Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A comfortable holiday

Not merry, because that would require too much energy :-) Anyway I'm better at spinning, knitting and reading than merrymaking, and I'd back him at sitting and reading or watching TV against anyone else in the world. So I splurged and ordered a roast from my favourite butcher (in Ludlow, halfway across Britain. My environmentalist halo is sadly askew), bought several bottles of good wine during the usual shop on Friday morning, then pulled the bedcovers over the house and settled in for some self-indulgence. The international phone lines grew hot yesterday as we chatted with far-flung relatives before eating just a fraction too much Festive Food. We've established our own traditions over the decade in which we've had the Christmas break to ourselves, including a rather eclectic dinner consisting of most of our favourite things. Not many gifts because he's already got his bike and I've already got my Schacht :-) <--- That's a huge grin, by the way. I LOVE this wheel. I'm just glad it's my second wheel, because if I'd learned on it I can't imagine settling for anything less. As it is I am already familiar with the Louet Victoria, it's allowed to flex and creak because it's a travelling wheel. The Schacht is solid, smooth, almost noiseless, and it loves to spin.

It lives upstairs only because there's so little room in our front room. So on weekends I line up my favourite podcasts (usually about hiking in the UK and US), turn my computer chair from the monitor to the wheel and just... go. I'm currently spinning what I thought was merino/silk bought from Fyberspates at Alexandra Palace but I think the chap misidentified it, as there are intermittent lengths of alpaca. It's spinning quite well regardless, and I may just try navajo plying it to preserve the colour variations, which are gorgeous.

I've just tied my first drive band, too. I searched online for cones or long lengths of appropriate string until I found a blog mentioning that Alden Amos uses string bought from a grocery chain store. So I went for a little one-upmanship by plying some linen from the weaving stash into something of the right thickness, then abusing it a bit until it softened. I don't know if this was a good idea, but it's working! I've just re-read this and, realising that a year ago I didn't have a spinning wheel, scarcely dared ply the peculiar stuff of my drop spindle... I'm impressed. By what I've achieved, but more because thanks to the Internet I know that these achievements have been duplicated or surpassed by many people. Because other people are able to pass on their knowledge and experience via the Internet. It's an amazing world. Thanks, Joanne!

Knitting has made my relative's lives easier, not just because they get hand-knits, but because it's easy to buy yarn. My sister has excellent taste.
The Inca will probably go back to her as a scarf – it's too warm for England. The Fleece Artist Novasomo seems to be a Somoko version of Nova and will be socks. Of course :-)
In return she and my brother-in-law received a pair of socks each. I sent my brother a sweater knit from an old Rowan pattern, plus a pair of Dashing in Cascade 220. Very fast knit, I just hope they fit. My mother traditionally receives a large box of exceedingly English chocolates, puddings, cakes and so forth.

Alas, my sister actually asked for mittens, but too late for me to knit them in time for Christmas. With over a metre of snow in the last three weeks I think they'll be needing mittens for some time yet! If they get mittens my brother should have mitten, too, so that's three pairs. I've never knitted mittens, but Leena's blog has delighted me for some time. And she sells mitten kits, traditional Finnish designs using wool she's dyed with natural dyestuffs. They look wonderful online and even better in the hand. The wool is softish but sturdy and the colours are stunning. Here's the first pair. I've been bold and altered the thumb pattern to stripes just because I love multi-colour stripes.

My brother-in-law should be worried: his feet are so large that I ran out of yarn before the socks were his preferred length. My husband suggested lace as a solution; my first thought was of stripes and contrasting heels and toes. I plan to knit him socks he can't wear to work :-)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I'm trying

My husband would say so. But what I mean is that I should post more often. All across knitting blogland people are saying the same thing, so it's contagious or seasonal. Knitting gifts takes time. And bits of that cold are still, STILL lingering. I've had a mild sore throat for three weeks now, and at the gym or Pilates all my energy runs away, like water down a drain, about 45 minutes into the session leaving me cold, breathless and struggling just as we approach the most strenuous bit of the workout. It's better than it was, though. I keep telling myself that.

Look, finished knitting! (Note: the colour values in most of these photos are bad even though I've tried to correct them. 'tis the season of bad light.)
These are gift socks for someone with smaller feet than mine, so my hand does the modelling to show the River Rapids lace pattern from Sockbug. Copper Rose merino/tencel sock yarn from the Woolen Rabbit, toe-up on 2mm needles. The lace pattern is both easily memorised and easily worked out from what you've already knitted, so this is an ideal travelling sock pattern.

More finished knitting!!
Knot a Knitted Paper Bag, pattern by Setsuko Torii in Interweave Knits Summer 2004. This picture is to show that it does work as a moderately large shapeless bag, and that I'm much, much taller than you thought. The yarns were chosen from Habu's stock at Alexandra Palace in October: they only had enough of the paper moire in these colours, so mine is a bit more mottled than the original. I like it now and may end up liking it even more: the shapelessness is ineffably elegant, quintessentially Japanese, and it will look marvellous with jeans and the right top. I think I have a few right tops :-)
I used it yesterday as a carry-all for spinning night. The plastic bag visible above contains the fibre shown here, spread over what I laughably think of as a desk.
That's the stuff I was spinning as I sat by the sea in Scotland in July. I haven't had the heart to spin more of it yet, but I decided to at least find out if the singles were what I'd intended.
That's a UK 5p, which is roughly the same size as a US dime. Looking at the photo now I feel justified in mentioning that the singles on the spindle are about the same thickness as those in the mini-skein, they just look larger because they're closer to the camera! The skeins have been washed and prepped, and I'll knit samples from them later. The 2-py is as near as anything the 2-ply that I dreamed of making from this fibre, which will be something warm and lacy. I hadn't thought of using the singles, but they're surprisingly even and I've just read a comment that a singles may work very well in lace as the twist is often controlled by the combination of different stitch types. So I'll see what that looks like. What interested me most was the way in which these two skeins show how the twist of the singles is partly undone by plying: the 2-ply is beautifully soft and loose. Important lesson learned!

