Friday, December 29, 2006

Happy Feet, er, New Year...

Actually completed on Christmas Eve eve. I did a twiddle at the beginning of the ribbing, using M1s and P2tog to split the K2P2 ribbing evenly into K1P1, then cabled the resulting single ribs to make a band a little tighter than the ribbing, just to hold it more firmly. I like the look, but the jury is still deciding whether or not it has any effect on the fit. The majority verdict on the socks overall is 'good, but could be better'. They're a fraction too big in the foot, but all the others I've knitted tightened up in the first machine wash, so I think that will be ok (I can't do anything about the fact that his left foot is 1/2" shorter than his right, or rather I can, but it's not worth the pain). He's not sure about the way the thick heelflap catches as he puts his shoes on, but that might just be the novelty. I'll have to do a standard short-row heel with added gusset next for comparison. I do like the way the large gusset (22st/side) has prevented any hint of tightness in the instep: just look at the even expansion of the ribbing as it climbs the slope to the leg.

Sometimes our age shows itself in peculiar ways. One is that we reserve long-distance phone calls for Christmas and birthdays, a reminder of the days when international calls cost seriously large sums of money. It's always pleasant to hear familiar voices (in one or two cases, the distance adds to the pleasure), but this year I particularly enjoyed a conversation with my niece that began "It's all YOUR fault!" What had I done? Well, she'd been a bit taken aback to find that the soundtrack for the Christmas family get-together was the sound of clicking knitting needles. My mother-in-law is not only still knitting, she's just finishing her first pair of toe-up socks. My sister-in-law was knitting something else, but was so impressed by MiL's work that she's going to start sock-knitting in the New Year. I'm sending them each a set of Addis for socking on two circulars and in return I'm getting Socks That Rock sockyarn! Sounds good to me... and I'm sure my niece can learn to live with it. Perhaps the gift of a shawl would help. She was absolutely adamant that I wasn't going to start her knitting (she's quite happy quilting, thanks).

Another FO: our bedroom floor. This means he's hand-sanded every inch of the upstairs floor at least twice, scouring away the dirt and old paint with coarse and fine paper, but leaving the worn shape of the boards intact. Room by room the floors have been sanded, oiled twice, and then I apply a hand-made wax (beeswax, carnauba and turpentine) which is then polished to a satin finish. It's been a bit of a knee- and back-killer, but the finished rooms are lovely: white walls, white woodwork, all warmed by the golden glow from the floors.

That was Boxing Day. Alas, things went downhill from there. Fast. After waking early to go to the gym on Wednesday we stumbled bleary-eyed into the kitchen and found a small flood, complete with water dripping through the ceiling. The valve to the coldwater tank in the loft/attic had failed, and a leak in the overflow pipe allowed water to sheet down the inside of the airing cupboard in the bathroom (luckily behind the lining of polystyrene panels, so the linens were untouched) to the floor below. We shut off the water, mopped up, placed towels to catch the remaining drips, breakfasted, gymmed, and returned. He went to buy the necessary bits (just think how bad it would have been on Christmas Eve, perhaps, or if we'd had to find a plumber). I started clearing up properly and found a second flood under the sink: the washing machine feed had been leaking for ages, soaking the frame of the cupboard. So I shut the inline valve on the supply (I can't put enough pressure on the joint to tighten it) and emptied the cupboard. To summarise, at lunchtime Wednesday the contents of our largest kitchen cupboard were stacked in the middle of the kitchen floor. The entire contents of our bedroom (decorating in progress) filled the dining room and any spare space in my office/the spare bedroom (in which we are sleeping on my desk, sorry, the spare room bed). The kingsize mattress leans against the upstairs hall wall, which wasn't a problem until the contents of the airing cupboard added a chicane for traffic into the bathroom. The cats are having field days, especially enjoying mountaineering up the mattress and glissading back down. Talking constantly while they do so, day and night. To think I'd hoped to have some friends round...
Anyway, the floods have been cured, and he's back to decorating. Did I mention the bit where my mad dash to town to buy the paint ended in the discovery that our favourite supplier closed early for Christmas? Never mind, the room looks wonderful now and will look even better when seen from clean sheets on a real bed.

