This blog has moved!

February 14, 2011 at 10:29 am (Uncategorized)

I’m trying to consolidate, since I never seem to write on either of my two blogs. In the future, you can find me at www.rachelegiddings.com.

Thanks, and happy crafting!

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My newest fiber craft

January 23, 2011 at 8:16 pm (Uncategorized)

I have caught the “spinning bug.”

It started when I read A Curse Dark as Gold for my YA novel class last term. I loved reading about spinning whenever it appeared in the book–the mechanics simply brought the craft to life! I had to give it a try.

Problem: I don’t own a spindle and I don’t know how much one would cost.

I’m a crafty person, so I decided to make my own. I did some browsing and found instructions here, but still waffled. I wasn’t sure I wanted to buy the pieces yet. But when my friends took me to Hobby Lobby and I wandered off unsupervised, I gravitated to the wood I needed.

Problem 2: I have no roving. This is compounded by
Problem 3: I have no money and no job.

But… but… I have the spinning bug! I couldn’t resist. I decided to read up on some tutorials about plying.

That way, I could get the feel for my spindles and practice until I could afford roving. I started off with some partial skeins of KP Gloss Lace.

Of course, I needed the spindle first. I sanded down a dowel and screwed in the hook to make a very basic, low-whorl drop spindle.

I played with my drop spindle for an evening and got 9 yards of cabled blue-green yarn, but I wasn’t quite satisfied with it. I thought it’d be better if I tried a high-whorl spindle instead.

And so I used more sandpaper and more wood and created said high-whorl spindle. I wanted to mix it up, so I used yellow laceweight.

This presented a number of problems. First, it was a little wobbly; second, I couldn’t tell if I was plying too tightly or not. Part of that is because I’m so new to spinning, but plying the same color of yarn together didn’t help! I plied 16.5 yards together.

At this same time, a copy of Respect the Spindle finally made it to the library. As I read it, I saw that I hadn’t made a true top-whorl spindle. I wanted to do it right, so I shoved the whorl higher and tried again. I wanted to check my plies, so I used blue and green again. However, the spindle wobbled so much that I got sick of it after 2 yards.

I went back to my first setup–blue and green on the drop spindle–and plied another 16 yards. In hindsight, I liked the high-whorl spindle best because it doesn’t wobble like the top and it’s much easier to get the yarn off of than the bottom.

I haven’t been cured of the spinning bug yet, but now I have a good way to handle it!

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>Plot not working? Try writing backwards!

January 18, 2011 at 7:32 pm (Uncategorized)

>At critique group last week, we had a discussion about plotting. I like to think I have a very unique process, so I started expounding about it and its awesomeness.

At this point, Shallee stopped me. “Post about it for my blogfest!” she said.

And so I am.

My stories always start with an idea. For example, in my fiction class this semester, I want to explore the science behind astrology. I let the idea steep for a few days, and in the meantime, I go recruiting for characters.

Within a week, I’m ready to get started. I write the first chapter. Or two. Maybe three if I’m still not confident in my plot. And then I go backwards: I skip to the end. By this point, I usually have an idea how I want the story to end. Themes, characters, and settings are all accounted for; having their resolution already written helps me feel less overwhelmed by my projects.

From that point, I continue backwards, filling in scenes one by one until I’ve reached my original starting point. Most of my writing here is dialogue. This may sound funny, since my characters aren’t solid at this point, but it helps me get a feel for their voices. (This is when I let them debate who will be my protagonist.) Only after I revise the story from beginning to end–completing a third draft–do I have a solid story.

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>Revision in 140 characters or fewer

December 10, 2010 at 2:37 pm (Uncategorized)

>My novel experienced a major overhaul today, courtesy of my critique group. This weekend, many of them entered a pitch contest on an agent’s blog. I wanted to join in, but I had a small problem.

I had no pitch.

I’ve heard at conferences before that ever story needs to have a good pitch, or a short plug that you could give if you were in an elevator with an editor. I just never got around to writing my own. This contest in particular wanted a Twitter pitch: 140 characters, maximum. That couldn’t be too hard to write, could it?

