Sunday, 30 March 2008

A quiet day by the fire

Today the rain and wind are keeping us in by the fire, One of the things that strikes me about the weather here is that you can actually hear the wind coming before it arrives, like a train approaching. The sun can be shining one minute then torrential rain can have you diving for cover, On one hand being so intimately involved with the elements is exhilarating, on the other it feels very humbling as I am reminded that, outside of the controlled environment of a city, we are very small and insignificant indeed.

Tasks of daily life with I might usually take for granted like turning on a light switch or making a piece of toast will involve numerous enabling activities to lead up to such a simple act. Every time I come here is an education in remembering my place in the world. The irony is that up against this simplicity is the fact that I have flown half was around the world to experience it and that I am able to share it with anyone who cares to read my words through the power of the Internet. Life is full of conundrums and contradictions.

Over the last few days my education has expanded to include coastal vegetation . We went to take a look at McLaughlin's Beach and I learned of the Marina Abyssinia or Grey Mangrove. I am fascinated by how what remnants of natural vegetation exist here can be so different and perfectly adapted to their setting and that in the matter of half an hour's drive I can go from temperate rain forest to mangrove swamp. So little of these rich and fascinating ecosystems remain and once lost, they are so complex that even the most skilled and experienced environmentalist can only hope to help nature regain a small fraction of its biodiversity.

So, a quiet day by the fire is a good opportunity to reflect and to think about how to take the things that I have learned back into my daily life and how it can inspire my knitting and spinning. Yesterday we held a a barbecue for neighbours, family and friends. It is wonderful to catch up with people that I have got to know over the years and to make new friends too. Apparently, I am to expect a delivery of some raw alpaca fleece and the loan of a spinning wheel at some point this week - I'll let you know how I get on... I have also agreed to teach Leon's granddaughter to knit socks so will be going down the road for an overnight stay with her. I like to do my bit to spread sock love!

I have made a start on the garlic lovers socks which need to be toe up so that the 'cloves' point in the right direction. The absence of any of my reference books means that I had to improvise a toe which I am actually quite pleased with. It is a sort of asymmetric spiral which, purely accidentally suits the design concept quite well. I think I will have a bit of a go at setting the pattern up today while it is quiet.

I have also made a start on Leon's reserve hat with yarn that I have in stash here (did I mention that I have yarn stash on two continents?). Don't tell him, but I am making it a little better fitting than the last one so that he can be seen in public with it without the knitters craft being ridiculed but I will assure him that it will ease up with wear...

Friday, 28 March 2008

Exacarpus Cupressaformus

Every day I am taught a new botanical and common name for local trees and shrubs. The exacarpus cupressaformus is commonly known as the bush cherry. I also know the muttonwood, the balm mint and the hazel. Another part of my education involves identifying birds by their call as well as by sight. I am doing less well at this. I think I have nailed the butcher bird, the currawong and the grey shrike thrush (non mating season) but am still confused by the yellow robin and the eastern spinebill...

This is the sort of mental activity that carries me through the more prosaic tasks such as spreading sea grass mulch on newly planted garlic beds, breaking up garlic heads and starting the whole process again. We have probably got two thirds of next season's crop in the ground now thanks to the visit of a kind neighbour who I think will become another good friend.

Nothing much to report on the knitting front. In addition to my Barbara Walker I did sneak into the luggage my new book from the Knitting and Crochet Guild which not only includes stitch patterns but really good advice on how different stitch patterns perform but also how to create my own. This has been very informative reading in preparation for my garlic lovers socks...

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Rain on a tin roof

I'm told that this is a quintessentially Australian experience - to lie in bed and listen to the rain hammer on the traditional tin roof. It certainly is a very restful and soothing sound.

You can almost hear the vegetation sigh as it takes its fill of the precious water, so long awaited. Today, I took up residence in the kitchen, preparing kilos of fresh basil and rocket pesto, zucchini frittata and fresh tomato soup, taking advantage of the glut of fresh produce and fighting a battle of wills with a cantankerous wood burning stove.

