Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Canada wasn't a holiday, and it was clear that from November there'd be no time to be away until late next spring so we had to act quickly: train to Edinburgh (seemed as good a place as any) for a long weekend. I like travelling by train. I enjoy the forced relaxation: once you've boarded, all other major decisions are out of your hands. I treasure the hours during which I have only to choose when to eat lunch, whether to knit or to read, which item of knitting deserves attention. And all the while the world is rolling past my window, a new vista every few minutes. Or at least that's how it's supposed to work. We had an unexpected adventure forced upon us, when some poor person, a 'fatality at Huntingdon' stopped the East Coast Mainline service in its, er, tracks.
While the train company frantically searched for buses to transfer passengers at stations to Peterborough (which is where southbound trains were halted), we did something I've only read of in books: with ringing voice I asked if anyone cared to share a taxi north to Peterborough Station. It worked! Forty minutes later the taxi disgorged us and we bagged even better seats on a train to Edinburgh. Above is the view just south of Berwick-on-Tweed, the North Sea eating away the coast. While I took this photo the young lad next to me was trying his hand at my knitting, much to the amusement of his GF. I will remember him when I wear that shawl.

Edinburgh proved frustrating: I don't know what I expected, but what we found wasn't it. Having read my Dunnett I may have been looking for medieval, but it's just not there. Edinburgh's 18th C 'New Town', an elegant pattern of streets, crescents and parks laid out north of the Castle and associated 'Old Town' proved so attractive that over the next century or so the Old Town was abandoned to become an unsavoury slum. In the late 19th C the Victorians (as was their wont) decided to remake it as the medieval town of their imagination. Some old buildings have survived, but most of the Old Town is now much younger than the New Town.
(Above the back of the new 'Old Town' lining the Royal Mile as seen from Princes Street.)
Shopping? The main streets are lined by the same shops you'd find in any other large British city. Just colour the tourist tat tartan and scent it with whisky. By sheer coincidence (honest) Drummond Wools was virtually just across the street from our guesthouse. I think the vast array of computerised sewing machines may have replaced most of the coned yarn, and their knitting yarn selection was, well, painful. It felt 20 years behind the times. This is what I was directed to when I asked for 'wool'.

But Man Does Not Live By Wool Alone... Valvona & Crolla is famous for food! Behind the refrigerated displays the shelves of liqueurs stretch from floor to ceiling. Ask for a bottle high on the shelf and the chap reaches for a telescopic pole with a rubber-coated clamp at the top. Tension mounts as he maneuvers the clamp around the bottleneck, pulls it tight, then manages somehow to bring the pole down while holding the clamp shut. *Huge* sigh of relief. I asked if they broke many bottles and he said 'Yes, but the noses hurt more.' I hadn't considered that a bottle slipping from the clamp would plummet straight down into the face of the person holding the pole. The shop continues back, past the chocolate, the olive oils, vinegars, fresh-baked breads, wine (oh, the wine!) and then: a restaurant. Their delicious pizza fueled further explorations. We do almost all of this on foot, you know: a bit of string on the map suggests we averaged 5-8 miles/full day, which justifies quite a lot of eating. Just as well, really. We walked to dinner but took a taxi home from Daniel's in Leith -- that's the first time either of us has ever hailed a cab. The second was the next night, when we didn't want to walk the mile 'home' when the Ghosthunter Trail finished at Canongate Churchyard in the rain. The 'Trail' wasn't quite what I'd expected either: the guide was good, but spent a little too long telling us how much better the other tours were. And the frequent references to Most Haunted (what is that, anyway... ah. I see) were completely lost on us.

We 'did' the Castle and the Honours of Scotland aka the regalia. Reading the history of the regalia I found it really difficult to believe they misplaced the latter for over a century, just put them in a chest after the Act of Union 1707, locked the chest and the room it was in, then forgot about them. Later a stray thought pointed out that this was how many of us, well, at least in my family, deal with painful things: lock it away in the back of our minds. The pain goes away if you don't dwell on it.

The Castle is essential. I suppose everyone wants something different from it; the Merlin-equivalent clad in purple and silver cloak and fake hair capering about in the central courtyard did nothing for me. I liked the way the stone walls seem to grow out of the native rock of the volcanic plug on which the castle stands. I liked the pattern of the granite setts in the roads that flowed downhill. I was stunned by the beauty of the embroidered altar cloth in St Margaret's Chapel at the top of the Castle. Alas, the flash washed out the colours, and my hand-held photo is terribly fuzzy. Go and see it yourself if you can: it's utterly fabulous. More wonderful embroidery hangs on the walls of the rooms housing the Honours, but visitors were just walking past these works of art as though they didn't exist, these hours of patience and skill made corporeal in silk. Why were there no postcards of these things?

We saw the new Scottish Parliament (here's the official site and here's a more general view with links to some of the controversies). Taken as a whole, this is the Ugliest Building I Have Ever Seen. 'Too many cooks [in this case, ideas] spoil the broth' made flesh. The materials of which it is made (stone cladding, sheet metal) strive to pull the disparate bits/styles together and fail miserably. It's HORRIBLE. The 'undercroft' entrance hall is a good example of a good idea that should never have been built: it might have worked in Spain or southern France, somewhere with enough sunlight to light the space under the concrete through all the year. Even with all the lights on, in autumnal Edinburgh it was almost too dark to read the information displays even in mid-afternoon. We shouldn't have bothered: they were some of the most poorly designed displays we've ever had the misfortune to struggle through. So don't bother: go around the corner and spend
an interesting and informative hour or two in Our Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh's Millennium Project. We both enjoyed it tremendously, and I've got lots of photos to inspire me.

