Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like...

Christmas. Somehow, this year, I've had a pleasantly extended and not too frantic lead-up to Christmas. I'm visiting Brisbane for Christmas and so other than buying (yes, buying - shameful) a Christmas pudding, I haven't (yet) been involved in shopping for or baking seasonal food. Anyway, we'll have a small, very informal family lunch so there won't be too much fuss.

QVB Christmas tree

There's been a number of Christmas parties and gatherings which have all been pleasantly low-key and fun. Gatherings with knitters; parties at work including a yummy yum cha in Chinatown yesterday with my immediate work colleagues where we found lots of vegetarian and vegan friendly foods to enable everybody to participate; and the annual year's end party for the building I live in where the courtyard was magically lit with candles and lights in the shape of Christmas trees.

Watertower Christmas lights

And I've also caught up with old friends with whom I spend noche buena (on Christmas Eve) when I'm in in Sydney. We had a wonderful lunch of pumpkin and ricotta ravioli with fresh tomato sauce, salad, and cheese - all locally grown and produced courtesy of the Eveleigh produce markets, Veuve Cliquot I'd saved from my birthday, and pavlova with mango, berries and passionfruit sauce, courtesy of my guests.

Even though I'm going to be away for Christmas I did feel the need to make a nod in the direction of a Christmas tree. I bought some twisted willow and have hung it with the few Christmas decorations I kept when most of them migrated to my daughter's house.

Twisted willow Christmas decoration

This year I'm not knitting any gifts. Maybe that's added to the lack of stress. Whatever the reason, it's so far a very enjoyable Christmas season.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

New York scarf

It seems ages since I actually had a piece of completed knitting on my blog. I'm not sure why. I'm still knitting - quite frequently - but my BIG Transatlantic shawl has slowed down my completed output. So, here at last is something...

New York scarf 3

It's Brooklyntweed's Woodsmoke Scarf from 'Brave New Knits'. Like all the Brooklyn Tweed patterns it's a mixture of simplicity and carefully thought through embellishments. In this case it's the simplicity of a very plain garter stitch central panel (knitted sideways) with a repetitive lace edging. The only thing at all complex about this pattern is the beginning - a provisional cast-on of 302 stitches that took me a whole evening to complete. According to Ravelry I began this scarf in September! It hasn't really taken me two and a half months to finish it - the knitting was done quite quickly and then it sat around reproachfully waiting for me to block it. This seems to be a disturbingly frequent practice for me.

New York scarf

The scarf is knitted from yarns I bought at my 2010 visit to the Bendigo Sheep and Wool Show - a combination of Pear Tree yarn for the central panel and Ixchel's BFL / bunny combination for the lace. I particularly like the subtle blue-grey / brown / cream colour mix in the lace edging.

New York scarf 2

I knitted the scarf as a gift for an old friend with whom I usually spend time at Christmas. But this year she's off with her family to spend Christmas in New York and I thought she might need a warm scarf. This scarf is very long - well over two metres - so there's lots of length to wind around several times and still have left-overs for tucking into a coat. I gave the scarf to my friend earlier this week and she really liked it. I count myself very fortunate to have friends and family who seem to like my knitted gifts.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


December is always a very busy month. An American friend of mine who now lives in Australia commented recently that Australians celebrate Christmas very enthusiastically - that every work and social group, and every group of friends seems to feel the need for a Christmas celebration. I think it's not that Christmas itself and its traditional meaning has special significance for Australians, I think it's just that Christmas gets caught up with other occasions of celebration - the coming of summer, summer vacations, the end of the school year, several days away from work. There's a general feeling of winding down, of laxness, of the pause that comes before a new year of new starts.

I like this time of year. I like the feeling of tidying up the year's activities at work and I catch up with friends I don't see often throughout the year. And I go to some parties. I no longer go to many parties, and sometimes I no longer feel enthusiastic about doing so. But at Christmas it's particularly ungracious not to make the effort and I know I almost always enjoy myself once I'm actually there.

This past weekend I went to two wonderful parties. On Saturday a neighbour held a party that was perfect. There were luxurious and generously sized canapes, waiters filling your champagne flute the instant the level in the glass lowered and, most amazingly, a piano and four singers performing songs from my favourite old musicals - Carousel, Kismet, South Pacific - and Cole Porter standards. We were even encouraged to sing along. And all I had to do to get home was take the lift up one storey. A perfect party indeed.

Then on Sunday there was afternoon tea with my knitting group. Lots of bubbles and tea drinking, finger sandwiches, strawberries and cream, scones with jam and cream and small cakes. And, of course, knitting and knitting chatter and knitting laughter. The high point of the afternoon was our Christmas gift swap. Everybody brought a hand-crafted Christmas decoration to be randomly received by another. The variety and ingenuity of the gifts was astounding. There were, of course, knitted and crocheted decorations - stars, baubles of many kinds, santas, Christmas trees, and tiny, delicately knitted garments. There was also embroidery, petit point (I received a perfect tiny petit point reindeer) and beading and probably much else I've neglected to note.