Life in the kitchen here still takes me out into the open air on a regular basis, Settling down to sort handfuls of freshly picked rocket and basil, tucked in under the eaves of the house to avoid the rain, but close enough to outside to see the purposeful flight of the currawong, the wily observation of the kookaburra, the joyful exuberance of the crimson rosellas and the rowdy calls of the yellow tailed black cockatoos the vista is ever changing, ever engaging.

It also makes a rather cosy knitting spot....

Thank you to everyone for their birthday wishes - I really did have a wonderful day, just being here. I will answer everyone when I return home, At the moment, my online time is a little limited.

Knitting wise, I have now finished my Noro sock - I love the colour of it. The colour repeat ran through the whole of the sock with no repetition so with a little editing I should be able to make the second a reasonable match so long as they don't through a clunky colour changing knot into the mix as they did at the beginning of the ball. I am glad that I undid the sock and rejoined the yarn at the right place in the repeat - something I'm not very good at doing - I'm a forge straight ahead sort of knitter!

I've also done another repeat of the Wishbone Lace sock so progress is happening. Leon has also put in a request for another hat. I knitted a very quick and simple Shetland hat for him on a previous visit. Quite honestly, it isn't the best fit, being a little on the baggy side and I have to suppress a giggle every time I see him in it. Leon is probably one of the least appearance conscious person I know, despite claiming that he bears a passing resemblance to Sean Connery. He has discovered that because of the breathability of the woollen fabric that it actually makes a cooler head covering in the heat than the usual baseball cap and would like another one so that it can occasionally visit the washing machine.

Who am I to say no?

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Of garlic, fish and chips and stolen sea grass

Life is very much governed by the elements here. With the promise of rain somewhere on the radar we raced out in the early morning to get as much garlic as possible planted. It has been very dry here and a good soak would be just the thing for newly planted beds. Pushing cloves into the cool morning earth felt very different to yesterday when the beds were warm from the late afternoon sun.

After consulting the tide table (not something I have done since my childhood on the Isle of Wight) we jumped into the Ute and headed for the beach, stopping only for fish and chips ( I think they feared I might mutiny if not bribed with food - they know me too well) we backed onto the beach and loaded up a trailer load of sea grass for mulching the garden beds. I added a new life skill to my portfolio; the use of a pitchfork! I'm sure it will come in handy, somehow, someday...

The rain finally caught up with us in the late afternoon so we spent time in the house, assembling a delicious casserole of garden vegetables, crusted with ricotta and fresh pesto that I had made the day before from rocket picked fresh from the garden.

Food tastes so good when you've worked hard for it and know where it comes from. This is the time of year for gathering in, enjoying the harvest and putting food away for the winter. It feels good to be working with the seasons like this - even though they are upside down to my own. It does make me think about how my veggie garden is doing and make ambitious plans for the summer...

Knitting wise, I have a new design, based on images from my time here in my head. I've had a quick look through Barbara Walker and have found what I am looking for pattern wise. I knew her book was the correct choice!. It's a little more complex than my usual patterns so am having to chart it rather than wing it as I usually do.

I have also ground out a few more rows on the Noro sock and a couple of rounds on the Wishbone Lace. Life has its own pace here.

PS It's my birthday today - can't think of many places I'd rather spend it.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Don't stand down wind of me

Let's get things straight. There is an undoubted romance here. The peace, tranquility and solitude. The majesty of the blue gums, the song of the magpies, the green productive garden.

Living this far from the conveniences most of us take for granted comes at a cost. At the moment the river is too low for the micro hydro to generate enough electricity for daily showers and the washing up - we have to choose. Scratching a garden from a clearing in the forest takes hard work and mucky effort. Work mates struggling to the office will be delighted by the image of me, this morning shovelling fresh cow manure into buckets on the back of the Ute before spreading it on the garden beds.

Inside the house, huge plaits of garlic are drying.

Today we tore one into cloves for planting in the garden for next year's crop. Pulling the heads of garlic apart revealed beautiful patterns of cream, pink and apricot cloves. (Tucking this idea away for a knitting colour scheme).It felt good to plunge them into earth warmed by the sun.

I really do smell terrible. My jeans could stand up by themselves. My nails are short and stained. I am happy.

