Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Artist Within

I'd like to kid myself that because my office is in central Birmingham I can easily take advantage of the wonderful opportunities to do something different in my lunchbreak; go to a museum, visit a gallery, go for a walk by the canal.

All too often I'm afraid, lunchbreak is me, sat at my desk, eating some sort of food from whatever sandwich shop I judge to be nearest to the building.

On Friday though I finally achieved my aim, thanks to a bit of prompting by a friend who had seen a leaflet of an exhibition that she thought would be just my thing. She was right.

Taking Time: Craft and the Slow Revolution is a travelling exhibition, currently on display in Birmingham's Waterhall gallery (part of the Birmingham Museum and Gallery but a little bit around the corner of the building from the main entrance).

It's a mixture of creative art; there are things that L and I looked at, looked at each other, and just thought 'meh'; there are things that we thought were beautiful; and there were things that we thought were fun.

L's favourite from the beautiful category was an enormous white board panel, patterned with tiny pebbles of slightly different sizes. From a distance you see squares and rectangles, close up it swirls in front of your eyes, and from the sides the different widths of the pebbles make even more patterns. We both found it very soothing to look at. A picture of part of the piece is on flickr here

For my favourite I struggled to choose. There are a series of garden mugs and matching plates; the plates show the layout of each garden as if viewed from above; a veg patch, a river meadow, and a formal garden, and the mugs that go with them have trees on the side; the river meadow has (I think) oak trees, the veg patch has fruit trees, and the formal garden has conifers. It's all in blue and white in a slightly 'chinese' style, and probably wins the prize for 'piece I'd most like to take home'.

My true favourite I can show you - there's a picture here

It's very simple, an inscription of a diary entry from a 14 year old girl from years back who lived in Norfolk (I think her name was Anne):

"Very early the Brigantine went off. I slept all night with her riding light shining on my face. I woke Antony up and made him come and see her go.

First she set inner and outer jib, then flying jib, then she got underway and weared round, running before the wind.

Then she set lower fore topsail, then forecourse, then upper fore topsail, then the togallant, then the two lower main staysails. The Barquentine, by the way, had gone before the morning."

Reading the inscription needs no picture to show you the scene that morning, I can see the river and hear the thrum through the rigging in my mind.

We saved our interactive art for last. They have two projects running - one of which involves choosing something you like, drawing a picture of it, making that into a badge and pinning the badge onto a place special to you on a giant map of Birmingham.

We drew a cupcake, wrote "we like cake" on it, and pinned it over our office. This marks the spot of the team cake shelf!

The second is called a garland or 'step and stitch'. Pictures are here. Really it is a wonderful huge spiders web of yarn with bits of crochet and knitting joined in for good measure. They have spools of yarn lying around in wonderful colours (donated by a local carpet factory), and needles and crochet hooks.

On one side L make a drunken spiders web, and I added some finger knitting in giant loops, on the other side (after we found the needles), L added bright red dangling pompoms and I cast on and knit for a little bit. When we could no longer ignore the need to return to work we tied the knitted strip up by its cast-on tail and left the needle in - anyone who goes can continue knitting my strip - as long as they're tall enough to reach it of course. What I really wanted to do was knit a long strip, blending through all of the different colours and then weave it in but alas, work called.

It does seem that extensive exposure to yarn in my lunchbreak might not be the best thing for me though - during the afternoon I kept coming up with new yarn-based ideas, mostly to do with Christmas decorations.

S and I who share a partition have already added fairy lights along the top but felt that it needed a little something extra. Halfway through the afternoon I called to her:



"I'm seriously considering little red pom-poms along the top - what do you think?"

My only response for several minutes was borderline hysteria from the rest of the team - apparently my tone had been rather serious and suggestive of the start of a conversation discussing a report or some other form of actual work!

Oh well - let the subliminal conversion of my team continue.

Monday, November 23, 2009

By starlight

I'm sat here trying to think of the last time that I went to see a film on its opening weekend and I honestly can't. The last but one film that I saw at the cinema was Fast and Furious but that had been around for a while by the time we went. I don't think I've ever been that keen to see a film that I was willing to pre-book tickets and endure the potential of hoards of teenage gigglers. Until now.

