Friday, December 12, 2008

Even sweeter

I finished the Jane Austen shrug, to accompany the Jane Austen dress.

shrug back

Shrugs, by their nature, need a person inside them to give then shape and line. I'm hoping it will fit the dotee, whom I haven't seen for the last 5 months.

shrug front

The tiny cable, edged by moss stitch, is the perfect detail for this otherwise simple design.

shrug detail

Both the shrug and the dress are from Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne's Mason-Dixon Knitting Outside the Lines.

I'm taking it with me tomorrow on my trip to the Philippines where I'll meet up with the dotee and her parents for Christmas. Maybe the dress and shrug can begin a tradition of a grandmotherly gift of a special Christmas dress.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Knitting, decoupage and Anzac biscuits

Anne, my backtack4 swap partner in Denmark, has received her parcel of backtack goodies, and so I can finally reveal some of the crafting that's been occupying me over the last month or so. As I've blogged before, the theme of backtack4 was gold (something that glitters), frankincense (something to delight the senses of taste or smell) and myrrh (a gift to give pleasure).

My myrrh gift to give pleasure was knitted. It's the inelegantly named Swiss Cheese Scarf by the inspirational Winnie Shih.

LynS bt4 - myrrh

For those with access to Ravelry, the free pattern can be downloaded. It's a simple, symmetrical, fun design. I think it's also very elegant. Lots of garter stitch (why not?), and lots of casting on and casting off. Like most people who've knitted this design, I gradually refined the process of knitting up the small loops caused by the casting on into subsequent rows. I knitted it with wool to which I've developed a passionate attachment - Rowan scottish tweed 4 ply in the perfect shade of grey. It doesn't result in the softest scarf in the world, but it has a slightly felted texture and holds its sculptural shape beautifully. My partner Anne says she likes it and commented cryptically that we have very similar taste in scarves, so I'm delightedly anticipating my parcel from her.

For my 'something that glitters', I decoupaged two bangles.

LynS bt4 - gold

I began with wooden bangles, painted them black and applied cut-paper designs, mainly in gold. I then varnished them (about 35 thin coats), sanded several times, and finished them with a dull beeswax polish. I enjoyed making them - even with the tyranny of fitting in the three coats of varnish I needed to apply each day to finish the project in time. It was interesting to return after several years absence to a craft I practised consistently and passionately for a significant period of time. I think I'll do some more.

I found it most difficult to decide what to do for frankincense - something that appeals to the sense of taste or smell. Eventually, I applied the very reliable rule that says when in doubt, do something simple, and made Anzac biscuits, using my grand-mother's tattered recipe. I thought that if they were robust enough to survive the lengthy trip by sea to reach Anzac soldiers in the first world war (which is the tale of their origin), then they could survive the modern-day trip by air to Denmark.

LynS bt4

I have a still unsorted and disorganised box of my mother's and grandmother's recipes that I acquired after my mother's death. Most of my grand-mother's recipes are for baking - cakes, biscuits, slices, scones. My grandparents had a farm where 8 to 10 family members lived, and this number was augmented by another dozen or so people at shearing or harvesting times. 'The men' ate 5 meals a day - breakfast, morning tea, dinner, afternoon tea, and tea. My grandmother's life, and my mother's when she lived on the farm, was a constant routine of cooking and cleaning up. As a result, the recipes are simple and straight-forward. They use easily available and few ingredients and are virtually fail-safe, but every time I make something using one of the recipes, they are welcomed. The Anzac biscuits belong to this tradition.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

How sweet it is...

I don't do sweet, and I don't do cute. For decades I've been cultivating a personal style that aspires to be straight-forward, simple, clear, unfrilled. At least, this is what I'd like to think. But reluctantly, I've had to recognise that there are significant exceptions to this personal style rule. Something overcomes me when confronted with little girls - particularly those who are too young to assert their own choices.

