If I Were Tolstoy’s Editor

“We are forced to fall back upon fatalism to explain irrational events (that is those of which we cannot comprehend the reason). The more we try to explain those events in history rationally, the more irrational and incomprehensible they seem to us. Every man lives for himself, making use of his free-will for attainment of his own objects, and feels in his whole being that he can do or not do any action. But as soon as he does anything, that act, committed at a certain moment in time, becomes irrevocable and is the property of history, in which it has a significance, predestined and not subject to free choice.

There are two aspects to the life of every man:  the personal life, which is free in proportion as its interests are abstract, and the elemental life of the swarm, in which a man must inevitably follow the laws laid down for him.”  –Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

I did it.

I finished reading War and Peace.  And I loved it.  (You can read about my failed start.)

In fact, after reading it, I was tempted to go back and start re-reading from the beginning, in order to capture more of the nuance, the brilliance of Tolstoy’s staging, foreshadowing and character development.

The book is 1386 pages long. And I would not cut a single word…except possibly one tiny little change.

If I were Tolstoy’s editor, I would have asked him to leave out Part Two of the Epilogue.  I can imagine the conversation between the artist and the editor:

Tolstoy: But I wasn’t finished!  All of this NEEDED to be said!  It’s the entire reason I wrote the book!

Editor:  My friend, the story was over.  Leave the rest to the reader. The novel is magnificent.  In their thoughts they will ponder your piece of work for years to come.  They will write books themselves about your epic.  Let it end.

Tosltoy:  I will not.  I insist on the last part.

Editor:  What if we include it at the end as Part Two of the Epilogue…a kind of Author’s Notes?

Tolstoy:  Hmmph.  Whoever heard of Part Two of an Epilogue?

I can imagine this conversation going on for many months.  I recently read somewhere that it took Tolstoy over a year to write the opening scene.  (It introduces many of the characters.)

I find it hard to believe that anyone living today could weave such a tapestry of thought. The best-selling novels currently in production, while gripping and suspenseful, take me about 2-3 days to process.  War and Peace took me 3 months.  I savored it.

On the cover of the book, Virginia Woolf writes, “There remains the greatest of all novelists–for what else can we call the author of War and Peace?”

I am afraid very few readers take the time to read novels like this any more.  Do kids still read this in high school? When I tell my own friends or acquaintances that I have just finished War and Peace, in the hopes of meeting someone else who may have read it, I am met with raised eyebrows and shaking heads.  They back away slowly.  The general consensus is that I either have nothing else to do with my life or that I am just plain weird. Now it’s possible that I am weird, but I assure you, I have many other things to do in my life including working, raising a teen, caring for an aging parent.

As Churchill once said, “Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the rev­er­ence and delight which are their due.”

Celebrating art is life for me. I do it in between trips to the middle school (and sometimes read in the middle school parking lot). I create in the evening, and at work.  I think of things to make while lying in bed, in the shower, preparing a meal.

What is life if not to celebrate art and the work of fellow artists and artisans?

By the way, I finally finished the red scarf I started well over a year ago.  It’s not a masterpiece.  But it was made with patience and persistence.  And I eventually gifted it to my sister, who accomplished a huge goal.

Bravo. Prodolzhat…


Freestanding Lace for the Holidays

freestanding laceI found these wonderful designs on Urbanthreads.com.  I immediately thought of Valentine’s Day, although these were likely meant for the Christmas Season.  I have not yet whip-stitched these together, but I love the look of them.

If you are not familiar with freestanding lace, a lot depends on the density of the designs and the stabilizer you use.

I used OESD Aquamesh, 2 layers for each piece.  Each envelope has 3 pieces.

freestanding-lace-4You can see the double layer of washaway stabilizer in the above photo.  Each section of the envelope took at least an hour to stitch out, so be sure you start with a full bobbin, a well-oiled machine, a new needle and plenty of thread.  I matched the bobbin thread to the top, using Isacord on everything.

free-standing-lace-2There were two different envelope designs to choose from, one was roses, as shown above.  The other was holly leaves, and I stitched that out in red.  Both of the envelopes I stitched were about greeting card size.

But I do have a smaller size design that would be perfect for business cards or a gift card.

freestanding-lace-3Once the design was complete, I trimmed away all the stabilizer, leaving 1/4 inch or so around the outside.

drying-frestanding-laceEach piece gets rinsed in warm water.  Some people recommend filling the sink and letting the lace soak.  That will work, but I usually keep the warm water running and rinse it thoroughly until all the stabilizer has dissolved.

The design needs to dry overnight, and I use a piece of florist’s styrofoam as a base, and flatten each design and pin in place.  This prevents any curling as they dry.

