Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Contains artificial colours. Hooray

Oh hooray, it is after Christmas and now I can actually start SHOWING YOU the things I make again, rather than just referring to them obliquely (although, all the mad things I was knitting/ crocheting? I don’t actually give them till New Year. So in the New Year we will do a big post where I show you everything, then we will move on emotionally and I will never mention it again, especially the granny square project after which I am considering counselling. Receiving, not giving). Hope you all had a lovely Christmas – we did, thank you very much, and I have eaten possibly my own weight in Christmas pudding (I think I am the only person in the world who actively likes Christmas pudding). Also I pulled a cracker and got a mini compass and I am delighted, as now I have discovered that when I watch TV I am facing True North. I wonder what that means in terms of Feng Shui?

Anyway. I made coconut ice. I made this because my mum likes it, so I thought at least it would have one fan. I knew though if I made it I would end up with a vat of it and it would take up all of the fridge, and thus it proved.
I fear I am exposing my lack of good fridge management
But I think it looks rather attractive.
It's actually rather nice. Probably because it's made almost entirely of SUGAR
You are probably thinking, how has Susie got it to be that attractive pink colour? Surely it must be through some kind of organic, natural means, possibly involving distilling essence of beetroot, or stewing plums, or combining cinnamon and turmeric or something similar?
You can see where I cut my finger. That's because our breadknife is so blunt I have to practically stand hitting the loaf with it and sometimes it gets me on the rebound
I am worried I am going down a bad path, as you can buy these paste food colourings for about £2.59 in Hobbycraft, and they give you a wonderful, intense colour. It is a far cry from having to mess about with a tiny bottle of cochineal, just a few drops of this and you get a proper, decent pink. Also they sell all sorts of unusual colours like turquoise and orange. I am sure they are very bad for you. But look at the nice pink! Think of the dramatic things you could make! (Bad path. Stop me now).

And I made a cowl for Aunty Maureen. I am 99.99% sure Aunty Maureen does not read my blog, but, Aunty Maureen, just in case you have a laptop of which I was previously unaware, please look away now, thank you.
I'll weave the ends in before I give it to her, it won't come with a bodkin attached
This is the candle flame cowl, and is a free pattern on Ravelry, here (easy, quick knit, doesn’t use much yarn, recommended!). I made it from some Malabrigo Worsted which I bought and knitted earlier in the year (it was a shrug), but, the shrug made me look truly terrible, so I decided to unravel it and use it for presents. I learned tubular cast-on and cast-off for this project (you could just do a normal one though if you wanted), so I felt that someone ought to come round to my house and present me with a knitting medal when I had done. In case you are ever tempted to try tubular cast-on and cast-off: for some reason, when you are transitioning from 2x2 to 1x1 rib (i.e. when casting off), you have to twist the stitches the other way (by picking from the front) to when you are going from 1x1 to 2x2 (i.e. when casting on, when you twist by picking from the back). That means nothing to you now, but wait, if you ever do tubular anything you will encounter the same problem I did and then you will think, wait, didn’t I read something about this at some point? On that blog where she clearly has no idea of proper fridge management and is harassed by cats and Hare Krishnas? Unless you are an expert already in which you will have read that and thought, God, she knows nothing. That is obvious.
Close up of stitch pattern. Nerd = me.
Anyway I do not know if Aunty Maureen will like it, but at least it will be an additional layer of warmth for when she is roaming in the early mornings, walking Jasper The Very Wiry-Haired Dog. So I am sure it will come in useful. And what more could one ask of a present? (Considers coconut ice, thoughtfully).

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

An Interview With The Gingerbread Lady

OK, I have an interview for you, this time with The Gingerbread Lady.
Killer bunny egg cosies. Let us all pause to appreciate the mind that conceived this idea
Now. I try not to be prescriptive, but I am going to have to insist that you read The Gingerbread Lady’s blog because she is very funny, and not only is she a fine crocheter and knitter who actually gives you helpful things like patterns (you see, not like me, although if anyone ever needs a map of Cambridge with all the liveliest cats marked out I’m your woman), but she alerts we crafters to little-known dangers. Who knew about the Yarnpire before the Gingerbread Lady did her exposé? And I am exactly the kind of person who would be targeted by a Yarnpire {looks at Partner suspiciously}, so I feel this is vital for me to know. Who knew about the horrors of the exploitation of the mermaid and her fluffy buttocks? I see the Gingerbread Lady as a brave investigative journalist, braving the frontline of the crafting world to bring us the stories, not shying from controversy, and also updating her blog often enough to stop her mother complaining, which as many of us know can be a challenge. (And for those of you/ us in the throes of Christmas knitting, let us just revisit this post from Knitting and Crochet Blog Week and weep quietly with self-knowledge). Anyway, the Gingerbread Lady agreed to do an interview for me so we could explore some of these issues in more detail, for which I am very grateful. Take it away, Gingerbread Lady.
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1/ How do you manage to crochet big things with hundreds of motifs and then sew them together without killing people? Multiple times? Have you achieved a higher level of zen than me, and if so, how can I achieve it too? 

An example of the kind of thing she has made that would finish me off
I tend to like patterns that involve a lot of colour changes (had you noticed?) and I like choosing the way the colours work together. In fact, to be honest, sewing hundreds of motifs together doesn’t particularly bother me. [Note from me, you see: higher level of zen. Off I go to study my book of Hare Krishna mantras, perhaps the ones at the end deal specifically with crochet. Ommmmm…]. Maybe because I tend to crochet larger projects in panels, so I have a sense of satisfaction when I get one panel done - I look at each panel as an individual piece and then try to work out how it’ll look as a whole. Essentially, it’s like a massive jigsaw – but with an element of unpredictability. If I were the kind of organized person who worked out a colour chart beforehand (and I’m not. For the Réalta blanket I had to reverse engineer the colour placement from photos in order to create the chart that comes with the blanket), I would work out a harmonious colour scheme and work faithfully from it. I don’t. I take clashing colours as a personal challenge and try to bend them to my will with a 5mm hook.

