Thursday, 29 October 2009



I am a reader. I love to read. I take pride in my reading. But - knitting has come between me and my books.

Turns out, I love both too much to choose between them. Usually, on a tube ride into Central London, I will bring both a book and some knitting, and depending on the conditions of the train (how hot, how crowded, how bumpy) I will choose one or the other to take up the journey. (I absolutely, positively loathe any kind of waiting or idleness, and must keep busy somehow or else I go mad.)

At home, it's a different story. Do I read or do I knit?? How could I possibly choose? When I was writing my MA dissertation on knitting in literature, my supervisor even asked me if I was able to knit and read at the same time. (She really shouldn't have encouraged this.) I developed a method of opening a book out on to a pillow on my lap and weighing it down so it stayed open with my phone. This was okay, and fairly do-able as long as I wasn't knitting something too complicated or reading something too complicated.

And then, an epiphany. I didn't need to use my eyes to read - I could use my ears! So, my adventures in podcasts and audiobooks began. I have listened to a lot of stuff now. Here in the UK you can get a good amount of quality listening from BBC Radio 4. However, I just can't seem to get into the radio drama, The Archers, which seems to be their leading fiction. It seems strange, then, that now I live over here, I am in love with NPR - the closest thing Americans have to the BBC. In particular, I just can't get enough of This American Life. I will go as far as to say it's one of my favourite things in the world. Ever. (Other favourite things include Murder She Wrote, but for entirely different reasons...)

It's sort of difficult to explain TAL, but it's basically a real life story or stories based around a theme. It's an hour, weekly, and it's just never enough.

Going through TAL withdrawal for the rest of the week (it's available on Mondays on iTunes), I had to find something to tide me over. TAL lead me to The Moth - more real life stories, except these are one-off, 15 minute stories told live in front of an audience. It's people from all walks of life, and though they aren't necessarily professional story-tellers, it does often turn into a performance. Some are really funny (in fact most have elements of humour) and a lot of them are really touching.

From there, (because clearly, 1 hour of TAL and 15 mins of The Moth are just. not. enough.) I found Selected Shorts. This time it's fiction. Short stories from any time period, often read by actors or other theatre people. Also usually on a theme (French Fictions, anyone?). It's wonderful.

Not exhausted by all this storytelling, I then fall back on the knitting podcasts. I have tried out quite a few over the past couple of months, and my favourites are now The Electric Sheep and Stash & Burn. I also used to enjoy the Cast On podcast, but she hasn't had a new show on since early August, so fingers crossed she comes back. Cast On is probably the most professionally made of the three, but I have to admit I actually like the more lo-fi atmosphere of the other two. Of course, the host, "Hoxton Handmade", of Electric Sheep, has a voice for Radio 4 - a clear, English, made-for-reading-the-news voice that's lovely to listen to. Not everything she talks about is necessarily knitting related, but great for knitting along to. She even throws a ukulele Radiohead performance in there occasionally. The Stash & Burn podcast is great for catching up on what patterns are big on Ravelry at the moment, info about different yarns, etc - and they always have a great song on at the end that usually I have never heard before.

So needless to say, with all this listening, I have been getting a lot of knitting done. But that's not all! As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have also been taking advantage of the free, in-the-public-domain audiobooks that are available on My library also has audiobooks to check out, and I've currently got Ali Smith's The Accidental on the go.

In the photo above: a favourite antique book - an 1892 copy of Charles Dickens' Christmas Boooks and the in-progress and appropriately named Endpaper Mitts by Eunny Jang. Book vs Yarn crisis averted.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Cold arm(s).

I managed to wrangle myself away from the sewing machine today to get some knitting done. I finally finished (not that it really took me that long) the Noro Striped Scarf I've been making for a friend since I returned from Germany. It's for her boyfriend's 80-year-old father, and I really hope he likes it. I always like working with Noro because of the wonderful colour changes. No matter how simple the pattern (and usually with Noro, I think simple is best) the ways the colours morph is enough to keep you interested, and you can get the credit for an amazing-looking FO without much effort. Here it is:



I debated whether to go for the fringe or not - I asked my friend and she left it up to me! I ended up with a bit of leftover because, somewhat perposterously, the end of one of my Noro skeins ended up being a tied-on completely different shade to what had come before it! So I finished before this knot and used the rest for the fringe. And I really like the result! Only problem is though, the two colourways I used were too similar in parts, so the stripes fade out a bit, which is a bit of a bummer. Still happy with it though and hopefully the recipient will be too!

