Friday, December 29, 2006

Happy Feet, er, New Year...

Actually completed on Christmas Eve eve. I did a twiddle at the beginning of the ribbing, using M1s and P2tog to split the K2P2 ribbing evenly into K1P1, then cabled the resulting single ribs to make a band a little tighter than the ribbing, just to hold it more firmly. I like the look, but the jury is still deciding whether or not it has any effect on the fit. The majority verdict on the socks overall is 'good, but could be better'. They're a fraction too big in the foot, but all the others I've knitted tightened up in the first machine wash, so I think that will be ok (I can't do anything about the fact that his left foot is 1/2" shorter than his right, or rather I can, but it's not worth the pain). He's not sure about the way the thick heelflap catches as he puts his shoes on, but that might just be the novelty. I'll have to do a standard short-row heel with added gusset next for comparison. I do like the way the large gusset (22st/side) has prevented any hint of tightness in the instep: just look at the even expansion of the ribbing as it climbs the slope to the leg.

Sometimes our age shows itself in peculiar ways. One is that we reserve long-distance phone calls for Christmas and birthdays, a reminder of the days when international calls cost seriously large sums of money. It's always pleasant to hear familiar voices (in one or two cases, the distance adds to the pleasure), but this year I particularly enjoyed a conversation with my niece that began "It's all YOUR fault!" What had I done? Well, she'd been a bit taken aback to find that the soundtrack for the Christmas family get-together was the sound of clicking knitting needles. My mother-in-law is not only still knitting, she's just finishing her first pair of toe-up socks. My sister-in-law was knitting something else, but was so impressed by MiL's work that she's going to start sock-knitting in the New Year. I'm sending them each a set of Addis for socking on two circulars and in return I'm getting Socks That Rock sockyarn! Sounds good to me... and I'm sure my niece can learn to live with it. Perhaps the gift of a shawl would help. She was absolutely adamant that I wasn't going to start her knitting (she's quite happy quilting, thanks).

Another FO: our bedroom floor. This means he's hand-sanded every inch of the upstairs floor at least twice, scouring away the dirt and old paint with coarse and fine paper, but leaving the worn shape of the boards intact. Room by room the floors have been sanded, oiled twice, and then I apply a hand-made wax (beeswax, carnauba and turpentine) which is then polished to a satin finish. It's been a bit of a knee- and back-killer, but the finished rooms are lovely: white walls, white woodwork, all warmed by the golden glow from the floors.

That was Boxing Day. Alas, things went downhill from there. Fast. After waking early to go to the gym on Wednesday we stumbled bleary-eyed into the kitchen and found a small flood, complete with water dripping through the ceiling. The valve to the coldwater tank in the loft/attic had failed, and a leak in the overflow pipe allowed water to sheet down the inside of the airing cupboard in the bathroom (luckily behind the lining of polystyrene panels, so the linens were untouched) to the floor below. We shut off the water, mopped up, placed towels to catch the remaining drips, breakfasted, gymmed, and returned. He went to buy the necessary bits (just think how bad it would have been on Christmas Eve, perhaps, or if we'd had to find a plumber). I started clearing up properly and found a second flood under the sink: the washing machine feed had been leaking for ages, soaking the frame of the cupboard. So I shut the inline valve on the supply (I can't put enough pressure on the joint to tighten it) and emptied the cupboard. To summarise, at lunchtime Wednesday the contents of our largest kitchen cupboard were stacked in the middle of the kitchen floor. The entire contents of our bedroom (decorating in progress) filled the dining room and any spare space in my office/the spare bedroom (in which we are sleeping on my desk, sorry, the spare room bed). The kingsize mattress leans against the upstairs hall wall, which wasn't a problem until the contents of the airing cupboard added a chicane for traffic into the bathroom. The cats are having field days, especially enjoying mountaineering up the mattress and glissading back down. Talking constantly while they do so, day and night. To think I'd hoped to have some friends round...
Anyway, the floods have been cured, and he's back to decorating. Did I mention the bit where my mad dash to town to buy the paint ended in the discovery that our favourite supplier closed early for Christmas? Never mind, the room looks wonderful now and will look even better when seen from clean sheets on a real bed.

I was going to cast on for Eunny's intricate Endpaper Mitts for me when I finished his socks. I'd even bought some Jamieson's Shetland 2-ply for that very purpose. In fact I did cast on, twice, and the Italian tubular cast-on defeated me twice. I'll practice it with something smoother, more inclined to co-operate when I try to pull it out from the middle of the tube. Mind you, even the bits from which I'd extracted it didn't look smooth and tubular. Feeling disgruntled, I looked for another gruntle in the stash and found some Manos I'd bought in Canada for a Cat Bordhi moebius bag to replace the one my Pilates friend bought off my back earlier this year. Cast on, knitted like mad, felted this afternoon: I have a new gruntle. Much better. Now I can honestly wish all of you – the entire multiverse – a very happy New Year, this year and always.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Of love and socks

I've read other blogs wherein knitters describe knitting 'love' into every stitch knitted for a significant other. I've been trying but, my word, at this stage 'love' is getting every third stitch. 'Disbelief' and 'incredulity' get the other two. There is NO WAY that the single skein of CTH supersock is enough to finish these socks. Admittedly, it was the very first sock yarn I ever bought, and I used a very little to make my very first circular swatch, but that's only about 5cm in a very narrow tube. The rate at which the balls are shrinking suggests I'll run out about an inch after finishing the heel. I have another skein of the colourway, but it's a different batch and quite noticeably darker. I'll do the heelflap in the new skein and then I think I'll stripe the old and new Fibonacci-style. If I live that long. That's a metric tape measure and one of the socks on his foot last night, by the way. His first appearance on the internet: a star is born!
I was puzzled by the rate at which these socks were eating yarn. I mean, I get a decent pair with yarn left over (log cabin something in the distant future) out of skeins shorter than this. So I did some calculations:
His basic sockfoot is a 72-stitch tube. At 12 rows/inch, that's 864 stitches/inch. I did about 8" of that, which is 6912 stitches. Each gusset builds over 4" to shakes head in disbelief 24 stitches. So at this stage (the heel starts when I go back downstairs) the tube is 120 stitches. A fair guessimate of stitch numbers would be half the gusset stitches over the length, which is ... 4608 stitches. So that's 11500 stitches in the foot. Stitches in the heelflap? It'll be about 30x12x2, a paltry 720, add the short-row heel and call it 1000. That's 12,500 stitches plus the leg... 72x12x7ish, call it 6000 minimum. So each sock each sock! is at least 18,500 stitches. I'll be knitting 'desperation' into them before the end. But he likes the fit, he really does. He says his gran used to gift them handknits, including socks, when he was little. He remembers 'crunchy, hard' socks (what did she knit them from? entire sheep?), whereas these are soft and warm and fit perfectly. Perhaps there's more love in there than I thought.