An hour later, I still didn’t have my pitch. I had a number of questions, which I decided to use to guide my revisions.

1. Who is the protagonist in my story?
2. What motivates her (or him, but her in this case)?
3. How does this motivation effect the plot?
4. What is the conflict at the heart of my story?
5. Would my reader know the answer to these questions by the end of the first chapter? The first three? The first seven?

Ironically, as I looked over these questions, I realized I did have a pitch after all. I had to boil my story down to its basic elements, the evaluate it. In the process of finalizing my pitch, I got a better look at the imperfections in my story. Now I’m excited to go and make those changes.

Now it’s your turn. Go write a pitch for your novel, whether it’s finished or not. Figure out what’s really going on at the heart of your story. If your story feels slow or your revisions feel stagnant, you could diagnose your problems in 140 characters or fewer.

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Accompanist’s Fingerless Gloves

December 2, 2010 at 1:19 pm (Uncategorized)

Bad circulation and playing piano in cold weather don’t mix. As a knitter, I realized I could remedy that problem by making myself a pair of fingerless gloves. But when I couldn’t find a pattern I liked, I had two choices, give up, or design my own.
The motif on the bottom echoes a “grupetto,” a musical symbol indicating a trill or “turn.” Just like the grupetto adds flair to a line of music, cables add energy and movement to these gloves.
My main source of inspiration was the character Demyx from the Kingdom Hearts video game series. Laid-back and a bit of a slacker, he fits well with the theme: simplicity with a touch of flair. The grupettos on the cuff echo the water he summons to do his dirty work for him.

I’ve left the back of the glove blank to maintain that simplicity, but you are more than welcome to knit the Organization XIII emblem there instead (although I don’t have the pattern for it).
(The second glove and a pair in a Demyx-appropriate color scheme are forthcoming.)
The gauge for this project 6 st or 9 rows to the inch. I achieved this with KP Shadow (a laceweight yarn) on size 2 needles. (The instructions are written for one large circular needle, but you can also use DPNs or two circs). I used two colors—MC and CC—but you can use fewer (or more) at your own discretion. You will also need a tapestry needle, a cable needle, and two buttons.

*C5F means cabling 5 stitches—moving 2 in front of 3. The first and last 2 will be knit in CC.
C2F means cabling 4 stitches, holding the first 2 in front; C2B means cabling 4 with the first 2 in back.

Grupetto cable:
Row 1: Sl p1 [k2 CC] p5 [k2CC] p1 k1
Row 2: Sl k1 [p2 CC] k5 [p2 CC] k1 p1
Row 3: Sl p1 [C2F MC] p1 C2B p1 k1
Row 4: Sl k3 [p2 CC] k1 p2 k3 p1
Row 5: Sl p3 C5F p3 k1
Row 6: Sl k3 [p2 CC] k1 [p2 CC] k3 p1
Row 7: Sl p1 C2B p1 C2B p1 k1
Row 8: Sl k1 [p2 CC] k5 [p2 CC] k1 p1

The cuffs are knit separately; the body of the glove is knitted from stitches you pick up along the edge of the cuff.

Grupetto cuff (make 2):
CO 13 stitches in MC. Knit one set-up row: Sl k1 [p2 CC] k5 [p2 CC] k1 p1
Work in Grupetto Cable pattern for X repeats, or until the cuff is 1” shorter than desired length.

Buttonhole:
(Start on RS)
Sl p1 [k2 CC] p1. BO 3 st. [k2 CC] p2.
Sl k1 [p2 CC] k1. CO 1 st using cable cast-on. [p2 CC] k2.
Sl p1 [k2 CC] p5 [k2CC] p1 k1
Sl k1 [p2 CC] k5 [p2 CC] k1 p1
Bind off in MC

Glove:
The two gloves only differ in the orientation of the cuff. Lay the cuff with the buttonhole on the left. For a left-handed glove, you will pick up 36 stitches along the top edge, starting near the button; for a right-handed one, you’ll pick up 36 along the bottom edge. Knit one row, untwisting stitches as needed.
Work 5 rows (1 inch) flat in Stockinette stitch. (You should start on the WS.)

