Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Woolly Weirdness

I was browsing Ravelry patterns for something.  I can't remember what it was, because I got a bit distracted (as you do) by some of the wonderfully weird and inventive things people make with yarn.

There are all sorts of terribly cute little knitted or crocheted figures or objects (amigurumi) of animals, aliens, Minions, fruit, cakes and so on, as well as a netted hammock to store the cuddly toys in, unless your pet rat commandeers it (and them!) first.

There are hats with ears, sharks' fins, mohican hair, unicorn horns with rainbow manes, reindeer antlers, and Viking helmets complete with horns, beards and plaits! If you fancy a double-headed axe to go with your Viking helmet, there are even knitted weapons.

Skulls appear on mittens, cowls, hats and crochet shawls (for you inner Goth or Day of the Dead celebration).

Of course, tea and egg cosies have been around for years. You can put a little sleeve or warmer around your take-out coffee or your favourite mug, the cafetiere, a drinks can or beer bottle (presumably to protect your fingers from the cold bottle, rather than to keep the beer warm, but you never know ...) and your piece of fruit (I've no idea why.).  Even your keys can wear a tiny sweater to keep warm. Everything from your pen and lip balm to the top of crutches and the bottom of chair legs can have a little sleeve. How about a 'soap cozy'? You sew the bar of soap inside the cosy, which is made out of wool that will felt as you use the soap in hot water. I guess when the soap's all gone, you can use the felt for something else.

Apart from covers for all sorts of phones, e-readers, tablets and other technowidgetry, how about a gift card holder, or personalising your luggage with a knitted label for your suitcase?

As well as a sweater for your dog, how about a coat for your goat? Or a hat for your cat (although the cats in the pictures do not look at all impressed!)

I don't really intend to make any of them and haven't looked beyond Ravelry, but I was so fascinated by this that I started a Pinterest board.  I've even worked out how to embed a pic of it here (although it doesn't seem to work as a link)! Okay, that's enough fun for now. Back to work!

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Knitting and Crochet Jargon - A Selection

I've mentioned elsewhere what a source of inspiration Ravelry is, since I picked up my crochet hooks and knitting needles again. Browsing through the patterns fills me with desire for all the lovely things on there and wanting to learn how to do lacework and socks and colour work and double knitting and start all sorts of projects. (Steady now!)

I thought I knew how to knit and crochet, but looking through the patterns on Ravelry, I realise I only just know the basics, and even then I'm not up to speed on the various methods for increasing and decreasing.  I hold my needles and yarn in a completely cack-handed way. I've discovered there are loads of different techniques for casting on and off, even for the selvedge stitches. I can't remember the basic crochet stitches without looking.  I get confused trying to read charts.

I made the Evenstar fingerless mitts thinking they would be big enough for me, but in the end they were too snug for my taste.  I found patterns for legwarmers on Ravelry, but decided against them because they were often designed for slender-limbed teenagers or models, rather than my chunky legs! I decided I would start some 'bespoke' legwarmers and dutifully did a couple of swatches, one in K2 P1 rib, one in stocking stitch, using DK yarn and 4 cm dpns.  From my swatches, I calculated how many stitches I would need to cast on and went for it.  As I knitted, I re-measured and found it to be good.  But when I slipped on the top 4 inches I'd knitted, I found that it had way too much give.  Instead of covered legs, I would have been standing in knitted puddles.  I think perhaps the needle size was too big, producing a softer knitted 'fabric' with too much give in it for my carefully calculated method to work.  There will be a slight pause on that project while I rethink it.  Perhaps I need to do the rib on a smaller set of needles in the same way that if I remake the gloves, I will need a larger set of needles. (Neither of which I have, of course!) So I frogged what I'd knitted and rewound it onto the ball.

Ooh, get me, using knitting jargon!  Yes, beyond the ever-growing list of knitting and crochet stitch abbreviations (psso - pass slipped stitch over, dc - double crochet), there are other terms ready to trip up the unwary, newly-awakened yarn junkie.  Like all good jargon, it is very useful in context and once you know it, it immediately and subconsciously becomes part of your vocabulary and you forget that there was a time when you didn't understand the jargon!  I had a cursory search for terms on the interweb, and only came up with the usual abbreviations and stitches, but I expect there will be the same and more in other blogs out there somewhere.  In the meantime, here's a selection:

CAL: Crochet Along, when members of a community all crochet and talk about the same pattern or project. Similarly: KAL: Knit Along. And MKAL/MCAL: Mystery Knit Along/Crochet Along, when the group are all knitting the same pattern but either don't know what it is or know it's (e.g.) socks, but are not exactly sure what it will look like.

WIP: Work in Progress.  If it's knitted, then it may be said to be OTN:  On The Needles. Or it could be OTN and Hibernating: A work which has been in progress at some point and then put down for so long, it must be asleep by now. UFOs: Unfinished Objects are often hibernating. This could be because it's a BUFO:  Boring Unfinished Object, which you may have to decide to FOF: Frog or Finish (viz, the Autumn Leaves Thing).

