Miss Gioia

Saturday, March 31, 2007

For my Father

To the one who gave me, amongst other things, a love of life and travel: Happy Birthday.

More pictures from our Fall 2006 trip to Angkor Watt here.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Conspicuous Consumption - The Stroller

When I was younger, I used to scoff at people who paid ridiculous sums of money for a baby stroller." Look at those people wasting their money - just so they can impress their neighbors. I'll never do that!" Never, huh.

The thing is, though, the nice strollers are so very, well, NICE. Chris and I saw this particular stroller in a shop in Shanghai. Not for sale, mind you, but in use with an actual kiddo inside. We ooohed and ahhhed and then went home to look it up on the internet. When I first saw the price, my inner scrooge shrank back and said, no way! But, as time passed and we saw crappy stroller after crappy stroller for sale in Beijing, my mind kept wandering back to this one. Soon it didn't seem that expensive after all.*

Fortuitously, Chris was asked to do some consulting in Denmark this Spring, so he had the opportunity to pick one up.** Behold, our new Urban Jungle, complete with inflatable tires and a great suspension. Remember people, this is China Red, not Georgia Red, OK?***

The moral of the story? Never laugh at people who buy crazy strollers. It will invariably come back to bite you in the butt.

*To be fair, it was way cheaper than a Bugaboo.

**These kinds of things aren't for sale in China, you see. Oh no. Even if they were, the VAT would be ridiculous. In fact, we have a whole strategic plan for picking up kiddo goods during our international travels in the next six months: SLR and video camera in either Singapore or Korea, car seat in Hong Kong or the USA, etc.

***Sorry Amy


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Cha-Cha Changes

Exciting development: the crib and changing table finally arrived last week. Crib pickings are slim around here, let me tell you. After looking at every rickety plastic contraption available in Beijing, we went with a simple (and sturdy!) style made by a Danish company called Flexa.*

The first thing I did this weeked was change the fabric on the changing pad from a hideous pink gingham to a way cooler orange and pink dotted pattern.

Frankie approves.

*IKEA was out. We are done with IKEA. Even the thought of fighting the crowds there makes Chris break out in hives. For real.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007


I went to Tianjin by train yesterday. As I waited to depart, I found these signs around the train station.

At least it is clear. I understood immediately that A) it was a hotel and B) it had a bath. Both are good things. Not sure, though, if I was needed to clean the bath to earn my keep or not...

Dude, wouldn't it be great if they actually did serve beer with the train tickets?

Beijing has a long way to go to get ready for the Olympics.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

More 1824

Yep. Love this yarn. Only two balls left in the stash. Oh so very sad.

Petal bib from One Skein by Leigh Radford. Modeled by Chocolate, Chris' bear. Knit on size 6 needles with Mission Falls 1824 cotton yarn. A very cute pattern. I think this will become a staple baby gift: useful, unusual and only half a day to make.

A word about Chocolate - I got him for Chris at a cheesy mall in the Detroit suburbs. I was on a business trip, and as I made my way back to Chicago, I had Chocolate sticking out of my backpack. An elderly man stopped me to say "Oh is that for a little boy back home?" I answered - "Why, yes. For my husband."

We love Chocolate. He will be one of the adult stuffies, we think. You see, Miss G will have her dolls, Chris has his stuffed animals, and I have my babies too. Only fair?


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Oh Joelle, You Have Done Me Wrong

This week I knit the cotton baby hat from Last Minute Knitted Gifts. It was a really quick knit and I loved the yarn called for in the pattern - Mission Falls 1824 cotton.

There is a big fat error in the pattern, though, and I didn't discover it until the very end. As I finished the I-cord and began to weave it through the eyelet holes, I was astounded to find that there were an odd number of holes where there should have been an even number. Other people have discovered the same issue, but I was not smart enough to remember before I cast on. I don't have the heart to re-knit the whole hat. But I know it will always bug me, that extra hole under the bow.

