Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Series of nightmares; pesky dream-traps

When I'm really overtired, I often find myself falling into a series of intense dreams or nightmares as soon as I fall asleep. My uneducated guess (only semi-supported by a brief internet search) is that it may be more likely you'll fall almost immediately into REM (rapid eye movement) sleep when very tired. Interestingly, dropping straight into REM is typical in narcolepsy. Which I'm pretty sure I don't have. Normal sleep patterns involve 1-2 hrs of non-REM sleep before going into the first REM stage. And non-REM sleep is thought to involve little or no dreaming, or perhaps less intense and less narratively based dreaming. It's still a pretty mysterious field of study.

When I realise it is happening, I am desperate to wake up and break the cycle. Sometimes it's hard to break out. Most recently I got to the last dream in the series and it was me lying in bed trying to turn the bedside light on but I couldn't make it work. Of course this wasn't real and after a struggle - probably just a moment in real time - I woke up properly and turned on the light. At this point I generally feel both scared and annoyed, because I know I'm overtired, I've probably made the effort to go to bed early, and now I'm losing the chance to catch up on my sleep and am not willing to slip back into sleep too soon. 

I recently watched season 3 of the addictive Mr Mercedes. For the new season there was a different theme song, Series of Dreams by Bob Dylan.

Like pretty much anyone spending enough time listening to western popular music, I'm familiar with plenty of Bob Dylan songs. But I've never really paid serious attention or listened to his albums - though it always seemed like I would one day.

Because I'd been thinking about these nasty falling-asleep dream sequences, Series of Dreams immediately grabbed my attention. It was recorded in 1989 but didn't actually make the cut for that album, and came out a couple of years later on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3. 

The lyrics aren't about nightmares, necessarily, but the song does capture that trapped feeling, with lines like "nothing comes up to the top," and "there's no exit in any direction." And of course the whole feeling of moving from one dream to another, when perhaps you'd rather wake up or just move into restful dreamless sleep.

It was not just the lyrics: I also instantly loved and recognised the sound, and was not surprised to learn it was produced by Daniel Lanois, who also collaborated on one of my favourite albums, Wrecking Ball with Emmylou Harris. I remember when the Boss gave one of his later albums the same name. I couldn't quite understand why he felt ok with that. Doesn't he know that's Emmylou's masterpiece?! 

And all this talk of dreams reminds me of one of my favourite songs of 2021, Canyon by Charm of Finches. 

Not only do the lyrics talk explicitly about dreams, but in their 'Inside the Song' video Mabel and Ivy talk about how they mined their own dream journals for ideas. It's such a beautiful song.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Warrior shawl!

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This is Beth's shawl from the 2019 Little Women movie. But we're calling it the Warrior Shawl! as those seem to be the vibes when she wears this way, like a sontag (or 'Danish tie shawl'). 

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Sometimes a piece of knitwear from a film catches the eye of knitters, and one or more people will reverse engineer a pattern. In this case though, the woman who published the pattern (and donated the proceeds to a charity) is the person who actually knit it for the movie

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We decided the best colours for my sister would be pretty much the same colours as the original. The main purple is a delicious merino and linen blend: Isager Yarn Merilin. The brown and yellow stripes are some of a large batch of 4ply tweed yarns (Rowan and similar) which I had found not long before, a wonderful op shop find.  


It was a delight to knit. I loved the yarn, especially the Merilin, and this was a good thing, as I ended up reknitting the whole thing after my icord edging came out way too tight, which you can see in the picture on the right above. It was one of those projects, where I sort of knew as I went along that it probably wasn't going to be ok, but just kept going and hoped it would block out enough. I should trust that instinct by now! 

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It's actually not exactly the same as the one in the film. The skinny brown stripes are actually not as skinny as they should be (3 garter ridges instead of 2) as I missed the errata published for the pattern. But I think we can live with this. Just adds a little more length and warmth.

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Monday, July 26, 2021

Colourful cowhide

A black-bordered blanket in stripes of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple and darker red; with variously sized black patches all over it; spread out on a bed. 

After I made a suprise blanket for my eldest nephew for his thirteenth birthday, I started to think that this could be something I do for each of the niblings at the same age. Growing up, we had a couple of key milestone birthdays when we were given certain things: a bike; a bedside clock radio. I just liked the idea.

