Monday, January 28, 2008

Healthy, wealthy enough and working on the wisdom, thanks.

This morning when I woke up, someone was mowing nearby. This is supposed to be a classic Australian summer sound... ahh, perfect for the Australia Day long weekend. But, would you start up a very noisy mower at 9:30am on a public holiday?

I had an idea that 10am was an acceptable time on a Sunday or public holiday. Turns out that the ACT Government permits use of lawnmowers and other garden equipment from 7am Monday to Saturday, and 8am on Sundays and public holidays. That's not really much of a sleep-in.

I guess there are plenty of people who would never imagine getting up later than, say, 7am. And maybe for some of those people, it really is unthinkable that anyone would still be asleep - or, perhaps more to the point, deserves to be asleep -at 9:30am on a beautiful summer day.

Well, it was about time for me to get up, anyway.

But I refuse to be ashamed about sleeping in. My ideal routine would be to go to bed between midnight and 1am, maybe 2 if I'm really engrossed in something, and get up about 8am. Instead, I often get a bit behind on sleep through the week, or I'll have one really late night, and then try to have a catch-up sleep-in on the weekend.

I've known a few early-bird-gets-the-worm types who clearly assume that they are morally superior. (No, before you race to hit 'comment', I'm not talking about everyone who likes to get up early.) They love to to tell you how productive they are in the mornings, how the world is quieter and you can get more done. For all I know, breakfast foods tastes sweeter and coffee is unnecessary for these people. Whereas someone like me who gets to work 9:30am on an average morning is clearly a lazy slob. My job involves flexible hours, and I'm just not a morning person, is this a crime? I tend to be more productive in the afternoon, and I'm willing to stay late. And even after work, I am still quite functional at 10pm when the early birds have long since collapsed into bed.

I probably can't complain too much. I just went out and put the car away late again, and each time I do this I wonder if the neighbours are bothered by the squeaking garage door when they are trying to sleep. And given the state of our 'weedyard' (it's definitely not any kind of 'lawn') I reckon they would all be thrilled if we would just get around to mowing it, whatever time of day.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Pull me up on either side

Don't leave me standing alone in the light.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Did you ever hear a duck sigh quack?

Pity the family of the Australian knitter. What do you get for Christmas? Socks, when it's too hot to want to wear any. Or scarves, just when a cool breeze would be more welcome on your neck.

This is Mum's christmas scarf, made from 100% bamboo (Cleckheaton), something that has come as a very odd surprise to every non-knitter I showed it to. Lovely silky stuff, with no itch for Mum's sensitive skin. Mum's kind of colours - dry grassy green and the colour of inner avocado flesh. Yum.

Revisiting this project, I feel mildly bad about a recent whinge to K the other night about his lack of excitement over the new things I knit.

Sometimes I'm just so... excited - in my laid back way - about the things that I can make (or try to make...) and the new skills I learn, and I expect him to just get it by osmosis or something.

On this one, K was my design consultant and he saved me from settling for the wrong pattern, or at least plunging in and knitting half of it before changing my mind.

I knew I wanted something a bit lacy or holey, but the variegated colours in the bamboo meant it had to be something pretty simple. I started with this Swiss Cheese scarf pattern. I quite liked the overall effect and K did too. It was going to be unusual and probably something Mum would have liked - an interesting, funky textured fabric. But I was getting these big loops at the corners of the holes. This is partly because the yarn is very drapey and has no stretch. I know there would be a way to avoid this happening, but I didn't have time to go through a lot of trial and error. Oh, and it was in garter stitch so it was going to go through a lot of yarn.

I put it aside and moved on to the zig zag lace pattern of Palette from Knitty instead. I was quite set on this. I loved the fact that it was a lace pattern, but angular. Mum is really not a girly lace person. I was all ready to go, had worked out how many stitches I wanted to cast on, and I just really wanted to start. But K didn't really like it.

Now, don't for one moment think that I always seek his approval on my projects. Anyone who knows us would find that hilarious - we're far too independent for that to be believable. But he was quite engaged in the planning, and I trusted his judgement on this one. I forced myself to come up with another option, and ended up liking it so much better. I was trying to be too tricky for the yarn. Turns out it just wanted to be a nice, flowing mistake rib.

I couldn't help sneaking in a little bit of trickiness for extra texture by dropping columns of stitches here and there, a bit like Clapotis - yarn overs at the bottom, and twisted stitches either side of the stitch to be dropped. I put the columns where I felt like it and made them of different lengths, trying to make it look simultaneously random, yet balanced overall.

My brain loves this kind of knitting. It's a really simple mindless pattern, but has the added element of intermittent decisions - where to place the columns of dropped stitches. I actually didn't want it to finish (except that Christmas was coming and the goose was getting fat).

