Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Change of address

Hello from Bath, where the Webbo family is happily unpacked and ensconced. From now on, I'll be using knitwrong as a secondary blog. All knitting content will still be cross-posted here (so if knitting's all you're after, you can leave your bookmarks as they are with no fear of missing out on another exciting installment of my yarny travails), but my main self-publishing outlet will be Paperhouse, where I intend to parade my ignorance on a whole range of topics.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, it transpires that I can't generate enough knitting content to maintain an active blog, and having a knitting title left me feeling apologetic every time I digressed into other matters. The "wrong" part of the title ended up as a bit of a burden too - everything that didn't turn out to be an unmitigated disaster seemed to demand an explanation. So, it's on to Paperhouse, where my first post should be up in a few days time. It's about some knitting that didn't turn out so good...

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Farewell to yarn

Knitwrong is taking an enforced absence from the internet in order to effect the sanity-shattering relocation of the Webbo family from from Sheffield to Bath. By Sunday. (And I know that this is not so much an "announcement" as a "statement of self-evident fact", but I thought I should put some gloss on the cryptic pronouncements of the last post.)

Moving means purging. I am taking uncharacteristic pleasure in divesting myself of Stuff - that inchoate accretion of objects which seems untouchable until one is faced with the prospect of hoiking it into a van and lugging it across the country. Goodbye, books I never really liked! (Lunar Park, The Human Stain, Infinite Jest, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit - you will not mock me from my bookshelf in Bath.) Goodbye, ugly vase we got for Christmas and kept in a cupboard! And goodbye, amazing jumper from a charity shop in Oxford! I bought this out of a curiosity to see Fair Isle close up, a love of the colours, and a fascination with the label (it was handknit in Oxford, apparently). I am re-donating because it's so warm it makes my face sweat even in midwinter, yellow makes me look peaky, and the floats are brazenly too long (several have snapped and it's beyond me to fix them). Oh, and it's got drop shoulders which give me monkey arms.

As this is like my fiftieth post or something, I suppose I could be ungenerous enough to give it away as a prize. But I'm not even resourceful enough to think of a competition right now. Perhaps by post #51, I'll have come up with some decent loot and a way for you to win it.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Getting down to it

Here it is, just in time to avoid getting rumbled as not-a-proper-blogger: the obligatory trying-on post. Shiny face? Check. Unflattering pose? Check. Unbrushed hair? Check. Well-fitting jumper? Check, check, check! The only reason you're not getting this via the bathroom mirror is that my boyfriend nobly stepped into the breach. (I say nobly, but looking at the state of me, I can't help suspecting that his motives consisted less of chivalry and more of, "let me watch MotD in peace, woman.")

In other things-down-to-which-I-should-have-gotten news, the ever-lovely Seahorse gave me one of those Rockin' Girl Blogger awards at the beginning of the week. Coming from someone who blogs with such insight and eloquence, and who reads blogs with such diligence and generosity, this is definitely an appreciated honour. It also means I get to come up with my own list of people who rock:

Caroline M, because she spins and knits with a technical aptitude and eye for colour I can but dream of, and writes it all up in a self-deprecating manner which belies her many talents, but not her modest and generous personality.

at Half-Assed Knitblog, because I will never tire of her knits' propensity to turn into monsters. Also, because she has been knitting for about the same length of time as me, but has a design sensibility (and an ability to put that sensibility into actual yarn-y practice) which I find inspirational.

Badger. She makes me laugh, she knits neat stuff, she has some entertaining business with a soft toy. As do Little Missy and Wheezy (well, barring the soft toy bit, but with a bonus point for Wheezy because I do so often feel the truth of her blog title).

And finally, an honourable mention for my New Favorite Blog, which is neither by a girl nor girly: my friend Joel's blog about fighting, which is more entertaining and more humane than I would ever have expected a fightblog to be.

It's been a busy week of life-changing decisions, extensive travel, and lots of catching up with friends and meeting new people, so my blogging and commenting game has been weak. I can't say when I'll be back to full strength: in personal and professional terms, August is a wicked month for me. But even if I'm keeping quiet, I'll be around, and keeping in touch one way or another. My email is up there, so feel free to use it.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Raglan, I have had to kill you

You do not do, you do not do, anymore, black shoe raglan, in which I have lived like a foot torso for thirty years five minutes, before I realised that the ease I'd worked into the pattern was unnecessary. But I'm not at the "raglan, raglan, you bastard, I'm through" stage: I've frogged the yoke, and I'm halfway through reknitting it. Which means that you all get a (temporary) reprieve from the obligatory trying-on shot. And you don't want to see another picture of a heap of yarn, or a could-be-anything mass of fabric sitting on a circ, do you? So let's have a look at something pretty.

This is the fabric for Matilda Jane. Get Knitted took my garbled email instructions, and found me a great match to my Wool Cotton from their Amy Butler range. Unfortunately, my sewing machine has packed up, so this has to be forwarded to my sister, who will run it up into a lovely ribbon for the lacing panel. And once I've got that sorted, and found my buttons and attached them, and sewn up my hems, that will be that for Matilda Jane. I'm almost resisting the last stage of finishing because I'm so very happy with this cardigan as a work-in-progress.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Compounding the problem

Lilknitter asked me a question in the comments to my last post: what is a compound raglan? And so, I'm going to attempt to answer her - even though I'm wildly unqualified to do so, seeing as I'm currently knitting the yoke of my first ever self-designed project, and I'm not even using compound shaping for that. With that proviso out the way, explanation ahoy. Oh, and before I start, the credits: compound shaping is an idea found in Maggie Righetti's Sweater Design in Plain English, and if you really want to get a handle on this nifty technique, you should buy the book. (Indeed, if you want to get a handle on anything related to the design and construction of knitwear, it's probably a good idea to buy the book; it's certainly taught me a remarkable amount.)

Compound raglan shaping is a simple variation on standard raglan shaping. (Because I like to work my raglans in one piece from the top down, I'm going to describe the shaping from that direction: it would of course work perfectly well from the bottom up.) Where standard raglan increases would have you increase each side of the "seam" markers every other row, in a compound raglan, the increases may be planned so that (for example) you work them every other row for a certain distance, then every fourth row for a while after that, and then every other row again. In this way, the shaping can be made to accommodate whatever armhole depth and arm and body measurements you happen to be working to, and you the knitter need never contend with bagging and sagging where you do not want it.

For an example of compound raglan shaping in action, have a peep at Eunny's sweater for Jamiesons. I'm going to look at it anyway, just because it's beautiful. If there are no posts for a couple of days, you'll know I've been electrocuted while licking the laptop screen.

Monday, 30 July 2007

Knit it black

A while ago, I was quietly dismissive of handpainted colourways and wild self-striping effects. But today, I am feeling sympathetic towards their uses - if not for wearing, at least for blogging purposes. Because, as happy as I am about the way my black Elle Elite is working up, I can't pretend that it's the most photogenic of yarns. There's not even a great deal to tell you about the pattern, partly because there isn't a pattern. It's a top-down raglan, worked out with the assistance of Sweater Design in Plain English by my beloved Maggie Righetti: there are a couple of interesting details reserved for later on, but at the moment it's all a bit vanilla. Even where I intended to do exciting things like plan a compound raglan, I have been foiled by an aggravatingly convenient set of measurements. But I suppose if I wanted tricky, I'd be designing dressmaking details with some sort of stitch pattern - and as it's the summer holidays, any knitting has to be simple enough to be done simultaneously with mummying duties. We don't want a repeat of any wheelbarrow-related distracted parenting incidents, do we?

