Monday, 31 March 2014

Gardening, and Yet Another Pair of Socks!

After such a mild winter, buds are bursting and flowers blooming all over the place here.  I stopped working on the cottage garden last year when my left knee flared up and after a couple of months, my previous weeks of hard work couldn't be seen.  Then I had the operation on my foot and spent the rest of the summer recuperating, so the garden progressed so far, then went into reverse!

During a recent spell of fine spring weather, and with my right knee now in flare instead of the left (grrr!) I've been getting twitchy, wanting to get on and turn the weedy patch full of brambles into my vision for the back garden.  So I put on my new socks (such snuggly bliss!) and workboots, tied my hair back, took some painkillers to try to silence the nagging pain in my knees and went out to look at the result of several months of neglect.

Last year, I cut down and dug out almost all of the bramble I could find. My first job when I get out there again will be to cut down and dig out all the brambles (with thick gloves and sleeves on!). The blasted things are everywhere again; obviously there are still a lot of roots in the soil, and it looks like some of the stems are three metres long.  Zooming away at a centimetre or more a day! Apart from the brambles, the other difficult jobs will be to get the remaining stumps out and move the massive ferns from between the cracks in the slate 'paving'.  And building the raised beds. And getting compost into them. It's quite a small garden, but not easily accessible, even if I could lift heavy loads and work for hours like I used to.

Despite all the work to do, I came back in over an hour later feeling motivated and ready for a cup of tea. With my handmade woollen socks on instead of my usual cotton socks, my toes were toasty warm and comfortable.  While I drank my tea, I fished out some more sock yarn and looked for another pattern, to start yet another pair of socks. I have quite a few patterns queued up and started looking at a few with interesting features like spiral construction and strange heels. You know things are a bit too advanced when you read through the instructions and find you still know nothing, so I plumped for another 'vanilla' pair of top/cuff down socks. These have yet another way of doing the heel - an 'afterthought' heel, which looks like the same technique as the thumb hole used on the Evenstar fingerless mitts.

Much as I'm chuffed with my first two pairs of socks, I have to admit they are a bit baggy and could do with some more negative ease.  I was wondering about this, as the 'stitches per inch times inches required' formula I followed when I started my legwarmers resulted in a top cuff which would fall down.  I Googled around and found a couple of comments which adjusted the formula to 'stitches per inch times inches minus 10%'. The existing 72 stitches was a few less than the original calculation required, so I reckoned it was safe to do away with a few more and cast on 68 sts (17 per needle).

I'm loving the self-patterning yarns I bought (drops Fabel prints). You just knit around and a pattern appears! I think I may be getting addicted to knitting socks!

Friday, 28 March 2014

Another Pair of Socks!

After the success of my first pair of socks, and still in search of some with a better fit and different techniques to learn for turning the heel, I chose the Desk Drawer Socks by Kimberlyn Fauson on Ravelry.  I was attracted by the description of a plain ('vanilla') sock for a 'stubby foot', featuring the 'easiest way to do a short row heel', and the picture showed socks in the same yarn that I was planning to work with (Drops Fabel), but in a different colourway.

I dithered somewhat when starting.  I did another two swatches, trying to adjust my tension and still got 32-36s/44-48r on 2.75mm needles. The ball band average gauge is 26s/32r on 2.5mm. Going up another needle size will make the fabric too loose.  I’m really not a very tight knitter, so I don’t understand it at all, but at least my gauge is closer to that on this pattern.
The pattern is for 60 stitches, so I was a bit worried about whether that would be wide enough for my chunky feet and ankles. I redid the stitches per inch calculation using my tension gauge to check how wide a sock (in theory) the number of stitches specified in the pattern would create.  In the end, I stuck with the number of stitches from the last pair of socks (72; 18 per dpn). I knew this would mean I would have to work a few more rows and decide how to deal with the extra stitches when doing the heel and toe, but my knitting confidence is growing, so in the end, I cast on and went for it.

10 rows of K2P2 rib, for the cuff.
40 rows stocking stitch before doing the heel. (I like my sock legs about 10cm - quite short, but then, so am I!)

The short row heel method described is quite easy, and pretty cool.  It involves leaving increasing numbers of slipped stitches at the start and end of rows which are then caught up in the work again by knitting/purling them with the running thread leading to the next slipped stitch.  I was fascinated by this.  You're lifting a running thread but not increasing.  You're knitting or purling two together, but not decreasing.  And the heel starts to take shape as you work back and forth. I found identifying the running thread after a slipped stitch difficult.  The purl side work was neat, but the knit side left holes, so I probably wasn't picking up correctly.

