Wednesday, 31 December 2008

So long, 2008...

Here we are at the end of the year, so I thought one final post for 2008 was in order.

I'm still trying to catch up with a few final Christmas presents, and don't want to give too much away, but crowding onto the Hoxton sofa is some garter stitch goodness:

Some giant, squishy lace (if only my 12mm circulars wouldn't keep falling apart):

And some green gooseberries:

I'm already compiling my list of projects for 2009. Martha is almost done (at long last) and has been saved from the frog pile for the moment.

I'm also eyeing the Shalom cardigan to use up some Rowan Polar from my stash. Then there's Oblique, pretty much the whole Twist Collective catalogue, I've got masses of Troon Tweed to use up, my lovely new Christmas alpaca (destined to be a striped sweater of some kind) and some slightly random yarns (bamboo tape etc) to use up as and when I work out what I can do with them.

So 2009 is going to be busy, knitting wise and, let's admit it, somewhat selfish.

Like a lot of people, I detest New Year's Eve, with the pressure to Have Fun and do something exciting and the notion that we're all supposed to dramatically alter our lives overnight to resemble some sort of Disney-esque fantatsy. But I will be attempting to enjoy myself and, whether you go out or stay in, I hope you have a great countdown to 2009 and that the coming year brings you happiness, peace, good health, prosperity and all that other good stuff. Or at the very least some decent summer weather.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Self Assembly

There are many benefits to living alone: sole possession of the remote control, unlimited access to both the kitchen and the bathroom, no one waiting for you to tidy up the wool lying everywhere. Of course there are also a few circumstances when it's a disadvantage: when the zip on the back of your dress gets stuck, when you're at the top of a step ladder and it occurs to you that if you fall off and break your neck no-one's going to know, and when you're trying to pick up something from Argos.

It's the latter that proved a particular drawback today but hey, I can change a fuse, re-wire a plug and unblock a drain, so I was undeterred. As part of a New Year tidy-up, I wanted to get some new storage units - how hard could that be? Now I do not own a car and I'm not about to win a triathalon anytime soon, so once I had taken possession of three heavy flat-pack boxes (after waiting for about four days at Collection Point B) I was slightly at a loss as to how to get them home. A taxi was clearly in order, but I could only lift one of the boxes at a time. Fortunately a woman at Argos helpfully lent me a trolley, so I wheeled them out to the curb, hailed a cab, whomped them in and then pelted back to return the trolley. After a quick ride home, there was then a staggered relay to get them upstairs (thank god I only live on the first floor) and I was all set:
We all know the trauma of self-assembly furniture. The nightmare instructions telling you to fix shelf A to support bracket B using dowel F, whilst showing an illustration of something completely different. The impossible task of holding the whole thing together and using a screwdriver a the same time. The inevitability of being left at the end with some fixture in a plastic envelope, the use for which utterly eludes you. This set was no exception. Long Dowel bloody F - which appeared to be constructed from papier mache - decided to snap in half just as I was coaxing it into the shelf. Argos decided that the best time to screw a magnetic catch to the inner top corner of a cupboard is after you've built it, for optimum screwdriver manoeuverability. And I'm fairly certain I've lost a decidedly pointy nail somewhere in the deep pile of my rug. So I shouted, I cursed, I dropped several heavy pieces of chip board on my foot, but after two hours - success. It may be a pain in the arse, but it's also pretty satisfying. At last I can go from my usual method of yarn storage:

To this:

I love having all my yarn out, rather than shoved in a plastic bag somewhere and my stash isn't quite as shameful as I had feared. Especially since most of what you can see is in use or earmarked for something already. Now I just have to find a way to deal with all the circular knitting needles.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Happy Holidays

Happy Boxing Day and I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas. No doubt plans are now afoot as to when to attack the yarn sales at John Lewis and Libertys (if you're going in tomorrow you're a braver soul than me. I hope you're taking body armour...)

If you're wondering what became of the Christmas knitting, well, it seems I did indeed incur the wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing. At 4pm on Christmas Eve I disovered I had made a pretty major mistake with the Little One - the sweater for my nephew. After two attempts to join the arms to the body and start on the yoke, I thought I was on the home stretch, until I realised the arms were not the same size. One was a good inch wider than the other. They also had an uneven number of increases (no, I don't know how I managed it). I cursed, I swore, I contemplated hard liquor at an early hour. I debated whether or not it could be fudged - would anyone really notice? But then I thought that the sleeve size would affect the yoke and my poor nephew could end up with a weirdly fitting shoulder as well, and the kid has enough problems with the crazy aunt knitting him stuff in the first place. And finally, the most important point: It would bug me. I would know.

So I ripped.

And then I carried on knitting, as if sheer willpower would bend time and make it possible to knit most of a jumper in the space of about four hours. I packed up my stuff, wrapped the other presents, jumped on the Tube and got knitting. I made it home to the family, I carried on knitting. I reached The Madness (I'm quite proud I held out so long). Finally, around midnight, my Mum and brother staged an intervention and told me to Step Away From The Knitting. So instead he'll get a New Year's jumper that may just fit him.

Christmas Day was lovely - much food, wine, noise, games and a three year old who kept asking if he could do some knitting now please. The socks for my Uncle were fine, so long as his feet grow another three inches (he kindly said he'd been wanting a pair of slippers anyway), and the scarves, mittens and hats went down well.

But - and I say this with the best Christmas spirit in the world - I am not doing this again. Three years is enough and I'm sure my family would like a different kind of gift next year. And I would like my Autumn to myself again. So it's the end of the Christmas knitting era. I'll probably still make something for Mum (who gets absurdly excited about these things, bless her - as if I'm still four and have made her a robot out of milk cartons and tin foil) and if anyone requests knitwear I will happily oblige. But next time I think I'll do what ordinary folk do and stick to HMV and Neal's Yard.

I realise this may sound like the classic I'm-never-knitting-again vow made after knitting too much for too long, but actually I'm not fed up of it at all. I'm still working on the two remaining gifts quite happily, and planning what I'm going to make next (Mum gave me four balls of cashmere tweed - oh, the possibilities....). I guess it's a case of balance. Knitting for absolutely everyone is overkill (as any other knitter could tell you and a good many have told me , but where's the fun in following good advice?....)

So, a new year, a new knitting policy. But in the meantime it's back to the Little Sweater and its grown-up counterpart. With any luck they'll be ready before next Christmas...

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Progress Update

Now I have no wish to tempt the wrath of whatever from high atop the thing (to quote Toby Ziegler) but it's not a total disaster. (Ok, ok, I'll go outside turn around three times and spit).

I have finished the socks. Although these are not the same socks as the Ginormous Socks of Doom which were just getting silly. No, these are a whole new pair and they are done. I have officially made socks. They're still huge, but could conceivably fit something, you know, human.

I have finished the hat. I have finished the scarf. I have finished the Garter Mittens (although I need to graft the second hand tomorrow morning).

A present which was going to be a cowl but was proving problematic (very pretty fabric in great colours but turning out too stiff for a cowl) is now going to be a little buttoned purse and is therefore nearly finished without me having to do anymore knitting (proving that, as with so much in life, it's all about perspective). A little sewing tomorrow and it'll be sorted.

I am resigned to the fact that the Big One will not be done in time. Alas. Still, 1 out of 21 isn't bad. And it looks as though the Little One might make it to the festivities on schedule.

Of course, the only problem is that, although I'm fairly confident I can finish it all, what I haven't factored in is the time it's going to take me to weave in ends/add buttons/seam an item or two, wrap all the gifts, pack my bag for the rest of the week, and then get myself across London before the Tube stops running.

Minor details.

So, I'll have to get myself up early tomorrow and get going. The more I can get done, the less crap I'll have to drag across town to enable me to do it from my Mum's house instead.

So, it's on a knife edge, I admit, but it might just happen.

Knit Night was a quiet affair round Hoxton way this evening - or so I thought. But the three of us happily working on our Christmas gifts attracted the attention of a group of jolly, somewhat tipsy, gents who came over to say hello. It was a fantastically entertaining conversation, though perhaps not for the right reasons.

