Friday, December 31, 2010

In which we use nail clippers to prove a 'point.'

Stubbing fountain pen nibs.   It's all the rage.

For those of you who hate jargon, stubbing a fountain pen nib means that you tediously grind off the tipping material, using Arkansas stone or something similar, testing and re-testing your work until you have the italic/stub/cursive nib you thought you should have just gone out and bought in the first place.

But, being an incurable tinkerer, I had always wanted to try this.  I just didn't want to use a 'good' pen.  And by 'good' I mean anything I liked and didn't have multiples of, or any pen that cost more than fi' dolla.

This summer, my science experiment came to life.   I stumbled on an ancient, chewed-up lever-filler fountain pen at a garage sale.

"Oh, too bad you weren't here earlier," said the kindly old seller.  "Someone bought a whole box of them."
Weeping copious tears, I nevertheless bought that dog toy of a pen, took it home, strapped it down, and got out my nail clippers.  Muahahaaaaa!!!!

 Applying clippers and files, I tested the pen with each step, asking it how it felt, and taking copious notes.   The results are posted below.

Then I stubbed a Stypen 'parrot.'   This pen was new, and cost all of tree dolla.

I smoothed the Stypen far less than I did the cheapo lever pen, and if you ask me, it writes better. Maybe the Stypen nib material is softer and more amenable to this sort of thing?   Maybe the chew-toy pen psychically communicated to the Stypen that it would be far less torturous to just give in?

At any rate, it was an interesting, low-cost experiment.

First, the cheapo garage sale pen (ONE dolla!), after cutting---and the tool used to cut it. 

Now, the ink tests done with it. (I start writing from the left) I could really feel it chewing into the paper, so it needed lots of torture, er, amendment, with nail files:

The Stypens, Stubbed, not-stubbed (After and Before):
And the Stypen ink test: 
So, pretty much for the cost of about four dollars (plus the materials I had on hand) I defied the laws of pen repair and pretty much just used a manicure set to produce two nice italic nibs.  The Stypen 'Parrot' is currently one of my best writers.

Bow down in fear before me, cheapo pens everywhere!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Heart of Pen: In which we meet Dr. Inkenstein

(Thoughts from a blue-collar collector, or, How To Start Small, then go overboard)

I remember my first fountain pen.

It was a school-grade Sheaffer Skrip, with shiny silvertone cap and translucent, colored barrel. I don't recall how well it wrote, but I do recall being vaguely annoyed at the color discord between the yellow barrel and the bullet-like cartridge of black ink. I may have ended up with ink on my fingers, but at this point, the details elude my fading memory.
Then, a number of years later, all grown up, I was watching a late-night TV ad (before the dawn of the infomercial). The ad extolled the virtues of a fountain pen. How good was this pen? Someone actually shot the pen into a target as though the pen were an arrow, then proceeded to write with it.
It's a writing implement! It's a weapon! Stop! You're both right!
So of course I had to order that fountain pen. The barrel was brushed silvertone, and the pen came with extras: a few mechanical pencils plus some rollerball pens and a bunch of ballpoints in red and green and gray and yellow and rust and azure that contained sticky colored ink to match the color of the barrel. Now that was more like it! (Except for the fact that the ballpoints dried out after about two paragraphs of writing.) The fountain pen was a reluctant starter. I don't recall its eventual fate.
Next I bought two leaky, no-name fountain pens for about two bucks each from an art supply store. One of these cheap plastic travesties came in dark turquoise; I have probably blocked the color of the other in something approaching an Edvard Munch Scream Moment. These two horrors almost ran me off fountain pens forever.
But years later, in another art supply store, a shiny, pretty pen caught my eye. A Diplomat Butterly, in Nash Metropolitan Turquoise, with winking goldtone trim. This little beauty was about the length of a forefinger and half as thick. I had to own it, and it set me back a whole seven dollars. The Butterfly was tough to write with due to its size, but I still have it, because it's shiny and pretty.
I also bought a Rotring Artpen (1.1 italic nib) in a teal color. This full-sized fountain pen had a long, pointy-ended barrel, and unlike the Butterfly, it took standard international cartridges. It was a wonderfully smooth writer. I still have it, AND still use it. At the time, the price seemed steep---about twice what I spent on the Butterfly.
Then I discovered the The Fountain Pen Network, and Hero pens. The rest is history.
Fast-forward to today, when I have more fountain pens than I can count, have given away nearly a hundred to fellow aficionados, and almost obssessively match my ink to the color of the barrel.
And I do have a lot of ink. So many colors! Colors prettyyyy.
I focus on the many cheap, cheerful pens available. They make me happy. Student pens. Chinese pens. Obscure pens. What I look for is great writeability, a fat, lightweight body, and as little 'fuss' as possible. That's why I like the Pilot Varsity and the Preppy Platinum. You can't kill them with a stick.
I recently stubbed my first nib by the simple means of a nail clipper and emory board applied to a three-dollar Stypen. It's one of the nicest writers I have. Call it beginner's luck.
And though I now have a few higher-end (to me!!!) fountain pens, such as the Sheaffer Legacy (brushed goldtone, B nib) and a Waterman Carene (tomato red, M nib), the ones that are always inked are my Hero 616s, Parker Frontier, Sailor Profit Special Script, and my Pelikano Juniors.
With inks, I prefer lots of color and plenty of it. Something light and watercolor-y, with good shading. I gave away Noodler's and Private Reserve inks until I discovered you can DILUTE THEM WITH WATER to get that same non-sticky, shading effect.
Doh. Well, my loss is your gain. I can tell you how to fill a fountain pen cartridge, link you to a video about refilling the disposable Pilot Varsity, and generally point you in the direction of my favorite pens at any price point from $5-$50. (The $3 Stypen Creeks come to mind---a nice, unpretentious pen that writes well enough to use every day, inexpensive enough to use as a science experiment!)
And I will post the occasional very casual fountain pen and ink review. Other pen and ink blogs contain far more and greater awesome than mine, and I intend to find them and link them for you.
Don't even get me started about paper. Especially paper made out of.... stone.