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Heart of darkness

Like Mog the Forgetful Cat, Knit Wrong Purl Wrong has been sitting in the dark, thinking dark thoughts lately. That is to say, I have been staying up way past my bedtime thinking things like: "What shall I do with all this black wool, and why was it so incredibly cheap on eBay?" That's 10-balls-for-less-than-nine-pounds cheap, bargain fans. It's called Elle Elite DK and is a wool-cotton blend - without the same sheen and softness as Rowan Wool Cotton, but promising nonetheless. I have plans for it involving a hood, long sleeves, and other design features appropriate to this most un-summery summer.

In other dark thoughts, I have also been thinking about The Black Apple, Etsy shop of the fabulous Emily who created these similarly fabulous pictures. For a good look, go here, but I also wanted to show off the beautiful framing work done by Cupola of Sheffield. I think the pictures would look lovely in more ornate frames too, but I wanted the four pictures to match and felt that four identical fancy mouldings might be overbearing, so the framer helped me to pick out these. I think they work very nicely.

I hung them in the order of Alice's Wonderland descent, and I am delighted with the way the sympathetic colours lead you from one picture to the next, right to the bottom of the rabbit hole. The girls have such appealingly taciturn little faces: they are excellent company in the living room. Also, the more I look at the Mad Hatter girl, the more I want to knit up a lacy neckwarmer in teal, and if that doesn't testify to the power of art, I don't know what does. (And do take a look at Emily's blog for a peep inside the artist's lovely home - it's like Hello magazine for the arts-and-crafts scene.)

Lastly, some light coloured knitting to go with some, if not dark, then certainly sad thoughts of a good friend who is currently recovering from surgery on a brain tumour. If successful, the surgery should give her one more year, along with chemotherapy. I thought she might need a hat, so I made her one.

Pattern: Lace-Edged Women's Hat by Julie Entz from Headhuggers
Materials: Rowan Wool Cotton, shade 900/Antique (1 ball), 4mm Addi Turbos
Adaptations: I worked the crown decreases with magic loop. I wish I hadn't, my tension up there is horrible. Apart from that I love this hat, and in other circumstances would keep it for myself. I hope the recipient finds it useful.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Late Blossom

It's another knitwrong from before Knit Wrong!

Pattern: Blossom by Melissa Wastney from Magknits, size 6-9 months.
Rowan Wool Cotton, shade 903/ Misty (4 balls); DB Cotton DK, shade 34 (scraps); Addi Turbo 4mm.
Cost: £18.00
Adaptations: I made two lengths of i-cord for the tie, rather than using a ribbon, and I made a buttonhole loop to hold the tie in place. I put running stitch around the edges instead of embroidering lazy-daisy stitch. I forgot to go down a needle size for the garter stitch edging (it shows: see curling in photo). I made a mistake and performed a brilliant rescue, described below!

The Blossom pattern makes a great little dress. Whether it's the best way to get to that dress, I'm not sure, but the finished object is sweet and practical. The wrap style gives it lots and lots of growing room: Maddy can still wear this dress at 14 months, and it looks likely to be a part of her wardrobe for a little longer, perhaps as a wrap-top rather than a dress as it is now bottom-skimming rather than knee-length.

Actually, I had some trouble with the length. The dress is knit from the bottom hem of the back section, in one piece, and somehow or other I misread the pattern and made the back panel about 2" too long. I didn't check This didn't become apparent until I had completed the front panels and was ready to seam, so I was faced with the prospect of frogging back to the beginning, or taking up scissors. Armed with a circular needle and Maggie Righetti's instructions, I made the cut at the point above the back decreases where I wanted to take out the length. Incidentally, this was one of the most pleasurable moments in my knitting career: watching the secure fabric revert to little live loops, and catching them as they appeared, was a minor thrill. Then I knit back down, working increases in place of the decreases. I felt pretty pleased with myself about that.

I would love to make another; I would also love to revise the pattern, heavily, for a completely seam-free construction. It could easily be worked in one piece from the bottom edge up, and grafted together at the shoulders. I appreciate the need for fold lines to make a piece like this hang right, but seams could easily be faked by slipping the "edge" stitches every other row. (Seahorse thought the same.) Lastly, I love the yarn: it's such a perfect gymslip grey, it's soft, and it's wearing very nicely, despite the various abuses it receives through crawling, toddling and eating. It's really too much to have spent on a baby dress (and since then, I've got pretty good at stocking up on my beloved Wool Cotton from eBay), but it was worth it this time.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Knit is a feminist issue

I grew up in a political household. Not political in the sense that I belong to a political dynasty like the Benns or the Foots, but political in the sense that we listened to the Today program at breakfast and watched the Six O'Clock News after tea, read The Observer on Sundays and talked Issues betweentimes. General Elections were treated as a sort of feast day in our home, with normal bedtimes rescinded for the evening, and shopping trips involved hunting around for the right kind of apple. One of the commonplaces of our family discourse was the statement, "everything is political".

I and my sister were raised in the belief that every opinion held and action taken manifests a political statement - even if the statement is of apathy or ignorance, no-one can evade their relationship to political debate. You may object to the system, but you cannot remove yourself from it. Mamacate's latest post has set me thinking, though, and I have started to wonder whether I've allowed the doctrine of "everything is political" to stand in the place of actual politics. I still read a lot of political journalism in the form of daily papers and fortnightly reviews, but, like Mamacate, I leave the Serious Stuff alone when I blog.

For me, knitting is tinged with politics. Among my reasons for originally wanting to knit was an urge to learn more about the things I use and have more control over the production process (brilliantly, I hadn't even thought about the production of the yarn, but I'll get there eventually, especially with Caroline to lead me). However, for most people, knitting is associated not with consumer politics but with gender politics. When my grandmother was at school, the girls had compulsory knitting and sewing classes while the boys learned woodwork: her education was intended to turn out a competent, hardworking housewife (it succeeded, too) while my grandfather was trained to be a good workman, and knitting stills bears the stigma of this streaming to stereotype.

It's a more various craft than that, of course: think of the gutter girls in their beautiful ganseys memorialized by Elizabeth Lovick in the Winter '06 issue of IK, or Ysolda Teague's grandfather, who learned to knit while recovering from injuries sustained as a WWII fighter pilot. A friend of mine was in the merchant navy with an old seaman who produced extraordinary cabled jumpers. Nevertheless, as Laura Hopwood's article on "The History Knitting" in the first issue of Yarn Forward shows, the default perception of knitting is as a feminine, domestic pastime. The text of the article includes just one reference to men knitting, and that is couched in disbelief and facetiousness: "Apparently, men were the first to knit for a living - I don't know how many do so today!"

As a teenager, I resented textiles class. I had no intention of being domestic. I was interested in ideas, in debate, and I was ambitious too; competing in the girls-only arena of fibre crafts had no appeal when I could be trouncing everyone in arguments about Lord of the Flies. My avoidance of what I saw as traditional female activities was a political position informed by a form of feminism which emphasized likeness between men and women, and wanted to break with an oppressive past.

But breaking with the past means losing our understanding of the people of the past, to some extent: scorning women's endeavors skims dangerously close to scorning women. Better, I think, is the feminism practised by Barbara Walker, whose interest in knitting formed part of a wide ranging-interest in women's culture. Nevertheless, this approach runs the risk of perpetrating the exact same error committed by my grandmother's (not-at-all feminist) schooling, and tying women to a limited role in the world.

