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?'