Thursday, October 31, 2013

FO: Camber Top by Merchant and Mills

Alert the Press:  I sewed something!
Luckily it is Hallowe'en, because I am ghostly pale in these pictures.  Possibly because it was far too cold to be outdoors in a flimsy t-shirt!

Pattern:  The Camber Top by Merchant and Mills, size 8 (the smallest size)
Fabric:  1 metre of silk / cotton voile from Cousette, about £12 if memory serves me right.
Other:  Just thread, from stash.
I wasn't planning to make this top, but when the pattern arrived I had a sudden attack of cold feet about cutting into my lovely flannel to make the dress version when I had no idea how it was going to turn out.  I have scoured the web, and haven't yet found another blogger who has made this.
Merchant and Mills patterns perhaps appeal to a different demographic:  dare I say slightly older women, who may be less likely to blog...?
So despite the autumnal chill, I excavated this lightweight voile from the stash and set to work on the top, just to try out the pattern.
I am really glad that I did, because despite its simple shape, sewing the Camber is all about attention to detail and achieving a high-quality finish.  I had to put the brakes on and take it one step at a time, because the yoke construction was entirely new to me and I was in serious danger of botching it up by going too fast.
Breathe, Roo, just breathe!
It is described as "easy to make" and I suppose that is true if you already know how to sew.  It would be a really good pattern to use in a dressmaking class, because there are no awkward fastenings to insert, no buttonholes, no interfacing. But I think a complete beginner might get into a grumpy strop tackling that yoke on their own at home.  It is beautifully constructed.  The end result has the potential to be immaculate... but only if you are meticulous with your measuring and stitching and instruction-following. 
Me?  I took two shots at the shoulder pivot before I got it right.  Just saying.
I decided to cut the smallest size and made no attempt to alter anything.  I had read on the Raystitch blog that the designer bases her sizing on a Toast or M&S model, so I expected it to have lots of ease and it does.  I am very happy with the fit across the shoulders and the neckline is just right - not as high as my 60's shell pattern, and easy enough to pop over my head as long as I remember to take my glasses off!
The darts are in a good place for me:  not too high. 
It might be a little too roomy for me through the hip, but better that than too tight.
Yup.  This could very well become my go-to pattern for a woven summer top.
I can't imagine wearing it for another 6 or 7 months without at least two more layers above and below, but that's my own fault for sewing such thin fabric in October!
Next up?  The dress version, in seasonally-appropriate fabric.
Woo hoo!  I am sewing again!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Week In Knitting...with a(n) FO

Let's start with the FO:  A pair of Narcissa Socks from the Unofficial HP Knits Book, designed by the wonderful Rachel Coopey.
6 hours of train travel on Monday took me from the heel turn of sock two to the toe.
The yarn is Viscount of Spark from Countess Ablaze in the amazing colour "Nerds Prefer their Rainbows Darker".  These pictures show the colour as being slightly brighter than in real life.  It is definitely Darker :)
You might be able to see the sparkles if you squint...?
The yarn is 75% merino, 20% nylon and 5% stellina and it is superwash.  Hopefully they will be hard-wearing.  They are pretty stretchy, even the picot cuff, which is a very good thing as they are not for me.  Ssssssh!

Tuesday found me in the Haematology waiting room, so I cast on the Hector socks from Rachel Coopey's book "A Knitted Sock Society".  The yarn came from the p-hop table in York 2013 and is 100% easy care Merino from YarnAddict in a club colour called January - it is really soft!  In the skein it was in evenly-divided sections of lime green, lilac, mint green and light blue.  I took the risk that it might stripe, and it is doing a rather pretty spiral in even 1-inch sections.
In a competition for attention, the Hector pattern stands up well against the colours of the yarn.  It is working up quickly and is another super-stretchy rib / lace combination- perfect for gift-knitting!  I almost considered these for a man... but only a golfer would cope with such bright hues.  Sorry FL - they are not for you after all!
 And last but not least - I have serious progress to report on my Kex blanket!
I have almost completed section 2 (of 4, plus border).
The picture above is pretty true to colour.
The picture below shows how it looks next to section 1 in bright sunlight.
At 4 rows an hour, it continues to feel like a gargantuan project, but it is heartening to see such evidence of progress after just one week of dedicated attention.  At this rate I might finish it by...
Let's just say" I might finish it".  That's good enough for me!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Agenda Setting