For your next book, dearest Joelle, please hire a new technical editor. Your designs are too stylish to be marred by errors like these.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Revolution

Today I gave a presentation at a conference in Beijing to a small specialized group of around 20-25 people. As I was speaking, I noticed that all but three of the people in my audience were female. For some perspective, it is important to note that I wasn't speaking at a knitting* conference (although I would totally do that if ever asked). That is, the subject matter at hand was not a "chick" topic. All those women, so much power, in one room. Unusual, you would say, if it weren't in fact so common.

More examples for you to consider - When I first arrived in China, I taught a class to 35 new hires in Shanghai. All but two of them were women. That's right - all but TWO. Our team in Beijing, the majority of whom I played a role in hiring, is 85% female.

It's a revolution people. Or perhaps, it is the result of a revolution - hard to say. I could (and have) think long and deeply about the factors driving this phenomenon. Perhaps the ideals of the cultural revolution forced a high degree of gender equality into a system formerly known for horrific oppression. Perhaps introduction of strict population control policies in the early eighties led familes to invest all they had into their one child - female or male. Perhaps in an educational system where you suceed by following rules, memorizing books and saying what people want you to say, females "succeed" more often than males.

The more interesting question is this - what will this mean for the future of business in China? When these women have their own babies, will that shape the way we work? Will China, out of necessity, develop a business culture that embraces a bit of flexibility? Or will these kids be raised by their grandparents, like their parents before them?

It has been so neat for me to work with these women. Every day I am astounded at how intelligent, caring and beautiful my colleagues are. When Miss G grows up, I hope she is a proud and modern daughter of China, just like those I have known in Beijing and Shanghai.

*I do know that guys knit too. My husband knits, although not very often. I am not saying NO guys knit. Just that more women knit than men, empirically speaking.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Patchwork Cube Tutorial

I was wandering in a shop in XinTianDi one day and saw the cutest stuffed patchwork cube. Wow, I thought, what an ingenious idea. I thought Wow! again when I looked at the RMB400 price tag (about US$50). For some perspective, our ayi in Shanghai made RMB1,000 a month, so there was no way I was going to buy this little cube for such an outrageous sum. I traipsed off home to recreate the design, and it actually worked.

Here is a tutorial for the patchwork cube, in case any of you guys would like to try one as well. This project gets a little tricky at the end, but it will come together with a little faith and patience. Basic sewing skills are a must. If you are struggling with the sewing machine in general, then this project may be frustrating. Have heart, though!

Materials needed
Sewing machine
A little less than 1/4 yard each of three types of fabrics (hereafter referred to as fabric A,B,C) NOTE: This yardage estimate is for three inch squares.
Coordinating thread
Hand sewing needle
Iron and ironing board
Sharp scissors
Stuffing (e.g., washable poly-fill)

Step 1: Preparation

Begin by cutting out 24 squares each of fabric A,B and C for a total of 72 squares. You can make your squares any size you like; the bigger the squares, the larger the cube. I used three inch squares and a 1/4 inch seam allowance for the cube displayed above. You can go smaller, but keep in mind you will be doing a lot of turning and seaming from within at the end, so really small squares may be hard. Start big and move to smaller squares as you get comfortable with the technique.

Divide your squares into two groups: one group with 16 squares of A,B,C (total of 48 squares) and a second group with 8 squares of A,B,C (total 24 of squares). Set the second group aside. Further subdivide the first group into six sets of eight squares, with two types of fabric in each set. You will use these blocks to create the foundation blocks, the six outer sides of the cube, so fabric layout becomes important. Here is a sample guide, which I used for my cube. This picture assumes you will make two of each type block for a total of six blocks.

Of course, you can do whatever you like. I did not want any two squares of the same fabric touching on the outside of the cube, and this is the simplest layout that will achieve that goal.

Step 2: Foundation Blocks

Start piecing each of the sets (six of them) together. These are your foundation blocks. Foundation blocks have an empty center and three blocks on each side.

Sew your squares together into foundation blocks, right sides facing. I used 1/4 inch seam allowances, but do whatever makes you comfortable. All things equal, the larger the seam allowance, the smaller the end square.

TIP: Backtack at the beginning and end of each seam segment. This will become crucial as your seams begin to interlock. I also find it helpful to cut of the hanging threads as I go, else they get in the way really fast.