Knitting steals its way into quiet moments. Not sure I'm feeling the Noro love. The colour of the yarn is fascinating and very beautiful. The fabric, despite the stringiness of the yarn, is fairly soft and feels sort of felted, if a little lumpy. It's just very hard to knit in anything like a consistent tension and not good for low light conditions at all. The fact that I'm exhausted and aching in muscles I didn't know I had has, of course nothing to do with it!

Monday, 24 March 2008

Sock knitting in the rain forest

Not something you do every day.

I have been here for four days now, so am beginning to feel very far away indeed.

When I wake up in the morning I watch as the light in the sky turns the gum trees behind the house from silhouettes to beautiful saturated greens, greys and browns.

I take my morning walk up the track and watch lyre birds chasing each other in and out of the bush.

Life is very simple here, I take a great silver bowl and a knife from the kitchen, go into the veggie garden and cut what is needed for the day; bright red tomatoes, golden zucchini, tight heads of broccoli and cook them still warm from the sun.

I meet remarkable people, living at the margins, with fascinating passions whether it be preserving heritage fruit varieties to restoring a small part of a lost biodiversity. I learn, dig, harvest, cook for friends and watch the birds.

There has been knitting, but not as much as I imagined when I packed my bag! Progress has been made on my Noro sock.

More later, until then, I have wild things to watch...

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

I should be packing...

I should be leaving the house in 12 hours. This time tomorrow I will be almost half way to Melbourne, Australia. Have I tidied up? Have I packed? Have I chosen my yarn for the trip?? Later... First I wanted to show you how much progress I have made on my socks.

I spent the weekend with my dad so had plenty of time between fish and chip lunches and seeing how the garden was doing to knit and chat. I'm very pleased with my progress on the Wishbone socks. I'm using Cherry Tree Hill Supersock solid which is a lovely, high quality, reliable sock yarn. I'm not entirely sure about whether it has just the texture for lace socks as it is a very highly twisted yarn which makes it very round and firm. The lace fabric that it produces is very firm and almost three dimensional rather than having the movement of something like Lorna's Laces. Having put it on the blocker I am liking it a whole lot more as the pattern really pops so I will reserve judgement until wash and wear time.

The Wishbone Lace pattern is fabulous, with a cast on which uses the yarn double to cast on whuch gives a nice firm edge. The last time I used it was on Ene's Shawl from Scarf Style. The square heel is also a nice, tidy, hardwearing construction. The lace is a little more complex than the one on my last socks but easily memorable nonetheless.

I have been running around like a headless chicken today as all my unfinished tasks came home to roost. This morning at first light I was digging about in my garden planting some beautiful snowdrop plants that my dad gave me, then dashed down to the Post Office to pick up some parcels before even thinking about heading off to work. Needless to say, most of my parcels were knitting related, including this book on mitten knitting that Natalie told me about. I tucked it into my work bag so I had a bit of time to flick through it on the train. There are several patterns that I would love to cast on straight away although a fair number of them looked a little 'clunky' for me. It dawns on me that the vast majority of the knitting that I prefer to do tends towards the small, intricate, detailed project rather than using chunky yarn to turn out super quick projects. It also makes me think with some chagrin about how few kilos of wool I need to keep me entertained compared to how much I have...

Which brings me on to the yarn shortlist...

I am finding this task somewhat tricky. Most of my time away is going to be out in the bush, working with my friends on their 85 acres of regenerating rain forest. They generate their own power, collect their own water, grow vegetables for the house and garlic for the market so there will be loads to do and I am so looking forward to getting out and getting my hands dirty. I will also be cooking for big crowds of friends, visiting and travelling around so if I was being realistic all I would be taking would be a ball of sock yarn and a half finished sock.

Secondly, I have three glorious weeks completely out of my usual environment, away from the day to day frustrations. I really should take my existing projects and get on with them, as well as several design and pattern writing commissions I am working on but I want to play with new, shiny things.

What do we see in my 'shortlist?' Huge piles of yarn for new projects that it would probably take me six months to knit up. Note, however I have managed to keep myself down to one (albeit enormous) stitch dictionary). Which one would you take?

I'll let you know how much yarn I finally squeeze into my bag...

Despite being in the middle of the rain forest, my friends do have satellite broadband so with any luck, news on my folly and lack of knitting progress will be coming to you from the Antipodes for the next three weeks.

