Monday, 25 January 2010

Farewell, Fairy Vomit

I did a bit of knitting housekeeping today, and stumbled across these (remember them?). My dislike of their candy-necklace shades was even more violent than I had remembered. The manic colour changes  also all but obscured the Jaywalker pattern I had been using. So, in a few minutes I had turned them from this...

... to this...

... to this (thank you, ball-winder).

I'm not sure I can bring myself actually to throw this yarn away - it is a sturdy German wool/nylon blend that I suspect would last me till the end of time. The question is, do I really want an eternal fairy vomit foot covering?

Thursday, 21 January 2010

A Confession...

I... I don't quite know how to say this. Maybe through the medium of macro...

No? OK, well... remember that stash pledge I made? Oh, do I have to spell it out?

I bought some yarn. Some really, really good yarn. This yarn, to be precise.

It is an absurdly luxurious laceweight from Old Maiden Aunt, consisting of baby alpaca, silk and cashmere, in the colourway Bitter Bug. Now, you know how I feel about Old Maiden Aunt yarns - I have made them into socks, shawls, and an ill-fated cardigan. Lilith (the dyer) just has an unparalleled sense of colour: this particular skein is a rhapsody in green, ranging from an inky, forest darkness to intoxicating dashes of absinthe. On top of that, there is a really cool concept behind this latest collection of hers:

All of these yarns are inspired by her favourite songs; in the case of my yarn, this Indigo Girls number. I long been a believer in the mixtape as a token of regard, and have given and received more than I could count. As Nick Hornby described in High Fidelity, making them is a craft in its own right, but I love the idea of honouring them through other crafts. As well as that yarn collection, check out Floresita's adorable mixtape card tutorial.

My little brother and I have a bit of a mixtape war going on, with the battle-ground as my mum's car. My inclusion of this Ethiopian jazz classic was taken by both mother and brother as conclusive proof that I had lost this war, which I suppose goes to show that gauging your audience is the key to mixtape success (I still love that song, though). I'd love to hear other people's mixtape stories - has anyone ever given you a really memorable one? Have you laboured over a playlist for someone you've set your cap at in the hope of getting them to return your affections?

Monday, 18 January 2010

What do you do it to?

Last night, I got quite a lot of work done on Kingscot as I watched the undeniably execrable yet oddly compulsive Take Me Out. One of the things I love most about knitting is its compatibility with other activities - chatting to friends, listening to music, or, in this case, watching programmes featuring Paddy McGuinness, thirty single ladies and the catchphrase 'No likey, no lighty'.

I enjoy the symmetry of knitting to podcasts about knitting: Stash and Burn, Never Not KnittingDoubleknit, and the infrequent but inspired Insubordiknit are my favourites. Recently, however, I have been attempting to aurally submerge myself in the Laahndahn accent for a play, and so have found myself sucked in to Eastenders (Archie's murder! Stacey's pregnancy! Roxy getting the Vic!), as well as listening to this excellent cd. All of this has made me curious what other people make stuff to. Have you discovered an exciting new band? Have you been revisiting the early films of Ingmar Bergman? Do you find a zen-like silence to be a better conduit to craft? Leave a comment, and let me know!

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Cream-crackered Crafting

Late-night crafting and me do not mix, it seems. I had been feeling so smug about Kingscot: 'Why would anyone knit it in pieces when it's such a piece of cake doing it seamlessly?' I thought to my smug self, smugly. I finished the armhole decreases last night and stopped to check my stitch count. Both fronts were A-OK. The back... hang on a second, that can't be right, let me count that again. No, I still appeared to be short not one, not two but TEN STITCHES. Part of me was upset and more than a little mystified. Another part - the fearless, nocturnal adventurer part - saw this as an exciting opportunity to do what this blog's name suggests: to drop stitches, and hook them back to the path of righteousness.

It was rather enjoyable watching stitches that had been bound together reassuming their own separate identities, as I crocheted them back up the rungs of the dropped-stitch ladder. I was nearing the end of my knitting emergency rescue, when I glanced down to double check just how many stitches I should have. And saw that I had been looking at the wrong bit of the pattern. And had had the right number of stitches to begin with. So I had to drop all of my newly-created stitches and re-decrease them, by which time I think I may have been wielding my hook with more than a little frustration, resulting in this slight pulling of stitches. Stitches which had of course been totally fine to begin with.

