Wednesday, 29 February 2012

WIP Wednesdays and Malabrigo Madness. . .

I'm participating in a 12 shawls in 2012 challenge on Ravelry, so there will be a number of these in my future.  My latest is the Stacy Shawl from the book Wendy Knits Lace by Wendy D. Johnson.

It's a fairly easy pattern to follow and I am LOVING the wool I'm using.  I have heard knitters rave before about Malabrigo and so when my local yarn store had a sale, I quickly snapped up three skeins. of Rios in the colourway Playa.   The photo above is a bit misleading - the wool is more deep blue than purple.

And thanks to the Savvy Girls Podcast  (an entertaining podcast by two Canadian sisters who travel quite extensively - Deborah works in South America and Melanie is a professional opera and cabaret singer who works around the world and they also go on trips together), I also can't think about this wool without breaking into giggles.  I refer you to their Episode #21 March of the Malabrigo which has a permanent place on my iPod.  Deborah features an interview at the Malabrigo headquarters and Melanie. . . well, she has pet gerbils.  And she can really sing.  And she can sing in the voice of her gerbils - if gerbils could sing.  And if those said gerbils sang the praises of Malabrigo to the tune of many recognizable, popular songs, then they would probably sound like they do on this podcast.  You really just have to listen to it.  But do it in the privacy of your own home and not say, on a public bus, because it's tear-inducing laugh-aloud funny.

Melanie is also working on a CD of WWI era knitting songs!  Can't wait for this to come out.  No word yet on whether the gerbils will be making an appearance.

As I happily immerse myself further and further into the wild and wonderful world of knitters, it reminds me of my first forays into the world of bookselling.  What immediately struck me about the people I met in the book industry was not only how nice and non-competitive everyone was, but how fascinating was the range of interests and hobbies that my colleagues embraced in their spare time. The knitting community is similarly supportive, friendly and talented.  They are just wonderful and inspiring people to hang out with - in person and online.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

My First Cardigan Off the Needles. . .

I'm really pleased with how this turned out.  The pattern is quite brilliant. It's called the Modern Garden Cardigan by Finnish designer Veera Valimaki (check out her beautiful blog 100% Rain here), and it was quite an easy pattern to follow once I got the hang of following a chart.  The leaf pattern increases/decreases automatically pull the cardigan in at the waist giving it a nice shape.  I also learned to do short rows for the first time for the back collar.

I found the lovely buttons which are made out of avocado stones at Americo

I've now knitted a seamed sweater, this sweater which was knitted seamlessly from the bottom up and so next I want to try a top down sweater.  

Monday, 27 February 2012

Plummer Panache. . .

How lovely for Christopher Plummer winning his first Oscar last night and what an elegant and touching speech.  I was really happy for him.  His memoir, In Spite of Myself, which came out a few years ago remains one of my favourite celebrity autobiographies, because the guy can really write!  This is such an enjoyable, intelligent read for anyone who loves the theatre or film world. It has a wonderful portrayal of Montreal in its cultural heyday, filled with fantastic anecdotes of working with all the theatrical greats, and Plummer's very honest, charming and quite funny observations about just how much fun and naughtiness he's had throughout his career.  You can picture a twinkle in his eye or a mischievous grin on virtually every page. He loves his work and it shows, and now there's this lovely Oscar coda to add.  I was so pleased that he got a standing ovation.

The BBC recently released a DVD of Hamlet at Elsinore which I simply must get my hands on.  It was filmed at Kronborg Castle and Plummer's performance is supposed to be one of THE definitive Hamlets. I've been lucky enough to see him live as Prospero, Lear and John Barrymore,  and I have a wonderful CD of him doing speeches from Henry V accompanied by Walton's score.  His presence is so commanding and I just love that deep and powerful and very sexy voice.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Cowl Noir. . .

This is my Mildred Cowl that I started and finished last Monday when we had the day off.  The pattern is called the Tuesday Night Cowl by Susan Lawrence and the free pattern is available on Ravelry here.   I loved, loved the pattern. Big smooshy cables and the cowl sits very cozy around the neck, not too loose, not too tight and very warm.  It was knit with about one and a half skeins of Cascade Pastaza which is 50% wool and 50% llama.  It's a 24 row repeat with only two of those rows being the cable rows and the rest just stockinette, so it was the perfect DVD watching project.  I finished it as I watched the last episode of HBO's mini-series Mildred Pierce, starring my constant girl crush - Kate Winslet.  It was a bit strange watching noir in colour, even though much of the palette was dark and moodily muted so it definitely suited the story.  It's in many ways a completely over-the-top story but I enjoyed this extended version and the acting, costumes and set design were all terrific.  It also made me want to read Cain's novel.  There is a commentary on two of the five episodes by director Todd Haynes, co-screenwriter Jon Raymond and production designer Mark Friedberg and they are well worth a listen.

