Thursday, January 24, 2013


Hadn't made a great deal of progress on this by the end of last weekend; and then managed to lose the battery-charger for the camera (which was exactly where I normally put it; I've been off work for 3 days with a stinking cold which left me completely unable to think for the first day and a half!).  So here's a photo of the blanket tonight:


One row of ewes to go before there's steeking...  eek.  Must check I have a 3mm crochet hook.

The first set of the second batch of ewes was... interesting.  Knitted them on Tuesday, with a temperature, and must have tinked as much as I knitted.  If a row of Fair Isle sheep turns out abstract, you know there's something going wrong...  Knitted along to iPlayer versions of Bake-Off for Comic Relief on Wednesday and Thursday and made more mistakes but corrected them.  There is something so compelling about watching people bake things on TV.  I'm really looking forward to Ed Byrne competing in the last one...  Anyway, back to the blanket.

I've been reading up on Ravelry, and a lot of people found the edging was quite wavy and loose before strenuous blocking.  Looking at the instructions, you need to pick up 1 st for every cast-on/cast-off stitch and nearly 1 st for every row, which seems a lot to me for a garter-stitch edging where I'd normally skip one stitch every few depending on the weight of the yarn.  I'm also aware that my tension/gauge was slightly out on casting on, so I'll already have used a little more of the yarn than intended, and the yarn's meant to make both the blanket and a hat.  So I think I'm going to stick to my usual thing with 4-ply yarn, picking up 4 of every 5, and that should save me a small amount of yarn; my garter-stitch tension will already be looser than my Fair Isle tension, so that might make up for it...

Saturday, January 19, 2013

2013 books, #1-5

On the map: why the world looks the way it does, by Simon Garfield. London: Profile, 2012.

A history of mapmaking and the makers, but done in characteristically Garfield fashion.  You get the historical information, but also the curiosities around the facts which might make some of that information stick.  We find out about buccaneering contemporary map collectors, historical fakes, insanely brave figures and mapmakers who mostly stayed at home and made it all up.  Where maps enter popular culture, Garfield goes there as well - when talking about the Peters projection, he remembers the somewhat self-righteous attitude of those espousing the map in the 1980s alongside the wonderful Mapmakers for Social Justice segment of an episode of The West Wing.  There's also an interesting discussion at the end of geographical mash-ups and GPS monitoring which suggests that although me-centric mapping is now the global trend, it's not always an unalloyed benefit.

Dodger, by Terry Pratchett [audiobook]. Read by Stephen Briggs.  Oxford: Isis, 2012.

A fun piece of historical fantasy; Dodger is a fine character in the CMOT Dibbler line, and really, while there's some difference between 19th century London and Ankh-Morpork, there's so little that it's scary on occasion.  Charles Dickens, Benjamin Disraeli and Henry Mayhew make appearances; and the powerful sense of justice and social inequity which enrages Pratchett in all circumstances makes this a book which Dickens and Mayhew would recognise in its raging against the characters' situations.

The worst date ever: war crimes, Hollywood heart-throbs and other abominations, by Jane Bussmann.  London: Macmillan, 2009.

I can't remember where I saw the recommendation for this - I suspect it might have been in a Caitlin Moran article - but this was excellent.  I remembered Jane Bussmann from the Bussmann and Quantick comedy show on Radio 4, but hadn't realised she'd then ended up in celebrity journalism in Hollywood, failing to interview Britney Spears (twice) and being threatened with legal action by Ashton Kutcher's lawyer.  A combination of powerful self-loathing and an enormous crush on an international peacemaker lead Jane to Uganda and the war between the government and Joseph Kony, kidnapper of up to 30,000 children.  When she gets there, she realises nothing in the international relations arena is as simple as the press coverage.  By turns hilarious, heartbreaking and totally crass, this is a fantastic read.  Definitely not one for the easily offended though.

The guilty plea, by Robert Rotenberg [audiobook].  Read by Paul Hecht. Rearsby, Leics.: W F Howes, 2011.

One of the directors of a major greengrocery business is found stabbed in his kitchen the night before his divorce proceedings are due to start; several hours later, his estranged wife delivers the murder weapon to her lawyers, wrapped in a tea-towel from the kitchen.  It seems straightforward, but as Ari Green investigates, there are many puzzling elements.  I really enjoyed the setting for this one - Toronto - and will look out for Rotenberg's other books.  It's also an excellent reading with a Canadian, rather than US, reader.

The bones of Avignon, by Jefferson Bass. London: Quercus, 2012.

I really don't understand the appeal of books on the Turin Shroud/bones of Christ/Ark of the Covenant/Holy Grail etc., but they do seem to sell, so I suppose it's always worth a try for an author.  What I really, really, don't understand is why an established writing team like Jefferson Bass would dip its toe in that particular swamp.  I can only attribute it to the sort of curiosity which fuels so many episodes of Lassie or Skippy the Bush Kangaroo - the old planks haphazardly nailed to the entrance of the mine and the faded KEEP OUT signs are an obvious invitation to explore.