When my now adult daughter was very small, I made clothes for her - frequently they were yoked pinafores or dresses made from combinations of Liberty or Laura Ashley prints that were worn over t-shirts or jumpers as the weather dictated. I was so captivated by these Victorian-influenced images of little girls that I did this despite my intense dislike for sewing.

Thirty years later, I seem to be caught up again by the same fantasy. This is what I've made for the dotee (my grand-daughter) for Christmas.

Jane Austen 3

A yoke, frills and tiny floral print fabric. A realisation of all the elements of the Victorian fantasy.

Jane Austen dress 1

It's the Jane Austen dress from Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne's latest book, Mason-Dixon Knitting Outside the Lines. It's knitted from Heirloom 4ply cotton, and the fabric is a Liberty Tana lawn.

I'm also making the little shrug that the Mason-Dixon women have designed to accompany this dress. It's in a deeper hyacinth blue. More on that soon.

Maybe grand-mothers can be excused their obsession with Victorian images, yokes and frills? Even though I don't usually do sweet, I've decided I'm just going to indulge myself until the dotee is old enough to object - I know from experience that this will happen only too soon.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Yellow and pink

I bought some lilies for my house. They were cheap at my local shop, and even cheaper if you bought two bunches. So I bought a bunch of yellow lilies and another of pink. When I got home I put them in my tallest vase which I placed on my new, second-hand cupboard (which I love so much it's worth blogging about in its own right - another time). And look what happened...

Lilies and painting

The lilies and the painting have such different origins, but the colours are so perfect together. The painting is an untitled work by Josephine Nangala, and came from an exhibition of work by Kiwirrkura women, who are part of the Western Desert Papunya Tula Cooperative.

I think it was while visiting India that I was was really smitten with the charm of pink (in its many Indian manifestations) and yellow together - to add another cultural dimension to this colour story.

India 15
Temple, Tamil Nadu, March 2008

Last summer I bought some wonderful yellow sandals, so now I'll have to hunt for some bright pink to accompany them. Makes a change from grey...

Monday, December 1, 2008

On its way

Anne, my backtack 4 parcel is now on its way to Denmark.

wrapped backtack

Gold - something that glitters
Frankincense - something to please the senses
Myrrh - a gift to last through the year

Monday, November 24, 2008

Taken up and taken over

I'm a bit taken up and taken over by my backtack 4 projects. Here's a glimpse of part of my package as evidence (to myself, mainly) that I am doing something...

Backtack 2

The deadline for posting is the end of this week and (like Robert Frost) 'I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep'.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Powerful haberdashery

I've just started reading Rose Tremain's Music and Silence. I'm on a bit of a Rose Tremain binge, having recently finished reading The Road Home for my book group. It was un-put-downable, so I'm hoping to have another reading high.

Music and Silence begins in Copenhagen in 1629 in the court of King Christian IV of Denmark. Very early in the story the narrator tells the tale of the King's birth to Queen Sofie who loved to 'sit in the sunshine and indulge her secret passion for knitting'. The tale continues:

'This activity had been proscribed throughout the land as tending to induce in women an idle trance of mind, in which their proper thoughts would fly away and be replaced by fancy. Men called this state "wool gathering". That the wool itself could be fashioned into useful articles of haberdashery such as stockings or night bonnets made them no less superstitiously afraid of the knitting craze. They believed that any knitted night bonnet might contain among its million stitches the longings of their wives that they could never satisfy and which in consequence would give them nightmares of the darkest kind. The knitted stocking they feared yet more completely as the probable instrument of their own enfeeblement. They imagined their feet becoming swollen and all the muscles of their legs beginning to grow weak'.

