Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Christmas Socks

Oooh, my freezing toes! I spent the solstice planning a workshop on the use of the feet and floor in dance, and it made me start to think about Norwegian-style stranded colourwork socks to lounge about in. I found several designs by Drops, but decided to have a go at these using some of my acrylic DK stash, just to see how the yarn performed and to practise my stranding technique. Instead of the traditonal red and off-white shown on the pattern, I went for blue and cream.
Apart from the fun of the colourwork patterns, DK knits up so quickly compared to 4 ply! Once I got to the solid-colour foot, I was wizzing along and knitted a pair of socks in a couple of sessions. Unhappy with my sloppy stranding, as well as a noticeable 'jog' (discontinuity in the pattern) between rounds, I frogged my first attempt at the colourwork. Various YouTube videos provided guidance on stranding techniques and advice on how to avoid the jog. While my stranding was easy to tidy up, I'm still not jogless, although I've tried lifting the first stitch of the second row, tightening the last and leaving the first stitches loose, knitting the first stitch twice ... they might work with thick stripes, but I need to find out more and think about how to manage this with more intricate patterns. One piece of advice was just not to worry about it, on the basis that once you've pulled the stitches about to block the item or wear it, it will look a bit more even.

Even with tidier stranding, my tension tightens a bit over colourwork, so I went up a needle size with the decrease for the leg after the cuff, for ease. I tried these on once they were finished, and on my chunky ankles and legs, I think I would need to go up a needle size again.

Pattern and modifications summary:
Cast on 56 sts with blue on 4 x 3.75 mm dpns (14 sts/needle)
knit 1 round  blue
knit 1 round  cream
12 r k2,p2 rib in cream
Change to 3 x 4 mm needles for decrease round (k5, k2tog) 8 times, leaving 48 sts (16sts/needle)
knit 1 round in cream before working chart A.
Redistribute stitches (without working) by popping the last 3 from needle 1 and the first 3 from needle 3 onto needle 2,  to leave 22 on instep (needle 2) and a total of 26 for heel.
Knit needle 1 sts and turn to start the heel flap on a purl (WS) row.
13 rows heel flap
Heel decreases (square heel) worked well, neat and no holes. Knit across needle 1 and pick up 11, work instep, pick up 11.
Knit a round after the pick-up round, putting the last stitch of needle 1 and first of needle 3 onto needle 2 to get 24 sts on instep and count this as foot round 1
Start gusset decreases on the next round 2 and on rounds 4 and 6.
Foot total 40 rounds before working toe decreases, leaving a total of 8 sts for the gathered toe. (I’ve changed my mind about gathered toes - it looks very neat.) Foot length is just about 24 cm, so size 38/39.

Working on these socks reminded me that I was going to write a post comparing the various makes of acrylic DK I had used on the colour sampler blanket, because I noticed significant differences. So it was on these socks; the cream acrylic was Woolcraft New Fashion DK, a whole ball left over from the colour-play crochet blanket. It's quite thick for a DK and a little coarse and fuzzy. I'm not sure I would use it for socks again - the legs on these can almost stand up by themselves. The blue is Hayfield Bonus DK 'Sapphire', which is thinner and softer, and rather lovely because the colour isn't quite solid. Although the foot length is right for me, the ankle/leg width isn't, so I'll offer these for sale at my Dancing Feet Workshop.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Fantasia 2014

I had to shake off my desire to hibernate to get myself booked and organised for last weekend, but I'm so glad I did. The annual trudge up to London for JWAAD Fantasia was more than worth it.

As usual, the weekend started with my friend (and partner in perpetrating belly dance here in West Wales) Rose's classes' Christmas 'Do', complete with lovely solos, group dances, silly belly dance games directed by yours truly while some dancers changed, food, and a special ceremony this year to remember and celebrate the lovely Sue Phillips, whom we are all missing terribly. I wish it could be a joint thing with my dancers, but I know that most of them would be working during the day, besides which, there wouldn't be enough time to showcase a dance or two from Imago as well. Never mind, Imago had a little celebration last Wednesday, with a meal out at a local curry restaurant after our last class of term, including a happy significant birthday to one of the dancers. The general consensus was that she must have forgotten her birth year or got it wrong somehow, because in no way does she look 60! But then, I've said that to two other friends this year, too. Perhaps 60 is the new 40? Or maybe, as we all know, it's just that belly dancing keeps you young!

This year I was off to the smoke on my own, as Rose decided to stay with friends in London. The journey felt so long without our usual catch-up chatting, but the Friday traffic wasn't too horrible and I got to my parents' place unfrazzled.

I always wonder a little about the sanity of dancers at these weekend events. We have early starts after late nights, little time to eat between workshops and get dehydrated, despite frequent gulps of water. It doesn't hit you until later, though, because you're too busy in interesting workshops, shopping in the souk, watching the show and catching up with friends whom you otherwise only 'see' on Facebook.

