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Underwater December 2, 2011

Posted by Fiona in Breaking the fourth wall, Craftiness, Edinburgh, Knitting, Lovely people, NaNoWriMo, Sheer bloody-mindedness, Small things.

…That’s a comment on how wet it is up here, by the way.  It’s been raining horizontally on and off for about a week.

I was walking down to the library about ten past eight this morning.  You know, when it’s got to the point where you’re just following your feet, and you’ve stopped noticing things around you?  I’ve been trying to fend it off of late, because Edinburgh is such a beautiful city and I don’t have very long to enjoy it – only this year – but it’s caught up with me recently.  And, as I was walking past Bristo Square, I spotted something on the railings.

It was World AIDS day yesterday, which I assume accounts for it.

Yarn bombing is one of my favourite things in the world, and I’ll tell you for why.  I always seem to see it when there’s a lot going on around me, when I’m up to my eyeballs in late nights and my head is spinning with all the things I should have done and I haven’t yet.  And then, suddenly, out of nowhere, there are knitters.  If I didn’t knit, it would still say to me that someone’s taken a bit of time out of their day to brighten things up.  That would just be fabulous all by itself.  But as a knitter myself, it feels like a reminder that even though it’s getting dark at 4 o’clock, even though I’ve barely seen the outside for quite a while and I haven’t had an evening in to myself where I haven’t had to work in weeks… some things are constant.  There are people out there who take a bit of time to knit red ribbons and tie them on railings.  There are people who still think that’s a worthwhile use of their time – which, of course, I have to wholeheartedly agree with.

It’s like someone’s taken a bit of time out of their day to just reach across and say hey, hang on a minute – how are you?

…All the way down the road.  I don’t know if you can see it.

I won NaNoWriMo the other day.  It’s been good to take a bit of time out – I’ve met some fantastic people and learned a lot about myself.  It was a lot easier to keep going than this time last year.  I discovered, though, that it’s a bad idea to force myself to research about wartime mental illness when the nights are drawing in.  That on top of work – my first essay went in this morning, one down, two to go.  I’ve had to be pretty careful – yet another reason that seeing knitting just made it all a bit better.

My camera’s playing up at the moment – sometimes it’ll work and sometimes it won’t.  But I have FOs to show you, and I’m determined to find the time soon!  Maybe I should instate WIP Wednesday, or whatever it is that the other bloggers are doing these days.  Something to think about.


Graduation July 1, 2011

Posted by Fiona in Big things, Durham, Law, Look what I did, Lovely people, Really good day, Theatre, University.

Graduation means movement.  Colour graduates.  Two days ago, so did I.

My university experience involved a lot of sitting in libraries and accompanying backache.  It involved a lot of coffee, and fruit tea, and late nights, and massive books.  To begin with, I thought I’d read the massive books cover to cover and that’d be fine.  I never did that once.  I pulled more all-nighters than I care to mention.  I blagged a lot.  I slept in, and panicked, quite a few times.  I came home at the end of every term and slept for several days straight, and I cried at eleven o’clock at night because I didn’t think I could keep going but I still had several hours’ work to do.

I didn’t get a first in anything.  Not once.

I learned how to paint floors, and walls, quickly, and how to put up lights and hem tablecloths and take in clothes.  I learned to knit jumpers.  I made gallons of tea and cooked for fifteen with half an hour’s notice.  I gave up my sofa, my living room, my entire house to other people, and I didn’t leave my bedroom for three days at a time.

I got drunk with people I didn’t know and regretted it every time, but kept doing it anyway.  Eventually I knew the people and I still regretted it.  I walked on cobbles and down steep hills in 5″ stillettos, and had to be walked home at two in the morning in the snow.  I ate rice for five days in a row, and spaghetti bolognese four times in the same week.  I stayed up til the small hours, drinking blackcurrant squash and playing Lego Indiana Jones with seven or eight people crammed onto two sofas.

When I graduated, I didn’t go to the law department.  The law department is not representative of my university experience, even though I did a fair bit of law and I enjoyed what I did.  My university experience would not be summed up anywhere near my department.

