Committed to the Madness (Hand Lettering Part 2)

So. One week later and the hand lettering obsession still shows no signs of slowing. Last week I talked mostly about my experiences with the brush pens, and realized when I got to about 1200 words that I had probably minimize the boredom infliction and split the non-brush-pen rambling into a separate post.

Real-Brush Pens

brush lettering tools

Hello my pretties! I wonder if I can get through the whole alphabet in different writing implements…

Golf and Hotel technically still count as brush pens, I’m aware. They, unlike the ones I talked about last week, have actual bristles. I think this gives them cause for distinction, as their behavior is significantly different than their felt-tipped brethren. Also, Hotel is about 2″ too long to fit in my pencil case, which is a minor stress in my life. I may be making a new pencil case…

Golf.) Pentel Pocket Brush Pen: A fun if slightly unruly addition to any brush pen collection

Hotel.) Kuretake Zig Cartoonist Brush Pen No. 22: A great tool with great line variation, good for large, expressive letters and strokes.

India.) Cotman #2 Round Watercolor brush with Black Gouache: More on this if you keep reading!

Juliet.) Straight Calligraphy handle with the Cretacolor Drawing nib. Great for detail work, and metal nibs are quite an experience! (more on this below as well!)

Watercolor Lettering

As I mentioned last week, I was very excited when I saw a post about using watercolors for lettering. I’m more of a gouache girl myself, but since the only difference between gouache and watercolor is the opacity, the techniques are identical. Use your favorite water-soluble pigment pallet and a smallish round brush, and you’ll be able to letter in a very similar fashion to that achievable with a brush pen. My brush is a Cotman #2 Round Watercolor brush, and as most watercolor brushes are, it’s very soft.

hand lettering with watercolor

I’m going to make everything rainbow and keep telling myself it’s not tacky- kay? kay.

I spent a fair bit of time learning how to use the brush: The consistency of the watercolor makes a difference in how the letter looks, and one of the most obvious differences as I mentioned, is how incredibly soft the brush is. For a head as small as this brush has (it’s the one at the far right in the photo above) the lines it can make are surprisingly thick. Don’t underestimate the power of a thin brush for impressive line variation.

hand lettering journal sketchbook page progress

…I need a bigger desk…



Jon made this watercolor book for my birthday last year! It’s leatherbound, it opens quite flat, and the watercolor paper inside is perfect for my needs.What he didn’t know at the time is that I have a crippling fear of ‘messing up’ very nice sketchbooks, so of course it took me over six months to work up the courage to paint something in it.

I love you to the moon and back hand lettering

This lettering was done with the same brush, and the wash with a larger flat brush.

For a first try, I’d say we went alright! I made an effort to try out a couple of lettering styles, which I think work quite well together.

If you’re looking to try brush lettering- regardless of whether you choose to go with a pen or a paintbrush, here’s a tip: There are two ways to draw a letter. You can either let the drawing tool determine the letter (your thin and thick areas, and the general flow) or you can carefully draw in the shape of your letter and control which areas you emphasize. The first, how I’ve been practicing with my brush pens, is great for consistency and as a hand-control exercise. The second is widely referred to on the internet as ‘fake calligraphy’ which I think is first of all a terrible name for a style of lettering, and also doesn’t truly illustrate its versatility.

Freehand Lettering

There. That’s a bit better, isn’t it. I would have opened with this style because you can do it with any pen you have available, and it’s extremely versatile-but with great freedom comes great responsibility. It’s very difficult to draw successful letterforms if you haven’t put the thought into their anatomy beforehand. If you’ve spent enough time on Pinterest studying other examples of lettering, or have a good idea of the look you’re after, freehand is a great way to start. If you’re newer to the party, trying a brush pen first isn’t a bad idea, because it forces you to think about the thick and thin areas of a letter.

how to draw freehand lettering

What can I say? I drew what I was thinking about…

The ‘rules’ are (more of guidelines, first of all) simple. Sketch your design, outline your line width variations in pencil, and fill it in! You can see each of the three steps illustrated in the photo above. You can use a normal pen, brush pen, or even a paintbrush! Go crazy. This is a good method to experiment with more unusual letterforms and decorations as well!

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you could even try filling your letterforms with something other than a solid color! Doodle art is pretty popular right now, and there are loads of possibilities there!

doodle art filled hand drawn letter

I’m very upset about this because by the time I realized what a good idea it would be to hide a word or image in the bubbles, it was already too late.


