living the crafting dream – in Deutschland

It feels like it’s time for a bit of an update around these parts, having neglected the Wind-Up Sheep for a little while. There’s not a lot to catch up on: I just moved to Germany, learnt German (ho ho ho) and got back on with normal everyday life again. Except a bit more German-style this time (i.e. I now eat a lot of rye bread, cabbage and wurst, and am very happy for it – all I would improve is the beer, but I’m sure that’ll come). I’m slightly ashamed to say that I’ve become a bit hooked on Instagram in recent weeks – just like the rest of the world, it would seem – something I never thought would happen. And although I wouldn’t want to put my lack of blogposts down to that alone, as evidently my dedication to the slow-blogging cause runs deeper, I would say that it’s playing a part. It’s like instant blogposts, without all the writing. Super!

My crafting corner

But, back to the real blog. This week I’ve been living the dream; that is, I haven’t had any work to do, which is almost unheard of, and so I’ve been crafting to the max, littering every corner of our flat with different projects on the go, and weirdly enough, actually making some significant progress! Above is a view of my crafting station (please forgive the assorted fluffy creatures – they seem to follow me around, I don’t know how), surrounded on all sides by different projects. The most significant progress of all has been on the patchwork quilt. It has been lingering in a pile, with one-quarter of the machine quilting complete, for some years. But as I recently began planning a new patchwork quilt, and given the number of patchwork quilts I possess in various stages of completion, I made a vow that I had to finish one before I could start another. So on Monday I dragged it out and finished the machine quilting, despite my sewing machine’s attempts to prevent me.

Quilting!

Then on Tuesday, I spent the morning dreading hand-sewing the binding of the quilt, and so procrastinated by planning three future knitting projects in detail (including buying the patterns on Ravelry and finding the necessary wool from my stash). It required such strength of will not to cast one on, too, that even I am surprised that the yarn still remains untouched on the coffee table. Eventually, I summoned up the courage to do the right thing, and I trimmed, folded and pinned the edges of the quilt and began sewing the binding. As I write, I am less than one full side away from completing the binding. You might ask, what on earth am I doing here, when I ought to be finishing up that quilt? Well it turns out that spending hours on end hand-sewing quilt binding, even when supplemented by music, online documentaries and podcasts, tends to lead to a cooped-up feeling of crazy that no amount of quilt-completing satisfaction (or even procrastiknitting) would cure. But I know it’s going to happen, either today or tomorrow, and I am feeling very chuffed about that. I never finish quilts!

Autumnal Speckled Sock

Other than that, I’ve also casually turned out a sock over the past week, and embroidered half a hand towel. I love it when things don’t take forever. It’s far more exciting, and a more energising, inspiring process making things fast. I know I’ve got one more sock and another half a towel to go, but I think a significant difference about life in Germany is, at least so far, that I feel like I have a lot more time to myself. Before I moved, I was doing three jobs in the space in which normal people do one, which really meant that I did a lot of working in the evenings and at weekends, which was really boring, and it made me feel underproductive (craft-wise, that is). But here, now that I only have the one job, all of a sudden I have tons of time on my hands! I am also especially pleased this week, as never before has a making week been so successful (cast your minds/eyes back to this one, where I think I mostly unravelled a lot of knitting). Sometimes I think the freedom of having a whole week to do nothing but make things is too much, and I panic. But not this time. All I would lament this time is the lack of cassoulet, and the company of my mama – my favourite making companion – but I have confidence that we will sneak in more duck-and-crafting sessions in not too long. Duck en croute, anyone?

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a new life for dopey bunny

What do you do when you finish making a creature, and then realise that it looks dopey and foolish? If your mother makes rude comments about it for years, you allow it to get munched on by moths, then you leave it in the freezer for weeks at a time because you’ve forgotten it’s there? When a visitor asks about it, and you realise you never even gave it a name because you never loved it enough? This is the miserable story of dopey bunny, who I made from a La Droguerie kit in Paris four years ago.