I was going to cast on for Eunny's intricate Endpaper Mitts for me when I finished his socks. I'd even bought some Jamieson's Shetland 2-ply for that very purpose. In fact I did cast on, twice, and the Italian tubular cast-on defeated me twice. I'll practice it with something smoother, more inclined to co-operate when I try to pull it out from the middle of the tube. Mind you, even the bits from which I'd extracted it didn't look smooth and tubular. Feeling disgruntled, I looked for another gruntle in the stash and found some Manos I'd bought in Canada for a Cat Bordhi moebius bag to replace the one my Pilates friend bought off my back earlier this year. Cast on, knitted like mad, felted this afternoon: I have a new gruntle. Much better. Now I can honestly wish all of you – the entire multiverse – a very happy New Year, this year and always.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Of love and socks

I've read other blogs wherein knitters describe knitting 'love' into every stitch knitted for a significant other. I've been trying but, my word, at this stage 'love' is getting every third stitch. 'Disbelief' and 'incredulity' get the other two. There is NO WAY that the single skein of CTH supersock is enough to finish these socks. Admittedly, it was the very first sock yarn I ever bought, and I used a very little to make my very first circular swatch, but that's only about 5cm in a very narrow tube. The rate at which the balls are shrinking suggests I'll run out about an inch after finishing the heel. I have another skein of the colourway, but it's a different batch and quite noticeably darker. I'll do the heelflap in the new skein and then I think I'll stripe the old and new Fibonacci-style. If I live that long. That's a metric tape measure and one of the socks on his foot last night, by the way. His first appearance on the internet: a star is born!
I was puzzled by the rate at which these socks were eating yarn. I mean, I get a decent pair with yarn left over (log cabin something in the distant future) out of skeins shorter than this. So I did some calculations:
His basic sockfoot is a 72-stitch tube. At 12 rows/inch, that's 864 stitches/inch. I did about 8" of that, which is 6912 stitches. Each gusset builds over 4" to shakes head in disbelief 24 stitches. So at this stage (the heel starts when I go back downstairs) the tube is 120 stitches. A fair guessimate of stitch numbers would be half the gusset stitches over the length, which is ... 4608 stitches. So that's 11500 stitches in the foot. Stitches in the heelflap? It'll be about 30x12x2, a paltry 720, add the short-row heel and call it 1000. That's 12,500 stitches plus the leg... 72x12x7ish, call it 6000 minimum. So each sock each sock! is at least 18,500 stitches. I'll be knitting 'desperation' into them before the end. But he likes the fit, he really does. He says his gran used to gift them handknits, including socks, when he was little. He remembers 'crunchy, hard' socks (what did she knit them from? entire sheep?), whereas these are soft and warm and fit perfectly. Perhaps there's more love in there than I thought.

When I'm not knitting or working, I'm trying to strike a fine balance in the garden between untidy (for wildlife) and tidier (for the garden design, which demands clean lines). We've got two tiny patches of lawn, one of which is shaded for much of the day, so remained reasonably green during the drought last summer (watering is not allowed). The other is in full sun, all day. By September dandelions were the only green things in it. So I devised a cunning plan: I would allow the grass to grow longer on this side, plant wildflower plugs, and turn it into a tiny haymeadow. Ha. It started raining in October, and only recently stopped. The tiny meadow cut for (an armful) of hay in September was a tiny sea, a torrent of green in November. It looked dreadful. The grass had to be cut, but it was far past the stage where our little push-mower (that's actually our mower model. Astonishing) could tackle it. Desperate times demand desperate measures: I resorted to my garden 'scissors'. It's taken me two days, but that (12m^2) lawn has been, er, cut down to size. Now I have access to the rotting railway sleepers that edge a raised bed (on the right, below), so I can replace them with new equivalents, and re-lay the 'temporary' brick edging where the vegetable patch meets the lawn. 'Things put off don't happen', as my mother used to say. How right she was :-(

