Monday, August 31, 2009

FO: Sock-Project Box Bags

Since I developed project-attention-deficit-disorder, the arm of the sofa has become home to several single socks and knits-in-progress. I actually don't know where my daughter's red and black Staccato sock has got to, but it is in my lovely sock project bag that Roo made me. Oops!
I realised that these half-finished projects were in serious danger of becoming moth-bait. There a lot of moths around this year. Hence the lavender harvesting activities!
So this weekend I set aside some time to make a couple of box-bags, using the excellent instructions on this blog. I really like this shape and style of bag for so many things: cosmetics, pencils, socks!
I could have bought some from etsy, but that seemed like such a cop-out. In fact, they were really easy to make and I made them both, production-line-style, in less than 2 hours.
There are no raw edges to be found. Each bag is fully-lined and the outer fabric interfaced. The only visible seams are bound with spotty yellow bias-binding. I finished the zip pulls with a detatchable stitchmarker (also home-made!)
The Mad Budgie socks are in the Birdseed bag, and the Freshman socks are in the Foxglove bag. I kind of overlooked my Mulled Wine sock, which is still bagless. Must get it finished!
Box Bag from Rousabout Vera's instructions.
28cm by 33cm of four fabrics made two bags, each being big enough for a 2-skein sock project, dpns etc. The same size piece of interfacing - I found some of the woven type which added a lovely textured crispness. Each takes a 30cm zip and two short lengths of bias binding.
Foxglove fabric from Westminster Fabrics, lined with pink gingham. Birdseed fabric by Alexander Henry, lined with Liberty Millie tana lawn. Spotty binding from Favourite Fabrics at Ebay.
Verdict? I will definitely be making more of these!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Great Harvest of 2009

It's amazing how much lavender one small bush produces! I probably have about 24 bushes now, dotted around the herb garden, so harvesting the flower stalks is quite labour intensive. I do wonder how the lavender-growers of Norfolk manage - surely they don't do it with scissors, stalk by stalk?
Cutting the costmary was an even bigger task, but my daughter preferred this one, as it didn't involve bees!
I am not sure how to set about drying the costmary - it has soft leaves and is wilting already. I do fear it might compost itself into mush if I don't dry it quite quickly.
But the lavender is everywhere! Every vase-like object in the house is filled with it - the smell is amazing!

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Good Friend

When I began making my herb garden, I purchased a starter pack of tiny plug plants called the "Perfumed Garden" from Barwinnock herbs.

I diligently planted them out and labelled them and nurtured them.. and the majority were munched by rabbits! However, this plant survived.... without a label. So for a long time I have pretty much ignored it, although when it grew to 4 feet high by 6 feet wide, I started to get a bit concerned! What if it was poisonous?

This week I decided I need to know what it was...because if it is "useful" I ought to be using it. After a great deal of web-scouring, I have deduced it is Costmary, or Alecost.

Here is what Culpepper says about it:

Names. Called also alecost, or balsam herb.

This is so frequently known to be an inhabitant in almost every garden, that I suppose it needless to write a description thereof.

Time. It flowereth in June and July.

Government and virtues. It is under the dominion of Jupiter. The ordinary costmary, as well as maudlin, provoketh urine abundantly, and moisteneth the hardness of the mother; it gently purgeth choler and phlegm, extenuating that which is gross, and cutting that which is tough and glutinous, cleanseth that which is foul, and hindereth putrefaction and corruption; it dissolveth without attraction, openeth obstructions, and healeth their evil effects, and is a wonderful help to all sorts of dry agues. It is astringent to the stomach, and strengtheneth the liver, and all the other inward parts, and if taken in whey worketh the more effectually. Taken fasting in the morning, it is very profitable for pains of the head that are continual; and to stay, dry up, and consume, all thin rheums, or distillations from the head into the stomach, and helpeth much to digest raw humours that are gathered therein. It is very profitable for those that are fallen into a continual evil disposition of the body called cachexia, being taken, especially in the beginning of the disease. It is a good friend and helps to evil, weak, and cold livers. The seed is familiarly given to children for the worms, and so is the infusion of the flowers in white wine, given them to the quantity of two ounces at a time: it maketh an excellent salve to cleanse and heal old ulcers, being boiled with olive oil, and adder's tongue with it; and after it is strained, to put in a little wax, rosin, and turpentine, to bring it to a convenient consistence.

