Amateurs assemble

Hello! I’ve been AWOL again, sorry. There has been crafting, though of the five WIPs I wrote about in my last post I’ve only finished one, the Bobbie gloves:

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I haven’t actually worn them that much, as the colour doesn’t really go with the maroon parka I’ve been wearing most days, though they look great with my green coat.

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The Deco cardigan is going well; I’ve nearly finished the body which is pretty good progress for me. The Runaround Loop has stayed stalled, because I still can’t run, and now it’s pretty much spring anyway. Maybe next winter. And as for the two shawls, I binned the moth-damaged Out of Darkness, which was as traumatic an experience as you’d expect it to have been, and I frogged the Ysolda shawl and used the yarn to cast on a Byatt, which is currently blocking on the living room floor and is gorgeous. Even if I did fail in my plan to read A S Byatt’s The Children’s Book while I was knitting it; I did try, but it took me six weeks to get not-quite halfway through, and I really didn’t care about any of the characters. And then Terry Pratchett died, so I decided to re-read some of his books instead. I think I may just have to accept that Possession is the only Byatt novel I’m ever going to like.

I’ve been doing some sewing, too. The shops are full of lovely lightweight spring/summer scarves at the moment, mostly at prices which I balk at paying for what is, when it comes to it, just a bit of fabric, so I decided to try my hand at making my own summer infinity scarf using a metre of flowered polycotton I bought last summer.

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And then this weekend I transformed some lovely Liberty lawn which I acquired as a rather droopy charity-shop skirt into a second Afternoon Blouse.

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So I’ve been pretty productive, and have even got through what is normally my worst time of year feeling remarkably positive and cheerful, thanks to a combination of a job I’m much happier in and stopping taking Cerazette (looking back now, I see that my mood nose-dived a few months after I started and began to recover almost as soon as I stopped). And yet I haven’t been blogging about anything I’ve been doing, although I’ve been missing the blog. I kept thinking about sitting down to post, and then I looked at the pictures I’d taken for the post, and found myself thinking how amateurish they looked, and I looked at all the blogs in my feed reader with their stunning photography, and I sighed and went off and did something else instead.

Still, I haven’t stopped missing the blog. And I’ve been thinking about blogging in general, and amateurism versus professionalism. Because more and more blogs are becoming professional. I noticed this phenomenon years ago in the outfit blogging world; gradually, the blogs I followed either shut up shop or the bloggers decided to ditch their day jobs, sell advertising space on their blogs and turn them into a business. I don’t follow a lot of outfit blogs any more; my interest was in seeing people’s individual styles and how they used the clothes they had, and the blogger as brand and style guru, holding herself up as something to emulate, leaves me cold.

A similar thing has happened with sewing blogs, as far as I can tell; this excellent post from a few months ago certainly suggests it has, and I have noticed a tendency for bloggers to move into designing or offering tutorials, or simply having a lot of sponsored posts, rather than just sharing their experience of their hobbies.

When I was talking about the Kestrel Makes blog post on Twitter last September I said that I hadn’t seen anything similar happening with knitting blogs, and I really hadn’t. But now, only six months later, things seem to have changed in my part of the knitting blog world. Scrolling through the knitting blogs in my feed reader, there’s hardly anything by anyone who isn’t a designer, or a dyer, or a yarn shop owner, or a tech editor, or the organiser of a knitting event, or otherwise connected with the business side of knitting. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s wonderful that so many people are making their living, either wholly or in part, from the wonderful world of knitting and fibre, but I am starting to feel like I don’t quite fit in the knitting blog world if I want my hobbies to stay as hobbies (and I do; I’ve actually just had a bit of a career change myself, from accountant to university administrator, and I don’t have any desire to change again or to try to make money out of the things I do for fun). And although there are still a few blogs around by people who are just doing it for the fun of it (Roobeedoo and Dolly Clackett are shining examples here), I wish there were more. After all, there’s nothing wrong with being an amateur. When it comes down to it, an amateur is a person who does something for the love of it. How could that be a bad thing? And I enjoy blogging, so I’m going to carry on doing it, even if my photos are taken with my phone rather than a fancy camera (I do have a point-and-shoot camera, but it annoys me, and I can’t ever get the colours right, and I’m not convinced it takes better pictures than my current phone anyway) and my blog is only read by five people and a small dog and doesn’t generate loads of comments and retweets. Just like I carry on knitting even when we have overflowing sock drawers, and I keep sewing things even though my seams are a bit wonky. Sometimes the point of things is just doing them, not what you get out of them.

