Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Combining colours

When I was a young person, I once bleached my hair all over with Sun-In, decided it didn’t look dramatic enough, and put henna on top of it. This was in the days when if you wanted highlights you had to sit with a rubber bathing cap with holes in on your head while the hairdresser pulled sections through with a crochet hook and asked you what you thought about Bros’s latest single, so although it seems an eccentric decision in retrospect, you have to see it in context. Anyway, predictably my hair went completely orange, at school they called me Cheesy Wotsit, and it was all very difficult. However, I discovered something interesting: I discovered that there are some weather/ atmospheric conditions where the light is cold and clear, and colours look more intense, as these were the days when people stared at me (most) in the street. It was this kind of light when I walked home from the station the other evening, and it made me think about colours and how to combine them.
Pictures on a wall in Howies. I take photos in shops just like a secret Ninja
I love combining colours: it’s my favourite thing to do with fabric and yarn. I am a bit of a one-trick pony, though. I have certain combinations I like. I like rainbow sequences, and I like colours that are opposite on the colour wheel (e.g. purple and yellow, blue and orange), or very close together (red and pink). My favourite, though, is any combination of intense colours. I like colours which have an intensity that you don’t really find in nature: I am not a fan of the muted colourscheme.
Clock just behind Regent Street helpfully illustrating generic 'multicolour' although I do spy a bit of ecru
What I always find is that if you match intensities, you can use any combination of colours, and it will look alright. For instance, if you are one of those mad people who likes pastels, you can make a quilt using entirely pastel prints and it will look fine (I mean, it won’t, because it’s pastel. But from a coldly aesthetic point of view it will). If you are knitting something which needs a lot of colours, if you use yarn all from the same range, it doesn’t matter, in a way, what you pick, because generally they will have depth of tone/ presence of darker tones in common and this will make your finished object look coherent. The danger is that it might also look a little corporate (or, polished, depending on what you’re aiming at!).
A nice bit of bright blue in a slightly dull street
It is not just about saturation of colour, it is about shininess as well. Partner is very, very colour blind, and one of the things that throws him is when a surface is shiny: if it is shiny, he can’t tell what colour it is. This is something that becomes an issue if you are mixing fabrics, for example I often mix quilting cotton (matt) with silk (saturated and shiny). Here I find it difficult to visually integrate this car into a colour scheme although the dullness of the rest of it all tones together (I mean, you may not like brick red and grey, but it tones!).
Giant plug in Soho. This is Art and therefore is not Functional
I’m trying to experiment a bit more with the ways I combine colours, and one of the combinations I like is a very intense, almost neon colour with a natural, especially grey. I worry I make all my colour (and possibly indeed life) choices on the basis of ironic juxtaposition but hey, if we don’t have irony, what do we have.
I actually think they're starting to take over because there are no natural predators. I may write to the Cambridge Evening News. Look how it's eyeing up the cyclist, this picture is Cambridge in a nutshell, it just needs someone complaining about parking or how their green bin isn't emptied often enough
I find black very difficult to integrate into colour schemes – it always looks jarring to me. It’s not a colour I ever wear, either (although I often admire it on other people). I wonder how much our choice of favourite colours is influenced by what suits our skin tone (because if I wear black without a faceful of makeup I look as if I’ve been exhumed). I’m going to have some rainbow colours left over from the Epic Rainbow Throw (update tomorrow! Put it in your diaries!), and I’m thinking of making granny squares and joining them with black, I will see if I’m brave enough. Mum has seen a throw with these colours in the window of the Clay Cross Wool Shop and says it looks very nice.
I hope this is painted with Farrow and Ball, because if not this homeowner might be drummed out of Cambridge
I love black with yellow and silver here, though. I imagine wasps would agree with me.
This fabric was £165 a metre. Think how much wedding dresses cost though before you hyperventilate. I wasn't looking for a wedding dress (my family read this so I have to clarify in case I start rumours), Partner and I are going to continue our life of Sin
I think your perception of colours is really affected by the memories/ associations they have for you. For instance, even if pink and grey became devastatingly fashionable tomorrow and everyone was wandering about wearing it in wonderfully tasteful Miu Miu prints, it would still scream ‘cheap eighties curtain material for adolescent boys’ to me. Likewise brown, orange and cream is forever Seventies, and I cannot do combinations of cream, white, beige or ecru because I lived through the nineties where all the focus was on Naturals and if anyone had worn turquoise in public it would probably have made the national news. Oh God, that was a difficult decade for those of us who Do Not Get minimalism.

What colours are your go-to combinations? Do you ever get the urge to break out?

Monday, 30 May 2011

Pictures of words

Living wall in Anthropologie on Regent St. It was 3 floors high and very impressive, no wonder they have to charge a lot for their clothes. If they'd painted it magnolia like in Primark I might be able to afford them

Shop sign just off Carnaby Street. Where I come from we say, red hat no knickers, so I was disappointed when I discovered the Red Hat Society was not quite as racy as it sounds

The quote board in Neal's Yard, Covent Garden, put together by someone who seems never to have met the people I used to work with

Magnetic words, also in Neal's Yard. I love magnetic words and keep meaning to buy some for our fridge, but in the meantime I just keep on writing this blog

In the alleyway behind Foyles bookshop, Charing Cross Road. I cannot tell if this is ironic or meta, but if it really is suggesting that we are all squares who disapprove of graffiti, well, you cannot move in London without tripping over people taking photos of anything from an aerosol, hoping it is a Banksy so they can flog the print down Camden Lock

Friday, 27 May 2011

Mum's blog: Foster Dog, bats, and eating from silver platters

You will be pleased to know that my mother managed to get near the bloody buggering computer (although blogger stymied me a bit yesterday. Blogger! Seriously! Get your act together!) and has emailed me her blog post, so here it is, once again giving Alan Bennett a run for his money. I am a little concerned that my mother seems to be getting into her stride, who knows what skeletons will start to come tumbling out of closets in future installments {Susie goes off to develop contributing writer editorial policy}. Those of you reading today’s installment may be concerned about the cat next door losing his cat food, so, for those of you, I would like to reassure you that I have made the acquaintance of Casper and I am confident that he will be able to live off his fat for the time it takes his owner to open a fresh tin of Whiskas.