So that was this morning. Meanwhile, I have been stuck at home waiting for a delivery. They said it might come any time today. So I haven't even dared go out and get milk so I don't miss it (like I did on Wednesday - oops). It is now 5.30 pm and still no delivery. Grrrr... so I have kept myself occupied trying to finish off my Dragon Scale Gauntlets. Here's me with one cold arm in my new dress.

Photo 12

Must. Finish. Soon. Before. Right. Arm. Freezes. Off.

Listening to: The Lower 48 (as recommended by the Stash & Burn podcast)
Eating: Chips. (The English kind.) Lots of them.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Cheating on knitting.

I got the sewing machine out today instead of the Noro Striped Scarf I'm working on. I feel so guilty, especially since I am just a few rows and a bind off away from finishing the thing. But before I even bothered eating anything this morning (however definitely not before coffee, mind) I lugged out the machine, which was a lovely wedding present from my friends here in London, but sadly not much used since I received it.

When I was a kid, I used to sit in my room making and sort of half embroidering pillows (both skills that I just improvised - I don't recall ever being actually taught either of these things) - I remember really enjoying doing crafty things like this, but I'm afraid my skills haven't really moved on since then. After much nervousness and pacing around my new beloved sewing machine last year, I finally sat down and made a dress from some gorgeous Liberty fabric that I had bought on sale. Still not the cheapest fabric, I was panicking that I was going to cut or sew something wrong and ruin it completely. Well, it didn't go really well, but it's a dress and I can wear it in public without people staring and pointing. Which is good.

So having discovered the very cool Threadbanger website, I put making this t-shirt dress pretty high on my list of crafty things to do. It's made of just three £2 t-shirts, so if I screwed it up, it would be a loss of time rather than money really. The website claims this should take you 1.5 hours. It took me at least twice that. But it was actually pretty gratifying compared with knitting, an art in which instant gratification is not the object, especially with dresses.

Now this doesn't look amazing, and I am still pretty clumsy with the sewing machine (I should take a class maybe?) but I am pretty happy with the result considering it's only my second somewhat real sewing project.

Photo 6

Photo 8

Photo 4

Unfortunately you can't really see the bottom of the dress in these pics, as I use the photo booth feature on my Mac and couldn't really move back far enough to get it in. But you get the idea. I think maybe it needs a belt around the waist.

Apparently my mother's mother was a real seamstress. My grandfather also owned a men's clothing store back in the day. I got a lot of my grandmother's old sewing notions when she died, and there's her gorgeous antique Singer sewing table that's waiting for me back home (you know the ones where it just looks like a regular table, but then you can open it up from the top and out comes a sewing machine...!) but unfortunately I never got any actual sewing lessons from her, which would have been nice. This sewing stuff, turns out, not so easy!

Listening to: Ryan Adams (Heartbreaker)

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Wollen und Bier

...I think. I didn't pick up too much German while I was away, mostly because so many of the lovely Bavarian people were clever enough to be able to speak English to me and kind enough to be willing to!

But wool and beer pretty much sum it up. Although I didn't bring back many souvenirs, I did manage to pick up a lovely alpaca in a colour I have been on the hunt for all autumn as well as an excellent magazine, the patterns in which I hope to some day decipher.


I was very pleasantly surprised and pleased to find that our train station ("banhof" - see I learned some German!) had a bookshop/news agent-y type of place that had an entire shelf devoted to knitting magazines - bliss! If it hadn't been for train schedules and my limited budget, I would have definitely come away with more than I did. As it was, I chose this one for these patterns in particular:



I am getting into knitted dresses these days - probably because it's getting cold and I am trying to not use the heater too much just yet, and also because I am lazy and like the idea of only having to think of one think to wear in a day as opposed to a top and trousers... Unfortunately they take up lots of yarn and are therefore expensive. I'll just have to think of them as an "investment"... Right?

