Tuesday, June 27, 2006


I think this is true yarn porn: handspun 85% alpaca (from Brollie, who lives somewhere in Kent/Sussex) /15% silk (I don't know the names of the pupae, but they will not have died in vain) from the High Weald Fibre Factory. There is another ball sitting inside swatching. It's interesting yarn, not very elastic, but very soft and with a lovely halo of alpaca fibres. It's the first handspun I've ever handled, so I've no idea if it's really, really good or not, but I like it a lot. I think it will work for the 'Interlocking Balloons' scarf, but I wonder whether the, um, softness/lack of structure and unevenness of the handspun will detract from the precision of the ribs in that pattern. I suspected that this yarn would be better suited to true, thick cables, and the pictures of Jillian's Connemara Scarf (free download from sknitty) suggests I'm right. I want mine, well, J's to be wider than that so I'll invent something. I've done enough cables in my time...
(scrabbling sounds from drawer under bed)
Three of several.
(scrabbling sounds and thoughtful 'Hmmmm' sounds from bookshelf behind chair)
Pale grey/cream is 'Inishmore' (Alice Starmore 'Fishermen's Sweaters' 1995); under it in dark indigo is 'Man's Heavy Aran' and it is heavy even in my size (Annabel Fox, Rowan No. 4 1988); under that, scarcely visible in a heavy khaki/olive chenille is 'Oversized Cable Sweater' (Erika Knight, Rowan No. 8). I'd half-forgotten about those books. They smell a bit musty, but they're full of dreams. There isn't enough room in the house to store all the sweaters I was going to make. And I found the Phildar magazines with the knitted lace doilies and the crocheted tableclothes I made and gave away because I don't use that sort of thing, and my Encyclopedia of Needlework (from which I learned to crochet and tat)... I lack words to describe the frustration I feel. Were the days longer then? Where on earth (or anywhere else) did I find that much spare time? *sigh* Never mind. Feel the alpaca.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Sockheel III: this time it's personal

I WILL triumph. That's a sock, an inanimate object. I'm a reasonably intelligent human being. I can outthink a sock. See? Note the markers indicating the yarnovers (on the needles). Try to ignore the beaded markers which were accidentally strung on the lifeline marking the halfway point. Yup. A lifeline, on a sock. Desperate times demand desperate measures.

Perhaps I was over-confident as a result of the relative ease, or sheer luck(!) with which I mastered, well, completed the 'wrapped stitch' heels.
Perhaps I just wasn't paying sufficient attention. Perhaps it's the fuzziness and occasional thinning of this yarn that makes it easier to knit or purl the wrong number of stitches so that when one side of the heel was neatly finished, 5 or so stitches remained on the other side. Was I imagining things, or did I hear them sniggering? This time things will be different: I will prevail!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

KIP & BIP (long!)

Too many projects makes for little visible progress on any of them. I'm at the heels (if not my wit's end) on the 'dream socks': I really, really think I prefer short-row heels. Not much experience to base that on, though.

Dedicated birders (ie those who watch our little feathered friends) often have Life Lists, a list of all the birds they've seen. I can add three locations to my KIP Life List thanks to those socks:

In my car on the top of the hydraulic lift as it was inspected for roadworthiness (someone has to twist the steering wheel, etc).

On the Northern Line. A nice lady said I reminded her of her grandmother[!!] who knitted everywhere, and told me about the fabulous shawl she'd knitted when her own daughter was pregnant. She became addicted to knitting, for weeks she knitted everywhere she went, and when it was presented as a gift at the baby shower it was eclipsed by a purchased Shetland Shawl given by the MiL. She doesn't know what her daughter did with it in the end, "probably gave it to a charity shop". I was horrified and tried to persuade her that her daughter was cherishing it as too good to use. I hope so, I really do. When we left the train at Euston I gave her my very best smile and said I thought she should knit herself a shawl to show her daughter how to use it.

In the waiting area for Rigby & Peller. The socks said they felt a bit intimidated by all the burgundy and gold, but we managed it.