The short answer to this question, though, is that I was probably Amish in a previous life. Mr Gingerbread and I recently watched a documentary about the Pennsylvania Dutch and, midway through, he turned to me and said, “You really want to move in with them, don’t you?” Sadly, I do. I would not be scared by the thoughts of hand-sewing a bazillion-piece patchwork quilt. And I would rock canned tomatoes like nobody’s business.

2/ I love your Yarnpire series (although I was a bit worried at the implication in the first one that it wasn’t, in fact, a good idea to seek out smouldering men with an aura of misunderstoodness and then try to fix them, as you would be surprised how many of my relationships this casts into doubt). How can we, as yarncrafters, recognise a Yarnpire before it is too late and we discover them in flagrantis, nibbling ecstatically on our Malabrigo semisolids?

A very good question indeed, Young Susie. Essentially, we female crafters have to be on guard at all times. There are some telltale signs, though: you mentioned the aura of misunderstoodness. This is a crucial element of the Yarnpire and if you break it down, you will notice that the general misunderstoodness is highlighted in physical form by several key elements, e.g.

… floppy hair

Biologically-speaking, floppy hair in men seems to unleash some wild rush of helper hormones in women. They see the floppy hair and they become overcome by desire – and it seems to be a freaky mix of a desire to ravish them and mother them at the same time. Hugh Grant cashed in on this trend in the 1990s and Justin Biber seems to be doing so today – quite frankly, I have to put his success down to the floppiness of his hair because I can’t see any other reason for it. Elvis Presley had a controlled floppiness in the form of a gelled quiff, which went down a treat with the ladies. But please note: Elvis also had two other crucial Yarnpire elements, namely

… the ability to raise an eyebrow quizzically and a tight-lipped sneer

Which are terribly important. They project a kind of stand-offishness which does not repel women but rather makes them want to pelt the Yarnpire with their cashmere-soya mixes. Clearly, as a woman, you presume that the Yarnpire is struggling with his inner desire for your person, when in reality he is mentally inventorying your entire stash and trying to decide what to eat first.

… and a cloak.

Superman. Zorro. The Phantom of the Opera. The blondie elf from The Lord of the Rings. All men that clearly project a need to be fixed by the lurve of a good woman. 
A handy guide for you to print, cut out and keep in your purse because you never know when one will strike
3/ This is the controversial question. Obviously you’re the intrepid blogger who exposed the plight of the mermaid, inhumanely harvested for her bumfluff, and I think that really got the Bumfluff Issue put firmly on the eco radar. But there does seem to be a lot of emphasis in contemporary yarncraft on‘valuing your work by using the best materials’ which sometimes seems to me to exclude anyone who is on a limited budget or who wants to make something enormous. What do you think, and what are your favourite yarns to use?

When I marry my next husband – a floppy-haired, mealy-mouthed, be-cloaked millionaire – I will make sure that my 2-metre by 1.5-metre blankets are made of mermaid bumfluff. In the meantime, I’ll stick with acrylic for my bigger projects. There’s a place for every kind of yarn and I’ve been known to use everything from 55c acrylic from the local supermarket to €20 silky merino. [I wish we had 55c acrylic… I wonder if they have it in Aldi?] What I don’t like is the snobbery involved: I hate the pretentiousness and the speshulness of crafters that try to devalue others’ work and – boomerang compliment ahoy – elevate their own work based on their yarn choices (“I mean, acrylic might be good enough for you, but I personally only work with merino because, well, I tend to knit more high-end stuff.”)

I don’t have a favourite yarn, but use a lot of Bravo Schachenmayr (our standard acrylic yarn) for blankets, and have an extensive collection of beautiful German sock yarns that utterly belies that fact that I cannot knit a sock for love nor money.
An extremely sensible use for sock yarn
4/ Colour. You like it. I like it too. a/ Does your mother like beige like mine does, and, if so, do you think we’re enacting something terrible and Freudian, b/ what inspires you to put your colour combinations together?

No, my mother has no special leanings towards beige. Or, if she has, she has kept them hidden. Like me, she tends to be type of person that attracts fluff and stains (we pose a particular kind of attraction for liquids), so we’ve never been able to wear beige or white without inadvertently creating a camouflage pattern with a cup of coffee and a wayward chocolate éclair.

     What inspires me to put my colour combinations together? Contrariness, mostly. I just pull out a dozen skeins and wonder what on earth they’d look like if I crocheted them all together? Often they are so spectacularly ugly that they veer back up the scale towards ‘interesting’ or ‘compelling in a weird way’. This is very exciting to me and one of the reasons why I can endure sewing together 150 tiny motifs: I have to see if it’ll work. At the moment, though, I am working on a very demure crazy patchwork blanket in subdued autumnal tones with – guess what? – lots of beige. 
Not beige!
5/ Various people keep writing articles, don’t they, about how a/ handmade is naff b/ crafting is unfeminist, and we all grind our teeth and go and knit/ crochet something or bake an ironic cupcake just to be awkward. Is this an attitude you’ve ever encountered in real life, and how do you think the public perception of crafts has developed generally over the last few years?

You know, this is something I’ve been thinking about recently because I’ve found it to have changed dramatically in the space of the last 12 months. It may have to do with the fact that (apparently) I’m getting older and my crocheting/knitting no longer seems at odds with, say, my astonishing youth (= because it’s gone.) Whereas before people used to raise an eyebrow and make some comment about all the free time I seem to have, nowadays more and more people admire my ability to knit and crochet and finger my stuff enviously. It might have to do with the recession and the media-wide brainwashing that we all ought to returning to a simpler and slower time (a simpler and slower time that includes high-speed internet, Twitter and smartphones, of course). Not that I have a problem with that: I think it’s great that programmes like Kirstie’s Handmade Britain have hit such a mainstream nerve. It makes me feel dead cool – decoupage? Yeah, I’ve done it. And papier maché? Puh-lease, I can whip up a bucket of wallpaper paste faster than you can say “Rip up newspaper”. As for the dark needle arts? I a yarn wizard, people. 