What else was really good? Arthur's Seat,* of course. I did some token knitting as we and about 50-75 other people enjoyed the grand vistas across Edinburgh (if I'd thought harder, I'd have positioned the needle to point AT the castle, instead of running just below it. Sorry about that). Notice the gleaming rocks polished by the passage of thousands of feet.

Anyway. It was a good long weekend, just the right length. It's good to be home, too: there's no place like the right bed, with all the right hollows in all the right places. It's a shame about the 1500 email messages, of which about 20 were urgent/work, though. Enough procrastination, I will Deal With Them immediately!

Granite setts flow downhill.

* We did it from the west, fools that we are. Straight up the hillside, feeling sorry for and grateful to the volunteers who spend their time building the stairs up and down which we tourists toil. Even sorrier for the lad 8? 10? whose father was verbally driving him up the hillside as we came down; with eyes fixed and unseeing the child was keening, a continuous faint, high, terrified wail of fear though surrounded by parents, siblings and grandparents. Even as I tried to work out what was wrong, what to do, how to say something, it was too late, the queue of which they were part was well above us and there was neither space nor strength in my legs to catch up. I think the less of me for that.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

European knit it is dense thing

One good about having relatives spread across a wide area is that gifts intended for specific dates often arrive at times that spread to form a skewed distribution in the vicinity of the date. I'm not certain if my birthday presents skew right or left (I think it depends on whether one's looking forward or back through time), but at any rate they're still arriving. My sister usually asks what I'd like, so I try to have a list of stuff available from Amazon for her to choose from (I toy with the idea of demanding yarn from obscure online retailers shipping only to North America, but that seems... unreasonable). Anyway, while procrastinating madly, er, compiling the list one day I discovered the Crossed in Translation KAL for Am Kamin in 'New Style of Heirloom Knitting'. I'm trying to cut down on cables, so was pleased to find Crafting Japanese which strangely enough features links to a variety of crafts in Japan and has a list of books, each with a lovely little thumbnail of the cover, which is where another book by Toshiyuki Shimada caught my eye. The review at Purlwise had only to mention that Google translates the title as something like 'European knit it is dense thing' for me to put it at the top of the list. I'm still considering the meaning of that stunningly profound statement as I admire the contents of the book. It's fabulous, a little paperback full of attractive and beautifully presented puzzles.
The items (gloves, mittens, scarves and hats) seem so... elegant. Tiny, intricate interpretations of Northern European techniques incorporating colour combinations so tasteful they leave me painfully aware that I'm a hulking great Caucasian barbarian. There are little sequences of photographs showing how to cast on for fair-isle or twined knitting (at least I think that's what they show), and the charted instructions are straight out of a perfectly-drawn manga. And all with such decorative text! Not a word of English anywhere. Best of all was the note from K telling me that if there's anything I can't understand she'll forward an image of the problem to several Japanese ladies who knit.

I am, however, not without my talents :-) I need an illustration to explain the importance of what are known as 'veteran trees', trees at least several hundred years old (I know of one that's at least 700 years old), home to an astonishing range of wildlife that relies on the holes, hollows, crevices and dead wood characteristic of ancient trees. I have photos of veteran trees in this particular park, but no photo shows all the important features: that's what illustrators are for. Being a bit pressed for time I threw my photo into Illustrator and began tracing/drawing, using colours that stood out against the overall greenness. The final version appears in shades of brown and green without the photo behind it, but I think this WIP looks amazing. I lay odds visitors would pay much more attention to the veteran trees if they were highlighted in neon lights.

p.s. That's him sitting on the bench, watching the cricket. The tree is a sweet chestnut growing in one of several clumps that were probably planted in the 1770s as part of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown's design for what was then a private landscape.

Monday, October 23, 2006


On the spindle is the singles I spun yesterday afternoon; on the needle the fabric knitted with yarn straight off the spindle, before the twist has had a chance to set. This is something I've wanted to do since I first saw pictures of 'energised singles' ('energized' in the US) in the Twisted Sisters Sock Workbook.

I loved the look of the stockinette, the pattern of parallel ridges pulled high and twisted sideways by the torque in the yarn. Having made some, I am absolutely hooked, because the fabric is amazing. It's alive. It's elastic in a way that ordinary knitting is not, it twists and moves in your fingers. It feels heavy, slightly resistant, bouncy, almost greasy, I think because there's so much twist in the yarn that the knitted fabric is slippery. I may have over-twisted it (see the yarn spiralling back on itself between the needles and the spindle), I clearly need more practice. Because the book is right -- this will make fabulous socks.

Note that I dislike the colours intensely. More precisely I det
est the melon orange-pink, and I dislike the overall pastel-ness. But isn't that the point of hand-spinning? I should be able to play with the roving to change the way those colours work. I've already discovered that running a strip of one colour with another creates a spiral that makes mottling (as opposed to heathering, which I suspect comes from preparing the roving). With a bit of luck, thought and practice I might be able to turn those pastel stripes into something more reminiscent of an opal's fire. But with less melon. Local birds will have melon-coloured nests next year.