They were an observant bunch - "You're knitting!!" was exclaimed about 12 times. Although they haven't quite mastered the art of flattery - "It's like Last of the Summer Wine!!" - "Do you knit here often?" and "Could you teach me to crochet?" are certainly novel chat-up lines. And being told I'm the "Termiknitter" is not the kind of compliment a girl gets everyday. So, an unusual crowd in Prague this evening, but at least they did a good line in Christmas jovialty.

Now, I can't sit here chatting all night, I''ve got stuff to knit!

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Ignore that last post...

God, it's just so predictable it's ridiculous. Barely 24 hours after my last post and the plan has been cast by the wayside. Christmas arrangements have altered and people I didn't think I'd see on Christmas Day will now be there. Which is fabulous, of course, but also a complete disaster as far as the knitting schedule (as I laughingly refer to it) is concerned.

On the bright side, I've discovered one project is further along than I thought (a rare occasion when the tape measure is on my side for once) and another that's proving a faster knit than expected.

However, the cold harsh reality of futile ambition is now making itself known. I'm surrounded by WIPs, desperately juggling them on my sofa. I'm hopeless at just working on one until it's finished. For some reason I seem to think that if I keep rotating them all I'll manage to finish them all. Which is nonsense, obviously. The only advantage being that I'm varying the needle and yarn sizes I'm working with, so my wrists aren't killing me.

And now I have to venture out for a Christmas party, which will be lovely, although I'm mentally calculating how many knitting hours it's going to eat up (see what I mean about desperate?). Luckily I have just the thing for knitting on the tube journey over there.

So, it's the 21st - four days left. I'm edgy, but far from panicking (but don't worry, I'll get there).

Saturday, 20 December 2008

And so it begins.....

Listen up people, it's here. I have 5 days left. I finished work yesterday and now the knitting marathon really begins. Good intentions will count for nothing on this particular chocolate-muffin and gold-star strewn road to The Madness.

So, let's have a quick reality check and face up to what still needs doing (now where did I put that paper bag?):

1) One Garter Mitten to complete a pair. Do-able in a couple of hours.

2) One ear-flap to complete a hat. As above. Although then we'll have the whole is-a-hat-really-enough-of-a-present-for-someone-who's-really-quite-important-to-me-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things? question. Which will probably drive me to cast on something hopelessly ambitious at 2am tomorrow morning when I should be working on:

3) One Cowl. Again do-able in a couple of hours I expect.

4) One Scarf. Which is almost done. Again I reckon a couple of hours will have it sorted.

5) Buttons added to Another Scarf. No more than half an hour.

6) The Nightmare Gift. So called because I still can't work out what the hell to knit this person. Except socks. And I never knit socks. And although I've made a start on this pair, I'm not convinced I'm going to finish them in time or that their Jolly-Green-Giant scale of hugeness will not be a problem. Probably a day of knitting to sort this one out. (Just keep breathing...)

7) The Big One. The mystery item I can't show you. However, I have discovered I can only knit it in daylight - the colours do something weird by electric light and become hard to see, resulting in me making a mistake in the simplest knitting it is possible to do, thus late-night knitting is no longer an option. A slight drawback given that tomorrow is the shortest day of the year and I need a good four days solid knitting to make any headway.

8) The Little One. Another mystery item. Fortunately it's also the one most likely to be fine to wait til after Christmas. Small mercies.

So, from 21, down to the final 8. It could be worse. Although even my shambolic mathematical skills can work out the above totals more days than I have left.

1 and 6 need to be ready by Sunday evening, ergo they will take priority this weekend.

4 and 5 should, ideally, have been posted a week ago. Nevertheless, I reckon if I can entrust them to the wild mayhem of Royal Mail by Monday morning they'll arrive a couple of days after Christmas in a pleasant, surprise-belated-gift kinda way.

2, 3 and 7 are needed for Christmas Day. Which gives me a little more time, but a fairly immovable deadline.

Ok, plan of attack:

Start with small, achievable goals. Anything involving buttons, a final new rows, a quick earflap, should be tackled today, thus reducing the overall number of WIPs pretty quickly, which will give me a (false) sense of progress. I'll then be free to focus on the bigger problems.

I've stocked the fridge. The weekend is clear. I've restricted alcohol consumption to tonight's birthday bash down the road. I've foolishly lent out my DVDs of The Wire, but I have 6 hours of Ricky Gervais's podcasts, 7 seasons of The West Wing, and my trusty iPod to see me through.

Bring it on...

Monday, 15 December 2008

Here's One I Made Earlier - Part II

So, the merriment continues. The mulled wine flows. A bewildering array of canapes and snacks appear, whilst our amazing host Kelly tends to an impressive vat of sausage stew.

Kerry arrives bearing several kilos of sauerkraut and is rewarded with this:

This necklace/headband multi-tasking effort turns out to have been a stroke of luck - Kelly is allergic to wool! Something of an oversight on my part. Fortunately, with her hair protecting her, she reckons it's safe to wear it as a headband and we're all quite pleased with the general look - suits her, no?

Whilst Kelly deals with feeding the five thousand, her gift (a buttoned scarf) is adopted by some of the others and Seb is graciously persuaded to model it:

A task he executes with a charming debonnair attitude and a helpful gesture towards the festive backdrop.

It is at this point my friends become a little over-enthusiastic. I should first explain that each gift had a little card enclosed - I wanted a custom gift tag to make my efforts look a little more polished, plus it's a handy way of passing on the address of this blog and including some simple care instructions - and Kelly suggested featuring the cards so that the photos could be used for 'marketing' purposes. Helpful and obliging chap that he is, Seb immediately launched his own ad campaign for Hoxton Handmade:

At least it proves that this scarf is nothing if not versatile. Meanwhile Seb's charming wife Daisy (who is currently knitting a pair of bootees and therefore gets extra credit) decides to get in on the scarf action:

And very lovely she looks too.

I then realise I do not have a photo of the scarf with its intended owner, and hunt Kelly down in the kitchen. Having discovered it's tricky to balance a small piece of cardboard on a knitted item whilst you are wearing it, Kelly has a masterstroke idea:

Although I'm starting to suspect the casual observer may assume we're advertising something for Amnesty International. Or Jamie Oliver (loving that apron).

Taking up the gauntlet, Kate manages to model a fantastic new look for the headband and I become quite proud of what you can do with an oversized i-cord:

At which point the wonderful Kate P. decides it's high time she headed home (and who can blame her). I manage to catch her modeling her new cowl just in time:

So the woollens are keeping everyone warm (both indoors and out), Daisy and Kerry are knitting away and may even pop along to the Hoxton knitting group in the New Year, Kelly is my new marketing manager (for what, exactly, we haven't quite decided), and everyone's keen to spread the Hoxton Handmade.

And me? Well, I have the loveliest friends in all the world.

Here's One I Made Earlier - Part 1

Someone said to me the other day that I would have made a brilliant Blue Peter presenter. I think they meant this as a compliment (and, to be fair, I was helping to stick a gingerbread house together with melted sugar at the time). So, in the spirit of what may have been an unfulfilled destiny, here's one I made earlier:

(I admit I actually had fun wrapping all of these).

This was in preparation for a lovely Christmas dinner with a large group of friends, most of whom I've known since university and who kindly agreed to model their new woolens:
The lovely Jinty and Holly, and their new cowls. There was slight confusion when they opened them and for one horror-struck moment, Holly thought I had knitted her some sort of boob-tube. Clearly relieved, she kept it on for most of the evening, bless her, whilst her boyfriend declared it to be 'alright' (mustering some impressive enthusiasm I thought - maybe I should have gone with a boob-tube after all??). The girls then discovered there were no end of possibilities:
A handy ear-muffler, should one be required...
The fabulous Emily and her new Porom hat. Another Brooklyn Tweed winner.

A cheerfully festive Kate and her Garter Mittens, thanks to Ysolda Teague.
I should probably point out that these are the pictures that were taken early on in the festivities (i.e. before the mulled wine had done the rounds). Part II will follow shortly, with the mulled wine flowing freely, where my pals hit upon some creative marketing ideas for Hoxton Handmade....