I'm being reminded of another lesson even as I type: stuff I don't want to do takes longer to accomplish.

Caution: depressing thought ahead!
Most of my interpretive work deals with sites of natural history or archaeological interest, but an acquaintance persuaded me (aka twisted both my arms) to produce some panels about a WWII airfield. The airfield itself is scarcely visible today, having been sold as farmland in the early 1960s, but many of the buildings associated with it survive in the surrounding countryside and the village wants to be sure residents understand this bit of their history. Now, I knew a little about Britain and WWII but not enough to draft anything explaining the significance of this particular airfield, so I've been researching it. Britain was not ready for a war in the air in 1939: they'd only realised Germany was a threat in the early 1930s; prior to that they were preparing to fight France. Again. This was one of many airfields hastily constructed in 1940, where those who'd learnt to fly - in 10 weeks - were taught to fly bombers. And here's where my nebulous general reluctance begins to crystallise, because I now know that the type-written text of the original displays glossed over the facts of WWII. "Bomber Command suffered the heaviest losses of any British unit in the Second World War. Roughly 12,000 aircraft were lost and 55,500 aircrew died: almost 60% of all those who served were killed." Six out of every ten of the smiling faces in the photographs I've been leafing through. I can't gloss over this, and I can't forget it. In my draft the quoted text sits baldly under a photo of young men (and a few young women) in the airfield News Room. And, as I struggle to sort out the rest of the panels, I find myself thinking how different this world might have been if so many young men -
of any nationality - with ideals and a clear sense of right and wrong had not died in the two Great Wars.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The (cold) hard light of day

So there I was at the beginning of last week, ensconced in my corner of the couch, virtually surrounded by yarn and knitting books, almost enjoying my cold. I had the projects I was knitting, alternating hard and easy, I had the radio, books to read, with hot chocolate or a quick hit from New Style of Heirloom Knitting when I needed a bit of excitement. I'd been looking for a copy of that ever since I saw the Mondnacht Shawl (3rd down on the right on the link above), and recently found it at the NeedleArts Bookshop. I'd had a couple of accidents at Colourmart, one as soon as I had the Mondnacht pattern in my hot little hands and the second being the direct result of his standing over me chanting "Go on, buy it" while I was gazing longingly at this, which I'll discuss another time.

The Great Cashmere/Silk Invasion of Nov '07. Each of those cones is 2500 yds.
The angels have the phone box? Ha. The yarn has my living room.

I was set, with a long list of projects to look forward to. Then I checked my email and found my sister's reply to the perennial "Any idea what you'd like for Christmas?". I'd sent a scarf and one of the Kiris in the Christmas box last year and heard nothing, so I'd filed knitted items under 'possibly inappropriate'. I was therefore a bit stunned to read that she still loves her socks and he cherishes his scarf, and did I ever knit mittens? Perhaps they'd felt that asking for knitwear was too... forward? Pushy? Perhaps I should just be more generous. After all, I LIKE knitting. I think I'm becoming a process knitter. And what does a knitted gift tell the recipient? It says "I care enough for you that I spend time, precious irretrievable seconds, minutes, hours of my life making stuff for you." Even if the recipient doesn't get that message (I know some people don't), the important thing is that you've said it. I went back downstairs, pulled back the curtains of my mind, and looked hard at what I was knitting and what I planned to knit. The travelling socks will be a gift, but I haven't been rushing it; I'd cast on the handspun for socks for himself. Other than that? All for me. My conscience stood up and kicked me, hard. There are many patterns I've looked at and thought: interesting, but I'd never wear it. Gloves, scarves, winter hats. Mittens. How self-centred I've been. I am. I will not be.

I'm set, with a long list of projects to look forward to. And none are for me until I finish and post some gifts.

Because I've finished the Gairloch Socks!

Based on a traditional pattern from Gairloch, Scotland. Inspired by a dream, knitted in Wollmeise sockyarn, Indisch Rot and Gewitterhimmel. Sole on 2mm, instep/leg 2.5mm, 68st circumference. This is my second stranded knitting project and the first where fit really matters. And they're nearly too small: I hadn't realised how much the stranding reduces the elasticity of the fabric, and I hadn't considered the bulk that stranding adds to the fabric. I must remember to add c. 6st to the circumference to allow for these factors. The colours are roughly accurate on my monitor: these socks are bright!

His handspun socks await the end of Christmas Knitting (he already has socks). Instead we have:

Sockbug's River Rapids socks in Woolen Rabbit
'Copper Rose' Merino/Tencel, (2mm sole and instep) followed by Dream in Colour, sorry, Color Smooshy in Blue Lagoon 2mm sole, 2.5mm instep. Simple 2x2 rib on the instep, but I may do something silly with it on the leg. Drunken cables? And perhaps some ornate ribbing. This is an amazing book!

I also have yarn and patterns for mittens and, if time, hand- and arm-warmers for all and sundry.

Wing o' the Moth is my reward for knitting a minimum of 1.5" of sock.
Fiddlesticks (Jaggerspun) Zephyr in Sage, on 3.5mm needles so I've added two pattern repeats to Chart A and some messing about in the reverse stockinette band to give me an extra repeat of Chart B. This is a nice yarn, warm, bouncy, light glinting on the silk, but it feels a bit... dead? in the hand. I think washing may help.

And, because my self-control occasionally fails, I have this:
That's a swatch for Mondnacht. Colourmart 65%cash/35%silk, 3/45NM 'ancient green' on 3mm needles (the recommended Japanese size is c. 3.3mm), before washing. I think this yarn is finer than the recommended, but coned yarns are lightly oiled so it may bloom when washed. But I think I'll go down to 2.5mm for this. Would you believe me if I told you I find it incredibly exciting? Ah, you think I should get out more :-)

Perhaps you'll find this exciting.
Buying stuff online is a bit of a lottery as regards colour. I usually win, especially with Lisa Souza, but 'Sea Glass' proved much brighter and more blue-green than I'd expected. Originally intended for the Moth, it sat in the stash for over a year. Each time I saw it I measured my desire to over-dye it against my abysmal ignorance of dyeing and then, last month, I had a brainwave. Dee's colours are amazing. Why not ask if she'd do it? She said yes. I sent a long list of the colours I'd loved (a list I didn't like would have been shorter). The end result is utterly gorgeous. It's purple and plum and grey with touches of bronze. It's the colour of heather and gritstone and storm. It's going to be a Kimono Shawl (I think). When I finish the Christmas knitting.