Metal-Nib Calligraphy

If freestylin’ isn’t really your thing, Calligraphy is a good alternative. Metal Nibs are a great exercise in calm, steady hand skills. It also has a very traditional background, although if you’re a rule breaking rebel (like me) you don’t have to follow them. I’ve started out with three different nibs.

calligraphy nib test example

Thirteen letters left in my phonetic alphabet!

Kilo.) The Cretacolor Drawing nib: also ‘Juliet” in the first photo. (so fourteen letters left if you exclude this little repetition)

Lima.) Hunt 512 Extra Fine Bowl nib: I’d use this one more for writing over a long period of time rather than depending on it for a lot of expression in a single word. It’s very stiff and fine, but its bowl holds a lot of ink.

Mike.) Hunt 101: Great expression in this one, it’s possibly my favorite, although you’ll have to refill frequently.

It’s very similar to the brush pen concept- light upstrokes, heavy downstrokes, and lots of practice.

India ink is a good place to start, and sumi ink is also good for dipping. If you’re interested in adding a pop of color, here’s a little gem of an idea: You can use calligraphy nibs with watercolor or Gouache pigments!

metallic calligraphy supercallifragilisticexpialidocious

Pro tip: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is Not. Worth. It. However, Metallic Gouache definitely is. Worth it, I mean. A very good use of $12.

I found a tutorial on The Postman’s Knock (A great resource if you’re looking to get more info on metal nib calligraphy). She mixes up her watercolor and uses a brush to paint it onto the nib. Not only does this mean you don’t have to buy calligraphy inks in every color of the rainbow, it also means you can…wait for it…mix colors! Gasp!

rainbow this way lies madness calligraphy lettered quote

Rainbow Madness is the Best Madness!

When you’re done drooling over the letters, Check.Out. That travelling watercolor set! I was inspired by the Altoids Container watercolor sets, but ended up finding a way better tin alternative! I’ll do a whole post about the making of this fella soon, I promise!

Here’s the trick: paint your nib with the first color, begin writing, refill your nib from the top of the bowl with the second color, continue writing, and watch as the colors magically mix before your eyes! Pro tip: Consider starting with primaries, otherwise your red blending to green is going to look like baby puke; and in the wise words of my Fibers professor, “Nobody likes baby puke.” Truer words.


Here we are! You’ve made it to the end of part two, which means I’ve successfully brought you over to the hand lettering dark side! Go forth, young grasshopper, and run wild with colors, brushes, and pens!

Next week I’ll most likely be taking a break from talking about lettering, but that’s only because I have a lot of other things to catch you up on!





This Way Lies Madness. A Beginner’s guide to Hand Lettering (Part 1)

I have a problem, and I blame it all on Pinterest. If we’re being honest here, this problem predates Pinterest by at least seven and a half years, but I can be melodramatic if I want. This problem has haunted me for eons; it clings to me like wet organza to a petticoat at a rained-out tea party, and completely defies correction.

What is this problem, you ask?

Hobbies. I collect them. I’m basically a crazy cat lady, and my feline friends’ names are Knitting, Batiking, Stamp Carving, Screen Printing, Illustration, and Dressmaking. Once my brain meets a new one, it grabs hold and refuses to let go until I’ve mastered the subject, solved the problem, completed the project. Usually I go hard for between two and four weeks, and then things calm down. Sometimes the thing becomes a long-term obsession which I cling to for years, but for the most part I’ll learn the thing to the best of my abilities only to eventually grow bored and pack the thing up until its eventual rediscovery a few years later when I run out of places to store things. (I’m dropping the cat lady metaphor now because while some of the cats are loved and cared for throughout their lives, others are stuffed into boxes and left to gather dust in haphazardly stacked shoeboxes, and that, my dear children, is animal hoarding and is in fact frowned upon in most societies.)

This is a problem mostly because I seem to be particularly attracted to expensive hobbies. The more expensive the supplies, the better! What’s worse, the knowledge that I have this problem does absolutely nothing to prevent it from continuing to happen. It’s a vicious cycle I tell you.

So what is it this time?

My current obsession is hand lettering. I do not pretend to be an expert, as this obsession only began about two months ago. It’s too early to know what will happen with it, I don’t know that we’re quite out of the box-packing stage yet, but this one has certainly made it further than others.

It all started with Pinterest. (doesn’t everything these days…)

brush pen stroke practice with tombow dual brush pen and graph paper

Light upstroke, heavy downstroke. Rinse and Repeat and Repeat and Repeat….

I’d just arrived in New Zealand and was in the process of applying for work here. There are only so many versions of a cover letter any sane human can write in a day, though, so I was also spending a lot of time on The Internet.

