Thursday, 25 August 2011

Traditional with a twist

Have you ever had one of those absolutely perfect days, the memory of which you want to wrap up very carefully and keep so that whenever you need a bit of a boost you can get it out and smile? I had one of those days a couple of Sundays ago. It was a few days after all the riots and upheaval in London and I felt extremely fortunate that my friend Laura and I could pack up a picnic, drive out into Sussex and end up somewhere like this - Herstmonceaux Castle. As we parked, Laura couldn't contain herself and squealed loudly -'It's got a moat!' much to the amusement of the people nearby. 'She's American' I offered by way of explanation.
When I booked tickets for a folk concert in this beautiful setting I could not have hoped for a more perfect day - both in terms of the weather, and because both of us needed some time to draw breath from the challenges of living in the big city.

One of the wearying  things about the media coverage of the recent disturbances is the inevitable hand wringing and blustering about 'The Youth of Today' as if they are somehow alien beings sent to disappoint and alarm us. We created the world that they are inheriting and it has never been more important to hear their voices. It was refreshing, therefore that the first musician on the bill was Luke Jackson.  At 16 years old he really impressed me with his honest and relevant songs.

Next up were Phil and Hannah, a duo whose songs were really enhanced by the quality of their musicianship and the fact that they mixed traditional folk with modern twists such as harmonica beatboxing. I'm also a real sucker for a slide guitar...

Finally to the top of the bill were Steve Knightley,

Phil Beer

and Miranda Sykes, collectively known as Show of Hands who gave a great performance of old and new songs. One of the things that draws me to folk and acoustic music is the narrative style, the ability to tell traditional and contemporary stories about ordinary people and help make sense of where we find ourselves as a community. Now I know there are those who prefer their folk music more traditional and those who don't think folk music has anything to say to them I do believe it's important not to lose the old songs because they have things to say that give us another way of looking at where we are now, as well as having some fine, danceable tunes, lets not be too po faced about things! Like any living art I think music needs to keep developing to stay relevant, fresh and enjoyable. This concert  showed that these musicians feel the same way.

And what was I doing when I wasn't clapping and singing and dancing along to the music on a fine sunny afternoon? Apart from trying to make a dent in the enormous picnic we had brought I was of course, knitting!

The project I brought along with me was the Mystery Shawl by Stephen West. I enjoy Stephen West's designs for a similar reason to my enthusiasm for modern folk music. Regular readers will know that a large part of my passion for knitting is that it is an element of the thread that binds me to the line of creative women in my family and beyond as well as the way that in today's consumer society making something slowly and patiently by hand can give so much pleasure. Just as with music, I believe the craft needs new, fresh ideas and approaches to keep it exciting and having used a few of Stephen West's patterns I love the way that he uses clean, simple, architectural shapes to give a modern twist to this most traditional of activities.

So, three out of four clues into the project I have been challenged to find three colours that I think work together.

Confront my fear of intarsia knitting.
And to relax into the peaceful rhythm of longer and  longer rows knowing that the project is growing with every stitch even if this is not apparant to the naked eye.
Whether it be music or knitting, I like my traditions with a twist and have faith that if older and younger people share their creativity we can do amazing things.

Finally, if you would like to hear me talking about my day job in knitting please have a listen to Episode 11 of Kate's lovely podcast, A Playful Day. My interview with her is at about 45minutes into the show but please listen to the whole thing - all sorts of knitterly natter plus some very thought provoking comments on recent events.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Back to stripes

After a brief detour I am now firmly back with my stripe obsession and despite the attack of castonitis that I seem to have fallen prey to recently I am pleased to say that I have finally managed to finish something.

I have noticed that I can occasionally suffer from a strange malaise such that I will work on four or five projects at once with all of them reaching quite an advanced stage of completion but find it really hard to decide to concentrate on one and get it finished. Perhaps I get rather too attached to my projects as projects rather than thinking about them as the finished thing and can't bear to finish those final few rows. I don't think it's because I'm worried that they aren't going to turn out well but I do sometimes have a really sad pang as I cast off that final stitch and they go from being my knitting to being a garment. Any knitters out there got any clue what I mean? Or is it just me?

