Monday, July 28, 2008

Done! Fini!

To my own astonishment, I assailed my knitting mountain, Montparnasse, and conquered it well within my own personal best time, and even within the time allotted by the officials of the Tour de France KAL. Like most of the riders in the Tour de France when asked how they feel now the race is over, my first response is 'relieved'. But on reflection, even if I have to say it myself, c'est magnifique...not necessarily the outcome, but the fact I achieved it.

I've commented previously that there is always a tension for me between choosing a knitting pattern that provides an interesting challenge, and choosing one where I like the styling. I love the texture provided by good yarns, and don't often want to add lots of additional texture through elaborate patterning. Montparnasse is a knit where the overall styling is much more central than knitting complexity. It treats the (seeming) hectares of stocking stitch as if they were fabric, and only takes advantage of peculiarly knitting features through the reverse stocking stitch detailing on the collar, and the welted seams. By the way, welted seams really do make a virtue of necessity - all that seaming you usually try to make invisible becomes a decorative feature!

I finished despite lots of pleasurable distractions from my knitting in the last few days. My grand-daughter (who Emily has dubbed 'the dotee' - a most useful new word) and her parents have been staying with me before leaving today for five months in Cuba and Mexico. I'll have to do my doting from a distance via e-mail and photos and start knitting for next winter when she'll be back in Australia.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Reviewing my strategy

Hmmm...I've been having some doubts about the accuracy of the Montparnasse pattern - my Tour de France KAL - but generally being the kind of person who follows recipes, reads instruction books, and uses maps and telephone directories, I decided to try to follow the pattern until I had proof it wasn't working. I should have found it strange that despite the pattern offering a range of sizes for the girth of the jacket, it offered instructions for only one length. Eventually I did pin the pieces together and found that while it fitted around me (rather miraculous), it was a bit short. So, I unravelled the cast-off and knitted an extra 5cm on the fronts and back. Fortunately, this was relatively straight-forward in this simple design with hectares of stocking stitch, and I'm now back knitting my final sleeve. Once that's done I have lots of sewing up and the rather large challenge of the collar.

So, this is my mountain of knitting, fittingly assembled while the TdF participants are cycling over the green slopes of the French Alps

Maybe I might just scramble over the finishing line by Sunday as le Tour enters Paris and nears Montparnasse.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Detour via Brisbane

I spent the weekend in Brisbane and, of course, I packed my Tour de France KAL project, Montparnasse. But what I forgot to pack were any additional skeins of yarn. So, most frustratingly, I finished the few rows that took me to the end of the skein and then my half-completed jacket languished for the rest of the weekend. This is what it looks like - about two thirds of the back finished in addition to the fronts and one sleeve already done.

If I were feeling more cheerful about this, I guess I could draw some comparison between the state of the 'real' Tour de France, where the leaders' board has remained unchanged for the last few stages and my knitting. But the cyclists have at least covered some terrain, while I'm still in the same place. I feel I've drifted to the back of the peleton, if not to the autobus (the group of riders usually marshaled by Robbie McEwan to ensure they finish the stage just within the time limit). So I, along with the riders, will face significant challenges over the mountain stages of the next few days.

Despite the knitting fiasco, I enjoyed my visit to Brisbane, spending most of my time with my doted-upon grand-daughter. Lots of occasions for knitting modelling as she wore her BSJ and matching hat when we went to dinner one evening, and then her February Baby Sweater when we visited the Picasso Exhibition. The FBS is perfect for the Brisbane winter climate.

The exhibition '
Picasso and his Collection' at the Queensland Art Gallery is wonderful. As the title indicate, it displays paintings, drawings, prints and objects from Picasso's own collection. One of the themes is the influences upon his work - of 'primitive' painters from the seventeenth century as well as the almost naive works of Rousseau; of Renoir; and of the art of the Pacific region and French Africa. But I was almost more interested in noting the works Picasso acquired over many years through swaps with fellow artists - not only was he a most assiduous and innovative artist, but he clearly had an eye for an advantageous acquisition. I was amazed by some of Picasso's own works in the exhibition that were done at the end of his life - a series of erotic drawings and an assertive possible self-portrait that demonstrated that at 90 he was still extraordinarily forceful and expressive. Great to have the opportunity to see such a well-curated exhibition.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The art of matching

Do you notice anything?

