Monster post

It’s gotta be. Nearly 5 months since my last post, and let me tell you I have not been idle.

The first report is of the Bob The Builder jumper, last seen almost two years ago. Hallelujah, it’s done. Good job I was making a big size – he’s still got room to grow into it! Forgive the look of misery on his face – I was committing the cardinal sin of interrupting his viewing of Ben 10…

So what else? Ah Christmas. Scarves and smoke ring kind of things, mittens that I stupidly didn’t photograph before they were handed over. Ah well. We went to Ireland for two weeks over Easter, giving Tiny Husband’s HR person heart failure at taking so much time off so early in the financial year. Several gauge-swatch bunnies, Ava’s pink hoodie and Adam’s Trellis cardi were finally given to their intended victims – or not in the latter case, as it was not originally intended for Adam… I’m just too much of a flibbertygibbet with crafts. But I suppose it makes up for being so staid and dull everywhere else.

The Mighty Offspring also benefitted from a Fat Controller hat. This is the top hat worn by Sir Topham Hatt, the eponymous director of trains on Sodor Island and Thomas the Tank Engine’s boss. I made this by laying out cash money – yes! coin of the realm! – for Dark Twist’s Miniature Top Hat pattern, then promptly ignoring most of it. I used Rowan Big Wool rather than a worsted, because, well, I didn’t really want a miniature, just a little’un for a little’un. I think there was some mad nonsense about felting it by boiling it, then plunging it into freezing cold water too, but I am here to tell you – do not waste your time on this pish. Throwing it in the washing machine on a boil wash cycle with a pair of jeans that have got a bit saggy in the arse is yer only man. All I got for that boiling and freezing nonsense is frizzy hair and chilblains, and the Offspring hiding in a corner with his fingers in his ears until Daddy came home. In a way, I’m sorry I didn’t just leave it the size it was, because he looks so cute in it, an Artful Dodger – which fits his personality a lot better these days. The remaining yarn was made into a pair of felted slippers, which spend too much time on the run to be snapped on camera!

Two more pairs of socks, one a green and beige on-the-fly Fair Isle (and I must get a pic of these on him), the other a Spidey pair. I’m really becoming quite inured to arachnids, as I also made him a pair of my Mitts-to-Mittens with the Spidey pattern – though Gordon knows where they are now. Probably in his special superhero chest, wherever and whatever that is this week. The Spidey socks were the last pair I made using the 52st pattern, as I’ve noticed they’re a bit baggy even on MO’s feet. The green and beige were made using a 48st version, which is quite snug. At that point I kind of stopped with the socks, partly because he really had enough for now, and partly due to a misunderstanding. I did buy some socks (they were cheap), big enough for his feet which of course meant they came up over his knees. Not too long after, we were having this little chat about socks and shoes, and he told me he didn’t like the socks I made him. Now, I didn’t at first factor in that ‘buy’ and ‘make’ probably mean much the same thing to a highly-verbal three-year-old who nonetheless only has a three-year-old’s understanding of the magical ways in which goods and services appear in his world. He has about ten lyrically-described birthdays a week – doesn’t mean he’s getting cake every day. Turns out he doesn’t like the long socks, only the Mommy socks… I have started again, as I see some of his socks are a bit small now. More of which anon.

I also made him a woolly sweater, Crab Apple, based on Blue Garter’s Twisted Tree Pullover – with the usually mods for not having the right yarn in the right weight, etc., etc. – do I really have to say this? The pic does not do this justice – it is one of the things I am most proud of making – utterly gorgeous, beautiful stitch definition. I dread the day when he’s too big for it. In fact, I’m plotting how I can lengthen the sleeves and such to get a bit more wear out of it…

But the interesting bit is the yarn. I bought it out of the bargain bin at this market stall I go to. I’d seen other yarn like it before – similar weird rolled-up looking balls – but they didn’t appeal. Many of the colours were drab, and they looked like they were the work of a particularly ham-fisted beginning spinner: I’ve done a bit of spinning so I know whereof I speak here – all twisty and lumpy and bumpy, only singles and the fibre looked rank – nasty old ropy cottony looking stuff. However, this one day, there were 2 balls whose colour just demanded to come home with me, a beautiful vivid sap green. And at 69p for 2 balls in the sale, I wasn’t going to fight over it. Sadly, I had to get the brown because there was no more green, and I needed 3 balls in total, though I must say, it came together well in the end.