As there's no knitting worth boasting about, I thought I'd try some BIP (Baking In Public). Saturday is Pizza Day here. Homemade pizza, a salad, a bottle of red and Dr. Who. Bliss.

Ingredients: 650gm UK strong flour/US all purpose (US flour is higher in protein than the average UK flour); 2 tsp table salt; a scant 1 tbsp sugar; 1 tsp instant yeast; c.2 tbsp olive oil. Add c.400ml cool water. Knead well. I do it like this: with the heel of (here) the right hand *push* the dough
down and away, literally smearing it along the surface while your left hand holds the dough so the whole lump doesn't move. Push from the shoulder; your arm should be straight. As you pull your hand back, curve your fingers down to pull the dough back with it. A lot will stick to the table; never mind, just push again. Build a rhythm. A dough scraper is useful to scrape those stuck remnants back into the ball every now and then; if you haven't got one, improvise. Switch hands occasionally. Do all this with as little flour on the surface as possible: I don't use any at all until I roll the final ball. Added flour makes for drier bread; moister bread is usually nicer. If you look closely at the photo you can see the ragged stringiness that indicates gluten development. Gluten is the protein that eventually forms the network to trap the gases generated by the yeast. Those trapped gas bubbles are what make bread rise, so gluten development is crucial. I knead for about 5 minutes, hard, to get this: a smooth ball. If you could see the surface as I can, you'd see there are bubbles trapped between sheets of gluten visible on the surface. That will be a good crust. Divide the ball into four equal-ish parts, shape each into a ball and leave to rise in a bowl of olive oil. After rising for an hour or so one of my four will go into the freezer for another day. If you want to eat in about 2-3 hours, leave the bowl at warm room temperature. If you're planning ahead, put the bowl in the fridge to rise more slowly, and take it out about 90 minutes before you want to start cooking. Chilling or otherwise 'retarding' a bread dough to force a slow rise allows development of a richer, more complex flavour.
[time passes]
Not as well-risen as I'd like, but not bad. You can see some gas bubbles already; bodes well (I like a light crust). Note that he took the photos in which you can see both of my hands. A third hand of my own would be very useful; I'll let you know if I work out how to acquire one. Preheat the oven; you want it HOT, mine is 250C/450F. Remember to have your baking stone/set of quarry tiles/slab of kiln shelf cut to c. 1" less than your oven dimensions (my choice) on the shelf at the bottom of the oven before you turn it on. Use a baking sheet if you've nothing else, but ceramic is better because it holds the heat: for a good crisp, light crust you and your pizza need *bottom heat*.

Prepare to assemble the pizza(s)! I cheat, big time. I build the pizza on a re-useable sheet of teflon fabric. This means it never sticks to whatever I use to slide it onto the stone, no matter how long it sits in the kitchen, and there's almost nothing between the dough and the hot stone. So I can make all three pizzas, put the first one in the oven, then sit and drink wine until it's done. Anyway... pull one of the lumps free of the rest and start to gently pull (with the hand that's not holding it) and spread (with the fingers of the hand holding it) that lump out into a flatter lump. If you look closely you might be able to see that the dough is actually spongy, full of gas. Don't lose that! When it's a bit flatter, spread and pull it on the teflon fabric until it's the size you want. I make mine about 1" smaller than the fabric. Some bits will be almost 1/2" thick, others so thin you could read a paper through them: that means some bits will be thick, golden and chewy (my favourite) and others will be thin, dark brown and crisp (his favourite). Add the topping. I usually use 4-6tbsp of organic chopped tinned tomatoes in 'thick juice' sprinkled with chopped sage, but a cooked sauce is good, too. Dot with sausage (spanish chorizos) and cheese. I use a dry processed mozzarella because we like a dry crisp pizza; wetter 'fresh' cheese adds too much fluid. When you're ready, just slide it onto a baking sheet or a peel, or even a big piece of sturdy cardboard and slide it off onto the hot baking stone. Peer through the oven window and watch while the crust just zooms up (well, that's what I do). Mine take 13-14 minutes at 250C. Experiment: your oven will be different. I grate strong parmesan onto it, then sprinkle coarsely sliced fresh basil over everything (then eat the bits that don't go on the pizza).
I don't know what I've forgotten...

