Sunday, 31 October 2010

Shooting From The Hip: Genoa 31/10/2010

A somewhat sad and sodden Sunday. Almost everything was shut it town, so I came back to the hostel and finished both of my knitting projects - thank goodness I took an emergency ball of wool! It seems that tomorrow is a public holiday here, so I won't be able to use any libraries or archives... now I'm a bit worried of running out of emergency knitting! And, for that matter, food. But the knitting is my main preoccupation. I hope you have all been having happier Hallowe'ens. 

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Shooting From The Hip: Genoa 30/10/2010

Rather a less successful lonesome lunch today. The waitresses studiously ignored me (reminding me of that brilliant George S. Kaufman epitaph for a waiter: 'God finally caught his eye'), and, realising I was not a native speaker half-way through ordering pudding, started speaking very loudly and clearly at me ('This cake has PINE-NUTS - do you know what a PINE-NUT is?'). Then, as the figurative faded cherry on my slightly substandard fruit salad, what should come blaring over their speakers but Celine Dion's 'All By Myself'. I couldn't wait to leave.

Still, I suppose it could be worse. At least I didn't have to participate in the sinister sex-game 'Bunga Bunga' with Silvio Berlusconi, unlike 'Ruby', the latest barely-legal beauty to be connected to the president. Shudder.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Alternating skeins

Warning! This post might be quite boring for non-knitters. In fact, it might also be boring for knitters who are not interested in this specific technique. It also features a lot of rather imperfect iPhone photos. So sorry about all that... but hopefully it might be vaguely helpful to someone.

I am alternating skeins on my Elphaba Pullover, to avoid pooling of the lovely hand-dyed yarn. That sounds so self-explanatory, 'alternating skeins'; it turns out it's not, and it took me a while to find a method I was happy with. I started off alternating every other round on the body, twisting my old yarn with my new at each switch. 

This was ok...ish. The eagle-eyed observer, or the massive knitwear perfectionist (ahem), might be able to spot the slight pucker it caused on the right side, despite my efforts to keep the 'floats' loose:

When I started on the sleeves, though, my results from this method went from 'ok-ish' to 'completely bloody awful': massive holes, sloppy enlarged stitches, unhappy tight stitches - it was a mess:

I was ready to give up, rip back the sleeve and restart it using just one skein, when, as so often happens, Ravelry saved the day. I got a couple of really useful suggestions to my disconsolate forum post on the subject. Firstly, someone (the designer of this pullover, in fact!) recommended I move the place where I was switching yarns from my magic loop join to the middle of a needle - this made things much better already. But then I followed this grumperina link on knitting one-row spirals, and have become such a zealous convert to her method, that I've taken some photos of it in action, in the hope of recruiting more knitting souls to the cause! I'm currently doing the lace cuff to the sleeve, so I can assure you that any holes here are entirely intentional.

Here we are just before the switch - the 'new' yarn is on the left and the 'old' one on the right:

 Knit the next stitch still using the 'old' yarn.

Drop the 'old' yarn and pick up the 'new' (according to grumperina they should never tangle together, though I have not always managed this) to knit the next stitch.

At this stage, the stitch connecting to the 'new' yarn in the row below (underneath the second stitch on the right hand needle - the hole beneath the first stitch is a lace hole, not a bad hole) may be slightly enlarged.

Gently tug on the 'new' yarn until that stitch looks the same as those around it, being careful not to tighten too much.

And that's it - just knit the rest of the round with the 'new' yarn, repeating the steps above when you encounter the second strand of yarn.

And the results?

It's still not 100% invisible, but I think this is mainly down to the colour shifts. Most importantly, it feels great - as flexible and forgiving as stocking stitch should, without being constricted by 'floats' - and it's much less arduous to do than that intarsia-style twisting I was doing on the body. In fact, it's so much better that I'm almost thinking of re-doing the body to match... This method can also be used with different-coloured yarns to create barber-pole type stripes - spiral-tastic!

This is my first attempt at a quasi-tutorial, so please do comment if there's anything not clear. Happy alternating!

Shooting From The Hip: Genoa 29/10/2010

The buses were on strike for almost all of today, so during the brief windows when a few were running they were overflowing with people, packed together in an intricate (and sometimes uncomfortably intimate) human tessellation that left little room for breathing let alone knitting. Elsewhere, I'd just walk, but Genoa is a murderously mountainous place, and the youth hostel sits right at the summit of one of its peaks. 

How about you, readers? Do you commute? Are you lucky enough to take a form of transport that allows you to knit/sew/sit down? I do hope you've all had lovely Fridays.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Shooting From The Hip: Genoa 28/10/2010

How could I do a series of photos from Italy without any food? It is everywhere, from artistically arranged confectionary in the windows of the pasticcerie, to the scent of cooking seeping out through cracks in shutters. Shops (and archives) routinely shut at 12.30 or 1 and open again at 3; no speedy sandwiches wolfed down at desks here. 