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Out with the old

But not yet in with the new, although I'm knitting as fast as I can. I'd been putting off knitting socks for A: his feet, although not immense, are much bigger than mine and I was intimidated by the thought of all those stitches. Also a bit worried that the reality (his first pair of hand-knit socks) wouldn't live up to expectations, his or mine. He's got arches so high I'm surprised he doesn't have vertigo (he has orthotics to correct some of the problems they cause). After Mim's explanation of toe-up gussets I'd begun to think I knew how to handle this, which is just as well. Late last week, as I was gleefully contemplating choosing between my Blue Heron Beaded Rayon and Piece of Beauty sock yarn, he came home from work, took his shoes off, and stood in front of the fire. "Please," he said sadly, "may I have a pair of hand-knit socks?" And wiggled his big toe through a hole in the (boughten) pair he was wearing. So. Here we are, then. 72st on the needles (it would be more, but the instep's on a 2.5mm needle), heading for c.8" where I'll start an extra-big gusset. Turn the heel at 10.5" and head on up the leg. I'd really like to finish them for Christmas, so I'm knitting when I get in from the gym, before I start work (2 rows while collapsed on couch). I'm knitting after a hurried lunch (4 rows). I'll be knitting before Pilates this evening, and any other time/place I can until I finish them.

The yarn is Cherry Tree Hill 'Blueberry Hill', straight from the stash. It feels good, lovely and springy. Much livelier than the Lorna's Laces which, incidentally, bled pink rather badly when I washed them. I think the springy-ness has something to do with the amount of twist in the yarn; I plan to investigate this when I've time. I must think more about spinning -- I've signed up for a 1-day course with Nancy at Handweaver's Studio in January. I've also assembled a binder of record cards to
keep samples of yarn I've spun as Knitterguy Ted suggested. My very, very first is in there already :-) Now that's amusing. I don't have a complete bookmark file in Firefox, which is what I use for Blogger, so I googled 'knitterguy' to find Ted's URL. And found this. Which is, of course, completely true. Just look at his spinning, and his lacework.

Joanne, I don't know of any crack houses in this neighbourhood... but here's the church :-)

The view from our upstairs back window (we only have two windows on the back/north wall of the house. Remind me to tell you about that some time). First, the blurry thing at bottom right is a cut-crystal octagon that in summer sends rainbow sparks dancing along the white walls of the hall and stairs. There's also one of the last roses, a climbing Iceberg. A martyr to blackspot, but very reliable :-)

On the left, beyond the hedges, the brick building with the red roof was once something to do with the school caretaker; the cream (painted brick) building with the ugly, fake slate roof was the school, which was declared 'unviable' and closed in (I think) the 1980s. The buildings then became a sort of mini-industrial estate which was sold to a developer when the owner retired. Now the buildings are being re-shaped into houses, and another 6 or more large houses have been built in the yard to the rear.

Britain is a small island inhabited by a lot of people, all of whom want to live in their own house (I am intrigued by this, and the possible reasons for it.) Development is restricted by laws protecting scenic or historic landscapes, historic townscapes, and other binding classifications of land. Land adjacent to a village may not be built on unless Planning Permission is granted, and often it's not. Especially as those who've already got their houses usually campaign to prevent further development 'damaging' 'their' landscape. That means there's a housing shortage here, which in turn means houses are seriously expensive. People born and raised in villages like this and working in local industry often can't afford houses in their villages. Of course smaller, cheaper houses could be built, but developers have to be forced to do this as the profits are (of course) smaller. We incomers just add to the problem: demand drives the prices higher and, with two incomes or a London salary, we can afford them where the locals can't. Yes, I feel guilty. But at least I not only didn't campaign against this development, I actively argued against the campaigners on the grounds that there are some low-cost homes included. And it's grossly unfair that those who already have their homes should work so hard to deny homes to others.