One thing led to another and suddenly I’ve got a whole board of lettering inspiration and I’m googling art supply stores in Auckland so I can get my hands on some of these mythical ‘brush pens’

carpe that fucking diem kuretake brush pen quote

(It helps to draw things you care about, you know!)

For those of you yet blissfully unaware, brush pens are nifty little creatures that have flexible felt or bristle nibs, which allow you to create thick and thin penstrokes by varying the pen pressure. My first, the Tombow Dual-Tip brush pen in practical black was an experience. I practiced constantly- on every little scrap of paper I could find. When I ran out of scrap paper, I bought a graph paper notebook from the back-to-school section of an office supply store for $3 and filled that with scribbles.

it is known brush pen hand lettering practice

Let’s pretend I can keep an un-chipped manicure for more than a day. It’s not ever gonna happen but a girl can dream…

The problem with $3 notebooks though, is that the paper you get is worth about that much. The ink bled and my lines weren’t crisp at all. Fine for practice, but my projects soon required some better quality paper. I moved on to a Fabriano sketchbook (which I love for pencil work) but even that was a bit toothy for my pens. I’ve got marker comp paper now, and I’ve also got my hands on a much better pen. It was the Kuretake Fudegokochi and it’s still my favorite, even now that the collection has expanded a bit.

hand lettering tea and knitting practice on graph paper kuretake

This three week example is showing some major improvement!

People swear by the Tombow Dual Brush pens, but they’re not for me. They feel cumbersome and overlarge for the level of work I’m trying to accomplish, but I can see how they’d be perfect for some people. If you’re looking for large, expressive, swooping lines and not too worried about pin-width thin areas, go Tombow. If you’re all about the details or your writing is a bit on the small side like mine, you’re not gonna like it.

hand lettering brush pen lettering practice cunning plan

Experimenting with linking letters was loads of fun! My kerning could still use some work here though.

Amidst practice, I discovered that pens aren’t the only thing you can draw lettering with. That was such an exciting adventure, however, that I’m saving it for part two of this post.

I have a cunning plan fox tail watercolor practice hand lettering

My friend’s comment “So cunning you could stick a tail on it and call it a fox?” warranted this redone version.

I will say that the discovery that I could use my watercolors for hand lettering was a particularly excellent discovery as it didn’t require any additional money to be spent on materials. I already had all I needed!

But hey, what’s a new hobby if I don’t throw some money at it, right?

brush pen examples for hand lettering. Exploring the differences between pens

Pro tip: The phonetic alphabet is just as good as ‘the quick brown fox’ for practicing all your letters. plus, more letters equals more practice. Another pro tip: ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ is not worth it. Unless you like hand cramps.

These were my Christmas presents to myself. It’s a thin excuse, really, but I love them all and they’re small and easily transportable. Each one is slightly different, and the more I work with them the more I like each of them for different projects. For those of you visiting this post with research-based intent, here are my findings, from alpha to foxtrot:

Alpha.) Kuretake Fudegokochi Regular: My personal favorite. It has an expressive felt nib which is capable of a variety of widths. It’s a bit on the soft side but it’s worth spending time to master.

Bravo.) Kuretake Zig Letter Pen CocoIro, Black: This pen is very fine and very firm. Great for a beginner and teeny tiny detail work. It also must be purchased in two parts: The refill and the body. It’s worth having for the details, and another bonus is that this one comes in colors- if you’re into that sort of thing.

Charlie.) Zebra Disposable Brush Pen – Fine: This one is even softer than ‘Alpha’, and with only very little sacrifice to the line quality at the thin range. It’s very soft and fun to play with, as long as you’re not dedicated to precision.

Delta.) Kuretake Disposable Pocket Brush Pen – Fine: A slightly smaller version of ‘Alpha’ and also very enjoyable. It’s a bit firmer as well.

Echo.) Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pen – Soft: Now this is a tombow I can get behind. I think I might recommend this one for beginners as its medium-firm tip is quick to be mastered, yet soft enough to give some decent line variation.

Foxtrot.) Pilot Pocket Brush Pen – Soft: This one is really weird. Fun to play with, but the tip is massive and extremely spongey. The ink wells up like it’ll overflow whenever you put pen to paper. It’s very difficult to control, but makes beautiful line variation if you can harness it.

Each pen has its own strengths and weaknesses, but unfortunately for the most part the only way to test which ones play to your strengths and weaknesses is to buy them and test them out. I hope this helps you make your decision at least a little.

brush pen script word study of Meretricious with kuretake brush pen

Six weeks of progress! I eventually decided to go thicker on the downstrokes, but this version merits admiration as well.