I still have the cold. It's just sniffles and a minor sore throat now, but still... THREE WEEKS.

If you've read this far, here's your reward

We Three

Go, enjoy.

* As in 'unallocated to another project'. To be fair I have to add that qualification.

Friday, October 26, 2007

I'b god a code

The kind that affects my head and throat, not cryptographers. It's not really that bad yet, but he had it last week so I know it WILL be. So I'm getting things done while I have the energy. I've done the shopping, stocked up on soup and the ingredients for soup, and stuff that will become a giant vat of stew so I can say "Never mind me, leave me to die here, there's stew in the refridgerator for your dinner". Nobly. You know :-)

There's also some knitting! First, Teyani was right (how could she not be, she dyed this stuff): the Chain of Fools 2-ply bloomed beautifully after washing and some serious whacking on the table. It's gorgeous.

It's soft and bouncy. And [blush] one of the senior Tuesday spinners looked at it wistfully and said she'd never been able to spin sock yarn like that, soft but with enough twist that it should wear well. I'm so proud! In my head my feet were dancing in my first pair of socks from my own handspun... then I realised he was actually looking at the finished yarn with more than interest. Intent, that's what it was. He's been showing interest all the way through, and I recognised the difference. "Do you want a pair of socks that look like this?" "Yes please". *sigh* Fortunately 8 oz of fibre yields a lot of 2-ply. I think there's enough for both of us. Thanks, Teyani!

But no more socks until these are finished (I'm on the ribbing). Here's a preview:

I love the back. I need to knit striped socks with garter stitch heels and toes.

And there's spinning. Never a dull moment, even when it's black and grey.

That's a UK 5p piece, which is about the same size as a US dime. And I'm sitting here grinning at that picture of my alpaca singles, just as I did when I started spinning the fibre. Which looks like this:
The mostly black with some grey/white is an alpaca batt (I think that's the right term) purchased
with the express intention of spinning lace at Woolfest from Norweft Alpacas. Lying on it is some hand-dyed silk top I fell for at Alexandra Palace. I saw it gleaming in the light and instantly thought of it glinting in the depths of the alpaca. It's interesting spinning, though: the strands are about 2' long and even after a lot of pre-drafting I couldn't persuade it to spin on the wheel, although the drop spindle deals with it easily. I have to evaluate my technique for this. Anyway. Here's the result of my experimentation:

Now, first of all I'm intrigued by the fact that this spinning lark has made me come over all scientific. On the card from left to right are freshly-spun singles, the singles plied back on itself, followed by the singles plied with the silk. Followed by notes on supplier and treadling during plying. I honestly didn't expect I'd have the patience for this sort of thing. I must want to be good at it :-) The mini-skein of the finished yarn IS soft; I was worried that I'd put too much twist into the singles, even though I had planned to run the entire contents of the bobbin counter-clockwise to another bobbin before plying, just to even the twist a bit, after watching the twist move on the yarn while taking a singles off a spindle. That's about 4m of the alpaca 2-ply entwined with 2m of the silk/alpaca blend, which seems about right: you may not be able to see it in the photo, but the silk catches the light occasionally, subtly. I was carrying the mini-skein around the house making excited noises when he asked what I was going to do with it. "Make lace" "Will you have enough?" I did some calculations. The 2-ply is about the same weight as Zephyr, perhaps a bit finer. I've got 250g of the alpaca. Yes, I'll have enough. I think I've got enough for about 5,000 yards of singles, 2,500 yds of 2-ply. Will I live that long? Who knows.

Lest you think he has no fun:
On Wednesday he collected his new bike (as in cycle). He's increasingly enthusiastic about cycling, clocking up 50+ miles per day on weekends and holidays in less than 3 hours, planning routes ever further afield. Our 10-speed tourers were good lightweight bikes when we bought them 25 years ago, but they're antiques now. Technology has moved on. For months I watched him poring over the specs of today's equivalents
or watching other cyclists. Eventually I pointed out that even an expensive road bike was a lot cheaper than most mid-life crises I'd read of: he should just buy one. I cherish the memory of his grin :-) The above was my attempt to preserve for posterity his first ride on his Scott CR1 Pro. He's too fast for the camera now!

So. I'm probably going to have a cold. I'll just have to make the best of it.
Which means sitting on the couch drinking hot liquid and knitting. Finish the Gairloch Socks, start the Chain of Fools for him. Play with New Pathways for Sock Knitters. And there's always Autumn Rose. I have the needles, the wool, the pattern; I just needed the time. I'm smiling again!

Monday, October 15, 2007


Now you see it.
Spinning wheel and lazy kate as I left them Sunday afternoon when the oven timer pinged to say my afternoon was over. I didn't even fill the bobbin! Note the chair pointing sternly, steadfastly toward work as it has all Monday morning.


Now you don't.
The results of my visit to the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace last Thursday.

I prepared properly by assembling a train timetable, packing lunch, collecting phone numbers for people I'd be meeting. I was told in no uncertain terms to buy spinning fibre to use on the new wheel (he decided to order the Schacht but it hasn't yet shipped), so I added this to the shopping list. I remembered to take the shopping list.