When I'm not knitting or working, I'm trying to strike a fine balance in the garden between untidy (for wildlife) and tidier (for the garden design, which demands clean lines). We've got two tiny patches of lawn, one of which is shaded for much of the day, so remained reasonably green during the drought last summer (watering is not allowed). The other is in full sun, all day. By September dandelions were the only green things in it. So I devised a cunning plan: I would allow the grass to grow longer on this side, plant wildflower plugs, and turn it into a tiny haymeadow. Ha. It started raining in October, and only recently stopped. The tiny meadow cut for (an armful) of hay in September was a tiny sea, a torrent of green in November. It looked dreadful. The grass had to be cut, but it was far past the stage where our little push-mower (that's actually our mower model. Astonishing) could tackle it. Desperate times demand desperate measures: I resorted to my garden 'scissors'. It's taken me two days, but that (12m^2) lawn has been, er, cut down to size. Now I have access to the rotting railway sleepers that edge a raised bed (on the right, below), so I can replace them with new equivalents, and re-lay the 'temporary' brick edging where the vegetable patch meets the lawn. 'Things put off don't happen', as my mother used to say. How right she was :-(

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Out with the old

But not yet in with the new, although I'm knitting as fast as I can. I'd been putting off knitting socks for A: his feet, although not immense, are much bigger than mine and I was intimidated by the thought of all those stitches. Also a bit worried that the reality (his first pair of hand-knit socks) wouldn't live up to expectations, his or mine. He's got arches so high I'm surprised he doesn't have vertigo (he has orthotics to correct some of the problems they cause). After Mim's explanation of toe-up gussets I'd begun to think I knew how to handle this, which is just as well. Late last week, as I was gleefully contemplating choosing between my Blue Heron Beaded Rayon and Piece of Beauty sock yarn, he came home from work, took his shoes off, and stood in front of the fire. "Please," he said sadly, "may I have a pair of hand-knit socks?" And wiggled his big toe through a hole in the (boughten) pair he was wearing. So. Here we are, then. 72st on the needles (it would be more, but the instep's on a 2.5mm needle), heading for c.8" where I'll start an extra-big gusset. Turn the heel at 10.5" and head on up the leg. I'd really like to finish them for Christmas, so I'm knitting when I get in from the gym, before I start work (2 rows while collapsed on couch). I'm knitting after a hurried lunch (4 rows). I'll be knitting before Pilates this evening, and any other time/place I can until I finish them.

The yarn is Cherry Tree Hill 'Blueberry Hill', straight from the stash. It feels good, lovely and springy. Much livelier than the Lorna's Laces which, incidentally, bled pink rather badly when I washed them. I think the springy-ness has something to do with the amount of twist in the yarn; I plan to investigate this when I've time. I must think more about spinning -- I've signed up for a 1-day course with Nancy at Handweaver's Studio in January. I've also assembled a binder of record cards to
keep samples of yarn I've spun as Knitterguy Ted suggested. My very, very first is in there already :-) Now that's amusing. I don't have a complete bookmark file in Firefox, which is what I use for Blogger, so I googled 'knitterguy' to find Ted's URL. And found this. Which is, of course, completely true. Just look at his spinning, and his lacework.

Joanne, I don't know of any crack houses in this neighbourhood... but here's the church :-)

The view from our upstairs back window (we only have two windows on the back/north wall of the house. Remind me to tell you about that some time). First, the blurry thing at bottom right is a cut-crystal octagon that in summer sends rainbow sparks dancing along the white walls of the hall and stairs. There's also one of the last roses, a climbing Iceberg. A martyr to blackspot, but very reliable :-)

On the left, beyond the hedges, the brick building with the red roof was once something to do with the school caretaker; the cream (painted brick) building with the ugly, fake slate roof was the school, which was declared 'unviable' and closed in (I think) the 1980s. The buildings then became a sort of mini-industrial estate which was sold to a developer when the owner retired. Now the buildings are being re-shaped into houses, and another 6 or more large houses have been built in the yard to the rear.

Britain is a small island inhabited by a lot of people, all of whom want to live in their own house (I am intrigued by this, and the possible reasons for it.) Development is restricted by laws protecting scenic or historic landscapes, historic townscapes, and other binding classifications of land. Land adjacent to a village may not be built on unless Planning Permission is granted, and often it's not. Especially as those who've already got their houses usually campaign to prevent further development 'damaging' 'their' landscape. That means there's a housing shortage here, which in turn means houses are seriously expensive. People born and raised in villages like this and working in local industry often can't afford houses in their villages. Of course smaller, cheaper houses could be built, but developers have to be forced to do this as the profits are (of course) smaller. We incomers just add to the problem: demand drives the prices higher and, with two incomes or a London salary, we can afford them where the locals can't. Yes, I feel guilty. But at least I not only didn't campaign against this development, I actively argued against the campaigners on the grounds that there are some low-cost homes included. And it's grossly unfair that those who already have their homes should work so hard to deny homes to others.

In the distance, the village church. The stone pillar near the street is the village war memorial. France seems very, very far away. The walls of the chancel (the bit of the church closest to us, with the window) date from the 12th C and most of the rest is 13-14th C. Not unusual in Britain :-) It's largely built of roughly-coursed flint held together with lime mortar. The tower houses a ring of 6 bells, which are rather fine; although the local ringers aren't, um, brilliant, we do regularly have the pleasure of hearing the bells rung really well by groups from elsewhere. You may be able to see some black plywood figures standing in front of the Chancel; I couldn't work out what these were until the other night, when I realised their shadows (an angel, and others less identifiable) are projected onto the Chancel by a floodlight. I wish the Church wasn't lit like that: I'd rather see the stars.

Sorry, Debby, no pink or cats yet, but I've got to get back to the maps. I've done 75 as first drafts and more have just arrived!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Life, eh?

I could post the 40-odd maps and two information panels I've drafted in the last week or so, but I really don't want to look at them now, given that I've got 40-odd maps left to do and the drafts will come back for revision. Dwell on the positive, that's what I say. I often fail to do so, but I do try. There are some FOs: D's Pink Socks were finished yesterday evening in a frantic rush while watching Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares. I don't mind his language - it seems an integral part of his character. Besides which, if I were dealing with some of the situations he encounters, I daresay I'd be swearing too. Better that than solving the problem forever with a very sharp knife...
These are *incredibly* pink. Lorna's Laces in Bittersweet, straightforward garter rib, toe-up with heelflap (thanks again, Miriam). I made a stupid mistake at the top of the heelflap, picking up too many stitches from the gusset, but I fudged a solution that seems to be invisible. Actually I made several stupid mistakes, but that's the only one I didn't rip back and repair. I don't mind fixing lace, but undoing and remaking the wrapped stitches on the short rows seems unduly masochistic. As I was taking that photo I decided to undo the cast-off and try again to do the Zimmerman sewn one. If I can get that right, I should have all the knowledge to make perfect socks -- and send a better-looking pair to D in Canada. Then it's simply a matter of using the knowledge correctly, which is not simple at all. What else? Sourdough bread...
And I've got cooked squash to make the Sephardic Pumpkin/Squash bread from Glezer's book (strangely not available on AmazonUK). She's compiled some really interesting recipes (Joanne, do you have this book?). Sadly I lack the energy to make more bread today. Other than flatbread for lunch. Must go and see if that's risen yet.

Anyway, socks for me next. Kirsty's 'Mountain Fruit', which will make my feet look as though I'd filled my shoes with berries. I fancy lace. On second thought maybe not socks. A present for other appendages might be sensible. I wear my t-shirt and shorts to the gym and exercise class in all but the coldest weather. My legs don't mind the temperature (or at least I don't notice them minding), but Raynaud's Disease can affect my fingers quite badly. It's not painful, but it's weird and unpleasant and disconcerting and I'd prefer to avoid the really bad attacks when all my fingers go corpse-white (actually a revolting yellow). I find keeping my entire arm warm, particularly below the elbow, seems to help a bit. So I'm very tempted to knit some seriously cool, er, warm arm/hand warmers. I've got yarn for some. Several, if I'm honest.

And... that's Blue Heron Beaded Rayon in 'Old Gold'. With added Dyson. He's recently decided to 'help' wind skeins into balls. That's my environmentally-sound centre-pull ball winding device, by the way: a slightly-crushed tube from a toilet roll. When ball is wound, finish crushing tube, extract it, use as firelighter. The yarn is for an experiment in entrelac. We don't get out much at any time; even New Year's Eve is usually spent reading in front of the fire until it's time to say 'Happy New Year' to each other and the cats and go to bed. For some reason I can't quite fathom we decided this year to Go Out, to a party held by a restaurant we rather like. Now, I think this may require dressing up a bit. I can do that, provided it's black, but all my handbags (I always think of that as spoken by Lady Bracknell here, fourth quote down) are capacious things for holding yarn and pocketknives and my PDA, a book, hand lotion, a water bottle, spare glasses, a scarf, a notebook, pens, pencils, a handkerchief (I must be middle-aged), and items of shopping smaller than a refrigerator. So I thought I'd knit one, a small elegant one, and learn entrelac at the same time. In my copious spare time...
It's got a bit more blue and green In Real Life. Incidentally, in case you're wondering, I know where everything is on the bed desk visible behind Dyson. I can find anything. It might take a couple of hours minutes, but I can find it.

