Sunday, November 29, 2009

Square Sunday 3

This week's Barn-Raising Square is Claudia Hand-Paint Sock yarn in Ingrid's Blues, which I used a long long time ago to make socks for my mother - the Cable and Rib pattern from Favorite Socks.
The tam... the tam has been ripped back. If you look carefully at the photo I posted yesterday you will see that there is no pattern to the pattern. My cold-fuddled brain thought that it was meant to look like this until I looked a bit harder. Nope.
Since the whole beauty of Kate's original hat lies in its symmetry, there was nothing for it but to rip it out and start again. I know where I went wrong - I thought every second row was identical... it's not!
Pass the chocolate.
FL is improving - less need for his inhalers today. But he was up all night so is very tired.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Home comforts and the WIP

I finished making my patchwork cushion covers and they are cheering up the sofa already. It was my son who said they looked like they should be in a toddler's room. I definitely find myself drawn to the childish!
One pack of "charm squares" was enough for the two fronts. I used a plain cotton for the backs. I used a 9-patch quilt block for the central panel and then improvised the border. I like how they are clearly a pair but are different from each other - a bit like many of my socks!
My cold is clearing up, which is just as well since I had my seasonal and swine flu jabs today - eek! I was so afraid of reacting badly to them but so far I just have a slightly aching arm. FL is still coughing a lot and is worn out. I think he only spent an hour in bed last night, as he finds lying down makes it worse. The slightest effort leaves him out of breath, so he is carrying his asthma inhaler around with him - unheard of!

Right now, I am curled up on the sofa with my knitting. It is my Fugue test-tam for Kate.
I love the braid round the brim - I will use that trick again!

Gratuitous picture of the inside too! See that stranding? I am very proud of it!

There was a spot of chart-dyslexia last night so I had to rip back seven rows today, but I have almost recovered. Finish tomorrow? Maybe!
Oh and I am reading too: "Brooklyn" by Colm Toibin.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

And Thursday

Hi there. Thanks for your supportive comments!

FL says he is feeling better, but his cough developed overnight, so I have insisted he sees the local GP today. I am NOT having another run-in with pneumonia, thank you very much!

It doesn't help that he pulled the front door handle off (!), so now we can't keep the door shut against the wind. I had to scramble over a barricade of wellies last night when I got home. Sigh! If he wasn't so independant (stubborn) we would call a locksmith like anyone else... but he wants to find someone at the pub to repair it if he can't do it himself. I left him today with plans to remove the lock from one of the pile of ex-hotel doors which he has stacked up outside the garage (don't ask) and fit it to our front door. I suppose it keeps him busy, but sometimes his over-optimistic inventiveness can be frustrating!

I have brought my cold to work. I am supposed to have two flu vaccinations on Saturday (swine and seasonal) and am not looking forward to it.

However.... I am having a great time knitting Kate's tam. The colours of yarn I was sent don't contrast as much as the ones on the pattern itself, so mine is an altogether-more-subtle rendition of the design. I am being very careful to strand my colours evenly across the back in a regular pattern and I think the extra care is paying off. I would show you, but there is no daylight to be found up here at the moment. Wait for the weekend, when I might get it finished!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Testing testing - oooh!

I have an exciting new project on the needles.

I am a test-knitter for Kate's "Fugue" pattern - oooh!

The yarn is delicious Bowmont Braf and Old Maiden Aunt (Lilith) has dyed it in these wonderful almost-solid shades of blue: "Moody" and "Dreich".

Did I say ooooh?!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Winter warmers

FL still hasn't worked out how to use the laptop, so I can show you the wonderfully wild winter warmers I have found for his Christmas present!
Which colour? Decisions, decisions! They even have fluoro orange!
(HeatTech thermal long johns from Uniqlo - fabulous!!!)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

FO: A Pretty Thing

I finished the Pretty Thing for my mother's Christmas - second time lucky!
I stuck to the instructions this time, and used 3.5mm dpns with my sportweight yarn - and it is pretty much perfect, if I say so myself.
Will my mother like it? Err... I'm not sure. She might find it tickles her neck, but I am hoping she can wear it over her coat collar if need be. It tends to roll down, but it looks pretty like that too.
Pretty Thing by the Yarn Harlot.
Alpaca / silk sportweight from Old Maiden Aunt in the Ysolda colourway. There was more than enough yarn to make two of these from the one skein, so an economical luxury - it is really gorgeous stuff!
I used 3.5mm dpns.
It isn't a difficult pattern but it does require concentration. I ripped back a few rows a few times. For that reason, I don't feel like knitting another one for a while. But it has great gift potential for a wide range of ages, so if you have the stamina it could be your serial Christmas stashbuster standby!

