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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.
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…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.

Oh, these old things July 10, 2011

Posted by Fiona in Craftiness, Small things.
4 comments

Just got home today to discover a new post from the Purl Bee on friendship bracelets.  This was probably my first craft – certainly the first craft I got into obsessively.  I still have a collection of fifty or sixty colours of cotton embroidery thread, and I remember being very young and spending my pocket money on one or two extra colours, or sitting in the front garden spending entire afternoons winding thread onto little cardboard bobbins.

My favourite bracelets were very narrow two-colour striped ones, and I’d wear four or five of them all the time.  I could make one eight inches long in half an hour, and I’d make dozens of the things – it was a bit like it is with knitting for me today, once I could go like the clappers, I couldn’t stop.  I could make stripes, chevrons, diamonds, and all kinds of twists and knot patterns that I either got from the Girl Guides or, more likely, looked up in library books.  Which, probably, was how I got interested in any kind of knotwork, and, probably, is why I love knitting cables so much these days.  My goodness, I’d forgotten the friendship bracelets.  Wow.  It’s amazing how one thing leads to another, isn’t it?

I’m quite tempted to get my threads and my safety pins out and have another go.  Did you ever make friendship bracelets, as a child?  And, I’m interested, did you do any other of that sort of craft?  French knitting on bobbins?  Multi-strand braids on pieces of card with slits cut into them and a hole down the middle?  And does anyone remember scoubidous?  It’s amazing what we used to get up to, back before anything like that was the domain of Cath Kidston and People With More Patience Than Me.

Happening around here April 14, 2011

Posted by Fiona in Craftiness, Look what I did, Small things.
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I’ve been home for two and a half weeks now, and it’s been terribly busy.  The dissertation second draft got finished today, so I’m absolutely demob-happy: it’s gone to the relevant volunteer for last proofreading and then I’ll bind it up and never look at the damned thing again.  (That’s a lie.  I’ll spend the next month reading articles and going “Ooh!  That’s interesting.  I could put that in my- oh no wait.”)  As for the moment, however, I keep looking at my bibliography in disbelief.

Otherwise, what has mainly been happening is what usually happens when I get home for a holiday and spend any length of time around my mum: I’ve got a bit craft-happy.  On the way home, we stopped at the York Quilt Museum and ever since then I’ve been with ideas.  I wanted to do something colourful, where I could see the results and that would make people happy.  So I decided to do everything.

First of all, and thank goodness for it, I finished a pair of man-sized socks, which has since been spirited away by my dad (hence lack of photos, they’re too busy being worn!).  I’m  sure I’ve said before how much respect I have for people who routinely knit man-sized socks.  There’s just so much foot to them, and they go so slowly… nevertheless, I feel like my daughterly duty has been done now, and he loves them, so I think all is well on that front.  And at least now they’re finished.

Then, I decided to adapt a Purl Soho scarf for Mother’s day, using a heavier linen and quite a lot more hand sewing.  (I must never forget to take my sewing machine home again.  There is only one possible result and it involves taking three hours to do something that could have taken twenty minutes.)

There was also these:

Peanut butter and Smartie cookies, adapted extensively from a Good Housekeeping recipe I stumbled upon by happy chance, in a How About Orange newspaper gift bag made from the culture pages of the Independent (oh yes, I live in that kind of household.  Housemates take note).

There is nothing in this world that makes me feel more of a domestic goddess than baking cookies and putting them in homemade wrapping paper to give as a birthday present.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is the height of smugness.

(I’ve no idea why this picture is so bad, but it’s the only one I managed to get of the back of the bag.  Total, unadulterated smugness.)

My favourite thing, though, was that I managed to get my hands on the relevant multiple types of pliers, and hooks and beads and what have you to make stitch markers.

I love making things where I’ve got all the different parts from different places.  I got the beads in these ones (above) in Sheffield towards the end of term, when I escaped Durham for a bit to see some friends.  The friends in question have the measure of me exactly, because we somehow managed to find ourselves in the middle of a shop full of beads, and buttons, and miscellaneous small sparkly things.  Now I know how to make stitch markers, I’m determined to go back and seek out some more things to put on them – they’re a perfect little canvas for special trinkets, and these days I know quite enough knitters who won’t complain to receive half a dozen as a birthday present, or really just because.

