Friday, 29 January 2016

Wool and the Ancients. . .

I've been horribly neglectful of this reading project, but am getting slowly back on track now.  I have finished the Greeks and Romans and have curiously come across several references to knitting and wool, which I'd never really associated with ancient classical literature before.  Penelope and her weaving yes, but somehow I'd always thought all those togas were made out of cotton as a more appropriate material for hotter climes.  As it turns out, with a little cursory research, I've learned that one of the most common fabrics used for weaving clothing was wool, although there was no knitting with needles as we know it today, so the term in the texts reflects a very contemporary sensibility in the translation. I used the Loeb Classical library for Aristophanes' Assemblywomen, translated by Jeffrey Henderson.  I looked up a different translation and it used "carding wool" for "knitting" which is probably more accurate.

At any rate, some things never change; knitters will use any spare time to keep their hands busy.  In this comedy, Praxagora has gathered a bunch of women together in the early morning to outline her plan.  They will disguise themselves as men and go to the Assembly where they will then become the majority of members and thus be able to pass a law that the government should be turned over to the women to rule.  One of the women produces a knitting basket: "That's exactly why I brought this along, to get some knitting done while the Assembly's filling up. . . Won't I be able to listen just as well while I knit? And my kids have nothing to wear."  Praxagora gets angry with the woman because if she knits, her gender will be revealed: "Listen to you: knitting!  When you shouldn't be showing any part of your body to the men."

For the Two Menaechmuses by Plautus (the basis for Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors), I also read the Loeb Classical Library edition, this one edited by Wolfgang De Melo.  In one scene an old man warns his daughter to stop complaining about her husband's bad behaviour, including sleeping with the prostitute next door and stealing her clothes: "Do you demand that men should be your slaves? By the same token you could demand to give him something to spin, to tell him to sit among the slave girls, and to card the wool." This activity is clearly one that men would find humiliating to do; there are certainly gender and class associations with the processing of wool and clothing in these ancient times, perhaps not that different from more modern stereotypes.

Onwards to the medieval and Renaissance periods, mostly English drama, where I fully expect there will be more references to sheep and all things wool.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

January Knitting. . .

Where has the month of January gone?

I seem to be knitting constantly yet everything seems to be in bits and pieces.  2016 is definitely proving to be the year of the swatch.  I have been diligently working away at my course - swatch after swatch of selvedges, hems and edgings - but every time I read over the module instructions, it seems there are so many more to do.  I'm just itching to get this first module done and mailed off for marking, but I can only get so much done each day.  At any rate, I'm using up lots of odds and ends in my stash for these swatches.  We're encouraged to use different fibres, weights and colours.  Here are just a few of them, pre-blocking.

Let's not forget about the British Breeds swatch-a-long.  I'm determined to fully test out at least two breeds a month.  This is my latest swatch - Castlemilk.  I love the rich brown colour.  The pattern is one of Barbara Walker's and it's called "Croissants".  I may have munched on several during the knitting of this swatch. The cabling really pulls in the fabric; I'm a bit worried that when blocked, it's going to be a wee bit smaller than the other squares.

My Buchanan is moving along which I'm very pleased about.  I just attached the sleeves this morning so a few more rows and I'll be onto the yoke which will be fun.  I feel fairly confident I can finish this easily before the Edinburgh Yarn Festival meet-up.

And I've finished most of my Driscoll.  I just need to sew in the sleeves and pick up stitches for the collar.  Bit worried that it's going to be too short, but we'll see.  I put all my hopes on the power of blocking.

I have finished one project this month.  This lump of knitting is just waiting for a clear, sunny day to take some photos, but it's a simple summer lace and garter stitch cowl, knit with the cotton I indigo-dyed during my Gwlana retreat. 

February will hopefully be the month that projects start to come together. 

Monday, 18 January 2016

A Winter Walk: A Coastal Circular Route from Arnside. . .

With all the constant rain the UK has experienced over the last two months, it's been ages since we've out on a good, long walk.  And I love winter walking in the UK - the light is just amazing.  The Liverpud had to recce an upcoming walk near Arnside on Saturday and I was happy to come along.

Arnside is located just south of the Lake District on an estuary leading out to Morecombe Bay. We parked on the northern bit of the town looking north towards the Lake District.  While it was a little nippy out, the air was perfectly still with no wind, as you can see by the unrippled water.

A quick look to the right and you can see the Howgills and Tebay Fells all covered in snow.

