Thursday, December 31, 2009

Our place

Earlier this week we made an overnight visit to Canberra. The reasons were straight-forward. My son-in-law had never seen the capital of what is now his country of residence, and I wanted to visit my brother and his family. My brother and I have an untroubled relationship, but neither of us is good at organising to see the other. A visit was long overdue.

As always, Canberra seemed to me a city of contradictions and compromises. As all Australian schoolchildren know (and as anyone who tours Parliament House (as we did) learns), Canberra's location results from an attempt to assuage the rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne. All state capitals in Australia are seaboard cities - looking outwards to the rest of the world from where all of us, other than indigenous Australians, arrived. Canberra is resolutely land-locked in the most Australian of landscapes. Rolling hills, paddocks, gum trees - even kangaroos - not only surround the city but are interspersed between the devolved centres of development. And yet, until recently, most people in Canberra came to Canberra from elsewhere. It's a recent creation and very much the result of internal migration.

Canberra is a city of public institutions and the grand buildings that house them. But it's also an informal city that allows visitors easy access to its grandeur. It seems to regard its institutions as belonging to all of us and encourages us to participate.

This was really evident in our visit to Parliament House.

Parliament House
[I have a remarkable ability in my photographs to make spaces that in reality are teeming with people, appear to be completely deserted]

You need to go through security checking of your bags and person to enter, but once inside the grandeur of the building is balanced by groups of people informally chatting and wandering and exclaiming. The large spaces seem to encourage the children to run and play and have fun. I particularly liked the sight of groups of children rolling with great hilarity down the grassy slopes that form the roof of Parliament House.

We had a brief moment when we thought we might see the current visiting exhibition at the National Gallery. But the extraordinary length of the queues, and the presence of my small grand-daughter meant we reconsidered our options. Nevertheless, it was heartening to see so many people of all ages, dressed in their thongs and sandals, shorts and t-shirts, interested in the exhibition.

We made the sensible and enjoyable decision to spend most of out visit in the National Gallery's Sculpture Garden - which is really just a part of the publicly accessible grounds surrounding the Gallery. These wonderful sculptures can become part of people's daily walk or cycling routine.

Sculpture Garden 1
[Robert Stackhouse (1984) 'On the Beach Again'. I particularly like the way the shadows make it look as if the boat is floating on water]

Sculpture Garden 3
[Bert Flugelman (1982) 'Cones']

Sculpture Garden 2
[Dadang Christanto (2004) 'Heads from the North'. I love this work. Christanto is an Indonesian artist, now living in Darwin. Like all good art this piece has relevance well beyond the context in which it was originally created and is poignant as we hear almost daily of asylum seekers from the north.]

So, we enjoyed our visit to Canberra with its grandeur and informality, its rural location and its centrality to Australian life, and its general sense of a nation in formation. When we visited my brother, the dotee decided to describe all her newly encountered relatives as 'my people'. In the same spirit of affectionate appropriation, I'll regard Canberra as 'our place'.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Double pleasure

Christmas angel

This Christmas I knitted some gifts. I didn't really plan to do it - it just kind of evolved. So there was no pressure about it, and, as it turned out, a great deal of pleasure. Despite Germaine Greer's warnings about the perils of 'homemade' gifts, my knitting seemed to be much appreciated by the recipients. Admittedly, they were family members whose tastes I know well, and a lot of thought went into choosing colours and appropriate styles.

I knitted a small blanket for the small dotee - my grand-daughter.

Ana Maria's blanket

It's made from Noro Taiyo yarn in a particularly riotous colour-way. The Taiyo is primarily a cotton and silk mix. As it has none of the prickliness of some of the Noro yarns and it is comfortable for a blanket. I washed and blocked it before giving it away and was delighted by how well it washed. The pattern is Frankie Brown's Ten Stitch Blanket (ravlink). Garter stitch forever! Great fun to make.

Blanket edge

I just knitted till I ran out of yarn - so that there is an irregular edge on one side. This was one of the options suggested by the designer and it appealed to my liking for things with neat irregularities. I've since realised that it has the added advantage that I can add to the size of the blanket as the dotee grows (as long as I can find extra yarn).

I also knitted Ysolda Yeague's Rose Red tam from Malabrigo Silky Merino for my daughter.

beret 2

Apart from the fact that 40cm circular needles are very uncomfortable to knit with if you have arthritic hands, this has to be a perfect pattern to knit. It's clearly written and charted, with enough variety to keep you interested but not so much you can't find your place easily if you've had to put it down. I think it's the first thing I've ever knitted that I can say is completely error-free.


The tam fits my daughter perfectly, and the colour, 'Rupestre', a deep, glowing purpley-rose, is ideal.

I've already posted about the third gift - a scarf for my son-in-law who thinks a scarf is the most useful piece of clothing ever for cooler weather.

What more can you ask from gifts? They have given me great pleasure to make, and seem to have brought pleasure to those who received them. Double pleasure.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Even when your office is on the 27th floor, the view from the window is sometimes surprising.

blimp 1

The logo on the side of the blimp informed us that its purpose was aerial photography. Despite the haziness of my pictures (partly Sydney summer heat haze; mostly the grime on our windows) yesterday was a beautiful clear day in Sydney so they should have taken some great photos.