I'm not sure why, but I decided to make some bunting. I love the look of colourful bunting and like the idea that it can be recycled for various occasions. So I searched for my mother's old pinking shears (and miraculously found them) and proceeded to cut out triangles of bright fabric until I couldn't bear to cut any more.

bunting flags

I was very pleased with the outcome, and, if I can ever summon the energy to do more cutting up of fabric, would like to make some for myself.

Bunting 1

Thursday, December 1, 2011

12 in 11: November

I have nothing to report. Nothing at all. I've bought no clothes or accessories this month. So, I'm still at 12 items for 2011.

However, I am deeply bored by my summer clothes choices. This is partly the result of my annual realisation that I really don't like dressing for hot and sticky Sydney summers, and partly because all the summer clothes I do like require a lot more washing and ironing and general caring for than my winter clothes.  And the accessories (particularly the knitted ones) that make winter dressing such fun are impossible in summer.

Grumble, grumble. I think I might have to buy some clothes to cheer me up.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How much grey yarn is too much?

I've been trying not to buy too much new yarn. I'm not a quick knitter and I already have more yarn than I can knit up in the near - or even longer term - future. However, all knitters know that it's almost impossible not to accumulate yarn and it just happens that most of the yarn I've acquired recently is grey. 'So?' I hear most of you who know me ask. 'So?' Of course, I love it. But all of it was acquired with no specific purpose in mind and so I now find myself wondering just what I should make with it. Do you have any suggestions?

I signed up for the Madelinetosh yarn club and chose to receive neutral colours. As it happened, the neutral colours were shades of grey - perfect.

Madtosh yarns 

So I now have three skeins (about 500 metres) of the Rambler colourway in 80/10/10 worsted, which is olive grey. I also have 6 skeins (about 2,500 metres) of Eyre Light, a fingering weight mixture of wool, silk and alpaca: 6 skeins because of a mix-up in delivery of the yarn that was generously resolved by Madelinetosh.  The Eyre Light is a colour called Folklore - a subtle purple grey with a slight sheen from the silk. Exquisite. And then there's 3 skeins (690 meres) of 80/10/10 Sport (my favourite yarn weight) in Steamer Trunk - again a green-grey, but not quite so intense a colour as the Rambler.

So what should I make with all this beautiful grey yarn?

Isager yarn

I also have around 650 metres of light beige-grey Isager 100% wool No1 that I acquired from a MissFee destash after she'd knitted her lovely Celes. So, another set of pleasurable knitting worries about what make.  Maybe I should imitate Miss Fee and knit a most desirable lacy scarf.

As I continue to knit on my seemingly endless Transatlantic shawl I can browse and weigh the delights of one pattern against another and dither and maybe even eventually make some decisions about all this greyness.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Brisbane perspectives

I spent several days last week in Brisbane. I forgot to take my camera, which I regretted greatly as Brisbane was at its gaudily sparkling best. The sky was an intense bright blue and every flowering tree bloomed strikingly. Most memorable was the modern arched walkway that meanders through the South Bank parklands that was densely covered with magenta bouganvillia. I regretted not having my camera, though I also felt the need of some as yet unavailable device that captured scents in the same way a camera captures images. In the warm evenings the mingled perfumes of all the flowering bushes, vines and trees evoked the essence of Brisbane.

I managed to visit my favourite place, the Queensland Art Gallery, to have a leisurely look at the exhibition of Henri Cartier-Bresson's  photographs, that I'd hurried through on a previous visit. The photographs are wonderful. What's most immediately obvious is their composition. Even though most of the works are photographed in real time and in real light, they are taken at the most perfect time and with just the right light. But the photographs are not only beautiful, many of them also capture the spirit of a particular time and place.

I think I wrote previously that Cartier-Bresson had political nous that enabled him to bear witness to many great historical events - photographing Mahatma Ghandi minutes before his death; documenting the advance of Mao Tse Tung's army and the retreat of the Kuomintang in China in the late 1940s. And, of course, the second world war. Cartier-Bresson joined the French army at the beginning of the second world war and was soon imprisoned in a German prisoner of war camp, where he spent three years. After two unsuccessful attempts, he managed to escape and joined the French Resistance movement. At the end of the war he was Director of a documentary film, 'Le Retour' that recorded, in real time, the return of prisoners of war and even the survivors of concentration camps to their homelands. In the midst of the disruption at the end of the war millions of people made their way, often on foot, from west to east and east to west. The film is beautifully filmed and emotionally harrowing. Fortunately for me, very few visitors to the exhibition paused to view the film for I found myself in embarrassing streams of tears.

