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.