New Moon opened on Friday. My fan girl status is laid bare -I lasted until Saturday evening, mainly because H was away Friday night.

It is a very lovely adaptation of the book and both H and I really enjoyed it. All of the important scenes from the book have made it into the film, and whilst some things will have more significance if you have read the books, and can see the foreshadowing, it doesn't make the film unintelligible as a stand-alone entity.

I liked the fact that the pace of the script allowed Bella's happiness at the beginning of the film to be so clearly established, and her despair when it all gets ripped away is all the more real for it. The scenes where she screams in her nightmares tore into me, it is a portrayal of very naked grief, almost uncomfortable to watch without being able to offer comfort.

H is a big fan of the wolves and I think he may have been hoping for a big vampire-wolf showdown at the end - he'll just have to wait and see on that one, I'm not saying anything. It was interesting though, I've always been more Team Jacob than Team Edward, possibly because Jacob reminds me of my husband, and to see him identify much more strongly with Jacob than Edward makes me think that perhaps I'm not too far off the mark.

We both loved the Volturi and Michael Sheen was perfect as Aro. The bit that really gave me the chills was that the last few films and TV dramas that I have seen Michael Sheen in, he was playing Tony Blair, and a bit of the Blair charisma crept into Aro It can't be just me who could see Tony Blair as a centuries-old vampire who exercises secret control over the world - a far more scary prospect than Stephanie Meyer could ever have imagined.

There were two moments in our particular viewing that really made me laugh though. The first was the scene where Jacob first takes his shirt off to mop up Bella's head - cue a wave of teenage giggles, followed by chuckles from the older members of the audience laughing at the teenagers.

The second, I might struggle to explain if you haven't yet seen the film. Suffice to say that it ends on a cliffhanger, a question is asked and then it fades to black.

As the black hit, and in that one quiet pause before the title music began, there was a sharp intake of breath somewhere behind us, and a girl's voice groaned "Huuuuuh!" (as in "you can't be leaving it there!") - the whole cinema dissolved in a roar of laughter.

Whilst I have been knitting quite a bit recently, it is known only to me and to Ravelry because of the time of year. None of it was simple enough for the cinema, so I dug out some very special yarn, to become a very plain pair of New Moon socks for me.
November 245
Socks that Rock Lightweight in Knitters without Borders - a very Twilightly colourway. This has turned into a full sock since the picture was taken but with the most wonderful time of the year comes the least amount of natural light for photos. Even at 2pm on a Sunday afternoon I was struggling.

I have one more not-so-secret confession. A group of us at work have tentative plans to go to see New Moon, and I'm really quite keen to see it again. I'm certain it doesn't tip me over the edge of fan girl and into the depths of obsession. After all, how am I going to get the other sock knit if I don't go?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On Portobello Beach

November 055
Guess what I was doing last Friday? It wasn't working and it wasn't sheltering from the giant rainstorm that loomed over England, splattering the south coast with hoolie gales.

Whether by happy accident, or as we would like to think, sheer unadulterated genius, H and I managed to find the one patch of clear sky within the mainland UK and headed straight for it - we went to visit his sister and his cousin-the-dentist up in Edinburgh.

Friday morning after we got the necessary and useful trip to cousin-the-dentist done and dusted we headed out to Edinburgh's north east shoreline, and the very beautiful beach at Portobello.
November 158
At the weekend and in the summer it's probably mobbed and covered in grockle stands and other tat but on a cool, bright November Friday it was quiet and largely empty, the arcades and chip shops shuttered up and only the true sea salts out for a blow in the fresh air.November 069

I suspect that the position of the beach on the Forth of Firth, a round curve, bulging out of Edinburgh, is what gives rise to the wonderful shells scattered along the shoreline - that or it was the cracking storm the night before.
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Each section of the beach seemed to have a different sort of shell; mussels gave way to clams, which in turn gave way to cockles and the occasional razor shell, and then there was a whole stretch revealed as the tide went out sprinkled with the tiniest little pointy spiral shells in a myriad of pinks and purples.

