Sunday, 25 January 2009

A very good week

I have been the recipient of an embarrassment of riches this week, both big and small. I can, finally, tell you about them here. Seeing as it's late on a Sunday night, I might split this up into the ones without pictures, and the ones with, for processing and posting tomorrow.

On that basis, luckily the biggest news and the thing for which I was anxiously waiting in my last post has no photos. I have been offered a new job, which I am of a mind to accept. I enjoy my current job, but for the usual minor irritations and slight lack of challenge, but I've been told that they would promote me (overdue already) and give me a pay rise (so far below market rate it's not even funny) but they have no budget to do so. Therefore I have found myself a job which is a promotion and pays the market rate. Simple as that. Without meaning to be vulgar, it's a big enough pay differential that it will make a huge difference to the wedding and, basically, not starting out our married lives in debt. I can't say no to that, nor, actually, do I want to, because the job description and extra responsibilities appeal to me greatly. So, fingers crossed for an actual paper contract early this week, then a rather awkward conversation with my current boss towards the end.

I am taking the risk here that my current employers do not know of and read this blog. I don't think they do. I'm extremely careful. Still, it's not as if the new job is going to be a secret for very much longer, which is great as I loathe the cloak-and-dagger nature of seeking alternative employment.

I also admit to being slightly worried about changing jobs at all in this economy, giving up a pretty secure position for somewhere else where "last-in-first-out" may well be the formula in the even of redundancies, and every other company going into administration at the moment it seems. But hell, I was last into my current place, so that wouldn't be any better there. Also, with the job I do (and even more so with the specific new role) there's a need for me no matter how badly the company itself does... I'm therefore choosing to be brave and make the change, rather than putting up with things for a sense of security which is most likely false anyway.

What else?

Well, with the January detox regime my weight has finally dipped below a number which had seemingly been a bit of a barrier for a while. There's no real significance to it other than that it makes me feel like progress is being made. I haven't even been exercising that much, what with prepping for interviews, going to interviews, and endless calls with my recruitment consultant, so this has been from quasi-religious devotion to the diet alone. This makes me think it will be even better now I can get back down to the gym this week.

The only breach of the diet so far, by the way, has been accepting cups of tea in various interviews, and then a sandwich when offered at the final one. I felt that the social conventions were pressing enough to abandon my dietary fads. After all, I'm not stupid enough to risk my career on wanting to refuse wheat and dairy products for a month. Otherwise, my sushi consumption has been through the roof which makes me a very happy bunny indeed.

What else, what else...

Finally the building work that our landlord has put off for months is being done. The flat is currently in disarray but at least they have found and fixed the root cause of the horrible fluffy mould that was eating our spare room so that's all to the good. My laptop is now all fixed up with a new, reliable hard drive and an extra gigabyte of memory whilst we were mucking around with its innards, so I am typing this on my new, whizzy set-up - this means for the first time I don't have to disable all of Vista's fancy graphical bells and whistles. I scored some Wollmeise (that's yarn for the uninitiated, very covetable yarn) in this Friday's update, and plans are now afoot to head over to Germany in the spring to visit one of her market stalls for in-person shopping. I spent some quality time in person and on the phone with various lovely friends, some of whom I see all the time and some of whom I see all too rarely, though most of that stuff will go in the picture-driven post. And I have finally managed to secure a bouncy castle booking for the wedding, with the 2009 rates actually being lower than the 2008 ones for some strange reason.

I hope that you are all having an equally fortuitous time of it, and if not, well, things can and will change, take it from me.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009


That title is a bit of a misnomer. Last night we went to see Greg Dulli, ex-lead singer of the Afghan Whigs and currently of the Twilight Singers, in a collaboration he's doing at the moment with Mark Lanegan, ex-lead singer of Screaming Trees and occasionally of Queens of the Stone Age. These two are now writing together as The Gutter Twins. I've been a fan of Greg Dulli's work for years, since buying "1965" by the Afghan Whigs back in 1998 on the strength of a review in Q magazine extolling its darky, gothy, highly sexual, New Orleans-inspired feel (I can't find the Q review online so here's the one from Rolling Stone). I introduced it to the boyfriend as soon as we got together and he bought me one of their other albums for Valentine's Day a couple of weeks later. Aaah. Mark Lanegan, however, was a bit of an unknown to me - for some reason I've never really listened to Screaming Trees - which is why I said we went to see Greg Dulli.