It’d be here, after working on a show with the other techies, all gathered round a table at the pub, dressed in black and grimy because we haven’t had time to shower for three or four days and so tired we’re all getting distracted by the lights on the slot machines.

Or it’d be here, eating cake backstage and trying to avoid being one of the people who has to move the piano and surruptitiously keeping an eye on my props table.

Or else it’d be at a college do, scrubbed up well and surrounded by friends, and smiles, and good conversation.

I’ll miss Durham, and I’ll miss my degree, and I’ll miss spending hours browsing Westlaw and reading things just that bit off topic.  But if something sums up the last few years, it won’t be the law department.  If I had to pick a building, it’d have to be this one.

Back home now.  You’ll probably hear from me more often.  Not that that’s in any way difficult.

Morstan again February 14, 2011

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

First of all, happy V-day everyone, and I hope you are all good-naturedly but mutinously muttering under your breath in the same way as I am about how it’s all commercialised and you don’t believe in it anyway.  His nibs has come up to stay with me til Friday, so if it’s all a bit quiet on the Western Front over here, that’d be why.

Anyway, it’s also February, and that means that new Knitcircus is out.  I highly recommend going and having a look at it.  It also means, though, that I’ve been able to release my Morstan mittens pattern through Ravelry and this blog.

We went out and took lots of photos outside the cathedral today, even though it was absolutely freezing out – thanks to his nibs for taking all the photos, and to my lovely model Alice for being so obliging.  Also thanks to Sarah, Hayleigh, and Fearn for their general loitering and encouragement – it’s always far more fun to be doing silly things in a public place when there are more of you.

Lacy mittens still make me happy, and I think that shall be so for quite some time.

You can get the pattern now for £2.50 and frankly, if the weather where you are is anything like the weather where I am right now, I think that’s a rather good idea.

Meanwhile, the lace advances…

Barfest February 6, 2011

Posted by Fiona in Durham, Lovely people, Really good day, University.
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This one’s a bit diary-ish.

College Barfest.  A phrase that inevitably sounds like a knell of doom for anyone who isn’t a student.  You can probably guess what it involves as well: for a start, a lot of quite of exciting ales, lagers, ciders, cocktails that you wouldn’t usually find at a college bar.  Also, live music and a good time.

On the other hand, we’re also students, so the music was eye-wateringly loud, a fair few people drank quite a lot, and certain bits of college got very messy indeed.

For me, it was another chance to have a college breakfast – something I’ve missed a lot since I lived in, in my first year – mess about with sound equipment and good friends over a bottle of cider, and just generally enjoy the college atmosphere.  There’s always a great sense of community that tends to be worth soaking up, and who am I to turn down a chance to have a go at sound opping?

Exhibit A: band to the left, techies to the right, and practically never, in my experience, the twain shall meet.  I think – and don’t quote me on this – that this was a particularly good jazz band setting themselves up.  Music at college events is a lot less genre-narrow than it used to be – I went to a ceilidh a few weeks ago, the percentage of songs without the word ‘baby’ in the lyrics is looking up.

I had to leave mid-afternoon for a French lesson.  (Mais oui, mon Francais est tres broken still but improving un peu these days.  Je tricote, tu tricotes, il/elle tricote etc – also I now have three tenses and a working knowledge of Belgian cartoons.)  By the time I got back, everyone else had had a bit of a head-start on the cider, so the evening consisted of sticking it to the man techie-style:

(Utterly subtle techie in-joke there for you.  If you don’t get it, I can’t really elaborate except to say that if someone wearing blacks sends you for a long stand, tell them where they can shove it.)

There was tea and frank conversation in one of the kitchens, and a speedy and satisfactory clear-up.

Setting up and taking down tech equipment is something I used to hate, but now I really enjoy.  When you actually know what’s happening, and where things to, and what generally to do with them, it’s really good fun – especially because the majority of the college tech team now consists of my pretty close friends.  I’ve waxed lyrical about how much I love working with people I’m good friends with before.

A few things about tech that I really wish more people knew:

Firstly, piecing together how things work is essentially a combination of observation, practice, common sense and a bit of bodging.  A lot of people who don’t do tech don’t seem to realise this: someone came up to a few of us yesterday and said, ‘Are you techies?  Could you see if you can do something about the reception of the TV in the bar?’  Seriously?  It’s like saying, ‘You’re a computer programmer, why isn’t my printer working?’  On the other hand, if I’m actually doing something, chances are I know how to do it.  Some well-meaning chap yesterday actually explained to me what a mute button was for.  I’m still a bit gobsmacked.