There was one odd thing about the yarn. I had three balls from the same dyelot. The first two were reasonably consistent in the way the colour changes played out in squares and rectangles. When you stand back and squint, there is almost a tartan effect. But the third one was quite different - the colour changes were much shorter. Luckily I didn't mind it in this scarf, but I imagine it could be really annoying in a garment.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Wonder Woman lost her bosoms, flying TAA

A bit before Christmas 2007, I dared to pull out those fishnets and tried them on again.

Edited to add: Just realised I forgot to tell you about another 'design issue'. Once I had decided to let the lines spiral around the leg, of course, both legs spiral the same way. I would really prefer them to be mirror imaged. I played around a bit with getting them to go the other way, but couldn't get it to happen.

They looked ok. I wasn't sure they were something that my sis would wear, but they looked quite pretty hanging up, and I wouldn't put it past her to use them decoratively. So I decided to give them to her.

Then I had another look at the start of the green lace sock. I had originally thought it would be too tight and narrow. But when I recently made the red-and-white socks for this sister, I was thinking they would probably be too small and yet they actually fit fine. I concluded that these lace ones which were pretty good on me, would fit her too. (Sorry darling sister, clearly I thought you had wider feet than you actually do!)

I hadn't written down the needle size but I was pretty sure it was 3.25mm, so I ploughed on. There wasn't much time and I wasn't sure she would wear knee highs, so I made them into shorter socks instead. She loves them, but would love knee highs too, it turns out. A small part of me wishes I had pursued the original plan, especially keeping in mind the photo potential, but, well, sometimes I do have to face up to how time actually works. As in, I don't actually know how to stretch it beyond the laws of physics.

For the ribbing, this time I increased the stitch count one and a half times (K1, Kfb around) and used 2.25mm needles for an eyelet rib pattern I found somewhere online. Sorry, I can't find a link now, but I'm happy to share the pattern if anyone asks.

After that, the second sock worked up pretty quickly, and despite a panic about them being different sizes, they came out very nearly (almost) the same. Most importantly, she is very happy with them. I now think it was just a slight tension difference and not the wrong needle size.

On the day they both seemed to love their socks. The blue fishnets, in particular, were almost a little bit hard to let go after all that went on with them. Not because I want them for myself, but because they still showed some mistakes that I might not make if I started again now. But I was glad I did hand them over. And if I persisted in making the green ones into knee highs, they might still be hanging around this house, half done, with me trying to work out where to put the increases, or doing crazy repairs. It was time to say, c'est tout! I am willing to take a long time over things, redo things, have a go at slightly crazy things, but in the end I am not a perfectionist. I do like to surprise my loved ones, and they certainly seemed surprised and pleased.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Batman smells, Robin flew away

These are the socks I made for my sisters for Christmas. The story of how they finally came to be handed over is long and involved, so I'll understand if you skip it. But come back tomorrow for more pretty pictures.

It started some time before Christmas 2006 (yes, 2006) with Knitty's Lolita legs. Or was it the Nina Chakkor's Anna socks from Rowan 40? I know I thought about tracking down that book, after seeing those lacy knee highs on a couple of blogs, but I decided to have a go at making Lolita as a knee high.

After a few false starts the toe went ok, and the foot took no time at all on 3.25mm needles. The instructions for the short row heel were so easy, because you deliberately don't bother to wrap the stitches - the resulting holes contribute to the lacy look - and suddenly it was magical, my knitting had turned a corner and I was making a sock.

This is where I started the rocky journey of modifying the pattern. I wanted a knee high sock, and Lolita Legs is a lace-up-the-back, thigh high. So I kept knitting in the round from the ankle up, instead of starting to knit back-and-forth as the pattern required. So far so good. Easier than the pattern, really. Whee! The fishnet pattern has a plain section that runs up the back of the leg, where the lacing would go. I thought I might as well keep this, as a kind of seam effect running up the back of the leg, and I could try to hide the calf increases in it. On paper, this was a good plan. But it didn't work.

The Lolita pattern was for a medium to large leg, and I was knitting for my small-med sister, and using different wool anyway, so I just worked out where the calf increases should go by trying it on. As I tried it on I realised that the fishnet pattern naturally wants to sit on the bias, with the lines going diagonally up the leg. This meant that the 'seam' also spiralled bizarrely up the leg.

The way that it is modelled in the pattern picture, with the lines running straight up the leg, seemed to require some twisting of the sock as you put it on. This had the effect of taking out much of the stretch, and therefore the clinginess, of the stitch pattern. I realise now that the recommended yarn (Elann Esprit) has more stretch than the sock wool (Patonyle) I used, so that might have worked better.

Also, the increases were not in fact very well hidden, and they looked bad.

