Sunday, January 26, 2014

FO: Mystery Mitts, and sewing frustrations

Jazz hands
 OK, so here we have the finished Torirot Mystery Mitts, Roo-style.

Right up front, I will tell you that I don't particularly like them. 
I will wear them in the snow because they are warm and big enough to layer over other fingerless mitts... but I think they are pretty ugly.
Seasonally-appropriate reading matter
The mix of colours is not to my taste, even though I put them together.  Not knowing in advance how the colours would balance out across the mitt, I followed the designer's suggestions:  light grey, red, green, dark grey and light blue.  But when I see them knitted up I think they would have looked better with a darker light grey and a lighter light blue!
The main hand sections are a bit of a mess.  As I mentioned before, my stitches are tall and thin rather than short and fat, so the pictorial elements are elongated and distorted.  I have seen other people's mitts in the Ravelry group and believe me, their little girls look like little girls and not weird zombie skeletons.  They have garden gates with foliage where I have a tumbledown windmill!
I like the flowery sections and the chunkier bird, heart and key motifs at the top.
I find the cuff interesting but note that very few knitters have succeeded in making the rib undulate from side to side, using the red rosebuds.  Mine just looks kinda lumpy and uneven.
My thumbs are entirely off-pattern!  I ran out of light blue (I only had a 10g mini-ball) so decided that rather than follow the instructions I would try to echo the cuff pattern in the thumbs, using the yarn I had.  I like the look of it, but my thumbs won't be quite as warm as the rest of my hand because they don't have the benefit of the stranded under-layer.
I reckon this is the last time I will be sucked into a Mystery Knitalong.  It seemed like such a good idea at the time and I enjoyed comparing my mitts with others in real time as we knitted along together, clue by clue... but in the end I know what I like... and I don't like these mitts!
Lesson learned.
We have weather today
 P.S.  But I really really like the yarn I used:  JC Rennie Supersoft lambswool and Unique Shetland mini-balls from Wee County Yarns.

As for sewing...
In sewing news... I have no sewing.  I cannot fathom the Peggy skirt pattern.  Would you believe that I cannot even work out which set of lines to trace for my size?  I have successfully sewn Japanese patterns and Burda patterns, both of which have "a reputation"... but this particular pattern has me stumped.  There are about 8 sizes on the pattern sheet, and all are drawn with the same solid line.  The size is only indicated ONCE for each - and despite all my experience I cannot tell which of the 8 darts is the one intended for my size.  The front tucks are an even greater mystery, as there must be two lines for each tuck, but which two?

The final straw was the realisation that the pockets need to be made out of the main fabric and include a facing and something called a "pocket fuse", which appears to be a narrow stabilising piece that fits along the top of each pocket... but that would give me a sandwich of how many - four?  layers of denim which then has to be squashed between another two at the waistband?  6 layers of fabric plus another 3 of interfacing?  Nope.  Not happening.

If you have sewn this pattern and think I have misunderstood, please let me know.  I have reached the tears of frustration stage. 
Blue hair roolz!

I am going to knit a sock now.  I know how to do that! :)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

FO: Thornfield Socks by Rachel Coopey

 I finished my Thornfield Socks by Rachel Coopey.
The yarn is by Knitting Goddess, in the colourway "Morticia" which shifts from charcoal through violet to grey and back again.  Beautiful!
These socks benefit from natural light - and they would have been a lot easier to knit in summertime!
I am quite relieved to get away from knitting "black" yarn in the dark of winter.
The stitch pattern reminds me of wrought-iron gates.  Thornfield after the fire?
Here we are at noon and daylight has finally arrived.
As soon as I finish writing this, I intend to dash upstairs to cut out the denim to make my Peggy skirt.  It was just too gloomy to do any sewing last weekend.
So there we have it:  my first pair of socks for 2014.
12 pairs in a year?  No problem!