Dopey Bunny in the making

When I finished him, I was quite pleased. I lived on my own at that point, though, so he never really acquired a personality (I find that creatures only tend to develop their personalities when there’s more than just me about), until I took him back to my parents’ house, where my mother was downright rude about him. She pointed out that his eyes were too far apart, and that it made him look moronic. And so his character developed as far as that: a moron. He soon dropped out of favour, as other creatures were so much more colourful and charismastic. So he spent four years sitting on the sidelines, occasionally getting eaten by moths and spending extended periods in solitary isolation in the freezer. He’s had a pretty tough life, and I admit, it’s my fault.

Dopey Bunny

Then a couple of weeks ago, my mother-in-law was visiting, and she pointed out the rabbit, who was sitting next to the fridge, post-isolation. She asked what his name was, and I realised I’d never actually named him, since I had never bonded with him that far. The closest he’d ever got to a name was various insulting titles, of which ‘dopey bunny’ was one. I explained his sorry story, and she took pity on him, and offered to take him home and sew up his moth holes. Touched by this unexpected offer of kindness towards such a hopeless creature, I accepted.

Dapper Bunny

Today, guess who came back in the post? Dopey bunny himself! But he’s undergone a transformation: dopey bunny has become dapper bunny. He’s had a drastic facelift, complete with eye repositioning (they’re now closer together, like the eyes of an intelligent rabbit), ear tucks (so his ears stand up straight instead of going out at right angles) and a nose and mouth redesign. He’s also had his moth holes fixed, and to top it all off, he’s even got a beautiful brand new scarf! He was a bit squashed when he arrived, from being squeezed and shoved through our letterbox, but his face is recovering well. I can now envisage this rabbit developing into a well-rounded character at last. It’s taken a while, and he’s been through some traumatic times, but I’m sure he would agree that it was all worth it for his new look. If anyone else has a similar story to tell, of an unloved creature with unfulfilled potential, I would recommend (mail order) plastic surgery without hesitation. I used to think such things were shallow, but now I realise how wrong I was.

Dapper Bunny

 

sights (and yarns) of antwerp

At the end of January I spent a long weekend in Antwerp with my parents and D. It was kind of by accident that we went there, since until the night before we left we had been planning on going to Ghent, but it turned out Ghent had some kind of festival going on that weekend, which wasn’t very accommodating of our last-minute travel plans, and Lille was similarly busy, so we went to Antwerp instead. I must admit that before we went, I wasn’t full of excitement for Antwerp, as I had been once before, aged about 13, and all we saw of the city was the red light district, the sculpture park and an Indonesian restaurant. (I imagine that might give you a funny idea of the nature of our family holidays, but it’s not as bad as it sounds – we were visiting friends who just happened to live bang in the middle of the red light district. And they were friends, not ‘friends’, honest.) Although the sculpture park was nice, we didn’t see any of the centre, and so I left without a great impression of the city. But this trip succeeded in completely reversing my feelings about Antwerp: we had an excellent time there, and I would gladly go back.

Antwerp Cathedral tower

The buildings (and especially the tops of buildings) were stunning. I loved these tall, narrow guildhall buildings in the Grote Markt, with pointy tops and so many windows. I would live there in a flash. One of the buildings on the other side of the square was up for rent, and need I mention that the idea of moving to Antwerp and setting up my own yarn store on the ground floor crossed my mind? No, I thought not. But I suspect the Belgians know how lucky they are, as I balked at the prices in one estate agent’s window, and thought it safest not to look again. We were lucky with the sunshine for these pictures, as a lot of the time we were there it poured with rain, which meant there was much cause for ducking indoors – which wasn’t strictly unfortunate, since this tended to lead to coffee, and if we were really lucky, cake.

Grote Markt, Antwerp

Antwerp came out well in terms of eating and drinking; we found a real gem of a restaurant, De Reddende Engel, near the cathedral. Despite the name, it’s actually a French restaurant, or, as the patronne explained ‘Ici, nous sommes en France!’ It felt slightly fraudulent to go to Belgium and eat authentic French food (and from southwest France, at that), but the feeling of guilt was quickly erased as soon as we started eating. We had the most exquisite meal there, and the patronne was very welcoming; I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. Nearby was a highly eccentric bar, Het Elfde Gebod (The Eleventh Commandment), which was jam packed full of religious statues and artefacts, including angels dangling on chains from the ceiling. It was quite a sight inside. They had a great range of Belgian beer, and delicious moules frites, so that made for another fun night. We also found a nice bar for a late-night drink: the Brasserie Berlin, which was young and trendy and suitably replete with fancy Edison light bulbs.

