Sunday, 31 August 2008

Thank you!

I've just passed 200 hits on the blog! Of course, I expect most of these are my mother. But still, thanks for reading!

Hope you're enjoying what's on here. I'd love to hear from you and if you have any feedback or comments on what else you'd like to see, drop me an email.

Use Your Hands....x

Friday, 29 August 2008

The WIP Factory

It may be a short attention span or over-eagerness or simply eyes-bigger-than-my stomach but I have WIPs all over the place at the moment - that's Works In Progress to you non-knitters.

So, what's actually going on back here? The fabulous Endpaper Mitts are still languishing having been abandoned many months ago. Love the colours though and will definitely finish these in time for the colder weather.

This is my very first attempt at colourwork, so I was a little scared, but it's a great pattern and not as complicated as I thought.

Next up we have the tweedy yumminess of Martha, a Rowan Studio pattern. Again a new challenge as I haven't tried such fiddly cables in such a small gauge before. Slow going but ok as long as I manage to keep track of which row I'm on. I've done the back, the left front and about half the right front, so I'm well on the way.

I love the yarn - Rowan Felted Tweed - which is so soft and textured. Given how expensive it is though it's not something I'll be knitting with again any time soon. And I suspect that this one may have to wait until the New Year to be completed.

Then, I've nearly finished the bamboo tape vest from Rowan Studio 10. The drape of this is lovely but it's a heavy yarn and in such a long top I'm not sure how well it's going to hang or if it's going to stretch.
Loving the simple pattern though and since I live in long, tunic style tops over jeans I'm expecting to get a lot of wear out of this one. Once I do the ribbing on the neckline and armholes of course, which I hate and which are fiddly.
And bringing up the rear we have the shame of Bianca. This is from Rowan Magazine 38 and a 4 ply cardigan. I started it over a year ago and have finished the back and a few inches of the left front. Although it's a sweet pattern, the original had beading in the centre of every X which I didn't want (all a bit fussy). And at a tiny gauge with a repeat that requires concentration but isn't very interesting, I find it hard to muster up the enthusiasm to keep plugging at it.

After so many hours work I'm loathe to frog it but I wonder whether it's worth keeping it. And now I'm not even convinced I'd wear the damn thing if I did finish it (and it's too small for me to give to someone else). Hmmm. We shall see. If I can find another 4ply pattern I prefer I may do a switch.

So there you have it. Could be worse I suppose, but then there's also a quick cardigan I'm making up to replace a much loved and worn out shop version. Trying to finish all my old bits and pieces before really kicking into the Christmas knitting but the temptations are terrible. I keep seeing things I long to make, but most of them are for me, so I'm just going to have to wait...

Monday, 25 August 2008

The Happiness

Nothing to do with knitting or making stuff or anything handmade at all. Who cares. Life is too short of perfect days like these.

Sorry, my flash seemed more interested in the roses than the happy couple. Although, most importantly, I did manage to get some shots of the fabulous frock:

There is one handmade connection I suppose, and that's the wedding present - I made them a Hemlock Ring Blanket:
(Oh, and I sang without falling over / feinting / setting fire to my guitar. Phew).

Thursday, 21 August 2008

One I Made Earlier

Have finally finished the Juniper Jumper. Loving the soft, silky and somewhat squishy Inca Mist Alpaca. Sooooo cozy. Don't really consider myself a perfectionist (quite the opposite really) but with fairly posh yarn I wanted to make sure I'd actually wear the damn thing. Just a simple top-down raglan, with some garter stitch thrown in but I did the waist shaping wrong, then the sleeves were too short and then too tight, so I ended up frogging the body once and the arms twice.Have also started on the Christmas knitting:
This is the lovely Wisp, which can be found for free on Knitty and Ravelry. I'm doing it with two strands of Kidsilk Haze to make it a bit heavier and more substantial. Loving the easy, quick pattern that still looks impressive enough for a present. Not telling you who it's for though....
And, between you and me, I finally finished this:

Sunday, 17 August 2008

In which I am bricking it...

Lovely Sunday lunch with all the family today. However, with only a week to go until the wedding, I was coerced, ahem, I mean coaxed, into a dress rehearsal. As well as playing/singing The Shining at my brother's wedding I'm also doing a brief intro featuring 'I Can Sing A Rainbow' for the benefit of my new 3 year old nephew. It's an interesting combination, one that I suspect Badly Drawn Boy didn't consider, and makes for a challenge as I attempt to seague from one to the other.

Anyway, it was a good practice run since I'm quite happy singing to my heart's content when alone; but put me in a room where people can hear me and my hands shake, my fingers slip and my voice wobbles all over the place. So it was helpful to get a serious bout of stage fright before the big day - at least I know what I'm up against. Fortunately my family really aren't all that scary and by the time I got to the end of the song (yes, I made it all the way through) it was starting to sound ok. Of course the trick will be starting off that way. Helpful relatives pointed out that I'll have plenty of time for quite a long instrumental intro, to get me over the initial panic, until I feel confident enough to start singing.

