Archive | February, 2007

The State of our Biodiversity

28 Feb

tomato

I just finished reading a novel by Ruth Ozeki called All Over Creation, a narrative that explored the issue of biodiversity, GMO’s, the terminator gene, and contrasted them with the complex relationships of the story’s characters. I had been impressed by her first novel, My Year of Meats and found that her second novel was a intricately woven as the first.

While there are of course people out there who will naturally disagree with me, it does seem that there is a crisis of biodiversity, or rather the lack of it. Just strolling down the aisles of the local supermarket chain, I notice that there are the same varieties of hothouse tomatos, apples and oranges. In making everything accessible, perhaps we have also made everything, well…the same. Weeding out, so to speak, only certain species to plant into our soil means that we lose the characteristics of other plants that might work better locally. I can only say thank god for the local farmer’s market movement, for the smaller farms are finding a market for their produce, at least here in LA.

Ozeki’s book reminded me of the documentary,The Future of Food. In it, Deborah Koons Garcia examines the impact of genetically engineered (GE) foods on modern agriculture, explores the use of pesticides and pesticide-resistant crops and then looks at the changes in the patent laws of the late 1970’s which allow for patents on living organisms. These are developments which have led agricultural corporations to patent seeds farmers have used for centuries – resulting in a dangerous lack of crop diversity.

The documentary details the creation of GE seeds, what one scientist refers to as a ‘cellular invasion’, in which E Coli bacteria and viruses are used to penetrate a seed’s cell wall to create a pathway for genetic material to enter the cell. The most frightening of the GE technology discussed, however, may be the ‘terminator gene’. Crops with this gene lose the ability to reproduce after one growth cycle, causing farmers to have to buy their seed stock each year instead of cultivating their own seed.

According to the film, another major agricultural issue is patent violation. In the U.S. Monsanto has sued 9,000 farmers for accidental cross-pollination of Monsanto GE seeds with the farmer’s crops. The most well-known case is that of Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer accused of violating the Monsanto patent. In a sad turn of events the Canadian Supreme Court ruled in favor of the corporate giant, holding Schmeiser liable for the invasion of GE seeds to his crops and seed stock.

The Future of Food ends on a hopeful note, however. Garcia discusses the burgeoning consumer demand for local foods and increase of farmers’ markets nationwide. She also introduces the idea of community sustainable agriculture where customers support a local farm by buying directly from it. She paints a salient portrait of GE and equips the viewer with the facts needed to make wise food choices which one hopes may have a positive impact on the ‘future of food’.

Ozeki’s book also ends on a relatively hopeful note. But neither documentary film nor fiction can truly describe the impact current agricultural practices have on our lives. Except for maybe a select few, we all are part of the problem when we decide to buy produce from the supermarket chains (yes, even organic, since it is often grown abroad where standards are not nearly as strict as in the US). The only way we can truly start to become part of the solution is to educate ourselves through whatever means necessary. For this, I am thankful that Ozeki and Garcia are creating works of art that educate as well as please.

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Afghans & Amigurumi no mushi-tachi

23 Feb

One of my closest friends is having a baby. So, when I found out in May I started working on a lap blanket for her. I initially tried to follow a pattern in Debbie Stoller’s the Happy Hooker but then just decided to make a simple, striped, blanket out of TLC Cotton Plus.

afghan.JPG

I love the sheen of this yarn and I had a lot left over, so I indulged in one of my latest obessions — amigurumi.

Amigurumi, from the Japanese meaning knit or crocheted dolls, are nothing new. I remember my mom getting me a pattern book back in the 80’s with all sorts of crocheted animals. Back then, though, knitted toys were really uncool. So, I never really considered making any until about 4 years ago when a friend of mine had a baby. I found a pattern book with critters similar to the ones from the 80’s, but somehow they seemed cooler than when I was a kid (which might have been the resurrection of 70’s-inspired fashion and the retro boom rearing its head). So, I started making animals from patterns and giving them as baby presents.

Only once did I try to make up my own pattern — a duck. It turned out so funky, that I thought I would have to always follow a pattern (something I really have trouble doing…). That is, until I started reading about the amigurumi craze in Japan.