Frogging: (because frogs say Rip it! Rip it!). Also known as ripping or ripping out. . When you notice a glaring mistake several rows back or the whole piece isn't going according to plan, and the only thing to do is take the work off the needles and pull the yarn end to unravel, either back to the mistake, or completely.

Tink:  Go back a couple of rows by dropping and then picking stitches up again in order to correct or pick up a dropped stitch or two.

Your object may not be finished because it is (or includes) one of a pair, in which case you may be suffering from SSS: second sock (or sleeve) syndrome, which I guess may be SGS for gloves.

Or you may be wondering about methods and techniques such as:

JAYG: Join as you go, methods for joining crochet motifs as you work them, instead of sewing them all together at the end.

Thrum: A lock of unspun fleece or roving knitted or crocheted into an item so that it hangs on the wrong side.  Regularly spaced thrums form a fleecy/felted lining, making the item extra warm and suitable for Arctic conditions.  I occasionally long for thrummed slippers and mittens for when I'm sitting at this computer.

Steek:  Cut into circular knitting and then either pick up stitches to knit on, or sew in, other elements of the garment. Popularly used for Shetland jumpers, where the main body is knit in the round with extra stitches where the armholes are, which are then stabilised and cut down the centre so that sleeves can be sewn in.

Stash: Collection of yarns, beads, fabric, accessories, tools, etc. I cannot be the only one who's noticed the word has connotations of addiction. Uncomfortably accurate, perhaps?  Hmmm, moving on .... When you only have a few bits, in a box or drawer, you don't have a stash.  I was like that once. You start acquiring tools, yarn, etc and the box becomes several, or a cupboard full, then a studio or workroom, and possibly starts to leak outside the SCZ: Stash Containment Zone, which is especially bad if your SCZ is your entire house. By the natural law of the stash, it won't contain the yarn/fabric/beads/findings/sizes of knitting needles/crochet hooks which you need for the project you want to start right now.  A potential source of items for the stash is the LYS: Local Yarn Store, which is where you can go for SEX: Stash EXtension (or Enrichment) EXpeditions. This can lead to ...
SABLE: Stash Acquired Beyond Life Expectancy - in other words, you have acquired so much, you could not get through it in your lifetime. Time to ...
De-Stash: Get rid of your stash, as in use it, sell it, swap it for something you know you will use quickly, give it away.

You know you've got it bad when you use every KO: Knitting Opportunity, even KIP: Knitting in public, possibly because you are KAT: Knitting against time (trying to get something finished), because there is nothing like a good FO Finished Object (hurrah!).

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Washing Up, and Other Displacement Activities

Working from home, I've become quite good at recognising and dealing with distractions while I'm working.  Apart from dealing with the cats' demands for food, cuddles or other attention, I don't play music so as not to think about choreography (unless that's what I'm working on) and can mute the computer to ignore mail and Facebook. If I'm feeling particularly restless, it's because I'm too cold,  hungry, bored or frustrated and I just want to be doing something else. Time for a tea break! I know it's bad when I want to substitute one chore for another - in this case, doing the washing up instead of the accounts. I'm evidently looking for a displacement activity while my brain puzzles over where to check next to get the balance sheet to balance, or whether it would be easier just to implode from the sheer effort and boredom of doing accounts and other tedious paperwork.  On the other hand, in terms of a distraction or displacement activity, alternating around several chores seems like a good way to go.

What I really want to do is something creative, but daren't get caught up in anything much while I've so much important and urgent stuff to do. I decided a little down-time would be in order, so I picked up a ball of mesh yarn with some shopping while I was out the other day. I'm not much into frills, but decided I should have a go at making a ruffle scarf before the trend dies and the mesh yarns are no longer available. The dense mesh tape is quite pretty, in shades of turquoise, royal blue and olive green with a silver lurex yarn threaded through the bottom of the strip. Lured by the idea that I could knit up a scarf in a couple of hours, I had a go in front of the TV the other night.

There were instructions inside the ball band and it was laughably easy - pick up four stitches from the wrong side upper edge of the tape, roughly 4 cm apart and keep knitting.  So I started. By row six, it was looking wrong, too thin. I undid it, checked the method, redid it and remained unimpressed. I played with the tape, looking for different ways of knitting or crocheting it together.  I unpicked that and restarted the scarf, trying to reassure myself that all that was needed was persistence. Then I realised that I was quickly getting fed up of trying to find the little loops in the upper edge and keep the spacing consistent, and was still not convinced that a four-stitch-width scarf was the way to go.

I gave up, put it down and went to bed. A couple of nights later, I picked it up again.  But Sherlock was on the TV and I sat transfixed, unable to look away, at times on the edge of the sofa. It was that exciting! It was also the last episode of season 3, so I'll have Sherlock withdrawal symptoms until repeats or season 4, whichever comes first.

