Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I win.

The view from our bedroom window. Thanks, Mindie -- the knitting karma landed!

Started September 2006, finished May 2007 (stockinette is boring).
Yarn: Lisa Souza laceweight merino in 'Wild Things'
Pattern: Mim's Seraphim Shawl
Modifications: first and most obvious, I converted the triangle into a square. What was I thinking?
The pattern called for 800–900yds fingering weight yarn and 3.75mm needles; I used c. 1500yds of laceweight on 2.5mm needles after knitting more stockinette rows to add an extra pattern repeat as compensation for the smaller stitch size. I must have been mad... The pattern gives a blocked size of 72" point-to-point; mine is 150cm on the diagonal, which is just about fingertip-to-fingertip on me. I could have made it bigger – I've got at least 800yds of yarn left – but I wanted something roughly my size.

Joanne, you might want to look away now... 99,940 stitches. This is an accurate estimate, lacking precision only because I know I made some mistakes. We habitually discuss strange stuff during long car journeys. How electricity works, from the electron up. Why that idiot is weaving to and fro across the road. The relative merits of Rhubarb and Gooseberry Fool. On Saturday it occurred to me that, given I know the number of stitches I started with, the number of stitches bound off, and the increase per two rows, it should be possible to calculate the actual number of stitches in the shawl. We forced our memories back into the grade school archives to look for factorials, something I can very dimly remember thinking would never, ever be useful. The number we wanted is (2(8x111!))-16 [because the first row is knitted only once]. The teacher whose name is lost in the mists of time would be proud of me, but the Excel Wizard did the calculation.

Comments: the pattern is a straightforward easy knit, bar the boredom inherent in a lot of stockinette. I am particularly taken with the way Mim's used different decreases to move from solid stockinette to stockinette 'islands' with clearly defined edges to stockinette islands with diffuse edges. Very feathery, very, very clever: you'll have to buy the pattern to find out precisely what I mean!

I bought the yarn in the first flush of enthusiasm for hand-dyed yarns, not thinking (not even aware) of how colour changes can obscure lace patterning. Thanks to myriad knitblogs, I rapidly became very wary of variable colouring in lace. I considered plain garter stitch (too boring), or some of the simple shawls in Folk Shawls, (classic designs that seemed to me to deserve a plain yarn to show the pattern of the stitches). Then I spotted Seraphim. I squared it because I had the yarn (2500yds), and because it's to be my comfort blanket. I've spent two transatlantic flights huddled under a scratchy grey blanket trying to pretend I'm not crammed into a cigar tube with several hundred other far-from-perfect people. And their children. Now I have a lavender-scented cloud to remind me of the Asian lad on the train to Edinburgh whose first-ever stitches are part of the shawl. And his Scots girlfriend. And Arthur's Seat, and all the other places I've worked on it. And I've lessons to remember, too. Memo to self: Pay attention to the stitches during the straight 'knit' rounds; they're your chance to correct errors in the preceding pattern rounds. More importantly, I think my tension has improved aka loosened.
I've just taken it off the pins. It's gorgeous.

I'll add the classic 'on' shot when I've got one. After spending my morning knitting and my lunch hour sitting outside reading Pratchett, eating chocolate chip cookies, and gloating... I'd better get to work.

I like knitting lace. I shall knit a 'proper' garment next, but will be thinking about lace.
In the bag, Habu Kusa (silk mohair, apparently similar to KSH but far, far nicer) in three colourways, 400-600m of each, plus hand-dyed cashmere. I don't know what any of this will be, perhaps I love it more because of the sheer weight of potential in that bag. On the grass... Sundara's silk laceweight in a non-repeatable colour. Probably an Icarus. I'm looking forward to seeing the play of light and colour across those bands of stockinette.
From left to right, Jaggerspun Zephyr in 'Sage' probably to be Anne's Wing o' the Moth; centre is Handmaiden Ivory Sea Silk for the Kimono Shawl in Folk Shawls; right is Handmaiden's new Mini Maiden, 50/50 silk/wool heavy laceweight singles in 'Periwinkle', destined to be a gift. Possibly another Kiri (scroll down) – it's such a fast knit.
Decisions, decisions.
Are you jealous?