I don't know how such things work, but I was hoping the photography was remotely controlled and that there wasn't a person in the small basket suspended from the blimp, as both the blimp and the basket were roughly buffeted by yesterday's sea breezes (Sydney translation - winds).

blimp 3

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Bits and pieces. Odds and ends. Transitions. Distractions. That's the way things feel at the moment with the bustle of Christmas approaching, with another year ending, and with the prospect of a new year ahead with all its possibility for change.

So, in this distracted spirit, a rather scattered and dispersed entry.



If you asked me, I would probably say that I really dislike things that might be described as 'whimsical'. Whimsy is too coy and too cute to appeal to me. Despite this, I've bought both editions of Ysolda Teague's 'Whimsical Little Knits'- the second of which arrived last week. I'm making the Scroll Lace Scarf from volume 2, using Knitabulous's 'Silkstream' - a rich, deep pink 100% silk yarn. I'm making it very slowly, as I've been distracted by Christmas gift knitting. Ysolda may see her creations as 'whimsical', but they also have the practicality of well-written, easy-to-follow instructions.


I work at a university, and last week the second year Industrial Design students held a market. The students had been given the task of designing a small white pottery vase that was inspired by a particular flower - daisies, tulips, irises among others. They then had to make an edition of ten vases, design and make the packaging, and sell them. Fortunately, my work group and I had read our notices that told us of the sale and were the first customers when the market opened.

What a great project. Some of the students sold all ten of their vases within ten minutes. All of them had sold within an hour. I bought three vases - initially thinking they could be gifts. But they look so good as a group I don't think I can bear to part with any single one.

Vases - filled

The packaging (each piece individually made) was almost as wonderful as the vases.

Vases - packages


This year I've been having my 'bah! Humbug!' Christmas moments about Christmas e-cards. I love getting real, ie paper, Christmas cards, though I'm not always so meticulous about sending them.

Christmas cards

However wonderful the e-cards are - and some of them use beautiful images - they're not the same. They don't have the anticipation of opening the envelopes, the pleasure of reading the message that the sender has taken the trouble to write by hand, and then the indecision of where to display them. And I hate being told that e-cards are more environmentally friendly! They require two sheets of paper (one for the envelope, one for the card) once a year - a minuscule environmental cost compared to the advertising brochures that flood into my letter box - and they provide employment for the card designers and manufacturers and for the post office.

Oh, and I forgot to mention. Most of the e-cards are from companies I've never used or people I've barely encountered - people who would never bother to send me a 'real' card - so they're hardly a saving of any kind.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Five best films 2009

One of the many things I like about this time of year is the 'best of....' lists that start appearing about now. I haven't quite worked out what the fascination of such lists is - I can become absorbed in lists of favourite things about which I know nothing, but I particularly love lists about things where I know enough to at least have an opinion.

A unexpected benefit of keeping a blog has been recording in a side-bar the films I've seen over the last year. So, for the first time in my life I actually know what films I've seen (admittedly I did have to look up a couple of them as the titles no longer meant anything to me).

Before I list my five best films for 2009 this is a bit of background about my film viewing habits. I don't watch films at home on DVD. When I've tried to do this I find I get distracted and don't really focus on the film. I like to watch films in the cinema - in the dark, surrounded by sound, and on the big screen.

And perhaps I should give some background statistics for my rather odd list. I've seen 60 films in 2009. That's 1.2 films a week. Of these, 24 were American films, 12 from the UK, 12 from Australia, and nineteen from other countries - all non-English language films. There's a bit of double-counting here as some films were co-productions across countries. I'm astonished at how many of the films I saw were from the USA, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised as it simply reflects the dominance of the US film industry.

So, ta-da! In order of preference, my five best films of 2009.

1 Samson and Delilah. This is an Australian film about a two Indigenous teenagers in Central Australia. It's a love story, and it's a bleak survival story. Some critics have said there's hopefulness at the end of the film, but I think that's clutching at straws. It's superbly filmed, convincingly acted and edited to perfection. It's harrowing to watch, and every moment rings true.

I'm in good company with this choice as it's just been judged best Australian film for 2009 by the Australian Film Industry (AFI) awards and will be Australia's official entry in the best foreign language film for the Oscars. The film is notable for its sparse dialogue, but what little there is, is in Warlpiri. There's a good review (ie one with which I agree) here.

2 Disgrace. Another Australian film, but set in South Africa and faithfully taken from JM Coetzee's great novel of the same name. It features a chillingly true performance from John Malkovich and works both at the level of telling an emotionally shocking story about personal relationships and at the metaphorical level of a portrayal of the race dilemmas of modern South Africa.

3 Wake in Fright. Yet another Australian film - a new print of a film made in 1971. I remember seeing this film in 1971 and being shocked by a most recognisable portrayal of a violent, racist, misogynistic, achingly lonely, rural Australia. It still has the power to shock and has great value both as a depiction of a moment in our history, but also as an indicator of where many present values and practices have their derivation.