[Note from me, Dan and I were saying recently that one of the best things about getting older is suddenly you can do whatever you want without worrying what people think and this is true. When I was in my 20s I was cool and was a Secret Crafter, now I wander round Hobbycraft with pride thinking, hmm, mosaic placemat kit! Excellent idea! And stay in at night reading recipes for Things To Do With Elderflowers].

6/ I imagine everyone and their dog says this to you, but, your blog is just hilarious. What motivated you to start blogging, and what’s your favourite thing about it?

I used to – and still do – contribute to various crafting forums (fora?) and December two years ago, a post I’d written provoke a number of responses from people asking me to start a blog because I was “so funny.” This is not really how I see myself. In fact, I think I must seem like a very serious person, because one of the things I’ve heard a lot over the years is, “You know, you’re actually quite funny!” -delivered in a tone of shock, kind of like, “Galileo, you’re right: the world is round!” However, I am very easily amused and am entranced by the ridiculous. That’s why I like your blog, actually, because I suspect that you are, too. [thank you ;-) ].

My favourite thing is the fact that you build up a relationship with your readers, you recognise names and read their blogs to learn about their lives. It’s very … nice. When I first started blogging, it felt like I was shouting into an empty room. I am still immensely flattered that people other than my parents read my blog and I still feel almost shy when someone leaves a comment.

7/ What other crochet bloggers/ designers do you admire? Show us some crochet porn. (I mean metaphorically - let’s not google that, though).

This is going to make me sound horrible and snotty, but I don’t have a favourite crochet designer. I’m more interested in looking at other stuff, non-crochet elements, for inspiration. For example, Arabian tiles or Celtic knotwork. I also love the crossover from other crafting areas: I think I’m going to buy one of Kaffe Fassett’s quilt books for Christmas (Happy Chrimbo to me!) because I think there must be a way to recreate something as beautiful as his quilts using a hook and some sock yarn. It’s just a hunch; we’ll see how it pans out in the New Year.
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Thank you very much, Gingerbread Lady, for being interviewed: I think we all learned something there. I’m forced to reveal now that although Partner does not have floppy hair (because I cut it and I can only do the one style), he does have a sneer, and, in his youth (we have an age gap), he was a punk, and he wore a big black cloak and a dog collar (the leather studded kind, not the vicar kind). So I am extremely worried, and I think I am going to have to monitor the situation. I had better keep reading the Gingerbread Lady’s blog.

OK. Off to deal with the recycling, oh the glamour. Happy Solstice everyone!

Beset. On the Solstice.

I don’t know if you think I make this up but I don’t.
Looking at you looking at me looking at you
Just after I had taken this photograph after going into town earlier (I do understand this is odd to start with, going round photographing cats), this cat bounded across, leapt onto the dusbins, miaaaaaowed me over, stood up, put its paws on my chest and licked my nose. And this after I had fended off a Hare Krishna nun with a gold nose, although not very successfully, as I now have a copy of the Hare Krishna Mantras and she has the last of my cash which I was wandering off with to buy lunch with from Greggs. It all worked out in the end actually, though, as the mantras are very interesting and I got a pastry from M&S while I was buying spaghetti sauce and put it on my card.

I must say though, I was a bit worried about that Hare Krishna nun. Looking at the expressions on the faces of the people doing their last minute Christmas shopping, I would say it was only a matter of time before someone said to her, Hare Krishna nun? That sounds a good idea. Let me get my handbag, and before she knew it she had not a donation but a grim-looking woman in Boden sitting at the communal table trying to get drunk on green tea, shouting, thank the Absolute I never have to look for another pair of socks for Uncle Jeffrey or cook that bloody turkey. I won’t take part in the chanting, thank you, but could someone nip out for a bottle of cava and show me where the TV room is so I can watch Eastenders.

Anyway. I wanted to say thank you very much to Julia and Omlair who have awarded me blog awards, thank you very much, ladies! (Aunty Kath tells me off via my mother if I say that, so can I assure you I mean it in a postmodern ironic but appreciative kind of way). And also to say that tonight is the Solstice, the shortest day, so we are sloughing off the old oh hooray, and welcoming in the new, which is why my thoughts are turning to Resolutions. As next year is 2012, I had a couple of ideas. Firstly, some people on Ravelry are knitting 12 things for themselves in 2012 (group here if you want to chat about this with people who do not photograph cats), and I thought that might be a fun thing to do although I would be splitting the 12 between knitting and sewing. And my other idea was that I would quite like to do ‘a brave or different thing every month’, possibly something involving leaving the house, gasp. So for January I thought I might do some mad kind of exercise class, for Feb I thought I might go to one of the millions of talks they have in Cambridge, Dan has promised to take me to a particular club night, I appreciate that none of these things sounds very wild initially but who knows, by October I may be bungeejumping. I’m afraid I have to do my anecdote here. My mother once resolved to do ’60 different things in a year’, and had a book in which she wrote them down. She checked her book after about 9 months and it contained the following entry:

1/ Tried a different kind of pants.

So I am worried this would be where I would end up. Anyway, we will see. Happy Solstice everyone, I wish you a merry sloughing of the old and seeding the new, and remember to be ware of cats as they seem to be particularly lively at the moment…

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Christmas Tree decorations are what happen when you're busy making other plans