Women used to carry it in their "church posy" along with lavender, sage and rosemary - burying their face in the scent helped keep them awake during long sermons! I have also read that it was used as a bookmark in Bibles, to provide a little "natural high" to nibble on mid-morning. My son was intrigued and had a taste - but he wasn't impressed! It was believed to keep sickness and misfortune at bay.

Apparently, I can mix it with Lavender, Tansy and Wormwood to repel moths, ants and silverfish. I don't actually have any Tansy or Wormwood (or do I?), but I definitely have plenty of Lavender! So this weekend I am having my own little harvest festival and will fill the house with bunches of drying herbs, ready to make into stash-protecting sachets. Exciting!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

FO: Aestlight Shawl

I finished knitting Aestlight on Monday evening.

FL stands by his description of it as "like chain mail" and he was surprised at how soft it is. Because it is VERY soft! If you have some Malabrigo Sock in your stash, don't waste it on socks, it will only go fluffy and holey and depress you. Make a shawl instead! And if you don't want a shawl yourself, consider making one for a man - because this shape (perhaps minus the final pointy edging) looks great on a man too if he wears it with a triangle at the front, like Stephen here or here. I am thinking of making one for my son for Christmas, and FL is definitely interested!

Stats: The Aestlight Shawl by Gudrun Johnston. About 3/4 skein of Malabrigo Sock, colourway "Eggplant" and 1/4 skein of Fyberspates Echo BFL Sock, colourway "Flower Garden". 4mm Denise circular needles. The pattern is beautifully-written, with so much supportive information I would recommend it as a first lace project. I made a few late night mistakes and had to pick back a row or two a few times - but I always knew where I was and could see how to fix it because the instructions are so clear. There was never that "blind panic" feeling when I dropped a stitch! And the construction was fascinating! You start with a garter stitch triangle, then add the Bird's Eye lace by picking up stitches along the edges of the triangle, and change direction again to knit the pointy edging sideways! Very cool.

I love the atmosphere of this Alice-in-the-Herb-Garden picture my daughter caught of me in the evening sunlight! (Bum looks big though!)

Verdict? I love the way the Flower Garden yarn colour shifts across the bird's-eye lace. If I was to knit it again, I would use another skein of Fyberspates Echo, or maybe some Noro Silk Garden Sock. Somehow it seemed too plain in Malabrigo alone. Will I knit it again? Um.. maybe not, because there are so many other patterns out there calling my name, but it's a good one with lots to like!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

On bargains.. and otherwise

When is a bargain not a bargain? Listen to Roobeedoo, my friends - if you see some wool at a ridiculously bargainous price on, say, Ebay... think before you buy.
Is it a brand name? Is it in perfect, ready to use condition? Is it fit for the purpose you intended?
Exhibit A: a partly-wound ball of green yarn. But look a little closer - what are those strange spirals appearing down the length of unwound wool?
Oh my - why is it trying to spin back on itself to make a two-ply yarn?
Oh ME oh my - what is that tangled mess at the end of the thread?!
What you see here is the worst of 8 lumps of tweedy wool which I wound from hard oily balls into skeins, soaked in woolwash, and rinsed in the washing machine - because I wanted it to do its worst before I knitted it into a garment.
Believe me, the worst is pretty bad! It didn't felt - in fact it seemed to be lovely and sproingy and utterly knittable until I started to try to turn my skein back into a ball. Then THIS happened!
I am not sure I have the patience for this project. This little bit of winding took a whole evening. I had no sooner untangled a couple of metres than it spun back on itself and became hopelessly tangled again.
Does anyone know what to do to fix this yarn? Or is it a dud? And am I am darned fool for a bad bargain?!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Knitting Progress (with asides)