4 Revolution Road Finally, not an Australian film, but a film produced from the UK and set in the USA. A film about marriage and women's roles in increasingly affluent 1950s America. Brilliant script, movingly wonderful acting from Kate Winslett.

5 Genova. I don't think many critics would agree with me on this one. It's a film about grief and dealing with loss and about parental roles and relationships with children. Again, for me, a perfect script, with just enough said and left unsaid. I was on the edge of my seat for the whole film, willing that grief would not lead to disaster.

I'm rather surprised that my three best movies have all come out of Australia and are all, to some extent, films about race relations. Taken overall, these films are rather a grim lot, aren't they? However, if I'm going to take the trouble of going to the movies, I like to be well-rewarded for my time spent. I like film-makers who respect their audience and who believe there are tales worth telling.

I'd love to see other people's choices.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Last Friday - December 11 - marked 25 years since we moved into our apartment.

home 2

It's a long time to have lived in one place. I think I have an image of myself as someone who's not particularly attached to a place, so I'm surprised to realise I've lived here so long. So much has happened in that time. We came here as a family - parents and two children. But the children have grown up and moved away and the marriage unravelled. When we came here I was part of the 'middle generation' - my parents and parents-in-law were all still alive and we seemed to be in the centre of all the comings and goings of family relationships. I'm now part of the oldest generation and inevitably the centre of relationships is shifting.

Lots of birthdays and Christmases, and some births, deaths, marriages and separations.

We will sell the apartment next year. For me, this won't be a huge change as I'm going to move to a smaller apartment in the same building. I'll have the same neighbourhood and will keep all the things I like about the suburb in which I live.

But, inevitably, it will feel like the end of an era for our family. In fact, it will be the end of an era. I'm pleased that my daughter, son-in-law and grand-daughter will share this last Christmas in the apartment with me. It's impossible to dwell only on the past and not look to the future when you have small children around.

home 3

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sticking to my knitting

I've been suffering knitting disruption over the last week or so. I ran out of yarn for the blanket I'm knitting and have been waiting for more yarn to arrive. I left my sock knitting at work over the weekend (and yes, I'm aware this is yet another example of my forgetfulness). There's been the pleasurable but distracting build-up of end-of-the-year festivities. And I've had an old and good friend staying with me which has resulted in more than usual, and very pleasurable, visits to movies, galleries, markets and eating out.

But there's also pleasure to be had in staying at home. Last night I was able to settle down to my knitting.

Rose Red

I wound the skein into a ball and cast on for Ysolda Teague's tam pattern 'Rose Red'. It's destined to be a Christmas present, and so far everything that everybody has said about it being a fun and straight-forward knit is true. I'm knitting it from Malabrigo 'Silky Merino' which feels and looks soft and luxurious. Once again I'm having problems in having my photograph capture the colour of the yarn - it's called 'Rupestre' and is more a deep rose-purple colour than the image above.

Now I just need time to finish it.

PS I've just googled 'rupestre' and discovered that 'pintura rupestre' or 'arte rupestre' are the Spanish and Italian terms for 'rock art'. The colour of the yarn seems roughly to approximate the colour of the markings in ancient rock art. An education through knitting (and google)!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tea, knitting, friends, bubbly...what more could you ask?

The Morris and Sons Knitting Group had afternoon tea at the Harrowgate Tea Rooms yesterday. Great fun! Friends, knitting, three kinds of tea, sandwiches (with crusts cut off, of course), scones with jam and cream, tiny cakes, chocolates, and lots and lots of bubbly to drink.

Our Christmas get-together was initiated by bossy-boots Fee [looking very Frida Kahlo-esque in her blue embroidered dress and exuberant headpiece]


and splendidly organised by Lee (ravlink) [resplendent in his Emerald Gleam scarf]


There were knitters from near


[Kris looking as if she's stepped out of 'Stepford Wives']

M and Kelly

[Margarita (ravlink) - and Kelly)

and knitters from far


[Jane, who had to travel over the Harbour Bridge from the darkest north shore to join us]


[and Ailsa, who came all the way from wicked Wollongong]

We had a fun gift-swap

Swap gifts

for which I crocheted (yes, miraculously, I crocheted) a bird.

Christmas bird

And, most wondrously, we were honoured by a visit from the real Rose Red Shoes.

RR Shoes

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Simple pleasures

Early yesterday morning I went to the local Eveleigh Farmers' Market that's held every Saturday morning. The market is set up in one of the large spaces that was formerly part of the Eveleigh Railway Workshop, but has recently been converted to the 'Carriageworks', a multi-purpose theatre, performance and events space.


[I'm still trying to come to terms with the fact that the raffish and often reviled and avoided neighbourhood in which I've lived for so long has such a thing as a very fashionable farmers' market. The impact of the gentrification of inner-city suburbs is surprising, variable and unpredictable.]

So I bought seasonal vegetables, some mixed varieties of mushrooms, my favourite bread, some fresh goat's cheese and a wonderful (though expensive) rack of lamb to share with my friend who's coming to stay this week. But I also bought two things that are rich in associations and have given me great pleasure today.

