Monthly Archives: June 2014

How to get badass at pretty much anything- part one

In a former life, before I moved to New Zealand, I was a teacher. I was pretty good, too. I still love learning, and showing others who are keen to learn something how to do it- and I believe that if you have the passion to give something a try, you can get pretty good at it, with practice.  It’s not always easy, lets face it we all have different areas that we’re good at, and others that are a struggle. You may have seen that picture being shared around social media of a blue pill and a red pill- one makes you fluent in every language in the world, the other makes you able to play any musical instrument. I’m good at learning languages (I started young), but learning instruments, while I love music, is hard for me- so I’d pick the one that made me automatically able to play all the musical instruments (and then I’d go get my Bill Bailey/Tim Minchin on at the nearest piano)  But even without magical learning pills (or that bit in the Matrix where they upload knowledge to their brains) there are ways to make the process less of a slog. I want, over at least a couple of posts, to share some of what I’ve learned about learning, starting with…

Learning styles

Knowing how you learn best is damn useful if you want to pick up a new skill. There are a few different theories out there about it, but the one I’ve found rings the most true for me is the VARK theory. It breaks learning down into four styles- Visual, Aural, Reading/writing and Kinaesthetic.

A visual learner learns best through images/watching (unsurprisingly). An aural learner likes to listen to an explanation- so they would, for example, be far more likely to pay attention throughout a lecture with no slides where the lecturer talks for an hour. Reading/writing learners learn best from words on a page. Kinaesthetic learners (who tend to find concentrating a challenge) learn best by doing something while they learn- whether that’s taking notes, practicing what they’re learning about, or doing something with their hands while they listen to the teacher.

You can take a quiz to find out which ones you’re strongest in- and it’s such a good thing to know about yourself, because it means you can do your best to cater to it when you’re trying something- as well as asking teachers and others to help you by providing input in the way that fits you. For me, as a mainly visual and kinaesthetic learner (most people are a blend), doing mind maps in lots of different colours in class (and when taking minutes in meetings) helped me retain much more information than taking linear notes. I also knit in meetings when I can to help me pay attention to what’s being said- if I don’t have something to do with my hands I lose concentration VERY quickly.

When it comes to crafts, there are lots of tutorials out there- and if you want to master a particular new skill, and know your learning style, then pick ones that suit your style.

If you’re a visual learner, then looking at diagrams or a video on Youtube/Vimeo will help as you can see what you need to do. A tutorial with photo illustrations may also help you.

An aural learner would definitely benefit from videos with commentary (I’ve seen a few video tutorials which are silent, just demonstrating the technique without talking about it).

Read/write? Then blogs are a great place to start. There are plenty of written step-by-steps out there that explain neatly how to do something, and if you learn best from words on a page they’ll be the best way for you to get your head around things.

For kinaesthetic learners, the best tip I have is to combine using one of the tutorials above with physically doing the steps as you see, listen to, or read about them. As most people have a blend of styles, pick the style you’re second-strongest in, and combine that with the kinaesthetic element.

And let me know how you get on! Finding out the styles that work for you really does take some of the work out of learning, whether it’s craft or anything else- but of course I’m especially keen to hear if you’re learning a new craft technique at the moment, and how you’re going about it. What works best for you?

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Monsterful Monday

Yep, it’s that time of the week again. I hope you all had a lovely weekend. Mine involved the Best Beloved, breakfast in bed, not being booted out of bed for getting crumbs everywhere (those last two may be connected), delicious Italian food and karaoke in good company, many snuggles and finally seeing the Footrot Flats movie. I feel a little bit more Kiwi just being able to say it. Also it gives an interesting new spin on some Dave Dobbyn songs I love. I also ran into someone I first met 8 years ago- as in before I had officially moved to New Zealand, and it turns out we actually also ran into one another last year at a convention- it’s a very small world. All things to be grateful for, but here are some other highlights:

Casting!

We’ve started casting for a big LARP I’m helping run, and it’s one of my favourite parts of writing and running a game. I enjoy working out what characters to offer people, and then seeing which ones they take. It’s often quite surprising which ones people choose- more often than not it’s not the one we would expect. But it all builds up to the moment of seeing everyone walk into the room as their character, which is such a fun thing to see. I’m also putting together the cast list for another game I’m running at the same convention (apparently I don’t learn). I’m always grateful that people are excited about games I run, and casting is when that starts in earnest.

Using up the stash

I have quite a bit of yarn left that didn’t sell at the Social Wool Fair, and I’ve been browsing Ravelry for inspiration to use it up- and it has delivered! I’m quite keen to adapt Lee Meredith’s Krewe cowl into a blanket pattern, using up a whole bunch of my worsted/aran weight. I’m also going through my fabric stash, and coming up with plans for the fabrics I want to keep. I’ve got some navy polka dot fabric which I think is begging to become a Jorna Dress (though I plan to lengthen the skirt to just below the knee for that retro feel).