The neighbouring Gallery of Modern Art had a small exhibition titled 'Threads' that I was anxious to see. It is an exhibition of Pacific and Asian textiles drawn from the Gallery's collection. The Australian National Gallery in Canberra has an excellent collection of textiles from Asia - particularly from Southeast Asia - Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, the Philippines. I think my expectations had been shaped by this collection. The Queensland collection is, of course, smaller and more recent but what I hadn't really expected was its emphasis on the Pacific. In the southern states of Australia you rarely have a sense of Australia's place in the Pacific and its relation to the Pacific islands. In Brisbane you are much more aware of people of Pacific Island descent and the Queensland textile collection reflects this relationship. Its centrepiece is a 22 metre (yes, 22 metres) long Tongan tapa cloth - made from layers of very finely hammered bark, stained and dyed in traditional geometric designs. And it has a collection of hand-stitched quilts made by women from various parts of the Pacific where the quilts embody not only elements of traditional Pacific designs but also evidence of colonial traditions.

I think I mostly interact with the world around me through words - through reading and conversing, so it's a good change to spend time being absorbed by visual imagery.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Longevity and Style

I'm still reading Ari Seth Cohen's blog, Advanced Style. Well, maybe 'reading' isn't quite the right word, because the text of the blog is minimal and not usually of great interest - unless he is quoting the 'life advice' of some of his subjects. But the photos are good, and the subjects of the photos are fascinating. For those of you who haven't yet discovered this site, it's a kind of Sartorialist of older people - people of 'advanced' age. It's an inspired idea for a blog, and the people it features are also inspirational (if often a bit worrying - but more of that later).

Recently, the blog featured a couple of posts of women who are a hundred years old. These women look elegant, superbly accessorised, and so, so coordinated. They look as if, at a hundred, they still take considerable trouble to present themselves to the world. One of the women, Ruth, was asked for her life and style tips and among them was the following:
"I make myself go out everyday, even if its only to walk around the block. The key to staying young is to keep moving. You are never too old to exercise."
"Invest in Quality pieces, they never go out of style."
"I dress up everyday and I don't wear blue jeans. I dress up even to mail a letter'

Every time the older people of the 'Advanced Style' blog are asked for advice, these items feature, and every time I read such advice - particularly the final piece about dressing up everyday - I can't help thinking about the time and energy this must take, and whether the goal they achieve is worth the effort involved. There are days when I'd love to be like these old women - and days when it seems as if it's a huge investment of time, energy and money for an ultimately frivolous end.

'Advanced Style' has led me to lots of idle speculation. I've decided the inhabitants of Ari Seth Cohen's blog must be rich - or, if no longer really rich, were once rich and are now financially comfortable. You can only advise people to invest in 'quality pieces' if you are or have been able to afford them - particularly when the 'quality pieces are by designers such as Issey Miyake and Yves St Laurent. Periodically, some of the Advanced Style characters discuss the virtues of 'thrifting' or of 'making do'. But I don't think their thrifting is done in the local Vinnies - but rather in the shops that specialise in reselling name brands. They're often good at making do and mending, but then the recycling is of beautiful fabrics and the 'making do' brings together lovely objects in unexpected ways.

I often wonder if you would find such a cast of elegant older people in many cities other than New York? Paris, maybe, or other cities where there's a dense concentration of affluent people and a vivid street life. You're much more likely to 'dress up to mail a letter' if there's a mail box within reasonable walking distance and people in the street to notice you while you do so. You are also much more likely to dress up every day if there is somewhere to go every day that's engaging and easily accessible. Driving in from the suburbs doesn't quite have the cachet of simply taking the lift to the ground floor.

The things I most envy in many of the entries in this blog are the accessories - the bangles, brooches and necklaces, the hats, the gloves, the handbags, the spectacles, the scarves. Getting old has to have some compensations, and the gradual accumulation of accessories is one of them. I guess many of these people are rich enough to keep replenishing their stocks, but some of the jewellery and other accompaniments look timeless - as if they've been worn for years. I think this is reflected in the nonchalance with which some of these women carry off their style - they've just had so much practice.

I've been thinking about such subjects a bit more than usual because I've also just been to see the documentary Bill Cunningham: New York. Do go to see it, if you have the opportunity. Bill Cunningham works for the New York Times where he has two weekly columns - one of which documents New York high society at charity events and parties, and the other of which features street style. Bill Cunningham turns 80 while the documentary is being made and he still spends his days walking the streets of New York, lingering on street corners, photographing street fashion, and his nights bicycling from grand event to even grander event photographing the rich and well dressed. He refuses to photograph celebrities only because of their celebrity. They must also be stylish. As Anna Wintour says at one stage - to have Bill ignore you is death.