It was brutal to work with. I imagine knitting Brillo pad fibre would be easier on the hands. I switched from index to middle to ring finger flicking as blisters rose and fell, and even to my shame did the odd row Continental. I went through many times that 69p’s worth of Norwegian hand liniment. My hands turned green – the dye just seemed to brush off the yarn! and every dozen or so stitches I’d have to stop, grab the ball, and dangle the knitting from it to de-tangle it – it was horrifically overspun. Then I began to notice it was FELTING. Well, sort of getting that another-go-at-90deg look about it, at least. Then there was the quantities of hay I had to dig out of it… Finally, when I wet it to block it, it looked like the dye was just going to leave it completely – it absolutely gulched out of it for ages. The odd thing is, the colour wasn’t really affected – there’s a few white flecks that weren’t there before, but otherwise, it’s the same sap green that drew me in the first place.

Then I went to UK Ravelry Day in Coventry a few weeks ago – a grand day out which I will make mention of – but anyhoo, I was tootling around the rain-soaked stalls, mindful of my budget* but determined at least to beard Jamieson & Smith in their, er, stall, and cop a feel of a few fibres that shall remain nameless (dirty, dirty qivuit), when I just ceas’d all motion. I posed myself a few searching questions and ascertained that something had caught my surveillance attention out of my peripheral visual field. There was a little hurried conferring with longterm memory, with visual memory loudly denying all knowledge and blaming everyone else, and then finally reading comprehension and categoric memory kicked in with a few facts that hitherto had not been going to the same parties, all whilst, unbeknownst to the cerebrum, the legs had wafted me towards a stall I had just passed.

And there by the hokey were some balls with the same odd rolled-up shape to them. Same godawful ropy stuff, in glowing colours – multi-coloured in this case, but I was too stunned to hold that against them. Ye see, all that mental conferring and confabulating – putting of straw and blisters together with dye runs and felting, and marrying that to a chance flicker in the corner of my eye on a rainy Saturday in Coventry – had already told me what I would see written on the gracefully hand-painted sign beside them…

Noro Silk Garden
£13.99

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Aha.

But it doesn’t end there… I have poured over Yarndex and online Noro sites, asked questions on fan forums, gone to yarn shops and looked and asked, and I’m no further forward. Noro’s not cornflakes – they don’t make yarn for anyone else, and no one else makes yarn for them. It looks like it might be Maiko 105 colourwise – but Maiko is a new range, and I bought this yarn before Maiko became available! Anyway, Maiko’s also supposed to be plied, not single. I’ve bought more in the interim (yes, even before UK Rav Day!) which has a different structure – 2 plies, evenly spun – but in colours that are closer to Cash Iroha, which is a single (not plied) yarn… So I don’t know what to think – and neither does anyone I’ve asked. It looks like it should be, but it’s not quite right… There’s only a few ‘solid’ Noro ranges, and the colours I’m finding are oh so close – but the weight and the construction is wrong, even for discontinued colours. Quality control reject? Pre-production run that didn’t get past the design stage? Did someone hit the saki too hard at the office party, and do the yarn factory equivalent of photocopying their bum? Or is it something completely different, that just happens to bear certain remarkable similarities? Employees trying to make a bit of extra cash on the side? Industrial espionage? Wool piracy?

Akk. I’m not used to putting in this much detective work and getting nowhere. Answers on a postcard?