And about my birthday:

Thank you so so much for all your birthday wishes and haircut appreciation! I am feeling SO pleased with myself for taking the plunge and going for the chop. Mind you, I will have to re-learn how to use a hairdrier and buy some "products" - eek!

Friday, November 20, 2009

45 Today!

I am 45 today. How did that happen?!
I celebrated with a haircut. A radical haircut. Rapunzel has left the building.
It had got to the point where I never wore it loose or even in a ponytail, it was just too long. I was Pippi Longstocking every Saturday and Sunday, and then back to the angsty bun on Monday - far too severe!
FL was worried. Well, I suppose I did say I was going to dye it purple too. That's for next time! Luckily, he really likes it... since I can't stick it back on!
I love it! I can feel it move around when I walk! It swishes!

Impressive self-portraits, huh?!

The postie was kind to me too! Roo sent me a fab personalised card and ooh! ooh! a lime green Herdy mug and notebook! They will be going to work with me on Monday to brighten up my desk.

The kids gave me some fancy mint tea, purple mascara (to match my hair?) and a pocket hairbrush - now that I will have to gasp brush my hair!

And FL gave me some £s to spend on new clothes - woo hoo!

Happy birthday to me! Middle age crisis? MOI?!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

All squared

This weekend is brought to you mostly by... squares.

Two long-simmering projects have finally been started.

First up, some patchwork cushions for the front room. I have a Moda "Snippets" charm pack and am attempting to squeeze two cushion covers out of it.

It will be close! I somehow forgot that the more seams you introduce, the less area of fabric you produce - duh!

And then there is the Barn Raising blanket , using leftover sock yarns. Again for the front room, for sofa-snuggling in the winter.
Nobody in my family believes I have the perseverance to knit an entire blanket out of squares. I am estimating I need to knit 144 of these, at 3 hours each... err, yes.
The plan is to knit at least one square a week to keep the momentum going. So watch this space for Square Sundays, when I will show you my progress!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sources of Ethical Denim

Earlier this week I wrote about my obsession with a certain Japanese apron / dress and my intention to make it in "organic denim".

Little did I know how complicated a sourcing task I had set myself!

Recently (very recently) I bought my first-ever pair of organic denim jeans. They were expensive, but I decided that since my jeans last me several years and are worn every evening and weekend, it was a worthwhile expense - both ethically and in terms of "cost per wear". I love my new jeans! (From Howies.) But I digress.
Cotton production is notoriously un-ecological: the quantity of insecticides and pesticides used in farming, the water used in its processing. Quite apart from the exploitation of the workers who harvest the crop / spin the yarn / weave the cloth. Then it has to be flown half-way round the planet to the UK! So I was looking for an alternative: organically-grown, fairly-traded, utterly green denim. But I still wanted it to look like traditional blue-jeans fabric!
Here is what I found:

Soft organic, fairtrade dark blue pure cotton denim from EcoEarthFabrics, 1.2 metres wide, £16.50 per metre. This is my favourite, based on looks and texture!

Organic fairtrade cotton denim stripe from Gossypium, only £8.50 per metre. I don't want stripes, but it looks like good value.

70% bamboo / 30% organic cotton denim fabric, dark blue from Well Cultivated, 1.5 metres wide, £15 per metre Bamboo is very eco-friendly as it grows so fast, but it comes from the other side of the world!

Organic fairtrade cotton denim, in a range of colours (but not dark blue) from Organic Cotton, 1.2 metres wide, £9.95 a metre

Organic cotton panama in dark blue (but it isn't denim) from Greenfibres, £18.70 per metre.

If it didn't have to be blue, I also found some interesting hemp-mix fabrics. Hemp is allegedly the most eco-friendly choice of fabric because it can be grown in the UK:
A 70% Hemp / 30% Tencel fabric in plum from British Made Eco , £14.99 per metre. But this was imported from China, despite the fact that hemp can be grown in the UK.

A totally wild natural mix: 80% Hemp / 20% YAK (!) twill for £29.90 per metre from Greenfibres again. Not many yaks in Aberdeenshire.