So this evening I decided to change crafting tack and get better acquainted with - or, rather, introduce myself to - my sewing machine.

Other than giving a foot pedal a nervous little tap in the shop where I chose my machine, I hadn't done any sewing since my last Home Economics class when I was about 13, and even then I wasn't really paying attention (out of laziness masquerading as ersatz feminism). Since I have started perusing awesome sewing blogs, such as 'So, Zo...' (she made pants!) and Gertie's New Blog for Better Sewing, and have become aware of the repository of gorgeousness that is Colette Patterns I have been longing to learn. I bought myself some inexpensive muslin, and screwed my courage to the sticking-place. A cautious straight stitch went fairly smoothly. I tried seaming two pieces together; also ok. This sewing malarkey was not as tricky as I thought! Then the curvaceous form of #26 caught my eye. I popped on my satin stitch foot...

... with a bit less success...

I was a little indignant at that woeful, shrivelled leaf. #26 wasn't going to get the better of me. I tried again... I'm almost too embarrassed to show the result.

I forgot to drop my presser foot, and my fabric was sucked down into the hell-mouth of the needle-plate. Instead of a playful leaf, I basically created a monstrous muslin arsehole. There was a hairy (maybe not a good word to use so close to arsehole) moment when I wasn't sure if I'd ever be able to liberate the offending scrap from my machine. Just as I managed to unwedge it, my desk lamp flickered out, plunging me into stygian gloom. Curses.

So it hasn't been a very productive couple of nights. I know I'm more liable to make mistakes when I'm exhausted, but then it can be hard to find time during the day... have you found a solution to this? I'd also love to hear about other people's nocturnal crafting mishaps, to stop me feeling so sorry for myself.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

The Perfect Red

I once met a guy at a party who told me that he worked for Pantone, and that his job was the quest for the perfect red; I believed him, like a big twit. It is true, though, that people have long been searching for the perfect hue of this elusive and desirable colour: red was the most fashionable shade for silk in Renaissance Italy, and as such is rather important for my PhD. So many of the words associated with the colour seem magically charged to me: madder, crimson, carmine, alizarin, cinnabar, cochineal, ruby.

I have been working recently with a resplendent red yarn, pictured above. It is Malabrigo Sock in Botticelli Red. I hadn't been aware that Botticelli was known for his reds; perhaps it is a reference to this denizen of the National Gallery's beret.

My pattern is the Alhambra Scarf by lace-genius Anne Hanson, so-called because it draws inspiration from 'the pinwheeling arabesque motif of the kind found in Islamic art and architecture throughout Andalusia and southern Spain'. I love the swirling geometric shapes it produces, so different from typical leafy lacy prettiness.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Cables and Bobbles and Teal, Oh My!

I have started work on sweater #2 of the six I pledged to knit from stash. This yarn (Debbie Bliss Cashmerino DK) is in fact the longest-standing tenant of the yasteroid; I am glad to see it finally moving out. The pattern is Kingscot by knitting wizard Norah Gaughan, a Gothic-inspired cardigan awash with cables and bobbles.

So far this has been a most entertaining knit: I am as eager to get to the next development in the cable panel as I might be to find out what happens next in an exciting book. It is amazing how complicated but interesting things seems to go so much quicker than easy but boring ones. The pattern is written for pieces, but I am knitting the body and twisted rib button bands as one piece to avoid seaming - a simple modification, though one that does involve a lot of flicking between different pages. I have been continually thankful that I  know how to cable without a cable needle: those on the back twist on every right side row (I have been enjoying listening to the song 'The Twist' by Frightened Rabbit while doing all this twisting of stitches). I have just split for the armholes, making it a bit of an unwieldy beast with three balls of yarn dangling off it, so I have also started a smaller, more portable project which I shall save for a future post.

Edited for spelling!

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Nippon Knits

 image copyright Interweave Press Inc.

I went to see Departures last night, which was the film that took the 2009 Oscar for best foreign language picture. It was beautiful, moving and funny, and I highly recommend seeing it if you get the chance. I spent my early childhood in Japan, and it reawakened a lot of memories for me. All of that, though, is just a lead-in to what I really want to discuss about the film: the knitwear. Noteworthy knits featured in practically every other scene; I frequently found myself leaning over to my cinema-going companion (who is also a knitter) to whisper excited observations such as: 'Look at those matching cabled jumpers!' or 'Bobbles!'. 

