Monthly Archives: July 2012

been busy

Things were a little quiet while I knitted furiously to finish Eldest Son’s scarf. I did have to stay up till fairly early in the morning, but it was finished, tied with a ribbon and packed into a bag with a lavender bag and the card in time for Dr B to take with him to the birthday party.

Also, I’ve finished Boy’s beanie, which is certainly progress. The strange thing is that I made it to the correct size and it’s too big for him and if I’d had any sense at all I’d have known it would be because he has quite a small head. Eldest Nephew, for whom I knitted another beanie using that pattern, would probably get quite good use out of the one I’ve ended up making for Boy and vice versa. The blue beanie I made for Eldest Nephew was a shade on the small side for him because I misread the pattern and used the wrong size needles and he has a large head. Maybe they could do a swap?!

And I’ve unpicked Youngest Uncle’s fingerless gloves, which I guess is progress of a sort if not altogether what I’d hoped for. Okay, back to hoping they’ll show a bit more rowing before I reach the point where my eyes won’t stay open any longer. Are you managing to watch your favourite sports?


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unearthly coincidences

There are only 365 days in most years, so that anniversaries share dates or are near to each other is not really so very surprising. Tonight I was treated to a performance of Gustav Mahler’s great work Das Lied von der Erde. It is a work of profound beauty and profound sadness and I find it wonderful. I could have sat through another performance straightaway. It has associations of sadness for me because I remember that Dr B and I listened to a recording of Der Abschied in the day before my father’s death, lighting candles and hoping that as the last notes died, his life might also fade and his pain and suffering be over. It didn’t quite work that way but we weren’t far off.

This time of year is rife with anniversaries including my Dad’s birthday – he would have turned 99 a couple of weeks ago – and my Mum’s death (also that of her only brother and her aunt who was more like an elder sister). They have all been gone for many years but I was reminded of them all tonight as that wonderful music flowed around me.

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Posted by on July 29, 2012 in Musing


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of perils and pickles

Elderly needles come with attendant dangers. Namely, they’re fragile and if you’re not careful they might break. Actually, they might break even if you are careful. Then you end up with this.

I only almost screamed

That was my lunchtime nightmare. I’d knitted a few rows and was carefully putting away the bag with the project when I felt the needles snap. Obviously, I’d put pressure on them somehow. I was extremely fortunate that I didn’t lose any stitches. Not one. The break came above (or below; Dr B and I can never agree on such directional indicators, so I’ll simply tell you that the break was between the stitches and the tip of the needle and you can choose whichever descriptor suits your world view) where my work was carefully pushed to the end, so I very, very carefully picked up the bit of needle that hadn’t broken and to which the stitches were still clinging, and wrapped a rubber band around the end to prevent them falling off. I couldn’t knit on the bus on the way home. Oh, dear.

And then the next part of the pickle is that, as you might remember, these needles are between sizes. I know, unequivocally and without even looking, that I don’t have any others the same size. What to do? Knit loosely on the smaller size? Knit tightly on the larger size? If it were only a row or two, I could probably do something like that. But this is going to be a lot more than a few rows. My solution, I think, will be to knit with one larger and one smaller and hope that somewhere in the middle means that the difference between the original and the newer bits won’t be noticeable.

That is, I’m hoping it will be less noticeable or no more noticeable, I haven’t quite decided which, than the changeover of yarn. I’m using the same colours and the same dye lots, but there’s a sharp contrast between the older section, which is quite soft, and the newer one which is very bright although mostly on one side. Again, what to do? I’ve no solution to that one, other than unpicking entirely and working the whole thing with all four balls of yarn on the go so that all the colours alternate and any differences between balls of the same colour are not so obvious. For a Thursday night deadline? You’re right. I’m not going to do it. The joy of a lovely, long, warm scarf is that it’s lovely and long. I would never finish it by Thursday if I had to do it again. I’m even leaving the mistake where I knitted one stripe of four rows rather than two (I blame a loquacious colleague for distracting me at that critical changeover point).

What would your solution be for such a drama as broken needles and no others the same size?


