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.