I am probably going for the first one in my list, but I hope these links are of use to others!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

FO: Pretty Floppy Thing

Back in the summer, I knitted the Scroll Lace shawl and convinced myself that I would make another one for my mother's Christmas. So I bought the yarn shown in the pattern: alpaca / silk sportweight from Old Maiden Aunt, colourway Ysolda. Gorgeous yarn!

But, as is so often the case, I chickened out, thinking my mother would never wear it. Instead, when the pattern for Pretty Thing came out, I decided this would suit my mum far better. But of course, my yarn was a bit thicker than the recommended one and I didn't have any circular needles in the right size.... so I went with 4mm. Because the cowl stitches just fitted round the cord, I couldn't really see what I was doing. I could tell I needed to reduce the overall height, so omitted one ten-row repeat. It was a quick and absorbing knit. I used the sewn bind-off described - how neat! A new technique!

And as I smoothed it out, I was feeling rather pleased with myself. My more open gauge makes it lacier, and less clingy - and I had a nagging worry that my mother would not want anything fluffy too close to her neck, so needed room for her coat collar underneath.

So I tried it on.
Noooooooo! It is too blinking big. The loose lace means it sags into a pathetic baggy roll of nothingness somewhere around the collarbone.

FL tried it on.
Errr... no. No, really, you can't wear that! My daughter says it looks as if he has a plaster cast round his neck.

But I'm told it is warm and soft.
Luckily, I have enough yarn to make another for my mother in a tighter gauge.
I have yet to hear what his pals said when he turned up at the pub with a ruff on.
Oh dear.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Jane Eyre look

Image credit: Pomadour's shop at Ebay

"Let her stand half-an-hour longer on that stool, and let no one speak to her during the remainder of the day." (Jane Eyre)

My sewing momentum has fizzled out again, probably because I still haven't worn my new indigo and lime skirt. Why? It doesn't go with anything else I own. It WILL go with my Central Park Hoodie... but I haven't finished it yet!

So it was actually a relief to be seized by a new obsession. This apron dress appears in a Japanese pattern book which I do not own and do not intend to buy... yet.

Why do I like it so much? I think it is the combination of the denim* (it would have to be organic of course) with big pockets and the layered look. A large part of the attraction is the row of giant buttons peeking through the gap at the back, topped by a big bow. Then at the front, there is that super-flat Peter Pan collar over a wide boat neck.

She ought to be standing on a stool in a draughty Victorian orphanage. Or scrubbing the floor with a hard-bristle brush and carbolic soap. Or standing in her art studio, pondering a lump of wet clay.

It is a garment that speaks to me of utility and hard work, but also of creativity. And I want one! I don't think the under-dress is included in the pattern book, hence my hesitation to buy it. I have been tripped up that way before! I am hoping I can draft my own version of the"Tablier" using other Japanese patterns. The under-dress? Hmmm. Not so sure.

*ETA: The original is made of linen. The fabric can be bought from LinenBird in Japan via an online shop called Envelope. And I think that the same shop sells the apron ready-made, but I may be wrong. My Japanese is non-existent. But I will content myself with the book. Sigh. I need to buy the book now! Even though the under-dress is definitely NOT in there.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Sofa sitcom

My front room this morning: note pair of blue sofas. Ignore the brown vinyl reclining chair with ripped mustard curtains covering the arms. (Ever watch Frazier? Remember his dad's chair? It's one of those situations.)
When I moved in with FL, we bought (second-hand) a pair of blue sofas: a 2-seater and a 3-seater. It was 6 months before we occupied the farmhouse so when we came to move in, these sofas felt like part of the fabric of our home together. So it was disappointment when 3 grown men failed to get the 3-seater into the front room. I am told they tried everything.
So it was shoved into our bedroom, and the kids and I shared the 2-seater while FL sat in his chair. The kids are now teenagers and the three of us did not fit on the sofa. There were some rows. Someone always ended up sitting at the table. Often it was me, just to keep the peace.
But after the floods, I feared for my 3-seater sofa, which was backed up against the wall with a buffer of newspapers to save it from the pond in the middle of my bedroom floor. So yesterday I finally cracked. I persuaded my son that he and I could get the 3-seater into the front room while FL was out.
First, we had to remove the brown leather settee that FL had "found" and which none of us would sit on - not even him. It had become the place where he stored a month's supply of newspapers, dirty plates, junk mail and the occasional item of importance that none of us could bear to brave the heap to find. I had regular "discussions" with him, and he promised to tidy it, but I don't think it was ever fully cleared in over 4 years. It is now in the garage. Its contents have been filed / burnt / recycled / washed and put away.
Then my son and I went to move the 3-seater. It turned out to be much heavier than I ever imagined. I couldn't lift my end at all. My plan to take it out the front door and in the back was a non-starter. So we shuffled it through the house to prove the removal men wrong. My daughter got the camera and laughed at us. (She kept shouting "Pivot! Pivot!", which fans of Friends might appreciate.)
We wedged it in the bathroom door and tried to turn it. Nope. We backed it into the study. Nope.
Then my son had a brainwave and removed the castors. Ah ha! So we stood it on its end and pushed. Well, he pulled, I pushed. There was a cracking sound - oh that's just the draught-excluder on the door we can fix that later. There was a terrible creaking sound. Stop!
Too late! It shot through the door, and crashed to the ground, narrowly missing my daughter.
By some miracle, it is not broken.