 Although... there might be some competition for my knitting time.
My organic wool has arrived from France, in a wonderfully crunchy brown paper bag festooned with a sprig of lavender.  Gorgeous!
 And they sent me samples of other colours...
Oh lordy lordy, I need some of that chartreuse and that mystical herbal purpley blue grey!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Week in Knitting

I have been a highly disciplined knitter this week and successfully kept up with the clues in the Torirot Mystery Mitt knitalong... even though I don't absolutely love the look of them. 
These pictures are from the weekend.
As I suspected, the right hand mitt includes an image of Colin walking away from his wheelchair - the power of love and nature will do that to a sick child. Or not.
I have a problem with the imagery, which will take such a lot of explaining to anyone who hasn't read "The Secret Garden"... or it would if my knitting was good enough!
In fact, my tall and skinny stitches leave the casual bystander in some doubt as to what they are looking at. A tree? A skeleton? A wheelbarrow? Who knows! Other knitters, whose stitches are shorter and plumper, have clearly pictorial mitts.
I have... mystery mitts!
So I have persevered, even though I don't really LOVE them, on the principle that they will keep my hands warm if the snow comes.
When will I learn that I am temperamentally unsuited to mystery knitalongs? I like to know what I am getting before I start.
I did notice that Kate Davies had a picture of some Swedish embroidery on her blog that looks a lot like the cuff pattern - interesting! And that is perhaps what I like best about these mitts: they draw from a different knitting heritage to the one I am used to.
Swedish embroidery from Kate Davies' blog
My carry-around project has been the second Thornfield sock and I am halfway down the foot. With a strong wind behind me I might finish those this week. 
With that in mind, I cast on my first Arnulf sock from the Rachel Coopey / Knitting Goddess sock club. I was determined to get started in January... before the February club package arrives! I have cast on for the Large size, with a view to these being FL's birthday socks. Even if he notices me knitting them, he will have forgotten by June.  Ten rows of twisted rib in brown yarn - you don't need a picture of that!  More on that project next week.
Monte Rosa
Thinking ahead, I am over-excited about the Monte Rosa pattern and the French organic wool I have ordered to knit it. I would really like to devote myself to this cardigan in February: just knit it, with no messing about.
Skein Queen Voluptuous
I am so tired of my own indecision when it comes to full-sized garment knitting. You remember I was going to knit the Lush cardigan using Skein Queen Voluptuous in two colours?
WHY? Lush would look so much better in a single colour, and the Skein Queen yarn would look so much better made into the Katie sweater! So clearly that is what I plan to do... after Monte Rosa :)
Katie sweater

Sunday, January 19, 2014

49 before 50: Balance

The wind woke me at 5am when it blew open one of the windows upstairs, sending papers flying off my son's desk until I secured the broken latch.
There was no point in going back to bed as FL was already on the prowl, coughing and nursing an upset stomach. (He has been alarmingly well recently, which makes us both uneasy as it is so welcome and yet so hard to believe.)
So here I am, breakfasted and washed, waiting for daylight so that I can cut out my Peggy skirt.

Gilliatt yarn in "poivre et sel"
In this week's edition of the Knitting Go podcast, Heather talked about her 365 project:  to give away 365 things in a year.  This is her version of clearing the clutter.  She keeps a couple of bags by the door:  one for the charity shop, one for landfill, and every time she comes across something that is superfluous to her needs, in it goes.  Once a week she takes the bags out of the house, never to return. 

This got me thinking again about my efforts to streamline my possessions, and I remembered my intention to sort through my CDs.  One of my 49 before 50 goals is to "Sing Sing Sing".  Another is "Dance Dance Dance".  Music is quite important to both of those!  But I do not actually have adequate equipment to perform them.  I do all my singing in the car, because there is a CD player in there.  I keep a handful of discs in the glove compartment.  Currently, I am into The XX (black album) and London Grammar.  But there is also a bit of Everything But the Girl and The Cure for good measure!

At home?  I have a £19 CD player which is located out of reach behind FL's unwieldy chair. It has a temperamental switch and fluctuating speakers. It is covered in a thick layer of dust because it is never used.  Clearly I need to do something:  move it or lose it or both.  And reconsider my access to music.  Go digital?  It is beginning to feel almost necessary.

