Sunday, September 29, 2013

You can wear your knitting

When I listed the reasons to go to Knit Camp in my last post I forgot one very important reason - you can wear your knitting. Of course you can wear your knitting at any time, but you don't get many opportunities to wear your knitting in such an appreciative environment of mutual admiration. The weather was perfect - the days just cool enough to display scarves, small shawls and vests, and the evenings a bit cooler to warrant cardigans and warmer shawls. Lots of wonderful garments and accessories to examine and envy.

I was able to wear my Northmavine Hap in the evenings, and in the daytime my new scarf knitted to the Windward pattern by Heidi Kirrmaier had its first public outing:

Windward 2

This is such a great pattern. I already have a fingering weight woollen Windward scarf that I made about 18 months ago and it has been worn and worn. I like its irregularity and asymmetry. I wanted to make another version that I could wear in warmer weather, so I chose Noro Sekku with its part cotton composition in a thick-and-thin laceweight. The Sekku has the usual unpredictable and surprising Noro colour changes which I wanted to use to emphasise the changes in knitting direction in this pattern. But because just some stripes are never enough, I decided to make the scarf with two-row stripes of the Sekku. Very hectic. Just what I wanted.

windward 3

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Five reasons to go to Knit Camp

Last weekend the NSW Knitters' Guild held its biennial knitting camp at Stanwell Tops, just south of Sydney and not quite in Wollongong. It had just the right mix of organisation and informality for participants - which I know is the kind of organisation that takes a great deal of skill, thought, pre-planning and hard work to seem so informal and effortless. Huge kudos to Kris Howard and her team for all they achieved.

So, with the benefit of hindsight, why would I recommend Knit Camp?

1 Top of the list has to be the company of knitters. I'm sure I've written this many times in my blog, but I love being a part of knitting groups because they're so diverse. Such a range of ages, of backgrounds, of jobs, of passions, of interests. This time at Knit Camp we had a kind of trivia quiz about participants. We were given a list of 'hidden qualities' of participants and asked to match them with people we met. Amongst the descriptions were:
* I was the first female commander of a task group (Air Force) in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2008
* I write crime fiction
* My first career was in the film industry as a film camera assistant. I worked on Babe ll, Sirens and The Matrix, amongst others.
* I play the crumhorn.
See what I mean about diversity?

But within that diversity there's the pleasure that comes from sharing an intense interest. As my room-mate Kelly said, where else can you speak knitting without looks of puzzlement? 'Eye of partridge', 'Dutch heel', 'Judy's magic cast-on' - all can be uttered without embarrassment or explanation.

2 Escaping from your daily life. We were blessed by a weekend of sunny Spring weather - warm enough to sit and knit outside, but not yet too hot or humid. My camp experience was periods of intense concentration learning new techniques and skills interspersed with relaxation and chat.

knitting in the sun

The camp location was perfect. The centre we used is in the hills that rise steeply from the beaches and majestic cliffs of the coast just south of Sydney. It's surrounded by bush land with easy tracks for early morning walks - well, strolls in my case with lots of stops to admire the discreet Spring wildflowers:

bush flowers 4bush flowers 2bush flowers 3Bush flowers 1

3 You can learn so much! I attended a two-day workshop with Teresa Dair on knitted jewellery making. Teresa is very creative with her choice of materials and innovative designs. We worked with all sorts of fabrics and thread - rayon, wire, roughly spun wool, tubes of woollen fabric into which we inserted wool roving. I find it quite difficult to master new physical skills - such as arm knitting! - and I'm not a particularly fast knitter, so I really had to focus and concentrate to finish the six (yes, six) projects within the workshop. Evidence of my hard work was that I actually developed a knitting blister! Sadly, I was so focused I forgot to take photos of the wonderful outcomes produced by the workshop members.

