Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Are you a sucker for silk?

I know I am. In fact I'm such a sucker for silk that when I can I convert nearly everything to silk as I've probably mentioned a lot of times before.

Given the fact that I've been working on a Heaven and Earth with DMC, I've been dreaming about silks lately. lol

Well I thought I would pass along a fairly new to me silk that is just lovely. It's made by The Silk Mill and it's a filament silk of incredible quality. It's similar in looks to Pearsall's - very shiny and incredibly luxurious to the touch, but it's not quite as fiddly to stitch with as it has a slightly tighter twist to it. It still sticks to hands a little, but then my hands are horrible from years of landcaping and all the bleach and chemicals I've used at work in my lifetime. So some form of hand cream is essential. They're much nicer than Eterna - not that I don't like Eterna, because I do, but sometimes the quality is a little off - the twist of the Mini Twist changes from skein to skein and sometimes the thickness is different too. They're very similar to the Soie de Paris in the way they stitch. They're a little springy, which is normal for a filament, but you can dampen them slightly to calm them down a bit, and if you keep your lengths relatively short (12-15 inches) they don't unravel too badly. As for thickness, they're thicker than a strand of DMC - one strand covers densely on 36ct-40ct, and makes a nice clear X on 32ct without too much fabric showing. I can't attest to their colourfastness, I didn't test it yet, but as soon as I get my current order with a bunch of reds, I'll check it out. What I can say is that the colours are YUMMY.

And the bonuses... they do conversions from DMC if you send them the numbers you need, OR if you ask, they will send you a conversion list from DMC to their silks which is really handy. They come in 600 colours (yep, 600) that are very vibrant. And this week, until September 4th, they're on sale! 35% off everything on the site (including the silk sets which are already discounted) by using the coupon code "movingsale". Their regular price is about the same as AVAS or NPI, at about $4 a skein (2.50GBP), the skeins are a little bigger - 7 yards, 6 strands, and their shipping price is really good. Service is fast, most orders ship the same day or the next day. If you get one of their silk sets, the price is lower. The sets are a great way to try it out and see if you like it!

I'm ordering a bunch of different reds to try out, as well as some mauves and slate blues to stitch my Serenity Sampler with. :) Will definitely post some pictures of them when they get here!

And on another note, and another silk, I'm ordering some Valdani silk floss balls to try out. They're incredibly affordable - about $6 most places - for 23 yards of six strand silk, so they'd make a good choice for large monochromes. The hardest part is deciding which colours to order to try - there are some really yummy colours available for sure. After I do some test stitching, I'll let you know how they stitch up!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Three weeks and I'm still going strong...

This Heaven and Earth stitching is addictive. I've done a little before, but I always dumped them for one reason or another. The first got trashed because I didn't like the coverage of 1x1 on 25ct. The second got trashed because even though I had switched to 28ct, I was using HDF and the colours didn't match up with the DMC very well - they were way too light and the picture looked all washed out (which is why I learned never to trust manufacturers conversions). The third I was doing in Eterna, and the conversion was better but I decided after a few pages that there was far too much background in it, and I would rather just stitch the foreground on a hand dyed fabric (which Sassy is now creating for me!!). So this is actually my fourth HAED start.

Because there was so much black in the design, I decided it just wasn't worth stitching all that black. So I'm using 28ct black Jobelan and I'm just stitching the black in her hair and face. And because I didn't want to wait to start it, I'm using DMC - though I have to say, it's a far cry from what it used to be. For half of the colours, I'm using old skeins that I've had for a decade or more - the old black banded ones. Those stitch up beautifully and I have no complaints. The new ones I just bought are horrible. Uneven, fuzzy, not as smooth, not nearly as nice as the old stuff. Anchor really is a far superior cotton, but it's hard to find. I can get it locally on the 6yard cards, but they don't stock all the colours. Plus with this many colours to convert, I just don't think I'd want to chance it. For my next ones, I'll either go back to silk - maybe try NPI or AVAS instead (once I buy my AVAS colour card) - or I'll give Sullivan's a go. I hear the colour matches for that are really good.

Anyway.... Here is a picture of where I've gotten so far. I started her 3 weeks ago and I've gotten the top five pages done. The next rows won't go so quickly since there's not as much black to omit! lol The design is Magnificent Wings by artist Jasmine Becket Griffith. I can't wait to get to her eyes, because if they stitch up as well as the rest has, they'll be spectacular. Very full of emotion.

