Finished, yet not

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The swirl is finished, at least the knitting part of it. The joy of the final cast off after two years in progress was a lovely feeling. I spent a good hour with pins and blocking wires yesterday evening and now the spare room smells of wet wool, and is likely to do so for some days. Then the seaming: just one long seam from cuff to cuff round the back of the neck. Time to brush up on mattress stitch.

I’m now torn between starting something new or staying on the finishing off drive. I’ve bought the pattern for Ysolda’s new KAL, but I’m already a week behind, and I don’t really want a time pressure knit.

In a couple of weeks time I have a week away on a conference with work, so I need a really good project to take with me. I think, for now, I’ll keep going with some other WIPs.

Lazy Saturday

There’s a certain time of day when it becomes too late to have a morning shower. Yes, it’s called the afternoon.
It was my job this morning to wrangle the children, so I got up and made them pancakes for a (late) breakfast. I caught up on a couple of weeks of Desert Island Discs while I cooked and ate, then headed for the shower, but found the window wide open. Far too cold to go in the shower, so window shut and needing to kill time until it’s warm again.
Now I’m stuck. The momentum for getting showered and dressed has gone, the morning has gone and we are expecting visitors this afternoon.
On the knitting front, I’m now 90% of the way through the swirl. The sleeves are done, just the decreases into the front bodice left. I’ve found my next project as well: a new Ysolda KAL. It started last week, but I’m trying to avoid casting on until the swirl is done. See, there is discipline in there somewhere.
Have a lovely Saturday. I’m off for a shower… probably.

A yarn-free zone

Pens

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Although most of my communication happens through a keyboard or a phone, there are still quite a number of things I have to write by hand: cards, letters for work, notes to teachers. I find I think differently when I’m writing to when I’m typing. The physicality of it and the slowness mean the synapses in the brain fire differently and I find that creative processes are changed.

Having the correct pen for the job in hand is more pleasing to me than might be warranted by the insignificance of the task in hand. Is it the pleasing scratch of a pencil, the effortless glide of the gel pen or the springy fountain pen that is right for this particular piece of work?

When I was attending lectures regularly, I always had my set of Staedtler fineline pens. The different colours helped to organise my thoughts. The nib was fine enough for the speedy scrawling that was needed and, very often, the notes were even legible afterwards. Woe betide anyone who replaced a pen out of order in the box.

The writing implement we were first given at school was an HB pencil: yellow and black striped with a red end. I go out of my way to buy these rather than any other pencil because they anchor me back to my very first experiments in writing.  I write in pencil when I’m not sure of what I want to say. The temporary nature is important. It doesn’t matter if something is wrong: it can be rubbed away with no worries.

Fountain pens are the kings of pens. They are needy: demanding ink, objecting if left alone too long, yet have a certain grandeur. The balance of a good fountain pen can increase the pleasure of writing. I have three regular fountain pens:

  • A cheap Parker, filled with permanent black ink for work. This is the pen that gets used by wedding couples to sign their names, records baptisms and funerals in the registers. Every so often I buy a spare pen, yet only ever seem to have one.
  • A nice Parker, metal and smooth to the touch. This is my usual letter writing pen, which sits on my desk until needed. Usually it is filled with blue ink. The previous ink cartridge in it was black and it really didn’t suit the pen. It is much happier in blue. Sadly, very often this pen dries out through under-use. Deplorable, but I have a strategy for overcoming this, of which more later.
  • A Japanese pen, an Ohto Tasche, which travels with me in my handbag. This is the pen I use in meetings. It is a half length pen, only really being usable once you fix the lid on the end, at which point it becomes perfectly balanced. This is the pen that has frivolous colours of ink in. I found a set of cartridges that are pale blue, pink and purple. It has a slightly scratchy writing style, more like a pencil in feel, but I enjoy using it. The smoothness of the action when taking off the lid or replacing it is particularly pleasing.

