Sunday, 30 July 2006

I see the light

Whew. Today is the first time in a week I am beginning to imagine that a time will come again when I will feel well. A week is a bloody long time to be sick and care for a sick child too.

Anyway, back to that post I wrote in my head a week or so ago. Patterns.

I started sewing and knitting at a young age and while my mum taught me the basics, I went off on my own pretty early on. Thinking back I'm kind of surprised by this. My mum is in the main a pattern follower but I'm pretty much an intuitive maker. I had a lot of disasters, it's true, but I often felt as let down by patterns as I was by my own wild leaps of faith. Somehow the promise of those neatly drawn dresses on the covers of the Vogue patterns just didn't cut the mustard when all was said and done. The same was true of knitting. The sleeves were always too long, or the necks too narrow, or the shape just wrong.

So while my mum slaved over the instructions I would try and work out how to go it alone. Somehow I imagined I could do it better than the professionals. At the very least I knew a lot more about my body than they did. And sometimes I got it right, or at least started big and gradually whittled a garment down till it fitted OK.

Of course later when I learned how to draft my own sewing paetterns I realised how perfect a pattern system is, if only you learn enough about it. My problem all those years ago was not patterns themselves, but my inability to judge a pattern's merits and understand how to alter it. To be able to just look at something and know those sleeves are going to be too sharp or that neck too wide. Or know that on my body I need to take at least a centimeter off the sides of every pants or skirt waist if I want it to hang right.

While my tailoring skills may be a little rusty at the moment I know it wouldn't take much for me to relearn all those things. I now understand the value of doing it first in calico and marking up the alterations and keeping a block that tells me what my body looks like when it's flattened out into a 2D image. And how to superimpose that on a pattern and change the flare of a skirt or the length of a sleeve or the height of a collar till it's more what I had in mind.

So intellectually I understand all that. I know that in the end creating and following a pattern does save time and does improve outcomes and you get a record of what you learned so you don't need to learn it all again. But my recent foray into rediscovering knitting has seen the re-emergence of my naughty pattern ignoring self. It started with the gorgeous felted slipper socks which I can't evenly felt because I ignored the vital all in one yarn instruction and now my nerves are on edge as I progress with the hoodie.

Instead of doing what is right by the pattern I thought oh heck I can alter this. For a start despite the fact that the finished versions of the jumper I have seen look great I thought the wool called for was too chunky (not to mention rare in Oz), so I took it down a size. This then meant smaller needles. It seemed logical to me that if I just knitted a larger size than I wanted the finished garment to be then the relative guage difference would all work out. Sounds right doesn't it?

But you see I should already have been reading the pattern of my thoughts. If I needed to mess with things this much, perhaps this wasn't the pattern I really wanted? Perhaps if I really liked the finished garments I had seen so much (and I did! I really did!) then I should have shut up and just done what I was told.

Instead I gaily cast on the specified number of stitches and set off. All too soon I came face to face with the grim reality that patterns use a range of measures - stitch and row numbers but also outright lengths and bacl to stitch numbers. So when I finished the plackets and joined the jumper into a round and the pattern said to knit until I had 54 stitches across the back and I already had 58 I knew I was cooked.

And because it's so darn hard to tell with a knitted garment what it will really be like when it's off the needles (especially round needles) I can't tell whether I have made a fatal error. The head opening seems big enough and the trunk seems wide enough and the sleeve openings seem like they are the right size and in the right place, but really, I have no idea.

And aside from the terrible fear that I might have cocked up this most divine of yarns I went to extraordinary lengths to get enough of (and might be forced to fully unravel a whole jumper if I have) I am also kind of disappointed with myself for repeating past mistakes. Until I know more about what I'm doing, until I take accurate guage and plan for a proper pattern adjustment I should learn not to be such a smarty pants, to trust that the pattern maker has done the job of working it out for me.

Of course if it all works out brilliantly I retract everything I just said because, well, obviously I am a smarty pants. And if it is a terrible disaster we shall never speak of it again.

Thursday, 27 July 2006

day dreaming

Yeah, we're all still dying with lurgy. Don't ask you don't want to know. Thanks for the well wishes, I just wish they were enough...