I wonder how Rose Tremain generated this digression within her larger tale. Is it a traditional superstition she's unearthed and incorporated as a detail in her novel? or has she invented it? Either way, it fits so smoothly within the fearful beliefs that traditionally developed around women's work and preoccupations that it seems a plausible (though entertaining) embellishment.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Nothing (of my own) to show

I'm very busily crafting (note - not just knitting) to meet the deadline for an international exchange for which I signed up. It's back-tack 4 - the fourth international craft exchange organised by Australian crafters and bloggers sixandahalfstitches and craftapalooza. Yes, it's the fourth time they've organised this exchange - such energy and organisational skills are most admirable.

I'm discovering this swap is quite a challenge. Looking at the outcomes of past swaps, the standard of back-tack achievement is high, so I'm having to give myself all the usual self-talk about the achievement being judged by the care and thought taken rather than the outcome achieved.(hmmm). The theme also is challenging me. This year with Christmas approaching, it is 'gold, frankincense and myrrh'. The gold is interpreted as something glittery; the frankincense as something appealing to the senses of smell or taste; and the myrrh as a gift that indulges your partner. At least one of the objects must be self-made and any craft can be used.

One of the things I particularly like about the swap is that it is a mutual exchange, and that I know and have been in contact with my partner. We have agreed that we will each make something that reflects our own tastes and background, rather than trying to guess each other's tastes. As my partner Anne is from Denmark and makes the most beautiful things, I think this is a great agreement!

So, because Anne is reading my blog, I can't show you what I'm making, even though I've become rather obsessed by my projects. But what I can encourage you to do is look at some of Anne's knitting projects - in particular a wonderful vintage-style cape-cum-cardie in soft grey (see the appeal?), and her recently completed jumper for her husband in an icy blue. OtherAndrew - does this take your fancy?

If you want to see more of Anne's knitting projects and you have access to Ravelry, you can find her as adammandi.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I've finally finished it - my second rendition of the 'Flapper' scarf

Flip flap 1
flip flap 4
'Flapper' scarf by Lynne Barr
from Knitting New Scarves
Yarn: Filatura Di Crosa Zara

I've been working on this, sporadically, for more than two months. It's had outings to the knitting groups I participate in, and many people have now heard me grumble about it. It's not the pattern itself, which I think is wonderful - very innovative with its attached flaps that bring a three-dimensional geometry to the scarf. It's partly the repetition, where the surprise and delight of the first encounter with the project has vanished. But mainly, it's the tedium of all the casting on and the multitudinous weaving in of ends.

flip flap 2

Each attached flap creates two ends to be woven in - a total of a hundred ends! No more. Last time. Never again.

I've made this second scarf for a work colleague whom I like. He admired my green-and-grey scarf that I wore throughout winter and wanted a version of the scarf as a gift for his wife. They're travelling to the Great Lakes area of the USA at Christmas time and the warmth of this scarf (effectively it's double DK texture) will be welcome. He also chose the colours.

I love my own version of this scarf. Almost every time I wore it in winter it was admired - often by complete strangers. When you wear it, the flaps shape and reshape themselves in a way that is reminiscent of fish or reptile scales; overlapping and then moving apart.

flip flap 3

I'm so pleased to have finished this repetition, and hope both my work colleague and his wife will enjoy the scarf.

Friday, November 7, 2008

On knitting, stress and swaps

In today's Sydney Morning Herald there's an article by social commentator, Hugh Mackay, on the value of 'the arts' to society. This is the central argument:

'We talk endlessly about the need for "balance", by which we usually mean the balance between work, family and leisure. But there's another quite magical possibility: balancing the stresses, disappointments and tedium of life with the therapeutic release of tension through some form of regular creative outlet.'

I think this sums up the reason so many knitters value their knitting so highly. I particularly like the notion of the 'therapeutic release of tension'. Knitting is a series of manageable challenges and projects in the chaos of our lives; something we can control when much of the world is beyond our control; a personal satisfaction when other parts of our lives are about 'making do'. Hugh Mackay would argue it promotes well-being and relieves stress.

