Saturday, December 18, 2010

Central Desert Shawl

I've finally blocked the Daybreak shawl I started knitting in late September this year.

daybreak 2

By my rather slow standards it was quite a quick knit - about three weeks from start to finish for the knitting. And then it sat - or rather tried to hide itself in gathering shame in my knitting basket - for about three months, waiting to be blocked. Initially the delay was caused by having to find a satisfactory method of blocking with my new shiny parquet floors. But it's now some time since I braved Bunnings and purchased the necessary foam blocking squares. Since then I've simply had blocking block. But it's nearing the time when I'll do my yearly knitting stocktake and I fear I'll be embarrassed by my meagre output this year. Finishing the Daybreak shawl will at least add another project to the yearly total.

The Daybreak shawl was one of the first designs by emerging knitting star Stephen West to become popular. Stephen West has found a niche in the knitting pattern market with casual, unisex scarves, shawls and hats that lend themselves to inventive combinations of patterns and colour.

I wasn't particularly inventive with my colour combination, but I love the shawl anyway.

daybreak 4
daybreak 5

I started with a ball of Schoppel-Wolle Crazy Zauberball in rust and grey colours that I'd bought on a visit to Cologne earlier this year. I found it was a perfect match for some Malabrigo merino sock yarn in Botticelli Red that I purchased in Brisbane (I have a compulsive attraction to this yarn in this colour). Yarns with such good provenance! As I was contorting myself to try to take the necessary 'wearing shawl' photos above, I inadvertently used a painting on my living room wall as background, and then decided to more purposefully photograph the two together. Aren't they a perfect match?

daybreak and painting

The painting, by the way, is a very large 'Honey Ant Dreaming' by Jimmy Robertson Tjampitjinpa from the Lajamanu area of the Central Desert in Australia.

I can't imagine a more Australian combination of colours. I think this will become known as my Central Desert Shawl.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A virtuoso performance

One of the few things I'm getting better at as I get older is counting my blessings. But then, I have a lot of blessings to count. One of the most recent was going to see Geoffrey Rush in Diary of a Madman at the Belvoir Theatre.

Twenty-one years ago a relatively unknown actor, Geoffrey Rush, teamed up with the then newish resident director of the Belvoir Theatre, Neil Armfield, to adapt a script from Nikolai Gogol's 1834 short story, Diary of a Madman, and then produce it on stage. Now, as Armfield's swan-song as Belvoir director, he and Rush have reprieved the original production of Diary of a Madman.

It's a two-handed play accompanied by two musicians. It's the story of minor bureaucrat Poprishchin, who, despite his poverty, clings desperately to his status as a gentleman. Over the course of the play his minor delusions of grandeur overtake him until he imagines he is the King of Spain and ends up in an asylum. It sounds like a grim evening, and the ending is undoubtedly distressing, but the production is an opportunity to display Rush's inimitable physical and emotional clowning, and it moves you to both hilarity as well as tears. I had actually seen the production all those years ago, so it was a great privilege to see it again. I remember thinking it was wonderful then, but I now know it was an undoubtedly brilliant virtuoso theatrical experience.

I guess if you live in New York or London you become blase about seeing renowned actors in theatrical productions. But Sydney sometimes seems to be at the end of the world and to to be able to go just around the corner to my local theatre and see an actor of Geoffrey Rush's calibre was indeed a blessing.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

It's all about socks

Just now, it's all about socks here at Shades of Grey.

I've made a start on my final pair of Personal Sock Club socks for the year. I've chosen yet another Nancy Bush pattern, mainly because I need (??) to finish them quickly and I want the comfort of familiarity and a pattern that I know will work.

botticelli socks

Very unadventurous of me. Perhaps I should dress things up a bit and claim that I'm knitting my way through Nancy Bush's sock oeuvre - after all, I have now knitted nine of her sock patterns - but that's not really so. I'm not being at all systematic. I just like her patterns and, because I have a number of her books, they are readily to hand. I'm knitting Child's Sock in Miranda Pattern from Knitting Vintage Socks, my favourite book of sock patterns, ever. The yarn is Malabrigo sock yarn in Botticelli Red - a perfect rust red I've used for other projects and can't seem to resist.

I want to finish these by the end of the year - or even a bit earlier if possible - mainly because I want to give them as a gift to the old friend of Stepladder fame, and I'll be spending some time with her in the last week of December. But the secondary reason is that I want to clear the decks for my participation in s62011, the Super Special Six Pattern Sock Club 2011 organised with some friends on Ravelry. It's like a Personal Sock Club gone feral. We are voting on six sock patterns for the year which we will all knit simultaneously in a preordained order using yarn from our individual yarn stashes. Elements of surprise, thriftiness, order and companionship. What more could you ask for?