The thing is, I'm not always very good at taking advantage of all this bounty when I'm here all by myself. I tend to find a quiet place to perch and eat a little slice of pizza or focaccia, perhaps supplemented with some fruit if I feel I'm in danger of catching scurvy. I don't mind spending time on my own - in fact solitary exploring is one of my favourite things to do - but this has not so far extended to eating out. I have always been foolishly fearful of asking for a table for one.

This lunch, however, was different. Inspired in part by the sweet video below, which seems to be all over the craft blogs at the moment, and in part by the fact that it was just too darn cold to sit outside, I faced my fear, and went into a bustling restaurant. I didn't feel like a loser, no one gave me pitying looks, and I had an unbelievably delicious meal, pictured above. Definitely an experience I would repeat.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Shooting From The Hip: Genoa 27/10/2010

The fountain in Piazza De Ferrari is a constant source of inspiration. I took these two pictures next to it within seconds of each other on my lunch break today. The girl at the top was rather ostentatiously taking photos with her vintage camera; I very surreptitiously took one of her with my faux vintage camera. The couple at the bottom are just about to embrace and leave in opposite directions.

Hand in Glove

I realised I hadn't taken any modelled shots of my Farinelli gloves (previously seen in this hands-free post), so I thought I'd remedy this omission.

These gloves are total winners in terms of warmth, glamour, and my evident desire to coat myself fully in the creations of Ms Old Maiden Aunt, but they do have one small drawback: I have to peel one off - with appropriate languorous insouciance - every time I need to use my iPhone (either that or use my nose to operate the touch-screen, which I have grown embarrassingly adept at doing). Until, that is, I read this post over on le petit hibou. An embroidery kit which allows you to keep your gloves on while using a touch-screen phone: what an utterly genius idea! How handy! I'm crossing my (gloved) fingers that she'll be able to ship a kit across the Atlantic to me, so I can keep my opera gloves on this winter. 

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Shooting From The Hip: Genoa 26/10/2010

The cool, gilded elegance of the Durazzo-Giustiniani archive in Genoa, where I have been reading the household account books of a sixteenth-century noblewoman.

Tealeaves in the treeleaves

I'm back in Genoa for a little while, doing a bit of history and taking orange buses that hurtle around hairpin hillside bends barely wide enough to fit a weasel. Before I left Cambridge, though, my friend Simone and I photographed some of each other's knitwear...

Behold the Tealeaves Cardigan by Melissa LaBarre, knit in Orkney Angora St Magnus DK. I'm a big fan of this angora/lambswool blend, having used it to make three Rose Red berets, but this sweater-sized green pile sat in my stash for a very long time before I decided what to do with it. I wanted a pattern simple enough not to detract from its fuzzy vibrancy, but pretty enough to do it justice; I think this fits the bill.

This cardi was very nearly a stress-free knit - the body sent me into such a stocking stitch coma that I blithely knit two inches too far on it and had to rip back. The buttonbands, however, gave me no end of gyp: I knit not two but five of them before I had a pair I was satisfied with.

I think I look a bit like a startled woodland creature in the above photo.

I used two vintage buttons I bought many moons ago in Loop, which are glittering crystal as opposed to the frog-spawn they appear to made of in this photo. All in all a stash-busting success!

Leaving knitting aside for a moment, I can't seem to stop taking photos, so I'm thinking of sharing them in a sort of 'picture of the day' series. Unless, that is, you are all heartily sick of Hipstamatic, in which case speak up now!

Friday, 22 October 2010

Dyeing drying

I let my freshly dyed yarn luxuriate in its cochineal soup for about 32 hours before rinsing it out and hanging it up to dry. For some reason, as I was doing that, I had this obnoxious reggaeton song stuck in my head, with 'gasolina' replaced by 'cochinilla' (as in 'A ella le gusta la cochinilla/ Da me mas cochinilla!/ Como le encanta la cochinilla/ Da me mas cochinilla!'). As Jane commented, cochineal is indeed the product of thousands upon thousands of dead beetles, making it a somewhat unethical choice for a vegetarian... Oh well, all in the name of elaborate procrastination historical research. In honour of its entomological origins, though, I hereby call this colour 'Beetlejuice'! It looks like it's going to be a deep rose, a colour lacking from my wardrobe.

But what to make with 874 yards of rose-tinted fingering weight yarn? I've been eyeing up Laura Chau's Honeybee Cardigan for a while; I especially like fernknits' pullover version. I am drawn to pullovers at the moment, possibly because of a buttonband 'mare which I'll tell you all about soon. 

Thursday, 21 October 2010

I've been dyeing to tell you...

Yesterday was 20/10/2010, an appropriately momentous date for a hugely exciting couple of packages to arrive. 