If you accept this argument, it's remarkable that we introduce possibly stressful deadlines and demands into the world of our knitting. I've just finished the 100 gram Challenge Swap organised by the Australian Knitters group on Ravelry. This required knitting an article from 100 grams of yarn for a swap partner, meanwhile concealing your identity, but trying to discover the partner's preferences and tastes to ensure the article might give them pleasure. Deadlines; possible uncertainty, anxiety and stress.

I made some mitts from Noro Silk Garden Sock yarn, and then a small bag from the remainder of the skein. My swap partner is travelling to New York at the end of the year, so I though both these objects might be of use to her.

Mitts & pouch

I've re-visited Noro stripes - knitting 2 row stripes alternately from the inside and outside of the skein. Noro stripes are not quite as much an obsession for me as garter stitch, but are heading in that direction. For the mitts, I tried to match the cuffs, but then let the stripes for the body of the mitts order themselves as the colours came from the skein.

Mitts 1

The bag was great fun to make. The pattern is the Soft Drawstring Pouch from Joelle Hoverson's Last Minute Knitted Gifts, adapted to accommodate the Noro stripes. It's presented as a 4 to 6 hour project - but if you knit at the pace I do, it takes significantly longer to complete. This simple project has lovely finishing touches - a rolled top knitted on more stitches than the body of the bag to ensure a generously full top, and a tasselled i-cord to draw it closed.

Pouch 2

So, I've completed some knitting projects in a context that would usually bring me stress - deadlines, and uncertainty about whether the recipient would like the gift. But I've not been the slightest bit stressed by the swap. I've enjoyed it. The delight of knitting seems to outweigh the angst of deadlines and uncertainty. And, of course, those of us participating in the swap are doing so for the mutual pleasure of knitting a gift, rather than the satisfaction of some perfectionist acquisitive desire.

To quote Hugh Mackay again:
'Can you think of a better way of fostering a sense of community, promoting mental health and well-being, and reducing the debilitating effects of our competitive, materialistic way of life?'

Friday, October 31, 2008

Daggy crafts

From time to time, knitters complain that their craft suffers from an image problem - that knitting is wrongly described as un-cool, old-fashioned, 'nana-ish' (a term I hate, but will save my critique for another entry), or, to use a wonderful old Australian term, daggy.

But in comparison with another crafting passion from my past - decoupage - knitting's image problem is negligible. I was a very committed decoupeur for many years, but I usually avoided telling people about my crafting passion, and was often embarrassed or defensive if others discovered this madness that filled my spare moments. I've recently started some decoupage again, in response to a special request from a friend, and I've been newly overwhelmed by the pleasure I get from this rather obsessive and extremely finicky craft.

I love the designing stage, when you have to play with any idea you have to accommodate it to the shape you are decorating. I enjoy the quest for the perfect found or created object to decorate. Of course I love choosing colours and searching for and choosing appropriate paper images. I like the care I need to take to cut-out the images (though this is sometimes frustrating as well) and the make-or-break moment when the images are glued to the prepared object. But what I most love is the weeks of finishing; coat after coat of fine varnish, sanded periodically, so that the images sink beneath the glowing surface.

I've kept very few of the things I've made; only a couple with which I was particularly pleased. One is a small trifold screen (80 x 48cm) which I labelled 'After Fornasetti'. The black and white architectural design on one side is clearly influenced by the Italian designer, Fornasetti, and the other side is a traditional patchwork design in black and gold papers.

Screen 1

Screen 2

Screen 3

I use the screen to hide some unsightly but necessary clutter that lives on top of a cupboard in one of the bedrooms.

The other object I've kept is the 'Barcelona' box. I found the box itself on sale in a gift shop in Manila, and after painting it, decorated it with a combination of pastel-coloured images of famous Barcelona Modernist buildings, and tiny scraps of paper used to imitate Gaudi mosaics - I had long been fascinated by the Gaudi mosaics in Parque Guell in Barcelona.



