This past week’s Iron Crafter challenge was to make something around the theme “winter.” I contemplated all manner of crafts and finally settled on the handbag I’ve been dying to make. Guy pal bought me some wonderful boots a while back and I wear them any time it’s even remotely cold. They’re 100% sheepskin uppers with natural rubber soles and a pair of wooden beads for an accessory. I feel so beautiful when I wear them in addition to warm from the calves down. Unfortunately, the only handbag I had was a bright orange striped one I got at Old Navy back in middle school. The bag is in great shape for being about 14 years old, but it doesn’t go with my winter clothes at all.

My favorite part of winter themed crafts are the snowflake motifs. I don’t do all the religious themed goodies for Christmas, so for me winter is about family gathering together and the cold of a Colorado winter. I’ve looked at hundreds of snowflake motifs in intarsia, stranded, quilted, cabled, and appliquéd. Oddly, the one I like the most isn’t considered a snowflake at all. The pattern, Brea Bag, is supposed to look like a lotus flower. BS I say! It looks like a broken snowflake to me. Given all my health issues, I have a particular affection for other broken and cast aside things, so a broken snowflake is perfect for me.

I’d been given some alpaca yarn off of freecycle last year that’s been marinating in my closet. I used only one ball of the natural white alpaca to make the body of the bag. After seaming, I had only a few yards of yarn left. It was just the right amount. The pattern calls for holding light worsted yarn double, but since this is more of an aran, I just worked one strand throughout. I also made some minor changes to the side/bottom gusset of the bag because I didn’t like the way the pattern did increases/decreases for the strap over so many rows. Mine is more compact. This project does take a ton of attention while knitting. I was super proud to be able to work on it during the Super Bowl party at Green Valley Weavers on Sunday and then at my friend’s house afterward. When I finally finished all the cables and the long gusset, I blocked the pieces. Unfortunately, blocking was delayed by nearly 8 hours because of a sick dog. My poor little pup decided the best place to launch her explosive diarrhea was under a bookcase. Everything had to be moved, taken apart and cleaned. Between cleaning and shuffling the dog around the room, the friend that was helping me managed to scare her while she was on my bed so she peed all over my quilt too. I already had all the towels in the wash, so it took me forever to get my blanket cleaned. It was 4am before I had a quilt to put on the bed! When the dog was finally all set up in the shower with supplies for the night and given her Imodium, she managed one last blast of the shower so I had to clean the whole shower, her, and her evening supplies again. Given the level of pain I was in from dealing with the dog and her messes, I honestly thought I’d have to quit working on the purse and give up entering it in the competition. I was REALLY pissed off. Somehow, I manged. I’m really proud of myself. Since I’d never blocked before, I was really eager to try it. That eagerness to try blocking is what got be back into working on my project again. Here’s a mid blocking shot. The side of the bag on the left is pinned and blocked. The side on the right is not yet blocked. Check out how much this bag grew! I was worried it would be too small with using only one strand of wool, but it came out exactly the size I want.

I just used the kids’ play mat I have and sewing pins since I don’t have any proper blocking materials yet. My next task after seaming the blocked pieces was to make a liner for the bag. Since it is knit on large needles, it’s a little loose. I wouldn’t want a pen falling out, so I most definitely need a liner. I dug through the bin of old clothes I’ve collected from my family. I love reusing the old fabric in something new. I found a pair of linen pants of my mother’s that were exactly the same color as my yarn. I couldn’t believe how perfect a match it is. I cut out the seams and managed to get just enough large pieces to sew a liner. I’ve never sewn a bag liner before, so this was a pretty big deal for me. I’m thrilled with how it came out. It was also my first time sewing in a zipper. I found a metal zipper in just the right color in my box of zippers, also from freecycle.

I took my bag, bag liner, and thread to knitting group and spent the entire time at Panera Bread seaming away trying to attach the liner to the bag. When I got home, I still had more hand sewing to go. Properly anchoring all the corners of the liner to the corners of the bag and getting the zipper edge to attach well to the alpaca while keeping the stitches invisible is quite an undertaking. At some point during the stitching, I came down with the flu. I still feel horrible. I’m sure I looked like a rather silly person struggling to breathe next to my humidifier cranking out the hand stitching and the knitting for the strap.

The strap is knitted from a softer alpaca from the same box of yarn on freecycle. I really love this yarn. It’s alpaca from the source; all the tags are in Spanish and from a farm in Peru! Since the pattern didn’t have a felted handle but rather a leather one, I knit a swatch, felted it, then figured out the number of stitches for my strap. It was so hard to knit the strap when I just wanted to sit with kleenex attached to my face instead. I felted it the lazy style, in the washer, because I felt so bad I couldn’t stand over the sink to felt it even, much less use my arms for any kind of scrubbing.