This last project was one I took through as far as digitizing in illustrator. I used both Kuretake pens to combine thick and thin lines in the first version, and then made a tracing paper version with the Zebra pen after I decided my thick lines needed to be even thicker. After that, I took a photo, dropped out the background noise in Photoshop, and traced it in Illustrator. The results were, well… Meretricious!

hand lettering example of sketching, lettering, and digitizing in illustrator

Meretricious: (adj.) apparently attractive but having no real value. Flashy, pretentious, gaudy.

Because this post is already approaching novel length, I’m going to tell you about all my hand lettering adventures outside of the brush pen world in next week’s post. That includes traditional brushes, a few real-brush options, metal calligraphy nibs, and achieving a lettered script look without a flexible nib!

I’m pretty excited with the progress I’ve made so I can’t wait to show you more! I’ll also be sharing some more in-depth projects as they’re completed- especially as my desired level of intensity for lettering projects surpasses ‘random pretty phrases on scrap paper’




Growing Roots (and moving in)

I keep doing this. I’ll work up a blogging routine- once or twice a week has always been the goal, and then something happens and it all falls apart. My last blog post was 9 months ago because I am a terrible person.

I’m not actually a terrible person. What I actually am is a person with terrible personal project management skills, but that doesn’t really roll off the tongue quite so nicely, does it?

What I also am, is a person Easily Distracted By Adventures. Of these, there have been a few.

Since we last spoke, I re-started (and left) an old job, spent another summer at camp, road tripped in two countries, thirteen states, and three provinces, got a working holiday visa for a year in New Zealand, got (and left) another job, started another job, and moved in to a new house (in New Zealand!)!

Obviously, if I tried to update you on all these things at once we’d end up with something resembling a Lord of the Rings-esque multi-part novel series, with prequels and sequels to rival Star Wars, so we’ll just have to nibble off small bits at a time. There’s an argument to be made that the very beginning is a very good place to start, but there’s no hope for any sort of chronological order at this point so I won’t bother to try.

Besides, I want to tell you about now first. Now is the first time in about three years that I’ll be living in the same place for more than three months. It may not be permanent by any definition of the word, but it is more permanent than anything’s been in a while. Now is my chance to grow some roots.

echeveria propogation succulents

Roots! These guys have them! *resists urge to pull them out of the soil and investigate their root structure in a misguided effort to illustrate the metaphor that is this blog post* I may not be able to have house pets, but I can have house plants!

Those little fellas are Steve and Phil. They’re cuttings from a larger plant and they’ve been growing nicely! I was also trying to propagate the leaves, but they’ve gone a bit shrively since I took this photo. My plant-mom skills still need a bit of work. Steve and Phil are Echeveria. They, like me, were rootless little nomads when they started off in this new pot, but have since grown some roots to give them a bit of stability in life.

My ability to care for potted plants apparently rivals my ability to do entry level chemistry: which is to say I’m astoundingly (even spectacularly) bad at both. Steve and Phil were touch and go for a while due to some bad pot-placement and overwatering (Did you know it’s possible to love a succulent too much? It is. Pay it too much attention and it will die. Ignoring it is apparently healthy. Also apparently plants can get sunburned too. My entire life is a lie.) but it seems both the fellas and I are both on the road to plant care recovery.

My own roots have grown in a slightly less soil-based environment. I’ve technically already gone through that whole ‘baby’s first apartment’ phase of my life, but living somewhere as a job-having human is fundamentally different than student housing. Choosing an apartment based on its proximity to the highways and transportation hubs, and secondarily how close it is to things like a grocery store and a good fish n’ chips shop is definitely something I’ve never done.

I have, however, had to set up internet in a place before and let me tell you young things- It’s worse than pulling teeth. Every. Single. Time. It does not get better. The only saving grace will be when you bribe your neighbors for their wifi password with a large box of fresh produce so that you can drown your anger in dealing with your own internet provider in hours of Pinterest and Spotify.

I mean.

It also helps that the house we’re growing these roots in is as singularly adorable as it is. I mean, come on:

The front of our new house

Look at that blue door! I have always wanted a blue door. With its pretty textured glass and matched trim!

It even has a future hedge! It’s not a hedge now, but it will be. Jon waters it with a pot from the kitchen because we don’t have a watering can or a hose. I’ve got some photoshoot plans that involve that red Bougainvillea in the corner as the most delightful backdrop ever.


small kitchen organization

A fledgeling kitchen! Check out those high ceilings, yo. And a five-burner industrial grade gas stove, and the most evenly-heating oven in the history of evenly heated ovens. We roasted a Christmas chicken in that oven. It was delicious.