I have put up our Christmas tree in time for Yule. When we were growing up, my brother had a favourite Christmas Tree ornament, which was so hideous I am surprised it didn’t give me nightmares. It was an orangutan made out of a coconut shell, so it was all hairy, and it was about 3 times bigger than all the other ornaments and had a thick bit of rope to hang it on your tree with. I can’t remember where Dan got his monkey from (someone from my family will ring me up now and remind me), but every year my mother refused to have it on the tree and every year Dan would sneak it out. I myself once had a really attractive Christmas tree. We have a black tree, and we had special posh white LED lights from John Lewis, and a silver and purple ornament theme, and I did not allow anything on the tree which was not glass. It looked great. It was brief, but it looked great. Well, the next year the lights broke and I had to drag out my multicoloured ones from Woolworths which are 15 years old, and Partner had become rebellious because apparently ‘none of his favourite ornaments had been on the tree last year’. Yes! To my horror, a coconut monkey situation had developed without me realising. I have been trying to sweep it under the carpet ever since (‘Oh, I don’t know where Naked Santa is’), but I knew I was doomed when Partner picked up something quite unspeakable in a shop in Islington this year and sent me off to the counter, stating that ‘we buy one new ornament every year! It’s a tradition!’.
And we had to take our time selecting 'the one with the bushiest tail'
I think it is supposed to be a cat. It looks to me like a flying fox, but, Partner checked the label. It seems to be made out of a brush, honestly, I am having flashbacks to the monkey. I thought in for a penny in for a pound this year, and so the other ornament you can see just behind the brush-cat is a fake mink ball I bought from Habitat many years ago when I thought we could have Iconic Modern Design Integrated Into Our Lifestyles. Partner was confused when I brought it back.

Partner: Is it supposed to be a testicle?
Me (gritted teeth): No. It’s a furry ball. It’s an ironic take on the Christmas bauble. It’s from Habitat.
Partner: Only I thought, you know trees are phallic symbols, so I thought you were decorating it with testicles.
Me: It isn’t a testicle. (doubtfully). It’s modern. It’s fashionable.

I think I am just not very good at trees. But the brush cat and the testicles (there are three) honestly pale in comparison to Naked Santa. I actually am a bit ashamed of Naked Santa who Partner bought from Woolworths one year when I was too tired to do Christmas (aaand that was my first mistake). I can’t imagine how Naked Santa got through the planning meetings (‘we’ve got a new design! It’s Santa, but he’s kind of like crossed with a cherub, so he’s naked with a winning expression, but it’s OK! His beard covers everything!’).
And this, in a nutshell, is why Woolworths closed
I mean, there are no words, are there? I just hope no-one looks too closely at our tree. Since I was having Brush Cat, Naked Santa and the Three Testicles on the tree this year I thought, why not have Prague Pig as well. So here he is.
Now there's a sophisticated Christmas ornament
Prague Pig is from Prague (as his name suggests). I don’t know why pigs are festive in the Czech Republic – perhaps you eat them at Christmas? And I don’t know why I was walking round Prague one July thinking, never mind the castle and all the restaurants serving 30 different varieties of dumpling, what we need to put our energies into is finding a mad ceramic Christmas ornament. Anyway somehow I came home with Prague Pig and to be honest I like having him on the tree more than I liked the one amazing year when my tree looked like one from a magazine. I had better go now as Partner has just wandered off stating his intention to rearrange the tree to create a kind of a tableau where ‘brush cat is chasing Naked Santa’. I may have a soft spot for Prague Pig, but I am drawing the line at that. I have my purple and silver glass ornaments, and I know how to use them.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

'Twas on a starry night

Two sparkly bullets I dodged recently:

1/ Did not buy sparkly gold hotpants from TopShop even though I was drawn to them like a moth with questionable taste to an artificial-fibre flame.
I'm slightly ashamed to say that I have got shoes which would go with these
Although I could probably get into these hotpants with a wing, a prayer, and a very small lunch (look, I'm not suggesting it would be pretty, only that it would be physically possible), where would I wear them? And how much would I have to drink before I felt quite convinced that sparkly hotpants had been a good sartorial choice? And what would that lead to? And how old is too old for sparkly hotpants? (for all of you who are thinking, 17 or indeed 5 is too old for sparkly hotpants, I would like you to know that I once wore a tutu – a proper tulle tutu – to work when I was a senior manager (i.e. at the stage I should have known better). It looked good. I wore it with a fitted tank top because I think if you’re going to wear a tutu you need to keep your top half streamlined).

2/ Embroidered a star on a certain something (which I shall hopefully have finished to show you soon) without screwing it up.
Best to do it on fabric where you can see the threads, that's my Top Embroidery Tip
I have always been nervous of trying embroidery because I thought it would be hard, but, actually, it is not (I mean, obviously the star is not complicated, but, you know, I conquered my fear of embroidery floss and everything). I always like that really seventies kind of satin-stitch embroidery, so if it turns out I am able to go near a bit of floss without hyperventilating I may experiment with combining it with patchwork. We shall see.

I promise I won’t ever embroider hotpants. Well, I won’t embroider hotpants and then wear them out of the house.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Throws I love

OK (gathers thoughts). So, first, I wanted to say, thank you in particular all for the lovely thoughtful comments on my last post, I really enjoyed reading them. I sometimes think we have reached a critical tipping point on this blog and now the comments are better than my posts, unfortunately for you all though this does not put me off, and you will have to put up with my ramblings about cats (and what a cat I have for you today) and the black squirrel for a while yet. Secondly, my poor brother Dan has got a bad tooth and his face has swelled right up, this is what I can gather from talking to my mother although I cannot hear her very well as she has labyrinthitis and can only put me on speakerphone as if she puts the phone near her ear it makes her dizzy and she falls over. So could we all shout together, Dan, get well soon. Thank you.

Readers, I have throws on my mind, and in my perambulations around the internet I have found a couple of really pretty ones which I wanted to show you. Thank you to all the people I bothered who have given me permission to show their throws! I have a slight ulterior motive which I will declare now, and it is, that all these throws I am going to show you would look fabulous if you made them in Stylecraft Special DK. So if you have spent all your money on Christmas, not been thrifty like me (oh, ha ha) and unravelled things to knit socks for your mother, rest assured you are only about £25 + cost of pattern off from being able to produce something enormous, bright, and utterly, utterly unique (and possibly cheaper if you buy it from here or are cunning). And Stylecraft Special DK is always the same colour wherever you get it from, so you could spread the cost over the year, or, £2 a month! (Stylecraft don’t pay me. I just like it. The colours are so intense they glow. Look, you know me and subtlety).