In the distance, the village church. The stone pillar near the street is the village war memorial. France seems very, very far away. The walls of the chancel (the bit of the church closest to us, with the window) date from the 12th C and most of the rest is 13-14th C. Not unusual in Britain :-) It's largely built of roughly-coursed flint held together with lime mortar. The tower houses a ring of 6 bells, which are rather fine; although the local ringers aren't, um, brilliant, we do regularly have the pleasure of hearing the bells rung really well by groups from elsewhere. You may be able to see some black plywood figures standing in front of the Chancel; I couldn't work out what these were until the other night, when I realised their shadows (an angel, and others less identifiable) are projected onto the Chancel by a floodlight. I wish the Church wasn't lit like that: I'd rather see the stars.

Sorry, Debby, no pink or cats yet, but I've got to get back to the maps. I've done 75 as first drafts and more have just arrived!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Life, eh?

I could post the 40-odd maps and two information panels I've drafted in the last week or so, but I really don't want to look at them now, given that I've got 40-odd maps left to do and the drafts will come back for revision. Dwell on the positive, that's what I say. I often fail to do so, but I do try. There are some FOs: D's Pink Socks were finished yesterday evening in a frantic rush while watching Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares. I don't mind his language - it seems an integral part of his character. Besides which, if I were dealing with some of the situations he encounters, I daresay I'd be swearing too. Better that than solving the problem forever with a very sharp knife...
These are *incredibly* pink. Lorna's Laces in Bittersweet, straightforward garter rib, toe-up with heelflap (thanks again, Miriam). I made a stupid mistake at the top of the heelflap, picking up too many stitches from the gusset, but I fudged a solution that seems to be invisible. Actually I made several stupid mistakes, but that's the only one I didn't rip back and repair. I don't mind fixing lace, but undoing and remaking the wrapped stitches on the short rows seems unduly masochistic. As I was taking that photo I decided to undo the cast-off and try again to do the Zimmerman sewn one. If I can get that right, I should have all the knowledge to make perfect socks -- and send a better-looking pair to D in Canada. Then it's simply a matter of using the knowledge correctly, which is not simple at all. What else? Sourdough bread...
And I've got cooked squash to make the Sephardic Pumpkin/Squash bread from Glezer's book (strangely not available on AmazonUK). She's compiled some really interesting recipes (Joanne, do you have this book?). Sadly I lack the energy to make more bread today. Other than flatbread for lunch. Must go and see if that's risen yet.

Anyway, socks for me next. Kirsty's 'Mountain Fruit', which will make my feet look as though I'd filled my shoes with berries. I fancy lace. On second thought maybe not socks. A present for other appendages might be sensible. I wear my t-shirt and shorts to the gym and exercise class in all but the coldest weather. My legs don't mind the temperature (or at least I don't notice them minding), but Raynaud's Disease can affect my fingers quite badly. It's not painful, but it's weird and unpleasant and disconcerting and I'd prefer to avoid the really bad attacks when all my fingers go corpse-white (actually a revolting yellow). I find keeping my entire arm warm, particularly below the elbow, seems to help a bit. So I'm very tempted to knit some seriously cool, er, warm arm/hand warmers. I've got yarn for some. Several, if I'm honest.

And... that's Blue Heron Beaded Rayon in 'Old Gold'. With added Dyson. He's recently decided to 'help' wind skeins into balls. That's my environmentally-sound centre-pull ball winding device, by the way: a slightly-crushed tube from a toilet roll. When ball is wound, finish crushing tube, extract it, use as firelighter. The yarn is for an experiment in entrelac. We don't get out much at any time; even New Year's Eve is usually spent reading in front of the fire until it's time to say 'Happy New Year' to each other and the cats and go to bed. For some reason I can't quite fathom we decided this year to Go Out, to a party held by a restaurant we rather like. Now, I think this may require dressing up a bit. I can do that, provided it's black, but all my handbags (I always think of that as spoken by Lady Bracknell here, fourth quote down) are capacious things for holding yarn and pocketknives and my PDA, a book, hand lotion, a water bottle, spare glasses, a scarf, a notebook, pens, pencils, a handkerchief (I must be middle-aged), and items of shopping smaller than a refrigerator. So I thought I'd knit one, a small elegant one, and learn entrelac at the same time. In my copious spare time...
It's got a bit more blue and green In Real Life. Incidentally, in case you're wondering, I know where everything is on the bed desk visible behind Dyson. I can find anything. It might take a couple of hours minutes, but I can find it.