I bought some cherries.


The farmer who was selling them said they'd come from Young - a town about 350km west of Sydney renowned for its cherries. It's the next door town to the one in which I grew up, where we had three cherry trees in my childhood garden. Each year as summer and Christmas approached, the cherries would ripen and the annual war with the birds over the fruit was waged. The methods were many and varied and included my mother's technique of taking random potshots at the birds with an air-rifle (dramatic but not particularly successful), tying bunches of silver streamers to the branches (pretty but not particularly successful), or my father's more successful, though much less picturesque method of wreathing the whole tree in netting. The cherry season is short, and picking cherries is tedious, so they were much valued and greatly enjoyed. And they're deeply part of my Christmas. I can't bring myself to buy imported out-of-season cherries. They not only incur innumerable airmiles to get here from California, but they somehow seem deeply 'unnatural'. The particular pleasure of cherries is that they are available just now, and will no longer be available in a month's time.

I also bought poinsettias.


They're definitely not a part of my childhood Christmases, but more recently I've been buying them when I celebrate Christmas in Sydney. They seem to me to be a good compromise between traditional Christmas colours and foliage and celebrating Christmas in summer. And they're so bright. Instant Christmas cheer.

Friday, November 27, 2009

An injustice?

Today I took the train to work. As work is only one stop from home on the trainline, it's much of a muchness in terms of time whether I walk to work or take the train. The deciding factor is usually the weather. As it gets hot and sunny I usually take the train to avoid the sun - I'll do almost anything to avoid the sun.

Over the last few weeks there's been quite a few railway guards checking tickets at the station exit - the Devonshire Street exit from Central Station, which is the most convenient stop for a lot of tertiary education institutions - UTS, Sydney TAFE, and many private colleges. Invariably, I see the guards stopping people I assess to be international students - young, carrying backpacks or bags, almost always of Chinese or South Asian background.

My initial response was to be angry at the guards for what seemed like their casual racism. But once I'd stopped to think, what I'm actually angry at is an example of real systemic discrimination.

Except for the small group of exchange students, international students studying at tertiary institutions in New South Wales are not eligible for student travel concessions, though they are in all other states except Victoria. Some people (clearly including the NSW government) think they should not be eligible as they are not Australian citizens or permanent residents. However, many international students do work while they study and consequently pay Australian taxes, and all of them are paying fees of around $20,000 or more a year (that include a GST component) that cross-subsidise the university or TAFE education of local Australian students.

Under the Howard Liberal government, federal funding to higher education was drastically reduced over time and universities looked to other sources of income - principally the recruitment of international students. As Australian students pay significantly less in fees than the real cost of their study, the fees paid by international students have gradually become a significant source of funding for basic infrastructure and teaching that benefit both local and international students. I regard education as a public good and I'm certainly not arguing that Australian students should pay more, but it seems unjust to me that fees from students from developing countries such as China, India, Pakistan and even Bangladesh pay for the education of local students in a wealthy, developed economy. I guess this is just one of the many absurd outcomes of expecting market forces to find solutions to matters of public benefit.

So, back to the students being stopped by the guards at Central Station. Maybe they have invalidly claimed a student concession for their travel, or perhaps even tried to avoid payment altogether. I know that a belief in the unfairness of a law or rule is usually (though not always) no justification for flouting the law, but in this particular instance I would feel very hard done by if I were an international student. On the one hand they pay fees and taxes that support local students, and on the other hand they are not treated equitably.

International students, and student associations more broadly, have been protesting against the stupidity and injustice of the present system for years, but without a satisfactory outcome. International students don't have a vote, but maybe those of us who do should make this an issue in the next state election.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The next milestone

I imagine knitting would be a rich field of study for any psychologist investigating motivation. I'm interested in how individual projects create their own milestones or small goals that keep you knitting.

All even 2

The blanket I'm knitting from Noro Taiyo is the nth degree in motivated knitting. With colour-changing Noro yarns there's always the 'I'll just knit till the next colour' factor, but this blanket has the added goal of 'I'll just knit till the next corner'. As the blanket gets bigger, the next corner takes longer and longer to reach, but it certainly results in motivated knitting.

I really like the composition and texture of the Taiyo, but as often happens with Noro, I'm very grumpy about the knots and joins in the yarn. It's relatively easy to spit-splice with Noro so the joins themselves are not disastrous - what's problematic is the very disjointed colour jumps at the joins that disrupt the colour sequences. I'm finding myself having to break the yarn in other places to reconstruct colour sequences that are reasonably balanced.

There are other subtler motivations in knitting. I think socks make for a perfectly staged knitting project with lots of intermediate goals: the cuff, the leg, turning the heel, the foot, the toe, (or the reverse for toe-up), and then repeat for the second sock. I'm currently knitting a vintage-style Nancy Bush sock (Gentleman's Sock in Railway Stitch) and it has the added motivation of a six-row repeat pattern - 'I'll just finish another pattern repeat'.