Here is a picture of the underside of a finished foundation block. Seams are pressed open (or to one side as you prefer).

Here are all six finished blocks. In this picture, the blocks are arranged in their finished cube order.

Step 3: Inner Boxes

Now turn to your second group of squares, the 24 that were reserved at the end of Step 1. Further subdivide them into six sets of four, with two types of fabric in each set (e.g., two each of A,B,A,B and B,C,B,C and C,A,C,A). Sew each set of four squares into a box, open on the top and bottom, like this.

These are your inner boxes, which you will next attach one to each of the foundation blocks created in Step 2 above.

Step 4: Attaching the Inner Boxes

The goal of this step is to get all six of the inner boxes attached to the inside area of the foundation blocks. You will wind up with the inner box sticking up out of the center of the foundation block, creating a perpendicular structure.

Start by placing one right side of an inner block to the inside of one inner part of a foundation block. Sew that seam, backtacking at both ends. Turn the work and reposition the adjacent box edge to the next inner foundation block edge. At this stage it becomes important to be aware of your seam allowances as you begin and end each of the inner seams. Leave some space at the start and finish approximately equal to your seam allowance. This will become more intuitive as you start working on it, though.

Here is a shot of the underside of the finished perpendicular structure.

And here are all six blocks, ready for Step 5.

Step 5: Assembling the Sides

Now for the fun part - assembling the cube. Lay out your six blocks in the correct order. Then take the top and bottom pieces and put them aside.

Assemble the four middle pieces into a box by seaming four long lines, one on each edge, right sides facing. After this step, the box looks like this.

Now retrieve the top and bottom pieces and sew them onto the two open ends of the cube. Leave a wide opening on one side of either the top or bottom (which is which anyway?) so that you can turn the cube inside out, finish the inside seaming and then stuff.

This opening should be pretty wide because you will be pulling fabric through to seam it in Step 6 below. I like to leave most of one whole side open for this purpose, sewing only around the corners and a little way in on each side for neatness. Here is what your cube looks like once the top and bottom have been added (still inside out).

Turn your cube right side out. Each side will have the inner box sticking straight out. It looks like this.

Now push each of the six inner boxes inside the cube. Like this.

At this stage, it would be really helpful for you to pick up the structure and feel around inside to get a sense for how the remaining seams need to come together to make the cube. Got the picture in your head? Alright, now let's proceed to Step 6.

Step 6: Inside Seaming

First, put your work down and go pour yourself a glass of wine. It works for me anyway.

Relax and have faith that this step is easier than it appears at first glance. Reach inside the cube and grasp two squares that should be seamed together. How do you know if the squares should be seamed together? Well, this is where having a good visual image of the finished structure is really helpful. If you reach in from the top and from the left, for example, the top square of the inner box on the left (which faces into the cube from the left) will join with the left square of the top box (which faces down into the cube). Put your hands into the cube and you will see that these two squares line up naturally.

Take a look at the fabric patterns of the two squares in your hand to make sure you end up seaming the correct two squares. Grab onto the two squares tightly and pull them out though the turning opening. You may have to drag them through some tunnels of fabric to get them into the open for sewing. The cube will be half inside out, half right side out. Then sew the squares together, right sides facing and backtacking at both ends.

Restore the newly seamed squares back to their rightful place inside the cube and check to make sure you did it correctly. If all is well, then proceed to the next two squares. If you somehow seamed the wrong two squares together and the structure is now all wonky - no worries! Just get out your seam ripper and start again.

Seam all inner squares in this way until the cube is whole with no inside gaps. You are now ready to stuff!

Step 7: Stuffing

For most of my dolls, I prefer using wool stuffing because it adds a really nice weight and feel. However, the cube is probably going to be used most by someone who drools a lot, so it is probably better off full of machine washable polyfill.

I like to stuff my cubes firmly as it gives a nice sturdiness and definition to the structure. Once the object is stuffed, use a whipstitch or similar stitch to close the turning opening.

That's all there is to it. Please be sure to let me know if you make a cube using this tutorial. I would be tickled to see it. Also give me a shout if you run into problems, and I'll try to troubleshoot. Have fun!

