Saturday, 30 May 2009

Joys of Spring: Part II

Today I spotted a new brood of ducklings. The dark shadow under their mother is one of the monster catfish that prowl about the pond; just after I took this a swarm of them circled menacingly round these little three. From a duckling's perspective, a catfish must be like Moby Dick.

I also finally managed to get a shot of a baby moorhen. Sometimes I think I love these even more than ducklings. They are ridiculous little balls of black fluff with spindly, Roadrunner legs.

Look at him go!

Of course, for some people, Spring is all about celebrating Elvis's film career, and crocs.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Stitches in time (and bouncy castles)

I have been listening to Anne of Green Gables on audio book as I knit my Hey, Teach! cardigan. This was one of my very favourite books as a child, and I have been amazed at how much detail I have remembered. Equally, however, I am definitely appreciating new things about it... I doubt I picked up on the knitting content first time around, for example! The book starts with a woman knitting, and I have just come to the part where Anne goes back to school, and is welcomed back thus:
'Sophia Sloane offered to teach her a perfectly elegant new pattern of knit lace: so nice for trimming aprons'
It feels appropriate to be engaging in an activity that would have been so familiar to women and girls at the time whilst listening to a story about them. I'm not sure whether Anne herself, or non-fictional versions of her, would always have enjoyed knitting: I have read about children being made to sit and knit a certain number of rounds on a sock before they were allowed to go out and play. Nevertheless, it was a common currency of knowledge which, as 'Sophia Sloane' shows, could be shared and passed on, and it is nice to think that I too can participate in it. I suppose I do not have the same need to knit that Victorian women did  (my legs may still be warm even if I do not knit myself stockings), nor quite the same uses for it (I have yet to experience the urge to trim an apron...), but I bet they paused every now and again to stretch and admire their work in exactly the same way that I do.

I wonder if, conversely, they glowered at things that did not turn out quite the way they had envisaged? I have been doing so at Forecast. I did what I was talking about, and ripped out and re-knit the button-hole band (on the left in the picture below), picking up fewer stitches, which I think now looks just about ok. The button band, on the other hand, which I had previously thought was perfectly passable, now appears flared by comparison. I decided to block it, and see which side looked better. I'll keep you posted...

In the meantime, here are some things I love about Cambridge:

The de-stressing bouncy castle that the college erects every exam term.

I've passed this poster in the pigeonhole room a few times, and finally got round to photographing it. In case you can't make it out, someone has taken the time to modify its message to 'Do you think you are an academic?'.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Button it

Here is one of the things I have been grumpily refusing to work on.

This is the Forecast cardigan by that I treated you to a grainy close-up of a while ago, and as you can see it is oh-so-nearly finished. All I have left to do is to rip out and re-knit the buttonhole band because there is everything in the world wrong with it. This is maybe an hour's work, at the very most, but I keep putting it off in favour of newer, exciting things. So today I toddled off to John Lewis in the hope of re-motivating myself via the medium of buttons. I was looking for something small and rounded to echo the bobbles, and picked out these...

I was helped in my quest by a very nice shop assistant who was evidently very knowledgeable about knitting, but who had never heard of My oh my. I guess because so much of what I've learned about the way of the needle has come from the internet I forget that there are a whole load of people who only use books and magazines. Now, I do have a lot of those too, but I have found online patterns to be so much more user-friendly. Perhaps this is partly an issue of space - it is more expensive to produce physical print than to publish something on the internet, so printed patterns tend to have space-saving, telegraphic instructions like 'Keeping patt correct, BO 7 sts at beg of next 2 rows. Dec 1 st at each end of next 7 rows, then on foll 2 alt rows, then on 4 foll 4th rows,' where by contrast self-published patterns can contain sanity-saving paragraphs of explanations, warnings or advice.  

I have gone a little bit button-buying-bananas recently.

The following used to be a fudge house. Now it is a button house.

