Sunday, 27 January 2008

We like lichens

Still battling with the cold, and it's a good job it doesn't affect my typing. In reality, I'm only uttering pitiful squeaks. I felt reasonably human for most of the day, but I always seem to sink between about 6pm and 10am the next day. Not good.

However, I got quite a lot done today during the "good" hours. Firstly, a brief-ish stint staring out the French windows for the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch. Nothing too exciting but all the data is important. The boyfriend did his count yesterday in the park, which is allowed, but I'm not sure they were envisaging the type of park we're near, with a large lake. A little grebe is hardly a garden bird. But never mind.

Then we headed down south for some wildlife tuition at Sydenham Hill nature reserve. As you may be aware, there's a strong north-south divide in London, with closely held loyalties to one and deep mistrust of the other, generally based on where one first lives on moving here. I got a place in halls of residence in Hampstead when I came up to uni, and so have been a north London girl ever since and only go south of the river with a distinct sense of trepidation. We survived though, and even found some interesting statues at Brixton overground station - a life size bronze commuter on each platform. This woman was patiently waiting for a train on the southbound side:

Whilst this bloke lounged against the wall opposite, headed back up to London:

The purpose of our trip: a field session on lichens, courtesy of the London Wildlife Trust. Lichens are symbiotic organisms, effectively the bastard offspring of algae and fungi, an unholy inter-kingdom alliance that produces a vast range of bizarre scaly, warty, powdery or feathery growths on trees, rocks etc, eaten by very little apart from reindeer (and there aren't many of those in south London). Out of the UK's roughly 1,600 species, we were taught to recognise 10 or so. There are at least three of them on this stick:

It was a very interesting yomp through the forests, and I love learning about the more obscure flora and fauna out there - in future I'll notice them so much more. But, whilst the boyfriend was diligently making notes (it's his job), I was rather distracted by some startling knitwear at large amongst the decidedly nerdy lichen-spotting fraternity. I therefore missed some crucial details of lichen reproduction to surreptitiously take photos for your amusement. Firstly, a very bright pair of rainbow fingerless gloves, in some kind of reverse stocking stitch/stocking stitch horizontal rib, not handmade as I could see a maker's label:

(Glad I didn't get busted taking photos, essentially, of her crotch.)

Better still, a woman wearing a vast amount of crazy knitwear - she must be a knitter, right? From the top, a cream chunky knit hat with a pom-pom, an eye-watering intarsia jumper in neon colours, and, if you look very closely, red and white striped angora fingerless gloves. Whoa.

At a static point in the proceedings, I snuck a close-up of that jumper over the boyfriend's shoulder. My eyes!

Lichens, incidentally, are, according to Wikipedia, a source of natural dyes for yarn and fabric, so we should all love and respect them. And isn't "ethnolichenology" a great name for a scientific discipline?

After the lichen hunting had finished, I headed off to Ting's to celebrate her new arrival, the gorgeous Ewan, and coo over him as all good godmothers should do. I'm sure she'll be waxing lyrical about her bundle of joy on her blog soon enough, so I won't write too much, but maybe one day soon I'll be able to give him a little brother or sister?

But indisputably the most bizarre sighting of the day? This abandoned wig on the Victoria line:

Is there someone out there who got off the train and suddenly realised they were bald? If so, it's probably in lost property with the other weird stuff. Give them a call before I claim it and try to spin it...

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Electric Badgerland

Ugh, I'm curled up on the sofa this evening with the lurgy, watching The Producers (the original one, can't abide remakes or indeed musicals) and eating Dairy Milk to make me feel better. I thought, therefore, that I'd cast my mind back to Thursday when I did more vaguely interesting things than are normally predicted for a weekday. It will make for better reading than the current state of my sinuses, at any rate.

Having been tipped off by the Urban Junkies mailing list (this and Daily Candy brighten up my mornings no end) I went for a lunchtime wander to the plaza outside The Economist's building on St James' Street to check out a temporary exhibition of sculptures by Laura Ford, called Rag and Bone. These are statues of woodland animals in the guise of poor, homeless or displaced people. They have lovely faces and are ever so touching, and are incredibly detailed. There is a badger scrabbling for scraps in a bin:

A fox, huddled on the floor in a blanket:

And a beshawled hedgehog, pushing all her worldly possessions along on a trolley:

Like the awful, unfeeling humans/westerners/bourgeoisie we are, having taken photos the need to go shopping and get lunch and dash back to work took over, but the point was made.

After work, I met up with the girls for drinks in the terribly decadent Electric Birdcage, a wildly pretentious bar on Haymarket down in tourist central. No scruffy animals allowed in here. I was most taken with the turquoise-lit sign:

And even more with the wall of wicker birdcages inside, not that I'd countenance keeping a bird in one (it was very dark in there so the photo is poor):

The dim sum was passable, the music was schizophrenic (Eminem to the kind of "cool" beats you get in any hip bar to Rick Astley) but the company of the lovely Lotta and Anna was, of course, wonderful and the mojito made with fresh coriander leaves instead of mint was inspired. One to try at home, for sure - I doubt I'll revisit the bar.