I'm sorry.

No, I must be honest. I'm only a little bit sorry. Mostly I'm still gloating.

My feet are not nearly as elegant as Cara's.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Dear Mother/

sister/brother/friend/client/printer/cat (please delete as appropriate)

I regret that I have been unable to reply to your letter/telephone message expressing concern/angry email/plaintive meow. I was exploring space-time with Dr Who/paralysed from the neck down by sudden illness/isolated from the rest of the world by a total electricity failure/desperately trying to finish knitting a shawl. I hope to send a response to your query/those proofs/that print job/clean the litterbox and placate you with gooshy food in the very near future.

All my love/Yours sincerely


Three rows and the bind-off to go. Fortunately? my husband knows the score. He didn't even try to talk to me last night.

On Saturday we again drove up to the Peak District to prove? test? our fitness. Debby, competitiveness can be a good thing if the body is up for it. In our case(s), the spirit is willing, but the flesh (more specifically the joints) are weak. He's had an arthroscopy on one knee and the other's just as bad; mine aren't much better after decades of abuse. If we attack one hill flat out, we might not be able to get back to the car, let alone up the next hill!
I was thrilled by the thought of pure unadulterated 'knitting time' during the drive, so took the Purple Thing. Car-knitting proved less ideal than I'd thought, even the motorway has rough bits and distractions. I've had to pick up some dropped stitches, which left some tension anomalies (one is visible in the photo). Never mind, they'll remind me of another place this shawl has been. I'd intended to leave the shawl in the boot/trunk of the car (obviously any thief worth its salt would have stolen it if I'd left it in plain sight) at Winnat's Pass but found I couldn't. I just couldn't. Suppose someone stole the car? They'd have my shawl. The insurance value would be derisory by comparison to the hours of my life it embodies. It's FAR more valuable than the car. Despite having spent quite a lot of money on lightweight walking gear I disregarded the noticeable weight of the stitch markers and stuffed it into my pack. My explanation of the value of the shawl vs that of the car met with some amusement.
It was a good day out. In weather ranging from hot sun to horizontal rain and hail we climbed Mam Tor, walked the Great Ridge to Lose Hill, then turned around and walked back and further, along Rushup Edge to Lord's Seat and beyond. About 14.5km in total, less than last time, but much more upanddown. My knees are still complaining.

Respect is due to the myriad teachers out with their students. The paths were lined with them, measuring the width of the paths (studying erosion?), sketching the landscape. We occasionally caught words on the wind... (all my images click for bigger, this one will be legible if you do!)

I find everyone's different hair stories intriguing. Even while I wish I'd had the courage to disregard my parents and cut my hair as a teenager, I try to imagine wanting long hair. Diversity is the spice of life. One of the spices of life. There are so many, we just have to recognise them.

Work, I must work. How else can I earn money for the sock monkey? DON'T ANSWER THAT!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Purple Thing is still eating my life...

Not one of those purple things! They're English bluebells, not triffids. But just imagine you could see tiny people down amongst their leaves... can you tell it's Friday?
I've only got 13 rows plus the bind-off to go. Barring accidents, I will survive and I'll have yarn left over, probably about 1200 yards. Might be some time before I feel like knitting with it again!

I've been tagged for the 'Seven Random
Facts' MeMe by Joanne. The rules are:
Each person tagged gives 7 random facts about themselves. Those tagged need to write in their blogs 7 facts, as well as the rules of the game. You need to tag seven others and list their names on your blog. You have to leave those you plan on tagging a note in their comments so they know that they have been tagged and need to read your blog. But I'm going to break the rules and not tag anyone else: if you want to do it, go for it - and leave a comment in the comments so I can come and find out more about you.

1. I love the smell of lavender. I have lavender soap, I dab lavender oil on my pillow if I'm having trouble sleeping, I sprinkle lavender oil under the rugs and carpets because it smells nice and might deter moths.