Ah, yes. The Sweater that fits. I started this on Saturday in a fit of enthusiasm, measuring the back of my neck and following the basic instructions for a v-neck raglan in Barbara Walker's Knitting from the Top. I almost immediately realised this was not the sweater I was looking for: the neck was going to be far snugger than I had envisaged. So I took it off the needles and left it to him to rip and roll (he's good that way) while I went to sulk in a hot shower. Fortunately I had the forethought to take a tape measure, paper and pencil, so was able to spend 10 minutes in front of the mirror pretending the front of my neck was the back of my neck, working out where I wanted the V to end (remembering there'll be ribbing) and so forth. Then I measured the body of one sweater I actually like. The result was this (I've redrawn it for you but tried to keep the, er, spirit of my pencil scribbles. Eunny I am not).

The swatch I like is 19st/4", 7 rows/1". At a guesstimate I want a neck opening 8" wide at the back and a correspondingly wide v-neck going down c. 6" (ribbing will preserve my modesty if necessary). The back should be 21" wide (I measured an existing sweater); the front could be less, but will need short-row shaping for the bust. The bottom edge of my belt is c. 11" down from the armpit of the sweater, and I think I want about 3" ribbing... but that's the least of my worries. From an existing sweater and some fudging I think the raglan seam will be c. 9.5" long; I've tried to calculate the number of rows needed for that because I need to know the rate of increase along the seam (I spent most of 2 hours' walk on Sunday thinking about this sweater). At this point I became confused (see the scribbled note in the middle of the sweater) because I forgot that the back is fed by two raglan seams. Brain the size of a pea...* OK, I can use the same rate of increase as Walker, which is 2 stitches (one for the sleeve, one for the body) on each seam on every right-side row. 65-ish rows give 32-ish stitches/seam. 32+32+38 (the neck I started with) give me counts on fingers 102 stitches across the back at the armpit-equivalent. More than I want. I'll have to slow the rate of increase, ideally somewhere the slope can flatten appropriately... near the underarm, perhaps. I'm a bit worried because Walker uses the 2-stitch rate of increase for a sweater with a 5" neck-back when I'm starting with 8"; I wondered whether I would need a steeper angle (ie to add fewer stitches to the back) because I've got more to start with, but the maths seem to suggest not. I would really welcome comments when my brain stops hurting.
Never mind, I can spin. It's addictive. Joanne, you KNEW this, didn't you?

* Some years ago I read something, somewhere that claimed that the tail of some dinosaur-or-other was guided by a 'brain' (read ganglion or cluster of nerves) the size of a pea. I remind myself of this when my much-vaunted human brain fails to notice the painfully obvious and I doubt my ability even to steer a tail.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

He's been poorly

so I've been busy. It's nothing terribly serious but I've been ferrying him hither and thither for three days, which has eaten time I'd normally spend doing other things, including work and blogging. I did get some knitting done, but frogged it after finding a major error. And the Bearfoot socks are back in yarn balls too: I didn't like the fabric I was getting on the 2.25mm bamboo needles. Too relaxed :-) I wanted a denser fabric -- and smaller socks! There are some things I CAN control in this life.

KiriBlue is finished. Another lovely shawl. Despite adding a pattern repeat it's smaller than I'd like but, as it's for someone else who may not want miles of loose fabric draped around her torso, it might be perfect. I've written '15 repeats' on the pattern for future reference. Note that it's blocking on my side of the bed, and that I resorted to using a hair dryer across it to be certain I could get to bed that night; it's unseasonably warm here and quite humid. The blocking wires are very useful although thicker than I'd expected: on the top, where I've fed them through stitches quite close together, the shawl dries with a sort of lacy effect due solely to the wires. It occurs to me that I'm going to have to include full care instructions with these gifts. 'Handwash in cool water with care' isn't enough. A paragraph explaining blocking will be essential and I suppose an offer to re-block in future would be kind. How do other people cope with this? Is every gifted shawl accompanied by a lifetime maintenance contract?
Here's a shot similar to that of the Sea Silk version. Note the difference! The alpaca fuzz, er, halo obscures the stitch pattern, but promises warmth. It's a friendly-looking thing, really. Denim-blue and cuddly.

Pattern: Kiri, a free download from All Tangled Up.
Yarn: Lisa Souza Baby Alpaca Silk in Blue Sky, knitted on a 3.75mmm circular.
Modifications: 13 main pattern repeats instead of 12 resulted in a shawl 130cm wide (from fingertip to fingertip on me) by 103cm deep to the point of the triangle. If/when I do this again, I'll try 15 pattern repeats. I repeated the change I made to the first one:
If you follow the pattern as written, the two sides of the shawl (either side of the centre line) are identical. I decided to make them symmetrical, so on one side all the 'slip 1, knit 2, psso' became 'knit 2 (which I decided to do through the back loop for some reason I don't understand), return to left needle, pass next stitch over the one just made, slide result to right needle'.

For the record, here are all the results of my spinning to date. Far left, the first yarn I ever made, allowed to twist back on itself. Middle, the second, left as a single. Is that the correct terminology or should it be 'as singles'? Left is the third, which I deliberately tried to make thinner and more even, and twisted more as a single because that's what the books say to do when it's to be plied. I then plied it back on itself (last entry's photo). I haven't washed it or anything, so I guess technically it's not finished, but I've been analysing it as best I can. My goal is to make sock yarn which I think means fingering-ish weight and reasonably tightly spun so it's hard-wearing. This stuff is the right thickness in places and I suspect might knit up to make suitable sock fabric (yeah, right. I'll judge this based on my vast experience, ie three pairs of socks?) but handling it suggests I've achieved the thickness by twisting the singles too tightly.
The thinnest bits are quite hard -- there's still some give, but I think they'd leave little purl ridges imprinted in the wearer's soles. I wonder if there's a market for socks that act as pumice stones, abrading the wearer's feet? It's not a bug, it's a feature... Anyway, my theory is that I need to use a little less wool in each single and not twist it quite so hard. To me that seems likely to result in a slightly softer yarn of the same diameter. Comments? Joanne?