I don't think Mildred would ever wear this cowl but she definitely needed some cozy warmth throughout many of her trials and tribulations.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Carey and the Swan. . .

I've recently read a galley of Peter Carey's new novel The Chemistry of Tears, due out in May.  At the core of the story is the reconstruction of a beautiful swan automaton with hundreds of individual pieces made out of silver and glass.  When activated, the swan dips its head and picks up one of the fishes in the water below (created by rotating glass tubes). The novel blends the modern story of the curator involved in the restoration, with the historical story of the man who originally commissioned the project. I was telling a librarian yesterday about how much I had enjoyed reading the book and since librarians are endless founts of knowledge, she immediately piped up and said, "oh yes, that sounds just like the swan at the Bowes Museum".   One google and many youtube videos later, it's clear this must have been the inspiration for Carey - his descriptions match it completely.  But the novel doesn't prepare you for the absolute gorgeousness of this swan, originally created in 1773.  I must make a pilgrimage to see it some day, along with the rest of the museum which focuses on the decorative arts, and has some lovely gardens and fountains. 

Check it out in action here.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

A Tale of Two Daughters. . .

Over at the wonderful Dovegreyreader Scribbles blog, there's a write-up of Dottor Of Her Father's Eyes, an  intriguing coming-of-age graphic novel about two daughters - Lucia Joyce, the troubled daughter of James Joyce, and Mary M. Talbot, the author herself, who was the daughter of an abusive Joycean scholar.  You can read dovegreyreader's blog post here and see some of the artwork, created by Mary's husband Bryan.  It doesn't seem to be available yet in Canada, but I'll be on the look-out as I'm always intrigued by narratives about living with writers or the writing life.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Sweet Knitting Dreams. . .

I was in Ottawa for two days last week and stayed at the Hotel Indigo.  It's my usual choice because it's in a good downtown location and because you can request one of these rooms:

Yes, that is a huge blown-up photo of a cabled sweater behind the beds.  When I first stayed here a few years ago, I confess I did worry I'd have nightmares of being smothered by a wool sweater.  But since I've taken up knitting again in a big way, I find it very comforting.  And it's the best of the room designs.  I don't mind the wildflowers but I've been in ones with huge bamboo or cornfield murals and they are a bit creepy.

Finished my Ilkley Shawl this weekend and am very happy with it. It's a gift and it's good to get it out of the way in plenty of time.  Hoping also to finish up a cardigan for me but it's at a tricky spot so I'm proceeding cautiously.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

WIP Wednesdays. . .

The endless hexipuffs continue.  I've started sewing them together - not because I'm all done with knitting them (I only have about 50 out of probably 200 that I need), but because if I ever do finish with them, the enormous job of seaming them all at once will probably be the end of me and I'll never get around to it. The pattern calls for just a few stitches at every meeting point, but I find it a bit floppy so I'm actually sewing up each side.  A long way to go, but I am going to try and finish this by the end of 2012.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Happy Valentine's Day. . .

The Guardian has posted a list of the Top 10 Best Love Letters complete with visuals which you can read here.  I like the one from Charlotte Bronte to Professor Heger, all ripped up and reconstructed by Heger's wife.

Here's the cute card my sweetie gave me and while the sentiment is of course lovely, it's the fact that he sought out a knitting-inspired Valentine that most touched my cynical holidays-are-too-commercial heart.  The accompanying chocolates also helped.  I think he may be a keeper.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

National Sweater Day. . .

Count me in with this great idea (though this is my basic philosophy throughout the winter), and I don't even need a reminder call from a granny, though this part of the campaign is very funny.  More info at the official site here.  So get cozy and get your favourite one on.  Though I'm very fond of my first ever knitted sweater, I really, really love this one that I bought last fall from Roots. It's called the cabin sweater though I tend to think of it as my sock monkey sweater.  It's very flattering on the body, there are handy pockets and it's very warm.  There are red stripes on the sleeve cuffs and on the back of the collar too.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

WIP Wednesdays. . .