On rows 6 and 7, kfb at the beginning and end of each row. 40 st total.

On row 8 (a knit row), place a stitch marker 2 st from the start of the row and 2 st from the end. Join to knit in the round.

Thumb gusset:
Row 1: k1, m1, k1, slm, k to last 2 stitches, slm, k1, m1, k1. (42 st)
Row 2: k all stitches
Row 3: k2, m1, k1, slm, k to last 3 stitches, slm, k1, m1, 43. (44 st)
Row 4: k all stitches
Row 5: k3, m1, k1, slm, k to last 4 stitches, slm, k1, m1, k5. (46 st)
Row 6: k all stitches
Row 7: k4, m1, k1, slm, k to last 5 stitches, slm, k1, m1, k6. (48 st)
Row 8: k all stitches
Row 9: k all stitches
Row 10: k5, m1, k1, slm, k to last 6 stitches, slm, k1, m1, k7. (50 st)
Row 11: k all stitches
Row 12: k6, m1, k1, slm, k to last 7 stitches, slm, k1, m1, k8. (52 st)
Row 13: k all stitches
Row 14: k all stitches
Row 15: k7, m1, k1, slm, k to last 8 stitches, slm, k1, m1, k9. (54 st)
Row 16: k all stitches
Row 17: k all stitches
Move the first and last 7 stitches from the row onto waste yarn to be used later.

Palm; continue in St st until the full glove measures 1.5” or reaches the base of the pinky. End the St st section on the knuckles opposite the thumb.

Pinky:
Row 1: move 15 st onto waste yarn. K 10 and move the next 15 stitches onto waste yarn. (10 st)
Work these 10 stitches in st st in the round for 5 rows or until the pinky measures your desired length. Bind off leaving an extra-long tail.

Fingers:
Move the 15 body st back onto the needles and knit. Pick up and knit 3 st from the base of the pinky; this will connect the fingers and give you less trouble later for seaming. Move the next 15 st onto the needles and knit. (33 st)
Knit 2 more rows in the round.

Index finger:
Knit 6 st. Move the next 22 st onto waste yarn. Knit the remaining 6 stitches.
Work st st in the round for 6 rows or until the index finger measures your desired length. Bind off leaving an extra-long tail.

Middle finger:
Knit 5 st. Move the next 12 st onto waste yarn. Add 2 st; knit the remaining 5 stitches, then pick up 2 from the base of the index finger.
Work st st in the round for 7 rows or until the middle finger measures your desired length. Bind off leaving an extra-long tail.

Ring finger:
Knit 12 st. Pick up 2 st from the base of the middle finger.
Work st st in the round for 6 rows or until the ring finger measures your desired length. Bind off leaving an extra-long tail.

Thumb:
Knit 14 st. Pick up 2 st from the body of the glove.
Work st st in the round for 7 rows or until the pinky measures your desired length. Bind off leaving an extra-long tail.

Weave in your ends. With the longer tails, sew together any holes that formed at the base of the fingers or thumb.

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>A Beginning

December 2, 2010 at 12:11 pm (Uncategorized)

>I’ve heard writers say–sometimes in jest–that the first page is always the hardest. The empty white space and the blinking cursor or smooth pen beg to be used, filled, brought to life. I’ve come to find these helpful to my writing, not intimidating.

Unless I’m writing blog posts.

Something about writing on the internet terrifies me. I’m content to lurk, to read, and to never open my mouth. I don’t want to put myself out there.

And yet, I’m also curious about the experiences of other writers. I, for one, have the most annoying cast(s) of characters I could imagine. They argue, they show up in stories where they aren’t supposed to, they announce story ideas right before I head to class or go to bed.

This blog is dedicated to those characters. Well, not just them, but characters everywhere. I want to hear your stories, your problems, your ways to cope with your stories.