"confiture de roses"
So it made sense to excavate my box of CDs and consider my options.  I logged onto Music Magpie and "priced" my collection.  In the end, I decided to trade 45 CDs for the princely sum of £35.  Stop laughing!  Most of them were almost worthless and raised 30p each.  If they quoted me over £1 for any one disc I checked Amazon in case it was actually a collector's item.  My 3-CD set of Stevie Nicks' albums is definitely NOT for sale as it is practically gold-dust - who knew?!

I am left with 8 CDs in the car and 25 in the house.  I am quite surprised it is that many as I have bought very few in recent years.  This weekend's exercise cut my CD clutter by half.  Excellent!

FL was watching me with a worried expression.  When I explained I was getting rid of things for which I no longer had any use he muttered  "It'll be me next!"  Oh dear!

Later on when I confessed to buying some new yarn, he was so relieved! 
Monte Rosa by Isabell Kraemer

I had been raving about it all day, off and on:    New pattern...ooh - lovely!...OMG - the colours... it's organic... so sheepy! ... Look at this, FL!... ooh they ship to the UK at the EU rate... it's from France... over 600 people have knitted something from it on Ravelry... oh this new pattern is just so lovely... a bit like the Japanese pattern I can't decipher but even better... ooh "poivre et sel" .... "confiture de roses"... rose jam?!

FL:  "Just get it, will you?  Please?"

And so I did.
45 CDs out, 5 skeins of organic French wool in.

None of which solves my music access issues...

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Two weeks in Knitting

Two weeks into 2014 and I have... a sock.  just the one.
But it is a very striking sock.
This is the Thornfield pattern by Rachel Coopey and I am using Knitting Goddess sock yarn in the colourway "Morticia".
Thornfield is a Jane Eyre reference.  It just had to be mine!
I appear to have knitted it in my own size.  How strange! ;)
Number two is already on the needles, but progress has been slow, because I have been trying to keep up with the Torirot Mystery Mitten knitalong.
 This is the left mitt as it looked at the weekend.

This is the same mitt, flipped over.
Since then I have been working on the next clue, which uses the grey and blue to work the top of the mitten.
If you look back at the first photo you might be able to see a slightly skeletal female figure approaching a garden door...?
The next clue has a little bird and a book.
The clever people in the knitalong group have worked out that this is a Secret Garden-inspired mitt, as in The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Oh my goodness - I just discovered that there is a version with illustrations by Lauren Child!  What a pity my daughter is beyond the picture book stage!
But I digress...
I am not totally convinced by my little girl - she is a bit scary-looking. But I am persevering.
What will happen on the right-hand mitt?  I am guessing it will be a depiction of Peter Colin (thanks to Rosylea for the correction!).  Will he be in his wheelchair?  That would be an interesting piece of Equality-Positive Action wouldn't it?
That's my lot this week.
I intended to cast on another sock, but I didn't get to it.
I pondered my Japanese pattern book for a while, but chickened out.
And right now I am doing battle with myself over the "need" for a ball of self-striping sock yarn.  Because I already have 4 balls of self-striping sock yarn in the stash.  And I don't need another until I knit at least one of those - right?  Right.