2. I'm afraid of lightning. At 49 I've got the self-control to keep the flinch internal, but it's a weird fear. My parents took me to see Fantasia when I was very, very young. They hoped it would be memorable, and it was, but (I hope) not for the right reasons. Remember the segment where lightning apparently pursues centaurs (I think it was centaurs) across the landscape? I think that did it: when I saw it again a couple of years ago, something clicked. Somewhere very deep in my brain I think lightning is sentient, and it's out to get me. When I was young enough to act on my fears I used to spend lightning storms hiding indoors where it couldn't see me through a door or window. Thunder is fine, thunder is non-existent gods moving furniture. Lightning, and to a lesser extent, any moving light (car headlights can make me close doors slightly more quickly than I might otherwise)... they're not so fine. Even at 49.

3. As a child I taught myself to imitate loon calls so well that the birds would swim toward me standing on the shore. One evening I was asked to demonstrate this in front of some of my parents' friends: I think the reaction must have been negative in some way - they laughed? - because I stopped doing it after that.

4. I really like Mexican/ Tex-mex food. I cherish several cookbooks despite living in a country where most of the fresh ingredients are unavailable and those I can find are seriously expensive.

5. But I loathe cilantro/coriander leaves. If I wanted that flavour I'd eat soap.

6. I love walking barefoot. My toes burrow into sand. Hot asphalt under my feet is the feel of childhood summer. I like contrasts, the exclamation points of gravel compared to the cool green grassness of the lawn. I like to feel mud squishing between my toes, I enjoy the shock of cold tile or even snow on the warm soles of my feet.

7. I used to have extremely long blonde hair. As a child in the late 1960s/early 1970s my plait was longer than the average hem length of the dresses I wore to school; when it was unbraided my hair reached my knees. It was washed every Sunday, piled on my head in a towel then brushed almost dry (the pain! the pain!), then braided into a single very fat plait down the middle of my back. Every morning and evening it was unbraided, brushed, and then braided again. I had a white stripe down the middle of my back all summer. It was never cut, my mother just trimmed the ends once each month. From about the age of 9 I begged, I pleaded to have it cut. It was so incredibly heavy when it was wet, it was a nuisance in more ways than I care to list (think about compulsory swimming). My father flatly refused to allow it. Finally, when I was about 12, it was cut to mid-back. I can remember the change in the weight. My parents divorced, I got older and bolder, and when I was about 18 I had it cut to shoulder-length. The hairdresser didn't want to do it; I told her if she could think of ONE way of putting it 'up' that would stay 'up' and out of my eyes and everything else (loose hair/braids used to fall forward into the dead shark dissection. Not good, the smell lingers.) I'd pay for the cut and leave it long. She couldn't: every time I shook my head the new style would fall out. The price I pay for thick, heavy hair. For a long time it rested near my shoulders. Eventually about 15 years ago, even older and bolder, I had it cut 'short back and sides', just like my brother's back in the 1960s. I can still remember feeling air on the back of my neck for the first time. Now I'm older still and I want it shorter still. I'd love to find out what a 'Number One' feels like or, better yet, no hair at all. But Stuart (who cuts it) flatly refuses ever to consider it, as bald really, really wouldn't suit me. But I know the time will come when my curiosity will win, after all I don't have to look at myself. And it will grow back.

This has been the first bright, sunny day for what seems like ages. We needed the rain, but...
Fortunately I'd already planned an expedition to photograph wild lily-of-the-valley. I'd never thought about where it was native (Eurasia and eastern North America); for me lily-of-the-valley was found in the flower bed by the front door of the house where I grew up in western Canada. Here it is in its natural habitat in an ancient wood. ('Ancient' meaning trees may have grown here since they appeared in Britain after the last Ice Age.) The plants shoot and flower quickly, before the slower oaks come into full leaf and cast dense shade on the woodland floor. Not all the plants have the energy to flower each year, and those that do are far more delicate than the robust thugs spreading across my garden.
The scent is the same, even more haunting as it drifts through the trees.
In Britain ancient woodland (this is King's Wood, near Heath & Reach) is not wilderness: it's been managed to produce crops of timber (building-size, er, timber) and wood (as in firewood) for centuries or millennia. As trees became scarcer in a landscape cleared for agriculture, individual woodlands became more and more valuable. Their boundaries were marked by permanent earthworks, woodbanks and ditches, and hedges. Several centuries ago someone felled the trees in one corner of the King's Wood, a process known as assarting. The clearing (known as an assart) is still grassland, with the woodbank visible as a long mound in the grasses. But the flood of bluebells shimmering across the area in spring is the clearest indication that this field was once wildwood.