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

I Am So Excited

Making plans to go to Vietnam for the May holiday. Chris has school and won't be able to come with, so friend and I are going to a spa in Dalat. We got a five night package on Luxury Link for US$715, which includes accomodation for two, two hours of spa treatments per person, breakfast every morning, one 3 course dinner, cocktails one night and airport transfers. So cheap, in fact, that I have budget to go shopping here in Ho Chi Minh city.

Mmmm .... pho. Can not wait.


Friday, March 16, 2007


I have been keeping my eyes open lately for Asian baby dolls for Miss G. I found a pretty cool baby in the Hong Kong airport once, so I have been on the lookout in airport stalls ever since. Mainland China airports, however, seem to have less attractive stock. On my way home from Shanghai tonight, I wandered by the toy section of a store in the HongQiao airport. A whole wall of dolls and almost every single one was blond and blue eyed.

I did find this one dark-haired doll hidden amongst the crowd.

Who had the bright idea to market the whore baby to the under four set? Why is it that out of all of those dolls, the only semi-Asian one I could find looks like she just strolled out of a hip hop club?

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

On Display

On Sunday, I took a little bike ride to get an adaptor plug for the new dryer. Apparently Whirlpool dryers sold for use in China come with European plugs. Yeah, I don't know why either.

On my way to and from the hardware store, I had several people do a double take as I passed. Usually, they would then break into a smile and say "Ni Hao! Where are you from?" Because I, apparently, am an oddity.

At one stoplight, a middle aged man and I had a conversation (in Chinese) that went something like this.

Him: Hello. Are you European?*

Me: No. I am from the United States.

Him: Where in the United States?

Me: Chicago.

Him: Where do you live?

Me: In a neighborhood up ahead.

Him: What are you doing in China? What is your business?

Now don't get me wrong - he was a friendly guy. But imagine if the same scenario occured in Chicago, for instance. Say a caucasian man does a double take upon seeing an Asian lady walking down the street and proceeds to ask all sorts of personal questions JUST BECAUSE SHE WAS ASIAN. Where do you live? Why are you in the United States? What is your work?

Some days, it is just plain weird around here.

*I don't fault the man for thinking I was European. I was, after all, on a bike with a bunch of flowers in the basket. He should have looked at my shoes though.


Sleep Sack

The more I read about babies, the more I realize I have some pretty serious misconceptions. Take sleeping, for example. Apparently babies should be laid down with nothing in the crib - no blankets, no toys, no pillows. If the baby can turn over, then no bumper pads either. All of these things can smother a child during the night, so out of the crib they go. Consumer Reports has pretty much put the kabosh on all of my visions of cute bumpers and quilts.

Enter the sleep sack, which Europeans have been using for years. This is basically a bag that the child wears to keep warm while sleeping. This version was made from an Ottobre pattern - #7 from Issue 5/2006. I used microfleece for the body and interlock knit for the binding.

The applique was made from a scrap of flannel fabric. Funky Monkey indeed.

Now let me say that this was my first experience attaching knit binding with a twin stretch needle. This is hard, people, hard! If you look too closely, you will see that I am definitely learning. I even broke the needle at the very end, so no more twin sewing until I order a replacement from the States. Note to self - buy multiples.

I learned the following in this exercise.

1) Go slowly with the twin needle. On curves, sharp ones especially, turn the wheel by hand.
2) Set the stitch length long and keep the tension loose.
3) Stretch the binding as you sew, more than you think necessary. Else the binding will be loose and ruffly around the curves.
4) Check to see that the binding is feeding properly as you go, or some unsightly seams may peek through on the back side.
5) Go slowly. For reals.

While this particular sleep sack is certainly not gift worthy, it is not a bad first stretch binding project. One of the things I like so much about sewing, and knitting for that matter, is that I am challenged with new skills and techniques all the time. I love that I am constantly learning, constantly getting better. A nice way to contextualize mediocre work, wouldn't you say?


Saturday, March 10, 2007

How Many Knickers?