It certainly wasn't dull. The two of them have very different voices: Mark Lanegan's is very deep, absolutely controlled, and with huge range; Greg Dulli's is more of a charged yelp across the high notes. Together, they work really well. It was a great concert, and I am now going to have to find a copy of their album together, and some of Mark's stuff.

That photo isn't very good as they were strictly enforcing no flash photography. I'd never use flash in that situation anyway (in fact, hardly ever in any circumstances) as all you do is illuminate the head of the person in front of you and irritate everybody around, but the stewards were generally unhappy about anyone whipping out a camera. After what happened to Eddie Vedder last year (even the first few seconds should give you the idea), I'm not surprised bands are cracking down on this. But during the interval I got a slightly better photo of the venue, the stupendous Union Chapel in Islington:

It's even more stunning in person, when your eyes can pick out the octagonal chamber and old wooden pews by candlelight. This is what churches should be for.

Other than that, life is in a state of flux... I won't say any more but I am waiting for news, something good, but it's boring to wait. I've been distracting myself with the Leyburn socks KAL. Here they are:

The other foot is coming along too.

I've also been amusing myself by spotting these signs around London which I'm sure the lsg crew on Ravelry will enjoy. Yes, yes, the company's actually called ISG, not LSG, but it looks that way with the oh-so-trendy mixed upper- and lower-case.

Back to the pretty socks and a pile of DVDs...

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Swap Joy, even for Bees

My Rubberswap Redux swap package arrived today, hooray! It is from the fabulous Lisa B of Lisabeedesigns. It actually arrived yesterday but the postie had to leave a card through the door. I wasn't sure if it would be ready for collection at the sorting office yet, but I couldn't wait, and it was a lovely, sunny morning (for a change) for the walk so I chanced it, and the knitting gods smiled upon me.

Because it was sunny, with decent light for photography, I decided to open it in the garden with my camera. This was a mistake, as will become clear.

First layer unwrapped - I thoroughly approve of recycling boxes, for both economical and environmental reasons, so you are a girl after my own heart, Lisa. I send most of my packages out in boxes from something else. Hotel Chocolat are, incidentally, an excellent source of useful, small boxes for this type of thing.

Opening the box, I found a lovely note which I read with great excitement.

Unfortunately, as I was doing so, a visitor arrived. A honeybee. Actually, I'm assuming it arrived, rather than being in the box already. This is Lisabeedesigns, after all. I did even joke on the thread in RR that my partner shouldn't send me a boxful of live bees because they are an illegal import at UK Customs because of nasty bee diseases... Surely not? No, I'm pretty sure I saw it land. It wandered over the tissue paper for a bit:

Then disappeared into the depths of the box. Oh dear.

I can't remember if I've mentioned it before, but I have a horrible phobia of wasps. I'm slightly more comfortable around honeybees, but I would hardly say I was keen on them. Worse still, by this point a furious buzzing was emanating from the box. I wasn't entirely happy about putting my hand in there. I whacked the box a couple of times with a stick, to try to frighten it out, but no bee emerged. Shit.

Dilemma: leave the box until later, or proceed with opening? I didn't really want to leave it as I wouldn't have known whether or not the bee was still in there. The boyfriend, who used to work with honeybees and therefore has little fear of them, was off climbing so not around to save me, and anyway, how pathetic and girly would that be? Besides, all he would do to remove the bee would be to upend the box and steal my joy of unpacking it. I decided to be brave. I extracted the contents gingerly (ha) using the big scissors I'd had on hand for unwrapping to pick things up.