I made a strong start: I was one of the first people at Habu, so was able to collect everything on my list. I admit it was a long list, but no UK store stocks that variety of their yarns. Then I went *straight* to Jamieson's of Shetland for the Autumn Rose kit I'd been coveting since Eunny blogged about its creation. Then I just had time to gulp some water and buy 2 lengths of charcoal/bronze/grey silk top (sold for silk paper, but it will add interest to some charcoal alpaca fibre), some Finn fibre in three shades of grey for an icelandic shawl, and a length of beautiful blue merino/silk top from Fyberspates before it was time to meet TussahSilk at the Habu booth. Fortunately Takako was serving someone else (she'd said she wouldn't allow me to buy any more) so I was able to
add 500m of neutral bamboo laceweight and 2 cones of charcoal and rust silk-wrapped stainless steel (on sale!!) for a scarf I hadn't planned. Doesn't everyone wonder what it's like to knit with steel? And that was the start of the long slippery slope down which I tumbled, becoming entangled with 2 skeins of laceweight qiviut and some Suzanne's ebony circulars from Arnica apparently they became familiar with muskox and qiviut in Greenland. Look at her shawl designs; I was able to handle that Hyrna Herborgar, it's wonderful and three skeins of Dream in Colour Smooshy from Socktopus. Two for gifts, one for me. Alice (the owner) was enjoying the show but a bit worried by the speed at which yarn was disappearing from her shelves. I hope everything worked out, she had a lovely smile!

OK, that's the confession. I still feel quite remarkably confused about the qiviut. I love it, I am desperately looking forward to knitting it, but I didn't need it and it was relatively extraordinarily expensive.

Spinning. Ah, spinning. I love my drop spindle. I love spinning silk. I discovered that spinning in public is easier than knitting. The train's at your stop? Stuff everything in the bag and leave, you don't have to worry about dropping stitches or markers, finishing rows, remembering precisely what was going on. Got 3 minutes to spare? Pull out the spindle and continue. I spun on the train (to the polite consternation of the male commuters, who watched whenever they thought I was looking the other way), I gave a basketmaker her first spinning lesson in the queue to enter the hall, I spent lunch teaching TussahSilk how to spin, I spun while she started to learn continental knitting at 'Relax and knit'.

I devoted Sunday afternoon to spinning. I want to finish the 'Chain of Fools' superwash. He's been watching its progress with interest; on Sunday I asked whether he'd like a pair of socks that colour and the answer was a (for him) enthusiastic 'yes'. I filled two bobbins with singles twisted a little more tightly than I wanted (for the plying) and then a little more tightly still (to compensate for quickly feeding the singles counterclockwise onto another bobbin to even the twist). Here are the bobbins on the Louet Victoria's lazy kate with a loop of string to add more tension: the built-in tension on the lazy kate isn't enough to stop the bobbins unreeling madly.

And this is the end result:
I love the colour, I love the barber-poling. I started spinning to make sock yarn that looked like this! and then I fell in love with silk and laceweight and who knows where this affair will end...
I'm not sure about the weight, though. It looks a bit thinner than I wanted – I might have gone for a 3-ply if I could have put another bobbin on the lazy kate – but it should thicken a bit after washing/whacking/etc. The singles are more uneven than I'd thought, due to failure to concentrate on the length of singles mounted on card as a guide combined I think with the sheer length of time it's taken to spin. I suspect that for consistency in singles I should aim for occasional long sessions instead of odd half-hours. Mind you, I have an awful lot of very odd half-hours :-)

Monday, October 01, 2007

This is taking *forever*

Or at least I feel as though it is. That's part of the 'Shoulder Shawl in Cherry Leaf Pattern' from Victorian Lace Today, in Mini Maiden 'Periwinkle'. A rod for my own back: 'shoulder shawls' don't really appeal to me, I prefer something a little more like a hug (especially if it's to be a gift). So I added 5 pattern repeats. Which wasn't a problem, as the body stitch pattern is easily memorised. I was (I can't believe this) actually looking forward to my first knitted-on border, my first 'fully-fashioned' (ie pattern stitches on every row) lace. Gah. Only 12 rows, but can I remember them? I must have the pattern in view at all times. And it seems to exist in a parallel universe where time runs more slowly as soon as I pick up the needles: the rows are short, I seem to be constantly k-ingtbl into a shawl stitch, and yet the border creeps along more slowly than I'd have believed possible. The virulent green bit is another learning experience: the pattern called for a provisional cast-on, leaving the first row of stitches open and ready for a crochet border (I am so looking forward to that...). I decided that knitting a pattern repeat in a contrasting yarn would have the same result and allow me to learn the pattern. OK, one part of the plan worked. I have learned something else from this, though. The finished shawl will be very... Victorian. The large bold body pattern, surrounded with lots of twiddles (the knitted-on border, finished with crochet loops) is very reminiscent of Victorian parlours [site is slow to load, but the 360° works well] with boldly patterned walls and decorative dust-traps on every surface. It really should have been red or dark green or gold, not periwinkle. Probably all three. Anyway, it's not to my taste. I find I prefer more finely-detailed lace. Shetland here we come...

There's not been much other knitting lately, everything seems to have stalled. I don't like what's happening with the colourwork on the heel of the Gairloch Socks, so when I finish the shawl I'll sit and work out what to do about those. The Alpaca Thing is laughing at my lack of stamina. I've got lots of work, too: I've assessed, touched-up, or drawn from scratch about 300 illustrations in the last 3 weeks, with another 100-odd to go. My own typesetting project is drawing to a close, but we're so far behind that the next volume isn't far away, and I've got lots of other stuff in the queue... I need to find some energy! I'm swatching for the Cinnabar pullover from IK, but I need a 6.5mm Addi or other shiny needle for the linen stitch; I should, I could use the Denise set but they feel so clumsy by comparison with Addis. After reading so many good reviews I've given in and ordered a set of Knitpicks Options from GetKnitted. That's a cheering thought. Another cheering thought... for me, at least. Some might disagree :-) I have a Big Birthday soon. Half a century. I've started to think about all the things I've seen and (with luck) the things I've yet to see! A semi-birthday present materialised on the route of a walk through London on Saturday:
I have a thing about skeletons and bones, skulls in particular. I like them. I think they're wonderful structures, amazing feats of engineering, and for me they symbolise both life and death. This ring from The Great Frog incorporates all that; I love the contrast between its meaning for me and the Heavy Metal 'skull with rats' design (the rats are investigating a gaping hole in the back of the skull :-). I must confess that I also enjoy shocking people who don't know me. The other birthday gift is under discussion: he wants to buy me a really good spinning wheel, something that I'll use and love for decades (he is a keeper, isn't he?) and my sister wants in on it too. I've been reading reviews wherever I find them, paying attention to the wheels used by noted bloggers and professional spinning folk. I think... I think my dream wheel may be a Schacht Matchless double treadle. But it's a lot of money and my spinning wouldn't do it justice. Yet. It's very tempting, though.