Railway sock

With my rather awkward knitting style this is slow knitting. (I was taught to knit by my father many years ago. He was not a particularly skilled knitter, but he was very patient.) But I'm very happy so far with the outcome, and it doesn't matter if it takes some time. I love the fussily detailed, but ultimately streamlined socks that many vintage patterns produce.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Completing the sixth pair of socks for my 2009 Personal Sock Club - sort of on time - has given me a great sense of accomplishment.


I've called them my comfort socks, partly because they've been comfort knitting - a straight-forward project in stocking stitch with the very minor embellishment of a little colour work (well, grey and cream work) below the cuffs and around the toes. I'd forgotten how easy, quick and comfortable it is to knit plain stocking stitch socks.

They're also comfort socks because they're knitted in Patonyl - plain, sufficiently soft, indestructible Patonyl. Very quiet and unassuming. Patonyl on 2.25m needles gives a neat, robust fabric.

Basically they're a pattern from my sock knitting hero, Nancy Bush. She calls them 'Welsh Country Stockings' (ravlink) and includes them in her book, 'Folk Socks'. However, I used the decorative adaptations suggested by the super-stylish Mustaa Villaa and omitted the contrasting colour for the heels, but added the simple colour work motifs to the toes. Otherwise I knitted the pattern as directed. I love the round toes that Nancy Bush uses for these socks, and it was my first attempt at a Dutch heel, which looks a bit odd when the sock is off the foot but fits neatly and snugly when worn.


I was aiming for 7 pairs of socks for my 2009 Personal Sock Club. Only one more pair to finish! So, I opened my final manilla envelope to reveal...yet more Patonyl! This time the yarn is a rather lovely, practical slatey blue-grey. I'm going to do yet more Nancy Bush - this time the Gentleman's Sock in Railway Stitch (ravlink) from 'Knitting Vintage Socks'. The pattern as written includes striped heels and toes so for the stripes I'm going to use up the last remains of some hand-dyed Patonyl that was a gift from Sonia as part of a long-ago swap.


I'd intended to begin my last 2009 PSC socks this past weekend but, as seems almost inevitable with knitting, I've been distracted. On Saturday morning we had the monthly meeting of the Inner-City branch of the NSW Knitters' Guild. A great meeting, by the way. As Chair, Kris has a superb capacity to combine friendliness, inclusiveness and informality with an ability to move the agenda along. Lots of opportunities for chat, sharing of projects - some of them breath-taking this month - and learning.

But I'm distracted yet again...this month, Michele Hartrick of Abundance Colour & Inspiration attended with some yarns for sale after the Guild branch meeting. I was seduced by skeins of Noro Taiyo, which I'd not seen before. As always with Noro, the delightful unexpectedness of the colour combinations was enticing. The Taiyo is a worsted-weight combination of cotton, silk, wool and nylon, so it has none of the scatchiness of many of the Noro predominantly woollen mixes, and while it is a single ply with thick and thin-ness, it doesn't drift apart as some of the other Noro yarns have a tendency to do. Did I mention the colours? Gorgeous.

I spent quite a bit of time on Saturday looking for suitable patterns and decided on making a blanket - probably to give to the dotee. After a couple of false choices and even a false start I'm making Frankie Brown's 'Ten Stitch Blanket' (ravlink) which is loosely based on Elizabeth Zimmermann's baby blanket in the 'Opinionated Knitter, with its wide L-shaped strips of garter stitch.

All even 1

Such a wonderfully lairy project!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

It's exclusive

This morning at the railway station I found myself in a ticket queue behind a trendy young man. Tall, fashionably thin, wearing skinny jeans, a fitted open-necked shirt and a hand-knitted vest. (I had my camera in my hand-bag but I didn't have the courage to ask if I could take a photograph - now I'm regretting my cowardice). The vest was standard vest shape in fair isle - an oatmealy grey background with shades of blue and maroon for the relatively simple, but beautiful pattern.

I admired his vest and asked him how he'd acquired it. He said a friend had given it to him as a gift. 'She knows the designer' he said, 'and had it made for me as a one-off. It's exclusive'.

So...from now on this is the response I'll use when someone comments on one of my hand-knits - though maybe you need to be tall and thin to really pull it off.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


So, the scarf I began as a consolation for the disappointment of my failed relationship with 'Henry' is finished. And I'm very happy with this new short but pleasurable association.

Cable 1

It's been a delight to knit; a simple scarf recipe with two-by-two ribbing and big cables that results in a comfortable, reversible scarf. It's long enough to be whirled around the neck several times, or doubled with the ends pulled through the loop.

Cable 2

Despite my best, very amateurish photographic endeavours, these pics don't really capture the richness of the colour, which is an intense brick-red. My previous blog post about beginning this project is a much better, though still not perfect, representation of the colour. I realised only today (sometimes I'm rather slow) that the time of day at which I take photographs makes a huge difference to the accuracy of the colours. But I'm not often home around mid-day, which is when the light is best.

Cable 3

The scarf is a Christmas present, though I've decided I'll have to buy something to accompany it. I can't quite reconcile myself to giving a gift that can't be used for several months. Buried deep in my personal gift-giving protocols is an idea that presents shouldn't require a capacity for delayed gratification on the part of the recipient.

