Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Aran Stash Slipper Socks

How long before I yielded to the urge to start another pair of socks? Not long at all!
Sorting through my stash revealed approximately 145g of natural/cream colour Aran yarn. I remember buying the unbranded skeins in a Bradford wool shop in 1981 or thereabouts (in what seems like another life) for an Aran jumper.  I think it was something like 40% wool, 60% acrylic.  The jumper shrank and felted a very little each time I washed it, however carefully, until I gave up and gave it to a petite friend who wanted a thick jumper

I browsed on Ravelry for aran-weight, ankle socks patterns. Cursing myself a bit for not having learned to do toe-up two-at-a-time, which would have allowed me to knit up the leg until all the yarn had been used, I settled on one by Drops with a cable design down the instep. Even though I didn't know the yardage of the yarn, I reckoned that 145g should be enough for a pair of ankle length socks.  First problem - no 4.5mm dpns. Typical, isn't it? Even after adding to my sets of needles, I still don't have the size I want to start a project.  I found a set of four 5mm dpns and decided to go with those. A swatch (20 sts/26 rows to 10cm) revealed that I would probably have to go up to 5.5mm dpns to get their gauge with their suggested yarn, so I cast on for the middle size, given my chunky feet and legs, and hoped for the best.

I had to read the pattern through a couple of times first. It's not as if the pattern is complicated, but I found the way in which it's written and laid out difficult to follow and frankly irritating. Looking at some of the pattern and project comments, it seems a number of people found the same. I read M1 and further on, M2.  What? Make 1 or 2 stitches? Why? Then I realised the charts were labelled M1 and M2. You get to the bottom of the heel flap and have to go back up to read a previous section of text above the main pattern to find the heel decreases. You reach the toe decreases, but there's a section to read through first before you can carry on. The text says work M2 over M1, but I think that 'over' means 'instead of' because there is no way to work the cable pattern and decrease on the same stitches. The decreases create a nice leaf shape at the end of the cable.
Several people also noted the baggy cuff, but mine was enormous and the number of rows made the back of the sock slouch downwards. So I frogged and cast on the smallest size.  I got as far as the pattern start and decided I didn't get the two rows of knit to start, or like the change from the rib to the pattern, so frogged again to think about what to do.

After these couple of false starts, without which this would undoubtedly have been a fast knit, I decided not to follow the pattern so closely and decided on the following:
Cast on 42 sts.
6 rounds knit (instead of 2, creating a thin reverse stocking stitch curly top, and this could have done with being 9 rounds, perhaps.  Or additional rounds of rib, and if I'd had the smaller size needles, I would probably have switched sizes to make it a little less baggy).
6 rounds P3, K3 rib. I started the rib with the purl, so that the purl panels continue unbroken when the pattern starts.
6 rounds with instep pattern (1 pattern repeat)
14 rows heel flap - I may have been able to get away with 12
Pick up 10 sts on heel flap edges before and after instep pattern row 7 (although if I went for 12 rows, I guess I would pick up 8 sts each side).
Start  gusset decreases on instep pattern row 8; K2tog before the instep pattern section, SSK after, decreasing on even rounds until there are 21 stitches on the sole section again.
A total of 48 pattern rows - 8 pattern repeats, then toe decreases. I could probably do with fewer, and the 'leaf' shape would still work if the toe decreases were started after a pattern row 4 instead of a full pattern repeat.
Row 10 of toes S1, P2tog, psso, but somehow (watching TV and not concentrating!) I ended up with 6 stitches top and bottom on the first sock and 7 on the second.  I Kitchenered, but think perhaps a gathered toe as in the original pattern would work better.

All these modifications set me wondering; how many changes does it take before you effectively have a different pattern?

They were quite big on me when I first tried them on, and I could perhaps have gone down to fewer stitches in the foot as suggested in the pattern.  Testing for shrinkage, I gave them a quick hand wash and they smelled so much of wet wool, I wondered if the yarn might be 60% wool. They didn't seem to shrink at all, but they are baggy enough to cope with a little. The cream colour means that they are definitely socks for when I have my feet up! They're nice and warm. All I need now is a cup of tea (and perhaps a woodburner to warm my toes by!).

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Cardigan Belly Dance Festival 2014

The fourth Cardigan Belly Dance Festival was the best yet, with two days of great workshops and an evening showcase for works by classes and dance groups in Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, as well as solos and duets from teachers and professional dancers.

A terrific amount of work goes into haflas and shows.  The driving force behind this festival is my friend and partner in dance crime Rose, who teaches belly dance and belly dance based fitness in south Ceredigion, and her ladies. My rehearsal schedule alone left me feeling quite tired. Learning point for next time: I must remember that, however much an impending show focuses the mind on costume, leaving it to a fortnight before the show to get it all together and make costumes for others is just not good! Getting pieces rehearsed, and dealing with the technical requirements and running order is more than enough.

