Friday, 22 June 2012

Slow week ...

I had a slow start on Saturday due to a near death cocktail experience on Friday night at a new find on Lordship Lane called the House of Tippler.  It made a nice change to the usual pub evening, but the following morning was as close to death by drinking as I’ve ever come.  I really can’t handle my booze anymore and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’d almost rather not drink at all.  Saying that, we had a fantastic time and a good gossip.  It was so severe, however, that still nothing stronger than water (and tea) has passed my lips.

Yesterday I went to an incredibly interesting presentation at the Indonesian Embassy about a new Orang-utan sanctuary that the International Animal Rescue fund are in the process of building.  The work the IAR and Indonesian Government are doing around education, rehabilitation and release is absolutely amazing and, for an animal (and especially the Orang-utan) lover it was very interesting stuff.  Of course I love Orang-utans (and animals in general) because they’re beautiful and fascinating, but it’s so important to over ride those instinctive “must make those things mine” instinct and recognise that healthy, respectful distance is the most important thing which is why the education aspect is so crucial.  They don’t have a voice, they’ve typically been around for a lot longer than people have, and they’ve become victims of our insatiable drive to consume.  The Indonesian ambassador made a great point, though, which was that it is important to balance the needs of the Orang-utan (the man of the forest) with the needs of man, Orang-Biasa so finding routes for the palm oil trade that avoided the lives of the Orang-utan could make the future of the species more sustainable.  I’ve always wanted to see the Orang-utans and have been thwarted a couple of times.  The OH has now said that, although we are getting married in November, our honeymoon can be next March so we can go to Borneo to see the Orang-utans in the flesh.  Hooray hooray.

So my last week has been quite crafty and very restrained.  On Saturday, despite feeling the world move beneath me in a very discombobulating way, I managed a trip to Oxford Street.  The place was overrun with buses – have they closed it to normal traffic at the weekends?  Very bizarre but quite a spectacle.  I started reading Vogue’s Ultimate Sock Book a few weeks ago and despite last year only making it halfway through one sock before getting fatigued by the knowledge that finishing the one meant starting the other, I was hooked by this book and have decided, in a very sincere demonstration of my affection, to knit the OH a pair of socks to wear at our wedding.   I know this perhaps makes the idea of gifts from each other on the morning of the wedding rather banal, but I really like the idea of getting married while knowing that I’m helping keep him warm and comfortable.  Anyway, he chose a very natty dark purple self-striping yarn and I spent yesterday evening measuring his feet which, again, rather dulled the romance the of the idea.  Understanding the technical stuff has also helped – once again the marvellous Catherine Hirst has given me the low down on socks.  This is the second time but at least this time I actually understood some of the whys and wherefores. 

I realised this week, as I was again trawling through Ravelry and some of the several (hundred) knitting books littering my shelves (which are nearly full now which I suppose signals that I shouldn’t get anymore craft related books) that I have a substance abuse problem.  That substance is anything stitchy, be it knitting or sewing.  I currently have no fewer than five projects on the needles, and a list as long as my arm of other things I want to knit.  Waking up on Sunday I decided it was time to diversify so I broke out Bobby (the trusty Janome) and got to work on a muslin of a Wiksten Tova top, which blog-land has been all agog about and I’m not one to resist a trend (actually, that’s a fib – I normally have an aversion to anything popular but it is a great looking top). 

The muslin was a new thing for me – typically I’ll dive in on a wing and a prayer and hope for the best.  I don’t always have very successful outcomes.  With knitting, I have learnt the power of the swatch so it seemed to make sense to apply that Zen approach to sewing too.  On the muslin I worked an extra small around the top and shoulders, grading up to a small around the empire line and tummy and then a medium around the hips.  Recently I’ve had a tendency to buy clothes on the big side apparently “just in case” I suddenly expand to epic proportions overnight so it was really nice to try on the muslin and see that it fitted perfectly.  Having clothes that fit right is presumably the reason most of us start trying to sew our own.  I only bothered doing one sleeve on the muslin, just to check the technique.  Still managed to make exactly the same booboo on the real thing (sewing the cuff to the wrong side the first time) but I blame the incredibly busy pattern, the fact that it was virtually impossible to tell the wrong from the right side on the fabric as there was almost no variation to the colours, and the fact that once I got going I couldn’t quite stop so ended up pushing through both the muslin and the top all in one day. And managed to get about an hour or so of knitting in too although that also went wrong – don’t stitch when fatigued is the answer as that all had to be ripped back on Wednesday night and having read the instructions properly and with a clear head, there was a bit of an “ahhh, that’s why it didn’t work” moment.  Wally. 