And all on a school night, naughty naughty.

Pleasingly, the spinning supplies that I have been ordering over the last couple of weeks have started to trickle through my door this morning, including a spindle from Butterfly Girl Designs and gorgeous batts from Copperpot Woolies. Hopefully tomorrow I will get a chance to practise a little, but until then, had better attempt to sleep off the rhinovirus. Goodnight!

Wednesday, 23 January 2008


I've had a few enforced days off from blogging due to computer difficulties, but luckily I haven't been doing anything all that interesting anyway. But it's very remiss of me that I haven't yet written up Saturday's exploits in the world of crochet. When I mentioned to a colleague that I was doing this, he replied, "What, on a lawn?" That's croquet, dude. They also thought last week that when I said I was learning to spin, I was talking about those dreadful exercise bike classes. They'll learn eventually. 

I was delighted when the lovely Gail, our hostess, arranged a re-run of this class, as the previous one she'd held had filled up very quickly. Crochet is something I've never been able to learn successfully from a book, despite the promises of ones such as this:

"Instant expert" my arse.

So much better to have the very clever Emma Seddon to teach us instead. As I explained last week, I'm inept at this sort of thing - it's a wonder I can knit albeit slowly - and had never held a crochet hook in anger apart from to pick up dropped stitches in my knitting. So she had her work cut out.

To compress the day down to a bare minimum, I went from this sorry excuse for a chain in the morning:

To actual, proper circles and squares by 4pm:

However, these were only achieved when, after much bungling, I came up with an "alternative" method of crocheting. Apparently one is meant to hold the hook like a pencil or knife in one's right hand, hook opening upwards, holding the yarn and the work in one's left hand, tensioning the yarn around the left hand fingers, and wrapping the yarn over the hook from the top (anticlockwise as one looks down the shaft towards the hook). Whereas I can only crochet at all if I hold the hook more like an ice-cream scoop, hook opening downwards, yarn in my right hand and not really tensioned at all, and "throwing" it as I do when I knit, wrapping it clockwise around the hook. I'm not sure whether this means I'm crocheting backwards or upside down or what, but it seems to work although my gauge is fiendishly tight. Still, if I go up a few hook sizes, I'm sure it'll be fine.

I'd intended to learn this almost as a pure academic exercise, with perhaps the odd foray into a crochet edging on a knit piece or maybe even a small amigurumi. However, when looking at my small samplers when I got home, I was inspired by the shape of the stitches... those trebles* all long and thin, the doubles almost waffly... I am now making a giant cuddly tekka maki, with white trebles for the sushi rice, dark green doubles for the nori wrapping, and bright red half-trebles for the tuna core. Yum! It's going relatively quickly so hopefully will be done by the weekend for your delectation.

In other crafty news: I have been inspired to bring my giant green clap out of hibernation, although it may well go back in there soon as it's so long and boring. The rainbow socks are waiting for the weekend so that I can concentrate on getting the Sherman heel down. I haven't done much spinning as I am waiting for deliveries of roving and spindles. And the tiger socks have inexplicably grown in the wash - why? Sigh, they were big in the first place, I think they're house socks now. Is this normal for superwash merino?

*Note: this is English crochet terminology. Translation to American: double crochet = single crochet, half-treble = half-double, treble = double, god knows why that difference exists.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Patience & Productivity

I am now back from yesterday's Mission: Faintly Ridiculous trip to Dublin, there and back in a day to deliver a document. Less said about the reasons the better, but who is more able to tolerate two stints in an airport in a day than a knitter?

I'd been slightly worried about getting the knitting through Heathrow, and very much more concerned about Dublin airport on the way back, which is notorious for not liking needles. Amazingly I had no problems with either of them. I'm working on another pair of socks and am using 6" 2.5mm bamboo DPNs so maybe not all that visible on the scanners, and I did have an umbrella in my bag which, according to Acechick's research, probably helped (I didn't pack the needles into the umbrella itself, as it was pissing it down in Dublin and the umbrella was wet). If you want proof, here's the sock airside in both airports, firstly joining me for breakfast in the Terminal 1 Wetherspoon's Express in Heathrow, and secondly accompanying me for a pint of the black stuff (my favourite alcoholic drink, as it happens) in Dublin airport:

The yarn is the Tofutsies that Denise sent me in my Ravelry Secret Santa package - thanks again hun!

It was a bloody good job that I had my knitting with me airside in Dublin, because I'd picked probably the worst day ever to fly back into Heathrow. As it began to dawn on me that, given the flights several hours ahead of mine hadn't even left yet, I wouldn't be getting home any time soon, at least I was able to plough on with the ribbing so there's much more of it now than in the pictures (it was a 3.5 hour delay in the end). But what a frustrating wait! I can't blame Aer Lingus of course, and the airport staff were charming in admitting they didn't know what was going on either, but something needs to be done about the systems there which carried on blithely showing normal boarding and departure of flights that were decidedly not boarding or going anywhere. Most confusing as we all trekked from gate to gate, subject to the whims of a computer that had somehow not been informed of the news situation. Sort it out! But hey, it was productive for me, less so for the drunken executives who'd clearly been on some kind of corporate jolly to Ireland and who made various sarky remarks about the knitting - yes I could hear you - but doubtless only had hangovers to show for it this morning, whereas I have half a sock.