I also had to make a decision how many stitches to leave unknit either side and how many to work in the centre, which would be the heel width. The tutorial for this said it could be 'whatever you want' but I think there is probably more to it than that. The pattern had 9 unknit/slipped on each end and 12 in the middle.
I changed this to 11 unknit and 14 in the middle on my first sock, but this resulted in a flappy little wedge where the heel shaping was evidently a couple of rows too long with too few working stitches in the centre.  It wasn't a big enough problem to warrant frogging back, but not a good fit either.
I tweaked this on the second sock, leaving 10 either side and 16 in the centre, which was better, though still not perfect.

55 rows on the foot to the toe shaping.

I worked the three extra decrease rows (to take care of my six extra stitches) with some corresponding knit rows evenly into the toe shaping pattern. However, this resulted in 5 or 6 extra rows in the toe shaping (which I forgot to take off the foot length, oops!), so the socks are a little long, and the toes more pointed than the original.

Again, no washing and blocking, but straight on my feet, warm and comfortable, even if they are a little too big!

Monday, 24 March 2014

Tarted-Up Pasta alla Puttanesca

When I'm hungry and have little in the fridge, my current, favourite store-cupboard standby is pasta alla puttanesca (from the Italian puttana: whore, tart, slut, and by derivation puttanata: something or someone worthless, rubbish.)  Salty, hot and piquant, I find it satisfying and good at any time of year.

There are all sorts of stories about how this originated with, ahem, 'ladies of the night', such as the implication that they've been spending too much time with their feet up to go out to buy fresh food, or even more scandalously, that it cooks in the time it takes to serve a client! (It's very quick to make - basically the time it takes the water for pasta to come to the boil and then cook the pasta!)  However, there seems little real evidence for these sources. Wikipedia cites a story about it being whipped up by a restaurant out of store cupboard ingredients which seems far more likely..

As you might expect from the title, it's not a refined dish, although I have seen some recipes where the instructions are to chop everything finely, and use fresh tomatoes. Like all classics, there are variations and why not? I like mine a little rough and chunky. I think the classic way might be to serve it with spaghetti, but in the spirit of things, I tend to use whatever I have in the cupboard, and prefer penne or conchiglie, so that the sauce sits in the pasta to make luscious mouthfuls.

Mine is further 'tarted-up' because I use slightly caramelised onion in the base, and then dump a can of tuna into the sauce towards the end of the cooking time.  If I happen to have half a sweet pepper in the fridge needing to be used up, I chop that and pop it in too. My recipe makes easily enough for two; it freezes (although you might want to take out a freezer portion before putting the tuna in, if you use it, as the tuna can break up into nothing when you reheat it from frozen). Alternatively, it's very good the next day, too. It does mean that your store-cupboard needs to contain garlic, anchovies, capers, olives, chili flakes, canned tomatoes and dried pasta, at least (if not the tuna and an onion).  If yours doesn't, then get some in, and you will always have the makings of something fast and delicious.

Ready? Here we go ...
Whip out two pans, one for sauce, one for pasta, chopping board, favourite knife, wooden spoon, can opener and your ...

A smallish onion, a couple of cloves of garlic, three or four anchovy fillets, olive oil, a teaspoon or two of capers (drained), a dozen or so pitted black olives, chili flakes, a can of chopped tomatoes, a can of tuna, salt and black pepper, pasta of choice.

Fill the pan for the pasta with cold water, add some salt and put it on the heat to come to the boil
Measure out some pasta and note how long it needs to cook.

Skin and chop the onion and either use a little oil from the anchovies or a bit of olive oil to start it cooking.
If you have a bit of pepper to use up, now's the time to chop it up!
Peel the garlic and crush or chop
Roughly chop the anchovies and pitted black olives and add these with the pepper (if using) and garlic to the pan.  Sprinkle in a few chilli flakes to taste and give it all a stir.
Open your tuna and leave it to drain.
Drain some capers, chop if they're not already tiny and add them to the pan.
Open the can of chopped tomatoes and pour them into the pan.  Note how pretty the bright pinky-red of the tomatoes looks when studded with black olives and green capers.

