Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What's not to like?

I've finally completed a shawl that I started ages ago. Indeed, it was to be my early July Tour de France project, but I was distracted by my travels in Victoria and subsequently by house selling, renovation and moving. Then once the knitting was finished it took me quite some time to assemble the equipment and energy I needed to block it in my new living space.

grey shawl 3

This was such a simple and pleasing project. The resulting shawl is large (215cm wide and 105cm deep), warm, snuggly and (I think) unobtrusively elegant. The shawl has an old-fashioned triangular base in garter stitch, following Cheryl Oberle's Wool Peddler's Shawl pattern, with the much-copied Mustaa Villaa variation of substituting a plain, minimalist garter stitch ruffle for the lace edging of the original.

I've used classic Rowan Felted Tweed in grey - Rowan calls it 'carbon'- and a deep, muted blue. I'm very very pleased by the subtle colour combination. I washed the shawl and stretched it very vigorously when blocking. The Rowan Felted Tweed blocks beautifully and becomes very soft and drapey.

tweed shawl 4

This shawl is going to be such a joy to wear. I can no longer imagine why it took me so long to finish.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Of scarves and shawls and socks

Somewhat belatedly, I'm jumping on the Stephen West bandwagon and knitting a Daybreak scarf.

daybreak 1

There have been many lovely versions of this scarf - which relies on geometry and colour for its appeal rather than delicate laciness. The colour combination I'm using almost chose itself. I wanted to use the skein of Schoppelwolle Zauberball I'd bought on a visit to Cologne earlier this year. It's a combination of greys, orange and rusty red, and was perfectly matched by some Malabrigo Sock yarn in Boticelli Red I'd been hoarding. [As an aside, much as I like the Zauberball yarn itself, I'm particularly attracted by the way it's wound into what appear to be hand-wound balls, with each colour change marked by a new direction in the winding].

I'm using for the first time some tiny enamelled stitch markers that Jody sourced and supplied. I think I've found the perfect stitch-markers - aesthetically pleasing but very practical. I hope you can see the tiny blue oval-shaped marker in the pic below:

daybreak stitchmarker

It seems to be ages since I've posted anything about my knitting. I have been working on it - I have a shawl I'm blocking, having finally gathered the courage to shop in Bunnings to buy the jigsaw-like blocking mats I needed. And I've almost finished my current Personal Sock Club socks - but look what happened:

Tide pool socks 2

I ran out of yarn just a few rows short of finishing. Fortunately, a friend has offered a small amount of yarn in the same colour-way, though I'm so close I have been tempted to finish with a single colour toe-tip. I was feeling very proud of myself because I was so far ahead of schedule with these socks, so I think this small hiccup in my progress will remind me (yet again) that pride and set-backs are often closely associated.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fashion sock spotting

I've posted before about the difficulties of finding fashionable ways to wear socks and about the moment in the northern hemisphere Spring 2009 when a sock and sandal possibility seemed to be upon us. The moment passed, but if recent Sartorialist posts are anything to go by, the possibility still exists.

Socks scrunched down with boots
Socks worn defiantly with stilettos.
Stripey socks with oxford lace-ups.

Now, if I were just forty years younger, twenty kilos lighter, and fifteen centimetres taller I could use these looks as inspiration for wearing my hoard of knitted socks.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My favourite things 2

As you come through the front door of my new apartment and walk along the hallway there's now a set of five drawers that fit perfectly and glide closed. I've appropriated the top drawer for bills to be paid and keys and sticky tape and string and the bits and pieces of everyday life I don't want to lose. But the other four drawers are just for my shoes:

shoe drawer

What a luxury. No more shoes shoved into the bottom of the wardrobe or lined up under the bed. Each drawer easily fits six pairs and, if I had enough shoes, I could probably fit another layer of shoes (though not boots) into each drawer.