The dimensions of the 'Barcelona' box are 19 x 5cm. It's an absolutely useless object, and mostly lives in a storage box. However, having unwrapped it to take these photos I'm newly delighted by it, so I'll put it somewhere I can see it from time to time.

I think I'm deeply satisfied by both knitting and decoupage because they share the quality of making something beautiful from everyday materials, and because they both pose the challenge of being creative within well-established conventions and with repetitious skills.

So, there you are. I'm a practitioner of not only one daggy craft, but two! Deeply un-cool.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Old woollies 4

I have a jacket that was made for me by my old friend, Erika Semler. It must have been made around 1978 or so - there are photographs of me wearing it in 1980.

Erika 3

Erika wove the fabric for the jacket - a rich combination of reds and purples. She also spun and dyed some of the yarns used within it, and designed and sewed the jacket.

Erika 2

It's a simple shape that I love. Depending on my size and the fashion of the time, I've worn it clasped together with a brooch, or freely hanging. I think it was my first venture into asymmetry, as each of the front sides is differently coloured - one more purple; the other reddish. It's been much loved, and the lining is now tattered and needs replacing.

Erika 1

I value the jacket greatly.

Erika Semler is an important figure in weaving in Australia, and crafting more generally. She trained as a Master Weaver in Germany and, as Erika Gretschel, emigrated to Australia to establish the professional weaving workshop at the Sturt Workshop in Mittagong in 1951. For most of her life Erika has taught weaving to generations of Australian weavers - most Australian weavers would have been influenced by Erika either directly, or through their teachers. Some of her work is held by the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. She has done much to be treasured.

Erika has the kind of pragmatic attitude to her craft that I imagine Elizabeth Zimmermann has. Nothing is impossible. She believes that craft, art and music are not for the select few, but within everybody's capabilities and vital for their full development. She cared for and valued the environment long before 'green' issues were broadly accepted, and experimented with using dyes derived from Australian plants to reflect nature in her work. She is an avid and adventurous traveller and has collected textiles from many corners of the world.

Now well into her 80s she is still active - attending exhibitions and concerts, caring for her house and garden in the Blue Mountains, turning out for bushfire prevention training, and continuing to extend her endless hospitality.

There is a beautiful photograph of Erika on page 12 of this photo essay

Friday, October 17, 2008

I'm addicted to...knitting books!

I wrote a couple of months ago about my addiction to crime fiction - an addiction I'm now aware is shared by quite a few of my fellow-knitters. At the time I wrote that my main motivation in reading crime fiction was escapism, and I think I'm having to face up to the fact that some of my other choices of reading matter stem from the same motive.

I've long loved decorating magazines - an odd obsession for someone as chronically untidy as I am. But I've come to the conclusion that it's precisely because I am so incapable of maintaining order in my surroundings that I love decorating magazines. (A particular obsession for many years has been a UK magazine World of Interiors) These magazines provide me with images of an ordered world - or at least an artfully cluttered one - and give me an illusory hope that one day I'll inhabit a more ordered and elegant life.

More recently, with my re-entry to the world of knitting, I find myself purchasing knitting books, and obsessing over new publications. The most recent case-in-point is Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne's Mason-Dixon Knitting Outside the Lines

Mason-dixon 2

Like so many people I greatly enjoy the Mason-Dixon Knitting blog, and admire and envy the way that Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne create images of lives where knitting is (usually happily) integrated with family, work, and other creative and artistic endeavours. Their books distill these images even further. They are fun and outrageous, while remaining practical and everyday. I was one of those children who always needed to colour 'inside the lines', a characteristic I've carried over to most of my adult craft activities, and now my knitting. I love ringing the variations within a defined shape, rather than colouring 'outside the lines'.

The Mason-Dixon women and their books enable me to glimpse for a moment another kind of world that I have fantasies I'd like to inhabit, but never will. On reflection, apart from purchases where I've had a specific need for a particular pattern, most of my knitting book purchases have come from an escapist desire to be part - even for the odd half hour or so - of the life evoked by the projects and their settings. Elizabeth Zimmermann's books, with their practical energy I could never emulate, particularly affect me this way.