I haven't read Walker's work so I don't have an opinion as to whether that is a problem in her thinking, but it did occur to me apropos an exchange in the comments of a recent post. Lilknitter wondered if knitting in public might be similar to the "baby bump phenomenon", in the way that it seems to override the usual barriers to social interaction with strangers: it's a lovely and apposite idea, and one that is intelligently extended by Honeybee33 after her. But it's an association with troubling potential, as Gillian Beer points out (Beer is writing about feminist literary critics making use of the same imagery linking artistic production and procreation):
Childbearing distinguishes women from men but need not define woman. The metaphors of womb and milk that Kristeva and Cixous employ , though full of comfort and recognition, risk being read as biological determinism. They may function to fix the idea of woman writing [or by extension, creating anything] as essentially reproductive. So, while respecting difference, we should be wary of the imprimatur of our generative organs as a sufficient description of creativity.
Gillian Beer, George Eliot (Key Women Writers Series)
For me, Beer's comment captures exactly the balance that should be strived for: as women, we should be respectful of our physiology, but wary of allowing it supremacy.

My knitting has become, in part, a way of showing respect to the women who didn't have the same choices as I do, because their physiology was deemed supreme. Through my knitting, I have learned sympathy and admiration for the hard work my grandmother had to put into caring for her family. Knitting is a leisure activity for me, not a necessity. Choosing to spend my free time knitting is a tacit statement that I look on her life as one of worthwhile enterprise, and not as the dissipation of potential which my teenage self considered domesticity to be. And seeing knitting as a feminist activity does not, of course, make it a necessarily feminine activity: I'm teaching my son to knit, and hope that over time he will acquire some of the same understanding with it.

So in this way, I consider my knitting to be a political gesture. But it has to be admitted, it's not a gesture easily interpretable to the external observer. There are knitters who turn their craft to direct political ends, but I don't think my production of shapely cardigans makes any comparable statement. Just acting on good principles is not enough. I should be able, at least occasionally, to say what those principles are and hold them up to scrutiny.

Edit: Of Troy points out that Juno is heading out along similar lines.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Knitwrongs of the past, part Uno

Before I was a blogger, I was a reader of blogs. There were a few that I visited regularly, but most of my reading happened in a haphazard way, as I Googled the patterns I was interested in knitting, on the look-out for warnings and suggestions. Now that Ravelry has come along to offer an easy way to hunt out that info (did I mention that it's brilliant?), I'm trying to catch up with my pre-blog projects so that I can share the gleanings of my experience in turn, and I'm starting with this one since the recipient spontaneously put it on today.

Pattern: Duo from Knitty (long-sleeved version)
Materials: Bergere de France Sport (50% wool, 50% acrylic); 5mm Addi Turbo
Source and cost: The Wool Baa, and I can't remember

After the gross errors of yarn choice and taste with which I started my knitting career, I like to think of this as my first success, and on its excursion today I decided that it really is pretty cute. The short row neck shaping gave me agonies - of course I know now that there's an implied "wrap" preceding the direction "turn" , but it took me several holey attempts to work it out on this jumper.

Everything else about it was satisfyingly simple and it was fun to make, although it took me an age because I was interrupted by having a baby. Actually, I dispatched Nathan and Jay to the yarn shop from my hospital bed with instructions to ask Jill (the owner) what colour would work for the stripes, and I think they made a rather excellent choice. The yarn has worn and washed pretty well, although the recipient reports that it is "a bit tickly"; to me, it feels a bit plasticky too, and hasn't entirely convinced me that there's a good bargain to be made between appealing texture and ease of care.

It then took even longer because I developed a mortal fear of sewing (started in May; finally finished piecing it together in October). The seams are, however, passable. I think the sleeves are slightly too long for the body, but I can't pretend to be other than very pleased with myself whenever this jumper gets an outing.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Buttoned up

Like lots of knitters, I don't enjoy seams very much. Being self-taught, I've never had anyone to learn me better: I'm sure that if I were to watch a proficient finisher sewing up an item, and observe the patience and care required, I would sort out my own sloppy habits sharpish (maybe the Knitting Curmudgeon's finishing class would be a good start; ideally I need a day with my Grandma, who finishes all things to reversible perfection). But for now, the best solution is avoiding all seams as far as possible, and to that end Matilda Jane is an ideal pattern.

I've just started on the knitted-in button bands and facing. Knitting-in gave me one of those deeply satisfying "ah!" moments, much like turning a heel for the first time: my muddled imaginings of what the directions meant gave way to the happy reality of the knitting in my hands doing what it was supposed to do. (I love those moments almost as much as I dread and hate the moments of, "oh no, what heinous screw-up have I inflicted on my knitting now?")

The only part of the pattern I feel inclined to fiddle with is the buttonholes. Ysolda writes the pattern with two-row buttonholes, but for me, this results in a sloppy and unattractive finish: my two-row buttonholes are too ugly to wear open, and too loose to catch a button. So I've substituted the one-row buttonhole described by Maggie Rigghetti in Knitting in Plain English as "the neatest buttonhole". It really is a huge improvement, and not nearly as tricky an operation as Rigghetti builds it up to be. You can also find instructions for this clever little hole on Knitting Help, but I would always rather refer people to a chapter called "Buttonholes are Bastards."

And where there are buttonholes, of course there must be buttons. Lots and lots of pretty buttons scooped up in the sale at John Lewis. When I was little, being allowed to play with my Mum's button-box (an old shortcake tin printed with a tartan pattern) was among the biggest treats I could be allowed: acquiring a button-box of my own is one of the exclusive rites by which I mark my induction to adulthood. Predictably enough, it turns out that none of these buttons will do for Matilda Jane, so I now have a stash of buttons to add to the mountain of yarn - but at least, thanks to HB33's comments, the yarn mountain is feeling a bit more purposeful again.

PS I feel the need to put in a quick plug for a fellow blogger: my friend Rachael of Purly Q has just put up some pdfs from a vintage pattern book called Knitted Garments for All. The patterns are adorable, and so is her description of finding the book.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

I want does get, but only if you want what I want you to want

My sister and I often end up buying the same items of clothing by accident, so it's not a big surprise that she's asked me to make Ester for her. In fact, it's one of the nicest compliments I could hope to get for my knitting, and since I loved knitting the shrug, I was very happy to say yes. It also gives me a useful opportunity to make her something to mark the completion of her Early Years Education degree, and the beginning of her career as a teacher (well done, small Weblet: I'm immensely proud of you).

But on the other hand... I have already made it, and it wasn't on my to-do list for the immediate future. What I do have my eye on is Briar Rose, the new pattern from (yes, inevitably) Ysolda. The elegant curved fronts and the sweet puffed sleeves would win me over on their own, but as with Matilda Jane, it's the way these lovely details are created that really makes me want to knit it. The phrases "seamless construction" and "shaped with short rows" are like a siren call. Luckily the yarn I've bought for this project (Cascade 220 tweed) will do for either pattern, so all I need is for you lot to weigh in and convince Rachael that she wants to wear what I want to knit Rachael to tell me which one she prefers. Oh, and for the yarn to come. Hurry hurry hurry! (Don't pressure her too hard: she's just completed her first day in charge of her first class, so I suppose she deserves to choose the one she really likes best.)

Also in the order with the yarn is the needle I need to get on with the button bands and facings of Matilda Jane, so while my current WIP is taking an enforced break, I've decided to make Ysolda's Opera Gloves, since the suggested yarn made itself available in the sale bin at John Lewis. If there is a point at which knitting someone's patterns shades into stalking behaviour, someone will let me know, right?