Your pasta water is probably now boiling, so pour in the pasta shapes and get it back to the boil.  Note the time and work out when the pasta should be pretty much done.
Give the sauce a stir and lower the heat to a simmer. Go do something else until a couple of minutes before the pasta is due to be done.
After 8-10 minutes, the sauce will have changed to a darker red.  Taste and season with black pepper, but it's very unlikely you'll need any salt due to the anchovies and olives. Now's the time to take out a portion for the freezer if you want to. Otherwise, pop the tuna into the pan and break it up a little to heat through.
Test the pasta  - it's probably done by now. Drain it well, then pop it into the sauce.
Take a bowlful, perhaps shred a little fresh basil over the top if you happen to have some growing on the window ledge. If you want to make more of an occasion, serve with a green side salad and a glass of red wine.

Enjoy (with your feet up!).

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Modified Vite Cowl Finished

Following my issues with the looseness of the Supa-Dupa extra chunky knit on 15mm needles, I bought myself some 10mm and 12mm needles to fill the gap in my 'toolkit' and to test for use for my modified Vite Cowl.

I decided to go straight onto the 12mm, as the 9mm had produced quite a stiff knit fabric and 10mm probably wouldn't make much difference to that.  Having knitted a few rows I wondered if I could find a size between 12mm and 15mm, but decided to go with the 12mm, and try to remember not to keep the tension tight.

I made a further modification to the cowl pattern, dropping the outermost purl stitch and changing the other purl stitch to a knit, so that the right side is all knit and the wrong side all purl stitches, and the pattern appears to be all leaf, without a different edge on one side.  This helped my flow even more, and I knitted it in two sessions of about an hour an a half each.

The first session was in the lounge at the garage, where I ended up spending another £250 or so getting my car through its MOT.  In the two months since its major service, the car developed a problem with the suspension, probably due to the state of the roads here. There are holes and cracks all over the place where the road surface has been affected by the heavy rain we've had for the past couple of months. West Wales is lovely, but the roads are not!

I decided to go back to the provisional cast on, using my waste yarn double to give myself a more robust starting point. It was a bit of a problem that my first row had 16 stitches, but only 15 when I finished after a wrong side row. I fixed that during the kitchener grafting by creating a pass-slipped-stitch-over style decrease where the decrease stitches start to outline the leaf. Fiddly, but feasible.

One ball of the Supa -Dupa (52m) did 2 rows short of two and a half pattern repeats (5 leaves).  I'd been confused about the 'half' pattern repeat before, but basically, the 24 row pattern produces 2 leaves.  Half the pattern, 12 rows, creates one leaf, but you get the top of the leaf on the lower right, then the bottom of the leaf on the upper left, and this single leaf is a bit short for anything, even in the Supa-Dupa! Having knit one ball, I wondered about stopping there and joining, because it would have made a lovely cowl just like that.  In the end, I decided for a longer loop which I could leave long or wrap twice, so did four and a half pattern repeats (9 leaves, approx 64 inches). There is a small ball of 32g of yarn left. I love the lustre on this yarn. It glows!

I finished the cowl a few weeks ago, bit it really needed blocking because the increases on each leaf 'vein' caused a sort of 'hump'. I decided to wet it to see if the yarn was colour fast.  There was only a little bit of colour in the water.  More notable was how heavy it became when wet! The yarn is only 25% wool, but seems to absorb several times its own weight in water.  Note to self, do not wear this out in heavy rain! Even with rolling and pressing the cowl in towels to squeeze out as much water as possible, and then blocking it on a folded towel, it was still damp three days later. In the end, I laid it out on a cool radiator to dry fully. It held its shape up to the point when I lifted it up and put in on, when the weight of it stretched it caused all the edges to curl again. Thankfully, it doesn't feel heavy to wear.

We seem to have missed the snow this year, but it's still chilly in the evenings, so this cowl and my sparkly green mittens keep the cold at bay when I go out to teach or put the hens away.

Mittens for Me - Finished!

I still really needed a pair of fingerless mitts for myself, and was being very indecisive about which pattern to make. Then I saw the pattern for September Woods on Ravelry. Although the picture showed them in a brown, tweedy yarn, I could see them in a sparkly green (which I bought at the same time as the sparkly dark blue I used for the Evenstar mittens). Also, they have a leaf pattern (I love leaves!) and I had the required dpns, so decision made! I put a couple of other projects aside, charged in and cast on.