Actually, the “a-ha” moment was fairly short lived as it still didn’t look quite right and one side of the front yoke was decidedly longer than the other.  I took to the ether-land and found a couple of comments on Ravelry about mistakes on the pattern (which I know happen to everyone, although it would have been handy for the website to contain errata – that was my first port of call and there was nothing on it).  Having completed one side correctly, I then had to unpick the cast off edge on the other side and re-do that again.  Again, I didn’t want to leave it as I want to get the sleeves done this weekend so I ploughed on through it last night.  Fitting in the day job around all these projects is tricky!  It’s looking good though so am excited to get the sleeves done, get that bad boy blocked, sewn up and given to the boss for her mother’s birthday.  A week of lots of re-dos then.

Anyway, I’m so happy with the Tova that wore it to work today and at least two people have said they like it.  My office mate is deeply unimpressed with the fact that on Wednesday I said I wanted it to cool down a bit – that whole one and a half day of sunshine was quite challenging – so that I could wear my new, long-sleeve top.  The fact I said it was bad enough apparently; the reality of waking up to a deluge was even more galling.  The instructions were fantastically clear, right down to explaining when to serge the seams etc so now I really want to invest in an overlocker.  I am also quite keen on the idea of machine knitting too.  Who said gadgets were just for boys.

Not deliberately coordinated with my living room decor
Ah, and back to my substance abuse problems.  I think I’m addicted to patterns as well as buying wool.  The OH was pretty embarrassed by my reading a sock book in public, although he’s going to have to be more resilient as I intend to use sock knitting as a train activity, and he keeps stumbling across craft books in funny places.  Mary Thomas was found lurking on top of the dresser in my bedroom; photocopied patterns with my scribbles were tucked behind a cushion on the sofa, and the dining table has been colonised by the swift and wool winder which have been put to a lot of active service recently.  And that was when I realised the extent of my collection.  Er, it’s extensive.  And that’s just yarns. My fabric stash is also pretty sizeable given the length of time I’ve been really focused on being crafty.  And it’s disproportionate given the things I’ve actually finished.

My next challenge is to finish some of my WIPs (or WONks (work on needles!) before moving onto new things.  Unlikely, but would be good to feel the weight of unfinished things lifting off the shoulders.  The answer really is to win the lottery so I could make things full-time but given the unlikelihood of that (in that I never buy a lottery ticket) getting some projects completed would be a good start.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Whole lotta stitching goin' on ...

I’ve not had time to write for the last few weeks for the simple reason that I’ve been knitting, knitting and more knitting.  And also a little bit of wedding planning as November looms.  I had a little go on the sewing machine as well the other evening and did a beautiful job on a zipper for a knitting bag but, sadly, a bodge job on the bag itself.  It was supposed to be a box bag to store my needles, yarn etc for a project, but ended up looking more like a Dachshund.  This I have put down to the fact I was rushing and not really thinking about what I was doing; however, it actually works quite well because my super long KnitPro needles fit like a charm in the “nose to tail” section of the bag.  And honestly I’m so darned chuffed with how the zip turned out that I still believe it is a thing of beauty.  Stick some ears and a tail on the bag and just admire that zipper people.  Everyone loves a Dachshund after all.  I haven't included a picture, however, for shame.

Anyway, the knitting is going well on the jacket although my natural perfectionist tendencies (as not demonstrated by the bag) coupled with the fact that it’s for someone else, mean I had to rip back a couple of times at the outset as I got the lace pattern (which is really quite simple) memorised.  Note to self for future projects: start on a smaller front panel first as it’s less galling to rip back than the full back of the jacket.  The only later slip-up was mother-in-law related – she was watching the Jubilee celebrations but, apparently unimpressed by the actual commentary, decided to offer a non-stop (she must have been a didgeridoo player in a previous life) warble through all the of the intricacies of the four hours of footage.  Knitting was supposed to be a happy distraction from both the Jubilee kerfuffle (I’m not really a fan of mass social outpouring) and the delicate politics of spending time with someone else’s mother.  In the end, the fiddliness of trying to pull back a piece that is at least 25% yarnover was quite distracting.  I am now happily inserting lifelines at crucial parts of the knit.  I won’t be fooled again (sorry, CSI is a big part of the soundtrack to my knitting – nothing says “lovely Sunday afternoon of knitting” better than murder and mayhem in Nevada after all). 