I think I've chosen my yarns for s62011:

2011 sock yarns

As you can see - it's all about socks just now.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Penultimate socks

At last some completed knitting - even if it is only a pair of socks. These are the fifth pair of socks for my 2010 Personal Sock Club. Their completion is almost three weeks late, and I have only a bit over three weeks to finish my final pair for the year on time.

This is what I've knitted - Nancy Bush's Latvian Socks from her wonderful 1994 publication, Folk Socks:

blue socks 1

I've knitted them on 2.25mm dpns from Wollmeise Twin yarn in a very deep, but rich bright blue called Hortensia. As usual, my photograph doesn't give the full richness of the colour. I followed Nancy Bush's pattern with implicit trust as, in my experience, they're always right. I made some small modifications as I wanted to take full benefit of the 150grams of yarn in the Wollmeise skein and so knitted the socks longer than usual and added some minimal additional calf shaping.

blue socks 3

The socks have a number of features I particularly like - the way the calf shaping is incorporated in the purl stitches between the lacy panels; the heel flaps with a combination of knitted and purlwise slipped stitches that makes them particularly cushiony; and the round toes so characteristic of Nancy Bush patterns.

blue socks 2

I'm very happy with my blue socks...and I'm belatedly casting on for the last pair of 2010 PSC socks.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Yet another small pleasure

Between my enthusiasm for having storage wherever possible, and the high ceilings of my new apartment, I have lots of shelves I can't reach without a ladder or something else to climb on. So far I've been making do with chairs and stools, but since moving in I've had a fantasy of the perfect set of steps - small, unobtrusive, but, because I don't want to store them away and have to drag them out of storage when needed, elegant enough to leave them in full view without being offended by them.

I'm not a keen shopper, so I hadn't really been purposefully searching for them, but I had been keeping an eye out whenever I was near a shop I thought might be possible source for the perfect steps.

Yesterday, with my old friend, I visited one of my favourite Sydney shops, Great Dane. The shop sells Danish furniture, both refurbished originals from the 1960s and modern furniture with echoes of that period. It's where I bought my small cabinet a couple of years ago. While my friend was not quite fatally attracted by a vintage leather sofa, look what I discovered...

steps 1

The perfect set of steps. They're such a lovely design, with the extended 'handle' to give stability while you use them. And they fold flat so you can store them against the wall or even hang them from a simply designed bar that can be attached to the wall. They could even be used to display objects or textiles as they were in the shop.

steps 2

The Stepladder is designed by Danish designers Benedicte and Poul Erik Find, who also seem to specialise in safe rocking horses for small children.

And just to make this small pleasure even more perfect it was given to me as a housewarming present from my old friend. The stepladder will have so many welcome associations as I use it.

Friday, December 3, 2010


An old friend has been visiting for the last couple of days, which has been a good enough excuse for a couple of wonderful treats. Last night we went to see Pinchgut Opera's production of Haydn's 'L'Anima del Filosopho' or Orpheus and Eurydice. Pinchgut Opera began in 2002 in Sydney with the aim of presenting a more immediate and intimate experience of opera for opera-goers. It presents mainly baroque operas from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with just enough emphasis on sets and costume to support the music - though over the last few years the productions have become incrementally more sophisticated.

Last night was so, so good. Haydn's music was delightful - a sparkling 'Queen of the Night' type aria for the soprano, lyrical love duets, dramatic storms and damnation, and heart-wrenching music for death and separation. You were absolutely convinced Orpheus and Eurydice loved and cared for one another. The whole production was held together by choreographed movements by the main singers, the chorus (Cantillation) and actors who physically moved the actors and settings.

The intimate City Recital Hall was perfect for the production. We were sitting about five metres from the orchestra and were surrounded by the music. If you are in Sydney and at all interested in opera there are more performance tomorrow (Sat) evening, Sunday afternoon or Tuesday evening.

Then today we went off to see the Entombed Warriors from Xian in China at the NSW Art Gallery. The Gallery has brought to Sydney seven of the life-size warrior figures and two horses from the vast terracotta army that was buried to protect the tomb of the first Emperor of China, Qin Shihuang (259–210 BCE) in readiness for the afterlife. There are many other impressive artifacts from the tomb, but the warriors and horses are undoubtedly the stars of the show. I marvel afresh every time I see artifacts from China that date from over two millenia. They're so sophisticated; so 'finished'; so perfect. It's very humbling.

