Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The last homely house west of the mountains

On Tuesday night some very good friends asked me whether I was knitting anything big at the moment. I contemplated the question, and the half-knit Phyllo yoke sweater that has sat in the knitting bag since about February, and answered: "not really, just socks". Socks are my default knitting, my comfort knitting. I always have at least one pair of socks on the go and I'm starting to think that it is very possible that I am creating a sleeping volcano of socks in my sock drawer.

It should be noted that when we bought our chests of drawers all of my socks fitted in the top drawer but each time I try to squeeze another pair in I may be getting closer to that day (or night) when the pressure of the roaming socks forces the drawer open and expels them in a colourful rainbow all over the room. I doubt even that could pry the sock needles from my hands - I just hope I'm there to see it, that's all.

The latest finished pair were to a pattern that had been sitting in the computer for a while, waiting for time and the serendipitous alliance of the perfect yarn.

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The yarn is Dream in Colour Smooshy in Pansy Golightly (I love the names!), and the pattern is Imladris, Karningul, the last homely house East of the Sea...

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Or Rivendell if you prefer.

The pattern as written seemed like it might be a tight fit for me, and various other people had reported issues with fit so I did a little unscientific re-sizing and took the needle size up to 2.75. With the Smooshy yarn, which is on the thicker side of sock yarn, it worked perfectly but it is an inexact adjustment and in a thinner yarn that would just look odd.
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My other tip would be to wrap quite loosely at the top of the sock - it may look odd in the knitting but it feels much better in the wearing than having your circulation cut off!

To preserve Newton's Third Law of knitting (to each casting off must be an equal casting on), I pulled another favourite out of the stash.

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This is Misti Alpaca sock yarn in colour Taos, also known as, 'a lot of Carie's favourite colours whirled together'. It is soft and fluffy and fuzzy yarn and a pleasure to knit with.

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It also matches the colours in my tablecloth.

The pattern is Nancy Bush's Spey Valley, so these are Spey Valley in Autumn.

But before anyone becomes seriously worried about the sock overload and my family starts researching the appropriateness of a St Bernard as a family pet to rescue me from the yarn avalanche when the time comes (oh, if you do that, seriously, yarn and sock needles, not brandy in the little bag around his neck), I have started a seriously long scale, non sock project.

This is the start of a Barn Raising Square from the book Knitalong.

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The yarn is the leftovers of my handspun Polworth, and after that is finished, I've got the leftovers of my Peacock sock yarn. The plan is to knit a Barn Raising square out of the leftovers of my handspun whenever possible. The full blanket takes 42 squares and as I don't spin that fast don't expect to see a blanket any time soon!

I am however, eyeing up the rest of the sock yarn leftovers!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Another day, another show

This one was just a leeeeeetle bit big than the village extravaganza, though no more important to its participants than those earnestly preparing vegetables into triangles on Saturday morning; on Sunday we went to the International Quilt Show at the NEC.

I say we, with good reason. H, despite having experienced last year showed a willingness to attend a gathering of fabricy goodness filled with women that belies his protestations and makes me suspect that actually he might enjoy it. That or the wool and fabric fumes are warping his mind. Poor boy.

The exhibition had the same wonderful mix of quilts that you desperately wanted to snuggle up under, and quilts that were definitely art, and some that you just can't categorise,

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Quilted sunflowers and lilies - it's a verdant imagination that comes up with that and then puts it into practice!

So, in the spirit of a picture being worth a thousand words, is a little essence of the show.

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You may need to click on this one to see it bigger in Flickr, it's a 2D quilter's dream of a dolls house with classes, lectures, a quilt show and a fabric shop, and my favourite touch, in the bottom right hand corner is a lady chasing a guy with a pair of scissors.
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Do we need to explain why I like this one? It is properly knitted fabric as far as I could make out. It's cream in real life but the lighting at the NEC is decidedly orange, even on a bright sunny day.

Silhouettes are in vogue in quilts:
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My favourite is the people in the beach in the top one, I like the diver, and the bottom one makes me feel a little uncomfortable, I think it's their body language, it's almost a scene from The Children of Men

Then we had the 3d quilts:
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Most of these owls pop out from the background including the very cute fluffy chicks on the branch.

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And this fuzzy bee (together with the bunny's eyes). That quilt is all little squares and the rigorous planning needed to put it all in order and keep it in order is staggering.
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The red arrows in quilt form.
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Shirt sleeves, laid onto squares of suit material - the backing was squares from the shirts pieced together.

Black and white was another theme.
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This next quilt was made by laying white over black and cutting away the white to answer the age old question -
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Are they white with black stripes, or black with white?
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And then my favourite theme of all - the beach
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This quilt used photo blocks and then carried the shapes on into the next block by applique; the top right is instantly recognisable as the Bass Rock by Edinburgh.