It's the neatest, most organised part of the apartment...and it gives me such pleasure.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Plain and fancy

When we visited Nundle Woollen Mill there was a display of Loani Prior's latest book, Really Wild Tea Cosies, and a sample of one of the knitted cosies from the book.

tea cosy 2

My friend with whom I was visiting loved the cosy, but the sample was not for sale. So I decided to knit her a tea cosy from the book. I've rummaged in my disorganised and rather scrappy stash and have found most of the yarns I think I'll need and I've started knitting. I'm making Garden Party - a basic tea cosy topped by a riot of knitted and crochet flowers.

tea cosy 1

It's the first tea cosy I've ever knitted. As a very occasional tea drinker who drinks tea once it's cooled quite a bit, keeping tea warm within a pot has never had high priority for me. So, there's an explanation for why I might never have knitted a tea cosy. But once I started to think about what I was knitting I realised I have a resistance to what I've mentally labelled 'novelty knitting'. I think I'm a bit of a puritan in my knitting preferences. I like things that are useful and, preferably, durable. I think I like decoration only if the decoration enhances the practicality. I think these preferences also help explain my reluctance to knit toys - however cute they may seem at first glance.

I'm very pleased to be able to knit something that's a gift for a very generous and kind friend, but I think I'll return to sock and scarf knitting with some relief.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Look where I've been...

Look where I've been this past weekend...

Nundle Woollen Mills ext

Yes, Nundle Woollen Mill. I enjoyed my visit greatly. I hadn't planned to visit, and so I had no great expectations. I wasn't particularly impressed by the yarn - though I did buy some greyish-beige and greyish blue 8 ply very cheaply in probably vain anticipation of knitting a blanket for my newly re-covered sofa. But I loved the building and location and the carding and spinning machinery whirring away. It all felt part of a continuous tradition of wool production, processing and retailing.

Nundle Woollen Mills int

You might wonder how, when it's located in such an out-of-the-way place, I could manage to visit Nundle Woollen Mill without planning to do so. It was a by-product of a most satisfying weekend spent with some old friends - two of whom have a house and small farm in the upper Hunter area.

Rouchel house

I have a kind of mental classification of the friends I've made across my life as a series of strata. These friends are from the deepest bedrock stratum of my friends - two people with whom I went to school, so I've known them more than fifty years. Such old friendships have an ease than comes from knowing we all shared experiences many years ago, and regardless of what has happened since, there's a deep understanding of where we've come from.

One of these school friends and her husband (who's also now a very old friend) invited us for the weekend. Their small farm is in one of the lovely valleys accessible from the New England Highway by narrow winding roads. Theirs is the Rouchel valley that's been formed by the beautiful Rouchel Brook. It's strange to have an Australian waterway named as a 'brook', but in this case the clarity of the water and the grassy banks seem to justify the name.

Rouchel Brook

On Saturday my friends took us for a drive through some of the Hunter Valley towns and by-ways. Such wonderful diversions. We had lunch at Murrurundi in a garden overlooking the Peals River and visited a superb gallery. And we visited Nundle (both the Mill and an excellent and unexpected kitchen shop) and drove back to Rouchel through some steep back roads with breath-taking views, grazing kangaroos and extensive stands of ancient Xanthorroea.


It was the perfect time of year for a country visit. Despite the farm being a second home, and despite droughts and scarcity of water, over the years my friends have cultivated a garden with lots of trees and shrubs and, just at the moment, flowering bulbs, blossoming fruit trees, and clumps of other spring flowers.

Rouchel irises
Rouchel bluebells
Rouchel gardenia
Rouchel blossom

It was idyllic to sit on the verandah with the scent of mown grass, the perfume from masses of violets and blossom and, of course, some knitting.

Rouchel verandah

Saturday, September 11, 2010

My favourite things

Yesterday, I arranged my new yarn on the windowsill to photograph it in the early morning light. The windowsills in my new apartment are one of my favourite things. I can already see they are going to be a much-favoured location for photographs.

window sill 204

The walls of the old building I live in are very thick and on my side of the building I have wide, flat windowsills. My previous apartment had even thicker walls, but the windows were set at the inside rather than the outside of the openings and so I had no usable sills.