On the top, a "Ravel Mix" CD burned by Lisa of music she thought I'd like, based on my Amazon wishlist. This is so cool, and shows such thoughtfulness that I really am humbled.

Pretty yarns! There's some yummy Andean Treasure baby alpaca from Knitpicks, always great to receive here in the UK. Then there are some truly gorgeous yarns from Lisa's local Dancing Leaf Farm in Maryland, beautiful! I am guessing from the website that the bigger one is Rhumba organic worsted-weight merino in the Briar Patch colourway, and the smaller one is Salsa DK-weight mohair/wool in Purple Passion. They are really, really nice.

On the food front, Hard Times Chili spice mix (mmm!) from Texas and Lake Champlain Hazelnut Praline dark chocolate (double mmm!) from Vermont. These will go down very well indeed.

Cute little fingerpuppets of a girl and a chicken, lovely bamboo needles with pink balls on the end, and a beautiful notebook with birds on the front. You all know how much I like things with birds on the front.

Having removed most of the stuff, I discovered what the bee was after (crap photo as I was too scared to check the focus):

Gorgeous soap samples from Alchemic Muse, as I'd mentioned on my questionnaire that I'd like inspiration for my own soap-making. The bee had made, er, a bee-line for the Brier Rose-scented one. I think this is very telling on how proper essential oils (like Alchemic Muse use, and so do I) absolutely kick the arses of synthetic fragrance oils. The bee must have thought that summer was here, and it wanted it. Really wanted it. I did feel a bit sorry for the bee - it was quite groggy with the cold and lacking energy from no food all winter, and it must have thought that the wonderful rose scent meant nectar. And it's not as if honeybees are doing very well at the moment. However, this one wasn't going to survive long by waking up in January anyway. I eventually managed to shake it off onto the lawn so that I could get at my soap:

Thank you so much Lisa, it's all bee-rilliant!

Wednesday, 14 January 2009


That most nightmare of technological scenarios befell me on Wednesday night: the hard drive error. I got home from WNK, hit the return key to wake my laptop from its slumbers, and... nothing. In fact, it switched itself off. Strange. Then it repeatedly tried to start up, never quite making it. I knew exactly what had happened, because the drive had thrown up error after error since I bought the thing, but I carried on regardless, and did I back up? Well, sort of, just not as regularly as I should have. So it was soon ascertained that I was the owner of a useless lump of plastic, metal and silicon, and potentially no longer the owner of quite a few photos and knitting patterns. Thankfully my dear knight in shining armour was stubborn enough to spend the next four days fiddling with components from Maplin and software from off the internet, and eventually managed to read off the data, so nothing lost and not too much money spent in saving it. He's a genius. I now have to order a new hard drive to get my laptop up and running again, but at least my stuff is safe.

So two New Year's Resolutions to add to the list:
  • Back up, back up, back up, not less than every two weeks.
  • Get blogging on the stuff I thought I might have lost, and generally blog faster, so everything I want to keep is uploaded.
The benefit of all of this was that I got some knitting done whilst I was bereft of the distractions of the internet.

Firstly, the stripy "Blood & Bone" socks from my own hand-dyed yarn are finished! I am so pleased with them.

As detailed here, the yarn is Knitpicks Bare for the striping sections, and The Yarn Yard Bonny for the contrast heel/toe/cuff, all dyed with Kool Aid. It's a toe-up stocking stitch sock, 64 stitches on 2.5mm needles for a UK size 6, with my usual toe, Sherman heel and 2x2 twisted rib cuff. I had loads of yarn left over, as they only used 51g (ie half) of the Knitpicks and 19g (less than half) of the Bonny. I could, and probably should, have made long boot socks, but I don't have the patience for the relentless knitting involved or the subtleties of calf shaping. The extra has therefore found a good home to be made into more socks.