Posted by on July 24, 2012 in Knitting


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perspective on a small room

By many standards my sewing room is small. But, heck, although it’s really a multifunctional space, I do have a sewing room! There are lots of good things about it. It might be messy (it is, sometimes more than others) but it has a table, bookshelves, a desk, two wardrobes, some sets of drawers and some industrial shelving. There’s a chair (not on wheels, but a chair) and a heater.

There’s always something happening here. Industrial shelving is to the left of the table

The purists would say the table is too small for easy cutting out of patterns and/or fabric and I suspect that’s true, but it’s a lot bigger than a card table, cleaner than the floor and cutting out at the table is much kinder to my ageing knees than doing it on the floor. The bookshelves are where reference books, knitting patterns and paper dressmaking patterns are filed, the box of dried lavender mix lives and some boxes with FOs as well, plus my containers of knitting needles and crochet hooks have a space on top of the shelves.

The desk used to be Dr B’s computer desk. Nowadays it’s an extra space for things I don’t need for the project I’m undertaking (I might put my tins of scissors and cutters on the desk if I’m doing something that doesn’t need them). It’s also a good place to put whichever machine – sewing machine or overlocker – is not being used for any sewing. I tend to keep the sewing machine on the table pretty much all the time because I’m likely to use it for small tasks more frequently than I’ll use the overlocker. Having the other machine on the desk means I can maximise space on the table. Also, I can have a reference book open on the desk should I need to do so.

The wardrobes are both used as linen presses (sure, it’s a sewing room but the house has no linen presses and it would be greedy of me as well as silly to insist that the linen goes somewhere else when there is nowhere else) but there’s also a certain amount of stash and paperwork in the drawers, not to mention my two irons. It’s safer for them not to be on the ironing board unless they’re actually being used. They fall off far too easily and that can’t be good for them. The sets of drawers contain fabric scraps, rowing programs and results, ribbons, zips, bias tape, velcro and things of that nature, as well as tools for applying pop studs and punching holes in things (to mention only a few of the knick-knacks). I’d say a lot of them come under the heading generally of – what’s that wonderful word? ah, yes – notions.

The industrial shelving was my present to myself some years ago when Dr B was away and I was trying desperately to create some sort of order out of the chaos (back then, I had just one small wardrobe which was our only linen press, so storing anything else was difficult). I marched out to the shed and raided Dr B’s supplies then had a wonderful day bolting things together and making sure the shelves were square (as in plumb; I remember that Boy looked at me a bit strangely when I wanted him to admire how square they were because, well, they’re rectangular). There are bags of scrap fabric and just loose fabric as well as baskets of stuffing for toys. I covered it all with a cheerful, jolly curtain that I hung on a piece of piping. Not technically brilliant but, you know, it worked. Of course there are other things on the shelves, such as cameras and tripods and boxes of photos. But at least they’re on the shelves, not the floor and they’re behind a curtain.
My chair is an old wooden one that Youngest Aunt used when she was at university, so it’s venerable. I made a slipcover that gives my legs better protection against a couple of rough spots that the original cushion didn’t quite cover. It works fine, too, even though I made it very hurriedly indeed. The little under-table heater – no, it’s nothing at all like a kotatsu, but it’s quiet, economical and effective – keeps my feet warm and if I were to close the door, it would take the edge off the room’s chilliness in winter.
There are some drawbacks. Because it is a multifunction room, there’s often a basket of laundry awaiting folding and the ironing board is occasionally used as an ironing board for things other than what I’m sewing (I know; but I haven’t quite given up on ironing shirts for special occasions). There are holes in the floor because of termites (yes, treatment now seems to be getting the better of the little beggars) so I have to be careful where I put my chair and where I stand but there’s a carpet that helps disguise the worst of the problem and, along with the heater, also keeps my feet warm. There’s only one power point, which means I run a lot of powerboards and extension cords but I can tuck them out of harm’s way quite easily.