Secondly, many things make sense when you differentiate ‘techies’ from ‘people’.  I have been led to conclude that the general perception of techies seems to be as wizards who love nothing better than clearing up after everyone else.  I’m not entirely sure why this is such generally accepted logic, but, well, it is.  If you’re running an event, I implore you: remember your techies exist when they’re not in the same room as you, give them time to eat, and don’t ask the impossible.  If you don’t know if it’s impossible, ask.  Just because they’re talking in acronyms and getting on with things quietly in a corner doesn’t mean they’re actually a different species.

Oh, it was good fun.  I like being back up at college, I really do.

The Right Thing December 22, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Big things, Craftiness, Look what I did, Lovely people, Small things.
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Individuals are important to me.  People are important.  Small things are important.  If there is one thing that has been constant while my outlook on the world has changed, it is that everyone is important, and they are important individually.  Look after them.  Care about them.  Joke if you like, if you must, about oppression and injustice in all their myriad forms, but don’t actually support them.  Don’t, if you can at all help it, give them the benefit of your support, your consent, or your money.

Economies of scale are almost universally recognised to be a good thing, but something in me is always uncomfortable with too much scale.  My sister asked me earlier if I disagreed with someone because I Have Principles And They Represented Corporate America, and I think she’s missed the point.

I’m not trying to change the world, and I don’t think I’d like it that much if the world changed too dramatically.  What I’m saying is that I eat bruised apples and handmade things are important to me.  I like it when individual care and attention goes into something, and that’s why I wear handknitted socks and someone made my week the other day when they bought me a copy of the pattern for Grove, entirely out of the blue, because they knew I’d like it.  Yay for the independent designer, and yay for thinking about individuals, and double yay for that person because they’re fantastic.  Homogeneity is terrifying, and I’m not saying Dare To Be Different, I’m saying that different is out there and we should hang on to it with both hands and share it with everyone we know.

I’m knitting most of my Christmas presents this year, and getting the rest from places I trust.  If you get a handmade gift from me, please take it very personally, and as a sign that I want to spend the time on you, and that I care about you especially.  You’re very special to me.

(That’s also why I got a little upset that I made my dad a pair of socks last year and he never wears them and only vaguely even knows where they are.  My dad Fights The Mainstream by watching Horizon and complaining it doesn’t go into enough depth.)

I don’t have any more time than you do, but I still knit things in front of the television – and I still wrote a novel last month.  I don’t have a lot of money but I buy clothes from charity shops, and eat less meat, put my pennies in a charity box and my handbag is handmade and was a special treat.

I am not doing this to be smug.  I am doing this because actually, I think ten extra minutes every so often are worth spending, and so are a few extra pounds but less often, and I would like to prove that by actually spending them.

Please spend them also.  Let’s swap nice things.

I pledge to buy handmade for myself and my loved ones, and request that others do the same for me.

Morstan Mittens November 10, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Big things, Breaking the fourth wall, Craftiness, Knitting, Look what I did, Lovely people, Patterns, Really good day.

Named after Mary Morstan, the most well-gloved of Victorian ladies, and, if you like, the sidekick’s sidekick.  She was Dr Watson’s wife in the Sherlock Holmes stories.  Importantly, she was the inspiration for these:

They were published today in Winter Knitcircus – alongside quite a lot of very beautiful things that I am absolutely in awe of being associated with.  I highly recommend having a flick through.

They also come fingerless:

I’m so unbelievably chuffed with them – ever since the samples came back I’ve been wearing them non-stop.  I adore Manos Silk Blend (the green yarn in the fingerless mitts) and I’d love to design with it again.  The Ethical Twist from the mittens might be familiar to you as well – I used it in my Garden Cardigan over the summer, and the mittens are just as warm and snuggly as the cardigan is.  I’m wearing the cardigan a lot these days, too.