First, a throw by that Dominatrix of Modular Crochet, the Gingerbread Lady. Pattern here.
Photo by the Gingerbread Lady. I want a sexy stone wall to drape things on (I wonder if they'd arrest me if I draped my stuff over one of the colleges? I wonder if I'd be got by a Proctor?)
Realta means star in Gaelic, and I think this throw is stunning. Let me just advise you from current bitter experience that if you are going to join black crocheted bits together, I would do it in July’s bright sunshine, not the half hour we get in December (7 rows down. 5 to go). Not only am I in awe of the Gingerbread Lady’s pattern writing and colour combining ability, I am also in awe of her eyesight. I think this is the kind of throw where you could really play with colour combinations and backgrounds.

My next is a free pattern, from Tangled magazine, which I had never heard of but is definitely worth a look: Bullseye. Lovechild’s is my favourite version (and thanks to Lovechild for permission to use the photos). I just love the way she’s used the colours on the grey background, it really sets them off:
I actually really like that headboard as well
And so does a certain other creature, proving again my law that where a huge complex crocheted/ knitted item is, there will a cat be. This cat is called Mr Darcy, and with this picture and that information I feel Lovechild has essentially won the internet.
It is a truth commonly acknowledged that a cat in possession of a hugely furry underbelly must be in want of a crocheted throw
I loved this version of the Sunflower Afghan – I think this is an absolutely beautiful throw.
Partner has instructions to stop me ever crocheting a throw again. Every time I show him a pattern for anything he looks nervous and says, but would you have to crochet squares?
I am not an advanced crocheter, but this is on my list for if I wake up some time next year and think, hey, I have not embarked on a ridiculously huge epic project for a while (look, this is going to happen, indeed it will probably happen around March). This is KaliKong’s project (and thanks, KaliKong, for permission to use your photo) and I am very jealous of it! Pattern is here. I could also see this in really seventies-style oranges, browns and beiges.

Now let me show you a throw from a duo whose designs I really admire, and if you have not looked at their other designs please go and look now, gasp, and then return. This is by Pat from Woolly Thoughts, and their website is here (and here are some more Woolly Thoughts illusion designs on Ravelry).
I want this throw and I also want an empty room with tiles
This is the loveheart throw. (Do you have lovehearts in America?). It’s an illusion knit, so, if you look at it full on you don’t see the pattern but if you look at it askance you do. I have dipped my toes into the waters of illusion knitting in the past (the alien illusion scarf from Stitch 'n Bitch) and, although the patterns are complex, the actual knitting is not difficult so long as you don’t mind following a chart (I love a chart). So this throw would be very doable. I couldn’t resist showing you another Woolly Thoughts design, this time by Steve, although it is not strictly a throw (a small throw perhaps? Or knit a big border?) – the Marilyn Monroe illusion.
Knit your own picture! I think this is great
Isn’t that just amazing? I love this pattern (pattern here) and it’s on my list of things to get when I have a bit of spare knitting time (I would do a cushion to start with). Not to bang my drum, but I actually think a really bright neon colour of Stylecraft Special DK would work particularly well with this. In fact, I believe that if Andy Warhol were around today and had taken up knitting, Stylecraft Special DK is what he would be using. Indeed, I am sure of it. I hope that encourages you.

What are your favourite throws?

(I am thinking now, Partner is actually a fellow of a college, I wonder if we could just nip up when I have sewn my epic thing together and drape it over their walls for a few artistic photographs? They have got some nice walls. It is not as if he is much trouble generally, he does not go to high table or bother the porters unduly. I may broach that one when Partner has opened his Chardonnay. I would be like Kaffe Fassett with his quilts but with slightly more dubious legality).

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Celebrating Susiemas/ Redefining Yule

OK, I am afraid it’s looking a bit like we’re not going to be able to escape it. Very soon it will be Christmas, and Christmas does bad things to good people. I myself blame the John Lewis advert, which I think is a subtle plot to make anyone who does not have a middle class family who all like each other feel bad about themselves, and which this year is even worse. The Christmas Pressure madness does different things to us all: for some of us it makes us crochet epic things until we get a crick in our neck which makes us look like Quasimodo: for my mother, it makes her embark on a Quest to Rediscover The Spiritual Side of Christmas.
Light in darkness, quod est demonstrandum
This is a challenge for my mother as she is, how shall I say this, utterly Godless: however, in past years the quest has taken her to carol services in various churches, the nadir of which was when she forced other members of my family to attend a carol service in a chapel which was smaller than their front room, and where everyone had to hug each other afterwards. There was also the incident at Midnight Mass which we do not discuss. Luckily, this year I am here with my one-size-fits-all, spiritual-yet-secular guide to the True Meaning of Christmas which will enable you not only to not have that nagging feeling as you stand in M&S bitchslapping a woman in a cardigan over the last vol-au-vents that you ought to be doing something a bit more uplifting, but which will also enable you to celebrate Christmas in whatever way you choose. Want to hole up all on your own with a bottle of vodka and the cat? That would work. Want to spend every night from now until 2nd Jan in a feast of Rabelaisian excess culminating in you climbing Reality Checkpoint without your pants and hooting? Perfect. Here we go.

Right {cracks fingers}. The thing that happens at Christmas/ Yule/ Winterval, whatever cultural or religious associations you want to lay on it, is, that it is the darkest part of the winter, and the time when the sun is reborn at the solstice, i.e. the days get no shorter and indeed start to get a bit longer (OK, that bit is a bit pagan, but bear with me). Now we all have central heating (although a lot of us now have fuel poverty as well so, you know) this might have lost its emotional charge, but, really, we are one scant generation away from when central heating was not standard and we spent all winter being really cold.
I don't believe there's anything more Christmassy than a reindeer in earmuffs
In my Northern childhood I remember (violins) frost forming patterns on the inside of the window when I got up in the morning. I remember having to stand over the tiny portable heater to get dressed. I remember having a ceramic hot water bottle (I can’t believe we couldn’t afford a rubber one, but, there you go). It was the kind of cold we only feel these days when the boiler breaks or we can’t afford the heating. Just think what a cold, hard, painful, long grind the winter would have been in days gone by, nowadays we worry about the central heating drying out our sinuses or making the cat a bit static, before, we would have been eyeing up Granny hacking up a lung and wondering if she would get through until March, and, if not, who else had the skill to reroof the hovel. So in those circumstances, the light coming back – the spark of life of the new year, the first day the sun went down later rather than earlier – would have been a cause for marvellous celebration. In fact, the festivities might have propelled Granny through it a bit, rather than everyone sitting being miserable and cold.

