So I’ve decided to cheat on knitting.

It’s not unusual that I’ll cheat on projects with other projects, in fact, I’m pretty much a project hussy.  I’ve strung some projects on for years. But it’s rare that I’ve tried a new craft. So what have I tried?

Cross stitch.

Cross stitch, of all things. I mean, cross stitch. Possibly the most pointless of all crafts.  Let’s do a quick summary of common crafts and their uses:

Knitting – clothes, blankets, all manner of accessories

Crochet – likewise.

Weaving – cloth to wrap your body in

Tatting – embellish whatever the hell you want.

But cross stitch? Give me a break. When I ask someone what they do with their finished cross stitch they generally look a bit guilty and mumble something about framing it some point in the future. When pressed, pretty much everyone admits to shoving the end product into a drawer, ultimately obsolete.

So why on a earth did I pick up two cross stitch sets at the Spring Knitting and Stitching Craft Show with my mum on Friday? And why has it only been a week and I’m a third of the way through my first kit? MADNESS!! So, like my knitting, and now cross stitch, apparently, let me unpick the reasons why I really really fricking like cross stitch:

1. Novelty – this is something new and I have long harboured short lived addictions to new shiny things. I mentioned I have two kits; we’ll see if kit two ever gets out of the packaging.

2. Theme – it’s a yarn / knitting themed cross stitch. Goddamn it, I couldn’t resist.

3. New skill – ok so it’s hardly rocket science but it’s nice doing something new. And, who knows, I might be able to cross stitch stuff that I’m going to use!

Which brings me onto my final point. Cross stitch, as lovely as it is, is ultimately useless. As I said above, most of my friends’ beautiful cross stitch sits in a drawer. I’ve actually finished the one pictured below and where is it?

On a shelf. I turned to the webs for inspiration however googling for things to do with finished cross stitch produces a painfully short list.

The best one I found was this one. It’s for a lovely tote bag that I’d use for, gee, um, probably knitting projects and stash. Something original like that.

The second one? That’s going on my wall.

20140319-234048.jpg

Tandem, Bike for four

Image via Wikipedia

So I’ll be moving to London in what is now a scarily short time and, naturally, I have been thinking about what I would like to do there; how I would like to live my life when it is definitively My Life and I am not tied to anyone else, financially, emotionally etc.  One of the things I considered was riding a bike.  Bike riding in London seems to have become super popular all of a sudden and Boris Johnson’s bike initiative, the Barclays Cycle Scheme, has encouraged it all the more.  My parents have tried to dissuade me from this wacky notion for some time now.  Their reasoning is threefold: first, I haven’t ridden a bike in almost ten years, second, I am not the most exercise inclined person in the world and, third, London is full of crazy people in cars and buses, and on bikes too, it must be said, who are all intent on KILLING ME.  While they have given me what is probably a healthy bout of scepticism, I am still keen on the idea; it’s daily exercise, no more reliance on the sweaty crushed tin can that is the Northern Line at 8.15am and I probably would save quite a bit of money.  Like most things in my life, I’ll probably need someone much more proactive than me to give that extra push.  Possibly quite literally.

Anyway, the thing that inspired this post is this video.  It was made by a guy who cycles in New York and made a short film about it after getting a ticket from a police officer.  I’m not sure whether it encouraged me or not to start biking in a capital city.  However, I AM sure that it made me laugh.  A lot.

 

 

Also, how crap is the London bike scheme name?  Barclays Cycle Scheme?!  Paris and Brussels have their own way funkier names!  Paris’ is “velib'”, a play on velo (bike) and liberation (freedom) and Brussels’ is “villo” using velo and ville (town).  HOW is London not cooler than Brussels?!  Couldn’t Barclays with all their squillions of pounds not come up with a better name?!  Sheesh.