There are days when I think I’m hard done by because I have to side-step around the table and dodge several fold-up airing lines but, when I tell Boy or Dr B to put something in the sewing room (because sometimes it’s also where stuff gets stashed in a dash and stash cleanup because People are Coming To Dine With Us or something equally unusual), there’s no questioning where I mean. So, yes, it is small and yes, it could be tidier (sometimes it’s difficult to keep all my projects quite as neat as I’d like and when I have several on the go they tend to spread out) but really, all things considered, it’s pretty much mine. It’s taken a long time but it has been worth the wait. Even if I grumble a bit about the inconvenient bits, I actually have a relatively dedicated space for sewing. Aren’t I the lucky one?!

PS (on 23/7/12): Sorry, some of the formatting seems to have gone awry. I tried to fix it but it didn’t work!


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sometimes reading a book is better than knitting

I know that sounds a little like heresy but there’s a reason I say it. I was knitting Eldest Son’s scarf on the bus yesterday morning and I could see that something about it just wasn’t quite right. For the life of me, I couldn’t put my finger on what. The yarn wasn’t split or twisted but there was something that jarred on one edge. It wasn’t a bright morning and I was a bit cramped so couldn’t get a good look at what I was doing. Therefore, between that and being very tired, I only knitted a couple of rows then simply rested my eyes for the rest of the journey.

On the way home, the bus was too crowded for knitting. I was in an aisle seat and thought that, even with my wonderful short needles, I’d be risking a few dropped stitches if I knitted. Besides, I had a new book to read, so that’s what I did: enjoyed the first few chapters of Garth Nix and Sean Williams’  Troubletwisters: the Monster.

The problem was just a couple of reversed stitches

Once home, I spread my knitting out on the sewing table, stoked up my work lamp and easily spotted the source of my unease: I’d made  a mistake, somehow purling where I should have been knitting in a couple of spots. It was a good thing I hadn’t knitted lots of extra rows. As it was, I was able to drop my couple of stitches back a few rows and fix the problem quickly. I might not have been quite so cheerful if I’d carried on knitting regardless of my concern and then had to drop back a lot of rows. Reading is such a good thing!


Posted by on July 20, 2012 in Knitting, Reading


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gauging by reactions

I’ve mislaid my knitting needle gauge (I’m reasonably sure it’s about the place somewhere but I truly cannot track it down). I could probably get by without it for a while but, as I have a lot of old needles and some of them aren’t obviously marked with a size, it’s something I would eventually need (assuming continued absence of original, etc; and it’s been missing for a while).

Cue present situation with scarves on size UK 8/US 6/4 mm needles. I thought the pair I picked up to start on mark II of Eldest Son’s scarf (Dr B and Boy both reckoned Eldest Son unlikely to wear what I was busy with; in fact, Dr B said categorically that he wouldn’t) were about the same size, but to both eye and feel, they were a little thicker than the metal needles I’d been using for the other scarf. That’s perfectly possible, too, as knitting needle gauge can vary somewhat especially with older needles and different countries; my lovely long, pink Italian needles that I pretended were UK 10, and which claimed to be UK 10, actually aren’t (discussion below). They’re somewhere between sizes but it didn’t matter. I used them anyway and I absolutely loved, and still love, how l-o-n-g they are (15 ins/39 mm or so of good workable space and a bit to spare). That they’re pink is an added bonus because it means they’re extra easy to find.

So, anxious to get started on the next version of the scarf and absent the gauge, I went with the flow. I mean, it’s a scarf. No biggie. Instead of Silk Garden which was decreed too bright for Eldest Son’s austere taste, the scarf is now in two close shades of Cleckheaton Country Tartan (both with a blue base). It’s looking good and it’s lovely and soft and will be very warm. It’s quietly understated and my colleagues think it should be just the shot for A Man (any man). Boy and Dr B, I can tell you now, are less convinced of its appropriateness for Eldest Son although they think it’s perhaps more his style than the Silk Garden scarf.