Firstly, down at the bottom right of the photo collage, two skeins of superwash bluefaced Leicester yarn, creamy and naked and natural. I have never used bluefaced Leicester before; in the skein it feels crisper and possibly hardier than merino - I shall be curious to see what it's like to knit with.

Secondly, a selection of treats from DT Craft and Design: at the top left, sodium carbonate and alum, and at the bottom left, 10g of powdered cochineal.

I received the packages at lunchtime, and, without wishing to sound melodramatic, went straight home to dye. I was only slightly guilty about leaving the library: really this is not so much fun with fibre as a very serious and studious piece of research for my PhD, actually. I have been reading A Perfect Red by Amy Butler Greenfield, which is all about the quest for a vivid red dye in the early modern period, and the importing of cochineal by the Spanish conquistadors. Cochineal had been used in Mexico for centuries to dye all manner of things from cloth to food to prostitutes' teeth. It was eagerly received in Europe as an improvement on existing Old World dyestuffs: madder often yielded autumnal russets or oranges rather than true reds, and brazilwood and orchil gave impressive initial results that were disappointingly quick to fade. By the 1580s, the tiny black grains transported across the Atlantic by enterprising Spaniards had virtually eclipsed all these other options: as Butler Greenfield puts it,
The priest's red velvet chasuble, the dandy's red satin sleeves, the nobleman's red silken draperies and the countess's red brocade skirts - all were now coloured with cochineal.

In my kitchen, I felt like an apron-ed alchemist, mixing up potions, stirring in crystals, engaged in the mystical process of turning one thing into another thing. It was thrilling to feel practically connected to the early modern dyers I read about, and indeed the Aztecs, who used alum as a mordant and cochineal as a dye exactly as I did, though they did not order their supplies off of the internet, or use a microwave to practise their art. I followed the excellent leaflet included with dye, and have left my yarn to steep in the fabulously crimson dyebath. I'll be sure to update you on the progress of this first dyeing experiment of mine.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Actor's Nightmare; Knitter's Dream

I am in a play at the moment called The Actor's Nightmare (any Cambridge readers, do come to the Corpus Playroom at 7.30, tonight through Saturday). The script, by Christopher Durang, is admirably short and well-crafted, not least because it affords the knitting actress superb little pockets of time backstage to work on the above top-secret gift project.

I always look forward to stretches of knitting time, be they on public transport, snuggled up in my room listening to podcasts, or in freezing and fustily furnished green rooms. Where have you been snatching moments to craft recently? 

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The adventures of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of All Over the Place.

I have been working on the Elphaba Pullover (ravlink) in a whole variety of places: in early morning Stansted; on the steps of the Palazzo Ducale; in a youth hostel dorm; by the fountain in Piazza De Ferrari; in the very cool Caffè degli Specchi; in front of the spurious Christopher Columbus' house; by the columned cloister behind said house; on a plane (I was so pleased to sneak my Addis safely past security - the first time I've attempted to do so); and on the Cambridge Express. I enjoy knitting the memories of all these various locations into a project, though I am aware that these are not good photos of either the knitting, which as it grew became increasingly difficult to wedge into the shot, or the places - so to remedy this, here are a few more of my favourite photos from my recent trip to Genoa.
A small girl blowing bubbles by the fountain
A student demonstration on the steps of San Lorenzo cathedral
I found myself drawn to doorways...

... and niches.

Dog on a night bus.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Postcards from Italy

I'm on an extremely shaky internet connection in a youth hostel, but I couldn't resist the Beirut-inspired title of this post, and sharing a few snaps (sorry, I know I said I'd lay off the Hipstamatic, but I can't help myself!).

Monday, 4 October 2010

On the road again

I am heading off for a very brief spell in Genoa to do some much needed research. People often express envy that my PhD demands trips to Italy, but I tend to get unduly stressed out about these visits. I find research a rather lonely business at the best of times, and this anxiety is amplified when in an unfamiliar place where I am compelled to communicate in my second language. 

One thing that I do enjoy about the process, though, is the long stretches of knitting time it affords, while in transit, and as a substitute for social contact *self-pitying sniff*. This time I shall be turning the above purple perfection into Elphaba (pattern here on Ravelry, beautiful project photo here), a lightweight pullover inspired by the so-called Wicked Witch of the West... that might be why I said I was going for a spell in Genoa. Ahem. If I ever started dyeing yarn (which, incidentally, I have been thinking of experimenting with), one of my colours would definitely be 'Bad Pun Blush'. 

Friday, 1 October 2010

A little more Hipstamatizing...

Sleeve from Tealeaves Cardigan - more on that later!
Top Secret Gift Project!
I'm having such fun Hipstamatizing everything in sight that I've revived my dusty Flickr account, so if anyone's at all interested in these you can check out my stream here. I hope you're all having lovely Fridays.
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