Perhaps it's the fever talking, but I've become really fascinated by the idea of the joint blog. Forgive me for being late to the party, but I only just found Mason-Dixon knitting and I can't believe I haven't thought before about the incredible creative opportunities of a blog as dialogue.

I like the idea of two bloggers corresponding, bouncing ideas, asking questions, solving problems, talking crap. Like mates do. It would be kind of like evesdroppping and visiting all at once...

Wednesday, 26 July 2006

can you see a jumper emerging?

This experience has made me think a lot about patterns and following them. Or not. I have a whole post ready to write but I'm too tired and we're all sick and pretty much over it. Being sick that is. A handful of hours of broken sleep and two whole boxes of dirty tissues and a couple of vomits and, well, you get the idea.

Monday, 24 July 2006

keeping it nice

Generally speaking I'm not the most restrained and polite of people. I swear, I voice my opinions, I'm loud. I believe honesty is best, even where honesty is hard and requires some working in. I let it all hang out. People come to my house and I expect them to serve themselves, ask for what they need and overlook the mess. And there's a lot of that here.

But there's a few things I'm learning as I get older. About the true nature of diversity and what tolerance really means. About human frailty. About our limitations and weaknesses. I don't always get things right, but I've realised the point is less about getting it right all the time than it is about not expecting others to either.

I've also learned that there are times to not say what you mean if you can't point to good reason for doing so, if you can't point to the benefit there probably isn't a need. There are still many many times when there is a need, and I'm happy to stand my ground for something that's worthwhile and risk offending others. When I think the debate is needed.

But when I read this and then this I wanted to join up. I really value that the blog world I visit is a place where I feel safe and encouraged and free to document my little life. I get endless joy from seeing people do their thing, and other people liking seeing them do it. I love that people share and that everyone seems so focused on the positive. I look forward to my unconflicted time here.

It distresses me enormously that bloggers I admire feel hurt by the things commenters feel compelled to say. That some people think their role in the blog world (and perhaps elsewhere) is to provide 'constructive criticsm' to those whose goal is simply to share their world. Like telling someone they need a facial (can that really be so? Why oh why would someone do that? What was going through their mind? I simply can't comprehend...)

I don't love every creation I see, I wouldn't make the same choices as many of the bloggers I read, I don't share the taste of a good many people out there. But unless I'm expressely asked for an opinion, who cares what I think?

I don't think we all need to strive to be the same, if we all agreed on the right shade or perfect fabric or best pattern how incredibly dull the world would be. And how hard for me to get the materials I wanted because everyone else was after them too. An enormous part of the attraction of the blog world is coming upon the unexpected, the I would never have thought of that moment.

So when I see things I'm not crazy about, I move on, lips shut. I know the rest of the world isn't like this, and there are times when you need to challenge and confront people for growth and development. But not here, not uninvited, and never ever anonymously. I don't care if it's a fools paradise. This is one little corner of the world I don't ever want to change.

Friday, 21 July 2006

radio silence

Sorry about that. A week without posting is a long time for me, but everything seems to be happening at the moment and sadly blogging has slipped down the food chain.

And I want to say that I haven't responded to a single comment and I feel really bad about it. I think I may have to change my approach to comments and repsond to them in the comments field, rather than by tracking each of you down via your blog to send an email or leave a comment on your blog.

I know this is inconvenient to commenters, and I am really sorry about that, but time is just too short! I truly love getting comments, and I hope no one is offended if I don't get back to you personally. If you do really want an email reply please let me know when you leave a comment by adding your email address because, well, Blogger just ain't up to the job.

A few things got finished.

Like Amy's watermelon poncho, which I am so very pleased with. She loves it because it's got a love heart on it (what is it about girls and love hearts?). I love it because it fits well and goes over the top of even her bulkiest winter jumpers and jackets for an extra layer in our current arctic climate. And because the grey goes so nicely in the corner and for the cross stitch up the front seam. I am beginning to think there might be a devoted knitter in me yet.

And yes
Ellen, such layering is most absolutely required right now. You are in for a rude shock when you hit these shores in a few weeks time! I also finished
getting my act and materials together to start my hoodie. I've been too busy to even post about the various bad omens haunting this project, but I am confident I am now ready for knitting success. She said optimistically.