Cloth diapers need some type of waterproof cover. One of the options preferred by many people is wool, which is a naturally breatheable barrier fabric. Apparently people have been using wool for diaper covers for a long, long time. So, I have been working on knitting a few wool soakers for Miss G lately.

These are the first three knickers, made of Cherry Tree Hill yarn using Little Turtle Knits patterns, specifically the Ribby Wrap and the Hybrid Rib Soaker patterns.

I do like these patterns EXCEPT for the pesky crochet needed to finish the leg openings. If you live in Beijing, know how to crochet and would be willing to barter for some lessons, then I am sure we could work out some sort of a deal. Perhaps your own Waldorf doll?

Also, does anyone know just how many wool soakers I should have on hand? I am thinking six pairs, which will suppliment the other 12 diaper covers (non-wool). Any thoughts?


Thursday, March 8, 2007

I Stay in the Classiest Places

My hotel in Changsha. Well, really, one hour outside of Changsha - a place full of crazy truckers and lots of manufacturing. Oh, and meetings conducted all in Chinese.


Wednesday, March 7, 2007

China Technocolor

One of the things that I love most about China is the predominance of color in the everyday - bright, vivid color. It is creeping into my soul, I think, because the fabrics and other things I am buying for Miss G tend to be on the bright side.

These are spun sugar creatures (on a stick of course), formed in the shape of zodiac animals for new year celebrations. Aren't they fabulous?


Sunday, March 4, 2007


Whoo ... It has been all China, all the time 'round here, hasn't it? Don't worry, I have been crafting away in the background. Over Chinese New Year, I finished the pinafore. It definitely needs some silk ribbon embroidered flowers on the front - white daisies with yellow centers, I think.

To recap, this is the denim pinafore from Erika Knight's Simple Knits for Little Cherubs knit with Denim-it yarn from Elann.

Now, off to order the silk ribbon!


Friday, March 2, 2007

Dogs Don't Like Hugs

Around two years ago, Chris and I saw an article that stated pretty unequivocally that dogs do not like hugs (not the same article, but similar). We looked at each other almost simultaneously and said... Mmmm really?

We adopted Frankie from the Chicago Anti-Cruelty Society in December 2003, three days after we bought a new house and one month before we got married. Frankie came into our lives like a tornado. He looked like Gollum – ribs sticking out everywhere because he was 20 pounds lighter than his normal weight of 65. He was anxious and scared. We thought he was deaf for almost a week because he would not focus on our words at all, too frightened to respond to audible cues.

In the first six months of the Frankie-era, things were difficult. He tore up our house when we were not home. When confined, he pushed the crate from one side of a room to another. Once we came home to find the crate (and him) perched precariously at the top of the stairs. I got several calls at work from my husband saying “Guess what your &%$@ dog just did!? I knew it must have been bad, whatever it was, because Chris hardly ever swears.

In this early time, Frankie really didn't like hugs. Here is a picture of me trying to hug him in the first week; clearly he was not really enjoying it.

But you know what? It got better. Slowly, almost without us knowing it, everyone relaxed. Frankie grew to trust us, grew into us, and now he is so unbelievably lovable. Last week, I reached down from the couch to hug him, and he snuggled right up to me, leaning into my side. If you stay with us, he will sneak into your bedroom and silently beg you to let him come snuggle. He is a bit of a slut, our puppy, wanting to sleep with everyone.

I have been thinking about Frankie's journey towards feeling secure a lot this week, primarily because I have also been reading about another family's journey to pick up their newly adopted child here in China. The first few days seem to have been very hard. The child is mourning the loss of her only known existence, her ayis, her home. We all know this is normal. During our homestudy visit last spring, the social worker warned us about how hard the transition will be. But does knowing it is normal help you to get through more easily?

Am I comparing our adoption-to-be to my dog's homecoming? Well, yes and no. Now don't get your knickers in a twist; I do know that the first few months with our daughter will be infinitely different – both harder and more wonderful – than the Frankie transition. But I think that our experience with Frankie can maybe offer some hope that things will get easier, better and we will become a family. We will all just need some time. And that is OK.

For the record, Frankie does indeed like hugs.

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