4 Just in case you're feeling yarn deprivation, or yarn envy, you can buy yarn! A number of the retail members of the Knitters' Guild attended and had splendid displays. Maybe fortunately for my pocket, I was so busy with my workshop, and had to spend so much time to make progress on our projects that I had little time to browse or covet. But I did buy some of the unusual Dairing cords and threads. Lots of bling! I suspect some friends might be receiving knitted jewellery as Christmas gifts this year.

knitting haul

5 You have the opportunity to see the most wonderful knitting. Saturday evening was 'show and tell' with a parade of amazing and beautiful blankets, jackets, shawls, jumpers and accessories. There was colourwork, cables, fine lace, beaded knitting and every combination of knitting and crochet techniques that ingenuity and imagination might produce. I came away with so many ideas and so much to admire - much of it beyond any skill level I could ever hope to produce, but inspirational, nevertheless.

I've enjoyed the mixture of intense focus and relaxation; of fun and expertise. Most of all, I've enjoyed the company of knitters. It goes without saying that I'll be at the next camp in two years time.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

New shoes

One of the pleasures of the unseasonably warm Spring weather has been the opportunity to wear summer shoes and sandals. My new shoes are a particular pleasure.

Jan Jansen shoes 2

I bought them during my stay in Amsterdam earlier this year, but by the time I returned to Australia people were already wearing their winter clothes, so they're just now having their first public outings. The shoes are great fun with their opalescent spotty finish and, as an extra benefit they're very comfortable.

Jan Jansen shoes

They're made by quirky Dutch shoe designer Jan Jansen who's been designing and making innovative shoes since the 1960s. My Dutch friend Mieke introduced me to the delights of Jan Jansen many years ago. I have a couple of other pairs - a mish-mash of grey textures bought around 1998

Grey Jan Jansen

and from 2000, my 'red cow shoes' with their very bright red furry surface:

Red cow shoes

I don't wear high heels, so my shoe choices are inevitably at the more conservative end of Jansen designs. My friend Mieke has a great collection of his shoes across many years and is much more adventurous with her choices. It's always such fun to see what she'e wearing. The great thing about Jan Jansen shoes is that while they're very innovative, they're never fashionably popular so that you can wear them for years, or even decades, and the design still seems fresh.

Fun and comfort. What more could one ask for from shoes?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Serving the People

My friend Barbara and I have been to visit the White Rabbit Gallery in Chippendale. Australia doesn't have a great tradition of private support for the arts. I imagine this results from a combination of our history as a social welfare society where we have looked to public sources of support for education and the arts, and the relatively recent growth in the number of Very Rich People with the taste and wherewithal to support the arts. The White Rabbit Gallery is one of the few examples of exceedingly generous private support for art and its public promotion.

The Gallery and its collection of contemporary Chinese art since 2000 is the achievement of Judith Nielson. She began collecting in the early 2000s and now has such an extensive collection that the large spaces of the beautiful Gallery are rehung twice a year to display the diversity, richness and contemporaneity of the collection. The current exhibition has been curated by Edmund Capon, who for many years was Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales and is renowned for his knowledge of Asian art. He's titled it 'Serve the People' in an ironic acknowledgment of art of the Cultural Revolution period when all art necessarily supported the state, and the transformation of artistic expression since the 1980s. Absolute freedom of expression is still not possible in China, but artists are now able to subvert and explore their history and social values in ways that were unthinkable in the recent past.

Barbara and I are both textile tragics, so it's no wonder we are often attracted to the same works. This was our favourite:

Wang Lei 1
Wang Lei 4

Wang Lei has recreated the robes traditionally associated with Chinese Emperors - not from silk and rich embroidery but from pages of a Chinese-English dictionary that are cut into narrow strips, dampened, spun, and then knitted up into the finely detailed robes. He says of his work that it reminds us that the excesses of imperial political power have long since come to an end (and perhaps implies that the present centralised regime will share the same fate). He also says that by knitting together Chinese and English he reflects an emerging contest of a different kind - between China and the West. Maybe such 'meanings' enrich the work for the viewers, but I think this is one of the works in the exhibition that is beautiful in itself. For me, it doesn't need a 'meaning'.

Wang Lei 3

I revisited Sun Furong's 'Tomb Figures' - 100 Mao suits she's attacked with scissors so they're tattered and 'nibbled up' - to use her words.