I carried that tiny skein around with me for about a half-hour last night with frequent stops to admire it, just like a dog with a really good stick. When I showed it to A he did look slightly impressed (and he hasn't even seen me spin yet). I pointed out its faults as a sock yarn and he said "It doesn't look that bad to me. I'd wear socks made of that, spun by your own fair hand. Better, I'll get some straw and we can retire."

Monday, October 16, 2006

Gloat, gloat

Sorry. Well, I am. It's rude to gloat. Colour me chastened as I remind myself that there are undoubtedly many other people who would desperately like this yarn, just as my father reminded me of the starving children in India who (he said) would give almost anything for the brussels sprouts (scroll down to the bit about 'hated vegetable') I flatly refused to eat. I was a precocious brat: I offered to post them to India myself. I'm not going to offer to post this lot to anyone, though. Not unless you're holding my cats hostage.

You know what skeins of sock yarn look like, so here's the detail. One skein Cherry Tree Hill in a true, deep, bright turquoise and a second in a colourway that includes that shade, for two pairs of simple intarsia socks. Eventually I want to make these. It may take years of practice!

Habu. I could cheerfully have carried off most of that stall for weaving as well as knitting (I'm not that enthralled by the metal blends). Three x 337yds of Kusa x2 for two shawls. One, probably the green but the cream is soooo beautiful will be a Wing o' the Moth for me, I don't know what I'll do with the other, or to whom I will gift the result. Some hand-dyed variegated Kusa because after picking it up I couldn't, just couldn't put it down. I have begun to realise that a really good yarn store is going to be as dangerous as a really good bookstore. Or worse. The cashmere stuck to me too; it was about that point I started dropping stuff and the kind lady in charge gave me a basket. Nefarious plan, that, foiled by the arrival of HPNY Knits. The curicura silk (the golden stuff at bottom left) was purchased on my farewell visit to the stall. That's the natural colour of the silk; the cocoons look as though they've been hammered and shaped from sheet gold, and the yarn seems to be made of miniscule filaments of pure gold that glisten as the light strikes them. Google in English can tell me nothing about what or who that silk comes from, but it's going to make a beautiful little scarf for me, and perhaps another for a gift. It's worth noting that the $ -> £ translation was fair, so this haul was remarkably reasonable in price.

That's the knitting stash fed. What about the weaving stash? We recently refurbished the bathroom/loo (depending on continent): after 10 years, it needed it. The old roman blind, a fetching faded nautical blue stripe, is completely inappropriate in the new sage green and tan environment, and I've been thinking about weaving the fabric for a new one as a minor challenge. The hemp was perfect, or at least so close to perfect I couldn't ignore it. This will be a silver-grey ground with green lines running across it, possibly even vaguely tartan-ish blocks. I have to think about it a bit, because by itself the green in reality is dangerously bright. It looks like sunlight through grass, and I hope I have enough left to make something totally, vividly green for M, who would love this.

Spinning? Do I deserve anything? Is it happening? I bought some fibre because I have no idea when I'll see anything like this again in person, and colours are difficult to choose online. Roving from 21st Century Yarns, feels a bit stiff/felted to my inexperienced touch, but the owner promised it would be spinnable and it did spread out into fibres when I tugged at it a bit. I wonder if that's because it's merino and I've only handled blue-face leicester?
Also some weird hand-painted silk tops from Oliver Twist. In Real Life these look like as though someone has solidified the rainbow of colours on a thin film of gasoline, or the shades of blue on the side of a soap bubble. I don't know how to spin fibre as long as this (the filaments are at least 12" long), but I can research and invent. And I will, because it is happening.

I'll spare you my first-ever singles, but here is my very first 2-ply, from my second-ever singles, photographed within seconds of its manifestation (note the surroundings. I was spinning instead of working. tsk, tsk)I think it's a good sign that the plied yarn hangs nicely in a loop. I know the tangle at the top of the nostepinne-equivalent is a bad sign, but hey, it's a learning experience (the straw is part of the solution) and I'm too thrilled to mind untangling this precious length of yarn. It's my yarn, I made it!

And, if the Fates are kind, tomorrow I block KiriBlue. I have more sympathy for the Fates now. I hope Clotho has a nostepinne.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

If it's Saturday, this must be Alexandra Palace

I hope the pictures and text aren't too badly askew; I'll tweak it a couple of times, but life is really too short. I have started wondering whether Typepad is better at allowing precision alignment at the draft stage.

If you're interested in fibre arts and live anywhere near the UK, you probably know of the
Knitting & Stitching Show. If not, investigate it: you might want to start saving for next year! Judging from the blogs I've read, it's unlike like Rhinebeck, or any of the other North American events with real livestock and raw fleece. The K&SS may be more diverse -- there are exhibitions and booths for people interested in all fibre arts, including embroidery, cross-stitch, knitting, crochet, all manner of braiding, and more besides, but it lacks the tangible, tangy evidence of where those fibres come from. Anyway, last year I wandered rather aimlessly. This year I had a purpose, to meet HPNY Knits. And buy some Habu yarn. Two purposes. And find a good combination of multi-colour and plain sock yarn for some interesting socks. Three, that's three purposes. Then there's
getting a colour card from Jamieson of Shetland, there might be some dyed roving to placate my spindle... too many purposes to count.
So, with an almost empty backpack and spare bags to carry all my purposes, my travelling socks, my spindle, my iPod (sans earphones, dammit) and a banner with a strange device (the poem has been set to music, and was often sung as our family began what we knew would be ill-fated ventures) I set off. Memo to self: go on a weekday next time. The Saturday journey there from here involved a change and a long wait on the platform, both ways.

