Friday, April 29, 2011

Next socks

I finished my bright sunshiny yellow socks - two days ahead of the schedule for the S62011 sock club.

nutkin 1

According to the rules I've set for myself, I knitted them exactly according to the Nutkin pattern - well, except for some minor adjustments to the number of stitches to make sure they'd fit. As always, there were pluses and minuses to the pattern, though I think for these socks the negatives outweighed the positives.

So what do I like?
* The colour. I just love this colour which is called Chamomile. It's made me want to knit lots more yellow things. The colour just glows.
* The yarn. I've made a number of pairs of socks from Madelinetosh Tosh Sock and it's a delight to use. It's very nicely spun and produces excellent stitch definition.
* The stitch pattern. It's very pretty with its neatly folding imitation cables.
* They fit perfectly. I've learned that 68 stitch socks knitted with fingering weight yarn on 2.5mm needles are perfect for me.
* The fact that the heel and the toes are knitted using exactly the same short-row technique. I don't particularly like how the resulting socks look, but I do admire the ingenuity and the symmetry of the construction. It's a process knitting thing.

nutkin 2

And what do I not like?
* The way the socks skew! They skew badly. (I've tried to tug them straight for the photos). It offends me that the cables do not sit neat and straight.
* The appearance of the short row heel and toe construction. While it's worked quite well and is functional, I just prefer the appearance of flap heels and round toes. I suspect I've fallen too much under the Nancy Bush sock spell.
* I wish the socks were longer - I knitted the length recommended by the pattern, but I like my socks long. So this is not a fault of the pattern, but of my failure to remember that Tosh Sock has generous length. Recently I've twice run out of yarn just short of finishing my socks, and I think this has made me a bit fearful.

nutkin 3

I'm off to Knitting Camp today and so I've anticipated the unwrapping of my next S62011 sock yarn by a day. Hurrah - grey yarn! It's Fibranatura 'Yummy' in 100% merino which I'll obediently use to knit the next scheduled sock pattern - Leyburn.

yummy yarn

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


There's a huge gum tree outside my living room windows. It must be at least twelve metres tall. My apartment is on the third storey of the building and the full leafiness of the tree is at my level.


Just now it's covered in blossom and the nectar is attracting the colourful and raucous lorikeets who have loud arguments - sometimes even in the middle of the night, with those fiercely territorial intruders, the common mynahs. The blossoms have also attracted butterflies and bees, so that I feel surrounded by new life and busyness.

All this shows the incongruity of Autumn in Sydney - isn't all this activity more typical of Spring? Or maybe what the activity outside my windows really shows is the incongruity of seasonal stereotypes that we in the southern hemisphere have unconsciously incorporated into our thinking.

Anyway, I'm enjoying this seasonal activity while it lasts. The greedy lorikeets will only visit for the blossoms and will then disappear till next year. So just to heighten this (un)seasonal activity, I've bought some locally grown tulips - harbingers of Spring in the northern hemisphere, but perfectly at home in a Sydney Autumn.

autumn tulips

Friday, April 15, 2011

Travel ambitions

To quote myself, 'I always have travel ambitions'*. But my ambitions have been rather thwarted lately by the rest of my life - work, moving house, finances. It's now more than a year since my latest trip outside Australia, and I have nothing definite planned for the near future, though a friend and I are exploring possibilities...

So, in the meantime, I've planned some weekends away from Sydney to at least have the illusion of being elsewhere. Over an extended last weekend some friends and I spent time in Mount Victoria - the western-most town in the Blue Mountains - and in Orange for its F.O.O.D. Week.

We had a day in Mount Victoria at both the beginning and end of our time in Orange, which was probably wise to prepare for and then walk off the effects of some of the wonderful food we ate. At this time of the year, when the seasons are changing, autumn is always so much more advanced in the Blue Mountains than it is on the coast in Sydney. We stayed at a friend's house and had log fires, snuggly doonas, and an opportunity to wear not only knitted scarves and shawls but also knitted hats! (Gloves were still a step too far).