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Land of Lemon & Honey

This will be brief as I have a nasty cold and am feeling pretty wretched. In fact, I felt so awful yesterday evening that I sat on the sofa and didn't do any knitting. At all.

Today I am in a decongestant-tablet haze and sick to death of lemons. Nevertheless I've been trying to muster some energy to do something constructive, or rather something destructive. The striped project from my last post? I've just ripped most of it back. But fear not, I have a plan (and yes, it's cunning).

The brilliant thing about knitting in the round is that you can do things that are just not possible when knitting side to side, thus I can knit a 3-row stripe in the round. Which means it still has the basic look I'm going for (narrow stripes) but there's a spare row in there to give a little space for a neater jogless stripe and counteract the fabric bunching.

That's the theory anyway, according to my Lemsip-addled mind. But for now I need to go and find some more tissues.

Monday, 8 December 2008

The Devil in the Detail

(Editors note: this post is going to be pretty dull and possibly incomprehensible if you do not knit. And if you do knit, well it's probably still dull but hopefully useful!)

There is a certain gift in progress which is being knit in the round. It is also striped. As you may know, this can lead to the odd technical hitch. How so? I hear you cry! (Or words to that effect from those of you being kind enough to feign interest). Well, because knitting in the round isn't actually, you know, round.

Circular knitting creates a spiral - like a Slinky (remember those?) - and so the beginning of each round starts a step above the previous one. Not a problem if you're knitting in one colour, but if you try striping in the round you get a 'jog' - a point in the circle where the beginning and the end of the stripe don't meet.

There are various ways to eliminate the jog and create an imaginitively named 'jogless stripe'. I started off with the travelling jog, where you slip a stitch and move your marker one stitch to the left when you change colour. This is genius if you're trying to do intarsia or fairisle in the round to make sure the pattern matches up and it made beautifully neat stripes. However. In my case it was also leaving a rather noticeable diagonal 'snail trail' which would have travelled over a large portion of said knitted item. So I have had to change tactics.

Stationery jogs involve slipping a stitch without moving the marker, so each jogless join stacks on top of the other, instead of travelling sideways. But because I'm only doing two-row stripes there isn't much wiggle room, still it's not too obvious (I hope).

So, you want to change colour in the round:

Round 1: Place a marker where you want to make the change, and simply switch colours and carry on knitting.

Round 2: Knit to marker. Slip marker. Take the stitch below the next stitch (i.e. in the previous colour) and lift to on to the front of your left needle. Knit this stitch and the stitch behind it (i.e. the first stitch in the colour you're using now) together.

After that you just carry on for however many rows you want the stripe to have - or in my case just keep repeating these two rows. There's an alternative version where, instead of picking up a stitch from the row below, you slip the first stitch of the second row purlwise, but the effect is pretty much the same.

I know that over on Ravelry there are various discussions on this, for example with Brooklyn Tweed's Turn A Square hat pattern where some people have had issues with getting their stripes to line up. Again this involves a two-row stripe and I think that's what makes it tricky. You're stretching either a single lifted stitch or a slipped stitch over two rows to eliminate the jog and there aren't any 'spare' rows to give a little slack. Some Ravellers have found they need to pull everything quite snug to make the join work but I'm worried that over a larger piece of knitting this would cause a line of very tight stitches that bunch the fabric. And I've actually found that by leaving a little give the stripe is lining up more neatly. So it's probably a case of trial and error and depends on how tight you knit, your gauge and your yarn.

It's these little details and techniques that make all the difference, what some describe as the difference between something homemade and something handmade, and has made me incredibly grateful for blogs and websites a lot more detailed than mine. The TechKnitter is a famous example of someone sharing their technical expertise and has a dizzying array of topics. She's also brilliant at providing illustrations to demonstrate how to do them yourself (and has a great tutorial on both travelling and stationery jogs). And for those of you wanting to know about single-row jogless stripes, or 'spiraling', the talented Grumperina has tackled that one for you as well.

So, apologies for a very dull post. I'll go back to talking nonsense about elves and hubris and the trials of sock knitting tomorrow.

But today I'm strangely proud that I even care about jogless stripes. I'm not a perfectionist and all too often I fudge the detail when I can get away with it. But there's no denying that the pain-in-the-ass hassle of some techniques pays off in the end and makes the whole project look ten times better. And it's satisfying to think I took the time to learn a better way of doing something. Although of course I can't show you that yet, so you're just going to have to take my word on that until the New Year...

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Cheat Sheet

I have managed to knit three Christmas presents in one afternoon. Not because I am a particularly fast knitter. Not because I have found a way to manipulate the space/time continuum. No. But because I cheated. Knitting doesn't really have much of a dark side - no anabolic steroids, no bribing judges, no sex, drugs and rock and roll (well, not directly) - so as cheating goes, it's pretty tame stuff. Nevertheless, if you need to cut some corners to get to where you need to go, here are some tips:

a) Choose the right yarn. Something chunky. Something flash. Something bold and eyecatching which will knit up on 10mm+ size needles. Forget delicate 4 plys, Kidsilk Haze or classic DK Shetland wool - it's going to take too long to make them look good. The added bonus is that you can mix and match, it's a great way to use up bits and pieces of luxury wool that may be hanging around your stash.

b) Choose a small object as your goal. This is no time for afghans or sweaters, obviously. Even a hat may be pushing it. Go with something that requires no pattern, shaping or serious concentration of any kind.

c) If a little extra finish is needed then choose an interesting stitch pattern. A simple rib can be enough to give it a twist.

Don't misunderstand me - I care about these gifts and dearly love the people they're intended for, but my present total is now heading for 25. (Seriously, that's not a typo). I've made about half of these but something has to give somewhere, and with festivities creeping up on me already, speed is of the essence.

But I'm pretty happy with how these turned out. Not bad for a quick knit:

This is two strands of Malagbrio and then one skein of Rowan Ribbon Twist to make a collar scarf on size 12 needles in mistake rib. Just waiting for a button to be added.

This is a scrap of Rowan Tuft I had tucked away, with Rowan Big Wool and a tiny batch of an anonymous white single ply. 12mm needles again and then the two ends sewn together to make a cowl.

And finally, more Malagbrio, but this time teamed with some leftover Manos del Uruguay, followed by half a skein of something which I think is Noro Transitions, held with some Freedom Spirit. 10mm needles and a mistake rib. An unusual colour combination, but that's mostly down to the nature of the Noro. Again, it's just waiting for a button.

So hopefully I'll be ready to hand these out next Sunday and persuade some of the girls to pose for some photos of them 'in action', rather than lazing around on my sofa...

Friday, 5 December 2008

Sunset Stripes

My office has a west-facing window and autumn has been providing the most spectacular sunsets across the rooftops of north London. There's currently a thin band of sandstone gold resting on the chimney stacks, with melodramatic dark grey clouds rolling past and slowly crushing it out of sight.

As well as being beautiful, all these sunsets have me hankering for some colour-combo striping. I rarely knit in more than one colour at a time and the thought of a Kaffe Fassett-esque kaleidoscope not only fills me with dread at the thought of knitting anything that complicated, but also at wearing it (it's just not me).

But lately, stripes are on my mind. The yellow/grey combo listed above, but I'm also thinking rust orange/warm beige, electric blue/storm grey, teal/pale grey, and a dozen other variations, in thin stripes, a DK or even 4ply lambswool and a classic boatneck sweater maybe, and one look at the Jamieson's shades can't hurt.... (Snap out of it!)

Of course, twitching fingers must be kept firmly on the Christmas knitting. Which is typical just as I'm longing to get swatching through my stash (and I never swatch, even when I'm supposed to). Although there is one festive project that can satisfy my craving for the time being - since it follows narrow stripes.

But this weekend is going to have to involve some serious knitting time. We're entering the danger period now, where it can all slip away with just a day or two off the schedule. I've got this weekend to finish friends' presents for next Sunday's festivities and get things in the post to the rest. Which leaves me almost three weeks to finish the family. I am determined NOT to spend the days in the run up to Christmas knitting from 9am to 2am. Apart from anything else I was starting to get RSI last year, and that's just embarrassing. Tennis elbow is one thing. Knitting wrist is ridiculous.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

A Little Inspiration

Amidst the Christmas knitting mayhem, an impish thought has been whispering at the back of my mind.