Bill Cunningham gains admittance to the most exclusive of Paris fashion shows because 'he's the most important man in the world', but he dresses in a blue workman's jacket, only eats the simplest of foods in down-market cafes, and has lived for many years in a tiny studio in Carnegie Hall, crammed with metal filing cabinets of his photos, sharing a bathroom down the hall and with no kitchen. He's lived his life among the rich and famous but has a very strict code of owing nothing to anybody. He works all the time and is passionate about clothes and style. He lives a busy, honourable life devoted to the observation of clothes. I'm finding it hard to find words for what I find so fascinating about this. Maybe I'm a bit of a puritan and part of me thinks that the brilliance and dedication that Bill Cunningham shows should be devoted to something more worthy than clothes. But then, at the same time I listen avidly for his gentle observations and all the accumulated fashion knowledge of his 80 years.

I like to know that something that's so central to our lives and simultaneously valued and worthless - style - can be linked to longevity.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What would you hope for?

Let's say you were dreaming about the ideal weekend away with people who shared your interests - let's say, knitting. What would you hope for?

High on my list would be an idyllic country cottage, perhaps even with a white picket fence; a garden sufficiently large to ensure privacy; and expansive views of surrounding paddocks and hills.

Sewjourn fence

I'd hope there'd be space for everyone to sleep comfortably, and a communal space with comfortable chairs where you could sit and knit and periodically wander to a nearby kitchen for cups of tea or coffee or even glasses of wine. Somewhere you could leave your knitting project bag till you were ready to return to the knitting task you'd chosen.

Sewjourn living room

An added benefit would be if the room gave you views to a calm, rural, outside world

Sewjourn garden

and if that world immediately outside the door had lots of places for sitting (knitting) in the sun or shade, surrounded by late spring flowers - roses, irises, daisies...

Sewjourn verandah

The cottage should be located in a picturesque country town so there is easy access to cafes with good coffee and to shops selling easily prepared food for the weekend, and there should be a good bottle shop for the wine supply.


And if there could be a truly wonderful bookshop with all sorts of temptations, that would really be the icing on the cake

Red Door books

Some of us are fortunate enough to have very talented and organised knitting friends who, with a little help from their friends, are able to make such an ideal weekend a reality. Last weekend a group of knitters travelled to Sewjourn in Victoria, where the cottage and its gardens had all the characteristics you might hope for, and the village of Lancefield in which it is located had all the supporting services and pleasures you could need or want.

In a neighbouring town there was even a long lunch in an excellent restaurant that features locally grown food and wine. Such a treat. A pleasure to add to lots of other pleasures.

Annie Smithers 1

Others have already blogged about their experiences of the weekend. As I've written elsewhere, it was a perfect combination of hilarity and tranquility. I'd probably have achieved more knitting (and less unravelling) if I'd stayed at home. But it could never have been as pleasurable.

I nearly forgot - you might hope for perfect late Spring weather. We even had that.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

12 in 11: October. I'm late, I'm late...

A belated summary of my October clothing and accessories purchases: one item. This brings me to 12 in 11 - my goal for the year. I think it's fairly obvious that I'll exceed the year's ideal total, but I'll try to bring the same rigour to buying as I have so far this year and see where it leads me.

So what did I buy?


A very loose Marimekko t-shirt in a dramatic camel and navy pattern. As the weather warms up for summer, it's already become one of my favourite pieces of clothing. I just love Marimekko. In the late 1960s I bought a length of fabric in their Poppies design that became the first of the Marimekko fabric cushions I've had across my life. I seem to remember my children having library bags for school that I made out of scraps of Marimekko fabric. I've had t-shirts and socks and, my favourite of all, a yellow and white striped ankle length t-shirt that in the early 1970s, when I was much slimmer, I wore both as a nightshirt and a party dress. Could anything be more versatile?

Ah, Marimekko. A most satisfying purchase.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Yet another shawl

You would think that someone who has two full shelves of shawls and scarves in the bedroom cupboards would have a something appropriate for any occasion. However, I have the two shelves of shawls and scarves and still feel the need for yet another shawl with very specific characteristics - it needs to be BIG and it needs to be wearable with all my black and grey clothes without making a major contrasting colour statement. More than a year ago I knitted Mustaa Villaa's variation on the Wool Peddler's shawl and have worn and worn it. It's travelled with me several times and has been a shawl for many occasions. But even though it's reasonably large it's not really BIG, and the blue edging means it not quite as versatile as I would wish. So, despite all the half-finished knitting projects that I should be completing, I've cast on for a new shawl.

Transatlantic 2

What I'm knitting is very predictable. It's striped, it features some garter stitch rows and I'm knitting it in a not-quite-black grey with shades of grey and cream. Ho hum. But the Transatlantic pattern also has the quirkiness of many of the currently fashionable Stephen West patterns with lots of lovely textural variation as well as the stripes. Another advantage of the pattern is that you can just knit and knit on the shawl until it is as big as you wish or till you run out of yarn - which isn't going to happen. I actually did some thinking ahead for this project and bought enough very dark graphite Rowan 4ply pure wool from Calico and Ivy so that I could combine it with the grey and cream Crazy Zauberball yarn I already have. Now all I need to do is knit... and knit and knit.