I can’t tell you how good it felt to stitch the handle onto the D rings. I’m finished. I tried this project once before, earlier in the fall when my pain was so out of control that I couldn’t keep track of the numbers of stitches or cables. I’m so psyched that now, on the new pain meds, I can actually keep track of my stitches and do complex projects! I can’t wait until I’m healthy enough to go out. This flu virus sucks. I’m really hoping to pull it together enough to go on a first date this Friday night to a small film festival here in town. I met him on okcupid and am itching to meet him. Plus, this film festival promises to be wonderful. Just think how beautiful I’ll be downtown walking up to the theater in my sexy wool boots, my charcoal grey peacoat, stylish cashmere lined black leather gloves (that are seriously worn out unfortunately), and this stunning bag. I’ll be so hot the snow will melt under my feet and men will break their necks snapping around to catch a glimpse of me!

Here’s some finished shots of my new bag:

In real life, the strap matches the boots perfectly. It’s still a little damp from felting though so that makes it appear darker. I’ll get a better photo when it’s dry, but I was under a deadline for Iron Crafter! This snowflake winter handbag is so wonderful, it just had to make it in under the wire for the winter competition. I’m really coveting the winter badges, but i have to admit, the best thing is having my winter handbag done and ready to go out with! I feel so nice just holding it. With all the alpaca, it should even help keep my water bottle from freezing and my medication at a more appropriate temperature if I go outside for any length of time or have to drive around in a cold car. This bag is just so perfect in so many ways.

 

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Doing Big Things

February 7, 2011

Most people don’t understand how big a big accomplishment is to someone who’s facing any kind of disability, much less the agonizing chronic pain I’m fighting anytime I’m awake. Actually, even in my dreams I have pain now. Sleep can no longer be the hiding place it once was. It’s just no good when the nightmare zombies can catch you because you’re having a high pain day and can’t escape fast enough hobbling along on your cane!

Back on the big accomplishments though because zombies eating the weakest members of the human herd is rather lame. My big accomplishment is cleaning. I’ve been living like a slob since the first wreck in 2006. I moved just before I was injured, so most of my stuff was still in boxes. The place I lived before I moved was clean and obsessively organized, but very cramped and not in a very safe spot. Someone had tried to carjack me in my own parking lot the same week my landlord decided to raise my rent. That’s a lethal combination to anyone trying to keep their renters. My my pain hasn’t let up since and all my minor gains toward normalcy have been full of other requirements, like trying to graduate.

Now that I’m past the OxyContin nightmares of November and I have a new doctor who is actually willing to treat my pain rather than ignore it, I have a few functional hours each day that I didn’t have before. I’ve been in a flare since the American Idol headache started, but in my functional time before that went south and sent me back into last year’s pain, I cleaned. I even unpacked some boxes that hadn’t been unpacked in several moves. That’s a HUGE deal for anyone, but now try to do it in pain that’s described by many people who’ve been through both as “making childbirth seem like a walk in the park.”

Here’s an afterthought before photo of my bedroom. I’d already started cleaning when this shot was taken. The angle also hides a huge garbage bag of dirty towels, a tower of yarn, paperwork, and random junk as tall as my nightstand, my messy nightstand that was heaped up over a foot tall on the top surface and who’s drawers wouldn’t close, and the disaster spilling from the closet. I wish I’d been able to capture it all in a before photo, but my current living arrangement is cramped and it’s hard to get a picture of everything at once. I’d have to knock out a few walls to do that. So, before:

Now, here are two photos from 12 days later.

 

I cleaned everything. I even dusted, vacuumed, and steam cleaned the floors. I even washed the blankets on the bed, not just the sheets. How’s that for doing something BIG? I’ve still got a lot left to clean, and my pace has slowed drastically since my headache and nerve randomness has gotten worse, but I’m really proud of myself. It’s not staying quite this spotless, but running the vacuum every other week looks like it should be possible. I can’t tell you how excited that makes me. Heck, I’ve even washed my sheets since this photo was taken on the 21st. I’m thinking once a week clean sheets is something everyone should have.

I’m BACK!

December 7, 2010

This past year I’ve been doing less and less. When I graduated last December I was more functional than I’ve been this entire year. It’s been frustrating to say the least. I feel like I’ve lost enough of my life due to these accidents and having the gains I had made over the past few years falling away was brutal. When I couldn’t keep dyeing yarn or even posting about my exploits it nearly killed what was left of my soul. Being banished to the only (moderately) quiet and dark place I have to go, my mother’s basement, just hasn’t been very satisfying. Thankfully things got so bad this past November that they’re getting better.