I'm a bit surprised that I've knitted a Christmas present - it wasn't really part of my knitting schedule for the year. But I've enjoyed this, so I might try another.

Friday, November 6, 2009


I'm not sure what to do with this scarf...

Green scarf

I'm about two-thirds of the way through Evelyn Clark's 'Wildflower Lace Scarf', but I've lost confidence in it. I admire Evelyn Clark's lace patterns, and I like everything about the yarn I'm using - its softness, its texture and its colour. It's Blue Moon Fiber Arts Socks That Rock sock yarn in the aptly named Jade.

I'm trying to decide whether I should persist with it, or unravel it. I'm not expecting any advice, and won't undertake to follow any advice I receive, but feel free to comment if you're so inclined.

Why am I uncertain? (another Rudd-like rhetorical question)

* Normally I like patterns that bring together unexpected elements, and I really thought I'd like the regular geometry of the garter stitch combined with the daisy-patterned lace edge. But I'm really not sure it works.
* Maybe the contrast of the lace and garter stitch would work without the added busyness of the variegated colours in the yarn. Maybe this pattern needs a solid colour?
* The straight edge of the scarf has a purlwise slipped stitch to make a chained edging. I've found it impossible to keep the tension of the slipped stitch really even so the resulting edge doesn't have the neatness I would like.
* Because I've knitted this in fits and starts I think the tension of my garter stitch isn't absolutely even, and garter stitch is really only beautiful if it's very even.
* I'm not sure I have enough yarn to finish it!

On the other hand, maybe blocking will remedy the slipped stitch edging and tension problems. It will certainly show the daisy edging to greater advantage. I weighed the yarn so that I would start my decreases at the right stage, so I should have enough yarn to complete it. If the scarf blocks well and if I have enough yarn I'll be left only with doubts about the design - and I might change my mind about that when I see it finished.

Dither, dither...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Other people's gardening

With the arrival of warmer weather my living room windows are often open and in the evenings the scent of jasmine wafts through the windows.


Several years ago someone (the Sydney City Council? my building's volunteer gardening team? the gardeners from the Australian Technology Park across the street?) planted jasmine in the previously barren, litter-strewn street-side garden below my windows. The garden is now covered in a deep green creeper throughout the year and in Spring, is studded with starry white beautifully scented flowers.

Even if the Sydney City Council gardeners aren't responsible for the delight the jasmine gives me, they have excelled themselves in other ways this Spring. In one of the local main streets they've hung baskets filled with brilliant red begonias from the lamp-posts. They make me smile every time I see them.

Redfern Street

[What wipes the smile from my face, however, is the fate of the old Victorian Italianate style Redfern Post Office, the tower of which you can see behind the begonias. Like so many grand nineteenth century public buildings - it was designed by Colonial Architect James Barnett and built in 1882 - it no longer serves its original function and now, sadly, has a sign telling us it's for lease. The working post office has moved to a soulless shopfront.]

In the centre of the city itself I happened upon this garden in Martin Place.

parsley garden

Big square pots have been massed together and densely planted with a mixture of marigolds, white petunias, some spiky leafed plant with small ball-shaped yellow flowers (an Australian native plant? do you gardeners out there know?) and parsley. Yes, masses and masses of parsley! In this case the unexpectedness of the combination made me smile.

And finally, some jacarandas; an introduction to summer.

Jacarandas and Harbour Bridge

These are not particularly spectacular examples of jacarandas in bloom, but I think the background of the Sydney Harbour Bridge makes them irresistible. I imagine these trees must significantly pre-date the current crop of Sydney City Council gardeners, but they do protect and nurture the trees.

The results of other people's gardening continue to delight me - and I feel particularly fortunate that my local council delivers me this delight.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

White Rabbit

White rabbit

A couple of weeks ago a friend suggested I should visit a new gallery of contemporary Chinese art in my next door suburb - Chippendale. She's someone whose judgment I trust and she seemed particularly enthusiastic, so today a friend and I went to see the White Rabbit.

I'm not sure what I'd imagined - maybe a small 'alternative' gallery space with some interesting but rather inscrutable works. But the White Rabbit is nothing like that. It's a very beautiful four storey gallery in a spacious, superbly renovated, luminous, former knitting factory. The exhibition is part of what must be an unrivalled personal collection by Judith Neilson of examples of Chinese art since 2000 across a range of media - paintings, sculpture, installations, video, and textiles. Much of it is political, either in the more obvious sense of commenting on the recent history or present changes in China, or personally political in commenting on gender and exploration of the body. Many of the pieces are immense and a great deal of it is confrontational.

I particularly liked some of the textile pieces - which seems apt given the building's previous life as a knitting factory. There's an extraordinary installation by Sun Furong of 100 Zhongshan tunics (Mao suits) in their drab colours - but shredded into finely textured rags. They are sad but strong. I visited China in 1983 when everyone except for a small group of the most avant garde in Beijing dressed in Mao suits and this work reminds me that the society I then saw is now in tatters. There's a very fun bench-like structure about 3 metres by one metre covered in knitted strawberries. Yes, beautifully knitted strawberries! The description of the piece is:
Li Linying, an abstract painter, began knitting strawberries on a whim with some left-over red and green wool. The pastime became a passion: eight years later she had 1,500 strawberries. 'They are like my children', she says, 'I worry about them'.