…of my swap partner’s AWESOMENESS!!!   This sight of joy, happiness, love and sisterly knitterly spirit arrived on my doorstep the other day:

She is PeggySoo (Rav link) and she is my new Favourite Person.  In fact, I may just be in love with her.  She stalked me so so well and has sent me a box full of knitting, chocolately and filmic goodness.  And yes, that is a SHEEP on the end of a pencil *sigh*.

I feel thoroughly crap and I have not yet put the finishing touches to my swap box, although it is shaping up rather well, I have to say.  I love this kind of thing, it can open you up to so many things you had never considered before.  Through searching for thing for my partner, I have found this clever lady and this amazing place whose packages smell of spring time and fun.  Oh yes, and they smell of damn fine tea, too.

What I loved most about this package is possibly how it changed my mother’s mind.  What she originally termed as “a waste of money”, I think she saw as a genuine way of connecting with complete strangers.  I think she was being understandably a bit sceptical; how would I know if the effort I had put into my box would be reciprocated?  But PeggySoo came through and Mum enjoyed seeing what I had received as much as I did, in the end!!  Thumbs  up all round.

In other news, I have nothing to report on the knitting front.  Nothing is inspiring me at the moment, not even Royale (Rav link).  Having knitted so much of it (seriously, I’ve practically finished this baby, about half the second sleeve to go) I am honestly considering unravelling it all and starting again, this time following someone else’s mods.  What with the pattern having the errors that it did (and the mods *also* having errors) in, I was beginning to feel a little like I had paid to be a test knitter.  Pas amusée.  But paid for it I did and I WILL get the blighter finished, one way or another, to quote Ms Harry.  I have also cast on a pair of socks which are turning out too tight and Displeasure is STILL staring at me!  Ooo ooo, I did finish a present for my partner though, which I am super happy with *beams*.

Now, just to put the REST of the swap box together….

… why on earth I started a blog I knew no-one would really read:

Art from: http://www.knitprincess.com/?p=464
Cover of "Five on a Treasure Island (Famo...

Cover of Five on a Treasure Island (Famous Five)

When I was much younger I used to love to read.  I was a particularly avid reader of Enid Blyton; my mother refuses to throw out my compendium of Famous Five books, even though it is, quite literally, now hanging together by a thread.  However, when I went to uni, in particular, I fell out of the habit of reading regularly for pleasure.  It was mostly a combination of not having enough time to read and knowing that, whenever I was reading for pleasure, I really should be reading something for my course.  But all that has gone now (yippee!) and now I find myself turning off the TV more (along with putting the knitting down, unfortunately) and picking up a book.  I find this pleases the cultural snob in me, as well as actually being something I genuinely want to do: I really do prefer reading over TV sometimes.  As a visual child this has sort of surprised me.

At the moment I’m rereading the Harry Potter set – I’m up to the Order of the Phoenix and I’m loving it!  I’m also delving into Edgar Allen Poe’s “Selected Tales” during my lunch break at work, I find him hard work (I’m not so much a cultural snob as to find 19th century literature readily enjoyable!) but some of his tales are particularly inspired.  I loved Murder at the Rue Morgue, with its ridiculous ending.  I won’t reveal what happens but if you have read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.  It reminded me of a Frasier episode, which then immediately made me want to do a dissertation on literature representations in that series.  And then quickly told myself what a stupid idea that was.  Stupid, but what an excuse to watch and rewatch my Frasier box set!  I also liked the Tell Tale Heart – I read that in the 20 minutes I get at ASDA and I also enjoyed the Pit and the Pendulum.  The others haven’t stuck as much in my head as those but I’ve started the Gold Bug and they’ve just discovered bodies with treasure…