In the Palm Court was the Knitterati Glitterati (I couldn't possibly, dahling, I've too much to buy) and the knitted Ferrari
which I must confess was somehow less impressive in the flesh, er, yarn. I think the flash and gleam of light reflecting from the polish of the Real Thing must be more important than I'd realised; the matte, textured surface just didn't do it for me. But it's an astonishing piece of work nonetheless.

Onwards, past the ticket-takers who still looked fresh and cheerful (the show'd only been open 30 minutes), then hard left into the West Hall and Habu. I'm to meet HPNY Knits there at 11, but I just wanted... needed to get my hands on some Kusa. Oh, and the cashmere, and the silk, I tell you, the silk. There are items knitted from their kits on the wall and one top is just stunningly beautiful, the patterned knit fabric drapes wonderfully. So many things, so little time. Not to mention funds. Fortunately HPNY arrived before I went completely mad, but she kindly took a photo to preserve my manic grin for posterity:
Gentle reader, I assure you that the width of that smile is not due to the white bag clutched in my left hand, but to my pleasure at meeting HPNY (and jpg artefacts, too. I can't possibly have that many teeth). We enjoyed a cup of tea with Sasha Kagan(!) then put the half-hour before our class with Lucy Neatby to good use, watching new knitters wielding extraordinarily thick needles on astonishingly thick yarn on the Coats stand. I've never been one for thick yarns. I turned around and there behind me was Shilasdair Yarns. Their sweater samples didn't do much for me, but their array of yarns (spun by Jamieson's, I think I was told) is very beautiful, and all from natural dyes. We've a few minutes left and Touch Yarns is nearby...
HPNY is on the left, going straight for the sock yarn, I dithered over roving and alpaca and together we were just a tiny bit late for class. I had no expectations whatsoever of this class (and Ziggy Rytka's lucet class later in the afternoon), but both were extremely good value. Lucy's enthusiastic explanations of the mechanics of knitting may have revealed the reasons for my uneven tension: experimentation is needed. I've been abusing my stitches, but will mend my ways :-)

A photo of that amazing vest (steeks, it was steeked!) and Lucy, who's a marvellous speaker. Note the trademark 'happy stitch' on the pad behind. After class we headed separate ways, HPNY back to town and me into the thick of things, list and plan in hand.

In no particular order...
Jamieson's of Shetland. The gentleman blurring into action behind the books is the 5th generation of the family in the business, and a very nice man indeed. They've got some very elegant handknits in those books, and just look at the colours! I can, any time, I have a shade card :-)

Lorna's Laces sock yarn, anyone? This is one end of the Get Knitted stand; the other end was Fleece Artist. I have a feeling that they'd had more stock earlier in the event, though. I forced Sue to feel my Mountain Colors 'Bearfoot' sock yarn, after which she promised to find out if they'd like a UK stockist. Apparently some of the most widely-mentioned-in blogland US yarn suppliers are working so hard to supply demand in the US that they're not interested/haven't energy to supply the UK market as well. *sigh*

The House of Hemp. Their yarns are nothing short of gorgeous. Alas, the flash has bleached the colours, but it's still possible to see something of the subtlety. The underlying silver-grey of the hemp fibre mutes and unites the tonal range. I want all of them, now. Hemp, like nettle, feels a bit harsh to start with (although their yarns are already relatively soft), and softens with age and use: the sample knitted/crocheted garments were soft and supple, and the woven fabric was... I'm running out of words to describe it. Just absolutely beautiful. I was not at all surprised when a tap on my shoulder proved to be the hand of my weaving teacher, Melanie Venes (her face is just visible at far left).

21st Century Yarns (I think the owner is the lady in the red&white skirt). The colours of their hand-painted yarns are really, really, really nice. Really. And they've got an amazing designer putting together some really, really, really pretty kits. Those pictures do NOT do justice to the colours or the complexity of the design. They're knitted as patchwork or other geometric units, changing colour frequently but logically. I came very close to buying a Clamshell Shawl kit, saved only by the song of the Kusa nestling in my bag. I must stop writing soon, I've got yarn to knit...

I hope that clicking on that does allow you to see a larger image. To left is a close-up (taken with his permission) of a piece by Richard McVetis, BA (Hons) Embroidery 2005 from Manchester Metropolitan University (according to his card, which I will cherish). That's white felt, cut and stitched into an organic form which is then embroidered with black thread and what must be endless patience. Every one of those tiny dots, or stipples is a stitch in black thread. His work resonates powerfully with me, because for many years (and even now, sometimes) I used pen & ink stippling in technical drawings. Beetle genitalia, I can do masterly renditions of beetle genitalia. Never once did I consider what would happen if you did it with needle and thread, and even now I am awestruck by the thought of the sheer time and talent needed to do that. He stitched those lilies from life, folks. In thread. The 3-D forms are then stuffed with a variety of materials to become sculptures. Hanging on the wall are, well, hangings. Stitched in the same way, but this time you can see the back of the work as well as the front. Now, when my mother taught me to embroider (Every well-brought-up young lady can sew and play a musical instrument), she repeatedly and pointedly told me that "the back of the work must be as tidy as the front" before sending me back to rip out what I'd done and do it again, more tidily. The back of this is NOT tidy. The thread travels from dot to dot, it flows, swirls, moves. The stippled front is static, frozen, beautiful; the stitches on the back are alive. Can you tell how much I like McVetis' work?