This is the beginnings of the Ilkley Shawl designed by Torontonian Laura Chau.  I knit one for my Mum as a Christmas present and she loved it.   And my boyfriend's mother loved it.  So I offered to knit one for her too and asked her what colours she would like.  And she said she wanted the EXACT same one as my Mum.  Okay knitters, hopefully you can see my dilemma.  Apart from not wanting to knit the same thing over again ( not the pattern which I love, but you have to try different colour combinations to keep things fresh don't you?),  I feel uneasy about two mums wearing the exact same shawl which they could very well do next Christmas if we again spend it all together.  So I just can't do it.  I'm using more or less the same colours but I'm varying the width of the stripes and while my Mum's had a charcoal gray background, this one will be red with the gray as one of the contrasting colours.  I'm hoping that once it's actually finished and gifted, she won't mind the changes and will appreciate having her own slightly different shawl.   Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Angst-Ridden Executive. . .

It's always a delight discovering a new mystery series and this one is a lot of fun. It's part of Melville House's International Crime Series and though The Angst-Ridden Executive by Manuel Vazquez Montalban, translated by Ed Emery, is the third in the series (there are more titles coming out this year),  there's no problem with jumping right in (although I 'd like to read the fourth one next  - I think it's Southern Seas - to possibly understand the fallout from the ending of this one).  Our private detective is Pepe Carvalho, formally imprisoned under the Franco regime, a man who once worked for the CIA and has now set up his own business.  He loves women, good food (obsessively and gluttonously), talking politics and (strangely) burning the odd book in his fireplace.  To relax he likes to cook, "something slightly painstaking and packed with stimulation and small difficulties", or go to the movies, with a particular taste for classic Hollywood noir. It all seems to help him in his job:

Yet more role models! Which should he choose?  Whom should he copy? Bogart playing Chandler? Alan Ladd doing Hammett? Paul Newman as Harper? Gene Hackman? In the privacy of his car as it crept up the slopes of Tibidabo, Carvalho practiced the mannerisms of each of them. Bogart's dewy-eyed look and the contemptuous curl of the lip.  Alan Ladd, and the way he walked as tall as possible to cover up for how short he was. Then there was Newman, with his self-awareness of being so very good-looking. And Hackman, with the look of a man who's been jilted by his wife, weighs two hundred pounds, and is tired of life. 

The above excerpt gives a small sense of Montalban's writing style which I'd characterize as sophisticated wisecracking. Pepe is cynical, world weary and impatient. He doesn't suffer fools or corruption gladly, but there is a generous heart located somewhere amidst the cholesterol.  I haven't written much about the plot (a wealthy executive is found murdered with a pair of knickers in his pocket and Pepe doesn't buy the official version that he was killed by a pimp), simply because this isn't really a whodunit in the traditional sense. There's no clever plotting and accumulation of clues; this is certainly not a country house cozy.  Suspicion for the murder falls on the group of friends closest to the murdered executive, who have remained in touch but followed widely different paths in the wake of Franco's death, and it is in this vivid and vibrant portrait of a still uncertain Spanish society trying to come to grips with its political past, that the book most intrigued me.  And the food descriptions won't disappoint.   Despite its occasional violence and dated misogyny (the book was originally published in 1977), I did chuckle quite a bit throughout and I'd definitely read another in this series.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

February Reading. . .

I've been in the reading doldrums recently.  Partly it's because I've been spending all my spare time on knitting projects.  But as a book rep, at this time of year, I need to dip into the first chapters of a lot of different manuscripts in order to get a feel for the book to help me in my selling appointments, and this type of scattered and unfinished reading always feels rushed and unsatisfying.

But I'm going to turn it all around this month.  Usually I get my reading mojo back by turning to the classics, and listening to the radio this morning, I heard about a terrific idea for an online bookclub.   Check out the City Builder Book Club which over the next few months will be facilitating a group read of Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities, in order to discuss how cities work.  The reading pace is very reasonable with just two chapters a week.  Sign me up - this book has been on my reading pile for ages and as a proud Torontonian, I'm actually embarrassed that I haven't yet read it, although I have read some of her other books.  No excuse now.

I was lucky enough to have a lovely conversation with Jane Jacobs several years ago.  I picked her up to drive her to an event at the University of Toronto where she was participating in a celebration of the Modern Library.  She'd just written an introduction to Dickens' Hard Times and though the drive was short we had a wonderful chat about the power of literature to change social policy, touching of course on Dickens but also Upton Sinclair (she'd also written an intro to The Jungle).  Oh, she was such a delightful woman.

Then I got to thinking about Dickens.  The literary world is of course celebrating the 200th anniversary of his birth this year with all sorts of read-a-longs, reappraisals, exhibits and just general joy.  I've been meaning to pick up some Dickens myself and as his birthday is February 7th, this is the month to do it. I want to tackle one of the novels I haven't previously read, so I've scanned the shelves and have settled on The Old Curiosity Shop.  Really looking forward to it.

Right, that's February's reading sorted.  Now, if I could only work out how to read and knit at the same time.