See you on the other side of the world!

Monday, 17 March 2008

Library Enhancement

My third and final report from Skipnorth concerns reading materials. I was brought up in a household that believed that money spent on books was never wasted. A look around my house would assure anyone that I have taken the idea and run with it...

Unusually for me, in the Skep I bought a couple of commercial pattern books, something I haven't done for ages.

However, even if I don't follow any of the patterns there are often little details and inspirations to tuck away for future reference. Look at the back of this cardigan. I love the way that the waist shaping is done by using cables.Very ingenious.

The Knitting and Crochet Guild keep a very extensive library of books on all aspects of knitting and crochet. One of the members has undertaken a the huge task of cataloguing and identifying duplicate books which they are selling to make space and raise funds. This is obviously an absolute treasure trove. Being a new crocheter I thought it was essential to extend my stitch dictionary collection to include crochet so this Vogue dictionary was perfect but the real treasure was hiding behind this unassuming, plain purple cover...

Adventures in Knitting by Brenda Shapeero contains a fascinating collection of ideas for using knitted fabric creatively with loads of information on how to combine yarns to achieve unusual effects like this collection of braids and twists for embellishing scarves...

Or this bag made up of all sorts of stitch samplers of different colours and textures...

Or this fiendishly complex bit of cabling. I didn't say that everything in the book was beautiful but for £2 I think it was a bargain!

There were also piles of vintage knitting magazines available so I picked up this handful of vintage Vogue magazines from the late 80s and early 90s. A great proportion of the knitwear is quite frankly hideous but there are some wonderful classics and good information on techniques which add to the pleasure of howling at all the knee length intarsia monstrosities.

One of the other wondeful things about the KCG is that it is a wonderful source of obscure self published material which offers something a little bit different. Another addition to the stitch dictionary collection,but this time witha difference. In the Knitters Guide to Stitch Design, Anne Maloney also give loads of useful information about how to design stitch patterns from scratch. In Curvaceous Cables Collection, Dawn Brocco explains some innovative ways to use cables which I have never seen before. So many opportunities to build my knowledge of knitting and crochet I am in a bit of a whirl. If only I had more time...

Winghams, not to be outdone, yielded this fine clutch of back issues of Spin Off magazine which I am sure will be a fabulous source of information and inspiration for improving my spinning skills. Can't wait!

Finally, back to the knitting. In an attempt to get my Sock System back on track, I've chosen as my tricky sock project this pair of Wishbone Lace socks by Nancy Bush in this quarter's Piecework magazine which I have just begun a subscription to. I love Nancy Bush's patterns as they are invariably beautifully researched and written and often include a new technique for a cast on or a heel flap which I can tuck away in my mental library of sock techniques.

So far, I have already learned a new cast on so it is looking good!

Life here at Yarn Archive headquarters is a bit hectic right now as I fly out to Australia for three weeks in a couple of days time. SO much knitting to organise, so little time...

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Jane's got a brand new bag

Today I will attempt the second part of my report on the Skipnorth weekend. What strikes me is is how much we managed to do in a relatively short period of time. I came back richer in experience, knowledge, friendships ...and booty.

However, I know that what you really want to know is... what's in that big bag?

Now I think that I was quite restrained this year but got off to a very good start on Friday night without going anywhere near a shop thanks to Natalie.

From left to right we have, merino bamboo yarn for me to try and think about the sort of pattern it might lend itself to and yellow sock yarn, just because I love yellow. The next two skeins are this month's sock club yarns. Interestingly, the solid yarn is dyed in a dilute mixture of all the other colours which I think is very clever, and thrifty! Finally, a skein of pink merino and one of the much coveted Mysteron merino for another pair of Cranford Mitts.

Next on the programme was a visit to the Skep which yielded this clutch of fabrics. of course I now have all kinds of plans for sock bags and needle rolls...

Then a new stop, discovered by Alex last year, Bonds Haberdashery. I don't think I have ever seen a place quite like it - an old fashioned haberdashery with everything from shirring elastic to replacement bra straps and beyond spread over three rambling floors, complete with outside toilet according to a member of staff! But what a complete treasure box it was.