The entombed terracotta army was rediscovered only in 1974 and archeological excavations are still continuing. I visited Xian in 1983 when the warriors were not quite the tourist attraction they now are. Then we were allowed to walk along the edges of the trenches that contained the warriors and look down on them directly (I gather you now have to view them from a distance) - so it was wonderful to see them again today and reassure myself that they are just as wonderful in reality as they are in my memory.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Mark Twain, autobiography, and blogging

Anyone who has known me for any length of time has probably heard me enthuse about one of my all-time-favourite blogs - the Language Log. It's a must for anyone with any interest in the ways language is used. Occasionally its more serious posts on linguistics or statistical methods or the way the brain works are a bit beyond me, but it often makes me laugh out loud and on most days it informs and entertains me. I love its anti-prescriptivist nerdiness.

Today's post by one of Language Log's founders and regular contributors, Mark Liberman, reproduced a quote from the recently published Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol 1:
Finally, in Florence in 1904, I hit upon the right way to do an Autobiography: start it at no particular time in your life; talk only about the thing that interests you for the moment; drop it the moment its interest threatens to pale, and turn your talk upon the new and more interesting thing that has intruded itself into your mind meantime.

Also, make the narrative a combined Diary and Autobiography. In this way you have the vivid things of the present to make a contrast with memories of like things in the past, and these contrasts have a charm which is all their own. No talent is required to make a combined Diary and Autobiography interesting

And so, I have found the right plan. It makes my labor amusement - mere amusement, play, pastime, and wholly effortless.
As I reached the second paragraph I found myself thinking 'what wonderful advice for blogging' - only to read Mark Liberman's comment on the quote, 'This is also the right plan for successful blogging, in my experience'.

I imagine that if Mark Twain were alive today he would be a most entertaining and innovative blogger. But given he was a popular, entertaining, innovative and great writer, he'd hardly have a need to blog.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Yet another nagging project

Have you noticed I've had very few posts lately about knitting? It's not that I've been altogether neglecting my knitting. I have been knitting - though not as much or as constantly as I could. I've been on a bit of a reading, and even re-reading, binge lately. And aside from the reading distractions, my knitting's in a mess. Though if I'm honest, it's I who am in a mess about my knitting - the knitting itself is fine.

I have three almost finished projects and one half-done. A shawl needs blocking; another shawl needs i-cord edging; a small person's cardi needs its front bands; and I should finish my gift tea-cosy. But I became a bit panicky when I realised the deadline for my latest pair of 2010 PSC socks is 19 November and so I cast on and hurriedly started knitting. So now I have another quarter-done piece of knitting to add to my nagging queue.

Latvian socks 1

I'm knitting Nancy Bush's classic Latvian Socks from her book Folk Socks and using Wollmeise Twin in the colour Hortensia. I've discovered (Wikipedia is very useful, if unreliable) that Hortensia is not only a type of hydrangea, which is presumably how this deeply blue yarn got its name, but was also a female Roman orator from 42BC who successfully argued to have taxes reduced for wealthy Roman women. I'm not at all sure that I approve of special pleading for tax relief on the grounds of one's sex, but you do have to love a feisty woman. I'm going to name these my Feisty Socks.

I'm just at the beginning of the heel flap of the first sock, so have quite a way to go. I decided to make the socks a little longer than the pattern - partly because I like longer socks, but mostly because I want to take some advantage of the extra length in the skein of Wollmeise yarn. But that's also more knitting.

You can see I am just adding to my list of unfinished knitting. I need someone to organise my knitting life by setting priorities and deadlines. Of course, I could do this for myself, but I don't have great confidence in that strategy. Any ideas?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Just so Sydney...


When visitors to Sydney ask me what they should see and do, the cliff top walk from Bondi Beach to Coogee, along the western edge of the Pacific Ocean, is always one of my recommendations. It's wonderful at any time of the year, but in October and early November when the stretch of the walkway between Bondi and Tamarama becomes the venue for Sculpture by the Sea, it's a great Sydney celebration. Yesterday was the last day for this year's display, and it coincided with the first really hot and sunny day of summer. People came in their thousands...

Bondi walk

I was pleased my friend Christina and I had started early - mostly to avoid the worst of the heat of the sun - and were walking north from Tamarama, in the opposite direction from most of the crowd.