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

It's so annoying!

I think it is, anyway. Well, many things are, but the one that's really rankling at the moment is the variable availability of yarn. Allow me to explain. I'm typesetting an... interesting paper at the moment, 37 pages of tables, graphs that have to be redrawn from Word, illustrations to be inserted (which means re-numbering all references to all illustrations in the paper). Trust me, it's not fun. When I can't bear it any longer I unearth 'Scarf Style' from the stacks of paper around me and consider a problem. There are lots of things I want to make for me, starting with 'Lady Eleanor', but I need to make something for my incipient brother-in-law. I can't give K a gift and not have something for J: it's not fair. (On our birthdays my parents always gave one decent gift to the non-birthday child.) I could knit him his own Wedding Socks (I have the yarn ready) if I asked K his shoe size and she knew it. But he might have immense feet and I really don't want to spend this summer knitting socks to a deadline! I gather he was envious of the handwoven silk/wool scarf I sent K last Christmas. He would like a scarf of his own, and I'd like to knit one for him (weaving comes later, when I'm better at it). 'Forbes Forest' is a possibility, but it will require time and thought and there's something about 'Interlocking Balloons'. I just can't stop looking at it. But can I find a yarn? It seems to be a strange weight: 175yd/160m per 4oz/114g (why can't they give a 'standard' stat, eg 70m/50g?) Lovely mix of merino, alpaca and silk: stretchy for the cables, soft, and a sheen to show off the stitches.

Rummaging through UK online suppliers found Debbie Bliss Baby Alpaca Silk, but no merino/alpaca/silk blend in a single colour or very subtle blend that won't overwhelm the pattern. The Alpaca/Silk is very nearly the right weight, but it doesn't get a particularly good review on Wiseneedle. In theory I could order something from the US, although the three weeks or more it would take to arrive would force some frenzied knitting to finish scarf and a top for me by the end of July[1]. The original yarn is available, but they haven't replied to my email asking if they'll ship to the UK. It seems that for a while they stopped making the yarn. I suspect some knitwear designers write patterns for 'that wonderful yarn they found on holiday' without considering whether or not anyone trying to knit the pattern will be able to find a substitute, let alone the original. I understand why, but it's frustrating, especially when most patterns are written in the US for US yarns and I'm over here in the UK... anyway. I can find thinner yarn, pure alpaca at c. 100m/50g, but that would make the scarf thinner and it's only 9" wide to start with, and it wouldn't have the weight/sheen of the silk fraction. And of course there are thicker yarns, but I want to make an elegant scarf, something that flows rather than smothers. Bother.

(time and digital information flow)

Now that's interesting. I haven't found that before. The average weight is right, and... oh, that's pretty. The person whose URL I gave for the scarf knitted it in an alpaca/silk blend and seems very happy with the results. Handspun would presumably be a bit looser... now, that does look nice. The DB alpaca/silk was said to shed and pill, and this could be worse, being handspun, but... oh, look, that one's lovely. I suppose that if it didn't work for the scarf I could make a different scarf... even garter stitch would look elegant in *that*.

I was so certain I wasn't going to buy any more yarn this month, but this is an emergency, right?