So what you are celebrating at Susiemas (oh, come on. Let me try to start a cult if I want to) is, the return of the light. In fact it is more than a celebration, it is an act of faith. It is a shot in the dark. It is an assertion of light and joy at the most miserable time. It is saying, although this is the darkest time of the year, I believe that light will return. One day it will be summer. And I am calling back the light in a metaphorical way with tinsel, candles, parties, nice food, or, by sitting on my own with a bottle of vodka, whatever way you want. Now, isn’t that better than all the depressing cultural overlay? You can celebrate however you want! Sod the turkey! Sod the Eastenders Christmas Special! Sod getting drunk on sherry and fighting off questions from Great-Aunty Mildred about why you aren't married yet/ your children aren't like the John Lewis one/ how you failed to become an actuary! Sod giving people chocolates and then getting them back next year with one of the chocolates eaten! (Yes – this did happen to my mother). I myself celebrate Yule, so, we call the sun back by burning a candle (that is the spiritual bit), and I am also going to get up at dawn to greet the new sun (I believe dawn to be at something like 7:45 am, though, so don’t be too impressed. And I’m going to greet it by sitting on our bench drinking a cup of coffee, I’m not going dancing about skyclad). Let’s have new traditions! What do you do?

Monday, 5 December 2011

Yarn shops in London - a guide to a (very) small selection

Partner has now finished Full Term, and it is a tradition that the weekend he finishes we go to London. It is a tradition because we have done it twice, and, if Partner ever does anything twice it becomes a routine and he wants to do it Forever. Sometimes out of the fragmentary chaos of our lives I do not notice that I have unwittingly formed a pattern, but, Partner always knows: and this can lead to him becoming confused and despairing and saying things like, but, it is the 15th of the month! We always have sausages on the 15th of the month and you are asking me if I want a cheese sandwich! – Anyway, on the first weekend in December we go down to London and I look at wool and have buns and mooch round the nice fabric shops in Soho and stuff like that.
Add caption
We went to Loop in Islington. If you are heading up to London looking for wool, and why wouldn’t you be, Loop is a really nice shop, but, and I am going to try and not sound as if I am damning it with faint praise when I add this qualification, it is generally too expensive for me. I have this unfortunate cash register in my head, which will not allow me, except in very special circumstances, to spend more than £20 on a project, and so I think it is best for all of us if I get my yarn elsewhere. But, if you are in the market for some luxury yarn (I don’t think Loop sells the yarn it sells more expensively than other places – it just sells really nice expensive yarn), this is a lovely place to go, and it also has an excellent selection of books and magazines. Partner says however that he cannot believe people don’t get stuck in the door (it is a very strange door) so if you are claustrophobic or prone to getting stuck in things, do bear that in mind.

The shops nearby are nice as well. Some of the wares I would feel happier integrating into my house than others…
£15 for all the sets? Why didn't I buy them?
And why would you not want disembodied legs adding to your decor?
This is the tweed fabric that, in an ideal world, I would make my Chanel-style jacket out of.
That's right! The bright one!
It is £55 a metre, so the jacket (sans lining/ buttons etc) would cost £110, which is not bad when you think what a Chanel jacket costs, but, yeah. Luckily there is a man who comes to Trumpington village hall who has cheap (but very nice) fabric so I am going to try him first.
Yes, it was as nice as it looked
Cake in the British Museum. One day I will go in the British Museum and actually look at the exhibits. I believe some of them are quite old, I don't know if you've heard the same?

There is a yarn shop called All The Fun Of The Fair just off Carnaby Street which is actually really worth having a look in, because the two times I have been, I have got bargains.
So much nice stuff. I promise you there's yarn too. I bought some of it
OK. You look me right in the eye and tell me that you don't admire a shop which hangs giant balls of acrylic aran on the railings outside as a decoration beyond all things
Once I got Colour Style and a skein of fingering for £5, and this time I got two balls of Austermann Merino Lace in a lovely gothic purple for less than £6, (then in the Bead Shop near Covent Garden I got a bag of seed beeds to put on it for less than £3). It’s a tiny shop right at the top of Kingly Court, but if you’re passing, really, do go and have a look – they’ve got a real variety, laceweight, sock, chunky, allsorts, and also cute knitted things and other bits. Also, it’s only a step away from Liberty, so it’s in a very useful area (and there are lots of places for tea in Kingly Court). And then you could walk through to Soho and buy tweed! – or you could go and look in the pagan shop near the British Museum and have a bun in the London Review bookshop – OK, I’ll leave you alone now.
Squirrel guarding his territory. No-one have any fears with regards to British Wildlife as my extensive experiments indicate they can very much look after themselves
And I even escaped the Feisty Squirrels and made it back to Cambridge in one piece to think about what I can knit with my laceweight and beads. At the moment I’m thinking Frangipani with the top bit beaded, but I don’t know, so if anyone has any suggestions, don't be shy!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Secret Stuff for Christmas

OK, first things first. I seem to be on a lot of mailing lists, so just in case you haven’t seen these: Vogue Knitting are having a $2.99 sale on patterns until tomorrow (Friday), and Sew Direct are having a half price sale on Vogue sewing patterns. Could someone please go and spend a lot of money at one of these, as I have bought two Vogue sewing patterns which I can’t afford, and I would like someone else to share in the guilt (for a Chanel-type jacket and a princess-seam dress with a fitted bodice and a flared skirt, thank you for asking. And for any of you UK people who live near London, you can get really, really fabulous Chanel-style tweed at one of the fabric shops in Soho – I can’t remember the name of the street – it’s near the market and the dodgy sex shops. It’s really dear - £50 a metre+ - but you don’t need loads, and think how dear a Chanel jacket is. So if you’re confident you can turn out a jacket with the arms sewn on the right way, which I am not yet so will be using something much cheaper to start, you might want to bear that in mind).