Sun Furong

I remembered I'd already blogged about these suits after a previous visit to this gallery in 2009. One of the things I'm increasingly realising about blogging is that it doesn't always have to be about discovering new things - sometimes it can just be about the continuities in your life. But to return to this evocative work... since I saw this work in 2009 new technologies have enriched the ways the viewer can interact with the works. Nowadays the White Rabbit Gallery, like almost all the galleries I visited in the Netherlands earlier this year, allows photography as long as you don't use a flash. I like having these visual reminders of my visit. More recently, I've discovered the usefulness of the QRReader. For this exhibition the QRReader gives access to most thoughtful commentaries on the works. So I've discovered that Sun Furong worked as a seamstress during the long, hard struggle she had to survive as an artist. Eventually she used clothing and scissors to to express her lifelong 'sense of bleakness and desolation'.
Stabbing [the Mao suits] Sun Furong said she felt as if she was attacking herself; later 'it was as if I were cutting someone else'. Finally, she says, she became calm, 'quite pleased and cheerful', her forty years of tribulations, and those of her country, exorcised at last.

Sun Furong 2

There are paintings, installations, video art, photography, tiny and massive works. The Gallery is a great insight to modern Chinese art, but it's also entertaining and thought-provoking. And it's free - part of Judith Nielson's generous philosophy about making the works accessible to all. There's a teahouse with a selection of Chinese teas served in pretty pots and tiny cups and snacks and Chinese dumplings for lunch. All in all, several hours of pleasure.

White Rabbit teahouse

By the way, the White Rabbit Gallery has one of the best websites I've encountered. It both informs and entertains and captures the mix of seriousness of purpose and whimsy that characterises the Gallery.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Shawl of many troubles

At long last I've finished my shawl of many troubles.

Shawl 2

I've written some of the story of this shawl before, so frequent readers with good memories can switch off here and just look at the pictures. The shawl had its beginnings with the purchase earlier this year in the Netherlands of seductive Shilasdair yarn in softly merging shades of blue and green. I chose a pattern I'd admired for some time (Askew by Lisa Mutch) and knitted for some considerable time. After many doubts and ditherings I faced up to the fact that the shape of the shawl wasn't ideal for the yarn and so I unravelled many hours of knitting. After much searching I remembered Kate Davies' Northmavine Hap pattern. I think I must have had this pattern lodged somewhere in my unconscious because the colours Kate had used for the shawl she knitted were close cousins to my Shilasdair yarn. But I needed a background yarn and so ordered extra yarn in rich egg-yolky yellow that looked perfect against the colours I already had. Perfect, that is, till I started knitting it up. Somehow I'd forgotten the very basic rule that a background yarn should be just that - a background. It shouldn't shout its presence from the rooftops. More unravelling. More rethinking.

Shawl 1

The cost of yarn for this project was already rather embarrassing so without too much hope of success I stated rummaging through my yarn collection (not a stash, a yarn collection). I found some fine grey-beige Isager wool, destashed to me by the local queen of yarn redistribution. The colour was perfect, but the yarn was finer than the Shilasdair and I wasn't sure how it would work. By this stage I think I must have deserved some good luck, because the yarns worked so well together. Success.

Shawl back

Well, success till I'd knitted a bit beyond the size of the shawl suggested by the pattern (I am, after all, larger than Kate Davies) and cast off across innumerable stitches. The shawl was too small! Last year I knitted a big shawl that I can cross in front and tie behind my back and I've loved it. I wanted another shawl I could use this way and it was the way Kate Davies had designed this shawl. I'm clearly not only larger than Kate Davies, but significantly larger. So, reluctantly, I undid the cast-off, painstakingly picked up the stitches along the edge, and resumed knitting.

Shawl 4

This time I knitted till I ran out of the Shilasdair yarn. Then all that needed to be done was to sew in the many ends of yarn left from the frequent stripey yarn changes. This took ages, but I'm very happy with the outcome.

Shawl close-up

I now have another very big shawl that's remarkably light for its size. I love it. However, we're having a very early and very warm Spring in Sydney and I doubt I'll be able to wear it in the near future. But I think it will make a good travel companion later this year as it's warm, light, and squashes into a small space. I think my shawl is at the end of its troubles.

Shawl 3

Again, thanks to Margarita for the pics.