Saturday, 28 February 2015


My local knitting group was planning a roadtrip to a Unravled, a fibre-themed shopping weekend in nearby Farnham.  I dragged my heels....I don't need more yarn!....but hanging out with the ladies and chatting with the vendors and petting yarn is always fun, so eventually I relented.

Rather fortuitously, I lost my debit card a few days before the festival.  Between Sainsbury's and home it jumped ship, never to be seen again.  What luck!  Now I can't buy anything!   I don't think I'd ever been so giddy about waiting 4 days to get my bank card replaced.  I'd also like to take this opportunity to tell the world about the suckfest that is HSBC banking, as eventually, they sent me a card but it was a copy of the canceled one, so when I activated it and tried to use it, it was rejected and flagged as someone trying to use a stolen card.  How was I allowed to even activate that?  And when they sent me a proper new card, the chip malfunctions so I can't actually use it to pay for things in real life.  I guess when you are spending all your time helping the ultra wealthy avoid paying their taxes, you don't have a lot of time for the pleebs and their filthy issues.  

Anyway.  Unraveled.  With a car load of knitters giddy with potential purchase power, we headed to the 'burbs to Farnham Maltings, a lovely arts centre.  If I lived in Farnham, I would be here all the time- they seem to have loads of interesting events  and films.

The halls were pleasantly packed with really quality vendors of all types.

As kind of a cute thing, they had tags that people could write why they knit, and they hung them all over the place.  Unfortunately, the first one my friend and I saw said this:

Christ on a bike, really?  Also, lots of people wrote "so I don't kill people", and to see that handwritten made it seem like a threat and had us watching each others' backs for the afternoon.

There were lots of local indie yarn sellers- some had cult followings, and almost all of them were new to me.

I managed to snag a few carefully selected and fawned over skeins (and still have enough to get by for the week while I wait for my debt card to arrive) but I saw so much that I thought should come home with me.  Yarn is the new puppy dogs.

I have to explain when I say "retail therapy", I generally don't mean shoes and bags and frocks, but the raw materials to make socks and bags and frocks.  It's totally different.

But ah, the colors, the wool, the parade of knitwear fashion going by.  It was lovely to get out.  A perfect antidote for the February blahs (and appropriately, it was pouring rain out), a bit of retail therapy and a chatty good time.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

A Quilt Named Patchy

An impending disaster?


I have a nasty fat quarter habit.  Any time I see a bright and lovely bit of luxe cotton fabric packaged neatly with other bits of coordinating fabric, it comes home with me.  While I usually have enough for small projects- bags and throw pillow covers- I decided to go whole-hog and make a quilt.

I haven't quilted before, but I think I understand the theory.  Or, perhaps, ignorance is bliss.

I found some Rowan and Amy Butler fabric on sale recently and pounced on the bin. I had a rough idea of a pattern and decided to go with blues and greens- vibrant and lovely- and matched it with some other scraps from Kensington and Liberty that I've been saving up from various projects and clearance sales.  I had decided that I didn't want anything too matchy-matchy or geometric.  This thing would be all over the place (the better to hide mistakes!).

A couple of books and youtube videos later and I had cut the pieces and laid it out-  I found a pattern from Amy Butler's book "In Stitches" that I followed roughly for the quilt top.  I had to patch together some scraps to make all the pieces fit, as this pattern called for bigger chunks of fabric and I had mostly fat quarters to work with.  Hopefully this will be my summer blanket, as I don't have one and last summer I just used the duvet cover sans duvet as a blanket.  How uncivilized!

Most people who quilt seriously seem to have a "quilt wall"- a tacky bit of fabric on the wall where they can arrange their pieces, stand back and admire it and arrange the squares as needed.  I slummed it and used the bed.

Everything is pieced together, and I've pinned some more scraps on top as overlays.  I've ordered some cotton wadding and found a big 4.5 meter piece of contrasting fabric (on sale!) for the quilt back and edging.  Once I get the wadding, the whole thing will be sandwiched together and quilted on my standard Singer.  Somehow, I'll make this work even though I don't have a special "long arm" machine that would allow more fabric to be rolled up and fed through the machine.

This is might be the lumpiest and most unsightly quilt ever, but I won't know until I give it a try.   The suspense is killing me.  

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

FO: Noble Cowl

A quick but luxurious little lace cowl....

It's the yarn that makes it.  A luxurious, brilliantly dyed (yet sadly discontinued) skein of Schaefer Yarn Helene, a super soft and shiny single comprised of merino and silk.  Heavenly.  Cuddle it close and never let it go.  