And then another miracle occurred. FL came home, and after a second's pause said: "What I don't understand is why you still haven't got curtains for this room...?"
The kids and I stared at him open-mouthed. Because for 4 plus years we have been told that he didn't want the view obscured by curtains, so we have put up with not being able to see the TV during the day (it faces the window just out of the right-hand corner of this photo) and almighty draughts in the winter.
I am still reeling. And tomorrow I am off to buy a curtain pole before he changes his mind!

Saturday, November 07, 2009

FO: Biwa socks

Biwa socks from "Knitted Socks East and West" by Judy Sumner.
Hazel Knits Artisan sock in Plum Glace, bought from the late lamented Socktopus. (Why isn't Stash showing the Socktopus sock yarn range if Alice has moved in with them?)
Size 2.25mm dpns - which seems to be my default size.
What can I say? I loved knitting these socks! Everything was joyful: the pattern was complex yet simple, and the plain sections a welcome relaxation. The yarn is probably my all-time favourite sock yarn to date: firm yet soft, with a slight gleam in sunlight. It rarely split, despite me trying to knit tbls using purple yarn on dark brown needles in a dimly-lit room! The 10% nylon content should make them hard-wearing, but it felt like knitting pure merino.
Love them! The happiest project I have finished in a long time!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

More rain

It has been very quiet on my blog this week. I blame the rain. We had more rain this weekend. HUGE rain! I had to work at home on Monday because the roads were closed in every direction. It has been too dark to take any pictures of anything new. Then this morning I was cursing myself for not carrying the camera in my car because there were spectacular Lord-of-the-Rings- style mists over the valley. You just can't win!

So here's a random seashore picture of FL from our holiday in north west Sutherland.

FL and I seem to have stumbled into a new phase of our relationship. During the day, he sleeps a lot and listens to the World Service and devours newspapers and books. When I get home, I walk the dog and knit a lot and watch him sleep. At night, I sleep. He gets up around 4 am to read some more and reminisce. Sometimes he wakes me at 5 am to tell me what he has been reading and thinking. He has finally given up golf. This is a major life event.
But it's not so bad. We have been enjoying the tranquillity of our fire-lit evenings together. He is reading The Poisonwood Bible and is so excited by the descriptions of Africa which he says capture exactly his experience when he taught there in the 1960's.

I am hurtling through the second Biwa sock, which is just as well, as my calendar tells me it is November and I have done very little towards my Christmas knitting goals!

To recap:

1. Zur Lederhos'n for FL: stalled towards the gusset of sock one. I am afraid they are going to be too narrow, but I don't have the heart to rip it... yet.
2. Herbivore for my son: not yet begun... and my daughter thinks he would never wear a scarf.

3. Scroll Lace for my mother: not yet begun... and I am not sure she would wear it.
4. Secret something for my daughter: not yet begun, but definitely still on the "to do" list.

5. Teen cousin present: done! The Sloochie hat.

So it looks as if I am ditching ideas 1, 2 and 3. I am thinking FL might like a scarf instead of more socks, so Herbivore might yet be knit! For my mother, I am thinking of knitting the Yarn Harlot's Pretty Thing . If it turns out well, my aunt will get one too, because I appear to have started wearing the Ishbel I knitted for her! And 4 will be a pleasure, but can't be blogged because the walls have ears!