I was really pleased by how quick and easy they were to knit up. The 3.75 mm needles created a nice fabric, more than stretchy enough for my wide hands and wrists. The green looked a little drab in the ball, but it looks nicer knitted up, with a slight mottling to the colour. They're long enough to warm wrists as well. I like the texture created by the leaves and the twisted knit stitch used to edge the leaf strip. It’s allowed me to learn twisted 1/1 rib and a different method for the thumb hole.

They're lovely, but perhaps a little too large and difficult to type in. I remembered too late that, although I did a tension swatch for the Evenstar mittens, I was using 3.25 mm needles and thought that 3.5 mm would be a better size to use with this yarn.  I also remembered thinking that this Hobbyknit Alpine Spark yarn was quite a thick DK and that I should learn some more about yarn sizes. (I measured it for wpi - wraps per inch - and it comes up as 11 wpi DK.)  I used less than 100g of yarn for the pair.

So I might have to make myself another, finer, smaller pair of mittens.

I'm even gaining the confidence to make modifications:
M1 increases for thumb gusset paired, so M1R, M1L.
Picking up only one stitch at the start of knitting the (left) thumb left a couple of holes which I stitched when weaving in the tail, and a thumb which was slightly too snug. For the right mitt, I picked up 3 stitches, so a total of 14 for the thumb, which was more comfortable for me and didn’t leave holes!
I don’t have long thumbs, so I only did 4 rows of twisted rib, to match the length of ribbing at the fingers.

Barking Mad Socks Finished - With Spring Green Socks Translation

My Barking Mad (Spring Green) socks have been finished with only a minimum of frogging and tinking. Not perfect, but I learnt so much from this, my first socks project so all in all, I'm very pleased with them.
Here's what I found:
My tension/gauge of using 2.75 mm needles was very close to that on the pattern for 2.5 mm, but despite that, they are a little baggy, particularly around the heel as the heel flap seemed quite long, at 36 rows.
I have very wide feet (24 cm, same as my foot length) and large ankles, and these socks have more than enough room!
The twisted 1/1 rib seems to stretch out and stay there (instead of shrinking back), something which I've found on a pair of mitts using the same rib, so I might avoid that and perhaps do a longer rib on the cuff for my next pair of socks, and maybe also do the rib on a size smaller needles but with a stretchier cast on, or something.
I found I needed to pick up 18 or 19 stitches on each side of the flap to avoid holes, instead of the 17 given in the pattern.
At 9 or 10 stitches, the point of the heel is a little narrow  for my round heels.

I can understand why Ulla magazine doesn't publish an English translation.  Why should they, when there is so much available in English but very little in Finnish (or should that be Suomi?)?  And although it seems like doing things the hard way to select a Finnish pattern and translate it, I've also got another couple of patterns from Ulla queued up, both featuring leaves and crying out for green sock yarn (which I currently don't have, hence the reason these socks weren't done in the original, lovely green!)
So, with thanks to Kristel Nyberg for her original pattern, here is my translation of the pattern into English [with editor's additions in square brackets, where I've remembered! I've included a few of my own observations, which might be useful to beginners and are probably completely self-evident to knitters with some experience in sock making!].  I haven't reproduced the charts or written them out as instructions.  It was my first time for using charts and I was impressed with how easy they were to read, so suggest you visit the Ulla online magazine for the charts, and to see how lovely the original Spring Green Socks look.

Spring Green [Barking Mad] Socks
by Kristel Nyberg, published in Ulla 02/08

Spring Green socks lace pattern reminded me of fern fronds. The gently undulating pattern is also suitable for graduated yarns. The pattern continues to the toe of the sock and the toe decreases have the lace pattern arranged between them. If in doubt about colour pooling, knit alternately from two different balls.

Shibui Knits Sock (100 % merino wool; 50 g / 175 m), 100 g green (7495, Wasabi) Fingering/4 ply; [300 - 350 m/328 - 383 yards]

Tension gauge
About 34 sts and 48 rows in lace pattern in the round = 10 cm [4”]

Sock needles, 2.5 mm or to get gauge

A woman's wide, describing size 41.
The model is designed to fit wide feet. You can narrow the socks by using thinner yarn and knitting needles or by adding gusset decreases.

