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.