But we headed in the other direction, around the headland.  There was a lovely frost on the grassy dunes that bordered the beach.

And frost on the pebbles too.  Across the estuary you can see Grange-on-Sands.  I've previously done some walks from there, so it's nice to be on the other side of the water.

Morecombe Bay is notorious for its dangerous quicksand so you definitely can't venture out too far without a guide.  And the sand was distinctly wobbly under the feet, even near the shore.  We didn't sink down much further than an inch or so, but I preferred to stick to the icy bits - I love the crunchy sound of breaking ice under the feet.

Turning the corner of the headland, we emerged into the pale daylight and a lovely landscape of sand, ice and tufty, frosty grasses.

Then we started climbing up the hillside.  You can see how far the tide goes out on the bay, but again, the peacefulness of it all can be quite deceptive. The tide can come in very, very  quickly.

Our walk was half coastal and half in the surrounding woods which had their own peaceful beauty.

With great views of the bay through the trees.

We then headed inland where we came across this gorgeous herd of cattle.  I don't know what breed they are but they looked very woolly.

I love the hardiness and resilience of the wind-swept trees that line the bay.  We were very near Silverdale at this point and thoughout the walk, we kept venturing back and forth between two counties - Cumbria and Lancashire.

En route to our highpoint of the day - Arnside Knott - we passed the ruins of Arnside Tower, built in the 15th century. There were lots of signs forbidding entry but it was still fascinating to walk around it.

We couldn't linger however as it was starting to snow and we still had a hill to climb.  Unfortunately when we got to the viewing point at the top, the flakes were quite large and coming down fast.  It's a pity because the viewpoint has a couple of maps pointing out all the different peaks in the Lake District that you can normally see from here.  Fingers crossed the weather is clearer when we do this walk again with our rambling group.

The winter woods do look lovely though.

And so back to the car.

The UK being what it is -  i..e not very prepared when there's snow - we decided not to linger and treat ourselves to a pub dinner, but to head home in case the roads got a little slippery.  The snow fortunately was not sticking and we made it home safely.  But oh, it did feel SO good to get out into the countryside again.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

On Balance. . .

My week of chanting the mantra of "balance"seems to be working so far.  I am not imposing any stress on myself for trying to get things done by a specific deadline, just setting aside chunks of time for different projects, working my way through them in the time allotted, and then STOPPING so that they don't take over my life.  And looking back on what I've done in the last ten days, I feel pretty good about it all. 

Above are my various cast-on and cast-off swatches for my course.  I've had a lot of fun trying several new techniques, including the long-tail cast-on for the first time (I always thought it would be very fiddly, but it was incredibly easy), and the Channel Island cast-on. There are some good online tutorials here and here.  Many of the bind-off methods I was already familiar with, but a new one to me was Elizabeth Zimmerman's sewn bind-off which I will definitely use again as I like the firm edge it creates.  I still have to write up my notes for this section, but I feel I've plunged right into the coursework and am getting very disciplined about it.

I also made time to knit another swatch for the Knit British Breeds swatch-along (and my eventual blanket).   This is Llanwenog wool and the pattern is called Rosemary Sprigs (a nod to delicious Welsh lamb) from Nicky Epstein's book Knitting Block by Block.  I've still to soak, wash and do the wear test on this, but it was a lovely yarn to knit with - very substantial and firm and as you can see, there is a lovely stitch definition.  An aran jumper would look fantastic in this wool.  This was also enormously fun to knit; you cast on 192 stitches and work in the round from the outside inwards.

I've also finished the front and back of a new jumper, Driscoll, knit in New Lanark DK, in these rich autumnal colours.  The company will have a booth at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival and I wanted to test out the yarn as it's very reasonably priced with a good palette of colours, and I'd love to find a good workhorse yarn in the UK, similar to the Cascade 220 I used back in Canada.  As the pattern is fairly straight-forward, I've limited my knitting time on this purely to when I'm watching TV or on my breaks at work.  Onto the sleeves now!

And with any luck, I'll be finished most of it before the next KAL over at the Knit British and Brityarn groups.  This is a challenge to knit a garment in time for a meet-up at the  Edinburgh Yarn Festival in mid-March.  It has to be knitted out of 100% British fibre and use at least three natural shades.  I spent most of the weekend dithering over what pattern to knit but have decided on Buchanan by Kate Davies from her wonderful Yokes book.