There are other pens of course: dozens of cheap biros litter the house, (along with a few superior biros that rejoice in the name ‘rollerball’ and are actually quite nice) and there are felt pens galore here and there.

I also have a set of dip pen nibs and a heap of good intentions to figure out how to use them, but haven’t had the time. I rather sympathise with Stephen Fry, who writes in one of his books about how his enthusiasm for calligraphy waxes and wanes. He buys calligraphy sets, spends one glorious afternoon playing with them, then ends up relegating them to the back of a drawer somewhere until they are unusable.

Paper

No matter how many pens you have and how wonderful they are, there is not a lot you can do with them without paper.

I don’t think I am as discerning in my choice of paper as I am with what pen to use. It would probably be of some benefit to my handwriting to take more care over the paper.

Loose leaf paper is the nicest to write on because if you mess up a page you can just begin again. I have a big box of foolscap size, which makes a nice change to the golden ratios of A4 and A5.

Notebooks are a mixed blessing. Not only do they seem intimidating in their blankness, but they are quite tricky to write in with a decent pen unless they have the sort of spine that lies flat. I like to buy notebooks, but tend to wait to use them until I find a worthy use, so I have a little stash that probably won’t ever run out.

Get to the point

I did have a reason for writing about stationery. Last year, in late February, I discovered this site: Lettermo. The challenge is:

  1. In the month of February, mail at least one item through the post every day it runs. Write a postcard, a letter, send a picture, or a cutting from a newspaper, or a fabric swatch.
  2. Write back to everyone who writes to you. This can count as one of your mailed items.

I’m inclined to take up the challenge this year, since I was too late last year. In preparation, I’ve been assessing my store of stationery items. The missing ingredients to the whole challenge are people to write to and things to say. Without either of those, the challenge will fall rather flat.

If you would like to receive a letter as part of the Lettermo challenge this year, then leave a comment including a topic or two you would like me to write about. Don’t put your address in the comment (unless you really don’t care about it being online). You can probably figure out how to send me a more private message if you look at the about page, (which I have just had to compose).

In which I go to Yarndale 2014

Having enjoyed Yarndale so much in 2013, I booked to go again in the autumn. My friend Daisy rather conveniently came to visit the week of Yarndale, so we went together.  She’s blogged at rather greater length and with more pictures than me.

The evening before, I did a  thorough analysis of my stash, looking at strengths, weaknesses and gaps. I concluded that I definitely don’t need more 4ply/sock yarn, and probably not any more lace-weight, but any other weight would be reasonable to buy.

The thing is… I’m really good at buying sock yarn. I know what I like, what makes a good yarn and what is good value. I decided that the way to make it not a pointless purchase was to er… buy in greater quantity.

Here’s the sock-weight yarn I bought:

The one on the left is a crochet kit for this scarf. The middle yarn is 200g of Crazy Zauberball: I’m thinking a shawl for this. The right hand yarn is some of the new yarn base from the Knitting Goddess, who is very persuasive in a gentle way. The old KG sock yarn was 75% merino 25% nylon and I love it. The new one uses British wool: partly BFL, partly undeclared along with the nylon. It has the advantage of not crossing the Atlantic to Peru to be spun, but it is, naturally, not as soft as the merino. I’ll just have to knit it and see if I like it. These may well be quite plain, long socks.

Here is the other weight yarn I bought, according to the original plan:

yarnroving

100g of Knitting Goddess roving. I used some of this last year to make my sister’s hat and I rather covet one for me too.

I need a more detailed plan next time I go to buy yarn. I don’t have the experience to buy “a sweater’s worth of yarn”, as I have heard others talk about buying. I need to have a specific pattern in mind before committing to that amount of yarn.