There were two who were next in line (twins) and for various reasons I decided it would be best to consult rather than surprise this time. Mr almost-13 said he wasn't keen on a hand-knit and would rather have a weighted blanket/quilt instead. Easily done and has turned out to be very well loved. (I'm not ruling out making him one at a later date, but it was a relief not to have to make two adult-sized blankets by the same deadline.)

His sister was keen, however, and jumped eagerly into a design conversation. We discussed various options and settled on this mashup concept: "cow print" on a rainbow background. She does really love that cow hide look! I did basically know what she meant and we made some drawings. But I couldn't really visualise it or be sure it would work. I just had to knit and hope for the best.    

A white West Highland Terrier dog with floppy ears helps me photograph the blanket. 

See below, how some of the patches are raised and some are flat? That's because I didn't put enough black patches in at first. 

I knit it first with several intarsia patches. It wasn't too hard to just come up with random, organic shapes without a chart. But I should have done more drawing and planning before I started. I wasn't keen on the yarn-juggling that would be involved if I made more than one or two black splotches at a time. This meant I didn't do a lot of them overall. When I got toward the end and was able to look at it spread out, it was clear that the overall effect was not reading as "cow print" (even though, I guess, an actual cow could well have had only a few black patches) and was more like a rainbow ocean with a few scattered islands. 

A close up picture of blue and purple knitting fabric with some flat and some raised black patches.

I thought about embroidering more patches with duplicate stich, but when I tried it I didn't like how it looked (nor how long it took). I switched to applique, knitting a whole lot of random shaped patches in large and small sizes and just sewing them on.

On the wrong side, you can see the difference between the intarsia; a few small stranded patches I also threw in while doing the main knitting; and the later sewn-on patches. 

2021-07-26_06-09-11The other problem was that fabric knitted mostly or all in stocking stitch ('stockingette') will always very much want to curl at the edges. I knew this well of course, and had included as I knit the blanket a decent garter stitch border all the way around, but I also wasn't really convinced this would be sufficient, and it became obvious almost straight away that it was still going to curl. In the end I had to knit on an additional border in black, and then this really was enough to make it sit properly. It wasn't really planned but now I like how the double border looks.
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Two images showing a garter stitch knitted border matching the colours of the blanket, and another garter stitch border beside it in black.  

After making a few blankets in recent years that *mostly* came out pretty quickly and *mostly* to deadlines, I had to admit this time that I hadn't started the project early enough to allow for all these extra tweaks and problem solving. Annoyingly it became the neverending project that always needed "just another week". In the end it was about six weeks late! Longer, really. than I would have thought it should take to make all together. I did make her a cushion (a repeat of this one) to give to her on her actual birthday. And she was perfectly patient waiting for the blanket. 

I think she was really happy with it in the end. I was too, which was a relief since I hadn't felt totally confident along the way about the design coming together.    

2021-07-26_06-10-10A black-bordered blanket in stripes of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple and darker red; with variously sized black patches all over it; spread out on a bed. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Pax * Joy * Love


A few months ago I collected some craft books that I'd inherited from my grandmother, Denise. One of them was this beauty from 1990, Jenny Kee's Knits from Nature.
Knits from Nature
I'd been wanting to make a garment for my four-year-old niece and here was the inspiration!

Yes, a little bit ambitious.

I've done little bits of colourwork before but never a whole garment like this. The patterns in the book are all oversized adult jumpers and cardigans (plus the odd poncho, skirt or legwarmers). I hatched a plan to use some of the motifs from the pattern 'Pax Joy', but apply them to a plain child's jumper.


It turned out that I had all the colours I needed in my magical stash of Bendigo Woollen Mills four-ply cotton. All except black: why don't they make black? I used a mercerised cotton which wasn't a great match but in small amounts that didn't matter. I thought that stranded four-ply would probably make a jumper of a practical, wearable weight for a little kid, one that might go across seasons. Many little kids don't spend a lot of time wearing really warm jumpers.