With all the gift-giving, many knitters will (hopefully) be familiar with the lovely compliments that often follow as friends and family - not quite managing to hide their shock that their new scarf doesn't really look all that bad and could probably be worn in public with a minimum of embarrassment - start telling you to sell you handknitted goodies at markets or online.

It's a nice thought and I can see where they're coming from, but most non-knitters fail to appreciate a) just how expensive a nice yarn often is and b) just how long it takes to knit something. Which is why bespoke knitting items are usually so expensive (I think the winner is probably still that Pidgin scarf that was going for about $250 somewhere) and why many of the beautiful things on Etsy are made in yarn as thick as your arm.

But. I remember how much I loved my evening course a couple of years ago where I had to design a knitwear collection. Collecting colour schemes, shapes, patterns and pictures for my 'mood board' and then working out how to translate those into a coherent group of items was difficult but utterly absorbing and a lot of fun. I never made any of the finished designs (they were intended for commercial production, rather than being handmade) and I'd love to try designing something that I can follow through.

So, with these things mulling in my mind for some time, I'm going to make a start. It'll be a long and leisurely process I expect, but then there's no rush. First things first, we need a little inspiration. A quick trawl of the net pulled up these:

I love both the colour of this and the frosty snowflake shapes. Perfect for the bright wintery day we've had.

And is it me or are these ghostly trees looking a little cable-like?

I love old-fashioned wallpaper for the colours, shapes and motifs they use but my modem keeps crashing so I can't show the wonderful images - take a peek at Cole & Son (wallpaper chaps to the Queen, no less).

For something more fashion related, the wonderful Sartorialist (see the link on the left) is perhaps the ultimate archive of who's wearing what on the trendy streets of New York, Milan and Paris.

Hmmm. Time for a little sketching methinks...

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Surrendering to Mr Pitt

Yes, I confess. I have caved. I am a lily-livered, cheese-eating surrender-monkey (even though I'm not entirely sure what that is) who is knitting this:

To explain: I have two knitting rules. Well, not so much rules as guidelines, which are specifically designed to avoid becoming Crazy Knitting Woman and which probably don't fulfill this purpose but nevertheless, there they are: no cats and no socks.

Now, before I incur the wrath of perfectly lovely cat-owning sock-knitters everywhere, I should be clear that I have absolutely nothing against knitters who knit socks; who are members of sock clubs; who love socks. I just felt that a line had to be drawn somewhere and it might as well be at socks. I buy cotton socks that serve me well, I have never felt the need to knit my own.

(However, the cat thing is an entirely different matter. I am not a cat person. I do not trust them. They think. They plot. They are entirely too self sufficient than any pet has a right to be. Again, this is simply a personal and not-entirely-logical prejudice. I live alone. I knit. I own 3 teapots. I cannot have a cat or I might as well bypass the next 60 years and become a grandma now).

Where my narrow-minded and stereotyped thinking gets into trouble is when trying to find a knitted Christmas gift for certain male members of my family. They are tricky and the annoying fact is that a good pair of socks might just solve the yuletide problem. Even the most deeply seated beliefs must be open to question, interpretation and flat out abandonment when confronted with new information or a change in circumstances (except for the cats, of course).

So I am knitting socks.

These are Mr Pitts socks, in a nice simple rib pattern and so far...Well. They are not a disaster. They require 3 skeins of Koigu and I only have 2 in each colour, hence the colour-combo. They are meant to be a size 10 but I'm working to a looser gauge to cover a bigger foot. They're looking enormous but I think it's safer for them to be a bit big than a bit tight. I have never attempted socks before, so I'm simply following the pattern and trusting it to make sense somehow. Which, in a comforting affirmation in the power of blind faith, appears to be working. Now I just have to hope they fit...

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Right on Schedule

So far so good, people. 8 1/2 presents are done. By the end of this weekend, the total should be up to 10, which takes me over the halfway mark. Another 3 are in progress. Fear not, I'm under no illusions; I know I'll still be at it come Christmas Eve, but at least it's looking like I might just manage to have a present for everyone on the day.

Which brings me to some well earned praise for a couple of patterns, without which I'd be in some serious trouble. I cannot say enough about Ysolda's Garter Mittens. They are brilliant (see how hastily I have moved on from the grafting debacle/reminder of my own ineptitude? ahem). Quick to knit, fit really well, look great, a nice practical gift someone might actually use and did I mention they're quick to knit? And, because it's garter stitch, they're very forgiving. You don't need to hide the wraps on the short rows, you can fit them as you go along and even the grafting can be a little wobbly and no one will notice. I'm on my third pair, and resisting the temptation to kit the entire family out in them. (For those of them reading this, don't worry, I have mixed it up a little).

Cowls are also genius inventions. Quicker than a scarf, makes great use of one skein of something lovely and they're brilliantly useful when it's windy or you're jumping on and off the Tube. And did I mention they're quick to knit?

What is definitely not quick to knit is the Big One. Which I have had to start again. (Yes, again - repeated sizing issues because I'm a moron). But I'm actually rather happy about it as it gives me a chance to improve on the original idea. So, third time around, it should be perfect. Yes, I know; watch this space for predictable calamaties ahead... Although if you actually want to see what I'm attempting you'll need to be on Ravelry, away from prying eyes...

A lovely catch up with an old friend over the weekend also proved very useful, since she sat on the sofa wearing my scarf for most of the evening. A clear favourite and I'm now plotting her very own version. I often find this happens - as I knit my way through the list over several months there are always a few projects that circulate until they find the owner they want. So the gift I originally intended for my friend will go elsewhere, and suit the other person better, now I think about it.

The first round of gift-giving comes up in a couple of weeks when my university friends will meet for a Sunday/Christmas lunch. So not long til my first deadline, but I think I've only got 2 1/2 gifts to go. And the only one that needs to be posted overseas is also done.

But enough of all this chat - I have knitting to do...

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Monday, 24 November 2008

A Greek Tragedy

Well, it's defintely a Monday morning. And I was right that the gods would remind me of my place.

Here is the first half of Ysolda's Garter Mittens, knitted in a couple of hours yesterday afternoon and a delightful pattern to follow:

Aren't they pretty? And seamless and cleverly constructed and I was really rather chuffed about the whole effort. What fools we humans be.

Now, to complete said mittens requires grafting garter stitch, which I have never attempted before (you can probably see where this is going). Following some handy online tutorials, I thought I had mastered the basic technique. However. Although I succeeded in grafting every stitch, I didn't pull the whole thing tight as I went along (because I am a complete idiot). Attempting to smoothly pull the yarn through at the end was a disaster, leaving me with big loops in some places and tight bunching in others. Going along and doing it an inch at a time proved impossible. Resigning myself to undoing the grafting and simply starting all over again landed me neatly at catastrophe:

The problem is not losing the last couple of rows - I can just knit those again - it's losing stitches from what was a provisional cast on at the beginning. I guess technically, because they're live stitches, I could go back and knit the opening rows again as well. But the whole thing is becoming such a tangled mess (Rowan Felted Tweed is not a yarn sympathetic to my predicament) and stitches are dropping in all directions that I'd quite like to just set fire to it at this point.

So I have shouted and cursed and threatened inanimate objects and am left with a mitten that refuses to cooperate.
Time for a deep breath and a cup of tea before I start all over again from the beginning.
The ancient Greeks knew their stuff. Hubris. It'll get you every time.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Santa eat your heart out

The Elf Workshop is storming ahead in a blaze of woolly progress. I've finished another 3 Christmas presents in the last 24 hours, and can therefore be found admiring a steadily growing pile of completed projects and munching on a chocolate brownie. Nice.

First up is my Secret Santa gift for the office. The lovely Isobel wears a lot of red and so will receive this:

Which is not as orange as it looks here, but a rich red Rowan Biggy Print. A basic slip stitch rib from a keyhole scarf pattern but the measurements given didn't work out, so it's now more of a collar that will have a chunky button sewn to it shortly.

Continuing the chunky theme, we then have the oh-so-speedy Colinette Point 5:

The simplest of cowls, since the yarn hardly needs further embellishment. The shade is called Slate, which should hopefully go with pretty much anything.