With luck by the end of next week I will have more knitting and spinning to document! Oh no... I can hear the Purple Thing. It's calling me, I must go to it. Noooooooooooooooooo.....

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Purple Thing is eating my life

It has fangs. It's devouring the second ball of laceweight as fast as I, its slave, can work. Eight hundred stitches in circumference means progress is slow but steady; I do an hour before I start work, for example, and well over an hour every night, plus whatever time I have during lunch. Only 21 rows and the cast-off to go and then I'll be able to see the pattern complete (it's Mim's 'Seraphim'). This is where I stopped this morning. Had to stop. I can feel the muscle tension in my forearms already and I've a whole day of computer work ahead of me...
Tuesday Spinners offers sanctuary from my purple master. Although others do knit (I've been running impromptu classes in toe-up socks for the last month), I welcome the chance to spend 2 hours on the wheel without a head popping around the door of my room to say "I wondered what that strange noise was". And I'm starting to worry a little about fibre build-up in the computer. My last one was making felt in the back of the CD holder, and that was only cat hair! It's taken longer than I'd expected to spin this, but I've been trying for consistent thickness rather than speed and I'm pleased with the result. I plyed about 150m of 2-ply alpaca/silk on Sunday, reluctant to display my lack of plying expertise in front of everyone else tonight. A little bit loose but I can add some twist if it doesn't knit well. It's my longest length of handspun, only my second? third? plied on the wheel. The only thing that bothers me is that there are still some guard hairs in mix which project from the yarn and might cause some irritation. I spent about 15 minutes pulling the worst offenders out of the skein yesterday: any excuse to fondle this stuff!

I was going to switch to some merino/tencel for socks tonight, but the sheen of this inspires me to continue: I want about 600m of this fingering-weight for a shawl/scarf for my mother. So that's me with a sample length of singles on my right knee, feeding the wheel again tonight. On the left is a medieval Chibi. I'm not joking: it's a pewter needlecase modelled on a 15th C original found in the Netherlands. The leather tab slides down to secure the lid, although it's heavy enough that the lid won't move much when it's hanging from my belt. We met friends at a re-enactors' fair on Saturday; the venue was dire, but the cool weather meant I could wear my 'Lady Sarah' gear to visit the traders as a prosperous 14-15th C woman of means attended by M, wearing her standard garb and carrying all my purchases in her basket. Bar the needlecase, which went straight onto my belt! I also bought a bottom whorl spindle in holly and beech to use at such events, shown here with the Gotland I'd brought with me.
An educational experience. The spindle isn't incredibly heavy, although it feels it by comparison with the sub-30g spindles I seem to like, it works just fine: it's made and sold by a spinner. It just feels so clumsy by comparison with the modern artisan top-whorls I've been using. The Kundert, the Golding seem to spin by themselves, forever. This one requires work. The slippery Gotland was not the best choice of fibre to start with, either: it's fortunate that this is so, um, sturdy.

Reviewing what I've written, it's clear I'm not lacking fun fibre-related stuff. But the US fibre-festival season is well under way, and I feel so jealous! Woolfest (I'll be there Friday afternoon/evening), and The Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace are months away. I was beating off the impulse to do a little web-shopping (I have a list of stuff I want need from Habu *, from Crown Mountain, from Blue Moon) when the postman rang the doorbell and I was reminded that I'd already done some web-shopping.

I can't think whose blog it was that showed me a square spindle whorl. I love the idea and it's functional, it would stay where I put it! So I visited Spindlewood Co and emailed Steve to ask about an elegant applewood spindle shown on the webpage. I love my tiny Golding, but I wanted to try something even lighter. By the next morning he'd emailed me a picture of the spindle he'd made just for me... and here it is. Applewood, 0.5oz, beautifully detailed and finished. When the time is right I will be spinning frog hair.

