A Mystery In Our Midst (Part 1)

There I was, thinking it was just a normal lunch break. I headed back from the break room, past the two small meeting rooms in the corridor that leads to the huge, open-plan office. As I went past, I noticed that one of the meeting room doors had been left open. I looked inside.

And that was when I saw it. A KNITTING PROJECT. Unmistakeable. Two straight steel needles, with something on them, a 100g ball of navy blue yarn, and what I assumed was the pattern underneath it. Alone, on the table. A trap? Perhaps. I hesitated, cast a quick glance over my shoulder, then hurried past the door and went back to my desk. I grabbed my mug. If I headed back to the break room to make a cup of tea, I could catch the project owner in the act, and in a few weeks’ time when I’ve worked up the nerve, maybe even start a conversation! But by the time I passed the door again, all trace of the phantom knitter was gone.

I went back into the break room, eyes furtively darting around for clues to no avail. I surreptitiously scanned the bags on the floor. Did anyone have a bag that looked like it could hold a project, or those needles? Then I noticed a woman I didn’t know looking at me oddly so I grabbed my tea and got the hell out of there.

Was it all just my imagination? Maybe. But I don’t think so. I think there is a phantom knitter in my office, and I am going to uncover their identity. Tomorrow, I’m going to take in the shawl I’m working on for my sister (I bailed on my own design and decided to make her Mormorio) and sit in the break room with it while I have my lunch. I will be the bait. Let’s see if anybody takes it.

To Be Continued…

The Joy Of Socks

As I mournfully mentioned on Twitter, I accidentally stabbed myself in the arm with a 2.25mm DPN. I sat down in my armchair and put my tea on the desk, then dropped my arms to my sides. Little did I know my knitting was next to me with one of the DPNs sticking out of the ball of yarn vertically, and my forearm came down right on the tip. So it’s more like gravity stabbed me in the arm.

Anyway, I’m using the DPNs to make a pair of gloves for SO. Using sock yarn. I’ve fallen majorly in love with sock yarn during the second half of this year, but the weird thing is…I never make socks. I’ve made one pair of socks in my knitting career, it was in 2009, I used DK and I haven’t been inclined to make any since. I love some beautiful sock yarn, but normally use it for shawls and gloves.

Obviously I can appreciate a good pair of socks. There are literally thousands of breathtaking sock patterns out there, from Viking Ugla to Pomatomus to the stunning Circle Socks, but I just don’t want to knit socks. Ever.

There is a reason for this and I’m really not proud of it. I’m a show-off. I’m a big ol’ show-off knitter and I want people to see the fruits of my labour. I could spend hundreds of hours crafting some amazing socks in a gorgeous colour, but the only person who’d ever really see them would be me (and I don’t spend that much time when I’m at home staring at my feet). A scarf, on the other hand, hangs around my neck for all to see. I’m not that bothered about people asking me about it/getting compliments (although that’s always nice!), I just like to have it there. Like a flag.

The other thing about socks (and this is my uninformed opinion) is that they just seem like they would take forever. Unfortunately for me and everyone I love I get bored quickly and easily when it comes to knitting. I have probably started over 20 projects this year but only finished 6. I can just about muster the concentration to finish a pair of gloves for me, as my hands are the size of a 10-year-old’s so gloves are quite quick, but these ones for my SO have taken weeks. And I still haven’t even finished the first one. I got distracted by knitting a 4-ply shawl for a bit, getting fed up because it was taking too long and balling up another skein of sock yarn.

Tell me, sock knitters: Why do you love socks? Do you show yours off? How? Should I try and share in your joy, or leave it to the socks-perts? What sock patterns would you recommend for a lazy show-off?

The Creative Process

1. Take an awesome class with one of your knitting heroes and learn new skills and methods.

2. Have a gift idea that you’re really excited about that’ll let you apply newly-acquired skills and methods!

3. Sketch out your idea.

4. Make a swatch. What a cute swatch!

5. Spend 3 nights knitting enthusiastically and 6 hours fiddling about with your charts in Excel

6. Have the realisation that your idea might only look good to you and your beloved gift recipient may think it looks terrible but will still wear it because she loves you

7. Cry

8. Frog.

Knitting and “Female Tears”

I have a riddle for you: What is sweet, but makes people sour? This post is about the Great British Bake Off, Ruby, sexism and the relation to craft in general.

For international readers, the Great British Bake Off is a reality baking show that’s just finished its 4th season over here (the US have their own version, The American Baking Competiton with the same male judge, albeit a less catchy title). It got 9.1 million viewers (while the football was on the other channel, which is no mean feat. That’s 13% of people!) for the finale last night. I’d never watched it until this season but as an attempt to fit in with people at work I gave it a go. I stuck with it because it turns out I love watching people make things. A meal is one thing, even a beautifully presented and delicious meal, but this? (link is to a gallery on BBC website)  It’s unmistakeable, this is craft. On TV! (I’m not saying that cooking isn’t a craft, or undermining the skill of chefs, but there’s a certain element of artistry in a tower of biscuits forming a pagoda or a clock tower which I find captivating and don’t see so much in cooking shows) And the contestants were all lovely which made it very easy, happy viewing.

