Sunday, 27 April 2008

Back behind the wheel

It's wonderful to be reunited with my spinning wheel so I thought I would show you what we have been working on. The red and yellow blue faced Leicester roving has been on the wheel for a while as I have really only has the odd few minutes here and there to spend on it. Frustratingly, this showed in the fact that it was difficult to get myself back into a rhythm, as if my newly found skills were going backwards instead of forwards. I just couldn't seem to get the wheel adjusted properly, the yarn kept breaking and then the drive band, (otherwise known as the piece of string) snapped. Grrr...

I thought with all this lack of harmony with my wheel that I was going to produce a very second rate skein of yarn but look! It's not too bad is it? I dunked it in really hot water then gave it a most satisfying bashing on the garden table, dried it in the sun and it's totally transformed. I wanted the reds and yellows to be well blended, to make the most of the lovely range of orange shades that are created where they meet. The most pleasant surprise, however, and I wish once again that blogs came with touch and smell is how soft and lustrous the yarn is.

I'm still not quite sure what it might become, however.

Spurred on by my unexpected success I turned to this month's Yarn Yard fibre club offering, some rather lovely organic merino in a shade called 'Thistles'. This is evenly painted in two shades of two colours so I thought that instead of trying to get an all over blend of the shades as I had done with the last project, I would try something different.

Here is the roving, plaited up looking gorgeous.

And look - I have torn it to shreds. I decided that I would spin the greens and the pinks separately into complementary yarns. The green would still have flashes of pink.

And the pink would be flecked with green as I deliberately tore them apart quite roughly. That bit was fun...

I also wanted the yarn to be a little heavier and more lightly twisted than the 'heavy sock weight' that seems to be my default yarn these days which took some concentration but here are my first results.

This is the green yarn straight off the wheel before setting but I am getting pretty much the effect that I wanted. My current plan is to make something in entrelac which I think will show the 'two yarns from one' effect well but I am open to suggestions - what would you do with this?

Friday, 25 April 2008

End of week round up with added Exciting News!

My needles have been flying furiously this week as I am still in the grip of finishing fever. Can't say how long it will last so I have to make the most of it!

The Wishbone Lace socks are finished. Just to recap, the pattern is by Nancy Bush and published in the latest issue of Piecework. The yarn is Cherry Tree Hill and they are knitted on five 2.25mm needles. I thoroughly enjoyed knitting these from start to finish. You can always rely on Nancy Bush to design a beautiful sock which will often have a new and interesting cast on or a subtly different heel turn and these socks had both. I always feel that I am learning something new when I make one of her designs. She also has an enormous knowledge of and respect for the history of knitting and often builds that knowledge into her designs which further adds to their charm for me.

It's been a busy week work wise so there have been plenty of times when all I am capable of is dozing over my plain sock on the bus. Trouble is, the Mountain Colors Bearfoot yarn is so soft and fuzzy I think it adds to my sleepiness. May I publicly apologise to fellow London Transport passengers if you have found my snoring in any way alarming or annoying...

I have had my eye out for some time for a small pouch to keep my sock knitting in to stop it getting tangled up with the rest of the contents of my work bag. You never know when a forgotten banana or biro is going to mutiny and spread its sticky presence all over the inside of your bag. Ironically, I think I have discovered the perfect pouch but it's so pretty I couldn't bear the thought of it falling victim to decomposing fruit! In fact I could see myself using it as a handbag in its own right or at the very least swinging along to knitting group with it!

It is by Cotton and Cloud who sells them and lots of other beautiful bags and pouches made from Japanese fabrics under the name of Watanwatan on Etsy. She is based in London so do go and have a look at her things - they really are beautiful. Mine is called Japanese umbrellas and has a drawstring inside cover and a zipped pocket on the outside for stitch markers and darning needles etc. There is plenty of room inside for a couple of sock projects but that's no reason to confine yourself to just one - I could see another one coming home with me!

Speaking of talented independent fibre artists just take a look at a little something Natalie from the Yarn Yard sent me. An exquisite little skein of DK weight silk.

I'm sure that Natalie won't mind me telling you that I saw the base yarn and believe me, you have to have a dyer's eye to see the potential of it. This started life as an acidic yellow even a firm advocate of the sunny colour like me was hard pressed to look at.Who knew it could be transformed into something so beautiful? Thank you, Natalie. Now to decide what to make with it.