During the very brief time I spent in Dublin outwith the confines of an airport, I was taken to lunch at L'Gueuleton, a lovely little French restaurant on Fade Street, near Dublin Castle and Temple Bar. There I had food of quite remarkable quality for its price. I had the plat du jour which was some beautifully cooked gurnard, sauteed and just salty enough to complement the fish, with sauce vierge, capers, new potatoes and a peppery watercress salad. This was just under €15, which included a glass of sauvignon blanc. For pudding I chose the jelly and ice cream for pure nostalgia value, although it was nothing like what I used to get at my grandma's on a Sunday teatime. There were three scoops of home-made ice cream in intense flavours, including a very dark chocolate with I think a hint of orange, cubic inch blocks of various wobbly jellies, fresh fruit and a divine home-baked cookie studded with whole raspberries. Lovely. Apparently they don't take bookings so we were lucky to get a table, but I shall be hoping to get in again next time I'm there.

Clearly I didn't get to see much else, other than a lot of nuns, but that's OK as I only last went for pleasure back in June/July, and I'm sure we'll be going again this year as R.E.M. have a new album due out in April, and going to see them in concert is my normal reason for going to Ireland. That and the Guinness, of course.

Tonight I have been performing the exciting task of putting away all my sock yarn, which was still on display after last weekend's photo session. I've now got it all in individual Ziploc bags (is there a generic, non-branded word for these?) as I am becoming more and more paranoid about moths, particularly with spring on the way. They'll not get my yarn, the little flappy bastards!

Crochet tomorrow! 

Monday, 14 January 2008

Frailty, thy name is snowman

Before I write about this evening's entertainment, some electioneering. Ravelry is currently taking votes for the first annual "Bobbys", celebratory awards for the best of 2007's knitting achievements. The fabulous Knitterrooney is up for "Most Unusual Project 2007" with her incredible Yarngina. And if that's not Most Unusual, I don't know what is. It's on Ravelry here, and the voting thread is here - there are some crazy other projects on there, but (trying to be unbiased here) nothing quite as surprising as a human-sized vagina costume. There's YouTube footage here and here. So if you're on Ravelry, go and vote by clicking "agree" to post 28 of that thread, and if you're not on Ravelry, why the hell not?

Back to blogging. More alternative theatre tonight - we aren't usually this cultured. Lotta, finger on the pulse as ever, found out before Christmas about a theatre troop called The Factory, who perform semi-secret shows, only letting people know about upcoming performances a couple of days in advance as communicated via their Facebook group, and only selling tickets on a first-come-first-served basis on the night. The actors only find out which part they're going to act immediately before the performance, based on the results of audience-participation Scissors Paper Stone. The only props they are allowed are those that the audience bring, no matter how silly. They are currently doing Hamlet, and when we found out there were performances this week, we had to go see.

The show was at the tiny Pacific Playhouse in Southwark, possibly slightly smaller than my lounge. We gathered there early, so early in fact that we were the first ones there to put our names on the list. Lotta was props mistress, which is clearly her calling in life as she had some inspired items for us to take in - loo rolls, silly sunglasses, a plastic bead necklace, a Santa hat, and a cuddly toy snowman. We were instructed to take folding chairs and sit anywhere in the room, including right in the middle. After character assignment, we were asked to hold our props in the air so the actors could make a mental note of them in order to grab them off our laps as required, then the play began.

Much to my cynical surprise, they were brilliant. Just really really good. I'd imagined that it would be enough of a feat to learn multiple parts for this (being Shakespeare's longest play), let alone deliver them well, not even factoring in the random props. They did it perfectly, with so much life. The actors were all in casual clothes but performed with such passion, and the glory of the language just shone through. I hate the fact that we make schoolchildren study the written text of Shakespeare's plays, they are so dry and dusty on the page, with the archaic spellings setting such a high mental barrier (and not one that isn't worth overcoming, of course, but I'm talking about making children interested in the first place). Performed, the plays are so beautifully written, so vivid, with such linguistic joy. If only we could make people come and see this kind of performance, as some kind of educational rite of passage. Added to which, the cast were right there walking amongst us in our chairs, which, incidentally, we moved around into different formations between acts, including a foray into the alley outside for Act III. Their use of the props was inventive and genuinely funny, such tricks as having Horatio and Marcellus swear their oath of secrecy to Hamlet after he first sees his father's ghost by rubbing a balloon against their hair and making it stick to a wall to show their fidelity. Genius.