Sorry for the crap photo, but here is the start of something I hope will one day be great. I love the cleverness of knitting a garment in a single piece with no seams. I have yet to tackle any really tricky bits, so I reserve the right to change my mind at a later date and rant about the stupidity of making such a complicated pattern. But for now I'm feeling very excited.

I'm lining up to do a major wholesale order and a few items for a book (a book!!), but I'll tell you more about that some other time. Like when I've actually done the work
and had it accepted and not when it's still some fanciful idea I might be able to realise if I stay up all night sewing for three weeks. Because, you know, I won't be doing that.

And then this.
I spent yesterday printing out the thesis I haven't looked at for 5 months on archival paper to be bound into a book with gold letters on the spine so I can sumbit it to the library. This is the last step before graduation, and only possible now because at last (at last!!) my examiners have submitted reports saying I am a reliable witness on the topic of work and family: gender, risk and wicked policy problems.

In fact the examiners said rather nicer things than that about my knowledge and understanding and original contribution to the field, so I am very pleased. Pleased and relieved that the whole thing is over.

I feel kind of sad though that now that I know rather a lot about something that is rather important, no one would like to give me a job doing something about it. Doesn't that seem like a waste to you?
It certainly does to me, and gives me much pause for thought about what I am going to do now.

One examiner made much of my suitability for PhD candidacy, a prospect I view quite unexcitedly, though if I can't get a job it may be better than unemployment (especially if I get a scholarship). Sometimes it's a positive liability to be so committed to outcomes when if I was happy to sit and contemplate I might have a decent career ahead of me. It all seems too convoluted and so much more bent out of shape than it should be.

And lastly a bit of gratuitous botanica. If I had more time I would write an entire post about Daphne, perhaps my most favourite flower ever. I love its tightly packed little clusters of flowers and because it smells so so very good, because it comes in winter when the garden is barely worth visiting and because it is often just starting to bloom by my birthday. I just wish I could give you all smell-o-vision. Gorgeous.

Friday, 14 July 2006

WIP it. WIP it good

I expect this WIP to become a completed and worn garment before the weekend is through. There will be some serious passenger time in the car to get me through the last stretch as we head South to visit my brother and his family and then North to Ballarat for no reason other than to experience a place even colder than Melbourne so we might complain a little less when we get home.

I started reading Alison's blog ages ago. One of the first posts I read was this. There was a while where I dreamed about that gorgeous baby quilt and a life infused with Japanese print craft. I like Alison's blog because it's spare and clean and features really gorgeous fabrics and knits and glimpses of life. Oh and this and this and this.

So when it can time to buy the wool for Amy's hoodie I emailed Alison for advice because she has impeccable taste and knows an awful lot more about yarn than me. Like the very generous soul she is, she replied in detail and sent me off to Marta's. so I could buy yarn and work out how to convert the pattern from worsted weight to the more common 8-ply.

So here's my test swatch. Is this not the most gorgeous colour combo? Alison was right that Marta's eye for colour is amazing and if you knew my daughter you would swear this was made with her in mind. It was very hard to choose, for as perfect as this one is, there were a couple of other pretty serious contenders. And it is wonderfully soft and a delight to knit, AND it's a superwash merino. Ah good time ahead.

So I'm knitting a narrower yarn, on smaller needles in a larger size and hoping to god it all works out. Because, you know, I love to make things more complicated than they need to be. I am nervous about running out of wool though - the pattern says 552 yards of worsted weight and I've got about 600 yards (300gms) in 8 ply. But Larissa said she used 560 yards for the smaller size, so you know, I worry. If you think I'm dreaming let me know and I'll ring Marta's and see if I can get a bit more yarn.

Anyway, I'm looking for a bit of moral support from Simmy, who's planning on using the same pattern to start a jumper for her daughter really soon. I'm trying to get the jump on her since I am sure she will knit much faster than me. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, 11 July 2006

what have we here?