It was also the most difficult running order I had ever had to deal with. Apart from the usual framing with strong openers and closers for both halves, and avoidance of the same styles back-to-back, the main difficulty was the need to allow time for a number of people dancing more than once in different pieces to catch their breath, change costumes and touch-up make-up. Topaz Tribal from Abergavenny took the last slot as a very welcome late addition, and they were great at sending their details and music in right away. I still had to chase for other dancers' music and details in the last week.  I say it every year - it's like trying to herd cats.  Unfortunately, last minute difficulties with one dancer took up a lot of time, and a last minute pull out from another couple (I mean, 11.00 pm the night before? Come on!) left the running order unfixable. By the time I arrived at the theatre a couple of hours late on Saturday lunchtime, having driven most of the 20 miles behind a laden lorry doing 20 miles an hour on winding roads with no safe overtaking spots, I was in a thoroughly bad mood and feeling extremely stressed.

The first thing one of my dancers did when she saw me was give me a huge hug, which went a way towards dispelling it. I met the technician for the first time on the day, having only had a brief phone and email exchange with him a few days before.  We chatted about the music and lighting requirements and I knew I could safely leave him to it. Sitting in the dressing room, trying to get a temporary finish on a couple of costume galabeyas also helped to calm me down.

I had three dancers who were making their belly dance performance debut, all having only been dancing a few months. This was their choice, as I take the view that performance isn't compulsory, and a dancer is ready to perform when she feels she wants to (hopefully to fulfil a personal goal or challenge and to provide entertainment, rather than just 'show off') - regardless of how long she's been dancing (which doesn't mean much anyway) or how well she dances. Everyone has to start somewhere, and these local shows and haflas are a safe place to do it. Two out of the three also decided to do the 'pop-up troupe' workshop on the Saturday, where the participants learn a choreography to perform that night.

Imago Dancers perfoming Habibi Ya Eini, everyone singing 'Yalla, yalla!'My group opened the show with the choreography we'd been rehearsing so hard, to Nourhanne's version of Habibi Ya Eini.  It was quite a busy choreography, not really designed for beginners as I didn't think that my new starters would want to perform.  But they did, and danced well, then some went on to give the 'pop-up troupe' piece all they had too. To say I'm proud of them all is an understatement! They rock my world!

Fan veils fluttering as the dance finishesIn the end, only four of us danced the fan veils piece which resulted from the workshop at the beginning of June. Although we had sent everyone away with choreography notes, music and the opportunity to have filmed the dance on their cameras or phones, most had not rehearsed it by themselves, possibly in part because it's so difficult to find the space at home. Just four of us filled the performance space; like Isis wings, fan veils are space-hungry props!

My double veil piece wasn't as awesome as I'd hoped. It needed more rehearsal, and better matched, synthetic veils, rather than silk. The SmallWorld Theatre gets very warm and I was dripping, so the silk just stuck to me, refusing to run through my fingertips, clung to itself and refused to float well - argh.

There was a man there making a film of the Saturday workshops and show, with Rose talking about belly dance, and it has just been loaded to YouTube.  Unfortunately, there's no clip in it of my group dancing, (or many of the other pieces), but I'm on there, chatting to the tech and dancing, for a couple of seconds. It is a great short film and brings back happy memories.

Thanks to all who taught and attended workshops, performed and came to watch us, Jake the Tech and those who seamlessly did all the front of house duties,all making it such a success. If you missed it, it's generally the second weekend in August, so why not make a note in your diary for next year!

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Last of the Current Knitting UFOs

A bag containing a jumper which I started, ooooh, years and years ago and only got a third of the way through, has been looking at me accusingly. It started life as a cardigan, but when it came to doing the front, I changed my mind. I remember that the number of stitches made the work seem interminable. I put it down to knit a sample cardigan for a wool shop, and never picked it up again. Decision time - frog or finish? On closer inspection, I found moth holes, so the decision was made for me.

I looked at my work, tutting at the uneven 1/1 rib stitches, as I slipped the work off the needles and started winding the yarn onto a niddy-noddy to create skeins,  It's a washable pure wool 4 ply in a sort of denim blue, but in some lights it looks greyer. Not a colour I would normally choose, so I guess I must have picked it deliberately to go with jeans, which I wore all the time back then.

A moth had got to one of the balls, too, so I wound the broken (chewed!) yarn off the ball.  I had only bought enough to do a sweater in size 38 and I have expanded somewhat over the years, so there isn't nearly enough to knit it up into a sweater for me unless I combine it with some other 4ply yarns and do a Fairisle. On the other hand, I'm a sock addict now, so the yarn could come in handy for socks, although it doesn't have any nylon to help it wear longer. Or perhaps I could do a shawl? Maybe I have enough yarn for both?

So, now I have several skeins of various weights of crimped yarn in a colour I'm not mad about. Somewhere, I have some acid dyes. I wonder if they're still okay, as it's a couple of years since I did any dyeing. I could have some fun playing with some colours!

As I was musing about all this, I realised that this was the last of the knitting UFOs.  For the first time in nearly 30 years, I now have nothing on the needles! It's not like I haven't plenty of other UFOs and projects in other crafts, but it feels a bit weird. How long will it be before I yield to the compulsion to start the next pair of socks?

Well, it won't be tonight. Time for bed! Good night, all.