I was first made aware of the nifty knits going down Nippon-side by this episode of the excellent Stash and Burn podcast. It seems that a lot of Japanese designers have put a fresh modern twist on Western traditions such as Aran or Fair Isle. As their patterns are usually entirely charted, it is apparently possible to make them with hardly any knowledge of the language. I haven't quite got as far as that, but I have been lusting after Japanese Inspired Knits by Marianne Isager (one of which is pictured above). Apart from being a lovely collection of patterns, and a useful English-language gateway to a Japanese aesthetic, this also strikes me as an interesting cultural hybrid - a case of a Western designer drawing inspiration from Japanese designs which were in turn drawing on Western traditional techniques. 

I haven't yet bought the book, as my yasteroid doesn't contain anything appropriate, and my one vague knitting resolution for 2010 is to continue to use up that bounty that lives under my bed, but I will continue to dream... 

Monday, 4 January 2010

Christmas Knitting Part Two: The Hats

I can't remember the last time we had so much snow. Taking a walk becomes a journey through a series of Victorian Christmas cards.

In amidst this winter wonderland, allow me to introduce Exhibit B: The Icing Swirl Hat, by Ysolda Teague, made for my mum in Rowan Cocoon.

I must make a confession: with about a week to go before Christmas, I broke my stash pledge in buying this yarn. I did use up nearly all of it making this hat, though, so the yasteroid has not taken too much of a hit. The combination of a super-soft yarn and an easy yet satisfying pattern was a soothing one during a stressful train journey. I got 95% of it done in the five-odd hours between Cambridge and Edinburgh, so this really is a good last minute gift choice. I was a little worried that this had turned out too big, but my mum likes the slouch, and claims it keeps her ears nicely insulated. Thumbs up for the Icing Swirl!

Exhibit C: Turn a Square, by Jared Flood (of Brooklyn Tweed fame), made for my brother in Rowan Pure Wool Aran.

With its simple, clean design this makes an excellent (and quick) man gift. It is a basic striped beanie, with raglan-style decreases at the crown that make the stripes into a square. I made it with yarn I had left over from making a scarf for him last Christmas, so now he has a matching set! As always for ribbing, I used Ysolda's tubular cast-on. I also followed the instructions for jogless stripes, which are not entirely jogless, but look very neat nonetheless. Sorry I don't have a photo of that detail - my brother was a rather reluctant and restless model... He does, however, appear to like the hat, and reports that it kept him warm up a mountain. Thumbs up for Turn a Square!

I am really glad I took a little break from my Year of Selfish Knits; it does make me very proud to make things that people like and use. I think I have managed to work free from the figurative gift-knitting milking machine I seemed to get myself hooked up to last Christmas. I guess it's about finding a balance, and keeping the gift projects manageable and fun (it will be a very long time before I make anyone a scarf again...). I have relished starting a new thing for myself, though, of which more anon.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Christmas Knitting Part One: Crofter's Cowl

With a mug of hot chocolate warming my fingers, a Christmas tree coruscating in the background, and thick snow outside it seems an appropriate, if slightly tardy, time to write up my holiday gift knitting.

Exhibit A: The Crofter's Cowl, a free pattern by Gudrun Johnson, made for my mum.

I made this in the Fyberspates Scrumptious DK I had left over from making Liesl (that cardigan took an insanely small amount of yarn - I think I still have enough for another cowl and a hat!). This is yarn made for cowls: it is stroke-ably soft, and the glow of the silk is rather flattering next to the face, though this is not apparent in the next photo, in which I look a bit like Michael Jackson.

I realised about half-way through the first repeat that the horseshoe lace pattern was the same as that featured in the Meret, and after that I barely had to look at the pattern. Even without that familiarity, though, this was an enjoyable and straightforward knit. It went down very well with my mum; I do feel very fortunate that my family value hand-made gifts (take that, Germaine Greer!).

Coming up soon... two hats

ETA: A very happy New Year to everyone - I hope 2010 showers loveliness upon you all.
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