Monday, January 13, 2014

49 before 50: Live in the Present

This was supposed to be an entirely different post, about my goal number 3:  Read Good / Great Books.
But something happened on Saturday...
I picked up my latest library reservations and started to read The Professor of Poetry by Grace McCleen.  After a few minutes I realised that this was indeed a very good book.
I put it down quickly, before I got sucked in too far, and built a cosy nest on the sofa:  blanket, Seraphine shawl, mug of coffee, slice of cake.  FL was asleep on his chair so I was fairly sure I would have enough time to immerse myself to the point of no return.
And I read and I read and I read some more.
I read with excitement and anger and frustration and joy and a great many painful tears.
I struggled with some of the literary references, because there are significant gaps in my knowledge despite a First in English.  (I can give you a treatise on Caribbean Poetry but I have never read Milton.)  But I am on solid ground when it comes to TS Eliot, and that is important background reading for The Professor of Poetry.  You ought to know that if you are considering reading it.  (There's a fair old whack of Virginia Woolf here too.)
What is the book about?
Deep breath... I promise not to spoil it for you.
In the very first page, Elizabeth Stone receives the news that her brain tumour has been successfully removed, and that although she should take it easy, she is probably to all intents and purposes "cured".
Come back - don't be scared!  Keep reading!
So she decides to pick up her life where she left it before treatment began and re-engage with literature, because she is a Professor of Poetry.  That is her identity.  She has no other.
Apparently by chance, she finds herself back at her alma mater, tracking down a reference in the archives... but of course, this is literature and nothing happens by chance.  The reader is then confronted by Elizabeth's past, by her dreams, by her nightmares, her story.
Isn't it fascinating how we construct the story of our lives?  There is the public "Real Life" version of where we were brought up and went to school and perhaps University and the headline relationships:  husbands / wives / partners / children.  But what about the subtext?  The ones that got away, the experiences that shaped you, the painful stuff you try to forget about?
Elizabeth does not have what other people would recognise as a "Real Life".  She lives inside her books.  So when the subtext starts to bubble up through the pages, she doesn't have anything to hang onto, here and now, in the present.  All she has is her past, and more importantly her denial of the past.
This is not a book about a cancer patient who decides to "seize the day", so much as her coming to the awful realisation that she has missed out on life.  Her fear of attachment has left her entirely alone.
And there, right there, is the life-changing lesson I have learned from this novel:  you can't change the past, and you can't live in it either.  You can't rewind and try again:  what's done is done.  And it is equally wrong to live in a constant state of longing for the future, full of wist and dreams.  There is no "once upon a time" there is only NOW.
A state of perpetual detachment and observation is not living.  It is necessary to engage with life, because otherwise... what is the point?
Live in the present.

P.S. And read this book.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

FO: Plantain by Deer & Doe

My first sewing project of 2014 is a simple garment.
"Just" a long-sleeved t-shirt.
But the simple things are often the best.
This is the new pattern from Deer and Doe, the Plantain tee. It is a free pdf, which you can print out at home, piece together with sticky tape and then either trace onto tissue paper or cut to your own size from the print-out.  I am a tracer, myself.
Here I demonstrate the USP:  elbow patches.
What do you mean you can't see them?!
Hmmm... a scruffy-looking pair, they are.  I couldn't keep my straight stitch inside the lines so went for a small zig-zag.  I know better than to try and unpick visible stitching on jersey.
I must try harder next time, especially if I go for a contrasting fabric as planned.
Because there will definitely be a next time.
I cut the long-sleeved version in a straight size 38 and it is pretty much perfect.
I love the figure-skimming fit and the length is just right:  tuck-in-able even with my low-slung jeans.
The neckline is lower than I normally wear but doesn't reveal straps or upholstery.
I have some cotton/silk dobby-dot voile in the stash that will make a fab toning scarf to keep out the draught.

Pattern:  Plantain by Deer and Doe in size 38
Fabric:  Organic cotton jersey from The Eternal Maker.  I bought 1.5m, which allowed me to cut the back and front down one side of the piece, with the sleeves side by side next to the front.  This left me with a big square of perhaps 80cm x 80cm, which will become part of a colour-blocked version sometime soon.
Other: Thread and two pieces of bias tape to support the shoulder seams on the inside.

Now, can I go back indoors to do some knitting please?  It is rather chilly out here!

Monday, January 06, 2014

49 before 50: Sewing for the Long-term

All too often, my sewing is fly-by-night, whimsical and unplanned.
The plans I make gather dust and quickly lose their lustre as I am sucked into a vortex of making The Latest Thing without considering whether it is truly "me".

Meanwhile, I gaze longingly at the garments produced by small-scale artisan designers like Anna Allen or the 3191 gals or Nadinoo and almost nearly convince myself that I should buy those things because they are perfect in every way:  so classic, simple, wearable...
Top from by3191
Whoa whoa there, Roo!  I thought you knew how to sew your own?
Couldn't you just make those things?