The Colinette continues with this fabulous colour - Lapis

9 twisted drop stitches and you just keep going til you run out of yarn. Brilliant way to get the most out of one skein and it works really well for thick and thin yarn that can be a bit awkward, so thanks to Ravelry for the pattern.

A little more sedate, but no less delicious, we have the Yarn Harlot's One Row Scarf:

Does what it says on the tin. Fantastically simple but it's reversible, flat and shows off a fancy yarn beautifully. This is the Manos del Uruguay Silk Blend I posted earlier and is possibly the most fabulous stuff to knit with in the history of the world. It's soft, it's silky, it weighs nothing - I'm in love. And it looks like one skein is going to create a scarf 12 feet long, but we'll see.

As with Wisp, I'm finding the same pattern can give you very different results with a simple yarn subsitution. This is the same scarf but in Koigu:

Again, it's lightweight and I know just the person to enjoy the rainbow colour scheme.

And of course there are a couple of larger items sitting quietly in the corner of the workshop, but you'll have to wait and see on those. I'm having slight sizing anxieties, but in the end I'm going to have to trust my tape measure and just go for it. If they open it on Christmas morning and the damn thing doesn't fit, well, I'm sure there'll be a way around it. I mean, no one needs both their arms, do they?

I'm also attempting something a little more adventurous that will require me to design my own chart. The little voices are telling me not to even attempt such a foolhardy idea. It'll drive me nuts, I'll waste hours planning it only for it all to fall apart and I'll end up doing the simple version after all. But amidst the rabble, there's another voice piping up quietly from the back, and pointing out that, if I can manage to pull it off, it's going to look damn cool.

Even little elves should aim high now and again...

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Feeling slightly smug

It's feeling much more wintery this weekend (apparently snow is heading for a large swathe of the country and it's expected to get down to -3 in London tonight). Last night I walked over to the Commercial Tavern to meet some friends and, since I'm always cold, I wrapped up to fight the chill. Thanks to a Stitch n Bitch hat (one of the first things I ever made), my Guy Fawkes Hoodie (see posts below) and a long and chunky scarf, I was seriously snug in a handmade heaven.

Snug and, I admit, a little smug. The latter came from the looks people gave me as they walked past me. They weren't really looking at me, exactly, but appeared to be focused on the scarf and I can only describe the look as one of envy:

It's a huge beast of a thing, knitted in 2 skeins of Rowan Plaid which I bought last year from Cucumber Patch (they still have a few colours left) and, when muffled up to the ears, it's an arctic winner (not to mention probably the simplest thing it's possible to knit). Knitting's not looking like such a crazy, grandma type hobby now, is it?

But fear not, the gods will ensure that I fall over / drop the contents of my bag all over the bus / throw a red sock into my white laundry etc etc in the near future, to put me back in my place...

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Finally finished

Yes, at last, I've finished the Central Park Hoodie. Or the Guy Fawkes Hoodie, as I've come to think of it in its British incarnation. In the now discontinued Rowanspun Aran, it's seriously cosy for a crisp November night by the bonfire.

The pattern's easy to follow - the cables are fairly simple and there's no shaping. But I can see what some people on Ravelry have been talking about when it comes to the sleeves - they're very narrow and long. Which is quite handy for me and my simian limbs, but ideally they should be a bit wider. I made the 36" - a size bigger than I'd normally make - and it's roomy enough in the body to layer underneath, but fits well across the shoulders and hips.
So the sizing is definitely a little off, but in a simple, chunky sweater I think you can get away with it. The buttons are the only set of 6 I had to hand (and more green than in the picture) but I'm liking them at the moment.

It's currently blocking on the floor after a soak in the tub and I think it's going to soften up nicely. Rowanspun is quite a strange yarn, it has a felted quality to it and it breaks quite easily, but it's nice and lightweight for a big garment like this.

So, selfish sweater completed and we're back to the Christmas schedule...

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Eyes Bigger Than My Tummy

I feel as though I am sitting in front of several kingsize bars of Dairy Milk. Actually, it's worse than that. There's the Dairy Milk, the plate of Krispy Kremes, an ambassador's display of Ferero Roche and half a dozen tubs of Haagen Daz. And they are calling to me. I know it's too much; I know it will cost a fortune and make me sick and I''ll regret the huge swirls of mocha fudge, but I don't care.

And now translate that mountain of sugary temptation into a pile of knitting goodness.

Yes, not only is the beautifully compiled new edition of the Twist Collective catalogue up, but the Interweave winter preview is up as well. And I am fighting the urge to order about 7,000 balls of yarn, quit my job and knit like a crazy person in a cave.

Ok, maybe that last part was stretching it, but you know what I mean. There are so many things here I want to make.

I'm drawn to the felted fabulousness of the Heroine jacket. I've already seen many people on Ravelry becoming utterly obssessed with Vivian, by the talented (and wonderfully named) Ysolda Teague. My personal obssession is leaning more towards the Pinstripe Sweater over at Interweave, but I'm also loving the Handsome Mittens (shown here in one of my favourite colour-combos) and the stitch pattern of the Sweet Honey Beret. I'm also strangely liking the Woven Bands Pullover although the slightly dodgy photo shoot means you can't really see it in full. (And is it just me, or is not a very manly man's sweater? I'd make it for myself I think, it's just not really saying 'bloke' to me for some reason.)

But before any of these, I really really really want to make this cardigan (which has been photographed with a horrible t-shirt in the way and looks much better in this version made by a fellow Raveller). Plus there's the amazing and ambitious Little Birds that are still singing to me. And I found a bargain at Cucumber Patch for some wool to make this, which just looks so cosy for a winter's evening curled on the sofa. Although with yarn that chunky it shouldn't take too long (See how I justify my addiction? I'm a classic case in need of 12 steps at this rate).

Not forgetting of course, the 14 remaining Christmas presents I need to knit. Now you can see why I'm heading for a serious bout of yarn indigestion.

You know, that cave is starting to look quite appealing.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

TV Knitting

So, all this Christmas knitting takes a while. And as the deadline approaches, entire weekends can spent ploughing through the backlog. Not that this is a Bad Thing. Personally, a day spent knitting is a luxurious idea, and something I indulge in every few weekends anyway. But once I'm hitting my stride and knitting for over 8 hours at a stretch, I need something to keep me company. If I'm concentrating on a lacy hat like Porom I need all my attention focused on the damn chart I keep messing up. But when it's miles and miles of stockinette a little distraction and entertainment is called for.

Of course, this is essentially the reason the DVD box set was invented. This time last year, I was thrilled to discover my local library (conveniently sitting across the road from my flat) stocked a cornucopia of DVD delights which could be rented either for free or the extortionate sum of 2 pounds (no, I still haven't found the pound key on this computer). I think this fact alone may have reimbursed me for my council tax this year.

Unlike Blockbuster, it's an eclectic mix and for some shows they might only have season 4, so unless you're familiar with it you have to just launch in blindly. Ok for Will & Grace, not so good for Lost. But it's encouraged me to try some things I had never thought to watch, or programmes I completely missed the first time round. Last year's knitting frenzy was ably assisted by a combination of Oz, Nip/Tuck, Smallville, and House. As I've worked my way through a fair amount of the library's stock I've now also subscribed to Love Film to supplement supplies. Over the course of this year I moved on to The Sopranos, Battlestar Galactica and 24 and the current workshop is following Buffy. Through this gogglefest, I've learnt some important lessons:

1. Action/thrillers can be problematic. One glance down to the knitting and you've missed a vital visual clue; a secret email, a furtive handshake, a tiny scrap of evidence tucked into someone's pocket. You also tend to miss the explosions, shootings and stunts. So 24 isn't one I'll be trying again this festive season, nor Battlestar Galactica.

2. Forget anything with subtitles, obviously. I've had The Lives of Others from Love Film for weeks and I really want to watch it but there's just no way I'm capable of knitting and trying to follow German at the same time.

3. Sitcoms don't really work. The problem lies in watching several episodes one after the other. You start to feel like you're in some sort of time warp and watching the same twenty minutes over and over again. One trick - if you have a serious marathon ahead of you - is to alternate a comedy with a drama and then you don't get bored of either.