Hey - thanks to everyone for your supportive comments - very much appreciated! (Especially the rude ones which made me laugh!) If I haven't been to your blog to thank you personally, it's nothing personal, honest.
As you will have gathered from my garbled post (which showed my state of mind), Tuesday’s hospital appointment was a mess and dragged on forever. We waited 2 hours to be seen and then we were all over the place: downstairs to x-ray, back to Haematology, back to x-ray, back to Haematology. Four hours in total. I am SO glad I had FL’s Freshman sock on the needles! I am now almost at the heel flap of sock one. If he opts for Velcade, (and indeed if he refuses it) I will be spending a lot of time at the hospital in September and October, so I am planning my Christmas sock-knitting menu. A sock is the easiest thing to knit in a waiting room – small, portable, instantly put-downable.
I don't think I explained that I have added 6 stitches to back and front of the sock (12 in total) to fit FL, and so the leg will be 12 rows longer to accommodate my stretched adapted spiral. Do you see how the Lorna's Laces is pooling, exactly on the point of the spiral? Cool! (I bet it doesn't happen for sock two!)
Back home, and the Aestlight shawl is progressing fast. I am on the final pointy border, which is knit sideways off the main body of the shawl – fantastic! I take a childish delight in knitting in odd directions! This photo is a much better colour than the last one, which was deceptively bright.
I suppose you have all seen the Damson shawl on Ysolda’s blog? Mmmm! I can’t see me avoiding that one, or the High Line from Through The Loops, which will be for my daughter, though probably not in worsted weight and probably not so large. If she is lucky I might break out the Wollmeise for her... I am becoming a shawl-obsessive! How did that happen?

After wet- blocking my lime green swatch for the Central Park Hoodie, I was all set to go… when I unpinned the dry swatch and it pinged itself into a perfect diamond-shape. Every stitch seemed to have a big side and a little one and the whole thing was severely warped. Noooo! I consulted RooKnits and she reckons it is to do with the spinning of the single ply. I knew that this yarn was going to felt when I bought it, but I hadn’t thought about the unravelling back-spin! The best solution seems to be to pre-wash the yarn. As it is in balls rather than skeins, there will have to be some winding. Oh boo hoo! Another project stalls. However, it is rather exciting to work with such a “raw” product and this yarn was such a bargain, I am determined to make it work.

What happened to Moonstone? Nothing yet! And I am worried that the bag of yarn is on the windowsill, open to moth invasion. I must crack on with that once Aestlight is finished. I seem to like having one project on circular needles, and one on dpns at any one time – any more and I start to panic!

Talking of moths, my herb garden is in full bloom, with a full crop of lavender to harvest sometime soon. Woo hoo!
I still haven't finished the weeding (Forth Road Bridge jokes abound), but the packet of "Edible Flower Mixture" that I threw at the gaps has come up fast and is also in full bloom - more woo hoo! There is a mystery flower which looks like a paintbrush dipped in dark red paint which is stunning - I must identify it and grow more next year. Could it be "Indian paintbrush"? Off to have a search...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A weekend in knitting

This weekend I immersed myself in knitty goodness. I worked a lot on the Aestlight Shawl and am pleased to say it is going well. I have just completed the Birds Eye Lace border in my contrasting yarn (Flower Garden colourway of Echo sock from Fyberspates) and the overall effect is very autumnal and fruity.
FL has his regular hospital appointment this week, and his GP reckons he should have another chest x-ray, as he has been suffering from new pains which have been waking him at night. He hasn't been able to golf and is very tired.
So I needed a waiting room project. This is the Freshman sock from Knitscene Fall 2009. I am using one skein each of Lorna's Laces (Gold Hill colourway) and brownish Sunbeam St Ives sock, knitting them in alternate rows to blend the colours. More autumn hues!
And I swatched for the Hoodie from Knitscene too. This is pure wool tweed from Art Thou Woolly on Ebay. I chose an aran weight by mistake - the pattern is for chunky wool. However, I am pleased with this yarn. I just need to find a different project for it. In the ball it is hard and oily, but after a soak in warm water and woolwash, it "bloomed" beautifully and the fabric shrank only in length, not width. The Central Park Hoodie perhaps?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Summer reading

Time for a catch up on my summer reading programme.