Around about here is where I start to complain about how difficult it is to find the right fabric.  Oh poor me - I live in a field on the edge of the universe with intermittent broadband access - sigh!

But you see that linen blouse right there, from "by3191" in Maine USA?  It was priced at $145 and is Sold Out.
So when I read that they had bought the fabric in the UK... I started to scour all the likely sources and it actually didn't take me very long to find it at Merchant and Mills for £17.50 per metre.  Of course!  Where else?!
Looking again at the 3191 photo... that scarf may very well be made from Merchant and Mills gingham!

And while the original top is not far off the Built By Wendy pattern Simplicity 3835... if I am making my own it could be from any pattern I like! 

It could even be my new best friend, the Camber pattern.

All of which is my rambling way to say:  instead of mooning about gazing at unobtainable perfection from the other side of the world, I should just pull my finger out, accept that the good stuff costs more, and make my own classics.  2 metres of that linen will cost me £35, but if I wear it even half as often as my dark denim Kelly skirt or either Camber Dress it will be a bargain.  Maybe a bit casual-looking for the workplace? But speaking as someone with newly-blue hair, it's all relative!

While waiting for my fabric to arrive, I dug out my (expensive) organic fairtrade denim from the deepest depths of the stash (a 2009 purchase), to make a Peggy skirt (top photo in this post).  It had been lurking so long that it had started to suffer from eau-de-damp-farmhouse.  Tsk!  Sewing is postponed until I get it washed and dried.

Next weekend?  Goodness me - next weekend I could have a whole new outfit! But even if it takes me a few weeks to get round to sewing both items, that's just fine too.  There's no rush.

I might even interrupt my plan to make a couple of Plantain t-shirts. Another classic-in-the-making style if I ever I saw it.  Robert Kaufman Laguna jersey in Onyx?  Ooh yes - I think so!
Deer and Doe Plantain tee

Ommmm!  Goodness me, I am so chilled out I am practically an iceberg ;)

Friday, January 03, 2014

A New Year with knitting

Say hello!
At last - a modelled shot of The Girl in her Stovetop hat!  Except... this is Stovetop Version 2.  She lost the first one on a London bus. Sob!  So if you see someone else wearing a hat that looks just like this, refer them to me, please.

Say goodbye
You may remember I was knitting an Advent Scarf?
Not any more.  I love the yarn I was using and it deserves to become a happier project. (Another Thistle Scarf?)  I was making too many mistakes.  So I ripped it out.

Instead, I devoted myself to a new sock:  Thornfield by Rachel Coopey. 
I am using a hand-dyed charcoal grey yarn from The Knitting Goddess that is shot with purple.  Deeply gothic.
And just as soon as the first clue was released, on New Year's day, I set to work on my Torirot Mystery Mittens.
I am using JC Rennie supersoft lambswool from my stash of mini-balls (from Wee County yarns).
I have knitted both cuffs and now I am waiting for Clue Number Two, when two other colours are introduced:  dark grey and a light cornflower blue.

With bells on
The second of January was The Boy's 21st birthday - woo hoo!
Here he is, testing out the bells on his tea cosy.
It's not every man who gets a teapot for his 21st.
We "did Christmas" on his birthday, as it felt like the most important celebration.
Both kids headed south again today.
It is suddenly very quiet again.
So the postie was especially welcome this morning, bringing me a new distraction in the shape of my first Knitting Goddess / Rachel Coopey sock club package - yay!
I am guessing that the colorway Wolf is inspired by Red Riding Hood?  The matching pattern is called Arnulf and is a suitably man-friendly design which I can't wait to cast on.  Dare I have two pairs of socks on the go at the same time? Oh yes!
I also popped to the library for some fairytale-inspired reading.  After powering through The Goldfinch in the space of three days and almost losing my grip with reality in the process, I needed something absolutely fictional.  I have never heard of these books before:  I was seduced by the cover art.  Tsk!