Monday, January 19, 2009

New Yarn for Valentine's! - Update

Yep, just as lovely dry and rolled up. A good knit too! It's chunkier then I thought, it knits somewhat tight on size 8 needles, and appearantly stripes perfectly at 24 stitches...(I hate when it does that!) I think I will keep the sample on the needles and add the sample from my next batch, sooner or later it'll be big enough to make something.

This yarn is now for sale here, at 15$ a skein it's quite a deal.

Since my sewing machine's been out at the shop since my return from Japan I've been itching for craft time. So this weekend I spun up the last of my goergous merino roving and put the dye pot on to boil. With Valentine's coming up I figured I'd join the senseless commercial crush and hit the pink and red while I can.

This was a perfect dye bath, with both colors totally absorbed, clear water in the dye pot and a very quick rinse out. And no staining of the invisible grime in my sink (stainless, hah!).

It also prevented the forming of small pink pools on the floor while hung up to dry. Now if I can get Jet to stop whining about the vinegar smell... OK, it smells a little.

Lovely reds and pinks, I can't wait to knit up the sample. I have started always including a few extra wraps on the last skein for me to use, samples, small accents etc...

Now, many dye instructions say to stir the fiber freely, but I'm lazy. No, actually I like the effect achieved by letting the dye settle. (Alright, I'm lazy too)

The heavy tones in a color will sink, I'm no chemist but the purple end of the "fuschia" dye settles and makes some nice little spots at the bottom of each skein. The red is not a complex color, being a primary and all, so it's less exciting. The capilary action of the wool also draws up dye and blends the colors.

I'd almost forgotten the joys of color mixing on yarn, I just bought an'other pound of white roving, and Fancy Tiger has some drawers of alpaca fleece calling my name... I hope my Bernina doesn't get lonely when it comes home!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Kyoto Temples Day 1

For our first day we started at the Kyoto station and began walking. In Kyoto a map or a plan is not really needed to see huge historic Temples. There is literally a sign on every major intersection to point you the right way.
Here is the Higashi-Honganji Temple. This sect of Buddism was founded 700 years ago and the temple dates back almost that long. Next to this hall you can see the metal building covering the main hall while it is restored.
Under the metal building is the largest wooden building in the world. The massive center post were dragged out of the mountains on huge sleds in the dead of winter.   The Gate is also larger then most, considered suitably large to match the Great Founders Hall.

A few blocks away is a Temple of the same sect and founder, built at about the same time. There was appearantly one government grant from the shogunate and the two were fighting for it. This is the Nishi-Honganji,  nishi being west and higashi east. It was also undergoing renovations, both temples are preparing for the 750th anniversary of the birth of Shinrin in 2011.  

It's temples and gates are smaller, but still very nicely detailed.  And the grounds are equally  large and lovely.  

Next we wandered down to the Toji Temple. It is one of the big ones here so the parking lot was stuffed with tour buses and late new years revelers. Lots of small buildings and statues dot the grounds, with many people still selling new years shwag. One  building host several ancient statues that are national treasures (no pics of course). Luck would have we arrived on a day with a flea market in full swing. People had pulled up cars and set up tents, some had vintage (post-war) everyday stuff, newer used clothes, vintage kimonos, antiques, and somewhat historical debris (sword pommels and statues). I picked up an awesome vintage Kimono and Obi for only 25$. There's a slight bias against wearing  used kimono, especially for special occasions. Many used kimono shops are offering bargains of only a few hundred dollars for a set, but nothing was quite this good a deal.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Bottle Caps ----> Fabric Covered Buttons. DIY Recycled Supplies

I had this idea while wandering around Japan. (No, I have no idea why I was thinking about bottle caps or buttons, but here we are.) And since returning home my sewing machine's been on the fritz. I spent two days cutting and pinning, and most of today spinning, but there's only so many things to entertain me with my Bernina around.

I developed two different methods for the different ways I use fabric covered buttons. One is just covered, no wire. This is for using as flower centers or other decorative touches when there is no button hole involved. The other is a more common "closing stuff" button.

First one must procure a few bottle caps and some other basic supplies. Go buy a six-pack. If you like good beer and there's no twist off caps you may wish to buy a box of bottled sodas. Each button will require a two inch square of fabric. Thin/weak fabrics and super heavy/stiff fabrics are no good. For a fancy button you will need medium gauge wire and a small nail or big ass needle. Plus pliers and a hammer.

From a circle appox. 2in. square make a circle 2in. in diameter. I needn't be a perfect circle, just lop off the pointy corners of the square. Then with a hand needle make a straight running stitch around the edge. Be sure to leave a good margin around to prevent ripping out. If you've ever made yo-yo's this should look familiar. If you've never heard of yo-yo's there's a 50's craft book dedicated to them. Curtains, aprons, bedspreads... ick.

If you'ld like you can take your twist-off cap and gently hammer at the edges to pound out the sharp ones. Or just use a slightly thick fabric and you'll have no troubles.