Anyone out there own a lot of books? Those who do might be interested in LibraryThing. A friend was unimpressed by the notion of an online catalogue until I pointed out that the site can add your books automatically, simply by looking up the ISBNs. All by itself. Just upload a file of ISBNs (I do 75-100 at a time, that being one shelf-full of paperback fiction) and leave it chuntering away. It'll tell you if it was unable to find a record. (You can even import lists of your purchases directly from Amazon.) Your library can be public or private, you can enter discussions about books (as if I had time), you can get recommendations and dis-recommendations, and it compiles 'fun statistics'. For example, I have eight books that are each shared with only one other user. I'm working hard to raise my 'median/mean book obscurity', which measures how few books I share with other people's libraries. When I first encountered LT I first thought of it as evidence to prove to our insurers that our library existed, should we be so unfortunate as to lose it (doesn't bear thinking of!). But the best thing of all is that the next time I spot what looks like a new book by an author I like, I can check online to see if I've already got it. I'm not as pathetic as it might seem -- we've got over 2000 books, most of which are a long-standing (and sitting, and lying, and stacked two deep) collection of SF, and publishers have a nasty habit of re-releasing volumes in new covers, sometimes with new titles or in collections with new titles.

Thinking of books, which I do (truthfully) even more often than I think of yarn, what do you read? Fiction, non-fiction? And why do you read it? I've been mulling over comments made by Sir John Mortimer on R4 last week. He was interviewed regarding a piece in one of the papers, in which he'd said his worst nightmare would be to be trapped in the company of people discussing hobbits (or words to that effect). He reads only 'literature', i.e. books that illuminate the 'human condition'
(whatever that means. Chekhov and Shakespeare were mentioned), and sees no reason for adults to read books about hobbits or goblins or, you know, fantasy. Adventures. Fun with fairies. I understand his view, although I've always thought it arrogant to blithely write off so many books as worthless. After all, SF is an opportunity for authors to explore what happens to the human condition when individual humans (or humanity as a whole) meets unusual challenges. Neil Gaiman's 'American Gods' comes to mind (time to re-read it), as do most of the works of C J Cherryh, who investigates many aspects of being 'other' where the other may be isolated by race, nature, intelligence or culture. I've not learned anything new that I regard as useful from Shakespeare, Chekhov, or a host of other 'classic' authors. That's not to say I didn't enjoy reading the books... most of the books... although I'd gladly substitute blank paper and permanently-sharp pencils for the complete works of Shakespeare on my desert island. I watch the news. I've had an interesting life. I know, fairly well, what humanity is capable of on this planet. And, frankly, I want to escape from it, which is SF's unique gift: the best SF takes me somewhere else, to worlds where humanity and those it meets may be burdened with a lesser weight of history, or bring with them the wisdom to remember it.

Having suggested Joanne post more pictures (I wanna see a crack house, I wanna see a crack house!), I'd better do the same. This is the view from the window next to me, taken about 2 minutes ago:

We're on the edge of the village and you're looking south, towards high(er) ground. We're at c. 35m above sea level, and a chalk escarpment that you can't really see in the distance (about 2 miles away) rises to about 100m. Much of the large green field is a Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM), because there's a Roman villa under it; the blobs in the distance are barns and scrubby trees growing on spoil heaps from a 19th C excavation. Photos of that field during WWII show mature elms (lost in the 1970s to Elm Disease) and a tidy array of USAF nissan huts (there was a fighter airfield in the next parish). Now it's grazed by sheep. You may just be able to discern the trees planted along the boundaries by the current owners; village gossip suspects that as soon as the trees screen the field from the village, the field will be filled with houses. I don't like the thought, but the history is, in essence, a record of change. I look at the field and remember that sooner or later nothing will be as I remember it.