Update: I've just been told he's made a Management Decision and ordered a Schacht. I'm thrilled for two reason: 1. I'm getting a new wheel! and 2. I don't have to faff about it anymore. So that's 3 birthday gifts, more than enough for a half-century :-)

Back to work. I have to finish something so I can invoice someone so I can justify drawing up a shopping list for the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace. I wonder if anyone there will have a Schacht I could look at?

PS. I've just remembered I should have mentioned: the handspun Wool Peddler Shawl was delivered to my mother's door the day before her birthday. When I rang to wish her Many Happy Returns she was wearing it, or at least said she was. It's a great success! Hurrah!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Old Sweater

It's one of those things you just don't think about. It's there when you need it, so you use it. It's his, but I often wear it if I need something warm when working outside in the winter. Gran (his paternal grandmother) knitted it; I knew that much, and I'd guessed it was a gift when he was younger because it's relatively small. It's a sturdy, quite glossy wool (with my new-found knowledge I think it's a longwool) in a peculiar shade of pale mint-green with flecks of pink. There are a few errors in the pattern stitch, and the seaming looks like my first efforts. There's some staining where the collar rubs the wearer's neck, a lot of pulled threads, the cuffs are fraying, and a felted scrap of red wool knotted into the fabric distinguishes the back from the front.

When I came across it yesterday in my search for some other sweater I thought to ask how old it was. He paused and looked thoughtful. "Ohhh, probably about 1966", he said. A Christmas present, probably, because no one in their right mind gifts woollens for birthdays in high summer. I commented on the rough seaming and asked whether Gran learned to knit late in life (I scarcely knew her, as she died in the early 1980s not long after we moved to the UK). He looked surprised. "She knitted all her life. Perhaps it was her arthritis? She'd needed two sticks to walk for as long as I can remember". I thought about that. He was born in the early 1950s. Decades... DECADES of walking on sticks, living with pain. I thought of a picture I'd once seen of Gran as a Land Girl during the First World War, tall and slim in trousers(!!), smoking a cigarette and laughing.

I remember Gran sitting upright, poised and elegant in her hospital bed: she flatly refused to be seen by anyone until the nurse had applied her face and done her hair. I think of her working painfully, slowly, knitting sweaters to keep her grandchildren warm when they moved in 1961 to distant, cold Canada
. The wear and stains show this one did sterling service over the years. I remember him wearing it under a down vest (we've still got that, too) standing over me and laughing when I fell over cross-country skiing, back when we were courting (a quaint phrase). That sweater is a memory palace in its own right, deserving to be packed away in lavender but... that's not what it's for. We wear it. Because it's warm and it's there when we need it.

By contrast something disgracefully pretty:
This will be the 'Cherry Leaf Shoulder Shawl' from Victorian Lace Today, a gift for someone who loves these colours. The yarn is Handmaiden Mini Maiden, a silk/wool blend, in 'Periwinkle'. The yarn is lovely, soft with a silken sheen, just a trifle splitty – but perhaps that's the pointy Addi lace needle. The pattern is an easy knit so far, although I'm a bit nervous about what will be my first knitted-on border. The Gairloch Socks are at the heels, where I'm discovering that 2-colour knitting *flat* is no fun. I think I need to learn to purl from the front. Alternatively I could abandon all this... my birthday present arrived early, yesterday. I have a copy of Cat Bordhi's New Pathways for Sock Knitters AND several (I'm too embarrassed to count) skeins of STR. And then there's work proper, trailing the field of desires... I must be strong. Perhaps one day this shawl will be a memory palace for someone.

Incidentally the knotted bit of yarn on the left is a quick&dirty row marker. I slide the xth loop onto the needle when I start on the xth row of the pattern; finish the row, move to the x+1th loop. Exceedingly easy, more accurate than my old row counter, sadly not an original idea, I picked it up on Ravelry (sorry).

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Up and down

Dear Mother,

Do you remember the strange, mis-shapen ashtrays I used to bring home from the summer ceramics kids classes? The vases that only held water and flowers if they were braced upright with plasticine? Well, this is the fibre equivalent of one of those ashtrays. It's the Wool Peddler Shawl from Folk Shawls, handknit by me from my very own, very first handspun yarn project, a blend of alpaca and silk. I confess I am quite proud of it; I've been told it's very good for a first yarn. The silk shines in the autumn sunlight and the alpaca is already developing a fine halo to trap the warmth. While down on my hands and knees to pull guard hairs from the blocking shawl, I spotted some additional content. There's cat hair of course (what do you expect from this household?), and I'm sure I found some of mine and some of his, too. So we're all here, holding you and keeping you warm on cold winter nights.

Happy Birthday!

I've learned a lot from spinning and knitting this shawl, more than I'd have thought possible when I began it. The improvement in yarn quality is quite literally palpable: I just wish that I'd thought to BEGIN the shawl so my earliest effort was hidden in forgiving garter stitch, instead of resorting to it at the end where the stockinette lace is less forgiving. I spun this painfully, boring-ly slowly: I started within a fortnight of acquiring my wheel at the beginning of March, and I didn't finish the 600m of 2-ply until the end of June. I think it's [up] reasonably consistent in weight and fineness because I refused to try to push for more speed. [down] There's some inconsistency in the grist, which shows in the way the stitches move. But I went from [up] loving the roving to [down] really disliking some of the singles to [up] liking the 2-ply and loving the garter stitch bit... until I discovered how the convoluted track of knitted yarn pushes any stiff material ([down] the cursed guard hairs) up and out of the fabric. I have actually spent 5 HOURS working over that shawl with tweezers, pulling out guard hairs.
The top of the shawl that will sit on the neck is soft and hair-free, but the lace where the extra twists hold the hairs is still a bit prickly. I. Must. Assess. Roving. More. Carefully.* But the shawl is still beautiful and I am still proud of my accomplishment.