I really hope these actors get whatever breaks they want, they are all ace. I'd have been genuinely impressed with this performance even without the randomised nature. Given the circumstances, they were just incredible. Compared to the only other Hamlet I've seen, a formal version in the open air at Opera Holland Park (all champagne picnics in the park during the interval, dressing up, and peacocks calling) which was declaimed in true stuffy thespian style, this was a breath of fresh air and hugely enjoyable.

One minor star of the show was Lotta's snowman, who ended up "playing" the image of the dead King Hamlet, and so appeared on and off through most of the play, looking most cute indeed. Here he is, still just about willing to pose with his fans after the show. He won't deign to speak to us later, I'm sure.

Remember, we knew him before he was famous.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Sock it to me


I have finished my first socks!

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you my Toe-Up Tiger socks, as I have been calling them:

They are plain stocking stitch socks, toe-up with short row toes and heels, and a 2x2 rib cuff, made from Middlearthknitter sock yarn in Tiger Feet.

I am just unbelievably excited about these. I have made socks! I know obviously I set out to make socks, but I am still on some level surprised that it actually worked. I've never made an actual garment before, in the sense of everyday clothing, rather than scarves, hats, gloves etc. I am extremely proud of myself. I am knitter, hear me roar. Also, some completely non-feminist part of myself feels rather fulfilled, in an "I can clothe my family" kind of way, not that any of them are getting socks from me in the near future. These are all for me.

I did enjoy the process, which was easier than I thought - probably because they are toe-up, and I have no intention of making any top-down socks ever again (my grandpa's socks, still a WIP, are toe-down and I hate them). It's just better doing it this way: a one-stage heel, no danger of running out of yarn, easily tried on as you go. But they are not perfect, and I have made some important learnings from the process, to be corrected next time:

1. The gauge is too loose. This is because when I first cast on for these (in September, on my holiday to Tobago, they then hibernated until Christmas) I hadn't yet discovered that my gauge in the round is a lot looser than my gauge knitting flat. Evidently I purl tighter than I knit. Not a problem for hats and the like, but the slightly drapey fabric I've produced here is not going to wear at all well as socks, especially as they're pure merino. I'll have to treat these very nicely - no long walks. Next time, I need to go down a couple of needle sizes. These were on 3mm so I have bought a couple of pairs of 2.5mm and 2.75mm for future use.

2. The socks are too big. Partly this stems from the above, but I rectified it somewhat by baulking initially at the number of stitches my flat gauge said to cast on, so I cast on less anyway (I'm not sure how I rationalised this but it worked out well). This means the socks are pretty much exactly the size of my foot, or slightly larger. Socks are, apparently, meant to have negative ease, or they become baggy and irritating in the shoe. Still, going down a needle size whilst maintaining a 60 stitch cast on will probably sort that out.

3. The cast off is a little tight. I tried to do this loosely over a 4mm needle, but it is still a little firm - not uncomfortable at all, but if I rectify (1) and (2) it would certainly be too tight. So I need to come up with a way of dealing with this for next time. Perhaps casting off over an even bigger needle, or doing some increases in the last row. I'll think about this.

4. Slight holeyness along the length of the short row heel join, especially at the very top. This isn't too bad, but that's probably because the sock isn't stretched on my foot. The boyfriend asked why there were holes in my socks, so evidently it is visible. I'm going to use the Sherman heel next time, which promises no holes - method here and here. We'll see. Otherwise I'll have to do more research on the hole issue. Incidentally, I was following the instructions from Sensational Knitted Socks, which has an error in the short row method - the errata are here.

5. I could have made them slightly longer. I don't normally wear a long sock, so this is fine, but I had some yarn left over as I was being conservative and overestimated how much the ribbing would take. I don't like the fact that I have lovely yarn left over, but I can't be doing with ripping back. But if I make my gauge smaller, I'll need more rows to get the same length, so there should be less wastage next time.

6. I need some sock blockers. Particularly for future socks where I won't have a relevant cuddly toy to make the pictures more amusing.

All in all, I'm pleased with my first effort, and there's nothing in that list that I can't work on for next time. Hooray for socks!

And indeed, hooray for sock yarn. Tash made some comment on Wednesday night about how she found it funny that I'd said I had too much sock yarn to be able to play with it properly - she said she'd had various mental images of what that meant - acting out little scenarios, making the sock yarns talk to each other? Rolling around in it? Well, seeing as the boyfriend is off snowboarding, getting it all out and playing with it is exactly what I chose to do this afternoon. Tash, for your information, it just involved laying it all out nicely and looking at it. And here's a photo of the beautiousness:

That's a lot of socks to make.

Finally, as promised, here's the fibre I bought yesterday for spinning purposes, and the lovely wooden spindle:

Yet more leisure time I have to find...

Saturday, 12 January 2008


Today was the first of our Exceedingly Crafty January Saturdays (TM). Gail, Ting, Caroline and I braved the mean streets of Walthamstow (I keep expecting East 17 to jump out and mug me) for a day-long course on handspinning at The Handweaver's Studio. I had no idea what to expect or whether I'd actually be able to do it, but figured it would be an interesting background to the properties of yarn, and that might help with my knitting if nothing else. Although having read this analogy of spinning the night before, I was, well, dubious and not a little inclined to clench.