3. Dialogue is the key. As long as you can hear what's going on there's no problem. So anything that's essentially a talking book works well. Which is why I've seen every season of The West Wing at least four times now. That and the fact that it's utterly brilliant, of course. House, surprisingly, is mostly a lot of talking as well (and once you've seen one guy have a stroke/lumbar puncture/MRI/dangerously risky and foolhardy operation, you've seen them all). Buffy is proving to be a good combination of genres, since the dialogue is smart and the kill-the-vampire action sequences easy enough to follow half-blind.

So, what do you like to watch while you're knitting? Any recommendations for me? Here are my top three:

1.The West Wing
If you've never seen it and ever wondered how politics could possibly be entertaining, try this. Best put-down ever:

2. The Wire
Sometimes referred to as the best drama you've never seen. If anyone tells you there's nothing good on TV, here's the answer. For the first couple of episodes I wasn't sure what all the fuss was about. And then I watched this classic scene from Season 1:

3. Buffy
I don't care if you're not into fantasy fiction, or teenage angst with a vampire twist. The writing here is fantastic and brilliantly entertaining. And I can't think of another show that's pulled off an episode where all the characters sing their parts as if they're in a musical, let alone an episode with almost no dialogue at all:

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Saturday Night Live

As you can see, I'm living it up crazy style on a Saturday night. Still, judging from the torrential downpour outside I have no problem at all with spending an evening at home and from what I can hear (or rather not hear) I'm not missing any fireworks. And of course the X Factor provides a joyful opportunity to shout at the television and veg out with some knitting.

I'm on a mission to try and finish the Central Park Hoodie. This weekend was my original deadline but I've lagged behind a little and I want to try and get it done so that I can concentrate on the Christmas extravaganza whilst remaining toasty warm. I've got a back, two fronts and one sleeve. The second sleeve is underway, although the real challenge is going to be picking up a gazillion stitches for the border. Sleeves are like socks as far as knitting is concerned, there's something of a curse around the second one. You go to all the effort, spend ages knitting a component that's rarely as interesting as the rest of the garment, finish triumphantly and then realise you now have to start all over again on exactly the same thing. And once I finish the sleeve I've got the sewing up to do. Groan.

Yeah, I'm never going to get it done this weekend. But hey, it's chucking it down outside, I've got a cosy sofa, some cheesy TV and my favourite tunes on my iPod. Perfect for knitting and for me to put into practice my current resolution to worry less about the destination and try to enjoy the journey.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Elf Workshop

So, just to prove I've been doing what I claim to have been doing, here's a picture of the Big Wool hat, as promised. There's a matching cowl as well, but you get the idea:

Charmingly modelled by my lamp. Which isn't really the ideal way to show it off but never mind. I made this up as I went along, a very simple mistake rib, knit flat, with a couple of decrease rounds at the end and then seamed. Big Wool is very forgiving. And also very warm, so this is getting a lot of wear already.

Onto the Christmas knitting, some of which I can safely reveal as I know the recipients aren't reading this blog (and even if they are they won't know who's getting what - my Christmas elf status remains intact).

So we have a simple but cosy mistake rib cowl, in a pretty colourway from Twilley's Freedom Spirit:I need to be careful, or the lamp is going to start getting ideas above its station and plan an escape to the catwalks of Milan.

And there is also the tweedy, garter stitch yumminess of this scarf:

Slightly random colour-combo but love how this is turning out. What you can't really see in the photo is that the tweedy flecks in the grey colourway are orange and blue, the mustard has grey, the orange has blue etc, so they match in a mismatch kinda way. This is the Lanark Wool Tweed in the DK weight which is incredibly light and airy. Really like knitting with this and think it would make great cables and stitch patterns. May be forced to experiment with a mustard colour sweater in the New Year.

Meanwhile, waiting in the wings is this fabulous colour in Colinette Point 5 (Lapis):

Destined to be another Christmas present, probably another cowl (if you know me, be warned there's a high probability of receiving a cowl this year. Brilliant things. Quick to knit, warm to wear and means I can afford to use a skein of the good stuff). Awaiting a similar incarnation is another skein in Slate:

And finally there's the heavenly silk and merino combo of this:

Yes, the gorgeous Manos del Uruguay in colour 9254. Amazed the colours have come out so accurately in this picture, they're muted but still rich and the silk gives it a beautiful sheen like the inside of a seashell. (Ed: Alright, alright, it's only yarn - get to the point). Comparatively expensive stuff but as there's 270m in one skein I think I can get a decent scarf out of it. Scouring Ravelry for a suitable pattern, or stitch idea (any thoughts let me know). Not too lacy, but it's so pretty and soft I think it will drape well in a pattern that's not too stiff either. Watch this space.

Plus a couple of other things I won't be able to reveal until after the holidays...;) The Elf workshop is stepping up a gear...

Monday, 3 November 2008

The nights are drawing in

I love this time of year. The sky is grey, there’s a permanent misty drizzle and darkness seems to fall before you’ve finished your lunch break. But there’s also a crisp stillness in the early morning, a sharp taste to the air and the delicious pleasure of stepping in from the cold into a cosy room. And, I confess, there’s also a certain sense of smugness and even revenge. Once we hit that first cold snap, knitting doesn’t seem like such a crazy idea now, does it?

So those who might have stared at me on the tube in bafflement or, at the very least, curiosity, are now looking with something closer to envy, as I click away at a mounting pile of Rowan Big Wool. Those who scoffed at my eccentricity are now quizzing me on where I got the tweedy warmth of my new sweater. And I can revel in the joy of crying ‘Bah Humbug!’ and cackle into my circular knitting needles.

Well, alright, not exactly (that would be a bit weird) but you get the idea. And it’s not that I encounter hostility from people over my knitting, more the case that they’re a bit puzzled by it all.

But for the next few months, it’s all rather less of a mystery to people. There’s something wonderfully self-sufficient about being able to keep yourself warm.

The only problem is that it makes me even more fickle that usual. I am surrounded by WIPs at the moment (to the point that I’m losing sight of my sofa). Most are Christmas presents and I think part of the problem is that I’ve stored up some seriously yummy wool and some seriously fab patterns and I’m just over-excited. Again, it’s a theme for the time of year. Come Christmas we’ll all be doing it, whether it’s with a biscuit tin, a festive tipple or an office party – we’ll all be over-indulging.

This week I am on probation as a cautionary measure, so I’m trying to finish off a couple of things before starting anything else. It’s sort of working. Which is just as well as when I think about how much more I have to do I start hyperventilating. But, as with your finances, it’s better to face the problem. There’s no point stuffing the bank statements down the back of the sofa (for a start I wouldn’t find the back of the sofa under all that wool). Calm, rational assessment is the key.

So, what’s the damage? Well, I have 17 presents to make in total. At least 10 of these are people I will see on Christmas Day, so I can’t turn up empty handed. On the plus side, that means I can make use of the days running up to it, after I finish work for the holidays (and we all know I’ll still be at it on Christmas Eve).

Now I’m not completely stupid. I do realise that this is an exercise in futility on a scale a Greek tragedy would be proud of. (The fact that I realise it’s futile and yet I’m still doing it, does make me an idiot, I grant you).

So, of those 17:
2 are knitted
3 are very nearly finished
3 are in progress (and one of these is the Big One, so at least that’s on the way)

Which leaves 9 entirely unaccounted for. (It’s ok, just breathe, keep breathing..)

Of the 9:
1 has a pattern and yarn ready and waiting
3 have a pattern assigned but not yarn

Leaving the remaining 5 that haven’t been allocated anything and are spinning into a black knitting vortex while I reach for a paper bag. (Deep breaths…)

Of the 5:
4 are for girls. And therefore easy. Many many options. Thank god.
1 is not. And I have NO IDEA what the hell I am supposed to make him. He got a scarf last year, so I can’t do that again. A hat? I just can’t picture it. Mittens? Possibly but when the hell would he wear them? Ironically enough I can think of several jumper patterns that would suit but he’s a big guy. There is absolutely no way I can knit that much yarn in 6 weeks. I’d need a bigger sofa.