For the pattern I used a basic raglan recipe, and I messed it up a bit by not planning ahead properly: don't look too closely at those increases as I had to squeeze them in a bit faster than is ideal. I had dreaded this first part, where I would need to maintain the pattern while increasing. I normally don't mind if I have to rip and re-knit but really didn't want to do that in this case. 


Once I got to the right stitch count for the body and it was just knitting straight in the round it got easier but it was still slow going. Unlike most of my knitting projects - even blankets - this one didn't travel anywhere with me for casual knitting opportunities. I really had to schedule lots of home time to sit down and get this done. (Thank you, pandemic)

From the small swatch I made first, I knew that any motifs with three colours to a row would be much slower going and also wouldn't look as neat. There were only a couple of three-colour ones in the chart, and I modified one of them. Those pink circles on a teal background were meant to be yin-yang symbols, but I thought big polka-dots would look just as good. But the other - the butterflies - well, I could have left them out but I decided it would be worth the pain to do them.


And they were a pain. Juggling three yarns while avoiding long floats and keeping even tension is harder. It seemed those particular rounds would never end. Once I eventually passed that point on the body it started to seem possible I might one day finish this garment. 

Inside out
When I got to the first sleeve, it was quicker - only two butterflies, how hard can that be? Well. Mistakes were made.

Because it is annoying to juggle three balls of yarn (and Bendigo balls are really large too) I grabbed some bobbins from a previous project, which happened to have some four-ply cotton already wound on them. When I had finished those butterflies, I stopped and actually looked at the garment. I had used a different, brighter yellow! (A better yellow, really, but not available any more.) I briefly thought about leaving those bright butterflies on just one sleeve as a special feature... but it really didn't work. So those rows had to be ripped back and reknit.


Unfortunately, finishing up the first sleeve, it became apparent that the butterfly section, the only one with three colours, was pulling in a bit narrower than the rest of the sleeve. It wasn't til I had finished the second sleeve and started the long process of weaving in ends....

So. Many. Ends
...that I had to admit that first sleeve needed fixing. Mum pointed out how terrible it would be if my niece couldn't bend her arm comfortably!

Choppy choppy!
I managed to avoid ripping and reknitting most of the sleeve - just carefully cut a stitch, unravelled a row, and removed the butterfly section. Then reknit it with better tension. Then grafted the rest of the sleeve back on.


Finally, a bit of ribbing and it was done. Well, quite a bit of ribbing: I did the whole neckline twice to try to fix an issue with floppy ribbing at the back. And even after I thought I was finished, I went back and added more length to the body, as this girl seems to be taller every week.

So finally, finally, I packaged it up and sent it to my niece, and then just waited on the edge of my seat to hear if (a) it fit well and (b) she liked it. Great news! It did, and she does! I think her little voice on the phone saying "this jumper is so pretty!" in the middle of my work day was absolutely the highlight of my year.


Thursday, June 18, 2020

now you're heading down to be somewhere


I spotted these Mr Christian shoes a few months ago at The Green Shed Underground. They were the wrong size, or I probably would have bought them, even though white shoes really aren't my thing.

I can find very little trace online of Sydney-based Mr Christian Shoes. A pair of high heels for sale on Gumtree. An old ebay listing. From this fascinating post and comments about the House of Merivale, I gather Mr Christian was known in the 70s-80s for high heels and towering platforms. These look more like the era I remember, late-80s to early 90s (not sure when they disappeared).


These aren't the shoes you're looking for.

When I was in high school Mum had a pair or two of really interesting leather shoes by Mr Christian. They always had a handcrafted look about them. I had been waiting for the day when my feet would be deemed to have stopped growing, which would mean owning more than the minimum number of pairs of shoes - school shoes, sneakers, sandals, something for church - would be justifiable. Clothes and shoes cost more back then.

It was 1990 and I was in year ten. There was a sale on at the Mr Christian shop in Civic, and Mum and I had decided together that I could go and buy a pair of shoes like hers. She had tan and I wanted black. They had pointy toes and flat heels (I would not have considered any heel height back then - I remember it was a big deal buying my first low heels when I was starting my office job in 1998). The top part was woven leather in multiple colours and they had a zipper running down the middle instead of laces.

I had the money from my parents in my wallet. I don't remember what else I was doing in civic. There's a strong chance I bought myself a cup of hot chips because I was always ready for a snack. And somehow I managed to lose my wallet. I think I left it sitting on a pay phone actually.