Hotting up on the job front

The destashing and decluttering is going on with a will again, as I’ve had a few nibbles on the job hunt in Auckland. I don’t want to say any more than that, but with the move becoming more likely to be in the near future, I want to get rid of as much as I can before it’s time to start packing.

Dinobots!

On Friday the Best Beloved and I went to ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’. It was exactly as big, loud, and over the top as I expected. As we’re both children of the 80s (well, technically I’m a child of the 70s but all my memories are of the 80s) of course we were excited to see some of the toys of our childhoods coming back, and seeing it together meant we could relax and just get on with enjoying the movie because we both knew the other person was as unironically thrilled by the prospect of a giant robot smackdown as we were. He was looking forward to seeing Hound brought to big-screen life, and for me it was the Dinobots. While I was a little disappointed that Grimlock didn’t talk (because what are the Dinobots without pronouncements starting “Me Grimlock”?), they were still epic and cool in the way that only robotic dinosaurs (or robots, or giant monsters) can be. What can I say? It’s a bit of my childhood. And they still make the proper transforming noise. These are things that matter when you grew up with something.

And the little things:

A lovely thank-you card, Wellington Library’s awesome selection, delicious cheese, exploring, crumpets, cups of tea, hexipuffs, a warm bed, and missing some of the really bad weather by being indoors.

What about you? What are you grateful for this week?

Friday Five: Five great places to get a retro sewing/knitting fix

Subversive Lesbian Anarchic Knitterseriously, how can you not love a site with a name like that? And she has some utterly beautiful vintage knitting patterns available, for free, on her site.

Mrs Depew Vintage has patterns from a range of eras, all downloadable and print-at-homeable. While there are quite a few for ‘intermediate’ sewers, the styles are just beautiful, and a good way to learn some new skills. At least I think so.

If you want to go REALLY retro (or you have a thing for Steampunk), then Truly Victorian is the place for you. I’ve made several of their patterns- they take a LOT of fabric but the results are gorgeous. If you’re serious about the Victorian look (at least the womenswear) the bustle petticoat is a must. And if you have a thing for trim, Victorian is the era for you. Basically it’s Step One: add trims until you think there’s probably too much and too many, Step Two: add more trim, Step Three: Fabulousness. See how I give you an excuse to buy more trim? Or maybe to use a bunch of the trims you already have lying around- if you’re the sort of person who HAS trims lying around. I don’t assume- I read a craft magazine once that presented a project for “your stash of gorgeous vintage silk handkerchieves.” Who has a stash of vintage silk handkerchieves? (If you do, then yay for you. It’s nice to have a stash of something.)

For a little knitting snack, how about this gorgeous polka dot ascot and beret from ZilRedLoh? Haven’t you always, when someone asks “what are you knitting?” wanted to be able to answer “an ascot”? Of course, it’s also fun to be able to answer “a ball gag”. I know this from experience. But it’s not so retro-chic.

And finally, for an easy way to retro-ify your outfit (admittedly this won’t work if you’re wearing a onesie, or a tracksuit, but it would probably work on jeans and a striped top, for example), here’s a tutorial for making a retro turban out of an old t-shirt. Retro AND waste-not-want-not upcycly goodness. I’m planning on making one of these very soon, and accessorising with a fabulous brooch or maybe some feathers. Or both. Because why not get all Norma Desmond with it? Exactly.

Things I Think About Thursday: What I learned about fear from relationship breakups

I used to be afraid of all kinds of things. Worrying, anxious. My parents put it down to being the eldest child, but that wasn’t it. I was afraid of being honest. Afraid of trusting anyone. Afraid that someone not sharing absolutely everything all the time meant they didn’t love me, because I’d been raised with the expectation that I would share everything with my parents.

I was terribly afraid of being cheated on. Of divorce. Of being raped. And further down the line, all my worst relationship fears came to light. I had a lover cheat on me. I divorced another, who also coerced me into having sex with him.

And I learned the most important thing: even when the things that you’re afraid of happening in a relationship happen, you survive. Maybe the relationship doesn’t (and if sexual coercion is involved, it shouldn’t. Get help. Leave as soon as you can. Womens Refuge can help you.) survive. But you will.

I was cheated on, and I kept breathing in and out. My friends were still there. I could still create beautiful things. I cried, sure. I even had anxiety bad enough to need medicating. But I survived. In time, I bounced back.