My friends Emma, Laura and Ruth are all great readers and they always seem to know what (good) books are out and about at the moment, I’m really quite jealous of them!  However I console myself with the thought that when I do move down to London I will be able to borrow all these books!  Yesterday I wanted to find my own ideas after completing the BBC 100 book challenge on Facebook.  They think most people will have only read 6 out of the 100 books listed, I got 30.  Take this list with a pinch of salt, though, it lists Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.  I think I should have got a point off for having read that.  However it did inspire me to find a list of books that I “should” read.  I downloaded the BBC’s Big Read 100 Books, ticked off the ones I had read (I like ticking things off) and also found a MASSIVE, 1000-book long list on the Guardian, which, apparently, was selected “by the Guardian’s Review team and a panel of expert judges”.  Oo-er.  Anyway, it’s fun to look at these kind of things and I feel they will be a good place to start for when I am at a loss for what to read.  After Harry Potter and Edgar (fun fact – he and I share the same birthday!), I plan to rediscover more of my childhood with the box set of Narnia books I found whilst digging around in the back of the cupboard and to discover another classic – Anna Karenina.  It was only £2 on Amazon (+ free postage!) and apparently it’s the book you need to read when broken hearted.  When I bought it I was seriously broken hearted, let me tell you!  Thankfully, much less so now.

Any more suggestions??

Please click the picture for the original web page – thank you!

I’m not sure, but I do feel the word “pioneer” almost always demands an exclamation point after it.  Not in a commanding sense, as in attracting the attention of said pioneer to yourself, but in a joyous, almost cantabile way.  In my head it sounds like Ralph Wiggum singing the opening line of “O Canada”.  But I digress.

I have finished something, yaaaay!  As is almost always the way with these things you keep on putting off, once you actually sit down and make yourself finish a garment, it goes by far more quickly than you were anticipating.  I only had one sleeve to do on Pioneer (Rav link), the collar and the bind off to re-do on the other sleeve but, as I am discovering more and more, procrastination seems to rear its ugly head in me, even more so when garments need something unpicking.  It’s can be quite soul destroying.  Even when it’s not, like it was with Pioneer (just a sleeve edging, not much, 30 minutes work max), the “why destroy when I could be creating?” mentality comes over me.  Ho hum.  Anyway, back to Pioneer(!).  I enjoyed making this.  Despite some gauge issues at the beginning (20sts over 10cm on 3.75mm in SPORT WEIGHT?!), I cast on quickly and within a few short evenings I had almost reached the underarm section.  Then I went away to Stratford (this was supposed to be travel knitting) but the allure of Dark Isle socks came too much.

Pattern: Pioneer by kbomb (it’s from Knitty and free but I can’t find it, it’s the Rav link)
Yarn: Louisa Harding Kashmir DK
Needles: 4.5mm (body) and 4mm (neckline edging)

Modifications:

-  No crochet neck edging, I can’t crochet.  Instead I redid the moss stitch edging from the sleeves and bottom edge.  This also added enough so that I can wear it without anything underneath and not feel like a scarlet woman.
–  Lengthened sleeves – not really a short sleeved t shirt fan
–  I added a couple of increases at the sides of the back panel, the original pattern has no shaping at all and, let’s face it, my body shape is by no means the body shape of woman modelling the top on the pattern.
–  I changed the increasing part of the pattern by not doing yo, I didn’t like the effect (yos are for lace and buttonholes and I have yet to be convinced otherwise).  Instead I did coordinating M1 increases.  An increase row went a little like this:

Knit to in pattern to one stitch before marker, RLinc, k1, sm, k1, LLinc and so on a so forth.  I thinking that’s right, I always get my LLincs and RLincs mixed up.  Do whichever you prefer!  Here’s what it looks like:

I have turned it upside down so it looks like it does when you’re knitting it.  Sort of.

 

-  The thing I love the most and am most proud of about this pattern is the finishing.  I wanted to give it a little extra something so I decided to try out a tubular bind off.  As with most new techniques, my shining light in the woolly darkness is TechKnitter.  Immensely useful and knowledgeable lady.  If you have not added her blog to your Google Reader feed, do it.  Do it NOW!!  I’ll wait, it’s fine.  Done it?  Honestly?!  Ok, onwards!  Link to the tutorial is here.  However, I only did one of each set up row and in moss stitch pattern:

Round one: Purl over every knit stitch and slip every purl stitch
Round two: Slip the purl stitches you’ve just done and knit all the slipped stitch (ie over the previous round’s purls).
Follow the whole slipping stitched onto alternate needles and graft together as described by Her Techness.