Cast on 72 sts on double pointed needles and share the stitches, 18 stitches per needle.
Knit in Twisted Rib (P1, K1 tbl) for about 2 cm. [I did 8 rows]
Next, knit lace pattern according to chart 1. Repeat the 20 rows of the chart twice, or until the sock leg is as long as desired. With two repetitions the sock length should be about 10 cm. Each pattern repeat extends the leg by about 3-4 cm. [Tip - Finish after an even-numbered row]

Start the heel flap on the next row.
Slip first st knitwise. Knit the next 35 sts. Turn the work.
Slip first st [purlwise]. Purl the next 35 s. Turn the work.
Repeat these two rows, until the heel height is 36 rows and the last row is WS row.
Slip first st knitwise. Knit the next 20 sts.
SSK decrease, K1 , turn the work.
Slip next st [purlwise]. P7, P2 tog, P1, turn.
* Slip first st knitwise. Knit to the stitch before the gap from the previous decrease. SSK, K1, turn the work.
Slip first st [purlwise]. Purl along to the stitch before the gap from the previous decrease. P2 tog, P1, turn. *
Repeat from * to * until all heel sts are once again involved in the work. Heel flap is now 22 sts.
Slip first stitch knitwise and knit the heel sts.
Pick up 17 sts along the heel edge. [I picked up 19]
Knit the instep according to the row on chart 1. [If you did 40 rows for the leg, this will be row 1, otherwise it will be the next row from where your leg left off and preferably should be an odd-numbered row.]
Start working with another needle. [This will be needle 4]
Pick up 17 sts along the other heel edge and knit 11 sts with the same needle up to the next needle. [Needle 1]
Mark this row as the starting point for the gusset. [This will be the mid point of the heel]

Start gusset.
Knit until 3 sts are left on needle 1.
K2 tog and knit the last st.
Keep knitting sts on needles 2 and 3 according to chart 1.
On needle 4 K1, SSK and knit the remaining sts on the needle.
Knit the next row sts. [The pattern is for plain knitting on odd-numbered rows.]
Repeat gusset decrease every other row until needles 1 and 4 each have 18 sts remaining. [So the gusset decreases happen on even numbered rows, where there are also pattern increases and decreases from the charts.]
After the gusset decreases, the starting point for subsequent rows goes back to the side of the foot. [And needles are therefore renumbered.]
Knit needles1 and 2 in stocking stitch for the sole, and needles 3 and 4 lace pattern according to chart 1.

When the foot length is about 6 cm less than the desired length of the sock, start toe decrease according to chart 2.
Work decreases on chart rows 1, 10, 20, 23, 25, and 26 on both the sole of the foot and instep needles. Continue with lace pattern, however, only on the instep needles.
After chart 2 row 26, cut the yarn, pull it through the remaining sts and fasten off. [The Ravelry tags include Kitchener.  I did some sort of 3 needle cast-off.]
Weave in ends. If you want, lightly moisten the socks and spread out to dry into shape. [That is, block them.  But I didn’t, they went straight on my feet!]

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Deep Thought

I do a lot of my creative thinking and planning in the bath.  A nice, deep, hot bath with scented bubbles, colour changing candles, a cup of tea (or a small pot if I'm planning a long session, or fresh coffee if it's first thing in the morning), warm towels and my design notebook and pencil(s), diary, pen, timer if I'm on a schedule, etc. As I relax, I let my mind freewheel.  Watching the rainbow spectra on the bubbles mesmerises me as they shift and twinkle under the bathroom light.  I make notes of anything I remember that I need (or want) to do, and then just do some of my physio exercises, sit or lie there, letting the ideas swirl and thoughts collide.

I recently found myself thinking about what I was thinking about, and before it got too recursive I reflected that the process is effectively that of the Word Association game, except that there is only me, and the words stay as unspoken thoughts. I'm mining my own subconscious for creative ideas and connections, and predictably my favourite things are regular features. (Strangely, I forgot about hot, scented baths as one of my favourite things, but they are.)