Even for someone as reluctant to exercise as I am, the walks around Mount Victoria are so beautiful they're restorative, with vast views from rocky outcrops across valleys

Valley view

ancient, worn rockfaces and cliffs

Cliff faceRed rockfaceContrast rocksCliffs

and the ragged, spikey beauty of the trees and bushes.

Spiney grassGrasses; bushesEucalyptsOld banksiasFernsBanksias

Orange is an inland city of about 30,000 people. It was one of the many inland towns where what was and is Aboriginal land was initially settled by pastoralists, and later expanded rapidly with the discovery of gold in the 1850s and 60s. Throughout my lifetime it's been known mainly for its orchards, particularly its cherries and apples, but over the last twenty years or so the town's been cultivating its reputation more generally as a region for fine food and local produce. Vineyards have been planted and cold weather wines from the area have become known and valued. Such variety is now produced that a shop in town is able to stock only local produce - organic fruit and vegetables, lamb, olive oil, vinegars, jams, chutneys, spreads, tapenades, nuts, biscuits, cheeses.

Last Saturday was a perfect, sunny, autumnal day and we did all the things that tourists to Orange should do. We began it with a visit to the growers' market where I bought olive oil, fig and olive tapenade, some hazelnut muesli and a whole kilo of fresh figs. From there we drove to a local vineyard - Patina - with a traditional cool-weather 'English' garden where we had a just-right picnic lunch of local food packed in a wicker basket and a glass of the resident winemaker's rose.


Late in the afternoon we strolled in the Botanic Gardens - populated with birds of all kinds and full of their calls back and forth,

Botanic Gardens lakeBotanic gardens

and made an end-of-the-daylight trip up a rather scary road to watch the sun set over the vast western landscape from Mount Canobolas.

Sunset, Mt Canobolas

And finally, one of the main reasons for the trip, we ate a perfectly judged dinner at the stylish 'hatted' local restaurant, Lolli Redini.

Sunday was wet, wet, wet. We were pleased we'd managed to fit so much into our Saturday, and after a leisurely brunch and potter around A Slice of Orange buying yet more local produce (blackberry jam, roasted pumpkin and rosemary dip, quince paste) we drove to nearby Milthorpe, a village of charming streetscapes, yet more hatted restaurants, small shops and galleries and, much to our delight, an old, unused, but well-maintained railway station. (In case you'd not noticed from my previous travel posts, my travelling friend Jan and I love railway stations).

Milthorpe streetscapeMilthorpe vinesMilthorpe Railway StationMilthorpe Railway Platform

I wonder at the changes in these inland towns and villages across my lifetime. Many of them began with the discovery of gold. Some survived to serve the needs of the surrounding farms, and others prospered as regional centres for health or educational centres or even developed small industries. But these towns now simultaneously revel in what they do best - their emphasis on 'localism' - while marketing their local identity to the world outside.

It was a great extended weekend away but, in the bittersweet way of such things, it has further increased my travel ambitions, rather than satisfying them.

* One Saturday morning towards the end of 2010 I was waiting with friends for the Library where we hold our local Knitters' Guild meetings to open. A young women approached our group and asked if we would be interested in being interviewed about our life preferences, interests, passions etc. Two of us agreed and discovered that the interviews were to be filmed and edited to become an advertisement for a well-known brand of health and vitamin supplements. I can't act. I become overwhelmed with self-consciousness. But ask me a question, or solicit my opinion on almost anything and I'll talk for ever. The interview finished and I was late for my meeting. I forgot all about it until a couple of months later when I was informed I was in the final cut of the advertisement and offered payment.

I appear in the ad for about 8 seconds and my contribution is 'I always have travel ambitions - always'. I guess if I and my passions are going to be represented by any six words, these are a very apt choice.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

70 is the new....?

Last night I went to the preview of the Arts and Crafts exhibits at the annual Sydney Royal Easter Show. The Easter Show is ten days or so in which primarily agricultural and pastoral events and exhibits come to the city. There are sheep and cattle and horse events and wool and cats and dogs and fruit and vegetables and flowers and (everybody's favourite) woodchopping. And there are also several categories for knitting, among other craft competitions.