Most of the little glittering treasures nestling in my palm above are from Loop, where I nipped into on a recent jaunt to London. I had been there last summer when I was staying nearby while rehearsing for a play, but I don't think I realised then the full extent of its awesomeness. It stocks a lot of American yarns that I hear about all the time on podcasts but very rarely get to see in person. This vibrant red Cascade 220 wool spoke to me from the shelf....

... it whispered 'honeybees and faggoting'. Which is, of course, a perfectly legitimate term in lace knitting. 

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Joys of Spring

New camera! Just in time to capture these fractious adolescents...
... and this limping old-timer...
... all of whom co-exist with this monster of the deep.
A little further a-field, here are some cows grazing by the houseboats along Midsummer Common:
As for what is on my needles, I am working on several things, but am sulking about how some of them are going, so for the moment will only share this with you:
It's the Hey, Teach! cardigan from last summer's Knitty, using Rowan Summer Tweed in the Rush colourway. This should be quite a straightforward pattern, but I am knitting it in a rather contorted fashion, as you may be able to see. As smallest size was too big for me I had to re-jig the numbers a little bit, so I did a provisional cast-on and am working the bodice first (seamlessly up to the underarms). I am head-over-heels in love with this yarn, though - it's is a really interesting silk/cotton blend in a pale, neutral green with occasional flecks of copper, and it makes the lace look so crisp.

Friday, 15 May 2009

She's finished!

Remember my dilemma with the bottom edge of Coraline? I eventually steeled myself, and decided I wasn't going to let the hell hem get the better of me. This thing wasn't giving up without a fight, however, and obstinately snarled up, refusing to rip out. I finally lost patience with it, and hacked it off with a pair of scissors. 

Yes, you read that right. I savaged my own knitting. As I laid down my weapon to survey the extent of my brutality, I felt sure that any minute now the heavens would rain down punishments befitting to a kniticide, such as having my liver nibbled at by an angora rabbit, or having to push an enormous ball of yarn up a never-ending mountain for all eternity. I had intended to unravel the hem and re-use the yarn, but I was overcome by a desire to hide the evidence of my craft crime, so, feeling like Ewan McGregor in Shallow Grave, I stuffed the dismembered border into a little bag and surreptitiously threw it away.

It took me a long time to make it up to the poor little garment, and tidy up its yarn-y entrails. But I did...
I think I got away with it! 
Check out that i-cord edging...
I was in two minds about these smoky-lilac buttons. By themselves they do have a little bit of a 'Daddy! I don't want a pony, anymore, Daddy, I want a unicorn!' look to them. United with the cardigan, however, I hope they take on a more subtle, grown-up aspect.

As for the hem, when at long last I got a set of live stitches back on my needles, I worked a YO, k2tog row to form a picot edge, decreased by about 90%, knit a few more rows and then whip-stitched down the live stitches. I like how the picot points echo the smocking diamonds, and how neat it looks from the right side.
 It's a little less perfect on the wrong side, but still about a million gadzillion times better than before its surgical intervention.
Yay! And thanks to Patrick for taking the photos with his snazzy camera, and sparing you the pain of me contorting myself in front of my webcam. Now maybe I'll wear it along to the film...

Monday, 11 May 2009

Sleeve me alone

Here is a Lame Webcam peek at the second purple cardigan I have been working on.

It's Forecast by Stefanie Japel, and much like Coraline has been languishing very near completion for some time. I find it hard to motivate myself with things that have been sitting around for a while. It's easy to forget where you left off in the pattern, which is especially problematic with things which are supposed to come in identical pairs, such as sleeves. I had to rip back the second sleeve twice in this case to get it to match its older sibling. 

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

I spoke too soon...

Here is a totally lame web-cam photo of the smock-tastic, i-cord edged yoke of Coraline, which I cast off last night.

You may remember that in my last post I was extolling the joys of seamless construction, and might therefore be justified in thinking that this baby was now pretty much done. Well... I think my previous smugness was really a flimsy front. I present Lame Web-Cam Photo 2: the bottom edge.