Is it or isn’t it? Yes it is, it’s bat droppings, they’re back again. Foster dog and I stand side by side watching from the study window as they swoop cheekily across the front lawn, laughing at us in their high pitched screech because they know the house belongs to them and they are back to claim it. The skylark has also returned to the field  at the end of the garden and every evening its singing can be heard beautiful and pure, unfortunately we are denied the enjoyment of sitting outside in this idyll because Foster dog keeps escaping down the lane and eating our next door neighbours’ cat food. We owe them three tins of tuna fish already and he’s also been seen eyeing up their collection of exotic lizards.
Foster dog. He looks innocent, but...
I‘m not  much of a gardener, it’s too much like hard work for my liking (like mother like daughter I suspect) but last year I decided to make the effort and rescued a very sad gooseberry bush from the ‘past its best box’ in B & Q. The checkout girl commented on its lack of life and boasted that her gooseberry bush had already fruited. I ignored her and planted it lovingly next to the omnipresent rhubarb, and waited. During the winter when the snow came, it was covered with 18 inches of heavy snow and appeared to have died, but, against all the odds it survived and has fruited six juicy gooseberries almost ready to go into a pie. Any recipes for a rhubarb and gooseberry dish will be considered. Sadly since writing this less than fifteen minutes ago, Foster Dog has jumped over the gooseberry bush and there are now only five.

The countryside in the Peak District National Park varies from wild moorland to cultivated dales and farmland, it is a ramblers paradise or so my other half informs me every Tuesday before he rambles off with three of his also retired colleagues. They wander off up hill and down dale putting the world to right and trying to guess the prices of all large and expensive properties on their route. We have several celebrities living in Derbyshire but for the sake of national security I am not allowed to name them, one is a well known blind person who was a member of Tony Blair’s Cabinet and is a friend (this is not a euphemism) of the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire. We all know where he lives because when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, he had guards standing outside his cottage and no matter how posh you are in Derbyshire you don’t need to employ your own armed bodyguards because the sheep are usually friendly.
An artfully arranged hat in mum's study. Who wears that hat? Because I've never seen it. Also if you look on the top shelf of the bookcase, British Myths and Legends is one of Partner's publications. Take that, Research Assessment Exercise!
I am keeping a diary of all the eating and drinking places that my other half and I visit and the most interesting one this month has to be our visit to Sutton Scarsdale Church which is attached to Sutton Hall. During the spring and summer months, the more mature  members of the church and village, provide FREE tea and biscuits to anyone visiting the Hall or church on a Saturday afternoon, they also sell delicious home made jam and honey at very competitive prices. The tea is beautifully served on silver trays with fresh milk and plenty of biscuits.

A cardigan from Jaeger, originally priced at £160 and reduced to £30. In my rush to buy it I didn’t notice that it was two sizes too big, the assistants were very nice though when I returned it.

This has to be to Susie, thank-you enormously for finishing MY quilt, it’s just perfect. [Note from me, this means: remember you promised me that quilt and don't you go giving it to anyone else].


Thanks mum for your blog post! For fans of my mother’s blog, the next installment will be in a fortnight (I mean, obviously depending on computer access, but that’s when we aim at ;-) ).

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Cheap yarn and mum's blog (almost)

Just a quick post to say, have you seen this site? I didn’t know about this site. Why did no-one tell me? O_O. It seems decent value – especially if you look in the Bargains section, you can get enough yarn for about 2 1/2 – 3 jumpers on one enormous cone for about £43 (including postage! To anywhere!). I mean, obviously you would probably get really quite fed up of that yarn eventually, sitting lurking in its big cone and oppressing you every time you opened the cupboard. I don’t know about you, but the colour would probably have gone in and out of fashion by the time I made it through my third jumper. In fact you might need to put that cone in your will (obviously, choose your beneficiary wisely). On the other hand, I suppose you might be able to split the cost with a friend. A friend who really likes making balls of wool out of enormous cones. Anyway, I think it is definitely worth a look. (One of these days I am going to do an instructive post comparing price per metre for various yarns from various suppliers, because you know I like to suck all the joy from knitting, schluuuuuuuurp. In fact I found out on Ravelry recently that you can actually knit Swiffer covers out of fun fur, so I just hope I don’t feel compelled to start a Fun Fur Swiffercover Knitalong in the name of Practicality and Utility. Although actually, you’d be surprised how expensive fun fur is!).

I also wanted to say, my mother is resuming her blog tomorrow. She has written it and would have emailed it last night, but there was a bit of an issue with my bloody buggering brother being on the bloody buggering computer at the point she wanted to email it, according to an anguished phone call received while we were watching Dan Cruickshank poking round a country house with someone called Ptolemy. So I am waiting agog and I imagine you are all doing the same. À demain!

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Crochet tips + quilt binding for the lazy

I just wanted to tell you about a couple of techniques I’ve discovered recently, because you may find it helpful, although if you knew all these already you are very welcome to sit thinking, Good Lord and they let this woman have a bank account, or similar ;-).

First, crochet. Do you remember I bought a job lot of Sirdar DK to make a rainbow blanket? Well, I’ve started it off and done about 5 inches, and I began with 196 stitches to make it about 60” wide. Those of you who have ever started off a blanket with 196 stitches to make it 60” wide will know what I mean when I say that it is not absolutely the most fun you can have with your clothes on. Therefore I would like to share a couple of tips.
Any beginning crochet row which is not stained with blood and tears is a resounding success. Look at that subtle colour combination! Orange next!
I have said this before, but, DO NOT DO YOUR FOUNDATION ROW WITH CHAIN STITCH (yes, I do feel that strongly about it), do your first row using foundation single crochet, because it makes crocheting into the first row so much easier that for me it is the difference between managing it or giving up crochet and burning The Happy Hooker on the lawn while dancing skyclad and squawking. One of the (few) downsides of foundation single crochet is that it twists around (although it isn’t twisted when you have done a few rows, it gives a nice clean foundation), which makes it a bit difficult to count. It is difficult counting anyway when you are dealing with large numbers, because someone will always come and ask you where the parmesan is in the fridge, or want to discuss the state of your relationship, when you have got to 170, and will make you lose count.