Rockox House, Antwerp

There were so many different museums and galleries to visit, and the ones we saw were really first class. We went to the Rubens House, and although one wing was closed for renovations, the rest was amazing: a whole seventeenth-century ‘palazzo’, much of it designed by Rubens himself, including the garden. (Though for the David Lynch fans out there, watch out for the landing half-way round the house – I was momentarily terrified when I clocked the red velvet curtains and black-and-white tiled floor. Creepy!) Then since the Royal Museum of Fine Arts was completely closed for renovation, we saw parts of their collection in a number of different venues, including the Rockox House (above). The house was worth a visit in itself, and the Golden Cabinet exhibition was excellent. Lastly, we visited the MAS (Museum aan de Stroom), a triple museum of the historical, ethnographic and maritime collections of Antwerp, near the docks (below). It’s housed in a very striking building, which only opened in 2011, and is ten storeys high, with curvy windows in a spiral around the building and an open-air viewing platform on top. Unfortunately we didn’t get there in time to see the museum itself, but we did go up to see the view from the top. It was pretty wet and blustery up there, so we didn’t stay outside for long, but while we were up there, there was a rainbow, of the kind where you can almost see the full circle. Cool, quoi! I’m keen to go back and actually explore this museum, as we bought the guide book and it looks like it would be right up my street.

MAS, Antwerp

But of course, no trip would be complete without sampling the local yarn store. Part of the plan for going to Ghent had involved an excellent-sounding yarn and fabric store that my parents visited a little while ago, and so I was all fired up for that and sadly disappointed when I heard we were going to Antwerp instead. Luckily for us, though, Antwerp also has a beautiful little shop (I say little, but in fact it’s deceptive as it has two entrances, going round a corner) that sells yarn and fabric: Julija’s Shop. (They also have a lovely blog, albeit all in Dutch, but the pictures are great and quite inspiring all on their own.) Oh the joys of Ravelry! I am so grateful to have the ability to find a yarn store in a foreign city right at my fingertips, wherever I am.

Julija's Shop, Antwerp

My ma and I hastened to pay it a visit on the Saturday afternoon, and we had great larks there, stroking things, dreaming of future knitting and sewing projects and making plans. I think it’s pretty safe to say that if we had been left to our own devices we might have spent the whole afternoon there, but sadly we were only 50% of the group and, without naming names, not everyone was quite so keen on whiling away their holiday in a yarn shop. More fool them, I say. After we left I realised I hadn’t taken any pictures, and so I had to contrive to end up back at the shop while on a late night walk (‘Oh, look where we are!’), in order to take these rather poor-quality nighttime ones. If you’re going to Antwerp, I highly recommend a visit here!

Julija's Shop, Antwerp

Below is the booty that I brought home with me: four pretty fabric remnants (including some super cool neon yellow fabric!), and three balls of yarn, which I envisage will one day be striped together in some sort of baby outfit for one of the many babies that seem to be making an appearance around this time. I can’t get enough of the grey/cream/white with yellow combination at the moment.

Yarn and fabric booty from Julija's Shop

But oh, the imaginary booty that I would have brought home if I’d had the time to think up projects for it all… maybe it’s a good thing after all that we were taken away when we were?

enter 2015

It being the first day of the month (albeit not of the first month of the year) I felt that today would be a good day to welcome The Wind-Up Sheep into 2015. Although there are already several new things that I’d like to blog about this year more keenly, I feel it’s only right and proper to begin a new blog year with a round-up of some of my creations from last year. I am well aware that this is a risky approach to take, and that it may just mean missing out on at least two perfectly good blog posts, but I’m hopeful that my blogging fu won’t run out immediately, and that there’s still a chance of writing more (if you can, channel your best blogging energy towards me over the next week – thanks).