So we pitched up just before 10am, wearing old clothes as instructed. The class was taken by Nancy, the shop owner, and what a riot she is, very funny and extremely patient. I had assumed that the course would mainly involve spinning from prepared roving, but no, this was in depth baby, the whole nine yards. Nancy started by explaining the anatomy of a sheep's fleece, and where the best yarn is found (withers and sides), the mediocre bits (the back, all dry), right down to the horrible bits (the skirt that trails along the ground getting felted, the winnet-encrusted britch). To our townie shock, she then unfurled a dirty (literally) great fleece on the table and encouraged us to get stuck in. Interestingly, this first one was shown as an example of what not to buy - felting, double cuts and too much vegetable matter. A horrifying discourse on moths followed (I still shudder to think of it), and then we met Skippy:

Or rather, Skippy's beautiful fleece (thank you Skippy, wherever you are). Still rather pungent from all the lanolin, and full of bits of hay, but glorious nevertheless. Here it is, our working material for the rest of the day:

We were started off on drop spindles. I'd been fairly apprehensive about the concept, not having a clue how they worked, but it was easy! Lots of fun, like playing with a top.

And, wonder of wonders, it made yarn! Here's my first handspun singles:

You'll see it's a dark grey-brown colour at this point, it reminded me of the grubby little mice that live on the Tube. More on that later.

A good portion of the morning was spent mastering the drop spindles in the woollen method, with us just grabbing bits of Skippy's fleece from off the table and spinning them in. A bit rough and ready. So just before lunch, Nancy taught us how to card the fleece into nice rolags (or "rollmops" as I kept thinking) with all the fibres nicely fluffed and lined up, ready to spin smoothly. Much easier. I was, for some reason, really good at this bit, and made loads of them in preparation for the next event: spinning wheels.

Reader, I was terrible. Seriously. This shouldn't have surprised me, as whilst I have an excellent grasp of the laws of physics, as soon as I'm required to do anything mechanical with moving parts, especially fast moving parts, I go to pieces. This is why I can't drive, or even ride a bike. Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to intellectually understand exactly what it is you're supposed to be doing, but have no way to translate that to actual physical movements? I'm also terribly clumsy, though it was Gail who broke her spinning wheel, not me. I just swore at mine quite a lot.

Eventually I managed to produce a meagre amount of spun yarn, and here is my teeny weeny yarn cake, desperately irregular and still full of bits of stick (Noro-esque, I'd like to think):

Caroline and Ting were, of course, brilliant. Look at their serene expressions. I hate you both.

So I returned to the drop spindle towards the end of the afternoon, and learned how to ply my yarn, and how to do worsted method. From my morning's efforts, I made a little skein of plied yarn, yes, actual yarn! I washed it out with some detergent, and you wouldn't believe the colour change as all the lanolin, dirt and sheepshit (hence the old clothes requirement) came out. It's now a dark steely grey with lighter slate bits - no hint of brown. It's currently drying and I will show it off when it's properly skeined, but here's a picture of it wet:

It still reeks of the farmyard (as do I, but my hands are lovely and soft). I think it will need another wash in something scented. Not that I mind the countryside smell as such, but perhaps not in a small flat like ours.

We then raided the shop for things to use at home. I'd already decided that roving is not yarn and therefore buying it did not contravene my yarn diet. Some say this is a matter of semantics, but I am sticking to my story. Besides, how could I not buy materials to practise what I'd just learned? So I picked up a lovely walnut and sycamore drop spindle, black and white merino tops for my first practice run, a truly lovely bagful of brown and cream BFL roving for when I'm a little better, and, oh my, lots of stunning silk roving for when I'm a lot, lot better. I'll photograph the woolly goodies tomorrow when there's light, but I'm not even going to try with the silk. Go take a look at the manufacturer's website: Treetops Colour Harmonies. Glorious. I bought 100g of bombyx silk tops in Sea Lavender for actual spinning purposes. I then bought eight more 10g packets in various colourways of the bombyx tops and tussah tops, just to have around me, as beautiful objects of inspiration. I love them, truly madly deeply.

Of course there was cake afterwards back at mine:

That's a Sticky Peanut Butter Cake from the Divine book that Lotta gave me for Christmas. Yum! The cake itself is just chocolate sponge, but the icing (not yet set in the photo so shinier than it was by the time we ate it) is made of melted chocolate and peanut butter. It adds a lovely saltiness to the cake. I'll be doing this again.

In a fit of enthusiasm I've just bought some wonderful roving from here. I'm justifying this as they are completely different to the more natural toned stuff I bought at the shop. I don't feel that roving is going to become a stash issue as such - I have no desire to collect more than what I've now got, which is for fun experimentation but not as a main craft. I have been coveting batts from this seller for ages though (since I bought this beautiful handspun) so am mightily pleased to have a reason to do so.

Next Saturday: crochet!