Other textile works - there are some delicate, neat, black wool embroideries on white cotton by Gu Fan (the cover of the 'Guide Look' in the photo above depicts one of them), and my favourite piece in the exhibition: about 20 very delicate little girl dresses in fine silk organza suspended on fine lines from the ceiling and wafting gently in the air movements. The title of the piece by Jin Nu - 'Where Have All the Children Gone?' - transforms your admiration of the delicacy of the fabrics and their movement to awareness (sadness?) of all the unborn children, particularly girl children, resulting from China's 'one child' policy.

Anyway - go visit the White Rabbit in Chippendale. It's free, beautiful and has art you might like to know about. There's an elegantly simple tea shop with a range of teas and tiny snacks beautifully presented - and very reasonably priced. And there's a gift shop with a small range of covetable gifts, such as the typically Chinese floral patterned fabric made up into carry bags in my photo. I actually didn't buy my bag. It was a gift from the owner of the gallery because they'd run out of biscuits in the tea shop. That's the kind of place it is!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Today I am

...reading Ian Rankin's latest novel "The Complaints'. Still stuck in crime fiction though at least I've moved on, momentarily, from the Scandinavians.

...listening to ABC Radio National, my main source of information about the world. I listen to its news programs, but really enjoy the commentary it offers on such things as films, books, health, law and world events.

...watching 'The Private Lives of Pippa Lee' after work today. A film about a fiftyish woman coming to terms with the very diverse stages of her life. Super performances from Robyn Wright Penn and Alan Arkin.

...eating teriyaki chicken with rice and salad. I've been so hungry today.

...drinking fizzy water. I'm trying to lose weight, so I keep no wine in the house...and I need to compensate for the pleasure of bubbly consumed at knitting group last night!

...making Nancy Bush's 'Welsh Country Stockings' and a russet coloured reversible cabled knitted gift scarf.

...waiting for the next stage of my life. I feel as if I'm marking time just now - pleasantly - but marking time.

...wondering what's happening with my son - he's a risk-taker living in quite a dangerous part of the world and is not the best of correspondents. Maybe this is worrying rather than wondering.

...hoping that I can grow older in good health and maintain my independence.

...thinking that I need to organise myself better.

I've borrowed (stolen?) these prompts from a blog I've been enjoying recently - 'Say La Vee'. The blogger, Blackbird, gives running descriptions of 'Survivor' episodes - isn't that wonderful?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Vintage knits

I've been to see the Australian Opera's current production of the Benjamin Britten opera, "Peter Grimes'. It's a thrilling, if grim, evening out. Britten's opera is based on an 1810 poem, 'The Borough', by George Crabb and is a tale of grim, hard-working lives lived out in a judgmental, unforgiving community.

Britten - or maybe Neil Armfield who directed this production - set the story in an English east-coast fishing village in the immediate post second world war period. The small town claustrophobia is emphasised by the set - a dull and austere church or village hall. Peter Grimes is a fisherman who decides earning money through his own unrelenting labour and the brutal exploitation of his boy apprentices is the only way to gain grudging acceptance and admiration from his community. But the townspeople judge him harshly when first one and then a second apprentice dies in his employ. The music wrenches your emotions - whether it's Grimes' defiance of the community's opinions, schoolmistress Ellen's despair at the apprentices' fate, or the community's damning of Grimes. Stuart Skelton, large and unkempt, sang superbly as Peter Grimes, and the chorus of townspeople brought shivers to the back of my neck.

And for knitters there was so much to see. Tess Schofield, who seems to specialise somewhat in her knowledge of the immediate post-war period, was responsible for the costumes and there was just so much knitting. Of course, large thick fisherman's jerseys, and fair-isle vests and buttoned-up cardigans under jackets on the men. And cardigans - rather fitted and cabled - on the women. Most of the colours were drab and dull but two sisters - flibbertigibbets or perhaps even more morally questionable - were dressed in blue and green finely cabled cardigans over floral shirt-dresses, with the collars of the dresses neatly turned out over the cardigans. I wasn't close enough to the stage to tell if they really were handknits, but I do hope they were. If they weren't they were wonderful facsimiles.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A quick recovery

I decided to take a break from everything associated with Henry. Different yarn, thicker ply, bigger needles, and a new pattern.

Red scarf

Such a relief. The pattern is 'Steam' - a free pattern from Diana Gates. It's an absolutely unadorned 2x2 rib with three biggish cables. The colour's much the same - a deep brick red - but this time the yarn is Morris and Sons' Empire 8 ply 100% wool (bought at their current sale - it hasn't even had time to enter my yarn collection).

It's a project I can relax with.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The End of the Affair

My relationship with Henry has been brief and intense. My admiration is undiminished, but I've decided it's all just too hard; too high maintenance.