My uncle is an actor and an amazing singer and the fact that I played in front of him without falling over was a small personal victory. He was actually very encourging about it all and had a useful thespian tip:

Him: The song is a story, right?
Me: Yeah.
Him: So concentrate on telling the story and then you won't be nervous. And if you do start getting nervous then you'll know it's because you're not telling the story. Tell the story, you'll be fine.

Which was an interesting way to look at it. Hope it works.

Luckily I think it's going to be such a great day and a beautiful ceremony that, short of setting fire to my guitar, it won't matter much how it goes. Glad I've still got 6 days to practice though...

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

The Madness

So I'm thinking about Christmas. I know I know, it's still August for crying out loud, but any knitter out there will know exactly what I'm talking about: if you're going to knit Christmas presents you have to start early.

In what can only be described as a bout of insanity, I have taken to knitting all my Christmas presents. Yes, that's right, all of them. A couple of years ago, this was a rather sad sight to behold, as my lovely friends and relatives unwrapped an unspecified lump of fluff with a tactful (and non-commital) 'thanks'.

Last year I managed to redeem myself by making some pretty cool stuff, even if I do say so myself. I did a Cobblestone for my Mum's partner (his 'special' sweater which now lives in it's own moth-evading bag), a Minimalist Cardigan for my Mum (which she practically lives in), and various scarves of my own design for the men in the family (who have even been known to wear them on occasion). All in all, it was a hit, and luckily these are folk who have some understanding of how long it takes to knit something and were suitably appreciative I came up with anything half-decent.

So I have high hopes for this year. Can't be too specific of course since my family are some of the few regulars to my little blog, but I'll have to rotate the sweater recipients this year. Always seem to need to cater for more men that women, which is annoying as I feel there are less options. Either a sweater or a scarf and fewer choices in both categories. And of course the sweaters have to be enormous and therefore take a while. Although I have spotted some manly looking mittens on Ravelry (controversial I know, but they might just work for a certain someone). I did a hot water bottle and a cushion last year, which helped vary things a bit. If anyone has any other gift ideas please let me know, I'm going to need all the help I can get!

The problem with all this gift knitting of course, is that I can't knit anything for me over the next 4 months. And there are soooo many things I want to make. In a completely selfish, me-me-me! way, that little voice is whispering in my ear about all the lovely new patterns I've found on Ravelry; that bag of Kidsilk Night I got in the sale; that pile of Troon Tweed begging for a warm and cosy cardigan.


Because I know what will happen:

In a few weeks I'll overcome the selfish gene and knit away throughout the Autumn, thinking I have it all under control; a vision of self-restraint and focused energy, deserving three gold stars and a chocolate muffin.

Mid-November I will remember three relatives who are unaccounted for and will have a mass overhaul; re-allocating yarn, patterns and working out who's going to end up with the slightly duff hat I have to give to somebody.

Around the 20th December I will start to panic and knit solidly for several days, seeing no one and staying up til 2am, buggering about with seams, i-cord and button bands. This is also the point I will discover I am one ball short of something that must be ordered by post. (The only redeeming feature at this point is the fact that I will have worked my way through most of the '24' DVD back catalogue).

I will finish someone's present on Christmas Eve, someone else's will be seamed on Christmas Day and a third will have to be sheepishly deferred until the New Year.

By January I will swear that I am never knitting again.

By February I will stumble upon a half-finished sweater I was making for myself the previous August.

By March I will finish the sweater. Just as it is too warm to wear it...

But then, about this time, my Mum will tell me she wore her sweater to work, and several people asked her about it, and she beamed and told them her daughter made it for her. And somehow it will all seem worth it.

Now, what on earth am I going to knit for a 21 year old bloke who's 6'4''?....

Sunday, 10 August 2008

The Ornithologist

So I've been hard at work on the guitar this weekend, practising for the Big Event (of which more below). Sadly it seems I have no natural sense of rhythm, or maybe I just lack the hand-eye coordination necessary to pass the rhythm from brain to guitar, but I am quite proud of the fact that I've finally cracked a new strum pattern, in spite of this deficiency. (Funny how it's often the achievement of small goals that's the most satisfying).

I've been plugging away at a few tunes over the last few weeks and, technically speaking, I have written 7 songs, with another 2 in progress. It's mostly a learning exercise at this stage and I wouldn't dream of torturing anyone else's ears with my efforts. A couple of them aren't too bad and they're fun for me to play but we're very much in chick-with-a-guitar territory and they're all pretty generic.

All of this is by the by because what I actually want to talk about is the lyrics.

Lyrics are infinitely tricky things, as has been blogged about here before; so many pitfalls. Trying to be intelligent and interesting but not self indulgent. Original and quirky but not completely obscure. Simple and memorable without being clich├ęd.

I find I often start out with a promising idea but by the time I’m finished all I’m left with is a diluted and slightly bland version of what was in my head and, for some reason, a recurring theme about birds. Seriously, everything ends up in a bout of ornithology, it’s bizarre. They’re trapped behind a window, falling from the sky in flames, trailing clipped wings and losing their voices. If it weren’t for the lucky few managing to fly freely in the odd chorus I think the RSPCB would be onto me.