You can buy the pattern from Knitcircus magazine directly – either singly or with the whole Winter pattern collection.  So many pretty things.  Squee.

Morstan mittens on Ravelry:

All photos courtesy of Knitcircus.

It’s November (nearly)! October 31, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Knitting, Literature, Lovely people, NaNoWriMo.

I know I’ve been terrible recently about writing – and I’m hoping that’ll change soon, but every time so far I sit down to write a blog post I find I have nothing to say.  NaNoWriMo approaches, though – at midnight tonight, I’ll start writing and hopefully that’ll mean I have things to say again elsewhere as well.  That’s the plan, anyway.

So in lieu of conversation, have a bit of a reminder of this:

The November beret (remember that, right?) being worn by the very lovely Laura.  She took pictures of the green version at the original photoshoot, but unfortunately I didn’t get much of an opportunity to post some of the ones of her – a terrible shame indeed, because she’s disgustingly photogenic, don’t you think?

Anyway, it’s November here in a few hours’ time, I’m attempting to write a novel in November and I happen to have a pattern called ‘November’… can you see where I’m going with this?

At the end of November, I’ll make a donation of 50p per November beret pattern sold during the month to the Office of Letters and Light, because they’re fantastic and if there’s one thing I support it’s stories.  And also, one bit of creativity deserves another.

On the subject of which, I went to Newcastle yesterday to meet some fellow NaNo-ers.  I wholeheartedly approve of any venture which involves coffee, stickers, and meeting new people who make jokes about literature.  Considering that a significant number of my friendships over the years have been based on befriending people who recognise an Oscar Wilde quotation when they hear one, this is fantastic.

If you’re novelling this month, or writing creatively in any way, shape or form: good luck.  I have it on good authority that there a hundred-and-some thousand of us out there rooting for you.

If you’d like to buy a copy of the pattern for the November beret, you can buy it now from Ravelry (you don’t have to be a member, either!).  Or, you could give OLL a few pennies yourself anyway.  I’m fairly sure that qualifies you as A Good Person.

Freshers’ Week October 6, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Durham, Knitting, Lovely people, University.

Well, term Is Go, essentially: the freshers turned up on Saturday and Sunday and Durham has promptly got a lot busier, and a lot noisier.  Everyone’s been rushing around like mad things – I’ve just seen Mathematical Housemate about five minutes ago for the first time since Saturday morning, and he’s disappearing off as soon as he’s had a shower to go back to college, fetch a badger costume and hot-foot it back down the hill.  I kid you not.

First things first, I finished Propello!  It took longer than I’d hoped because it turns out I can’t read instructions even when they’re bolded and italicised in front of me, so I had to rip back about four inches and redo them.  And now I have no access to a camera so here, have a really rubbish webcam picture of me modelling the world’s cutest hat:

Dreadful photo aside, the little I cord bit on the top just kills me.  The whole thing is just so cute.  And, did I mention it’s made of Malabrigo Worsted?  I think I’m in love.

Back to Freshers’ week, I can hear from my open window that matriculation is going on in the cathedral: where new students are entered into the university as students.  I remember my matriculation service – I was surprised to discover that it was really short, that there were no hymns and not so much as an optional prayer.  Durham has an illustrious history of being as divorced from religion as it is possible to be with a theology department and a cathedral smack bang in the middle, and it’s a matter of pride that they were accepting students who weren’t of the UK’s current major religion (I forget which it was at the time) long before Oxford and Cambridge.

Just a little factlet for you there.

I think Durham has something absolutely right about the freshers’ first week, though, which is very nicely illustrated by the shouting and air-horns and bagpipes and loudspeakers blasting the Harry Potter theme tune that have just subsided as they’ve all gone in, and it is this: you turn up, on the Saturday or Sunday, and are presented with teabags, sweets and the phone number of a freshers’ rep.  They then feed you, give you somewhere to sleep, stand around you being disgustingly enthusiastic, show you around the city on a treasure hunt and take you on a bar crawl.  Then, they give you a good list of seven or eight places you can get welfare support: college parents, corrridor reps, college exec, personal and senior tutor, Nightline, probably half a dozen more I’ve forgotten.  The whole time, you’re being indoctrinated with your college song, your college drink, your college banter, and a steady stream of how amazing your college is and how happy everyone is that you’re a part of it too.  And then, a few days later, you head off to matriculation and sing said college song, while clapping wildly, very loudly in the faces of people from other colleges, who are doing likewise.