Answers on a postcard please. Or in the comments. Or screamed into the bleak darkness of the night as I set fire to my bamboo knitting needles in a frenzy of despair on 23rd December.


It will be fine. It will all come together. With plans like these, blind faith that the chaos of the universe will conspire in your favour at the last moment is the only thing to hold onto. That and a stiff drink.

And finally, the winner of the fancy dress competition from Saturday night:
The Bunny Girls were charming. SJ the Exorcist scared the crap out of me.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Happy Halloween

Hope everyone's having a good weekend and going to at least one fancy dress party. It's bitterly cold, but there's something great about wrapping up nice and cosy (in handmade woolens, obviously) and hurrying down the street into a warm and slightly steamy party, as everyone stamps the chill off their feet.

Fancy dress parties are generally divided into the ones where you have to have an actual, recognisable costume, and the ones where you can wear anything as long as it's cut low at the top, high at the bottom and made out of the synthetic material of your choice.

Costumes always give the crafty a chance to show off but I confess I've never mastered the art of the great fancy dress outfit. I tend to compromise by rummaging through my wardrobe for something that can be adapted, or pulling out a pair of red tights and some lace gloves from the back of the drawer. Last night I saw an impressive Darth Vader (complete with voice effects box) towing a Princess Leia (since she's technically his daughter, they seem to have developed an alternative and somewhat disturbing ending for the franchise). Fake blood galore of course (now there's an easy costume transformation). Brides, cowboys, werewolves and several witches were also in attendance. Anyone seen anything truly original this weekend? Who deserves special marks for going beyond the call of duty? I'll be keeping an eye out tonight, armed and ready with my camera.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Normal service is resumed

Showtime Challenge is done. I'm back. I'm exhausted.

That about sums up the last five days, but I realise it's somewhat lacking in detail. We started rehearsals at 7.30pm on Friday and 48 hours later the curtain went up at the London Palladium in front of 1500 people. In that time I think I slept for about 9 hours. Getting up at 5.30am and getting home after midnight; shepherding 120 cast members across 8 floors of our rehearsal building; grabbing a coffee and a sandwich as and when we could; organising the dressing rooms at the theatre; working out how to get a dozen cockney dancers from the wings into the auditorium aisles for their part in The Lambeth Walk halfway through the show - these were all things that resulted in the most profound exhaustion I've ever known. My feet still ache from pounding up and down flights of stairs for two days.

But we did it. Me & My Girl was fabulous: the cast were staggeringly talented, the choreography amazing, the singing superb, the people involved truly inspiring. We got a 4 star review in the Evening Standard and we raised a lot of money for the Anthony Nolan Trust, despite one of our hosts being Les Dennis (sample put-down to a would-be heckler: 'I like to do my act the way you like to have sex - alone'. Not ideal for a family audience, even if it were funny. Luckily Mel Giedroyc was much better).

There's something wonderful about being reminded of what it's possible to achieve with a dedicated group of talented people in a short space of time. Makes you think there's probably very little that can't be accomplished in 48 hours if you put your mind to it. And makes me realise I waste a lot of that potential most weekends, but nevermind.

I'm taking a few days off work to recover and press on with the Christmas knitting. Of course I keep being sidelined by things I want to make for myself but as someone kindly pointed out, you have to do that or knitting becomes a chore.

So today I've made a snood-type scarf and a matching hat out of some squishy and delicious Rowan Big Wool. Despite the current cold snap I am going to be seriously warm. Will try to post some pics tomorrow when my dongle is feeling more obliging.

I've also sourced some wool for one particular present that I'm very happy about. Watch this space for a Superman-inspired gift...

Thursday, 23 October 2008

I'm obsessed

with this.

Isn't it amazing? Probably the most ridiculously cute thing ever. And every time I look at it I hear the Bob Marley song. You can't help but smile and feel the urge to set out a feeder in your back garden (if I had a back garden, of course). Officially the happiest looking cardigan I have ever seen.

And if you're on Ravelry you can enjoy this fabulous jumper version.

I've only tried Fairisle knitting (with all the colours) once. On a pair of mittens that I still haven't finished (you can see them on the right). I've always been a bit scared of it. And steeking (where you actually cut your beloved, hard-worked knitting to make the armholes) frankly terrifies me. But this may be the project that persuades me to try again. The birds are calling to me. And Jamieson's wool is sooooo cosy and in a million gorgeous colours and not too crazily expensive and....

Enough. I'm convinced (aren't you?). It may be foolhardy, it may be complicated, it may be the final nail in the 'barmy knitter' sign on my forehead but I'm knitting the damn birds.

And who knows. If I manage that, maybe I'll be brave enough to try this...

'...singing don't worry 'bout a thing, cos every little thing gonna be alright...'

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Storming Prague

That's the bar, not some kind of Eastern Front military manoeuvre on the Czech Republic. Obviously.

Yes, Tuesday's knit night was a resounding success with 7 knitters in attendance, 3 of them newbies to the group and 1 of them learning to knit for the first time. The lovely Andine (whose beautiful name I'm no doubt doing what Brits do best with French and mangling beyond recognition) managed the neatest first knit I've ever seen; Kathryn is obviously an excellent teacher. We also had out first random visitor - Annie popped in as she has just started knitting and spotted us in Prague the other week (and turned out to know one of us from the Guides in Durham many years ago - how's that for random?). We officially conquered the big sofa by the window, and will no doubt be taking over the rest a table at a time...;)

I was especially glad as I'd had a bit of a strange Tuesday - I'd spent most of the day reading about war, genocide, refugee camps, torture, gender inequality that proves the Middle Ages are alive and rocking - essentially all the worst things humanity is capable of. I should perhaps point out that this was for work, and that the text in question also had many tales of hope, love and generosity amidst the carnage. Needless to say though, it left me desperate for a stiff drink and some good company. So my thanks once again to the charming Hoxton Knitting Group for a fun evening.

In other news I am powering through the Central Park Hoodie (in lieu of the chocolate brownie and at least one of the gold stars) inbetween Christmas presents. I'm aiming to finish it in time for Bonfire Night when it will be crisp and chill for the fireworks. That's the plan anyway.

You'll notice at the top of the page I'm giving Twitter a go. No, I'm not really sure either. I doubt any of you are that interested in my every knitting move, but I guess we're going to find out. On the plus side it has pointed me in the direction of a couple of good knitterly blogs and I've tried to give Hoxton a bit of a Spring clean, lest you all get bored and realise you have better things to be getting on with. So please do explore the links, you might find a treat.

One thing I did spot on Twitter though, was a Tweet from some bloke who was clearly mortified to see a man on the Tube knitting. He was so traumatised by the experience, and obviously felt no one would believe his incredible tale, that he took a covert photo with his phone as proof. And then Twittered about it in utter indignation .(NB See how I've embraced the lingo? Dangerously addictive even though you start sounding like a two year old with a curious speech impediment). These days I can understand people being wary on the Underground, I just never suspected knitting would be high on anyone's list of suspect activities. The 140 characters Twitter permits aren't really enough to clarify whether it was the knitting itself that offended him or the fact that it was a bloke doing the knitting. Naturally I'm all in favour of hunting this Twit (ahem) down and skewering him with a cable needle - who's with me? Alright, alright, I know, 'violence solves nothing', 'give peace a chance' yada yada yada.

Ok. We'll go with peaceful protest. Direct action. Passive aggression. Remember to always take your knitting with you on the Tube and let's see if we can really freak him out....

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Me & My Girl

Raise a glass and say a prayer for Eyebrow Productions and the Showtime Team, who are going to stage a West End musical in 48 hours. Better make it a stiff G&T.

On Sunday 26th October The London Palladium will, for one night only, play host to a charity performance of Me & My Girl, in aid of the Anthony Nolan Trust.

The rules are simple: the cast of over 100 and the crew convene on the Friday night for their first rehearsal. Blocking, choreography, set construction and lighting design continue on Saturday and on Sunday they finally get into the theatre itself to rehearse until the audience arrives at 7pm. It all happens in 48 hours. The principal cast are allowed to learn their lines and the music but they cannot practice together or with the director, until the weekend of the show.

