Sunday, 29 June 2014

I flit, I float, I fly (From project to project)

I'm having a couple of months where I am knitting heaps but not seeming to finish anything. This seems counter intuitive. I know I am knitting productively but all the completed stitches do not seem to be adding up to finished. Are they disappearing into the knitting equivalent of a black hole or something? Are they going to the parallel universe where all lost socks end up?

So I seriously asked myself why the phenomenon was occurring and decided it was because I was simultaneously knitting at least 6 largish things at once and there is one at least one other half finished project from the Ravellenics still sitting out in plain sight that has had any knitting love in a few months. So let's look at them all and chart their progress. (I know it'll make me feel better)!

Anyone got Cable! The mighty strip afghan.
I have religiously managed a strip a month till June and then I stalled. I actually started two in April. One went on to become the finished April strip and one ended up being frogged. It wasn't its fault. It was perfect. Let's put it down to silly knitter error. I had two random balls of cream Panda Machinewash I bought for like a dollar each on sale at the end of last winter. If I had of thought about it, I would have realised that that amount of yarn wasn't enough to knit a metre and a half of complicated lace cable pattern. But I didn't think and I started and I got the end of the second ball of yarn and it wasn't long enough. Never mind, I thought, I'll buy some more yarn. The store didn't have anymore in stock so I ordered some in. It arrived and damn dyelots, it didn't match. I tried to make it match. I  knitted another pattern repeat in the new yarn and then the OCD knitter in me couldn't stand it and I frogged it. (And I mourned its death). I did go and buy some more yarn though.
So I have enough yarn now (and it all matches). I'm going to do the same pattern. But I haven't started it again yet for three reasons - impatient children who want the things I am making for them (see below) finished like yesterday; I still have my angry on with having to frog a beautiful piece of knitting and I don't think I have any good 4mm needles that aren't in active knitting rotation at the moment.

Brown as: My first ever knitted shawl.
For the 2014 Ravellenics I boarded the Tardis with needles and yarn in hand and joined the giant crew of knitters and crocheters flying through time and space watching the Sochi Winter Games and crafting all sorts of goodness. Some very wonderful fellow travelers offered prizes for our efforts and the Tardis random number generator chose me to get this free pattern.

I’ve been contemplating making a shawl for a long time but there were too many wonderful patterns to pick from to make my first. This sealed the deal. I had a pattern so I didn’t have to pick one. I have some very old gifted brown yarn from my Aunty that is perfect for this.

Why Brown? Brown is underrated. I’m a brown kind of person right down to the boring brown hair (with a touch of grey).

When I was naming this project, I thought of my favourite Little Golden Book that I read to my little sister first and then my children over and over…. The Color kittens by Margaret Wise Brown.

”… and that made brown, Brown as a tug boat, Brown as an old goat, Brown as a beaver, Brown. And in all that brown the sun went down”.

Meet Brown as…

I cast on on the 8th of April and it has been flowing along quite nicely ever since. I completed up to the end of third section of the shawl still working this on straight needles as the yarn is so fine it still fits on a long straight needle. This is essentially geometrically arranged panels of faggotted lace. Every second row is just purl with a narrow garter stitch edge. I've just transferred to a long circular needle and completed the transition row for the 4th and last section (And then the nagging from the children intervened again and this is in stand by mode at the moment).
Part way through second section
Pattern: Bequin by Ydun
Yarn: Patons Australia Azalea 3 ply (lace weight)
Needles: 4mm. I started with 4mm straights till the end of the third section and then moved onto a 100 cm circular 4 mm needle.

I do make the occasional mistake and have to tink back a few rows till I have the correct set up again. I had to redo the last four rows of section II 4 times to get it right (Took me two days for 4 rows). The pattern is nicely written and quite intuitive but needs patience and I tend to make mistakes when knitting at night.

Knitting a lace shawl is teaching me patience and not to drop stitches!

