Wednesday, February 28

Getting wound up

Before: the birthday present courtesy of Smug Sheep.

After: ready to sock and roll! Thanks oh Smug one, you have brought a little posh light into my life!

Tuesday, February 27

Can't get away from it!

Well, a two-day trip to Scotland for work. Who'd have thought it would involve yarn, over and above the sock-knitting opportunity afforded by the flights to and from Edinburgh?

But there's no denying it, a seasoned knitter can never avoid yarn-purchasing opportunities, even if she is making no attempt to seek them out! So there I was, having completed Monday's interview of the Forth Bridge bridgemaster, with a couple of hours of daylight left. Since I had a hire car I decided to drive to Falkirk and check out the Falkirk Wheel. I was just driving through the lovely town of Linlithgow when I slowed for a pedestrian on the crossing. My eyes were inexplicably drawn to the shops on the right hand side of the road... and there it was! Nifty Needles! It was calling me!

It would have been rude not to stop - just for a quick visit, you understand? To show solidarity with the UK's independent yarn stores and support local businesses. Oh boy, I'm so glad I did! I saw some of the Sublime yarns at the Harrogate Knitting & Stitching Show last year, but by that time I'd seriously overspent and didn't feel I could justify additional purchases. On seeing them again at Nifty Needles I realised that I NEEDED THEM BADLY! Hence a purchase was negotiated. (The Good Me: "no, you don't need any more yarn"; the Bad Me: "HA HA HAaaa.....").

It's not just the yarns, you understand (merino, cashmere, angora, silk etc) it's the colours. You won't find much detail at the Sublime website, but just try the shade cards on the McA Direct page and you will be hooked. So I ended up with two balls of baby cashmere marino silk DK in Pebble, and one in a purple shade that's not illustrated: also two balls of angora merino in Husk. No idea what any of them will become, but I feel inspiration is not far away.

Other knitting news: Jaywalkers are finished!

Saturday, February 24

Tidy house, tidy mind

Looky looky! New purchases!

The cupboard stash upstairs has been tidied into two large plastic boxes (£10 for two from Deptford High St, home of all things plastic); the under-the-stairs stash has been tidied into a lovely linen storage thingy (£12.95 from Muji, much more pleasing on the eye than the plastic ones) and the weekend promises mental stimulation with the latest copy of Selvedge, and my two new purchases that I picked up from Waterstones in Piccadilly yesterday.

I have to admit I was quite shocked by the number of knitting books now available even on the shelves of a non-specialist store - sure, Waterstones' flagship branch is very well stocked on all subjects, but there really has been a boom in publication of knitting books in the last year or so.

Sadly the watchword is quantity rather than quality - I browsed for quite some time and have to say that most of the books on offer were of the 'Twenty bags to knit' variety (and even 'Twenty more bags to knit'!). The majority were aimed at beginners, with a lot of the space taken up with instructions - great for those just starting off, but pointless for improvers. However, I was very taken with the 'Traditional knitting patterns' book; although it's black and white inside, looks like it was designed in the sixties and hasn't been updated since, it is a wealth of information in terms of traditional patterns and stitches, with detailed instructions for each. When I got it home I was even more chuffed to find from the introduction that the author was a good friend of one of my favourite sculptors/artists, Eric Gill! Many of Gill's sculptures and woodcuts were religious, hence my enjoyment of them is purely aesthetic; he was also the designer of a number of typefaces, such as Gill Sans.

Anyhow, I'm looking forward to hopefully incorporating some of the patterns or stitches from the book into some of my own designs. In due course... The crochet book of course is for another long-term project, to create a throw or something using a variety of crochet squares. Some of the examples in this book are rather monstrous, it has to be said (or perhaps it's the combinations they've suggested) but I think that with a bit of care and good taste, I could create a thing of beauty.

Latest project news; slow progress. Despite getting my needles out during a showing of 'Notes on a scandal' the other night (much to the Curse's disgust), the second sock is showing slow progress. I'm just on the main body of the foot, as sockers know this can be the most frustrating bit, seems to take for ever.

The first sleeve of the Curse's jumper is finished, just cast on for the second. I also cast on for a tea cosy last night, on a whim. Two odd balls of GGH Savanna, which is a strange mix of wool, linen, alpaca and a little bit of synthetic - a dark pink and a lighter one, I'm hoping to make the cosy all in one piece on DPNS, although there will be a bit of to-ing and fro-ing. Tea cosies seem to be everywhere at the moment - at least three in the latest issue of Selvedge and I saw one on Ebay the other day that was being very heavily bid on! Have I started a trend?!

Wednesday, February 21

Is she mad?