To get round both of these problems (I mean, I can't help with the state of your relationship. The other problems. Although, I have always wanted to write a problem page, so if you do have any issues...;-) ).
  • sit with a box of small paperclips, and hook a paperclip into every 20th stitch (or whatever number is most convenient). This means you are only ever counting up to 20, and the paperclips do not slip out, so you can leave your big long boring hideous epic FSC chain and go off and do a bit of white water rafting/ atom splitting, and come back to it later.
I also discovered (and this is very obvious because I am dim, but I pass it on in case you hadn’t thought of it):
  • you can weigh your ball of yarn at the beginning and end of a row, and then you will know how much yarn is needed for each row and can check whether you have enough before you start (if you are anal about having rows in complete colours). You need a digital scale for this, but when you have bought a digital scale you can also make soap, so how exciting is that?
Now, quilting. How to bind a quilt for the lazy, and again, I am indebted for this technique to Denise of Knitting Kitties.

Most quilt binding instructions will tell you to make mitred corners and whipstitch your binding by hand to the back of the quilt, however, I am not wild on the look of mitred corners (although, if you are, there is a good tutorial here), and if I have managed to conquer perfectionism, self-doubt, exhaustion and having to change the bobbin 50 bloody times in a manner sufficient to actually get to the quilt binding stage, then I can assure you that I have nothing left within me for whipstitching for miles. So if you are lazy practical like me then try this alternative technique:

  • Cut 4 lengths of binding, for each side of your quilt + about 2 inches on either side (less is ok, but just to be safe), about 2.5” wide (if you have a cutter and board, just fold your fabric and cut through multiple layers at the raw edge). You will have to join lengths to make them long enough unless your quilt is small. You don’t have to be exact, as you can trim as you go.
  • Lay the binding’s top edge to the top edge of one side of the BACK OF the quilt, right sides together,with some binding protruding from each end. Sew with a 1/4” seam (or whatever standard quilting seam you are using. The exact size doesn’t matter, just be consistent throughout).
I didn't even iron it. That's how punk rock I am
    • Fold the binding up and over the raw edge of the quilt sandwich, turning under the bottom (unsewn) edge. The side edges are raw and scruffy – this is fine. Topstitch the folded-under, as-yet-unsewn edge to the FRONT of the quilt, just below the stitching line where you sewed the binding on to the back.
    • Repeat with the parallel side. Trim the excess binding at the edges so it is slightly shorter than the height of the binding (if that makes sense).
    • With the other two sides, you do exactly the same, but, you need to trap the binding that sticks out at the sides in the new binding. So, pin the binding to the back of the quilt on one of the two remaining parallel sides, but, fold the strip at the ends so it is level with the top of the binding you have just sewn. The raw edge of the previous binding will jut out just above it.
    Possibly some of you can sew without getting thread absolutely everywhere, I don't know
      • When you fold the new binding to the right side and sew, it will trap the raw edge of the binding on the adjacent side inside it. Sew to the end and then round the corner to secure (if you see what I mean).
      There you are, a square-bound quilt with all machine-sewn binding. It means you have an extra line of stitching on the front of your binding: but, look. It’s a quilt. There are lines of stitching all over it. Wouldn’t you prefer an extra one and to do it all by machine rather than have it unbound and useless, sitting in your cupboard looking at you reproachfully every time you take out a jumper? (Not that I speak from experience in any way).

      Do ask me in the comments if any of that doesn’t make sense, as sometimes people tell me I do not explain things clearly. Indeed more than once I have made grown men tremble when I have tried to tell them how to do things. And not in a good way. Binding I should be able to explain, though ;-).

      Sunday, 22 May 2011

      In suburbia

      One of the things I always think, is, whenever people tell you about where they live they always tell you the touristy things and no-one ever tells you about the really boring bits. Like, where people live, where they do their shopping and what kinds of flowers they have in their front gardens, etc. It made me think of this when I went to Edinburgh recently because all the houses were so different to our small stunted houses Down South. I am always interested in the really boring bits and for those of you who do not live in the UK this might have the charm of novelty. For the rest of you it probably will not and you are welcome to skip ;-).
      Put that camera down and stroke my furry back
      The first thing about Cambridge is, wherever you go and whatever you are doing, a cat will jump out at you and want you to stroke it. I think 80% of houses here must have a cat. One of the Great Cultural Differences between the US and the UK is, in the US they keep their cats indoors because, as I understand, if they go out they may be eaten by a ravening coyote and/ or a bear. In the UK 99% of our cats are free range and are at liberty to molest passers by. Indeed the other day I had to try to rescue an older lady near our house who was weighed down with shopping bags and had a very determined cat weaving around her feet. Alas! She had fish in one of the bags and thus I was powerless to dissuade the cat, and as I walked up the road I could hear her saying ‘Ooo! Stop it! Go on, you naughty thing!’ all the way.
      I am estimating £800,000. Nice flowers though
      The second thing about Cambridge is, house prices are just completely ridiculous. If you buy a house I think it is now almost impossible to get anything anywhere near the centre for less than a quarter of a million pounds, and if you rent, small houses/ flats cost about £800 - £1500 a month. This means if people have a house they hold on to it and no-one can ever leave anyone else because of their mortgages, unless they find a couple with a mortgage of a similar amount/ length of payment left and swap partners. Even when the housing market was at its worst, there were people in Cambridge gazumping other people with cash. It is all very depressing and sometimes I feel like knocking on people’s doors and saying, excuse me, do you mind telling me what you do and how much you earn, as I am curious.
      Spot the bike. They're everywhere!
      Everyone cycles everywhere in Cambridge, apart from me because I prefer walking and ambling about and stroking cats. So there are bikes everywhere you look and lots of second hand bike shops. Cycle theft is a major concern (yes! It is! Yes this is indeed a bit of a backwater!) and the only untethered bike in Cambridge which has never been stolen is the one in our back garden which I bought thinking I would be able to ride it. I could not, as I think it was actually a bike for a child, and it bruised my coccyx. I may put it in front of the house with a sign on it. ‘Someone take this away. PLEASE’.
      See? Bikes again
      Most houses in Cambridge are tiny terraces, often two up two downs where you go into the living room straight from the street, but there are some big ones like this. These are normally split into bedsits and/ or owned by the colleges. Often, university departments are in these big houses. When I was looking for a bedsit after I finished university, I went to see one in a house like this where it was just like Rising Damp. The lightswitches were hanging off the walls by their wires and there were 2 toilets for 15 rooms. We were dogsitting at the time and I used to go back from the horrors of bedsit-hunting and cry into the dog’s fur (she had dreadlocks), she used to sit patiently and then she and I used to pull ourselves together, drink coffee (me) and listen to loud music (both of us) while we waited to go to the pub.
      I want to live in a boat with a solar power generator but not one of those chemical toilets
      People live in house boats on the river. I always think this looks wonderful, but Partner says if he moved into a houseboat with all his books he would sink it. When I took this photo there was a boy sitting on one of the boats happily playing his guitar. It may not be so much fun in winter though. There is a big park next to this river, and actually there are loads of green open spaces in the centre, many of which have cows on in the summer. Sometimes the cows chase tourists, and when Stephen Hawking still used to get about in his wheelchair the cows who graze on the fen over the other side of the city used to chase him over the bridge while we watched from the pub.
      No-one has ever stripped to their pants in this launderette. It is devoid of eroticism
      All the centre of Cambridge is made up almost entirely of chain stores which is a bit boring, but as soon as you get out of the centre you find small slightly bizarre, 50s-looking shops like this. There is a shop round the corner from this where they have made their own sign, and, though I am supportive of the DIY ethos, well, you can really tell. I imagine the owner setting off up a ladder with paintbrush in hand, crying, pay a signwriter? I think not, and everyone else standing round raising their eyebrows despairingly at each other.
      The scene of the Weaving Cat and Fish Bag incident. Leafy suburbs near my house
      Plants in front gardens go in fashions. A while ago everyone had those giant spiky plants, at the moment we seem to be on things in pots, roses, or lavender. My street has a lot of petunias. There is a street near my house where someone has written all of Jerusalem on their front window and someone else has made some eyes and put them in the hedge. I don’t like to actually take direct photographs of people’s houses but I might see if I can do it discreetly to show you because, you know, eyes in a hedge O_O. Cambridge is very arty so often people have quite interesting displays in their windows, one house has a large hand sculpture, another has straw figures operating a wheelbarrow. A house not far from us has a big black cat ornament outside, often there is a real living black cat sitting next to it looking vaguely contemptuous. I assume it belongs to the house and has not just been attracted there by some kind of cosmic ordering vibe.

      Have I bored you? What are the houses like where you live, and are the biggest threats to public safety free-range cats, horror at house prices and bike thieves? I am curious :-).

      Friday, 20 May 2011

      Paint the whole world with a rainbow

      Yesterday I did yoga and today I can hardly move. There was a point during the class where I was propped up on my shoulders, with foam blocks under my bottom and my feet up the wall, when my lower back spasmed and I thought I would not be able to get down again. I had visions of the fire brigade having to be called and me making the cover of the Cambridge Evening News looking traumatised with a red face and scruffy jogging pants. Anyway I have lived to tell the tale and thought I would show you some nice colourful things to take us into the weekend (also, I appreciate that my introduction has kind of made a mockery of this, but, yoga! So much fun! Everyone try it! I have the level of athleticism of Waynetta Slob so if I can do it anyone can! I mean that entirely literally).
      I know I should present this graciously and not say, quilting that sod nearly killed me
      Mum’s quilt! Finished, bound and trimmed! I tried to get a more complete photograph of it for you, I got the tripod out and held it up and everything but it didn’t work. I looked like a person being smothered in a quilt with Birkenstocks sticking out of the bottom. I think it was Pages of Julia’s mum who said I should do a double border, I didn’t, but in retrospect, Pages of Julia’s mum, I think you may have been right. Never mind and we will know for last time. I am proud of this quilt as it is my first self-designed one, I know you are thinking, self-designed, ha! It is just squares, but actually it is an artistic representation of Fire, look, there is the fire at the bottom and I had to draw a diagram and colour in squares and everything. I may make the pattern available as a free pdf, we will see if I can work out how to do it (it may involve excel). I shall also do a tutorial next week for doing the binding because I have a special quick way based on Knitting Kitties Denise’s technique and I like it. (I don’t know if you have all been following Denise’s blog, but, there was some wonderful news on it recently – her partner is now home. Hooray for Mr Denise!).
      I like to go for subtlety
      Lots of double knit acrylic (Stylecraft Special DK, from here) to make a throw. I think you might be able to see where that colour scheme is going. I am making a rainbow crochet throw, and I think I am going to base the pattern on Attic 24’s crochet ripples. If I have time next week I will start working out how wide to make it, etc. I’m not sure whether to do solid rainbow stripes or to graduate the colours in, I’d like it to be fairly mindless so I can do it when I am watching TV or Partner won’t stop chattering.
      And again, I like to go for subtlety
      I started some more stranded knitting. These are Eunny Jang’s endpaper mitts, I have definitely made mistakes so far and I wimped out of the tubular cast on, but I’m pleased with how they’re going so far, and I think they’ll be wearable on some level – I think they’ll be nice for winter. I shall sit here typing and drinking tea with them on (some things do not change with the seasons). The red yarn is some lovely 4-ply merino Stephcuddles gave me in a swap, and the blue is some King Cole 4-ply wool which I thought was reasonable value (it was about £2.75). Unfortunately I had to buy new needles though so I can’t quite say, Cost Of Project £2.75! At least I’ll be able to use the needles again, though,
      Underwater colours for seahorse mittens. Rapidly approaching Critical Mitten Capacity
      Possibly on this next project. I love stranded mittens, and I’ve been looking at these seahorse ones covetously for a while. I cracked and bought some Zauberball to make them with, but the dark blue Regia for contrast is out of my stash (it was a Kemps special). I’m not sure whether it will be enough of a contrast, as there are some fairly dark greens in the other yarn, but perhaps I will have some light blue left over from the endpapers. We will see,
      Reality + artifice gosh which is which
      And I made a corsage as a test to see if I want to make more for a craft fair I’m doing in July. Can’t quite decide!

      Have a lovely weekend, everyone x

      Thursday, 19 May 2011

      Mix tape

      For those of you under 35, this post is going to be incomprehensible, for the rest of you it is going to be a bit tragic and you are going to roll your eyes. When I was a young person (clears throat) and all of this was fields, I used to like making mix tapes of my Favourite Hits. This was in the days before iTunes (ha! iTunes was not even a twinkle in anyone's eye!) and the way I used to do this (come on, don’t tell me you didn’t do the same) was, I used to put a blank Maxell C90 tape, purchased from Woolworths, in my tape recorder, and sit on a Sunday listening to the Top 40 and pressing the record button when songs came on I liked. This meant I had a lot of Frankenstein-type tapes, which not only demonstrated execrable musical taste, but had presenters talking over the beginnings and ends of all the songs. I am still confused today if I hear a song which I remember from my mix tape and it doesn’t have someone saying ‘and new in this week! It’s those cheeky chappies from Newcastle!’ or similar over the opening chords.

      Now I am going to be honest with you and say that my musical taste has never got any better despite loved ones’ sterling efforts (although Dan has had some success! Thank you Dan!) and sometimes I dig out my mix tapes (are you cringeing yet?) and I listen to them! Yes I do! I am listening to this one at the moment!
      Bryan Adams AND Arnee and the Terminators! A vintage year for musical taste development! I can't remember when I made this. I hope I wasn't 23
      But what I wanted to tell you was not how sad I am (you know that already) but about the Power of Google. Can you see Reviens nestling there underneath Bryan Adams? When I was young, I used to like French, and I had limited opportunities to hear it. I used to listen to French radio sometimes, wiggling the radio aerial about in my bedroom (this is not a euphemism) and trying to hear voices through the static, and once I did my pressing-record-quickly thing and out of the noise and static I captured Reviens. Reviens is a very strange song which has haunted me for years. I googled it years ago and I got nowhere. It begins ‘la boule de neige/ que tu m’avais jetée/ à Chamonix/ hiver dernier/ Je l’ai gardée.’ Which is about keeping a snowball someone threw at the narrator, who is dead and buried. Do you see? Odd. And it gets a lot stranger. Anyway I googled it again recently and, by Jove, I have got it! It is not called Reviens, it is called Adrien, and it is by Jacques Prévert (I imagine all of France probably knows this poem off by heart and it is just me who didn’t), who is actually a poet I like! Reviens! Brought under captivity! I think if you all have more modern browsers than me you can do a google translate thing - then you can see how odd it is! I am very excited, and actually I feel just like Kennedy when he captured the gerund.

      I do not know about my recording, though, I have only tracked down Reviens as a poem but obviously someone sang it as well so, more googling for me. Never mind. It’s nice to have a quest, isn’t it. Anyway, I have now finished my quilt so what I need is another hopeless long-term project ;-).

      Tuesday, 17 May 2011

      Waking up and smelling the roses

      In this house we like a good, definite colour, even in our flowers
      Although I am not much of a gardener (this is an understatement), roses have appeared in my garden! The above is a single rose in quite an unpromising bit where I have to fight brambles. It has a faint but nice smell. I have got another one in bud. Go me. This is thanks to my Judicious Pruning.
      I pin it up, it falls down. I pin it up, it falls down
      And this is the climbing rose round the window which keeps falling down and we have to keep pinning it up again. It is in a falling down phase at the moment so I have had to take this photo from a funny angle. Almost having roses around our door is possibly the only way in which Partner and I have managed to attain a picture-perfect life, in all other respects it is not picture-perfect. Partner would say at this point, very briskly, why would I even engage with outmoded stereotypes of How Life Should Be because everything is marvellous, the sun may shine tomorrow, there are faggots* for dinner and later he can watch The Avengers, drink wine, and moan about my knitting. (‘Don’t let that furry wool touch me! I can feel it on my leg!’).
      This is from the naturalistic school of photography. I have more where this came from. My mother in particular should be very nervous
      I have gone through some old photographs and I have found this one which is about 15 years old. It is of Nana Mollie, and my brother Dan in the foreground. Nana Mollie, who was my dad’s mother, looks like she is going after the wine and Dan looks helpless to stop her, this pretty much describes all our family gatherings, one of us going after the wine with a determined expression and the rest of us sitting about raising our eyebrows in a half-ironic fashion, although we now have a new recurrent theme in that someone will also be feeding a dog with an Inappropriate Sausage Roll and someone else will be trying to stop them. Nana Mollie was a woman who brought up 4 children on no money and, I learn subsequently, produced complex lace knitted things. Let us all pause to imagine what she would say to someone who suggested she knit a £55 tea cosy. Do you see my problem? It is very difficult to escape your genetics.

      * This is a meat thing that you get in the North. I had to sweet-talk the butcher and get him to make them specially. They really are called faggots. I may engage with faggots but I draw the line at Hodge, please do not ask, I cannot even find it on google.

      Monday, 16 May 2011

      Jane Brocket and the £55 tea cosy

      Last week I sold some of my old stuff on ebay (violins) and I treated myself to Jane Brocket’s new book, The Gentle Art of Knitting. It arrived on Saturday morning so I thought I would do a review.
      Domestic detritus around the gentle art of knitting. Keep Calm and Carry On
      First all the positive bits. It’s a lovely book – Jane is an extraordinarily engaging writer, I think: she creates a little world, makes it look enticing, and draws you in. It is quite hard to do this in a knitting book where you are restricted to writing introductions to patterns, but, she manages it. Also, she has a real eye for colour and styling: the photos in this make you want to knit the patterns, even when it is something you wouldn’t normally knit (a bulky garter stitch hot water bottle cover, for example). For those of you who take a hard, has-it-got-any-new-patterns in it approach, well, there are some really nice patterns for cushions, tea cosy patterns, a couple of really attractive looking hats, and more. I’m disappointed that everything’s knitted flat, but other people definitely won’t be (I shall lend it to my mum for the hat patterns – she likes knitting flat and is capable of seaming properly!), and it’s not unexpected – it’s got a very best-of-Rowan kind of vibe. Pretty book! I’ve been reading it all weekend and I like it.
      I liked these cushions
      I do have a problem though (you knew this). In fact I have two. Firstly, this is a book which formulates a philosophy: Jane has a Gentle Knitting Philosophy, which is, knit easy things where tension doesn’t matter in lovely yarn – no-one does knitting for necessity any more, so have fun with it. Now this is fair enough – it’s not necessarily the kind of knitting I enjoy all the time, but she’s not saying it should be, and I certainly sometimes want to knit something in that vein. Don’t we all? However, these patterns aren’t actually all that easy. A lot of them use intarsia – ok, it’s probably not hugely difficult (I’ve never done it successfully though), but, it’s not the first thing you learn. A few use stranding (the technique I was muttering about in my last post).
      I worked out stranding and I knitted this cowl
      The round cushion one uses short row shaping. There aren’t detailed instructions of how to do these techniques. Now, I don’t know if I could work out intarsia just from someone saying ‘twist the yarns together so you don’t get a hole!’ but I’m going to hazard a guess that if I was wanting some nice relaxing knitting I might need a bit more initial detail. I think sometimes when books want things to be simple, they force them to be simple by ignoring complexity, and then people try, fail, and get put off. Whereas sometimes the simplest pattern is actually the one that is 5 pages long with 23 diagrams that you look at to start with and wince, but then you start it and think, wait, this might be making sense...

      But, this is supposed to be simple, comforting knitting (whether it actually works or not: let’s not let facts get in the way) because this is about Domesticity As Retreat: Knitting As Comfort. I find the whole ‘domesticity as a cosy retreat where we all play with lovely expensive yarn without worrying about having to make anything that actually fits or is a bit difficult’ a bit problematic. I won’t get into the whole feminist angle (because I’d have to do a whole post) but I’m just going to say that domesticity as a concept isn’t politically neutral, and I think making it all cosy and lovely kind of flirts with the concept without actually engaging with the awkward bits. So, yes, I find it problematic. If anyone who is feeling more articulate than me today wants to tell me why, then I’m very happy to hear!

      My final criticism though I do think I’ve got a valid point. There is all the usual stuff in this book about lovely lovely yarn and how terrible it used to be when we had to use acrylic, etc, and the pleasure one might derive from using said lovely lovely yarn on lovely lovely bamboo needles. Jane names her favourite types of yarn – the usual suspects, Rowan, Debbie Bliss, etc. So I priced up some of the projects for you. Now, I am being a bit unfair here, because she does tell you to substitute yarn (I mean, she tells you to substitute it for Rowan. But the principle is there!), and she also says you will have leftovers from a lot of the projects which you can then reuse to make others, which is fair enough. However (prices based on Get Knitted):
      For the price of knitting this throw you could buy a small terraced house in Worksop
      There is a crochet throw which requires you to use 24 skeins of Cascade 220. (It actually says 400g of each colour in the notes – I’m assuming this is a misprint because that would cost about £500). That will cost you £146.40. Another crochet throw would cost you £122.

      There is a knitted throw which calls for 41 balls of aran-weight yarn. If you buy one of the ranges Jane recommends, you would be looking at about £160+. If you did it in Rowan you would be looking at about £270.

      There is a tea cosy which calls for 9 skeins of Cascade 220. This tea cosy would cost you £54.90 to knit.
      The offending cosy, propped open by my sock-clothed foot
      Now, I don’t necessarily think patterns should recommend that everybody should knit them in Giant Acrylic Balls and a bit of bald tinsel, but, look. There is a big difference between someone on a blog, who has bought a couple of skeins of luxury yarn with their own money recommending it, and someone writing a book telling you you should knit with luxury yarns which would make half the projects in it completely financially out of reach of most people. I mean, I might like the sensual pleasure of knitting with nice yarn, but I might also like the sensual pleasure of being able to pay my mortgage as well. Something that takes only a couple of skeins and where the type of fibre really makes a difference – absolutely, fair enough, I prefer wool for some things too and indeed I’m just about to order some (so warm!). But I can’t afford £200 for a throw and I suspect most other people can’t as well. I accept that that’s a criticism of more than just this book: however, I find it lazy and elitist. So lazy and elitist in fact, that it made me buy yarn to make my own crochet ripple throw (£20). So now I have to get off my bum and try and sell more on ebay! My life, it is hard.

      God, I sound a grumpy old person, don’t I? I really did like this book. You see, I was interested! I engaged! I bet you’re thinking, what does she say about books she doesn’t like, and the answer is, I say nothing because I think it would take me counselling to get over it if I ever dredged up the memory of Twilight. Can 5 billion teenage girls be wrong? Why yes. Yes they can ;-).

      Wednesday, 11 May 2011

      My WIP Wednesday is hairier than yours

      Last night I looked down at the slightly random bundle of woolly things I was working on and thought the colours looked kind of nice together. Then I thought, what is happening to me? Those colours look a tiny tiny bit… whisper it…
      Like neopolitan ice cream. Without the chocolate and with green instead
      Pastel. Oh, God forbid. I think I am still ok, though, I think they are a tiny bit more intense than traditional pastels. I am going to call them ‘sorbet colours’ and put it down to Spring madness. Anyway, this is what I am working on.
      The thing at the bottom is my skirt (I knelt down to take the picture, which doesn't entirely convey the Proud Hairiness of this yarn)
      Do you remember the hairy green yarn that Loretta gave me? Well, I am knitting Liesl with it, and, this is the exciting thing, when you knit it, the hairiness is multiplied exponentially. I feel as if a small green monster is being born from my needles as I knit. Partner squeaks in alarm like a Big Girl’s Blouse if it touches him while he is sitting on the sofa (‘Susie! I can feel it! It’s on my leg!’). I do not know what I will look like when I am wearing it – I may look like a big scary green furball – but I am going to pretend that I am the She Hulk, who is on the television at the moment every night about 11:30, and of whom I am very fond. Anyway I have finished the yoke and am now working on the body, it goes very quickly. The yarn is a bit of a sod to work with (you can’t see what you’re doing) but it is terribly soft and also the fur doesn’t shed so I will not be leaving a furry green trail. Which is good, because, I mean, I won’t need too. I’ll be making quite enough of an impression.
      I am ashamed of my scruffy fingers, yes. I'd just been digging in the garden
      Although it looks a bit rubbish, this is actually something very special and exciting. I am trying to teach myself stranded knitting (for you non-knitters, this is essentially fairisle, although there are other kinds as well), and I am not finding it easy. Here is my problem. Lots of instructions for stranded knitting assume you do not mind holding a yarn in each hand, however I would rather do almost anything in the world than knit continental. I hate it! Take that, Elizabeth Zimmerman! Right-handed english thrower TO THE DEATH! I can actually do it (continental knitting), but it feels completely unnatural. It is the knitting equivalent of nailing a jelly to the ceiling. Over and over. I hate it. So I have worked out how to hold both yarns in my right hand, but I cannot work out how to twist them together to weave in floats (you have to do this if your colours are more than about 4 stitches apart so you don’t have a lot of unwieldy strands in your work). So I am poking about on the internet and asking on Ravelry. I find it very difficult to learn things from videos, which is going to complicate things, so, what I think will happen is that someone who understands right-handed stranded knitting will come to my house and perform a Vulcan Mind Meld. I mean, I’ll make them a cup of tea afterwards, I won’t exploit them or anything. Then I shall be straightaway knitting up wildly colourful woolly things like a storm, with none of that awful tedious learning first. Thank goodness for that! I shall get off and clear the books off the sofa for us to do the Mind Meld on, and then perhaps that person will help with the recycling as well, because it’s Bottle Day and one of us has generated bottles (it isn’t me). Good job I made some digestives, eh? Always be prepared!

      While I’m waiting for the special Mind Meld person (hurry up, person! Mittens to knit!), you might want to check out some more Works In Progress (yes! It’s WIP Wed) at Tami’s blog (thanks, Tami!). If, on your travels, you see a WIP that is hairier than mine, could you please come back and let me know, because if such a thing exists I will be quite fascinated.

      Tuesday, 10 May 2011

      Flakiness and Fudge

      I am rubbish. I was trying to do Mumma Troll’s £1-per-person-per-day challenge and I forgot to cancel the veg box, which actually costs more than our allotted amount (£14), so I have failed to start with.
      O when will the parsnips stop coming
      However, having been initially utterly rubbish, I thought what I might do is try and cost individual meals and see if I can get our day’s expenditure down to only £2. I have to say, I find it very, very difficult – it is quite a challenge! And also because so much of what we eat seems to be leftovers and store cupboard items which I just kind of replenish when I think: i.e. I don’t go out and buy a week’s food in one go and then eat it, I operate more of a rolling programme. Anyway, yesterday was a wash out, but today I am doing a bit better (leftovers for lunch + dal) so I will take photos of dinner and then show you + recipe tomorrow. Also we did ok on Sunday when I started unofficially, but I find I can manage one meal but then lunch and breakfast is a challenge. It is not a challenge for Partner, who is happy to eat once a day like a grumpy camel, but I am a grazer and you would not believe how much snacks can add up to. Go and have a look at Mumma Troll’s blog to see someone do this challenge competently, I am full of admiration because honestly, it is not easy and I am starting to realise the reasons for my overdraft (not huge, don’t worry mum).
      Coloured with turmeric, let us hope it does not turn me yellow
      I cut up the soap and now it is curing. The soap bug, it has bitten me, and I have ordered more soapmaking oils from Fresholi. I have some useful information for all you soapmakers/ potential soapmakers out there: you can buy lye (caustic soda) in Homebase. It costs £2.49 and I think it is worth buying from there rather than online (because I don’t think Fresholi sell it and I didn’t want to have to do two separate orders), because you save on the shipping costs. Also, you can give the person on the Homebase checkout a thrilling moment when they wonder if you are perchance running a meth lab. I look as likely to run a meth lab as I do to run a marathon or a FTSE 100 company, so I did not have any trouble, but if you feel you might have the air of a criminal mastermind, you might want to take a loveable toddler or a vicar in with you to smooth your passage, so to speak. You can also clean drains with it, but if you ever watched How Clean Is Your House, Kim used to sort out the kind of people who normally turn up on Hoarders, with all their family crying and a lot of therapists looking at them sadly, with only half a lemon and a pair of old knickers as a duster. What would Kim say to people who need caustic soda to clean their drains? She’d say, get your lemon out, love, and use that caustic soda for something more interesting! (Not crystal meth. Kim wouldn’t approve of crystal meth).
      How many calories I wonder
      I also made fudge. This is my patented avoiding-buying-a-smaller-tin technique which works for anything that is reasonably solid. Scrunch that foil up and make it the correct size! I do not like to boast but this fudge is possibly the most delicious fudge I have ever eaten, it is even better than the fudge I made previously of which my brother Dan ate a slab without cutting it up. It is better than that. Entirely coincidentally, I have been and weighed myself at Boots and let the machine measure my body fat, and so, having discovered I am essentially the same as those monsters on Dr Who, I have had to freeze the fudge. It is very sad.

      I didn’t freeze all of it, though. {Wanders thoughtfully in direction of fridge}.

      Friday, 6 May 2011

      How not to make soap

      In the spirit of sharing things that go wrong as well as things that go right, I have just made some cold-process soap (which I have made before perfectly successfully) and managed to crack the dish I was stirring the lye in. So now I am down one salad dish and have lye all over my draining board. (This is bad).
      What am I going to put my salad in now?!! Tell me that!
      Luckily I had enough lye left to redo the solution in something robust and plastic, but I also got lye all over my hands (this is very bad) so now my hands feel like when you have got bleach on them by mistake.

      On the plus side, I did manage to get some semblance of soap out of it, so we will see what it is like when I unmould it tomorrow (I used turmeric in it to make it a different colour! And a blend of cedarwood, rosemary and ylang-ylang essential oils. It smells DELICIOUS. It is worth making soap just for the way it makes your house smell). And now I am a living example that you can have a Lye Disaster and live to tell the tale, so let that be a lesson to you all.
      Note use of exciting natural colourant. I wish you could smell it! It's amazing
      I wonder if anybody else has noticed, though, when you learn a new thing, sometimes the first few times you do it absolutely perfectly and then you go through a phase where everything goes wrong? I think the everything-going-wrong phase is actually the most important learning bit which sorts the women from the girls, at least that is what I am going to tell myself.

      I am going off now to have a nice cup of tea and watch something mindless before cleaning the kitchen from top to bottom, because otherwise I will probably manage to drink water from the glass I measured the lye in or something really dim. So if you see a warning item on News At Ten regarding home soap making and the potentially tragic consequences, you will be able to say, hey, look! I read her blog!

      (Or at least I used to…).

      Thursday, 5 May 2011

      Pootling, blogging, pootling again

      I am pootling about. V quick blog post mid-pootling. I am trying to finish mum’s quilt. Here is the back. On Ravelry there is a Selfish Knitters forum and someone said on there about knitting: ‘knitting is like sex. If I like you, I’ll do it for free. If I don’t, there isn’t enough money in the world’. I’m paraphrasing but you get the idea. Quilting is like this! Nearly at the binding stage! (Says she brightly). Can you see my lily buds in front?
      Quilt back incorporating my hand-dyed fabric, how cool does that make me? Very cool (just in case you weren't sure)
      My mint is coming up again! (The spiky plants are mare’s tail and these are Very Bad. If you find them you have to move. I can’t move though so we co-exist, just like I co-exist with Partner).
      Why am I such a weed magnet? I feel like it is a moral failing
      Did you know you can make mint tea just by sticking a handful of leaves in a mug, pouring boiling water on, and drinking it? (When it has cooled a bit). I know that seems obvious but it took me a while to work out because I am dim. It is in a mental category, for me, of drinks where I cannot understand why they make teabags when the real thing is actually quicker and easier. Also in that category is lemon and ginger tea. Put a slice of ginger in a mug with a couple of slices of lemon and a squeeze, pour boiling water on, drink. Lovely in winter when you have a cold.
      It's actually a good job I got it out of the fridge to take this photo because it was dripping custard
      I made whiskey and marmalade bread and butter pudding (it hasn’t been cooked yet, it is soaking. I am going out to vote first) out of a lot of old scraps that were lying about. Who has whiskey lying about you cry, well we do because someone gave Partner a bottle and he is not very keen on it (I will pause for those of you who have met Partner to stop laughing) so it has been hanging about. Perhaps I should start adding it to surprising things. Tuna and whiskey sandwiches. Whiskey muesli.

      Have a nice evening everyone!

      Tuesday, 3 May 2011

      Sing a new song, chiquitita

      OK, my idea. While I was in Edinburgh, there were riots in Bristol about a new Tesco that was being opened. Anyway, this got me thinking about the nature of activism, different versions of activism, etc, and I was thinking that, quite a major and almost revolutionary-type-thing which has come out of the internet is that we are all able to share knowledge and skills and learn to do things which it would otherwise have been difficult to learn.
      Laughing about a different sausage incident (yes really) in John Lewis in Edinburgh
      For example, I was just now looking at a tutorial on broomstick lace – without the internet I can guarantee I would never have heard about broomstick lace, let alone be eyeing up my Giant Ball Of Aran and thinking, do I want a bright red broomstick lace scarf. And I have learned so many things with advice from people and tutorials on the internet which I would never have felt brave enough to do on my own. For example, making soap – I used to be really put off potentially scary things such as this, because I was never sure if I could trust the book I was using or not (and I was right to be cautious, frankly. I read a book today which said you could make soap by using a certain weight of ‘any oils’ + a certain weight of lye. NO YOU CAN’T! Different oils need different amounts of lye! Use a proper recipe until you know what you’re doing. Soap isn’t pastry!). I just find it really encouraging when I see real people making things and sharing their thoughts about the process, what went right, what went wrong, and seeing the results. I think more knowledge of what goes into the process of making things is good because it reconnects us, and when we are disconnected all sorts of things go wrong. Sweatshops, overconsumption, not valuing things, stuff like that, you know the drill ;-). Also, handmade things are better. Aren’t they?
      Soap from the lovely Vivianne of Kismet's Companion, handmade and highly recommended. There is a link to her shop on her blog
      So this was my idea. I have a mental list of things that I would like to try to make that I either haven’t got round to or have felt a bit intimidated by. I suspect some people reading this have got the same. So I thought we could name a week and make them at some point over that week, and blog about it. I could set up a Mr Linky at the beginning of the week, and anyone who wanted to use it to expand their skills/ have a go at something they’d been meaning to do for a while could do it, blog about it at some point during the week, and link their blog and we could have a look and admire (or learn and commiserate). It could be anything, anything you want to make, I’m entirely equal opportunities: a thing, or a skill, just something that you could reasonably do (or at least get started) in a week.
      What thrilling new skills might be around the corner? This cat jumped out and terrified me, I think it is accomplished enough
      There are lots of silly things that put me off the things I want to do: getting organised, fear of cocking it up, fear of wasting materials etc, so, if you are the same, I officially give you absolution. It doesn’t matter how much you bugger it up! Do it, blog about it, we can all learn from the process, and if what you learn is ‘God, this was a lot of trouble and in future I’ll just buy them from Waitrose’ well, then that’s useful to know (and we might agree). I’ve not decided yet what I might do but, here are some of the things I’m thinking about so you can see the kind of thing I mean:

      Making fudge with a sugar thermometer
      Making sourdough bread
      Learning stranded colourwork
      Learning to spin
      Making liquid soap (possibly a bit too scary)
      Making jam
      Dyeing yarn
      Planting salad leaves
      And I’m sure there are lots more that I’ll think of!

      I was thinking possibly the first week in June, which would give us enough time to order bits of equipment from the internet if we needed to (I’m not thinking of you spending a fortune on equipment, but you might need bits if it’s something you’ve not done before).

      I thought it might be fun. Certainly I need a boot up the backside to make me brave enough to use my sugar thermometer. What do you think? Is anyone else in?

      {Waits anxiously ;-) }.