And now for my piece of Very Exciting News! This time next week I will be in America. Not just any part of America, I will be in Maryland for the Sheep and Wool Festival! I can't quite believe that I am really going but a friend of mine has family who live very near the showground and happens to be there on business and asked if I would like to come for the long bank holiday weekend and take in the festival. I didn't need asking twice as you can imagine! I'll stop using exclamation marks now.

There are already at least two readers of this blog (Hi Nikki and Vi) that I am hoping to meet up with but if there are any more of you planning to be there do let me know - it would be fantastic to meet you.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Shared history

When I started this blog, I mentioned my fascination for the way that knitting connects us to the past, both within our own families, and within the wider community. One of the projects that I am still most proud of is the traditional Cornish gansey that I knitted for Leon and the pleasure that I take in seeing him wearing it as his everyday working jumper, feeling the benefit of its tightly knitted windproof properties.

You can imagine, therefore, how delighted I was to come across this absorbing book about the tradition of knitting fisherman's jumpers in the Netherlands. What strikes me from the brief look I have had at it so far is how much they have in common with those of the British Isles but how they also have styles and techniques unique to themselves or drawing influences from other parts of Europe.

Look at these wonderful images of how much a part of everyday dress for ordinary people the knitted jumper was.
...and how they are worn both for daily labour and Sunday best.

Whenever I come across work such as this I feel humble and proud at the same time for being part of the community of knitters who create these extraordinary everyday things.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Introducing Miss Mattie's Stashbuster Spirals

As I mentioned in my last post, despite my resolution to get some of my current work in progress off the needles, when I read on the Yarn Yard Group in the Ravelry forums that there was going to be a Knitalong for using a very nifty technique which takes several colours at once to make stripy socks in jogless spirals I had to get involved.

I decided that I would like to see what this technique looked like if I used a simple lace pattern so what better than the Horseshoe Lace pattern that I have well and truly memorised after designing the Cranford Mitts.

As you can see it gives a completely different look to the pattern and the matched decreases and yarn overs create a ripple effect which moves the stripes around rather prettily. I need to do a little more work on rejoining the yarn after the heel turn as there are a couple of areas where the spiral broke and for some reason I managed to reverse the colour repeat. I also think I need to go up a needle size as the lace pattern pulls the fabric in a little. Thank goodness for that second sock which gives me another chance to troubleshoot.

In other news I have been working on reconvening my little sock family so here are my current difficult and easy socks. The wishbone lace socks have been a lovely knit which I have really enjoyed. I'm sure I will be finishing them off later in the week. My completely mindless project started life as my demonstration sock for knitting socks on two circular needles but I got so fed up of having needle ends flapping around that I yanked one needle out and am now finishing it off using the magic loop technique. The yarn is Mountain Colours Bearfoot which I have to say feels absolutely gorgeous. It has a bit of mohair in it which makes it deliciously fuzzy and soft.

And finally, I have been busy at my spinning wheel and have been spinning up the March Yarn Yard Club Fibre. The colours are glorious but my favourite parts are where the red and yellow run into each other so I am breaking to fibre up into small colour runs so that there aren't any huge lengths of one colour. I'm hoping to get a kind of sunrise effect so we will see how it turns out!

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Of low hanging fruit and plans for adventure

In my first few days back in the UK, whilst I was struggling to come to terms with work and cold weather and big city life there were two main themes dominating my knitting. First came the urge to spring clean and get some of the things that had been on the needles for a while finished so that I could launch myself at new things with a clear (ish) conscience. The second was, at least for the first few days, my overextended and slightly travel fuzzed brain could really only cope with stocking stitch.

So, first off the needles came some low hanging fruit in the person of these green socks, knitted in Colinette Jitterbug as part of the last course I taught at IKnit. All they needed was the second toe to be closed. I'm not sure why they hung around for so long. I like the texture of Jitterbug but wasn't too keen on the way the colours pooled. I am becoming much more discerning in the hand paint yarns that I will buy now as I expect the dyer to not only think about the way the yarn looks in the skein, but also about what the effect will be in a knitted object. I have been spoiled by Natalie at the Yarn Yard in this regard. Can anyone recommend any other dyers who take pains to produce non pooling colourways.