[1] The sea silk hasn't arrived yet so I've just cast on for the Shell Tank from Knitting Nature.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The roses are fabulous

As a child in western Canada 'rose' could have been one of two things. Given that the references in literature were to things in gardens, it seemed likely that 'rose' was the leggy, spined hybrid teas that sprouted in regimental lines in the parched soil lining our neighbour's paths. Blooms too big for their stems, in strident pink, orange, red or combinations of all three, leaves yellowing in the hot dry summer sun. I couldn't understand why anyone would bother to grow them, let alone write paeans to praise that insignificant scent. The alternative was our provincial flower, the wild rose, which lined the roadsides and trapped our clothing when we played in the woods. It was so abundant that we scarcely noticed it or the faint scent of its fragile pale pink blooms unless by chance we found a corner where sun and wind conspired to concentrate and trap the perfume until it became something that could almost leave you drunken with pleasure. The scent of wild roses, sweet clover and dust from roads or wheatfields... all bring back my childhood.

We arrived in the UK and I continued to see no reason for roses. My first garden was a tiny blank canvas (the previous owner, a Sicilian, had grown nothing but courgettes and one giant grapevine) on which I painted a lawn, pond, hostas (oh, happy slugs) and an assortment of herbaceous perennials. No roses. Everyone else had hybrid teas: why bother? Until, desperate to entertain the in-laws, we visited the Royal National Rose Garden in St Albans – and I realised what a rose was. Now roses are what I have in our garden. It's a small garden by North American standards, about 30' square, and some of that is patio and some is vegetable patch. There are roses everywhere else, and at this time of year when the (hated) privet hedge, house and fence trap summer in the garden, the scent is heavenly.

Albertine (above) was one of the first to arrive and now, 18 years old, it usually covers the front of the house in salmon-pink and vicious thorns. The smell fills the house and drifts of petals block the front door. It's still a bit sparse this year after being cut to the bone two years ago.

Mme Hardy (above left) is my favourite, white with a green eye. Beside that (as in life) is Teasing Georgia, a modern David Austin rose. Not with the strong, sweet perfume of the true old roses, but as it and the next two, Ludlow Castle and Pegasus (shades of yellow and cream, not illustrated) flower all summer, I'm not complaining. Much.

In another bed is William Lobb. Look hard and you'll see the resinous 'moss' that gives the 'moss roses' their name covering the flower buds. Next to that (below, in this case) is 'Mary Rose', an Austin with an old rose perfume, but not repeat-flowering. Shown here with Mrs Kendall Clark (the geranium, silly).
There are more that I haven't photographed. Guinee, with deepest dark red blooms and an amazing perfume is persevering up the fence despite hot sun and competition from tree roots. Two more whose names escape me are running riot through the field maple and the pear tree, with a honeysuckle in hot pursuit. And then there's Maiden's Blush growing from an old plant up and out through that privet hedge. Passers-by who catch the merest hint of that scent pivot on their heels and bury their noses in the pale rose-pink blooms. Last summer the roses were also fabulous. At their peak I spent an entire morning harvesting blossoms, snipping away the white at the base of the petals before following an Elizabethan recipe to make rose-petal conserve. The petals of 80 flowers (I counted) and sugar metamorphosed from something that looked like wet dishrags (but smelt divine) to 4 tiny pots of amethyst that when, opened, released the essence of my summer garden on the bleakest of winter days. I will make it again, but not this year.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


I think I've worked out why the silk weft is becoming hairy after passing through the heddles. I didn't stop to consider that the internal surfaces of the loops also might be roughened by mild corrosion. And there are *hundreds* of the bloody things. Bother. The best solution isn't hairspray, it's replacing the silk warp with something tougher and more abrasive to polish the heddles. Probably linen or hemp or something like that. The new bathroom is to be sage green and very pale warm grey (it already has a hand-polished wooden floor), which means the striped blue&white roman blind should be replaced... I could weave something, if I incorporated a design feature that allowed two or more strips to be joined (the window's >24" wide and although I could weave 48" if I was very, very careful, I'd like something easy to restore my beginners' confidence).

On the other hand knitting seems to be going well at the moment. I just want a) more time, and b) (ideally) a different body shape. I covet the Roundabout Leaf Tank and the Shell Tank from
Knitting Nature but I strongly suspect I'm too short and square to look good in designs like that. Never mind, I'll probably go for it anyway.