The Japanese have updated crocheted dolls so that they are much more anime- or character-good like. They are part of the latest vinyl doll craze and there is something about the larger heads and smaller bodies that make them look so much more fun and funky than the earlier dolls. There are a few websites devoted only to amigurumi and a tutorial . I also saw a lot of really cute patterns for sale online, but really wanted to know how to design them so that they’d look more fun and creative. So, during Christmas break, my boyfriend and I went to Kinokuniya (a book store) in Little Tokyo and I got a book about amigurumi with a lot of cute patterns. I don’t know what it is, but the way the book was laid out and the diagrams really made it clear not only how to make these but also how to design them so that they won’t turn out too strange or lopsided. I think that the books I saw would be accessible even for people who don’t know Japanese, although it helped that I remembered some of my now fast-dwindling nihongo (Japanese).

The first pattern I made was a little bear from the book. He turned out really well and is sitting on Doug’s desk at work. I decided that none of the other patterns were really things I wanted to make just yet, so I used my new-found skills to make a few toys for my friend’s soon-to-be new baby using the leftover yarn.

Nowadays people are freaked out about the small bits on crocheted toys, so I always embroider the faces to reduce the smaller parts. But one thing I noticed is that many of my friends put the toys up on the dresser — they look cute but have no real purpose. So, I decided this time to make three little bugs (mushi, in Japanese) and put them together in a mobile.

The first one I made was a bumblebee…

bee

the second a butterfly

butterfly front

butterfly front

and the third, a dragonfly.

dragonfly

Making these guys was the easy part. Trying to figure out how to balance them on a mobile was a little more challenging. I tried wrapping wire in yarn, but realized that it the wire would poke through. I then put the wrapped wire in a small tube I crocheted in the back loops. I tried both 20 gauge wire and pipe cleaners — the 20 gauge wire doubled worked best. A crocheted chain was too heavy-looking to hang each doll and thread or fishing line wouldn’t look right, so I just used plain cotton yarn (embroidery floss would work as well) and finally found a way to balance them on the single yarn-rod with a simple loop at the top for hanging and a few crocheted flowers for the butterfly and the bee.

mobile 1

mobile 2

It turned out pretty well — I don’t really want to give it away!

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Dyeing To Use The Crockpot

21 Feb

I love color and recently I decided to try using (relatively) non-toxic dyes to dye my roving. Since the space in my apartment is so small, I have a curious cat who sniffs around everything, and, for some-odd reason my stove rests on an incline (I always have lopsided omelettes!), I thought that the crockpot would be a great solution for dyeing. I’ve seen a few websites which talk about rainbow dying with koolaid in a crockpot, but few that talk about how to use the hot pour method described by Lynne Vogel in The Twisted Sisters Sock Workbook.

My first attempt at crockpot dyeing (pre hot-pour method) resulted in a really pretty roving…

Crockpot 1 small

that spun up mostly brown…

Brown Roving

The first thing I realized is that I had a few complementary colors right next to each other which, when unspun, show up fine, but when spun together blended into various shades of brown. I also realized, after reading Vogel, that ideally the wool in the dye bath should be heated first (I had poured first) and then each dye should be poured individually onto the wool. (I had poured all my dye on at once, thinking that I could ‘paint’ it.)

So, my second attempt at the crockpot turned out much better. I put the wool in a bath of vinegar and water (not too much vinegar, since the first roving felted slightly), turned the crockpot on high for about 45 minutes until the wool was heated through, and began pouring my food-color dyes. Some of the colors did blend into each other, but in general, having the wool heated up kept them from blending too much into each other. Also, keeping to a consistent colorway helped as well. After I put on the first color, I turned the temp. down to low, waited for the dye bath to run clear and then added each new color.

My second crockpot roving turned out really nicely…

Final

Between heating and pouring 3 colors it took a little over 2 hours, but it was well worth the effort. So far it is spinning up nicely, and I can’t wait to see the final product once it is plyed!
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Obsession With Fiber

21 Feb

Anyone who is a knitter, crocheter, spinner, weaver or quilter can tell you that one can never have too much fiber. I’m always thinking about whether or not my stash is big enough (actually, given the size of my apartment, my stash is probably way too much!). This Finnish animation by Laura Neuvonen describes any sort of obsession, but really gets to the heart of what it feels like once you pick up your one or two sticks.

Watch Out! Killer Crochet Hooks

21 Feb

Okay, so today I have jury duty. Not only is this a real pain (particularly since I work freelance and if I don’t work, I don’t get paid), but it’s also an exercise in frustration for my crochet hook, that small innocuous tool that is even TSA-approved

….is considered a weapon.