 The colors are brilliant- reds, pinks, peaches.  Reds are the toughest color to photograph, so I feel like this really doesn't do the subtleties in tones justice.

Originally, this was going to be for a friend "in the know", who would totally notice that I failed to make a gauge swatch before beginning, running out of yarn before I could finish the last lace repeat and unceremoniously cast off the cowl failing to make a full repeat.  Chop chop!  Should have gone down a needle size.  It still looks just fine....I wasn't about to rip the whole thing back or anything.  My solution was simpler:  simply gift it to someone less likely to notice who doesn't read my blog.  Genius, I am.

The pattern is called the Noble Cowl, and it is free.  It makes for a lovely gift and only took me a couple days to whip up.

Monday, 23 February 2015

FO: Athena Sweater

A quick summer pullover.  Completely nonsensical and unseasonable.  Yup.  That's what I think I'll knit.

I needed a quick break from my current projects, this yarn was annoying me with all the space it was taking up in my stash bin, and a week later I had a very 80's beachy pullover.

 I kind of felt for a beach day, so I created a beach cover-up.  Too bad I twirled around once and had ENOUGH ALREADY of being out in the cold with this on.  Not that it was a terribly cold day, but just not t-shirt weather.  

I don't think it's the most flattering thing I've ever knit, and due to its construction, it's kind of hard to alter.  You knit it from sleeve to sleeve, with the ribbing added later.  So- no waist shaping, no option to shorten of lengthen.  As it is, I made the smallest size the pattern offered up, and it is quite big.  I mean, it's supposed to have some ease, but batwings are in, right?  RIGHT?

 Ultimately, I think it will pair with a bathing suit and a sarong quite nicely, and naturally, some sort of perfectly icy spiked drink in a red cup.

 Also, I'll be perfectly tan, but not unhealthily so.

Wishful thinking, this is.  But alas!  The end of February is in sight.

The pattern is Athena from the Rowan All Seasons Chunky collection.  It used 6 skeins of the aforementioned All Seasons Chunky in the color Dune- it's a weird, highly twisted ropy cotton that makes for instant gratification and nearly impossible seems.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

A Smug I Spy...

Sorry for the absolutely atrocious photo quality here, but I totally saw daffodils in bloom yesterday.   

Winter will probably rain down like hellfire now that I've posted that.

Maybe it was luck, but winter was really anticlimactic here.  The worst part of it was waking up and going to work in inky blackness, and having the sun come to a full stop at 4pm.  The three months of ultra-short days and dim northern sun was killer, and one week it got cold enough to get icy.  That was it so far.  Kind of boring.  I'll take boring.

Meanwhile, reports from Maine lead me to conclude that packing up and moving from that state is the wisest thing I've ever done.

Stay toasty.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

February. Blah. Blah. Blah.

For the first time in months, the sun started streaming through my bedroom window this morning.  It's finally high enough in the sky to illuminate my flat once again, which is an event that hasn't occurred since November.  It feels like a victory of sorts: the winter blahs that absolutely everyone has right now (ah, except for you Aussies and Kiwis) have an end in sight.  While there is absolutely no end to the photos of piles of snows that I'm getting from friends and family in the Northeast, I have confidence that there is green grass hibernating under stacks of snow.  It might just be another month before you see it.

I haven't taken my camera out in more than a month now.  I should just.

London continues to grow on me, despite the yawning maw of a sinkhole that is developing under my window.  Something to do with the water main.  I'm sure it will be really quiet to fix.  I'll hardly know they are working.

More soon- I feel I have a lot of creativity right now, but no way to organize it.

Stay toasty.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

FO: Riddari, with an acceptable amount of buldge

I have spent way too much time on this beast.  

The actual knitting took me no time- maybe two weeks start to finish?- and it looked just dandy until I took the scissors to it.

The idea of it was an Icelandic-style jumper done in 100% British Wools:  it was fascinating to combine these wools, to get a feel for each one.  The Black Welsh was the roughest to work with- it's rustic and full of lanolin, but it will look like new forever.  The grey Suffolk was a bit softer, but I obsessively picked wires of guard hairs out of it.  The moorit Shetland, lovely and lofty, the BFL silky and soft.  Each is their natural color, making a nice sample of the natural variety of colorful sheep.  I dubbed this "the Cod Wars" sweater- the UK had a series of bullying encounters with Iceland over fishing rights in the rich waters around Iceland, and from the 1950's to the late 70's, the UK would send trawlers there under the protection of warships to fish around Iceland.