* Look! They're going to publish an english translation of Setsuko Torii's book. Register your interest if you like seriously interesting garments: I have the Japanese edition and it is fascinating.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A glorious weekend

Knitting and spinning after geography, I promise.

Traditionally May Day Bank Holiday weekend (that's the weekend just past, with holiday Monday) is the first weekend of the year when the urban/suburban British head for somewhere green. Many go for the garden centre option, where they can contemplate over-priced plants (£3.99 that's nearly US$8 for a 6" tomato seedling!) and water features while eating greasy food in the restaurant. Others clog the motorways heading for the great outdoors. Those with sense stay home. We... had a little sense. We left early, heading from Flatland up to the Dark Peak of Derbyshire to see whether our work in the gym was of any use at all In Real Life. As we drove north the landscape developed bumps and hollows and we became proper 3-dimensional people. From Edale we walked up Grinds Brook in company with many others, staying on the public right-of-way because the open moors were closed due to high fire risk.
I confess? announce proudly? that we passed all those people and more before we reached the top of the hill. I admit I'm not at all certain that it was wise to do so, but we're too competitive for our own good. Something that must change if we're too continue walking for pleasure, as our joints aren't going to be able to sustain that level of activity much longer.
Born in Canada, I learned about England from books. I painted landscapes in my head based on the words of Dickens and Tolkien and the pictures of illustrators such as Pauline Baynes. Grindsbrook Clough could be part of Ettinsmoor (from the Chronicles of Narnia by C S Lewis); I kept a wary eye open for the giants who'd thrown all these loose rocks. Note the sculpted rimrock; that's Millstone Grit, so named because it was used to make millstones. The top of the hill is vast and flat. Known as Kinder Scout, it's famed for being difficult to navigate. We'd never been here before, and found its reputation well-deserved. High above the rest of the landscape there are few landmarks by which to navigate even on a clear day.
I should have thought to include someone for scale; that sandy-bottomed hollow in the peat is about 6' deep. We never walk without a map and compass, so were able (with lots of, um, animated discussion because we're not practiced compass-users) to find our route across the plateau. I thought of Mrs J often during the day, as the hills were alive with teachers escorting groups of students. Or searching like sheepdogs for their missing students. We were astonished by the degree of erosion up here, made starkly evident by the contrast of the underlying white sand against the dark peat. Where possible we stayed on the sand to spare the vegetation.
Those who walk here often would probably learn to recognise individual rocks. It may look like a sculpture park specialising in the work of Henry Moore, but grit-laden wind over many, many years
was probably responsible for these works of art.
We did the walk we'd intended to do* and finished bloodied but unbowed
at a pub in Edale. Where I realised that the back of my neck was sporting the worst sunburn I've had for 30 years. Where was that fairy godmother when I needed her?

I'd planned to knit while he drove back, but he voted for me to drive and had a second beer. So I knitted like fury the rest of the weekend. And did some spinning.

Now, this is a lesson I MUST LEARN, or rather REMEMBER. Pretty fibre does NOT necessarily yield pretty yarn. As the progression from short-repeat colourful roving through singles to 2-ply yarn proves. The pretty blues and greens are buried in that grey/pink band, visible only to those who peer at it closely. If I want to see clean, clear colours in the yarn, I must choose fibre with colour bands longer than the length of the fibres OR Navajo-ply the singles. In short, the roving was pretty, the knitted lace looks like something a cat threw up. Really, it does. At least in this house. Also, although the final yarn was reasonably balanced (no twist after washing), I think the singles was over-twisted. Memo to self: don't be such a speed demon when spinning.

But I spent most of my time on The Purple Thing, as he calls it. I've never knitted this type of lace before and am now unable to think of much else. I wanna see the pattern. "Just one more round" I mutter as I notice the time. It's now too big for its bag and like a hermit crab must crawl off and seek a larger home. That small ball of wool is about 1.5" in diameter; it was once the largest of the three balls/2500 yds of laceweight. Larger than the ball next to it, which will be needed before the weekend if I can ignore the telephone, the computer, work, everything else.