Finally, the view over London as I left. Saturday sky? Next post will reveal my stash enhancement. Just, please, remember I have three stashes to feed.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Happy Thursday?

Not really. It's one of those sort of 'blah' days, when the weight and volume of stuff to be done is intimidating and depressing. Worse, I feel guilty for even thinking about feeling sorry for myself: I'm currently reading Robert Fisk's The Great War for Civilisation: the conquest of the Middle East, which I bought for my birthday (together with Barbara Walker's A Treasury of Knitting Patterns). He writes with informed authority and passion, his frustration and anger growing ever more clear, and the more I read, the more I feel I too must do 'something' if I am to retain any self-respect. But what? I don't know. So I sit gently fulminating while planning information boards and re-drawing maps of an Ottoman fort in Egypt. And knitting. It's a strange feeling, having part of my mind tranquilly counting sl1,k1, psso, k5, k2tog... while the rest of it is considering the atrocities we so-called civilised beings inflict on one another. But at least the knitting is proceeding smoothly.

KiriBlue is growing. This will be a birthday gift for the friend who suggested the Personal Shopping experience and joined the fun of the day. It's Lisa Souza alpaca/silk in 'Blue Sky' to complement anything denim, and I'm adding a couple of repeats to ensure she has a shawl big enough to give her a huge warm hug whenever she needs one. There's also a small swatch of Sundara's yarn for my sweater. It's lovely.

As if to take my mind off all this, Alice has tagged me (My first tag! I'm thrilled :-) to list five things that feminism has done for me. I considered this, then realised that when I thought of 'Feminism' (with or without the initial cap) the thing that immediately came to mind was a strident Australian voice. There must be more to feminism than that; when did it officially originate? As usual Wikipedia proved helpful. So, in no particular order

Five Things That Feminism Has Done For Me:
1. Modern feminism (as opposed to the legislation of Theodora, a lady ahead of her time) allowed me to continue my academic studies to university level without even considering the fact that there was a time when that would have been impossible. It was taken for granted that I would have the same educational opportunities as my brother, especially as my mother didn't. Looking back, it might have been different had I been interested in Engineering rather than Ecology. I really wanted to learn how to make stuff, wood and metal-working, but I was not allowed to take Industrial Arts in Junior High, even though I'd found a boy who wanted to take Home Economics to learn to use a sewing machine and bake muffins without tunnels. The school apparently told my parents they feared the mere presence of a girl would distract the boys (moi? They had to be joking). T
hat would have been the late 1960s. Gee, I wish I was there again and knew what I know now... they wouldn't know what hit them. That's one thing feminism has done for me :-)

2. Feminism has given me the right to control my body (and by doing so, my future) insofar as that's possible. I have the right to choose not to have a child, either by using an effective method of birth control other than abstention, or by opting for abortion if that method fails, or I am forced to have sex against my will. I know that to some people some or all of those choices appear obscene, but for me the right not to reproduce is probably the most significant gift of all.

3. Feminism gave me The Vote. There are times when life would be so much easier without this, because then I couldn't possibly be responsible for the political situation and a lot else. I could sit back and say, hey, nothing to do with me, no one asked me about it. Alas, because of feminism I can't: I was asked, I voted. I'm not sure it makes much difference but, dammit, people died so that I have the right to Vote and people elsewhere in the world are dying in attempts to gain the right to Vote. So I exercise it, every time. I have the right to share responsibility for the place in which I live.

4. Feminism shaped my character and my life by allowing my mother to divorce my father. If they'd remained married I'd be a completely different person. Better? Worse? Happier? Unhappier? I've no idea. But because of them I know that if I were unhappy in this marriage I'd have the right to walk away from it. I think that's a kind of freedom.

5. Feminism has given me a lot of laughs. That's what brought Germaine Greer's voice to mind. Feminist jokes about men, about women, about feminism, about the lack of feminism. Google found this as a basic example. Not forgetting my disbelieving laughter when I first encountered a serious demand for the term 'Chairperson'. Or 'Ms' ("Mzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz". Sounds like a bee trapped in a curtain). Or the sympathetic laughter a couple of years ago when, after I thanked a man for holding a door open for me, he thanked me for thanking him because the last time he'd done so for a woman with an armful of books she publicly took him to task for assuming she was incapable of opening it herself. A lot of laughs -- and a lot to think about.

Each of these brought others to mind. Some little things, but surprisingly significant: the right, or perhaps the expectation that correspondence addressed to me will be addressed to ME, my initials, as in M.Y. Marriedname as opposed to my husband's initials Mrs. H.I.S. Marriedname. I don't use Ms; I think it's ugly. I am simply me, or rarely Mrs. Me. But conversely, I think feminism has put some women in a difficult position, especially those who find fulfillment in simply raising a family and running a house and doing it well. There's nothing wrong with that, it's an entirely worthwhile achievement and (I suspect, not having done it myself) very hard work. So why are they supposed to measure themselves against career women?