There were over a hundred sculptures exhibited, the majority of them from Australia, but with significant representation from Japan, some from India, and a scattering from other countries. There were also invited participants who are already world-renowned sculptors, such as, this year, Sir Anthony Caro. One of the wonderful thing about this exhibition, apart of course from the superb location, is the scale of most of the works. It's rare you have the opportunity to see so much work on such a grand scale, and yet not be overwhelmed by it. I was particularly delighted by the works that seemed at one with their location, like the giant chook (complete with interior eggs) settling into the sand in the centre of Tamarama beach

Tae-Geun Yang (South Korea) Sitting Hen
[This one's for Bells]

and the archway which seemed to frame the transition from the rocks to the sea

Vlase Nikoleski (Australia) Monument for Small Changes

At the end of the walk and viewing you can vote for your favourite sculpture. The arch above was my friend Christina's choice. I had great difficulty choosing between David Horton's Jarrett in London whose shapes suited the rocky edge of Tamarama


and the delicate silvery Leaf Vessel by invited New Zealand artist Virginia King.

Silver leaf

I eventually voted for this leafy form whose shadow linked it to the land, but whose shape echoed the boats and surfboards on the ocean below.

This combination of sculpture and beach and rocks and sea, free to anyone of any age who wishes to visit, casually dressed, slathered in sunscreen, chatting, picnicking, eating ice-cream, seems to be just so Sydney.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Yesterday I had lunch with four women who were once part of my daily life, but whom I'd not seen for more than forty years. My first proper, serious job was as a high school teacher in a small country town and these women were friends and work colleagues. After two years together we all left the town and began living the rest of our lives in different ways. In the first year away we met up several times, but after that we drifted apart.

Yesterday we met at noon and talked till after 7.00pm. I'm horrified at how much others had remembered, but I'd forgotten. Names seemed familiar, and some people were remembered, but so much had that awful feeling of being just beyond the edge of my memory. I think the early twenties are a time of your life when you're very self-absorbed, and other people are remembered only as they featured in your development. We had a few - mainly black and white - photos, but cameras were not then as common as they now are, and I sorely felt the need of more visual prompts.

What was wonderful was just how easy it was being back together, despite so much happening in all our lives since we'd last spent time as a group. Everyone was still so obviously themselves - rather scary, really.

I feel as if I've rediscovered a piece of my life. We've already made arrangements to meet again in a year's time.

Friday, November 5, 2010


I'm off to Brisbane for the weekend to visit my grand-daughter... and, of course, her parents. Mostly when I visit I take a book for her as a small gift and this time I'm taking 'Milly-Molly-Mandy Stories'.

MMM cover

I remember Milly-Molly-Mandy with great fondness from my 1940s and 50s childhood. My daughter enjoyed them in the 1970s and I'm interested to see how my three-and-a-half year old grand-daughter - who loves books but is very much a child of the electronic age - responds to them now.

A bit of back-story for those unacquainted with Milly-Molly-Mandy. There are four books, each of them a collection of around a dozen short stories, that describe the daily life of Milly-Molly-Mandy (full name Millicent Margaret Amanda), her family, her friends, and her neighbours. The first of the books was written and illustrated by Joyce Lankester Brisley in 1928, and they've never been out of print since - the kind of publishing phenomenon most publishers would love to be associated with.

It's hard to know where the appeal lies. The stories are simple, highly moral, and contained within a stable and knowable world. The illustrations are open, inviting and archetypal representations of a rather old-fashioned, safe community. The stories have a wealth of detail - of what people eat (I'd totally forgotten about bread soaked in milk, which Milly-Molly-Mandy often has for supper), what they do in domestic situations, what they wear, and how much things cost. There's lots of repetition (Milly-Molly-Mandy's house is always referred to as 'the nice white cottage with the thatched roof'; her best friend is always 'little-friend-Susan') which delights young readers and listeners and drives grown-ups mad.

For me a very important element of the appeal was the map of Milly-Molly-Mandy's unnamed English village that appears at the beginning of each collection of stories. I think most young children love maps and graphic representations of how things fit together.

MMM map

I can remember tracing the movements of the characters in each of the stories across the streets and fields of the maps and deriving satisfaction from my precise knowledge of how things fitted together spatially.

The village of the stories is old-fashioned even for its time. There's no electricity and no cars. People work as grocers and shopkeepers and bakers and postmen and blacksmiths and teachers, and they grow vegetables and flowers. It's a world where small children run errands unsupervised, everyone walks everywhere, strangers are kind, all treats other than 'sweeties' are home-baked, and recycling and reuse are unthinkingly the order of the day. Gender roles are rigidly divided - we learn in the very first story that within Milly-Molly-Mandy's multi-generational family household Mother cooks the dinners and does the washing; Grandma knits socks and mittens and nice warm woollies for them all; and Aunty sews frocks and shirts and does the sweeping and dusting. But I don't think I am being unduly kind to the books, or too biased by my fondness in saying that the female characters are valued no less than the men. They often play a leading role in events, and their activities are seen to be important.

