Wednesday, October 31

Some squirrel progess

Nearly finished the first squirrely mitten - I am struggling somewhat with the thumb, it's quite fiddly to do on four DPNs. If I had the right sized circulars I would be using them right now, believe me! In fact I might put them on the shopping list ready for the next mitten!

I'm very happy with the quality of the work on the main mitten, even though I think it gets a bit looser towards the top. It took me quite a while to get the hang of using both hands to hold the yarn, and I suspect my tension was a bit too tight at first. But it fits fine, and I think a bit of stiff blocking will do the trick to even it all out.

I've also been busy with other stuff - I've made some progress on the Somewhat Cowl, and I knocked up an eye patch for our piratey knitalong at the Maritime Museum. The latter was good fun as it's a nice space with good light, and there was a respectable turnout from the London Stitch n Bitch group, and the IKnit London group. The SNB ladies were glamorously attired in pirate and sailor gear, while the IKnit group brought along some wonderful props such as the knitted pirate doll with glittery nipple tassles and Craig's jaunty seagull cap. The effect of my eyepatch was diluted somewhat by the fact that I couldn't decide whether it should be worn over or under my specs! Neither really did it justice, and both made my eye hot and my vision even worse than normal!

Monday, October 22

Squirrel mitts

It seemed somehow appropriate to spend my travelling time in Austria working on these lovely mittens from Elliphantom Knits.

In my typical style, I've had the pattern (and even the yarn!) for more than a year, but my weekend away finally prompted me to cast on, and I'm now well on the way to finishing the first mitten.

I also took the opportunity to try a new technique for the stranded knitting - holding the two different colours in different hands! Since I've never managed to take to 'picking' rather than 'throwing' my yarn, it was not the easiest of transitions, but I think I'm getting the hang of it now! At first I started each round by deciding which colour featured the most, and would hold that colour in my right (throwing) hand. The other would reside in my left (picking) hand for occasional use. I'm now at the stage where I can more or less cope without doing this.

I love the mittens because they are damn cute, but also because they are forcing me to learn a new technique. I'm finding it difficult to get the fabric to lie flat, it is bunching up in places, but that's normal for me even when I'm not trying to use both hands. It's just something I'll have to live with.

People have been talking a lot recently about how many and what type of projects they have on the go at the same time. I think I'm at FIVE right now. There are two large projects (one so large it can't leave the house, the other still in portable size), one pair of socks (currently awaiting a fitting by the intended recipient. I measured her feet and the socks correspond to the measurements, but I still can't believe her feet are THAT long and thin!), there's a tiny gift project I've nearly finished, and now the mittens.

Last but not at all least, a quick bit of eye candy. Here's part of a recent consignment I scored from Natalie at the Yarn Yard. The pic doesn't really show the colours too well, but they are greys and black with swirls of bright orange. Very Halloweeny!!!

Snowy weekend

Fittingly, my weekend in the Austrian Tyrol was snowy. Very snowy! It started on Friday night and barely stopped all weekend.

Knitting news to follow.

Monday, October 15

Knitting nazis

During my two days at Ally Pally, I was unfortunate enough to meet some of those unpleasant individuals, the scourge of the yarn world: the Knitting Nazis!

Are you holding your yarn in a slightly awkward fashion? Do you tuck your needles under your armpits when you knit? Have you given up trying to turn a heel in the traditional way and created your own rather unconventional method?

Then WATCH OUT! The Knitting Nazis will get you! The Knitting Nazis are always on the lookout for someone carrying out the age-old craft of knitting in a non-proscribed fashion. Wherever you knit, they will be there, looking over your shoulder and tutting if they see you with tension that's too loose, a thumb that's not properly set in, or if you are using needles that are deemed too small or too large for that particular weight of yarn!

It wasn't the first time I'd encountered the Knitting Nazis - one of them confronted me on the train to work a couple of years ago. She sat next to me as I knitted, and glancing over at what I was doing, said: "You're not holding your wool properly". My hackles rose instantly, and I snapped: "Well it's done me alright for the last 20 years, thanks very much". After that she became rather contrite and started making complimentary comments about what I was making but it was too late, the damage was done! What sort of person thinks that is the right way to open a conversation?

Anyway, they were obviously out in force at Ally Pally, on the prowl for any wrongdoers. They were ready to come down swiftly and forcefully on any unconventional casting off, to stamp out the use of new-fangled techniques, and to put to rights any breaches of Traditional Knitting Etiquette.