Another almost-accomplishment, lots of ups and downs:
Yes, some of you have seen some of that before. It's Kinder Scout again, a fortnight ago. Isn't the heather lovely? Imagine entire hillsides and hilltops covered in those colours, blending heather-purples and greens and browns and golds. The patchwork of fields is the Edale valley, with a train that reminds him of a sequence in Spirited Away. We've walked that long ridge (Lose Hill to Mam Tor) beyond the valley, there and back again; this time the plan was to walk around the Kinder plateau. Sadly the long drive means a late-ish start, made 30 minutes later because we lost the will to walk when we smelt frying bacon. Two bacon&egg buns later we began at a cracking pace; not deigning to follow the path, we shot straight up a clough (water-cut steep ravine) and onto the path. We were going quite well, even with regular stops in hope of preventing his knee problems when he slipped and fell, scraping his shin very badly indeed. Nobly insisting it didn't hurt (once the agony of the disinfectant had ebbed), we continued a bit more slowly. The blood trickling down his leg sparked several comments from other walkers; apparently someone walking ahead of us had a similar but far worse injury. By about 1500 we were on the northern edge with a stunning view. Glossop and the outskirts of Manchester were faintly visible in the haze (but not in that image).
The sore bits. You can just see the blood on his shin. My foot rates mention because I've discovered that the swollen joint of my big toe is arthritic, with restricted motion (hallux limitus) and it's occasionally aches deep in the joint on hard walks like these. I've started investigating treatments. Here we both found a generous serving of gorp most efficacious. Look at the heather on those hills! Sadly, as we marched on we realised that if we did the full circuit we'd be as late down the hill as we were up it and home much, much later after the long motorway drive. So we bailed onto the footpath over the top and made our way back to Edale. This doesn't bother him much, but I'm a completist [not so much for music, but very definitely for SF authors. And possibly walks, it seems]. Not doing the entire circuit is niggling at me like a, a hangnail. I have to do it right, I have to FINISH IT even if it means getting up at 4am!

Next, more knitting. I have some yarn... OK, I have quite a lot of yarn, but I have some yarn in my hands for the Next Project: the Cinnabar Pullover from IK Fall 2007. It may not have a v-neck (it's for the winter!) but it does have waist shaping. I'm working on the courage to add some short-rows for the bust; I may have to, as I'm seriously considering the 37" and I'm a 38. I must check the hip widths and I know I must recalculate the stitch counts for a different gauge. I'm going to knit this to fit. And I'll finish it.

* The person who knows alpaca fibre has just seen it and says it's not bad for guard hair. Really. She showed me some commercially available alpaca roving that is just stiff with them. Absolutely horrid stuff.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

No housework here, folks

None at all. Just work and sitting and knitting and reading and stuff. I'm sure I'll get around to cleaning again sometime, but fibre is just so much more... exciting :-)
If I had a picture of my Wing o' the Moth shawl I could show you a picture, but the first attempt (6-ish repeats) was frogged earlier this week. I have learned another lesson: USE A ROW COUNTER or ALWAYS STOP IN THE SAME PLACE. I put it down thinking I'd have no trouble remembering where I'd stopped; two days later I'd completely forgotten. Let's assume that's due to having more interesting things to think about rather than old age, shall we?

What else is happening? It's raining.

I'm marching slowly through the garter stitch section of the Wool Peddler's Shawl, wondering why I started with my best, most even handspun when I'll want it for the stockinette lace-ish bit at the end. And cursing the guard hairs. I now understand why so many people say alpaca is prickly. Most of the Tuesday spinners have adjourned to afternoon garden-spinning parties for the summer break; I and one or two others who work during the day have started to spend an occasional evening of beer and fibre at the pub. Try to imagine the faces of the regulars at the bar when I marched in with two bags of books and yarn and fibre, bought a half of Broadside and settled down to drop spindling while waiting for Lyn. Such fun! I hadn't realised that she has alpacas, real live ones, and I learned a lot about judging alpaca roving that evening. All of mine has some guard hairs, and the silk blend I love has more than most. As I knit the handspun the ends of the hairs are forced up, out of the fabric, and they are incredibly prickly. I've started pulling them out with tweezers as I knit: I want this to be soft and comforting, not a penance. I was going to be incredibly witty here and post a picture of the Cyclamen cilicium currently flowering in the garden, but the camera would not co-operate. Now I'm wondering why such a lovely flower was named for a hairshirt. Perhaps it's some other root entirely. Haha!

It's still raining.
It's cold enough that the heating came on last night with the room 'stat set to 16C (the normal winter setting). I formulated a cunning plan earlier in the year: I will not buy another sweatshirt. Instead I will knit sweaters. Ha. Anyone else here on Ravelry? Have you noticed how few people, relatively speaking, knit garments? When I search for projects others have made with my stash yarn I find scarves. Hats. Gloves, mittens, socks. Shawls galore. But very few sweaters/cardigans. My own project file is full of socks and shawls. This. Must. Change. I have yarn bought to become sweaters and it WILL become sweaters. Soon, or I'm going to be cold.

But procrastination is the mother of invention. I have started knitting an Alpaca Thing. I have this medium grey Blue Sky Sport Weight Alpaca (11 skeins) intended to become an over-large cabled vest-ish sort of thing. 3" into the project I knew it was a mistake: the fabric was too textured to show the interesting stitch patterns, too soft to pop cables, too drapey to hold a shape and the garment wasn't a flattering shape at the best of times. I'd been thinking about knitting one of these anyway:

At least now I know what to expect when I see a picture of myself. This blogging thing is good for honesty :-)
That vest. Thing. It's rather better In Real Life than it looks here: M told me it looked good on, and she doesn't lie. Maybe the camo pants let it down?