It was the same with the divorce. Growing up with Christian parents (and identifying as a Christian myself- though I would now consider myself interfaith more than anything else), I was taught that divorce was an awful thing. I’m sure I would have been told it was as bad as sex outside marriage if my parents had ever talked to me about sex when I was growing up. The fear I felt at doing what I knew to be right- leaving a bad and abusive relationship meant it took me a long time to own the decision, and to accept that it really was final and I didn’t want to go back. It wasn’t easy. But it also wasn’t the end. Again, I survived.

When the things I dreaded happened to me, that was when I realised that I was stronger than the fear. I always had been, and I always would be. Because now I know that I can get through the bad things and they don’t mean good things will never happen again.

Simplistic? Yes, probably. But I can make it even simpler. What I know about fear, the most important thing anyone can know about their fears is this: they are survivable. They may look like the end of the world, but they’re just a wall separating you from the next phase of your life. And it’s a wall you CAN get past.

Links of Joy: Fantastic 80s

It’s yet another wet, dreary winter Wednesday here in Wellington. To me that calls for just one thing: the neon-coloured hijinks of my childhood.

You can blame it on this list of characters who aren’t who you think they are -all the remakes of classic 80s entertainment. The remake of Footloose didn’t happen, OK? IT DIDN’T HAPPEN. I think as long as they don’t remake The Goonies I’ll be fine. *deep cleansing breaths*

ANYWAY. If you’re jonesing to look like you should be in Jem and the Holograms (and who isn’t?), you could do a lot worse than grabbing some of the gorgeous colours at Medusa’s Makeup. Such neon. Much glitter. Wow.

The Kitchn has this helpful list of 10 recipes that defined the 80s. Om nom spinach dip.

If you want an insight into 80s fashion, at least into what I thought fashion was when I was a kid, get thee a (sadly now out-of-print) copy of Freaky Fashions by Caroline Archer. I bought a copy at a school book fair when I was about 8 and devoured it. It’s got all kinds of clothing customisation ideas in it, as well as mad hair ideas (“I know this is in black and white but those fans of hair are meant to be sprayed in rainbow colours”. Yes really.) and 80s eye makeup. Admittedly it’s aimed at kids, but, well, it was one of the books that defined my crafty growth.

Obviously, music is important too. My friends Jenni and Steve and I are still planning to write a LARP set at a High School in the 1980s (because John Hughes), and I put together a soundtrack- 62 songs is enough to keep you dancing like Molly Ringwald in ‘The Breakfast Club’ all day.

May you have a purple-lame-rubiks-cube-duran-duran-filled day!

Monsterful…Tuesday?

So yes, this is a day late. The normal posting schedule was interrupted by me coming down with an evil lurgie and taking the day off yesterday to give my body a chance to properly fight the cold, which included no blogging and no internet (Candy Crush doesn’t count. Neither does chatting to the Best Beloved.). It’s something I think I’ve finally adjusted to after 4 1/2 years in New Zealand- staying home when you’re sick, especially if you have a cold. In the UK, people will crawl into work on their hands and knees. Here, you stay home, rest, get better and hope not to give what you’ve got to other people. I think it’s definitely a more enlightened approach. I’m definitely grateful this week for being able to take time off to get better!

Mega-destash-happy-fun-times

On Saturday, I grabbed a big suitcase (and a big overflow bag) and headed over to Newtown for the Social Wool Fair, to sell as much as I possibly could. It went gangbusters! I was busy most of the 6 hours, chatting and tempting and watching people pick up pretty balls of yarn and put them down with a sigh of “I mustn’t!” (usually followed by them coming back, giving me some money and taking said ball away with them).

I was huddled in my little corner with two great ladies, Suzanne and Adrienne, both seasoned market people, on either side of me. In the lulls between customers (they seemed to come in waves) we would sit around knitting- in fact, here they are in one of the lulls (that’s my stall in the middle):

Knitting fun at the Social Wool Fair

For the last hour they did their best to talk me into spending some of the money I’d been making selling my stash on buying more yarn. There was Socks that Rock. SOCKS THAT ROCK! It wasn’t easy to stay where I was and not go throw money at one of my fellow destashers. Luckily the Best Beloved sent me texts during the afternoon with such helpful messages as “Just in case: No, no and…no” and “resist!”- because he knew I really wanted to do so. The end result? I sold about 3/4 of the yarn I brought with me, to many happy yarny ladies (and the odd man), and made $360.  I had a fun day, with good company (and delicious toasted sandwiches), nobody rubbed anything on their boobs (I think that’s the yarn equivalent of ‘you break it you buy it’), and I’m considerably less yarn-heavy.

Knitting inspiration

Obviously, it being the Social Wool Fair, there were lots of handknits on show being modeled by stallholders, customers and some adorable (and very lucky) babies.  One in particular that caught my eye (and quite a few other peoples’) was this scarf, as made and worn by the lovely Anita from Vintage Purls:

Anita in her favourite things scarf

“Make sure you get my daleks!”