Out of interest in my own thought process, and wondering how many of those thoughts got lost before they made it onto paper, I thought I would take notes of the thoughts and mind's eye pictures which came up during a session, and here's the result:

Seeing someone ploughing on my way into Carmarthen the other day.
Ridges and furrows of ploughed earth.
Stripes of light and dark brown and drab yellow-green winter grass.
Hedgebanks full of snowdrops, daffodils and primroses starting too.
Must try to make some progress with the garden.
Need my knees to stop hurting.
Remembering accidental and unexpectedly good colour combinations when sorting through the multicolour DK stash.
I don't like purples and pinks, so why do I find myself drawn to them at the moment?
The fuzzy memory of a picture of a friend's fingerless mittens with bands of garter? stitch.
Another memory of a short sleeved cardigan in garter stitch, in a clothing catalogue.
Wondering: why am I so averse to garter stitch?
Or is it really reverse stocking stitch which I don't like, because it looks like the thing is inside out?
But I do like the 'springy rings' look.
The potential for mittens or a moebius cowl to have each garter/reverse stocking stitch band in a different colour on a single colour background.
What about having dark to light toned garter bands on a light to dark toned background?
When I'm blending one colour into the next in the Longshore blanket, is it random, predictable ...?
How come I don't have any Royal Blue in my stash?
For a longer blend, for example on a cowl, what if you blend two colours using an inverse number of rows? 6+1, 5+2, 4+3 ...
Where would I start the blend with a third colour?
Would a repeat of that pattern look too predictable?
What about a different sequence?
What if you combine the two?
Or reverse the second?
And/or reverse the first?
Game on, you could play with this forever!
Bands of stocking stitch and reverse stocking stitch plus different colours plus inverse number or Fibonacci series plus mittens, cowls, hats, socks ...?
Rainbow coloured springy rings!
Someone else has probably already done this.
Must have a little look online and in Ravelry.
The there comes that dreadful moment when the water's running cold, In the Bath! In the Bath!
... It's started running hot, let's have another hour or more, In the Bath! In the Bath!*
Perhaps not.
Cast off! Knit two together!**

So, duly washed, dried, dressed and looking approximately human again, I had a quick look and found a couple of blogs re Fibonacci and knitting:  Lismi Knits and Knitting Dragonflies. I love the idea of Fibonacci ribbing and textures. Thanks, both!

*Flanders and Swann, of course. Here's the link for it on YouTube.  It starts at about 3:40. **The pun at the start of Sea Fever always amuses me.

All this was a couple of days ago.  I'm trying to remember why I wanted black DK. Time for another bath.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Barking Mad Socks

As part of my current knitting craze, I decided I would learn to knit some socks and have been browsing Ravelry, queueing up likely contenders.  I've been adding all sorts of patterns to my queue; there are over 350 on there now. I wondered if I was being excessive, but by the looks of others' profiles, it seems quite usual to have a few hundred patterns queued, and I've just seen someone with a couple of thousand patterns in their queue! So, quite normal, not mad at all.

There was also a sale on some Drops sock yarns in February, so I have ordered some to play with. When I went to buy the needles to let me get on with the Vite cowl, I saw a Woolcraft sock yarn in shades of milk and dark chocolate brown, which made me think of wet tree bark (and chocolate). I bought a ball to be going on with.  I had been reading a few sock patterns and could not get my head around the instructions for the heel and gusset, so I thought perhaps I should just have a go and see how it works.

As I was reading through patterns, I was a bit concerned by the sizing.  Okay, you can make the foot longer by knitting more rows, simple, but what if you have wide ankles and feet?  You could go up a needle size, or even a yarn size, but how can you then calculate if you'll have enough yarn? (It must be possible, I just have to add that to the list of things I need to learn!)

I came across some nice, wide-looking socks with a lace texture pattern which could have been fern (knitted in green, as they were) or bark. Ah, slight glitch; the pattern is only available in Finnish, a language renowned for its difficulty, and not one I've ever tackled.

Well, (I thought) it's not so much of a problem now that we have Google Translate, is it?  It's always easier to translate into your own language. So I'll translate it.

Sometimes I wonder about myself. Seriously. I've never made a pair of socks and now I think it's a good idea to try a pair with a lace pattern in Finnish? Completely, certifiably, barking mad!

Google Translate isn't a bad tool, but it doesn't always result in a reliable, ready-to-use translation.  So far, I've caught it translating cm as inches in one place, and there's a bit of a difference between 6 cm and 6 inches! It evidently recognised a knitting context, managing correctly to translate the abbreviations for stitches and rows, but translating the unabbreviated word for rows as 'layers' instead and not managing to translate purl. There are syntax errors. I see Google Translate also now offers a sort of thesaurus of synonyms and alternative translations, and the opportunity for the user to select one to improve the translation, but I can't find a way to type in what it should be if it gets it completely wrong. There are a couple of sections in the pattern where the translation is evidently not at all correct, and doesn't even give me a clue. Given where they come in the pattern, it probably relates to the short rows for turning the heel and the gusset. I reckon I should be able to find my way through it by using some other patterns and YouTube for comparison.