So, without further ado, here is a quick visual whizz through some of what I did last year (I admit, it’s not everything, because I still don’t have photos of everything I made last year, so you’ll just have to imagine some more):

2014 in Pictures

From left to right, and top to bottom, we have: 1) origami paper hearts for our wedding lunch place names; 2) a fine bow tie, what I made for D to wear for our wedding; 3) the second of a pair of embroidered pillowcases, in Palestinian style (N.B. I can’t vouch for the genuineness of the camels on the first one – they were my own invention); 4) an embroidered tea towel with poppies on; 5) my autumnal Noro scarf; 6) a sparkly lace scarf with beads, intended for our wedding in February, but in fact not finished until September… oops; 7) my very own Amineko kitteh cat (I actually finished crocheting him in early 2011, but just didn’t dare put a face on him until last autumn); and lastly, 8) a Portuguese-style embroidered lover’s handkerchief for D for our wedding (I’m pleased to say I DID finish this in time).

Not pictured are: a lovely bunch of crocheted radishes (but of course!), a knitted baby cardigan made up of mitred squares (OK, I know I still haven’t sewn buttons on it yet, but I consider it basically finished) and a knitted rag doll, which, like the kitteh above, I actually knitted way back in 2010, I just balked at giving her a face until last year in case I accidentally made her creepy.

So, that’s it for 2014 (aside from the inevitable unfinished things started in 2014 but not completed). I know it’s not a bad output, but somehow I feel I could have done better. And I definitely could have blogged more. But I always said that regret was a pointless emotion, so let’s forget all of that and move on to a new year of more creativity in a positive spirit. Bonne année 2015!

a new scarf to celebrate autumn

So it’s finally knitting season again! I’m right back in the swing of things, just like the footballers. Though has anyone noticed how there isn’t really any such thing as the football season any more? Every season is football season. I have to admit, some knitters are like that, too (my mother included – she is a non-stop knitting fiend these days). But personally I always seem to undergo some kind of subconscious transformation around April, where all of a sudden knitting no longer appeals to me, and I have to take up some form of embroidery instead, and then in September I get hit by the urge to pick up knitting needles again and make warm, wearable things. This year the same thing happened, and I swore off knitting (more or less) all summer long, until September hit and I suddenly felt a longing to go back to some of my unfinished projects. But this year the beginning of the knitting season got off to a particularly flying start, as we had a holiday booked at the end of September (or rather, D had some field work to do on an island off the coast of Sicily, and I went along for the ride), which essentially turned into an intensive knitting retreat (for me, that is).

Knitting with a view

I spent that week in Italy knitting like a mad thing. First I finished a lace scarf that I started back in January; then, on a roll, I started a brand new scarf, which I’ve just finished today. I’d like to point out, for those of you without a calendar to hand, that’s only three and a half weeks from start to finish! I feel like what little time I spend blogging here is mostly used up berating myself for how slowly I knit things, so this whistle-stop scarf experience is a real novelty. I intend to revel in it for as long as possible. The picture below is the latest scarf in its early infancy, against a rock, for scale. I’m not sure which is better at showing the scale of the other, the rock for the knitting, or vice versa. (D took so many pictures of his hammer for scale that I insisted we have a photo of my knitting on a rock for scale, as I felt my knitting was far more photogenic than a hammer. Something tells me he won’t be using this picture in his write-up, though.)

Autumn silk kerchief for scale

We must have made for a funny sight on that trip, driving down tiny, remote roads, and making frequent, prolonged stops in the most unlikely of places, with D striding off to inspect rocks and hammer bits off, and me seeking out shady rocks flat enough to sit on, and whipping out my knitting. Luckily only very few people actually saw us in action, so we can’t have gained too much of a reputation for being oddballs on the island. Or at least, I don’t think so. It was grape-picking season, and it was actually surprisingly busy down most of those remote island roads, so who knows.

Modelling my finished scarf by the river

Anyhow. The scarf. I am very much a fan of this scarf, as it’s eye-catching and immensely pleasing, yet mind-numbingly easy to knit (in a good way). There’s not a single purl stitch in the whole thing! The only challenge is to remember to increase four stitches every other row – the kind of challenge I like. No counting required, no nothing. Given that this scarf followed hot on the heels of some lace knitting, albeit a pretty easy pattern, I found this greatly satisfying. I did have to carry out a last-minute bodge, though, as per my custom. Rather than waste a single centimetre of yarn (I had made up my mind just to knit to the end of the two balls of yarn, rather than stopping after a certain number of stripes, as the pattern suggests), I risked an extra row of knitting before casting off, and ended up running out about six inches before the end of the cast-off. But the multicoloured nature of this beast was an advantage here, as it meant I was able to add in a scrap of a different Noro yarn in a close-ish colour to finish the cast-off, and I don’t think you’d notice unless you were looking for it. But please don’t look for it.