When your characters collaborate against you, collaborate against them!

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‘Tis the Season?

November 8, 2010 at 7:51 pm (Uncategorized)

Usually I’m opposed to starting the Christmas season early. As much as I love Christmas, seeing reindeer decorations and strands of plastic lights sandwiched in with the Halloween candy at the grocery store last month meant too much too early.

However, instead of sit here and rant, I’d like to propose a list of the things that are Christmas-related-but-appropriate-to-do-before-Thanksgiving.

  1. Start learning music for Christmas performances.
    No, this does NOT mean you should pull out your Christmas CDs or blast your holiday playlist, but feel free to practice a tricky accompaniment or start planning for a Christmas program.
  2. Help with handmade Christmas presents.
    2a. Craft something for a person you love. I am a huge fan of giving people handknit stuff as gifts. Running to the store and picking something up is all well and good, but a knitted gift says “I love you enough to put time and effort into you.”
    2b. Facilitate someone’s crafting. Knitters and crocheters love yarn, and they love it even more if it’s free. Gifting a crafter with their beloved supplies is a wonderful way to encourage the hobby, and maybe they’ll reciprocate by making something!
    But how do you know what to get? 

    • Be subtle. Ask what he or she is working on: not just the project but about the materials and the colors and so on. Expect the crafter to start gushing. Take notes.
    • Stalk. Most online crafting stores allow users to create wishlists or to list what they already have in their stashes. Alternately, look for boxes or packaging–I use ball bands from my favorite yarn instead of bookmarks.
    • Ask.
  3. Start coordinating service projects.
    For example, Sub-for-Santa projects are rewarding, but they’re also a lot of work. If you let people know ahead of time, they should be able to budget in some gifts and help you out.

Your turn. What do you think is Christmas-related and appropriate before Thanksgiving?

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Dealing with (character) Death

October 18, 2010 at 9:21 am (character, writing)

I try not to give too much thought to the way I kill my characters. The process is different every time. However, I learned this morning that there is one way I should never, ever attempt again.

I started the morning off in a bit of a panic. I was running late—again—and when I caught the bus a few minutes before it left, I wasn’t in the mood to sit down and wait out the ride. I tried to read Aurora Leigh to pass the time, but the blank verse made me even more jittery. I considered taking a nap, but again, I wasn’t tired enough for it. The only thing left to do was write.

But after retrieving my laptop, opening my story, and even turning on my iPod for emotional backup, nothing was coming. I couldn’t get the scene to come.

That’s when a character from my climax approached me and announced it was time for her to die.

At first, I was incredulous. No, missie, you still have the whole book ahead of you. You don’t get to die yet. And yet, the timing felt right—I was in the right frame of mind, the song matched, and I needed to work out the climax to make sure I had my worldbuilding right.

I gave in. The scene came surprisingly easily. This is probably the first death scene I’ve ever written in which the character didn’t fight me. In fact, she actually helped me through it. I guess she knew it was her time.

Quite frankly, the experience was awesome, and it taught me a ton about writing and character. I’ve heard good writers talk about foreshadowing character death, about having characters “ready to die” when their time comes, but I had never experienced it. Skipping to the climax let me know how I need to develop this character in the story. She and I grew impossibly close through the process of writing her death.

Normally, I take time to grieve after killing off a character. Unfortunately, all this happened while I was on the bus. When my iPod died right at the critical moment, I couldn’t rush to my room and recharge it; I had to continue in agonizing silence. When I needed most to stand up and pace and reason with my character, I was surrounded by strangers.

And when I ended the scene and she whispered, “Revise it. You didn’t make it long enough to do me justice,” I couldn’t throw up my hands at her. I couldn’t yell at her for prolonging her own death. I had to sit, staring at my tiny screen, as the rest grew silent.

I know that she isn’t a real character, that it may seem strange that I’m so worked up about this. Still, the experience speaks to me because it shows an important piece of the writing process. Writers need to be able to feel. Without feeling, we can’t bring these moments to life, can’t do justice to the death of someone we love. And sometimes, a writer’s setting infringes on that capability.