Now I just wanted to show you a couple of things I am working on, but, they are presents, so you have to click to see the rest of the post, and I am trusting my family not to click. Family: you are on your honour. OK? Don’t click. Because when you open your strange bizarre Frankenstein-style items this Christmas, you at least want it to be a surprise.
I found a mural, I photographed it, that's just the way I roll. Why would you paint a mural in a back alley? Should I paint one on our house?

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The stole and the Sump Pipe: how a project changed my life

So. I don’t know if you remember my City Stole. Do you remember my City Stole? I tried to get a good outdoors shot for you, but, look! Look how windy it is! It’s windy all over the UK today I think, and now in Cambridge it’s raining, but I’m here on the computer with a nice cup of tea so I don’t mind.
This was the point at which I nearly had to rescue it from next door's garden
I thought when I finished my City Stole I might not wear it much, because I thought it was too long, but it turns out, it’s the perfect length, and I’ve worn it loads. It looks dramatic if I wrap it round once, and it’s just long enough to wrap round two times. The thing I wanted to tell you about it, though, is that this (portentous music – dum dum DUM) – is the stole that changed my life. No, I’m serious. It has changed how I think about things. And I shall tell you why.
Photography tip number 1: try not to do it in a gale
Those of you who are experienced/ adventurous knitters will be looking at this and thinking, hmm, a few yarnovers. That is not hard. And you are right: however, while I was knitting this stole, I was conscious that there was a point in my knitting career when I would not have been able to knit it. I would have become confused. I would have given up. There were points towards the beginning where I had to unknit quite a bit, and I managed to get back on track: once, I would not have been able to do this with lace. So while I was knitting it I was conscious that my skills were better than they had been at a point in the past. And as you can imagine, that was cheering.

The magic, however, was in the persistence necessary to knot this stole out of three long balls of string (I speak metaphorically). All my life (violins), I have had trouble sticking at things. I do not do sustained effort. I do one-off flashy feats of intense amazingness that are sufficiently amazing to compensate (almost) for the sustained effort issue. I think it is also fair to say that nothing in my life has ever particularly encouraged the development of sustained-effort skills, whereas the one-off flashy feats have always been rather popular. And this, readers, is not a great way to live. Because, there are many wonderful skills that one might wish to have, but without willpower and sticking at them through the tedious bits, the bits where you feel you are worse at it than when you started, the bits where you question why you are doing it anyway, the bits where you feel you’ve messed it up so much it isn’t worth finishing, you aren’t going to acquire them. And this is what this stole did for me. It showed me I could finish something and love the end result, even when the steps along the way are non-flashy and routine. It was an act of faith. It linked routine effort to result for me. It showed me I could stick at things. It showed me (violins swell to a crescendo now) I could change. It was like meditation: meditation in wool. I mean, where it got me was crocheting a million granny squares, but, look: I would never have been able to do that before the stole. Before the Stole Which Changed Everything.
I swear they wait and jump out at me. It's actually a bit alarming. Perhaps I'm just attuned. I hope I never start seeing goblins
The other week our washer broke and leaked water all over the kitchen (bear with me, this is relevant!). A John Lewis man came and patronised Partner terribly, because apparently we should have known we had a blocked Sump Pipe, then he charged Partner £60 for the privilege of being patronised and left. When I came home Partner told me he had been patronised, and did we ought to have known about the sump pipe? And I said, I was not going to feel bad about lack of sump pipe knowledge, because, I could knit lace and I was convinced the sump pipe man could not: and so as far as I was concerned, he could stick that sump pipe right up his bum. And then I rang John Lewis and told them off, and they refunded me £30. Because no-one is patronising a person who has knitted a City Stole (and if I had finished the epic granny square project I could probably have made them give me £60). You see, it is almost like having self esteem. I think the stole is magic. That is my firm belief.

Do you have a Project That Changed Your Life?

Sunday, 27 November 2011

On my travels again

So last week I was in Derbyshire (I get about, don't I? One day I'll buy a travelling bag without a hole in the bottom. Actually I might just sew up the hole, that would be cheaper). People! It was frantic! The crowds!
So, apparently there is a mountain next to my family's house, I discover this now after 25 years
The traffic jams, and having to wait to get along the roads!
Mind the cows! I want to be a farmer. No, I know I'd be rubbish
 God. It was just exhausting. We were constantly on the alert.
I may come and give you my paw, or, I may agitate for a dried pig's ear. I've not decided yet  
That's what it's like, though, when you're at the very epicentre of commerce, the cut and thrust of trading, where prices are set and fortunes are made.
Label on a crocheted blanket on Chesterfield Flea Market. No, it didn't have a price tag, and no, we didn't dare ask. Because I might have said, don't talk to me about extraordinary tasks. 108 granny squares! 51 black ones!
Chesterfield main street, scene of many happy youthful shopping trips. Can you see the crooked spire on the church? This is because the Devil sat on it, true fact
The only thing to do in this kind of situation is to try to snatch a few moments of relaxation over a Festive Chocolate Mince Pie.
Dad's pie. We all tried it and it was surprisingly nice. I would make a mince pie as normal but replace some of the flour with cocoa powder. In fact I might do
Because it's hard, this itinerant life, but someone has to do it.
Dan (brother), Milo (not a wolf), and I, with all our accessories bought from shops, shamelessly
Hope everyone had a good week and I shall be back and rambling soon. (Were you missing your passive-aggressive granny square updates? You know you were. Although, Aunty Kath! I've knitted you a Christmas present! I may not get to anyone else's, but, now there's one for you!).

