Monday, 23 February 2009

We interrupt our scheduled programming....

So, this whole not having a camera thing is actually pretty annoying. It means I can't show you the progress I'm making on the Tailored Cardigan or the Minimalist Cardigan (I know, I feel your pain and disappointment). I'm alternating between the two as they're both quite repetitive patterns. One's in a lovely, somewhat hairy, alpaca and the other in a crisp tweed, which is making a healthy dent in my stash.

Anyway, I can't show you either for the time being, so what else can we talk about? The weather? It's all gone depressingly tame of late, with not a snowflake in sight.

Given the lack of knitwear, I'll have to turn to this blog's other topic of choice, music. I'm currently enjoying Spotify, although I'm still trying to work out why the hell it exists in the first place.

For the uninitiated, you sign up for free, and can then listen to a whole load of music for nothing. It opens in a player that's set out a bit like iTunes. You can search for artists, albums and songs and there's a healthy amount of stuff on the site - although it's better if you have a wishlist, it's not really geared towards browsing. You can then add whatever you like to your playlist and it's stored there for you to play as and when you wish. Obviously you can't save it to play elsewhere, but if you just want music to play at home or the office, then you're sorted. With my laptop plugged into my stereo I'm discovering just why Robert Plant and Alison Krauss won that Grammy. I'm also trying to work out why the hell anyone cares about Lady Ga Ga (beside her crotch being thrust into our faces at every opportunity and the nuance of her lyrics - 'I wanna take a ride on your disco stick', anyone?) or the plethora of 80s synth girls who all seem to wish they were Annie Lennox or Prince or possibly an interesting combination of the two. So far all they're giving me is the urge to search for Prince's greatest hits (and lo, here they are with all their B sides in one handy album).

Not sure how it benefits the artists so far, I guess the hope is I'll go and buy an album after listening, but it's a good way of finding new gems, or checking out recommendations. The free subscription option does have adverts, but they're barely 20 seconds long and only crop up about once every 15 minutes - bearable.

It doesn't seem to have as many features, or the magazine look, of but it's an interesting development. With all this music available for free you can, at the very least, create your own radio station-style playlist, and save your pennies for the tracks or albums you've thoroughly road-tested and really love. And it's great to be able to try out new artists beyond iTunes' measly 20 second soundbite.

So, after all this research, here is stuff wot I listened to (the top half of the list being my preferred soundtrack, the others being curiosity):

Robert Palmer/Alison Krauss
Alela Diane
Ane Brun
Emiliana Torrini
Angus & Julia Stone
Rosie Brown
Sufjan Stevens
Sigure Ros
Lily Allen
Lady Ga Ga
La Roux
Little Boots

Whatever your musical tastes, I heartily recommend you go forth and Spotify...

Monday, 16 February 2009

Sans Camera

Just as well I included plenty of pictures in my last post as I'm currently without a camera. Yet another justification of the fact that I rarely leave London - I went to the countryside to visit a friend for her birthday (good god it's dark out there at night. I mean proper, actual darkness. You simply don't experience that in a city.) and left the camera sitting on her dining room table, idiot that I am. Which means I have no pictures of The Beast; the Jabberwocky of Jumpers, that took me almost five months and two false starts to complete. But it is done. Honest. Scouts honour. (Actually I was a Brownie, but the oath still counts, right?).

For those not on Ravelry, this was the Seamless Hybrid sweater from Elizabeth Zimmerman's recipe book. And it is a fabulous pattern but good grief you have to be seriously sober, attentive and armed with a very good calculator and possibly a degree in structural engineering. Deciphering her chatty, somewhat vague, instructions is not for the feint of heart, as you discover through the pain of experience that a technique she mentions casually, in passing, in one sentence midway through a paragraph about her children, is actually the foundation of the entire garment, whose neglect will cause the whole thing to morph into either a potato sack or hot water bottle cover. The saving grace is that even though some of the instructions may feel as though your brain is trying to translate Klingon, it actually makes sense once you, to borrow a phrase, just do it (speaking of which, my sister-in-law has recently acquired some Liberty print Nike hightops which are seriously fab). And there is a magic moment when you form the saddle shoulder, knitting and seaming the thing at the same time. The woman knows her stuff.

