This and That

Random bits of my life

Archive for August, 2009

Orenburg Shawls

Posted by Avital Pinnick on August 31, 2009

My Russian office mate, Masha, brought in her grandmother’s shawls. Vera moved to Orenburg from St. Petersburg in the 1950s as a newlywed, with her husband and mother (Sonya). The shawls all date from this decade. Vera’s husband was working on the St. Petersburg – Orenburg phone line and Vera lived for most of her adult life in Orenburg, until she emigrated to Israel in 1991 (she is now 83 years old; her mother Sonya, who also moved to Israel, died 5 years ago).

Sonya’s Shawl

This shawl belonged to Masha’s great-grandmother, Sonya, and was probably purchased in Orenburg. It is knitted from a strand of spun goat’s down plied with a silk thread. The design is made up entirely of diagonal holes. There are no peas or fish-eyes. The border is the characteristic 5-tooth border.

Hand-knit Gossamer Shawl

Hand-knit Gossamer Shawl

Hand-knit Orenburg Shawl

Vera’s Shawl

This shawl was knitted by a friend of Masha’s grandmother, Vera, as a gift. Although it is also made of goat’s down plied with silk, it is somewhat “hairier” than the purchased shawl. I’ve never seen the central gathered stitch in a diamond frame in any of the books on Orenburg shawls. The border is a simple diagonal border.

Hand-knit Gossamer Shawl

Hand-knit Gossamer Shawl

Machine-Made Shawl

Cheap, machine-knit shawls were made in the Orenburg region from the 1940s onwards.

Update: This is not a machine-made shawl! Its gauge is so fine (9 sts/inch) that I had assumed it was machine knitting but it’s actually hand-knit. See my later posting for details.

Machine-knit shawl

Machine-knit shawl

More information on Orenburg shawls

  • Gossamer Webs: The History and Techniques of Orenburg Lace Shawls
  • The Gossamer Webs Design Collection: Three Orenburg Shawls to Knit

  • Posted in knitting, needlework | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

    Video Interview with Deanne Fitzmaurice, Photographer

    Posted by Avital Pinnick on August 26, 2009

    I just watched Mark Silber’s interview with San Francisco photographer, Deanne Fitzmaurice. She has won many awards for her work, including a Pulitzer Prize in 2005, for her sensitive photo essay on a 9-year-old Iraqi boy who survived an explosion and adapted to life in the US.

    I liked her tips about “layering” in composition. I always perk up whenever I hear someone talking about composition in photography because 90% of the information on photography sites seems to be about controlling aperture or shutter speed, but advice on composition is thin on the ground.

    By layering, she means paying as much attention to the background of the photo as the action in the foreground. Too often the background is an afterthought — “OK, no telephone poles sticking out of the guy’s head, so let’s take the shot.” A more extreme example is the current bokeh craze, where the background is just a wash of blurry colours, the equivalent of watercolours in photography. She gives much more careful study to the background than most photographers.

    She speaks about her experiences of a portrait photographer. She has a very short window of time in which to establish a rapport with her subject, then she has to, in her words, “become invisible.”

    Did I mention that she not only shoots news events and celebrity portraits but also sports? What a talented woman!

    See Deanne Fitzmaurice’s Web site for her portfolio and bio.

    Don’t miss her photo essay on Saleh (Photography menu > Saleh). It’s very moving.

    Posted in photography | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

    Extension Tubes, the Poor Man’s Macro Lens

    Posted by Avital Pinnick on August 25, 2009

    Condensation on a water bottle:

    Playing with extension tubes

    Weavette square:

    Weavette Square

    A few weeks ago, while browsing photos in the Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens pool on Flickr, I saw a macro shot of a fly’s eye. Since I can’t get closer than 16 inches to an object, I asked the photographer how he did it and he told me about extension tubes. I found a cheap set on AmazonUK. For £6 for a set of three tubes, what could I lose? These are extremely basic extension tubes, basically a tube of plastic with couplings for the camera body and lens. You have to focus manually.

    In the reviews someone posted a method for setting the aperture with these tubes: you set the aperture with your lens on the camera. When you press the button to release the lens, keep your finger on the button, and then insert the extension tube. I haven’t tried this but in theory it will retain your aperture setting.

    These tubes do have a locking mechanism. There is no documentation, so make sure that you know how to release the tube from your lens. The Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens is not very robust, to put it gently, and it could crack or fall apart if you try to force a tube off the mounting. A small silver button slides up to release the tube from the lens, but it’s not obvious.

    Macro Extension Tubes

    The Kenko extension tubes, available on, are more expensive ($169) but you get the autofocus (and, I presume, aperture control as well). It still costs a lot less than a macro lens, however.

    Finally, if you’re on a really tight budget, here are instructions for a macro tube made with a Pringles can! I wouldn’t have the courage to try this with one of my lenses.

