Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Belt up

Last week I finally made it to a class at The Make Lounge, after basically everybody I know has been there multiple times without me. Can't think why I haven't before. It's even really close to where I live, and opposite the road where my most-local yarn shop Loop is.

The Make Lounge is a tiny little studio devoted to interesting crafty classes, owned by the very friendly Jennifer, and has been open for nearly a year now. It's really bright and still cosy, and you get free wine, tea and biscuits with your class.

The one I went to was on leather belt-making, so something I figured I could not do at home. The class was run by the very lovely Merle and there were about eight of us doing it. We were given a basic design to work with and allowed to choose dark or light brown leather (or a combo), plus metal hardware in the form of buckles or studs, in gold or silver, then away we went with all the fun stuff. It was quite hard work: cutting the leather (it was very thick), polishing down the edges, conditioning and buffing the surface to a shine, painting the edges with dye, deciding to bevel everything so more polishing, buffing and dyeing... Better than a gym workout for the upper arms. That was even before we moved onto the hole punching and riveting, with rubber mallets, tiny little anvils, and strange punching machinery.

After all that, here's my attempt, modelled by me the next morning in the garden before work:

I also tried to get some shots of round the back to show off the fact that the holes go all the way round for decorative purposes, but it's really hard to twist and take a photo without displaying hideous rolls of fat, so I gave up. This was the best I could do.

Towards the end of the class I decided to use my offcuts to make a matching wrist cuff. It worked perfectly but I probably annoyed the hell out of Jennifer by still being at it well after the supposed end time of the class when she wanted to close up and go home. If you're reading this, my apologies, and thank you for your forbearance.

Jennifer took some photos of the class in progress, and I particularly like this one for the colours of my turquoise nails and mustard dress against the leather.

Gail has done this class before and her belt, different to mine, is here.

All in all not something I'll try at home, what with all the equipment needed, but a brilliant class and good value considering I got the belt and the cuff (and wine, had I wanted any). I'll definitely be going back!

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Proud to be...

At the very end of February I had a great weekend "representing", one way or the other.

On the Saturday I met with a group of UK-based members of the Lazy, Stupid & Godless (LSG or lsg if you want to live up to the lazy bit) group on Ravelry. The group was founded on 1 February 2008 - I am pleased to say I was there on day 1 - and so first birthday celebrations took place worldwide during February (taking the whole month Jack Daniels style). We lazily managed it on the last possible day.

For those not members, the group was founded after an argument on the main boards of Ravelry about swearing. Two camps quickly became apparent - those who think that four-letter words show the user to be a stupid moron sitting around scratching their pubes and drooling (but funny how using asterisks makes it all OK, isn't it, hmm?), versus those who consider the judicious use of solid and venerable Anglo-Saxon words to be an augmentation of the vocabulary. And why the fuck not? You know which side I was on, of course. We agreed to pander to the delicate sensibilities of the objectors, refrain from swearing on the "Big 6", and decamped to our own group to be as filthy as we liked. It remains one of the most fun, supportive and kind groups on the whole internet, let alone Ravelry. These really are my kind of people.

We decided to meet up at Prick Your Finger, a yarn shop in Bethnal Green, east London, which is sufficiently quirky for such purposes. Additionally, LSG-member Kirsty was performing an art installation there anyway, so it worked out very well. We arrived in dribs and drabs over the course of a couple of hours, and took over the whole floor for a knit-in, whilst owner Rachael Matthews made us many cups of tea.

We watched Kirsty's Pin Ritual. Her pin-based art is amazing - here's a close-up of one of her hanging pieces:

And the trail of pins she leaves wherever she goes (wear shoes):

Some fab stuff from around the shop:

We then decamped to the nearby pub for pies, alcohol, ice-cream, knitting and good conversation - it is called The Camel but was re-christened The Camel-Toe:

You're all awesome, twatweasels!

The next day I celebrated not my sweariness but my gingerness, at a photographic exhibition called Root Ginger, devoted to redheads. I'd seen something about this before but it was somewhere up north, Wolverhampton I think (yes, as far as I'm concerned that's north, way north), so I was thrilled to see it come to London.

It was fairly small, and consisted of large close-up portraits of redheads, all taken against a white background as if a scientific study. I think they're beautiful, but then I would!