Implicitly, and often explicitly, all the stories have a moral or are 'improving'. Almost always, the morality or the learning is obvious - sharing with friends, whether it's work or sweeties, brings pleasure; delaying gratification often brings longer-term rewards; judging people by their appearance is unfair; winning first prize is less important than acquiring a skill. It's hard to question any of these gentle values, even today.

Finally in this morass of reminiscence, an incident for the knitters among us. Milly-Molly-Mandy wants to make her money go as far as possible and asks Grandma to teach her to knit. After several attempts she knits 'quite a nice kettle-holder' and asks her mother if she thinks it is worth a penny. The story then continues
Why, Milly-Molly-Mandy,' said Mother, 'that is exactly what I am wanting, for my old one is all worn out! But the penny only pays for the wool, so you are making me a present of all your trouble.'And Mother gave Milly-Molly-Mandy a penny and a kiss, and Milly-Molly-Mandy felt well-paid.

So Milly-Molly-Mandy had done a nice thing, had spent her penny, and learnt to knit, and she still had her penny!

There's a moral there, somewhere!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

One more small pleasure

I think I've mentioned before that I work in a multi-storey building (often voted the ugliest building in Sydney) located on one of the busiest and most polluted intersections in the city. But at this time of the year when you come out the front entrance to the congested and grubby streetfront you are assailed by the wonderfully romantic scent of gardenias.


Some years ago masses of gardenias were planted in large containers around the otherwise barren front courtyard. However incongruous the context, I love how evocative this perfume is of lazy summer evenings. Life seems full of possibilities. A few minutes of pleasure.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Small pleasures

Small pleasure 1

Donna's stuff

I bought some things from Donna's etsy shop. A couple of fabric rolls for storing dpns (double-pointed knitting needles) and a small project bag that's perfect for sock knitting. The finish of these items gives me such pleasure. The beige linen ties for the needle rolls are just right. The tiny buttons that trim both the rolls and the project bag are perfectly chosen. And the fit of the zipper in the project bag is a joy to behold. I suspect I'm a finishing nerd. Now all I need to do is to round up my dpns and file them in the needle rolls. I wish tidying up gave me the same amount of pleasure I get from contemplating Donna's sewing.

Small pleasure 2


I ordered some of Brooklyn Tweed's 'Shelter' yarn from Knit Purl (my not-so-secret place of temptation) and it arrived last week. I'm not sure why I bought the yarn. It was being discussed on internet sites? My admiration for Jared Flood's knitting aesthetic? Sheer self-indulgence? Probably a combination of all these motives. The yarn does give me great pleasure. It's robust and rustic and the colours are subtly rich. It's very much in the shetland tradition of hard-wearing, slightly catchy yarns and reminds me of some Jamieson yarn I bought very cheaply some time ago and haven't yet knitted up. But it is expensive, and with sensible shopping around some of the UK sites in particular, there'd be very acceptable alternatives. I admire what Jared Flood is doing in creating yarn that suits his style and meets his standards for quality and 'localism' of both the raw materials and the mechanics of producing the yarn. However, the attraction of 'localism' rapidly disappears once you have to transport the yarn all the way to Australia. I think this yarn, lovely as it is, will be a one-off or only very infrequently repeated pleasure.

Small pleasure 3

Art gallery

Over the weekend I visited the Art Gallery of NSW. This is not one of the world's great art collections - in fact it's not even the best Australian collection - but the AGNSW gives me great pleasure. Partly it's the location with its view over Wolloomooloo bay to Sydney Harbour, but mostly it's the program of free events that are always on offer. There's always a film program with films loosely linked to one of the major exhibitions on show. Currently it's a program of films set in France during the high Romantic period covered by the exhibition of drawings From David to Cezanne. We saw the classic French film 'Les enfants du paradis' - made in France under all kinds of constraints under German occupation during the second world war. The film is romantic and sad and cynical and pragmatic and very very long. It provided an afternoon of emotional indulgence.

We also saw the current exhibition of Aboriginal artworks, Art and Soul. Many of these works were included in the recent, wonderful documentary on Aboriginal art by the same name. The exhibition is luminously beautiful and the documentary well worth viewing.

(Not so) small pleasure 4

My daughter was awarded a highly competitive research grant which will fund her employment and research for the next three years. Not a small, but a great pleasure.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A commemoration

A significant increase in the value of the Australian dollar against the US dollar coincided with the publication of the commemorative edition of Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitter's Almanac. What else could I do? Of course I purchased a copy.