But Outside the Lines also has some projects I'm very keen to attempt - showing they are practical as well enviable. I don't only want to aspire to the Mason-Dixon world, I want to bring a little bit (a manageable bit) of their world into mine.

I'm planning to make the Jane Austen Dress for the dotee,

mason-dixon 1

and I love the ordered chaos of the Kiki Mariko Rug

mason-dixon 3

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Sydney as cliche

Sometimes Sydney is so beautiful that it becomes all the tourist literature cliches.

This afternoon - a sunny, warm Spring afternoon - I went to an opera at the Sydney Opera House. I caught the train, and the short walk from the station to the Opera House gradually revealed the Sydney icons.

The bridge viewed through the wharves and ferries of Circular Quay

Circular Quay

and the Opera House itself

Opera House 1
Opera House 2

This short walk always causes a surge of delight when, going about my 'everyday' life, I can experience something so beautiful that other people travel to experience that same beauty. This delight never seems to wear off. I feel very privileged.

And the opera was wonderful - a performance of Leos Janacek's 1926 opera, The Makropulos Secret . It was a revival of a production directed by Neil Armfield, one of the best (the best?) theatre directors in Australia. It opens in 1924 Prague in a lawyer's office that immediately calls to mind both Kafka and Dickens' Bleak House, but by the end the story anticipates something more like the magical realism of One Hundred Years of Solitude. Cheryl Barker in the central role of Emilia Marty / Elina Makropulos is compelling, suitably glamorous, strong, and ultimately tragic (though the opera has moments of comedy and might even be described as ironic).

Friday, October 10, 2008

What's left to say?

I've just finished knitting an EZ's Surplice Baby Jacket as a gift for a young friend who's recently had a baby boy - Alexander.

EZ surplice 2

It's such a natty design - the applied i-cord that neatly edges the neck opening; the so-practical adjustable buttoning at the waist where the button-holes continue around the bottom edge as a decorative feature; the ribbing added to the sleeves to cosy the jacket. But of course what I really love is the regularity of garter stitch, the boxiness of the shape and the way the stripes form such neat shapes. So satisfying.

EZ surplice 1

So much has now been said and written about Elizabeth Zimmermann. But I find it interesting that I've only recently discovered her, despite being an occasional knitter, and generally interested in fibre crafts through the 1960s and 70s. I suspect Elizabeth Zimmermann was not widely known because of the vagaries and restrictions of publishing and book exporting to Australia. It's only relatively recently that books and publications from the USA have been freely available in Australia, and of course the internet and on-line shopping have rapidly globalised knitting contacts and knowledge.

I bought my first Elizabeth Zimmermann book last year - The Opinionated Knitter - because I wanted to knit a Baby Surprise Jacket, my first excursion into Zimmermania. It's such an attractive book, and it's so appropriate that it is square. The seductively beautiful photographs feature members of EZ's family, which enhances the book's folksy charm and makes the patterns seem more possible and accessible. These characteristics are further developed by the reproduction of the obviously type-written Newsletters and sketched diagrams.

I fell in love with the book, and was captivated by the EZ character. I would probably never make many of the garments or accessories. On the whole, I'm not interested in making or wearing traditional shetland jumpers or yoked fair-isle garments. I think what I most admire is the practical, 'let's make it happen' attitude that underpins all her work and writing. She's not pretentious, though she is opinionated, and I like that combination.

And of course I love her love of garter stitch and the way she exploits and features its mathematical precision. Having already made the Baby Surprise Jacket (twice) and a February Baby Sweater, it's been fun to add the Surplice to my EZ repertoire.