Happy inking.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Count Sockula invites you to knit.

Everyone has a blog. Everyone has multiple blogs, in fact. So do I. I don't really need another.

But there is so much awesome on this site, especially in the sock kingdom, that I need to encourage beginners in sockdom, in order to point you to more advanced blogs.

You can knit socks.  You really can.  Even though you don't know how to knit.  Even though heel turn directions are incomprehensible (and that's just for conventional heels!  Never mind short rows or afterthoughts!!!).

One of the most useful sock books I've found is I Can't Believe I'm Knitting Socks, by Leisure Arts.

The book has got a great tutorial (shows each part of the sock in a different color, which was pretty cool) and introduced me to the concept of knitting on five needles.  It also covers knitting with two circulars and one long circular.

Besides socks, I have an interest in fountain pens, horses and racing, barbecue (no, there is NO connection there!! Really!) and anime, from which I am learning about ten words of Japanese and one or two complete sentences.  There will be more on those to come.   And beginners are welcome.

My Life In The World of Socks:
My first sock goes wayyy back to before I taught myself how to knit. I didn't even want socks. I wanted leg warmers. So I went to one of those stores that carried curtains, fabric, and yarn.

Leg warmers are circular, right? Of course they are. Never mind the fact that I couldn't knit, and I didn't have a leg warmer pattern. I knew how to crochet, so how hard could it be?

I bought a big plastic CIRCULAR needle, a knitting book, and two skeins of loud acrylic ombre, one red, one green.

It was Christmas. What can I say?

Once I got my stuff home I realized I was never, ever going to be able to learn knitting from that book. What? Huh? WHAT did those diagrams mean???

So I put the circular needle aside and used up the yarn in a giant Christmas granny square afghan. I still have the afghan.

One Christmas when I had to stay off my feet for a bit, I planted myself in a chair and forced myself to learn knitting from that book. I knitted a Christmas dishcloth out of loud red and green cotton ombre yarn. I still have the dishcloth.

Then I didn't want leg warmers any more. I wanted socks. A couple Christmases later I bought a sock book and dug up some double pointed needles and experienced brain freeze on reading the heel turn instructions. Uwaaa!!! Made no sense! So I attended a knitting class, hoping the teacher could help me knit socks.

She didn't know how to knit socks. She just pretty much wanted to get paid to sit there in front of a slew of befuddled first-timers and finish her own giant knit coat.

I found double pointed needles about as easy to work with as handling a batch of live snakes that were stiff as a board but could still bite you.

But the coat-knitting teacher did do one thing for me: she read the heel turn pattern aloud as I turned my first heel. It made no sense, but it worked! I was a sock-knitter!

Took me six months to knit that first pair of socks. One was larger than the other. I still have those socks.

I'm not a master, by any means. I just like knitting socks and still like LOUD self-striping colors, and I am impatient so I still knit mostly in good ol' Red Heart worsted weight acrylic to produce either dorm socks or Croc socks.  Like these Prince of Tennis socklets:

Though I did recently buy a Zauberball Crazy and a set of (shudder) size ONE needles. Ehh. We'll see if I can dredge up the patience.

All kinds of needles find their way into my project bag: sproingy plastic vintage circs, sleek modern Bryspun and Inox circs, dpns (yeah, I got used to them), straights (figured out a couple of ways to knit socks on two needles), wood, bamboo, plastic, metal.

When I knit socks, I use needle sizes from 4-9, stitch numbers from 28-36 (with worsted weight acrylic), depending how loose and dorm-y I want the sock. I don't need a pattern any more, apart from a conventional heel turn (yes, I understand there's a formula for these but I haven't memorized it yet).
Since Sept. of this year I've finished nine pair of socks and am starting on my tenth (Varsity sockies, kind of Gryffindor-ish colors with a dash of Ravenclaw).

Every blog should have a point.  I guess mine is this:  you don't have to start with high-end tools to master sock-knitting, or even to enjoy and collect fountain pens.  In fact, I highly recommend you start small, and cheap, so you understand each element of a sock and its demands before you move onward and upward.  Fountain pens, too.

Postscript and furthermore: 
Once upon a time I was a real writer, but retired to happily write fan fic.   If I can figure it out I'll add links to my fanfic accounts.

And if anyone can lend a hand in making this bloggy thingie do what it's supposed to do, I am much obliged.

Watch this space for further developments.