EZ books

I've had a paperback copy of this book for several years, but I'm a bit of a sucker for well-produced hardback editions of books. This one commemorates 100 years since Elizabeth Zimmermann's birth. It's a fine book with a very pleasingly textured red binding with gold embossed Elizabeth Zimmermann signature and signs of the zodiac beneath the wrapper; good quality pages and end-papers; a new preface by EZ's daughter and collaborator Meg Swansen and an introduction by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee; coloured photos of the garments in modern colours and yarns (my favourite is the 'nether garments' in riotous colour-work), and the welcome addition of Pamela Wynne's pattern for the February Lady Sweater.

I'm also a bit of a sucker for plans and programs and promises of schemes that will miraculously bring order to my life. An almanac with knitting projects for the year enables fantasies of order, productivity, and quiet industry. I can remember when I bought the paperback version I was very tempted by the idea of knitting my way through the months according to Elizabeth Zimmermann's plan. Purchasing the hardback version revived these fantasies...for a moment.

Because the truth is that, much as I admire Elizabeth Zimmermann's approach to knitting, her creativity, and her love of garter stitch, many of her garments are unsuited to the Sydney climate and they are just not things I can imagine wearing. And a whole year of knitting according to her almanac would mean I'd have time for nothing else in my life. Nevertheless, her friendly, engaging writing style, and her ability to make knitting sound like a matter of common sense rather than skill and experience is tempting.

Hmm - maybe just one or two projects...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

An old story

I feel as if I've written this post many times before. It's the post about the distracted knitter. Any readers who knit know this story well. It's the one about the constant distraction of new and exciting knitting projects - even when you are surrounded by pieces of unfinished knitting that were equally exciting and glittery in their early stages.

I have some much-anticipated knitting time this weekend. I should be blocking my version of Stephen West's Daybreak shawl that I cast off earlier in the week:


Or I should be knitting the bands on the Playful Stripes cardigan that I began for the dotee ages ago:

stripey cardi 1

Much as I like this pattern, avoiding this task is understandable - I have to finish the picot hems and darn in all those stripey ends before I can begin the front bands. And anyway, this winter has passed and the urgency for finishing has disappeared.

Perhaps I should be working on the tea cosy - a gift for an old friend - that I began with energy some weeks ago. But it's languishing half-finished:


You all know the end of this story. I'm doing none of these worthy and worthwhile things. I've started (yet another) shawl - 'Dawn' from the oh-so-seductive pattern book 'The Fine Line' by Grace Anna Farrow:


The shawls in this book require only the most straight-forward knitting skills - feather-and-fan is about as complicated as the knitting gets. They rely on arrangements of stripes, often on the bias, and on the beautiful soft colours of Isager fine yarn. For me the real temptation of this knitting is the yarn. It's slightly sticky and creates a light, soft, drapey fabric. And the colours...

I'm hoping nothing new and glitzy will distract me from finishing this project - though the endless lengths of i-cord that finish the shawl might slow me down a bit.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Picture this

Most of this morning was spent hanging paintings and other decorative things on my walls.

paintings kitchen

It's almost exactly two months since I moved into my new apartment, and this task has been hanging over me all this time. I haven't really felt settled, or able to invite people around, as paintings and other works were propped precariously against walls or still stored in a carton in the living room as I decided what I wanted to do with them.

With nothing hanging on them, the walls of the apartment looked so pristine and the lines of the paint finishes beautifully neat and angular. There was such great attraction in the minimalist aesthetic of bare walls that I seriously considered leaving them that way. But my paintings and wall hangings of various kinds have been gathered over years and remind me of people and places. Most of the paintings, etchings and works on paper I have were done by artist friends or people I've known well - discarding them would have seemed like discarding part of those relationships.

As for most things with this move, when in doubt I consulted Heather. We spent a very pleasurable few hours a couple of weeks ago trying out all sorts of combinations and deciding what could go where. Then this morning the picture hanger came to do his thing. It seemed like a great indulgence, but the pictures have been hung just where I wanted them, the damage to the walls is minimal, and the picture hanger had a ladder that enabled him to do the high hanging safely.

I winced as the drill punctured the wall for the first hanging and doubted (yet again) whether I was doing the right thing in reintroducing so much potential clutter to my space.

painting landing

But the instant the hanging was done - seventeen things in all in my small space - I felt so much more at home. I am much more comfortable surrounded again by the patterns and images that have been part of my life for so long. An added benefit is that many of them have been reinvigorated by their new neighbours or new locations or the background of different colours, and I'm seeing them afresh.

Reluctantly, I have to admit that a neat, minimalist aesthetic is just not me.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Somewhat lacey

OK. I've decided what I'm going to knit for my next pair of Personal Sock Club socks, using the irresistible deep blue Wollmeise 80/20.