Susie Hewer is planning to run the London marathon this year. But she's done it twice already and this year has decided to make it a bit more fun by knitting at the same time. Yes, you heard correctly! It's not just for fun, however, it's part of her 50th birthday challenge, and she's also hoping to raise money for the Alzheimer's Research Trust in the process. You can find out more at her blog.

Hands up anyone who would even have considered running and knitting as compatible activities?! Since I'm crap at the first and need to concentrate heavily on the second, I know that I wouldn't stand a chance. And how can you tuck your needles under your arm when they (your arms) are flailing about all over the place? (yes, it's not a pretty sight when I get on the treadmill!!) Mind you, it would be a great excuse to slow down! Well good luck Susie, if I'm around that weekend I'll walk down to the end of our street and wave my latest project at you as you knit your way along Creek Road.

Monday, February 19

Obsessed, moi?

When I awoke this morning I realised that my knitting obsession had moved onto a new level. I'd had a dream about knitting! Yup!

Granted it was one of those panicky dreams that could have been about anything; trying to catch a plane; forgetting the way to work; getting caught at the supermarket with no clothes on etc. But this time it was about knitting. In the dream I was on a train journey, and had several large bags full of my works in progress. The other passengers took a huge interest in the bags and started getting the WIPs out and handing them round, discussing them, etc, and all the balls of wool were unravelling and rolling off down the aisle, getting tangled up and disappearing under the seats.

All of a sudden I got to my stop and had to stuff all the WIPs back into the bags, trying to gather up all the errant yarn, and reclaim the needles from the other passengers so that I could get off the train before the doors closed.

I quite often have similar dreams about catching/getting off trains/buses/planes but this is the first time they have featured knitting. I suspect this will be my new, regular anxiety dream - destined to replay in my tortured brain until some new obsession replaces it!

Saturday, February 17

A girl's thoughts

The deadline is over, the clouds are slowly lifting and the panic is subsiding. Much more importantly, when I left work yesterday it was not quite dark! The smell of spring is in the air, and when that happens, a girl starts to fantasise about.... walking!

Now unless you share the passion of a walker, it can be very difficult to understand what's so special about it. And while a stroll along the south bank of the River Thames in central London can be very pleasant, it's Not the Same Thing at all! However I'm not one of those people at the other extreme either - I like a good yomp but not when it's all uphill just for the sake of it, DEFINITELY not in extreme weather conditions (I will never set out in the rain if I can help it) and my favourite walks are those which include some kind of diversion - be it tea shop, chapel, Site of Special Scientific Interest or alcoholic refreshments.

So at this time of year when I'm shackled to the desk and outside the sap is rising, I start to fantasise about walks I have known. This one was a lovely walk up Ingleborough in the Yorkshire Dales a couple of years ago with my friend and fellow yomper Em. It was a glorious day, but there was a very stiff wind, and we never made it to the top of the peak for fear of being blown off. After battling for half a mile along the ridge against a fearsome gale, we gave in and skipped that bit of the walk. Like I said, I'm not one to do it just for the sake! As we walked up the path on the approach to the peak, we passed the entrance to Gaping Gill, where a large group of cavers had set up camp and were manoeuvring pulleys and ladders into place ready for one of the occasional public open days.

In the last few weeks when the pressure has been on I've fantasised about walks I've done, walks I'd like to do, beaches I've strolled along, small seaside towns I've visited, train journeys I've made (the pleasant ones of course!), toasted teacakes I've munched, pints I've downed, even the natural highlights such as birds or plants I've sighted on the walks. I've started yearning to leave London behind and set out on an epic trip, perhaps take the train to Barmouth, the little Welsh seaside town that was such a part of my childhood and now retains a really special place in my heart. As a child, I visited the area every year at Whitsun bank holiday - my aunt and uncle had a cottage there and we used it for a cheap family holiday for many years. My subsequent connections to Wales - visiting my sisters when they were at university, one in Bangor and one in Aberystwyth - and my first job, working on the construction of the A55 Pen-y-clip Tunnel, have left me with a real hiraeth even though I was not born in Wales.

Anyway, you didn't come here to listen to me droning on about the hiraeth, did you? So, here's some knitting news! Jaywalker socks - one down, one to go! The Bejewled scarf has been washed... and the yarn has relaxed somewhat (a bit like me!) and is now twice the length. *Sigh*. Might have to unpick and pull it back somewhat if I don't want the recipient to be tripping over it!