On the right is my first ever pair of socks knitted using the magic loop technique. I did enjoy trying something new and would use the technique again but have realised that I knit a lot more tightly on circulars than dpns for some reason so will go up a needles size next time. I think I still prefer dpns but I will have another few goes at magic loop just to check its not just a case of familiarity over adventure. The yarn is Cherry Tree Hill Supersock which knitted up as reliably as ever. We'll see how colourfast they turn out to be....

The next project fulfilled my desire for mindless stocking stitch as well as something on a slightly larger scale than all my small needle travel knitting. As you can see I've added considerably to my Manos Silk clapotis. It really is lovely yarn to knit with. This is probably my fourth or fifth clapotis but I wear the ones I have kept so often and find them such a relaxing mindless knit that I am likely to always have one on the needles somewhere. And dropping stitches on purpose still makes me feel just a little bit dirty...

Working away on simple projects has allowed my imagination to wander, however. Especially as I recently discovered this lovely book.

It really does have some beautiful afghan designs. I have to say that I love the one on the cover but I think it's a bit too challenging for a beginner like me so I have narrowed my choice down to a couple of the simpler ones that I like...

This one...

Or this one...
What do you think?

Finally, I just can't keep to a resolution for long. I read a thread on Ravelry about Stashbusting Spiral Socks and before I knew what I was doing I had joined the Knitalong.

Here is my yarn, three mini skeins from the Yarn Yard.

The observant amongst you will see that they are attached to something. All will be revealed in good time - all I can say at the moment is that I couldn't resist the temptation to make life just a little bit more complicated and with luck you may see an old friend looking quite different!

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Thank goodness the sun is shining

Well, here I am back in London. If it wasn't sunny it would be a very depressing experience. Still, it is rather nice to be reunited with all my knitting and spinning things. I can definitely feel a spinning session coming on. I didn't realise how much I had missed it until I saw my wheel again.The alpaca fleece I was offered in Oz didn't quite make it to the house in time but will be there waiting for me on my next trip.

You may have noticed that I have gone back through my posts from Australia and added the relevant photographs.It seems to make more sense that way. I enjoyed how the lack of knitting progress made me depart from the usual subject matter of my blog. I need to think about how I will continue with this theme. I think travel will inevitably make its way in but there will always be fibre content.

Back to the knitting - I have finished the Noro socks.

There were times when I wasn't particularly enjoying them.The yarn has all the features that Noro's detractors cite - lumpy, stringy, annoying knots, inconsistencies, but having finished them, they're very pretty aren't they?

Thursday, 10 April 2008

I'll be back

My last couple of days in Australia couldn't have been more different from the previous three weeks but were fascinating and enjoyable just the same. On Tuesday our first stop was the headquarters of the Jesuits in Melbourne. A little more grand accommodation than I have been used to...

We spent the afternoon conducting a telephone interview with a teacher from New Zealand who was applying for a six month job in Timor Leste. I offered to scribe and found myself being introduced as part of the panel!

The next day, as my flight home was a night flight I spent the day helping babysit Jan's 18 month old grandson who is a dear little chap. We went to the beach...

Not a bad final image from a wonderful journey.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Just east of civilisation

It was with a heavy heart that I said goodbye to Leon at Traralgon station this morning. I have worked really hard during my stay but come back feeling so inspired and encouraged in my capability and creativity. I really do know how lucky I am. He also gave me this:

It is made from Australian cypress and is just beautiful. Its partner will follow in the post.

I couldn't stay downhearted for long as I settled into a comfortable hour and a half's uninterrupted knitting on the train to Dandenong - bliss. I love the unfamiliarity of the names of the stations I pass through like Warrugul and Nar Nar Goon, interspersed with strangely familiar place names like Trafalgar reminding me of the mixed and troubled heritage of the country I am so fond of.

Things looked up even more when I was swept up by Jan at the station and we were soon deep in catching up on two years of news, new grandson, new house, the time flew.