Latvian socks

Nancy Bush's 'Latvian Socks' from her 1994 publication Folk Socks.

I've chosen these socks because
* they're lacey (just to show Rosered and MissFee that I follow their advice)
* they're not TOO lacey (the practical part of me finds lacey socks uncomfortable)
* best of all - they're Nancy Bush. I just know they will work if I follow the pattern. Infallible.

Due date? 19 November. Let's see how I go.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Fun socks

Aren't these socks fun?

Tide socks1

With thanks to Jody who supplied the scrap of yarn I needed to complete them when I ran out a few rows short of finishing the toe, my fourth pair of 2010 Personal Sock Club socks have been finished ahead of their 8 October deadline. One of the few times in my life I've not been scrambling at the last minute to meet a deadline.

Tide socks 2

I really like the combination of a very classic Nancy Bush design from Knitting Vintage Socks (Gentleman's Plain Winter Sock with Dutch Heel) with a wildly colourful yarn (Socks That Rock yarn in the delightfully named Tide Pooling). The otherwise plain socks have a deep cuff of k3 x p2 ribbing and the eponymous Dutch heel.

Tide socks 3

While the fabric of the socks is very neat, I think they might have been better if I'd knitted them on 2.25m needles rather than the 2.5 I used. They are very comfortable, but I usually like my socks to fit a little more snugly. Nevertheless, the colours are so quirkily wonderful that I know I'll love to wear them.

I've just opened my next manilla envelope to reveal my fifth PSC project yarn - it's Wollmeise 80 / 20 in a deep bright blue named Hortensie. Now I just need to find a pattern that does justice to this special yarn.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What's not to like?

I've finally completed a shawl that I started ages ago. Indeed, it was to be my early July Tour de France project, but I was distracted by my travels in Victoria and subsequently by house selling, renovation and moving. Then once the knitting was finished it took me quite some time to assemble the equipment and energy I needed to block it in my new living space.

grey shawl 3

This was such a simple and pleasing project. The resulting shawl is large (215cm wide and 105cm deep), warm, snuggly and (I think) unobtrusively elegant. The shawl has an old-fashioned triangular base in garter stitch, following Cheryl Oberle's Wool Peddler's Shawl pattern, with the much-copied Mustaa Villaa variation of substituting a plain, minimalist garter stitch ruffle for the lace edging of the original.

I've used classic Rowan Felted Tweed in grey - Rowan calls it 'carbon'- and a deep, muted blue. I'm very very pleased by the subtle colour combination. I washed the shawl and stretched it very vigorously when blocking. The Rowan Felted Tweed blocks beautifully and becomes very soft and drapey.

tweed shawl 4

This shawl is going to be such a joy to wear. I can no longer imagine why it took me so long to finish.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Of scarves and shawls and socks

Somewhat belatedly, I'm jumping on the Stephen West bandwagon and knitting a Daybreak scarf.

daybreak 1

There have been many lovely versions of this scarf - which relies on geometry and colour for its appeal rather than delicate laciness. The colour combination I'm using almost chose itself. I wanted to use the skein of Schoppelwolle Zauberball I'd bought on a visit to Cologne earlier this year. It's a combination of greys, orange and rusty red, and was perfectly matched by some Malabrigo Sock yarn in Boticelli Red I'd been hoarding. [As an aside, much as I like the Zauberball yarn itself, I'm particularly attracted by the way it's wound into what appear to be hand-wound balls, with each colour change marked by a new direction in the winding].

I'm using for the first time some tiny enamelled stitch markers that Jody sourced and supplied. I think I've found the perfect stitch-markers - aesthetically pleasing but very practical. I hope you can see the tiny blue oval-shaped marker in the pic below:

daybreak stitchmarker

It seems to be ages since I've posted anything about my knitting. I have been working on it - I have a shawl I'm blocking, having finally gathered the courage to shop in Bunnings to buy the jigsaw-like blocking mats I needed. And I've almost finished my current Personal Sock Club socks - but look what happened:

Tide pool socks 2

I ran out of yarn just a few rows short of finishing. Fortunately, a friend has offered a small amount of yarn in the same colour-way, though I'm so close I have been tempted to finish with a single colour toe-tip. I was feeling very proud of myself because I was so far ahead of schedule with these socks, so I think this small hiccup in my progress will remind me (yet again) that pride and set-backs are often closely associated.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fashion sock spotting

I've posted before about the difficulties of finding fashionable ways to wear socks and about the moment in the northern hemisphere Spring 2009 when a sock and sandal possibility seemed to be upon us. The moment passed, but if recent Sartorialist posts are anything to go by, the possibility still exists.

