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Inspiration September 29, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Craftiness, Durham, Knitting, Literature, University.

It’s been raining on and off here for the last three days, and it’s grey and miserable and generally not particularly pleasant – which is why I’ve not been writing, I suppose, nobody wants that passing on.  People are slowly but surely coming back to the city – both of my housemates are here, now, and a few of the other techies, and it’s so exciting to see them all again.  Plus, the flat is now feeling a bit more like home now that it has three people, about a hundred extension cables and the smells of cooking in it.  This can only be a good thing.

I’ve spent the last few days working: pre-term reading, but also a few other bits and pieces.  I’ve decided this is the year I’m going to participate in NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, which is in November.  I haven’t written any length of fiction longer than about a thousand words in about the last five years, and it’s something I’m finding I’m having to train myself back into doing.  It’s amazing how these things leave you, but also how quickly they come back.  Contrary to most people’s response, though (which tends to be, “Ooh, and then you can publish it!”), I’m doing this entirely for my own benefit.  For fun.  For the personal challenge.  It may or may not become public, but, given my recent standard of writing, I’m inclined to think it’s unlikely.  Anyway, the planning is under way, and I’m already discovering the perks of being one’s own target audience – I’m really excited already.  How long this will continue is debatable.

Anyone else planning to join in?  I’d love to hear from you.

My knitting at the moment is a bit on the exciting, new side – I’m test-knitting a sock which is beautiful but complicated, and involves a lot of cables and twisted stitches.  Both of these are favourites of mine, and I’m really enjoying testing them.  More to follow, almost certainly, when I’ve finished them.  I have to say, testing patterns for other designers is one of my favourite things.  It’s like one great mystery knitalong where you just immerse yourself in the pattern – so useful for the designer, and so community-building for the testers.  Working with chatty test-knitters is another of my favourite things.

Added to which, finally, inspiration has struck and I’m knitting up the sample for a shawl.  I don’t know whether I love it more because it’s got lace in it, or it’s been such a challenge to put together, or because it’s really, really pretty.  The sample I’m knitting up at the moment is in the teal Araucania Ranco I got in Sheffield over the summer, and I have plans for a laceweight version as well.  Both of which should keep me busy for a while!

I’m crediting the knitting with keeping me sane in all this rain – even my wonderful library isn’t doing the trick.  They’re refurbishing, and I’ve been in there this week and it’s freezing.  I’m looking forward to December so much…


In York September 24, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Craftiness, Knitting, Lovely people, Really good day.
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I went to York today, seeing The Philosopher and (later) Captain Shakespeare.  It was great.  We went to Ramshambles, and Duttons (of course) and I spent a fortune on yarn and buttons (of course), and then we went back to Ramshambles so that Philosopher could get herself some yarn and needles and learn to knit again.  This made me exceptionally happy; Philosopher’s mum is a fantastic knitter and over the years has both taught me and inspired me to try so many new things – socks, lace, fair isle, entrelac – and it gives me such a buzz to return the craft to the family, and to share something I love so much with one of my best friends.  Few combinations have helped me so much through the melancholy times over the years as much as Philosopher and knitting.  Family aside, I feel like I’ve been able to give something back to her.

The yarn is beautiful, by the way.  It got dark before I could get a picture, so the best one I have is this:

It’s dyed in Yorkshire by the lady who owns the sheep it came from.  And it’s beautiful, and soft, and I don’t know what I’m going to make with it, but I have plenty of ideas. Scroll Lace Scarf (Ravelry link)? Multnomah? Gaenor?  The possibilities are endless.

I’ve waxed lyrical on how much I love York before – for me, it’s such an inspiring city; a maze of beautiful streets and architecture and wonderful little finds, and full of craft shops seemingly inhabited by people as enthusiastic about these things as I am.  As far as I’m concerned, there are few things as fun as being enthusiastic about things when there’s more than one of you.  It absolutely makes the world go round.

And then I got home to discover my skirt from Tara Starlet had arrived – it’s the black version, and I’ve been lusting over it for ages, and I’m so pleased to finally get my hands on it.  It fits like a dream!  I am, however, incapable of taking non-blurry photos of myself, so you’ll have to imagine that I look as gloriously kitsch and attractive in it as the model, and also that I have similarly excellent hairdressing skills.

It’s been a good day, all things considered.

Article 3, or, I love the smell of controversy in the morning September 21, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Big things, Breaking the fourth wall, Law.

(This is a law post, not so much a knitting post.  I actually published it a while back, but wasn’t particularly happy with it, so got rid of it.  And now I am happy with it, and quite interested to hear what people have to say about it.)

At some point last term, I read about the judgment of the Grand Chamber in the European Court of Human Rights in a case called Gäfgen v Germany.  It’s kind of famous in some circles, and one of those situations where I’m really, really glad I’m not sitting on the Grand Chamber.  The facts are thus: Mr Gäfgen was threatened with torture while being held in custody in Germany for the kidnapping and murder of an eleven-year-old boy.  He was later found guilty – he killed the boy, and then contacted the boy’s parents asking for a ransom, and was detained just after picking it up.  There’s really no doubt that he did it.  Thinking that the boy was still alive, the police officers involved threatened Mr Gäfgen with torture.