I started in July by lodging a wishlist at my local library, and I have been reading my way through them as they become available. Unfortunately, several have been “short loans” of only 2 weeks, due to other readers requesting them. While 2 weeks is not an unreasonable amount of time to read a novel, it has been a problem when several have become available at once!

So what have I been reading?

First up: The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt. I wanted to read this from the moment it was published. Set in Victorian / Edwardian England, it focuses on the interactions of several arty disfunctional families, each representing a different group of that period. I read Victorian Lit. at University so have a background knowledge of the Morris / Ruskin etceteras and was looking forward to being on familiar territory. But this was my problem – I was deluged by so much historical context, and each family was presented so much as a “type”, that I lost all sense of the characters as people. 249 pages in and I was ready to give up the fight. I just didn’t care any more, with 366 pages to go. (I counted – a bad sign!) I recommend it if you require instant deep immersion in the era – and I foresee its appearance in the “background reading” list for Very Serious literature students. It is a very clever novel, but I require some humanity in my fiction, sorry.

Next: The Blue Hour, a portrait of Jean Rhys by Lillian Pizzichini. Another nostalgic read, as I studied Jean Rhys in the final year of my degree. My stumbling block with this one was the author’s florid style. After encountering the phrase “the caprice of fecundity”, referring to the difficulty of growing vegetables in the Caribbean, I could not take much more. I did try! But the author’s confused stance on Jean Rhys’s mental instability and “loose” sex life finished me off. Was she “a prostitute"? I don’t know – I wasn’t there. But neither was the author, with her at times fawning but often patronising tone and ridiculous turns of phrase. It could not be termed “a biography” – there were no references, footnotes or sources, and in the end I felt I was reading a salacious tabloid expose. No thanks. I would much rather read one of Jean Rhys’s poignant novels.

The third volume I collected did not even survive the initial flick-through. “Blonde Roots” by Bernardine Evaristo. Slavery turned on its head with the white folks as underdogs. Some reviews suggest it is “funny”, but I just found it sickening. Maybe I didn’t give it a chance, but exploitation does not entertain me, no matter who is on top.

So what a relief to come across a winner after weeks of half-hearted reading! I enjoyed “The Night Watch” and “Affinity” by Sarah Waters and if anything, I loved “The Little Stranger” even more! It’s on the Booker list, so all the keen readers of Aberdeenshire have queued it and I had to drop everything (no knitting!) to finish it before Saturday. It is a novel which benefits from intensive reading , as you are drawn into the atmosphere of post-war England and the increasingly sinister goings-on at Hundreds Hall. It is intelligent but easy to read. I will recommend it to my teenaged daughter and my mother alike. And to you!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Seasonal Distractions and plans

The kids are home safe and sound and we are in the last week of the school holidays. Doesn’t time fly?

FL is looking really tired. He says he has a pain in his chest and he can’t tell if it is his lungs or his heart or just a muscular thing due to all the coughing he has been doing. His knee gave way below him while crossing the road the other day, so he is all strapped up with an elastic bandage. Apart from that… he’s fine!

Despite the sunshine, my thoughts are turning to winter knits. It was the latest edition of Knitscene that did it! I am besotted by the short-sleeved hoodie, to the extent of wanting several in all sorts of colours. I need to get past this stage or I will never get round to ordering the yarn for one! The same magazine has a lovely man-friendly sock pattern called Freshman, which I want to knit for FL, some lovely fingerless mittens for my daughter, and a “dagger lace” scarf pattern which I really like but probably won’t get round to.

On the needles, I have the Aestlight shawl, which I pick up in odd moments while waiting for the kettle to boil or the washing machine to finish. There will be nothing exciting to show until I reach the first lacey border and change colour. I have yet to cast on for the second Mad Budgie, and I haven’t wound the wool for my Moonstone cardigan, which I really must do as I am short of a cardigan-type layer to wear to work.

