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Really busy day April 30, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Craftiness, Knitting, Law, Really good day, University.
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The number of things that have happened today…

Finally we have a flat sorted for next year.  It’s been taking a while to sort out and prod various parties into getting their acts together, but it’s all set now, and hopefully we’re signing the contract on Wednesday.  It’s a bit of a weight off my mind knowing I’m essentially not going to be homeless next term!  The flat itself is smallish, but there’re only going to be three of us next year (Linguistic housemate is sodding off somewhere exotic for the year, lucky her!) and it couldn’t be situated more perfectly – a mere stone’s throw from everywhere I need next year.

And the dissertation topics are out!  (Maybe not quite as exciting for the rest of you, but I’m weird like that.)  There are a lot that spark my excitement, a few that spark my interest, and one in particular that is absolutely made for me.  How do I know this?  Because the supervisor is one of my tutors, and last term I cornered her and asked her if she would supervise me for a particular topic.  It’s on the list, practically to the word.  I am really excited.

Also, on the front of exciting things, Lawyerly housemate made stilton soup – given that I don’t like strong cheese at all, it was remarkably good – and fresh bread.  Domestic goddess points to him, then.  Excellent stuff.

Where do you like to indulge in your craft? Is your favourite arm chair your little knitting cubby area, or do you prefer to ‘knit in public’? Do you liek to crochet in the great outdoors, perhaps, or knit in the bath, or at the pub?

Everywhere.  In bed, first thing in the morning and last thing at night.  On trains.  On buses.  In cafés.  In lectures.  At the theatre while I’m waiting for everyone else to get their acts together, and if I’m working, immediately before the beginning of each act to calm me down.  Waiting for interviews.  In the library, while I’m reading cases.  In front of the television.

Not the bath.  It’d get wet, surely?  It’s like reading in the bath, I’m sure it’s impossible.  But everywhere else I possibly can.

I read somewhere that to be world class at something, you have to practise it three hours, for at least a decade.  One and a half years down, eight and a half to go…

As usual, plenty more where this came from…

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Pushing my luck April 29, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Craftiness, Knitting, Small things.
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Revision at the moment is making me exhausted.  I’m going to bed about half past eleven, and setting my alarm for a quarter past eight, and sleeping straight through (which at least is better than a week ago), and still feeling shattered for half the morning.  I’m back on the mindless knitting for hours at a time so I stop fidgeting, and overall not doing a particularly good job of concentrating.  Onwards and upwards though, life might not be a sprint at the moment but it’s not a marathon either.  It’s… more like swimming a kilometre.  It takes long enough for you to get bored and tired but not long enough for your knees to give out.  You have to turn around in the pool a few times, and no, I don’t know where this analogy’s going but this is what revision does for my creativity.  i.e. Kills it dead. Never mind.  Let’s talk about things I’d far rather be doing instead.

Is there a skill related to your hobby that you hope to learn one day? maybe you’re a crocheter who’d also like to knit? Maybe you’d like to learn to knit continental, knit backwards, try cables or attempt stranded colourwork.

This one’s far easier than yesterday’s, I think.  What I would really love to do is be sat down and shown how one goes about lever knitting.  (Brief definition for non-knitter readers: this is a really, really fast way of knitting, as used by a lot of cottage industries way back when, and it’s based on the idea that if you have to move less to do a stitch, you can go faster.  Basically, you clamp your right needle in your armpit and you go like the clappers.)

The fact is, I think I do a variation on this anyway, and it’s something I’d really love to have a go at properly.  There are all kinds of techniques and skills out there that are fairly prevalent today: your continental knitting, backwards knitting, cables and stranded colourwork being prime examples.  If I want to have a go at these sorts of things, which generally I do, I sit down with a book and Youtube for an hour or two and I work out how they’re done.  It’s all the techniques that have gone out of fashion that I’m particularly interested in.  The ones used this time last century, or earlier.  Knitting came from somewhere, obviously, and it’s something very tactile.  Not, I suppose, the sort of history one ought to look at from behind a glass screen.  I want to try lever knitting partly because of all the history embedded in it.