No boring old cardboard boxes from Japan! As soon as I saw the post van pull up outside my heart was thumping. A while ago Ellen and I decided to set up a mega swap before she finished her two year stint in Japan. I'm making her a bunch of stuff for when she gets home, she did a bunch of shopping for me - talk about a marriage made in heaven!
And inside all these brown paper packages, each one with its own hilariously cute Asian English saying. I so miss these! In Thailand I saw them everyday on T-shirts and stationary and they never ceased to enchant me. Here are two of my favourites:But enough playing around - time to rip open the paper and see the delights inside!

The fabric.

The top three are heavyish textured cottons - will be great for bags, perhaps a pair of pants for Amy and other more durable projects.

I love the abstracty design and colours of the top left (red and grey is such a winner for me), the subtle floral scene on the top right and funky combination of stripes, spots and colours on the bottom piece.

The next set are lighter cottons. Clockwise from top left:

Pale green, printed with pink, purple, red and yellow kimono, combs, pincushions and other adornments. This has a lovely soft finish and will drape really nicely in a summer dress for Amy.
Next is this deco blue/purple/watermelon red print and a really pretty almost Liberty style soft floral. They are both quite silky and very lightweight. Perhaps some summer tops?

And I ADORE this red and cream grid floral, with the odd non-conforming square. I think it will be a while before I can bear to cut into it. Love it love it love it.

This bottom lovely set just screams baby to me. Good luck to the next friend in my life who announces pregnancy! The three fabrics share the same natural cotton background, two with relatively simple rose and bee motifs and the third with a really cute animal scene.

And two balls of organic cotton in matching shades. Oh goodness, now the hunt is on for the perfect pattern to knit or crochet some itty bitty garment from 50gms (140m) of this heavenly yarn. Any recommendations?

And quite aside from the fabrics, Ellen also got into the whole spirit of buying Japanese for an Asiaphile stuck at home. Here's a lovely little pack she put together for Amy with some stickers, pencils, cuter than cute milk carton erasers and this gorgeous egg person. I'm putting them away ready for her 4th birthday in August.

A pencil case and memo pad from my heros at Aranzi Aronzo. They make really really cool stuff.

And a great CD of Japanese music which I instantly loaded onto my computer and am listening to right now. Why don't I ever think to send CDs with swaps?

And not one but two new Japanese craft books!!

The first one is full of totally gorgeous and unusual felt projects. I'm now desperately trying to corner my all too busy felt mad sister out law to teach me how to bring a few of them to life.

And the second one is full of patterns featuring this bear and chick, from hair bands and bath mitts to amiguruni and puppets.

Thank you so much Ellen. I hope my pack to you makes you as happy as this booty has made me.

I feel BLOATED just looking at it all. I think it's time to halt swapping for a while and get down to just doing some crafting. I just love getting things in the mail, and I love getting things from far away, but it can be very seductive to go from one swap to another without really digesting the materials and ideas as you go. I still have so many outstanding projects, and now a whole stack more.

So hopefully we'll see some heavy rotation on the production side in the next month or two.

She said optimistically.

Monday, 10 July 2006

the WIP grows!

I am dead keen to get onto Amy's tunic hoodie, but I've decided to finish what I start before I move on. So I'm working hard on this and I'm over the half way mark - yay!
I've always been a bit dismissive of garter stitch, I'm a stocking stitch girl through and through. I love the neat little rows of uniform, even v's and in comparison garter stitch has always seemed a bit loose, a bit easy, a bit wonky, a bit the wrong side. I'm not nearly as uptight as I sound.

But knitting this has given me a new appreciation for the unique qualities of garter and the skill that goes into making it look good. It creates a much springier and stretchier fabric, an altogether different kind of thing to the sturdier stocking. And perfect for this project.

And it has only been through making more mistakes than I have ever made in a knitted garment that I have realised that my brain's default knitting mode is most definitely to alternate plain and purl. I thought just ddoing the one stitch over and over would be a snap, but I was very wrong.

And the colour is really growing on me. At first I was a bit iffy - Amy is such a primary red kind of girl, but I really like this wool (Jet). At 70% wool, 30% alpaca it's soft and warm and doesn't seem to pull threads quite as easily as some yarns. But the colour range is muted and nothing really grabbed me. I was on the verge of skipping the whole thing, but it was discounted by 25% and in the end I just compromised on the colour. Now I love that it looks just like watermelon, that it is soft and warm and strong.