We spent the afternoon making up care packages to send to Timor Leste where Jan and Geoff have been working tirelessly to support the reconstruction of the community after its difficult history. I am now the proud owner of this beautiful piece of traditional Timorese woven fabric.
and these beautiful tortoiseshell knittingneedles which are of no use to the women they were donated for but well worth a donation from me.
Tomorrow we are going to meet other people involved in the campaign. Through my work I am involved in similar projects in Sierra Leone so it is a good opportunity to learn and share.

I'm now off to spend the evening indulging in more catching up - knitting in hand, obviously!

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Farewell to the rain forest

Today was my last day in the hills. Tomorrow I head to Melbourne to spend a couple of days with my friends Jan and Geoff to get myself acclimatised to the ways of city folk before I fly home on Wednesday. I just don't know where the time went.

Last night I was lying in my bed staring at the stars. That's another thing about this place, absolute darkness - no light pollution at all so on a clear night the number and brightness of the stars is breathtaking. I can now pick out the Southern Cross but still can't get used to the fact that all the familiar constellations are upside down! I just can't get used to seeing Orion standing on his head.

Today we got a couple of hours of brick heaving under our belts.
Then we got into our best bibs and tuckers on for a barbecue about an hour and a half's drive away. It was good sitting under the trees chatting to familiar people in such an unfamiliar landscape. Going down onto the flat meant another change of wildlife and the chance to add Noisy Miners and White Winged Choughs to my bird spotters list. Did I not tell you I was a closet twitcher?

We decided to take a detour on the way home.
and found a long disused fire watchers' tower in the middle of some dry lowland forest.
Leon showed me how to identify the type of eucalypts by their bark and the shape of the seed capsules. The trees are known as Messmates apparently.

Driving home along the dirt roads close to home we came across two Wedge Tailed Eagles dining on a wombat carcass in the middle of the road (it's the cycle of life). These truly are majestic birds. We had seen a pair earlier circling high above the fire tower but nothing prepares you for their size and power when encountered at close quarters.

Believe it or not I have squeezed knitting into the day - have finished the cuff on my second Noro sock so I will have something to get on with on the train tomorrow. Leon also agreed to model his hat.

Leon loves his hat.

And no, I haven't started packing yet...

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Never ride shotgun on a tractor

One of the things I was hoping to achieve in my time here was to regain some of my physical fitness after a very flabby, sedentary winter. Today must have been my most physically gruelling day of the trip. Straight after breakfast we headed out to clean the remainder of the bricks. Sounds like something I would get time off for good behaviour from doesn't it? It was saved by the setting, however, down on the 'common' which is a small area of river flat surrounded by towering gum trees. Kookaburras were making a deafening sound calling from tree to tree and the sun was breaking through after the recent stormy weather.

Best of all, some of the trees on the far side of the river are ones that I helped to plant five years ago and are now over twenty feet high. It gives me a wonderfully warm feeling to see them.

By lunchtime we had cleaned all but fifty or so bricks but rain sent us scurrying for cover. There is even pleasure in this ostensibly ghastly task by finding ways of hitting the mortar gently in just the right place to make it all fall off in one place.

Even the discarded mortar is not wasted here. After lunch, after finishing the cleaning and stacking, off we went to the top of the hill where the sheds and rainwater tanks are to get the tractor. I got to ride sidesaddle on the mudguard which was not a pleasant trip. Despite seeming to travel at snails pace, the ponderous machine pitches and tosses such that I was more exhausted from hanging on for dear life than by smashing up cement. We filled the tractor's bucket with the surplus concrete and took it up the track to form hardcore in a muddy and unstable part of the surface. I was very glad to finish that task but can definitely feel my muscle strength returning. I just hope I won't be too stiff tomorrow!

Knitting related activity took a slightly different turn today. When I brought my sock blockers with me (only one pair...) Leon. who is a keen woodworker was very keen to see if he could make a version so today we put a piece of native hardwood through the thicknesser until it was thin enough, marked out a pair of blockers for me and one for Jess and cut it up ready for the next process. It will be a really wonderful reminder of this very special place.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Of turning heels, brick tossing and the perfect prawn curry

I've just come back from staying the night with other members of the extended family, catching up with news, chatting about and eating good food and teaching my friend Jess the mysteries of turning a sock heel. It was lovely to spend time with someone who has stash and multiple works in progress so doesn't consider me too peculiar. We even watched an American knitting show on cable TV - fascinating! Jess is left handed so it was quite a challenge to make sure I was teaching in the right direction but very good practice! I think she has all the makings of a very proficient sock knitter. I also finished Leon's hat....
Leon came and picked me up in the afternoon. We only got as far as the bottom of his hill and stopped for a couple of hours to clean some of the less beautiful bricks he has had delivered to line the cellar. We have done 700 of the 1700. I also learned how to throw and catch bricks for most efficient stacking - more to it than meets the eye!