In the afternoon, we did a short course on Latvian knitting, in which we learned some twined braiding, to be used on mitten cuffs. It wasn’t an amazing course for a variety of logistical reasons, but it was interesting and I made this:

Braid sampler
Braid sampler

In general, Yarndale has the advantage of being very focussed (unsurprisingly) on yarn, without the beading, sewing and papercraft that clogs up other local option of the Knitting and Stitching Show at Harrogate. The venue worked much better this year and I really enjoyed it.

2014 FO and WIP round-up

I think most of these links will only work if you have a Ravelry account. If you knit and don’t have an account, I highly recommend it.

What did I finish in 2014?

  • Handwarmers for my sister – finished on January 2nd (a late Christmas present
  • Stranded Advent Scarf – finished on January 23rd
  • Socks for Toby and some more squares on the great big sock yarn scarf. These were both for the 2014 Winter Ravellenics
  • Two (1,2)pairs of socks for Sock Madness
  • A hat for me
  • Ysoldas’s Mystery KAL shawl
  • My portable knitting project: Trillian, a small triangular scarf made of sock yarn (no picture of it finished, but it is often round my neck).
  • Socks for Sock Sniper
  • The big Auction Socks of DOOM

What do I have on the needles and what is the likelihood of completion?

  • The Swirl (50% complete). Very likely to finish the knitting. The seaming might get procrastinated.
  • The Sock blanket scarf (60% complete). Now too big to carry round as a portable knitting project, but too small to be finished. Slim chance of finishing any time soon.
  • The amigurumi project. I’ve lost interest in this. I have an elephant and half a turtle. Needs bringing to a close before I start another crochet project.
  • Some camouflage lace socks (first sock nearly done).  Highly likely to be finished. These were put aside in order to do the great big auction socks of DOOM. It was a toss-up as to whether to finish these before the swirl, but the swirl is definitely winter knitting, so these can wait.
  • Some plain socks using the Fish Lips Kiss Heel – always nice to learn a new heel. (Honesty here – I’ve just had to add this to Ravelry because I started it over the summer when I was in a hurry for a new project and never got round to adding it as a WIP). My current portable project: slowly but surely it will be finished.
  • The big cotton blanket from 2011. I think I’ve six squares completed. Let’s not kid ourselves: I may as well add this to the WIP list for the end of next year. The blanket needs to be bigger than the child it is destined for (or her dolls) and she is now 3.

The plan is to finish the swirl before starting anything else.

What is in the queue and ready to begin?

  • Color Affection: yarn wound, pattern printed
  • Kadril – pattern gifted by Beth in 2013, yarn chosen, needs winding
  • Knee-length socks for me. Yarn purchased, need to choose pattern
  • A crochet kit that I bought at Yarndale (impulse purchase because the yarn is so pretty)

    Beautiful Yarn
    Beautiful Yarn

Looking further ahead

  • I’d like to learn to fit a sweater properly
  • I’ve got a great big skein of laceweight that wants to be a big shawl
  • Spinning, perhaps even spinning for a particular project and then knitting it

In which my spinning makes a great leap forward

The journey so far:

  • I begin reading about spinning on other knitting blogs. It sounds fun, but I wonder whether it is worth the effort
  • A friend starts spinning and is very enthusiastic about it
  • I begin to imagine how it would feel to be able to say “I made the yarn”. I think this feeling might be a good one
  • January 2013: I ask a friend of my Mum’s for a lesson in drop-spindling and come away with a wheel on long-term loan
  • I make yarn… kind of. It’s lumpy and horrible and really hard to make the fibre do what I want
  • The wheel sits in my office, providing a great talking point, but mostly gathering dust
  • I book on a two day spinning course with Ruth at Wingham Wool Works in August

There was a bit of a drama involved with getting to the spinning course. The dates on the website differed from the dates on the invoice, so all five of the people on the course got the wrong day. Some of us turned up a day early, others changed plans to come on the day the invoice said.

What do you want to learn about spinning?

Interesting question. I’m fairly sure I could learn to sit and spin without thinking too much about it, but that’s not really what intrigues me about the whole business. Spinning seems to me to be a craft, where learning the technical aspects will pay dividends.