I asked the boyfriend to take the photos for me, on a break from IT repairs, as I was fed up with trying to take good photos of my own feet. Once we'd done the above "technical" photos, showing the contrast bits and construction, I thought we should dress them up a bit with my current favourite shiny black shoes, so it was into the garden to take advantage of the weak winter sun.

Thankfully none of our neighbours were around to see this silliness.

Having finished those, I moved onto a deadline job. Tomorrow is my father's 60th birthday and I thought he deserved a luxurious, warm hat for out on the golf course or when he's working on his motorbike. In my stash I had two skeins of bulky cashmere from School Products in New York (the trip on which this was acquired is one of the things I nearly lost the photos of, and must blog soon) and that seemed perfect. It's black, but a fairly washed-out, flecky black. It is very soft and lovely. The hat itself is just a 4x2 rib, 72 stitches on 6mm needles, decreasing for the last few rounds. It took me two evenings, and was finished just in time to make the post down to Bournemouth. Seeing as the finish and immediate wrapping was late at night, I had no photographic help and had to do the traditional Myspace dirty mirror photos.

I sustained a small knitting injury from this as it seems, at that particular gauge, my left index fingernail hits my right first knuckle at every stitch. By two-thirds of the way through the hat, I was bleeding, and had to wear a plaster for the rest. I'm sure I've never had that before but will have to alter my technique if it starts to be a problem.

That done, I can now start the Leyburn socks for the KAL from my last post, so will, in fact, go and do so now.

Remember, back up, people, back up!

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

In with the New

So it's only taken me until the 6th to do the New Year's Resolutions...

Well, not resolutions exactly, but I do have some plans for the year to come. Shall I split into crafty and non-crafty?


Firstly, I have to get my knitting productivity up. I have a stupid amount of yarn. I love it all, and don't intend to destash (or kid myself that I'm not buying any more), but I do need to get on with knitting it. For me, that means making sure I have a mindless project on the needles at all times, such as stocking stitch socks, so that I can knit whilst commuting or in the canteen at work, and if I get to a heel or some other bit that requires concentration, I have to make sure I do it that evening so I can continue. I think I should spend less time on Ravelry to achieve this. I'm just addicted to reading other people's knitting questions and/or drama.

I have to finish a garment that is not socks or another kind of accessory. That KSH jumper would be a good start. I do also have the materials for a couple of other jumpers and it would be nice to do them - although this may be better achieved after the body shape changes that are mentioned below.

I have to knit myself a wedding shawl. I have a pattern, Icarus. I have yarn, undyed alpaca/silk/cashmere from Bluefaced. However, I've just realised that it's cobweb weight so that might be a mistake if I want to finish by September. I'm going to double strand it. To add to the confusion, I also have this gorgeous rust-coloured silk laceweight from Yarn Chef, which would match the wedding colours perfectly. So perhaps I should do the shawl in that instead? I've pretty much decided to go ahead with the white one first, and if the pattern proves as easy and pleasurable as I'm hoping, I'm thinking about making the orange one too and deciding then.

I've also joined an online KAL, on the Ravelry Socks That Rawk group, after having had my attention drawn to it on Turtlegirl's blog. We, over 100 of us, are each taking a different colour of STR for one pattern, Leyburn, and it will be interesting to see how it looks in all the different colours. Mine is Tide Pool in mediumweight and here it is, wound up:

Even the boyfriend remarked that this was "pretty" when he saw me winding it, and he never notices yarn (except in terms of the volume of it entering the house, and he's pretty good-natured about that). I have only about an hour's more work to finish the stripy socks then I'll be casting on for the Leyburns.

But... drumroll please... I have a new toy which could very easily derail all of the above, if I'm not careful. Ladies and gentlemen, please meet my Kromski Sonata:

Isn't it pretty? My dear parents bought it for me for Christmas (at my request, they're lovely but not psychic) and it is going to be a huge time suck. Should I name it, to give Ting's Ewan a sibling? If so, I think it's a girl wheel, and I shall name her Magda because that's the Polish name with which I'm most familiar. Say hello to Magda, everybody. Let's hope she needs less of my time this year than a real baby.