I did a quick swatch and think the design will really lend itself to the different shades in my stash. The main body colour will be in Blue-faced Leicester and the yoke will have some Swaledale, Manx Loaghtan and  Falklands Island wool in it.  The KAL starts on Thursday the 14th and I can't wait to cast-on.

I've also finished two books this week and even went to my first Zumba class at the gym. It also stayed dry enough at just the right times of the day to allow me to walk to work four times, something that I really enjoy as it helps clear my mind along with exercising the body.  I may even sneak a film in tonight as well.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Knitting Resolutions for 2016. . .

Looking back over last year,  I was quite surprised and initially pleased at how much I was able to knit. It came at a cost though - when I tallied up the number of books I'd read and films I'd watched, they were among the lowest in probably the last twenty years.   Perhaps, just perhaps, I've been letting knitting take over my life (the Liverpud would certainly agree!).   So my word of 2016 is going to be "Balance".

I've pretty much cracked the work/life balance.  I love my new life in Liverpool and feel enormously lucky to be able to work part-time which allows me plenty of hours for other creative pursuits.  I just need to try and balance the many, many things that interest me and think more thoughtfully about the projects I choose to knit and when I should be knitting them (as ahem, I cast on yet another project up above - this will be my easy mindless tv knitting for the next few weeks - lots of stockinette).  I still want to keep improving my skills, exploring new techniques, experimenting with different fibres and continue connecting with the really vibrant and inspiring knitting community that is out there.  But I also really need to get my reading mojo back and make my way through an ever-growing pile of DVDs.

But still, it's always fun to have a few resolutions and goals and so here are my knitting/crafting ones for 2016:

1.  One of the most exciting projects I've embarked upon is a distance learning course offered by City & Guilds.  It's the Level 3 Certificate in Hand Knit Textiles and while the workload is slightly intimidating, I know it's going to make me a much better knitter and give me a really creative challenge as there will be some design work involved (eek!).  One module at a time though. There are twelve in all and I'd really like to get through 4-5 of them this year as we only have three years to finish the course and I can see the modules getting more complex and time-intensive as we go on.   I just need to be very disciplined and knuckle down.  This has to be my priority before other knitting projects.

2.  Still, there are at least 3 WIPS in progress that I also would really like to finish.  My Deco by Kate Davies has been languishing in a project bag for years now and I just have to finish the sleeves.  My Bowland by Susan Crawford was a project I really wanted to finish in time for Christmas (also one of last year's resolutions was to steek for the first time).  I'm almost at steeking stage - just have a million ends to weave in, but would really love to have this done by the Edinburgh Yarn Festival in March.  And then there's my Anemone by Marie Wallin.  All the knitted bits are done - it's just those crocheted sleeves which are the stumbling blocks.   Still, these are three garments that I'd really love to have in my wardrobe, so if I can finish these up in 2016, I'll be chuffed.

3. I'd love to crochet a full garment.  But if I can finish Anemone, I'll consider this resolution crossed off.

4. Buy only British wool/fibre.  I've given up on a cold sheep yarn diet; I go to too many shows where the temptations are rampant.  But I can certainly restrict myself to British yarns and support local businesses.  No shortage of lovely options there.  And that will stop me from buying bags of discontinued Rowan yarns because they are massively on sale.  They just sit in my stash and glare at me.

5.  Speaking of British wool, I want to continue participating in the Knit British Breeds swatch-a-long because I've really enjoyed the process so far.  It's been fascinating to discover the properties of different breeds.  I've done eight swatches already, six of which are the proper sized squares for an intended blanket.  I hopefully can continue the process until I have 24 or 30 and can put together a decent sized blanket.  It would be super if I could finish this in time for Wovember.

6.  I want to learn to spin with a drop spindle.  I'm booked for a class at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival so hopefully will crack this skill and spin up some roving by the end of the year.  A friend gave me some gorgeous silk batting for Christmas which would be terrific to knit up.

7.  At last year's Woolfest, I bought a double heddle for my loom which allows me to double the width of the fabric.  It's still sitting in its packaging.  I'd really like to assemble it and weave something using it this year.

8.  I'd also actually like to sit down and read more of my knitting books.  I'm great at acquiring them and looking at all the pretty pictures but I rarely sit down and read them in detail.  I know there's a wealth of fascinating information and inspiration in my knitting library - time to start absorbing it all!

Whew - that should keep me busy for the next few months.  I am not going to stress about it all though (well, maybe a little about the course) but try to calmly work through projects and enjoy the process.  We'll see how that goes. . .