Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Knit Night

I have found them.

Yes, at last, I have discovered Other Knitters.

Obviously I’ve always known they were out there, in vast numbers, but I’d only ever spotted them online, never in their natural habitat, as it were. So imagine my delight at discovering some locals on Ravelry who were keen to set up a Hoxton knitting night.

Yesterday evening found me wending my way down the road to Prague, a ‘bohemian bar’ on the Kingsland Road (that for some reason, despite spending many alcoholic hours in this part of town over the last ten years, I had never been into before. Apparently they do excellent coffee. Who knew). It was still quite early and therefore quiet, so it wasn’t hard to spot the three women sat round a table knitting merrily away.

Joining them for a couple of hours was a lovely way to spend the evening and Prague proved to be a pretty good venue choice (also they were playing albums by Arcade Fire and The Shins all night, which I took as a good sign). It got a little noisy as the bar filled up, but the staff were nice and we had nothing worse than a slightly bemused grin as people walked past. By eight o’clock they were setting out tealights, until the waitress saw the mountain of Kidsilk Haze lacework piled on one table and said “Actually, you probably don’t want a candle here do you?!” Thoughtful. And very health & safety conscious, given my knack for knocking things over.

I have discussed the controversial pros and cons of sock knitting; learned that excellent yarn shops can be found in Japan; been recommended a good yoga class nearby and discovered that a fellow Hoxtonite will also be knitting at the Innocent Fete on Sunday, in the course of a relaxed and humorous conversation with some lovely people. Plus I am now well into the second half of my bamboo tape vest. This knitting group lark is genius.

So Tuesday night is now knitting night round Hoxton way. Come join us sometime.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

The Knitter's Rebellion

As I sit at home surrounded by various balls of yarn, piles of notebooks scribbled with design ideas, half-finished projects lounging on the sofa, circular needles coiled on the floor like some strange species of carpet-dwelling reptile, there is no disguising the fact that I Knit. These days it has become something of a distinguishing feature, since I am the only one among my friends, family and colleagues with this particular hobby. I am The Knitter.

But I constantly feel I have to justify the fact that I knit, usually by downplaying it as an eccentric quirk; an old fashioned twist; a nice little hobby. As the Yarn Harlot has said (scroll down to 17th June and her knitter's party) this can get pretty tiresome. Knitting has a strange label of fustiness about it to some people, or else they think it's all a bit 1950's chained-to-the-kitchen-sink for the modern woman. To which all I can say is bollocks, quite frankly, since it entirely misses the point.

For a start, and as this blog makes clear, the old-fashioned label is not something I mind. I still maintain that grandmas rock. I shared a birthday with mine and was named after her and although she was not a cuddly, jam-making grandma (more of the tough-old-boot variety) she was a tremendous knitter and taught me garter stitch on red plastic needles when I was about seven. The knitting bug didn’t really bite until I was in my early twenties and she was sadly no longer here, but I still love the fact that I am continuing a family tradition of some sort.

Even so, there's a very modern sensibility to knitting in the way it provides a creative process that bypasses all that cheap, ethically dodgy, short-term fashion. With no need to resort to a magazine telling you what you should be wearing you can create something entirely unique that will last for years.
There is something magical about knitting that non-knitters don't really get. The fact that the whole piece is one long, uninterrupted thread; that every single stitch must pass through your fingers; that if you wanted you could simply frog the whole thing and it would return to what it was. You can’t un-bake a cake or retrieve the paint from a picture but you could, theoretically at least, endlessly recycle the yarn from a piece of knitting.

I tend to knit on the sofa, watching TV, most of the time, but I also take knitting to the park, on the tube, to a friend’s house and as I form each stitch and the piece gradually grows, my mind happily wanders, my mood affecting what and how I knit. So the finished piece, whatever it may be, is a sort of time capsule for a whole range of emotions and thoughts and events that have taken place during its formation. And if I’m knitting a gift for someone else, I’m thinking of them all the way through the process and I like to imagine how that creates a bond between me and the other person and this strange little heap of fibres.

Today's Guardian has a special supplement on Rebel Knitting, with some cute and easy patterns for an iPod cozy, bag, mittens and lots more, designed by Mazz, who famously caused an uproar recently by knitting some cuddly Doctor Who villains and posting the patterns on her website, much to the BBC's displeasure.

There's also an article on the idea of rebel knitting which, to be honest, seems to be coming to the party a little late but still, the spirit of the piece is nice. And I like that it questions again the many ideas that are out there of what knitting is supposed to be.

So yes, I am a Knitter and if that makes me a rebel as well, then so be it. And you can laugh at that or be bemused by it or impressed or curious or just indifferent to the whole thing, I really don’t mind. I knit for me and because it’s part of who I am. And that’s just fine.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

I Knit, You Knit, We All Knit

If you live in London you're bound to have heard of the Innocent Village Fete which has been running for the past couple of years - you may even have been along. The posters for this year's festivities - on 2nd & 3rd August - are up in the Underground and all over town but for the uninitiated, Innocent is a fruit juice/smoothie company who have started up a summer 'village fete' styled event in Regents Park, with a good-olde-days-of-yore vibe. Hence all the welly-wanging, morris dancing and ukulele playing.