That's not even including any bead bouquet-making, baking, soap or needlefelting. Yikes!


Now I know this is an entirely stereotypical response to getting married, but I do really need to lose some weight this year. Not that I think I'm fat, exactly, but I am three stone heavier than when we met (nearly seven years ago) and I'd rather be back to that for the Day of a Thousand Photographs, and ongoing, of course. In the autumn of last year I lost a stone by diligent attendance at the gym coupled with a food diary to make myself more aware of what I was eating - not denying myself anything at all, even chocolate, but pausing to think about whether I really wanted whatever I was about to eat, and if I didn't really want it, I didn't have it, or had less. It worked incredibly well, in a way that nothing really has before because I've never truly tried. Then I hurt my ankle and that was followed by a series of colds, so I was out of action during November and December. I haven't put much back on during the festive season though, and I've been down the gym at least every other day since just after Christmas. Go me!

To kick-start things, during January I am doing the very restrictive detox diet I've done many times before, based on this book. I'm not a huge believer in the "detox" concept actually, but the principles cross over well to having a very healthy and calorie-restricted diet. So until a planned night out on 31 January, I am off alcohol, meat, dairy, wheat, sugar, caffeine... pretty much everything, leaving me to eat fish, rice, potatoes, soy, and all the fruit and vegetables I can stand. As I said, I've done it before and always had great results, just never coupled with an exercise regime to make it stick. I'm remarkably good at hyper-restrictive diets, with rules and a defined end date - I am not so good at trying to follow vague concepts such as "eat fewer Mars Bars". Also, this one still allows me to have my favourite food, sushi, so I cannot be unhappy. Five days in (started on 2 January so the hangover on New Year's Day could be dealt with appropriately with a fry-up) and I am not feeling the pinch yet.

I find it critical to have the correct food available at all times, to avoid unwanted lapses, so we took a bracing walk over the cold hills of north London at the weekend to the farmers' market, and bought fruit with leaves and wormholes, like fruit from the tree should have, and beautiful, sleek, fresh fish from the Dorset coast.

Now doesn't that look better than refined sugar?

Tying in with that, and mainly prompted by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's philosophies in this book, and my desire to make my own yummy chutneys from this book (both from my grandma for Christmas), I am seriously considering trying to grow some vegetables in my garden this year. I have no idea if it'll work. There are some borders I can dig out and plant, and I'm just going to try with some courgettes and carrots to start with, but it would make me very pleased indeed.  It's too cold to get started yet though.

Oh, that's far too much bucolic idyll, isn't it? Back to gritty urban life. I leave you with a symbol of London, a graffiti'd Tube train as seen on the way to the New Year's Eve party we attended:

May all your 2009 endeavours be fruitful.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Christmas Crafting

Happy New Year!  Christmas seems to be well and truly over; our tree is down and it's back to work tomorrow after a blissful two weeks off. Now everybody has received their gifts, I can give a run-down of the things I made, as there were a few of these.


Since last year's holiday knitting didn't go all that well (with a distinct lack of thanks from the recipients), I'd decided not to bother any more. After all, isn't it better to knit with no stress, no deadlines, for someone who'll appreciate the work that went into it, ie me? But then my aunt came to stay for the night some time in November and gushed so appreciatively over my various WIPs that I deemed her to be knit-worthy and decided to make her some socks. That and the fact that she has really small feet (UK size 2.5) so I was fairly confident of being able to finish socks in the time allowed. Ting is the same size so graciously supplied measurements and acted as in-progress tester.