Monday, 21 November 2011

Making your own chocolates

I am indebted to Denise of Knitting Kitties for initial encouragement and advice which set me off down the path of confectionery making; and at the moment that sugary path is leading to chocolates.

CHOCOLATE!
These chocolates are supposed to be for my brother Dan whose birthday is this week, but, Dan, I am not sure I fancy my chances of getting these out of the mould in one piece and then lugging them up on the train, so I apologise in advance if I don’t manage it. (I would like at this point to commend my brother Dan, who is excellent at hoovering up culinary experiments and indeed was the only person brave enough to drink my sloe gin. Also he once ate an entire slab of fudge without cutting it up into bits first).
An unmoulded chocolate with a shamefully scruffy bottom
Although I am not sure about these ones, in general, chocolates are not that hard to make. Isn’t that useful to know? I have only experimented with a few fillings so far, but, actually, all you need to know is the principle and then you can make the rest up, and I am going to explain that to you now (although I also have this book: Miss Hope’s Chocolate Box, which is actually very good and inspiring and has the recipes I have been using. Also it is very funny, and I do recommend it). Then you can make chocolates for everyone for Christmas, and they will all think you are showing off and will go in the other room and drink sherry and talk about you. Get her, they will say. And the Guardian will write articles criticising you and all your kind and the horse you rode in on, although, all I can think is that if that man who wrote the article could see my giant bag of crochet squares all the same colour it might actually kill him and then where would we be.

So. To make chocolates. You need to buy a flexible silicone chocolate mould. I bought mine from Lakeland Plastics for £5.99, and I got one with a lot of holes in, because then I thought I could make a lot of chocolates at a time (working there on the basis that the more chocolates the better). You can make different chocolates in the same mould and whip it in and out of the fridge, so you don’t need to have a lot of separate ones unless you want different shapes (if you make them all the same shape, you won’t be able to tell which flavours they are unless you do some plain and some milk or attempt marbling or something).
Try not to be distracted by any shameless black squirrels who come to nibble your nuts (ignore the scruffy garden. Look at the posh fence!)
First you melt chocolate and coat the mould. You do this by breaking your chocolate up into small bits (a 100g bar is enough for about 8-10 chocolates, allowing for mistakes and eating some with a spoon), and microwaving it on full in bursts of about 20 seconds. When it is mostly melted but some of it is still solid (in my microwave this takes about 60 seconds), you take it out, and stir it till it is all liquid. This is called tempering. Then you coat the moulds with a teaspoon, not too thickly. If you get gaps and can’t fill them, put the mould in the fridge for 5 minutes until the chocolate has set and then just give it a second coat, then it will be easier. (If you have one of those posh silicone brushes that might work better, but a teaspoon is ok if not).

Then, you just fill your chocolates with something sweet. So far I have tried caramel and peanut (not together). The recipes are in the book, so I can’t really give you the exact quantities, but basically the peanut filling is peanut butter, a splash of double cream, and some sugar (you make quite small quantities – you only need a bit), and then you melt it together, so you could just have a go and add sugar to taste. For the caramel you could use any toffee sauce recipe (mine just uses cream and sugar) – it is ok for it to be fairly liquid, so you don’t have to mess about with a sugar thermometer. (Note from me: when you are boiling sugar, never stick your thumb in it to test it. You may think, God, no-one would do that, but, I did once and it hurt very much).
Lady, after I've watched you empty your handbag to find your camera to take a picture of me and get Strepsils, receipts, and a great big cabbage everywhere, I can only say it's a travesty that it was your species that got the opposable thumbs
You could also try making a ganache, and flavouring it with various things, to use as a filing - I am sure you will have lots of ideas (you could be like Heston and make bizarre things. I bought garam masala chocolates from a posh shop on the Ile St Louis for Partner when I was in Paris, but he has not eaten them yet because he likes to save chocolates, like a mad person). When you have filled all your little holes apart from the hole within you which will only be filled by Self Knowledge, stick it all in the fridge for a bit to firm up.

Then you remelt the chocolate which is left over (20 second bursts again and keep checking), and cover all the little holes with a layer. Then, leave it all overnight to set properly, and take the little chocolates out of the moulds carefully. Remember to try to share the chocolates with other people and not eat them all on your own in 5 minutes, even though that is what you will want to do. I think they keep for about a week in the fridge, so if you do want to make these for Christmas you will have to do it at the last minute, but that’s fine, it’s not as if you’re going to be busy over Christmas, is it? (Just remember. The more you make yourself, the less probability there is that you’ll be standing in Waterstones at 3:45pm on Christmas Eve looking at that £14.99 hamster calendar, and at least when you’re standing in your kitchen slaving over a hot bowl of chocolate you can have a nice cup of tea. With brandy in it. And you can eat the chocolate with a spoon).

Saturday, 19 November 2011

I never realised this, but,

Gerard Manley Hopkins once tried to crochet 99 granny squares, and wrote a poem about it! Isn't that amazing? I don't think this poem could have been about anything else, so, no, I don't really think any other interpretation is possible. Spiritual and social alienation versus another round of double crochet in black acrylic? I think not.

NO worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief        5
Woe, world-sorrow; on an age-old anvil wince and sing—
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked ‘No ling-
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief’.
 
  O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap        10
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.   

68 down. 31 to go. {Flexes fingers which are cramped like Gollum's around the One Ring}.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Smelling of catnip

I think I must smell of catnip. As I have indicated before, the cats in Cambridge seem to have no natural predators, because not only are there no cat-eating creatures in England, but a lot of the Cambridge roads are of the sort where one car goes past a day. So it's feline anarchy. They have no fear. As I go along they actually shout at me, ('miaaaaaaow!!') and then they throw themselves at me. I am serious. I have to be giving off waves or something.
Who's that trip-trapping down my nice middle class street? Don't you know you've got to stop and pay homage?

OK, yeah yeah, you've told me you've got to get to the Co-op and I'm in your path. Stand there and look at my claws while I do my rolling-over thing

Can you do this at yoga, inadequate human? Thought not