This amazing collection of ribbons and braids were absurdly cheap and of beautiful quality. I just want to play with them.

The next stop on the programme was the Knitting and Crochet Guild where we had a very warm welcome and the opportunity to examine a small part of their collection of historic knitted and crocheted articles. Wearing white gloves we got to handle work of such exquisite detail that reminded me how much I have yet to learn and how important it is to be aware of the history of our craft.

The KCG isn't all about history.There are also shopping opportunities! First, their famous 1p per gram yarn mountain which is a great lucky dip of yarn donated to the guild and sold to raise much needed funds for them to continue their work.

I managed to unearth some lace weight and sock weight yarn for the princely sum of £1.08.

So enthused was I with the beautiful fine knitting that I had seen I invested in a small stock of laceweight yarn. I have knitted lace in heavier yarns before but this will be a new departure. I may require the application of a cold compress...

On Saturday night I was in my element. My grateful thanks to Chris for helping me get to grips with my top whorl drop spindle, to Isabella for showing me how to blend fibres with hand carders and to Natalie for allowing me to play with her beautiful Majacraft Suzie Pro spinning wheel. I can't get over how smooth and sensitive it is. Actually, I'm not sure whether to be grateful to Natalie or not as I feel a large pain in my purse coming very soon!

After all that spinning, a visit to Wingham Wool Work on Sunday morning was very timely.

Last year I went into their rainbow merino shed and just feasted my eyes on all the huge bolts of merino roving in a vast number of colours. This year I tore handfuls of colour into bags for my own experiments in colour combining, an earthy mix of oranges and yellows and a vibrant set of bluey greens. I also bought a few small bags of silk fibre for blending.

Winghams also have a fine selection of different fibres so I chose some Falkland and Corridale, just to build my spinning experience.

Alongside all these shiny, pretty things there need to be sensible pieces of equipment. Here we have a tensioned lazy Kate, a flexible ruler, needle gauge and a Wraps per inch tool. There is a great pleasure in having the right tool for the job.

Looking back over all these things I am having second thoughts about whether I shopped modestly. I did stay within my budget and do have plans for everything though.

I haven't even shown you the books yet.

Let's get back to the knitting. The Moroccan Carpet socks are finished. They were great fun to make and I'm very pleased with how they have turned out.

Mind you, this isn't the first time I have used this pattern. Last year I used the same stitch pattern in the green and pink socks here.

I am fascinated with how the same stitch can look so different depending on the choice of yarn.The high contrast in the green and pink socks gives distinctive stripes whereas the Moroccan Carpet socks have a much more blended look to the fabric as the two yarns have shades in common.

After this mammoth post I really need to dash off now.My sock system is in a state of some disarray as now I only have simple socks on the needles -time to cast on something more interesting!

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Skipnorth - Part 1

I have just had the most marvellous weekend at the annual Skipnorth knitting, spinning and all things fibry extravaganza. This is the third year when I have joined a group of people from all over the country who gather to celebrate the fibre arts. We create, learn, teach, shop and laugh like hyenas for three days based in a beautiful youth hostel in the picturesque village of Haworth in Yorkshire thanks to the extraordinary organisational skills of Alex and Nic.

In my opinion this was the most congenial group ever. There was a substantial contingent of Golders Green knitters as well as old friends from previous years, friends such as Natalie that I don't get to see in person as much as I would like and people I have never met before, all bonded by our love of the fibre arts. Visit Natalie's blog for some lovely photos of the hostel.

Unfortunately, Laura and I arrived late on Friday evening, missing some interesting sessions on Koolaid dying, modular knitting and colour theory but soon settled in to the sharing and companionable knitting.

Saturday morning dawned and the coach took us off on our woolly expedition. First stop,Coldspring Mills. This is a spectacularly located treasure trove which is half camping shop and half yarn emporium stocking a wide range of discounted yarns and mill ends. I indulged reasonably modestly...

First, 240g of Noro Kureyon. This will be split with Sue from Golders Green knitters so that we can make felted tea cosies!
Next, some Aruacana Nature Cotton and some Craft Cotton for facecloths and dishcloths respectively.
My major purchase at Coldspring was 900g of purple Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool which at half price was too good a bargain to resist.This will become a nice drapy spring, autumn jumper with plenty left for a shawl.