Some of my friends deservedly won prizes at the Show, and some of the knitting - an ever-so-fine shawl in particular - was inspirational. And of course there were the perennial occurrences of beautiful garments overlooked for prizes; garments or shawls poorly displayed or even displayed inside-out; and the valuing of technique over design or any notion of fit-for-purpose. Lots of judgements up for debate. But we all had a great evening poring over the knitting, chatting, drinking wine and eating the snacks provided.

I was, however, astonished to discover cases of both knitting and crocheting reserved for competitors over 70. I imagine they've been there in past years, but maybe as I age I'm becoming more sensitive about such matters. To state my response bluntly, as a person approaching this age, I feel insulted and patronised by such categories.

I live in a state where discrimination on the grounds of age is illegal in such areas as employment and the provision of services. There is no longer a compulsory retirement age from work. The community is meant to provide employment or services on the grounds of the individual's characteristics, abilities and needs; not their age. Some people at 70 will be unable to do some jobs because of the requirements of those jobs, but that is also true of some people of 30. We should not make assessments of individuals and their capabilities simply because we have stereotypes about age (or gender, or race).

One of the areas exempted from age discrimination provisions under NSW law is sporting competitions. All the wonderful sporting events conducted for 'seniors' and 'veterans'(sometimes as young as 35) within age groups are permissible. Perhaps the Easter Show knitting people have used this kind of 'veteran' competition as a justification for their 'over 70' knitting classification. If so, I think they have overlooked a major difference. There is clear evidence that physical ability and strength for such things as athletics, swimming and some team games declines with age. But it seems counter-intuitive to me to think that knitting ability declines with age - indeed, one might make an argument that knitting is a craft where experience can only build greater expertise.

I can't imagine why people over 70 cannot succeed in open competition with younger knitters. Some people over 70 may not succeed, but this is not because of their age - it's an indication of their ability.

Or perhaps I've got the whole thing back to front - maybe the over 70s competition is to give younger knitters a chance of succeeding when compared with the older knitters' additional expertise. Hmmm. I don't think so.

I still find these age-based categories patronising and condescending.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Very yellow socks

I've finally started on the Nutkin socks that are the current pattern for the Super Special Six Pattern Sock Club (or some similar combination of words) for 2011.


The idea is that lots of people knit the same sock pattern at the same time with a new pattern every two months...or, if they don't want to do this, they knit a variation on the pattern...or, if they're feeling even more anarchic, they knit any old sock pattern. I decided at the beginning of this undertaking that I'd just knit the pattern prescribed, mostly as prescribed, in the order prescribed. These socks are due on 30 April, so I need to spend some time on them.

Part of the deal is that you choose yarns from the stock you've already accumulated. I chose mine quite randomly and have ended up with a yarn I love (madelinetosh tosh sock) in a most wonderful colour. It's a very bright yellow called 'Chamomile' and has subtle colour variations from pale gold to bright egg-yolk yellow. It glows.

As I knit, the pattern on the socks is skewing quite badly. A number of other knitters have also reported this and I did none of the things recommended to prevent skewing, so I guess this outcome is predictable. I think I'll just keep tugging them into alignment if the skewing bothers me as I wear them. More to the point is how and where I can wear them. Glowing yellow socks? I wonder what social occasion would provide an appropriate venue?

Friday, April 1, 2011

12 in 11: March

So March has been and gone and I've finally bought an item of clothing. Just one. I bought some very basic, very plain, very versatile, very dark grey warm pants for winter. They're made from some viscose and nylon mix that's comfortable to wear, drapes quite well, and I hope will prove to be indestructible.

Many years ago I had some black, extremely fine wool pants that were my ideal pants. The fabric fell perfectly and they were warm (enough) without being bulky. Ever since, whenever I go shopping for winter pants I have the vain hope that I will find something so perfect again. These pants are far from reaching such perfection, but they're good enough.

Still 10 items of clothing I can purchase for the year.