Try it.  It’s a damn sight easier when you’ve got yarn and needles betwixt your crafty hands.  It took me a while to figure out which combination worked best but I’m quite happy with how it turned out.  Photographic evidence:

I’m not convinced it’s my bind off in shining armour I have been looking for but I like it, it makes a difference from the traditional cast off and looks neater.  I also tubularly bound off (??!!) at the hem but I messed the grafting up.  So no photos of that, I prefer to hide my shame.

More generally, this is a really nice pattern, I think it’s a good starter project for anyone new to topdown projects.  It’s simple enough and the cable motif keeps you interested.  Ooo, speaking of the cable pattern, here’s the back.

The yarn is nice and springy and I’m hoping it’ll get even softer after a wash.  I’m not a big one for soaking and blocking, I appreciate its role in the knitting process and I WILL get into it one day but when I’ve finished something, I just want to get it on!  Now all I have to do is finish the other three cardigans and jumpers I have hidden around the house.

So I signed up for my first ever swap the other day.  Here is the link to the group on Ravelry.  I’m probably more excited about it than I should be.  What I’m finding out via Ravelry, and hoping to explore more in London, is the social community that knitting can build.  I know that far more famous bloggers than me have gone on to create firm online friendships and the buzz a knitting circle can create is legendary, from what I read on the internet.  I am sure it is aided by the consumption of not inconsiderable amounts of liqueur but still!!  I’m really looking forward to finding out more about my partner, picking things out for him/her and just getting more involved with the knitters out there!  You can click on the link to the right —> for the sign up sheet.

In other news I have several long standing projects that need finishing but I continue to cast-on/research new patterns to knit.  Silly, silly girl.  Current total: 6 projects.  Jumpers and cardigans, all of them.  Apparently I will never learn.

Like all serious knitters, along with deciding what toothpaste, knickers, shoes etc to take away on holiday,  I must also think carefully about what knitting to pack.  Actually, it can rank higher than toothpaste and shoes, possibly even higher than knickers.  It’s a close second at the very least.  Originally I had decided on Pioneer to take with me to Stratford and had duly started it at home (you want a good base before you get on that car/train/plane/hovercraft).  It was OK, top down t shirt, yarn you could throw in a bag and circular needles, so no worrying about stitches falling off and then embarrassing yourself on the car/train/plane/hovercraft later on when you have to pick up all those stitches and swear so much you make the sailor opposite blush.   However, I also took Dark Isle Socks with me, entirely speculatively in case I got bored with Pioneer.  Now, the allure of a new pattern is too much to resist at the best of times; Pioneer offered only reams of stockinette stitch with the occasion cable.  This sock pattern offered colourwork and lots of it.  I was particularly excited about this because I had just bought 6 skeins of Drops Fabel sock wool in black and was dying to try it out with the Opal Surprise I bought a while ago in Purl City in Manchester.  The more I think about it, Pioneer stood no chance.  So I cast on for the toe and Pioneer was forgotten.

They came out, in a word, fantastically.  I am so so happy with them.  Here they are, in all their glory:

They are quite possibly my favourite pair of socks to date.  Do you want to know how I know this?  Because the second sock was no trouble whatsoever.  This was a very happy project.  I almost got away with using only one ball of the Drops Fabel, too.  If that had happened I probably would have framed the socks and bought shares in Garnstudio.  Anyway, los statos:

Pattern: Dark Isle Socks by Julie Mueller
Needles: 2.5mm, 2.75mm
Yarn: Drops Fabel (black) and Zwerger Garn Opal Surprise.
NB on the yarn – Drops Fabel has fantastic mileage and the Zwerger looks a lot nicer knitted up than on the ball.  The transitions really show through, especially when you put it with wool like the Fabel.  But then, I’m biased.