November 081
We navigated to a chip shop by a stream of lunchtime school-children heading down to the sea and sat on the sea wall with our lunch. H's request for sausage and chips came as a mound of chips with three battered sausages on top, and my chips and cheese turned out to be a poly box, half filled with chips, half filled with cheese and folded together. It was wonderful.

Our lunchtime companions obviously thought it looked good, or probably smelt good, as a number of puppies came to investigate from a distance. My favourite, a copper-brown spaniel with an upturned nose, came to a skidding halt in front of us as she raced passed. Her human friend called her on and she trotted off reluctantly for a few paces with a bemused expression before stopping, flicking confused glances between us with an expression that clearly read:

"But Mum, they've got chips!"

We also took the chance to do a little photo shoot for the newly finished Guiseley. So newly finished that some of the ends aren't actually woven in in the photos, just tucked inside.

Actually, come to think of it, I don't think the ends are woven in even now and I wore it for the whole weekend - oops!
November 100

Guiseley, from Rowan 46, knit from 8 balls of Rowan Cocoon in Scree, with only an inch to spare.
November 101

I knit the large size on 7mm needles which is hugely stretchy and would probably fit someone twice my size as a fitted tank top.
November 092
In terms of modifications (don't mind the picture, I'm doing a twirl for the photographer), I added 2 inches to the length which brings it level with the top of my thighs, and I sewed the side seams higher than the markers and then knit the sleeves in the round.

The side seems to the markers gave me an unfortunate Roman Centurion look that isn't really my style.

Just in case you're feeling too envious about the weather that allowed me to run around a beach in a t-shirt and jumper, I should show you what I was really wearing ...
November 119
Cocoon is wonderfully warm, but it can't entirely defeat a North sea blast.

And finally, one more picture. I have two memories of Portobello before last week, one was running the marathon when it felt hot and long. The second was a couple of years ago when my parents-in-law were in Edinburgh to complete the family circle. We all trooped down to the beach, some of the siblings a little reluctantly, but H and I sprinted to the sea, started paddling and scooping for shells and threatening to throw my father in law in the drink.

My father in law always says that he will never forget the metal picture of the pair of us doing forward rolls in the sand, heedless of what anyone else thought of two twenty-somethings pratting about like little children - so this one is for him

November 151
I like to call it the 'yippee I finished my jumper' pose. It might also be titled 'some things never change'!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The great and wonderous adventures of Carie and Mandy

Or 'how we went quilting together and greatly confused everyone by wearing matching hand knit socks'

I've been a lax blogger again of late; long working hours and a renewed if unwilling interest in the gym have been eating into my time and whilst long business trips can be quite productive on the knitting front (there's only so much work you can carry to do on the train), I don't have the facility to blog on the move which is probably a good thing! Trust me, you haven't missed much. I've been knitting with Cocoon and I love it!
November 040
However, Saturday was one of those days that goes in the diary in a bright happy colour, usually with smiley faces and a big arrow pointing at it. Way back in the summer, when Christmas was still a snowflake in St Nick's eye, Mandy suggested that we both go on a course to learn to make quilted Christmas tree skirts. As I require no more than the barest whisper of persuasion to do anything crafty I signed up straight away and started to look forward to it.

Saturday morning dawned bright and chilly as I loaded up the sewing machine and set forth on our great adventure.

In short, we had a wonderful time. There were three of us on the course, Mandy and myself and to my very great delight, R, a friend from church so the day was full of easy banter as well as the usual furrowed brows and deep concentration associated with learning anything new. It made the day even more fun; some courses can be wonderful in terms of learning but rather stilted on the conversation front as no-one knows anyone else - this was the best of both and the perfect antidote to a busy week.

And to top it all, my sewing machine decided to co-operate and played nicely all day, a distinct change from its usual inferiority complex induced sulkiness when it hears other machines doing clever electronic things!