Anyway, I think I'm supposed to tag someone else for this. Joanne, if you've got time I'd be interested in your thoughts!

Friday, October 06, 2006

This week (and the last 40-odd years)

First, a Friday picture, because there aren't many more in this post... that's a bit of an ancient (as in 17th C) glass bottle unearthed from our garden. I've tried and failed to capture the full glory of the iridescence: you'll have to imagine it. And the taste of the pears.

As a child I was taught that it's impolite to speak at length about oneself. Too (as in 'two') many sentences beginning with 'I' would earn a swift reprimand from my mother. I've been very tempted not to write about what I'm going to write about, partly because of that lesson, partly because it's embarrassing, and partly because what I want to say (need to say?) might seem to suggest I'm feeling sorry for myself. I'm not. I'm really chuffed, as the British say. I want to be able to read this as a reminder, and I also harbour a faint hope that someone else will read it and find it helpful. So. Honesty.

For most of my life I've believed that I'm fat. Ugly word, that, and painful. A childhood illness left me unable to take exercise until my early teens, my mother fed us all very well indeed, I had to clear my plate at every meal... I might have been fat, I don't know. But my mother told me I was... oh, how frequently she told me. "Never cut your hair" she said, "it's your only beauty." When I was 9? 10? I had to wear her girdle to school to find out just how uncomfortable I was going to be all my life if I didn't lose weight. I still remember how the top rolled down to nearly cut me in half as I sat at my desk. This carried on through my teens, too, and is probably responsible for my complete lack of interest in clothes or fashion. I simply assumed whatever it was, I'd be too fat to wear it. I wore heavy jeans, bulky sweaters and baggy t-shirts, practical clothes that also completely concealed whatever shape I was. When jeans became fashion that fit tightly I switched to camo trousers. We don't go out much; if we did, I wore ankle-length skirts and the loosest top I could find. Did I need to? I don't know. I've never owned a full-length mirror, and we've only just bought a set of scales. But whenever I went into a shop to buy clothes, I couldn't get into the only jeans I could find, the shirts were impossibly tight across the bust, and all I could see in the changing room mirrors were the bulges of flab that were so obviously preventing me from wearing anything other than a flour sack. So I'd buy another large t-shirt.

Fast-forward to about four years ago. I've 'always' had lower back pain; a new friend suggested I try Pilates to strengthen it. By sheer good fortune I signed up for a class taught by a serious professional (it was the only one in this area). The exercise helped my back and I found I enjoyed it. In fact, I enjoyed it enough that I wanted to be better at it, which meant trying to be fitter and thinner than I was. So I started going to the gym. I probably have lost weight and my posture has certainly improved, but most importantly I am learning to appreciate this body I inhabit. I am fortunate to inhabit. For something 49 years old it works well, for the most part (leave aside the dodgy knees); it is, in fact, amazing. If you're reading this, think about how you're reading it, how your skeleton and muscles are supporting you, your senses allow you to balance. Think about how you walk, how you bend and straighten, how your body moves as you walk down the stairs (if you're lucky enough to be able to do that). How you breathe, swallow, digest. Your body is amazing, regardless of its shape. I don't need to say it three times to make it true: I look at my fingers typing these words and I KNOW it is true. I gradually began to think that I shouldn't feel that I have to hide this amazing body. Perhaps, I thought, I should try to find out what clothes suit whatever shape I am. That's where things stood at the beginning of last week. I'd decided to make a 'sweater that fits', but I had no idea how and where it should fit.

So I asked M, who knows more about clothes than I do, if she'd spend a day in London showing me what I should and shouldn't wear. She asked why, and I explained (cut the above long story short) that as a fat person who hates her bust, I just wondered whether there were clothes that could minimise the impact of the size and so forth. Horrified, she pointed out that I wasn't fat. I begged to differ. End result, she said she'd come with me to see a Third Party, a professional. So at her suggestion, bolstered by the fact that I wouldn't be alone with a horrible person sneering at my shape, not to mention my taste in clothes, I booked a session with a Personal Shopper at Liberty. It's all right to gasp, I did. Just remember it's free and there is absolutely no obligation to buy anything. Just leave all the money, the credit cards and all valuables that could be pawned at home and it will cost nothing.

That was Tuesday morning, that was. My birthday, enjoyed early. It was revelatory (and good fun. Although the other 'personal shoppers' looked rather intimidating, Antonella was delightful). I learned that I'm not fat, it's just that the 'average' clothes sold by most 'average' shops for people who don't feel middle-aged aren't designed to fit people 5'4" with a 32F bust. The clothes exist, oh, indeed they do. And, dammit, I looked good in them. I felt good in them. I learned that wearing large t-shirts simply makes me look like a large t-shirt with legs, walking down the street. A top with a v-neck to break the expanse of chest and fitted to prove I have a waist is much more flattering. I learned that bootcut jeans make legs look longer.
I learned that I don't have to accept a predictably middle-aged look to find clothes that fit, there are styles I like, styles I wish I could afford to live in. For the first time in decades I have a shirt that actually does fit. It cost a small fortune (UKP100), but with care it will last years and when I've worn it to ribbons I will keep a scrap to remind me to buy *fitted* shirts so I don't look like a ship of the line (scroll down to HMS Marlborough, lovely thing but not really a look for the High Street). Most importantly, I have had two people make the point time and again, as we looked at me, that I am not fat; It's just that most of the clothes I see every day are thin. I cannot tell you how happy I am to begin to believe this. I can only hope that anyone with the same problem is able to find a similar revelation somewhere.