I do wonder what happened to the other amateur knitting bloggers, though. Is there anyone still out there who fancies blowing the cobwebs off their blog and starting to post again? I know I’d like to read it if you do!

Works in progress

I currently have five projects on the needles, which is a lot for me though peanuts compared to some people, and I’m not sure I really want to work on any of them.

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Clockwise from twelve o’clock:

Just below the Doctor Who project bag, the second of a pair of Julia Mueller’s Bobbie gloves. This is my current on the go project, not that I’m doing very much knitting on the go, and while I still think they’re pretty the linen stitch and long cuffs has made them very slow going.

Yellow Deco cardigan. I’m loving knitting this – it’s a beautiful pattern, and the yarn (Skein Queen Voluptuous Skinny) is an absolute joy to knit with, but the long rows of mostly stocking stitch mean it’s my TV and knit night knitting, and I don’t really feel like picking it up this afternoon.

Runaround Loop. This has stalled, partly because it’s knitted on 6mm needles with DK yarn held double and I much prefer knitting finer yarn on smaller needles, but mostly because I haven’t been running since before Christmas due to a badly strained calf muscle and somehow the idea of knitting running accessories is a lot less appealing when I’m not actually running.

Ysolda’s Follow Your Arrow 2 mystery shawl. I’m feeling very ambivalent about this, even though I love the shawl I knitted from the first Follow Your Arrow knitalong, and I think I would have given up already if I hadn’t had to cut the yarns several times for the stripes. As it is, I worry that frogging the shawl would end up being a terrible waste of yarn, leaving me with lots of little bits that wouldn’t be much use for anything else. And besides, I might like it when it’s finished, despite my dubiousness at the moment.

Out of Darkness, the latest in my A-Z of shawls. I love the pattern, I’ve enjoyed the beading, but I’m a little worried about the yarn which was stored in the box of leftovers which got mothed last year and which turns out to have been nibbled down to a single ply in places. I keep spotting thin bits I’ve already knitted and reinforcing them with duplicate stitching (which means the back is covered in little ends) but I don’t think I’ve caught all of them and I’m worried that the shawl will be too fragile to wear. I’m also not really sure it’s my kind of thing – beaded lace doesn’t really seem like everyday officewear, and I don’t have the kind of life that involves getting dressed up, so I’m not sure how likely I’d be to wear it.

To be quite honest, I’m not sure I’ve really got properly back into knitting after the break I had in the autumn when I hurt my arm. Partly I think I’m worried about overdoing it and hurting the arm again, but even more having managed a month without knitting I don’t feel the urge to be knitting all the time I used to. And I’m really not at all excited about any of the things I’m currently knitting (except the Deco, but that’s quite a long-term excitement as it’s unlikely to be finished in time for me to wear it before autumn). Maybe I need to ditch the two shawls, hibernate the gloves for next winter and find something I actually want to make and wear?

January in numbers

Fibre in: 100g. January’s instalment of the Hilltop Cloud Best of British Club, utterly gorgeous.

Fibre out: none. I haven’t touched my spinning wheel since before Christmas, and appear to have abandoned spindle spinning once I started being able to knit again. Ooops.

Yarn in: 4 skeins. As well as the two from last week, and the Wollmeise from the frogged Brickless, I bought a skein of Mobberley 4-ply from Yarns from the Plain, because I’m a regular listener to Nic’s podcast and wanted to support her new venture into dyeing yarn as a business rather than a hobby.

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Yarn out: 9 skeins. So I have actually managed to achieve my target of having twice as much yarn leaving stash as I have coming in, and if I hadn’t counted the frogged Wollmeise (which I don’t feel quite counts as an addition to stash) it would have been three times. This would probably feel like a better thing if it wasn’t for…

New WIPS cast on: 4
WIPs finished: 1

I currently have five WIPs, which is two more than my usual number, and am unlikely to cast any more projects on until I’ve finished at least a couple of the current ones (I suppose if I finish the gloves I’m knitting, I will cast on some socks straight away, but I’ve got two shawls on the go and won’t cast on another till both are done, and a cardigan which will be a fair while yet). So the chances of my casting on anything much in February seem fairly slim, so anything much in the way of yarn purchases is going to be getting dangerously close to seeing the stash expand again. This moderation thing is hard work!