Sunday, 9 July 2006

the recipe

Walnut caramel slice


125gm butter
1/2 cup of sugar
1 egg yolk
1 cup plain flour
1/4 cup self-raising flour
2 tbsp custard powder
pinch salt

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, add yolk and mix well. Add sifted flours, custard powder and salt and mix to form a firm dough (I do the lot in the food processor. I'm lazy.)
Press mixture into a lightly greased 18x28cm (11x7inch) slice tin and bake at 180oC for 15 mins or until golden brown.


1/2 cup of lightly packed brown sugar
1 tbsp golden syrup
90gm butter
125gm of unsalted walnuts (or peanuts or pecans or macadamias)

Heat sugar, syrup and butter over a low heat in a small pan until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved. Simmer gently for 5 minutes. Stir in nuts. Pour mix over hot base and return to oven for 5 mins. Cool in tin then cut into squares.

Friday, 7 July 2006

the generosity of strangers

A while ago I was blog trawling when I read this . I instantly fell in love with this gorgeous garment and left a rather gushy comment to tell Larissa what great work she'd done. I was totally thrilled when she emailed me to say that as the 1000th commenter on her blog she intended to send me a little gift. Aren't bloggers just wonderfully generous?

So you could have bowled me over today when not just the pattern (in baby and childrens sizes) arrived, but a really spunky stitch holder, green pear stitch markers and a cake of soap that smells like heaven came too. Seriously I really want to eat it, it smells that good. And it is spookily like she know about the post that went up about an hour ago as there was a tub of sleep balm as well. I expect that to be christened tonight at about 2am.

So wow and thanks Larissa, you are a wonderfully generous and thoughtful soul and I love each and every bit.

And I made this recipe for the first time in years. One bite and I can't believe I waited this long between slices! This is just the yummiest, richest, most scrumptious thing you ever tasted.
For aussies you can find it in the ancient old Women's Weekly beautiful biscuits book - look in the section on peanuts. Personally I don't think you can go past walnuts for the topping, reminds me of those divine little french walnut tarts. The base is crumbly and custardy, the top sticky caramel. Fan-bloody-tastic.

a few more things I wish I knew

How to thank the person who left the anonymous comment about where to get stuffing beads - mine arrived last week!

Why I haven't been able to find time to respond to the comments left on my blog in the last week or so. It's the height of rudeness and I feel deeply ashamed.

How to clean a genuine pashmina without compromising it's ethereal softness. After 4 years, mine is filthy but I'm just too scared to do anything to it!

Why I keep waking at 2am and not being able to get back to sleep.

When the University will get their act together and finish the assessment of my thesis. 4 months and counting.

Why my sourdough leven keeps dying after the first fermentation when I kept my old leven alive for years.

Why I thought the bit that said use the same yarn throughout didn't apply to me. I don't even know why I thought stripes would be better than a solid colour, but I now have some slippers with a nicely felted instep and a completely unfelted heel and a moderately felted toe. Completely useless and very wasteful. And while we're on that how come colour seems to dictate feltability in otherwise identical wool?

Why employers aren't better at taking advantage of the underemployed labour market of people like me who want part time work.

Whether I should keep tying my hair back until the layers are grown out or get it cut again to encourage some curl.

Why I bothered to knit a sample square to calculate how many stitches to use and how much wool I'd need on my new project, only to realise after a ball of knitting that I would have been better off using the stitch guide on the wool band because now it's too wide and I don't have enough wool. But I'm carrying on and I'll do something clever and creative to incorporate a ball of contrasting wool. I hope. And it will still fit. I hope.

And to those who want to know what I'm knitting with the watermelon jet? Just wait and see!

Wednesday, 5 July 2006

thanks Jessica!


Jessica sent me these tasty treats as a swap for the orange Max I sent her and her daughter.

I love the clean simple lines and the flower print is just gorgeous!

Thanks so much Jessica, I love it.

Tuesday, 4 July 2006

the trip and WIP

Amy loved the ferries (fairies!)
And echo point
And I got shoppingAnd knitting.

Plenty to say, but it will have to wait till other more immediate things are taken care of. Like unpacking, washing, cooking dinner, sleeping.