Archive for May, 2009

One of the things I find most captivating about knitting is its ability to produce patience in the most unlikely of subjects. I have always been tenacious, but not always patient. I tolerate imperfection only with the greatest difficulty. I like fast results (but who doesn’t?).

Knitting soothes me quite substantially by its tolerance of error. I’m learning that most mistakes can be fixed or lived with, often either one according to personal taste. Can’t live with that mistake three rows back? That’s OK. Rip it back and try again. Can’t be bothered ripping it back? That’s OK too. It’s one stitch: no-one will notice. I’m trying to work out where I am along that continuum, and realising that it changes from day to day, and that nothing bad happens either way. As a control-freak, I really like that I can make this little part of my world as perfect as I want/need it to be. It’s my time, and if I want to spend it all knitting the same row of the same shawl for all eternity, which is what it looks like at the moment, well, that’s nobody else’s concern but mine. No-one else need suffer or lose out as a result, “no animals are harmed”, and no-one takes any flak for my mistakes because curiously enough, I’m not even getting frustrated. Maybe it’s because the knitting police are not coming to drag me away in the middle of the night for screwing up…

… but thank goodness they aren’t. I decided to turn the cashmere I dyed myself into a shawl. It’s two-ply, and screaming lace at me. I couldn’t refuse. So I thought a “bluebell” shawl, as the colors are perfect, and the bluebell woods still fresh in my mind. I’m going to do something in glass as well, but I’m working up to that. For now, the shawl’s the thing.

bluebell shawl 1bluebell shawl detail

Since I love making my life unnecessarily complex I decided that for my first foray into lace, I would introduce several additional complicating factors. I thought – given that I can barely even hold the yarn, and notoriously can’t even count to four (see my slip-up socks in person for confirmation of this), lace wasn’t going to be a challenge for me unless I made up my own pattern. Yes, really. I kind of liked the Ishbel pattern, but I also liked* the idea of the nupps on the Swallowtail pattern. So we have an Ishbel-like beginning, which to be fair is the beginng for quite a lot of shawls, only I didn’t bother reading the pattern for any of them, preferring to cast on and guess. See the spine down the middle where the yarn overs are? Amazingly I even screwed that up a few times. In the end I want for a serious backbone (a single stitch didn’t seem to be working: mine is slip one, knit one, yarn over, pass slipped stitch over). After a while I decided to do a bit of the “lily of the valley” section from the Swallowtail. Then, in theory I’ll do another chunk of the plain stockinette, then some more Swallowtail, depending on how much yarn there looks like being. Or if I’ve decided that chewing off my own arms would be more amusing, I’ll stop. In reality I’ve done four rows, frogged four rows. Twice. It’s not the nupps that are bothering me, but for the life of me I can’t quite see what is. The nupps are fine; I watched the requisite video. I think the problem is historical. My ancestors and the Estonians = not such a great mix. I’m getting my revenge in knitting. A lot of them did bad things to a lot of my people, so – I raise your camp guards and einsatzgruppen one lace shawl. See it and weep. Actually, I think I’m OK for now though, and I have to say – the cashmere is incredibly soft, and the lightly variegated yarn continues to delight me. On the down side, I do have to keep reminding myself that lace apparently always looks like spaghetti throw-up until after it’s blocked. So I’m not worried. Yet.


*I mean, liked as in “thought I’d like the effect of”, not as in “wanted to execute”

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The more we understand about the natural world, the more we discover that it is full of patterns, generated perhaps in random ways, but retained by nature for their strength and robustness. What it is about patterns that causes the human brain to love them nearly as much as nature does, and to find them almost infinitely pleasing. They’ve been causing sleepless nights in our house recently though.