I was at least hoping to keep my impatient mind under control by having some handwork to do, but, alas, the LA County court doesn’t allow crochet hooks, for, as I was told by the guard, it can be used to stab someone. (Having crocheted for about 20 years, I have, by the way, yet to witness this…)

I guess the fact that a ballpoint pen or the little scoring pencils have sharper points and could inflict much more damage has eluded the people here at the court. When the guard looked at my plastic hook he said “You wouldn’t want someone to stab you in the back with something like this.” Hmmm…. Just looking around me I see so many things that are equally as dangerous, I mean, after all hasn’t Naomi Campbell been arrested for assault with a cell phone? Didn’t I learn in a self-defense class how to use my key (which is much sharper than a hook) as a weapon? (And, just an aside, my crochet hook is so much more innocuous than the cell phone that the obnoxious woman behind me is constantly jabbering away on…)

I guess the court system hasn’t caught up with the TSA in recognizing that fiber artists/knitters aren’t a dangerous bunch. Although we can have more than 3oz. of a drink in here, there is nothing we can use to create and produce something beautiful while we wait to be called for a panel. Maybe the next time I serve (hopefully not for a while!) my hook will be seen by the courts not as something dangerous, but as an instrument of patience, peace, and creativity.

 

Disc Golf Downtown

18 Feb

My boyfriend, Doug, recently got me into disc golf and we’ve been checking out different courses in the area. Today we went to the Elysian Park course, Chavez Ridge. I have to say that it was really great! We were torn between going hiking in the mountains or doing disc golf, but this course combined the best of both. It begins near the edge of the baseball diamond and follows a series of switchbacks first on the west and then on the east side of the ridge. (I noticed a couple of guys huffing and puffing up the hill commenting on the incline.) Technically it is a much more interesting course than many of the ones we’ve tried — you have to throw just so or else your disc winds up stuck in brush all the way down the hill (hence the huffing and puffing…). We both averaged around 4-5 par for each hole.

The really great thing about this course, though, are the vistas of LA. By the 8th hole you are up on top of the mountain looking out over the towering skyscrapers of downtown. The east side of the ridge gives you great views of the Elysian Resevoir. When we were there — late morning — it was shady and there was a cooling breeze once you got up top. Perhaps the best thing, though, is that the course really is fairly self-contained. We only saw a few hikers and one somewhat drug-dealer-looking dude (hey, it is LA after all!). The rest of the people we met were fellow disc golfers. The course wasn’t crowded at all and there were no waits to tee off.

I’m not the most technically-inclined player, so I can’t really say anything about the types of discs or throws that work well. But, because of the obstacles in our way and the hills, it was by far the most interesting course for me to play. I’m not really good at the long distance throws but love to putt and do medium-range throws. This was a great chance to practice these throws because anything long distance winds up at the bottom of the hill (which, of course, means that you have to not only hike uphill but also throw uphill.)

The only thing (aside from the strange dude) to watch out for in the course is on the east side of the ridge. Holes 17 & 18 seem to go through a homeless settlement (if I were homeless, I’d live there too it’s so beautiful) and there was quite a bit of trash — some a little less than savory — near them. (We skipped these holes & I think the guys playing before us did too.) But this in no way hampered our experience.

Irashai… (Welcome)

16 Feb

Blogging has always eluded me — I have so much personal writing that I hesitate to put it up on a website unless it’s in the form of a professionally-crafted essay. But there is just so much to talk about these days and so much going on in my life that…well…here I am.

Between my bouts of underemployment and vacillations about my career, I’ve come to the point where I’ve had to move deeper into myself to find satisfaction in life. Spinning yarn and getting back into knitting and crochet have been the key to this journey — in a way I never before felt was possible. In some ways it’s strange because I came back to fiber-related arts a few years ago while studying in a doctorate program. My interest in what I was studying waned, but my desire to create something tangible and more rewarding (not to mention cheaper) soon infused everything I did with a purpose. I could see the fruits of my labor much more readily than when I was studying and teaching and, ultimately through my craft, started to realize that the only person I had to satisfy was myself.

After my dad’s death a year ago my need to touch and feel something concrete became even stronger. I guess I was inspired by his passion for everything related to motorcycles and his need to create through his work. When I looked back at my life I realized that my passion had been misplaced and that all I had worked toward in my careeer wasn’t fueled by desire, but by fear. A month after I got back from his service I picked up my hooks and needles after a year hiatus and have yet to put them down.

I hope that my thoughts and mistakes help anyone who reads this not only to understand me but also to be amused, heartened, and inspired by the human foibles that define my life each day.