Autumn Silk Kerchief in all its glory

Fortunately, it seems the gods were smiling on me and my knitting today, and although it was forecast to rain all afternoon, in fact I don’t think it rained a drop. So I was able to take my lovely new scarf out for a walk within minutes of weaving in the last end, and have it photographed by the river in the surprisingly warm autumn sunshine. Happy day! And happy knitting season!

yarmouth

One Wednesday in February, just to celebrate the fact that we could (I became freelance at the beginning of February, and now mostly work from home) we went for a jolly little midweek jaunt to Great Yarmouth. I’d been before, but not for nearly twenty years, so it was more or less completely new to me this time. Unfortunately the Pleasure Beach was closed when we got there, so I was unable to repeat the experience of last time by going on the famous 1928 wooden rollercoaster. (In all honesty I don’t have a single memory of ever going on this, but clearly I must have done, as my mother sent me this photo of me and my father to prove it.) What a shame. In truth I’m a lot happier looking at the picture than I would ever be sitting in one of those cars again.

Rollercoaster, Great Yarmouth, 1995

However, it might surprise you to learn that I didn’t go to Yarmouth with the intention of visiting the Pleasure Beach. In fact, I went to broaden my cultural education and go to my very first auction. I’d been wanting to go to an auction ever since seeing and hearing about all the wonderful and bargainous gems that my parents-in-law regularly pick up at such events, and also, more recently, since viewing a large and tantalising collection of textiles that was about to be auctioned off, and discovering that not everything was completely out of my price range. It was a dangerous realisation. Anyhow. The auction house was in an unlikely location, smack bang in the middle of the old port, now an industrial zone, or, as the Yarmouth Salerooms website puts it, “in the southern part of Great Yarmouth between the main seafront with its host of leisure activities and the picturesque harbour’s mouth”. While that may be true, geographically, the scene that description conjures up is somewhat removed from this bizarre setting:

But, as any regular auction-goer will surely know, the exterior of the auction house should bear little to no relation to the content of the sales. Sadly, though, this week’s auction left a lot to be desired. Apparently the quality and interest of the lots in Yarmouth varies enormously from week to week, so perhaps I will have to go back another time and keep my fingers crossed. But even if I didn’t achieve my ambition of bringing home a lovely, or at least renovatable, cupboard to re-house my fabric collection in, I certainly made some unusual discoveries. Firstly, there was this box of glittery neon clowns, on foam swings of sorts. A whole box full of them! Just think what you could do with all of these…   …I’m still thinking…

Then there was also this box of miscellaneous books, including Taxidermy: A Complete Manual, which looked as though it had been quietly rotting in a garage for the past decade, as it almost disintegrated when I picked it up; What To Do In An Emergency – a volume that, on reflection, I really ought to have bid for, since it might really come in handy one of these days; and, perhaps most intriguingly, a Mills & Boon guide to Easy Embroidery. Who knew that they ever published craft books? And no, it wasn’t just a clean cover for a pulp fiction novel – I checked. So, needless to say, I came away from the auction empty-handed, and my fabric collection will remain homeless (i.e. in bags) for the foreseeable future.

The other reason we went to Yarmouth was to visit the Museum of Time and Tide, because I wanted to catch the very end of the textile exhibition that was on: Frayed. As it turned out, the museum’s permanent collection was so good that I was satisfied before I even got to the textiles. It covers the history of Great Yarmouth in general, herring fishing and processing (brilliantly well in fact, since the museum is housed in an old fish curing works, and so has all the original elements including a smoking tower), seafaring, seaside holidays (including some fabulous handknitted swimsuits), the lot.