Next, or at least most urgent is a shower gift for my sister (K, if by chance you've found this blog, stop reading NOW!). The theme is 'Hands & Feet' (it's to be held in a spa), so flushed with success at my first real socks I decided to knit a pair for her. This is Hipknits sock cashmere, shade Blueberry, pattern 'Priscilla's Dream Socks' a download from Interweave Knits that I can't find at the moment. I truly love my 'Black Lagoon' socks but I'm not sure lace is the best way to show off hand-dyed yarn *and* I needed an easy-to-size pattern as I can't get her to try these for size as I go. I reserve judgement on the yarn; it somehow doesn't feel quite as I was expecting (although I couldn't say what I was expecting) and smells noticeably of the vinegar in its final bath (reminding me a little too strongly that I really should de-scale the kitchen sink), but it's knitting up nicely and I can see the socks looking good with jeans. The old faded pale blue jeans of my youth, not the dark things youngsters wear these days... :-)

Also on the needles: that Handmaiden 'Sea Silk' in Ivory. I started swatching it for the Diamond Fantasy Shawl, but things just didn't feel right even when I got gauge (WHY does the 'u' want to be in front of the 'a'? Is it tired of being at the end of the Vowel lineup?). The large openings in the pattern meant the yarn wasn't showing its subtle shimmering changes in shade
to full advantage. I kept seeing the 'Kimono Shawl' from Folk Shawls every time I picked up the yarn; problem was, I had nothing like enough yarn for that. I bought it as a shawl kit online, 2 skeins of 500m. 'Kimono' needs 2000m of the suggested yarn. Bother, bother, dye lots... damn. OK. An invoice has returned home with its booty. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I've ordered an extra 1200m from Colorsong Yarns (it now comes in 400m skeins). Plan is to try to knit the 'Kimono' of my dreams by alternating rows from different skeins to even out differences between dyelots. If that works I will have a fabulous shawl and a little bit left over. If it doesn't work then I have enough to make two smaller shawls or scarves... or, if I find this out quickly enough, I could buy more of the new dyelot. I'll have no difficulty thinking of a recipient for anything made of this, assuming I can bear to part with it. I've already decided that if by any freak of chance I manage to finish something before The Wedding, then whatever it is is a gift for K. I don't know what to hope for...

Sunday, June 11, 2006

I am what?!

What kind of yarn are you?

You are Dishcloth Cotton.You are a very hard worker, most at home when you're at home. You are thrifty and seemingly born to clean. You are considered to be a Plain Jane, but you are too practical to notice.
Take this quiz!

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Saturday, June 10, 2006


Yes, my secret identity has been revealed... I am the Creature from the Black Lagoon! Cower before me, puny mortals.
Sharon, Ed and Bob, our intrepid local news team, have travelled to Fossil Beach to bring this story to you, "Sharon, what can you tell us about this astonishing and unexpected occurrence?" "Well, it wasn't entirely unexpected. Locals tell us they'd known for some time that something unusual was about to happen. They were hoping for a rain of frogs [cut to Local saying "We like 'em deep-fried in a cracker crumb crust. I reckon we'd get a fair few meals off that 'un, but I'm not volunteering to buy the crackers!"] but were not unduly surprised when this showed up at about 9pm last night. There's general agreement that the situation could be worse [cut to Local cab driver "I had that Yog-Sothoth in the back of my cab once"], so we're keeping a close eye on developments."

Yes, those are my first-ever Serious Socks. Pattern is 'Elfine' by Anna Bell, a free download. Note that in the side view you can just about see the vertical k1P1 that brought me up short for about 30 minutes :-) Knitted in Fleece Artist 'Sea Storm' merino sock, sole on 2mm circ, lace on 2.5mm circ (pattern called for 2.25 all round). What have I learned? First and foremost , I loved knitting these socks. Small enough to be completed before they're a chore, the perfect canvas for tiny, intricate patterns. I 'm in bare feet whenever possible, so they've got a long life ahead of them. What else? I'm an EU37 (UK5.5/6), depending on the width. At 64st in circumference, these are almost too small. When I make this pattern again I'll try increasing it to 68 or even 70 stitches, which last would allow me to make the lace continuous around the leg (it's a 10st repeat). I cast off loosely with a 4mm needle; that too is almost too tight. More width would be good. But still I love these, my first socks. How much do I love them?
I bought a pair of sandals to show off my socks. I even argued nicely with the sales person who held that no one in their right mind wears sandals and socks. Give me a few weeks and I'll change her mind!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Not Knitting