No doubt Freud would have a lot to say about it, but I’m sure most people attempting any kind of writing find this problem – a particular (and often easy) theme or image gets caught in your head and insists on surfacing. Plus words like ‘fly’, ‘flight’ and so on come in useful and crop up a lot when you’re trying to make something rhyme.

Before all these crows, larks and phoenixes start leaving droppings all over my songs and building nests in my brain (see, I’m doing it again!), I think I need to expand the repertoire. The problem I find is that ignoring the birdhouse in my soul doesn't help; it still keeps piping up and efforts to replace it end up feeling forced. So for now I'm going with the theory that my birds on the brain are there for a reason and if I can release everything in the proverbial aviary, maybe I can move onto other things. Or I may try the alternative and see if I can carouse them into something more coherent. If I'm going to write about birds then at least I can try doing it properly, with fewer obvious cliches. We live in hope...

Thankfully one song has nothing to do with winged creatures but then it's not one of mine. I'm playing The Shining by Badly Drawn Boy at my brother's wedding in two weeks. I'm playing it in a different key to the original (which is too low for my voice) but it's a very simple arrangement and the challenge has actually been trying to make it a bit more complicated before it gets boring to listen to. Since the original opens with a very lovely french horn section, and my brass band skills aren't what they used to be, I'm having to improvise. Today I worked out a modest intro bit that at least references the french horn and which I can then throw in again towards the end. Plus I'm now using a more complex strum, so fingers crossed. Now I all I have to do is sing loudly enough over the guitar, since I won't have a microphone on the day. So my lucky neighbours have had me belting it out all afternoon. I'm hoping they weren't home.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

The Big River Show

If you've happened to follow the blog link on the right you'll have discovered the escapades of Bill and Max.

These intrepid explorers have been sailing down the Mississippi River for the past couple of months, on a charming pontoon by the name of Evangeline, and posting a video blog each day, much to the delight of those of us needing a little cheering up in our office lunch hours. It's a wonderful glimpse of middle America and an iconic journey following in the footsteps of Huck Finn (though with rather more beer). It's also pretty funny.

They've caught the attention of CNN and some local news networks as they make their way down to New Orleans. And they've met some great characters; from the farmer contemplating his flooded crops, to the musician on the Mark Twain steamboat, to Dennis the cow.

However, now that they've changed course for the last leg of the journey, they're travelling against the current and having to motor their way ahead. So, if you enjoy the show, any donations towards their petrol will be gratefully received and they have a handy PayPal account so no need to try posting them pennies. (Not that I did that. Well, not once I'd weighed the envelope anyway.) Or simply drop them a friendly hello -

Quite the handmade adventure...

P.S. Having witnessed the enthusiasm of the (female) news presenters for the show, I should perhaps also mention that Bill and Max are 'cute', to use the local parlance, and frequently in a state of undress, just in case that should encourage you to throw them a couple of bucks...

Monday, 4 August 2008

Spread the Wool

Exhausted from the craziness of the Innocent Village Fete. No, I didn't get carried away with the welly wanging, or go running around Regents' Park duck herding (although, naturally, I was tempted). No, I've been casting on miniature woolly hats in my sleep thanks to 5 hours in the Big Knit tent. The basic idea was simple - every year Innocent sell their smoothies with little woolly hats on them. Bless. For every hatted smoothie sold, they give 50p to Age Concern to help old folks keep warm in the winter. Nice. So we were trying to get people to buy a little knitting kit and have a go at making their own winter warmer. Witness the happy knitting mayhem:

I had to take this picture when it stopped raining. During the downpours, I couldn't actually move to get my camera it was so packed with people avoiding the weather - I say people, but there were definitely a couple of damp dogs and, I suspect, a few of the cannier ducks in there too at one point.

Yes that is a box filled with itty-bitty hats. There was a competition to guess how many hats and win a case of Innocent Smoothies. (And yes, those are two fake and remarkably lifelike chickens on top of the box and no, I don't understand the reference either. In fact the whole hay-bale, checked picnic rug, rustic rocking chair vibe was rather lost on most of the I Knit crowd - again with this bizarre rural, ye-olden-dayes image, do they think all knitters come from Walton's Mountain? Nevermind, a rant for another day...)

My first attempt at teaching someone to knit was not a great success, you'll be shocked to learn. Turns out my longtail cast-on method is not suited to getting someone knitting in a short space of time. In fact it scares the crap out of them. So thank god for Claire, who kindly pointed out an oh-so-logical, foolproof and non-scary method. As with most things knit, everybody does it all a little differently and one of the fun things that day was simply watching how other people were knitting.
So armed with this new information, further attempts were rather less painful. At one point I had a group of 6 teenage friends on the go at once. Which sort of worked. But they all seemed happy to give it a go and soon the hats were piling up:

Although some people seemed to be taking a very relaxed view of the whole enterprise:

Still at least Innocent were encouraging their employees to get into the spirit of the thing. And I suppose he helped keep the wool dry...

We had enthusiastic young 'uns Not-so-enthusiastic-but-giving-it-a-go older 'uns

But the main thing is, we got lots and lots of people knitting
Yey. Spread the wool.