Anyway, less of the rambling - I have something I have managed to finish to show you. This is Taygete, a two colour, triangular shawl, one of the Seven Small Shawls collection by Romy Hill.

It takes me a very long time to decide on a colour combination and I don't always make particularly traditional choices. The yarn in this case is Clan by the Yarn Yard in a warm pinky, purply brown paired with a very pale but quite warm pink. The pink really isn't my sort of colour but I am learning that I need colours in my stash that I may not be keen on in their own right but can have a quite astonishing effect when paired with another. As a pair I have really fallen in love with this combination as it gives a very feminine feel to the brown without making it too frou frou and girly.

Taygete has quite an interesting construction, the stripy garter stitch section starting at one side, increasing towards the middle and then decreased to match on the other side.

A lace border in the main colour is then added by picking up the loops along the two shorter sides of the triangle. Finally a picot border in the contrast colour is added all the way around the shawl.

In general I'm really pleased with the shawl. It took two full skeins of the brown and a skein and a half of the pink and has worked out as quite a substantial piece. Garter stitch has very good stretch. I like the way that it looks as interesting on the back as it does on the front. My only minor disappointment is that there is a tendency for the lower edge of the lace to roll up. I also have to admit that my blocking of the picot edge might not have been as uniform as it could be - and it shows. I'm hoping that it's a case of unearthing the blocking wires and giving it another good thorough, even reblocking.

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Making Monday

My friend Natalie declared the other day that she was in a blog slump and needed some ideas to put some energy back in her writing. As with most things, if you ask your friends,an idea is bound to present itself as many of us admitted that we were suffering from a bit of midsummer writer's torpor.

So, to get us all up and at it Natalie suggested that we declare today 'Making Monday' and blog about something we have made. Now as this blog is all about making things that is hardly breaking the mould for me so I thought that the least I could do was, instead of talking about what knitting I had completed, I would take things back a step or two and talk about making yarn.

Now as you may know, I learned to spin about three years ago and very quickly bought my first spinning wheel. After a few changes of model I am now the proud owner of a Majacraft Susie on which I really love spinning. However, Susie is not very portable so for any kind of spinning outside the house I have tended to take a drop spindle.I have quite a collection of drop spindles as I think they are such beautiful objects but there is something else that I have come to realise recently. I really like making yarn with them.

There is a wonderful, self contained feeling in knowing that I can turn this:

Merino silk by Lime Green Jelly

Into this: 
Bosworth Midi Spindle in Cocobolo with a birch shaft

And then into this:
Two ply light fingering weight yarn

The spindle and fibre have travelled around with me to festivals and fibre shows, it may be a little slower and rely more on eye and feel than working at a wheel but the intimacy and simplicity of the process really makes me feel like I am making yarn, and making it in the way people have made it for thousands of years. 

The other thing that I have learned is that if you make a little bit here and a little bit there it soon mounts up and you have a usable amount of yarn. 

Last weekend I was working on the P-Hop stall at Fibre East and brought along my spindle for the very few moments of quiet that we had. It seemed appropriate, therefore that I made the yarn into something from the P-Hop range of patterns. I have cast on for the Trinity Shawlette which is a very simple but effective leaf lace shawl that can be made in an infinite variety of sizes. So far the knitting is going well.
I don't think the variegation fights too hard with the simple allover pattern and the thing that I am especially pleased about is that the shawl is turning out to be kitten soft - I wish you could feel it. Slowing down and making yarn mindfully has meant that I have been able to brings out the best in this fibre and the finished shawl will be pretty much what I want it to be and will also remind me of all the places that I have settled down for a few minutes to work on it.

This is why I love making things.

If you want to see who else has been Making Monday, Natalie is keeping a list on her blog here