EZ surplice 3
EZ's Baby Surplice Jacket
Vogue Knitting Spring/Summer 2007
Filatura di Crosa Zara

Saturday, October 4, 2008

I panicked unnecessarily

They've painted the watertower that's the view from my living room window - but they've (fortunately) painted it slate grey. The lemon cream colour that panicked me so much seems to have been an undercoat. The struts that support the watertower are still lemon cream, but I'm hopeful they also will eventually be grey.

watertower Oct

The beautifully textured rusted surface has gone, but maybe the new paint will protect the surface so I can continue to enjoy my view.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

An interruption to the schedule

Last night's meeting of my film group was cancelled.

The film group of which I'm a part has been meeting on the last Monday evening of each month for more than ten years - I've lost count of the exact amount of time. In all that time this is only the second occasion that I can remember a meeting being cancelled, so you can understand why I feel a bit disconcerted.

The film group is a bit like a book group. Each month we choose two or three current release films we think might be interesting to see, we see them individually, or occasionally two or three of the group might go to the film together, and then we meet to discuss them. We rotate the meetings among us, although more recently they tend to be held where some members of the group find it easiest to attend, and whoever is host provides simple snacks and wine.

Even though some group members are well-informed about film, and all of us are deeply interested, the meetings are very casual, unstructured, and permissive of personal reminiscence and free association. Absolutely unthreatening.

When the group started, I was friendly with only one of the other group members. But over time, these women (for they are all women) have become one of the fixed elements of my life. No-one probes or intrudes, but we've now shared many changes in our lives. Originally we had eight regular members - though 'regular' needs qualification. Most of the members travel frequently, so 'regular' means they attend if they're in Sydney. For all this time there's also been another irregular, intermittent attender who comes only once or twice a year - we're an accepting lot. We've had one death, and one member left discretely after a deep political disagreement. So we now have only six of us. We're so used to each other that every time a suggestion is made to boost our numbers we become distinctly uncomfortable and do nothing.

But I suspect having to cancel last night's meeting because only two of us were available might prompt us to action. We'll see.

So I stayed home and watched TV and knitted. Despite the several projects I have partly completed, and my resolution to complete them, I've started a new project. I'm knitting a gift for a friend's newly arrived baby. The baby is large, and warm weather is coming, so finishing the jacket is imperative (that's the rationalisation!)

EZ's surplice
EZ's Baby Surplice Jacket
Elizabeth Zimmermann
Vogue Knitting, Spring/Summer 2007
Yarn: Filatura di Crosa Zara

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I'm a city person, but...

I'm very much a city person. I love the busyness, the diversity, the unpredictability and the anonymity of big cities. But...I grew up in a small country town - Grenfell, in central west NSW - and I spent the first couple of years of my working life teaching in Narrandera in the Riverina area of NSW. There is something about the landscapes of inland NSW that has entered my soul; I have a sense of belonging when I'm surrounded by the airy spaciousness of the Australian countryside.

So, on my recent trip to Lennox Head on the far north coast of NSW I decided to drive by the longer, inland road. For me, the coast doesn't count as 'country'. It's too green, and too close to the edge of the continent to feel like home. On AliMachenMachen's advice I drove to Armidale (where I spent the night) via Gloucester and Walcha. Wonderful. You emerge from the forests of the slopes of the Great Dividing Range - majestic and enclosing - to the vistas of the highlands.


Judith Wright's poem South of my Days is so apt

South of my days' circle, part of my blood's country
rises that tableland, high delicate outline
of bony slopes wincing under the winter,
low trees, blue-leaved and olive, outcropping granite-
clean, lean, hungry country.

I wasn't too distracted by the landscape to visit the Wool Room in Uralla. The person tending the shop, who I assumed was the owner, was apologetic that her stock had run low at the end of winter. There was wonderful classic-styled clothing made of wool and other woolly fibres, as well as some felted hats and bags in gorgeous colours that had been made by the woman serving me. And yes, I did buy some wool - thick and thin machine-spun DK masquerading as hand-spun, but beautifully hand-dyed in foresty shades of green and brown.