I’d like to learn how to design a yarn

So that is what I learned over the next two days. After five minutes of Ruth looking at what I was doing, she suggested changes to the way I was holding my hands and drafting. I changed to drafting forwards and, after being shown how to untwist the yarn while drafting, within minutes I was producing a fine, even thread. Amazing! That would have been enough to make it worthwhile, but there was more.

We learned about the gears on the wheel and how to use them accurately, we looked at calculating the number of twists per inch when spinning and how that equates to the number of twists per inch in plying, we discovered the desirability of producing yarn that has a slight Z-twist once plied, not to mention looking at Andean plying, making rolags, long draw spinning and so on.

I came away with a head full of knowledge (and a little bit of fibre to play with – well, it would have been rude not to). Since then, I’ve struggled to find regular time to spin but I can still see the improvement in my technique. Now I’m saving up to buy my own spinning wheel.

Here’s the results of the course:

First, a selection of samples, all spun on the same wheel with the same fibre, just changing the wheel settings.

moresamples

Now a skein of well-balanced yarn that looks as if it might actually be useful for knitting.

spinningsamples

I’ve also got another skein of yarn that needs a bit of re-plying in order to be right.

In love with knitting again

The big long socks of misery are off the needles, blocked and ready to send. Almost instantly, I felt a lightness of spirit and dived back into my various knitting bags to see what was lurking within.
I spent an evening knitting on a lace sock, before sitting down to think about what would be the biggest win to finish. The conclusion? Finish the swirl.
Originally cast on new years day 2013, this project reaches its second anniversary later this week. I’ve knitted to beyond the halfway point now and I have momentum. There’s a handy thread on the swirl ravelry group that tells you the halfway point in each pattern. I have slightly less than half the yarn left, so another skein of the dark grey is on the way here. I’m hoping that means I won’t run out after all, but better safe than sorry.
My aim for the next couple of months is to operate a finish two projects for each one started policy. It would be lovely to cast on some of those patterns that I’ve been thinking about for years.

Not even a year

*breezes nonchalantly back into the room as if it has only been five minutes*

The Ysolda knitalong from January you say? It went quite well. There were five clues, each with two options, so you could end up with one of 32 different shawls.

Here’s mine, ravelled here, and being worn pretty much every day now the winter has started to bite.

It’s a peculiarly vibrant red, that I love, although it’s nowhere near the colour palette I usually inhabit.

There were dramas in the knitting. I ran about three yards short of the red yarn, so had to redo almost the entire knitted on border to insert the grey panels. There was swearing that evening.

Since then, I made an attempt at Sock Madness in March, but only reached round 2. It’s a lovely group to be part of, but I think that sock-knitting contests are something I’m going to step away from for a while.  There are exceptions of course: I still love Sock Sniper. I got my kill this year, but was taken out within an hour of returning from the post-office. There’s so much I want to knit in order to learn more and the structured Knit-a-longs often don’t have patterns that challenge or inspire at the time.

In the spring I made a foolish error: I committed myself to knitting a pair of socks for a charity auction. The lot went for a good amount of money, but ended up being bought by a man. I had intended to specify that they were ladies socks in the catalogue, but I missed out on checking the entry. I’m committed to knitting a really big pair of socks and I’m no longer enjoying it. The design process has been interesting – this is the first pair of longer socks I’ve had a go at – but the actual knitting is fairly soul-destroying, even with some sneaky cables and a bit of gansey-type patterning. Still, it has to be done. Surely if I keep knitting they will eventually be finished. I’m keeping away from all sorts of lovely yarny distractions until they are done and in the post.

I’ve a few posts in mind to ease me back into the idea of blogging:

  • In which my spinning makes a great leap forward
  • In which I go to Yarndale 2014
  • Discussions on notebooks, organisation and blogs
  • WIP round-up

My life is rather unbalanced at the moment. Too much work and not enough knitting, or thinking and writing about knitting. This must change. I’ve been putting some support systems in place at work to help me work more effectively. I need to do the same for play as well.