Funky Chunky: A sideways cable jumper for Mel.
My kids finally respect my knitting skills enough to ask me to knit them garments. I keep an eye out for things I think they will like. So when I spotted this in an email from Lion Brand, I immediately thought of Mel. We went and chose yarn together and this hit the needles on March 30th 2014. The yarn we picked is light and a 65% acrylic, 35% wool blend in a gorgeous heathered dark gray.
Pattern: Sideways Cable Pullover by Lion Brand yarn (free pattern)
Needles: 5.5 mm straights and 80 cm circular needle.
Yarn: Moda Vera Fotini in Gray (65% Acrylic, 35% Wool)
This is definitely home on the couch knitting. It is knitted sideways in one piece beginning from one sleeve, casting on for the body section, knitting the two sides separately are then rejoining to cast off for the other sleeve. Finally you pick and knit the collar in the round for the neck section. It's definitely a lap full despite the fact that the actual knitting is fairly quick with chunky yarn on largish needles. It also requires intense counting with three different cable patterns running simultaneously with different length repeats.
Mel has requested that this be made without bobbles! So I have eliminated all bobbles and am just knitting the cables. The main part of the jumper is completed and seamed and I have picked up the stitches for the neck and knitted about 8 rows. Close to finished. This is probably good as Mel is currently gauging my level of love for her / status as a good mother by my visible progress on this. If she sees me knitting on another garment she plaintively exclaims - "You don't love me anymore, you're not knitting my jumper!" and "You're a bad mother!"

Not so Little Boy Blue: I haven't knitted my boy a jumper since he was in nappies. It was time to do it again. Unfortunately he is now grown adult size.

Whilst he was home over Easter we chose a pattern and yarn. We're going vintage all the way; yarn from the 1980s and a pattern from the delightful pattern book pictured below - Man Talk c1970s. Despite the lurid cover (that poncho anyone?) there are a number of nice classic textured jumpers in this book. The naming is unimaginative though - I'm making jumper no. 3.
Pattern: From Man Talk Patons Book 310- jumper no 3.
Yarn: Nomad Woolblend 8 ply by Target in Navy Blue , 80% Acrylic 30% Wool, 9 and a half balls - from the stash (the best sort of yarn)
Needles: 3 1/4 mm and 4 mm
I started with a sleeve - mainly because I needed some train knitting and everything else I was knitting was too big to transport or needed too many different colours of yarn. There is an art to good train knitting. It needs to be small enough to fit in a handbag, be simple enough to not to have to refer to the pattern every five minutes and needs to not be too many fiddly small bits. The pattern on this is subtle. It's a variation on a checkerboard type rib - simple but effective. I'm one and a half sleeves in so far. And these sleeves have done about three train journeys, a conference trip to the big smoke and watched my eldest daughter compete in cheerleading. This is a fun knit.

Lacewing: A freefom lace CAL / KAL.
I got enticed down the rabbit hole. Roseknits24-7 from VHOC (Village Hopelessly Over-committed) invited me to play in the International Free Form Forum on Ravelry who are hosting a freeform lace shawl CAL/KAL for June/July 2014 based on the Wingspan shawl as a jumping off point.

Wingspan has long been on my to-do list and I also love Dreambird. I could so see a lace Dreambird with a faggoted / trellis framework and delicate lace feathers. And that was my inspiration for beginning to design this. Freeform is no rules / no limits / no real pattern / design as you go / do what you feel type knitting / crochet.
I’m drawn to the colours of a bird’s wing - I’m thinking of the little blue/fairy wrens that are so common in Australia. Complex shades of brown and a flash of brilliant almost metallic blue. I found some pictures of dreambirds that people had made for inspiration. I began with a feather. I hunted through all the free lace shawl patterns I could find on Ravelry.

The first feather is knitted in lace-weight antique pure wool from the stash in a olive green poo coloured brown using Gamayun bird shawl lace charts as the starting point. I blocked the feather and knitted on a row around it and cast off. Then I tried some swing knitting / short rows using a couple of simple lace patterns for the rib section. I’m using garter stitch ridges to introduce a ribbed / bone texture in the joining sections. Knitted off both sides of the feather section, sandwiching pockets of simple mesh lace between garter stitch sections. Yarn weights ranges from 5 ply to a thick thin worsted weight novelty yarn. Completed and blocked 15th June. Blocking makes all the difference - opening up the lace and encouraging sections to curve subtly so the piece lies flat.