    Posted in photography | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

    Ice Coffee Without a Blender

    Posted by Avital Pinnick on August 24, 2009

    My office mate, Yinnon, invented a way to make ice coffee without a blender while he was in the army. I just had a cup and I feel very perky! (I didn’t know at the time that it had espresso in it.)

    Ice Coffee Without a Blender

    1. Place a 1-liter carton of milk in the freezer, shaking it every half hour so that it doesn’t freeze solid.

    2. Mix a thick syrup of sugar and hot water. For 4 cups of ice coffee, Yinnon dissolved 12 tsps sugar in enough hot water to cover. That’s a bit sweet for my taste. I would use less.

    3. At 3 p.m. (or earlier, if the milk has frozen sufficiently), pour a shot of espresso into a large cup, add milk slush and sugar syrup, and stir.

    If you don’t have an espresso machine at work, substitute a spoonful of instant coffee.

    Posted in Food, recipes | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

    World’s Easiest Iced Tea

    Posted by Avital Pinnick on August 19, 2009

    Iced Tea with Sunflare

    When I say that I discovered the world’s easiest iced tea, I don’t mean “sun tea.” That would require too much advanced planning, like putting a jar of tea outside in the sun in the morning, when I’m still waking up with a triple strength Turkish coffee. Besides, leaving a pot of tea leaves in the sun is a great way to grow lots of life forms that you’d probably rather not ingest.

    This method is safer and even easier. I didn’t invent it. I heard it in an interview with Paul Waddington, proprietor of Teasource, in the July 20, 2009, episode of The Splendid Table. (If you like good food and intelligent commentary, check it out. It’s a public radio show on food and food-related topics.)

    World’s Easiest Iced Tea

    2-3 tea bags (or their equivalent in loose tea)
    1 quart water
    lemon juice and sugar (or artificial sweetener) to taste

    Put tea and water in a glass jar and refrigerate overnight. (I use a glass canning jar because I’m afraid that the tea would stain plastic pitcher. If you have glass pitcher with a lid, use that.) In the morning, strain out the tea loeaves or remove the tea bags. Add lemon juice and sugar to taste.

    It’s clear and delicious, never bitter. It doesn’t require boiling, steeping, and cooling the tea, so very little advance planning is required.

    Posted in Food, recipes | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

    Miniature Orenburg Shawl, 2002

    Posted by Avital Pinnick on August 18, 2009

    Miniature Orenburg Shawl, 2002

    I made this shawl in 2002. It was worked on size .5 mm (8/0) needles with 140/2 cotton thread. It measures 5.5 x 1.75 inches and weighs 607 milligrams. It was a donation to Leigh Witchel’s annual benefit auction for his ballet company, Dance As Ever. It sold for $60.

    I had almost forgotten about this piece. I was reminded by my current knitting project, a full-size triangular Orenburg shawl.

    Posted in knitting, needlework | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

    Triangular Orenburg Shawl

    Posted by Avital Pinnick on August 18, 2009

    I haven’t knitted for ages. Last week I started a triangular Orenburg shawl.

    Triangular Shawl

    The Gossamer Webs Design Collection: Three Orenburg Shawls to Knit

    I had some fingering weight yarn, not quite enough for a square shawl, definitely not enough for a sweater. It’s been a while since I knitted an Orenburg shawl and my grafting skills are rusty. According to this book, the Russian shawl knitters use 7-8 inch straight needles. How on earth do they manage to keep track of the patterns if they never see the shawl spread out? It must require very careful counting.

    That reminds me of a miniature shawl I knitted years ago.

    Posted in knitting, needlework | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

    My Amazon Order Arrived

    Posted by Avital Pinnick on August 18, 2009

    I went to the post office this morning and picked up the photography book I ordered from Amazon.


    The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos

    I’ve only skimmed it, but now I see why it is considered a leader in the field.

    This book’s focus is composition — how balance and tension, foreground, perspective, and a host of other factors can make the difference between a compelling picture and a flat snapshot. It’s beautifully illustrated, as one would expect from a photographer who has worked for The Smithsonian, Time-Life, and National Geographic.

    I particularly like the case study of the Japanese monk outside a Tokyo subway station. Freeman shows 15 different photos of the monk and passersby, the times of the photos, and the questions that were running through his mind while he was taking the pictures. It’s like looking over the photographer’s shoulder while he’s working and hearing him think aloud.

    The book is professionally indexed, with the emphasis on artists and concepts, not on the subject matter of the photos themselves. The book is primarily about composition and assumes that you already know the technical foundations of digital photography. Nevertheless, I would recommend it for any level of photographer. Books and articles that tell you about lenses, shutter speed, and aperture are all over the Web and the shelves of your local bookstore, but very few books will tell you what makes a great composition, great.

    This isn’t meant to be a book review, because I’ve only skimmed it. It’s an impressive work — and it’s only $20!