With a whole week of annual leave due to me and winter approaching, I decided to take a break while the going is good.
On Monday, I am meeting my mother in Edinburgh with no particular plan in mind, other than to do my daughterly duty. I might be able to persuade her to have coffee at the Gallery of Modern Art and see the Louise Bourgeois exhibition... or not.
I am taking the train, so I will have over 6 hours of uninterrupted knitting time to myself - woo hoo!
Tuesday is a Haematology day, so there will be more knitting, but hopefully a couple of hours' worth of daylight-time at home too.
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday? Planning days!
I will be doing some serious work on FL's book, but I also intend to shake up my yarn, fabric and pattern stashes and get to work on some fresh projects.

November is my birthday month and I will be 49. I want to start a "49 before 50" list:  a collection of personal challenges and life improvements to kick-start my second half-century.
I have been testing the water by recording good habits I wish to adopt and bad ones I want to lose.  For four whole weeks I have avoided shop-bought coffee, and written it down every time.  That's 20 half-pints of milk avoided, and £50 saved already!
High on my list is to try to be more active.  Even if I only manage 49 deliberate acts of exercise in a year, that will be about 40 more than I managed this year...gulp.
So this week I am making my list (and checking it twice).
Oh - and I will be playing with my new miniballs of JC Rennie yarn, pictured above (from Wee County yarns).  Lovely!
The Hitch Ravelry Group knitalong for  the Alicia Hat and Mitts set starts on 1 November - I will be there!
And sewing?
This is Robert Kaufmann "Shetland flannel", a fairly heavy pure brushed cotton herringbone, from The Eternal Maker.  Super soft and warm and squishy!
Hopefully my Merchant and Mills patterns will arrive soon, to spur me on.  They were last heard of somewhere on a courier's van after a second attempt at delivery.  But to where?  Certainly not to our house, as FL was in all day!
But today is Sunday, and I have declared it to be a Blanket-Knitting Day.  With every row it grows...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A week in knitting

Already? Really? That was a fast week!
Since finishing my Thistle scarf, I have applied myself to the Narcissa socks and have just turned the heel of sock two. I would like to finish these off before next week’s hospital appointment, so that I have something new for the waiting room.
I also picked up my Mermaid’s Song Shawl again.
It was looking awfully long, so I checked the pattern, and realised that (a) it is meant to be worked in laceweight and (b) it takes a lot more yarn than I have at my disposal.
Ah. I knew this really, but I had forgotten.
Thinking about my Thistle, it was about 2/3 of the yardage / size of the pattern due to subbing fingering weight for lace. The calculation was a lot easier to make with that one, because it was a long strip of flat knitting. This little number is possibly a triangle, but almost certainly curvaceous.
I have arbitrarily decided to stop knitting the lace edging after 15 repeats.
There is no scientific basis for this decision – I just like the number.
Watch this space!
And just to prove there is no ill-feeling between me and my Kex blanket, I dug it out of its bag last night and gave it some love.
Have you seen the second section before? Maybe not. There's not much to show as yet.
I knitted on after taking this photograph, so hopefully next week you will get a better sense of the full set of colours.
There are four segments to the main piece, and I think I have enough yarn to knit two of each colour combination.
After that, you knit a border all the way round the outside edge.
I think mine will be lavender.. but then again it might be orange :)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Knitterly Inspiration: Hitch