Next I made a feather by improvising a paisley shape using crochet bruges lace as the focal basis of the next section.

The way this CAL / KAL is progressing is through suggested stitches both knit and/or crochet for each section. I have a whole toolbox of toys to play with now but this is weekend knitting. I have a few other bits and pieces on the go to incorporate into this.

Intrepid Fox: Making baby presents.
I’ve loved this little guy since I first saw him out in the internet and then in a knitting magazine. He is tiny though - much smaller than I first thought he was but just the right size for small little hands to grip. A large number of the 20 something females of my acquaintance are having babies - my niece, the young lady I drive to Uni.... I'm stocking up on knitted baby gifts.
© Ella Austin
Pattern: Intrepid Fox by Ella Austin
Yarn: Cleckheaton Country and Country naturals 8 ply plus some random stash yarn
Needles: 3 mm set of four dpns
I started this on the 8th of June and this too has been train / travel knitting. So far, I've finished the body (though I'm not really happy with the the level of contrast between the variegated yarn I used for the fairisle and the solid body colour) and nearly two legs.

All in all, it's no wonder all that knitting hasn't resulted in any finished objects.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

My knitting as art!

You know, I have this weird little phobia about putting myself out there as a known knitter. I knit every day but rarely in public (except on public transport. That definitely doesn't count as in public, right? One needs knitting just to get through long haul train journeys). I don't take my knitting to work. (That might be to limit the temptation to knit when I should be doing boring work related things though). I'm happy to blog about knitting however - because after all the internet is full of friendly fiber people who don't think I am any weirder than they are.

Sometimes you just have to be brave and put yourself out there and hope everyone else gets what you were trying to say. Every couple of years, the art gallery at the University I work for has a staff art exhibition. Last time I thought I should enter something as there was a lot of craft type works entered (mainly quilts and embroidery). But I wasn't brave enough to put myself out there for potential criticism.

Then the invitation came around in the email in early April and I plucked up my courage and thought, 'Why Not What have you got to lose?' (Of course a little inner voice muttered things about public humiliation but I ruthlessly suppressed it).

It's a perfectly legitimate art show. See, you can read all about it here: The Autumn Salon. So I entered two pieces of work, the Knitographical cowl and Flat Fox.

And then I had to do an even braver thing - attend a gallery opening. First the, What Do I Wear? dilemma. I want to look arty but still me. The small talk over wine and cheese. Taking my family out in public to mix with the arty types and hoping they wouldn't embarrass me in public. (They tried very hard to).
The text of this poster is basically reproduced in this post: Story telling with sticks and string. This cowl is all about my story so it needed its story to be told. this is the most fun academic poster I have ever made. I had someone come up to me and tell me that the cowl was like my own coat of arms. I thought that was a really cool way to put it.

For more details of Flat Fox see this post.
Mel and I taking a selfie at the gallery opening.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Story telling with sticks and string - Knitographical

I showed you pretty pictures of the finished Knitographical cowl in a previous post but teased you that the story behind the knitting would be forthcoming. Here it is, My Knitographical cowl is the story of me told using sticks and string.