The bed jacket so far

Close up of the lace pattern
The other thing I’ve learned is that using my Royal ball winder when ripping back means there’s less tension on the yarn then if I make a ball myself so in principle it is less roughed up (for want of a more technically accurate phrase) when I come to re-knit with it.  I also found my yarn swift, which I bought many moons ago and had never taken out of the box, and decided to ball up all those skeins I had lurking around the place.  My God, it’s a revelation.  Whenever I’d open a new delivery of yarn my little heart would sink if it contained skeins.  Often, I wouldn’t buy a yarn at all if it only came in skeins.  I still have flashbacks of the many hours spent with numb feet, yarn wrapped around them, trying to maintain an even tension as I rolled skein after skein into balls.  Horrifying.  And the ball winder on its own, it’s fine and a bit quicker but you’ve still got to use one extremity or another to perch the skein on and inevitably it will un-secure itself from the table and plop straight off the side.  I was often crestfallen.  With the swift the whole combo is magic.  Within half an hour I had eight new neat, central feed balls of yarn to play with. 

It was almost too much for me and I vacillated wildly between casting on one thing or another – doing absolutely nothing in the meantime - before remembering that I had to restart the front right of the bed jacket again.  I’ve bagged up all my goodies though with a note of what the yarn is for.  I’ve also created a “knit list” so that I don’t lose track.  I’ve drawn the line at setting up a spreadsheet although I was tempted.  And I’ve booked him indoors a golf lesson (which I only last week described as “the least sexy hobby a man can have”) to get him out into the fresh air to de-stress and allow me some valuable knitting time.  Golf – both altruistic and incredibly self-serving.  The ideal gift.  Perhaps I could knit him some Argyll socks for Christmas to encourage him to keep up the new hobby.

I have a couple of other projects on the go including a dress from Claire Montgomerie’s Knitting Vintage, which I think will test my flea-like patience to the limits but it’s just too beautiful and will go very nicely with the enormous petticoat I bought the other day.  When on earth a woman in her thirties will be able to wear this combination I don’t know but if I do wimp out of wearing the petticoat with it, the dress itself is absolutely gorgeous.  

Lacy New Look Dress by Claire Montgomerie (picture from Ravelry)
The other thing that launched itself onto my sticks this weekend is the Frost Flowers Frou Frou which I have decided to knit in Rowan Kidsilk Haze in Amber for my wedding to wear under a vintage fur coat and over the following fabrics which will, at some point, be fashioned into a dress although not by me I should add.  I have a feeling I’d get hold of these lovely fabrics and end up with another Dachshund and while I believe everyone loves them, most of us aren’t keen to head up the aisle dressed as one on a day when all eyes are likely to be if not on me, then certainly on my sartorial choices.  So I will leave that to someone else’s capable hands after I manage to translate the image in my head onto paper.

When you see your dress, you just know - now it just needs to become a dress!
Top of the knit-list currently then is the bed jacket (need to get that finished soonest), the “It cannot fail to please” jumper from Susan Crawford, a Milo dress for my niece, and then I have to start finishing some of my projects including my de-reindeered Christmas jumper, the baby blanket that I lost interest in when I decided I didn’t like the colour although I’m now well over halfway, and then the Paper Dolls jumper which I have cast on and failed to go anywhere with due to a deep-seated and irrational fear of knitting in the round, which I am in the process of conquering.

The City Lit continues to impress with the great short courses it offers.  The last three Sundays I’ve attended an “Improvers Hand Knitting” workshop which was good fun.  Although the techniques were things I was broadly familiar with, it helped me tweak some of my bad habits, built my confidence (in particular the section on knitting in the round), and also got me started on the painful road to learning to flick rather than throw when I knit English style.  If the yarn is fluffy or there’s a good solid lace pattern, then I knit Continental style.  However, if the tension needs to be just-so, I have to throw and it’s not very quick.  Starting to learn to flick has been an eye opener and I’ve had to adapt it slightly as holding the right needle like a pen when the needle is loaded with stitches really wasn’t working for me so I hold the needle under my palm.  Still not quite mastered the pivot or managing the tension of the yarn but perseverance is obviously an important part of the journey.  What was that about flea-like patience again ...