Excuse me while I bake All The Things.


This window is nestled in a deep sill above our future lounge area. Currently it’s our cardboard box storage area, but we’re working on it. It’s a process.

original lead glass window

How about this original lead glass window!  They just don’t make them like this anymore.

But wait- I’m saving the best for last…

window seat cushions in progress

Window seats. Better than couches since literally the moment they were invented. It’s all of the cushion and none of the floor space commitment! Plus, talk about natural lighting.

Let me tell you about this window seat. It’s huge! It takes up nearly the whole wall in this room. The cushions, as you can surely tell, are a work in progress. When we moved in, I measured the window seat and priced out upholstery foam. It’s just a touch under two and a half square meters, and at $126 per SqM, it was hugely out of our price range. Sure, three hundred dollars is pretty reasonable if you’ve just moved in to your forever-home and you’re committed to the level of Pinterest-worthy window seat perfection we all secretly strive for, but our roots aren’t extending quite that deep just yet.

I was just about to give up this battle and buy a couple of cheap throw pillows to sit my butt down on, when a Festivus Miracle occurred: two days before Christmas, Jon’s mom heroically rescued a pair of lovely foam couch cushions, and an equally lovely pair of oversized throw pillows from a dumpster-destined couch. They didn’t even smell like cat or anything! They’re pretty intensely sun-faded, and by all accounts they came from a pretty dated old couch, but fortunately I know a thing or two about repurposing (and re-upholstering!). That’s them wearing their original navy blue covers in the photos.

A few days later, we rescued another pair of cushions from another dumpster couch, and suddenly we’ve got three hundred dollars worth of foam for exactly no dollars.

window seat cushions

I will soon be conducting a  scientific sleep study on this new device. Very scientific. I will report back with my findings.

The two throw pillows with the teardrop pattern have a story of their own to tell: A second Festivus Miracle. On a shopping trip to get polymer clay (for a project which I will tell you about next week), we happened across a sign for a fabric sale. I am an obvious sucker for these things, so although the place looked about as out of our price range as the foam was, we wandered in to investigate. As it turns out, the lovely lady behind the counter was the owner of the shop, and she explained to us that the warehouse needed a new roof so she was selling everything she could as quickly as possible. Jon spotted a beautiful roll of fabric that happened to match the house’s existing curtains perfectly, and she sold the whole roll to us for $30- a spectacular deal considering its original price was $90 per meter, and there are 7.5 meters on the roll. That’s just over 8.2 yards if you’re stateside ;)

We also picked up a pair of duck-down and feather throw pillows from her for a similar deal- and I’ve already made cushion covers for them out of the new fabric (that’s them between the navy cushions in the photo above), and let me tell you- they are delightfully plush.

My next big project will be upholstering the cushions, but it looks like I’m going to need one more miracle to get the piping at the same deal as the rest of the pieces. I’m reusing the zippers from the old cushion covers, but the piping is a different story. It would be a shame to pay full price for it this late into the adventure! I’ll let you know how that story progresses.

For now, I’m going to continue my efforts to not kill Steve and Phil, and work on some little projects of my own; it’s about time we got some art up on these walls. Plus, next week I’m going to tell you about the new brush lettering skills I’ve been working on! Be prepared for that post to be peppered with photos of my Adventures in Baked Goods though. Is there a limit to the daily pastry intake I can achieve without detriment to my sanity? We’ll find out.



Land of the Sun, Home of the Sheep (and Occasional Possum)

We’re going to take a short break from our regularly scheduled adventure-programming to talk about the things that happened during my 3 months in New Zealand when I wasn’t busy climbing mountains and romping on beaches- I’ll give you a hint… There was a lot of knitting. This little corner of the internet was originally created for the purpose of blogging about all the projects I get up to, and it seems that regardless of the mountains in my immediate vicinity, I still find myself needing to do something with my hands.

wheeler and wilson treadle sewing machine in New Zealand

Okay, but I’m a huge nerd about treadle machines is all…

First things first. I met this pretty lady at Jon’s parent’s house: I did a little research and it turns out that Wheeler & Wilson, the manufacturer of this machine, was bought out by Singer in 1905, which means this machine was probably made in the late 1800s. It’s not particularly rare, but it is a very lovely machine, and it’s an interesting combination of things I’m used to on old machines. It has the modern upper threading path, which has changed very little since its original design, but the bobbin mechanism is a different story. The first successful sewing machine was designed in 1830, and this machine used a shuttle bobbin- a long, narrow piece which slips into as bullet-shaped device. The whole mechanism moves in a curved forwards-backwards motion under the machine when it’s sewing. My treadle machine at home has a shuttle bobbin.

treadle sewing machine with blossom fabric for sun cover

I love new projects!