After that, it’s just a whip stitch to assemble the front and the back, and then the top to the back.

I had the most fun searching for just the right button for each of envelopes.  I plan to make a few more…I want the rose design in red. (Shhhhh…I think that’s part of this year’s Valentine’s Day gift.)

knitted-scarfFinally, I thought I’d share my scarf, which is moving along nicely now.  In fact, it’s probably twice as long as this photo shows…but not quite long enough to be complete.

The scarf will also have to be gently washed and stretched flat to dry. That way it will hold the shape.

If you enjoy designs from Urban Threads, you’ll get a kick out of their new holiday Look Book.

They also have their own line of fabric from Spoonflower now.

I actually have created my own fabric on Spoonflower with some of my black and white photography.  But I’ll have to save that for another post once I come up with how I’m going to use the fabric!

‘Tis the Season…Or is it?

rosesRunning around doing errands yesterday, I stopped in my tracks.  I pulled the car over and began to take pictures.  It’s a miracle.  Who sees roses this beautiful at Thanksgiving?

I did what I always do. I documented it.

The weather has been very disconcerting.  It was the warmest Nov. 17 in 40 years.

I remember being in Miami during the holidays one year.  It must have been around 20 years ago now.  I was about 2 blocks from South Beach, and we had been doing a photo shoot. But we wrapped a bit early and I had a free evening and found myself…midwestern girl…in a Walgreens in Miami Beach a couple of days before Christmas. I had received a call from friends who had gone sledding and skiing and were spending the weekend in Wisconsin.  Could I get home in time to meet them there, they asked.

I wandered the aisles, listening to the holiday music, taking in the lights, the decorations.

I was so lost.

I couldn’t imagine anyone being able to celebrate the holiday without at least the CHANCE of snow, and a cold breeze and a winter coat.  Walking outside, I was greeted with the soft warm breeze, and the tealest of teal ocean colors. It was breathtaking.

But not Christmas.

I had that same feeling again today, even though I am playing holiday music. The weather report calls for storms tomorrow and snow flurries on Saturday.  Maybe then, just maybe, things will start to feel a little bit more normal.

I have been working on the knitting that had me turned inside out.  I spent 45 minutes just studying the scarf, trying to recognize my mistakes.  Finally, in what seemed like a breakthrough, I realized that I was not paying attention to the wrong and right side of the pattern.

Once I had it figured out, I decided to continue and not rip out the incorrect stitches.  I decided that this scarf would be a great reminder of a difficult time.  Things leave scars.  My scarf would have a scar.  It’s not horrible.

right-side-knitting-mistakeAs you can see, on the right side of the fabric, it’s hardly noticeable.

wrong-side-knittingThe wrong side is much more obvious.  I decided that I didn’t want to go backward.

The only way to continue is to go forward.

I think I just might have a scarf by the time the snow falls.

And it’s time to get back to sewing too.


War and Peace and Knitting

War and Peace and KnittingRight before my mom went into the hospital for the last time, I began reading War and Peace. Honestly. I was about..oh, maybe 100 pages in. I had it at the hospital with me.

That was last February.

(I should mention that I love the Russian authors.  War and Peace is one of the great Russian novels that I haven’t read yet. Tolstoy is very different from Dostoevsky, but if you are looking for characters that embody the totality of the frail human condition, you can’t beat the Russians. They understand pain.)

Anyway, after she died, I put the book down and couldn’t look at it again until summer.  At that point I decided to throw it into a box headed for charity. Then I fished it out again. Then threw it back in. Fished it out. I wasn’t ready to walk away completely.

So it’s been sitting on my bedroom floor ever since.

At that same time last year, while in the waiting room at the hospital, I also started knitting a red scarf.

Now you should know a few things:

  1.  My mom taught me to knit.
  2. I am not very good, but find it very relaxing.
  3. I do OK with a simple pattern, but I don’t really know how to un-knit if I make a mistake.
  4. I made a mistake.

Not right away, you understand. I didn’t make the mistake in February.  Like War and Peace, I put the knitting project down and couldn’t look at it again.

The day after the election, I picked it up and tried to knit.

But I did it wrong.  Somewhere along the line, I was supposed to knit and I purled.  And where I was supposed to purl, I knitted.

An experienced knitter would know how to go backward, to reverse the stitches and fix the problem.  I can remember hundreds of times when my mom would rip the yarn out. But I am afraid to do that.

I am afraid I won’t be able to pick up those ripped stitches and continue.

I am left with something that feels like garbage and I don’t know how to fix it.

If I could go back in time and change it all, I would. If I could just abandon both projects I would.  But something in me longs for continuity, for clarity, for perseverance, closure, fortitude and maybe just a teensy bit of hope.

Now what?