It was so lovely catching up with teaching friends too, enjoying Sandra Thompson's workshop on Muwashshahat, Shona Hagan's Modern Oriental and a challenging, ballet-influenced Magency from Antje Lossin which needed quick, precise footwork. I was particularly interested in exploring percussive dance with Lotus Niraja over from the USA and  Valerie Romanin from France. I managed the workshops by having a chair to sit on every time my knees started to twinge and ache, so that I was up and down like a yoyo, but managed to dance more than I expected and despite the long drives, my knees were pretty good with a bit of extra rest, with no lasting pain or other problems.

This year, workshops were arranged a little differently, with the option of shorter workshops, but there were also tickets on sale to watch the competition, as well as the Saturday evening show. The Sunday afternoon part of the competition was dancing to a live band, which was awesome, but was cut short at the interval. Ozgen, who was also one of the judges, treated us to a performance. He is a wonderful dancer, compelling, elegant and dramatic. After several minutes' dancing, he collapsed to the floor and there was a pause where we all wondered whether this was just a dramatic move, before he groaned in pain. One of his knees had given way, and we left the theatre, allowing him some privacy and the care of a doctor and nurse who were in the audience, while they waited for the ambulance, which would apparently not be there for a couple of hours!  (In fact, it was a few hours before they came, since just rolling around in agony is not life threatening and for some reason, the service was really busy on a Sunday afternoon.) As well as being wonderful dancer, he is a good teacher and lovely person, so we were all terribly worried for him. We also felt for the performers in the competition. Thankfully, his dislocated knee is now healing well and I think the competition was rescheduled and finished.

Sunday evening and most of Monday were spent relaxing and chatting to my parents,enjoying my Dad's anecdotes from his time in the RAF. My Mum has been struggling with a rheumatoid arthritis flare, but is knitting jumpers for a charity supporting African children, so both of us could sit and knit.

I got back late on Monday night and was met by the cats and a heap of mail. The cats seemed a little traumatised by my 4-day absence. Greebo had a massive cat-sulk going on and kept sitting or lying down in front of me with his back towards me. Once I'd put the heating on for an hour to get the chill off the cold cottage, fed the cats, cleaned up some cat sick, unpacked the car and then found my towel and got ready for bed, he was ready to forgive in return for cat treats. I could hardly move for them both snuggled against me all night, more than once feeling the prick of claws to warn me not to try going anywhere as I tried to turn over. I was exhausted, but my dreams were full of dance and music.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Mojo; Lost and Found

I was discussing tidying craft rooms with a friend, and telling her how tidying mine up a bit had helped me to find my sewing mojo again.

Mojo. It seems to be used a lot nowadays, but it's not a word I would normally use. It felt so strange to say it that I had to go and look up what it really means and work out what I meant by it.

(You probably know this already, but I'm a teacher, amongst other things, so can't resist providing explanations. Sorry. Skip ahead if you like!)

Mojo refers to a magic charm, talisman, spell, influence or magic power. It's derived from the name for a Hoodoo amulet bag worn on the person to attract luck, protection or the fulfilment of various wishes, made of flannel or leather and containing several items or 'ingredients'. These are usually associated with the reason for or desire behind the mojo bag, such as crystals, herbs, coins, charms, hair and so on.

Well, I didn't know that, but do like to learn something new every day.  I was thinking of it more like an abbreviated portmanteau word relating to motivation for and enjoyment of something. Probably, that's what it seems to mean now; inspiration, creativity, desire, passion, positivity, with a side-order of get-up-and-go. All things critical to getting things done and loving life, so no wonder the loss of it is depressing.

Having found my mojo, I've promptly, but hopefully only temporarily, mislaid it.  I overheard someone complaining that she'd lost her housework mojo. I don't think I ever had one of those. In the absence of getting a round tooit, I generally have to tell myself to JFDI. So perhaps if I tidied up a bit more, I'd find it again. Worth a try, particularly as I may need to start sorting out and packing in the not too distant future. Oh my, 2015 may turn out to be a year of changes!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

'Maidenhair Fern' Socks

I ended up buying a circular 2.75 mm needle with a long cable so that I could start the two-at-a-time, toe-up, magic-loop technique socks and found a couple of instruction videos, first for JMCO from Knit Purl Hunter and another for Liat Gat's Limitless (long-tail) Cast On for two at a time, magic loop socks. I decided to go with the JMCO, since I learned how to do it on dpns and I like it better than a long-tail cast on (although I may use the latter if ever I get down to doing my legwarmers!). A few rows in, I started to wonder why magic loop is thought to be quicker than dpns. The idea is that there is less 'adjustment' of the yarn and needles, but I was finding getting the stitches from the cable back onto the needle to be an absolute pain, and using two balls of yarn, which needed to be kept on their respective sides, meant further fiddling about. After a couple more rows, I realised that the problem with remounting the stitches was that the joins between cable and needle tips weren't smooth.  It's a Pony fixed circular, and just not up to the job of sliding stitches back and forth over the joins. I frogged the few rows I'd done, and started to wonder about how to smooth the join while I cast on another pair of cuff-down socks, from a pattern called 'Maidenhair Fern'.