Last weekend I bought some herbs in small pots and lined them up on one of the sills. The sills and the opportunities they bring are going to give me a great deal of pleasure.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Broken resolutions

Already the resolutions I made when I moved to a smaller space about not accumulating more 'stuff' are breaking down.

New yarn

One of the benefits of being in Brisbane is a visit to Tangled Yarns. I think this is my ideal yarn shop. It's just the right combination of openness and tempting merchandise. It has a nest of cosy sofas and a separate space with tables for sitting around. And it has lovely open shelves with a seductive range of colourful yarns. Apart from the physical space and the yarns, it also has knowledgeable and helpful staff and a very superior on-line newsletter. What more could you wish for? [maybe that it was in Sydney, rather than Brisbane, but I'm greedy]

Astonishingly, about two minutes after I entered the shop Alison appeared - having just arrived from Cairns on her way to a yoga workshop. Knitting can diminish distance.

I think I was still somewhat under the influence of my non-stuff acquisition resolutions and was very restrained in my purchases - some Brown Sheep Cotton Fleece (worsted weight in 80% cotton and 20% merino) in rich Barn Red, and an irresistible brilliant yellow skein of Tosh Sock, rather incongruously named 'Chamomile ' (or maybe I just don't know enough about chamomile plants and flowers). I must have been under the influence of Brisbane's bright light in choosing the colours I did.

Then last week my resolutions really did crumble. I bought myself some birthday yarn from Knitabulous. Soft, muted colours that are such a contrast to my Brisbane purchases. Two skeins of Supertwist Merino in Wintersea and Pink Salt - this latter so perfectly named for the delicious pink salt from the Murray River region - and a skein of 50/50 silk and wool in Old Jeans (Ailsa's so good with colour names). And I've discovered that some wonderful knitting friends organised a birthday gift voucher for me with Knitabulous that I'm saving for another special treat. Knitting doesn't only diminish distance, it also brings people together.

So much for my resolutions about accumulation...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Rite of passage (2)

I've recently been to Brisbane to attend my son-in-law's citizenship ceremony. Queensland, or at least the south-east corner of it that contains Brisbane, really does feel different from Sydney. Not only is it warmer, its vegetation more tropical, and its scavenger animals are brush turkeys(!) but it seems newer, glossier, younger, and altogether painted in brighter colours.

Some of this was evident in the citizenship ceremony I attended. A few months ago I'd attended Mary-Helen's citizenship ceremony in Sydney's inner-west Leichhardt. It was quite small, cosy and low-key with individual chats with the mayor and entertainment from the local brass band. My son-in-law's ceremony in Brisbane was quite a different affair. He was one of eleven hundred people becoming Australian citizens. Eleven hundred! The ceremony was held in the Brisbane Civic Centre and with the new citizens and their friends and families there must have been at least four thousand people filling the vast theatre. It was an Event - planned and organised to the minute - rather than a mere ceremony.

There were many flags,

ceremony and mayor
ceremony and AM

a wonderful brass band (based on my sample of two, this seems to be a vital ingredient)

ceremony and band

and a most impressive Indigenous welcome to Country that culminated in two older men among the group of dancers making fire using the friction from two sticks rubbed together - a wonderful symbol of new beginnings among old traditions.

ceremony and welcome

There was a choir, mass affirmations of loyalty to Australia and the democratic process from the new citizens, lots of babies and young children crawling and playing in the aisles, singing of the national anthem and a brief moving speech from a 'representative' new citizen - a woman who had migrated to Australia from India with her young family. The mayor gave a most enthusiastic speech, unashamedly and knowingly countering the current promotion of a 'sustainable' Australian population by expressing his delight at the energy and potential that the new citizens were bringing to Brisbane.