I already know that when it's finished this shawl will be my new travelling companion - but it will also be perfect for cooler evenings of tv watching.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A bit more accurate

I almost feel as if I have to apologise for misrepresenting the colour of the socks in my previous post. The reality is never going to match people's expectations! This is a bit more accurate, though it still gives a richer blue hue to the grey.

mustard socks

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What is it about socks?

As I've noted before, I've not done well this year with the Super Special Six Pattern Sock Club for 2011. The patterns for the six pairs of socks were voted on for the year, and I ended up with a roster of socks that, with one exception, I'd not nominated or chosen. But being well-socialised as I am into accepting majority decisions, I decided to knit through the year's sock schedule without deviation or departure from the patterns. I've not been very successful. Pairs one, two and four have been completed. Pair three was a disaster, and I've been finding all sorts of reasons for delaying casting on for pair five, and already I'm passing negative judgments on pair six. In the meantime I produced some stripey socks that weren't on the schedule and then over the last couple of days started these:

grey socks
[this early morning photo, while rather flattering to the socks, is a very inaccurate representation of the colours. The socks in reality are grey and mustard, though I'm so taken by this delft blue and cream combination that I might try it in the future!]

Maybe this sock knitting is telling me something about myself...

* I never think of myself as a person of extremes, but maybe this sock knitting club tells me something about myself I'd not realised. With sock knitting programs I seem to need to obey rules absolutely, or alternatively I go off on a frolic! Admittedly, a sock knitting frolic is hardly damaging to myself or anyone else, but I've been interested to discover that adjusting or amending the rules slightly seems to be beyond me. One departure from the program seems to license me to make any other departures as the whim takes me. I'm hoping I'm not like this in the rest of my life.

* I'm not an adventurous knitter. I don't really like learning new techniques and ways of doing things. I'm quite happy to think creatively within the range of knitting techniques I mastered long ago, but I seem to be resistant to adding to my skills. I know (to my regret) that I'm like this in the rest of my life.

* I would much rather trust my own design preferences (even if only for a sock pattern) than others'. Maybe this is a bit egocentric, but I have a lifetime of choices informing my preferences. This is definitely true of the rest of my life.

So, I'm knitting some plain patonyl socks, with the border taken from Kristen Kapur's Sockstravaganza pattern in 'Brave New Knits' to jazz them up a bit. A happy and satisfied outcome, but yet another departure from the program.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My community

I must confess a rather eccentric fondness for the NSW Strata Schemes Management Act - not for the legislation itself which like most legislation seems clumsy, opaque and confusing to most laypeople - but for what it tries to achieve. I think it is inevitable that as populations grow and as infrastructure to serve sparse populations becomes more and more unsustainable we will have to find ways of living in closer proximity to one another. That's where the Strata Schemes Management Act comes in. It tries to set out a fair and manageable way in which people can live together - amicably - in shared spaces. It enables people to own or rent their own private living spaces, but regulates how the shared elements - gardens, swimming pools, lifts, exterior walls and roofs, services such as plumbing and cabling - are jointly owned and maintained.

Watertower trees

There are horrendous stories about the evils of living in blocks of strata scheme apartments - pettiness, disputes among neighbours, legal action, failure to repair or maintain the building. But I've now been living in such a block of apartments for more than a quarter of a century and, across that time, we've had few such disastrous experiences. Some of us who've shared the apartment block for many years work quite hard and consistently to cultivate an ethos of sharing and tolerance. We've never employed a managing agent for the building and I think that this has increased the sense of shared responsibility - that decisions about the common good are being made either by the neighbours you know or by yourself if you're involved in the executive committee.

But from time to time all of this can be a lot of hard work.

The fabric of much of our building is more than a hundred years old - quite old by Australian standards. It was one of the first warehouse conversions in Sydney and has all the problems and expenses that repurposed buildings often have - nothing is modular and everything has to be purpose-built; the windows are all irregular and different shapes; the building was never constructed for domestic purposes and so requires work to adapt it to current standards. Just now we need to do a lot of very expensive work on the building and I've been part of the group scoping the project and costing it. We put together a very comprehensive document about the needed work and the options for payment, leading up to an informal meeting of owners to discuss the project and costs. I was dreading the meeting. I knew that the proposals would be very difficult for many of my neighbours to manage, and though rationally I accepted that there were few options, I dreaded facing my neighbours' distress and possible anger.

But I should have trusted them. No-one was cheerful, but after discussion almost everybody accepted the inevitability of the work that needs to be done, and even thanked the committee for the work and thought they'd put into the proposals. The 'we're all in this together' ethos prevailed. We still have to face the formal meeting at which decisions will be made in a week or so, but I'm now much more confident of a communally agreed outcome that will enable the work to be done. It's good to be reassured that groups of people can be trusted to act for the communal good, even if it is at a cost to themselves individually.