Partly I also just want to go like the clappers.

Find out what other people want to learn to do!

Knitting quietly in a corner April 28, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Craftiness, Knitting, Lovely people.
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Day three of Knitting and Crochet Blog Week.  If you’d like something to read, everyone who’s joining in today is tagging their posts ‘knitcroblo3’.  Ah, go on!  What else’re you doing, revising?

Write about a knitter whose work (whether because of project choice, photography, styling, scale of projects, stash, etc) you enjoy. If they have an enjoyable blog, you might find it a good opportunity to send a smile their way.

…Crikey.  Um.  Grief.

A knitter whose work I enjoy.  Well, I take this to mean enjoying their work in the most literal sense and talk about the two knitters who, in my memory, have knitted something for me, and that’s my mum, and the mum of a friend of mine.

My mum doesn’t knit for family often.  Mostly, she knits hats for charity, unless I or my sister pounce upon one and claim it for ourselves.  We have at home an absolutely adorable little navy blue cotton jumper that she made from me when I was tiny.  I wish I had any of the things she’s made for me here, but it being the summer term I’ve left it all at home.

My mum is one of what must be the silent majority of knitters: those who don’t join online communities, don’t blog, don’t share their work with the rest of the world.  The ones who don’t meet up with other knitters for the purpose of knitting, who knit very impressive things, off the top of their head, on straight metal needles with acrylic yarn.  She’s a very unpretentious knitter in some ways, and quite a shy one.  I don’t think it would occur to her to knit in public, or to go along to a meeting.  Knitting’s just what she does when she’s winding down.  She tends to knit a lot of hats, flat, according to a few basic patterns that she adapts herself, maybe using a few different colours or knit-and-purl patterns, for the purpose of having something to do in front of the television.  I estimate she probably knits about twenty to twenty-five hats in a year, of which my sister and I probably each steal one.

The other knitter whose work I enjoy is the mum of a friend of mine, called Trudi, who made me a garter stitch bag of sari silk (sadly also at the other end of the country, otherwise you’d have pictures – I meant to bring it back up but like so many things didn’t have room to take it on the train!).  Trudi is an absolutely wonderful woman: her daughter and I have been friends since we made a pact to sit next to each other on the bus on the first day of senior school, and I’ve spent many an evening at their house, eating Chinese takeaways and dark chocolate and watching Coupling, and although I’ve kept in touch with the daughter since going to university, I’ve sadly all but lost touch with her mum.  Trudi taught me the rudiments of cryptic crosswords, and she always seemed to have some insanely complicated lace project or pair of socks on the go.  I don’t know how complicated I’d think they were now, but at the time they were impossibly exciting.  When I showed her the makings of my first sock (see yesterday), she was really excited for me, and kept telling me to come along to Stitch and Bitch on Thursday, I’ll love it!  (Unfortunately, it always clashed with Guides, so I could never go.)

I cooed over the sari silk bag for weeks while she was making it.  All the pretty colours!  She gave it to me for Christmas and I was over the moon about it.  I still love it, because gift knitting makes the world go round, and making things for other people gives me a massive kick, although apart from these two, nobody ever knits things for me.  I read the blogs of people who say things like, “And we each made a pair of mittens, and then we got together, and we swapped them, so everyone had a lovely new pair!” and I think , one of these days I must get involved with something like that.  That sounds amazing.  Knitting may well be all about the process for some people, but the finished items invariably have a purpose, or a use, and to enjoy someone’s work like that to me seems to be the ultimate privilege.

As for people with enjoyable blogs etc, take a brief look to the right.  You will find them listed under ‘Crafty Types’.  The list needs updating (I have a bit of a budding craft blog addiction these days) but y’know, they’re good.  They’re all good.  Check them out, if you have a while.  And while you’re over there, send ’em a smile from me 🙂

Aspiring and cardigans April 27, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Craftiness, Knitting, Sheer bloody-mindedness.
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Blog about a pattern or project which you aspire to. Whether it happens to be because the skills needed are ones which you have not yet acquired, or just because it seems like a huge undertaking of time and dedication, most people feel they still have something to aspire to in their craft. If you don’t feel like you have any left of the mountain of learning yet to climb, say so!