I’m not saying writers should be hermits. I’m saying we should realize that there are moments in our lives when we need to be alone with our characters. Sit with them, talk with them, and be there to hold their hands when they pass on. That’s the only way we’ll be able to face them in revisions, when they see in our eyes what we plan to do to them and tell us it’s okay.

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Quirks, coincidence, and keeping them straight

September 28, 2010 at 10:27 am (character, writing)

Just when I think I understand my characters, they tend to throw a surprise my way. Sometimes, it’s just Dreis being obnoxious; a few times, I’ve discovered something about Evram by trying to understand the way he interacts with my story. One of the best ways to get to know your characters is to figure out whether their interactions are quirks or coincidences brought about by the setting.

Abstract, isn’t it? Here’s an example from a character I know all too well:

I was late for class this morning. You’d think I would have figured out by now that it takes more than five minutes to find a parking spot on campus, but because I hadn’t, I was running to class. I realized midstride that something was wrong.

My shoes didn’t match.

Now I normally wouldn’t think much of this. I am, after all, absent-minded enough that I honestly can’t believe I haven’t done this before.

But a week ago today, I was running around campus wearing only one glove.

I can rationalize away both incidents. I wore mismatched shoes because I snatched the black one out from under a pile of books and knitting tools, mistaking it for the white shoe’s partner. And I only wore one glove because I only had one–the second wasn’t finished.

And yet, it’s hard to ignore my apparent tendency toward the asymmetric.

Next time you see me wearing mismatched shoes or one glove, I bet you’ll wonder if it’s a quirk or a coincidence.

Now take that question and start asking your characters. See what they want you to learn about them.

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Polycraftual

August 9, 2010 at 6:52 pm (Uncategorized)

Today’s title is a new word. I didn’t make it up, so don’t blame me that it’s a German root with Latin infixes. Instead, I want you to explore the implications of this word with me.

“Polycraftual” is a word that gets bounced around often over on ravelry.com, my home for all things knitting. It means, essentially, that a person is interested in two or more crafts. Whether someone weaves and knits or spins and crochets, he or she is polycraftual.

This can be a dangerous thing, but I’ve found that it helps my writing. Here’s an example.

Earlier this year, I was starting a new project. A writing project, specifically, and I needed help with a character. I knew as I started that I wanted her to be odd, the one source of humor in what could be a very bleak book.

At the time, I had just joined another group of knitters who each planned to knit ten shawls in 2010. I thought, hey, what about a shawl for her? This character could wear a shawl in all sorts of odd ways. My favorite idea was having her wear one instead of a skirt.

The problem: would that idea even work? I would need to test it out…

So I dove into the yarn stash and got working.

Unfortunately, the schoolyear had other ideas. Working on my story ground almost to a stop. The knitting, however, went on; I used a simple stockinette pattern. (Non-knitters: this means the project was practically brainless knitting.) Shortly before I moved, I bound off the shawl and wore it to my graduation. Unfortunately, it was way too small to wear as a skirt. When I finished moving, the shawl didn’t even come out of the box.

Work on the story continued, however, and I eventually rediscovered the shawl. It’s finished now–I picked up stitches along the edge and worked until it was big enough. In finishing it, though, I discovered something tragic: my idea wouldn’t work. As I was soaking the shawl so I could pin it out, the wool absorbed a surprising amount of water. My character lives in a damp climate–that could be a problem. Not only would the shawl be heavy, it would probably felt. If I wanted her to wear a shawl, it would have to be made of a different fiber, which didn’t work (for reasons that involve spoilers).

I suppose I was lucky. I had to revise the beginning of my story, and in doing so, I calmed my character down. The shawl never appears around her waist now. She wears a smaller incarnation of it at her shoulders, where it’s less likely to be felted by belts or boots.

But the shawl does exist. I’m wearing it now, in fact. That’s what I like about being polycraftual: combining my writing with my knitting motivated me to work on two projects I might have neglected otherwise.

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