Yesterday I pulled out the knitting I'd done and started again because I knew I'd regret the mistake I'd made. But the crunch came this morning when I spent the whole morning knitting a row (452 stitches), realising I had one too many stitches, trying to identify where I'd gone wrong, counting stitches, counting them again, pulling out the row (452 stitches), knitting again, still having the wrong number of stitches, trying to identify from the almost invisible sequence of the pattern where I might have gone wrong, counting stitches, counting again, etc etc.

I feel cowardly in giving up so quickly, but I have other yarn dalliances I want to indulge, and Henry is just taking up too much time. So, Henry has been reassigned to the list of things I plan to do when I have more free time in my life and (hopefully) have more capacity for painstaking tasks. I know I'm not the first to abandon Henry, and I think that makes me feel a little better, but I do hate relinquishing something I admire so much.

So, I'm in the market for a pattern for a man's scarf - not kerchief style - preferably from 4 ply yarn. Suggestions gratefully received.

RoseRed has already blogged about yesterday's most successful stash reallocation. Lots of interesting yarns for reallocation:

Stash reallocation

I think I came home with about the same amount of yarn and money I had at the beginning of the afternoon - but some of the yarn is different. Great fun.

Thanks to the ever-generous MissFee for hosting the afternoon (and for 'baggsing' for me some lovely grey laceweight yarn). There was lots of relaxing knitting and eating and chatting.

MissFee's recent shawl flu affliction was in evidence:

Fee's shawls

The silver-grey Swallowtail shawl in very fine silk laceweight is my favourite, but Big Ted's preferences were other small shawls in shades of red. I think red suits him.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Overly ambitious?

I've cast on for a new project and I'm already worried that I've taken on something that's just too hard.

Henry 2

For some time I've been periodically glancing at Marieke Sattler's 'Henry' scarf in Knitty and admiring its simple, unfussy elegance. I've always loved tweeds and twills and self-patterning weaves, and this scarf fits within this tradition - conservative and a bit daggy in the best of all possible ways. I decided that it would be perfect in the rich Botticelli Red colour of Malabrigo sock yarn. So far, so good.


1 The scarf is knitted lengthwise, which means I have 452 stitches on the needles. It takes me an eternity to knit a single row.

2 I already made an error on the setting up rows for which I've cobbled together a clumsy 'correction'. I know it's there and I'm hoping it won't come to haunt me. Normally I would simply unpull the whole thing and start again, but with 452 stitches I can't bear the thought.

3 The pattern involves much yarn forwarding and backwarding and slipping of stitches - the kind of pattern where one miscounted stitch can put the whole 452 out of alignment. I can't afford to even think of this as I'm knitting as I just get more and more unconfident. It's like driving a car - you're fine as long as you can avoid thinking about all the things that could go wrong.

4 All the yarn forwarding and backwarding and slipping means that the tension and direction of the stitches into which you're knitting are very variable. I need a sharp needle and even sharper eyesight, but...

5 While I love the deep brick red yarn, at night-time under artificial light it's just so hard to see clearly, and I have very limited day-time knitting time.

I'll persist for a while longer, and I'll try to resist pulling it all out to remedy the mistake in the set-up rows. It's the week-end, so maybe some daytime knitting on Henry will restore my confidence. I'll update you next week.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Somewhat back on track

I've made a real effort with my 2009 Personal Sock Club socks number 5 and have finished them in just sixteen days. I've astonished myself, as I just wouldn't have thought this possible.

Probably socks 2

I've used Jane Lithgow's Cornish Scallop Sock pattern, made from Araucania Ranco Multy yarn. The yarn is a mixture of soft grey, pink and a kind of light brownish-burgundy. I had some grey Araucania left over from a previous project and used that for the toes and heels. The Araucania is quite thick for sock yarn - almost a 5 ply - and it is very soft and comfortable to wear.

Probably socks 3
Probably socks 1

So, I've made up some time on my personal sock club schedule. I now have only two pairs to finish by the end of the year - that's 41 days for each pair (rather than the 52 days originally scheduled). Re-enthused by my recent speedy sock knitting, I'm sure I can meet this revised target. (As an aside, I went to see the film 'Julie and Julia' yesterday, in which a young woman sets herself the target of cooking the 520 odd recipes in Julia Child's 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' in a year - and blogging about the experience. A fun movie, by the way. Immersed in my personal sock club with its much less frenetic targets and sense of purpose I had definite sympathy for Julie in her task!)

I made a beginning on socks number 6 this morning. I chose between the last two remaining sock club envelopes and cast on.

Comfort socks

I've had such a sense of comfort. Yet again a Nancy Bush pattern, (Welsh Country Stockings - ravlink), this time from 'Folk Socks'. The pattern uses the most basic stitches - stocking stitch and two-by-two rib. And the yarn is Patonyl. Plain, predictable, soft, resilient Patonyl in plain grey and cream. All very straight-forward; all very comforting; all very plain. After months of flirtation with beautiful hand-dyed yarns with interesting yarn compositions I have a very definite sense of 'back to basics' in knitting Patonyl in stocking stitch.

Let's see if the sense of comfort triumphs over boredom over the next 41 days.