Ravel ravel

Don't tell my supervisor (fingers crossed he's not an aficionado of the knitting blog scene, eh?), but an average working day for me involves a lot more messing about on Facebook and thinking about knitting than I'd like to admit to. With that in mind, I'm not sure what animus against my thesis could have led Casey and Jess to invent Ravelry, a fearsomely compelling alliance of social networking and fibre crafts; but surely if my fascination with this wonderful website gets any deeper, the evil genii behind it will be able to take the credit for saving the world from my thoughts on the nineteenth-century novel.

At the moment the website is still in its testing phase, so users are being added by invitation as the site becomes able to handle them (and although the aura of exclusivity this creates is unintentional, it's definitely contributed to the buzz around the site). With that in mind, I hesitate to tell you to sign up as I know Casey and Jess are currently having trouble keeping up with the demand for their service. But if you have the patience to handle the wait, and the strength of character to handle the addictive quality, I thoroughly recommend that you put your name down.

Being in beta, Ravelry is not yet complete, but it already has many brilliant features which make life as an internet knitter just a bit simpler. You have options to catalogue your works-in-progress, your stash, and your needles; you can also manage your "queue" (the projects and patterns you intend to work on), and Ravelry lets you add a button to your bookmarks bar which you can click everytime you find something you like to add it to your queue. Everything is interlinked - so should you have a large stash of a certain yarn hanging about, Ravelry will show you what other Ravellers have made with it. Or if you have a favorite pattern but no yarn for it, you can search by pattern to see what materials other Ravellers have used.

One of my favorite features is the "neighbours" function, which shows you other users making the same patterns as you, which means you can find people who share your taste and through them, find even more things you'd like to make. And if you want to watch what certain people are up to, you can add them to your friends; you can even chat to people if you're online at the same time (of course I'm not brave enough to chat to anyone yet, but it's nice to have the option should I work myself up to it).

The shiny new button in my sidebar (pinched from the clever and funny Half-Assed Knitblog, with thanks to Cyn) will take you to my Ravelry notebook (if you're a member already), or to the homepage, where you can sign up if you haven't already done so. I suggest that you hop to it and hopefully you'll be joining me soon in the orderly, snooperly pleasures of Ravelry.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Stealth stashing

While other people have to accept the loss of valuable possessions followed by months of homelessness, the worst I have to deal with is a fusty cellar and an untidy house. And since my house is always untidy, this is probably the best chance it's ever had of becoming presentable. Having essentially resigned my possessions to the water when I locked the door a week ago, I'm feeling sufficiently detached from my clutter to begin purging it; and that feeling, plus the Ravelry invite (one of the functions of Ravelry is the option to catalogue your yarn purchases), makes this the perfect time to evaluate my stash.

I never planned to be a stasher, and yet somehow I here I am, with a heaving full wool box. Perhaps the explanation for this lies in the fact that, even though all the yarn I have has been bought with something in mind, that something tends to be vague speculation unrelated to the knitting time and talents I have at my disposal. I know that for lots of knitters, the stash is a joyous thing to be fondled and wondered at, a playground for creativity and a resource for ingenuity. My stash makes me feel a bit sad, for the most part. The expensive unused yarn makes me feel profligate, and the cheap unused yarn makes me feel shabby.

The things which cause me the most grief are the things I've had the longest (in my brief knitting career, that means "more than12 months"). How about this GGH novelty yarn? Isn't it just too much? Too many colours, too many bobbles - and then, just to permanently demolish any idea of restraint, shot through with metallic thread. Actually, I made a small tube-style handbag from it with reasonable success, but thanks to my terrific naivety about calculating yarn amounts, I ended up with about three times as much as I needed.

And then there's this Noro Aurora. All nine balls of this Noro. I've swatched this over and over, and cast on for several things, but I think the sad truth is that I don't like self striping yarn. I certainly didn't like this (see right), a tank-top for my boyfriend in Noro Blossom which ended up as a hideous, pom-pom studded, unfroggable (thanks to the aforementioned pom-poms) monstrosity. However much it appeals to me in the skein, I have to concede that me and Noro are never going to hit it off, in garment form anyway: while I appreciate that there's a certain zen in just "letting Noro be Noro" and allowing the yarn to fall into whatever pattern it chooses, in practice I find it pretty boring to have all the design choices snatched from me by a showy colourway.

I have rather a lot of Debbie Bliss Maya too. This discontinued yarn is a kettle dyed, handspun, thick-and-thin single, and I'm still very taken with the colour. Unfortunately, I bought it to make this shrug which was intended to be a breast-feeding cover-up. Now, I already knew a fair bit about babies when I started knitting, so only my ignorance about fibre can explain the fact that I thought it was a good idea to bring together a squirmy, spitty creature like a baby, and a pilly, feltable yarn like this. I thought better of it and never finished it. The ladder just visible in the centre of the picture is the last remains of a YO I made (and fixed, several rounds later) while in the midst of labour pangs, and is the reason why I will probably always keep the sleeve section. The rest of the hanks will have to wait until I get the itch for a felting project.

The truth is, my lifestyle and my taste mean that the best yarns for me are one-coloured and machine-washable, dk or 4-ply. Not the sort of yarn to elicit cries of "scrumptious!" from the world wide knitternet, but the sort of yarn that I can turn into items I will wear, and wash, and wear again. And with that in mind, my current urge to declutter hasn't stopped me from acquiring more Rowan Wool Cotton in - ooh! - ecru and dark brown. I wonder what those colours could possible become? (Clue: I just bought these shoes as a thank-you to my poor feet for carrying me through the filthy floodwater.)

If you wish to make a financial donation to those who have come off worse in the floods than I have, this page from the BBC website gives information on making donations.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Not-at-all-plain Jane

You wouldn't think that a girl would feel gorgeous wearing a circular needle and a bunch of stitch markers. The bright green waste yarn is, I think, the finishing touch that makes swanking about in front of the mirror in a half-finished cardigan such a pleasure. Oh, Matilda Jane, you are so lovely.

The designer (Ysolda) really knows her increases and decreases. Matilda Jane makes use of the lifted increase to create proud little raglan "seams", and the invisible make one to form discrete darts for the waist shaping. Decreases are fully fashioned (with the stitches leaning in the direction of the dart) where curves are to be hugged, and feathered (that is, with decreases leaning in the opposite direction to the angle of the dart) where they should be skimmed. Essentially, it is all extremely attractive, and the most attractive feature of all is the brain in the pattern. I can't wait to finish and wear this. That goes in italics because my default feeling at this stage of a project is usually more of a desperate inclination to procrastinate while I try to reconcile myself to all that's wrong with the item - positive feelings when this near to completion are worth a little typographical emphasis.

After the school run this morning, Maddy dropped off in her buggy, so Matilda Jane and me sneaked off to a coffee shop to enjoy each other's company. And while we were there, we made a new friend. One of the other school mums was sitting in the coffee shop reading a book. The other mum is Icelandic, and after a little while she looked over and said, "Did you know that people knit differently in other countries?" I asked her to show me how she knits, and was treated to a small demonstration of the continental style. "This is how you do, you know, opposite, to make it like a fence", she explained as she went through the wrangling motion of the continental purl (I think that "like a fence" means ribbing, and it's a description I like so much I plan to adopt it myself). Then she told me about how knitting is taught in Icelandic schools from age 5 to 15 (my grandma would approve), and how an older lady had accosted her in the supermarket to chat about the hand-knit jumper (made by her mum) she was wearing. "It's like knitting brings people together", she said, and then she packed up her book and left.