Lots of other changes too. I'm working again. I couldn't find a job doing office or computer work - because even with years of experience I'm not qualified to even answer phones without university (even though I RAN a help desk call centre for several years), though I'm not going to rant about THAT again. I got a job at my local butcher shop. Designing will probably drop off a lot now. I can't keep up with both since I'm working full time + (40-50 a week or so) and it's a lot of heavy work, lifting and cleaning and packing - exactly what my back didn't need since I can barely walk when I get home. Doesn't leave much time for designing apart from my days off and models will take months instead of weeks. It'll definitely get me back in shape and losing weight though! But money is money and I wasn't going to turn down the offer since we need the money so badly - and the money is good. It's a great work environment, everyone is wonderful and it's a very friendly atmophere with lots of joking around and poking fun and whatnot. The owner treats us all like family. The learning curve isn't too steep either since I've done a lot of it at the grocery stores I worked at. Tuesday will be my first kill day, and I've decided that rather than try and avoid the room - which really isn't possible since I'll need to go through it several times a day - I'm going to go in and at least watch a couple so I can get used to it. I don't have a problem with the blood, or the gutting or the skinning as I found out on Friday. Lungs, hearts, kidneys - whatever, doesn't phase me to handle them in the slightest. But I've never actually witnessed something being killed and as an animal lover it's not going to be easy to see. I figure though, the sooner I just do it and get over it, the better.

And since today and tomorrow are my days off, I'm going to stitch my heart out. :)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

And here's why I love him oh so much :)

Today's post is way off topic (again) but I thought you might get a giggle.

As I mentioned previously, since my son moved out I have been tearing apart the house and doing all the cleaning and organizing one doesn't often have time to do. Things like pulling out the oven and cleaning under and behind it, taking down all the curtains and blinds to wash them, re-alphabetizing the dvds, software and music... and getting rid of masses and masses of paperwork. My shredder is getting a workout!

Jon, my darling boyfriend, is a pack rat and has taught my son this habit as well. He will not throw away any piece of paper - just in case. Because of this, we have boxes upon boxes of paperwork - bills dating back to 2005 (including the envelopes they came in), instruction manuals for dvd players that have been upgraded and replaced (three times in fact) and receipts for groceries from a store that closed in 2008. If I try and throw any of it away, I get yelled at because "we might need it".

So Thurstday, I set about starting the process of whittling down what paperwork we have here. Of course important things were kept and filed, but I got rid of bills from years past and kept only what is current and/or needed for tax purposes. When Jon came home from work Thursday night to find me sitting on the floor surrounded by stacks of paper, he looked anxious. So I asked him, "what is the purpose of keeping not only your pay stubs from four years ago, but the envelopes they came in?" His reply made me laugh so hard I had to run for the bathroom. He didn't falter or hesitate, but simply replied, "what if, one night, a Japanese man in a black suit and tie and sunglasses (looking like a member of Yakuza) comes to the door and challenges me to to an origami folding contest, the loser of which will be killed with his razor sharp Katana. BUT we must supply our own paper. You'll regret throwing away all that stuff you thought was useless then, won't you?" When I finally stopped laughing, I pointed out that there is a stack of paper next to the printer at all times, so that excuse didn't quite cut it. I then asked "is there really a reason for keeping grocery receipts from 2006?" Again, without hesitation he replied, "what if, one night, an eccentric millionaire comes to the door (seeing a pattern here?), and says that he will give us one million dollars if we can tell him how much a 475g box of Special K sold for at Sobey's in 2006? You'd feel pretty stupid knowing you threw away the answer, wouldn't you?" This continued for the rest of the night, every time he tried to stop me from throwing something away.

Now granted, he was under the influence of an "herbal supplement" at the time, however this is what he's like all the time. It's impossible to get annoyed or angry with him about things like this because he's just so funny and charming.

On another note, he's charmed my mother into complete adoration. Almost every conversation I have with my mother anymore contains the phrase "you be good to him, he's the best thing that's ever happened to you." or "don't you dare doing anything to screw this up, he's such a wonderful guy." The other night, he overheard this part of the conversation with my mother, and has now taken to calling me his "personal assistant". When he wants anything and I refuse, he will simply say, "I'm telling your mother you said that." For example, last night, I was sitting on the sofa stitching, while he was in the kitchen on the computer, and he asked me to get him a drink. I told him to get himself a drink given he was ten feet closer to the fridge than I was. He replied. "your mom said you have to be nice to me." He's threatening to go and buy a day planner to record all the times I say anything he finds mean or refuse any request he makes, and he'll show it to my mother each time we go for dinner.