It's Jefferson Bass, so it's not horrible, although the closing scene is hilarious rather than suspense-inducing.  There's a terrible romantic premise at the beginning (hero races across the Atlantic to side of damsel in distress) which was done a lot better in The West Wing, and a lot of very nice Provençal scenery.  The plot is pretty uninteresting until the last 50 pages or so when it suddenly turns into the last few minutes of a Die Hard movie.  There is only one real teeth-gnashing moment in the author's knowledge of France, which isn't bad going - no wonder the only dish left in a Provençal restaurant in August is "reblochon" (actually, as described, tartiflette); it's a winter dish containing unpasteurised cheese from near the Swiss border 300 miles away, and not a local summer speciality...  Oh, and there's a lot of switching between the 14th and the 21st centuries.

As ever with this series, it's redeemed by the main characters and the rather strange relationship between them; if you've read the others in the series, it's worth persevering with this; please don't make this your first book by Jefferson Bass, though - any of the others is a better introduction to their usually sparkling style.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Towers in the snow

I ended up leaving work at 2pm this afternoon - the trains were slowly starting to get a little more dodgy-sounding, the snow had been coming down for 5 hours, and people living near home and halfway up the line were saying they had reasonable quantities of the stuff... and I was completely unable to concentrate on what I was meant to be doing...

It's been so long since I left for the day in the light!  And apart from that, I thought I'd take a couple of pictures of work in the snow... this is the little camera, but probably just as well - it was so slippery underfoot I'd have been worried about getting the big camera out.

First, here's the classic: the Elizabeth Tower, formerly the Clock Tower (as we're instructed to say at every turn, Big Ben is the name of the bell which tolls the hours); the tower was designed by Charles Barry and opened in 1858, and the bell was completed in 1859.


At the other end of the Palace, a marginally younger and somewhat larger structure - the Victoria Tower, also by Barry, opened in 1860 and housing the Parliamentary Archive.


The buildings at the other end of the London part of my journey home are also Victorian with clocks; first of all St Pancras (or, more properly, the Grand Midland Hotel which was added to the engine shed later), opened in 1873 and designed by George Gilbert Scott; more Gothic, this time in brick.  Gorgeous structure, and one narrowly saved by campaigners including Sir John Betjeman;  the station pub is named in his honour.


And one which is about to cast off its horrible 1972 concourse and show itself in its rather stark beauty; King's Cross station.  Surprisingly to me, this is the oldest of the four; designed by Lewis Cubitt and opened in 1852.  Network Rail's grand plans for this one should be complete at the end of this year; I think it's going to look splendid.


Looking at all these structures brings home to me how recent the current London landscape really is in comparison to, say, Cambridge's, and quite how much building work was being done in the 1850s and 1860s...  It's not surprising London is a real and vibrant character in Dickens's novels...

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Went to station this morning, stood there for a very long time waiting for either a train or a replacement bus, until I'd completely missed the time for the presentation I was due to give (I live 2 hours' journey, give or take, from work); came home...

At 2pm the trees outside looked like this: very Japanese print; very very cold still...


I've been working in fingerless gloves all day, with frequent breaks for refuge upstairs, where it's warmer, with the knitting.  I'll be working for another couple of hours...

Winter. Bah.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


More progress on the Rams and Yowes Blanket in this second week - one row of rams from the end of the second section, and well over halfway through the Fair Isle portion of the blanket (the centre is marked by the row of diamonds).  Really enjoying this!  It really is too big to be carrying around now though, so any progress made will be in evenings and weekends when I don't have that much knitting time...


Already looking at other Fair Isle projects in my pattern books and Ravelry queue...

Friday, January 11, 2013

A year in plain weave

The first chapter of Jane Patrick's superb Weaver's idea book: creative cloth on a rigid heddle loom is called "There's nothing plain about plain weave".  And this year has proved her right.  At Christmas 2011, I thought I'd do a couple of plain projects, and then start thinking about making something more fancy... Little did I know that I'd be going into 2013 with a number of plain weave projects planned...

The inaugural project was this table runner, made with some sari silk a kind Canadian friend sent me for Christmas, combined with a bamboo warp and some grey Jaeger Matchmaker DK from stash.  

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It came out shorter than I was intending, because I didn't realise that a) projects shrink, particularly if the warp is stretchy bamboo and b) there's quite a lot of waste at both ends of the warp; but it's spent a lot of time on the table this year and I love it.


The second project was a birthday scarf for the same Canadian friend.  I used a silk and wool blend with a sheen (green), and an angora blend (blue) in a 2 by 2 houndstooth pattern, and loved the drape of the fabric.


The learning point for this one was that a warp with angora in it is a Bad Idea from the point of view of having to de-pill it while you're working!


On February 11th last year, I spent over an hour standing on a station at -12C waiting to go to Kew Garden to meet knitting friends, before giving up (frozen points at Ely) and warping up the loom for the Not-Kew Scarf.