    Me x 9

    Posted in photography | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

    Tender, Flaky, Sourdough “Naan”

    Posted by Avital Pinnick on August 16, 2009

    Sourdough "naan"

    I write the word “naan” in quotation marks because it isn’t really naan. It just looks like naan and was cooked using the stove-top method.

    I forgot to start the sourdough bread the night before. My aging starter hadn’t been fed for a while. Making a pan-cooked bread seemed to solve both problems.

    This recipe isn’t fast but it is easy, although you’ll get flour all over everything. By the time I’d finished I had to clean my camera all over with a lens blower, and this was after I had taped a plastic bag over the controls.

    But the results are worth it. The bread is tender and flaky — delicious on its own or spread with soft cheese.

    If you’re watching your weight, you’ll note that there is no fat in this bread unless you count the oil used to grease the bowl while rising. Actually, I forgot to oil the bowl. You can do that, if you don’t mind scraping the dough out with a rubber spatula later and working in more flour so that it isn’t sticky.

    Note: If you don’t have a sourdough starter around the house, substitute 1 1/4 cups water and 1 tsp dry active yeast for the 1 cup sourdough starter and 1/2 cup water. You won’t get the characteristic tang of sourdough but it will be tasty.

    Sourdough Naan

    Yield: 10 flatbreads

    1 cup starter
    1/2 cup water
    3 cups flour (I used both white and whole wheat)
    2 tsp salt
    1 tsp thyme
    1 tsp oregano

    Mix all ingredients into a stiff dough. Add the last cup gradually if your dough is drier than mine was. Knead the dough for a few minutes in a floured bowl. Scrape the bowl, oil the bowl and the dough, cover with plastic wrap, and let ferment at room temperature for a couple hours. Your dough will not rise much if your starter is cold from the refrigerator, but this doesn’t seem to make much difference.

    Heat a cast iron frying pan on medium heat. Divide the dough into about 10 balls (the size of a large plum). Roll out one ball on a *well* floured board. You don’t want any sticking because the bread will tear. The circles should be fairly thin and about 7″ wide.

    Cook the dough circle in the ungreased frying pan for about 3 minutes. If it puffs up slightly, that’s great. That gives the dough its flaky layers. When it is brown and speckled on the bottom, flip the naan over and cook the other side. Roll out the next dough ball and cook it. (It’s better to roll them out individually. If you roll them out all at once, they tend to stick to the board because they will start rising.)

    These are wonderful straight from the pan, but you can let them cool, wrap tightly in foil, and freeze.

    If you want to be really decadent, drizzle melted garlic butter on top.

  • My recipe for sourdough focaccia
  • Posted in Food, recipes | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

    Pin Stitch Tutorial – Part 2

    Posted by Avital Pinnick on August 14, 2009

    In the first part, Pin Stitch Tutorial – Part 1, you learned how to start a thread with a pin stitch.

    This part teaches you how to end a thread with a pin stitch. This, for me, is the best part because it makes “confetti” stitch embroideries (where you make a single stitch with a colour, end the thread, start a new colour, etc.). Making one or two stitches at a time with a single colour is extremely tedious and running the ends into the back of the piece can make it very bulky.

    Most explanations of ending a thread with the pin stitch have you work the pin stitch underneath the finished stitch. This has two major disadvantages: the stitch becomes very thick with all that thread underneath (particularly if you have also begun the same stitch with a pin stitch) and when working on finer counts of fabric (36 count linen, 18 count aida), there isn’t much room to manoeuver the needle under the stitch. The stitch itself is easily pulled out of shape.

    I believe this is my own innovation, to end the thread in a spot where it will be covered by another stitch, but not in a place where a new thread must be begun. This keeps the bulk of thread ends buried under the stitches to a minimum.

    All photos are on my Flickr account. If you need to see a larger version, click the photo to go to the Flickr photo page. Click “All Sizes” to see the original size photo. All photos were taken with a Canon PowerShot S5.

    Ending a thread with a pin stitch

    1. Choose a stitch to end the thread. Remember that it must be a stitch where you will not be beginning a new thread, so the middle of a block or row of one colour is a good choice.

    2. Bring the needle upwards, between two threads (or the center of the block, if using aida) at the bottom of the stitch.

    Pin stitch end 1

    3. Insert the needle down into the center of the block or the center of the two threads.

    Pin stitch end 2

    4. Pull the needle underneath so that the stitch is tightened. It should be a tiny stitch in the lower half of the square. I know it doesn’t look like much but it does do the job.

    Pin stitch end 3

    5. Bring the needle up in a nearby hole (it doesn’t matter which) and cut the tail flush with the fabric on the right side.

    Pin stitch end 4

    That’s it! Now you can start a new thread without having to turn your frame over, bury the ends, and so on.

    Posted in embroidery, needlework, tutorial | Tagged: , , | 37 Comments »