Friday, September 30, 2011

12 in 11: September

I have one item of clothing to add to my total for 2011 - some Trippen sandals purchased at the wonderful Sole Devotion on a visit to Brisbane earlier this month.

trippen sandals frontTrippen sandals side

They're made from dull brown leather (not dull as in boring but dull as in not shiny) and have an interesting shaped heel. And they're very comfortable.

I'm three-quarters of the way through the year and I have one item left to purchase if I'm to meet my target. Unlikely that I'll succeed. I think there's a pattern emerging here - I'm quite good at not buying clothing - so far only 5 items for the year - but not so good at avoiding purchasing shoes and accessories. Still, as commenters have noted from time to time, these totals would be much higher if it were not for the 12 in 11 challenge. It really has made me think, hard, before purchasing anything.

Clearly, however, there's a limit to how long this challenge can be sustained. I have lots of clothes I've been wearing for a long time, or that I wear frequently. Many of them are becoming rather tatty with wear and some, frankly, are boring. I'm sure I can manage some restraint till the end of the year, but after that - who knows? It will be interesting to see if this challenge has modified my clothes-buying behaviour in a more sustained way.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Spring frolic

' Frolic'...a playful antic...

Frolic socks 1

I didn't plan to make these socks. The yarn was there, and I found a stripey pattern, and started knitting. They were fun to knit, and easy - a great distraction from more serious or challenging knitting, particularly when I wasn't feeling well.

frolic socks 3

The pattern is Spring Socks by Eveli Kaur and I knitted in 4 row stripes of Noro Silk Garden Sock yarn and Ewe Give Me the Knits! Sock Yarn. I altered the pattern just a little to make the socks knee high. They have a knitted-in hem at the top through which I'll thread elastic to help keep them up.

A frolic...but maybe a bit too much of a frolic for me to wear.  Perhaps they'll make a playful gift.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Unscheduled socks

These socks are one of those random, unexpected knitting projects. I had no intention of knitting socks other than those already on my schedule for the 2011 Personal Sock Club, but from one day to the next I found myself knitting these unscheduled striped socks.

Long striped socks

I guess they're not really so surprising. For years I've admired other knitters' striped socks or mittens knitted from Noro yarns, and have frequently indulged in stripey projects myself. I certainly started this project at just the right time. Over the last few days I've had conjunctivitis - a highly contagious eye infection usually associated with children. I'm peering out at the world through swollen, gummy eyelids. I suspect it's one of those childhood infections that's worse if contracted as an adult. So this knitting project, which is essentially plain socks with stripes, has been perfect for a time when I'm confined to the house with limited vision, waiting for the antibiotics to work.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Some time away

When I started blogging I don't think I ever anticipated that my family and old friends would use my blog as a way to keep up with my life. I think I expected it to reach a small audience of knitters and maybe of people whom I didn't know in the life I've lived so far. But I now have old friends saying things like 'I noticed you'd not been blogging for a few days so I thought you might be out of town' or family members commenting on an opinion I'd expressed in my blog as if it were part of an ongoing conversation with them. I guess I just have to accept that my blog has become an integral part of my life.

This is all by way of saying that I've been out of town and away from my computer for a few days and feel as if I need to account for my absence. I've been baby-sitting (or perhaps in deference to her four-year-old status I should say 'child-sitting') for my grand-daughter - the dotee - in Brisbane. The child-sitting went very well, although I've come away with an increased appreciation of why you have children in your twenties and thirties - maybe forties - but definitely not in your sixties. I've answered many questions; a few with expertise and many with creativity or confessions of limited knowledge. I was particularly chuffed by questions about word meanings; I love having someone around who's already so interested in language and how it works.

But I really meant this post to be about Brisbane. I think I'm probably repeating myself, but I'm always struck when I visit by how it seems to be more brightly coloured than Sydney. The vegetation is more riotous and brilliant, the sky seems to be a more intense blue, and it generally seems to sparkle. It's not a subtle city, but it's engaging.

Moreton Bay figs

So, some random things I like about Brisbane:

* The river. It's not the Seine or the Danube and it's not Sydney Harbour, but the Brisbane River is a central part of Brisbane's identity. I love the way it twists and turns upon itself so that so many suburbs have the river as part of their neighbourhood. And the river cat ferries often allow you to combine the pleasure of a river cruise with the necessity of travelling from place to place.

Brisbane skyline

But then, of course, as the floods earlier this year demonstrated, so much of the city is also vulnerable because of the river. I imagine many people must still be suffering the ravages of the floods, but as you travel up and down the river there's no longer any evidence for the casual observer that the floods ever occurred. The recovery seems miraculous, though you know it must be the result of much hard and cooperative work.

* Queenslanders - not the people, although I'm sure they're as nice as people generally are - but the houses. My daughter has recently moved to an old suburb of Brisbane with lots of these modest and often modified wooden houses raised on stilts. Brisbane's hilliness always surprises me and these houses seem to perch precariously on the steep slopes. They're unpretentious and everyday and seem to sit very lightly on the land.