TTFN
K

* I was rushed to hospital with a suspected heart attack in May! It wasn’t – I have the heart of a GOD – but the health insurance policy gave me some free money for the two-day stay in hospital, which was my UK Rav budget…

Foot Loose! Fibonacci

Yet another pair of socks for my mightily hoofed offspring. Ye gods I am bored with this sock business. The only thing they have going for them is that they are handy bus projects for my 10-minute commute. But I shall persevere until he has a reasonable supply – by which time he’ll probably need bigger socks – because today, for the first time EVAR, he has been willing, nay, demanding to wear something I’ve made him – yes, these socks. Ripped from my hands as I tried to finish weaving in the ends, which is nice because it’s not my favourite task, with shouts of “Mommy, put a socks on!” Guess they won’t get blocked for a while then. He pootled around the house until bedtime, when he adamantly refused to have them taken off. Half an hour after we put him to bed, I looked in on him. He was sitting on the floor, facing the window, chatting to his socks…
Again based on the Lion Brand pattern but modified for gauge as described previously, these are the Fibonacci socks I mentioned. So what’s Fibonacci when it’s at home? Well, HE discovered a sequence of numbers where each number is the sum of the two preceding numbers, hence 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21, etc. So what? So, most flowers have a ‘Fibonacci’ number of petals. Fibonacci numbers also show up in the shapes of coastlines and clouds and other natural phenomena. Also, if you divide each number by the previous number, you get a result that is very close to the Golden Number/Section/Phi/Divine Proportion (1.618), whereby all sorts of The Weird And The Wonderful… ~Cue Twilight Zone music~. It’s all terribly amazing until you realise that mathematics exists to describe the universe. So it’s not exactly surprising when the universe just happens to conform with the maths, is it?

It is a little sad that this glorious stuff is too complicated to explain to kids who think maths is boring.

I have also – in two days! – completed a Valkyrie helmet for my cousin’s daughter Anna, who is a cute chubby little Brunhilde. It’s based on a Viking Girl Hat I saw on Ravelry. However the thought of forking over $24.50 for a kit had the predictable effect on my bowels, so I reverse-engineered it from the photos. I couldn’t tell for sure if there were horns or wings on it in the photos, but as a Viking re-enactor, I couldn’t in conscience put horns on it so wings they are.

I wanted a smooth, helm-like shape with no obvious decreases. To get this, I phase-shifted the decreases on each round (i.e., starting at the 1st stitch on one dec round, and on the 7th, 5th, 3rd stitch on the alternate dec round). The plaits are i-corded, though I thought about French-knitting them. In the end, though, I had the dpns in my hand, but the bobbins were somewhere in my knitting boxes…

(Modelled by my vintage fully-working Oopsie Daisy, with original outfit, for those interested in such things.)

TTFN
K

Squeee!

I’ve just been offered a chunky knitting machine! It was one of three being thrown out by a school, along with all their hand-knitting needles, crochet hooks etc. Someone rescued them and offered them on Freecycle. Freecycle is great. Go join your local group! Give and receive!

It’s a Brother KH260, which is as rare as hens’ teeth. So rare that the only times I’ve seen them for sale they’ve either been £2-400, or they’re undervalued on ebay (still too much for me at £80) because people just don’t think to look for them anymore.

The others on offer were a Brother KH836, which I already have, and an Electroknit KH940 which I could have killed for, but I didn’t want to be greedy… Well, I did, but I was nice about it – it went elsewhere though. Repairs on the Electroknits can be difficult to impossible as they are, y’know, electronic – motherboards n stuff – so maybe it’s as well. They are even more difficult to source than the chunky machines – I can only recall seeing one, an earlier model, going for US$950 – eep!

What I don’t get is why none of the original manufacturers has spotted that these machines are all still really popular, still selling for around the original list price. Or indeed someone else with the knowhow who could supply the market with parts, and manufacture new ones. The only company still making knitting machines is Bond America, with the Incredible and Ultimate Sweater Machine (they do more than just make sweaters – I’ve done crochet-thread net curtains on my ISM), but being Bond AMERICA they’re not well represented in the UK. Loads of people are getting into knitting now, discovering machine-knitting, and tearing their hair out trying to get into it….

Must now try to figure out how to get to Longbridge with no transport, when I’m supposed to be getting packed to go to Plymouth tomorrow morning…

 

Eyelash Shrug

My sister was invited to a rather posh wedding a while ago. She really had nothing suitable to wear – she lives in trackies and trainers and has virtually nothing else. Over the years of trackiedom she’d also lost all sense of glamour, colour, shape, etc and had a hard time finding something to wear. She hadn’t even tried on clothes in the shop in about 9 years! Since her evil ex took over her life and decreed that any attempt at looking nice clearly meant she was trying to pick up other men…

In the end she found something that tbh sounded like a trackie dress – i.e., thoroughly lacking in oomph. More phmoo really. Blackish-brown, straight-fitting (which means loose on her), nothing interesting in the way of pattern, fabric, embellishment.