Before I left the house, yesterday I made a Thai curry paste which has been sitting overnight to develop its flavours. I added coconut milk and kaffir lime leaves and made a particularly spectacular prawn curry if I say so myself. We are now wishing we hadn't eaten quite so much...

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Why do you never pack a chainsaw when you need one?

A very busy day today.

We started out after breakfast running various errands but stopping off at the Op Shop yielded a fine haul of two cracking 1980's knitting books and 100g of emerald green wool for less than $2.

I think these books are a god example of how, depending on which ne you pick up, you can consider the 1980s to be deliciously retro or the decade that taste forgot...

Yes, the cover photo of Designer Knits really is as monstrous as it first appears...

But nothing can prepare you for the koala in a yellow frock...

The other book, however, is much more tasteful with some rather pretty designs shot in that soft focus Flake advert sort of way.

I was equally lucky at the local fruit and veg market, laying my hands on some beautiful fresh coriander, lemongrass, chillies, galangal and ginger so I can make some of my renowned Thai curry paste for fish curry at the weekend.

We arrived at the salvage yard at about 11 and by 1pm had 200 bricks cleaned and packed into the back of the Ute. We chatted to the owner who took great delight in showing us the pile of stone from the demolition of the Sale prison. I wonder what it will eventually become...

While I remember, for those of you wondering where in Australia I am, I am in south east Victoria in the hills of the Strzlecki Ranges near Yarram in Gippsland, about three hours drive from Melbourne.

As we headed home the wind started to get stronger, and stronger and stronger.... Several trees had fallen across the road home and I could tell that Leon was getting nervous as he asked me if I was alright. Once again I am reminded how vulnerable we are and how much nature really is in charge here. Luckily there was nothing down across the road that we couldn't deal with with hand saws but at times with the trees creaking and groaning around our heads as we sawed and dragged wood, my heart was beating a little faster than usual. It is lovely to be back at the house in one piece so we poured stiff gin and tonics to celebrate.

I plan to spend the evening quietly with my knitting. It really is the best thing for steadying the nerves.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Ear defenders, lumberjack gloves and a very big knife

...aren't what a girl usually packs in her holiday wardrobe but were de rigeur this morning for putting the remains of broccoli and cauliflower plants through the compost chipper. Nothing is wasted here.
No kitten heels and peep toes either...
But hand knitted socks are still essential.

At the other end of the scale, recipe books have been combed for new and exciting things to do with cauliflower and broccoli. Today we had a guest for lunch so I made Thai style cauliflower soup which even I had to admit was gorgeous and pasta with pesto and broccoli in the Ligurian style. Plates were cleared so I think they all approved. I love having time to cook for people and to have a huge kitchen garden to work with. Picking your own kaffir lime leaves just doesn't happen in east London!

It was a beautiful sunny day so after another couple of hours of garlic planting I allowed myself the well earned treat of settling down in a comfy chair in the garden gazebo with my Wishbone Lace socks and knitting for an hour with nothing but the sound of the birds and a view across the valley and up the wooded hillside watching wedge tailed eagles patrol the river below. I think this has to be my perfect holiday moment, the one where you are perfectly at peace and want to absorb so much of it you can get it out like a precious treasure to illuminate darker times. I feel incredibly privileged to have had this simple pleasure.

Progress has been made too on the garlic socks and the gardening hat. Tomorrow we are off to an industrial salvage yard to buy some bricks for the completion of a long overdue cellar cum fire refuge. This will involve those gloves again plus much scrambling over piles of used bricks for the best ones and hopefully not too much hammer and chisel work to remove used mortar. With luck I will be rewarded for my efforts by being turned loose in the local Op (charity) Shop for half an hour to hunt for bargains. I'm easy to please....