We laugh - a lot. Even at times when life's stresses are at their worst he can always make me smile or laugh. He does little things like narrate what the cats might be thinking, mute the television and re-invent the lines the characters are speaking (especially funny on "March of the Penguins" which reduced my mother to tears), leaves little messages or videos for me on the computer screen to watch when I get home, and just all around makes life a little less serious and a little more fun.

It doesn't hurt that he's hot, and he has that English accent that makes me melt. He literally could have almost anyone he wanted, as I'm often told by friends, and he chose me. Not only that, but he moved halfway around the world to be with me. How's that for a boost of self esteem? I'm overweight, five years older than he is, and he loves me anyway. And for the first time in my life I truly believe I'm loved and wanted and have zero doubt that he's sincere. :) And in that respect, I feel like I'm the luckiest woman in the world.

This is one of the few pictures I found of him where he's not pulling a goofy face or a fake smile. Those of you who I have on Facebook will recognize it. lol

Okay, and now, a little bit of stitching talk before I go back to "the great DVD reorganization of 2011". I'm still completely engrossed in "Magnificent Wings" from Heaven and Earth Designs. I'm about half done page 4 and page 5 is only a partial page, so I'll probably have the top row of pages done this week. Not bad, huh? Tomorrow will be two weeks of stitching. I would love to show off pictures, but the camera is still in New York and won't be back until next weekend, and I really don't want to pull it off the qsnaps to scan it, but I promise I will post pics as soon as I have the camera back!!

Have a great weekend everyone. :)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A lot of rambling, mostly off topic

First I'll touch on stitching. I reached the halfway mark in Rose and decided to give it a rest. Jon and I had a bit of discussion and came to the conclusion that I'm suffering burnout and maybe I should give the designing a brief rest. I wasn't stitching and I'm suffering severe blocks when in the design software. So after I finish my ornament for TGOS I'm going to do just that. I'm letting my concerns over whether the designing makes money take over my enjoyment of my hobby and my enjoyment of stitching in general and I never wanted that. I want it to be fun again, so maybe it's time for a short break and working on designs and models when I feel like it again and not because I feel like I have to.

I wanted to stitch something different so I started a HAED. Thoroughly enjoying it and have already finished a page and a half in less than a week. However, I cheated a little - I'm stitching it on black and omitting the black background stitches so that's how I managed to stitch so much. lol I'm doing Jasmine Becket-Griffith's Magnificent Wings. When I get motivated to do so I'll scan it for pictures - camera is on holiday in New York at the moment.

And now on to my rambling...

Two things I want to touch on today that got under my skin and are sort of tied together. Made in China (or Vietnam, or Thailand...) and education.

I'll start with the made in China thing. A couple of days ago, one of the message boards I frequent had an old message posted about avoiding products made in China to stimulate the economy here. Last night, my mother forwarded me the same message in an email. It's a message that's been floating around for nearly a decade, so you can already see how much difference it's made!!!

Here's my take on the whole thing.

When you're talking about food products, canned goods, dry goods and the like, it's usually possible to find products that are made here, grown here, and/or processed here.

Many personal hygeine products such as soaps, shampoos, toothpaste and other toiletries can also be found that are made here.

SOME clothing products can be found that are made here. Not all, but some.

And it is still possible to find furniture made here if you are willing to pay the prices.

The fact is though, that most products made by corporations that are owned and operated within North America are manufactured somewhere overseas for various reasons. Labour costs, taxes, lower production costs in general, manpower... and you can bitch and complain about it all you want, but we've done it to ourselves and here is how.

Everyone complained about how the prices of everything were getting too high. We didn't want to pay the prices and then stores like Wal-Mart appeared to save the day. Take a walk through Wal-Mart sometime and find me something that is made in North America. Good luck. A lot of the brands in Wal-Mart were virtually unknown, but hey, $5 for a t-shirt? Why not, right?

What happened then? Well because so many customers were being lost by major brands to stores like Wal-Mart, they had to do something to stay competitive. With unions and labour laws driving labour costs through the roof with things like pensions and benefits and higher wages, and corporate taxes on the rise, these companies profits were taking a nose dive. Sales were down, demand was down, and yet workers still wanted more and more. And so they said goodbye to the factories here in favour of factories overseas, where they could manufacture the same product at a much lower cost, and thus offer it to the public at a lower cost, while still maintaining profits. The result? The bulk of higher end brand name products went down in price and people started buying them again and the health of the companies started to climb back up. In most cases without sacrificing quality - though in a couple of cases the quality went into the toilet (Levi's for example, became absolute crap - whether they still are, I don't know because I haven't bought a pair in at least a decade or more). But consumers were happy because they could get all those things they loved again without having to take out second mortgages.