The shuttle bobbin was eventually replaced with a stationary bobbin, which continues to be the standard for modern machines because it’s less prone to jamming, mechanical issues, and being generally finicky. This machine was obviously made during the transition period, because it has a modern style bobbin and casing, but the mechanism still moves under the machine like a shuttle. Very weird, but very cool and clever. She hadn’t been used for a good couple of decades, but she was in great condition regardless. All she needed was a bit of cleaning and oiling, and a new belt. (ebay for 3 dollars, if you’re curious.) The most difficult part was coming up with a project for her once she was ready. That didn’t turn out to be so hard either, though- It’s unreasonably sunny in New Zealand (40% more intense UV rays than the US), so I chose to make a super simple shoulder-covering Sun Protection Device- complete with fringe!

handmade kimono sun cover sewing project

*fringe goes swoosh*

I used about 2 yards of printed rayon fabric, and a couple of yards of satin fringe in two different lengths. I think it’s supposed to be upholstery fringe for pillows and stuff, but it matched my fabric too perfectly to pass up. If you’re curious, and because nobody in the world deserves sunburnt shoulders- I’ve made a diagram:how to tutorial for simple kimono fringe sun coverup

This way I don’t have to write the whole thing out, you see. It’s very simple. You attach the sleeves to the cut slits, and then sew the tops of the sleeves and the shoulder seam all in one go. The only not-pictured step is the binding to finish the front and neck- that’s just a 4″ wide strip that runs up one front, around the neck, (which I trimmed into a slight curve) and down the other side. The shoulders and armholes are french seamed to add stability and hide raw edges, and the fringe is also encased by the fabric, so nothing unsavory is showing anywhere.

back of kimono sun cover tutorial

It’s surprisingly useful in warmer climates to have something that covers one’s shoulders while not being too hot.

See? Easy as pie. And these things sell at markets and such for something like 60 dollars. Really, you could use whatever kind of fabric you wanted- I’ve even seen some with lace. This one happens to match my swimsuit though- and my hair, apparently- which is always a nice touch.

front of sun cover tutorial sewing project


Including the fixing up of the sewing machine, that project was completed in the span of two afternoons. These next two basically occupied the rest of my down-time between adventures, given one took significantly longer than the other.

sparrow song cowl possum yarn handknit new zealand

I really hadnt considered myself a cowl person until…well, until I finished this project…

This pattern is Sparrow Song by Anne Hanson, made with some Possum-Merino yarn I got in New Zealand. Possum is a pretty uniquely New Zealand thing, and it’s very very soft, and very warm- even if the concept is a little weird. Possums in New Zealand are a totally different thing than US possums, though. As for the yarn, it’s a bit hairy and sheds at first, but only a little. Still totally worth it. In other news, I really love this cowl pattern. It’s knit top down, and then the bottom edging is a knitted-on border completed last. It’s a bit ridiculously warm.

fluffy possum yarn red cowl handknit pattern

It’s so fluffy I’m gonna die!!!

In a problematic and cruel twist of fate, however, I have only been able to wear it about twice because it is very warm and, because New Zealand’s seasons are opposite from ours, I’ve essentially had two summers in a row with  about 3 weeks of winter in between. By the time my next trip is completed, I will have had four consecutive summers without a full winter in between. I probably won’t get much use out of this cowl in that span of time, but I’m certainly going to try.

Here’s the next (and significantly larger) project:

IMG_3590Leaves of Grass by Jared Flood. The pertinent information for both of these projects can be found in more detail on my Ravelry page, if you’re interested in making them. This is a circular shawl knit from the center out, and has yet another knitted on border. I think knitted on borders are my favorite technique in knitting. The only other thing that comes close is gusset heels…

circular pi shawl knitting new zealand

Because I’m (not so) secretly a huge nerd

IMG_3599The other particularly exciting thing about this shawl is that it’s an Elizabeth Zimmerman Pi Shawl. There are only four increase rows in the whole project- in between each lace pattern. This allows you to substitute in any other lace stitch if you’re not feeling whatever’s written in the pattern, since you aren’t limited by needing to match increases. I didn’t make any changes to this one- maybe next time.