Those of my Chronic Bitches and any others who have spent the past few years on OxyContin know exactly what I’m talking about. Having been on the same dose for way too long, I’d been feeling worse and worse with time. To make matters worse, on Halloween night, I started the first dose of the new OP pills. Sure, they may be harder to abuse, but they’re also impossible to digest leaving pain patients to suffer through withdrawal and worse, the full force of the underlying pain they’ve been trying to hide. Thankfully, withdrawal for me isn’t too bad. I get super sweaty (which makes using the TENS impossible because electricity + sweat = all sorts of zaps and hurts), super cold, and my sleeping gets even worse. I don’t get a runny nose or flu-like at all. Some muscle aches, but nothing too horrid. All in all, not that bad and compared to the pain I’ve been living with, VERY short lived. What got me was how bad I hurt. When I hurt like that I thrash about trying to find any position or movement that relieves the pain. This thrashing about only further injures me. I’ve been having minor to moderate thrashing bits for about a year and a half since the old dose wasn’t working anymore and then suddenly, I literally had to use every fiber of my being to stay still because I know the thrashing makes things worse. By the time my physical therapist asked me to wear a cervical collar until we figured out how to get the pain under control I was very happy to wear one.

My old doctor’s office (and their after hours answering service) refused to believe that the change in pills could cause any of this and treated me like a criminal for stating the simple fact that I needed help getting my pain under control ASAP. The urgent care I finally went into (no health insurance makes it a very expensive proposition) proceeded to lecture me, told me that this was my own fault for not managing my meds effectively, that it wasn’t possible for the OP pills to be giving me any problems (unless I was an addict who was snorting them or whatever the fuck people do with them), and gave me some completely useless pills to last me a whopping 3 days, until Monday. Because of course you can get an appointment with a new pain doctor that fast after a holiday weekend!

Thankfully Tuesday morning I got in to see someone my PT had suggested I see. She looked at me a little sideways until she found out who sent me. Then, I actually got to explain my problems to someone who would listen…for over an hour! I kept talking at warp speed. I’m so used to having to get through everything in those typical 4-6 minute appointments! Ultimately, I got put on new pain meds, in a dose that actually works for me without being treated like a criminal. Within 24 hours of starting the new pills, the changes were so dramatic I wouldn’t have believed them if I hadn’t been caught inside of them!

The pain is lower than it’s been since…before the wrecks, 4+ years ago. I still feel the hurt, but it’s shockingly manageable. I don’t feel all dizzy and drugged like I have any time the pain has been knocked down in the past. My brain actually works again! I can keep track of what row and stitch I’m knitting! Last night I pulled out a rather heavy textbook about headaches and was able to follow it through the few pages I was interested in, even though I had a bad headache! I got to go play with my friend’s kids for the first time in months and months. I was just as overexcited as the kids were! I took my dogs on a short walk after my PT appointment last week. The dogs hardly knew what to do. They’ve not really been on any walks since early last winter and even those were rather sparse! I even went to knitting group for the first time since July! I feel like if I can get back some strength just maybe I could work again, probably not a scheduled job because of the fact that pain doesn’t adhere to a schedule, but maybe be a writer or work more on knitting patterns and yarn dyeing.

The most exciting thing right now is that I’m knitting Christmas gifts for my family. I’m way to broke to buy them anything though I’d kill to go shopping. I desperately want to get out and be a part of the world now that I can for aa few hours a day! Sitting in the same cell I’ve been trapped in for the past year and a half just doesn’t feel like it’s got any holiday spirit to it. Maybe I should decorate. BUT, the point is, I’m making holiday gifts for the people I love. I was dreading the empty handed holidays. I’d given up around Halloween. I couldn’t even finish my costume, or my mom’s birthday present. Thankfully, my mom is the kind of person who still gets rather excited when you show her a tangled mess of yarn and explain what you were trying to get done. I may not get all my holiday gifts done in time, but there will be a few!

My goal for this year was to get good enough at knitting that I could start writing patterns. After the first wreck and the loss of work, I’d started working very hard on putting together a set of crochet pretend food patterns (this was way before Tasty Crochet) and then had to quit with the second wreck when I lost the ability to crochet. I found a dog sweater I’d attempted when I was trying to learn to knit in 03. I’m unraveling it as I knit on my brother S’s gift. The progress I’ve made even with the hell I’ve been through this past year is incredible. Just in this one picture, you can see how I used to unintentionally twist every stitch and how irregular my tension was. On the right, you can see the torso of the ‘doll’ I’m knitting. The gauge is an even tight fabric (to hold in the stuffing) and there are no twisted stitches.

I’m very pleased that in this year of hell I’ve made some progress in something even if it seems like the shreds I’d been clinging to of my previous life have all slipped away. I’ve missed several trips this year, including one to Europe. I’ve missed weddings, parties, dates, meals, countless night’s sleep, and just the feeling of the sun on my face as I stroll around with my dogs. But, I’m coming back now. I can’t think of anything I’d rather have this Christmas than this hope that I’m not stuck in the pained state I’ve been in for the past year and a half. Just having a clear head is worth everything. I’m not sure how fast, or even what I should/shouldn’t be doing given how bad the pain the drugs are hiding really is, but now that I’ve got a spark of strength and the hope that there is someone new who actually believes in helping me through my pain rather than ignoring my gradual decline, consider me back.