Alicia Tam and Mitts
Following my recent obsession with patterns from the Unofficial HP Knits book, you may not be surprised to hear that I have got over my phobia of "themed" knitting books.
Too often in the past, they have seemed horribly contrived and irrelevant to me.
Consider how many vampire-themed knitting patterns you have come across... and how often they are for quite unexciting fingerless mitts.
Why do vampires wear fingerless mitts anyway?
The Unofficial HP contains patterns from some stellar designers at the top of their game. The HP-ness is neither here nor there, in my opinion.
Constance shawl
So when I saw the Yarnivore reviewing a new Cooperative Press book "Hitch", I curbed my instinct to fast-forward, and listened to what she had to say. And - oooh!! I am so glad I did!
I managed to hold out for almost 48 hours before I bought the pdf version of the book.
I almost broke the printer making my copy, because I just can't give a book proper attention on my laptop screen, and I certainly can't knit from it. Not for the first time I thought I might be in the market for some kind of e-reader device...
Melanie shawl
But back to Hitch. I am not a particular fan of Alfie (Hitchcock) especially after watching a very creepy documentary about his.. ahem... behavioural issues.  But I admit to enjoying the atmosphere of many of his films, and it is that which comes through in many of these patterns.  Ooh WOW - this is an intriguing collection of vaguely-vintage-inspired knits!
There are 29 patterns in the book, for £10.88 (at today's exchange rate - it is priced in dollars) which is remarkable value.
"Only if you plan to knit them!" I hear you shout. Well, I do.
You won't be surprised to hear that I love the Rachel Coopey sock pattern, Wendice (not yet on Ravelry) but I am also besotted with the other sock pattern for some knee-highs with lovely geometric lace and a contrasting rib:  Tippi Toes.
Tippi Toes
Then there are some dashing striped fingerless Stella gloves (ok, ok, I admit it, I DO like fingerless mitts!) which Sadie (Yarnivore) picked out for herself - and she's right! These would be so striking in black and lime green!
Stella gloves
Oh so many funky accessories!

But there are also full-sized garments in here. Cute cardigans. Neat sweaters. I dare you to look for yourself. Be warned - you may end up pressing "Buy it Now"!
What it took me a while to realise, even though it is blindingly obvious, is that the whole collection is presented in cinematic (dare I say "noir"?) shades of  grey and red.  How clever!
So when Christine and I took a trip out to Oyne the other day, I was on a mission to purchase some Alba Yarn (spun by JC Rennie, and which I used to knit Betty Jean McNeil, Audrey-in-Unst and Bettie's Pullover) in two shades of grey, and perhaps a pink or red, to knit the Alicia set (mitts and a beret, at the top of this post).
Alas!  Alba Yarn is no more!  But the new owner of the shop formerly known as The Wool Shed stocks a smattering of JC Rennie yarns and I was able to pick up a ball each of Oxford (a deep clerical grey) and Silver Grey (much lighter, almost an off-white) in the Supersoft Lambswool.
At the time, I resigned myself to knitting the Souvenir of a Killing beret which only requires two colours.
Souvenir of a Killing
But the Alicia set continued to haunt me... and so it was that I discovered Wee County Yarns and their sets of 5 x 10g mini-balls of JC Rennie wool for £5.
Be still, my beating heart!
Klaxon klaxon klaxon!!!
"Houston, we have a problem...!"
 Dear.  Sweet.  Heaven.
The prospect of assembling a palette of my favourite Scottish yarn without blowing the budget was just too much for me.
Lismore mini-balls
I made the "sensible" purchase of a set of Lismore (shades of pinky red, grey and cream) for Alicia.
But I also succumbed to some investment purchases.
I might show you when they arrive ;)
So much for stash-busting!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

FO: Thistle Scarf by Tin Can Knits

Pattern:  Thistle Scarf by Tin Can Knits from Handmade in the UK
I couldn't see the thistles until I blocked it.
They are, of course, upside down in these photographs!
The first third is thistle lace, and then it transitions to wonderful architectural lace columns, which you work until you run out of yarn.
 Yarn:  Enchant from Skein Queen:  a blend of baby alpaca, silk and cashmere in fingering weight.
This yarn has it all:  it is soft, light, drapey, lustrous with a sheen of silk and slightly fluffy with a halo of alpaca.
The colourway "Strawberries and Champagne" is variegated, but not so much that it would hide the lace pattern.

I began this project on a whim, and then my emotions got the better of me and I whipped it up in a whirlwind of knitting over the space of 12 days.
The thistles did not come easily to me, and I was glad to begin the columns, which rolled off the needles at a remarkable rate.