Anyone out there own a lot of books? Those who do might be interested in LibraryThing. A friend was unimpressed by the notion of an online catalogue until I pointed out that the site can add your books automatically, simply by looking up the ISBNs. All by itself. Just upload a file of ISBNs (I do 75-100 at a time, that being one shelf-full of paperback fiction) and leave it chuntering away. It'll tell you if it was unable to find a record. (You can even import lists of your purchases directly from Amazon.) Your library can be public or private, you can enter discussions about books (as if I had time), you can get recommendations and dis-recommendations, and it compiles 'fun statistics'. For example, I have eight books that are each shared with only one other user. I'm working hard to raise my 'median/mean book obscurity', which measures how few books I share with other people's libraries. When I first encountered LT I first thought of it as evidence to prove to our insurers that our library existed, should we be so unfortunate as to lose it (doesn't bear thinking of!). But the best thing of all is that the next time I spot what looks like a new book by an author I like, I can check online to see if I've already got it. I'm not as pathetic as it might seem -- we've got over 2000 books, most of which are a long-standing (and sitting, and lying, and stacked two deep) collection of SF, and publishers have a nasty habit of re-releasing volumes in new covers, sometimes with new titles or in collections with new titles.

Thinking of books, which I do (truthfully) even more often than I think of yarn, what do you read? Fiction, non-fiction? And why do you read it? I've been mulling over comments made by Sir John Mortimer on R4 last week. He was interviewed regarding a piece in one of the papers, in which he'd said his worst nightmare would be to be trapped in the company of people discussing hobbits (or words to that effect). He reads only 'literature', i.e. books that illuminate the 'human condition'
(whatever that means. Chekhov and Shakespeare were mentioned), and sees no reason for adults to read books about hobbits or goblins or, you know, fantasy. Adventures. Fun with fairies. I understand his view, although I've always thought it arrogant to blithely write off so many books as worthless. After all, SF is an opportunity for authors to explore what happens to the human condition when individual humans (or humanity as a whole) meets unusual challenges. Neil Gaiman's 'American Gods' comes to mind (time to re-read it), as do most of the works of C J Cherryh, who investigates many aspects of being 'other' where the other may be isolated by race, nature, intelligence or culture. I've not learned anything new that I regard as useful from Shakespeare, Chekhov, or a host of other 'classic' authors. That's not to say I didn't enjoy reading the books... most of the books... although I'd gladly substitute blank paper and permanently-sharp pencils for the complete works of Shakespeare on my desert island. I watch the news. I've had an interesting life. I know, fairly well, what humanity is capable of on this planet. And, frankly, I want to escape from it, which is SF's unique gift: the best SF takes me somewhere else, to worlds where humanity and those it meets may be burdened with a lesser weight of history, or bring with them the wisdom to remember it.

Having suggested Joanne post more pictures (I wanna see a crack house, I wanna see a crack house!), I'd better do the same. This is the view from the window next to me, taken about 2 minutes ago:

We're on the edge of the village and you're looking south, towards high(er) ground. We're at c. 35m above sea level, and a chalk escarpment that you can't really see in the distance (about 2 miles away) rises to about 100m. Much of the large green field is a Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM), because there's a Roman villa under it; the blobs in the distance are barns and scrubby trees growing on spoil heaps from a 19th C excavation. Photos of that field during WWII show mature elms (lost in the 1970s to Elm Disease) and a tidy array of USAF nissan huts (there was a fighter airfield in the next parish). Now it's grazed by sheep. You may just be able to discern the trees planted along the boundaries by the current owners; village gossip suspects that as soon as the trees screen the field from the village, the field will be filled with houses. I don't like the thought, but the history is, in essence, a record of change. I look at the field and remember that sooner or later nothing will be as I remember it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

How fast can this WWW go, anyway?

As it were. Just a quick post to mention two projects? events? Things... that will deliberately or inadvertently measure aspects of internet communication via blogs and the people who read them. Put the pedal to the metal, people (a phrase current in my youth).

First, a plea from a chap who's trying to get hard numbers to describe the propagation of 'stuff' across blogs for an MLA panel (I didn't know what that was either. I found this, which might tell me everything I could ever want to know, but I haven't time to read it. I hate it when that happens.) Anyway, he's asking bloggers who hear about his Cunning Plan (as you've just done if you've read this far) to post a link to his blog, beg any blogging reader who might pass this way (that's you again) to do the same, and then visit his blog page (same link again) to ping Technorati via the link on his blog to record another dot on the map. So I've done that. Ouch! Some rust just fell off my halo.

Second. For UK readers only, probably. The company of which Threshers is a part is running a promotion: 40% off the cost of your purchase of wine or champagne, total value less than £500 and it's got to be stock in store (no ordering in, and if the shelves are bare when you arrive you're out of luck). The trick? It runs for a limited time (30 Nov to 10 Dec), and is unadvertised, information spread only via blogs and (in my case) email. I came across the story and necessary voucher here, and verified it by ringing a Threshers near us to see if they knew about the offer. The store manager did know and said he'd certainly honour the voucher if my purchase fulfilled the conditions, so I think it's not a hoax. The chap who mentioned it suggests the company may not have intended that the entire world take advantage of the offer, so this is another chance to see how efficiently bloggers can spread the word. My halo is now shining so brightly I can't read the screen.

Knitting news soon. As soon as I finish something worth mentioning!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

"Red Socks at night,

Knitter's delight.
Red socks in the morning,
Warm feet all day."

And you can warm your hands at them, too. I think it works. Thank you, Miriam, for clarifying the toe-up heelflap sock. These socks fit. They fit like hand-knit socks. I have to tug at them a bit to get my heel past the ankle, but as my foot slides home the ankle slips into place and it's just... (almost) perfect. The foot is fractionally too big (I should have started the gusset about 2 rows/5mm earlier), but I'm not worried about it as the fit will change once they're washed. The fit across my instep seems to be perfection. No sense of constriction at all. If you ever have been unsatisfied with the fit of a sock, this is the way to go, it really is. I'm a convert. I loved the look of the Porsche short-row heel with its clean, elegant sophisticated line. By comparison heelflaps look clunky, old-fashioned... a bit like the umpteenth-hand VW Variant estate that was our first car in the UK. We handpainted ours fire-engine red. But (how far can I take the analogy?) like the Variant, the heelflap meets all my? our? needs. Reliable, hard-wearing, easily repaired, you can sleep in it when the tent blows out in a Welsh hurricane. Too far. Just try the heelflap, people.
The heelflap is a slip-stitch rib. And see all the cables? I love cables. That is one very happy foot. There's another one just out of view. Now I've got three pairs of socks for me and I still wear them reluctantly for fear I'll wear them out. Yes, the back of my closet is full of clothes I bought because I loved them and never wear because if I wear them I won't have them to love anymore. I must grow out of that attitude, as I've grown out of (ha) so many of the clothes...

Next on the sockneedles: socktoken socks for one of my sister's friends. Time to share the pleasure by knitting for someone else. I have the yarn already. I have lots of sockyarn. I shudder to think how much I've acquired, and how quickly. About 6 months-worth if I knit nothing but socks. And yet every time I read a knitblogger's description of some other sockyarn I want some of that, too. There I am, clicking for larger images, exclaiming over the colours, wondering what it feels like. Looking to see if they ship to the UK (other than Piece of Beauty, which is in the UK. Hurrah!). I didn't think I had an addictive personality, but perhaps it's just very, very particular. At least sock yarn isn't fattening. Gah. I could be imagining what it would taste like, too.