1. Tea Cup
Sometimes I swear my body is fuelled by tea. I can be found with a fresh cup in my hand at almost any time of day, In the morning two or three cups are my kick-starter – Irish Breakfast by preference, After a intense session of teaching, tea helps me refuel. A weekend indulgence is a steaming cup of some exotic tea blend and a good book. It has to be black (and I’m trying to give up the sugar)… There may be tea involved as I'm writing this.
2. Canal Houses
My family heritage is Dutch (on both sides). My father grew up in Amsterdam through its occupation years in the second World War. My Opa told us stories of smuggling and the black market and helping hide his Jewish workers from the Germans, These canal houses remind me of the pictures I’ve seen of the house my father spent his early years in. Tall and thin with doors in the upper story opening out onto bare air.
3. Tardis
I’m a long term Doctor Who fan. Peter Davison (or Celery Doctor as my kids affectionately refer to him) is the Doctor of my childhood memories. We started watching Dr Who as a family at the beginning of the new reboot with the 9th doctor and it's a must watch family TV date whenever it's on. (Lazy Sundays on the couch in our PJs watching Doctor Who and eating brunch).
4. Knit
It’s what I do. Knitting is my meditation; my escape from stressful times. The soothing clink of needles and yarn creating things makes tensions and annoyances unwind into the growing object. 
But rather than these being unhappy memories, the knitted garment becomes almost like a pair of rose-coloured glasses letting me see the events with distance, perspective and insight. Knitted garments are warm and fuzzy objects in more ways than one.
5. Falling leaves
I love knitted leaves, colourwork ones like these or cabled and lace leaves. I loved this pattern when I first made it as a hat and it’s here as a reminder.
I knit on trains - a lot. It makes a 2 hour journey to Melbourne productive and I can still talk to people. This year, I made a psychological major leap forward and bought my knitting out of the closet so to speak and will now knit on journeys in front of my work colleagues. The guys I work with found the fact that I knit colour-work on four needles in the round whilst having an academic conversation fascinating.
6. Sheep
All knitters love sheep. After all they supply us with the raw materials from which we make so much. Plus knitted sheep are cute. I so want to make a whole flock of little knitted stuffed sheep.
7. Circles
The ancient Greeks believed that the circle is the perfect form. Geometry is the branch of mathematics that most of my students find fascinating and don’t actually hate. The use of circular patterns and symmetry in Islamic art is amazing and inspiring. It’s impossible to knit a circular circle though or I’d try and replicate it in knitting.
8. Foxes
The fox – feral introduced pest or cute furry animal? I’m a fan of the fox – in its knitted form at least. I’ve made lots of foxes – from amigurumi graduation foxes to faux fox scarves and flat foxes to hang on walls. And there are still more to come. Thank you to my daughter’s friend Beth for introducing me to your teenage fox obsession and for inspiring the first toy fox I made.
9. Dalek
My son’s phone says ‘Exterminate’ in the authentic Dalek voice whenever he gets a text message or Facebook notification. It is my secret delight to get it to go off at highly inappropriate times especially in school masses, lectures or at some ungodly hour of the morning after a late night out. (See also Tardis (3)).
10. 70's Wallpaper
This wallpaper is a tribute to the wallpaper at my favourite Auntie’s house. The 1970s lived on in her wallpaper till well into the 90s. But it was my second home still – bad wallpaper and all.
11. Purl
The flipside of Knit (See also Knit (4)).
12. Squirrels
No one in my family can say it correctly despite quite a few having childhood speech therapy. Challenging someone to say squirrel is guaranteed to set off hysterical giggling (which just makes it harder to pronounce squirrel).
13. Selbu Modern
The pattern here owes its roots to Selbu – Traditional Norwegian usually black and white colourwork. I find it fascinating to research traditional knitting methods and incorporate them with a modern twist in my work.
14. Zig Zags
I can pinpoint the exact moment when I first saw knitting as art. It was when I first encountered the knitted work of Kaffe Fassett in about 1987. This piece of rainbow coloured zig zag is a recreation of a much loved teenage jumper knit to a Kaffe Fassett pattern that I unfortunately outgrew. Knitting the original made me brave enough to ‘paint’ with wool.
15. Circuit boards
When I left school, I worked as an electrical engineering assistant, I ruined a lot of circuit boards whilst learning how to solder properly. I never realised at the time just how important the humble circuit board would be to everyday life.
16. Something floral
The delicate tracery of bare branches is an illustration of the beauty of mathematical chaos. I find the appearance of fractals in nature fascinating. I love finding Fibonacci numbers in pineapples, sunflowers and that weird cauliflower / broccoli hybrid. This is a small tribute.
17. Ampersands
I love punctuation. I get to help students develop skills in scientific writing and we look at commas and semi colons and colons and where to use them appropriately. Ampersands are my favourite symbol, though I also love a tilde (~). I’m also inordinately fond of the entire Greek alphabet. (Must be a mathematician / statistician thing).
For more photos of the finished cowl - go here. Details of all the pattern and chart sources used for this can be found on my Ravelry Project page. They are from mainly free sources as is the original infinity scarf pattern. If you want to have a go at making one of these for yourself, I found socks, mittens and hats to be really good sources of patterns of the right size to incorporate into the scarf. Looks like I'm going to be making another one for my eldest daughter once she finishes describing her life in knitting charts....