Long pink metal and short aqua plastic needles

However, I thought I’d better replace the needle gauge because I might need to be more precise about something in the future (near or distant). The last one accompanied some magazine or other that I bought when I was living in England. I don’t suppose the magazine was expensive and I probably bought it for the gauge (perhaps it was an English Women’s Weekly, given their fabulous knitting patterns one of which could well have caught my eye) rather than specifically the content.

I tracked down a sturdier gauge (it’s a pack of two for the wider range of today’s readily available size of needles) whose appropriate slot tells me my old needles, instead of being “maybe UK 8/US 6/4 mm” are actually nearer “maybe UK 7/US 7/4.5 mm”. In fact, they are a size somewhere between UK 7/US 7/4.5 mm and UK 6/US8/5 mm. However, the gauge is confusing, too, setting out equivalents that tells me precision in needle sizes is not a firm concept at all.

It states that 3.5 mm needles are UK 9/US 4. Then it assures me that UK 9 are also equivalent to US 5 and 3.75 mm. My 3.5 mm needles say they’re UK 10, which the gauge recognises as 3.25 mm/US 3. Who’s right? I suppose you pays your money and takes your choice but there is an extent to which it doesn’t matter, so long as you use the correct size to obtain the correct tension/gauge (more confusion around terminology). I’m not giving up on my old needles just because they don’t fit the gauge because the scarf is looking nice.

You might say the scarf likes the old needles and I here admit that so do I. As I said, I do love my pink Italian numbers but the very length that makes me love them means I couldn’t use them on the bus. Those I’m using now are short, which means I can knit on the bus without fear of stabbing anyone or having to adopt a cramped style to avoid annoying someone sitting in the next seat. They’re plastic. Actually, they’re probably bakelite, I don’t know; I believe they’re what might be called vintage (they once belonged to my mother). They’re soft, anyway, and don’t hurt my hands or make them ache. They’re quiet (mind you, I don’t make that much racket when I knit anyway). They fit into my handbag. And what is more, they’re aqua. (Excuse the quality of the photo, my phone was handy and the real camera was not.)

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Posted by on July 17, 2012 in Knitting, Musing


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corrupting shades of grey

The internet has corrupted me. I would never have paid so much money for yarn until I saw some end results on all those fabulous websites. In the days when my disposable income was more mine and less everyone else’s I did buy good yarn, but it was almost exclusively wool with occasional blends that contained predominantly wool. Now, I’ve been sucked in by some fabulous mixes and, oh rapture (or should that be oh horror?), I’ve succumbed to Noro’s Silk Garden (Ravelry link). Sure, it’s to make a special scarf for a special birthday but nearly $60 for just FOUR skeins of yarn that contain only 10% wool? Wow.

Rich colours and soft fabric, a seductive combination

The Moebius cowl I crocheted for a friend earlier this year cost $20. That used two skeins of what I seem to recall was a wool/alpaca mix (it wasn’t pure wool but I’m afraid the details escape me now). I thought that was expensive, and by my standards it was, though I didn’t for a minute grudge either the cost or the time it took to make, but I did reflect that it was one of the dearer small garments I’d made. (I would naturally expect to pay more than that if I were knitting a jumper.) It was probably also a softer finish than many of the garments I make for us. I use wool for the majority of my knitting with occasional ventures into acrylic/retrieved fibre mixes depending on end-use intention (Boy’s tencel beanie springs to mind). Perhaps being raised on a farm has made me a dedicated wool user but I find it’s usually the best option. The softness of Silk Garden, even in the making, is converting me to the notion that there are other sources of softness.

I’m using it to knit a scarf for Eldest Son. It’s scary to contemplate that he’ll soon be 40. He was complaining recently, as he stood about three inches away from the fire and politely said, “No!” each time Dr B suggested doing PBP on a tandem, that he was cold. Poor old thing. If he’s cold, a scarf is the answer. Right? Well, maybe. In any case, I’ve bought that fabulous yarn and I’m doing a simple 1 x 1 rib in a two-row stripe, letting the colour do all the work for me (not a new idea and one I’ve used previously on a beanie for Dr B). I’m not entirely convinced about the green bits, in the sense that perhaps Eldest Son isn’t as enamoured of green as I am, but in the overall mix it’s probably going to be all right. Boy thinks what I’ve knitted so far looks nice although he can’t be depended upon for good colour recognition when there are stripes.