Also: is Joanne's book good news or bad news for her bank balance? Discuss.

64cm, that is to say 16km, a shade under 10 miles. Some of that was steep hill and at the end I felt we could have done more, so that's not bad. For two c.50yo from flatland. I think we can start thinking about the Pennine Way.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

There's something about holes.

I can't resist them. Show me a hole in the pavement and I'm there, inspecting the bowels of the earth (aka water/sewer/electricity mains), looking for archaeology in the layers of history that form the sides of the hole. In knitting, a hole can be a bad thing (think moth or not if you can't bear to) or a good thing. Either way, the absence attracts interest. This is true of people, too. Think of all the times you've wondered if so-and-so is alright when you realise you haven't heard from them for ages. I've been neglecting a lot of stuff other than work because I've finally, FINALLY finished the unadorned stockinette section of the Seraphim^2 shawl. Spurred on by the delights of making holes, I'm now on chart 2. It's going to take some time still; I doubt I'm halfway through and it's already well over 600 stitches around. It's failed to distract me from a strange, urgent need to work on the house and garden, though. I don't know whether my subconscious just wants to have a pleasant summer in tidy, freshly decorated surroundings, or I'm foreseeing a need to be able to sell the place soon. That last might be wishful thinking... it's a nice house, in a nice garden but it's not the place we want to be and, who knows? Next month, next year, it may not be the place we need to be.

Spinning: on the wheel I'm still slogging through the alpaca/silk, aiming for lots (600m) of lightish fingering-weight 2-ply for a shawl. It's teaching me stuff, about how to pay attention with my hands rather than my eyes, about the importance of prep (tiny lumps of alpaca and of silk become lumps in my singles, and there are still some guard hairs in the roving). But it's soooooooo monotonous. I've sworn that I won't spin anything else on the wheel until I've plied a bobbin-full, and that's some way off. So while a large file was printing this afternoon I decided to try the tiny lignum vitae Golding I bought to spin lace. The roving is hand-painted silk/merino intended primarily for felters, like most of such stuff sold at craft fairs in the UK. I split the somewhat sticky length into four, pre-drafted a length three times, then spun the finest thread I thought I could manage. Now, I usually prefer the 'Princess Twinkle' twirl with my fingers to rotate the spindle – I can't draft thick stuff fast enough to cope with higher speed – but this is when revving the spindle up your thigh is a good idea. The fine stuff just eats twist. I can go even finer now. It's more fun than the wheel. Two completely different experiences.

What else is going on?
These are NOT swatches. They're design notes. Dark blue is Rowan indigo cotton, at least 10 years old. Five minutes with it reminded me of the reason I abandoned the sweater: it's harsh on the fingers, this stuff, and it stains me blue. I wouldn't mind celtic knotwork in blue on my arms (I want a tattoo, a really good one, but he's horrified by the idea) but blue fingers just suggest I forgot to wear gloves for something. Nonetheless I'll send this sample to M to be abused so she can assess it as fabric for design. The grey.... ah, I'm truly, madly, deeply in love. With a yarn. How will I break this to my husband? The grey is darker than it looks, a light charcoal silk/linen blend from School Products. If I didn't already have two 1lb cones I wouldn't tell you where I bought it. Roughly the same weight as the cotton, possibly even more splitty, but so different in every other way. Softer, a little more elastic (the silk?), the fabric has a lovely drape and yet is crisp. Beautiful stitch definition. It's not wool, but I'm really enjoying knitting it. I know what I want to make with this, I can see it in my mind's eye.

The exuberant starburst flowerheads of this little white allium always remind me of fireworks. When they glitter in the spring sun I remember autumn and the smell of gunpowder. I can't imagine life in a land without seasons.

* The crew that dug our own personal hole to put the new electric meter in said that almost everyone has to look. Some people apparently sidle up to the hole pretending they're not interested, not them, just another annoyance in their lives, but the guys working IN the hole can see they're really trying to work out what's going on in the hole whilst still appearing to be adults. I'm not proud: if the people in the hole look the least bit friendly, I'll ASK them what's going on.