I think what's going on here is that the inside of the hem, instead of sitting neatly and meekly inside the outer hem is aggressively pulling the edge in to form this bizarre pucker. I suspect that this is my fault, perhaps stemming from using too small a needle for the first few rows. I'm not sure. Because I couldn't quite understand what had caused the problem, I attempted to make it disappear by ignoring it. I smoothed it out. I tugged at it. I told myself that it would block out. And when all of these measures failed, I resorted to just not looking at the funny little dragon snouts that was marring the edges of what was shaping up to be an otherwise delectable garment. The above twin monstrosities were dangling off my needles for a month. I was in denial. I was Cleopatra, Queen of Denial. I conquered the i-cord cast-on, mastered smocking and vanquished Japanese short-rows to battle to the end of this cardigan. Finally, late last night, after grafting the final stitches together, I tried it on.

As you, or indeed, a moderately intelligent four-year-old (perhaps you are a moderately intelligent four-year-old; I wouldn't want to make assumptions about my readership), might have already realised, the above dilemma is not one that either blocking or sheer force of will can solve. To add insult to injury, the darn thing is too long, and the weirdo puckers are currently sitting unflattering over my hips, a problem that will most likely get worse with wear. The yarn is 100% superfine alpaca, which makes it divinely soft, but devilishly prone to stretching. 

There's no way around it. I am going to have to unravel and re-knit the bottom. When I pluck up the courage to do so, I am tempted to try and make a virtue of a painful necessity, and give this edge a go.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

There's a time and a place

Yesterday, I met up with several lovely people I hadn't seen for a while, first over a sunny lunch in Cambridge, and then at a belated birthday party in London. Throughout both events, and on the train in between them, I worked on this:

Actually, I took this photo a while ago, and unfortunately it's likely to be the last one for a little while, as I foolishly left my camera at home last time I was there. Anyway, this unpromising-looking purple lump is a whole lot further along towards becoming this - I'm doing the smocking at the yoke now. And yes, it's another Ysolda pattern. I just can't seem to get enough of her designs at the moment.

I was thinking about how much my knitting time has increased of late, perhaps since those couple of months  I spent researching in Italy when it was my sole companion. Gradually it appears to have infiltrated more and more parts of my life. This time last year, I don't think it would have even occurred to me to take my knitting on a plane, to a party, to lunch. Occasionally, I'd hear tell of people knitting at the table but I had no idea that I myself was on a slippery slope to becoming that obsessed. In fact, I chose this pattern in part because the body and the sleeves are fairly mindless stocking stitch, and so easy to do while talking to people, or travelling. I plan always to have a simple project like this on my needles, so I can do all of these things without having to hunch over my work, worrying about committing heinous errors - 'I can't talk! I'm counting!'. I find I can get an awful lot done in these little pockets of time over a cup of tea, waiting for someone to turn up, on public transport... Now I hate being caught out without my knitting during these periods; my fingers itch to be busy. I've been listening to No Idle Hands: A Social History of American Knitting by Anne Macdonald, a book filled with interesting snippets about knitters from the past, and there's a description of one lady who only stopped knitting once a week, to go to church, and who said it was all she could do to sit and not do anything for that long. It makes me a bit sad to think of all the time I wasted before I learned - just think of all the things I could have made by now...

My occupation drew a mixture of responses. It elicited the remark that forms the title of this post. I think some people were bemused, while some seemed rather impressed. One party-goer kept trying to ply me with drink, and I kept telling him that I was sorry, but I was doing smocking, a delicate operation not compatible with alcohol. Lots of people asked me to knit something for them;  I stuck to my current selfish principles. I was asked quite a lot how long it had taken me to knit this much, which I found a little tricky to answer. I know when I started it (about a month ago), but I've been working with it very infrequently, and have nearly completed something else in the meantime. Whereas normally I am eager to finish things, with this I was worried about running out of travel knitting. Now that the end is so close, however, I am quite keen for it to be done. I love seamless constructions, and the fact that when I cast off the final stitch I will be holding a recognisable cardigan as opposed to a cluster of dismembered pieces waiting to be sewn together.
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