Thursday, 28 June 2007


I'm in!

Unfortunately "getting into Ravelry" is currently not as important as "getting my house habitable", and there won't be much knitting going on in the near future. Still, a nice new toy to play with.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

After the flood, comes this

Thank-you to everyone who has been thinking of us. It means a lot to me and my family - simply to know that someone knows you are out there is very important, when your greatest fear is that you might be left behind with no-one to help you. But now the actual floodgates have been brought under control (until the weekend, anyway), my figurative floodgates are spilling wide open: this is the first of what I suppose will be a series of posts to channel that outpouring. And those who have better things to do than wade through these maunderings will not offend me if they overlook this and wait for me to get my knit on again. On Wednesday, I returned to the house to have a look. Remarkably, the flood had filled the basement but not breached the floorboards. The water had entirely receded: the only sign it had left of itself was a powerful musty smell and a terrific jumble of all the things it had whirled about in the basement.

We were extraordinarily lucky, not only in that the flood was confined to the cellar, but also in the way we were flooded (yes, it turns out that there are better and worse ways to get flooded): the water which got us was ground water from the rising water table, not the filth that was rolling along the river behind our house. Since I've been able to bear to look at the news pictures, it's very clear that other people have suffered and are suffering a good deal worse than we are. And since we rent, our landlord is responsible for the repairs (that's responsible legally, rather than responsible as a personality trait, sadly: he had to be told by my boyfriend to contact his insurer, but hopefully things will pick up now they're involved).

In a shameful way, I was almost disappointed - not because I wanted my home to be devastated, but because after the terror and the strangeness of being caught up in a natural disaster, and the terrific effort of escaping, I expected terror and strangeness in the climactic return to my house. But the high water mark of a flood isn't the end of it, of course. Maggie Tulliver in Mill on the Floss was a lucky girl in one regard: she spent all her heroics without having to participate in the clear-up. This evening, I read one of the stories in Tales from Moominvalley, "The Fillyjonk who Believed in Disasters". In it, the Fillyjonk's dread of a terrible event is finally satisfied when a storm takes her house; but on returning to her home the next day, she finds that more has survived than she expected. She is disappointed, too:

The old kind of fillyjonk was lost, and she wasn't sure that she wanted her back. And what about all the belongings of this old fillyjonk?

All the things that were broken and sooty and cracked and wet? To sit and mend it all, week after week, glueing and patching and looking for lost pieces and fragments.

To wash and iron and paint over and to feel sorry about all the irreparable things, and to know that there would still be cracks everywhere, and that all the things had been in much better shape before... No, no! And to put them all back into place in the dark and bleak rooms and try to find them cosy once more...

In the end, everything of importance was fine - including my stash, which was one of the first things I moved upstairs, on the grounds that while there are many more expensive things around, my collection of wool is actually irreplacable. It took a shockingly long time to realise that our possessions were imperilled, never mind ourselves. I spent Monday working at the library, out of sight of the windows - so although I knew it was raining heavily, I wasn't aware of the persistent deluge going on all day until first my neighbour, Chris, and then my boyfriend (who is working freelance in Bath this week) rang to ask if our area was flooded. I checked the Environments Agency website, got no flood warnings for our postcode, and blithely reassured everyone that things were going to be fine before going about the school run.

The rain continued to bucket down. By the time Jay and I had got down the hill from school to nursery to pick up Maddy, I realised that things were getting pretty bad and we'd probably better stock up on dry and tinned goods in case we ended up stuck at home the next day. At nursery, the nurses Becky and Claire were giddy with nervous laughter about getting back to their homes in Rotherham. We left anticipating a long journey home, but expecting to find a safe place to dry off at the end of it.

After waiting half an hour for the tram and then taking the best part of an hour to creep through the heavy traffic to Hillsborough corner, I thought we'd better stop on the tram and get some provisions from our local shops rather than take a detour to Tesco. When the tram terminated two stops early and I saw that the power was out all the way down Middlewood Road, I just wanted to get home as quickly as possible. But I did take a picture from the bridge at Hillsborough Corner (that's the photo I blogged from my mobile, so it's a swollen river rather than my street; although if I'd been able to photograph my street, garden and basement, the images would have been similarly dramatic).

That photo marks the end of my detatched curiousity and the beginning of rising panic and fear. Jay and I walked back to our street, pushing Maddy in her buggy and talking about the hot buttered toast we'd have for tea. As we walked across the bridge crossing the river that runs behind our house, some kids walking in the opposite direction told me, "you'll have to carry your pram." I thanked them, and felt irrationally annoyed with them for telling me - well of course I would carry the buggy if there was a puddle. Only there wasn't a puddle: the river had burst its banks and was flowing across the bridge. I was able to lift the buggy clear but Jay had to wade through alongside me, crying as the foul water poured into his wellies (unfortunately he was wearing these socks, but I'm trying to see it as an opportunity to try out a grafted toe or something).

After this, my appreciation of the situation's severity began to escalate pretty rapidly. The bottom of the garden (which, sensibly enough, slopes down to the river) was a foot underwater, and the water was halfway up to the house. We got inside. I checked the basement - the water was lying 6" deep so I went down to switch off the freezer and tumble dryer but didn't turn the power off at the fuse - I was still thinking of eating toast and watching telly in the living room. So I popped the kettle on and rang my mum to check what I should do next, then left my tea to brew while I checked the basement again. This was not more than thirty minutes later: the water now looked to be waist height. At this point I swept the children upstairs, rang the fire brigade and cried incoherently that I couldn't get to the fusebox, rang Nathan and cried again, and then I set about getting organised.

This I did in a fairly erratic fashion. I moved things upstairs by the armful, frantically grabbing at toys and books; I turned off every appliance I could get to (the fusebox was inaccessible at the far side of the basement now); I had to hunt out all the "emergency things", the torches and tealights, that I'd squirelled away in unlikely places; I closed cupboards and doors with a feeling of finality, assuming that the water would be coming in shortly. Then I remembered that we would need drinks and food, so I found milk, juice, oatcakes and chocolate and tried desperately to convince Jay that we were having a fun picnic in his bedroom. But every time I left the room he got frightened and called for me; once when I came upstairs he grabbed me and asked me, "Will we all still be together if one of us gets dead?" And I told him that we would always be together, just as I have told him before that the people who love us are always with us.

By this stage I was very worried too: looking out of the window at the seething torrent running along the river bank, and the brown water standing in the garden, I knew that while I could do my utmost to protect my children, if the water took them, I could not save them. It is probably indicative of the complacency I felt about living by water that I wasn't entirely sure of the river's name until all this happened, but when that river is swollen to the full height of the bank, and water is rising inexorably up into your house, the implacable power of water is a terrible and unignorable thing. No power, no running water, two frightened children, a fusebox on the verge of drowning, a basement full of water, and with the street now streaming with water, no way out again. I could hear the contents of the basement banging on the living room floor. I rang the fire brigade again, I rang my Mum and Dad, I rang Nathan. I told Jay how brave he was and he cried frantically that he didn't feel brave anymore.