Place your nice twist-off cap in the center and draw the fabric up around it. Make another pass around the puckers to tighten and secure the fabric.

That's all for this one. Sew it in a fabric flower by stitching just under the inner edge.

Now for the next one. You don't want to start out with a totally mangled cap, so look for one that came off easy the first try. Start by going around the edge with pliers and gently folding it in. use a hammer for assist and to keep it round. If you want a really round perfect button go nice and slow coaxing it into shape. Finally squeeze the edges flat with a strong hand on the pliers.

Mark holes like you were going to sew the bottle cap on. (That would also be kinda cool...)

Using a small nail or a b.a. large needle like I have, and a scrap wood block if you don't want to have holes in your table, punch two holes. Always punch with the top up to avoid sharp shards poking upwards. The holes shouldn't be much larger then your wire.

I bought a small pile or medium gauge wire at the hardware store for about 4$. That pile will likely make more then a hundred of these however, so use what ever wire you've got and double or triple up if it's too flimsy.

Cut a piece of wire about three inches long and bend it like an L (one side longer). Eyeball the distance between your holes and make another bend on the short side. Slide the two ends (pointing the same direction) into the holes and bend them down across the center. Bend the long one straight up in the center and wrap the short end around it. make a small loop, then follow for a second loop, right up close to the bottle cap. Clip the end and a neaten it up. Like sewing it's better to have extra wire then too little.

Then sew up your circle and finish it just like the last one. Your wire loop should be just peering over the top of the fabric. I also cut a slightly smaller piece of ugly puffy scrap to give it a nice round shape.

Ta Da!! For the price of that coil of wire I could get a button kit, and I wouldn't get to drink beer as a crafting activity.

Most importantly this could make a dent in my piles of saved bottle caps. I used to make bottle caps necklaces as a craft counselor at Flying G Ranch Girl Scout Camp, but those little brownies can only use up so many. Really, I used to collect them in high school and I still have bags of them (in middle school it was pop tabs, got a million of those too...). My only other craft solution was to use them to shingle a birdhouse for a recycling contest. But how many times a week do you need to shingle a birdhouse? How many times a week do I sew on a button... These may be appearing on my bags from time to time now!!

New Year's Visit to the Temple

Now, we in  America love our New Years Eve. The staying up all night, the champagne, the fireworks. But in Japan this is a two week plus affair. The first through third is day to go to the shrine. Though, some people stayed up til midnight at the shrine to eat soba at midnight and hear them ring the bell.We however went to the shrine on the 2nd, it's appearently less crowded then the first. We still stood in a line around the block, and the police were leading us up the stairs to the shrine. This is the most importent time to visit the shrine and ask for luck in the coming year, so not many miss out on it.Up top was a particularily fancy New Year's charm (for lack of a better word). For about a week people have been buying these decorative pieces made of twisted straw, pine branches, oranges and other assorted plant materials and decorative paper. They hang them on the doors and gates of homes and bussinesses, and on the 14th bring them to the shrine and make a donation. Then they make a bonfire out of the whole pile. I love religions that involve making noise and burning stuff.After coming down from the shrine we wade through a street of vendors selling traditional yummies. It is almost required that people buy a box of sweet mochi treats. Mochi is considered lucky to eat for new years, so it is featured in every meal for about a week. Unfortuneately they were not making mochi at that shrine, but it is quite an immpressive show.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Imperial Palace Tokyo

Whew... It's been a few days since the last post... I'm actually back in Denver now, but I'm still catching up on blogging about our trip!  So let's travel through time and space to Dec 29th right outside of Tokyo Station.Here is the Imperial Palace, the historical and current home of the Emperor. It has two moats snaking around it, though now you can drive across the outer one and go straight through the outer park.The area around the park is completely built up, but the park has only a few small buildings that depart for the classic design. It is meticulously pruned and kept, and the buildings are mostly tourist centers restaurants and the like.Despite it's current accessibility, the original fortifications are evident. Against an army of Samurai it would be about the safest location one could find. And these are just the outer walls.The inner walls sport a wider moat and the walls vary from this size, to nearly twice that height! The bridge in the distance, like all the other ones into the inner area, are now fenced and guarded by more mundane security guards. The smaller pines in the public park were pruned sparse and round, in the common style of gardens here. But the older trees looming above the walls have been pruned to hang long and low down over the walls, this one is about 10 years from touching the water!

This is the old Imperial Castle. I believe the imperial family now lives in a more modern western-style mansion. But this is the far more impressive local. The white house is small potatoes in comparison...This guy gets his own (marvelously sculpted) statue because of unfailing baddassery and loyalty to the shogunate. And all the statues in European town squares, the ones with powdered wigs and button up coats on horseback... This guy is going to destroy you. Your musket will fail in the face of such an overwhelming foe. He will eat you for breakfast. Seriously.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Tea Ceremony

After our walk through the fish market we made our way to a rather fancy hotel (all the staff were wearing kimono!) for a tea ceremony. I didn't take any pictures of the main ceremony, as it felt a little rude. The tea "house" is on the seventh floor. This outdoor garden is behind glass and a stone path and bamboo fence lined "garden" is the indoor entryway. The pebbles are ment to look like a stream.

