I mean, who wouldn’t hate this asshole?

Thinking back on it, I don’t even know exactly why, or where my vehement dislike for the colour came from. It was just a fact of life. I never appreciated those distant relatives or sort-of friends bringing me some fashion of ornamental pink object. The expectation that I would enjoy whatever it was just because it was pink was infuriating to me, because it was just so lazy. I was not to be defined by the fact that I was female. I was a little person who enjoyed books, school, video games and sport. The fact that I was a girl was much less important to me than those things.

Later in my life, when the differences in attitudes between boys and girls started to actually matter a bit more, I stood my ground on this stance. I refused to take part in the complicated politics of being a girl in the later grades of primary school and the first few of middle school. In middle school and high school, had a vehement dislike for “ditzy” girls who seemed to care more about their appearances than about what is on the inside of a person — or, in fact, anything else in life.

What this all amounts to is that somewhere along the line, I had adopted this attitude that anything to do with femininity was bad.

Let me illustrate that for you

Let me illustrate that for you

Somehow I had stumbled deep, deep into this ideology that I either had to be who I was, or a girl, like embracing femininity would somehow negate all the other traits I had. It took a few years of confused self-questioning to realise that this was, in fact, contradictory to my original attitude. By not wanting to be defined solely by being female as a child, I had in fact strived to define myself as anything but.

This shift in my attitude was first noticeable as a subtle shift in my likes and dislikes. Suddenly, I noticed pink products in stores and did not immediately shy away as though I was allergic to the very idea. I began to find shades of pink that I actually quite liked the look of. Slowly but surely, I started enjoying shopping, wearing dresses and very lately, getting excited about make-up. I began to realise that there was nothing inherently wrong about caring about your appearance, and that in fact carefully picking clothes, shoes and make-up can be a very creative way of expressing yourself.

The bright edginess of my teenage years is turning into the soft roundness of adulthood. I deeply regret the several years I spent in contempt of girls I perceived as “empty-headed” just because they were so comfortable expressing the femininity I shied away from. I have misunderstood what femininity means. I now strive to accept and grow my identity as a person, but also as a woman.

It is important to understand that there is a difference between simply trying something and deciding it is not for you and the contemptuous relationship with femininity I have harboured over the years. It is similar to the difference between a friendly, peaceful break-up and a toxic cycle of hate, jealousy and spite that haunts you for years to come. This attitude is what leads to women saying things like “I am not like other girls.”

Why not both?

I write these words because I know several young women who have attitudes toward femininity that I recognise from some years ago. This is not a problem unique to me — and I think it is important we think and talk about this. The attitude towards women is a very contemporary problem.

Let us stop dismissing femininity as an all-encompassing female trait that must either define the woman, or be completely absent. Let us simply accept that this is a part of who we are and embrace it to the extent that each of us wishes to. Let us accept that all of us are different, and the way we express femininity will be different also.

Blogmeister Silbena out.

 

All images in this blog post were graciously provided by Google images.