I chose the Floral Lace Anklet pattern from the Interweave Lace Style book, which is full of pretty patterns. I figured it would be nice to make her something really luxurious, and found some semi-solid pink cashmere/silk Posh Yarn in my stash (Eva 6-ply in Blithe). This is billed as a DK-weight yarn but I'm sure it's far heavier than that - on the 3mm needles I used it made an exceptionally thick and tight fabric. To compensate for the gauge and her little feet, I cut out two of the pattern repeats around, and more than that in terms of length - for example, the leg was meant to be six repeats for an ankle sock versus the five I did for a full-length sock for her, and the foot was meant to be about ten repeats to the toe, versus the five I did here again. This meant that despite these being my first lace socks, and my first top-down socks, they went really quickly. If I hadn't had to take a break for several days because my wrists hurt from wrestling the super-tight lace decreases in the gauge I was at, I'd have had them done in a week I'm sure.

Here are the finished socks:

I actually quite enjoyed the various elements of top-down construction, including the dreaded Kitchener stitch (which went very easily with this video tutorial) but I still think it's all a bit of a faff compared to toe-up. Why do a three-step process of heel flap, turn and gusset, if you can just do a short row or Sherman heel?

I also immensely enjoyed the lace. I haven't done much of it, but every time I learn more about how to read my knitting, and how to fix without frogging. During the course of these, I had to drop down stitches on occasions to add missed increases and decreases, so I feel far more confident about doing bigger shawls now.

Anyway, they were very well-received, and I had the chance to use the "Selfish" gift tags I have from Knit, which make the point by reading "This project took hours of my precious time to make. You may now ooh and ahh and wear it every single day for the rest of your life."

I did also finish off (as in, sewing in the ends) on two WIPs which were otherwise finished a while ago. I managed to get these done on the morning when I was due to head down to Bournemouth for the holidays. May I present garter rib socks for me made from Cherry Tree Hill Supersock DK in the Cherry Blossom colourway:

(Talking of DK weights, the CTH was about half the weight of the PY!)

And the Lucious Llama Lace scarf in Mirasol Miski, which has been very snuggly indeed over the last week or so:

I also used the time off to get on with my stripy socks:

And my Kidsilk Haze jumper:

Just one other knitting-related photo from the holidays:

Sadly, I think they mean fibre optics.

Needle Felting

A new craft for me, this. I'd picked up some felting needles and merino tops from The Handweaver's Studio early last year, and a copy of Fleece Dog some time before that. Then very recently one of my colleagues brought me back another very cute book of needle felted animals from her native Japan. It was time to give it a go, so I decided to see if I could make the lovely Gail small effigies of her own two kitties.

I didn't take any photos during the process, and I was subjected to plenty of "that'll never work" heckling from the boyfriend, but it did work! Here are the girls:

They are based on pipe cleaner skeletons (big green fluffy novelty ones were all I could find locally so they had to do), covered with merino tops. The eyes are small green beads poked into the heads on U-shaped lengths of craft wire, and the whiskers are the more slippery beading wire pushed through the heads and clipped to the right length.

These were great fun to make and I will be doing various other little animals for myself at some point. I think certain members of the mustelid family might be pretty adorable (red panda, sea otter and zorilla in particular).


It had been ages since I'd picked up a bead in earnest, certainly not since starting this blog, but I used to make quite a bit of jewellery and do have a bead stash. I needed to get back into it as I intend to create my bouquet out of Swarovski crystals. I ended up making this keyring out of green and clear crystals, silver beads and white pearls, for Lotta:

Probably not the most practical keyring, but never mind!

I also made some stuff for myself that evening, including this ring out of blue-green (technically "Indicolite") crystals, large dark grey-burgundy pearls, small white pearls and small silver beads, on one of the ring bases with a loop to attach things, as sold at the Swarovski shop on Great Marlborough Street:

I did really want to have the bunch more solid and able to stand up, but it seemed to be impossible to pack it that tightly whilst still being able to access the loop to attach things, so the stalks flop around and jangle as I move my hand. It's quite fun although distracting to wear whilst typing.

That's it for the presents. My craft (and other) activities for 2009 will be in the next post.