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

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Old woollies 3

My old woollies are becoming my version of Proust's madeleine - a sensation, or in my case an old woolly, that involuntarily releases a flood of memories and associations.

Red hat

I bought this red hat on my first visit to Paris at the end of 1974. I'd recently married and we spent about six weeks travelling in Europe. We had very little money, and even then Paris was expensive. I think this hat, which I bought at a street market, was the only thing I was able to afford. It's certainly the only memento I have of the trip.

Unlike Proust, my memories are remarkably few. I've visited Paris a number of times over the years and it's difficult for me to sort out which memories are from when. I do remember where we stayed - a cheap Left Bank hotel called Hotel Saint Andre des Arts. I've googled it, and the photographs of it are still much as I remember it, though I've noted it now mentions 'bathrooms', which would have been an unthinkable luxury at the time we stayed there. I remember our breakfasts of cafe au lait and baguettes in the window overlooking the street; the window sill lined with pots of scarlet hippeastrums.

We were only a couple of blocks from the market at Rue du Buci where we bought bread and cheese and meats for our lunches and marvelled at the varieties of fruits and vegetables that weren't then readily available in Sydney. I also remember the delights of the menu fixe, with its three courses of tantalising food and a glass of wine for a price that was manageable on even our small budget.

Otherwise? I remember the overwhelming beauty of the Sainte Chapelle, with its unbelievably delicate but soaring stained glass windows - I think I've visited the Sainte Chapelle on every subsequent visit to Paris, and I marvel at it every time. I also remember being immensely moved by a cello performance in the vast square spaces of the Saint Sulpice.

I still have my hat - in its indestructible acrylic yarn. I don't think it has any particular Parisian elegance, but it has prompted some reflections on what I then saw as a very elegant Paris.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Knitting without deadlines

I currently have no knitting deadlines...or at least the deadlines are still so far away (like Christmas) that I don't yet have a sense of urgency. I had my swap item deadline; my Tour de France KAL deadline; and my gift scarves deadlines. All expired. All past. So, I've returned to some socks I was knitting. These socks missed their birthday gift deadline, which was in June. Shame.

Red socks

They're the Retro Rib Socks by Evelyn A. Clark, now in Favorite Socks, but originally published in the Winter 2004 issue of Interweave Knits. As suggested by the name, they have a nerdish retro quality about them; a fussy, repetitive, regular pattern. Very neat. The yarn is Araucania Ranco in a deep rust-red with some variegation. I'm a bit nervous about the possibility of this wool's felting, but I'm enjoying the pattern, the colour and the texture and if they felt, so be it! I'm still planning to give them to the friend whose birthday they missed, as she spends long hours in her concrete-floored workshop, and they'll be warm and cushiony - even if they do felt.

I'm delighted by the nifty needle holder in the photograph. It's two cylinders that fit one inside the other - each with a slit along one side. The needles are encased within the cylinders, and the sock-in-progress emerges from the slits fitted one over the other. Miss Fee found them somewhere on the web and supplied me with them - I love using them. No more fossicking for lost dpns down the side of the sofa cushions.

The fabric under the socks is a hand-woven ikat from West Timor - a gift from a good friend about 30 years ago. I've used it as a shawl, a scarf and table runner from time to time, and over the years the natural dyes have faded from bright red to dull rust. Ikats are so beautiful.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Look what they've done!

I discovered what the cherry-picker was doing outside my window...

painted watertower

It's been painting the watertower...my watertower that is the view from my living-room window...and painting it lemon-cream!

I'm gobsmacked. The watertower no longer has a practical use. It hasn't had for decades. Its only purpose is to remind the commuting Sydney-siders of the time when the Eveleigh workshops built the steam trains that contributed to the industrial growth and wealth of New South Wales. Its textured rusty surfaces and severely constructed iron struts belonged to our industrial heritage.

So why paint it lemon-cream? This is clearly not a passing whim. Someone had to decide to pay the not inconsiderable sum it would cost to hire the cherry-picker and employ the painters. This is wanton tidiness!

I know I have to find out who is responsible and complain. But it's too late. My beautiful rusted watertower is now a clean lemon-yellow puzzling structure.

I feel very grumpy!