They're both green and they're both cabled - but one is the elegant Koolhaas hat I received from Sonia, and the other is the Serpentine mittens I made for my swap partner. There must be something in the knitting zeitgeist that caused us both to choose so similarly.

Sonia also made me a case for my specs in the same cabled pattern and yarn as the hat. This set me off thinking about the whole notion of 'matching'. I grew up under the influence of the Woman's Weekly - the bible in 50s Australia about what was appropriate for the modern woman. There was endless detailed information about how to dress - with particularly strict rules about matching - your gloves had to match your hat, and your shoes had to match your handbag. This was non-negotiable. I remember hours of agonising about whether shades of red (or any other colour) were identical, because the colour match had to be exact. On the positive side, this has left me with a good colour memory; on the negative side it has ill-equipped me for a world in which flouting the rules for what goes with what is now much more highly valued than 'matching'. I catch myself being careful not to seem too 'try-hard'! I still find it almost impossible to ignore the old dictums - deep inside me the Women's Weekly rules still echo - but what I now find myself doing is checking that things don't match too much - that the reds clash slightly, that I can wear bright pink with yellow (at least in summer) and that even the shades of grey don't match.

And how's this? I just read Brock Clark's An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England, an off-beat new American novel where I noted this: 'She was wearing a red jacket and a red scarf and red gloves and a red ski hat, all obviously part of a matching set. And this will go in my guide: if you want to appear menacing, then don't wear a matching set'.

I don't want to give up the possibility of being menacing, so I'll just have to work harder at the non-matching. (Sonia, I'll keep my specs case in my handbag, so no-one except me can see it matches and it can be a secret pleasure!)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

W(h)ipping right along

As I mentioned in a previous entry, I've signed up for the Tour de France KAL. For me, knitting and the Tour de France seemed like a marriage made in heaven. Over the last few years I've become addicted to following Le Tour. My addiction has grown with increasing participation by Australian cyclists in Le Tour and the consequent expansion of free-to-air coverage of the event by SBS television in Australia. What better than to combine knitting with all those hours watching cyclists in the French countryside?

For the purpose of the KAL you need to sign up for one of the categories of the real Tour de France competition, so I signed up for the yellow jersey. This is the category in the cycling tour that rewards the overall winner; the rider who has most consistently done well over the three weeks of the race. I don't really see myself in this category, as I'm neither a fast nor adventurous knitter. But what I've realised from years of watching Le Tour is that the winner, and indeed all the 'name' competitors, succeed only because of their team - all the 'domestiques' and 'super-domestiques' who enable the achievements of the best participants to shine. I've found my role in life - or at least this KAL -I'm a domestique.

I'm knitting Montparnasse, a very simple, drapey jacket. As always, I've had to make a choice between something simple I know I will wear, or a more challenging and interesting knitting project that might not end in something I'd feel comfortable wearing. I've chosen simplicity, and am now facing the challenge of vast areas of stocking stitch. But I've discovered it was a good choice. Here on the east coast of Australia the live coverage of the Tour de France finishes each day at about 1.30am. Towards the end of the first week of the Tour, combining work with Tour-de-Francing (a term I heard one of the commentators, Phil Liggett, use last night) resulted in my knitting and viewing in a haze of tiredness. I doubt I could rise above the simple.

Am I w(h)ipping right along? I started well, but had a couple of bad stages around days 5 and 6 (see above). Yesterday I returned to form and had a turn of speed. I've now finished the two fronts, one sleeve and have begun the back of Montparnasse.

I'm knitting the jacket from Jo Sharp Silkroad Aran Tweed - a 10ply (worsted) wool / silk mix that is very comfortable to knit with. I'm not sure now I've started that it is the ideal yarn for this pattern, as I think the Montparnasse was designed for something with more drape. But overall, though it might be somewhat different from the original concept, I think it will be fine. I love the mossy colour. It doesn't button, and will need a fastening, so that's a pleasurable problem to contemplate. I have a dragonfly brooch I've had for many years (made by my friend and neighbour Robyn Gordon) that will be fine, but I also like to have an excuse to justify buying something new.