There are always bits of the mountain left to climb, as far as I’m concerned.  If you’ve done all there is, you haven’t made up enough new bits yourself.

The thing that I aspire to make, which is a huge undertaking of time and dedication and involves skills I don’t have, is to design a cardigan.  In multiple sizes, because I’m nitpicky like that.  Preferably from first principles.  This is a monumental task, for me, not least because at time of writing, I have never knitted a cardigan.  Or, completely, a pullover.  (The orangey one has had to stay at home due to lack of space in my rucksack, unfortunately – to be finished over the summer.)  It’s not that they’re too big a project for me: knee-high socks on tiny needles are something I have no problem with, afghans, no trouble.  I’ve just never knit anything that… prominent, if you like.  So anyone who does knit beautiful upper body furniture on a regular basis (Tania, I’m looking at you here!), well, I’m a little bit in awe.

And do not get me started on people who, at the age of nineteen, can design a cardigan, in six sizes, with a lace pattern and a vaguely unusual construction, and have it accepted by possibly the biggest online free knitting magazine there is…  Don’t get me started on how amazing that is or I shall be sick, I tell you, with the jealous.  Some people have all the talent, and the practice, and the good ideas.

Anyway, it seems like as whopping a challenge as I’m likely to get so maybe it’s something to think about for the next year.  Or maybe I should just find out how they work, first.

On an entirely unrelated note, there’s a massive thumping noise coming periodically from downstairs.  Ah, the ever-present joy of builders during exam periods.  I thank my God of choice that we managed to dissuade the landlord fom trying to knock down and replace two bedroom walls and my wardrobe over the next few weeks.  It took some doing, though.  Think I might go to the library.  *headdesk*

Starting Out April 26, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Craftiness, Knitting, Look what I did, Lovely people.
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(Really exciting banner.  For which I believe I can thank Eskimimi Knits.  Good show.)

How and when did you begin knitting/crocheting? was it a skill passed down through generations of your family, or something you learned from Knitting For Dummies? What or who made you pick up the needles/hook for the first time? Was it the celebrity knitting ‘trend’ or your great aunt Hilda?

I always tell people that I started to knit when I was eight years old, and that my grandma taught me over Christmas, and then when she went home my mum taught me properly.  This is probably the best way to describe it to someone who only wants to know in passing conversation.  My grandma was always  a very competent, very fast, very practical knitter.  My mum far prefers sewing and dressmaking, but is the queen of intarsia and hats for the Shoebox Appeal, that she knits flat and sews up.  She’s started knitting in the round very recently, because I’ve shown her how to do it, and she can do lace and cables, if she wants to, but she rarely does.  In some ways, my mum is the better engineer, because of her dressmaking experience and because most of what she knits she’s taught herself from first principles.  She knits oddly, does my mum.

At the age of eight, my grandma taught me to cast on, and to knit.  I was gloriously rubbish at it.  As soon as she left I ripped it back and my mum helped me cast on again.  When I was ten or so, she bought me ‘How to Knit’ by Debbie Bliss, and then I was absolutely sold: most teddy bears in my household have a two-colour garter stitch scarf that I made around this time, and we still have a cushion cover I knitted over an entire summer (with a fair-isle motif on it that I made up as I went along!  It’s taken me years to be that daring since!).  After a while, I went to my mum asking to learn how to purl, and I made a few hats, knitted flat and sewn up, like she did, and knitted scarves with novelty yarn on the bus.

I attribute my learning to do exciting things with knitting, and discovering what a resource the internet was, almost entirely to one pattern.  (Aaand here’s where it might get a little creepy, since as far as I’m aware, its designer has started reading my blog recently.  Um, hi.  Please take this as a compliment!)  A couple of years back, I discovered somehow a pattern on the internet for a pair of knee-high socks called Cinderella’s Secret Stockings (it’s a small world, isn’t it?), which made my jaw drop.  Socks!  Knitted!  Ribbon!  Patterns with holes in them!  Things I’d wear and my grandparents probably wouldn’t!  I learned to knit socks for this pattern, and taught myself the basics of lace from a combination of books and Youtube, and they took about four months.  I finished them on 30th December 2008, and they made me insanely happy.  I was devastated a few months back when I found one of them had got a hole in it.  Do you remember these?

After that, no longer daunted by lace, shaping or turning corners, it was only a matter of time before I found Knitty, and a whole host of knitting blogs.  About this time last year, I found Ravelry.  Then there was no stopping me.  I’m currently working with test knitters on my first soon-to-be-published pattern.  (If you’re on Ravelry, and you’d like to help, step this way, there are a few openings left.  Come help me be a better knitter?)

So I learned to knit when I was eight.  I learned to purl when I was ten.  I really, properly, learned to understand what I was doing about two years ago.  So I don’t know when I properly started out, but now I feel like one of knitting’s success stories.

An off-beat political post April 24, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Big things, Durham, Law, University.
11 comments

Right, well, my political views are my own and yours are yours and there are hundreds of places to discuss them and flaunt them and whatnot all over the place – which is fantastic, but not really what I want to talk about here.

It’s more of an observation, and it goes a bit like this:

I thought young people were supposed to be ambivalent about politics?  I thought there was supposed to be vast amounts of apathy about the place?  Maybe it is the company I keep, but I’ve found apathy is a lot harder to come by than I expected this year.  In our house as far as I can make out there is a Labour, a Lib Dem and a Tory, and one who probably won’t vote.  I think, actually, this is the only person I know who thinks they probably won’t vote.  Everywhere else there is commentary.  There is discussion.  There are Facebook groups.  Even the person who probably won’t vote keeps reminding me to listen to the Vote Now Show.  (If you have access to BBC iPlayer – this means you – seriously, sit down and have a listen.  Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis make me happy generally.)

Another thing I’ve noticed – and this might be because Durham is a Lab/Lib contested seat, and the Lib Dems are doing a lot of canvassing, and home is a Con/Lib contested seat, and the Lib Dems are doing a lot of canvassing – is that student opinion seems to be leaning in the Lib Dem direction a lot more than I expected.  I don’t know what I expected.  More Tories, I suppose.  It makes me laugh a bit, that the last few years the only time Nick Clegg has made it into the spotlight is when people are making jokes that he looks so ordinary that he blends into the background.  Apparently he doesn’t any more.  Impressive.

I notice also that Iceland has been getting its feminist on and banned strip clubs – or rather, it’s banned profiting from the nudity of your employees.  I’m not going to talk about what’s empowering and what’s not, whether it’ll actually work (probably not, right? it’ll just all go underground),  and I shall leave the vast range of double entendres and sandwich jokes up to you (seriously, guys).  What I think is interesting is this:

So how has Iceland managed it? To start with, it has a strong women’s movement and a high number of female politicans. Almost half the parliamentarians are female and it was ranked fourth out of 130 countries on the international gender gap index (behind Norway, Finland and Sweden). All four of these Scandinavian countries have, to some degree, criminalised the purchase of sex (legislation that the UK will adopt on 1 April). “Once you break past the glass ceiling and have more than one third of female politicians,” says Halldórsdóttir, “something changes. Feminist energy seems to permeate everything.”

Firstly, the gender gap difference.  Just to let you know, the UK is fifteenth globally so we’re really not doing that bad.  It’s a really interesting report.  If you’re interested, have a look at the tables and see if you can find Italy.  It is completely inappropriate that I laughed out loud.

Secondly, this is probably closest to what I think about it without your getting me writing another thousand words and spouting glass ceiling clichés at you.

Thirdly, is there anything, anything at all, socially, politically, environmentally, that the Scandinavians haven’t done better than practically anyone else in the world?  All that and Norwegian stranded colourwork.  It makes me sick to my back teeth, it does.  Well done the Scandinavians.

That’s the most you’re getting out of me for a while, I reckon.  My life is essentially summed up by this at the moment:

I’m sure you’re not particuarly interested in either wills or reckless transmission of HIV.  That’s okay, neither am I.  At least it’ll be out of the way, though.  And I have the lovely Ms Christie to keep me company.

I might have an actual finished sock to show you in a day or two.  Just the one, mind.  2.25mm needles hardly qualify for the fast lane, I’m afraid.

P.S. I forgot to say, it’s Knitting Crochet Blog Week 2010 next week, which I’m looking forward to.  So if it seems a bit knit-centric round here for the next week or so, I make no apologies!  Oh, the exciting things…

Craaaazy Zauberball! April 21, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Bwargh, Durham, Knitting, Look what I did, Sheer bloody-mindedness.
12 comments

When they say it…

They mean it!

Train knitting for the journey back up to uni: basic 72-stitch toe-up sock, 2.25mm needles, Crazy Zauberball yarn.  Seriously.  The colours on this thing are MENTAL.  The yarn is a 2-ply (meaning it’s two strands wound together), you can see from the pictures that the two plys are different colours and the colour changes along them have very long repeats.  Which means some of the combinations are spectacular.  It’s all about the colour for me: people tell me on a regular basis that the yarns I knit with are eye-wateringly bright, or clashing, or just a bit weird.  And yes, yes they are.  But interestingly, not one person says that when I’ve knitted something up out of them.  I know I’m a bit outlandish but I do find it interesting that people can be so afraid of colour.  Look at it! That right there is 420 yards of exuberance.

Back to the sock.  I thought I hadn’t knit a plain vanilla sock in a while, and all these patterns and calculations and what have you, they’re wearing me out a bit.  This is comfort knitting: a smashing yarn, some lovely needles (Knit Pro Symfonie DPNs, which I love with all my heart and work really well here because they’re really bright colours too, just like the socks!) and just… keep knitting.  Don’t think about it, just keep going.  It’s been eight months or so since I last had the urge to just knit something simple, and every so often, it’s just a bit of fresh air.

Unrelatedly, and because it’s at the forefront of my mind right now (apologies to the vaguely squeamish and/or awkward): I thought I’d been a bit over-hormonal recently.  Haven’t had cramps this bad since I was fifteen.  Yesterday, someone told me aerobic exercise was good for this sort of thing.  After I’d finished laughing heartily and taken another ibuprofen, I wondered if you lot might have something better to suggest, because I’ve left my hot water bottle the other end of the country and this is agony.

Centenary April 18, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Lovely people.
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I got a bit of a lovely surprise today.  This.

My old (read: former) Guide leader brought it round before I disappeared off up north again.  Before you go right ahead thinking er, pink, how nice of her, um, great – you will notice the big brightly coloured ‘100’ badge on my right boob.  Girl Guiding is 100 years old this year.  This is an official Guiding centenary t-shirt.  And I have been coveting it since January.  Midge has one, my mum has one, I noticed some while back that Captain Shakespeare’s little sister has one (massive envy purely from that) and now I have too and the world is wonderful.  I don’t care that it’s the colour of an embarassed raspberry, and about half the time so am I, for this makes me really happy.

I joined Girlguiding at the age of eight, when I joined the Brownies.  I was a six leader very quickly and started helping run activities for the whole pack not long after that.  I went up to Guides when I was eleven.  When I was thirteen I became a patrol leader.  When I was fourteen, I was too old to be a Guide so I came back to be a Young Leader, which I did until I left for university.  I’ve never been the sort of person who wins prizes at school, or who gets given badges or positions of responsibility, except for in the Guides, where they seemed to be throwing them at me.  I led walking groups, I organised activities and delegations to do the washing up, I taught people to tie knots and use knives safely and read maps and put up tents and knit.  I led wide games and water fights.  I’ve had my fair share of mud, baked beans and squirty cream chucked at me and egg in my hair.  I’ve probably given piggy back rides to quite a few more small children than most people have.

The Guides taught me to muck in and never ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t be prepared to do yourself.  It taught me that if you give as good as you get, don’t be surprised if you do get it, and that the people responsible will most likely remember the occasion in five years’ time.  It is as a result of the Guides that I can, and probably will, sleep anywhere, and I have an unholy love of youth hostel-style fried breakfasts.  It’s also the reason I definitely want kids.

I’ve been thinking about being a Guide particularly this week because of listening to music that insists it’s dying out, that the English don’t get together to sing any more.  As far as I know, there are two places these days where people get together routinely to sing songs that they all know off by heart, for the love of it, and one of them’s church and the other is the Scouts.  I feel so much better for having the songs – the PC ones, as well as the ones you made up when you were twelve which mostly involved the man of eighty-two who did a fart and missed the loo.  God.  The world was so much simpler when you were that age.

Yeah.  Nostalgia.  Haven’t sung those in a while.

Yes; this. April 17, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Craftiness, Knitting, Really good day.
3 comments

Every so often, I don’t know if this happens to you, but I hear a song and I go YES.  THIS.  Absolutely this; I will buy a copy of it and listen to it with my headphones in when nobody else is in the house, five or six times in succession.  And then I will find everything else the artist did and buy it all up.  This has happened a few times to me; ‘Race to be King’ by Seth Lakeman, Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, Christy Moore, Karine Polwart, Kirsty MacColl, Eliza Carthy, all of these people are favourites of mine because of one particular song that I heard and my jaw just dopped.

Here may well be another one.

This hasn’t made Show of Hands for me, so much – they were already favourites, but hell, the more I listen to this, the more I love it.  I love Show of Hands because maybe they do sing a little bit about love and loss, but for the most part it’s stories, and things that happen, and everything else in life.  Matchmaking isn’t life even if it does sell records.

I went to London yesterday.  I looked around law bookshops, and drank a fair bit of coffee, and wandered around the streets.  I went to the V&A’s quilting exhibition (of course) and it was very good.  There was the usual bit of, ‘We got convicts and made them do art work to show how sorry they are!’ that seems to come with a lot of crafting shows, and the eternal dilemma between ‘Women in olden days used quilts to show how talented and amazing they were,’ and ‘This quilt has bits of fluff trapped in it in the same way that women are trapped’.  (That last is an almost direct quotation.  It was all I could do not to laugh out loud.)

And then there were some quilts that were absolutely stunning:

(Military Quilt, William Brayley, photo taken from V&A website – click it to see more about it)

Guys, do you see this?  This is two and a bit metres in each direction.  This was made by some bloke in the army during the Crimean War.  This quilt is coming up to 130 years old and was made by hand, by a guy in India, in his spare time.  And it still looks like this.  He was in a conflict zone!  And he made this!  In his spare time!  Because he could!  Do you see all the patterning on it?  He made that up. And then he sewed it.  By hand.  EXACTLY!

This leads me to two conclusions:

  1. Quilting is hardcore.
  2. I am a wimp.

I can’t get my head around how stunning and intricate and complicated it is.  And there was a whole exhibition full of these.  Loads of them. One day I want to make something that’s beautiful and complicated enough to end up in an exhibition.  It’s not to do with skill, not really, more endurance and practice and effort and energy.

Fibre arts give me hope because a lot of them are all about putting the work in.  You can learn anything.  Put your back into it and you can do that.  It’s really got very little to do with raw talent, in the end.  Anyone can make something for themselves.  It’s just time, and effort, and not being put off when you inevitably cock something up a bit.  That seems very elegant to me.

I also went to Loop, and am now the proud owner of quite a lot of Cascade 220 and one glorious leaf-green skein of Malabrigo Worsted.  I think this is the first time I’ve been to a yarn shop without feeling entirely out of place and getting the sudden urge to run screaming from all the people who know what they’re talking about far more than I do.  This probably had something to do with the fact that it was next to empty.

I have a theory that part of my trouble with this sort of thing comes from university: I don’t like looking like I don’t know exactly what I’m talking about.  I’m used to going away, reading up obsessively in advance, and being prepared to the point of anal-retentiveness.  I’d far rather go away, learn about something myself, and come back, than ask for help on the spot.

One day I’ll get the courage up to go to a knitting class or workshop.  Mental blocks make the world go round.

This week April 12, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Lovely people, Really good day.
3 comments

It’s going to be a phenomenally good week.