* South Bank. The cluster of museums, galleries, the State Library, and parklands, with its view back to the city, is such a gift for Brisbane. That it's well-served by public transport increases its pleasure.

brisbane south bank

The dotee and I spent an afternoon at the library that has a most wonderful section for children with books, cubbies, craft materials and dress-ups often thematically related to exhibitions in the arts complex. At the moment the theme is the sea and islands as the Museum currently has an exhibitions on the Torres Strait Islands. However, the main attraction for me just now is the extensive exhibition of photographs at the Queensland Art Gallery by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Cartier-Bresson worked from the 1930s to the 1970s and travelled widely. He had the luck or good management to be present at events and within periods that were formative in countries' histories. His back and white photos, however, are not usually of the main historical players (though the exhibition does include some of his superb portraits) but of the bystanders, or even of the neglected and unaware. I'd love to go back for another look.

* Leaving the best things till last - the dotee. It was good to have extended time with her.

Ana Maria Sept 11

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

12 in 11: August

Nothing. I bought nothing.

Well, more truthfully, I bought nothing that needs to be counted. I did buy some black and white T'boli beads during my trip to the Philippines. But according to comments on previous posts by my readers these need not be counted because:

(a) they're a souvenir
(b) they're handcrafts
(c) they're jewellery

So, the total for 2011 remains at 10.

Thankfully, socks.

Thankfully, I've finished Nancy Bush's Fox Faces,the fourth installment of the super special six pattern sock club (s62011) socks, by the nominal due date. I'm ignoring the fact for the moment that if I'm really going to complete this sock club I need to knit a pair of socks to substitute for the third installment - the Leyburn pattern I wimped out on.

Fox faces and shoes

This is such an interesting pattern. It's almost as if Nancy Bush had designed them as a sampler to demonstrate a range of ideas you can include in a pair of socks. As well as the rather cute fox faces lace pattern itself, there's the lateral braid on the sock cuff; the honeycomb stitch for the heel; the dutch heel (love the dutch heel); and the unusual three sectioned star finish for the toe.

Fox faces close-up
Fox faces heel

Any problems with these socks have been of my own making. This yarn - 4 ply sock yarn by Angel Yarns UK - has a slight halo and almost felted effect. It would make a wonderful traditional pair of plain or ribbed socks. But it's not ideal for this pattern, which would have been better with a tightly spun yarn with crisp stitch definition. Also, the socks are very snug on me. A sock pattern of 60 stitches on 2.25mm needles is never going to result in a generously (or even moderately) sized sock. But I have a neighbour with small feet who I'm sure would love some hand-knitted socks for next winter.

Fox faces

I like this pattern so much I intend to knit it again in a more suitable yarn.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The fabric of the past

I've been interested in traditional, usually handmade textiles for many years - particularly those from Southeast Asia. I've never been able to afford to buy very valuable textiles, but over the years some of the bits of cloth in my collection - a grand word for the piles of fabric around my house - have become rare or are no longer available. It's sad to see such beautiful creations disappearing, but making hand-woven or richly embroidered textiles, except for the grandest occasions, is just no longer financially viable. Raw materials are expensive, markets need to be regularly supplied, and even low-paying jobs often generate more income for a family than handcrafts.

Silahis textiles, Intramuros, Philipines

So I always have some trepidation when I visit Silahis, a wonderful multi-storey treasure store of Philippine crafts. There are always lots of baskets and wood carvings for sale but, over the last years, the variety and quantity of the available textiles are dwindling. I was delighted this visit to find some modern reproductions of Gaddang textiles, made by the Gaddang people of northeastern Luzon. I'd seen beautiful old expensive Gaddang textiles but hadn't ever bought any; these reproductions, handwoven and traditionally decorated with tiny white beads are lovely and very affordable.

Philippines: Gaddang textile
Philippines: Gaddang  textile beading

The shop also had some reproductions of Kalinga textiles from the mountains of northern Luzon, and I was unable to resist some tiny black and white T'boli beads from central Mindanao - the southernmost island of the Philippines.

Philippine textiles: Kalinga cloth, T'boli beads

And finally, some embroidered handkerchiefs made from (imitation) pina cloth - the cloth traditionally used for men's formal shirts, the barong tagalog, and the beautiful shoulder-framing shawl-like collars of Spanish-influenced traditional dress for women.

Philippines: Pina handkerchiefs

Pina is very fine fabric woven from fibres extracted from the leaves of the pineapple plant. In the 1970s I actually saw women handweaving pina fabrics and marvelled at the patience required to knot the short fibres into a warp and then weave the translucent cloth. Nowadays pina cloth is more likely to be made from a mixture of fibres or from synthetics as I think my handkerchiefs are. But I love the fine embroidery and I like them as a memento of the past.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Nine days in the Philippines

I've been travelling again. Though I've only recently returned from my Malaysian trip, this time I had a very special reason for travelling. Three months ago, my son, who's living in the Philippines, and his partner had a baby boy - Joshua John. The baby was born two months prematurely and he initially had quite a tough time with lots of setbacks. I really felt I had to visit so I could get to know Joshua at this stage of his life. Fortunately, over the last few weeks he's really flourished and is now a picture of health and contentment.