I’ve been thinking about this as I watch my youngest child – aged two and a bit – develop a fascination with puzzles. He’s suddenly able to find patterns in what looks like chaos, and is learning to reconfigure and organize the world around him. Interestingly (and this was something I’ve observed before, and forgotten) the toddler gestalt for puzzles is completely different from an adult’s. We keep saying, “look at the picture; find the edges; start with the corners” but he’s engaging with the elements in other ways – it’s another case of the way the toddler’s limited knowledge of the world creates different categories of same/different/alike. For puzzle-solving this works OK. It doesn’t matter if you know you’re looking for Bambi’s nose or saying to yourself “gold bump and dent facing out… gold bump and dent facing in, let’s try that.” I know that puzzles are only partly to do with pattern recognition, but I’m certain that’s a big part of the thrill. And either way, boy oh boy, the boy is certainly thrilled. What can I tell you? He’s completely, utterly smitten and obsessed. He wants to take the puzzles to bed with him at night (we vetoed, on the grounds that puzzles need to be worked on a flat surface); he wakes up and chants “puzzles, puzzles” (actually “puddles”, of which the blessed wetness that is Wales also has its fair share again this week) until he get down the stairs and into action. Breakfast can wait. As can lunch, dinner, getting dressed, going out and any other activity a two-year-old might be expected to engage in. I haven’t specifically tried the straight choice of puzzle or chocolate yet, but I’m getting curious. Now I’m amused by all this, but I sure as hell can’t claim I don’t understand it. I know he goes to sleep and sees puzzles all night. And wakes up in the night and thinks about puzzles for a bit, and then goes back to sleep and thinks about them a bit more. Or – as he did last night – wakes up and just can’t for the love of all that is holy, go back to sleep because there are puzzles downstairs, waiting to be done NOW!. I know because for months I have closed my eyes and gone, “knit, knit, knit, knit, knit”. Or thought about glass.

Last night I’d have loved to close my eyes and go “knit, knit, knit, knit, knit”. Instead I was being hounded by imaginary fruit flies, and by number patterns on the clock. The fruit flies are the corollate of one nice day. One. That’s all we had, one day of sunshine, and now we’re overrun with fruit flies enough for a full-on summer. I’ve had to put the fruit bowl in the fridge, which I hate doing, and set out little fruit fly traps (plastic cups of balsamic vinegar for them to drown sweetly in), which I enjoyed more than I would have predicted. Only they are being revenged on me in the night and pursued me through my dreams, which were anyway distressingly few and far between.

I know how far between because of the clock. I do try not to look at the alarm clock in the night, but some nights, it just won’t be ignored. And that’s where the patterns came in again. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit this in public, but I find it relatively pleasurable (to use a nice measured term) to look at the clock and see a “special number” rather than an ordinary one. A special number is any number in which I can discern a pattern. Obvious ones are palindrome numbers, like 10:01 (one I rarely see from my bed) or 04:40 (frequently spotted, and peculiarly horrid). Repeat patterns – 05:05 – are good, and runs – 02:34 – are allowed. There are a couple of basic rules. Principally, no number may be ‘stalked’ (i.e. it’s cheating to look at 03:44 and lie in wait for a minute). You have to spot the number ‘in the wild’. My cunning plan – to lift the curse – is to get as many numbers as possible into the special category, in the hope that my mind will stay more relaxed and sleep-ready if I’m not trying to find patterns in the middle of the night. In an ideal world, they would all be special and then I could ignore them. I’m sure if I were a crazy maths geek, I could do it, but I’m not and I just can’t. I’ve tried to convince myself that increasing in threes is a pattern, but my brain just isn’t buying (so 05:31 is good, but 02:58 remains a washout). It has accepted 03:14 (pi) at a theoretical level, but without real enthusiasm. On a really bad night I have ‘collected’ 02:02 thru 06:06 and a matching set of 02:20 thru 05:50 –  a negative triumph or pyrrhic victory if ever there was one. But the brain does love a pattern, and it was, I suppose, marginally better than a night of 01:13’s and 06:21’s.

Of course, I would have had an altogether better night of it – depite the puzzles, and the patterns on the clock, and the fruit flies – if I hadn’t allowed myself to be dictated to by my Inner Puritan. My Outer Puritan is bad enough. My Outer Puritan believes that it is only permissible to suck a throat sweet in the daytime if you are considering immediate self-harming with a sharp knife as a direct distraction from swallowing and only permissible at night if the effort of swallowing is waking you up seconds after you have drifted off or keeping you awake. The Inner Puritan simply rules that “you’ve had one”. I whine that it was 23 hours ago and the Puritan tells me to put a sock in it. I plead: the Outer Puritan would let me have one. The Inner Puritan is unmoved. I had one. 23 hours ago. Don’t ask me why I listened to the Inner Puritan until 06:37, but I did. Then the 24 hours were up. Whew. With nights like that, who needs torture techniques?