Really rather lovely, if I say so myself!
I will definitely knit this pattern again, and I had to stop myself from winding a skein of actual laceweight straightaway, because I wanted to see how it looks in a semi-solid, at an even lighter gauge.


 It is off in the post tomorrow, a gift for another "wife of cancer".
A supportive knitterly hug, if you like.


And although we don't have much in the way of strawberries or champagne in these parts, the view over the fields this morning was fittingly hazy and romantic.

And nature had even woven some of its own lace outside the bothy.

I startled a group of deer in the trees which surround our house.
They leaped across the fields before I got the chance to say hello.
But for once they stopped and looked back.
Hello my dears!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

What would Georgia sew today?

Factory Dress

I posed this question the other day when I was pondering the concept of Georgia O'Keeffe as a style icon. And it amazes me that it took me so long to come up with the answer.
Japanese patterns! Of course she would!
Sculptural silhouettes in black and white and grey?
In the best quality natural fibres she could source and afford?
Obvious really.
But... in my ponderings and web-wanderings, I also fell upon a couple of patterns from Merchant and Mills.
The Factory Dress? Oh. Wow.
Now... I know I said that dropped waists and shapeless smocks did nothing for my shape. But does that matter?
Because it is not about what other people think when they look at me, it is about how I want myself to appear. (I am saying this now...)

Camber Dress or Top
They sell fabric too.
Just sayin'...

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Week In Knitting

Last Wednesday's knitting catch-up post was usurped by a knitted Finished Object, and I almost managed that this week too.
I have dedicated the past 7 days' knitting time to the Thistle Scarf by Tin Can Knits.
This project is an act of witchcraft. I am brewing it up in defence against evil spirits. And it's not even Hallowe'en yet!
When I heard that a work colleague's husband's cancer was kicking in hard and that she was now a full-time carer, the fear of death set in. I somehow thought that if I performed an act of knitterly magic on her behalf, all would be well, and that the good karma would rub off on my family too.
So I have been knitting like a woman possessed.
I initially thought I might make J. a pair of socks but I didn't know her shoe size and was too embarrassed to ask. Rummaging through the stash for something appropriate, I fell upon this Skein Queen Enchant in "Strawberries and Champagne", a club colour, inspired by the recent film of The Great Gatsby.
It is soft and silky and rather luxurious. And really, J. is the kind of lady to gift such a yarn: classy, refined, but definitely warm-hearted.
Last Thursday I reached the 1/3-way-through point and decided there was nothing to be done but knit and knit and knit until it was complete. All other projects were set aside.
This pattern helpfully suggests ending the thistle lace section when you have 2/3 of your yarn left. Thereafter, it is a simple 2-row repeat until you run out of wool. My skein was 100g / 400m, instead of the 600m used in the sample. So I worked 5 full thistle repeats instead of 7.
I would have been finished by today if I had not been distracted by Georgia O'Keeffe and the quest for the perfect dress pattern!
So a FO post will follow shortly, after another 12 or so rows and a blocking session.
As for karma, well...! All the magic in the world won't change the fact that FL is in a lot of pain. However, he saw his GP on Monday and has a whole raft of new potions to try: Lyrica, Oxycodone, a new asthma inhaler and a course of antibiotics have been added to his treasure chest of drugs. Side effects? Probably. I'll have my eye out for those.  But he is willing to try anything to get some relief...
...except a scarf. He definitely doesn't want to try a fluffy pink scarf.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Under The Influence: Georgia O'Keeffe

On Friday evening, I got the dinner going and switched on the tv in the hope of some distraction... and hit gold!  A freeview channel I had never heard of was showing the film Georgia O'Keeffe.  Despite Jeremy Irons' comedy moustache and rather a lot of lingering heavy breathing, it was a visually stunning film.  And the costumes!  I had no idea that Georgia O'Keeffe had such a strong "look".  I knew only of her paintings.
By complete coincidence, I recently bought a copy of Lone Wolf magazine, just to see what it was all about.  In it, there is an inspiration piece about who else but Ms O'Keeffe, and it mentioned that she "was an expert seamstress".  Really?  I needed to find out more! 