The charming chaps over at I Knit will be running a knitting tent there over the weekend and yours truly has signed up to teach knitting to the unsuspecting public on the Sunday. I've never tried to teach anyone to knit before so I'm slightly nervous but I'm sure Gerard and co will have plenty of instructions and tips. So if you find yourself over there, do pop by the tent and say hello. And if you've always wanted to give knitting a go but didn't know where to start, here's your chance. Plus the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain are playing that day and you haven't heard Smells Like Teen Spirit until you've heard it played on 8 ukuleles...

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

The Rough Guide to Hoxton

So, Hoxton has something of a reputation, not all of it good and I feel I should address this since it lends its name to my blog.

For those needing a geographical update, Hoxton is a (tiny) area of East London, lying just outside the square mile of the City, with Jack the Ripper's Whitechapel to the south-east and Hackney to the north. The adjacent neighbourhood is Shoreditch and the two pretty much go hand in hand.

Once the domain of cloth merchants, artists and those needing a cheap place to live in central London, it’s always been one of those rough, slightly dodgy but undeniably vibrant places you find in all major cities, with great street markets, independent shops, quirky restaurants, trendy bars and (I kid you not) a circus school. But with its proximity to all that City cash and the new Olympic site, it’s been on the radar of developers for several years and will no doubt eventually become as generic as most other London neighbourhoods, alas. In the meantime, it’s almost too cool for its own good.

The Shoreditch Twat has become a well-known label for a certain type and I can’t pretend there aren’t plenty of them where I live. Fortunately my general acquaintance unanimously agrees that, despite my address, I am not one of them. One of the best descriptions I’ve heard of the crowd you often find in Hoxton is ‘people with difficult haircuts’. You know exactly what they mean. All those ironically coiffured, asymmetric fringes, who can barely deign to acknowledge the existence of us mere mortals. But they are undeniably entertaining and you have to credit them with bringing a lot of the interesting stuff to the area with them, whether it’s a new club, an art exhibition, or a market stall.

(NB The other variant of the ST is the city slicker who thinks that by walking down the road from the skyscrapers of Liverpool St to the bars of the ‘Ditch, drinking a lot of cocktails and talking about his new and massively overpriced ‘loft apartment’ in the East End, he can escape the fact that he is another banker’s drone serving the evils of global capitalism and leading a soulless existence. Not that I’m judging or anything;).

One of the things that people coming over for a night out don’t often realise is that, of those who live round here, a large number of them are families and there are children all over the place – a fact I enjoy since it’s not often you can be in the centre of a city and hear children on their bikes and playing football and the tinkle of an ice-cream van coming round the corner.

I’m also excited at the prospect of a new knitting group from Ravelry starting up round Hoxton Square, where we can people-watch, drink and knit to our heart’s content.

So I love living here, strolling over to Brick Lane on a Saturday, roaming through the stalls of Spitalfields Market, trying to get up early enough on a Sunday to catch the best flowers and plants on Columbia Road. I just have to be careful when I go to get my hair cut.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008


Without wishing to sound like a technological neanderthal, I should make a confession - I do not have internet access at home. Not so much technophobia as not having a landline, so I was thrilled to discover the existence of dongles (but who the hell comes up with these names?!)

In my mind, a dongle is a furry, winged, flightless creature - a sort of cross between a dodo and a platypus - but the reality is, disappointingly, rather less cuddly. Essentially a dongle is a combination of a modem and a mobile phone that plugs into your computer's USB port and gives you instant access to the net. Genius.

So now, rather than trying to cram a quick blog update into my lunch hour, I can blog from home to my heart's content. Which could result in either some more detailed, interesting, photo-packed blogging, or late night ponderous rambles.... I'll try and stick to the former.

On which note, I've just been enjoying a little drama this evening, courtesy of the Bush Theatre and their production of 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover. Inspired by stories of break ups both heartbreaking and hysterical from members of the public, it has something of the handmade ethos about it. If you were at Latitude Festival this weekend you may have caught it there, if not I urge you to try and grab a ticket. Seriously funny stuff. Worth it alone for the rap song about a farmer with an inappropriate affection for his cow Daisy.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Pod for a Pea

To herald the arrival of a much-anticipated new niece for a good friend, I decided a little knitting was called for.

I only had a couple of days to whip something up and my codeine packed brain couldn't cope with anything too complex, so all hail the Debblie Bliss Baby Shrug pattern.
I stood for what seemed like hours in the middle of John Lewis, faffing about with colour options. With little girls, you just know they'll be a million pink gifts - and I know that this is not a pink kinda family in any case - so that was out. Purple seemed essentially pink in disguise; the red was too garish; the blue too masculine - arrghh, the agony of choice!