The beads in these are wooden, and I got them from Duttons in York with my mum on the way back home, about half an hour before we discovered the Quilt Museum.  I adore them, they’re so bright.  They’re currently on the Great Green Thing I talked about a bit previously – which now has sleeves and has been ripped back a further two or three times in pursuit of same.  I’m hoping to have that finished by the beginning of next week.

As for what’s left on my list of things to try…

…Well, it was quilting that started this whole thing off, wasn’t it?

I am revising, I promise.

On diaries February 19, 2011

Posted by Fiona in Breaking the fourth wall, Bwargh, Small things.
7 comments

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

‘Not Waving but Drowning’, by Stevie Smith.  Copied from my diary while I was doing my A-levels, Tuesday 13th November 2007.

I wrote a diary from shortly after my thirteenth birthday all the way through to just before I went to university.  At that point, I was thinking too much and didn’t have time to go and write it all down and think about it.  I tried again last year, and lasted about a month – the style that I used to use didn’t really suit any more.  I used to write the date at the top, and set it out like a letter, and write down the time I started writing whenever I did, and sign off with my full name.  I’d like to go back to writing again, because it helped, and it helped me keep things to myself, and I think it made me a bit of a better person or at least a more self-aware one.

Other things have happened, and they’re great and I’ve really enjoyed them – and I’ll try and post about them soon, but I just needed to get this one out.

So what do you do, when you feel a bit like you’re not waving right now?

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.

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.

A last-ditch attempt May 5, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Big things, Breaking the fourth wall, Craftiness, Small things, University.
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David Miliband and Nick Clegg both spoke at the Union Society today.  I saw the set-up, and the crowds, as I was walking to the library.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky enough to get a place to see either of them speak – it’s something I’ll have to look up on Youtube later, I think.  My housemates all went to Clegg’s address, and Mathematical and Lawyerly went to Miliband’s too, because they were running the sound system (and just interested).  Apparently Miliband is a very good speaker.

Last night, we were trying to remember what he did.  He’s the Foreign Secretary.  But if you asked me who’s the Home Secretary at the moment?  Well, we were trying to work it out last night.  I couldn’t remember.  It’s Alan Johnson.  Alan Johnson to me is (nearly the name of) the BBC journalist who was kidnapped in Palestine a few years back.  And that’s my point – all this election hype, all this reading of manifestos, and debating of issues, and general awareness, and I couldn’t even tell you who the Home Secretary is.

I’m not going to try and tell you who to vote for.  For me it’s too late – I’m voting by post – so maybe it’s too late for you too.  I’m not going to tell you what I think of Johann Hari, although my father makes sure I usually have a copy of any article he writes because they have similar ideas about things.  I’m not going to tell you what I think’s going to happen – although there’s only really one way that I think it can possibly go, and that’s going to be interesting.

What difference is it going to make, in the great design of things, anyway?

Today, I went and picked out ribbon to go with a project I’m making.  The lady in the embroidery shop in the Indoor Market now recognises me on sight.  We had a lovely conversation about her daughter’s A-level choices, and she aahed over the project, and offered to give me some old needles of hers that she’s unlikely to use, and helped me choose the colours of ribbon.  I love how crafting puts community back where I don’t feel like anyone cares at the moment.  Linguistic housemate and I were talking this morning about living in London.  If I didn’t think there was the likelihood of finding a really nice knitting group, I don’t think I could do it any more.  Is that sad?

You can probably tell I’m back in the library again.

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!

Working in the student café March 17, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Literature, Look what I did, Lovely people, Small things, University.
5 comments

The commonest student working in the café
without a doubt studies English.
Byron and Shelley and Keats and conversation
over cups of coffee (decaffeinated, sweetened
with fair-trade Demerara sugar or skim milk)
and reams of paper in navy ink.
Discoloured books simulate ageing,
and the biro moustache on Jane Austen’s disapproving face
seems somehow fitting,
somehow natural.

The other linguists are rare, and when you see them,
they are often entirely engrossed;
only occasionally looking up,
their accents subtly changing when they pause
to answer a question or steal a continental crisp
from the person with their speakers on two seats away.
Europe is closer than you think
(only a few miles, Dover’s just up the motorway, yeah?)
and I know where I’d rather be.
Perhaps they’ll stare at the mountains of worksheets so hard
that they see maps, like I’d see stars.