I didn't have my camera there on the day so I have Mandy to thank for our "in progress" shot. This is what we had achieved by the end of the day:

November 052

Pretty much a tree skirt between the three of us. Mine is the top left, Mandy's the bottom left and R's is the one on the right with the wonderful red tree.

I came home having quilted and appliqued all of the panels, just needing to put them all together and put the binding on, and on Sunday afternoon it looked like this:

November 016
You can't see the fabrics in great detail in these pictures; the cream is covered with gold stars, the main green is mistletoe and the trees are showered with more gold stars.
November 022
I couldn't find any red with stars that matched the colours so it's gold sprinkles instead. The whole thing shimmers in the sunlight, and a few points of the trees have background stars right at the tip, as if they're dangling off the branches.

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It's really very serene for me, I'm so often all about the crazy wonderful brights but I was obviously in a very chilled out mood with the sewing and the good company!

The pattern that we were following had a series of small christmas presents to applique underneath the tree and although I cut out a dozen or so presents and played around with the placement underneath each tree, the colours just didn't look right so I left them off - I suspect there may be a few fabric present tags on Christmas presents this year though - I'm not letting all of that cutting out go to waste!

The final job was the binding - machine sewn with zig zag stitches in gold, rather than the usual slip stitching which given the length involved turned out to be a wonderful treat, and adds a bit of glitz to the edges.

If you'll excuse the flash photography, my tree skirt can be unveiled:
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And with the all important label on the back
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I've also embroidered the date underneath - I can't decide whether to just have the date I made it, or think about embroidering a year on every year that we use it - only time and my inclination for embroidery in 2010 will tell.

All the fabrics came from Quilter's Den in Warwick and I have no idea who made any of them or what they were called - I just picked the ones I liked.

And last but not least, those matching socks:

November 050
Spey Valley socks by Nancy Bush in Misti Alpaca sock yarn in Taos - perfect x 2

Whose feet are whose?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Wishful Thinking

How silently they tumble down
And come to rest upon the ground
To lay a carpet, rich and rare,
Beneath the trees without a care,
Content to sleep, their work well done,
Colors gleaming in the sun.

At other times, they wildly fly

Until they nearly reach the sky.
Twisting, turning through the air
Till all the trees stand stark and bare.
Exhausted, drop to earth below
To wait, like children, for the snow. - Elsie N. Brady, Leaves

The leaves are all fallen, the temperature has dropped. Winter you ask? Pah! I'm ready. Bring it on:

November 001

I finished my mittens. A declaration of intent on the top side ...

November 005
... and eye-crossing stripyness on the palms!

These are the Snowbird mittens from last Autumn's Vogue Knitting, made out of some leftover sock yarn - both Regia I think.

The pattern suggests 2.25mm needles, and although my hands are smaller than the pattern measurements, I went up to a 2.5 after a bit of trial and error because my tension in fairisle is tighter. The only other amendment I made was to keep going on the thumbs for about another 7 or so rounds each - knit to pattern they only made it to the knuckle.

I'm really please with the end result of the fairisle - when I was knitting it it looked a bit lumpy and uneven but a good soak in eucalan and several days drying on the ironing board did wonders.

I quite like the insides too.
November 006
The palm sides are equally stripy, and this I want to call "Mittens in the Blizzard"
November 007

You can just about see the trees through the white-out!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The defeat of the postal strike

Once upon a time, in a land far far away from me, but possibly quite close to wherever you are, there was a most magical and marvellous occurrence where socks from all over the land congregated together, and brought their knitters along too.

They called it (cue hushed and awestruck tones)

Sock Summit

And it was good. At least, every blog report that I read about it said that it was amazing and wonderful and the best thing since self-striping sock yarn. And I was sad because I missed it, and possibly even entertained a slightly pouty expression for a moment or two, because all the fun knitterly things seemed to be happening a whole ocean away.

Happily though it seemed as if those who went to Sock Summit had not forgotten those left behind; they wrote blog posts and took a gazillion pictures. And then with characteristic generosity, Marisol hosted a competition.