Can you even? The photo doesn’t do the gorgeousness of this scarf justice. When I see something that stunning, of course I had to ask if there was a pattern, and as it turns out, it’s available free on Ravelry- called ‘My Favourite Things‘, the idea being that you use the basic formula to create your own scarf covered with your own favourite things. Lots of people have contributed charts they’ve used, and of course you can always use my tutorial from last Tuesday to create your own. I’ve added it to my queue of must-knit projects- though I’ll have to wait until I’ve knit down the stash a bit more before I can justify buying yarn for it. Anita made hers with a glorious merino-cashmere blend from Plucky Knitter- SO soft and strokeable and, she says, “it keeps the wind away from your neck!”- and I’d like to splurge a little and make this in a really fabulous yarn- we’re talking bright semi-solid  colours and lovely soft fibre- alpaca, cashmere, maybe a little silk or yak…oh yes, this will be a work of art.

Thus far my list of things I want to put on the scarf includes: TARDISes, anchors, Supernatural anti-demon-possession tattoos, hearts, skullflakes, cups of tea, pirate ships, swallows, the White Tree of Gondor, waves, beer, wolves, Star Wars Fair Isle, soot sprites (because Miyazaki!) dragons, Cthulhu…yep. This might be a LONG scarf.

Special mentions

Looking forward to seeing the Best Beloved this weekend, Burger Fuel PBJ burger, my little wheat bag, full fat Coke (the magic potion for going back to work when you’re only at about 99%), Miss Patty from Gilmore Girls (“Who wants to hear about the time I danced in a cage for Tito Puente?” MEEEEEE, I DO!), hexipuffs, the mindlessness of binding off a quilt, and being able to get tasty food delivered to your door (they do say, starve a fever but feed a cold- last night I fed my cold with Kumara chips and aioli, and a snack-size pizza from Hell’s Pizza).

What about you? What are you grateful for this week? Or for bonus points- what would you want on your own Favourite Things Scarf?

Friday Five: Five things that are better than ‘Twilight’

‘What We Do in the Shadows’, a New Zealand vampire mockumentary, was released last night. I went to see it at the Embassy and it was great. Gory in a funny way, fab performances, with the main characters likeable (especially Taika Waititi as Viago) but still monstrous. In honour of that, I’d like to present five great alternatives to watching or reading ‘Twilight’.

An alternative movie: ‘What We Do in the Shadows’, obviously- go see it this weekend. In the Q&A last night the directors, Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, said that this weekend, being the opening weekend, is really important for them. So definitely go see it this weekend if you can! You won’t regret it. Also it has Rhys Darby as a werewolf and it’s everything you would expect from that.

If you’re a fan of vampires: Read ‘Sunshine‘ by Robin McKinley. This is a beautifully-written story, a masterclass in ‘show, don’t tell’. There’s the sympathetic vampire, under no illusions that he’s anything other than a monster. And a badass heroine. Also it will make you want to eat cinnamon rolls (don’t say I didn’t warn you).

If you love supernatural romance: Read ‘Lips Touch: Three Times‘ by Laini Taylor. Three short (but not too short) stories, utterly compelling stuff. ‘Goblin Fruit’ will break your heart, but you still won’t be able to stop reading. I got put on to Laini Taylor by my flatmate Jenni, and I’m very glad I was. Now I just need to wait for the sequels to ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’ to be available at the library…

If you think Edward and Bella have the best relationship: Read the Women’s Refuge’s power and control wheel. I’m not kidding. Others have said it much better than I ever could, but the relationship between the two of them is unhealthy and abusive. He takes the spark plugs out of her car so she can’t drive anywhere, because he doesn’t want her seeing her best friend. Um…WHAT? It’s definitely worth understanding how their relationship is unhealthy. Love is not an excuse for mistreating another person.

If you love supernatural romance and want to be IN the story: get four friends together and play ‘The Silver Kiss of the Magical Twilight of the Full Moon‘. As well as one person running the game, the four players play two sets of best friends. One pair are human, and one pair are supernatural (you can be any kind of supernatural being you choose). One of the humans falls in love with one of the supernaturals. Teenage angst and drama ensue. While I’ve run a session of this that went very dark and serious, most of the time in runs of this game you’ll be laughing your ass off. I know one friend who had to go and lie down for 5 minutes in the middle of a game because she couldn’t breathe, she was laughing so hard. Full disclosure, my flatmate wrote the game- but she wrote it long before she was my flatmate and I thought it was fab from the off. It’s got easy rules, it’s a lot of fun, you get to be in the story, and it involves candy!

How about you? What are your go-tos for supernatural entertainment (that aren’t by Stephanie Meyer)? Let me know in the comments