More shopping reports to follow!

The long journey gave plenty of opportunity for knitting so as I was navigating simple sock work was the order of the day! The Pretty in Pink socks are finished. I used nearly every scrap of the Apple Pie yarn so they are very long and cosy.

The place for simple socks in my 'system' has now been taken by my magic loop Potluck sock. As you can see I am closing in on the toe.

I have also managed to make good progress on the Moroccan Carpet socks which I am enjoying more and more.It is a strange stitch pattern which makes a fabric with a very interesting texture. I am thinking about writing up the pattern. What do you think?

As you can see, there is a vacancy for 'Very Tricky' in The System.I am currently holding auditions for suitable patterns...

Finally, I have something to show you that some may find disturbing...

My first finished crochet project. Thanks to Julie for her time, yarn and hook, we turned a couple of hours at the back of a very bouncy coach into an impromptu crochet classroom. My first project is a blanket for a premature baby, the Skipnorth charity for this year. I'm quite unreasonably proud of it.

I see more crochet in my future!

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Happy, happy, happy yellow socks

The yellow socks are finished!I have really enjoyed this project. Just to reiterate, they are Socks for Veronik from Interweave Knits Holiday Gifts 2007 made in Oxford Kitchen Yarns blue faced Leicester sock yarn in gold. This is a lovely yarn for lace and the slight variegation in the dye job give the lace a lovely movement and texture.

What better way to tell yourself that spring is just around the corner than with a pretty pair of yellow lacy socks? Everyone should have a pair! So chuffed was I with these socks that I had to try them on immediately.

Here they are looking prim and elegant but maybe a little flirty with my red Dansko clogs.

A little more serious and schoolmarmy with the black ones.
How can anyone's wardrobe be without a pair of yellow socks? They go with...

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Miss Mattie says oops...

Just when I thought everything was going so well... there's a small typo in the Cranford Mitts pattern. I am very irritated with myself as I really wanted to do a professional job. I have corrected the pattern and sent it to Natalie so I am sure everyone will have a revised copy by tomorrow.

Mind you, I have been stunned by the fact that six people contacted me in the space of 24 hours to ask me about it. That means that at least six people have already started the mitts! Not only have they started, one person has actually finished and has very kindly allowed me to show you.

These mitts were knitted by Sussex Yorkie in Yarn Yard merino Sooty Cherry and Mysteron. Aren't they gorgeous?

The Mitts have also made their way into the world of podcasting with an appearance on Lixie Knits It which is one of my favourite podcasts. Do go along and have a listen, not least to hear of a quite hair raising event that she has lined up for her next show!

Back to the everyday goings on at Yarn Archive HQ...

Haven't my sock children grown? There's hardly room on the table for them. The good news is that the Undulating Rib socks are finished. The Natural Dye Studio alpaca merino makes a very fuzzy, dense sock which is heavier than you think. I finished the second sock by the skin of my teeth...

This is what I was left with.

So, it would appear that as far as my mental state is concerned we have had another victory for mild lethargy with the two extremes still battling it out for second place. I now need to find a moderately challenging sock to take the place of the Undulating Rib so I have decided that to ensure that I don't sink under a pile of unmatched socks I'll knit the mate to this one: the Moroccan Carpet sock.

But it's not all been about socks. I've now finished the body of the charcoal blob and have faced the hems with this subtle green, Jo Sharp Silkroad Aran in Meadow which I think gives the garment a little bit of a lift.Irritatingly I have just frogged an afternoon's work on the first arm hole as the sleeve was coming up much too puffy. More courageous decreasing is now underway!

On Friday I volunteered to work on the Knitting and Crochet Guild stall at the Stitching and Craft Show at the Excel Centre in London. It's the first time I have volunteered and it was fun promoting knitting to other crafters. To be quite honest, there wasn't a lot there to interest a knitter but one stall stood out; Silkwood who sell lovely hand dyed yarns. Look what followed me home...
Some lovely bulky yarn, almost a pencil roving. Just right for an instant gratification scarf project or perhaps it will make a good base for an attempt at art yarn.

And how could I resist this bunch of dyed locks to play with...