Question 1 - how many skeins of yarn did she acquire at Sock Summit? I thought very seriously about how many skeins of yarn I would have come home with if left at Sock Summit for the full four days, and halved it to get my answer of 29 - Marisol is much more restrained than me and came back with a respectable 37.

I may have underestimated her yarn buying stamina - but it did make me the winner (yippee, squee like a five-year-old) and on Monday morning the parcel defeated the seemingly never-ending postal strikes and arrived on our doorstep.

By the time I got home, H was at art class and I think I showed incredible restraint in waiting to play lucky dip with him - and here it is:

November 010
From back to front; the pattern for Orion's socks, a Blue Moon pattern for the socks on the Sock Summit badge; the show guide, which I read, dream about, and bookmark all the adverts; a Sock Summit pad, more on which later; a Sock Summit badge; and .... yarn!!! Paca- Peds alpaca sock yarn for fair isle, together with the Diamond Checkmate sock pattern. The skein is actually two skeins swirled together, the dark teal and the cool rainbow colours and together they will make a wonderful pair of socks.

November 012
This is the inside of the Sock Summit note pad - how clever is that, lines for your notes and squared paper to sketch charts - I wish I'd had it on the train today when I realised that I'd forgotten both the pattern book and the photocopy of the pattern book, and had to try to reconstruct from half a pattern repeat!

I think it's all wonderful and I'm so glad it made it through the strike intact - thank you Marisol, it is a fabulous treat :)

Monday, November 02, 2009


"So dull and dark are the November days.
The lazy mist high up the evening curled,
And now the morn quite hides in smoke and haze;
The place we occupy seems all the world."- John Clare, November
October 383

The trick or treaters have been and gone, with the final farewell from the cutest little witch (aged about two) who was still waving me bye bye over her Mum's shoulder as she headed down the road. The leftover cakes have been eaten or passed on to colleagues; October is over and we're into the last nine weeks of the year.

October 358
Despite it being really rather mild at the moment, the leaves have almost all dropped, and the rain battering into the windows on Sunday morning and soaking us around the umbrella as we hustled to church under a darkening sky send clear indicators that we are getting to the hibernating time of year.

October 373

This last weekend was all about the place I occupy; I managed to stretch the food out to avoid a trip to Sainsburys until this evening (mostly with the cunning application of cake it must be said), and apart from cooking up a steamy fug in the kitchen for a while, and attending to the bare minimum of housework (that would be the laundry that got an extra 'rinse' through being out on the line Saturday night), I've been tucked up with quilts and yarn and friends. Friends who deliberately misinterpret the point of trick or treating and arrived with gummy bears no less!October 355

The finished mittens, whilst blocked, are only just dry so they have to wait for another day for FO pictures, but I have been working on something a little bit larger than my feet for once - it's almost a jumper.
October 508

This is the almost finished back of Guiseley from the latest Rowan magazine. I'm quite surprise I haven't fallen over from the shock of actually knitting myself something out of the current Rowan. Usually I come back to Rowan patterns at least three years after they were published by which time the colours, if not the yarn itself, are long discontinued.

October 507

This isn't the colour from the book, it's a soft blue grey called Scree, but it is Cocoon; my new love. The way I feel about this yarn at the moment, I really wouldn't mind if I only ever knitted Cocoon jumpers from now on - it's soft and smooshy, without even a hint of an itch, and warm and cozy all at the same time. Did I mention hibernation?

Ravelry doesn't have any pictures of the finished pattern yet so I'll have to try to describe for anyone that doesn't have a book to hand - its a tunic-style top, with 'cap' sleeves, made by picking up and knitting a tube of ribbing from each arm hole and the front has a v-neck with a ribbed collar. I've added a couple of inches to the length to make sure that it gets to the top of my thighs - it's all a little bit of guess work so we'll see whether it's a hit or a total disaster.

October 509
For now I'm just enjoying the knitting and the pretty stitch definition.

And just to keep those memories fresh until Spring - a parting view of Upton House gardens in its final blaze of glory.

October 349