And if you're a knitter, I hope you find the same unbelievable array of knitwear. WHERE are the patterns? Elegant sweaters draping beautifully from fitted shoulders, with huge shawl collars. Asymmetrical, one was. Others came to mid-back at the back and mid-thigh in front. Some were longer. Floating knee-length cardigans in gossamer stockinette that grew out circularly from the centre of the back. The cables, I tell you, the cables... The Winter 2006 Vogue Knitting pales by comparison. I need to work out how to make some of these things, I woke up at 4 am on Wednesday morning and lay awake considering short-row shaping for collars. I wonder if they'd notice if I brought a tape measure and a camera? But first I have to make a sweater that fits me. It will take some time, but the yarn awaits. Isn't it beautiful?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Last week (and today)

resulted in several UFOs, mainly work (the first drafts of three information panels went out for comment), but some knitting. Pictures? Ah, yes, I found one.

M was so taken by a photo of K's Kiri in Sea Silk (I'd sent it so she could admire Dyson's helpfulness) that I've started another one for her in blue alpaca/silk. It's a faster, more pleasant knit than the Sea Silk because the alpaca allows some stretch. The Lisa Souza yarn is lovely, soft and glossy, and I think the end result will be what I hope for: a large-ish shawl perfect for wrapping up while sitting and reading on chilly evenings, inside or out. I ripped and re-started the Ruby River socks; I couldn't remember where I was in the pattern, and decided I wanted a different pattern anyway to explore the difference in texture and colour patterning between purl and stockinette. So it'll be some form of simple ribbing.

FO's include a leaflet that's finally gone to press and (imagine the sound of trumpets) the Ribble Scarf. It's finally cold enough to knit wool or, in this case, alpaca/silk. To say I'm pleased with it is an understatement, alas.
Fortunately my ego is well-trained and knows better than to make a fuss about this as doing so would irrevocably doom the next project. It was planned as a gift for my new brother-in-law, who is a gentleman. I wanted a pattern appropriate for a gentleman that showed the handspun yarn to full advantage. I wanted it to be reversible, not too bulky and, as I realised the handspun alpaca/silk wasn't elastic enough to make cables or such things 'pop', I wanted something with cables that flowed gently across the fabric allowing the silk to catch the light as the fabric moves. I apologise for all that, but it's the first time I've planned and carried out a project with an unknown yarn and I want to remember that those are the factors I consciously considered as I handled the small swatch I'd knitted.
The end result is c. 66" long and 7" wide, which feels about right for a 'formal' scarf. I don't think this fabric, beautiful as it is, will take a lot of wear without pilling and matting. I envisage it starting life as a scarf he can wear with his greatcoat to work on cold winter mornings; over time, as it ages, with luck it will become a favourite scarf to wear at other times.
What an interesting thought: if they have children, he could be wearing that scarf as he takes them tobogganing, teaches them to skate, has snowball fights. That scarf could be my contact with people who don't yet exist.
Yarn: handspun alpaca/silk from High Weald Fibre Factory (I tried to email them a picture so the spinner could see what I'd done with her work, but I haven't heard back. I don't know if he or she will ever know, which I find rather sad.)
Pattern: based on 'Ribble Socks' from Socks, Socks, Socks

I also swatched some Sundara aran silky merino for a sweater. Sounds simple, but this will be the sweater I promised myself I'd make this year: a sweater that fits me. It will prove more complicated than that sounds, as planning it and knitting it are forcing me to work through my body-image problems. That story is for another post, though. What I want to do now is say 'Thank You Very, Very Much' to Joanne, the Yarn Spinner, who mentioned she looked forward to trying Sea Silk one day. Kazumi's Kiri had left me holding (as it were) 3-400m of the yarn without a project in mind, (and more, of a different colourway, in the stash) so it was the easiest thing in the world to send it to her in exchange for 'some handspun'. The parcel arrived this morning, and I feel so guilty. 'Some handspun'. LOOK at it:

It's wonderful. There are 3 skeins
, enough for a scarf or a hat, of hand-dyed, handspun 2-ply bulky, 2 in dusk-purple, and 1 in an indescribable green/aqua that together make me think of thunderheads over the prairie in my childhood. And on the right, a skein of cashmere plied with merino and, wonder of wonders, a skein of cashmere plied with tussah and qiviut plied with tussah. Below, from left to right: qiviut plied with tussah, cashmere plied with tussah, cashmere plied with merino.

Even my husband knows of qiviut (there was a brief article in New Scientist; alas, they don't let you see the entire text unless you subscribe). The feel of that skein on my cheek is like a summer breeze. Soft. Warm. Everything smells like real yarn. More importantly, as I hold those skeins, I'm holding something made by a real person. Those lengths of yarn measure hours of Joanne's life, not just the time needed to dye and spin, but the time needed to acquire those skills. I cherish them.
I think there are many, many reasons that 'the internet' is wonderful. Some are intellectually satisfying: the vast amount of information available (everything you ever wanted to know about some things, and far more than you want to know about others); the opportunity for information to be free and, through its freedom, to free people. There's the more self-indulgent option of buying stuff you didn't know existed from shops that you'll never visit (some don't exist anyway, other than as consensual hallucinations between the proprietor and his/her customers. And possibly the income tax people.). It's changed my life most by offering me the opportunity, via blogs and Usenet, to 'live' in communities of people that share my interests and, sometimes, to build new friendships.