Mods:

  • Figure-8 cast on for toes (26sts) then increased up to required 64.  My favourite way of increasing for toes is like this:

Cast on stitches, place markers to mark beginning/middle of round
**Kf&b, knit to 2 sts before marker, kf&b, k1.  Repeat.
Knit one row**
Repeat ** to ** until you have desired number of stitches.  It produces a nice, neat increase.

  • Short row heel (fab tutorial found here), instead of afterthought.  Unless you actually forget to do a heel, why bother?
  • Super stretchy bind off to finish
  • Cut down on the pattern – colour pattern 3, I essentially only did colour pattern 2 and then one more zig (or one more zag?  That’s a puzzler…).  Did 2 repeats of colour pattern 1 instead of however many the patterns asks for at the end
  • You may find these come out a trifle tight.  Since I have cave-lady calves I went up a needle size for the leg.  However, I quite like a tight fitting sock around my foot.

I love these socks.  I’m sure you will too.  Here’s another picture, because I love them so very, very much.

So I went to Stratford with my three best girlfriends from university.  We were all linguists, studying varieties of French + A. N. Other language and in the years that have passed since 2008, when we all graduated, we have taken strikingly different paths in life.

Emma works for the charity, the Family Holiday Association.  She has just got engaged.
Laura did a law conversion course and is now a hot shot solicitor.  She lives with her boyfriend and a lodger.
Ruth did a Masters in Information Services and now has a job as an archivist in Leeds.  She has always wanted to be a librarian and lives with her boyfriend.
I also did a Masters, but in the Politics and Government of the EU, was an intern at the EP in Brussels for six months and now work for my local Asda in Colne.  I live with my parents.

So yes, spectacularly different paths, in many senses.  Here we are, all together, in front of Shakespeare’s birthplace.

This brings me to my next point.  There are three, perhaps four principal memories/thoughts/impressions that I will take away with me forever from this brief jaunt.  My overwhelming impression of the literary legend that drives Stratford is that it is a load of tosh.  Essentially, everywhere that we went “might have been frequented by Shakespeare”, every object we stared at in glass cabinets “Shakespeare might have used something just like this”.  It became a running joke.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a great weekend, and I highly recommend Stratford, but it is based on LIES!

Shakespeare might have lived here

My second memory is a tad more sensual.  I refer you to the pictures below:

Delicious cakes

Delicious pies

It is quite possibly the most perfect collection of delicious pies, cakes and quiches any of us have seen.  I would like to state that the four of us take our pie and cake consumption very seriously.  After having afternoon tea (and cake) there, Emma and I took the executive decision that we would also have lunch there.  Ruth and Laura didn’t have any problems with that.  This is what happened:

Delicious game pie with salad and condiments

As above, but approximately 0.000000167 seconds later

It was AWESOME.  The name of this magical place where culinary epiphanies of fantastic magnitude occur on a daily basis (well, for us, anyway)?  Hobson’s Patisserie.  It’s on Henley Street, where Shakespeare (might have) lived.  I highly recommend it.

Anyway, you can’t go to Stratford without seeing a play.  We were VERY lucky in that the new Swan theatre had just opened, that there were £5 under-25 tickets free for that night and that they didn’t ask for my ID.  We were even luckier in that the play was Romeo and Juliet.  I don’t think you could have asked for a more fortuitous theatrical outing in Stratford.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, having studied Shakespeare (and not really liked it), I was surprised by how much of it I understood.  That was always the barrier with me, and with thousands of other school children, I think.  It’s understandable, the Bard’s language is nigh on 500 years old, it’s damn near impossible to read, but to hear it is another experience entirely.  Those amongst you who have more than one braincell will be saying to yourself “of course, Stephanie, it’s a play” but it really was quite the revelation for me.
The other revelation I had was that Romeo and Juliet were spoilt little brats who both needed a good slap.  I also think the actors played up their youth and all its “GOD Mum, you don’t understand me, I want to just DIE!”  It took away that aura for me that Romeo and Juliet were these fated star cross’d lovers and made me realise they were probably stressy teenagers would were allowed to take their infatuation too far.  I put forward the notion that Shakespeare may have written it as a black comedy to Laura.  She didn’t disagree with me.  What it DID  give me, however, was the desire to see more Shakespeare performed on stage, now I know how accessible it really it.