Some recollections from Ellen Bradbury Reid, who shared a personal bond with Georgia O’Keeffe in her later years: (source)
“O’Keeffe never wore sunglasses because they changed the color of things. She wore big brimmed black hats. She made or had all her clothes made. She always made her own clothes, even when she was a small girl. When she was at Chatham Academy, an Episcopal girls school in Virginia, she would wear very plain simple dresses. Most of the Chatham girls were from the South and had lace and pretty bows on their dresses, and they longed to dress O’Keeffe up…but she resisted. She once said that if she had to figure out what color to wear each day it would be a waste of time. As a young woman she wore black, brown, and white, but as she grew older she wore only black and white.
O’Keeffe had many patterns for dresses that she saved and reused for years. Most of the dresses were cut on the bias and had batwing sleeves so that they moved beautifully and were comfortable. Once when she was older, her friend Juan Hamilton had a dress made following one of her standard patterns but in a mauve, plum color. O’Keeffe refused to wear it and gave it back to the dressmaker.”

And this is from Portrait of an Artist:  A Biography of Georgia O'Keefe by Laurie Lisle:
"For years Georgia had stitched most of her simple clothes out of the finest fabric, often sewing when she wanted to think. She made luxurious white silk blouses, white cotton nightgowns with white embroidery, and petticoats edged with white lace. In cold weather she donned a black wool coat with a collar that buttoned up to her chin and black gloves of the best leather. At one time, she sported a pair of black bloomers under a tentlike black tunic. Throughout the years, when asked the reason for her monotone clothing -odd for a painter- she gave several, all with some truth to them. Once she said that if she began to choose colors to wear, she would not have time to pick any to paint. Another time she explained that she was so sensitive to color that if she wore a red dress, she would be obliged to live up to its flamboyance. She claimed she liked being cloaked in anonymity. "There's something about black," she remarked. "You feel hidden away in it." Deadly-serious black also served to transmit the message that she was not to be treated frivolously or flirtatiously. Also, she must have realized that if her clothes were one color, they would match and she would achieve a look of maximum elegance with a minimum of time and money."
This is all so tantalising!
Across the web, I find references to her "parson's hat" , the monochrome aesthetic, her somewhat androgynous style.

I don't see myself adopting a uniform of black and white anytime soon, but how tempting it is!
I imagine a modern-day O'Keeffe might shop at Me&Em or Toast.

But what would she sew?  What patterns would she use?
What patterns did she use back then?
Oh wouldn't you love to get hold of those?
"Bias cut with batwing sleeves"?  Yes please!  Wow!
And let's note:  she may have painted exuberant exotic flowers, but she did not wear them.  A lesson to all of us not to be too literal in our inspiration!
And as a template for aging gracefully?  Oh yes!
There is more on that topic, referencing Georgia with some great pictures here.  Go, read it.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

FO: Hermione's Time-Turner Mitts

Pattern:  Hermione's Time-Turner Mitts from the Unofficial HP Knits Book
Yarn:  YarnYard 100% Merino in Blood Orange, a Small Skein Society Yarn (Round 3), plus a smidgen of Curious Yarns sock in the colour Neptune (long discontinued, leftover from my Mad Budgie socks)
Needles:  2.75mm dpns
This was a really enjoyable knitting project. 
I love patterns which keep you interested with lots of achievable milestones along the way.
These are simple cabled mitts, yes, but the central panel is framed so beautifully by the flowing stitches.
The designer allowed extra width over the thumb without losing the integrity of the cables or the purls between them.  Clever!
The only thing I changed was the cast-on method.  The suggested style just wasn't working out for me.
And I used slightly smaller needles to make them wind-proof :)
 "L" and "R"?
Um... I have difficulty remembering which is Left and which is Right.
Why do you think I failed my driving test so many times?
A big thumbs up for the pattern, the yarn (tweedy but softer than most rustic-looking wool) and the Blood Orange tea!