 Like I said, the problems started when I took the scissors to the front.  See, the pattern was written for a much lighter weight yarn, but I loved the yoke pattern so much that I did the math and followed the instructions for a child's extra small size knit in a rather tight gauge.  The fabric is dense and impenetrable to wind and water, but perhaps a bit to warm for anyplace but Iceland.  A bit of air conditioning was in order and I decided to run a crochet steek up the front, snipped it into a cardigan and installed a vintage brass zipper.  That's when I started having big problems.

The zipper would not lay flat, creating big lumps and bumps up the front.  Huge ones.  After twice hand-picking and trying to ease the lumps out, frantic calls to tailors and friends were made.  I debated trying to sew it back up and save it as a cardigan, but the colorwork would have looked all wrong.  I decided to outsource, and took it to Susan at Sharpworks down in Herne Hill.  Susan wouldn't do it for me, but advised me to take out the crochet steeks, which was adding a tight line of stitches and extra fabric that was distorting things.  She also advised me to stretch the fabric taught along the zipper to minimize the zipper tape bunching.

I went home, took out the crochet steeks, and eased the zipper in one more time, trying to stretch out the lumps without turning it into a dress.

Ta dum!  An acceptable amount of bulges!  Since I had to stretch the fabric, it's a bit longer then I intended- I could have stretched it more and ended up with a dress.  It's not perfectly flat, but it doesn't look like a tumor is growing under there either.  Oh!  and it's warm enough to be outerwear.  And you know, now that I've been struggling with this for more than a month now, I've noticed that a fair amount of commercially made zip-up sweaters have zippers that don't like perfectly flat as well, so instead of drowning in a river of tears of frustration, I said this is good enough and walked away.

The kicker?  No way no how are Icelandic Lopapeysa traditional to Iceland.  They were developed in the 1950's to make use of the abundance of Icelandic wool, and they are based on styles of traditional knitwear from far-off places suck as Turkey, Sweden, South America, and Greenland.  They quickly became a favorite of tourist and locals alike.

 I do need to clean up my edges a little bit more- I don't have a perfectly clean line running up the front.  What's a few more hours with needle and thread?  I promise you I won't un-pick the zipper again.  Part of the raggedness around the edges are due to the fact that I've tinkered with this way too much and edges began to fray at the same rate as my temper.      

 It's not going to get cold enough here in the South of England to ever need something this fantastically wooly.  A trip to Iceland is in order, or perhaps, one day, a Maine winter will be endured.

The pattern is Riddari.  The yarn is Rowan British Sheep Breeds Chunky, a yarn much bulkier than what was called for in the pattern, but I've been determined to knit down my stash instead of reaching for my bank card every time the urge to knit a sweater hits.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

FO: Shwook

Back in October when I visited the Knitting in Stitching Show at Ally Pally, I mostly behaved myself as far as purchase power was concerned and walked away only burdened by a few small skeins of Jamiesons Shetland in tow.  It seemed serendipitous: having just returned to civilization after a very long walk through Scotland (but nowhere near the Shetland Isles) and I felt the need for an after-the-trip souvenir, since the only thing that I bought in Scotland ended up being cold meds to ease miserable flu symptoms on the train ride home.   Backpacking makes you weary of every extra ounce you are schlepping.

But I love to work with Shetland, and I do love colorwork in small doses (a pullover this colorful and picky would be my personal hell).  I picked a hat pattern to go with and resolved that these five green skeins would not be sitting around in my stash for years.

Speaking of backpacking, I did want a really warm hat that would cover my ears completely.  This one fit the bill nicely: a generous slouch, with the strands of colorwork carried in back to make it extra wind-resistant.

It's cheerful in shades of chartreuse and sage, willow and ivy and eucalyptus greens.  My only complaint?  I should have done the brim doubled: folded over with a picot edge to give it extra warmth and a polished finished edge.  Just having ribbing on such a complex colorwork pattern is about as fitting as putting a Honda Civic medallion on a Rolls Royce.  

The nifty thing is that this used up very little yarn.  Meaning, if I juggle the colors a bit, I have plenty of yarn leftover for another similar hat.  

But, sigh.  My resolve of walking through the winter has somewhat failed me.  The vanity of having new boots (NEW BOOTS!) that I'm unwilling to walk through bog with yet, coupled with the tiresome gray skies and drizzle cold means I've been quite the homebody in my free time, but whipping up some fantastic things in the kitchen and furiously scheming the next few bank holiday weekends.  Meanwhile, I grow comfortingly fat on dry Manhattans and thick, hearty Lebanese lentil stews, waiting with a mixture of excitement and dread the day a large hill rears up directly in my path.

The pattern is called Shwook- it's a free pattern to celebrate Shetland Wool Week 2014, and it's still available on the website.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

London in a week

It's funny that I have an attitude towards Central London very similarly to what I have for Times Square- avoid at all costs.  Unlike Times Square though, once I am in Central, I realize it's actually kind of pleasant.