But it is done. And it is beautiful, even if I do say so myself, in green, jogless stripes. What is even more mind-boggling is that it actually fits my brother. When I have photos I can show you the sweater's one failing, which is that it doesn't sit entirely right at the back, as I couldn't raise the back neck enough (in brief, the shirt yoke across the shoulders raised the back neck, but is based on half the sleeve stitches you started with. Since I was working with a narrower sleeve, I got a narrower shirt yoke. There must be some way to solve this, but it wasn't a complete disaster and I couldn't cope with the thought of re-doing the sleeves at this late stage so, with a little stretching next time it's washed, it should be fine. Something to fix on the next attempt).

Despite the pain, I'd heartily recommend the pattern. Have a quick Google or Ravelry search to get the idea but it's a fabulously flattering design for men. I'm going to make another at some point but in a block colour and a lighter weight.

Anywho, in other news I have finished Plop, the Owls jumper. Well, Plop and his siblings are entirely done, I'm just finishing the neckline. Then it'll be a quick wash and he should be good to go. So far Project Polar is looking like a roaring success, but I shouldn't count my chickens, owls, or poultry in general, at this point. The only problem I'm having is finding buttons. The pattern calls for 32 of them, for the eyes of 16 owls (But of course! I hear you cry). I had thought the simplest thing would be to order them online but all the web-based button shops are full of novelty buttons, or lucky-dip mixed bags of buttons. Nothing close to what I'm looking for, alas. I would have thought the web would be awash with fantastic supplies but it's all looking very thin on the ground. Let me know if I've completely missed a really good UK supplier. I'm probably going to have to trek down to Libertys and hope they have something that will work with enough in stock in those little tubes. Then will come the joy of sewing on 32 bloody buttons onto an owls frickin' face (just whose bright idea was this, anyway?) at which point I may be less enamoured of our nocturnal pals.

They are damn cute though.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Project Polar

With the stark winter sunshine beaming straight through my window it seemed the perfect opportunity to get the camera out for a little knitting update.

This is part of Project Polar - nothing to do with arctic bear conservation or the weather - a couple of years ago I bought two big bags of Rowan Polar in the sale. It's lovely stuff - soft, squishy, knits up quickly on 8mm. And yet. For some reason everything I've tried to knit with it has been a disaster. I think the main problem is that it's so floppy. It's great for hats and scarves but jumpers just seem to become heavy, shapeless sacks. I knit them up, never finish them, or never wear them, and then frog them every few months and try again. Finally, I think I am onto something that might work. This scarf is the same pattern as the giant throw I made a month ago. It still needs blocking to smooth out the kinks from the yarn being knitted into other things so many times, but otherwise it's done.

This is the Icing Swirl Hat from Ysolda. Great pattern, quick knit, although my gauge was off so I knitted the larger size on bigger needles to get the small size. Two balls of my Christmas stash of Rowan Cashmere Tweed. It's so soft, drapes beautifully and is incredibly warm. I love all the flecks of colour hidden amidst the brown. The only problem is it's an awkward weight. It knits up on 6/6.5mm, so it's too chunky for aran patterns and not chunky enough for most bulky patterns. I've got another few skeins and I wanted to make a cowl. The simplest thing might be to just use the yarn over spiral from the hat.

Meanwhile Project Polar continues:

This is Kate Davies' Owls jumper - named Plop, obviously (see earlier post). I only started this on Monday night so it's knitting up incredibly quickly on 7mm. I've already done the body to the armsyce and half of one sleeve.

I know it looks tiny, but it's very stretchy and the finished jumper doesn't have any ease, so it's meant to be close fitting. My only worry now is that I'm going to run out of wool! I think I might manage it if I use every scrap I can find (after so many froggings there are lots of tiny balls a few metres long lying around so it's hard to judge how much I've actually got). If all else fails there appears to be at least one person on Ravelry who has some they're willing to sell. I really like the waist shaping on this - it's done at the back, rather than the sides, which you can just about see here:

Very simple but it makes a nice shape I think. And for those of you wondering what the hell I'm doing with all these when there's still the Beast to contend with, you'll have to look over on Ravelry. I'm almost there. Reckon I'll crack it over the weekend. I just hope it's going to be big enough....

