Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Un'uccellino fa sempre piacere

This little vintage bird brooch fluttered into my hand in a shop overlooking the Rastro a few months ago in Madrid. I had been in the city for a couple of weeks and was beginning to pick up the scantiest smatterings of Spanish, but it was still a struggle to ask basic things (and then understand the answers), so I was delighted to detect a strong Italian accent in the owner of this bric-a-brac shop; it was such a relief to be able to switch into a language I do speak, albeit imperfectly.

Like most purveyors of vintage goods, this one was crammed with random stuff in all varieties of condition and quality. I was sorely tempted by the above telephone bag - think of the comedic potential! 'Hello, taxi for one, please?' etc. I'm so glad I went with the bird, though: as the shop owner pointed out , 'un'uccellino fa sempre piacere', which might be loosely translated as 'a little bird always goes down well.'

I love his quizzical blue eye, and the alert curves of his wings and crest. I didn't notice when I bought him (and indeed, hadn't noticed till this afternoon) that these clear stones are set in a flower shape. I'm such a sucker for details - check out those little toes clinging to his perch.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Brick Lane

This Sunday, my sweetheart and I took a stroll down Brick Lane. As it so happened, we had inadvertently chosen to come on the day on the annual curry festival, and the street was absolutely hoaching.

There were various modes of transportation...

... and several decorated walls that caught my eye.

Most of all, though, there was FOOD. Not just the aforementioned curry, wafting sweet spice over the crowd, but all manner of other comestibles, from gherkins to goulash, all sizzling in the sunshine.


This last exhibit is a deep-fried Hungarian flat-bread with sour cream, cheese and garlic sauce that was one of the most delicious things ever to have passed my lips. I snarfled half of it before I could bear to put it down to photograph it.

It was a superb day.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

More Snow White and Red

Sorry, I couldn't resist showing off how well my new jumper co-ordinates with all the other red things in the garden. All these photos were kindly taken by my friend Alice.

I was Snow White but I drifted

Snow White is finally dry! I took her out to meet some of the (hopefully not poisonous) apples in my back garden.

This was a speedy, stress-free knit. Like other Ysolda patterns, it is impeccably laid out, cleverly constructed, and full of interesting details. I love the neck-line: it satisfies a desire I didn't know I had to look like a Cluedo piece (Miss Scarlet, of course). The sculptural ribs accentuate some curves and minimise others.


The stretchiness of ribbing is a thing of miracle of knitting engineering - this measures 18" around the waist when laid flat.

I am so pleased with how this turned out. I am glad to have found a good use for this yarn. I love its deep, velvety shade; the colourway - 'Christmas Red' - is appropriate to me, as my birthday is on Christmas Day. All in all, Snow White has just about healed the wound of losing Broderie.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Like watching knitwear dry

This is the most exciting image I can offer you of Snow White, who is still stubbornly soggy.

In the meantime, my long-awaited black cardigan is beginning to take shape.

I don't think I've already mentioned the pattern - it is Audrey in Unst by Gudrun Johnston, from the latest Twist Collective. I rather like the way this crisp, superwash merino is working up.

Friday, 18 September 2009

World's Skinniest Sweater?

Snow White is done, and reclining in state while she dries....

... on an ironing board. How ridiculously skinny is this sweater? It looks more like a broomstick cozy than a garment for a human being. I know it fits - I tried it on before I immersed it - but still it's hard to credit.

Thursday, 17 September 2009


I have finished my Milkweed shawlette.

I used the Old Maiden Aunt Merino/Bamboo left-over from - and now all that is left of - my sadly departed Broderie. Once again, the yarn was a delight to work with: soft and glossy but with the promise of durability. I am very pleased with the finished product; I plan to hang on to this one. The colour is far more dark and mysterious than the above two pictures imply - the silvery tint is the light bouncing off the bamboo.

I find the lace pattern that broods out of the garter stitch enchanting, and the fact that it has no wrong side makes it perfect for casual scrunching around necks, as well as demure draping over shoulders. It was a quick and meditative knit (not a single purl!), soothing to pick up when I was tired. 
I have also been beavering away at Snow White. Last night, I joined the sleeves and the body, knitted a couple of rounds and then did the most beautiful picot cast-off at the neck you ever did see. I stretched out my work to admire it... and realised I had just cast off the back, instead of the front. I have got it sorted now, though not without weeping and gnashing of teeth. Sometimes I wonder if this yarn is cursed.

Monday, 14 September 2009


Felix's thoughtful podcast got me thinking about the colours that make up an urban landscape, so I decided to try and record bits of London that interested me as I was through there this weekend. I don't think I was entirely successful in my endeavour: despite spending a fair amount of time there over the past few years, I do not feel I have a grasp on London as a whole, rather than as a disjointed series of experiences. Still, this was a most interesting exercise.
My London starts and finishes with the gloomy dome of King's Cross, and the glare of the light on the Cambridge Express. That ectoplasmic blob in the photo on the left is a man running for my train.

Sometimes I can't help but be a massive tourist - ooh, neon! Ooh, policeman!

I stayed away from yarn shops; I was sorely tempted by the intoxicating range of Liberty fabrics and buttons, but managed to resist.

I saw some extraordinary false eyelashes....

 ... and the people who wear them.

I saw this sign, from a shop in Wembley, which I think speaks for itself.

Although I do not appear to have succeeded in my mission to distil the city down to its component colours, I do bear love London.

Friday, 11 September 2009

The coming of Autumn

The burnished gold trees on Parker's Piece; the shady nook beside the the chapel; apples and pears (not in the Cockney sense); the ducks lazing in a carpet of feathers and leaves.

Thursday, 10 September 2009


I am a couple of days into my stash pledge, and it's going really well, thanks. Haven't been to a yarn shop, haven't looked at yarn online, haven't even thought about it all that much, really. Smug.
Hang on a second... What is this?
Ah. It appears that I have found a way around my 'not buying yarn' vow by STARTING A WHOLE NEW CRAFT. Namely sashiko, a form of Japanese embroidery. Sigh. Sometimes I wonder if my hobby might really be Buying Stuff, rather than knitting.

Look at this little turtle-metamorphosing-into-thread. Japanese images are so inscrutable.

Also, Snow White now has a cuff, pictured below sitting atop the ball like a jolly hat.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

'snow surprise

As an antidote to the fine yarn and slender needles of Broderie, and a balm to heal the subsequent wound of losing Broderie, I needed a near-instant gratification, heavier-gauge project. Meet Snow White, yet another gorgeous pattern by Ysolda. The image to the left is the completed body; I know it looks absurdly small, but I can assure you that it stretches to fit me (thanks in part to that magical cast-on I was talking about). 

This will be my eighth jumper this year. As I write this, on 09/09/09, I am a little annoyed that it is not my ninth, especially as it could so easily be - all I have to do on my Hey, Teach is seam it and knit the button band. To be honest, though, I have rather fallen out of love with this project, as signalled by the fact that I have banished its dismembered pieces to the darkest recesses of my wardrobe. I am considering ripping it out and continuing my Ysolda fixation with another Liesl,  inspired by Alana's beautiful version.

Oh, I forgot to mention, this red yarn is itself recycled from the abortive Lush and Lacy Cardigan.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Stash pledge

My stash spends most of its time as a large vacuum-packed yarn asteroid  - a yasteroid, if you will. This helps assuage my morbid fear of moth attack, and also serves as a handy space-saving 'solution'. It does, however, make it all too easy to ignore the size of the beast growing within. I had to rootle inside the yasteroid today, and have been shaken out of my denial by what I found. The six sweaters'-worth of yarn shown above do not represent the whole story; if anything, I am more irritated by the tangle of partial and single skeins. I think I should feel substantial better, though, once I had converted the above collection into garments. Therefore I do hereby solemnly pledge that I will buy NO MORE YARN until I have knitted up ALL SIX jumpers. Yikes!

ETA: I got a little sick of my violent pink colour-scheme - hope you like the new minimalist look.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Coffee Shop Cantata

I am alone in the 'bridge at the moment. Well, no, that's not quite true: there are some other people here too, but I don't know any of them. Not wishing to turn into an accidental hermit because of this lack of companionship, I have been taking little knitting breaks in various purveyors of hot beverages around town.

I wrote the title to this post and uploaded these photos last night; they are, from top to bottom, an elegant Art Nouveau cafe in Lavapies in Madrid, an achingly cool place called La Cabra en el Tejado in La Latina, and Le Cafe des 2 Moulins in Monmartre, where Amèlie worked in the film. I had a long rant planned bemoaning the sorry dearth of decent coffee shops such as these in Cambridge, and the ebola-like spread of Costas, Neros, and especially Starbucks (I believe there are five in the city centre).

Then, serendipitously, what should come on Radio 3 but Bach's Coffee Cantata, and before I could call after it, my brain had wandered off in another direction entirely. For those who haven't heard it, Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht ('Be still, stop chattering'), unofficially known as the Coffee Cantata is a most beautiful and joyful piece of music, with sparkling soprano arias and a lively final trio.

It also offers an intriguing and witty glimpse into eighteenth-century Leipzig. In the piece, Schlendrian commands his daughter Lieschen to give up her incessant coffee-drinking. Lieschen responds defiantly that: 'If I can't drink my bowl of coffee three times a day, then in my torment I will shrivel up like a piece of roast goat.' Schlendrian threatens to bar her from all other forms of entertainment; Lieschen does not care, so long as she can drink coffee. Finally, he warns that she will never find a husband unless she gives up her caffeine habit; she appears to relent, but secretly puts it about that she will only marry a man who will allow her to continue drinking as much coffee as she likes.