[calendar pages blowing in the winds of time]

Having just finished a really frustrating hour-long conversation about a project (they hire me as a specialist so WHY won't they listen to what I say?) I'm going to blow caution and the rest of the afternoon finishing this entry and whatever else suits me. Baking bread that's already over-risen thanks to that, that... that CLIENT and trying to relax. Holding the phone to my ear for over an hour of increasing tension levels makes the muscles of my left arm lock into knots. Why do I never remember I bought a headset to prevent that?

Anyway, here's part of a socktoken and the start of a socktoken sock in Lorna's Laces Bittersweet. Peculiar yarn, feels like cotton after the Bearfoot and I find it a bit splitty, too. I'm not at all certain I like it, I hope there's not masses of it lurking in the stash.

I did a little maths from my ongoing circular gauge swatch and worked out that a 66st sock would be about right for her foot, allowing for a little stretch. Cast on 18st using
figure-8, blithely started increasing the toe, and realised I had almost no idea of what I was going to do with this sock, how I was going to pattern it. Now, this is a major milestone in my knitting life: never before have I just cast on and started anything without a plan of attack. I must really be comfortable with sockknitting :-) Which leaves me thinking about a simple rib, something with some 'give' to allow for variation in foot/ankle size, perhaps with a couple of details for pretty. Cables? An inset simple lace pattern? I need to chart some thoughts, which means I need some knitters' graph paper, which means a visit here, where someone has kindly written a program to produce exactly what I (or anyone else) needs.

Now I'm off to light the fire, put the bread in the oven, and knit until I've relaxed a bit. Question is, do I leave the next draft of that project until I'm less annoyed, or shall I get the annoyance over with tomorrow? Another conversation like that and I won't have to think about it: I'll bail.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

I like it

Taken by roomlight on the kitchen table so the colours aren't quite right, that's almost all of my spinning to date. The white is my very first yarn (undyed blueface leicester), the rest is the merino and silk I posted about on the weekend. These have been treated according to the method in Priscilla Gibson-Roberts Spinning in the Old Way: the skeins were heated in water with a little woolwash slowly to simmering point, then allowed to cool naturally before rinsing carefully. I put a little vinegar in the last rinsewater, as I've read that wool and silk prefer to be slightly acidic. I allowed them to drip-dry a bit, then 'set' the twist by putting my hands into the skein and pulling them apart, smartly, several times. After washing, the wool and silk plies had become a bit limp, separated in places, and the end result looked a bit sad. I was astonished by the effect of 'setting' the twist: everything just snapped into place insofar as my spinning allowed it to do so. Joanne has very kindly and patiently been answering my plaintive queries about spinning (that's the third time I've had to go back and insert the 'p' in 'spin'. Are my fingers trying to tell me something?) via email; she commented that merino is more difficult to spin (I thought it was my incompetence), and that it tends to bulk up a lot after washing. Which it did -- it became incredibly puffy. And this is what it looks like knitted Not so bad. In fact I like it a lot. I'd like it better with less lime, but still... the colours are true in that picture, but a bit washed out by bright sunlight. In my hands it reminds me of the northern lights, sheets of colour sliding across the night sky. I like it enough that I'm not going to knit that sample anymore, I'm going to frog and wind it back into a tidy ball to wait until I've got enough to knit a hat. Which means I get to play with the colours more. Making one length of randomly-selected wool and silk, then plying it back on itself made my inconsistent yarn even more inconsistent, as two thick or two thin bits together rather emphasise their presence. Plying a length of wool (of more carefully selected colours) with a length of silk (similarly selected) will result in something a little more even, and every bit of it will have silk shimmering in the light. While knitting this I realised it is possible to paint with hand-spun yarn: a consistent spinner/knitter could actually do the math to work out precisely where to change colours to make a garment coloured precisely as s/he wished. The rest of us can settle for planned colour combinations and hope for serendipitous intersections.

And this is what's been eating my knitting time recently. I just can't leave them alone!These are socks, started as Widdershins to learn toe-up with heel flap, but rapidly metamorphosed into something different. Still toe-up, but I had to re-write the cables to accommodate more stitches due to my liking for smaller needles and finer yarn. (Mountain Colors Bearfoot wool/mohair from Caryll in Ruby River. This was one of the yarns waiting for me in Canada, but she does ship to the UK.) The two outermost cables are from Widdershins, the rest are mine. And I utterly adore the result. I think the cable combination works well (I'm so proud) and the colour... it's scarlet and burgundy and crimson and carmine and vermilion and murrey and minium, with dashes of copper. It's the very essence of red, and the colour and cables combined make me think of 'opulent' and 'baroque' every time I see them. After making my 'class sock' and reading Mim's detailed instructions, I am looking forward to the challenge of the
toe-up heelflap as I work doggedly up the slope of the gusset.

And what might be a useful link if you're looking for cards, or a Christmas gift for the person who has everything: get them some special paper on which to write thank-you letters. I bought some; sadly it's too thick to feed through a laser printer, but it has a lovely texture, takes ink well, and doesn't smell at all.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Spinning in colour...

Or What I Learned Today. So Far.
I honestly think that 'the day I stop learning is the day I die' is one of several good rules to live by. Playing with fibre makes that an easy rule to follow. This is me yesterday, courtesy of A, who was vastly amused by the way I'd spread fibre all over my 'real' work-in-progress.
May I just assure you that what you see is not a hideous mess? I know where everything is. We, that is I, need a house with just one more room. He was so inspired by the colours that, despite *hating* my digital camera, he
tried to capture the opulence. Doesn't work, does it?

At that point I was spinning silk top for the first time. What looked like long c. 18" strands pulled off the side of the piece of top turned out to be made of shorter strands which did pre-draft, but was incredibly slippery by comparison to the stickiness of the merino roving. Weird. The silk was.. languid, as though it didn't really want to be twisted, but couldn't be bothered to object. Unlike the merino, which seemed to be enjoying itself. Anyway, for lack of a better idea I started by just spinning pre-drafted sections of the roving, randomly choosing another colour as the first finished, and interspersing the odd length of silk. This gave me one longish length of stuff to ply back on itself. Which is what I've just finished doing. I'm fairly sure that I'd have done better to spin the silk as a separate singles; it didn't seem to want the same twist as the wool. Anyway, the singles on the spindle looked like this. I thought the lime accent looked promising,
but the end result was not good.

I don't like the candy-cane effect at all, not when it's so BRIGHT. No, 'bright' is too mild. GARISH is more accurate, especially when contrasted with the smoky purples and greens. I see now how 'ordinary' spinning melds and blends colours in the roving as fibres of different colours are pulled together in the drafting process. I've seen yarns in which one ply is much, much finer than the other; perhaps that would be a way of introducing just a little bit of the lime. Or perhaps a few strands, a smidgen, could be incorporated occasionally into a single of a different colour. How fortunate that the entire cop? thing? of yarn slid off my impromptu nostepinne (a plastic straw) and twisted so badly I felt justified in abandoning the last bit of Lime :-)
I really like the silk, though I knew that already. I love the way it catches the light. And I love the interplay of the subtle colours in everything. I'm going to 'finish' that (tiny) skein properly, then knit it. I've been thinking about the way that knitting affects the colours of a yarn. In a knitted garment each strand of colour is crossed by other strands, breaking that colour into flecks, specks, dots. The end result is, or can be similar to a pointillist painting;* if you can, take a look at some of the sock pictures in the Twisted Sisters workbook. Perhaps that will break up the Lime candy-cane a bit, although I suspect this yarn is too thick.

Sweater News Headline: Self-Discipline May Prove Key To Success!
Sub-head: Calculator and glass of red wine prove essential.
I re-read the textbooks and returned to the mirror armed with a stern sense of purpose as well as a measuring tape. My shoulder-warmer sweater-to-be currently has raglan seams measuring c. 6" in length. Me and my tape measure reckon that I need seams about 9.5" to the underarm (given the wider-than-usual neck). So I have 3.5"-worth of raglan increases with which to attain my desired width of back and front at the underarm, which is 21" or about 95 stitches. The back is currently 74st, so I want about 21 more (call it 20), which is 10 right-side rows or 20 rows all told. I'm getting 7 rows/inch... 3.5" is about 24 rows total, 12 right-side rows, which is 24 stitches added at the seams. So if I continue the raglan increases as I am doing, the back will be 98 stitches (74 existing stitches + 24 stitches) wide. Which is nearly 22", which added to a front of 22" gives me a sweater 44" at the bust instead of my planned 42". I think. If so, that's bad news. I must slow my rate of increase so that I have, lessee, 20 increases instead of 24.
If I increase on every 3rd row from this point, with 24 rows that gives me 8 increase rows which is 16 stitches. Too few... but the books say it's permissible to make up a small shortfall by casting a few stitches at the armpit. I think the example was 6, which is more than 4. I might not want the extra stitches at all; 42" is ample ease (I measured an existing sweater to get that crucial measurement), plus I'm planning short-row shaping at the bust. And I gather blocking works wonders...

* And someone's put up a page where you can play with the technique! Isn't the internet wonderful?

Friday, November 03, 2006

What does this tell me?

1. They were right. For about a year Stuart (who cuts my hair) and my husband have told me I look better with slightly longer hair, so I tried it. Since May I've had hair long enough to touch the tops of my ears, long enough at the back to be inside my high-neck sweaters, long enough on top that it felt hot under there. It looked good, I have to admit it. People actually paid me compliments. Yesterday I demanded that Stuart (poor chap) cut it the way I like it. Really short, shorter than my husband's, clippered up the back, so short on the sides that my ears stick out. It feels wonderful and it looks... well, now I know what I could look like. I cropped my head from the picture to spare myself the embarrassment. Last time I felt this way about a haircut I wore a scarf or two wrapped around my head for about a fortnight. Poor Stuart. He didn't want to do it.

2. About the sweater shaping? I've nothing to compare it to, so I don't know; this is the first time I've done any of the following: top-down, one piece on circulars, raglan sleeves, v-neck :-)
You can't really see from here, but the raglan seams are indeed running in the general direction of my armpits; the angle of approach changes as I change the drape of the thing. I have a feeling that the 'real' angle is a bit shallow, so the sweater might be wider than I'd intended by the time I hit the underarms. It might not hurt to change the rate of increase from 1 in 2 (every right-side row) to 1 in 3; Zimmerman comments that it may be appropriate to do this once the sleeves reach the point of the shoulder. The actual size of the neck opening is hard to decide, there's a long way to go? knit? before the v closes. And the ribbing will change that anyway.

3. That I will wish I had more yarn. This is 2/3 of the first skein -- I've got 4 more, a total of 1000yds. I'm hoping for bracelet-length sleeves, but may not make it.

I didn't need the mirror to tell me I love the feel of the yarn (Sundara's Aran Silky Merino). It's as soft as warm butter and will feel lovely next to the skin. Warm, too. Which would be nice: November has decided to play the game, and I'm being stalked by a cold.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Canada wasn't a holiday, and it was clear that from November there'd be no time to be away until late next spring so we had to act quickly: train to Edinburgh (seemed as good a place as any) for a long weekend. I like travelling by train. I enjoy the forced relaxation: once you've boarded, all other major decisions are out of your hands. I treasure the hours during which I have only to choose when to eat lunch, whether to knit or to read, which item of knitting deserves attention. And all the while the world is rolling past my window, a new vista every few minutes. Or at least that's how it's supposed to work. We had an unexpected adventure forced upon us, when some poor person, a 'fatality at Huntingdon' stopped the East Coast Mainline service in its, er, tracks.
While the train company frantically searched for buses to transfer passengers at stations to Peterborough (which is where southbound trains were halted), we did something I've only read of in books: with ringing voice I asked if anyone cared to share a taxi north to Peterborough Station. It worked! Forty minutes later the taxi disgorged us and we bagged even better seats on a train to Edinburgh. Above is the view just south of Berwick-on-Tweed, the North Sea eating away the coast. While I took this photo the young lad next to me was trying his hand at my knitting, much to the amusement of his GF. I will remember him when I wear that shawl.

Edinburgh proved frustrating: I don't know what I expected, but what we found wasn't it. Having read my Dunnett I may have been looking for medieval, but it's just not there. Edinburgh's 18th C 'New Town', an elegant pattern of streets, crescents and parks laid out north of the Castle and associated 'Old Town' proved so attractive that over the next century or so the Old Town was abandoned to become an unsavoury slum. In the late 19th C the Victorians (as was their wont) decided to remake it as the medieval town of their imagination. Some old buildings have survived, but most of the Old Town is now much younger than the New Town.
(Above the back of the new 'Old Town' lining the Royal Mile as seen from Princes Street.)
Shopping? The main streets are lined by the same shops you'd find in any other large British city. Just colour the tourist tat tartan and scent it with whisky. By sheer coincidence (honest) Drummond Wools was virtually just across the street from our guesthouse. I think the vast array of computerised sewing machines may have replaced most of the coned yarn, and their knitting yarn selection was, well, painful. It felt 20 years behind the times. This is what I was directed to when I asked for 'wool'.

But Man Does Not Live By Wool Alone... Valvona & Crolla is famous for food! Behind the refrigerated displays the shelves of liqueurs stretch from floor to ceiling. Ask for a bottle high on the shelf and the chap reaches for a telescopic pole with a rubber-coated clamp at the top. Tension mounts as he maneuvers the clamp around the bottleneck, pulls it tight, then manages somehow to bring the pole down while holding the clamp shut. *Huge* sigh of relief. I asked if they broke many bottles and he said 'Yes, but the noses hurt more.' I hadn't considered that a bottle slipping from the clamp would plummet straight down into the face of the person holding the pole. The shop continues back, past the chocolate, the olive oils, vinegars, fresh-baked breads, wine (oh, the wine!) and then: a restaurant. Their delicious pizza fueled further explorations. We do almost all of this on foot, you know: a bit of string on the map suggests we averaged 5-8 miles/full day, which justifies quite a lot of eating. Just as well, really. We walked to dinner but took a taxi home from Daniel's in Leith -- that's the first time either of us has ever hailed a cab. The second was the next night, when we didn't want to walk the mile 'home' when the Ghosthunter Trail finished at Canongate Churchyard in the rain. The 'Trail' wasn't quite what I'd expected either: the guide was good, but spent a little too long telling us how much better the other tours were. And the frequent references to Most Haunted (what is that, anyway... ah. I see) were completely lost on us.

We 'did' the Castle and the Honours of Scotland aka the regalia. Reading the history of the regalia I found it really difficult to believe they misplaced the latter for over a century, just put them in a chest after the Act of Union 1707, locked the chest and the room it was in, then forgot about them. Later a stray thought pointed out that this was how many of us, well, at least in my family, deal with painful things: lock it away in the back of our minds. The pain goes away if you don't dwell on it.

The Castle is essential. I suppose everyone wants something different from it; the Merlin-equivalent clad in purple and silver cloak and fake hair capering about in the central courtyard did nothing for me. I liked the way the stone walls seem to grow out of the native rock of the volcanic plug on which the castle stands. I liked the pattern of the granite setts in the roads that flowed downhill. I was stunned by the beauty of the embroidered altar cloth in St Margaret's Chapel at the top of the Castle. Alas, the flash washed out the colours, and my hand-held photo is terribly fuzzy. Go and see it yourself if you can: it's utterly fabulous. More wonderful embroidery hangs on the walls of the rooms housing the Honours, but visitors were just walking past these works of art as though they didn't exist, these hours of patience and skill made corporeal in silk. Why were there no postcards of these things?

We saw the new Scottish Parliament (here's the official site and here's a more general view with links to some of the controversies). Taken as a whole, this is the Ugliest Building I Have Ever Seen. 'Too many cooks [in this case, ideas] spoil the broth' made flesh. The materials of which it is made (stone cladding, sheet metal) strive to pull the disparate bits/styles together and fail miserably. It's HORRIBLE. The 'undercroft' entrance hall is a good example of a good idea that should never have been built: it might have worked in Spain or southern France, somewhere with enough sunlight to light the space under the concrete through all the year. Even with all the lights on, in autumnal Edinburgh it was almost too dark to read the information displays even in mid-afternoon. We shouldn't have bothered: they were some of the most poorly designed displays we've ever had the misfortune to struggle through. So don't bother: go around the corner and spend
an interesting and informative hour or two in Our Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh's Millennium Project. We both enjoyed it tremendously, and I've got lots of photos to inspire me.

What else was really good? Arthur's Seat,* of course. I did some token knitting as we and about 50-75 other people enjoyed the grand vistas across Edinburgh (if I'd thought harder, I'd have positioned the needle to point AT the castle, instead of running just below it. Sorry about that). Notice the gleaming rocks polished by the passage of thousands of feet.

Anyway. It was a good long weekend, just the right length. It's good to be home, too: there's no place like the right bed, with all the right hollows in all the right places. It's a shame about the 1500 email messages, of which about 20 were urgent/work, though. Enough procrastination, I will Deal With Them immediately!

Granite setts flow downhill.

* We did it from the west, fools that we are. Straight up the hillside, feeling sorry for and grateful to the volunteers who spend their time building the stairs up and down which we tourists toil. Even sorrier for the lad 8? 10? whose father was verbally driving him up the hillside as we came down; with eyes fixed and unseeing the child was keening, a continuous faint, high, terrified wail of fear though surrounded by parents, siblings and grandparents. Even as I tried to work out what was wrong, what to do, how to say something, it was too late, the queue of which they were part was well above us and there was neither space nor strength in my legs to catch up. I think the less of me for that.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

European knit it is dense thing

One good about having relatives spread across a wide area is that gifts intended for specific dates often arrive at times that spread to form a skewed distribution in the vicinity of the date. I'm not certain if my birthday presents skew right or left (I think it depends on whether one's looking forward or back through time), but at any rate they're still arriving. My sister usually asks what I'd like, so I try to have a list of stuff available from Amazon for her to choose from (I toy with the idea of demanding yarn from obscure online retailers shipping only to North America, but that seems... unreasonable). Anyway, while procrastinating madly, er, compiling the list one day I discovered the Crossed in Translation KAL for Am Kamin in 'New Style of Heirloom Knitting'. I'm trying to cut down on cables, so was pleased to find Crafting Japanese which strangely enough features links to a variety of crafts in Japan and has a list of books, each with a lovely little thumbnail of the cover, which is where another book by Toshiyuki Shimada caught my eye. The review at Purlwise had only to mention that Google translates the title as something like 'European knit it is dense thing' for me to put it at the top of the list. I'm still considering the meaning of that stunningly profound statement as I admire the contents of the book. It's fabulous, a little paperback full of attractive and beautifully presented puzzles.
The items (gloves, mittens, scarves and hats) seem so... elegant. Tiny, intricate interpretations of Northern European techniques incorporating colour combinations so tasteful they leave me painfully aware that I'm a hulking great Caucasian barbarian. There are little sequences of photographs showing how to cast on for fair-isle or twined knitting (at least I think that's what they show), and the charted instructions are straight out of a perfectly-drawn manga. And all with such decorative text! Not a word of English anywhere. Best of all was the note from K telling me that if there's anything I can't understand she'll forward an image of the problem to several Japanese ladies who knit.

I am, however, not without my talents :-) I need an illustration to explain the importance of what are known as 'veteran trees', trees at least several hundred years old (I know of one that's at least 700 years old), home to an astonishing range of wildlife that relies on the holes, hollows, crevices and dead wood characteristic of ancient trees. I have photos of veteran trees in this particular park, but no photo shows all the important features: that's what illustrators are for. Being a bit pressed for time I threw my photo into Illustrator and began tracing/drawing, using colours that stood out against the overall greenness. The final version appears in shades of brown and green without the photo behind it, but I think this WIP looks amazing. I lay odds visitors would pay much more attention to the veteran trees if they were highlighted in neon lights.

p.s. That's him sitting on the bench, watching the cricket. The tree is a sweet chestnut growing in one of several clumps that were probably planted in the 1770s as part of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown's design for what was then a private landscape.

Monday, October 23, 2006


On the spindle is the singles I spun yesterday afternoon; on the needle the fabric knitted with yarn straight off the spindle, before the twist has had a chance to set. This is something I've wanted to do since I first saw pictures of 'energised singles' ('energized' in the US) in the Twisted Sisters Sock Workbook.

I loved the look of the stockinette, the pattern of parallel ridges pulled high and twisted sideways by the torque in the yarn. Having made some, I am absolutely hooked, because the fabric is amazing. It's alive. It's elastic in a way that ordinary knitting is not, it twists and moves in your fingers. It feels heavy, slightly resistant, bouncy, almost greasy, I think because there's so much twist in the yarn that the knitted fabric is slippery. I may have over-twisted it (see the yarn spiralling back on itself between the needles and the spindle), I clearly need more practice. Because the book is right -- this will make fabulous socks.

Note that I dislike the colours intensely. More precisely I det
est the melon orange-pink, and I dislike the overall pastel-ness. But isn't that the point of hand-spinning? I should be able to play with the roving to change the way those colours work. I've already discovered that running a strip of one colour with another creates a spiral that makes mottling (as opposed to heathering, which I suspect comes from preparing the roving). With a bit of luck, thought and practice I might be able to turn those pastel stripes into something more reminiscent of an opal's fire. But with less melon. Local birds will have melon-coloured nests next year.

Ah, yes. The Sweater that fits. I started this on Saturday in a fit of enthusiasm, measuring the back of my neck and following the basic instructions for a v-neck raglan in Barbara Walker's Knitting from the Top. I almost immediately realised this was not the sweater I was looking for: the neck was going to be far snugger than I had envisaged. So I took it off the needles and left it to him to rip and roll (he's good that way) while I went to sulk in a hot shower. Fortunately I had the forethought to take a tape measure, paper and pencil, so was able to spend 10 minutes in front of the mirror pretending the front of my neck was the back of my neck, working out where I wanted the V to end (remembering there'll be ribbing) and so forth. Then I measured the body of one sweater I actually like. The result was this (I've redrawn it for you but tried to keep the, er, spirit of my pencil scribbles. Eunny I am not).

The swatch I like is 19st/4", 7 rows/1". At a guesstimate I want a neck opening 8" wide at the back and a correspondingly wide v-neck going down c. 6" (ribbing will preserve my modesty if necessary). The back should be 21" wide (I measured an existing sweater); the front could be less, but will need short-row shaping for the bust. The bottom edge of my belt is c. 11" down from the armpit of the sweater, and I think I want about 3" ribbing... but that's the least of my worries. From an existing sweater and some fudging I think the raglan seam will be c. 9.5" long; I've tried to calculate the number of rows needed for that because I need to know the rate of increase along the seam (I spent most of 2 hours' walk on Sunday thinking about this sweater). At this point I became confused (see the scribbled note in the middle of the sweater) because I forgot that the back is fed by two raglan seams. Brain the size of a pea...* OK, I can use the same rate of increase as Walker, which is 2 stitches (one for the sleeve, one for the body) on each seam on every right-side row. 65-ish rows give 32-ish stitches/seam. 32+32+38 (the neck I started with) give me counts on fingers 102 stitches across the back at the armpit-equivalent. More than I want. I'll have to slow the rate of increase, ideally somewhere the slope can flatten appropriately... near the underarm, perhaps. I'm a bit worried because Walker uses the 2-stitch rate of increase for a sweater with a 5" neck-back when I'm starting with 8"; I wondered whether I would need a steeper angle (ie to add fewer stitches to the back) because I've got more to start with, but the maths seem to suggest not. I would really welcome comments when my brain stops hurting.
Never mind, I can spin. It's addictive. Joanne, you KNEW this, didn't you?

* Some years ago I read something, somewhere that claimed that the tail of some dinosaur-or-other was guided by a 'brain' (read ganglion or cluster of nerves) the size of a pea. I remind myself of this when my much-vaunted human brain fails to notice the painfully obvious and I doubt my ability even to steer a tail.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

He's been poorly

so I've been busy. It's nothing terribly serious but I've been ferrying him hither and thither for three days, which has eaten time I'd normally spend doing other things, including work and blogging. I did get some knitting done, but frogged it after finding a major error. And the Bearfoot socks are back in yarn balls too: I didn't like the fabric I was getting on the 2.25mm bamboo needles. Too relaxed :-) I wanted a denser fabric -- and smaller socks! There are some things I CAN control in this life.

KiriBlue is finished. Another lovely shawl. Despite adding a pattern repeat it's smaller than I'd like but, as it's for someone else who may not want miles of loose fabric draped around her torso, it might be perfect. I've written '15 repeats' on the pattern for future reference. Note that it's blocking on my side of the bed, and that I resorted to using a hair dryer across it to be certain I could get to bed that night; it's unseasonably warm here and quite humid. The blocking wires are very useful although thicker than I'd expected: on the top, where I've fed them through stitches quite close together, the shawl dries with a sort of lacy effect due solely to the wires. It occurs to me that I'm going to have to include full care instructions with these gifts. 'Handwash in cool water with care' isn't enough. A paragraph explaining blocking will be essential and I suppose an offer to re-block in future would be kind. How do other people cope with this? Is every gifted shawl accompanied by a lifetime maintenance contract?
Here's a shot similar to that of the Sea Silk version. Note the difference! The alpaca fuzz, er, halo obscures the stitch pattern, but promises warmth. It's a friendly-looking thing, really. Denim-blue and cuddly.

Pattern: Kiri, a free download from All Tangled Up.
Yarn: Lisa Souza Baby Alpaca Silk in Blue Sky, knitted on a 3.75mmm circular.
Modifications: 13 main pattern repeats instead of 12 resulted in a shawl 130cm wide (from fingertip to fingertip on me) by 103cm deep to the point of the triangle. If/when I do this again, I'll try 15 pattern repeats. I repeated the change I made to the first one:
If you follow the pattern as written, the two sides of the shawl (either side of the centre line) are identical. I decided to make them symmetrical, so on one side all the 'slip 1, knit 2, psso' became 'knit 2 (which I decided to do through the back loop for some reason I don't understand), return to left needle, pass next stitch over the one just made, slide result to right needle'.

For the record, here are all the results of my spinning to date. Far left, the first yarn I ever made, allowed to twist back on itself. Middle, the second, left as a single. Is that the correct terminology or should it be 'as singles'? Left is the third, which I deliberately tried to make thinner and more even, and twisted more as a single because that's what the books say to do when it's to be plied. I then plied it back on itself (last entry's photo). I haven't washed it or anything, so I guess technically it's not finished, but I've been analysing it as best I can. My goal is to make sock yarn which I think means fingering-ish weight and reasonably tightly spun so it's hard-wearing. This stuff is the right thickness in places and I suspect might knit up to make suitable sock fabric (yeah, right. I'll judge this based on my vast experience, ie three pairs of socks?) but handling it suggests I've achieved the thickness by twisting the singles too tightly.
The thinnest bits are quite hard -- there's still some give, but I think they'd leave little purl ridges imprinted in the wearer's soles. I wonder if there's a market for socks that act as pumice stones, abrading the wearer's feet? It's not a bug, it's a feature... Anyway, my theory is that I need to use a little less wool in each single and not twist it quite so hard. To me that seems likely to result in a slightly softer yarn of the same diameter. Comments? Joanne?

I carried that tiny skein around with me for about a half-hour last night with frequent stops to admire it, just like a dog with a really good stick. When I showed it to A he did look slightly impressed (and he hasn't even seen me spin yet). I pointed out its faults as a sock yarn and he said "It doesn't look that bad to me. I'd wear socks made of that, spun by your own fair hand. Better, I'll get some straw and we can retire."

Monday, October 16, 2006

Gloat, gloat

Sorry. Well, I am. It's rude to gloat. Colour me chastened as I remind myself that there are undoubtedly many other people who would desperately like this yarn, just as my father reminded me of the starving children in India who (he said) would give almost anything for the brussels sprouts (scroll down to the bit about 'hated vegetable') I flatly refused to eat. I was a precocious brat: I offered to post them to India myself. I'm not going to offer to post this lot to anyone, though. Not unless you're holding my cats hostage.

You know what skeins of sock yarn look like, so here's the detail. One skein Cherry Tree Hill in a true, deep, bright turquoise and a second in a colourway that includes that shade, for two pairs of simple intarsia socks. Eventually I want to make these. It may take years of practice!

Habu. I could cheerfully have carried off most of that stall for weaving as well as knitting (I'm not that enthralled by the metal blends). Three x 337yds of Kusa x2 for two shawls. One, probably the green but the cream is soooo beautiful will be a Wing o' the Moth for me, I don't know what I'll do with the other, or to whom I will gift the result. Some hand-dyed variegated Kusa because after picking it up I couldn't, just couldn't put it down. I have begun to realise that a really good yarn store is going to be as dangerous as a really good bookstore. Or worse. The cashmere stuck to me too; it was about that point I started dropping stuff and the kind lady in charge gave me a basket. Nefarious plan, that, foiled by the arrival of HPNY Knits. The curicura silk (the golden stuff at bottom left) was purchased on my farewell visit to the stall. That's the natural colour of the silk; the cocoons look as though they've been hammered and shaped from sheet gold, and the yarn seems to be made of miniscule filaments of pure gold that glisten as the light strikes them. Google in English can tell me nothing about what or who that silk comes from, but it's going to make a beautiful little scarf for me, and perhaps another for a gift. It's worth noting that the $ -> £ translation was fair, so this haul was remarkably reasonable in price.

That's the knitting stash fed. What about the weaving stash? We recently refurbished the bathroom/loo (depending on continent): after 10 years, it needed it. The old roman blind, a fetching faded nautical blue stripe, is completely inappropriate in the new sage green and tan environment, and I've been thinking about weaving the fabric for a new one as a minor challenge. The hemp was perfect, or at least so close to perfect I couldn't ignore it. This will be a silver-grey ground with green lines running across it, possibly even vaguely tartan-ish blocks. I have to think about it a bit, because by itself the green in reality is dangerously bright. It looks like sunlight through grass, and I hope I have enough left to make something totally, vividly green for M, who would love this.

Spinning? Do I deserve anything? Is it happening? I bought some fibre because I have no idea when I'll see anything like this again in person, and colours are difficult to choose online. Roving from 21st Century Yarns, feels a bit stiff/felted to my inexperienced touch, but the owner promised it would be spinnable and it did spread out into fibres when I tugged at it a bit. I wonder if that's because it's merino and I've only handled blue-face leicester?
Also some weird hand-painted silk tops from Oliver Twist. In Real Life these look like as though someone has solidified the rainbow of colours on a thin film of gasoline, or the shades of blue on the side of a soap bubble. I don't know how to spin fibre as long as this (the filaments are at least 12" long), but I can research and invent. And I will, because it is happening.