Socks scrunched down with boots
Socks worn defiantly with stilettos.
Stripey socks with oxford lace-ups.

Now, if I were just forty years younger, twenty kilos lighter, and fifteen centimetres taller I could use these looks as inspiration for wearing my hoard of knitted socks.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My favourite things 2

As you come through the front door of my new apartment and walk along the hallway there's now a set of five drawers that fit perfectly and glide closed. I've appropriated the top drawer for bills to be paid and keys and sticky tape and string and the bits and pieces of everyday life I don't want to lose. But the other four drawers are just for my shoes:

shoe drawer

What a luxury. No more shoes shoved into the bottom of the wardrobe or lined up under the bed. Each drawer easily fits six pairs and, if I had enough shoes, I could probably fit another layer of shoes (though not boots) into each drawer.

It's the neatest, most organised part of the apartment...and it gives me such pleasure.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Plain and fancy

When we visited Nundle Woollen Mill there was a display of Loani Prior's latest book, Really Wild Tea Cosies, and a sample of one of the knitted cosies from the book.

tea cosy 2

My friend with whom I was visiting loved the cosy, but the sample was not for sale. So I decided to knit her a tea cosy from the book. I've rummaged in my disorganised and rather scrappy stash and have found most of the yarns I think I'll need and I've started knitting. I'm making Garden Party - a basic tea cosy topped by a riot of knitted and crochet flowers.

tea cosy 1

It's the first tea cosy I've ever knitted. As a very occasional tea drinker who drinks tea once it's cooled quite a bit, keeping tea warm within a pot has never had high priority for me. So, there's an explanation for why I might never have knitted a tea cosy. But once I started to think about what I was knitting I realised I have a resistance to what I've mentally labelled 'novelty knitting'. I think I'm a bit of a puritan in my knitting preferences. I like things that are useful and, preferably, durable. I think I like decoration only if the decoration enhances the practicality. I think these preferences also help explain my reluctance to knit toys - however cute they may seem at first glance.

I'm very pleased to be able to knit something that's a gift for a very generous and kind friend, but I think I'll return to sock and scarf knitting with some relief.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Look where I've been...

Look where I've been this past weekend...

Nundle Woollen Mills ext

Yes, Nundle Woollen Mill. I enjoyed my visit greatly. I hadn't planned to visit, and so I had no great expectations. I wasn't particularly impressed by the yarn - though I did buy some greyish-beige and greyish blue 8 ply very cheaply in probably vain anticipation of knitting a blanket for my newly re-covered sofa. But I loved the building and location and the carding and spinning machinery whirring away. It all felt part of a continuous tradition of wool production, processing and retailing.

Nundle Woollen Mills int

You might wonder how, when it's located in such an out-of-the-way place, I could manage to visit Nundle Woollen Mill without planning to do so. It was a by-product of a most satisfying weekend spent with some old friends - two of whom have a house and small farm in the upper Hunter area.

Rouchel house

I have a kind of mental classification of the friends I've made across my life as a series of strata. These friends are from the deepest bedrock stratum of my friends - two people with whom I went to school, so I've known them more than fifty years. Such old friendships have an ease than comes from knowing we all shared experiences many years ago, and regardless of what has happened since, there's a deep understanding of where we've come from.

One of these school friends and her husband (who's also now a very old friend) invited us for the weekend. Their small farm is in one of the lovely valleys accessible from the New England Highway by narrow winding roads. Theirs is the Rouchel valley that's been formed by the beautiful Rouchel Brook. It's strange to have an Australian waterway named as a 'brook', but in this case the clarity of the water and the grassy banks seem to justify the name.

Rouchel Brook

On Saturday my friends took us for a drive through some of the Hunter Valley towns and by-ways. Such wonderful diversions. We had lunch at Murrurundi in a garden overlooking the Peals River and visited a superb gallery. And we visited Nundle (both the Mill and an excellent and unexpected kitchen shop) and drove back to Rouchel through some steep back roads with breath-taking views, grazing kangaroos and extensive stands of ancient Xanthorroea.


It was the perfect time of year for a country visit. Despite the farm being a second home, and despite droughts and scarcity of water, over the years my friends have cultivated a garden with lots of trees and shrubs and, just at the moment, flowering bulbs, blossoming fruit trees, and clumps of other spring flowers.

Rouchel irises
Rouchel bluebells
Rouchel gardenia
Rouchel blossom

It was idyllic to sit on the verandah with the scent of mown grass, the perfume from masses of violets and blossom and, of course, some knitting.

Rouchel verandah