So, I'm gearing up for another week of viewing and knitting. I wish myself bonne chance.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Old woollies

I was chatting to my knitting friend Emily-the-car and mentioned that I still had a shawl that my mother had knitted for me to wear for my 21st birthday party in 1965. Emily encouraged me to wear it, and so on Thursday I swished it around my shoulders on a suitably cold day and wore it to work and to the Tapestry Craft SnB. It's quite large (200cm x 60cm) and made from some probably popular-at-the-time synthetic yarn that is warm, soft, clearly moth-proof and otherwise indestructible. I'm not expert enough to diagnose the stitch pattern, but it drapes beautifully and was a delight to wear. It was originally white, de rigeur for evening wear at the time, but at some stage I dyed it a clear, bright red.

It's reawakened a flood of memories, and the hope that I told my mother from time to time just how much I appreciated the knitting she did for me at various stages of my life and hers. Her knitting was a taken-for-granted part of our relationship.

As a child, all my jumpers, cardigans, winter hats and gloves were knitted - either specifically for me or as hand-me-downs from my cousin. Almost all these articles were knitted from recycled wool (the term 'yarn' was never used) that had often already been previously recycled. This was not unusual for someone growing up in a not too affluent Australian country town in the 50s. I also remember lots of stripes, and garments with contrasting yokes or sleeves, to make the most of the available wool.

Later, as the more affluent 60s arrived and I was a young adult, the knitted articles became more 'special occasion' and the yarn more diverse. I also began to knit for myself, and later my mother and I both knitted for my small children. These are wonderful memories that have been revived. I'm intending to hunt through my stored clothes and photos for evidence of this continuity of knitting in my life and blog about it from time to time.

A wonderful indulgence of memories.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


I'm rather surprised by my own actions. When I started knitting again, just over a year ago, it was meant to be a quiet distraction. But I find my knitting has become a constant activity and focus of attention and that I even find myself creating deadlines and pressure to complete projects.

I have an approach / avoidance relationship with deadlines. I admire people who recognise that a good outcome for a project is best achieved by dividing the time available to complete the project by the amount of work that it needs for completion, and then neatly parceling out time and effort across the life of the project. I've never managed to do this. I find creative ways of avoiding the project until some inner voice warns me that the time has almost expired, and the task can be just scrambled through if I finally start on it.

I hadn't anticipated carrying this behaviour over into a task undertaken entirely for pleasure - my knitting. I have some mittens that I need to complete for the Aussie Swap #3, and I've just started a Montparnasse jacket for the Tour de France Knit-Along. Deadlines. Finishing points. And what am I doing? Knitting squares for Wrap With Love, an independent Australian charity that creates rugs from knitted squares and makes them available to local and international crises and causes.

This is rather odd behaviour on my part. I don't usually participate in knitting for charities. In many circumstances I think the recipient of the knitting would probably prefer clothing or blankets made from the latest, more fashionable, and probably easier-to-care-for designs and materials. Donating money is probably more practical,flexible and useful. However, in this particular case a group of people from my workplace meets regularly to knit and sew squares together for this charity, and I enjoy the sociability of a task shared with work colleagues. But more than this is the lure, for me, of garter stitch. I've so enjoyed making these 25 x 25 cm squares. All the squares I've made have incorporated a small or large amount of a intense mid-blue - what in the 1950s was oh-so-fashionable ming blue. Some of the squares are based on or significantly derived from projects in the Mason-Dixon blog. And I've been playing around with mitres and stripes, and combinations of the two. Great fun. I'll probably make more...and more...

Friday, July 4, 2008

It's come to this...

It's come to this...blogging. I feel somewhat self-conscious. I'm starting this enterprise with no clear idea of the content or style that will evolve. I know I don't want the tone to be too confessional, or too starchy and unapproachable, and I don't want the content of the blog to intrude too much on the lives of my friends or family, but I'm not sure what I do want this blog to be and do.

I've come to blogging through my rediscovery of knitting, and I know knitting will be at the centre of my blog. My Ravelry notebook enables me to store information about the stages, tools and outcomes of my knitting, but it doesn't easily allow me to express my emotions - my doubts, triumphs, concerns - in relation to my knitting. Also, in Ravelry I can't explore the context in which my knitting happens; how it fits around work and into my relationships. I'm hoping the blog will give me space to reflect on these matters.

Inevitably, I imagine I'll also want to mention and try to sort out my thoughts about the other things that happen and are important to me - family, friends, books, theatre and films, travel. I'll see where it all leads.