Just to give an example that I actually know about - my boyfriend Jon works at Al's shoes in Simcoe. In a store that carries over 1/4 million pair of shoes, mostly name brand, maybe 200 pair are Made in Canada or USA. I initially thought that number was probably 1000, but I was informed by Jon last night that I was way off. Nike, Reebok, Adidas, Saucony, Clarks, Doc Martens... all made overseas. Quality is the same, given that my last pair of Saucony lasted me close to a year of being on my feet 40+ hours a week. But I digress. Terra workboots have gone back to being Made in Canada, with only a couple models still being manufactured overseas, and New Balance make about 1/4 of their shoes in USA (though I'm frequently told that New Balance are crap these days compared to Nike or Saucony who have kept up with advances in technology), but for the most part, you'll be hard pressed to find much made here, and many of those are are overpriced in comparison. This is just one industry, and they're not the only industry affected.

Remember the days when a new computer cost you almost as much as a car? Those were the days when computers were made in North America. Sure, lost of computers are assembled here still, but those memory sticks, hard drives, video cards, motherboards and cpus they contain are made... you guessed it, in China. So are most electronics. Not just the cheap nameless crap that you find in Wal-Mart, but the high end stuff that everyone craves.

And then there are appliances. Sure, there are still a few models of a few brands made here, but most of them are the high end, really expensive ones that the average consumer can't afford.

So tell me how you can possibly avoid buying Made in China? Give up your cell phone, your computer, your cordless phone, your television, your washer, your dryer, your refrigerator, your oven, your microwave, your video games, your stereo... not easy is it?

Another really big factor in the decision to build overseas is the stock market. A healthy company on the stock market is an attractive one to traders and the better a profit margin is, the better the trading. Got an RRSP? A mutual fund? An RESP? A GIC? A high yield savings account? Want those to keep growing? Then don't complain about companies trying to keep profits up. Those same people who complained about climbing prices, and now bitching about Made in Canada or Made in USA are really glad that their portfolios increased. (Maybe not THIS week, lol)

It's a double edged sword really. You can complain all you like about it, but if you don't want to pay inflated prices and you want to see your investments increase, then perhaps it's best to let it be?

Here's a scenario, which ties in my second gripe. Let's imagine that we successfully demand that all of these companies who are manufacturing overseas begin opening or re-opening plants in North America. Who is going to work in them?

Sure we all think that with unemployment so high, it would be easy to fill all these new jobs. But just WHO is going to fill them?

My generation and my parents' generation sort of guaranteed that factory work would fall to the wayside by doing one thing - convincing our children that education was the end all be all and that going to university or college was mandatory. That they wanted a better life for their kids. In doing that we've also convinced our children that anything involving manual labour is somehow inferior and beneath them and that the better life means not getting dirty. It's obvious when you see how many people on unemployment have degrees. They simply WON'T take a job where they might get dirty - not matter how much the job pays. They're content to wait for that perfect office job. Need some extra cash? Go and work on a farm for the season. It's money. But oh no, we can't do that, it's belittling. So the farmers' bring in Mexicans and Jamaicans to do it. Someone has to do it, but it's not going to be us. Do you think if the factories here reopened it would be much different?

At first, probably not. But as all those college and university educated people find their office jobs staff will start to dwindle and someone will have to fill the jobs. So they'll start to import workers from elsewhere because they have no choice. Not to mention the fact that the sheer number of people needed to staff all these factories to meet consumer demands is much higher than the population here can support. So look for an influx of millions of offshore workers to flood into North America to fill the demand. Then we can bitch about immigrants stealing jobs from Canadians - jobs that most of the next generations wouldn't want anyway.

When I told some friends that my son had chosen not to go to college and had instead chosen to work in construction while doing a tattoo apprenticeship, they kind of scoffed. Why? He's employed, making good money, studying to do a job he really loves. He wants to take a few courses in college to hone his drawing skills, and that's enough for him. He doesn't need a piece of paper to tell him he's a good artist, his portfolio shows that. And I'm happy that he's pursuing a career that will make him a happy, well-adjusted adult. I'd much rather he do that than waste thousands of dollars on an education that will not benefit him in the slightest. Yet that has become the expected route for all kids graduating high school and it's become taboo NOT to go. Half these kids going to college or university have no idea what they want to be when they graduate. They take a smattering of courses they think are interesting and graduate with a knowledge of lots of useless facts that will in no way help them in life.