Even after the full visit around the T&T museum, the Frayed exhibition was excellent. It was all about the therapeutic nature of textiles and needlework for people going through difficult times, from bereavement to mental health issues and suicidal feelings, to living with terminal illness. Since the exhibition is now closed, I recommend visiting the exhibition blog here, as it makes very interesting reading. Unfortunately there wasn’t a publication to go with the show, so the blog is all there is. The sampler by Elizabeth Parker, below (apologies for the poor photo – light levels were very low, and it was behind glass), was the piece that touched me the most. It was loaned by the V&A, and is a sort of brief autobiography in stitch. At the time of stitching this, the maker was in the midst of contemplating suicide, whilst simultaneously going through terrible angst for letting such a notion cross her mind, since it would anger God, the idea of which makes her even more torn up inside. It’s a terrible thing to read, and I can only hope that Elizabeth got through this period of her life and found peace again afterwards. The label noted that she became a teacher and lived into her seventies, so I’m hopeful that this is indeed what happened, though I don’t suppose we’ll ever know.

Then finally, on a brighter note, and to round off our day trip, we finished up with fish and chips on the beach at Gorleston-on-Sea, just a short drive down the coast from Yarmouth. For a February day it was a really gorgeously sunny afternoon, and from this photo I don’t think you wouldn’t know it wasn’t the height of summer. Except perhaps from the fact that there’s no one on the beach but us.

So I think a great day out was had by all. I would heartily recommend a trip to Yarmouth if you’re within striking distance. The Museum of Time and Tide is well worth a visit, even sans textiles (and even if, like me, you didn’t know you had an interest in the history of the herring industry), and it will make your journey more than worthwhile if you don’t manage to pick up any gems at the auction.

madeira, m’dear

I just came back yesterday from a blissful holiday in Madeira. It was hot and sunny every day, I went swimming in the sea, saw the most incredible views, ate delicious dinners (and rediscovered my love of prawns) and generally just had a wonderful time. What I didn’t do, which might seem odd, given what Madeira is famous for, is drink any Madeira wine – though I did bring a bottle back with me – or engage with the traditional embroidery in any way while I was there. This last point might seem even more surprising, given my primary interests in life, but I simply wasn’t interested in buying any of the embroidered items produced as souvenirs for the undiscerning cruise-ship-goers who visit the island in their hordes. There are two reasons for this: firstly, I don’t use handkerchiefs; there is no space in my life for embroidered wine bottle covers; I don’t feel the need to wrap my bread in cloth before eating it… I could go on. And secondly, although I fear it may be heresy to admit this, I don’t actually really like the style of traditional Madeiran embroidery. I find it quite fussy and old-fashioned, and I’m just not into lacy cut-work embroidered tablecloths. There we are, I said it.

Madeiran thatched houses

So how, you might well wonder, did I end up coming home with this – a kit with which to embroider my own frilly Madeiran-style table doily? A good question. Well, although I avoided entering a single embroidery shop on our visits to Funchal, and merely looked in the windows instead, I was caught off guard at the airport, where there was a large-ish shop in the departure lounge, at which point I had quite a lot of time on my hands and little reason to resist. Plus how many airports are there in the world with embroidery shops? Given the hideous nature of airports, who was I to turn my nose up at a whole shop full of something that I have a serious interest in? So off I went for a little nose around, and in fact I did find myself teetering on the brink of temptation to buy myself a hand-embroidered handkerchief. They really were quite pretty, and definitely the most useful of all the possible contenders. But just then, when I thought I had seen everything and was content to leave it all where I found it, I spotted a basket of embroidery kits, and there went the last scraps of my resolve.

Madeiran embroidery kit

Before I spied them, I had just been thinking to myself, in a very Mrs Armitage on Wheels style, ‘what this shop needs… is a way of catering for those who enjoy doing embroidery, rather than just those who buy finished embroidery’. As although I couldn’t see the point in buying embroidered goods that I had no need or use for, I was hugely impressed by the quality of the hand embroidery on every item in the shop, and I could really appreciate the skill and time that had gone into each and every piece. So I absolutely admired the work, just without desiring it. And that, I suppose, is how I ended up giving in and buying an embroidery kit to make my own doily, when I think there must be little else in the world that I want or need less. I was torn between this and a handkerchief kit, but the design on the handkerchief was less interesting, and it only had a straight rolled hem all the way round, unlike the doily, which features a frilly scalloped edge, which will be more fun to stitch and better practice for me.