The yarn in the first photo is Austermann Alpaca Silk. Yum. It actually says "Made in Peru" on the label, but it's a German company so I'll just let myself believe it's an authentic German souvenir. Better than, say, a Bayern Football Club t-shirt or a framed picture of Kind Ludwig II of Bavaria... speaking of whom, here's his house:

neuschwanstein 2

Yes, my friends, that is a giant, fairy tale castle on the top of a large mountain. It took a good long hike and the use of a lot of backside muscles to get up there, but it was worth it. If you haven't heard of this guy, he was a sort of 19th century Bavarian Michael Jackson and this was his Neverland. He was deposed from his role as king on the grounds that he was mentally ill and then found dead with his personal doctor days later under very peculiar circumstances. More on the "mad" king here. The castle is full of legend and fairy tale references and even has a room which was meant to be devoted to the full performances of Wagner's music for his sole enjoyment - but was never used. Just the sort of tragic, mysterious stuff I get sucked in by.

Other than fairy tale kings, knitting and beer (and there was lots of the latter), there was the scenery - probably the most beautiful of which I have ever seen:

view from our balcony

gorge - waterfall

austrian gorge

neuschwanstein 4

As you might be able to tell from the photos, it went from swelteringly hot to freezing cold and snowy in the 10 days I was there. But it was wonderful to experience the place in both ways. More in the Flickr set here.


Listening to: Emmy the Great
Eating: Aquacotta

Monday, 5 October 2009

Happy 100th, Poetry Society

So it's not 'til Thursday, but the Poetry Society here in the UK will soon be 100. I had the lovely opportunity to help out with their major celebratory project - the giant knitted poem - in their offices last week. It is a HUGE project. All the letters (although not all the numbers) were finished and were being sewn together in lines first (9.5 metre long lines) and then sewn horizontally to connect all the lines into stanzas, and so on. I put in 6 hours one day and another 3 hours another day, but many others were working much longer hours to get this project done in time for the press to get snaps of it in time for National Poetry Day.

Here's a few pictures I took to illustrate just how huge a project this really is:

A lovely stitcher breaking her back to get the project done in time!

A ridiculously long (9.5 metre) line from the poem.

Just two of the many lines of the poem rolled up and ready to be sewn together into stanzas.

As far as I know, the first opportunity to see the finished poem will be at the British Library piazza on Wednesday - so fingers crossed it doesn't rain, right?

I will be far away in Bavaria, so won't be able to see it finished in person sadly. Leaving way too early tomorrow morning, but looking forward to the mountains, beer and yarn-hunting. Mmmmm....

Thursday, 1 October 2009

"If clothing 'makes the man' what happens to masculinity when women make his clothes?"*

So I am knitting for a couple of men in my life. Although I have to admit that I don't feel as compelled to finish their projects as I do for ones for me. Greedy, I know. It seems I started these ages ago...

For the Australian:

Which will hopefully magically transform into this:
(photo from Men's Knits by Erika Knight / Let's Knit magazine)

And for my oldest brother:


This is the Exchequered Scarf by Alice Bell (rav link).

I am going to visit said brother in Germany on Tuesday for 2 whole weeks with my mom. Very sad about leaving the Australian behind for so long, but I will be bringing along the sweater and the scarf and so will hopefully make some headway on the man-knitting on trains between Munich, Strasbourg, Wurzburg, Innsbruck and Garmisch. Maybe when I get back I will have a finally finished sweater for him.

I have never been particularly enamoured with vacation souvenirs in general (unless it's food or wine, of course) so recently my travel souvenirs have come in skein form. I have already had my brother scope out the LYS situation in Garmisch and there's at least one, but I am keen to know about any other in Bavaria and what to look out for. I have heard good things about the Wollmeise brand on the Ravelry boards and I have to say, it looks lovely.

So, will the guys in my life mind having lady-made clothes to add to their wardrobe at the end of this trip? I think they know me well enough not to answer that in the affirmative... at least not to my face.

*Quoted from The Culture of Knitting by Joanne Turney

Eating: Jamie Oliver's Bloomin' Brilliant Brownies
Listening to: Mumford & Sons