Monday, 2 February 2009

Snow Day Continues

Well, it's a proper Snow Day now, since I got a call telling me not to try and go into work. Feel like a kid playing truant, although I do have some bits and pieces I can do from home.

Since I needed milk and since this kind of weather doesn't come along often, I decided to have a little walk in the snow with my camera.

My neighbours were already out and some serious snowman construction was underway:

And on my street everyone was stumbling on the icy pavement. But walking in the snow was great - rather like walking through a mound of icing sugar - and my feet sank satisfyingly up to the ankles. Of course I was muffled to the eyeballs in a hat, cowl and scarf, with my fingerless gloves enabling a few quick snaps:

This block of flats is handsome in any case but today it's looking particularly charming:

There was hardly any traffic on the streets considering it was rush hour and I feared for some of those tiny little tin buckets, weighed down with snow, creeping along the road at about 5mph. It seems others have had the sense not to try and drive today:

I couldn't believe it but I saw people cycling - or trying to. I just hope they're not looking for any directions:

Others have decided they'd rather not risk skidding across the road in front of a passing salt truck:

I know almost everything looks better in the snow, but St Leonard's is the one to beat today I think:

And after a brief hunt, I found the Dickensian lamp I was looking for:

Time for a hot cuppa...

Snow Day

It's snowing. I mean, real, actual snow. And I have proof (just in case you don't own a TV or a window):

This was the view from my living room at about 7am. Anyone reading this from outside the UK, or anyone who has moved here from afar, will no doubt be puzzled as to what's going on. Not so much that it is snowing (although that's rare enough) but our reaction to the snow. London has gone snow-crazy. Allow me to explain.

First of all, it doesn't snow in London. I mean not proper snow. The last time I remember decent snow was about 2003, when I didn't have a job, and could therefore spend the morning in the park with a couple of friends building a snowman (oh those productive months after graduation...) but it was pretty shortlived. Before that, I think you'd have to go back almost twenty years to some very cute snapshots of me as a toddler, running around Kew Green after a heavy snowfall.

Second, you have to remember Britain is a nation obsessed with the weather. Given our schizophrenic climate, you really do have to watch weather reports most mornings to keep an eye out for tropical heatwaves in October, heavy snow in April and, of course, the rain. But this is what happens when you're an island that gets a warm breeze from Spain one minute and arctic winds blowing in from Russia the next.

Thirdly, we don't handle snow well. Last year there was 1cm of snow in the city (yes, that's not a typo. 1cm.) and almost all the train services in and out of London ground to a halt. God it's embarrassing. We're the nation that produced Shackleton for god's sake, Captain Scott, Ranulph Fiennes. We're famous for our Blitz Spirit, our stiff upper lip - we're meant to be the team you want in a crisis with our cool, calm approach and endless supply of decent tea, but throw a bit of adverse weather at us and we fall to pieces. On the other hand, this all used to be a bit more fun. Go back a few hundred years and the Thames used the freeze over every winter and Londoners could enjoy the fair that popped up in the middle of the icy river. I'm guessing the issues of commuting this morning would be more entertaining if we could all simply skate down the river to work.

Which is why most of the morning news programmes are devoting all their airtime to the weather. And, to give them credit, coming up with some very beautiful pictures of central London. Lambeth Bridge looked amazing with icicles hanging from the wrought iron and glass streetlamps - all very Dickensian. It's the perfect postcard image, I imagine a lot of tourists are delighted. Hell, I'm loving it. Currently all the airports are closed (fair enough), all London buses are suspended (and no wonder, with a double length 'bendy-bus', that the rear end keeps sliding out of control every time they try and turn a corner - whose bright idea were those idiotic things anyway?) and the tube lines are suspended or delayed. So getting into work this morning is going to be fun, I'll have to take my camera with me.

But for now, I am drinking coffee as it slowly gets a little lighter, watching the snow and thinking of the aptly named Robert Frost.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though.
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep.
And miles to go before I sleep.
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost