Monday 23 March 2009

More amateurish spinning

So I have been doing a bit more spinning recently, two hanks of undyed merino (and will probably do a bit more) that I want to dye up together so I can actually make more than a baby hat with it, and some of the alpaca (have also got photos of my first attempts at carding, which was time consuming but could be pretty good exercise for the pecks I think:-), which was an absolute bugger to spin (but the felt I tried instead is lovely and soft). Having said that baby hats are the order of the day at the moment so I decided yesterday to spin a bit of colourful stuff to make another. I am finding that a little bit of roving seems to go an awful long way. I initially bought 500g of the undyed, about 200g of mixed greens and yellow and 250g of mixed reds (from various ebay sources) and having used various bits for both felting and spinning it hardly seems to have reduced the stash at all.
I picked out this yellow and then simply pulled off a length of the red to match:

And then drafted it together in batches (I also tend to tease this out gently as I go to even out the thickness.)
It took me about an hour and some, and when I hanked it up it came to nearly 60m (the little table is quite nicely about 1m round so I count it as I wind it up.) i am really pleased with how it has come out. I am getting better at getting an even thickness
I set the twist, squeeze it out and then leave to dry overnight in the hot cupboard. I am wanting to get it knitted today but have promised M I will make a start on her hoodie (which has been in the pipeline for a month now since I am recycling a lovely cotton/angora yarn from a charity shop find). What I really enjoy about the spinning is the process of transformation, from fluff into yarn ... and then of course from yarn into something wearable, or useful. Felting is the same, taking something insubstantial and turning it into something solid.
This photo shows (from top to bottom) the undyed merino, the alpaca and the two tone red and yellow.

Sunday 22 March 2009

The Ladies of Grace Adieu

The Ladies of Grace Adieu (and other stories) by Susanna Clarke. This is another one I went searching for after reading a review and what a pleasure it turned out to be. I am definitely going to read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which is her other book. In fact the first story (The Ladies of Grace Adieu) features the character of Mr Strange, who appears to get his comeuppance when faced with a somewhat feisty group of young women in a sleepy (fictional) gloucestershire village. This is a book of fairy stories, but not nice sweet children's stories, they show the old fashioned, much more gruesome side of fairies. Some are reworkings of old folk tales, like 'On Lickerlish Hill', which I recognised at once as Rumpelstiltskin and one of the others is set in a world created by Neil Gaiman. It is rather hard to describe or even to explain why you might like to read it other than to say it is like no other book of short stories I have ever read. Reading it is like going back in time several hundred years and being totally taken up with the folklore and superstitions of the era. Although the fairies are technically all powerful in several of the stories they are shown that they cannot always get the better of the mere mortals, and I get the feeling there was usually a 'moral' lesson historically attached to such stories. The way the characters talk and their manners and their behaviour all adds to the atmosphere. One story is written in a weird dialect (you just have to go with the flow as to begin with it just looks like really bad spelling) and in most of them the author uses old fashioned spellings and turns of phrase. When I found it in the library there were two copies; one paperback and then one lovely embossed fabric cover hardback with one of those silky bookmarks attached at the spine, and it made the experience somewhat multi sensory to be reading from what felt like an 'old fashioned' book, it seemed more appropriate to the stories inside.

They have no idea...

... quite how boring it really is. I had conclusive proof when at Chipping Campden school parent's evening on Thursday. On the whole I don't mind parent's evenings, the teachers mainly say nice things and it tends to be a bit of a 'keep up the good work' exercise. But then M and I stood in the foyer on the way out and watched the little ten minute film of 'what goes on in our school' (that wasn't the title, just my interpretation of it's purpose) .... and it was excruciatingly dull. Shot after shot of children sitting at desks. If it was supposed to inspire parents as to the quality and variety of the educational experience that their children were receiving it was a singular failure. The highlights of the film were M skipping and M in drama class, and not just because it was her, but because they were the only interesting incidents in a sea of tedious bookwork. Since I have no doubt it was quite an accurate picture of the average student's average day on school I wonder that in both making it and watching it the teachers do not seem to notice. I could feel the life being sucked out of me just watching it. It seems to remain a mystery to them why vast numbers of 'school days' are lost every year to truancy, when it is screamingly obvious to me.
After the horrific events in Germany a fortnight ago when a former pupil killed students and staff at his school I am left wondering (as usual it seems, for this is not such a rare occurrence) why the question never seems to be asked, what is it about school that creates in the minds of these people such negative feelings that it drives them to go out and murder. People search for the answer anywhere except the school environment that has such a dominating influence on the lives of our society's adolescents.

Tuesday 17 March 2009

catch me when I jump

Also perhaps entitled 'life with teenagers'

I miss felt pens with no lids
I miss lego all over the floor
I miss the swing and jump climbing frame
I miss playmobil and beanie babies and sylvanians
I miss wellies full of water
I miss sticks brought home from every outing
I miss trampolining in the dark
I miss marathon Harry Potter readings
I miss climbing the door frames
I miss paddling pools and damp clothing
I miss feeding squirrels in the park
I miss pushchairs and piggy-backs
I miss tying shoe laces
I miss sticky fingers and sticky kisses
I miss holding hands to walk along the wall
I miss 'look at me mum'
I miss 'catch me when I jump'

Wednesday 11 March 2009

Phyllotaxis etc.

Creative Spinning by Alison Daykin and Jane Deane: I borrowed this book from the library a few weeks ago when I was wanting to start experimenting with spinning. It is a lovely book. The first part is basic spinning instructions, for both spindle and wheel, and this is pretty clear considering it is quite a hard thing to describe well in words. The remaining chapters are rather like a recipe book. It has a series of quite specific yarns and instructions on how to spin them. The photography is lovely and the whole book is very inspirational, really giving you starting points for your own creativity. While I probably wouldn't buy it, it was an excellent starter book and well worth a look.

Stitch and Bitch Nation by Debbie Stoller: Considering this was actually quite recently published (2005) I found the patterns rather dated, I don't think there was a single thing that I found flicking through where I stopped and thought "now that is really nice". What I did enjoy were the little stories. scattered through between the patterns, of 'Stitch and Bitch' groups all over the world, how they came about and where they meet and just little personal touches. I really liked one of the stories that told of a group meeting in some community centre, who were told that they weren't allowed to have the word 'bitch' in their group title as it was offensive, so they changed the group name to 'Cast Off' which seemed both craftily appropriate and described how they felt at the time.

One Skein by Leigh Radford: I picked this one out because I found a couple of patterns on Ravelry that came from this book so I decided to take a look. A nice book but really quite simple, nothing very exciting or experimental about any of the patterns, and I thought a bit of a cheat because one of the patterns is for a bath mat, and her excuse is that the yarn she used came on a 1000g cone (it seems to me that's not the sort of thing you have lying around by accident, but then I am still growing my stash:-) There is a really cute newborn baby jacket which I will probably scan and keep but other than that I was not overly impressed. At the same time I also borrowed a book called "Fabulous Felt" by Sophie Bester. I did not even bother with a photo since it turned out to be not what I was looking for at all. I was hoping for a felt project book but it was a 'making cutsie things that I wouldn't give house room to out of manufactured felt' book. Apart from the covered glass tea lights which were quite nice I only flicked through it.

Knitting Nature by Norah Gaughan: Now this is the kind of knitting book I really love, and the inspiration for the title of this blog entry; phyllotaxis is the principles governing leaf arrangement, and is used in one of the chapters of this book. I actually read the introduction of this book, not something you often bother with in craft books as you want to get to the pretty pictures. Norah describes her background in both creativity and science and how they have influenced eachother, and also how she was encouraged to pursue science as a young woman because it was what women were supposed to aspire to and how the women's movement had something of a tendency to devalue traditional female pursuits (we are talking the 70's and 80's here), and as such she felt she had to continually justify her decision to go into professional knitting design. So the book is all about using mathematical shapes and relationships as a basis for patterns and garment structure. I love it because it is truly experimental and original. There are chapters based around hexagons, pentagons, spirals, phyllotaxis, fractals and waves. Some of the garments are a little unconventional in structure but the overall impression is so imaginative and I just loved the whole book. I am not sure how many of them I might knit but the point with such a book is that it inspires you to be creative and imagine different possibilities. This one is already on my amazon wish list and I can see it making it's way into the basket some time soon.