About a week beforehand, she was complaining on the phone to me that she was worried that it wasn’t ‘grand’ enough for the bash, wondering if she should go out and look for something else. And I had an inspiration. I had some lovely glossy black eyelash yarn that I’d bought intending to make myself a shrug, but I hadn’t got round to it. Without saying a word to her about this, I figured if I really went for it, I could make it up over the weekend, post it on Monday, and she’d have it Wednesday at the latest. I got off the phone as fast as possible, mumbling something about her not being an important member of the wedding party or anything, who was going to notice what she wore, yada yada. Whipped out the needles and yarn and cast on loosely – Long-tail Cast-On works for me.

The pattern is based loosely around one that I lost yonks ago, no idea where I got it in the first place. It is however burned into my brain for all eternity. Well, sort of. Start by casting on 34st, increase 1st on BOTH ends of every 3rd row by making 1 (M1) into the second st from either end, until there’s a total of 50st. Then continue straight for the required length, and start decreasing (k2tog the 2nd and 3rd sts from either end) on every 3rd row until there are 34st left, cast off. See? easy peasy.

I do not, of course, remember the yarn weight, needle size, gauge… But shrugs are flexible! That is the beauty of the things! They do not HAVE to have wrist-length sleeves, they CAN be a bit skimpy, so even if you totally foul up the gauge, or don’t have the measurements of the recipient, or any of the millions of other things that can go wrong, it doesn’t matter!! A shrug in its simplest form is just a wide rectangle, long enough on its long side to go across the recipient’s back – but if it isn’t, just borrow a bit off each sleeve so they’re shorter. It doesn’t matter. I do have one handy hint though – if it’s to be a surprise gift, you can get a rough idea of the right size by finding out how TALL the recipient is. The distance from fingertip to fingertip of outstretched arms is equal to height. Knock off 6-8in for the length of the (adult) hands and you have an idea how long the shrug should be from cuff to cuff.

For example, I’m 5’6″, with biggish hands, roughly 7in.
5’6″ = 66in, minus 2 hands at 7in each (14in) = 52″ from wrist to wrist.
Anything shorter than this is fine for a shrug.

I think it was a simple lace pattern – yarn-over between stitches on one row, drop the yarn-over on the next, repeat till you’re fit to be tied with boredom – but, obviously, I is not jiggy wit da boredom. As the groovy young things say.  And the effect of any lace stitch is wasted with eyelash anyway, as the fluffs hide everything but the ‘hole’. So I used one 10mm needle to simulate the yarn-over rows and a 4mm needle for the ‘drop’ rows.

Wow! Two top tips in one post!

I only did the lacy bit up to approximately the elbows, then switched to two 4mm needles for the section over the upper arms and back, then back to the 10mm and 4mm needles for the other sleeve. Suspended bind-off gives a nice loose edge for this project. Sew up the lacy section of both sleeves right up to about 1-2in of the non-lacy middle section. The type of sewing up doesn’t really matter, as the fluffiness of the yarn disguises the neatiness/tidiness of the stitchwork – I’ve even crocheted up the sleeves on some of these shrugs and it’s not noticeable. Then, to tart it up a bit, I threaded a length of 1in black ribbon through the top row of holes in the lace and tied it in a bow opposite the seam – the bow is then on the outside of the arm. Finito!

Sister was thrilled with it, and got loads of compliments at the wedding. So much so that she went all Hyacinth Bucket and told people that she had a “little woman” run it up for her! and no, she didn’t really want to say who, or how much her “treasure” charged. Mainly because she had no idea how much something like that WOULD cost, although I think she was alarmed at the figures people were suggesting, to try to winkle the info out of her – “was it more than £150? that’s what X charged for my twinset last year and it wasn’t this nice”, etc. (Sis and I are both frequently alarmed by what people will pay for clothes that aren’t anything special. The tight-fisted gene is a terrible curse sometimes). She even got asked if the entire ensemble was run up by her “little woman”!