So, thank goodness for:

A happy little green pod fit for a very precious pea (well, when the weather gets cooler and she grows into it...)

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Recovery Knitting

A brief follow up to my last post - barely 48 hours post-op and thanks to the wonderboys of the NHS, I'm speedily recovering and feeling pretty good, all things considered. I'm also halfway through a top-down raglan in juniper alpaca and, despite some fairly hefty painkillers, not making too many mistakes with it either.

Many thanks to all the Ravellers with their helpful tips (both tooth and knitting related).

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Knitting Recovery

So, I’m off to hospital on Friday to have my wisdom teeth out. What fun. The only upside being that I get some sick leave from work, plus a couple of days holiday and will therefore have some free time to indulge in a spot of knitting.

Or so I thought.

Looking for suggestions for some simple, mindless patterns to follow from the comfort of my sofa, I sought advice from the friendly folk on Ravelry, thanks to whom I’ve now been fully informed on the terrors of ‘dry socket’, the pain, the agony, the tripping out on painkillers and the certainty that I’ll be incapable of anything beyond dribbling for several days. Thanks guys;)

Still, I’m remaining optimistic and reckon that even if I’m completely wiped out for a few days, I should be able to manage a little knitting action after that. So what to knit?

I’ve ordered some yummy Inca Mist Alpaca and some heavy duty Troon Tweed from Texere, but that may have been a bit ambitious – sweaters being complicated when you’re addled on codeine.

But I’m wondering about a very simple top-down raglan. Of course there are the increases to consider, before you hit the mindless round-and-around of the body, but I think I could probably do a fair amount of the maths before I’m knocked unconscious by the wonderboys of the NHS.

Or I could go with the Ravelry suggestion of the Moderne Log Cabin blanket, which is a good idea and nice and simple. But I don’t have a good selection of colours in my stash and once I’m feeling better it’s still going to take me months to finish something that big.

Finding the right project for the right occasion/mood/place is something of an intuitive art and one I often get wrong by over-complicating things, so will definitely try to keep it simple, whatever I choose in the end.

Guess I’ll have to see how I feel and play it by ear (or mouth)…

Tuesday, 8 July 2008


There’s a scene from Four Weddings and a Funeral that can give me nightmares: in one of the weddings, a man and a woman with a guitar and a tambourine sit at the front of the church and sing ‘I Can’t Smile Without You’. It’s painful. Torture. Hippy Dippy Hell. And it haunts me every time I play the guitar in public.

However, I think there are ways to avoid the perils of Kumbahya Round the Campfire. So, if people are having a good time (and preferably drinking a little) and ask you to play a tune, here are some ideas if you’re feeling nervous:

1: Play songs people know.
Then they’ll sing and it’s more like live karaoke and there’s less emphasis on your voice.

2: Play songs you know.
Stick to tunes you know you can play and you won’t have to keep stopping and starting as you forget the word/chords/how to do that awkward barre fingering.

3: Work out what suits your voice.
Personally, my voice sounds really quite ok as long as I stick to a fairly low register - I don’t have much range - so work with what you’ve got.

4: Use the people around you.
I have a couple of friends with wonderful singing voices and I know on some songs they’ll sing a harmony that will make the whole thing sound really quite flash and much more impressive than if I sang solo.

5: Discover the cheat songs.
By cheat, I mean the ones that everyone will immediately go gooey over/sing along to/proclaim to be their favourite song ever. Current classic of this would be Hey There Delilah by the Plain White T’s. Good songs that are pretty, not too hard to play and that impress your crowd. There are several modern classics that fall into this category – Hallelujah would be another example. If you're looking to impress someone of the opposite sex, these are usually the tunes to do it.

6: Go back to the good old days.
Like karaoke, this is a great excuse for the cheesy numbers that are great songs everyone loves. Time to bring out Hotel California, Killing Me Softly and pretty much anything by The Beatles.

7: Throw a curve ball.
Add in the odd song people probably won’t know but that will sound good in a non-mainstream, undiscovered-gem way. Often these are personal favourites that really suit your voice. Mine tend to be something like Stolen Car by Beth Orton.

8: Do a cover version.
Try an acoustic version of a non-acoustic song. My current favourite for this is Mr Brightside by the Killers. Or take someone else’s cover – Johnny Cash’s version of One by U2 is easy but impressive, or Joss Stone's take on The White Stripes's Fell In Love With A Girl/Boy.

9: Have a set-list.
Keep in mind a small list of songs that cover some or all of the bases listed here, then you won't panic if you're put on the spot. I have some standard songs that always seem to come out and the nice thing is that, after you do it once, people often request one of them the next time they hear you play.

10: Kill the Hippy.
If possible make sure your outfit contains no flowers, dungarees, gypsy skirts, or raffia. Try to keep beards and long hair within reasonable limits. Try standing, rather than sitting, to play. Never let your audience sit in a circle. Don't play anything that could conceivably be part of a Kindergarten end of term show. On no account give anyone a tambourine.