Embroidery design

It was definitely the best airport purchase I’ve ever made in my life, and I don’t expect it will ever be outdone. I opened the kit on the plane home, and felt wonderfully pleased with my last-minute luck. It’s a very basic kit: there are no instructions, just a needle, lengths of thread and a piece of fabric with a printed pattern. I began stitching the little spots on the plane, but thought it best to play safe and leave the other bits until I had internet access with which to look up more detailed instructions for the foliage and edging. If anyone else is looking for similar material, it seems that the website of the company who produced the kit is currently down (www.bordal.pt), but I can recommend this tutorial on padded satin stitch, and figs 181–190 of this online version of Thérèse de Dillmont’s Encyclopedia of Needlework as useful references. So far it looks as if this will be pretty slow-going, so it’ll be a little while before I need to decide what on earth to do with my finished doily. I’m still thinking…

loosening up

As a bit of a slowcoach knitter (i.e. not one who knits slowly, but one who has a tendency to put projects down and leave them for years at a time), I keep finding myself confronted with the fact of how much my tension has loosened up over the past years. This is what happened with the four-year-long Lascala scarf (as I explained here), and I am currently facing the same issue with my pink tweed shawl-collared sweater [edited in 2015 to remove link as jumper now defunct]. I’ve been going through a few months of trying to finish up old projects (with varying degrees of success, and several new projects started in between), and this delightful pink garment is one of those on the finishing list. Last week I seamed the shoulders, and I’ve been attempting to prepare myself mentally for the new challenge of top-down, seamless sleeves, but rather than rush into things (haha) I decided to take it easy and knit the collar first of all. So last night I picked up the jumper and my big box of needles, only to find that I couldn’t work out what size needles I had used to knit the rest of the jumper with. The pattern says 4.5 and 5mm needles; my project page on Ravelry says 4.5mm needles; and my pencil notes on the pattern say 3.5 and 4mm needles. So… it’s anybody’s guess. Challenged with this kind of problem on a Friday night, whilst trying to multi-task and re-watch Twin Peaks, I can tell you  Twin Peaks won.

Once I had recovered from the shock (again) of seeing Dale Cooper get shot in the stomach at close range by an unknown assailant (eek!), I was able to concentrate on knitting again. Phew. So I ended up knitting this swatch as a means of becoming reacquainted with my jumper. The three sections are knitted on 4.5, 4 and 3.75mm needles. Even on 4mm needles, although the resting knitting swatch looks very similar to the existing jumper, it’s massively more stretchy. The jumper is quite snugly done, not in an inflexible way, but just quite differently to how I knit now. The 3.75mm needles probably produced the closest match, but I am nervous about knitting thickish wool on smallish needles. But then I don’t want this jumper’s collar to end up being of elephantine proportions in relation to the rest of it, with little old me poking my head out of the top… Ohh the trials and tribulations of being such an unreliable slowcoach! This must be a lesson not to take such long breaks between knits.

vintage sock knitting

For Christmas, my boyfriend’s mother gave me some fantastic vintage knitting patterns. There was a copy of Needlecraft no.113 on Knitted Stockings and Socks, which was published in 1914, so a hundred years ago this year. There’s some more information about this booklet here (and a lot of other vintage pattern booklets besides). And if you’re interested in really vintage knitting patterns, the University of Southampton’s Knitting Reference Library has made all of their Victorian patterns available digitally online, for free. Anyway, back to the matter in hand (or should I say foot?). Within these pages, you can learn how to create all kinds of continental wonders, including a Dutch heel, a German heel, or a Norwegian toe!

My favourite pattern in this booklet is the gentleman’s golf stocking, below. The description reads: “This is a very comfortable stocking, with a well-shaped leg and a 10 1/2 inch foot knitted with fine wool, this last point making it particularly suitable for gentlemen with tender feet.” Those contoured stripes in the construction are surely more than smart enough to put one’s opponents off in a game of golf. I don’t actually know anyone who plays golf (apart from my uncle, and he tends to play in hot countries where socks like this would likely put him off his game more than his opponents), so I don’t think I’ll be able to test this pattern out in its intended environment, but I think it could probably adapt to alternative surroundings. Isn’t it funny the way that vintage patterns tend to suggest a specific purpose for every garment?