One of them upset a good friend of mine, who is not yet particularly confident with her craft, by snatching her project out of her hands and proceeding to show her the 'right' way to do it. (And incidentally, since when has continental style knitting been the 'right' way on British soil? Not to get too jingoistic about it, but surely it is important that we preserve our own traditional style of knitting, as well as welcoming alternative techniques for those who find them easier to adopt?)

Another one was rather critical of one of our film-poster props, commenting how 'someone needs to show you how to set-in a thumb!' as she picked up the aforementioned item and examined it at length, narrowing her eyes and tutting. "Well madam, I'll be showing you how I execute a sharp kick up the backside in a minute," I felt like saying, but instead restricted myself to: "We weren't really aiming for technique in these items..." and then hovering menacingly at her side until she thought better of it, and went off to look for more unsuspecting victims.

I can only assume that the Knitting Nazis were scarred in childhood by being taught their craft by fierce schoolteachers who rapped their knuckles with canes every time they had to rip back their projects. In the same way that abused children often grow up to be abusers, the Knitting Nazis are just trying to pass on the misery that they experienced. They don't think we should ENJOY knitting, they still see it as a chore, and want us to hate it as much as they did.

Well I tell you, it won't work! We are liberated by our love of fibre! Hold your yarn how you damn well like - whatever's good for you is good for the world at large! As long as you enjoy your crafting, you can knit with your big toes, and use square needles and elastic bands for all I care! Love your own style, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise: it's always wise to listen if someone wants to show you a different way of doing things, but if they try and make you knit 'the right' way, just tell them where to go!

A model of restraint

Here it is! Yup, the ONLY purchase at Ally Pally! I was the absolute model of restraint, despite the fact that I was there for two whole days. I allowed myself to purchase this beautiful Hummingbird yarn from Artesano Alpaca as my sole treat - it will probably become a hat and gloves, or some such - but at the moment it's just nice to pet.

I attribute my success to two things; firstly, the Knit at the Movies champagne bar was outside the main exhibition area, so the temptation to spend was sufficiently distant for it to be a bit of a bind to get to the stalls.

Secondly, I did it in two steps; on the first day, I went into the exhibition without my purse. I browsed around, saw what was on offer, and was very annoyed with myself for not having money to hand. But by the time the following day came around, I had taken stock of what I had seen, and had decided that all I could really allow myself to buy was something modest, a little reminder of the show. I was looking for some 'manly' sock yarn for The Curse, but couldn't find anything suitable, so it had to be something for me! Ah, purple and green, my favourite colours!

I also managed to generate a finished object - this light scarf is made from a combination of two yarns: the strange cotton/felt combination that Natalie brought me back from Japan, and a ball of lovely turquoise alpaca/silk that I swapped with someone on Ravelry.

I've been looking for something to go with the Japanese yarn for ages, and it was great to be able to match it up at last. I did a simple garter stitch scarf with a few rows of drop stitches here and there for variety. I think it looks quite cute, and it's not at all itchy, although it looks rather hairy!

So what of the actual show? Our Knit at the Movies in the champagne bar was great fun - we taught about 60 under-18s during Thursday and Friday (the best were the school kids who kept calling me 'miss' and were wowed by my handknit socks!). Saturday and Sunday were less about teaching, more about sitting round knitting and chatting - I wasn't there but it sounds like it got pretty quiet at times, so perhaps a bit more in the way of shopping temptation!

I saw quite a few exhibitors whom I hadn't heard of before, so it was good to see who was doing what, to check out their wares and make a note to track down their websites when I NEED yarn! One that particularly impressed was Scandinavian Knitting Design - I met the lovely Birgitte who, along with husband Bruce, import yarn to the UK from Scandinavia and sell it by mail order from Reading at scandalously low prices! They have a superb range of colours, particularly in the mercerised cotton, which is something like £1.75 for 50g. They also sell a lot of mixes of yarns, so good for washable/baby garments.

Many other stalls, too numerous to mention, but I will be following up with one or two of them over the coming months, and will post when I do.

Now that the trauma of Ally Pally is behind us, it's onwards and upwards to our next event, a stitch n bitch at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, on Sunday 28 October, from 2 till 5pm. Dressed as pirates/sailors. See you there, me hearties!