There was also some video and printed interviews about the experiences of the participants with respect to having red hair - inevitably the bullying and teasing, the unthinking slights in folklore (the warning about tea-pouring and the threat of bearing ginger twins, the proverbially unwelcome "redheaded step-child", to name but two), but also the admiring comments from old ladies about children - that used to happen a lot to me too. What was particularly interesting was the number of gingers there. If I'd been manning the front desk, I'd have kept a tally of the redheaded visitors as a proportion of all visitors, and I bet it would have been far higher than the general population. Certainly there were plenty of us on the streets of Shoreditch, headed towards or away from the exhibition. I was able to direct a few people who looked lost, because their hair told me exactly what they were looking for.

Particularly nice to see were the number of ginger children there, and I say that as someone who would normally rather be anywhere but in a gallery full of kids. It is rather isolating - especially if you're the only one in the family like I was - and I thought it was great that they could see other people, celebrating their hair colour, particularly for the little boys who have a hard time of it. I like redheaded men but I know I'm in the minority there. I feel they're often forced to become extroverted to survive school, and to an extent that applies to us girls to in having to live up to our "fiesty" reputation. I'm not complaining, I love my hair as my screen-name suggests, and I wouldn't change it for the world. But it does get a little tiring when people casually say they'd hate to have a ginger child, or when my brother says on his Myspace page he'd do any member of Girls Aloud except for the ginger one because gingers are minging, or even family holidays spent hiding miserably under an umbrella wearing SPF 50 total sun block whilst my quick-tanning family basked on the sand. So of course I loved the exhibition.

Lots of people were having their photo taken with the big sign, so I got the boyfriend to do it for me. It's not a great photo as I have my eyes shut, but it turns out I'm inadvertently mimicing the pose of the child on the programme.

Gingers rule!

Monday, 2 March 2009

Baba Marta

Last week a colleague asked me, out of the blue, "How long does it take for your wool to arrive?" I blinked in slight confusion. To which particular wool of the many stash enhancement packages that arrive at my desk, er, several times a week, could she be referring? Then I realised that to "normal" people, there could quite conceivably only be one type of wool and only one supplier. I'm sure I'd be equally surprised by the variety of things available for any one of a million different past-times.

Anyway, some questioning revealed the rationale behind the question. This particular colleague is from Bulgaria, where there is a tradition of exchanging little red and white woolly things, called Martenitsa, on 1 March, which is a national holiday for the first day of spring. The ornaments placate Baba Marta, who is a crotchety old grandmother/witch - the archetypal crone. They are hung up or worn from 1 March until the owner first sees either a stork, a swallow, or a tree in bloom - if the latter, the ornaments should be tied to the tree (presumably this is not feasible with the stork or the swallow and therefore not required by tradition).

It is acceptable and common to purchase Martenitsa (although not for yourself, you have to exchange), but handmade is best. We therefore headed to John Lewis for wool, beads and other supplies, then spent an enjoyable lunch hour creating the ornaments.

Most of the Martenitsa are based on tassles, and the most traditional are little people, a man and a woman. For these, step 1 involves making a tassle:

And then binding it at various points to make a neck, waist and arms:

After some trimming, and the same process again in reverse colours, you have the couple:

Other kinds of tassles and pom-poms are also fine. I made these in the rest of our session:

Here are some examples of purchased ones, including friendship bracelets which are also popular:

Mine are now hung up on my desk, awaiting the sighting of a tree (storks and swallows not being common in central London):

My colleague also sent me a link to this news story from a Bulgarian website, which shows the street markets in Sofia at which these things are sold. They are all rather more complex than my attempts - I did find the knitter in the one I've linked to most amusing (the others are worth a look too for novel things to do with wool). I admit I tried to steal the photo but the site wouldn't let me, boo.

Happy March, and let's hope it is nearly spring!

Tuesday, 24 February 2009


I hope you are all enjoying your pancakes today.

I always use Delia's recipe, with very hot butter and a non-stick pan, and I'm pretty good at tossing them accurately (and more importantly, catching them).

Different fillings are nice, from time to time, but for me it really has to be the traditional lemon and sugar on Shrove Tuesday, even though the citrophobic boyfriend treats them like tangy yellow grenades.


Monday, 23 February 2009


Leyburn Socks

My Socks That Rock Leyburn socks for the KAL are finished! Done, done, done. And on time, even ahead of time, no less, seeing as the KAL runs until 31 March. That alone is an extraordinary achievement for me.