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I have a mathematical friend who once, in our university days, treated me to a very nice meal he had cooked, and afterwards, espresso and an explanation of quantum theory. It may have been a complex intellectual wooing manoeuvre, but if so, it failed miserably as I was so busy trying to bend my head around the quantum part that I failed to notice the rest. Also I thought he was involved with someone else (which he was) and naively assumed (I can’t quite believe this now, but it’s true) that he could therefore not be engaged in wooing activities (which he quite possibly was, actually). Hey, ho. Also, poor soul would have been barking up the wrong tree for another reason. As he’s about two feet taller than me, I wouldn’t even be able to see the expression on his face without my contact lenses, and according to my Iron Rule of Partner Selection #3, that’s a rate-limiting factor in relationships: I can’t imagine going out with someone too far away to see (rather like not speaking a common language).

Well, I was very taken with his explanation, and especially with Shrödinger’s cat, which I vaguely remember as involving an experiment set up with a cat in a box and some particles of something which in one state would mean that the cat was alive and in the other state would mean that it was dead, but that until it was observed which state was true, then the cat had to be considered simultaneously both alive and dead.I don’t remember if there was a neat little appendix that made play with the experimenter/observer effect, or if I only dreamed that part. And I might be pretty wrong about the whole thing. There I go, bastardising science again, But don’t blame me; blame my friend Andy.

Anyway, fast-forward a whole hunk of years, I find Child Two happily singing to herself the nursery rhyme for a quantum universe: The Grand Old Duke of York/He had ten thousand men;/He marched them up to the top of the hill,/And he marched them down again./And when they were up, they were up;/And when they were down, they were down,/And when they were only half-way up,/They were either up or down.

Until they were observed, at which point they would presumeably be categorically one or the other. But not, note, half-way. One or the other, but apparently both. This helps me with the cat in Shrödinger’s box. Either/or masquerading as “and”. Not a concept a three-year-old has any difficulties with, it seems. What does that imply?

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I am ruined. There is a new shop on the corner of my street and the next one. Ok, it is on the other side of the road, but that’s not going to save me. I can sense it.

Speak it quietly. There is a LYS in the neighborhood. According to Google maps, it is officially a 52 second walk away. Penarth was a nice, safe distance. I could get there if I needed to, but I wasn’t going to go there by accident. Only by-accident-on-purpose. And then only once.

I know. Scary. It could only be worse if Warm Glass had moved there instead of being nicely tucked away an hour’s drive over the bridge, in England (a bridge we have to pay to use, by the way, effectively taxing travel into Wales, but don’t let me get started on that).

My only hope of avoiding immediate ruination is that stock so far looks to be limited and pretty mainstream. Nothing rubbish, but nothing truly exciting either. So it still feels fair enough if I end up getting funky indie yarns online, and I won’t have to feel guilty for not supporting the LYS. When I can reasonably buy from they, I will. And, yes, of course I already have. But only a little bit. And I really think that I could justify the row-counters. It turns out that I can’t count to six in my head as reliably as I’d assumed.

And then, having looked at the sock needles and thought, “I could make those” I came home and did just that. Beechwood skewers, pencil-sharpener and a bit of sandpaper, and voilà, 3 mm needles. Cost = 5 p. They had some bamboo ones in the shop for £4 (and some pretty rosewood ones for £18, but the less said about those the better for everyone). And then I made these sweet little straights, with a couple of the kids’ beads on the ends.

beechwood needles

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three butterflies

Sometimes, there are circumstances where you don’t know what to say, or make, or do. Perhaps because the options feel too big, or too many and too confusing, or perhaps because you can’t think of a single one that meets the needs of the moment. Luckily, when that problem strikes you at a glass class, there are always butterflies to be made. Easy, cheerful, and providing instant gratification at the cost of only tiny pieces of scrap glass, they are a handy stand-by. The Victoria sponge of the stained-glass world, perhaps. Also, they can be incorporated into something bigger at any point (I made a mirror for the girls’ room last year, with butterflies fluttering around in a grass-green frame), or just given loops and turned into some last-minute or after-thought gift – a suncatcher, or maybe a mobile. Either way, however kitsch they may be, they are a spirit-raiser. I think it’s the instant gratification part that really does it. At least I achieved something today.

Oh, and I found a missing puzzle piece (but two others were lost), and after a frustrating tussle with the Wales Millennium Centre website I managed to book some opera tickets for next season before they all sold out. Amonst other delights, I have happily sentenced the Beloved to over six hours of Wagner (excluding intervals), but at £5 a ticket, that’s cheaper entertainment even than knitting socks. And did I mention that Bryn Terfyl is singing?