I was suddenly very sorry that I'd brought us all back here. "Home" had been such an important idea a couple of hours ago, but once you are trapped there it becomes far less of a homely place to be. The helicopters were circling overhead. Firemen were evacuating the other end of the road, but there were so many people in the same predicament, we had to just sit tight until things became dangerous enough to necessitate rescuing us - on my own, I could never get my children back across the flooded bridge. So when neighbour Chris appeared at our door to walk us to a safe place, I'm fairly sure I've never been so happy to see a big-necked man in a trenchcoat. I threw a few things into a rucksack and strapped Maddy into her sling while Chris gave Jay a reassuring hug, and then we set out into the wet.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Wet blocking

I live in a town in Northern England called Sheffield. You may be aware that it has been a bit rainy in Sheffield. In fact, it's quite likely you've heard that Sheffield (along with a considerable portion of the rest of Britain) is currently in large part submerged. When I left my house at 8 pm on Monday night, the basement was full of water and the street was a torrent. My wellies got filled with unspeakable slime, but with the help of good friends, I and the kids got to a safe (and elevated) place. Full story when I have access to a computer again. The photo above isn't very illustative but it's the only one I took before I realised that getting out was more urgent than getting pictures. If you have been affected, I wish you the very best of luck getting your life and your home back together. Thanks to everyone who left kind thoughts in the comments. If you are visiting Knit Wrong from the Sheffield Forum knitting group, firstly I hope you're ok, and secondly, please accept this post as my apology for being a no show tomorrow night.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Mind yourself

I like making new friends. I always hope that these relationships will grow and flourish with time and attention, and look forward to getting to know my new friend better. But, even though I fancy myself to be a good judge of character, every once in a while a nascent friendship will be floored when my new friend makes some revelation which hints at unspoken depths of difference. Perhaps we will be happily chatting, and they will suddenly express their deep admiration for Daily Mail pro-ranter Melanie Phillip's gentle phrasing and good moral judgement. And I that will be it: bar a bit of polite extricating, it's the end of the affair, and if I think of my Phillips-loving acquaintance again, it will only be to wonder at how tragically flawed my estimate of them was.

Ever since Knitty magazine introduced a regular article on "mindful knitting", I've begun to fear that my affection for Knitty has encountered its fatal obstacle. Tara Jon Manning was announced as a regular fixture in the Spring issue this year. I skimmed the essay, glanced at her blog and decided it wasn't for me. I suppose I thought something so obviously silly couldn't last long. I mean, she actually writes that,
Renewal is a doorway to a sense of fresh and awake.
Fresh and awake are adjectives. One might have a sense of freshness and awakeness - as they're nouns, it would at least be grammatically acceptable, although still a fairly insipid point and horribly phrased. But perhaps this is just an editorial lapse. Perhaps Manning doesn't habitually confound things and attributes. Or perhaps she had a very good reason for doing so, which I have missed because I am not a mindful knitter. I don't want to think about every stitch. Most of them won't even bear thinking about - which is fortunate, since most of my knitting time is snatched in between tasks, and if I decided to meditate on my knitting I'd quickly have my reveries cut into by the smell of burnt dinner. More than that, I simply don't expect knitting to be a spiritual journey. I like making stuff. I like learning stuff. I enjoy the action of knitting. That's enough for me.

But in the latest Knitty, Manning is back and with more of the same, this time on the subject of "stuck". Manning is not really feeling the knitting. By the end of the article, she's still not really feeling the knitting, but it has motivated her to tell a story about letting her-three-year-old son play outside, unsupervised, while she potters about inside thinking about how stuck she is. Being an unsupervised three-year-old, her son has a small mishap and Manning rushes outside to find a very distressed child snagged by his trousers on wheelbarrow. Now, I am as distractible as anyone. Last week, I looked up from my knitting to see that baby Moomin had eaten half a crayon. I felt pretty bad about this, and I'm sure Manning felt pretty bad about the wheelbarrow incident. However, you wouldn't necessarily know that from what she writes:
So, now my world is mirroring my state of mind back to me. The lesson is not lost on me – et tu Zane?
It's not an accident, you see, it's a lesson. And Manning sidesteps the fact that the accident was caused by her distractedness by implying that it was actually a consequence of the world mirroring her state of mind back to her. As if it weren't enough for us all to be blogging about our knitting - now reality itself steps in to provide a commentary. (I wonder what brilliant construction to put on the crayon-eating. Perhaps, as knitting was EATING INTO my writing time, so my daughter was LITERALLY EATING the writing implement.)

Although with the way Manning writes, perhaps an installation of boy-with-wheelbarrow is preferable to wading through the mangled corpses of the metaphors she strews so recklessly about. Is being stuck like being in a traffic jam, or like playing a child's game, or does it perhaps bear more resemblance to being in a becalmed boat? I don't know, and I am not convinced that stirring all these different images about together brings Manning any nearer to understanding and escaping the condition of being stuck. By the end, when she writes that "It looks like the light is changing; I think someone is about to shout 'Go!'", I had a very puzzled moment of thinking, "Hang on, wasn't it an oar she was after?"

Actually, Manning does have something to say about metaphors. She says:
We are very fortunate that our beloved handcraft of knitting allows for a multitude of metaphors. The leap to a first sweater might be undertaken during a time of personal growth and expansion. A “mistake” can hang us up, or it can be viewed as a “design element” that makes our work absolutely one of a kind.
Unfortunately, while "mistake" and "design element" stand in for each other, they do so not metaphorically but euphemistically - rather than rather as lesson and mirroring from earlier in the piece might be taken as euphemisms. Mindfulness seems like a euphemism too - for the ultimate in tedious, uninsightful solipsism. Of course, if it works for you, by all means do it. But don't proselytise about it, unless you want to see me quietly backing out of the door.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Joinimir Joinimirovich Yarnakov

What's that unholy tangle sitting atop the London Review of Books? This is the moment when I thought, "hm, perhaps the famous Russian join is more of a faff than it's worth."

And this is the point where I thought, "hey, actually this is pretty tidy."

And at this juncture, I had decided to make the Russian join my join of choice from now on. It's not just my blurry photography that makes it hard to spot: the join is only discernible as an inch or so of double-thickness yarn, but unlike the method of knitting a few stitches with the new and old ball together, I don't get any irritating tension problems around the join, and best of all, I don't have any ends to weave in.

If you would like to try this magical business, I can't do better than point you to the tutorial provided by The Boy Who Knits, which is the one I learned from. And if you already have this spiffy little trick at your disposal, I am delighted to be joining you in this small paradise of yarn joining.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Digging around in the muck for brass

You can tell a Google search is going badly when your query returns your own blog on the first page, and you know you haven't posted the thing you're looking for. And what am I looking for? Well I'm almost ashamed to tell you... Here's my search. Please don't all fall down in surprise that I appear to be only person clamouring for this particular knitwrong. (Actually, I think I have tracked down a source for the pattern, just not a free on-line one; if anyone can tell me whether The Big Book of Knitting is good for more than the one fake pelt pattern, I'd really appreciate having your opinions before I spend my money.) I don't have a firm plan yet, but rest assured that whatever I come up with will be as brassy as hell. Something that definitely is not brassy is Matilda Jane. She's lovely and I don't think I'm going to work on anything else until she's done. Thanks to Badger for the short-row tip in the comments - I found a handy-looking experiment devised by Nona which I'm going to try out for myself and work out which method I like best.