Joshua John

So I spent most of my week or so in the Philippines just admiring Joshua. But I did manage a few other activities:

* I visited Intramuros - the oldest part of Manila and once a walled city where we saw a wedding with very grandly dressed guests in the late sixteenth century church of San Agustin;

St Augustine wedding

where we were ushered across the street by a guard dressed in an 'historic' Katipunan uniform to my favourite craft and textile shop (but more of that in another post);

Katipunan guard

and where we strolled through the ruins of Fort Santiago and remembered Filipino hero Jose Rizal whose one hundred and fiftieth anniversary year this is.

Rizal quote

I'm not sure how useful Rizal's advice now is. The Philippines' complex and often unfortunate history is certainly useful in understanding the present state of Philippine society and politics, but history doesn't provide any easy answers for how to exist in modern Asia. [Just as an aside - one of the unexpected minor pleasures of visiting Manila is the newspapers. Clearly I'm limited to English-language newspapers, but the Philippine press must be amongst the most free in the world. Most of the news stories are so partisan or so local or so convoluted I can't really appreciate them, but I love the comment columns...everything from sophisticated and informed sociological commentary on a current debate about art and blasphemy through to impassioned pleas from overseas Filipino workers arguing they should not be compulsorily expatriated from Libya because their families need the income they're generating. A window to a very different world].

* I had a two day trip to Magdalena, about 150k south of Manila in the province of Laguna where I stayed in a bahay kubo - a house of traditional materials. The house has grown somewhat since we spent Christmas there a couple of years ago so this time there was a separate living room where Joshua and I spent most of our time

Bahay kubo living room

and a brand new bedroom where I, (probably because I'm fussiest) had the honour of sleeping

bahay kubo bedroom
Bahay kubo window

There's lots to like and admire about a bahay kubo. It literally sits very lightly upon the ground. Almost all the materials are either locally gathered (the bamboo for the walls and floors; many of the support posts) or locally crafted (the lovely window frames). Reluctantly, after the thatched roof had been twice destroyed by typhoons, the roof has been replaced with a kind of hardy corrugated plastic. I particularly love the textures the local materials provide and the softness of the bamboo flooring that gives slightly beneath your weight. I love showering and having the water run through the bamboo slats to the luxurious undergrowth beneath the house. But I don't like the insects! My visit coincided with the season when termites grow wings and go hunting for new nests. Any attempt to read at night was thwarted by the surprisingly large winged termites attracted by the light. And there are ants and tiny bamboo inhabiting insects and...other things I could (and did) only imagine.

The area of Laguna in which Magdalena is situated is steeped in Philippine history. The large lake, the Laguna, that's the centre of the province, was a major transportation hub for the Spaniards who colonised the Philippines from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. It's partly the setting for Rizal's novels of nationalist sentiment that every Filipino school child has to study, Noli Mi Tangere and El Filibusterismo, and a major site for resistance to the Spanish in the late nineteenth century. The area is also just beautiful - but vulnerable. Overpopulation, over-fishing, periodic floods, pollution from fertiliser and pesticides, and growths of water hyacinth haven't quite destroyed the laguna (lake), but its health is precarious.


On the drive down to Magdalena we made a short detour via the town of Pila where luck or circumstance has enabled the preservation of a largish number of old houses around a charming town plaza.

Pila houses

Some claim they're houses from the Spanish period, but I suspect a number of them date from the early twentieth century when the Philippines was a US colony. Anyway, the town has charm and I'd like to visit again - preferably when it's not raining.

* I did some malling (as in spending time in shopping malls). I malled in our local, crowded, cheap and cheerful mall

Cubao Farmers' market

and I malled in the most beautiful, echoingly empty malls where every exclusive and expensive international design company is represented. I can't imagine how such places stay open. I certainly couldn't afford to shop in them and I've rarely seen others shopping in them. But they do have beautiful settings and meticulously cared for gardens.

Ayala museum garden

By the way, all I bought, (apart from traditional crafts), was baby clothes and baby paraphernalia, so there are no additions to my clothes tally for the year.

* Otherwise, I just hung around the house with Joshua, with brief forays into the local neighbourhood.

Cubao Velante Drive
Cubao Velante Drive ads

* And, as always happens when you visit Manila, I spent lots of time in traffic jams.

Aurora Blvd

This is Aurora Boulevard, just around the corner from where I was staying. Eight lanes of traffic (in a road meant for six) with queues of jeepneys transporting people around the city, as well as two tracks for the ever-crowded light rail overhead. I guess transportation is always going to be a problem in a city of around 15 million people.

I'm not sure when I'll be back for another visit, but with Joshua's arrival I guess it won't be too long.