Mathematicians and physicists argue over hundreds and thousands
and the icing on buns,
with a disapproving glance at the wordy subjects.
Creativity, says the sniff behind their eyes.  Creativity
is for those who don’t know the answer.
Beauty is in the universe, the computer chip and the atom.
Meaningless acronyms fly on the wind,
intended to confuse passers by,
a gesture of solidarity gone wrong.

Artists don’t work in public.
(You’d watch.)
They have their own hideaway,
filled with sawdust and brushes stiff with dried acrylic
and, unlike the drama students,
(Oscar Wilde once said that “from the point of view of feeling,
the actor’s craft is the type”)
perhaps they are content with their own company.
Paper cups, metal tables, plastic bins.
There is something ugly in the student café,
something not right somehow for catching the beauty.
Introspection, perhaps.
Perhaps introspection is what is missing.

Business students, on the other hand, do not work at all
and will not even admit to it in private.
And with orange juice and Smarties and smiles
you will wonder – why bother? Why try?
And blagging is the order of the day
– and exams are weeks away yet –
and after all what can it really hurt just this one time go on please?

Everybody else uses the library
for real work in real time,
or maybe they can think as fast as they type?
or maybe they’ve found somewhere better.

When exams come round, we will see.
All that is left is the wait, and the tea and discussion.
Multicoloured folders embroidered with ballpoint stars,
the evidence of a wasted afternoon.

(c) stitchthisdarling 2010

The Paper Tiger February 23, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Literature, Small things.
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This is a story I was told when I was little – I think I read it, actually, and then told it to my little sister on one of the numerous, albeit less frequent these days, times when I’d sit in her room and tell her a story.

Unlike most of the stories I used to tell her, which tended to be Anglo-Saxon or occasionally Scandinavian in origin (I had a wonderful book of them, that was falling apart, and I’ve no idea what happened to it but I loved it), this story is, I think, Chinese.

It’s about a little girl whose birthday it is, and for her birthday her daddy gives her a parasol.  She really loves this parasol, and insists on opening and closing it in all the places in the house that anyone else particularly wants to be in, so after a while of this somebody suggests that she go for a walk in the jungle with her parasol.  I suppose, if one has a jungle nearby, that seems the obvious thing to do in it, especially if one has such a lovely brand-spanking-new parasol with which to walk.

So off the little girl goes with her parasol over her shoulder, and she skips about a bit, and carefully inspects some of the brightly coloured flowers and leaves, and shows her new parasol to some of the wildlife – who don’t seem that impressed, it must be said – and generally charges through the undergrowth for a bit.  And as she gets deeper and deeper into the jungle, she spots a flash of orange and stops dead in her tracks.

There is a tiger, a few yards ahead of her, blocking the path.  The little girl, being quite a resourceful little girl really and not one prone to panic, thinks crikey! he’s seen me!  What am I going to do?  And, having such a snazzy parasol about her person (lucky, that) she decides that the best thing she can do is hide behind it, and hope that the tiger won’t be able to see her any more.  So she gets her parasol out very quickly, and she crouches behind it, and she closes her eyes, and she holds her breath.

And she keeps holding it.  And then she lets it out, and listens very carefully, and then opens one eye, and then the other.  And after another minute or two, she peeks out from behind the parasol, and to her surprise, the tiger has gone!  So she grins widely, and dances a little bit to break the tension, does her parasol back up and legs it home as fast as she can.

When she gets home, she goes to her daddy and tells him all about the tiger, and how it had disappeared, and how she had no idea where it went.

‘Silly girl!’ says her daddy, fondly, ‘have you not looked at your parasol properly?’  And the little girl opens the parasol up, and then goes round to the other side and looks at it properly from the outside, and nearly jumps out of her skin because painted on the top of the parasol is a rather gloriously fierce dragon.

D’you know, there’s something to be said about a simple, clever story where ultimately, nobody gets hurt.

And now I really ought to stop procrastinating this essay.  There was a point to that, when I drafted it yesterday, but I can’t remember what it was, so it’s just going to be a drive-by storytelling now.  (I know the tiger wasn’t paper, by the way, but I found out yesterday that ‘paper tiger’ is an actual expression for something that looks dangerous but really isn’t.  I kind of like it.)  And now I shall return to Jim Moray and corporate manslaughter.  Yay.