Wednesday, February 14

Creative fatigue

Well, all that time and only a hat to show for it! But here's my first finished Project Spectrum item; not much to look at, I know, but right now is not a good time as far as my creative juices go. I'm totally drained from the pressure of going to press with TWO publications - the regular one, plus a special supplement which has required me to produce 10,000 words of quality editorial. I'm proud of myself that I've managed it, I've obviously still got the skill and determination to do the research and writing - thankfully the drudge of making sense of press releases has not quite beaten it out of me yet! But it's taking its toll at the moment - coming up with enough headlines for 50 pages of editorial one after the other can be really tough. Working on a quarterly publication might sound like a breeze - and there are times when it's quite nice to kick back and relax a bit - but when your press day is actually a press fortnight, it can be difficult keeping the momentum going for that length of time. The Curse does his best to be supportive, but I guess it must all get a bit dull for him.

I have, however, been busy planning and coveting. Everyone seems to be making Wicked, but I'm more excited by the prospect of Green Gable and am looking forward to a bit of stash enhancement to enable this project to move ahead. I'm faced with a bit of a dilemma, however; should I do Green Gable first, or should I attack the Somewhat Cowl? I'm guessing that they will both leap onto my needles at the same time, after I've made the necessary stash-enhancement trip. I think the Cowl has more glamour, but Green Gable looks fun and funky, and is probably a quicker knit. Whatever happens, you'll read it here first!

Meanwhile, just giving it out to Yarn Harlot for her moving valentine's post. Hear hear! The Curse and I offered a toast to all singletons over our home-made dinner; we've both been there long-term, in the not-so-distant past and we appreciate the ups and downs of both sides of the coin.

Sunday, February 11

Beginning and end

This weekend, apart from going through the learning process I mentioned in my previous post, I managed to finish one thing, and begin another (leaving aside the oversized ipod cover).

Finished my Bejeweled scarf - here is the completed item hanging over the washing line on our balcony (I LOVE having a washing line, by the way, after so many years of living in a flat with no outside space. We still hang our washing up indoors on a regular basis, of course, but when the sun is out and there's a breeze, you can dry anything in what seems like only minutes). But I digress. I'm not sure my yarn choice was right for Bejeweled - although it fits with the specified yarn, it's aran weight and lovely and soft, but I think I might have preferred something lighter. I need to block it and see if the finished product improves.

I also cast on for a Project Spectrum experiment - to make a stripy hat, to my own design, with some stash leftovers. I wanted to make it in the round, with wide ribbing, and stripes, and was interested to see if I could invent the pattern myself, successfully.

As a matter of fact I've just finished it this evening, successful in that it's a hat, to my own (very simple) pattern with wide ribbing and stripes; I will be modelling it tomorrow if and when I get chance to take a photo. As I approach the second deadline in two weeks, I'm hanging on for some time out once it's all over.

Things I have learnt this weekend

1. The leftover yarn from Lotte's project is a washable wool. So the black ipod sock I made to order for the Curse is never going to be the right size, no matter how many times I put it through the washing machine. Time to either knit one to measure, or buy some wool that will felt.

2. I cannot make bread. To be honest, this wasn't so much a learning experience, as a case of finally admitting defeat. It always starts off well, the mixing and kneading and the initial rising always go to plan. It's the proving of the mixture that never works for me. Yesterday's attempt was no different; by the time I got it into the tin and covered it and left it to prove before baking it, the mixture seemed to have given up on rising. When it finally got into the oven it was a huge effort just to peek over the top of the loaf tin before baking into the usual dense, chewy brick. It's not like it doesn't taste good, and I will probably eat it all without too much trouble, I'd just like to be able to make bread with some kind of lightness of being. Is it too much to ask?

3. My finishing off of ends is much more thorough than it seems to be at the time. When I'm sewing in the ends I always wonder if I should do a couple more loops, just to make absolutely sure. Note to self: you do not need to do any more loops. Your current technique is more than adequate. Of course I only find this out when I try to frog something right from the start; in this case the nasty gloves. I loved the yarn when I first got it (variegated, hand-dyed wool that I bought in Harrogate) but I managed to have a total brainstorm and create something clunky and ugly out of something lovely. The gloves were so bad that I haven't made them available for public viewing, they have been lurking in my knitting bag for a few weeks while I lick my wounds. Now, after wrestling with the first glove for several hours on Friday night, only having managed to frog one in a whole evening (and knowing that the resulting ball of yarn has quite a few bits to it) I am starting to hate it. I fear it will end up in the bin if it doesn't unravel obligingly next time I try to do it.

4. My patience DOES have limits. The time limit is quite short.

Friday, February 9

Lotte's first project

My student has finished her first project - a little black ipod sock - and she's had her first order within hours of sewing in the last end! The sock is a gift for someone special, I understand; it's a very neat little ribbed ipod sock in cashmerino sock yarn, with a fastener to go across the top and prevent the ipod from slipping out. Super-stylish and very soft.