I didn't realise from the picture, but this is an interlocking leaves lace pattern and doesn't look much like maidenhair fern to me, but I love leaves so it's not really an issue. I picked up the Drops Fabel 'Forest Long Print' (#650) which is a self-striping yarn. I love the way it's made up of different colours plied together, although it is a bit splitty and I'm not sure about the bands of pale brown against the greens - the pattern would stand out more with a solid colour.

I usually need to cast on 72 on my usual 2.75 mm dpns in order to cope with my chunky legs and ankles, so increasing to 75 sts for the pattern repeats around the leg didn't seem outrageous (although I forgot about how stretchy lace patterns can be). I prefer ankle socks, so did 12 rounds K2, P2 rib for the cuff, followed by 40 rounds for the leg, which was two and a half pattern repeats, achieved by starting on row 9 of the pattern.

The heel was worked over 2/5 rather than half the stitches, due to the multiple of 15 sts needed to continue the pattern down the instep. Probably because I was working on my own gauge and larger needles, the suggested heel flap seemed long so I only did 31 rows and picked up 19 sts along each side of the flap (including the corners to eliminate holes).

The increase to 81 sts for the foot after the gusset decreases seemed very strange - why have a larger foot than leg/ankle circumference? I decided to continue the gusset decreases until there were 20 sts for the sole and 45 for the instep pattern, leaving a total of 65 sts for the remainder of the foot, which was plenty.

The foot was 64 rounds (4 pattern repeats) from the start of working in the round again after the heel decreases to the start of the toe decreases, with the gusset decreases happening over the first 40 rows.

The socks fit quite well, although I need a broader sole for my wide feet and don't really like the lace design wrapping around the sides. I think, if I were to do it again, I might tweak the leaf pattern in some way, with a narrower instep pattern and wider stocking stitch sole. The leaf pattern isn't so obvious when looking down from the wearer's point of view. Perhaps I should set up a mirror on the floor to photograph my socks!

Friday, 19 December 2014

Goodbye, My Lovely

In mid November, I heard the sad news that one of our lovely dancers had died. Sue was one of my friend Rose's dancers,and was friendly, easy to talk to, intelligent, vibrant, active, full of the joy of life. She often helped out during dance events, wore leggings and ankle chains and her long, silky, silvery hair in a plaited crown. As another dancer observed, 'I hope I'm that cool when I'm her age!'

My cherished memory of her is when we sat at Rose's house between day workshops and evening hafla. She was having fun combing through my terribly tangled hair while we chatted about our love for Radio 4 programmes, particularly 'In Our Time'. It was cosy and relaxing, a perfect, happy moment.

I felt compelled to go up to her funeral in Cellan, near Lampeter, and met up with other members of the belly dance community who knew and loved her too. We had arranged to car share from the Co-op. As we chatted, we learned more details of her death. Apparently she had fallen asleep in a chair, head cradled on her hand, and had slipped peacefully away. She'd had her 70th birthday at the beginning of the year.

I already knew from chats with her that she lived on a typical, small upland farm, with the only access to the house being a walk (or occasional drive) across fields, and could not believe that there were still places like this. She was to be buried there, next to her husband whom she had survived by seven years or so. The instructions for the funeral were to wear wellies and fleeces, and to bring only biodegradable and preferably garden flowers, but after a cold, wet spell I had nothing in bloom and settled for chrysanthemums, with the cellophane wrapper removed.

It was a fine day, cold and clear. There were quite a few people at the burial, and I realised how little I really knew her. She was active in the church, and as a child safeguarder. It was a Christian burial, without hymns but with additional opportunities for anyone to say some words. I wasn't the only one shedding tears as her wicker coffin was lowered into the grave. As we placed our flowers around the grave, someone started playing something beautiful on a violin. Eventually, we all headed back to our cars parked up on the road, to meet back at a local church hall.

Heading back across the fields - the line of trees marks the road
The WI were in charge, so there were tables set up along the centre of the room, laden with sandwiches, small cakes and other finger foods, with tea (so good, I had to have a second cup) and coffee dispensed from the kitchen at the end of the hall and smaller tables around so that small groups could sit and chat. It was all just right, an opportunity to meet and chat to her other friends and family and felt like a celebration of her life.

As I drove back from Lampeter, I reflected that the only way it could have been better would be for Sue not to have died. As I arrived back, the light was going, so I went to put the hens away. I came back out of the barn to be treated to a final burst of brilliance, a perfect end to the day.

At Rose's classes' Christmas 'Do', we ditched some of the games in favour of a little memorial ceremony for Sue, presided over by one of the dancers who has been ordained as an Interfaith Minister. We wrote our treasured memories or just a few words on cards and placed them in the bowl, and remembered our friend and happy times.

Goodbye, my lovely. We miss you, but no doubt the angels had a party when you joined them!