For that matter, neither can I sometimes! For starters yes, I am mildly acritochromic. Add to that, I often knit at night in soft light. So, not surprisingly, I recently reached a spot where I wasn’t sure what colour I was seeing. I knew it had been a dark olive green and was fairly sure it still was. Everything was looking fairly grey to me, though, so I wouldn’t have put money on the green. I didn’t know whether the problem was my dodgy colour vision or the dodgy light. The following morning, when I was knitting on the bus with strong daylight to aid me, I discovered that what had seemed grey was, in fact, grey. Ah. There’s another of the joys of Silk Garden: some unexpected colours.

So it’s not just that the web has corrupted me, my colour vision has also corrupted my ability to tell what I’m doing! I’m definitely buying more Silk Garden though, corrupt or not, and hang the expense. It’s beautiful to work with and for special birthdays? Yes, definitely an affordable luxury.


Posted by on July 15, 2012 in Crochet, Knitting


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winter lavender

Do you regard weekends as rest days or achievement days? Here it’s been a cold day and there was rain overnight. However, the weather fined up and I was able to hang a load of washing on my new clothesline. Of course it didn’t dry so I had to bring it in and hang it again inside BUT it finished drying reasonably quickly. While the sun was shining, I picked some lavender from the bush in my backyard. It has gone nuts just lately and every time I walk over it to drag the clothesline from the wall to the pole, I stir up the perfume. Now there is a very large bunch of it drying in my sewing room. By Christmas, it will doubtless be going into some lavender bags to accompany fabric gifts.

Harvested from my garden

In between those sorts of capers, I have knitted some more of a scarf, decided I was too tired to tackle the beanie and tinkered a bit with those fingerless gloves. Unpicking seems like the best solution to that problem and then just knitting a flat pattern, except that lately my sewing up hasn’t been very good. At least the scarf I’m halfway through won’t take much extra work; there’s no sewing up and only a few ends. So it’s been a day where I feel as if I’ve achieved very little, but sometimes you need days like that, especially on the weekend. Me? Sometimes, and today has been one of those times, I regard weekends as rest days.


Posted by on July 14, 2012 in Knitting


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meshing teeth and gnashing them, too

Dr B and Boy have recently taken delivery of some smashing new cycling gear. It’s woollen and therefore requires special laundering: you can’t do anything as enviromentally friendly as cold wash it and you can’t use the cheap laundry detergent that Dr B insists on buying – yes, he does the shopping; do you have a problem with that? – and you can’t just chuck it in the machine and let it fend for itself. Oh, no. It has to be warm washed. There must be no enzymes and no bleaches. And bags. It has to be laundered in bags.

I have no fundamental problem with any of those constraints although my income has to pay for all this and our energy bills are high enough already. Doing warm washes is a luxury, even though I’d often prefer that option. All the same, you can’t stand on your dig when a couple of days’ wages have gone out on buying some new, warm gear for winter cycling. Even so, it’s their cycling gear, ergo their responsibility. Dr B did at least make the effort to go and buy some mesh bags, which was appropriate and sensible because those we already had were ageing and, well, you know, the zips not what they once were so that things staying in the bags couldn’t be guaranteed. However, two small mesh bags for two pairs of long knicks and four jerseys? Not close. (It’s my belief that this inability to assess size is a result of the same error of parallax that makes all blokes unable to tell the difference between six inches and 12; but that’s another tale.)

Late at night, trying to put a load of laundry to do its stuff so I could hang it out first thing in the morning (or last thing in the evening), I rapidly discovered that I did not, in fact, have enough mesh bags for the job. No, that’s not quite true. I did have enough bags. I did not, however, have enough of them with functioning zips. Action was required. While I view some of the sewing I undertake as “rescuing” most people would probably call it “repairing” or “mending”. Whatever you want to call it, it seems to me that it’s like most sewing, something you should not attempt when you’re already tired.