And I might as well 'fess up to the rest of my "styling":
Shirt:  found secondhand on ebay after I saw Ysolda wearing something very similar on her blog.
Jacket:  bought full-price (scary!) from Seasalt Cornwall because I desperately needed a warm and waterproof winter coat and this one was ORANGE!  If it doesn't last me 10 years I will be very sad.
Nails:  Priti NYC non-toxic nail polish in Snapdragon (because I have decent nails for the first time this year!)

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Haematology Top Trumps

It is time someone sold a card game for trainee doctors called "Haematology Top Trumps".  I think it could be a best-seller.
At today's hospital appointment I learned that AML trumps MDS trumps Myeloma trumps MGUS.
So, while FL thought he was holding the winning card with Myeloma, it has just been trumped by the diagnosis of MDS.
But I thought he had Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)?
No, silly, because his cytogenetics are coming back normal!  He "only" has MDS.
But MDS trumps Myeloma, because there is a very good chance that in FL's case it is going to develop onto AML.   When?  We don't know.  Hence the "watch and wait" scenario the doctor mentioned last time.
But getting back to my card game, I think it could make me a fortune, don't you?
Think of all the statistics you could include on the card for each blood disease, the educational value of a full set, the revision potential for medical students!
Today, FL was holding a card for MDS and his haemoglobin is at 103, but falling, so in 3 weeks' time he might win a blood transfusion - woo hoo!  His potassium is low, so he has to eat more bananas - party time!  But in a surprise development he has elevated gamma gt (it is 97 now, but was 68 in September and 43 in June), so he had better stay away from alcohol or he will be sent straight down to ultrasound to check out his liver.  That's OK - he isn't allowed alcohol on his new painkiller regime anyway.
And how is he?
Very very tired, but not as bad as he was just before his last transfusion.
In a lot of pain... but he just needs to take the big painkillers and accept that he will fall asleep but will not be in pain:  a difficult balance.
And he has a cough.  Boy, does he have a cough!  But he can't have antibiotics again until he produces a convincing spit-sample.  So that's his job for today:  hack that cough into a bottle, please!
If I sound strangely upbeat, it's because I realised today that this is not the slippery slope I thought it was.  Yes, it is a slope, and yes it is slippery, but it's not The Big One.
I just need more nails in my boots.

P.S.  We got home from the hospital to find my order had arrived from the Hebden Tea Company... and they had included a free sample of "Blood Orange" tea!  The same name as the yarn I am knitting.  And oh so appropriate for Haematology day!  It smells amazing too :)

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Herbaceous Mysteries

This picture sums up my weekend.
Saturday was such an astonishingly glorious sunny day that I felt compelled to excavate the herb garden.
I dug up the rabbit-netting, pulled out all the weeds that had grown through it, and then reconstructed the fence.
Inspired by my latest reading (Derek Jarman's Modern Nature), I took a trip to the garden centre for some highly-optimistic fritillary bulbs and purple-sprouting broccoli plug plants.  Into the herb garden they go!  If nothing else, they will fill the gaps where the weeds used to be.
 The salvia and borage are still going strong.
As I worked, there was a continuous buzzing and fluttering of bees and butterflies.  Sadly, only bumble bees, not honey bees.  We haven't seen any of those for years now.
 This area was supposed to be devoted to Californian poppies, but not one seed came up.  Instead, I have these yellow flowers of unknown origin.  Maybe self-seeded from last year's "wildflower mix"?
 And standing proud above them all, the verbena bonariensis.  I am SO pleased with these!  I hope they come back next year!
Mysteriously, I also have about a dozen of these plants, popping up where I think I scattered another packet of Lidl's finest (39p) mixed flower seeds.  I have no idea what they are!  The foliage is a deep pink in the shade, and bright acid green in sunlight.  The flowers are feathery.  Does anyone know what they might be?  They are a dramatic contrast to the colour of the rest of my garden :)
 All that outdoor activity has left me feeling a bit old and creaky.
Today is a knitting day!
This is my latest project:  the Thistle Scarf from Tin Can Knits.  I am using Skein Queen Enchant (an alpaca/ silk / cashmere mix) in the club colourway "Strawberries and Champagne".  This is a gift for a work colleague whose husband's health has taken a sudden downturn.  She doesn't knit and I feel the need to spread the love.  We cancer wives have to look after each other!