Now I've started, I have to finish, just to prove to myself that I can. I'll post a picture of the finished Finnish socks and the pattern translation when I've worked it all out!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Finished Objects!

I was quite productive over my quiet Christmas and managed the last 20% of some projects in January and February.  At last, I have some Finished Objects (FOs), which feels like quite an achievement!

The Evenstar fingerless mittens are finished and ready to go as a birthday gift-come-pay it forward. My remaining pay-it-forward is a little kai no kuchi box.  I love these and should make myself one, so I have more planned.

The Autumn Leaves 'thing' is now a scarf. Since then, I've finished the ruffle scarf too. Is it possible to have too many scarves? I might have to gift or sell this one.  The ruffleyness is better since I washed it to remove the 'factory' smell of the yarn.

I've washed some artificial silk (polyester-viscose) saris, to see how colourfast they are and how well they wash, in preparation for using them in various projects.

Several other washloads have also been done, but I still didn't manage to empty the basket, however temporarily. I've even made a start on the spring cleaning!

I finally decided how I wanted to do my 'Longshore' random wave crochet blanket, the idea for which has been lurking for a while.  I learnt how to do the different lengths/heights of crochet stitches and tested them out by making a bookmark.

My other 'finished objects' are my tax return, a corporate tax return, accounts, paid bills, a heap of paperwork sorted and filed/recycled/shredded, computer files archived and backed up, and updated risk assessments for my classes.

The 'Sequins on my Balcony' show in Cardigan was a success and I managed to finish the technical spec and cue sheets, and remember all my costume, make-up, etc for the performance. I sorted, washed, dried and priced up belly dance clothing and accessories which I'm selling on behalf of a friend and got one of the printers working so that I could print out labels and class flyers.

I sorted out my issues with the Vite Cowl and that is now finished.  I've also managed, at last, to make a start on fingerless mittens for myself and they are knitting up so fast, they'll soon be finished too!

I should stop boasting, because the To Do list is still as long as my arm.  It's not much really, compared to what some other people manage, but at the moment I feel like Superwoman, and that's a rare event.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Sequins on my Balcony

It's been a month(!) since the Sequins on my Balcony show in Cardigan and I'm still in a bit of a post-show anti-climax.  It doesn't help that my OA has flared up but despite that, I had such a great weekend.

Several months ago, my lovely friend and dance teacher colleague Rose decided to invite Yvette Cowles down to Cardigan as the February Visiting Teacher, and for her to perform her one-woman show 'Sequins on my Balcony' at Theatr Mwldan.

The idea was to share the profits between local cancer charities and Rose's 'Fit for Life' dance teaching, which will allow her to offer some concessions for classes or workshops. It was a little daunting to think we would need to fill the 250 seat Mwldan 2, especially for a Friday night show. Ticket sales went extremely slowly at first, which is normal but always worrying.  In the end, thanks to some heavy marketing to the non-belly dance community locally, the show was nearly a sell-out and £900 was raised, a third of which from a charity raffle.  There were some beautiful, generous people there that night!

The first half of the show was a brief sample of various styles of belly dance, like a potted history, with Yvette's one-woman show in the second half.

I'd been so wrapped up in paperwork and accounts in January that the technicians' notes and cue sheets for the first half of the show were done at the beginning of February, a week before the show.  Luckily, the dancers' requirements for lighting weren't too difficult and I could piggy-back our requirements on the lighting effects specified for Yvette's show in the second half. Normally, getting dancers' details is like trying to herd cats, but this time it was quite easy.  I think this was partly due to the calibre of dancers we had invited, and partly due to not asking too early - by the time I wanted the information, everyone knew what they were dancing to, what they were planning to wear and if they had any specific requirements for lighting or stage direction.

No sooner had I completed the technicians' notes than our first dancer pulled out, having hurt her back and been told to rest from dancing for at least a month. It was too late to change the programmes, but I changed the tech notes and Rose handled the gap by adding extra commentary on the potential goddess-worship origins of the dance at the start of the show.