On the sewing front, I have the material for two summer dresses. I can’t help thinking it is hardly worth it now that autumn is nearly here, but that’s the attitude that leaves me a season behind every year! The pattern is Amy Butler’s new Mini Dress and Tunic design, which I first saw over at Mingled Yarn. Elizabeth’s trick of stitching down the central box pleat to add waist shaping turned a baggy frock into a sharply tailored a-line dress which I can see me wearing to work with platform heels or over jeans at the weekend. It looks like a good layering piece too, so I should be able to wear it over a long sleeved t-shirt on cooler days.

The other thing I really need to do soon is sort out my sewing supplies. I am spending too much time looking for things! I need to separate my zips from my bias bindings from my buttons from my threads and label the boxes. I am rather looking forward to this!

Monday, August 10, 2009

FO: Dotty Dress

This weekend, I was determined not to lose sewing momentum. I almost scuppered myself by sulking about the non-arrival of some new fabric, for which I had great plans to make “instant” summer dresses. However, I gave myself a good talking to and set to work on the Dotty Dress which was ready and waiting.

The pattern book (“Sewing Lesson”) had fewer diagrams than the previous Japanese designs I have sewn. Only the unusual parts of the design warranted illustration. This caused me some confusion at the neckline, because I was unclear about how long the bias strip neck-binding should be. The pattern piece seemed too short, and studying the cutting layout, they seemed to have extended it. As the bodice and sleeves are gathered to fit the neckband, it is crucial that this is the right length, so there were a lot of contortions in front of the mirror in a pin-encrusted bodice!

Of course, I made it too long. I only needed the length of the pattern piece after all. The “extensions” in the cutting layout were actually the cuff bands. Duh! But by the time I realised this, I had extended it by 8 inches and sewn it all together. “Off the shoulder” would be a polite description. However, having owned a “gypsy” top many moons ago, I realised that if I ran elastic through the neckband, I could pull it up to fit, without losing the ability to get in and out. Hooray!

After that, it was plain sailing: gather the bottom of the bodice to fit the top of the skirt, sew side seams, hem and insert zip. I was very pleased with the side-seam zip, which is almost invisible. I decided to line the skirt section rather than wear a separate slip.

Result? Big success! The elastic stabilises the neckband and ensures I don’t expose any straps. The gathered bodice gives the illusion of a larger chest, while the body-skimming skirt section hides any lumps and bumps – a good style for a “pear”! If I was to make it again I would probably cut the skirt slightly longer, as I took up only a tiny hem to hit the right part of my knee.

Stats: dress M from “Sewing Lesson”, available from Pomadour at Ebay or Etsy. 2.5 metres of Anna Maria Horner’s Chocolate Lollipop fabric (from Eternal Maker) and 80cm of ordinary lining material. I made size 11, which is the middle of three sizes on the pattern sheet. The whole thing could have been done in a day, but I was interrupted by dog-walking, shopping, cleaning and cooking duties, so it took me a relaxed weekend.

I sewed and sang along to Asteroids Galaxy Tour’s 5-track promo CD on repeat. WHO?! They are a Danish indie band, of whom I heard a snippet on Radio 2 a few weeks ago. I am no music critic, but if you like Nouvelle Vague, Bjork, and the B52’s you might just love this band. I can’t wait for their album to be released in the UK!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

New sewing project: Dotty Dress

I am still in the mood to sew, and the weather appears to be holding long enough to justify making a summer dress or two. Time I got a move on - it's nearly autumn!

This is dress M / N from “Sewing Lesson”, a recent Japanese book purchase. Mine is version N, by virtue of cutting the skirt on the bias. The fabric is an Anna Maria Horner print from the “Chocolate Lollipop” collection, bought from the Eternal Maker in their Moving Day sale.

I am using a full 2.5 metres, because I realised the pattern has quite a strong repeat and I needed to line up the larger circles to some extent. Plus I didn’t want to place “targets” on my bust area!

It is all cut out and ready to sew. I am thinking I might need to line it or – gasp! – wear a slip, so I am investigating those possibilities before I do something irrevocable that limits my options. I am thinking a fuschia silky chiffony under - layer would be rather sweet hanging below my hemline …

This led me to surfing the web for vintage slippy goodness. I didn't find what I wanted, but I found two fantastic UK-based vintage clothing shops. If this is your style, do have a look - not cheap, but definitely inspirational!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

First Mad Budgie Sock

It didn't take long to finish the first Mad Budgie sock after I had negotiated the heel.