All in all an excellent weekend was had by all, I think, and with that comes the final, happy impression of the weekend.  We got together, after almost two years of not being together for an extended amount of time and it was great.  It was like no time had passed whatsoever.  I am sad that we do not see each other nearly enough, but I am happy that when we do see each other, it will be as it always has been: laughter dominating the conversation, a healthy supply of good beer and wine and the company of friends who will always be there for you.

 

The other day, I cast off a delightful two-nighter of a project (Beanpole Beanie – Rav link) and found myself at a loose end.  I had nothing to do.  I say nothing, that term is relative.  I only had two things to do, both of them jumpers.  Royale needed a sleeve (still does) and Displeasure, well, the less said about that the better.  It doesn’t need a lot of work, but I’m still angry with it.  One of these days I will finish it and then write a dissertation-length post about it and why IT ANGERS ME!!!!!!!!  I find jumpers tricky things, the idea may be simple, the knitting basic but then you run into the roadblock that is tailoring and fit.  Fit is why Displeasure has annoyed me, fit is why I knit to the specified measurements of Royale, fully in the knowledge that I would have to rip back a good few centimetres.  However, Displeasure aside, I have started to accept this in good heart and of zen mind and go about my knitting/ripping business.  Hey, my body is just like that, why bother, it’s not going to change your shoulder to boob ratio any time soon.

However, I find sometimes that fitting a jumper to yourself can take more time (factoring in procrastination here) than the actual making of the garment, even though (with a helpful friend/partner/lover/accomplice/mother) all this rigmarole can take only a few minutes.  You put the thing on inside out, get that special someone to tack in the sleeves and, boom, you sew it in.  Simple.  But it’s still annoying sometimes and with my patience level (not high), I tend to leave projects that won’t be perfect straightaway to fester on the table next to my chair for a few days (/weeks/months).  Maybe I should stick to hats, scarves and socks.

So, back to my point.  I was at a loose end, not being in the mood to finish anything, and I started browsing around for new things to do.  I already sort of have one, this cabled jacket from Drops design.  I want to knit it in Sirdar Romance which I have used before and really quite like considering the closest it’s been to a natural fibre is what I’ve rammed it against in the Box of Stash.  I wanted a close-fitting cropped cardigan.  I had also decided that I wanted to repeat the cabled motif on the sides of the cardi and adjusted the ribbing accordingly.  It didn’t really work (K2, P4 looks a bit odd at the best of times and having a K4 at the sides looked, well, odder).  So right now I’m sort of up in the air about what to do with, to P4 or not P4, cable or no cable.  Hmmmm.

I have been trying to knit from stash (there’s a reason I bought all this yarn, for goodness’ sake) but some (ok, a lot of) Araucania Lonco has me stumped.  It’s light fingering mercerised cotton and I cannot find a pattern for it anywhere.  I tried knitting a Jaden with it held double but after extensive reknitting and ripping and reripping I lost the will to live.  Knitting is supposed to be about joy, not suicide.  I may try it again, maybe my problem was that I held it double.  Someone else did it in this yarn and it came out lovely.  Anyway, I have found this pattern from Drops (again, feel the Drops love here).  I am keeping everything crossed that this goes OK.

In other news I am going away on Friday to Stratford -upon-Avon for the weekend, yaaaaay!  I’m going with my three best girlfriends from uni and it’s been ages since we’ve been together, as always with these things.  Stratford is supposed to be lovely, I feel the papparazzo coming out in me.  Now to decide what knitting to take with me…

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