It's a rectangle of fine nylon mesh to which bits of fine wool have been 'Artistically' sewn/felted. There's a close-up at left for felters capable of artistry. Top is at bottom (where my foot is); bottom at top, where a bit more mesh is visible and the really stringy bits are loose for a tasteful, slightly ethereal effect. The nylon gives it a bit of rigidity, so it tends not to hug the person wearing it. My alpaca version will undoubtedly hug and hang, but my theory is that if the folds are sufficiently generous and the fabric feels and looks good, the end resilt will be a different kind of elegant.
Here's a plan view for the intrigued. I'm doing a 7-stitch moss pattern border all round; the fabric itself is Pinnacle Chevron (from Barbara Walker's First Treasury), a reversible pattern that almost acts like ribbing to encourage folds but the chevrons look slightly cabled, and I really do think it's working with the alpaca instead of against it. And it's an easy knit, which is important: I'm working from the bottom up, which is something over 300st and every row takes ages. Each 110m skein yields a tad over 2", which means 11 skeins isn't enough. Luckily the shop has some left: another 3 skeins are on their way. I haven't decided what to do about the armholes yet. They're 9" high, centred in the fabric. I was just going to leave longer (10-11" slits), but I'm toying with the idea of picking up stitches and knitting sleevish things. Or making proper holes like what the original has. And I have to decide whether or not to edge the holes with moss stitch as well. More finished look, but possibly too finished.

I've got lots of time to decide... lots and lots of time. About 2 more skeins. I think I need some lace now, or socks. Just to cheer me up. Oh, look. A chocolate bar!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Thank you

All those who emailed to ask how things were going. I'm a bit stunned, really: I hadn't realised I had acquired so many friends in far away places. If I could, I'd host a party for us all. (Does anyone else script the music for things like that? I've even made notes about what those attending my funeral should be forced to listen to enjoy :-)

Yes, it's OK. My in-laws left for Canada on Friday; father-in-law looking worlds better. Our house is now very, very clean: I have verified that, when stressed, I find stuff to do and do it to excess. The first thing I did whenever I was alone in the house for the last three weeks was clean something. Anything. Scrub the living daylights out of it. Talk about displacement activity!
No murders were committed, I did not bang my head against a wall publicly or privately. I did, however, hide in the bathroom with a book, I chewed my cuticles until they bled (sorry if that's TMI), and I bought quite a lot of yarn...

Some of it rather expensive :-( That's 1500m of Cherry Tree Hill 'Orenburg Lace' yarn in natural. I've wasted? spent? enjoyed? quite a lot of time trying to decide on a pattern that will do justice to it. I haven't made a final decision but perhaps Three-cornered and Long Shawls will be helpful (is 'helpful' the right word?).

Lace is good. That's the Swallowtail Shawl in Das Schneeshaf's Marisilk, 'Golden Bamboo'.
I even enjoyed the nupps. The colour is very nearly right on my monitor: it's a subtle grey/gold that almost exactly matches bits of my hair. Complicated lace is very good indeed as a distraction from whatever ails you AND (even better) it scares everyone else so they don't talk to you. Or perhaps that was the fierce frown (of concentration) on my face? As soon as I'd finished that I cast on for Wing o' the Moth but, as I waved farewell on Friday, the desperate drive to lace ebbed away. Summer's over. There's an autumnal edge to the wind, which smells of burning leaves and freshly ploughed soil. I must bite the bullet and knit some real clothing soon, things that will keep me warm. First, after a weekend spent listening to loud-ish music and eating our meals on the couch in front of the TV, I must do some work to pay for all the yarn. There is more, you know. It just hasn't arrived yet!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Holding pattern

In many ways. My in-laws were to have left today, but my father-in-law was poorly when they arrived and was hospitalised in a frantic rush that lasted 12 hours on Thursday. These were the travelling socks that day; I've put them aside to wait for happier times. I want to enjoy wearing them, not be reminded of hours spent sitting in Emergency Assessment. He's improving, out of Intensive Care this morning, but I'd guess they won't be flying home on Friday. I feel a growing need to lose myself in complex lace, a pattern that demands concentration. How about a Swallowtail Shoulder Shawl? I've never done nupps.

It's true: yarn is sometimes better than chocolate. This is Marisilk, a sea silk from Das Schneeshaf (access the shop via the button at top left). I lack words to tell you how utterly beautiful some of Andrea's colours are. This is NOT grey: it's a pale bronze/gold-grey and I love it. It's air-brushed! It's gorgeous. I have another skein, a mixture of true greys as well. And some sock yarns. I was her first international customer and I wish I had a louder voice because her yarns deserve to be better-known. Or maybe not. Maybe I shouldn't tell anyone. Let's keep this a secret known to the favoured few, shall we?

When I need mindless knitting I can work on this:
Yes, that's my handspun alpaca/silk. It's going to be the Wool Peddler's Shawl from Folk Shawls, started in part because I needed to show my mother-in-law how four yarnovers/row force the shaping of a triangular shawl. Why? Because she's never knitted lace before. I gave her 1500 yds of Wollmeise superwash lace yarn in Rosenrot (dark). I'd meant it to be a gift to take home but, with her own copy of Seraphim and an Addi lace circular, it's become a welcome distraction.

Medicinal yarn: apply as needed.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Sock festival

As in a very small festival of socks... Thank you to the people who emailed to ask if we were affected by the flooding: we are lucky in so many ways. If this area DID flood we'd be the first house under water but, as this part of the UK is drier than many notably dry places, we were fine. Just a bit damp under grey skies, depressed and over-worked. One bright spot in the last fortnight was the official Trying-On of his third pair of socks.

Yarn: Cross Lanes Farm Aran Wensleydale on 3mm needles.
Pattern: my own, stockinette foot just in case they can be worn in boots, leg is Stansfield 12 from 'More Sensational Knitted Socks'.
Comments: It's official: "The best socks yet". Clearly, when in doubt, make his socks snug rather than loose. Good for length and width, try a 14st heel next time: although that 10st heel looks fine when his foot is on the ground, it's a bit pointy. The rule of thumb seems to be that however many gusset stitches appear if I M1 every second row for 2", it's the right number. I like simple.