52 books list: I am really struggling with The Voice of Hope, it is not a well written book at all, just conversation transcripts, talking round in circles rather badly so I am not sure I will finish it.

Sunday 8 March 2009


It being my birthday yesterday Tish, M and myself went out to dinner last night to the Horse and Groom at Bourton on the Hill, and had the most lovely meal. Having browsed the menu at length and been unable to decide I said lets have oysters, and the lamb and the chicken (all with home made chips) and share them all between us. So we did. And the whole thing was really delicious; the meat was cooked to perfection, and the oysters were a new experience all round. It was good to have M eating outside her usual comfort zone, and enjoying it. Being pretty well stuffed we also opted to share a pudding. It sounded a bit weird to me but was absolutely wonderful: rhubarb ice-cream? (also with raspberry sorbet). Then we giggled and tottered our way back down through the village (the girls had both opted for tottery kind of shoes) while Dunk drove up to get us. We went home to excessively-candled birthday cake and tea, which was the perfect end to the evening.

This morning we binged wardrobes and threw out piles of old underwear and scruffy t-shirts. One bag of stuff to sell (ebay of course) and one to give away. But one top was too lovely to part with, so I made it into a cushion for the new sofa, and it looks pretty fab if I don't say so myself.

Thursday 5 March 2009

Wild Washerwoman

I am having my day off today so decided to get all the bedding washed, it being a relatively sunny and windy day. However when I went to hang out the second batch the washing line snapped. It is old and worn out and I could not make it stretch far enough to tie back up again. I was just debating taking the whole lot back inside when I remembered The Wild Washerwomen:

In the story the gang of wild women take their laundry down to the river, where they plunge it in, soak it, soap it, and pound it on stones. Well that does seem a whole lot of bother but then... they hang it over bushes and rocks to dry ... which seems like an eminently suitable idea.

So I did.
Now although they all get married to the woodcutters in the end (after cleaning them up rather vigourously) I always considered it had a strong feminist message, since the women rebel against the exploitative drudgery they are enslaved in and set out to make independent lives for themselves.
Sometimes I get very nostalgic for books that I used to read all the time when the children were little, and this was one of my favourites (in fact John Yeoman and Quentin Blake were amongst our regular favourite authors). Mrs Armitage on Wheels is another one I remember fondly. It is sad that no-one wants me to read to them any more.

Tuesday 3 March 2009

More felting.

What better way to spend a quiet Sunday than messing around with sheep's wool. Warning for another time: don't wear a velvet skirt as every time I leaned over the bits of roving stuck to it.
So this is the basic layout with a dark purple background and shades of green and yellow for the decoration.
After it has been wetted all over it looks a bit like this. You cover with more bubble wrap and rub all over gently so as not to mess up the design.

I got to this stage, when it has begun to shrink and hold together, and found that there were holes in it. So I turned it over and added another layer of purple on the back, re-wet everything and agitated it a bit longer.
The final piece has shrunk quite a lot, by about 40%. The final dimensions are about 11X11 inches, having been 20X18 when I laid out the roving. I am thinking of making a back piece to match and making it into a cushion. (waiting for M to use other computer so I can get at my photos)

The girls made book marks because they are obsessively reading the Twilght books. I only managed to distract them from reading because my stash of coloured roving was so tempting.

Sunday 1 March 2009

Knitting with Noro

I have been lusting (it's the only appropriate word here) after this yarn ever since I first encountered it on a trip to Sew In in Didsbury (in Manchester) with Julie. Noro is a Japanese company which produces the most fabulous yarns on the planet. This one I am using is called Silk Garden and is 45% silk, 45% kid mohair and 10% lambswool, and is absolutely gorgeous to knit with. Most of their yarns come in these fabulous variegated colourways so the designs are often quite simple in themselves, allowing the colours in the yarn to be the focus of the finished article. This pattern is called Lovlund and it comes from the second Cornelia Tuttle Hand Knitting Collection. I just wanted to put this up because it is so beautiful and I am so pleased with how it is looking (the photo really does not do proper justice to the colours), despite finding a small hole and having to pick back half a dozen rows. I will come back to this when it is completed.