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We did just perhaps also make a tiny wee trip around the market and I may just have come home with a jelly roll or two for my next quilts. Whilst recognising that this way lies fabric stashing to the same extent of the yarn I can partially defend my position in that I have used almost all of the fabric and kits that I bought last year, so I have high hopes of being able to do the same again this year. (Feel free to laugh hollowly).

It was a fantastic trip out and the day was iced with a cherry when we got home in time to see the last Australian wickets fall and the Ashes come back home again - yippee!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

And the winner is ...

I finished printing my photos, I got my cakes dusted with icing sugar, sliced when they should be sliced, and delivered to the tent in one piece, and remembered to bring all of my entries for the handiwork classes. And the judging began.

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There is something inescapably English about a village horticultural society show and something 'village' about it as well; I think that people who grew up in a village community with a village day or a Hort & Sport every year somehow imbibe the mindset that makes competitive baking with your friends and neighbours a perfectly natural thing to do. It always reminds me of my favourite quote from the film Calendar Girls, on their village day:

"If more people did WI there'd be less need for hallucinogenic drugs!"

H, who grew up in what is classed as a village but might as well be suburb of a big city, finds the whole thing baffling. me, well let's just say that the competitive urge has been unleashed.

Going into the tent after the judging was almost as bad as waiting for my A-level results; even though I knew that there were only three entries in the cross stitch class so the very worst I could do was a third.
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It's a little bit like results day in some respects, everyone rushes round to see how they're exhibits did and then has to go back later to have a proper look at some of the entries.
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The photography was nearest the door and despite my oh so careful choosing, none of my pictures were placed. Each class had 15-20 entries, and the standards were high so the judges had a hard time choosing.

Next up, the baking. You can see the table on the far left hand side of the photo above, groaning under the weight of cakes, shortbread, sausage rolls and jams and jellies.

H was right about the ladies of the village being out in force for the honour of the WI cup. My honey fruit cake (to strict recipe) didn't place, but as it had to be presented uncut and I'd never made it before I was just glad to see that it had cooked well and it taste's pretty good. The lemon drizzle and the shortbread were also not placed but the 4 slices of ginger cake:
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Ta da! a third on the first trip out of the gates for baking.

I knew that my forte was always going to be the handicrafts - smaller fields for one thing - but it was a surprise to find that everything placed apart from my 'wild card' August 295
- the handspun in the 3D category which lost out to a metal work duck, a glass plate and something else that I can't remember.

This was the needlecrafts table:
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My Holidazed socks came first and my Mystery Stole Swan Lake stole came third. The socks got; "An exquisite piece of work. Well done"; and the shawl got: "A delightful piece of work. Take care that your tension is accurate throughout"

I suspect that the judge knew her knitting!

Second place went to the white horseshoe in the background which was covered with blue and white lace.
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My cross stitch placed second ("A peaceful scene- well worked and framed"), and to my very great surprise, the bead bracelet that I made at the beginning of July with H's sister placed third in the handmade jewellery category ("Gorgeous colours. Delightful set of jewellery")

All of which adds up to:
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8 points and the very great sum of £1.50 prize money! On my hurried maths I think that I came second overall in the handicrafts category. Next year, I've got my sights on the handicrafts shield!

To get anywhere near I will have to take on a lady of considerable talents who swept the board in the handmade cards and won the cross stitch class. She also made my favourite flower arrangement of the day - with the theme 'On the Ocean Wave'

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Isn't that just ingenious and delightful to look at - I love the sails.

It has been a brilliant day and far more fun than you ever thought possibly with fruitcake.

Now I'm off to practice my card making, painting and creating things out of recycled materials for next year.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The shifting sands

"Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so" - Douglas Adams

Somehow, imperceptibly, and in a manner that leaves me questioning the reality of today as Friday evening, another week has skipped by and my blogging has been lax; photographs piling up in flickr as a teetering, toppling, virtual to-blog list.

It's quarter to eleven at night and I'm sat at the computer because after much narrowing down and deliberating, I have finally decided the shortlist of six photos from which to choose my three entries in the photos category at the village show tomorrow.

I have also baked and iced three cakes and a round of shortbread for the kitchen classes and selected some knitting and other bits and bobs for the handicrafts section.

This is the first year that I've entered the show and I've now idea what the competition is like. H, encouragingly reminds me that in the kitchen classes I'm up against the grannies of the village and if they're anything like his granny I'll have my work cut out. Personally I think he may just be after the sticky ginger cake (4 slices on a plate).

So, in between the manic baking, what have I been up to? Well in a move which will shock you all to the core, I've knit some socks:

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First off the needles, the fraternal twin Noro stripy sock.
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This is Noro Kureyon Sock, colour 95 which H bought me for my birthday last year.
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I went down a needle size and knit a 68 sts sock, changing colours every 5 rows including at the ribbing and the toe. The heels are all one colour to make life a little easier.

I like the Kureyon sock a lot more than the Silk Garden sock; it's easier to knit with, less splitty and gives a cleaner finish and I'm looking forward to having some fun with the other ball in the stash.