I had elected not to rescue a previous mesh bag whose zip had given up the ghost. I probably should have because that had been a reasonably good bag. In any case, at about 10.30 with something of a headache which was probably partly the result of fasting for blood tests, I realised that I still had one large, not-so-good mesh bag with a completely busted zip that, for some reason, I hadn’t yet discarded. Necessity being the mother of invention and all that, I dragged it out of the “what can I do with this?” pile and decided that I could probably get a frankenbag out of it if I tried hard enough.

I cut off the zip. That bit was easy! I trimmed the edges so I’d be working with a reasonably regular shape. That wasn’t hard. I decided that, given the flimsiness of the fabric with which I’d be working, a touch of reinforcing might be a good idea. It was a good idea. I found some cotton tape, pin-basted it and sewed it along the new top, just where the zip would go. It was neat and I could see that it was going to provide a good foundation for the zip. I had a new zip (I do salvage them when I’m tossing old garments, but I also keep a couple of packets of cheap ones and, given the nature of the work I was expecting this one to perform, I thought a new one was a wiser choice). It wasn’t quite long enough, really, but it would do. So it did.

I pinched the ends somewhat, to provide a good, partially hidden closure, pinned carefully, talked nicely to my zipper foot, sewed as slowly and neatly as I could – and ended up with the zip sewn on the wrong side. How could I do that? How could I have done that! I don’t know. I couldn’t really have told you then. It was late at night (probably close to midnight by then, what with one thing and another having interrupted my efforts) and my brain doesn’t function well at that hour. That’s my excuse, anyway and it’s true that my record of sewing things the wrong way round late at night is impressive; it mostly involves neckbands or collars although there was a memorable amount of bias tape that had me very busy with the seam-ripper.

Unlike the beanie seam (or the neckbands, collars and bias tape), I felt no urge at all to unpick the zip and correct the mistake/tidy up the mess. Right side or wrong side? It’s a laundry bag, for throwing things in to protect them in the wash. The zip works. The bag won’t come adrift during the wash. Dodgy looking? Who cares? I have some priorities, you know! So it’s still like that and doing a fine job, I must say, of keeping the smashing new cycling gear in its place during the wash cycle. I’d like to think that if I have to rescue any more bags, I’ll do a better job with the zip but there are no guarantees.

And the beanie? It sill isn’t finished either. I decided my efforts in that direction should wait for a clearer head and better light.

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Posted by on July 13, 2012 in Cycling, Sewing


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seems that seams aren’t as simple as they seem

And there I was, merrily seaming up the beanie I’d made for Boy.

Yes, it’s another red one but a different pattern

I’d matched everything carefully and I was working on the flat and everything, doing my ladders as close as I could so that the finished beanie would keep Boy’s head warm in the snow. And wouldn’t you know it, I got to the top of the ribbing and it didn’t jolly well match! By about SIX ROWS. I was somewhat despondent about that but I did the right thing. I unpicked it. It’s still sitting there, very, Very, VERY carefully pinned. I just have to have another glass of brandy and – oh. Do you think that might be the problem?

I was musing about different sorts of seams today as a woman walked across the road in front of me at the tram stop. She was wearing stripy tights and, well, you know, the stripes were straight on one leg but not the other. It took me right back to seamed stockings. I’m old enough to remember them. I hated them. Stockings were bad enough but seamed ones? I’d end up with my head halfway round to my back trying to get the wretched things straight. No amount of mirror or care ever did the trick. And I’d probably just get them as straight as I was ever going to and my darling Dad would make a comment about how they weren’t quite straight. It’s genetic, I’m convinced of it – I remember my Mum’s stocking seams being as straight as if she’d ruled them! – but the gene passed me by.

I couldn’t help thinking, however, as I watched this woman today, that my slight mismatch of the ribbing was probably something that nobody else would have even noticed. Yes, they would have. I know they would have, even with perfectly all right part of the brim rolled up over it. And anyway, I’d have known.

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Posted by on July 3, 2012 in Knitting


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