I decided to work 5 repeats of the grid pattern up the leg as the original 4 seemed a bit short. And 5 is a better number somehow!

I stuck to the original design and worked the picot cuff as written.

I am really pleased to have been able to copy the sock as it appears in the book, despite my lack of German. It was really not hard at all! If anyone else is swithering over whether or not to buy the book in its original language, I would say "Go for it!". If you have other sock knitting books and a smattering of experience you will be fine!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

New project: Aestlight Shawl

After finishing my aubergine trousers, I was keen to make something to “go” with it. Oh Miss Matchy-Matchy! I have fabric to sew a top… but it had to be pre-washed and I am unsure about my pattern choice, so this is on hold while I ponder.

Instead, I took myself by surprise and cast on for an Aestlight Shawl, using my last skein of Malabrigo Sock, in the Eggplant colourway. I hadn’t been particularly struck by this shawl pattern until I saw a few versions using two colours of yarn instead of one – suddenly the design came to life and stopped looking so… authentically Shetland. Instead of having a reverential “homage to the past” feel, the two-colour version looks decidedly modern. Much better!

The central garter stitch triangle is a relaxing knit, with the subtle variations of the Malabrigo keeping it from being too plain. I plan to knit the lacey border in leftover Fyberspates Echo sock in the Flower Garden colourway – I hope I have enough! My Spring Forward socks have faded badly in the wash, so I am hoping that a shawl will suffer less wear and tear and I will be able to enjoy the colours a lot longer.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Mad Budgie progress

I am really enjoying knitting my Mad Budgie socks. As little as 5 rows makes such a difference to overall progress.

The yarn is from the deepest depths of the stash, being from the now-extinct Curious Yarns. It is a standard wool/nylon mix in the colourways Sprung (lemon/lime) and Neptune (teal). I have been saving these semi-solids for the perfect two-colour project and this is it!

It is probably a good time to confess to making it up as I go along, in respect of the overall construction. I managed to decipher enough of the German original (Ravelry link) to deduce that you were supposed to start with a provisional crochet cast-on and knit the foot section first, bottom up, and only add the toe at the end. This would allow you to adjust the foot length as if you were knitting a normal top-down sock.

However, my recent adventures with Wendy’s toe-up sock book led me to conclude that I could use the toe recipe from the Trilobite pattern, increasing until I had 70 stitches, then knit the birdie upper foot and sole charts as written, then add the short row heel from the Dead Simple Lace sock, to produce a sock that looks pretty much the same as Stephanie’s original, if not an exact reproduction. And I reckoned it would fit!

I haven’t yet decided whether or not to knit a picot cuff. Watch this space!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

FO: Aubergine trousers

My day off was productive. I finished these trousers, using the same pattern as my charcoal pair (back in the winter).

Lacking a photographer, I stole her studio (bedroom!)and self-timed these pictures, Contrary to what you see, they do not have one leg longer than the other! Apologies for bare midriff exposure in the second pic!

Patrick Lichfield will not be threatened by my photographic prowess.

New Look 6190, made in size 12 but taking 2cm seams for a better fit. The fabric is "pure wool with 3% lycra" Super 120 fabric, bought from British Fabrics via their Ebay shop.

The fabric is beautifully drapey and fine - definitely a spring/summer-type wool rather than a winter one.

Having used this pattern twice now, I am ready to say it is my "go to" wide-legged trouser pattern. The instructions are very clear, particularly around the creation of a hidden side-seam zip. The only thing that went wrong was that I sewed the yoke facing the wrong way round - again! To prevent it happening again, I have made a little sketch on the instruction sheet so that I can tell instantly which side is the right-hand seam - I am hopeless at visualising what happens when you turn a garment right-way- out, and left becomes right unless it is a lining... aargh!

Verdict: big success! I wore them out to dinner last night, half an hour after finishing the hem! You might not approve of a machine-stitched hem, but I rather like the way it gives the impression of a turn-up on such a wide leg. I am too short for the bulk of turn-ups, so a deep top-stitched hem is my compromise.