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Scarf in the City

As I've no doubt whinged before, it's very difficult to produce finished objects midweek in winter, especially if you have to give them to the recipient before the weekend. No chance of photographing them well outside working hours when the mornings and evenings are so dark. I therefore had to take A's finished scarf to work today, and get myself inventive in the park at lunchtime.

I started by looking for a suitable model amongst the denizens of the park...

Achilles, who certainly looked a bit chilly with no clothes on, was far too big. The scarf would barely have gone around his thick bronze neck, even though it is ribbed Rowan Big Wool.

This bedraggled city pigeon (Columba livia) was all huddled up and in need of a cosy scarf, and the blue and grey would have complemented its feathers nicely. But it was far too small, and decidedly wary of the madwoman trying to take pictures of knitwear.

The lion and the unicorn on the park gates looked to be about the right size, but were pretty much inaccessible on a traffic island. I was not going to get run over for the sake of this.

So I considered a more plant-based model. I've seen an awful lot of blog and Ravelry photos of knitwear and yarn "in the wild" and they always confuse me slightly. I mean, what's the thinking behind them? Knitwear doesn't live in the garden. Yarn rarely goes outside (all of mine is perfectly house trained). Those photos always make me think the photographer has temporarily mislaid their fibre arts, as in, "Where the hell did I put that beautiful lace shawl? Oh yes, there it is, on that shrub! Naughty lace! And where's my skein of handdyed sock yarn? I know, I'll look over there, it's probably posing in the flowerbed." Apologies to readers who are, ahem, guilty of this sort of thing.

But I decided to give it a go. I found one of the capital's more numerous residents, the mighty London Plane (Platanus acerifolia). These were planted in large numbers, according to the boyfriend who is studying such things, at the time when London's streets were first being paved during the Industrial Revolution. This is because the bark is constantly flaking off in characteristic chequerboard scales, leaving nice clean non-sooty patches underneath. Here is the scarf demonstrating this feature:

And more perilously (it was quite windy), hanging out in the branches:

By this point I felt more than a little silly, so I went for a final, maudlin photo, a lonely scarf forgotten and abandoned on a park bench:

All together now, aaaaahhh.

It's now on its way to A, to accompany him as he throws himself down snowy mountains. Good luck little scarf, god speed!

Monday, 7 January 2008


The knitting continues apace, with A's scarf being finished and currently blocking - seems dry but probably only surface dry so I will leave it until tomorrow for end weaving. Discussions with the girls during the course of the day (we work, really) have inspired me to consider casting on a scarf with my German handspun, on the grounds that it's very chunky, and if I use it quickly it will inspire me that I am using up stash. Will ball-wind it later this evening and muse on a suitable stitch pattern - I'm thinking Mistake Rib but might consult my Vogue Stitchionary first.

My lunchtime today consisted of getting extremely wet as I was caught in a downpour whilst seeking pretty stationery on Bond Street - I was headed to Smythson, on the grounds that if you've left Christmas thank you cards until 7 January, you'd better make up for it by sending smart ones. I got these, which please me greatly. Smythson is a terribly nice shop, very upper crust - I overheard one Mayfair auntie/grandma/godmother quizzing a small boy, not more than ten, as to whether he had enough writing paper. He'll probably only draw on it in crayon, but what the hell, hey? They package things beautifully, in such a gorgeous Nile blue, darker than Tiffany, less green than Fortnum & Mason - that whole colour family is just so classy, don't you think? Sadly the bag, all tied with navy grosgrain ribbon, and I got soaking wet immediately afterwards so that rather ruined things. Still, they made me happy. Is it bad though, that the fact that Samantha Cameron, David's wife, is their artistic director makes me look ever so slightly more favourably on him politically? I'm so shallow. (Disclaimer: this factor will not actually influence my final decision in the event of a real general election.)

Anyway, there was a point to all of this, aside from showing off my new paper goods. In the New Bond Street shop is a mini-museum (Smythsonian?) showing the history of the company, which is fascinating and tiny enough to poke around even in your lunch hour. I came across this rather charming advertisement:

That's right, a combined walking stick and silk project bag - the lady is embroidering, but I'm sure some of the users of such a thing would have been knitters. I want one!  And only 31/6, bargain.

P.S. For when I don't need notecards in a hurry, I'm going to be ordering from Paperplain, who I found online today. Really, I'd like to have sent these to my relatives, though I'm not sure they'd have found them funny.  These will be what I'm actually ordering, or these, or, oh dear...

Sunday, 6 January 2008


Yesterday I completely forgot to write about what I did on Friday night, which was a trip to the theatre, of a kind. We went to see Punchdrunk Theatre's production of The Masque of the Red Death, at the Battersea Arts Centre.

I've been mulling over how on earth to review this one, as it really does defy description. Those who have been will understand, those who haven't are unlikely to me illuminated by my ramblings, so do go and see it (or one of their other productions) if you ever get the chance. This one's running until April so the UK-based of you have time. There's also a decent review of it here, and an amusing analogy here.