UPDATE: Hillevi at the Knitty Coffeeshop pointed out this chart from Garnstudio, which looks like a winner to me! The next person searching for "leopard print Fair Isle chart" now has a useful result. Thanks Hillevi, and everyone else who helped me out in my quest for brassiness, especially the tireless Seahorse.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Shame, pain, and Matilda Jane

The shame part: I'm sorry I've been away from the blogosphere. I spent the best part of two weeks shut away in the attic with my books and no time for knitting. I decided to leave the blog until I had some progress to report, and I regret to say that I was simply too jealous of everyone with time to knit to look at any other blogs (I'm just catching up now; you've all been extremely busy). Then, once I'd done a decent amount of work and could have picked up the needles again, I managed to cause the pain part of this post:

The bandage is covering a cut resulting from a very exciting accident involving a reversing bus, a parked van, a helpful neighbour (me) running to fetch the van's owner, and a pothole, in which the aforementioned helpful neighbour (me) tripped, breaking my fall with the heel of my hand (irony bonus: the bus was reversing because of roadworks to fix the potholes). Upside: I had medical instructions to leave the kids' baths and the washing up to my partner for a week. Downside: it hurt quite a lot and I couldn't knit or type either. But on Friday, I could take the bandage off, and by yesterday evening, I was halfway through the yoke of Matilda Jane.

I nearly started on something else entirely. I was sulking around, feeling fed up with everything I was working on and wishing for something brainless and satisfying (besides ripping). "A simple top-down raglan cardigan!" I thought. My next thought was to design it myself, and the thought immediately after that was that I had absolutely no intention of doing more thinking than necessary while my higher brain functions are supposed to be devoted to the nineteenth century novel. So I poked about on the internet and I priced up Brown Sheep Cotton Fleece and looked at the Knitting Pure and Simple patterns, and thought that actually I'd like something a bit less simple, and so I sulked for a bit longer.

And then I remembered the Matilda Jane pattern, and the bag of Rowan Wool Cotton that arrived last week for a prospective Fair Isle project, and suddenly I was knitting again. Matilda Jane is just the right pattern for now. It's thoroughly addictive: I ended up leaving it on the kitchen table and knitting a few rows every time I went in to do something. It uses short rows to shape the neck, and lifted increases for the raglan shaping. This is the first time I've used that increase, and I love it: it's so neat and satisfying, and somehow working into the back of a stitch gives me the feeling of knowing the intimate life of my knitting. It's also the first time I've used short rows without making a hell of a mess. (Disclosure: there is a bit of a mess, and despite close attention to the big VK book, I'm never totally sure that I'm doing them right, but for now I'm happy enough that there are no holes.)

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Knitter reknit

I've been in more of an unraveling mood than a knitting one this week. I realised that the Picovoli had been sitting in the laundry basket for a couple of weeks, without me having any inclination to wash it or wear it. So I dug it out and I looked at it, and I thought about the short rows, and the SSKs, and the fact that the colour (although lovely) is not really a friend to my complexion, and the way that I don't really like the neckline, and after about five minutes of thinking I found myself blithely picking away at the cast on edge; a few minutes after that, I was pulling on the free end and watching the serpentining rounds on rounds slither into a yarny tangle on my lap.

Frogging turned out to be such a satisfying respite from the frustrations of thesis writing, I went hunting for other things to destroy. The baby kimono which had been sitting on top of the stash box for a week, seamed but without fastenings, was clearly begging to be torn to pieces. I had at it, and am now reincarnating the yarn as Daisy, which looks likely to survive my wanton rampage of destruction. I can't vouch for my actions in the event of this writing business becoming any more bleak and tortuous, though: the pinging rhythm of loops unlinking themselves from other loops is immensely satisfying, and definitely a safer way of exorcising my frustrations than highlighting my whole chapter and pressing "delete" (which I may have thought about doing).

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

I *heart* Arisaig

Not that I am competitive or anything, but seeing Sarah getting busy with her Arisaig meant I simply had to put everything else aside and do this:

This is the first time I've knit a garment in 4 ply. Knitting with 4-ply is one of those things I never expected to be a part of my knitting life: I assumed it would be a slow, fiddly business and the results would never be worth it. But this blog is about being wrong, and I am happy to concede that I was very wrong about that. I love the dainty needles, I love the neat little stitches, I love my mistakes being invisible. I love that all the qualities of knitted fabric that I enjoy appear to increase in inverse proportion to the weight of the yarn. Working at a small gauge, the knitting seems to be more stretchy, more forgiving - and of course, tiny stitches mean that gauge woes are not magnified into gauge tragedies.

Speaking of mistakes, can you spot the odd row out in my lace swatch? The chart doesn't show the "extra" stitches to the repeat, so if you work it exactly as written, the last row of the pattern is jogged along by one stitch, and although it's very pretty that way, I like it best of all as little rows of hearts.

Now, one thing about little rows of hearts done in pink is that they are dangerously close to being a bit sickly. And that is where the yarn comes in. It's a vintage buy called Hermit Shetland and it is not sickly. It's a little bit tough, a little bit heathered, a little bit fuzzy, and just interesting enough to carry off being a sugary pink colour. But just to make assurance doubly sure, I'm doing the ribbing and tie in brown (also, because I was worried I didn't have enough pink; also, because the darker colour around my waist should give an illusion of hourglassiness). I might look like a scoop of neopolitan ice-cream, but I think I will be a very happy little ice-cream when autumn comes and I'm wearing this.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Cloud coverage

It has been noticed among my lovely band of commentators that I have been reluctant to post the cloud bolero. I actually finished it weeks ago, in the car on the way to ATP (being away from my stash explains the missing last picot, oh eagle eyed viewers). Straight off the needles, the bolero was not promising: the lace section at the back flared out with a disconcerting suggestion of wings. However, inspired by Caroline M's taming of the sea slug, I set to with water, towels and pins to see what could be done.

The result is a bolero which flairs less but is still too big. There is a fix: I could put in steeks either side of the underarm cast-on stitches, and take out the fabric there. I won't be doing that straight away, though. I've given myself enough trouble with this knit without rashly wielding the scissors. Between the yarn, and my shrinking bust size (it turned out it was me and not the bolero, although personally I hold the baby responsible), I turned a cute little knit into a not-so-fun business.

On the Yarn Forward website, they recommend using a worsted weight yarn to get "a nice drapey fabric". Having knit the pattern, I suspect that this means a nice drapey fabric in comparison to the firmer, more-likely-to-flair fabric that I've achieved using chunky yarn. Personally, I think the chunky yarn makes a more interesting finished garment: to me YF's sample looks twee, whereas Ysolda's looks engagingly winsome (I may be the only person living for whom that distinction holds any weight, though). The only other thing worth saying about the pattern is that it doesn't tell you what the markers are for, and that might be confusing if you're not used to working top-down raglans or lace patterns. If you know in advance that marker A is for your raglan "seams" and marker B is for the beginning of the lace pattern, it will all go very smoothly indeed (by the time I finished the version I'm wearing, I knew this by heart).

Oh and I look a bit peaky in the photo because I was up late last night casting on for Arisaig. Sarah, I'm knitting at your heels!

Pattern Cloud Bolero, from Yarn Forward, size m
Materials Rowan Soft Chunky (4 balls); Clover 6mm bamboo circular
Cost £11.50 on ebay (actually it was a lot of 8 balls, but since I'd rather knit with my own hair than with this stuff again, it would be rather dishonest to halve the cost)

Friday, 18 May 2007

Fair aargh!

Yes, I tried fair isle and these are my amazing discoveries:

1. It would have been nice to learn continental first before trying to knit continental and English style at the same time.

2. See the way I've written "pic" with my left hand? Well that has all the finesse and accuracy of my actual piccing. My left hand is significantly weaker than my right.