You might remember from before that the socks had spontaneously generated a grey quilted lattice effect over a coloured background, on the foot. That didn't last on the legs, of course, due to the different stitch count and floats all the way round. It's still cool though. Looking at the socks (and other ones in this colourway on Ravelry) I think I would have disliked the pooling of these colours in a plain sock, but the Leyburn pattern breaks it up just enough. I think I need to be more careful in buying sock yarn as I have a few which are just too contrasty for me. At some point I'm going to convert some of my skein photos to greyscale to see if there's any way of telling by hue what I will and won't like. I have the KAL rules, in that we all had to pick a different colour of STR and this was the only one I had that hadn't been taken, for getting me to knit with it, otherwise it might have languished in my stash forever. Check out the KAL projects in all those STR colours, so much fun!

Details: BMFA STR mediumweight in "Tide Pool" on 2.75mm needles for a very tight fabric indeed. Pattern as written with short row toes and heels (and not many gaps actually) until the leg, where I only increased to 60 stitches not 72. They are a little hard to get on and off, but fit perfectly once on. I finished these off with a picot cuff as I just didn't fancy doing ribbing and wasn't sure it would work all that well with the busy pattern and pooling. I hadn't done a picot edge before but enjoyed the process, even though stitching down all the live stitches at the end was more time consuming than a regular cast off. I think here it gives a crown-like effect which goes with the regal quilting.

There is one slightly amusing mistake in these, though not easy to spot. They were almost entirely knitted whilst watching the Joss Whedon sci-fi series Firefly, and then the follow-on film, Serenity, all on DVD. Not wishing to give the plot away, there is a particularly tragic moment towards the end of the film, and on reflection that has to correspond to the plain row I missed out of one pattern repeat near the top of the second sock, leading to one slightly shallower V. Proves I enjoyed the film, right?

I will definitely make this pattern again and am pondering whether or not it would be possible to do the socks in black and the floats in another colour, but will have to figure out what I'd do across the soles to get the yarns back into the right places. Not a task for just now though. I have promised the boyfriend a pair of socks and so will be working with STR mediumweight again straight away, doing plain stocking stitch songs in man-size. Possibly dull, but I am going to challenge myself by learning to use two circulars instead of DPNs, just to see if I can. Vaguely considered trying magic loop but will have that as next on the list.

I also have some other FOs but these are old, I just failed to do the finishing on them for ages, then failed to blog them.

Oil Slick Triangular Shawl

From back in July, oh, the shame. Worse still, I finished it back at the very start of November and then didn't do all the ends until some time in January. Never mind, I wear it around the house with pleasure now, although it's a bit rustic and bulky to wear out on the streets of London where I have to preserve my gritty urban cool.

It is huge. I can't measure it because my tape measure is AWOL, but it's wider than my armspan and that's meant to correspond to my height of 5'8". So about six feet. It's six balls of Noro Iro which were in the John Lewis sale in the summer. As far as I'm concerned, Noro = KNoto which is why there were so many bloody ends to avoid dealing with. The result is very snuggly though, and I love the striping.

The pattern is my own, just garter stitch starting at the nape of the neck, then increasing in the middle and at the edges until I ran out of yarn and/or would have given my soul to be finished, on 7mm bamboo circular needles borrowed from Ting.

Feather & Fan Silk Scarf

Worse still, I started this back in June, finished it not that much later, and again it sat waiting for weaving in until after Christmas. Sheesh.

There are lots of photos of this one because I adore the combination of the ripples of the pattern stitch and the glowing orange and pink yarn. It's Skein Queen Kimono, a pure silk aran weight, in "Phoenix". I have subsequently bought the same stuff in another two colours for more of these, but nowhere near as vibrant.

Again the pattern, such as it is, is my own. It's just feather and fan over 36 stitches, plus two stitches either side for a garter border. I got to use my favourite vintage 4.5mm Inox metal needles, which always make me happy in my knitting.

The yarn was wonderful to knit with although did shed pink, slightly fluffy silk strands all over me during the process, and it continues to do so now over my black coat. Must get the lint roller out.