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So a couple of weeks ago, I went into one of the local charity shops (thrift stores, of which we have more than our fair share in the neighborhood), just to distract a child from the fact that its sibling had a playdate, and it wasn’t invited. So, yes – basically – I offered shopping therapy. It was meant to be a quick walk and a browse, and not too far, so back home again shortly. It so happened that this was the shop where I’d actually scored some yarn at Christmas time, so I decided to ask the time-honored question, “have you any wool?” to which the reply was a resounding no, not at the moment. That’s OK, I didn’t expect them to have much of interest (I reckon one ball of pure cotton – which I made into my camouflage beret for use when bagel-buying in the Orthodox (“frum”) districts of North London – was probably a lifetime of yarn luck for that shop). As I left, a woman sidled up to me and asked why I was asking, and if I was looking for proper wool, did I know of the nice yarn shop in Penarth (safely on the other side of Cardiff)? It turned out I’d met my first Other Knitter. A live in-the-flesh knitter. Gadzow. Fabulous. Someone who understood the obsession, and who existed outside of a blog. Amazing: I didn’t realize other knitters could actually be in 3-d. All my glass friends are baffled. They are completely obsessed with glass, but knitting? They’re all, like, how weird is that? And you mean, it’s soft? But not only when it’s hot? And you can’t cut yourself wth it? Really? And it’s still fun? Me, I’m clearly able to run multiple obsessions off the same power circuit. As long as I don’t try to run a real life off the same main, I should be fine.

She felt more or less the same, and we are now offiicially friends. Friends on Ravelry, even friends on Facebook (not that I ever hang out on Facebook: it bores me rigid, but I got sick of ignoring invitations). And we have had coffee a couple of times. If I’m very nice she might let me play with her new drop spindle (only secretly, now I’ve seen it, I plan to make one out of a dowel and some part of some toy purloined from one of the children. Why, oh why, don’t we have Tinkertoys in this country. I’m sure they’re the answer to everything).

Today, she dropped a bombshell.

“Do you know,” she said, “I’ve just discovered that I’ve always purled the wrong way?” So I got her to describe what she was doing, and it sounded just like what I do. So I said, “show me” and she did. And it was – exactly what I do. Ahem. This was wrong? So then she showed me the microscopic twists at the base of the purls. Wrong, wrong wrong. We got out her book, and it was indeed right there in black and white, and clearly (well, now it was clear) quite the other way from what she -and I – had been doing, and I got home and checked out my book. And it was just the same as her book. So there you are. We have both purled every purl we have ever purled (and between the two of us in our combined couple of years, that’s still a fair few purls), backwards, upside-down or inside-out. I’m not sure which it is, but they’ve all been wrong. [For the record, we’ve been drawing the yarn straight up between the needles rather than wrapping it round to the right – clockwise, rather than counter-clockwise]. What interests me is a) that you can’t really tell, whcih seems like one of those deep lessons for life that knitting keeps throwing up, and b) that we’ve both spontaneously done the same thing, and are presumeably not the only people to have done it. It’s vaguely evolutionary: I don’t know if that stitch has a name, but if not, might I suggest “Mutated Purl”? Alternatively, it’s amazing how many smart people can’t read. Or follow a diagram. And not notice. I’m trying not to worry about the implications of that. I prefer the random spontaneous mutation theory.

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sock2To quote a well-loved television show from my childhood, “here’s one two I made earlier.” Actually, to be honest, they dragged on a bit because I did a few other things while I was at them, and in the end I decided that if I didn’t crack on fairly smartish, I rather hoped I wouldn’t have a chance to put them on for months (being that they are a nice thick 80% lambswool, 10% angora, 10% cashmere blend). But today was still comfortable for them (and boots as well, I’m afraid).

I’m so glad I kept them both going at the same time. The first one was finished on Saturday evening, and the second sock syndrome only had a couple of days to get going – not quite long enough to take hold. So voilà!

There really are two— eye of partridge heel, and all.


The pattern is Posh Yarn’s slip up socks, which was a lot easier once I worked out that you basically always slip purlwise. Who knew? The entire world, probably, but not me.

Oh, and another thing: I did the builder an injustice. He has come back to do the bits and pieces. Or possibly to talk all day and charge us for it. I’ve spent half the day cowering upstairs. Wow, we always have such talkative workmen. The electrician we favor even talks nonsense. Literally. I kid you not. He is an evangelical Christian, and from halfway down my cellar steps one day, he offered to talk in tongues for me. So he did. At length. When eventually he finished he said, “did you understand any of that?” No, I had to admit, I didn’t (but it sounded very imressive, I have to say). “No,” he said, perfectly cheerfully. “Neither did I.” Apparently it was his soul, speaking directly to God, which I must say is a notion that appeals to me.

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