I cast on for this shawl a day or two before I left for New Zealand, and I finished it in the Los Angeles International airport on my way back home. Not that I was working on it constantly, but it took basically the whole three months. It was actually pretty great travel knitting. The only awkward part was when I dropped my ball of yarn behind my seat on the return flight, and had to employ the gentleman sitting behind me to retrieve it. He was a good sport, though.

The last part of this crafty little side note is more of an in-progress sneak peek, because it’s getting a blog post all to itself later on. One of my favorite things to do on warm summer evenings (in December, I’m actually still not over that weirdness)- was hunting for sea glass on the beach. We’d drive to the beach after dinner, stop for ice cream, and walk along the beach looking for pieces of sea glass.

new zealand sea glass beach pottery shards

I still can’t believe I finally got to hunt for sea glass. No beaches in the midwest, you see…

This is a photo of what we gathered after the first ice-cream laden evening. I wanted to make myself a necklace, but ended up finding enough pieces on the trip that I decided to share the love a little bit more than originally intended. We found so many pieces that I had to leave most of them behind, but the others- well, you can find some of them here if you’re curious, but the details will come later.

You’ve probably noticed that not everything in the picture is sea glass- there are also ceramic shards, although they’re a much rarer occurrence. According to the all-knowing interwebs, they’re called ‘beach pottery’- and I will let you know as soon as I figure out what I’m going to do with them.

I’m a material person. I like stuff, I like projects, and I am the kind of person who needs to have something to do with my hands, pretty much all the time. I may have been in New Zealand to see the sights and climb the mountains, but I had just as much fun with my projects and I’m especially happy knowing that I can still get my materials and work on things there, since I’ll be going back for a whole year in a few months. In the meantime, I’m going to continue to wear my knitting around even though summer’s almost here…

(next time, mountain-adventures. I promise)


In Which Hell Bubbles its Greetings, and the Trees Say Hello.

Hi again! I’ve got lots of excitement coming up, and I want to make sure I tell all of you about it, so I’m holding myself accountable to you guys: If I don’t post twice this week, you have permission to bop me on the nose. That is all.

New Zealand turned out to be beautiful in a lot of different ways- and this little adventure proved to be beautiful in the sort-of-scary, definitely-stay-on-the-path sort of way.

Meet Hell’s Gate:

hell's gate rotorua new zealand hot springs

Looks super-friendly, doesn’t it…

The first thing most people notice when they drive into Rotorua is the smell of sulfur. I have some interesting scent-related handicaps, so I could tell that the air was a little different, but I didn’t think it smelled too bad. I was, however, very thoroughly educated on just how bad it smelled to all the other humans.

Hell’s Gate (it’s non-touristy Māori name is Tikitere), was so-named when George Bernard Shaw visited the area in 1934 and declared that, if his colleagues though he was going to hell for his atheism, these would be the gates of said hell.

rotorua hell's gate new zealand

The thing I found most incredible was the literal line you could see where the landscape turned from lush greenery to burnt desolation.

The science is even cooler, though. We all learned about plate tectonics in middle school, and most islands (especially in the pacific) are volcanic either in their recent past, or in some cases (ahem- this one)- in their present. Tikitere’s existence is present-day evidence of ancient volcanic activity, and it is so cool. 10,000 years ago, an eruption caused the water from this ancient lake to drain- forming two other lakes in the area. The absence of water pressure on this now-dried up lake bed caused faults in the ground below, and steam and gases are still slowly escaping 10,000 years later.

sarcastic funny sign ast hell's gate

Congratulations, person who made this perfect signage. Let’s be friends.

Tikitere has a long history of being used by the Māori as a sacred site, and sometimes for medicinal purposes. More presently, it’s become a tourist attraction and a spa. You have to pay to get in, but it’s worth it to get to see some of these things up close and personal, and to learn about its history. It takes a little over an hour to walk around all the paths (if you take your time and read the informational signage) and it’s a great, flat walk but there’s no shade so bring your sunblock and reapply frequently or you’ll be as toasty-burnt as the bits and pieces of wayward organic matter scattered around the edges of the hot pools.

steaming hot pools at rotorua hell's gate new zealand


Apparently, the Māori took a pretty immediate shining to George Bernard Shaw (maybe something to do with his atheism vs. the Christianity and literal come to Jesus talks they were getting from pretty much everyone else at the time?)- so many of the pools and ominously bubbling cracks in the ground were named by him. These names are displayed alongside the Māori names, which makes for a truly unique mesh of Māori and European values and interests. The signage also displays the average temperature of each pool, and what sorts of gasses come out of it. One reaches temperatures of 252 °F, and another has a pH level of 1. One of the pools (don’t scroll down yet, but it is down in the pictures) could even cook a pig in two hours.

hell's gate rotorua new zealand geothermal hot springs

Again with the terrain shift. This place is full of polar opposites. If you didn’t know any better, the burnt-white ash would look like snow.