But I can forgive the prettiness anything.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Battleship Potemkin

I don't like giving bad reviews. I feel horrible about it. Most of the time, I enjoy gigs, plays and restaurants, because I'm pretty easily pleased. The rest of the time, I just don't talk about them. However, this week I actually managed to have a restaurant experience so bad that I feel the need to write about it as a warning - as well as the mutiny we did, for my first time ever, stage at the restaurant. I doubt the Soviets would have approved of this as much as of the actual uprising.

It all started so well, at Potemkin, a Russian restaurant in Clerkenwell, to celebrate a friend's birthday. The promise of 108 different types of vodka was alluring, and indeed proved to be true:

Does that vodka menu look a bit odd to you? We were told that all their prices had gone up (in a recession? with a VAT cut?) and that a couple of the menus had been marked up with the new prices, but not all. Those of us without writing all over the menus would have to consult with others, or, er, guess what price we'd be charged. I'm not sure that's legal under Trading Standards. Possibly a sign of things to come.

In essence, to make your party of a dozen celebrants happy enough to spend lots of money in your establishment, I would recommend that you, dear restaurant owner, do not:

  • Agree a set menu over the phone when making the reservation then decide that only "a few" of us could actually have it;
  • Take half an hour to come and take our order;
  • Take another forty five minutes on top of that to bring our first drinks (if we hadn't seen the menu we would have lost faith in there being any vodka at all by this point, let alone 140 kinds);
  • Take even longer than that to bring our starters, whilst other tables around us arrived, ordered and pretty much got through three courses;
  • Ignore our repeated reminders that we had a set time to leave (which we delayed once for your convenience when it became clear even the starters weren't going to make it by then);
  • Despite our order being made first, sell out a main course dish to all the other tables so suddenly there was none left for us, especially if you only bother to mention this and ask for alternative choices about ten minutes before we really, really had to leave, thus demonstrating that the mains weren't even in the oven yet; and/or (but definitely not and)
  • Be extremely surly all the way through.
We left. It was just too frustrating for words. Many jokes were made by us about queuing and the stereotypical food shortages... Anyway, we walked out, which I've never done before. It was a shame, because the starters were actually very good, but we had no hope whatsoever of getting the rest of our meal in time to do anything else that night, and we weren't even getting drunk in the process.

We ended up in, horrors, Kentucky Fried Chicken. I don't think I'd been in one before. Actually, it wasn't too bad because the thing I ate bore some resemblance to an actual piece of chicken (although most certainly not free range) and certainly more edible than my place mat and cutlery at Potemkin. Best of all, it was in my hands about thirty seconds after I'd ordered. Magic! Demons!

Thus actually fed, where was this place we were in such a hurry to get to? Karaoke! More particularly, Karaoke Box by Smithfield Market. This was awesome fun. I'm a terrible singer but I do know the words to an awful lot of songs, and I'm a complete exhibitionist who always wanted to be a rock star. Even stone-cold sober, it's difficult to get me to give up the microphone to save the eardrums of everybody else. Luckily Karaoke Box rent you your own private room to do this in so as not to inflict the likes of me on the rest of the punters (and additional benefits of your own computer with 8,000 and waitress service). Here's our gang giving it large to Dancing Queen in our little room:

I had the dignity to sit that one out because I absolutely hate bloody Abba. What did I sing? Well, I rocked Depeche Mode's awesome Personal Jesus. That's a good one to chant along to, if you know the song well enough to avoid coming in at the wrong place.

We had a group mosh to Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit, just like in my teenage clubbing days. At least I was wearing flat boots for all that hardcore bouncing.

But the highlight of the night? The cod-Welsh singalong to Goldie Lookin' Chain's Your Mother's Got A Penis, which almost caused me to wet myself with laughter.

"Don't come back in huur!" As the owners of Potemkin might say, and we won't.

Monday, 16 February 2009

I'm not a pheasant plucker...

...I'm the pheasant plucker's son. I'm only plucking pheasants 'til the pheasant plucker comes.

For the rest of the tongue-twisting song, go here. I can't even think it without stumbling. Nor can I get it out of my head whenever I'm dealing with said birds. Or as Neil Young might say, "Why do I keep plucking up?"

I am not the hunting, shooting and fishing type. I, personally, don't see the attraction in spending a day out to kill an animal for "pleasure". However, many of my family and the boyfriend's family do enjoy that sort of thing. It is mildly hypocritical, because I am very much a carnivore, and feel that as such I should be willing to kill my own meat - and I am prepared to do that, if the situation demanded it, but I wouldn't do it for fun. That and the fact that I'm such a crap shot, I doubt I'd hit anything, or if I did, it wouldn't be clean and I would hate to cause suffering.