This has led to employers demanding college or university educations for the simplest of jobs, most of which have no need for the type of education they demand but because there are so many over-educated, unemployed people out there, they can demand it. Which of course means that having actual job and life experience means nothing in the workplace anymore, and people who are actually qualified to do a job are denied opportunities because of a lack of education. Between two people, a 40 year old with 20 years of secretarial experience and a 23 year old with a bachelor of arts, the 23 year old is more likely to get the job. Yet the 40 year old could probably do the job with little to no training from day one, will likely stick with the job for a long time and be happy doing the job because it's what they want to do. The 23 year old will take the job, be lost until they are trained because they don't actually know how to do what they've been hired for, will not enjoy the work because it doesn't pay well enough, and will most likely only stick around until something in their field of study becomes available to them. And then the cycle will start all over again. It's a sad state of affairs when a degree only guarantees you a job making little more than minimum wage.

We should have left well enough alone. I know people who spent thousands of dollars on a university education that have gone on to become housewives. WHY??? Because their parents convinced them that education was necessary. Yet they've not worked a day since they graduated. A bit of a waste of money don't you think? Leave university to the doctors, the laywers, the scientists, the teachers... they need it. We're educating ourselves out of a middle class. Those that get those degrees feel that they should be making higher salaries, but because of the huge number of degrees now earned, there are no jobs out there for them. Maybe we should go back to encouraging our children to pursue careers in things they enjoy instead of insisting that they better themselves with useless facts?

Whatever happened to an honest day's work for an honest day's pay? What's wrong with getting your hands dirty? Many of these manual labour jobs pay better than the office jobs that are so desired. I remember when being a factory worker or construction worker commanded respect because it was hard work. Now all of a sudden it's looked down upon.

It also stands to reason that not every kid out there is capable of gaining a higher education. Not everyone has the brainpower to do it and they're made to feel inferior because of that. It's not right. The world needs all kinds - construction workers and CEO's. We need to stop making everyone feel that the CEO is the only choice.

To prove the point? I've worked in lots of different jobs in my lifetime. I've been a receptionist/secretary, I've been a landscaper, I've been a computer intructor and technician and I've worked in a grocery store. Out of all those jobs, the two that made me the happiest were landscaping and working in the grocery store (the first time I did it, not my last job). Sure, I made great money doing computer services, moreso as a technician working for $45 an hour. But the job stress, the commuting, the changing jobs every six months, the long hours and being on call all the time are just not worth it to me. I went home at the end of the day worrying about all the things I had to do the next day and half the time couldn't sleep. I was always mentally exhausted. Landscaping made me ache and made me exhausted, but at the end of the day I could go home, take a shower and leave work behind. Yet the people who knew me as a computer tech told me I was selling myself short and I could be doing so much better. Nobody stopped to think that maybe I enjoyed my job and I didn't care that I was only making $15 an hour. I felt better mentally, physically and emotionally. I'd still be doing it if the job still existed, but the company went under (long story which I won't get into here).

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for education when it's warranted and for those whose career choices deem it necessary. The point I'm trying to make is that we've created a vicious cycle where everyone is encouraged to reach for the stars and nobody stops to consider what will make them happy. Working hard for a living shouldn't be looked down upon. Not everyone in this world is meant to be a doctor, lawyer or CEO and we shouldn't frown upon those who aren't. We should encourage people to follow their hearts rather than the almighty dollar. Because in the end, as long as the bills get paid, it doesn't matter how they got paid, and you should be proud that you can do it whether you do it as a doctor or a ditch digger. As long as you're happy doing what you do, NOBODY should make you feel inferior for doing it.

Bottom line is we've created a society that's made it very easy for these large corporations to turn to overseas manufacturing because we've made the jobs they offer undesirable to the masses. And I think that is a big reason you're not going to see them flocking to re-institute manufacturing in North America. It's been made unwelcome.

So sure, it's wonderful to look at labels and try to buy locally grown or locally manufactured products and we should all try to do just that as much as possible. But don't kid yourself into believing that everything you buy can and should be made here, because what may be possible is not always probable. The world is evolving into a global economy and we had all better get used to it.