Of course I had knitted the full leg by the time that I decided it very obviously didn't work. I had even done the ribbing at the top, doubling the stitch count by knitting front and back into every stitch, and going down to 2mm needles, for a nice fine-gauge ribbing - which, as you may imagine, took quite a while.

On a few previous projects I had built up some confidence with the technique of dropping stitches down a few rows to fix mistakes. So I hit on a crazy scheme: I would drop the whole group of stitches for the plain section and increases, ALL the way down to the ankle, then knit them back up again in the fishnet stitch.

Yes, I did this to my knitting.

And the repair did work. It certainly wasn't fast but I would have gotten there in the end.

While I considering what to do with the first sock, I had cast on and knit the second sock according to the new plan - no wacky seam spiralling up the leg, thanks very much, just the fishnet pattern all the way around. At this stage I was still aiming for the pair to be finished for a Christmas present. And I still thought I might design and knit another pair of lacy knee highs for my other sister, although time was getting a bit short.

I was working with Aero metal double pointed needles, the only kind I had at that stage, and my tension was very uneven. I had gotten a bit better with the second stock, not fabulous, but the first really was pretty bad.
See in the photo below, how the diagonal lines are close together and then further apart? No, that didn't go away with blocking.

And perhaps inevitably, in the slow process of fixing the 'design misstep' in the first sock, the reknit portion was coming out a bit uneven with the rest of the sock.

It must have been around this point I put down the blue pair and tried to redeem myself, with just a week or so to go till Christmas. I chose a stitch pattern, English mesh lace, from one of my books (The Hamlyn Complete Guide to Knitting by Eleanor Van Zandt) and made a start with the green Heirloom Argyle, for my other sister. When I finished the heel and tried it on, I was sure that it was going to be too tight for her. Damn. I faced starting again with more stitches.

And that was when I gave up on the whole lacy christmas stockings thing and raced out to do some last minute present shopping. Both sisters have their birthdays in February, so I thought I could take a break and reassess.

A couple of months later, I bought a large set of bamboo double pointed needles on ebay. I was pretty sure that the weight of the metal needles had been a big contributer to my tension problem. So I took out that first blue stocking - a large portion of it still looking like a messy pile of blue spaghetti because I was nowhere near finished on the repair operation - and unravelled it right down to the heel. Then I put the stitches back on my new bamboo needles and knit it all again.

I was right, the lighter, stickier needles helped a lot. I still wasn't feeling totally thrilled with the fishnet pattern. I was a bit over the project by this stage. I couldn't decide whether to reknit the second sock on bamboos, accept it as is, or throw the whole thing in the darkest corner of the room. Option c kind of happened by default. I put it all away in a bag, the embryonic green lace sock too. Over the next several months they occasionally popped into my head and bothered me, but I didn't do anything about it. I needed time.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

the smiles returning to the faces

Oh, this text-and-photos combo is such a limited medium. I wish I could share with you how perfect this pod feels in my hands. I think it is my favourite ever. I felted it twice because it seemed a little slow going the first time, or maybe I was lacking in stamina, either way, both pieces needed a second go. And with that treatment the pod in particular came out quite firm, small and delightful.

I am really loving that green with the sour raspberry pinks and blues. See how different the overall result is between the pod and the tray? Well, I like it that way. I never could wear matching earrings and necklace either.
And the dark pink stuff, Cleckheaton Merino Spun, makes these fantastic little bobbles in the felted fabric, because it is 20% acrylic.

The shop move is done, they opened on Thursday. I worked a lot of hours and had a wiggy dreams invading my overtired sleep for a few nights there. But it looks great and was all worth it. If you're in Canberra, have a sticky beak. Garema Place between Redpath and Bargain Books.

Monday, January 07, 2008

We will be shop-building

Only a little sneaky pic tonight. There was only a little light left when I got home tonight, so no good picures yet. We've been flat out moving the shop the last two and a bit days, with a couple more big days to come. It's hard work but the new shop is going to be fantastic.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Fiddling about with colour

One of the things I am loving about felting is the blending or mixing of colours. Let's get the disclaimers out of the way - I am no colour expert. Also, not all of these photos were taken in the same light. But I hope they are close enough to true that you can get the general idea.

I especially love playing with a variegated or striped colourway, and adding other colours to it, like my early pods with Sean Sheep Armytage, and the recent trays with Happy Spider's Sour Raspberry.

These two trays were both made with the sour raspberry wool above.

The one on the left, combined with this blue.

And the one on the right with this soft green.

Since then I've made a semi-matching set of pod and tray (yes I did it, Donna Lee). The tray above, with the sour raspberry combined this time with a dark bright pink.

And the pod with this darker green and a stripe of the pink as well.

Those last two are still soggy in a bucket, half-felted (off to do that now). Finished pictures to come soon, I hope.