Tuesday, September 30, 2008

a small gift

One of my very favorite things about my job is that I get to work with so many interesting, kind, hilarious, brilliant people. I love my professors and wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

One of the people I've really gotten close to is a wonderful adjunct professor who also happens to be a Buddhist nun. She and I have worked on a couple of very big conferences together and she is such a patient, hardworking and longsuffering person (as you might expect), not to mention the fact that she is constantly in the process of translating some ancient Tibetan literature into English, which is mind-boggling/awesome to me. I had been wanting to give her a gift, something handmade, but kept running out of time or ideas, so I was a little bit embarassed as well as flattered when she asked me to make her a hat like my Parisienne caps, but in a color that she could wear (they're only allowed to wear Burgundy or Gold). It took a lot of searching but we finally found a suitable color and I ordered a lot just to make sure I had enough. I tried to give her the hat as a gift but she wouldn't hear of it. Fortunately though I had a whole skein of the yarn left over, so I found this pattern and thought it would be perfect.

The first step was easy enough; the pattern was clearly written and I worked it up in maybe two afternoons; no sweat. Then I arranged it on a mixing bowl for a mold to see what it would end up looking like:

(that cloth it's sitting on is a Nepali brocade that my friend gave me after our last conference as a thank you gift)

Looks great, right?
Then it needs to be starched; both because I was/am broke and because I don't know where to buy commercial fabric stiffener, I opted for the homemade formula listed with the pattern. Sugar and water, soak it, let it dry, three days and you have a bowl! What could be easier! Except:
It really looked like a kindergarten craft project that had been drizzled in Elmer's glue. It was um a little bit heartbreaking. There is something very, very wrong with the formula for that homemade stiffener. I'm assuming it has to do with the complete wrong proportion of sugar to water, but since I have not a clue how to fix that proportion or what would be the correct way to do this, the only thing I can recommend is to AVOID THE HOMEMADE STIFFENER. Bad. Bad bad.
I finally calmed down and decided to try to fix it instead of tossing it and starting all over again. It took three weeks of careful wiping with a damp washcloth, drying for two days, wiping the other side, drying for two days, and repeat, but I finally have something that looks like a gift a grownup might give to another grownup:

I'm really really happy with it and I can't wait to give it to her this afternoon!

So the moral of this story is, this pattern is wonderful, but PLEASE spring for the commercial stiffener, unless you're really looking forward to producing a big sticky crusty awful mess :)

By the way, when I gave Ani her hat, she said a quick blessing in Tibetan over it, which she said is traditional before putting on a new piece of clothing, to commemorate all the work that went into it. Which is hands-down the best thanks I've ever gotten for anything.

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