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Protection for laptops

I swear laptops and other electronic devices breed quietly behind our back at our house. With three adult children all studying University degrees plus me and the head of the household, we have a small horde of the things from little things like ipods, phones and e-books to laptops and tablets cluttering up every available surface. Of course, they're all portable devices and they travel regularly, in handbags and backpacks and school bags, on car seats and public transport. They get battered and bashed from pillar to post with all the best intentions in the world. Some of them are even seasoned world travelers.
Clearly they need protection to save them from scratches and dents. Some of them already have their own wetsuits - neoprene sleeves. But some of the others are odd sizes and needed made to order couture garments. I thought I can knit, why not knit covers for them? (Actually I was inspired by a beautiful cabled laptop sleeve my eldest daughter made for her original laptop a few years ago. I can't be shown up by a novice knitter, can I?)

When my University closed down its electronic tablet laptop loan program, as a long term user of a class set of laptops, I got first pick of the best of them as a freebie. I got one with high end specs and Windows 7 however, it came without a case and was a little battered from the whole having been a loan computer process. It works beautifully and lets me annotate my lectures on screen as I am giving them (such a life saver when you teach maths) as well as being portable with a magnificent battery life (at least 6 to 8 hours of continuous use).
But it needed some protection from being lugged around to class and so as soon as I got it home, I knitted it its own laptop cosy. This is basically a large rectangle folded to give a lining and stitched into an open envelope / sleeve / pocket shape.
All the patterning comes from the wool, a cheap pre printed 8 ply acrylic. I think it cost me about $6 in yarn to make.It’s wearing beautifully and gets a heap of compliments. It was a really quick knit too. The loudness of the colours makes it easy to spot around the house or in the office. And it makes me happy to look at it!
Bee prepared is the final present for Mel and Louise’s giant European Adventure. Mel wanted to take a computer of some sort with her to load photos on and to use free wireless on for Facebook, Skype and email. So she bought a Microsoft Surface, a tablet with a detachable keyboard but running a proper Windows environment. We tried to buy a gorgeous retro cassette printed neoprene sleeve but the Surface is not a standard size. So the cassette tape cover went off to be a Christmas present and I designed a cover to fit this specially.

Mel loves bees. (Melissa means Bumble Bee in Greek, See Melissa = Bee). I already had in the stash some gorgeous Cleackheaton Country Naturals in Black and Gold so the colour scheme was under control. I went hunting for free bee charts. The bee motifs on this are heavily modified from Hummeltuch a double knitting pattern for a triangle scarf / shawlette.
The basic construction involves two rectangles and a triangle, mimicking an envelope. There is a large bee motif asymmetrically placed towards the bottom of the back and a smaller bee on the outside of the flap. It is fully lined with textured lining in quicksilver grey. The inside has a textured diagonal pattern. The inside of the triangular flap is lined in stocking stitch. The flap is closed with a single large press stud.
Held open to show the lining and inside of flap
This was a finish at the last minute thing. The day before she was due to go, the plain black section still had about 50 rows to go as well as the assembly. So while Mel and I were carefully packing and checking lists, the Head of the Household stepped into the breech and knitted the last of the black section. I sewed it up and and it was ready just in the nick of time. So this was made with love for Mel by both her parents.
This case is a well seasoned European traveller. It’s been to London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Munich, Lucerne, Milan, Padova, Venice and Rome. It neglected to take any selfies though! Mel did take a million photos though and she'll be doing a guest post soon about the giant knitwear tour of Europe.