Apparently, if you feel the need to cook yourself a pig, this is the place to do it:

cooking pool at rotorua hot pools hell's gate

There was an initial debate as to whether the debris around the edges of the pool was related to the cooking, but I’m fairly certain it’s just leaves and such.

Amidst low ropes and a very liberal dusting of “Danger, Don’t Step Off The Path” ( if you value your feet) signage, the walkways wind through two areas separated by some very welcome shade and green space- and something pretty awesome sits nestled in the trees:

tallest waterfall southern hemisphere new zealand travel

a little oasis in the shade!

Fine Lords and Ladies of the Internets, I give you: The tallest hot waterfall in the southern hemisphere!

Okay, It’s not that tall. or big, or whatever- but it is bathwater temperature as opposed to the usual frigid river temperatures, and that’s pretty cool. The Māori tribe who lived here believed that the water in these falls had strengthening and healing powers, so their warriors bathed in the waterfall before going into battle. They weren’t far off the truth- The falls are laced with minerals which, while they may not be able to heal a severed limb, have been proven to speed up healing and help with some skin problems. Kind of like the Roman Baths in England.

new zealand rotorua hell's gate

I can honestly say this is maybe the first place in New Zealand I probably wouldn’t want to build a house- but it’s still really cool! Or hot… really hot…heh…

As we wandered around between the pools in the second, larger area, things started to heat up even more. Larger than the first, and with not one single solitary shady patch in sight, I began to wonder if we would melt like the mud in the bottoms of these pits. You see, the sun was heating us from above and the ground was heating us from below, and between those two things the usually temperate New Zealand summer became…well… Hell’s Gate.

hot pools rotorua new zealand

Swimming? Bad Plan…

Such steam!

steamy geothermal hot pools rotorua new zealand

It’s hard to believe this is within driving distance of the unbelievably green space that is Piha. See those trees looking in from the edge? That’s fear in their branches- you can feel it. Standing around hoping the sulfur doesn’t get to them.

One of the most interesting parts of the whole walk was seeing this area, where a small, freshwater stream met the sulfuric hot pool in steady little puffs of steam. The cool freshwater has allowed for grassy growth, perhaps the only green within the otherwise desolate circle of land.

hot pools new zealand geothermal

It’s like a literal game of ‘the ground is lava’

After our near-melting experience, and learning that our ticket price included getting to soak our feet in some of the mineral water from one of the more hospitable pools, we once again took to the road to continue the apparent volcanic theme of this trip- Meet Lake Tarawera:

A pretty landscape that once looked a bit like Hell’s Gate does currently.

Lake Tarawera didn’t always look like this. In the early 1800s, this area was home to the Pink and White Terraces- hot bathing pools  formed with silica deposits from volcanic activity in the area. Eventually, Mount Tarawera erupted (you see that flat-looking mountain a little to the right of the middle? Yeah. That’s Mount Tarawera, and it wasn’t always flat…) and the Pink and White Terraces were buried in the fallout. The scarred landscape turned from pink and white to green, and now it’s a beautiful, quiet place for some freshwater swimming (The first time I’d experienced that in New Zealand, actually).

On the way back from our volcanic sightseeing, we stopped off to say hello to some very old, very tall trees.

california redwoods in new zealand

I’ve never been to California, but I’ve met California Redwoods! A bit far from home, aren’t you fellas…

Whakarewarewa Forest is just outside Rotorua, and it’s a staggeringly large forest full of staggeringly tall trees. The redwoods aren’t the only species around, but they’re plentiful nonetheless. We didn’t spend too much time in the forest- it’s a place I really enjoyed and would like to see more of, but it had been a long, hot day- and I think everyone involved was ready for naptime. Not before I hugged some trees, though…

Just a bunch of tree huggin' hipsters, that's what we are...

Just a bunch of tree huggin’ hipsters, that’s what we are…

What an adventure! I love the ones that have a little bit of history involved, and volcanoes are a pretty huge part of New Zealand’s history- It wasn’t the last we saw of them, either.

Alright, like I said. I’m posting twice this week. To avoid nose-bopping, you see. I assume you’re curious about what sorts of crafty, projecty things I got up to while I was between adventures, so I’ll tell you all about that, and then we’ll be off on a three-part (probably? I might need four…) series of mountain climbing escapades! That’s right- I climbed multiple mountains. There’s even photographic evidence that this thing happened.