Ruby was my favourite contestant from the start, because she studies philosophy (as I did) and is relentlessly hard on herself when she feels her work isn’t up to the high standard she has set (as I am). Other people, both on Twitter and in national press, did not share my view. I’m not going to link to anything bashing her, but there were accusations of her flirting with one of the judges and getting preferential treatment (although the articles accusing her of this didn’t cite any actual examples, and I saw no evidence of it at all), there were comments calling her moody, sulky, and even pathetic and manipulative for the heinous crime of getting upset when something she’s worked hard on doesn’t go to plan. Mega-famous chef Raymond Blanc offered this valuable insight on Twitter:

“The Great British Bake Off. Not much skills, female tears and a winner so thin who makes me doubt of her love for great cooking, baking.”

Female tears, obviously, are less serious than male tears. Male tears have dignity and gravitas, like when something happens in a sports game. Female tears, on the other hand, are frivolous and whimsical, like when you’ve been working for years to improve a skill and despite your dedication and precision, something has gone wrong with your work and you can’t fix it. There are no words for the frustration and disappointment this brings. I have sobbed and wailed at my knitting more times than I can count, and I know a lot of people who would laugh at me for saying that. I don’t care. When Ruby cried I absolutely and totally understood why, and to see people mocking her, accusing her of false modesty (when her bakes are actually really good despite her perceived shortcomings) makes me think that they…just don’t get it. If I experienced the above on national TV? Crying would be the least of my problems. Someone would have to escort me out from underneath the table and confiscate anything light enough for me to throw.

Anyway, I’m not here to mock anyone’s tears. Things that are perceived in this society to be traditionally done by women (fibrecrafts, sewing, baking, cooking that doesn’t involve standing in a big kitchen with your hands on your hips screaming obscenities at underlings) are automatically less important. It’s just a silly cake, woman. Dry your little eyes. It’s just a woolly hat. Is it really worth getting upset? (A: Yes.)

Sister show The Great British Sewing Bee was met with a huge amount of derision and snarkiness when it aired last year. I watched every minute and loved it. But the comments threads (I know, I know, I asked for it) were crying about the death of quality programming and oh-my-god-people-will-watch-anything and oh-my-god-nobody-will-watch-this. It was ONE hour of sewing a week. For FOUR weeks. Then TV reverted to its sport-cooking-singing-rinse-repeat routine. Happy? I don’t think a short series about, say, woodworking, would have attracted so much “I’ve never seen this and I’m not the target audience but this is DEFINITELY TERRIBLE AND A WASTE OF TIME” style bile.

Ruby herself has written an excellent, articulate piece for the Guardian about the gendered nature of the attacks on her, and the other contestants. I sincerely hope the success of the Bake Off (and even the Sewing Bee managed just under three million viewers) has shown that crafts, even “female” crafts (both shows had male contestants, Sewing Bee had 2:6 and Bake Off had 6:7, basically even were it not for the odd number of contestants) deserve a regular place on our screens.

Wool Week-End

After a crappy Wool Week spent entirely at work and barely knitting because tired, I went to the Fair Isle class at John Lewis Oxford Street yesterday evening. I was a bit scared because a) people and b) I hadn’t actually received any confirmation that I’d booked, although I’d emailed them to register on Monday. I couldn’t find a contact number anywhere so I just emailed them again Friday afternoon and hoped I wouldn’t get kicked out.

I got the Tube to Oxford Circus, all the while thinking “Why don’t I go out in London more? Why do I never come in to the city?” then as I walked out of the subway “Oh yeah. That’s why.” I couldn’t see a thing because everyone is taller than me and there was nowhere to stand still and check my map because everyone was moving, and pushing and shoving me along with them. I found my footing and swam through the people until I emerged next to a young man beatboxing into a microphone. I took advantage of the wide berth people were giving him (beatboxing doesn’t scare me) and checked my map. After a lot of standing on tiptoes and rotating my phone around trying to get my bearings I realised which of the four roads I needed to go down, and started heading towards John Lewis.

As I approached I took this ninja picture. I would’ve gotten a better one but I was embarrassed about the nice lady seeing me standing their photographing her like a chimp.

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I found my way up to where the class was taking place. Predictably my name was “not on the list” so I had to wait to see if the class filled up. To this day I’m not sure what I was supposed to do about this. I’m not having a go, but I sent two emails and got no response. It was lucky that some people didn’t show, otherwise they would have asked me to leave and I would have been very upset, since it was not exactly my fault that no one responded to me.  Anyway, no harm no foul. The class was taught by Sue Stratford (designer of sweaters and very cute things) who is a great teacher and a very sweet woman. She basically told me and showed me all the reasons my stranded colourwork looks terrible! I explained the pinching in at the sides, stitches leaning to the sides, random floats visible from the right side, and Sue and Becky (I think it was Becky? I didn’t actually really get anyone’s names to be honest) were really helpful. Each member of the class got a bit of yarn (Debbie Bliss Rialto Aran thank you very much) and a pattern that features both stranded and intarsia. So not only is my stranded loads better, but I now know how to do intarsia! Here are my unblocked, unseamed “Nordic Mitts”.