Another bright spot was the arrival of a shipment of Wollmeise yarn. I'm torn. The colours are stunning: Claudia works brilliantly (literally) with blues and with red/orange. But... the yarn feels like Lorna's Laces. More like cotton than superwash. However, hers are the colours in which I dreamed I was knitting Gairloch socks. So I am. Two at once, toe-up on 2mmm magic loop, holding both colours in the left hand. Co-ordination counts!
Here's the toe and sole:

And the instep.
On the foot, because that's where socks belong. In sunlight these socks just GLOW! They'll be my winter house socks. Might be winter 2008/9, though :-)

The band-aid on the foot is a reminder of the bright spot that was the weekend just past. Forget stalking end-notes through the dense verbiage of archaeological papers, forget that relatives are coming to stay this week (Must. Clean. House.). Let the music wash it all away for three days. We listened avidly to everything from Last Orders and Show of Hands through Bruce Cockburn, Ruthie Foster, Ricky Skaggs to Toumáni Diabate and more. We stayed to the end three nights running, to listen and dance to CJ Chenier and one of my old favourites, Shooglenifty. Most years we do this by ourselves but this year we had the added pleasure of weaving our path through the music in company with a friend or two. Now? It's Monday morning and we're paying the price for showing those youngsters how it's done. My feet hurt, my throat is raw from cheering and two more papers to be typeset arrived in the mail over the weekend. I don't care. You only live once, make the most of it!

Soon... more socks. I've been spinning Teyani's superwash roving in 'Chain of Fools' (Crown Mountain Farms), entranced by the never-ending changes in colour and the way that plying alters the palette. When Navajo-plied (at the bottom) the colours are too intense, but that two-ply looks a little, just a little, like the subtly multi-coloured handspun that I coveted so badly that I started spinning. I'm now trying for something slightly tighter, a bit more twist, to improve the wearing quality. I must, I really must knit something other than socks. But not this week. Excuse me, I must just go and put my nose to the grindstone.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

More socks, less holiday

But I'd prefer things the other way around. Ah, well. What it is to be an adult. Nonetheless, look: socks!

These are winter house socks for him, although my foot thinks that's unfair. The yarn is interesting: it's a pure Wensleydale Longwool aran weight from Cross Lanes Farm, bought at Woolfest because the yarn has a lovely sheen, is a perfect denim blue heathered with black, and I've been wondering whether Wensleydale would make a good sock yarn. I must have been a magpie in a previous life: I like shiny, worsted yarns that catch the light to show how the stitches flow in the fabric. And this is lovely stuff, shiny but soft, and developing a lovely slight bloom of loose fibre as I knit it. On 3mm needles (magic loop) it's making a dense, soft fabric that I think I've finally got sized to his liking for his feet. I just hope it doesn't felt badly during wear.

I'm beginning to feel the urge to knit a garment. Real clothing. Socks somehow seem a bit like 'cheating' now that I now I can knit them to fit me, and possibly him. I think I'll want something more challenging soon. So why on earth have I just ordered more sock yarn? Because on Sunday night I dreamed of knitting socks. I frequently dream of knitting. How sad is that? I'm actually not certain it is sad; it may be that my knitting skills will improve because of it. Let's keep thinking that, shall we?

Mindie, I bought two of the three patterns the Museum had for sale; the Gairloch diamond stitch pattern (charted) and another for a man's sock with Scotch thistles decorating the wide knit panels in the ribbing. A similar pattern with the Mackenzie stag instead of the thistle had sold out (not that I wanted it). Anyway, I dreamt I was knitting the Gairloch pattern. But not in sane, traditional colours. Apparently my subconscious wants 'Indisch Rot' and 'Gewitterhimmel' from Claudia, the Wollmeise. Next week I'll see if it's possible to do this without going blind. If I need a break, I could use the prize I won for donating to Claudia's MS Ride. Thanks, Rebecca!

I must say an even louder, more heartfelt 'thank you' to all of you for reading my words. It's such an ego boost to read your comments, especially when I'm feeling down. Incidentally, I don't know the best way to respond to questions in the comments; it's more personal if I answer directly in another comment, but I don't know whether you're obsessive enough to check for an answer, especially when as now I'm so slow.

Catsmum [Everyone stop reading this and go see the quilt!], I can only approximate the Gaelic pronounciation. I've got a 'Teach Yourself Gaelic' course sitting on my desk, but it takes more concentration than I'd thought; [did you see that lightbulb?] I might be able to manage it while knitting, though. 'Baosbheinn' I can do, sort of, because I checked with a native Gaelic speaker. It's my favourite of the Torridon mountains; I loved that long ridge even before I discovered the name means something like 'magic mountain/wizard's peak' or, alternatively 'hill of the forehead'. The latter because seen from the coast the western end looks a bit like a craggy, noble face.
'Baos', the first syllable, should sound like 'bush' but modify that 'u' with a hint of 'e' as it would sound in 'besh'. 'Bheinn' is roughly 'ven', with a short 'e'. I spent an entire evening muttering that name to myself so I can get it right. After all, names have power.

And now for something completely different. If you need a laugh and are in the right frame of mind, try lolcats. Some leave me cold, some make me smile and some make me LOL. ["Luke I is ur fathur"]. I'm also intrigued by the way such memes develop; Anil Dash has some thoughts on this here. And here's me this morning...*

Your Score: Sad Cookie Cat

65% Affectionate, 37% Excitable, 75% Hungry

You are the classic Shakespearian tragedy of the lolcat universe. The sad story of a baking a cookie, succumbing to gluttony, and in turn consuming the very cookie that was to be offered. Bad grammar ensues.

To see all possible results, checka dis.

Link: The Which Lolcat Are You? Test written by GumOtaku on OkCupid, home of the The Dating Persona Test

* Believe it or not, I actually threw the last half packet of Bourbon Cream biscuits (my favourites!) in the bin last night to prevent them following the first half down my throat. I can has cookie? NO.