The national courts in Germany acknowledged that threatening to torture him was a bit of a bad thing, and kind of half-heartedly told the policemen involved how naughty they’d been.  The case was up before the ECtHR because Mr Gäfgen alleged that his human rights had been breached: not to be tortured, under Article 3, and to a fair trial, under Article 6.  He argued that the national redress for the violation of Article 3 was not enough to provide a deterrent to doing it again, and that his confession was invalid because of the techniques used beforehand – although his confession under threat of torture was not used at trial.

Particularly, Article 3 reads, in its entirety:

‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.’

There are two tiers to the European Court of Human Rights, the Chamber, and the Grand Chamber, and every case that gets to the Court goes to the Chamber.  The Grand Chamber is a bit like the Court of Appeal, and involves more judges.

In Gäfgen’s case, the Chamber decided that torture was a breach of Article 3, but the threat of torture wasn’t, and therefore there was no violation.

It’s very easy, I think, to side with the Chamber here.  Mr Gäfgen is a bad man.  Not a character, a real person, who brutally murdered an eleven-year-old boy and dropped his body in a pond.  When I think about some of the eleven-year-olds I know, I get a lump in my throat and a not insignificant rage.  On top of which, it’s very easy to say well, he wasn’t physically hurt, they didn’t do anything to him, therefore the Chamber was right.  I had a tutorial on this case in which there was a very clear split between people who thought that the seriousness of Mr Gäfgen’s crimes, and the fact that he wasn’t actually physically tortured, meant that he wasn’t entitled to any protection, and people who didn’t think so.  Even if this is pretty extreme, it’s clear that Mr Gäfgen had done far worse to the boy and his parents than was done to him.

The Grand Chamber thought that the mere threat of torture was enough to constitute ‘inhuman treatment’ under Article 3 (and also that the trial was fair, because the confession extracted under threat of torture was not used).

Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights is an odd one.  It’s very controversial.  On the face of it, everyone thinks that not torturing people is a good thing, it’s fair, and it’s right that it should be absolute.  In a case like Gäfgen v Germany, though, opinion is so divided.  How far does it go?  Does it extend beyond peacetime?  Does it extend to people for whom nobody has any sympathy, or who have done horrible, utterly reprehensible things?  And what about if the perpetrator thinks there is some real, tangible and vitally important reason for acting as they did, like saving a human life?  In some ways, Gäfgen is a bit of a paradigm thought experiment.  In other ways, it’s as real as you and I are – real people, real emotions, real fear, stress and pain.  These people, Mr Gäfgen, the boy’s parents, the policemen, they’re still alive and they’re living with this.  Who are we to punish and pass judgement?  And at the same time, who are we not to?

The other problem a lot of people have with Gäfgen v Germany is that the threat of torture was seen as inhuman treatment.  Well, it is.  Psychological torture has been used through the centuries, and is still used.  I went to a talk last year hosted by the Durham Law Society where the gentleman speaking told us in detail about how the threat of torture was used on him.  But it isn’t physical pain, and sticks and stones and all that, so in a case so marginal and controversial as this one, does the fact that there was no physical torture tip the balance?  The Chamber obviously thought so.

When I think of all the things I’m glad of in life, more and more frequently these days, ‘not being a judge’ enters the list.

Something scary about laceweight September 16, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Craftiness, Durham, Knitting, University.

What do you think this is?

It’s (a slightly splodgey photo of) the cuff of a cardigan that, fingers crossed, will be bound off today.  The yarn is the Wollmeise Lace-Garn I got at KnitNation (yes, I know, I haven’t been able to shut up about it).  I decided to knit a long-sleeved, drapey thigh-prodding-length cardigan with it, for the main reason that I wanted to use up all 300g on the same thing, and it’s impossible to use less than 300g knitting a really long cardigan, isn’t it?

There’s still a third of the damned stuff left – I’m estimating I’ll have about 700yds left over.  How did this happen?  I do not understand how you can knit a whole cardigan that weighs less than 200g.

I think I might have to have a bit of a shawl binge now, to use it all up.

Back up to Durham on Sunday.  I don’t want to leave home, I never want to leave the place or the people, but this time I’m really looking forward to being back with something to focus on.  I’m missing my library, and my theatre, and just generally messing about being a student.  One year left.  My, my.  It’s gone before you know it, isn’t it?

Last year, I promised myself I’d work hard, and I think I did.  This year, I promise to up that.

A tragic loss September 12, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Big things, Law.
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I’ve just this minute got onto my computer and discovered that Lord Bingham died yesterday.

I am shocked.

You may well be aware that Lord Bingham was a great hero of mine – always precise, to the point, and accurate, and practically never wrong.  For the last two years, when I’ve been reading case law, I’ve skipped straight to his judgements, and it’s his influence and writings that made me interested in UK public law, and resulted in my doing the dissertation I’m currently working on.  He published a book last year called The Rule Of Law.  I bought it in hard copy the moment I knew of its existence, and read it cover to cover immediately.  If you have any interest in fairness, current affairs or the constitution as it is in the UK, I recommend doing exactly the same right now because you won’t find a better or more readable introduction anywhere.