Well, just a bit. The socks are progressing; the glitch was due to my assumption (life keeps trying to teach me not to make assumptions) that the lace pattern would repeat around the leg without a break, but there is a break, a K1P1 running up each side of the leg. A bit of research found the author's design blog in which she comments that she'd found a problem but thought of a work-round: I think it's the pattern break. I also found several images of finished socks, one of which shows the same break I've got. Another shows someone who may have given up on it: the lace continues up the front, but the sole stockinette runs all the way to the top of the leg at the back.
This morning I'm not thinking about knitting. I'm working, and wishing I was somewhere else, because on a day like this the landscape would look like this

but greener. That was taken in November looking WNW from Coire Mhic Fearchair on the northern slope of Beinn Eighe. Clockwise from left you see the dark slope of Carn na Feola (Beinn Dearg), then in the distance the shape of Baosbheinn, then Beinn an Eòin, then (closer) Beinn a Chearcaill. Google Earth will show you where this is, although on my machine the mountain names are displaced to the southwest. Just go to the Isle of Skye, then move east/inland from Raasay to Torridon and have a look around :-/

I don't care about midges, I want to be there so badly I can almost smell the warm peat, feel the breeze on my skin. The flip side of the desire for something more that drives so much creativity is dissatisfaction with one's current lot in life. Memo to self: remember the title of your blog. There's bound to be something to enjoy today, even if it's a forced sense of accomplishment when 30pp of proof text stutters out of the printer to be sent to an author. Faithful Henchcat says "Just feed me chicken when I wake up. What more could you want?"

ps. http://www.bakerina.com/

Monday, June 05, 2006

A toast to those who did it first

The socks are growing... see? Two short-row heels and one of the feet they're intended to fit. The first one is not quite perfect (I thought it was too easy to be true and unlike the maths exam, it was). It took me a while to realise I was finding it difficult to distinguish between the last knitted stitch and the next wrapped stitch; no way was I tinking that, so I fudged it. Anyone else see a sock covered in chocolate sauce there? I paid MUCH more attention to the next one and it worked as it should. I'm experiencing a momentary difficulty in getting the lace on the back to join the lace on the front as it should, but I'll get there. How can I not? Others have marked the way for me ...

Someone did it first. I was thinking about that as I worked through the first heel (part of the problem, perhaps, but I don't regret it). Someone, somewhen was knitting something that needed a bulge and thought "If I did this and that, then... ". I don't think it could have been me in a previous incarnation, alas: I don't think that way. Or perhaps I lack the confidence to look beyond the instructions? But I spent some time staring off into the middle distance thinking about the people who can do that, who did it without instructions: those who first tried twisting fibre into string, who worked out how to get linen out of flax. Who put a bit of stone or wood on a stick to get the right weight to make a spindle. Who thought of running string through holes in square bits of wood and rotating those bits of wood to get a shed: tablet weaving! Who devised the Weaver's Cross... The list is almost endless, the complex beauty of what we do today traced back through time through all the individuals who contributed finesse and elegance and functionality to the people who did it first. I'm knitting gratitude and admiration into those socks and, more importantly, I am a (very) small part of the tradition keeping their accomplishments alive, passing the knowledge on.

ps. Most of the blue flowers are Nigella damascena, commonly called Love-in-a-Mist or Devil in the Bush. Interesting combination of names. There's a single Viola cornuta, the last of the Forget-Me-Nots and a bit of a petal of Papaver orientalis Perry's White at the very top.