Lotte's ribbing is extremely neat for a beginner; not to worry that she can't yet recognise the difference between a knit and purl stitch just by looking at it. I can't remember how long it is before these sort of things become second nature, but I guess I shouldn't expect it all at once. Only about an hour after completion, another colleague asked Lotte if she would make one for her MP3 player. It's a different shape to the regular ipod, and she wants a window so she can see the screen. Hmm, that's next week's challenge then.....

Keeping abreast of things

Another great link, this time from my mate Sal in Leicester (hello to the knitters at DMU!), who found this on the internet and thought of me.

It's good to know that the skills of knitters are being used in some of the most unexpected circumstances, but I'll be honest this report did make me giggle a bit. I particularly liked the *ahem* titbit of information "The breasts are produced in a variety of skin shades," as if they are going to start pitching to the cosmetic surgery market.

Joking aside, there is a market for knitted tits as prosthetics for women who have lost breasts to cancer - see this link. Rather classy in my opinion, and certainly more fun than the old chicken fillets. I liked the look of the 'Floosie' range.

And if you want to make a complete set of knitted whimsies, don't forget to whip up your own woolly womb, or for you boys out there... scroll down the page on this link and...yup!

All becomes clear!

Doh! NOW I understand what children are for!

Thanks to Lisa R who brought this to my attention, and her friend Liz and daughter, who are the subjects of the photo! It seems Liz has found a way to combine two of my favourite pastimes - walking and knitting. Just need the props now..

Wednesday, February 7

Lengthening days

Bejewelled (or should I say Bejeweled?) scarf is slowly growing longer, I'm hoping to get it long enough to wear before I reach the end of my third ball of wool. But hey, if I don't, I've got another 17 in my stash so it's no big problem! I'm not sure the yarn really works with this pattern, perhaps it will be better once I've blocked it, it just doesn't look as lacey as the original. This photo doesn't really do the colour justice - I only see daylight at the weekends so I had to just take a quick snap in the office for the sake of the blog. Don't worry, it will be displayed in its full glory and in full daylight when it's finished.

Other projects - the Jaywalker socks are on hold right now since I lost one of my needles on the train on the way to work the other day. And it wasn't even the scabby one, which was doubly annoying! The first sleeve of the Curse's jumper gets slowly longer, it's my TV project at the moment, and as for all the other plans (hats, gloves, etc) they are all waiting for that glorious day, about two weeks from now, when I reclaim my life for my own. Deadlines, deadlines!

Sunday, February 4

"More glass than wall"

Hardwick Hall, in Derbyshire: built by Bess of Hardwick, a feisty chick if ever there was one. She is the absolute heroine of my friend Lisa.

Lisa and I enjoyed a delightful walk past the hall yesterday, in the glorious sunshine; she has been celebrating her 40th birthday this weekend with a whole programme of events; dancing on the tables at Bistro Live in Nottingham on Friday was her particular highlight, I think.

It wasn't till I was wrapping up her presents - a hand-made, felted hot-water bottle cover and a copy of Stitch n Bitch Handbook - that I realised how totally unglamorous they were as gifts for a 40-year old! Instead of giving her some delicate jewellery, a day out driving sports cars, or a ticket to see one of her favourite bands, I might as well have been wrapping up a zimmerframe or a box of hair dye. Luckily Lisa is a recent convert to knitting, and was delighted with them! Phew!

Friday, February 2

Blue is the colour..

..of about 95% of the Curse's wardrobe. And by the looks of it, of most of my stash! Had a quick scout around last night for blue, white and grey yarn for Project Spectrum. Having originally thought I might have to go out and shop (!) I've now realised that the stash more extensive than I imagined. I believe it's called Denial. Some of my favourites on here: the lovely sock yarn which was a 40th birthday present from Melanie is leftish of the middle, it's a gorgeous mixture of blues, greys and orangey-browns, and feels like it will be heaven to knit with. On the right, two skeins of organic yarn I picked up from a little shop in Penzance, Cornwall, when I was down there on holiday. I'd like to do some kind of natural dye on this, so perhaps it will be saved for a dyeing course (if I ever get organised...!)

So, my initial thought was to knit something like gloves or a hat from the lovely blue variegated DK I got from the Natural Dye Store on Ebay, or start up with the bluey-brown Freedom yarn I picked up on Chesterfield market a couple of months ago...but then I started thinking about the reason I joined Project Spectrum. I'm ALREADY knitting a huge blue thing for the Curse, and that will be enough blue for the next two months, I'm sure! So why not try white or grey, or even both? At the back of the pic you might spot a couple of loneyly balls of Rowan DK tweed that are left over from the felted hot-water bottle cover I'm giving my friend Lisa for her 40th birthday (which just happens to be today!). There is white and dark grey, plus a lighter grey ball of Kid Classic (I think..!), I'm going to try and combine them into some kind of stripy item, hopefully a hat.