I drove from Armidale to Tenterfield (with the Peter Allen soundtrack echoing in my head) and then plunged down through the forest and the green once-dairy country to the coast. Somehow the lush paddocks that even in my memory were populated by dairy cows seem sad to me. I'm sure it's better for the environment that the cows have gone, but I feel sad for the generations of families who endured the drudgery that was smallhold dairy farming only to have that whole way of life disappear.

My week in Lennox Head passed so quickly. I caught up with old friends, some of whom I have known for all my adult life, talked, read, went out for breakfast (and lunch), visited wonderful farmers' markets and (occasionally) went for walks. Even though it doesn't count as 'country' in my judgment, Lennox Head is undeniably beautiful. There is, of course, the beach which extends for kilometers, and at this time of the year is almost deserted.

Beach 2

On this visit I also discovered the heathland that must have existed before the town was built and is now being monitored and where necessary regenerated by volunteer weeders and land-carers. I had an acute sense of the vulnerability of the heath - not grand enough to be valued by many and seemingly ripe for 'development', and also subject to the rapaciousness of introduced plants and animals, and the capriciousness of fire. We followed the fire paths through the heath,


found a secluded pond, formed within a disused quarry


and wondered at the diversity and curiousness of the plants - the banksias


the flourishing grass trees,

Grass trees

the disintegrating grass trees (perhaps even more wondrous),

grass tree

and the last of the spring wildflowers.

Heath flowers 2
Heath flowers

Did I knit? Well, a bit of progress on both my kimono jacket and flapper scarf, but not as much as I had hoped. I think I might have to face the dreadful truth that when I'm not constrained by time and being busy, I'm lazy - even about something I enjoy as much as my knitting. Perhaps another reason for staying in the city.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A bit of a lull

I'm having a bit of a lull with my knitting. My much-delayed birthday gift socks have been finished and given to my friend

Rust socks 8
Retro-Rib socks by Evelyn C Clark from 'Favorite Socks'
Araucania Ranco sock yarn
Background: Meo applique textile (Thailand)

I've started work on a new version of an old project - a repetition in different colours of the Flapper scarf that I've loved wearing this winter. It was requested by a work colleague as a gift for his wife. I was flattered he liked my scarf so much that he wanted a similar one, and charmed that he thought it would make a good gift, but I'd forgotten just how repetitious this pattern is. This time I'm disciplining myself to sew in the ends as I go, and I'm doing some work on it each day to ensure it's completed. But unfortunately, this project no longer has the excitement that comes from not quite being able to anticipate the outcome.

Flapper by Lynne Barr from 'Knitting New Scarves'
Filatura di Crosa Zara yarn
Background: Iban hand-woven textile from Sarawak, Malaysia

I'm making firm resolutions to myself (even though I don't have a very good track record with keeping them) to return to the kimono style jacket I started earlier this year. Except that I became distracted by other projects, I'm not sure why I stopped knitting this; I still like the pattern, I love the yarn, the colour is perfect and I know I will wear it when it's finished - at least I'll wear it the next time it's cold enough, once it's finished. So, let's hope a public declaration of my resolution leads to completion.

kimono 2kimono close-up
Indigo Noragi by Vicki Square from 'Knit Kimono'
The Knittery Wool / Silk 8 ply
Background: Tingguian hand-woven textile, Abra, the Philippines

So what am I really wanting to knit? Garter stitch squares - it almost goes without saying. I've started a cotton blanket for the dotee - my grand-daughter. She's away in Cuba and Mexico till Christmas time, so this project has no urgency, but I just love messing around with garter stitch and stripes and squares. I might even do some mitres and log cabin-ing. I can knit this in bits and pieces, fits and starts, it has the pleasure of variety within fixed limits, and I can make it up as I go along.

Bluey 2
No pattern
Mission Falls 1824 cotton
Background: Vietnamese indigo-dyed fabric