This was my first 4-ply project and I'd bought a 10-dent heddle for it - lots of leftovers for the warp, and a skein of Wollmeise for the weft; when I eventually got to Kew on April 21 to meet some of the same friends, I wore the scarf.

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The next project was for my Dad, and was the first of a sequence for much of the rest of the year.  I used a skein of Sanguine Gryphon Eidos, which I'd been warned wasn't robust enough for socks, as the weft, and a skein of Kaffe Fassett Design Line, along with some other bits and bobs, for the warp.


 Over the winter, I'd started looking at chaps' scarves, in particular those ones with the fine vertical lines on them, and realised that they had sort of twisted fringes which looked more masculine than the loose fringes, and didn't involve trying to work out how to make a hem.  So I tried that with the help of an online tutorial.  Turned out nicely; and the scarf (and Dad) went to operas in Berlin.


This idea of using a yarn with a long variegation for the warp took me through two projects: this one which used a skein of Noro Kureyon sock for the warp with the odd smidge of a Fyberspates yarn with stellina in it, and one of Knitwitches silk and baby camel in purples and black for the weft.

Picture 254

The Kureyon, being a single ply, also had the advantage of doing its own twirling for the fringes...

Picture 251

The logical step then was to wonder what would happen with Kureyon used for warp and weft; this one was for Jackie.  Strangely, this is one I don't have a picture of finished... but you can get the idea.  The long colour changes in the weft and the shorter ones in the warp make an interesting interplay.

Picture 278

A skein of Yarnscape "Dance" combined with some leftover sock yarn and some Jaeger extra fine merino 4 play made a scarf for Rosie's birthday - this was made in August but not handed over until November...



Another project during the Olympics was a laceweight cashmere and wool scarf for my Mam - Knitwitches pure cashmere for the weft, and KnitPicks Shadow laceweight for the warp and some weft stripes.  I bought a 12.5-dent heddle for that one, so am all set for everything but chunky weight!



Back to a colourful weft for a birthday present for Wibbo; this was nice to do during one of my weeks' holiday - I seemed to pick the worst weeks of what was quite a reasonable couple of months otherwise!


The weft on this one was a skein of Malabrigo sock - I love the way the warp just peeks out.


I went for a similar effect for tablemats for my cousins for Christmas - brightly coloured cottons with a pinkish-brown main colour. 


 For these, I did Italian hemstitching, which just about finished off my wrists...


Last project of the year was a slightly insane tartan, using a combination of non-feltable DK weight yarns combined with the odd strand of novelty bouclé; this was great fun to do. 


 I was aiming for something which looked like a plaid made for Helena Bonham Carter by Vivienne Westwood and was pleased with the result.


It went wonderfully with some handles salvaged from an old knitting bag which once belonged to Grandma.


Thanks to Jan Eaton for the last two photos!  Most of the weaving went on the bag, but there's a square left over which is big enough for a small cushion for me; will make that up when I find a cushion pad.

The next project is big, and also plain weave.  I've just noticed that I've only kept two of the projects so far, so this is going to be a blanket, in three pieces, for my bed.  I'm going to use the "mad plaid" idea, this time with superwash yarn; not attempt to match up the weave but try and keep the colour balance reasonably consistent.  If I can get some sort of balance it might be a bit like Kaffe Fassett's Crosspatch design... maybe... although I'd never pretend to have his sort of colour sense.

What I've enjoyed about the weaving is that there's some planning involved, but no so much that you get intimidated, and it's all about playing with colours.  Once you actually start weaving the weft, there are a limited number of choices to be made and it has a nice mechanical action like plain stocking stitch.  Immensely satisfying.

(And you use up a lot of stash doing it - never a bad thing!)

There are another four chapters of more complicated ideas in the book - I think it'll last me some time.  The absolutely wonderful Rigid Heddle group on Ravelry has been excellent for support, help and answers to questions I wouldn't even have thought to ask, too...

Sunday, January 06, 2013


Nearly a week's worth of the New Year gone, and the Christmas decorations have come down, with regret as ever.  Tiny Clanger has gone back to the small felted coracle on top of the bookcase she usually shares with her male Clanger companion, and I'm clearing the top of the dining table in preparation for warping up the loom again.

But I have a New Year's Project, the Rams and Yowes Blanket by Kate Davies; the kit was a Christmas present from my parents.  It's knitting up surprisingly quickly so far! There are some long floats (12 st) there, but I think I've kept the tension pretty straight up to now, and the central section has less solid patterning...


I'm counting the posts for this project in (one of the many versions of) traditional shepherd's count style....

Yan, Tan, Tethera, Methera, Mumph, Hither, Lither, Auver, Dauver, Dic, Yahndic, Tayndic, Tetherdic, Metherdic, Mumphit, Yahn a mumphit, Tayn a mumphit, Tethera mumphit, Methera mumphit, Jiggit.