Saturday, 30 July 2011

Yoo-hoo, is anyone out there ...

(note of apology on the images - only have my Blackberry to take pictures, and am not great at getting the rights bits in, and the edges right)

So blogland has been a neglected part of my “favourite things to do” recently.  And although I’ve really missed it, I’ve also found it hard to get stuck in to writing.  Part of it is that the longer one is away, the harder it is to go back.  And part of it goes back to my utter technical ineptitude.  My computer at work doesn’t allow me so much as a sniff past a blog, and my computer at home is powered by a decrepit one legged hamster.  With the removal of the default retirement age frankly I’m stuck with him. 

Life back at work has been moving at quite a pace.  Two and a half months off is brilliant, but there came a point shortly before the end of my leave when the projects I started at the beginning were finished (hooray) and with only two weeks, nine days, seven days ... to go there seemed little point getting stuck into new ones.  I describe this as my getting “mentally flabby” and it was at this point I started going running each morning.  Where I live is basically a giant undulation in south east London so the toll of cresting those hills each morning meant that in the afternoons I took to my sofa in earnest.  Cue my addiction to Murder, She Wrote and the lovely Angela Lansbury.  Having retreated to my sofa one Sunday or so ago to nurture a particularly aggressive hangover, I can tell you this was definitely a gardening-leave-related obsession - it is an obviously dated but still marvellous programme – perhaps not one I should still be quite so upbeat and vocal about now.  Although I do still seem to be talking about it.  I must stop talking about it right now.  Although, one final point on MSW – there’s nothing like seeing something that makes you hark back to better days where one knew one’s neighbours, fed their cat and cycled around a very pretty small town.  Am not sure this type of life ever really existed, so it is potentially nostalgia for something unreal, but a nice kind of nostalgia.

So to work, and it’s been good being back in an office albeit with a bit of an insight into what it must be like going back after having a baby or any other long absence.  I was out for just over nine weeks and found myself feeling self-conscious wandering around the office and very aware that everything I thought I knew about HR and employment law had mysteriously drained out of me.  Clearly too much tea, cake and wine is bad for you – who knew. It took the first week or so to feel as if my brain was limbering up again; now I feel ready for another little break.

Over the course of the nine weeks I sustained my first knitting related injury – determined to make something that was wearable and for someone to see other than me, I set to making a Debbie Bliss dress for my four year old niece.  Evidence if it were needed that tension swatches are essential, I decided to make the six year old sizing, reasoning that if it was too big she’d grow into it and could simply pop a jumper underneath in the winter.  There was a great sale on so instead of making it pink and red, I picked up some olive and cream bargain Cashmerino and attempted my first piece of intarsia which turned out quite successfully. 

I discovered being a slightly obsessive type can lead to danger even with something as innocuous as knitting.  After spending a few days flirting with getting started I began in earnest at 10am on day five and before I knew it had been knitting solidly for six hours.  My fingers were bleeding and my thumb had a fairly sizeable gash in it from my curious knitting style.  Aside from the discomfort, I was also famished so it was time for a break.  Plasters were liberally applied to all relevant digits and knitting resumed in earnest.  11pm rolled around without my noticing time passing and the dress was well over half complete.  I was delighted, and actually surprisingly tired.  Waking up the next morning with my hands set into an interesting claw shape I decided to take a day off reasoning that I had learnt a lot about not just intarsia but also the physicality of the craft.

My niece looked quite pleased with the dress when she tried it on, but I didn’t get a chance to take any pictures as I was still without the technology to do so when I gave it to her and it was also about 90 degrees outside so it was swiftly taken off and put neatly in the back of the car.  I haven’t heard anything subsequently about whether or not she’s keen, but I hope so.  And if not, that at least it will be passed to my sister’s daughter who is too young to know any better about sartorial rights and wrongs.  I’m playing the long game here.

In the last few weeks I’ve been learning to do cables (well, being taught actually - I got a bit lost on all those twists and turns) and have made my first cushion cover with the loveliest alpaca (which I got from  It’s a curious mix of rough and silky and is so incredibly tactile that it was a joy to knit with.  The scratchiness did niggle the bits of my fingers that seem to be wearing away with repeated knits but it’s definitely worth it.  Even the smell of soggy Labrador pervading my home as I’m blocking it is worth it.  It looks beautiful.  In fact, I’ve armed myself with graph paper so I can have a go at designing my own cables which is probably far too advanced for me at this stage but I’m officially hooked and frankly, how else will I learn.

Not sure if there is anyone out there reading, but I’ve been having a ponder on different textiles and whether it’s possible to mix them up to make a bedspread or something similar.  I wondered about mixing squares of alpaca with blocks of quilting.  Any views on this?  Would it be horrifying/old fashioned?  Could it work, might it be aesthetically interesting?  This is my first attempt at quilting - it's basically a teapot stand as I had a go in miniature but planning to make a full size version later this year - thinking I might go 70s brown/yellow/orange styling,

And this morning I’ve been starting to understand the process behind embroidery.  The Royal School of Needlework introductory course is still hovering at the edges of my brain – it really does feel as if I’ve found my medium and I’d love to do more, ideally the degree if I could.  Having spent a few weeks looking up images on the internet (I’ve also started a scrap book of images and ideas I find on my travels – despite the walk along the river every morning, am not sure the daily commute counts as travel really though) I found a beautiful picture of a bright orange Iris.  Working with an expert, she agreed that it would make a good starting point for me – clear shapes, good curves and shading, and the right size to learn a lot and be challenged without being overwhelmed.

I hadn’t realised how involved it would be, but not knowing had always put me off trying to design my own (that and not really being sure how to achieve the finish I would want).  There was something very therapeutic about reducing the size of the design from the picture, and then gradually refining the detail into a line drawing, a colour shaded version, a shaded version to understand where “light” will fall from the silks, and then a version to draw on the direction of the stitching to help establish the structure (I still have to complete these last two stages).  As someone who has always maintained that I can’t draw, it felt like an achievement to end up with something that looked the way I had imagined in my mind.  Seeing the DMC thread chart to start choosing colours was another moment where I felt a little frisson, imagining what the end result could look like.  Am literally embarrassingly over the moon about this project, despite the fact it’s probably around 60 hours of work.  I sense the claw hand may return at points!  Must buy a thimble too …

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