3. I think I would have done better if I hadn't accidentally knit with the tail-end of my contrast colour.

4. Casein needles are hopelessly bendy for this purpose. Honestly, my left hand didn't need any help to relax.

5. It wouldn't be so bad if I hadn't started to rewrite the chart in my head as I went along.

6. I foresee a lot of potholders between now and autumn.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Little Meme

There are rules in this place, you know. For one thing, it's meant to be about my knitting rather than myself. But Pixie has tagged me, so here for your edification is some spurious knitting information (I did some fair isle last night!), followed by seven random facts about me.

1. I believed from the age of 16 to the age of 20 that my adult height was 5'2". When I was pregnant, my height was taken at my checking in appointment and I was appalled to discover that I'm really only 5'1". Where's my inch, bitches?

2. My sister says I sound all wrong when I swear, and "like you just made the word up." I think this means I am the opposite of fierce.

3. My mum and my sister are both infant teachers. My main ambition is to avoid becoming a teacher by becoming, um, a university tutor.

4. I study literature but I'm not nearly as well read as I mean to be, and I've owned the following books for two years or more without reading them: Ulysses, Gravity's Rainbow, The Recognitions, The Naked Lunch, The Name of the Rose (and probably lots more besides, but they're the most egregious omissions).

5. Even though I haven't read everything on my bookcase, I will read anything that's put in front of me. That means I read the Daily Mail cover-to-cover whenever I'm at my Grandma's house, even though it makes me furious (in fact, I think I like being furious).

6. When I was little (in the 1980s), I used to read the fashion page in the Sunday paper and try to copy what ever the week's look was. I was immensely proud of my turquoise leggings and hot pink t-shirt ensemble, got up in response to a feature on clashing fluorescents.

7. Now I am a grown-up, I think that the real trick to looking good isn't clashing fluorescents (duh!) but proper foundation garments. I feel shamefully underdressed in a skirt without a petticoat.

So there you go. Embarrassingly, that actually looks like a fairly comprehensive summary of my character. I'm not going to tag anyone explicitly because I'm too lazy to check everyone else's blogs and see who's already done this. But if you're reading this, and you haven't done this and would like to, consider yourself tagged.

Monday, 14 May 2007

... and this is my friend Sandy.

I'm slightly worried about posting this, because since I did this, I've been having some troubling thoughts about an intarsia leopard-print cardigan. But even if publishing this comes at a high cost to my own aesthetic sense, I can't keep it to myself any longer. Welcome to the world of Sandy Black and her original knitting!

No, that's not Sandy herself. Sandy herself is on the back flyleaf wearing a suspiciously sane-looking red jumper. In fact, she's now a thoroughly reformed character, working at the London College of Fashion. Her list of research interests sadly omit to mention such specialities as "knitting absolutely massive mohair flowers" and "designing heraldry inspired sweaters."

In the introduction, there is a rather plaintive attempt to have these garments taken seriously as wearable objects: "Sometimes it is surprising how flattering very large patterning can be, contrary to the 'correct' rules of dress, as you can see from my floral designs", writes Sandy. But really there's no point in looking at these designs primarily as clothing. They're knitting. The garments are designed as massive (4"+ of ease) canvasses for the patterns: the person underneath is just the frame.

I wonder whether these two are pointing to the future, where they can spy Mason Dixon on the misty horizon. "Oh look, darling; someone one day will realise that this pattern belongs on a piano stool and not a human being." Because the patterns themselves are rather impressive in many cases (Sandy was originally a mathematician, which might account for the interest in symmetry and geometry in many of the designs). The mixture of texture as well as colour gives an intriguing (if sometimes slightly queasy) effect too.

They're just not wearable. Not even on a dress, and not even upside-down. Nice try, though, art department!

Sunday, 13 May 2007

You know... For kids!

See that smile? That's the smile of a boy whose toes are untroubled by seams. Until a couple of months ago, I was a sock skeptic. Handknitted socks seemed very nice but also sort of superfluous: I didn't fancy all that work for something I'd be hiding under my jeans, and anyway, I had plenty of socks (and if you would like to point out how wrong I was, feel free to comment). Then began the morning whine: "Mummy, my socks are all sort of uncomfy!", accompanied by much toe-wiggling against the aggravating ridges of the seams. Suddenly, handknitted socks seemed like a very good idea indeed. I got a few balls of Opal Uni, the Knitting Pure & Simple pattern, asked the Bear to pick a colour, and jumped in.

It all went remarkably well. If you have a close look, you can identify which sock I made first by the spiral of stretched stitches I caused before I realized that I needed to keep my stitches evenly distributed as I worked around. The short row heel was a revelation. I couldn't conjure up a mental picture of what I was doing from my reading of the directions, so I proceeded in blind submission to the pattern, and was rewarded with a tidy little triangle of heel. Between making the first and second sock, I found out about the mysterious process of grafting, which isn't a part of the pattern I used. I felt slightly disappointed in my non-grafted toes then, and considered ripping out the other toe and redoing it; but as these socks were being impatiently awaited, I pressed on to the unsophisticated end. And look, the Bear doesn't care that the pattern is the 101 of the sock making world. He's just glad that Mummy's finally come through with the answer to his toe woes. And I'm ready to try some of the other sock methods out there, because all of a sudden, pretty socks under my jeans have become an absolute necessity.

Pattern Easy Children's Lightweight Socks from Knitting Pure & Simple
Materials Opal Uni, shade 1260 (about half a ball), Brittany Birch DPNs 2.75mm
Cost and source £5.99 on yarn, £4.50 on needles, £3.00 on the pattern, all from Get Knitted.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Switchy swatchy

I've not been in much of a finishing mood lately, and although I have finished the Bear's socks (and am deliriously happy with them, for all their manifest flaws), I haven't felt any great desire to roll my sleeves up and block the bolero. It's in my bedroom right now, sitting atop a peak of laundry, glowering at me like an overcast sky. And what is a knitter to do when she doesn't fancy the finishing? Why, do lots of starting, of course. Suddenly, yarn that has been quietly hoarded for weeks announces that it MUST be knit NOW. Odd balls jump off the shelves of department stores at me, begging to be taken home and put on my needles. The urge to make another Mason-Dixon baby kimono (my fourth in six months) for my cousin's new baby becomes overwhelming, and although I secretly know that a Mothercare voucher would probably be of more use to the parents, it matters not, for everything has become subordinate to my frenzied neophilia.

The purple is a swatch of Sirdar Baby Bamboo. I like this new yarn very much - it's my first try with bamboo, and although I found it slippery and slow to work with, I love how soft and sheeny it is. Perhaps I'll buy enough for to make a summer Blossom for the Moomin. Working round anti-clockwise, there's the back part of the baby kimono, in Debbie Bliss cotton. Then the pale pink is my swatch for Arisaig in the vintage 4-ply I bought the purpose. It looks like it's coming out nicely on gauge, and the yarn is delightfully springy.

In dark pink, my superswatch for the lace blouse project. And then finally, in the dark blue, my new superswatch for the lace blouse project - because it transpires that Debbie Bliss Cathay has the texture of limp spaghetti, and I for one cannot make lace from limp spaghetti. Instead, I've dipped into the stash again and restarted with Debbie Bliss Cotton Cashmere (picked up at the same sale as the Cathay), which is good deal more resilient, and a good deal more inclined to do what I want. Of course, my next job is to block the swatches, and when I'm doing that I'll have no reason to procrastinate about the bolero any longer, and you the reader can finally learn whether a 25-year-old mum of two has any business running around in a bit of white fluff with a bow at the front.