So, no shoe buying at Mr Christian. I didn't call my parents and I didn't go straight home. I got on the bus back to Belconnen and went straight to the CES (Commonwealth Employment Service). I must have already been thinking about getting a job and had probably loosely discussed it with my parents. Now I had lost this $60 and that was that. I knew you could look at the jobs pinned up on the boards there at the CES. The staff called Coles Jamison for me and arranged an interview for a casual weekend job on the checkouts.

By the time I got home, Mum already knew about my wallet. A good samaritan had handed it in to the police and they had already called my house. And the money was still there!

I still went ahead with the interview and got that job at Coles. While I was still at high school Mum and Dad only allowed me to work Friday night and weekends. The supermarket used to shut at 5pm on Saturdays and 4 on Sundays! I would work one or two 3-hour shifts and collect a small yellow envelope of cash, maybe $20-30. A few years later while I was at uni I earned much better money when the store went to 24 hour opening and I did the weekend overnight shifts.

And I did still get those fabulous shoes on sale. I wish I still had them, or at least a photo.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Big pear!


I'd been wanting to make a big pear for ages, ever since I made a felted tree in 2015 for the National Folk Festival.


I like to visit my tree every year at the Festival. This year I was thrilled to walk past while a toddler was spontaneously hugging it... so later I had to get a photo of me hugging it. (It's always been a particularly huggable tree.)

Way back in 2015 at the time I was making the tree for the festival's bollard cover competition, things were not going well with our dog. Looking back, I think I finished and delivered the tree just a few days before we reached the decision to have her put down. So I was feeling sad, scared and stressed. I had a couple of very late nights finishing the tree. The night before it was to be delivered, I remember just sitting back in my chair holding it, trying to summon the energy to get up to go to bed. The tree was just the right size to be quite comforting to hug.

I really wasn't keen to say goodbye to it forever and wasn't entirely convinced that the festival would  keep and use the bollard covers in future years, so I sewed in a label with my name and number and noted on my entry form that they could contact me if they were getting rid of it in future, or if it needed mending. As it turns out, they have continued to use them every year since - this year is the fifth so far.

And now I am ok with them keeping it! But the appeal of a big cuddly felted thing inspired me to make something on a similar scale. It just took a while to get around to it.

Of course this pear is not actually on the same scale at all - it's the opposite, a small fruit made big instead of a big tree made smaller. But the end result is a sort of similar-sized object. (Though I  do consider this a prototype and want to try again and maybe make a bigger one).

I knitted and felted it months ago and was convinced it was a failure. Normally I like my felted fabric to hardly show the stitches at all. This was knitted with very bulky yarn and it just wasn't possible to 'disappear' the stitches. I also wasn't able to knit it in the round like I normally do, so it had a big seam up the side as well. It had to sit in time out for a long time before I decided that it might actually work and deserved to come out in public. So then I some time into the finishing work, improving the appearance of the seam, stuffing it with scrap fabric (as a result it is quite weighty) and making and sewing in a giant stalk.

Then I brought it along to the Suitcase Rummage with me last Sunday - not for sale, just to hang out with the other pears, and for hugging in the cold foggy weather.


Sunday, April 07, 2019

God speed the vessel that carries me back

Christine & the Queens (2)

It's not long til the National Folk Festival at Easter! But first, a run-down of Womadelaide 2019.




Khruangbin - I only stopped in for a little while to take some photos. One of the things that has changed with this festival in the past few years is the propotion of 'one-show-only' acts. There are so many that they are often programmed up against each other in the same time slots. I have a feeling this may be happening across the festival scene, perhaps in part because there are more festivals and more opportunities for touring acts to make the most of their time in Australia.


Kaait - Only arrived for the end of her set and she was impressive. See, I am probably a bit too willing to stay for only a few songs of one act so I can catch a bit of another. I miss the days when attending for the full three (later four) days meant you would pretty much get to see every act - or you could fall in love with a new favourite and follow them around all weekend.


Gwenno - I was curious and keen to see Gwenno. She sings in Welsh and Cornish - she grew up with a Cornish-speaking father and a Welsh-speaking mother - and has a background as pop singer. (Wikipedia also reveals she was trained in Irish dancing and was part of the Riverdance cast). The music was dreamy and a bit psychedelic.