On the other hand, I very much approve of pheasant shooting as a means to an end. Given I am going to eat meat (and I am, many people have tried and failed to convince me otherwise) I want the animal in question to have had a happy life and a swift and painless death. To me, a pheasant, bred and cosseted to a certain age by the likes of my great-uncle, then released into the guardianship and feeding of a gamekeeper for an untroubled, free-range life of pottering about in the English undergrowth, until a brief moment of being startled by a person with a stick crashing around the woods (and that's me doing the beating, on occasion), flying up and getting shot by any of the marksmen in-laws and dying instantly - well, that's a million times better than being a battery hen, surely? It has also been hypothesised that the only reason that so many tracts of deciduous woodland still exist here is that they are managed as pheasant territory and therefore worth more intact than razed for farmland or buildings. That provides valuable habitat for native bird species.

Finally, there's the whole ethos of being closer to one's food. I like to know where things have come from, and how they've been reared. I like to be told exactly when my food has been killed, and who by. When we visit the families, it's therefore not uncommon for me to be presented with a brace of pheasants for my own plucking enjoyment.

Oh, and my great-grandmother would turn in her grave if she thought I couldn't do this, so I have to keep my hand in.

I was going to fully document the plucking activities undertaken last weekend in my garden, and photographed it all as a kind of tutorial, but then when I sat down to edit them I realised that perhaps they were a bit too gory and I might run the risk of upsetting people, so I have only posted my close-ups of the stunning feathers of Mr Pheasant. Mrs Pheasant was lovely too, though not so striking in patterning, and this shot shows her soft grey-brown plumage next to his iridescence.

Instead, I'll tell you about an entirely un-natural food experience during the week. This follows on quite nicely from our Vanilla trip. On Wednesday night, Anna of the cakes took me and the boyfriend to the Dana Centre, an offshoot of the Science Museum in South Kensington, which hosts various interactive/popular science events for adults in the evenings. This one was on taste, and in particular how other senses can manipulate what we think we are tasting. There were some fascinating experiments. The first was to find out whether or not one is a "supertaster", someone with an intense perception of bitterness. This was done by each of us placing a small piece of filter paper impregnated with a chemical, PROP, on our tongues. Anna reacted with violent disgust, indicating that she is a supertaster. Me? I'm a "non-taster" - I could barely detect the mere hint of bitterness. Maybe this is why I like bitter drinks like campari - I simply don't taste the full hit. On the other hand, I don't like things like chili, coffee and grapefruit juice, which supertasters are supposed to dislike. Go figure.

We then dyed our tongues blue with food dye and counted the papillae to be found within the area of a ring reinforcer. Witness possibly the most unflattering picture I will ever post on here:

Then there were a set of vials of coloured, scented liquid - will the perceived aroma be altered by the visual cues? Yes - it was hard to recognise the green one as orange-scented or the red one as lemon.

Water scented with banana odour, or not, and/or with added sugar. Sugar + banana scent = intense banana flavour because we are trained to think of banana as sweet. Just banana scent doesn't taste like banana, but sugar-water alone does if you've had the banana-sugar first.

Blue, ground up mush, very difficult to recognise as rice if you also wear a nose clip to remove taste, texture and colour cues.

The inevitable molecular gastronomy table: textural experiments of Thai chicken soup and a coffee/chili/orange combo mixed with agar and extruded into spaghetti. Ick.

White wine dyed red, and sniffers initially identify "berry" and "chocolate" scents usually associated with red, which magically disappear when you tell them it's really white. Actually, I got that it was white straight away, hooray for my supersmell if not supertaste.

We did get some normal food too whilst we were listening to the talks (I just liked the primary colours here).

On the way out, we passed the beautiful, gothic Natural History Museum in the dark. One day I'll go back and photograph it properly, like this man was doing in the arched doorway.

Back to the bog standard food for a bit now, I think.

Oh, and whilst we were off playing with taste, Gail and Lotta were off playing with crafts at the Make Lounge's pre-Valentine's craft evening. I then had this sweet little Valentine's present in the post from Miss L. Thank you lovely!