The second second sock was to match my beautiful first Kai-Mei.
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According to Google, Kai means continuous (as in continuous silken thread) and Mei means beautiful so these are continually beautiful socks, and I think they live up to their name.

I also think that you can see little blue butterflies in the patterning - what do you think?
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The pattern is from Cookie A's Sock Innovation book and it is deceptively simple. It looks very impressive but it's a quick and easy knit and firmly in place on the "I can knit these quickly enough for Christmas knitting" list. Mum, would you like a pair!?

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These ones though are mine all mine; although I've knit a pair of socks from handspun before, this is the first time that I've had enough yarn to do something more exciting than a toe-up sock with added prayers that I'll make it to the finish. I even have leftovers, I'm thinking of knitting up little squares with the leftover handspun as I just can't bear to see it go to waste.

Finally, I've been spinning.

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Three bobbins of purple Shetland from Artist's Palette Yarns at Wonderwool which H chose for socks yarn for him. I've since plied them up and the resulting yarn is going in the show tomorrow as a bit of a wild card for the 3D handicrafts category - I suspect I may be up against a whole load of model planes, only another 16 hours will tell.

Wish me luck!

Monday, August 17, 2009

On a whim

We went to London - as you do! We were casting about for a fun expedition for the weekend and when we discovered that the National had a new exhibition - Corot to Monet - and a free one to boot we were decided.

Trafalgar Square was even busier than usual. One of these days I will get to see just the square and the lions and the column but the last few times there's been a show or an exhibition to watch. Saturday was the World Free Running Championships on a stage in the square so as we sat on the steps and ate our picnic (all hail the arrival of a Paul at Marylebone) and watched Diversity practice their routine for the evening as all around us the free runners practiced handstands and flips and that trick where they run up the wall and flip over. Free running is just another name for parkour and the spins and tumbles those guys can pull off are quite jawdropping.

We also got to play with the latest 'art installation' - the Fourth Plinth. I love the concept of putting the British public on a plinth, 24/7 and happily we arrived in the middle of one of the most entertaining 'statues', Jes with Plinth Bingo (you can watch it here)
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He had helpers in the crowd handing out bingo cards and pens and whenever anyone got a house, he used this ingenious method of handing out the prizes.
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It's a fishing pole, with a little box on the end - Blue Peter eat your heart out.

Each of the plinthers spends an hour 'up top' and then the cherry picker comes to change them over. The next plinther was a lady supporting Help for Heroes and we caught a glimpse later of a chap with a tent, camping stool, small table and bottle of wine who had settled in for a great view of the Free Running.
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The exhibition at the National was everything I hoped it would be - usually in an exhibition I'll find a handful of paintings that really strike a chord and then I'll spend the rest of my time sitting and soaking them in. My taste in art is for the landscapes (preferably with a bit of water in them) and the impressionists so it was no surprise that I loved almost everything in Corot to Monet and I just wished we could have spent longer. It didn't hurt that they had included my most favourite Turner (the Evening Star) which can never be as good in print as it is in person, and a wonderful new discovery, Eugene Boudin, whose beach scenes from Trouville are a great delight to me and will continue to be, as the prints are going up on the wall as soon as I can find the right sort of frame!

Needless to say, I came home with the exhibition book and it is a lovely thing to look through for colour and inspiration. It struck me as we wandered around the familiar galleries on Saturday afternoon that H and I never go to London now without popping into the National, even if we've planned a trip to another gallery as well, and this from a boy who looked remarkable reluctant about it the first time we went - I reminded him as he stood drinking in the new Monet (more waterlilies, I loved it, H wasn't so sold) and he had the grace to look a little sheepish!

Trips to London are also incomplete without a trip to H's personal variation on a yarn shop - Cass Art in Islington so we nipped out of the centre and hiked back laden with parcels (Note to spouse: yarn takes up a lot less room than canvases, and it's lighter!) All weary feet were forgotten when we made it to St Paul's, just in time for evensong.

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I used to sing choral evensong once a week and so many of the settings are wonderfully familiar but there's a world of difference between the intimacy of a little college chapel and the choral resonance of the acoustics of that cathedral. The music sent shivers down my spine; you can practically feel it, spiralling out of the choir stalls and hovering under the dome, rippling out to the congregation until the very last drop has diffused. Solace in its purest form.

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And on a perfect summer's evening, we finished the day with a stroll along the South Bank in the sunshine.
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We saw the mimes,the headless, August 222
the temporary outdoor lido, the pavement artists, and then as we came towards the Hungerford foot bridge we saw this:
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The trees have spots
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And I have absolutely no idea why - I think it's hilarious though.

Time then to stare up into the spokes of the wheel and watch it move oh so slowly,

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to see the Houses of Parliament disappear into the gathering gloom, with the setting sun burnishing Big Ben,
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and to head for home.