Essentially, for your first week there, there is no way of escaping the huge community of it all, your college and doing things for your college and people who love your college are the first things you see and for the first week they are synonymous with how you live in Durham.  You start off being really proud of your college, and feeling like it’s where you fit in, and like the people there are going to support you.  They essentially give you four or five days of intensive welcome-to-the-family treatment.  And it works, definitely – it might not stop you getting homesick, or lonely, or sad, but you certainly don’t feel like you don’t fit in.  I hold those first few days directly responsible for the low dropout rate, and while the whole thing reeks a bit of indoctrination and brainwashing (case in point: Mathematical housemate is currently outside the cathedral, dressed as a badger and dancing.  If this is not the result of some glorious powers of persuasion, I don’t know what is) I think it’s exactly what new freshers need.  And I think they’ve got it down to a fine art.

Of course, some people then go away and find other things they love doing, and, for instance, get sucked into the student theatre and never leave (cough), but even if you never go there any more, college is still a little bit special.  Out in the wide world, two Durham students always have a conversation opener before, “What did you study?” and it’s, “What college were you at?”  It always comes first.  And there’s something rather nice about that.

Just something I saw October 2, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Craftiness, Knitting, Lovely people, Small things.
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On Postsecret this last week:

My mum is the craftswoman I aspire to be.  When I was little, she had her own business making and selling children’s clothes, which she would often make up from scratch, for me and my sister.  The muslins more often than not became our dressing up wardrobe.  She made pinafores, and dungarees, and I remember at primary school she made us dark green wool duffle coats, with cotton linings, and corduroy lining the sleeves and hoods.  They were beautiful things, and every so often I ask her again if she’ll make me another one to fit me now.  She doesn’t have time, these days, because my mum is also the self-employed and disgustingly hardworking businesswoman I aspire to be, but she does say, when she has a bit of time, she will.

For my birthday in June, she sent up a box of gifts: chocolate, a knitting book, some cards from family, and a bag that she’d sewn herself.  I know she doesn’t have time to sew much, and also that it is one of the things she loves most in the world, so that bag meant more to me than I can you can imagine.  I’m knitting her two pairs of socks and some fingerless gloves at this very moment, because one mastered craft shared deserves another, I think.

I found out later that the bag was also designed from scratch, and the material repurposed from a table runner she’d seen in Ikea and really liked the look of.  This also means more to me than I can really say.  I love the ability of crafting, and of making things, to tell us so much about the crafter and the recipient.

So I saw this secret on Postsecret and between you and me I suddenly felt really homesick.

It’s been a bit of a week, frankly, so today I felt the need for a bit of quick-fix knitting.  And, given that it’s the beginning of the month, and I’ve had a skein of bright green Malabrigo Worsted sat here looking at me coquettishly for quite a long time, the only logical thing to do seemed to do as I’ve been meaning to do for some time and join the October knitalong over at Woolly Wormhead’s Ravelry group, which this month is of her gorgeous new Hat, Propello.  It’s my first Woolly Wormhead Hat pattern, and I’m pleased to say that the rave reviews she invariably gets are entirely justified.  The woman has a grasp on engineering I can only dream of.  She knits hats sideways.  I met her at Knit Nation in July and she was lovely.   I’ve probably knitted just over half of Propello today (carefully ignoring all the other knitting I really should be working on) so fingers crossed I will be able to show you a finished Hat tomorrow.  It’s adorably cute.  I shall wear it often.

Also, Malabrigo Worsted is the absolute business.  It’s a single ply yarn, and even though I know single ply yarns felt really easily, and split if you use really pointy needles with them, and all sorts of irritating things like that… I love them.  I love Manos del Uruguay Silk Blend more than most things in the world.  And now, Mal Worsted is right up there too.

I wouldn’t knit a jumper in it, though.  It’d pill like mad.  And cost a fortune.  Even if it would be so much fun to knit.  I’m rambling.

Til tomorrow, then, when I’ll actually have things to show you.

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.