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I’m still not the best at Fair Isle, but this is aran weight yarn so the stitches are going to be a little big. The reindeer gets a little nose as well, in the form of a French knot. So all I have to do is find out what a French knot is and how to do it! More learning abound!

I had a quick look in the haberdashery section before I went home, to see if there were any fabulous Wool Week bargains!

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Yesterday I learned their yarn section is big. Big and expensive, very expensive.

After buying nothing for a change I headed back out to the station, and just before I entered the subway again, I saw this nifty display in H & M to celebrate Wool Week! I had to take one step past the entrance of the shop, take the photo quickly then run off because the security guard was looking at me. I don’t know if I’ve ever given this impression before, but it may surprise you all to learn that I’m pretty shy and awkward.

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So I went back to the station and jumped on the train home, knitting the second attempt of a cowl I’ve been trying to make (from 100% wool of course, namely Texere Olympia I got back in March), thinking my excitement for the day was over. Not so. A couple of weeks ago I entered a Twitter contest that Ruth Garcia-Alcantud was holding, and I was one of three winners! I excitedly sent her my email address and promptly forgot about it I came home to a package for me! I never get packages! It contained this:

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The book is a collection of Knit Now patterns and the yarn is BabyLongLegs Perfection Lace – very aptly named. And how did you know my favourite colour Ruth?

One of the patterns from the book is Twinkle Twinkle, a pretty lace light cardigan. And the yarn included is enough to make it! My heart leapt and I started reaching for my needles. BUT…

I love the cardigan, it is gorgeous and delicate and feminine and pretty. Here’s the problem – I’m not. Or rather, my style isn’t. I would make that cardigan and it would sit in a closet, I don’t have anything for it to “go” with.

This is something I have just recently started analysing with my knits. If I’m making something for myself, it needs to go with stuff I already own before I invest the time. My first sweater – Kirsten Kapur’s Que Sera in bright, rich purple, gets worn about 3 times a year for this reason. I have barely any other clothes that go with it. (And also because it still has no buttons and the sleeves are a bit too short, but give me a break, it was my first sweater!)

So I’ll use this beautiful yarn for something else. I am so excited to use it, and explore the rest of the patterns in the book. Thanks Ruth, you are amazing. So it seems only fitting that I dedicate my blog’s first REGULAR FEATURE!!! (more to follow) to one of her designs. Her twitter is here and her website is here.

Where There’s A Wool…

There’s a way to do something during Wool Week!

I feel much cheerier than I did yesterday. Housework, cooking and “looking after myself” are such mood killers!

So the cold weather is here. There’s nothing that wakes you up in the morning quite like freezing half to death walking to the bus stop. This means – my jumpers are out, my shawl is on the back of my chair, my hands are deep in my pockets. WINTER IS COMING.

The sudden cold has given my knitstincts a kick-start and now I just want to, nay, need to, make myself all the warm things. A hat, scarf, gloves or mitts. Just nice quickies in chunky yarn. I’m pretty sure I have some nice (guess what colour) blue and grey colourful soft stuff in my stash. I swear this won’t take long then I’ll get back to my already very long and growing list (8 UFOs, some on needles, some on yarn to hold the stitches, some completely cast off but in pieces because seaming is boring. But I mean that’s normal, right?)

You’ve probably all worked out long ago just what kind of knitter I am. Yes, I love to start things. Yes, I get too excited to swatch. Yes, I lose interest quickly and want to start something else. But, every few months I re-discover loads of almost-done projects and finish like 4 things in a week and feel really accomplished.

In other news, I discovered that there are evening classes at John Lewis Oxford Street for Wool Week! I’ll be there on Friday evening (hopefully, they haven’t emailed me back to confirm and if the evening class is full I can’t go and will cry) learning how to do Fair Isle properly courtesy of Sue Stratford. Can’t wait!

WOOL WEEK IT’S WOOL WEEK EVERYBODY

Yay!

Here is a semi-related list of things I have done in the last few days

  • Deliberately avoided The Knitting and Stitching Show @ Alexandra Palace so I wouldn’t spend any more money
  • Un-hibernated Vivian at the weekend! Fixed my mistakes and got about 8 rows of yoke done
  • Came home from work today and did chores and cooked dinner for 3 hours
  • Collapsed on my chair exhausted, it’s now 2 hours before I have to go to bed
  • Don’t even want to knit, if my stomach wasn’t so full I’d sleep right here, right now

Happy Wool Week everybody! Hope you guys can get some knitting done at least. And here’s a list of actual cool stuff that’s going on because you were sweet enough to listen to me whine.