This production (like their Faust last year, which I missed, and I assume all of their productions in fact) was set in a large venue through which the audience, wearing masks, are free to wander at will. The actors also move around the set, walking through and performing their pieces. As an audience member, you can choose to follow a particular character on their journey around the set, stay in one place, or some random combination. The audience, anonymous as they are in their masks, are encouraged to get right up close to the actors, and indeed are sometimes physically involved in the scene. Removal of masks is strictly forbidden, as is talking.

So, weird enough you might think. Add in Edgar Allen Poe (not my favourite horror writer I have to admit, a bit too histrionic for me) and you have the opportunity to get truly strange.

The boyfriend and I were some of the first to arrive at the venue, and a small group of us were led off by a man with a colourful hat to an entrance round the back of the centre. We were issued with our freakish masks, which looked much like the skulls of giant birds, bone-white with beaks - think this, but all white. We were instructed not to remove our masks, not to speak, and not to try to stay together. We were then shown through a curtain, beyond which lay a series of dark rooms to explore. Off we set, with great trepidation. The rooms were deserted, with no actors in sight. All were decorated in proper gothic horror style, with rotting velvet drapes, unmade beds, dust, snarling taxidermy, books with torn out pages, scattered glass vials... The initial group of us separated out to explore, leaving me and the boyfriend alone, and I was terrified, absolutely terrified of losing him in there, in the dark. Most atmospheric! I feel a bit sorry for those who were let in later (there were staggered start times) who wouldn't have had that first eerie experience of being completely alone in this huge, empty, awful place.

Eventually we found some actors, ie people without masks on, and watched a few scenes before we felt brave enough to really get involved. After that it was a free-for-all, with the audience looking most authentically vulture-like as they all peered in, beaks right up to the faces of the actors at some points, picking up the props and playing with them, and being manhandled out of the way by the cast where necessary. We found a room where an actor playing a costumier dressed those who found it in long hooded cloaks in red or black velvet. We found various inexplicable goings on. At one point, we found the "Palais Royale", a theatre-within-a-theatre where a Victorian vaudeville show was taking place, and a "mesmerized" actor read the boyfriend's mind. We found several scenes which were clearly from The Fall of the House of Usher, but we also came across a very strange wedding, a violent rape scene, and a Japanese tea ceremony in a bordello - none of which I could place as Poe stories (I'm just glad they didn't do Berenice, or if they did, I'm glad I never found it). We were utterly confused by it all. There was even a clock tolling the hours with doom-laden notes...

"It was in this apartment, also, that there stood against the western wall, a gigantic clock of ebony. Its pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when the minute-hand made the circuit of the face, and the hour was to be stricken, there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause, momentarily, in their performance, to hearken to the sound; and thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions; and there was a brief disconcert of the whole gay company; and, while the chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused reverie or meditation. But when the echoes had fully ceased, a light laughter at once pervaded the assembly; the musicians looked at each other and smiled as if at their own nervousness and folly, and made whispering vows, each to the other, that the next chiming of the clock should produce in them no similar emotion; and then, after the lapse of sixty minutes, (which embrace three thousand and six hundred seconds of the Time that flies,) there came yet another chiming of the clock, and then were the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as before."

Finally, after about three hours of fearful wandering, bells rang and we were all herded ("Quickly! Run! Not safe here!") into pitch-black atria, then released into a huge ballroom for the finale of The Masque of the Red Death itself, which was beautifully done. Then our masks and cloaks were reclaimed and the after-party kicked off in the ballroom, but we didn't feel much like staying for that - too soon after the festive revels.

Most definitely worth it, though of any kind of narrative structure there was no sign whatsoever. Really. I only knew what the hell was going on some of the time from being fairly well acquainted with some of the stories, but much of it was a complete mystery. An entertaining mystery, and a most interesting way to spend a Friday night, but not exactly coherent. But then if we only ever had traditional theatre, how boring would that be?

Saturday, 5 January 2008


The No-Yarn-For-Lucy thing is going well on Day 5, although I am being buoyed up by yarn still arriving in the post from pre-January purchases. I have resisted invitations from various people to attend sales at Loop or All The Fun Of The Fair. I walked past the sale yarn at Liberty without buying anything (there was nothing I wanted anyway). I am strong. And yes, if I am weak, please do physically remove the yarn from my sweaty mitts before I can get my credit card out.

Hand in hand with this goes actually knitting something. I have too many ideas and too many WIPS. I am therefore now vowing to finish things!

I have just joined the Finishalongapalooza thread on Lime & Violet's Ravelry group. There I have set out the things I absolutely positively need to finish in the near future. I'm not saying I won't cast anything else on before I finish these (indeed, some of the urgent items are not yet even cast on), but they will certainly be prioritised. They are, in rough order:

1. A scarf for my friend A, which is super-urgent as it's for the ski trip he's going on this coming Friday. It's effectively an early birthday present. It'll be Rowan Big Wool in grey and navy, ribbed, stripes, you know the drill. I need to start immediately and do nothing else until it's done.