It's rather beautiful in its mesh of old and new, and being huge and sprawling means that tourist are not crowded so densely in a few areas, but spread out over a few miles.  Yes, there are tourist stopping erratically to take selfies every few steps when you hit a big monument, and people with cameras held up on sticks narrating videos while holding up the working masses on Oxford Street (whom I have so far successfully suppressed the urge to punch) and a few drunk party bikes holding up all manner of traffic, but for the most part, you can be in London and feel like people live there and work there, and with a little bit of an impatient pace, you can feel like you are part of that rather than just an observer.  

 It's a real treat for me to have guest in town to show around.  It's the only time I get to see the landmarks and check out what's going on around town.  Otherwise, I stay firmly south of the river, with occasional darts up to Dalston or Angel to meet up with friends and check out places to eat in more vibrant neighborhoods then what's around the flat (I only have the sort of fried chicken joints that indiscriminate drunks tend to frequent, and the bones of countless chickens are discarded along the sidewalks nightly).

Despite the January days being so brief, we hustled and got out of the house early every day, and the timing worked out well: instead of being dog-tired at the end of a long day, we were just moderately beat after a short one.

Besides, winter in London isn't nearly as cold and blustery on the east coast.  It's damp, and frequently grey and featureless, but it's only been icy a few times in the mornings so far, and nary a snowflake to be seen in years in the Southern part of the country.  It's good advice to dress warmly and expect rain, but it's no where near as terrible as it's made to seem, as the locals complain noisily at each drop of a degree on the thermometer.  But ah, green grass!  In January!  It makes things so much less bleak.

A couple things were new to me:  on the way from the Tube to the Tower of London, I happened to glance down and alleyway and spied something interesting, which ended up being a bit of the original Roman wall that surrounded the square mile of the city, now surrounded by hotels and large-scale construction projects, but somehow tucked away and preserved and infrequently noticed.

 The Tower itself is well worth a visit.  I hadn't been since I was first a visitor here in the early aughts,  it being the first castle I had ever had the pleasure of visiting on my first trans-Atlantic voyage.

It's a sprawling complex inside the walls, with lots of towers and odd rooms to explore, and a really hyped exhibit of the Crown Jewels where they plop you onto a moving walkway to spy, keeping the lines industriously moving.  

 It's well worth it to be taken around by a Yeoman.  These guides are funny and knowledgeable, and they get to live in private quarters onsite with their own private pub, and spin colorful dramatic yarns of residents past.  If you are going to be a tourist, then be a tourist!

For over 900 years, the white tower has been a famous landmark, revered and dreaded and the site of unjustly imprisonments and the executions of queens.  

Today, it's a working museum, with loads of military types trotting around with much ceremony.

 You also can't  eat well without stopping into Borough Market.  I like to take people there right before lunch with the thought to pick up ingredients for dinner, and have a good nosh while wandering around.  Cornish pastys, sausage rolls, goat gyros, fresh seafood paella, good crusty bread and oodles of fresh vegetables make this a place I can't afford to eat every day, but it's just fantastic when you have friends in town who aren't opposed to a little fat in their diet.  Even better to introduce them to a perfect Scotch egg.  It's standard pub fare here, but when it's done with a bit of love, it's really fantastic: a hard boiled egg (rid of its shell, of course) that is given a coating of sausage meat before being breaded and deep fried into a golden fatty mass of eggy goodness.  Like the standard bodega egg-on-roll breakfast sandwich in New York, these are as satisfying a gutbomb as any.

 I avoid the market on Saturdays though- it's just impossibly packed, and more people taking pictures of the artfully displayed produce, and very few actually seem to be supporting the vendors.  

The museums are the best attractions in winter, and people are always a bit in awe that they are all 100% free (well, except for exhibits, and those cost a mint) and you can just walk in off the street into the enormous turbine room at the Tate Modern.  Even if you don't really fancy modern art, it's still a site to see: a repurposed power plant, gutted outfitted with galleries and enormous bespoke exhibit spaces.

I've found that a week here will let you scrape the surface a bit: see the main sites, take in some museums and culture, learn to love (or hate) the local beers, sample a good curry and seek out some decent pub grub.  If you have the luxury of spending two weeks in London (you enviable thing!) you can spend more time exploring the sprawling parks and hidden crags of nature if the weather permits, and start to get a feel for how each neighborhood feels like an individual village that just happened to get swallowed into a giant metropolis.

 While it doesn't have the storied romance or beauty of Paris, I really do love it here.