He was probably the most influential proponent of human rights this country has seen in recent years – always fair, always outspoken when he thought something was wrong (or, indeed, right), and always very practical.  He is widely acknowledged as the best judge Britain has seen since the Second World War, and I feel honoured to have been able to study his work while he was still around to create it.

The Guardian thinks so too.

Spot the knitter September 8, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Uncategorized.

I know this advert has been out for a while, but every time I see it I laugh out loud.

It’s like coming home.  And did you see the knitter?  Of course you did.  How else would I have come across the advert?  You learn well, my friends.

It’s been busy round here  – I’ve finished at work for the summer, for which I cannot be thankful enough.  After being in Arran, spending four days a week in an airless room grates, even if the company makes everything go faster.  After I finished that, I went up to London to see Linguistic Housemate before she heads off to pastures new and Don’t Drink The Water Territory.

I’ve been knitting like nobody’s business, of course, and I’ve nearly finished the body of the cardigan I’ve been making out of my skein of Wollmeise.  It looks wonderful.  People have been commenting on the colour.  I have to stop every half-hour to bury my face in it and inhale.  Having said which, it appears my plan isn’t working – I’m still going to have quite a lot left at the end, even if I make it longer and give it full-length sleeves.  The weather is slowly but surely starting to turn, but I am determined to get some wear out of a laceweight cardi before autumn properly sets in.

I also have a skein of terracotta-coloured Malabrigo Sock that I bought at I Knit when I went into London to see Linguistic Housemate.  It’s intended for a pair of socks.  I know in my head exactly what sort of socks I want to make with it.  And yet… I can’t bear the prospect of putting Malabrigo on my feet.  I may chicken out and make a shawl instead.  Or a hat.  I haven’t decided yet.  Input welcome.

I went into town yesterday to go into the library (and do some work! yay) and happened to go into the sort of place where one might get hold of quite a bit of felt, and sequins, and zips, and those little safety pins you put on the back of brooches.  I think you can guess what I’ll be doing the next few days.

It’s an FO!: Garden cardigan September 2, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Craftiness, Knitting, Look what I did.

You’ll be proud of me.  I’m proud of me.  For the first time in my life, I have started a garment with sleeves, and actually finished the blasted thing.  And it is this, the Garden Cardigan by Jennifer Thompson.  And it is scrummy.  The pattern’s not quite out yet, I was test knitting it for her, but when it comes out if you knit I think you’ll love it.  It was insanely quick, I finished it in about three weeks’ mostly-solid knitting, and I love it to very tiny pieces.

(Side note: interested parties might notice that the ludicrously simple floral A-line skirt I’m wearing in these pictures is a bit on the wonky side.  That’s because I sewed it, basically without a pattern, and never having sewed a skirt before.  It was an adventure!  I told you there’d be pictures…)

So let’s talk about this cardigan then.  It was knitted bottom up, raglan-style, which for you non-knitters means that I started from the hips and worked up to the boobs, then knitted the two sleeves separately from the bottom up to the shoulders, then put both sleeves and the main body very cunningly onto one pair of needles and worked them together up to the neck.

This is Clever With A Capital C, because it means that there were practically no seams, which means practically no sewing up at the end!  This is, by all accounts, a Good Thing.  It also means, rather cunningly, that the answer to the question “So when do the leaves down the front change direction?” is “Right at the very end, so it is both central and hidden by your hair, so fear not, there will be no need for you to twitch uncontrollably.”  Inorite?

It has adorably cute details, like this, on the cuff:

When the call for test knitters went out, and I saw the little leaf on the cuff, I squeed very loudly and started hunting through my stash for appropriate yarn.  Leaf motifs might just be my favourite thing to put on knitted stuff.  I love them very much indeed.

The pattern is excellent – succinct, easy to follow, with charts where appropriate and explanation where necessary.  I’ve learned a few things while knitting it: how to knit a raglan starting at the bottom, and how to cable two stitches without a cable needle very quickly and without dropping anything.  I’ve also rediscovered the importance of actually reading instructions, and using stitch markers where you’re told to, and counting properly.  It went surprisingly quickly, and I’m surprised at how professional the join looks on the garter stitch in the round, as well as how well-hidden it is.

And the yarn, yes?  It’s Ethical Twist organic wool alpaca DK, which is 80% wool and 20% alpaca and the sheep and the alpacas were all happy when they got sheared and hadn’t eaten anything particularly untoward.  It’s a little fluffy and haloey and right this minute I can vouch for the fact that it is very warm indeed.  Also it is undyed, so this is the actual colour of the sheep/alpaca.  It’s such a beautiful yarn, and I bought it at work, and have since put by another five skeins to buy in the next few days because it’s so lovely to work with.  And did I mention warm?  It’s September; these things are suddenly important.

And if you had any doubts left, Midge informed me yesterday that unlike many things I knit, This Is The Sort Of Thing She Might Actually Wear, Were I To Be So Inclined.  I’m keeping a close eye on it at present, though – I think I’m going to be wearing it a lot.