Not bad for a Primark outfit and a few balls of yarn from a poundshop…

Beginnings…

I thought I’d mention what got me back into a crafty mode, after what is uncomfortably close to 20 years.

In 2003, my last academic research contract came to an end. Having been in the game for 10 years, I decided to focus my job-seeking on the lecturing market. I got lucky on one of my first applications, a junior lectureship at a former FE college turned uni. I started the induction process, which had to be done beforean official offer of employment was made (yes, I know it’s daft, but the college had been run by the council, council rules apply).

Then, everything went quiet – no response to my emails or phonecalls. Three months later, I was still waiting for the official offer. By which time I was on the dole, and Tiny Husband had been forced to propose marriage. Finally, I threw a hissy fit over the phone, demanding to talk to the Head of Personnel. Complained loud and long until she promised to look into it.

And two weeks later – after another few phone calls – I got a standard letter of rejection in the post. The type of letter sent to applicants who aren’t even getting an interview, not to someone who’s gone through almost nine months’ worth of interviews, shortlisting, visits AND an induction process, to work in a department that’s already badly short-staffed. No explanations, no apologies.

And a wedding to pay for in less than 2 months*.

Now, I should have chased it up, but I didn’t. 9 months – more, if we go back to the application closing date. Paying for travel to the 2 interviews, tour of facilities and 2 or was it 3 induction meetings. A substantial phone bill from ringing and emailing (I was still on dial-up back then). ARRANGING MY WEDDING IN P**SING APRIL TO SUIT THEM!!!! It had all been too much and I was sick of it. **A pox on all their courses**. So I decided to forget it. They never re-advertised, so I assume the uni refused to release funds to cover my first year’s salary – it happens. The experience did coalesce my feelings about research as a career – less secure than acting, less pay than a binman… So now I’m in school-teaching. Better pay, better prospects, better pension, more security, better hols. Or should I say holidays, full stop – never took any as an academic.

So… paying for a wedding. I looked at my finances and reckoned I could squeeze another £2,000 out of the equity on the house without crippling us. I’d already – foolishly – ordered the wedding dress (that’s it in the side bar pic), at a head-spinning cost of £650. Though for a one-off designer made-to-measure, that’s not too bad. My sis offered to cater and pay for the food, a friend offered to make the cake, another did the photography, I cashed in my Airmiles for the honeymoon – the total cost to us of the wedding, including honeymoon and a new digital camcorder for the ceremony, was around £1,300. And I could have done it for £6-800 less, if I’d gone for a cheap dress and borrowed a camcorder.

A major saving was on invitations. I didn’t see any I liked, and they were all ridiculously expensive, so I thought I’d try making them. I got gold-coloured cards and envelopes, printed off the inserts, and made bows for the front. They didn’t look ‘special’ enough, so I got some gold wire and gold and red beads, and crocheted daisy-like flowers to stick on the front. Fooled everyone – no one believed they were home-made!

Having a few left over after the invitations were sent out, I hit on the idea of making my own jewellery. I made a necklace and earrings using the daisies, with ‘springs’ and hand-wound metal beads – they’re just visible in the userpic on the side. I also made some hairpins which aren’t visible in the userpic, using spring-bound beads to attach the daisies to bamboo chopsticks – red and gold for me, plum and gold for my bridesmaids. Tip for bridesmaids – give them the material and let them make up an outfit that they know they’ll wear again. One of mine, who’s Asian, made up hers as a traditional embroidered salwar kameez; the uber-goth bridesmaid did a goth thang with hers; and my sis made a loose jacket and skirt, which she’s worn to work dos and weddings since. Unlike most BMs, they all looked fantastic, because they’d all chosen designs that suited them, rather than me forcing them into something I wanted – luckily the colour worked for all of them!

So there you have it – how I got back into crafting. I’m currently making wire crochet flowers for a friend to put on a bag she’s felting – they’re silver, and more chrysanth-y than these. Wish I could do more jewellery but Ickle Baby Cthulhu is too interested in all the sharp little tools… He barely leaves my knitting alone as it is!

Tra fn
K

* – Yes, the bride’s father is supposed to pay for the wedding. However, while my father was possessed of many fine qualities, they did not include fiscal generosity.