This evening I will leave it here I think. How was your summer? Knit anything nice?

[edited for spellings and to insert a link]

New Year New Stash

Why, yes, it has been a long time since the last post. Thank you for asking.

First things first: the winner of the skein of sock yarn from the last post…

There were three comments qualifying for yarn. I couldn’t decide between them on merit, since they were all good reasons. I went to a random number generator and it said number 1 was the winner. Chronologically, the first comment was from Daisy. A skein of yarn will be heading your way soon. Seems a fair reward for getting me into this knitting malarky in the first place.

Would you like to see the loot? Of course you would. I’ve been doing a lot of show and tell sessions when knitters come to visit.

Prize Yarn

If you want to see the details, I suggest going to look at my ravelry stash, since it is all photographed and catalogued in detail.

Progress in knitting

Since the beginning of November, there has been much knitting. I had been asked for a hat and hand warmer combination for Christmas from my sister. The hat was completed in mid-November, the hand warmers just after New Year – she enjoyed trying the half-completed hand warmers on when we saw her at Christmas. The hat was a heavily adapted design and the hand warmers were a completely new design, since I couldn’t find what I wanted on Ravelry.

handwarmers
I think she likes them

Where would you go to find an expert in how to make gloves fit really well? For socks I know that Cookie A or Cat Bordhi are good to go to when you want the technical details. Is there a gloves guru?

The reason for the delay in the hand warmers was that I decided to join the Sock Madness Advent Scarf knit-along. From December 1st to 24th, I awoke each day to an email with the next section of pattern in it. It was all in 2-colour stranded knitting and I really enjoyed it. I kept up with the schedule until the 21st December, then work got really, really crazily busy so I paused. The scarf is now upstairs, blocking, before I graft it together to make an infinity scarf.

It is possible that I might have got the KAL bug because I’ve just started another one: the Ysolda Teague Follow Your Arrow Mystery Knit Along. Clue 1 was released on Monday, so if you want to join in there is still plenty of time.

And the winner is…

Seems a long time since Sock Sniper started, and indeed it is 2 months. Things got quite tense in the last weeks. I had no idea where my third pair of socks to finish were coming from and it was weeks before they arrived. By that point we were down to the final three: me and two Americans. The day the socks arrived, I heard on the forums that the socks knitted for me had been posted, so there wasn’t a moment to lose. The person who had started the socks had only knitted the first leg, so there was a fair bit left to do.

How fast can I knit a sock and a half? Well, I started at 11pm on Wednesday evening, knitted for an hour, then went to bed. On Thursday, I knitted all day (apart from feeding the children) and kitchenered the toe at 2.30am on Friday. They went in the post on Friday morning and I went home to rest my eyes and hands.

IMG_3140_medium2

This week I got back from a few days away, fully expecting to have been ‘killed’, but the socks didn’t arrive until Friday morning, the same day as the socks I knitted arrived in Louisiana, USA. I was killed 5 or 6 hours before the other person, but it was called as a tie by our commander in chief, since it was the same postal day. Cue much rejoicing. Now I am waiting eagerly for the prize to arrive. People keep asking me what I am going to do with 20 skeins of sock yarn. I’m guessing there will be a few people with warmer feet over the next few years. I wonder what else I can knit with sock yarn?

When you get a lovely prize like this I think it is nice to share. So, leave a comment saying what you have done to deserve a free skein of sock yarn and in a few weeks (when the yarns have arrived in the post), I’ll choose the comment that amused or touched me most and post you a skein of yarn.

Do you want to see the socks that killed me?

deathsocks

Aren’t they a glorious colour?

I must figure out sometime just how many pairs of socks I’ve knitted and sent round the world. It’s quite a few now.