I enjoy and am moved by ceremonies that mark a rite of passage. I always have a little weep. This one was no exception.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

New for old

My knitting output has suffered because I've been busy and very, very tired. But I have managed to finish another pair of my 2010 Personal Sock Club socks - only a week later than my self-imposed due date.

origami socks 2

I'd scheduled their completion for 27 August and managed to finish them - with a flurry of activity towards the end - on 3 September. They're the Tsunami socks from Judy Sumner's Knitted Socks East and West in Madelinetosh Tosh Sock Scarlet. I was concerned that the cabling on the leg of the socks would reduce their elasticity (which it did) and so knitted them on 2.75m needles. But the foot part of the socks, without the cables, is a bit loose, so it would have been ideal to reduce the needle size once the the cables were finished.

Origami socks 4

This is a great sock yarn and I love the bright scarlet colour.

So....I opened a new manilla folder to disclose the latest PSC instalment. The Socks That Rock yarn was a birthday gift from Jody almost exactly a year ago and is a riot of colours - brown, russet, blue, chartreuse - with the great name, Tide Pooling.

Tide pool socks

With such wonderful colours I opted for a very straight-forward pattern - Nancy Bush's Gentleman's Plain Winter Sock from Knitting Vintage Socks. (Of course, we all know you can never go wrong with Nancy Bush).

I'm off to such a flying start with these socks that I'm planning to keep to my originally scheduled date for finishing them - 8 October. Having a publicly declared schedule for my Personal Sock Club is working so well that I'm flirting with the idea of trying it for all my knitting. But I think I know deep down that what works so well for a part of my knitting wouldn't work so well applied to the whole endeavour.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Comfort reading

I've just finished rereading Anthony Trollope's novel, Dr Thorne. I think it's the fourth time I've read it. I used to half-joke that you could tell if I was feeling stressed or depressed because you'd find me reading one of Trollope's novels. For me they're the ultimate comfort reading.

This latest rereading has nothing to do with stress or depression - it's simply that in packing and unpacking my books for moving I realised just how many copies of Trollope's novels I have. I couldn't bring myself to discard any of them, so I think I felt obliged to reread to justify their space on my bookshelves. I've just counted, and I have 31 of the 47 novels he wrote during his very productive life - with duplicate bound copies of eight of them. I also have his autobiography, a most comprehensive biography by Victoria Glendinning, two critical studies, and a novel by his amazingly prolific novelist mother, Fanny Trollope. You can undoubtedly describe me as a Trollope fan.

Dr Thorne is one of my favourites. It's part of the Barchester Chronicles series, but unlike the better-known The Warden and Barchester Towers, it focuses on the landed gentry of Barsetshire rather than clerical society. At its centre are issues of class and birth and money and honour and the changing balance amongst these forces as society modernises and changes. Trollope somehow manages to be deeply conservative but also humane. His insight into the complex motivations of human behaviour enables him to show empathy even for unpleasant characters - and even for characters he satirises.

Trollope visited Australia twice in the 1870s. His much-loved son, Fred, came to Australia as a young man and settled as a squatter on land just west of the town in which I grew up, Grenfell. Despite frequent subsidies from his novelist father and a great deal of hard work, Fred's unsuccessful farming experience in Australia foretold that of so many others - too little land, low prices and drought led him to sell his farm, Mortray. [There is still a farm of this name in the area]. Trollope wrote a not-so-successful novel based on his son's experiences in Australia - Harry Heathcote of Gangoil. Rather unreasonably, I feel a very distant personal connection to Anthony Trollope.

I think Lady Anna might be next on my Trollope rereading list. I love the story of how this excellent novel was written. Trollope was an astonishingly industrious writer. No sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike for him. This is what he writes in his Autobiography:
When making long journeys, I have always succeeded in getting a desk put up in my cabin, and this was done ready for me in Great Britain, so that I could go to work the day after we left Liverpool. This I did; and before I had reached Melbourne I had finished a story called Lady Anna. Every word of this was written at sea during the two months required for our voyage, and was done day by day - with the intermission of one day's illness - for eight weeks, at the rate of 66 pages of manuscript in each week, every page of manuscript containing 250 words.

That's a publishable manuscript of 132,000 words in eight weeks. Rather impressive. My hero.