On the day, we had a 'working lunch' at the theatre cafe and started in with the tech runs.  Yvette had tweaked her show script and wanted a prompter as well as a stage hand to move a clothing rail at one point, so I reviewed the critical points in the show script as the technicians did some rigging. Time went on and the tech rehearsal began to run later and later. Dancers arrived and the juggling started.  At the half, I still hadn't got up to the dressing room to do my own make up and costume and was beginning to fret and snap. We finished a very abbreviated tech run for the first half just before letting the audience in and I staggered upstairs to slap on costume and make up.

Melanie dancing baladi at Theatr Mwldan
Dancing Baladi in my Assuit costume
The first half lighting could have been better, as it seemed a bit dark.  A couple of us felt that we had to dance in the spotlight to be seen. But, as the saying goes, it was all right on the night. The dancers were all fabulous and included Stephanie Gawne, with an elegant and graceful raqs al saif (sword dance) in an lovely Ottoman period inspired costume, Alanya's sassy and cheerful Saidi raqs assaya (stick dance), expressive and exuberant modern cabaret and drum solo from Zara and Lyza Chthonia's deep, beautiful and melodic tribal fusion. The first half closer was an uplifting, easy piece choreographed by Rose, illustrating the inclusivity of belly dance. I had run through Rose's 'Yay' choreography  with my groups for the first few weeks of term, so anyone coming to the show had the option of leaping up onto the stage to dance. I was so pleased that some of 'my' dancers came up to join in with Rose's, filling the stage. The following week, there was an Article in the Tivyside about the show,  with a lovely picture of the stage full of dancers. (Me and mine are squashed in at the back!)

Yvette was wonderful, touching, funny and graceful.  Her show weaves anecdotes about belly dance, cancer treatment and relationships with snatches of dance and physical comedy into a seamless and absorbing story which touched some members of the audience deeply.  I like to listen in to comments from the audience as they leave, but in this case they were coming up to tell us how much they had enjoyed the show.  When I popped into the yarn shop in the market the following week, I was told that there were women talking about how great it was, in the shop on the Saturday morning!

A few days before the show, I woke up in pain, feeling as though I had somehow twisted my right knee during the night - my osteoarthritis flaring up. It's never a good time for that to happen, but just before a show and workshop weekend is the pits.  Saturday was taken up with workshops on adding drama, character and expression to the dance, and exploring the female archetypes in Egyptian dance. I had worked on these topics before, but Yvette brought such clarity and simplicity that I felt as though I needed to dance before I exploded with all the fresh knowledge. I danced a little and sat out a lot. My inner wise woman enjoyed dancing to the violin taqsim and it struck me that raqs assaya with a couple of my walking sticks could look pretty bossy, if not downright dangerous.

There was a party in the evening, where Zara and her Mum managed a fashion show of belly dance costumes.  They had even brought a dress in my size for me to model! I didn't buy it; it was black with silver decorations. As I looked down at myself, I felt all wrong, as if I were going to dance at a funeral!  The colour was not me -  I prefer gold highlights, especially if I'm wearing black, which I don't think suits my skin tone very well.  My black and silver Assuit costume is my exception which makes the rule. My friend Sue also modelled a beautiful dress, again in black and silver.  It had cut-away shoulders and lovely sleeves, with a diamond-shaped mesh-covered tummy.  If that had been in my size and perhaps in royal blue, teal, copper or golden-bronze with gold sequins and beads, I would simply have had to buy it.  Considering that, as usual, I don't have any money, it's just as well it wasn't! I sat out for most of the party, but managed a quick American Tribal Style jam with Wendy Steele, an ATS dancer and author who has moved to Lampeter, and my friend Lyza (who teaches Black Sheep Belly Dance improvised tribal style, amongst other things!).  Doing ATS in a sparkly galabeya feels extremely strange!

Since then, Rose and I have met to start plotting future events. I'm trying to rest my knee as much as possible, partly so that I can dance and at least fulfil my teaching and workshop obligations, and partly because the flare is worsening, despite the rest, massage and gentle range of motion exercises, so now even the top dose of my painkillers is only effective when I can find a comfortable position with my leg up. It's extremely frustrating, as I've only had a period of several weeks since my left knee flare cleared up and my knees were merely achy. So if you see someone pause in her gentle perambulation through the supermarket car park to let out a mighty zaghareet and whirl her walking stick like a tahtib assaya at an impatient motorist, it's probably me letting out my feisty old lady boss woman.