2. My toe-up tiger socks, which are nearly finished. I got cracking on these over the holiday and have been enjoying the toe-up sock knitting immensely. I've been doing both together, so no Second Sock Syndrome. On one, I'm ready for the cuff but waiting for the other to catch up. Its sister is about an inch short of that, so these are easily finishable by next weekend - would have been this weekend but for (1).

3. Some Knucks (without the embroidery) for the boyfriend, for birdwatching purposes, which he's requested several times. Stupidly I've promised to have these done by the time he gets back from the above ski trip, so in two weeks' time. Mind you, that's not critical, because it's always OK to ignore promises to the ones you love most, right?  Oh yeah, and teach him to knit.

4. Socks made from the Tofutsies that the lovely Denise sent me, because gift yarn should be used and not consigned to the Bermuda Triangle of Stash. I have an upcoming and immensely tedious business trip (Dublin and back in a day) coming up in the next fortnight and will be casting on for these then.

5. The humongous green Clapotis, which is just so embarrassingly behind everyone else in our KAL, as they all finished months ago. Bad Lucy. But then it is enormous. In my defence it was paused whilst I sourced more emerald green Noro Cash Iroha, including one semi-unwound ball that Loop let me have for a quid. Just needs some devoted attention.

6. Grandpa's socks. Yes, that's right, they didn't get finished for Christmas. Next deadline: his birthday in August.  I am so bored of these.

Plus a whole lot of yarn to get through on other projects, but I'm not even going to think about those until some of the above are ticked off.

I thought you might like to see the two scarves I actually finished as presents over the holiday period, but my god, the photos suck so badly. I am seriously getting my mother a new digital camera for Chrissie next year, hers, it would seem, is not aware of the "focus" concept (and I didn't take mine home for the hols). But you'll get a general idea. The real things were better.

My grandma's Branching Out, just under two skeins of black Debbie Bliss Pure Silk:

A purple scarf for my friend C's birthday, in garter rib with a slit to pass one end of the scarf through for it to stay on (as requested), about one and a half balls of Rowan Pure Wool Aran on 7mm needles for a slightly more open effect:

Sorry again for the photos. I am embarrassed to have to post these on Flickr to get them into Ravelry.

Onwards with the finishing things!

Tuesday, 1 January 2008


Happy New Year everybody! I have spent the day (well, the afternoon, I only dragged myself out of bed at 2pm, the boyfriend more like 5pm) sprawled on the sofa, reading the message boards at Ravelry and Lime & Violet, recovering from the NYE party we went to last night. Lots of fun, especially when Gail and Ting showed up with champers, and some lethal punch, and a very silly bet on the boyfriend's part. I'm glad the festive season is now well and truly over so I can stop killing my liver, although today has rather a "last day of the school holidays" feeling as it's back to work tomorrow, boo.

Resolutions then... I won't bore you with the inevitable eat less crap, go to the gym stuff. That's pretty much a given for everybody, I think. What I need to resolve is to BUY LESS YARN.  Yes, you heard me.

I have quite a lot of yarn, and in some indefinable way this is (only now) starting to freak me out just a little. Particularly the sock yarn. Having just had a quick count-up, I have enough sock yarn for exactly 50 pairs of socks. How many socks have I knitted to date? None. A big fat zero, although two pairs have been on the needles for quite some time. I just love the colours so much, and seem to have a bit of a compulsion to try to ensure I have every colourway known to womankind, but I am getting to the point where it's slightly overwhelming - I do intend to knit it but just can't decide where to start, so I'm not starting any of it. And I don't knit very fast so that's going to be at least four years' worth of sock knitting as it is - one a month is probably ambitious. I really don't need any more, and nor do I have the space to store it properly (living in fear of moths).

Apart from that, I dare not total up exactly how much I've spent on the damn stuff. Given it's nearly all indie hand-dyed yarn, there's easily got to be £500 ($1,000) "invested" as a very conservative estimate. Which is fine, I have the spare cash and it's down to me alone how I spend it, but this year we're intending to do very expensive things like the Galapagos trip and I'd rather have a bit more saved up for that in advance rather than paying it off afterwards.

And that's not even counting the laceweight or non-sock yarns.

So, drumroll please, I am going on a yarn diet in 2008.

There, I've said it.

Of course, this is only a blog and writing it here isn't going to make the blindest bit of difference if I decide to splurge anyway. But my intentions right now are to buy no more yarn, for the first part of 2008 anyway. I'm not stupid enough to say that I won't buy any all year, because that would be unachievable. Instead, I will not buy any at all until the shopping trip to NYC that Lotta and I are vaguely planning for the spring. Hopefully by then I'll have made some sort of a dent in the stash, and can therefore justify splurging at Purl and all the other wonderful shops out there. After that, I'll do my best to constrain my buying for the rest of the year.

Besides, I do feel that whilst 2007 was undoubtedly the year of buying sock yarn, it is time to move on to knitting them (I know normal people can do both but clearly I like to compartmentalise), so 2008 will be the year of making socks. Wish me luck!

In return, I wish you all a very happy and fibre-filled 2008!