Christine & the Queens

Christine & The Queens - possibly the best show of the weekend, certainly up there in the top few. It was equally about the pop music and the dancers, who strutted and swaggered, hands in pockets, playing with how gender is performed, none more fluidly than "Chris" herself.


Sona Jobarteh

Sona Jobarteh - I also wasn't there for a whole set (and this isn't a great photo) and I think I meant to get to a full set later in the weekend but failed. I'm sad about that missed opportunity, as she and the band were really good, and I loved seeing a woman playing the kora. Allegedly she is the first woman to play kora professionally.

My Baby

My Baby - this electric violin sounded really good (they don't always).

Liz Phair

Liz Phair - I was keen for this, I usually get into the 90's rock thing, although I had never really listened to Liz Phair specifically. Stayed for only a little while, as it wasn't really working for me.

Amjad Ali Khan

Amjad Ali Khan - playing with his two sons, all on sarod.


DuOuD - one of my favourite acts this year. Two electric ouds (sometimes one acoustic) and lots of samples and loops.

Yohai Cohen Quintet

Yohai Cohen Quintet - this was an interesting transition straight from DuOud to another oud-based act but a much different style. A nice late night, sit down, chilled out set.


5AngryMen - The Bells - I thought there was going to be a more interesting angle to this but wasn't even inspired to take photos. The set was clever - a large circular frame with ropes that look like bell-pulls hanging from bungee cords. The men pull on the ropes in time with recorded bell music, and of course theatrical hijinks ensue. Fun for the kids sitting at the edge of the circle when they lean out hard on those ropes and almost run into people. But I think I am over the 'group of wacky men dressed in black and lots of eyeliner' style of theatre. Maybe I was rolling my eyes too hard to follow the storyline?

Silkroad Ensemble - No photos, but this was a really enjoyable show with a diverse group of musicians.

Tara Tiba

Tara Tiba - Perth-based Iranian singer with a diverse range and playing with Cuban musicians. She was marvellous.

Maalem Hamid El Kasri

Maalem Hamid El Kasri

Maalem Hamid El Kasri
- from Morocco and Master of the guembri, a three-stringed bass lute.

The Maes

The Maes, with Monique Clare. Not sure how I have missed ever seeing the Maes before, but I'm sure I will again. Monique is a Stringmania tutor.

Angelique Kidjo

Angelique Kidjo - I wish I had gotten closer for photos but I would have had to plan ahead for that. Angelique is always brilliant. Total diva, great suit, very energetic. I was really curious about her Talking Heads material (she did an album which covers 'Remain in Light' in its entirety). Wasn't entirely convinced by those songs live but I do want to hear the album. For one or two songs she invited a whole lot of artists from backstage to come on stage and dance. It looked like a really fun party.


Susan O'Neill and Sharon Shannon

Sharon Shannon Band

Sharon Shannon Band - I met up with quite a few friends at the festival but we tend to go our separate ways a lot of the time. This was one set that most of us went to together. It was so much fun! I had seen their show in Canberra a week or so before, but loved them that much more in the festival setting. Sharon is such great band leader. She works with a lot of different singers and musicians and seems so generous in putting others forward for recognition. She was touring with Susan O'Neill, a young Irish folk/blues singer with an incredible voice (and she plays trumpet too), who made a splash at the National last year.

The percussionist in the photo above is Greg Sheehan, who taught rhythm at Stringmania last year and will be back this year too. The dancer is an artist from another band who was watching the show backstage.

Maarja Nuut & Ruum

No photos but I really enjoyed this set from the Estonian duo, 'folk-tronica' with more samples and fiddle with looping pedal and atmospheric vocals.

Mojo Juju

Mojo Juju - was fabulous in quite a small venue with a lot of people in the audience. I wish I had seen the whole set but I had arranged to meet friends to say goodbye for the weekend at the next set...

The Correspondents

The Correspondents - English electro-swing duo. They had played once earlier in the weekend and then came back in place of another act cancelled due to illness. This was a really fun show to watch and to photograph. Mr Bruce is a super-energetic performer and dancer.