I'll spare you my first-ever singles, but here is my very first 2-ply, from my second-ever singles, photographed within seconds of its manifestation (note the surroundings. I was spinning instead of working. tsk, tsk)I think it's a good sign that the plied yarn hangs nicely in a loop. I know the tangle at the top of the nostepinne-equivalent is a bad sign, but hey, it's a learning experience (the straw is part of the solution) and I'm too thrilled to mind untangling this precious length of yarn. It's my yarn, I made it!

And, if the Fates are kind, tomorrow I block KiriBlue. I have more sympathy for the Fates now. I hope Clotho has a nostepinne.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

If it's Saturday, this must be Alexandra Palace

I hope the pictures and text aren't too badly askew; I'll tweak it a couple of times, but life is really too short. I have started wondering whether Typepad is better at allowing precision alignment at the draft stage.

If you're interested in fibre arts and live anywhere near the UK, you probably know of the
Knitting & Stitching Show. If not, investigate it: you might want to start saving for next year! Judging from the blogs I've read, it's unlike like Rhinebeck, or any of the other North American events with real livestock and raw fleece. The K&SS may be more diverse -- there are exhibitions and booths for people interested in all fibre arts, including embroidery, cross-stitch, knitting, crochet, all manner of braiding, and more besides, but it lacks the tangible, tangy evidence of where those fibres come from. Anyway, last year I wandered rather aimlessly. This year I had a purpose, to meet HPNY Knits. And buy some Habu yarn. Two purposes. And find a good combination of multi-colour and plain sock yarn for some interesting socks. Three, that's three purposes. Then there's
getting a colour card from Jamieson of Shetland, there might be some dyed roving to placate my spindle... too many purposes to count.
So, with an almost empty backpack and spare bags to carry all my purposes, my travelling socks, my spindle, my iPod (sans earphones, dammit) and a banner with a strange device (the poem has been set to music, and was often sung as our family began what we knew would be ill-fated ventures) I set off. Memo to self: go on a weekday next time. The Saturday journey there from here involved a change and a long wait on the platform, both ways.

In the Palm Court was the Knitterati Glitterati (I couldn't possibly, dahling, I've too much to buy) and the knitted Ferrari
which I must confess was somehow less impressive in the flesh, er, yarn. I think the flash and gleam of light reflecting from the polish of the Real Thing must be more important than I'd realised; the matte, textured surface just didn't do it for me. But it's an astonishing piece of work nonetheless.

Onwards, past the ticket-takers who still looked fresh and cheerful (the show'd only been open 30 minutes), then hard left into the West Hall and Habu. I'm to meet HPNY Knits there at 11, but I just wanted... needed to get my hands on some Kusa. Oh, and the cashmere, and the silk, I tell you, the silk. There are items knitted from their kits on the wall and one top is just stunningly beautiful, the patterned knit fabric drapes wonderfully. So many things, so little time. Not to mention funds. Fortunately HPNY arrived before I went completely mad, but she kindly took a photo to preserve my manic grin for posterity:
Gentle reader, I assure you that the width of that smile is not due to the white bag clutched in my left hand, but to my pleasure at meeting HPNY (and jpg artefacts, too. I can't possibly have that many teeth). We enjoyed a cup of tea with Sasha Kagan(!) then put the half-hour before our class with Lucy Neatby to good use, watching new knitters wielding extraordinarily thick needles on astonishingly thick yarn on the Coats stand. I've never been one for thick yarns. I turned around and there behind me was Shilasdair Yarns. Their sweater samples didn't do much for me, but their array of yarns (spun by Jamieson's, I think I was told) is very beautiful, and all from natural dyes. We've a few minutes left and Touch Yarns is nearby...
HPNY is on the left, going straight for the sock yarn, I dithered over roving and alpaca and together we were just a tiny bit late for class. I had no expectations whatsoever of this class (and Ziggy Rytka's lucet class later in the afternoon), but both were extremely good value. Lucy's enthusiastic explanations of the mechanics of knitting may have revealed the reasons for my uneven tension: experimentation is needed. I've been abusing my stitches, but will mend my ways :-)

A photo of that amazing vest (steeks, it was steeked!) and Lucy, who's a marvellous speaker. Note the trademark 'happy stitch' on the pad behind. After class we headed separate ways, HPNY back to town and me into the thick of things, list and plan in hand.

In no particular order...
Jamieson's of Shetland. The gentleman blurring into action behind the books is the 5th generation of the family in the business, and a very nice man indeed. They've got some very elegant handknits in those books, and just look at the colours! I can, any time, I have a shade card :-)

Lorna's Laces sock yarn, anyone? This is one end of the Get Knitted stand; the other end was Fleece Artist. I have a feeling that they'd had more stock earlier in the event, though. I forced Sue to feel my Mountain Colors 'Bearfoot' sock yarn, after which she promised to find out if they'd like a UK stockist. Apparently some of the most widely-mentioned-in blogland US yarn suppliers are working so hard to supply demand in the US that they're not interested/haven't energy to supply the UK market as well. *sigh*

The House of Hemp. Their yarns are nothing short of gorgeous. Alas, the flash has bleached the colours, but it's still possible to see something of the subtlety. The underlying silver-grey of the hemp fibre mutes and unites the tonal range. I want all of them, now. Hemp, like nettle, feels a bit harsh to start with (although their yarns are already relatively soft), and softens with age and use: the sample knitted/crocheted garments were soft and supple, and the woven fabric was... I'm running out of words to describe it. Just absolutely beautiful. I was not at all surprised when a tap on my shoulder proved to be the hand of my weaving teacher, Melanie Venes (her face is just visible at far left).

21st Century Yarns (I think the owner is the lady in the red&white skirt). The colours of their hand-painted yarns are really, really, really nice. Really. And they've got an amazing designer putting together some really, really, really pretty kits. Those pictures do NOT do justice to the colours or the complexity of the design. They're knitted as patchwork or other geometric units, changing colour frequently but logically. I came very close to buying a Clamshell Shawl kit, saved only by the song of the Kusa nestling in my bag. I must stop writing soon, I've got yarn to knit...

I hope that clicking on that does allow you to see a larger image. To left is a close-up (taken with his permission) of a piece by Richard McVetis, BA (Hons) Embroidery 2005 from Manchester Metropolitan University (according to his card, which I will cherish). That's white felt, cut and stitched into an organic form which is then embroidered with black thread and what must be endless patience. Every one of those tiny dots, or stipples is a stitch in black thread. His work resonates powerfully with me, because for many years (and even now, sometimes) I used pen & ink stippling in technical drawings. Beetle genitalia, I can do masterly renditions of beetle genitalia. Never once did I consider what would happen if you did it with needle and thread, and even now I am awestruck by the thought of the sheer time and talent needed to do that. He stitched those lilies from life, folks. In thread. The 3-D forms are then stuffed with a variety of materials to become sculptures. Hanging on the wall are, well, hangings. Stitched in the same way, but this time you can see the back of the work as well as the front. Now, when my mother taught me to embroider (Every well-brought-up young lady can sew and play a musical instrument), she repeatedly and pointedly told me that "the back of the work must be as tidy as the front" before sending me back to rip out what I'd done and do it again, more tidily. The back of this is NOT tidy. The thread travels from dot to dot, it flows, swirls, moves. The stippled front is static, frozen, beautiful; the stitches on the back are alive. Can you tell how much I like McVetis' work?

Finally, the view over London as I left. Saturday sky? Next post will reveal my stash enhancement. Just, please, remember I have three stashes to feed.