Wednesday, October 10

Ally Pally strategy

For all those of you living outside the UK, or anyone who's been on Mars the last few months; a quick reminder! Tomorrow is the first day of the annual Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace in London. Yarn lovers of the London region (and quite a few miles around) spend weeks talking about this show in the build-up to the actual event, debating what they are going to buy, who is going to be there, and talking about strategies for everything from the actual shopping, to how much food and drink to bring and what to wear!

I will be there tomorrow and Friday working at the 'Knit with the stars' champagne bar where we will be teaching all comers to knit and crochet, as well as adding a bit of glamour to proceedings. I'm just back from several hours of preparation, putting up our fabulous posters and displaying our props so that the Hollywood theme will permeate throughout the champers area and might even reach as far as the fashion shows!

My local group, the Meantime Knitters, and the ladies from the London Stitch n Bitch group have spent several months coming up with excrutiating film-related puns, knitting props, photographing them and putting together some of the most fantastic posters around, all for these four days.

Have a sneak preview; the combined talents of Bojana (creater of knitted bikinis), her sister (Bond girl extraordinaire) and Rowan, whom I've mentioned before for her creative designs, have come together to visualise this awe-inspiringly cringeworthy Bond pun!

But the show is about more than glamour and puns; it's about SHOPPING! Thousands of pounds worth of yarn (oh and some card-making stuff if you're interested) right there beneath our very noses. Yet my stash is already out of control - and I am determined not to add to it. I have decided I must be very strict with myself so as to avoid having to move house in order to get more room for yarn, hence I have had to develop a Strategy.

My Strategy is:

1. Thou shalt not buy yarn (although it's ok to buy tools and books, oh and a bit of fabric if you see something cheap that you like...but no more than a metre or two).

Ahem. Er, that's it.

However I may go further (ie not being able to trust myself) and leave my cards at home. All of them. Except - hey I've just realised, I don't even have enough money for lunch so will have to take at least one card to get money out of the cash machine. Oh darn it ;-)

Alternatively, stick to the champers bar all day. There's nothing to say I can't spend my money on booze (except that it's bound to be stupidly expensive....)

Check back at the weekend to see how I got on.

But don't hold your breath!

Monday, October 1

Devon report

Beaches: many of them. We walked along them, and rose above them on the solid embankments that carry Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Great Western Railway along this beautiful and dramatic part of the Devon coastline. I won't go on about Brunel, except to say he is one of my all-time hero engineers. A knitting blog probably isn't the place for my ramblings about the creator of the Saltash Bridge, the SS Great Britain and the Great Eastern... suffice it to say I appreciated the fact that we were staying somewhere where Brunel had played a fundamental part in shaping the landscape and the history of the place.

Trains. After a couple of days I was forbidden from mentioning the T word. One day in particular, on which we walked for several miles along the beach next to the railway, I ALLEDGEDLY overdid it on the T word. Look, it was just that I was shocked by exactly how many trains use this stretch of the line - from the long, snaking First Great Western trains to the single carriages that chug between all the tiny towns and villages. There were many more than I expected!

I particularly appreciated the varied colours and textures of the train embankment. The Curse was just interested in building dams in the sand. I am sure there is a civil engineer inside, struggling to get out...

Meanwhile, Coldharbour Mill in Uffculme, north of Exeter.

I've bought yarn by mail order from this lovely place before, but decided to go and visit it while I was in the area. It proved to be just as lovely as I had expected - in fact perhaps even more so! I purchased a rake of yarn from the shop (10 skeins of aran for a jumper, and a couple of 4-ply for mitts or socks); I met Margaret, Margaret, Dolly and Chris in the stables, whiling a couple of pleasant hours away, knitting and chatting; and I got caught up in a school tour which was quite amusing. The chap acting as the manager of the mill, carrying out a 'recreation' tour with the junior school kids was so convincing in his strictness that he had a couple of them in tears!

And in knitting news... I am a circular needle sock addict! Finished the first of the pair in Regia Canyon Colour. The ball of yarn seems to have got no smaller at all during this process. Perhaps it is magic everlasting yarn? Anyway, I faltered slightly with the magic cast on for the second sock, having to rip it half a dozen times or so, but eventually got there and am now progressing smoothly!

I don't have pictures of the cream teas/local ales/excessive food, but I'm sure you can imagine!