A number of aspects of this sparked my curiosity. Initially I interpreted it as story of female empowerment: daughter outwits father in order to live her life as she pleases. Any proto-feminist point, however, is undercut by the comedy of the piece, which would surely have been heightened by the fact that Lieschen would originally have been sung by a boy. Furthermore, the cantata was in fact first performed in a coffee-house, so the whole tale can be read as a knowing wink to the audience (perhaps the first line, 'Be still, stop your chattering' should be seen in this light?).

Why might Schlendrian object to Lieschen's habit in the first place? Is it coffee-drinking in general he disapproves of, or does the fact that she is a women worsen the situation? In a wonderfully dated article in The Musical Quarterly from 1932, Charles van den Borren claims that: 'tobacco and coffee have often caused trouble between man and wife. The wife - before cigarette-smoking was adopted by an emancipated fairer sex - was inclined to frown upon the "smoke nuisance" as injurious to the atmosphere and to her pretty white muslin curtains, while the husband would accuse his better half of an immoderate indulgence in the stimulating infiltration of the coffee bean.'

I wondered whether it might be the social context of his daughter's coffee-drinking that made Schlendrian uneasy: perhaps he is concerned at what she gets up to at the coffee-house. Certainly some were insalubrious locales, such as Moll King's establishment in Covent Garden, depicted by Hogarth in his 1738 engraving 'Morning' as a place where wayward young men used coffee in order to be able to continue their illicit deeds through the night and into the morning. Eighteenth-century coffee-houses performed numerous different functions, however, the majority of which appear to have been intellectual rather than carnal, as 'Penny Universities' - cheap places to exchange information (the popular name for Moll King's coffee-house was 'King's College', a satirical take on this idea). The place of women in these debates is unclear. Although 'King's College' might be 'no place for a lady' it was, obviously, owned by one, indicating that women evidently did have some role to play in coffee culture. I have come to no firm conclusions on this matter. Indeed, Lieschen's desire to make herself a coffee, as opposed to purchasing one made by some one else, may signal that hers is a selfish pleasure rather than a social one.

In my wanderings about the internet in search of information on early modern coffee drinking, I came across this lovely description of Cambridge students: 'It is the custom after chapel to repair to one or other of the coffee houses (for there are divers), where hours are spent in talking, and less profitably reading the newspapers, of which swarms are continually supplied from London.' I have a nice mental image of people in seventeenth-century clothes sitting in Starbucks and leafing through the Metro.

I also indulged in some embroidery doodling today. Here is a crap webcam photo thereof.

Saturday, 5 September 2009


While the vital link between my camera and my laptop wends its way down the country, I thought I'd take a trawl through some photographic backwater. I find the artistic combinations of paint and wall endlessly fascinating, and in my European peregrinations over the past year I have snapped my shutter at more examples of decorated buildings and walls than you could shake a spray can at. Here is the alleyway I used to walk down to get to the State Archives in Genoa, so garlanded with tags that what might have started off as assertions of individualism fused into a single abstract riot of colours.
Genoa has a long tradition of painted buildings, ranging from the exquisite fading frescoes on Palazzo Spinola, one of the villas along the sixteenth-century aristocratic ghetto of Strada Nuova...

... to simpler trompe-l'oeil masonry and window shutters, still common on many houses today. The embellished surfaces of walls and buildings are an integral part of the civic fabric; they are not locked away in a gallery overnight, but are instead engaged in a constant dialogue with the city that moves around them. This holds true whether they are furtively scrawled on a wall, or whether they are officially sanctioned, as I imagine the large-scale murals in La Latina in Madrid are:

- or whether they seem to be making an anti-establishment statement, as in these three examples from Genoa, Madrid and Paris - the first reads 'Is a home a right?', the second something like 'What would the politicians think?', the third 'Does what you can get for free have a price?' (this is by an artist called Miss-Tic, whose work I saw all over Paris).

I find this next one rather mysterious - it says 'I find myself/I am found behind' and is on a crumbling building in a little square off Strada Nuova in Genoa.

I'm not whether this is all one piece or not, but I like the idea that someone has graffiti-ed the graffiti, as well as its Pop Art aesthetic. I found a lot of clever, stylish murals in Paris.

I'm not sure that this final example truly fits in, but I couldn't resist wedging in a little bit of history. It is from the tiny, charming Mezquita del Cristo de la Luz, a former-Mosque-turned-Christian-chapel in Toledo, and appears to show some angels taking the soul of a dead girl (either that or playfully tugging at a table-cloth).

Although some of the stencilled examples above could probably easily and quickly be reproduced elsewhere, I like how art on walls becomes part of both the particular wall that it is on - if it is not removed, the coating suffers the ravages of time and weather along with the surface it coats - and of the life that goes on around it.

Related Posts with Thumbnails