I also got a copy of Weldon’s Practical Stocking Knitter, ninth series, on Designs for Gentlemen’s Socks and Stockings in Silk and Wool. I wasn’t able to find any information about this one online, but from looking at other pattern booklets of the same name I thought it was probably published c.1900. That turned out to be a good guess, as I was fortunate to find a couple of the patterns had been revisited in Nancy Bush’s book, Knitting Vintage Socks, which gives a publication date of 1901. And handily, Ms Bush chose to re-work the only pattern that isn’t illustrated in the booklet – the gentleman’s fancy sock – so now I know what it looks like! Although the text accompanying the patterns is less chatty and entertaining, this booklet is my favourite, and there were so many great socks inside that I couldn’t choose just one to share.

First there was this gentleman’s hunting stocking with stag’s head turnover. As with the golf stocking, I know about minus three people (gentlemen or otherwise) who hunt, so I doubt I would ever be able to test how well these work for hunting in. However, they would probably work just as well for keeping one’s toes warm on a walk in the countryside sans rifle, or indeed on the sofa on a lazy weekend.

And then my other favourites were these gentlemen’s half hose with wedge pattern. They remind me a bit of the gentleman’s sock with lozenge pattern design, also re-worked in Nancy Bush’s book, which I’ve been wanting to make for some time. That’s also from a Weldon’s pattern, but an older one, from 1895, not one of the ones I’ve got. These are just wonderfully elegant socks, in my opinion. I would be impressed by any gentleman sporting a pair (though sadly, given the gender imbalance typical of knitters it would almost certainly be a sign of his having a very loving partner who had knitted them for him, and thus not a wise thing to base a romantic advance on).

I think I’m going to have to read in more detail what wisdom Nancy Bush has to share on following vintage patterns before embarking on one of these from scratch. For a start, all of these socks look as though they’re knitted on much finer yarn and with much tinier needles than anything I possess, and that’s speaking as someone who tends to knit relatively fine socks (or at least I thought I did!). Then, as Nancy points out, there is no gauge specified for any of the patterns, just the quantity of wool required, in ounces… So it could be tricky. But just think how much better off all the gentlemen in my life would be if I were to start churning out these fancy stockings for all occasions!

on finding my knitting muse

Today is the first day in a very long time that I’ve really sat down and knitted concertedly for hours at a time. That feels an odd thing to say, given that if you asked pretty much anyone who has ever made my acquaintance what my favourite hobby was, without a doubt they would say ‘knitting’. And they would be right. But I think I must have one of the world’s shortest attention spans, because my usual tendency is to knit one or two rows, maximum, and then stop and look around, or admire the extra centimetre, or check my emails, or look up a new pattern on Ravelry… or fall heavily asleep, in the case of train knitting on my commute to work… whatever. All kinds of things in life conspire to prevent me from concentrating on my knitting.

But today all I did for distraction was lightly reorganise my knitting boat (below – it’s not really a boat, it’s just so big I feel you ought to be able to sail it), by putting away a couple of more distant projects for a future date, safe from moths, and tidying all my handy bits and pieces into a box, so I don’t always have to chuck all the knitting out every time I need to find a tape measure. I’m sure I have my housemate to thank for this commendable behaviour, as she was sitting opposite me, keenly knitting something herself, which somehow enabled me to focus on my own needles all afternoon. If this is really the solution, then I might start having to pin strangers down to knit in front of me, to be my muse. Any willing volunteers – just let me know!

So I’ve made significant progress on my purple cardigan – the one I unravelled back to the beginning during my creative week at home last November. Until today I hadn’t really done more than just a few rows at a time, here and there, in the evenings after work. But now it’s starting to look like a cardigan! As of just a moment ago, I’m now back up to the armholes, and working my way up the right front. I’m doing more seamless transformation magic to this pattern, in order to give myself a fighting chance of actually finishing it. I knit all three sections (back and two fronts) in one go this time, using a provisional cast-on for the centre back section and leaving off the ribbing. I’ve just divided for the armholes, intending to graft the shoulder seams together and knit the sleeves seamlessly from the top down, picking up armhole stitches as I go. Then I will just pick up and knit the ribbing all the way round in a big circle to finish off. Here’s hoping it works as beautifully as in the plan…