The ceremony started with sweets served in two courses to all the guest. The hostess intsructed all us gaijin how to take, bow, pass the plate and eat with all the appropriate rei.

She then cleaned the implements, filled the tea bowl with matcha, pored the water, and wisked the tea powder with flair, grace, and robot like precison. The finished product was thick as salsa and rather hard to gulp down. But the process was beautiful.

We then moved to a very low slung room (pictured) for a second cup of tea, appearently a more kyoto style dig. I do like the hot pot set in the floor, but it's not hard to see why fires were such a problem in old times...

This scroll hung in the alcove, appearently something about the "sound of the wind in the pines" which is the preferred phrase to describe hot water boiling. The alcove also housed one of the new years offerings. A platform with small rolls of rice, a tradition harkening back to the days that rice was used in lieu of money.

There is also a bunch of long willow branches called "hair willow" draped across. The're supposed to bring longevity.

Sitting in seiza can really hurt after a little while though!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Tokyo Fish Market

We hooked up with a guide for a day. A local Man who likes to practice his english by giving tours to forigners for free. (Seems like a good plan actually.) We met up with him at Shinbashi Eki near the Ginza, and also met up with three Quebecois girls of Chinise desent. They spoke a lot of langueges but none of them Japanese. This guy took up first to the Fish Market.

This place is super crowded, the outskirt has stores selling tsukemono (pickled things) and other coking supplies. As we dart around crowds of people vieing for their days meal we have to beware the small delivery carts darting through traffic. Most drivers here are very courteous and look out for pedestrians, but these guys have a job to do!

Here we have some scaled fish, and tuna heads for super cheap. Even Bargin shopping Pink wouldn't know what to do with a Tuna head...

Here we have Octopus bottoms for all those tako baki vendors. I couldn't figure the difference between the ones in the back and the more expensive ones out front, I guess it takes a trained eye. And maybe you have to like the stuff... I think Octopus is way to chewy to be enjoyed.

I think they actually may use the "head" parts for tako baki, be cause I never saw any. They go straight to the chopping block and freezer?

There were many things to be bought still alive. we were there late (like 10:30 in the morning, but they start the auctions at 3AM.) so the pickings were getting slim. But one could be assured quality if the things were still swimming.

These land walking edibles got a different treatment. The arthropods were basking in a pile of bonito flakes, shaved dried fish. I guess this is the way to pre season them.

The Market remarkably did not smell overly foul. Everything was on ice and it was a cool day, but I imagine in the heat of summer I would hate to live down the block.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Meiji Shrine and Harajuku

This is the Meiji Shrine. One of the largest in Japan, and quite popular. One of it's most notable features is it's HUGE gates. There are several, and each was obviously the final resting place for some truly epic pines. Even the locals pause and take a pic. The shrine is actually rather sprawling and a fair walk into the large Yoyogi park. The path is wide and was full of foreign tourist, as well as the locals.

These are cask of sake, each emblazoned with the brewer and donor. I believe these are just for an offering, and never get drinken, but some sects of buddism know how to party, so who knows where last years stock ends up.

Here we have an equally impressive line up, and this is hardly half! these are lanterns with the names of families who donated to the shrine. The temples are well funded here it seems, as usual daily prayer also involves dropping coins into the temple box.The shrine was preparing for the new years holiday, the biggest holiday in Japan. There were huge lines of booths set up to sell good luck trinkets and prayers for hanging, traditional new years shwag (a wooden arrow has some symbolism, thus the target on the gate), food, incense, and whatever else the lined up parisioners will need. They were covering the stairs with mats to make them ramps and ease the passing of people. It seemed rather rediculous in this huge shrine to do such a thing, but the crowds are truly huge I guess. The large panels with cows are because it's the Year of the Cow (I think we usually call it "The Year of the Ox".)

The park grounds are beautiful and rather peaceful, despite the crowds. We walked only a small corner of the park, but it was lush and dense. A little different from Colorado.

As we return to civilization, and cross the bridge out of the park a number of people are gathered. Selling paintings, playing guitar, and posing for pics with foreign tourist.

We went to Harajuku on a Sunday, as I'm told all the cool people do. But the cool kids in neat clothes were a little sparse. We were told it's because of the holiday, everyone so busy preparing they couldn't go cosplay in the park.We did see mister Gay Bunny Man, a little scary actually.

This is one of the super crowded streets carrying all manner of fashion goods, each catering to a different crowd or look.Though, I didn't see any places to pick up this guys outfit...And of course a shop with shirts that came right off the scary world of the internet. Pedobear -vs- Ronald, and the sadness of anthropomorphy. This shop also had tons of reprint rock concert shirts. The slightly tattered originals were quite the rage at the near-by thrift shops. 150$ for an old Slayer shirt anyone?