Since then, I've picked it up again, and have decided just to go with it, however fiddly. I'm finding the 'knit 4, turn' repeat quite tedious. I'm not going to manage a scarf in two hours with this yarn, but at least it makes the accounts and the washing up both look like much more attractive activities!

Sunday, 12 January 2014

New Year 2014

2013 feels as though it lasted five minutes and went on forever.  It wasn't a great year, but compared to the terrible time some of my friends have had, it's not been too bad, for which I am grateful.

As the calendar rolled over from 2013 to 2014, I was having a great time in the company of some wonderful old friends, the sort who are more like family, and my lovely step children.  They stayed for a couple of days, then got away early on the 3rd of January, just as another spell of awful weather came in. It's a good job they were driving, despite the horrible road conditions, as only an hour after they had left, I heard that trains were not getting beyond Cardiff due to flooding.

I see from my first post in 2013 that a lot of people in the UK had a miserable Christmas and New Year 2012 due to flooding, and it was the same, if not worse, this year. A series of lows brought heavy rain, hail and gale force winds. Early December saw the east coast experiencing the worst tidal surge for 60 years, washing cliffs and homes into the sea. People in places like Kent and Surrey had no electricity over Christmas. I lay in bed at night listening to scary shipping forecasts, with wind speeds ranging from gale force 8 to hurricane force 12! Further heavy rain brought flooding, then more rain and westerly gales combined with high tides to create storm surges, creating more flooding and some impressive damage up the west coast. There are some amazing pictures on the BBC and local newspaper sites of flooded Somerset levels, where trees and telegraph poles show that you aren't looking out to a lake or the sea. The storm surges came through sea defences in several places on the Welsh coast, flooding and smashing properties, breaking up roads and undermining railway tracks.  The high shingle bank at Newgale was breached, with stones pushed back all over the road, and I saw an impressive photo of the pub and shop surrounded by flood water which also covered the main car park and campsite, completely closing the coast road up to Solva and St David's. Hotels and flats on the front at Aberystwyth had to be evacuated as the sea punched holes in the prom and waves crashing against the sea wall bounced almost as high as some of the five-storey buildings. I was amazed to see people standing close to impressive waves breaking at Porthcawl. Quite mad - not only can the waves sweep you off your feet, but they also throw rocks around!  I thoroughly recommend you go browse for some pictures if you haven't already seen some, and always recommend a visit to John Mason's blog. Meanwhile, much of the USA and Canada has been in the grip of a polar vortex which has shifted south, resulting in astonishingly and dangerously low temperatures and more impressive pictures.

There were thunderstorms later on the 3rd which resulted in the power here going off and on, and at one point in the evening there was a sudden ZAP! and crash of thunder, after which I left the computer off and went to have a candle-lit bath and curl up in my pyjamas and gown with a hot water bottle and hot chocolate in front of the TV.  The following morning I couldn't re-establish an internet connection and it took 4 days to discover that the ZAP! had been a comms cable being fritzed. Luckily, I was mostly backed up, and it wasn't the network card or whatever. Being without internet left me feeling disconnected from the rest of the world and surprised by how stressed I felt as a result.  I realised how much I rely on just being able to look something up, pop into Facebook, send an email or easily find information whenever I need to. Being without a computer as well would leave me feeling like I'd lost something essential. In the past eight years or so, my computer and internet connection have become my security blanket.

So here we are in January again, a new year but the same old thing - thinking about resolutions and muttering darkly to myself as I try to finish the accounts for the tax deadline at the end of the month. Every year I resolve to have a cleaner, tidier house, to be more organised, to lose more weight and take better care of myself and so on and so forth.  I used to beat myself up about my perennial failures, instead of focusing on the many small successes. In the end, though, resolutions for new year (or at any other time, for that matter), are generally just decisions to try to make changes to improve yourself, your lifestyle and your environment for the better and to find a way to do the things you want or need to do.

My word for 2013 was More, as in do more, be more productive, creative, organised. I'm not sure that I managed it completely, (and I doubt anyone ever looked back on their life and felt they should have spent more time doing housework) but it is still a good word. While casting around for this year's word (Plan? Skills? Create? De-clutter?) I saw what friends were posting to sum up their previous year and form a basis for the new year's resolutions.  Some had a sort of score card going on. (weight lost: 7 kg; operations: 2; new qualifications: 1; new job: 0 ...).

Perhaps I don't need a different word for this year, or a set of resolutions. All the usual challenges still stand, and the To Do list is as long as ever. It's just a matter of finding the areas for improvement. The winter storms and loss of internet for a few days have shown the value of disaster planning and increased resilience. I need more income (doesn't everybody?). There's nothing like having to solve problems and attempting to do more for highlighting what you don't know.  So I shall continue to try to fill the gaps in my knowledge and skills, especially in terms of computers, crafts, and dance.

Bring it on, 2014; I'm resolved to enjoy it!