Today they were out in Covent Garden to publicise the event and show off their skills, singing a musical medley of show tunes:

They sounded fantastic and attracted quite a crowd, who were loving it:

If this isn't a Handmade enterprise, then I don't know what is. Which is why I'll be mucking in and assisting the company manager. (No, I'm not entirely sure what that will involve either. I suspect a fair amount of crowd control and a hunting down of cast members who've wandered off for a quick fag break. I've been promised a cattle prod and a clipboard so I'm sure it will be fine. A bigger conern is the fact that, like most big theatres, the backstage of the Palladium is a labyrinth the Minotaur would feel at home in. Fingers crossed I'm not the one who goes AWOL...).

It's going to be a fabulous show for a very worthy cause, so grab some friends and join the fun.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Sock It To Them

So usually, as you may know, this blog enjoys a natter about fairly whimsical stuff. And although I'm not about to start earnest political debate (or, let's face it, anything too intellectually demanding in general) it seems that even here we can't escape the impending US elections. But before you panic that I'm setting up my soap box, allow me to explain.

It started with the Yarn Harlot (doesn't it always?) who is, of course, the grande dame of the knitting world these days. She has a rather charming habit of carrying a partly-knitted sock around with her (as it's a small, portable knitting project) and photographing it as occasion demands, either in front of a suitable monument/scene/place of interest, or in the hands of charming people she runs into. If you don't knit, I do realise this sounds like certifiable behaviour. Read her blog and you'll get the idea, which is that most people don't realise how many knitters (and their socks) are out there and that we're generally quite nice (if slightly batty) folk and that knitting is a joy to be shared in public. The Yarn Harlot's blog is always fun, but her latest post had me howling with glee, as it brought Tracey to my attention and a moment of genius that I had completely missed.

At the end of last year, Tracey took the sock picture idea to a whole new level.

Yes, that's right. She got Barack Obama to hold her sock while she took a photo.

Just think about that for a moment. (I know, I know, certifiable, but genius nonetheless).

This has prompted the Harlot to set a challenge Read her blog post as it's more fun that way, but the basic question is, can anyone else get a public figure (serious heavyweights only) to hold a sock while the knitter of said sock takes their photo? We're talking heads of state here, so it's not an easy one. But for each picture she'll make a donation to Medecins Sans Frontieres (and since she's already helped to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for them - with knitters mostly - that's no small offer).

Personally, I'm ineligible as I don't knit socks (one has to draw a line somewhere). Although if I managed to persuade Her Majesty to say cheese whilst holding a partially knitted fingerless glove, I doubt anyone would quibble. Bit of a longshot though, let's face it.

As for heads of state, well I'm not overly keen on the prospect of stalking Gordon Brown to assault him with woollens. Or taking a photo of him for that matter.

Still, I shall keep my eyes open for possible famous faces who might be willing to play along for a good cause. After all you could end up with a fabulous shot like this one.

Scroll down to see the most fantastically bemused expression ever. Can't believe I used to wonder why some people think knitting's a little strange...

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Music Lessons Cont'd

An addendum to my last post, as I've just finished watching a documentary on BBC1 on, yes you've guessed it - the guitar. This evening was a tour of the acoustic guitar and next week Alan Yentob moves on to the electric. The former you should be able to find on iPlayer if you missed it, and part 2 will be on BBC1 next Sunday at about 10.30pm.

And I found another You Tube video that deserves a mention. Seasick Steve has been topping the iTunes charts with his new album and was on Jools Holland recently, but the video I love is from a few years ago when he performed for Jools' annual Hootenanny. He plays a 3-string guitar and stamps a wooden box and shows just how much you can get out of what seems like so little. Just watch the audience suddenly come alive a few beats into the song - behold the power of the Handmade:

Music Lessons

While the Christmas knitting continues on this rainy and miserable loooking day, the book I'm reading at the moment brings us back to the guitar.

Guitar Man tells of Will Hodgkinson's decision, at the age of 35 and with a wife and two small children, that it's time for him to fulfill a longheld dream and learn to play the guitar. He gives himself 6 months to form a band and play a gig.

His musical journey takes him from Cornwall to Mississippi, meeting guitar pros like Bert Jansch, Johnny Marr, Roger McGuinn and PJ Harvey for tips and advice. Plus, it's hilarious.

It's also comforting to see someone else facing exactly the same problems and set backs that I've had in trying to learn to play. The frustration at not being able to get your hands to do what you want; the complete mystery of watching someone play a fairly simple tune and having no idea of how to replicate it; the overwhelming sense that some people are musical and talented and you're just clearly not one of them.

On almost every page is a set-back or experience I've shared at some point (along with a few small victories) so it's great to know I'm not alone. It's a brilliant read for anyone learning, or tempted to learn, any instrument as an adult.

I've hit a bit of a rut with my playing lately and it's tricky when you want to try something more complicated but don't really know where to start. So I decided to go back to what made me determined not to have my guitar just decorating my room, but actually learn to play the damn thing. I'd had it for a couple of years and could play a few simple songs, but watching KT Tunstall's now infamous performance on Jools Holland blew me away:

Admit it, even if you're not a fan of her music it's pretty impressive isn't it? Apart from anything else her timing is immaculate all the way through. God knows how I'm ever going to be able to play like that - and of course a lot of what she's doing isn't actually about the guitar - but it's a vast improvement on the image of a one-man-band after Dick van Dyke.

And it definitely helps to find a song you really love so that you can practice that, rather than trying to learn new techniques in isolation. Which is what led me to a website designed for learner guitar players where various pop folk have made a video teaching you to play their song - Now Play It. Not a huge variety of stuff on there and, as Guitar Man proves, a lot of performers aren't actually very good teachers - they just want to show off and aren't capable of breaking it down and explaining how they actually do it.

But I decided to give Miss Tunstall the benefit of the doubt and downloaded her lesson on Black Horse and the Cherry Tree (a friend had given me the sheet music but that only gives you the chords). And she's actually a really good teacher, who not only explains the techniques she's using, but suggests different exercises to help you master them and goes nice and slowly for us uncoordinated amateurs.

The site is, of course, a horribly commercial way to tap into those teenagers (oh, alright and those of us who should be old enough to know better, ahem) who are strumming away in their bedrooms and who, apparently, are dying to know the secrets of the latest hit from OneRepublic. Admittedly, it lacks the romance and authenticity of a rocking chair on a Mississippi porch. But it's a lot cheaper than guitar lessons and the videos are nicely put together, with chord diagrams etc, so it's one more resource to make use of.

Despite KT's clear instructions, my progress remains pretty slow. I'm still trying to master the strumming pattern and the dampening technique and then there's the fiddly bit of the one-string intro, not forgetting the palm muting and of course the seamless changes from chord to no-chord and - well, as you can see - I've got a way to go yet. And that's just to play it without a loop pedal.

So, for now, please excuse me as I have to take advantage of the neighbours probably being out, in order to master my palm mute without driving them to post a molotov cocktail through my letterbox.

Strum-strum-stop-strum-stop-strum-strum. Strum-strum-stop-strum-stop-strum-strum. Strum-str......

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Santa's Little Helper

Patting myself on the back this week as the Christmas knitting schedule is on track and even though it's not yet October, I've got several presents on the go already:

This is another Wisp but in a soft and silky merino single ply, instead of Kidsilk Haze. I think it'll look even better once the lace pattern is blocked but I love the colour:

Next up is Porom, a new hat pattern from Brooklyn Tweed. I had to start this again as I was a complete idiot with the (simple, clear and fairly obvious) instructions for one of the charts. But fortunately Take Two is looking much better. It's in Felted Tweed, so not too heavy for a soft and slouchy hat:

The we have the garter stitch simplicity of the autumn scarf. This is in the lovely Lanark Tweed (one of the best yarn bargains on the net) and I'm particularly fond of the mustard yellow colour:

And bringing up the rear we have the Big One:
Only got the hem so far, but at least I've made a start. This is Jamieson's Heather Aran in Fresco, and is going to be seriously warm and cosy.
So, for the time being, I'm on schedule. Now, where's my three gold stars and a chocolate muffin?