I also haven’t touched my sewing machine in months. And that’s despite having bought a skirt from Seasalt just after Christmas which currently has the lining pinned up a couple of inches with safety pins because otherwise it hung below the hem of the skirt even when I was standing up (it still shows when I sit down, and I’m generally quite disappointed with the skirt, which may explain why I haven’t actually been able to motivate myself to get the sewing machine out and actually shorten the lining). But it’s winter, and although I’m feeling remarkably cheerful for the time of year I really do feel the need to hibernate and just don’t have the energy to do very much outside work. This is probably why April/May is always my most productive time for sewing…

Double-entry stashkeeping

As I mentioned in my last post, one of my goals for this year is to get the stash under control. I don’t want to give up buying yarn altogether – I still want to be able to support UK indie dyers and the British wool industry in general, and while the thing I love most about yarn shows is the social aspect I’m not foolish enough to think that I can spend a day surrounded by lovely yarns and fibres and come away empty-handed. And I can’t resist an unusual and exciting colour combination or a yarn with an interesting, story, which explains the two lovelies which dropped through my letterbox this week.

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(At the top, Old Maiden Aunt merino/silk 4-ply, in the “Cold Sheep” colourway, named after a recently Ravelry controversy; at the bottom, Knitting Goddess self-striping sock yarn in “Groovy”, which reminded me of the hippyish clothes I loved when I was a student.)

On the other hand, I really don’t have room for any more yarn (to be quite honest, I’m not sure I actually have room for the yarn I already have). And last night I tried Ravelry’s tool for seeing how much yarn I’d used in all my projects, and then I compared that number to the amount of yarn in my stash, and realised that I have nearly three times as much stashed yarn as I have ever knitted and that my stash, unravelled, would reach from here to Salford.

So, I set myself up a simple spreadsheet.

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It’s got three sections, fibre, yarn and WIPs. It’s too wide to fit comfortably on the screen of my little netbook, so the screenshot shows the yarn section, and you can just see fibre (pink header) to the left and WIPs (yellow header) to the right. Each section has two columns, yarn/fibre/WIPs in on the left and yarn/fibre/WIPs out on the right (debits and credits, in accounting parlance). Fibre out (once I have actually sat down at my spinning wheel for long enough to have some) will also have a corresponding entry in the yarn in column; yarn out will normally also be shown as WIPs in, unless I decide to have a proper destash and sell or donate some of the yarn I can’t see myself ever using. Every month I’ll total up the columns and subtract yarn out from yarn in each section; my intention is to make sure, over the year, that at least twice as many skeins of yarn leave my stash as the number of skeins and braids/batts of fibre come in. It’s looking quite good so far, despite this week’s purchases, but having cast on several projects I know it’ll be a little while before I finish those and am ready to cast on anything else (I don’t tend to have lots and lots of WIPs so I expect the numbers going in and out of WIPs will stay fairly evenly matched). And I haven’t actually cast on the Ysolda mystery shawl yet (must do that tomorrow). I also haven’t noted the skein of Wollmeise to be returned to stash after I frogged the Brickless I made a few months ago on the grounds that it was just too long and too skinny to wear, which I probably should even though it isn’t new yarn.

Still, it’s a start. I might post the totals every month, if anyone’s likely to be at all interested…

Hello again…

Is there anyone still out there? I didn’t intend to have a two-and-a-bit-month-long break from blogging,it just kind of happened…

Anyway, what have I been doing since I last posted here? Well, I made some gloves:

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And some Christmas stockings:

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And a Christmas bauble:

I finished the Fair Isle socks I started the Christmas before:

And I made a shawl out of my own handspun.

This is supposed to be my fun blog, where I talk about the things that make me happy, but 2014 was such a bad year that the stress and depression ended up bleeding into everything and happiness was often hard to find. I think I may have some more to say about that at some point, but right now what really matters is that things are pretty good; it’s a new year, I’ve managed to make some changes both work-wise and personally that really seem to have turned things around, and I think I’m ready to chat about what I do in my spare time again.

Anyway, I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions, because I think it’s ridiculous to put that kind of pressure on yourself at what’s a difficult kind of year anyway, but if I buy any more stash boxes they’ll cover half the window of my craft room and I really need to start using some of the lovely yarns (and fibre, and fabric) I have, so I’ve decided that this year my challenge is to use as much stash yarn as I can. I still want to support local indie dyers and yarn producers, so I’m not giving up buying yarn altogether (and I was lucky enough to get a place on Katie‘s Best of British fibre club a few months ago which I’m not ready to give up just yet), but my challenge for the year is to buy less and use more. I was talking to a few friends on Twitter who were interested in doing much the same thing, so I decided to set up a group on Ravelry for mutual support – Stash-Heap Challenge. I was expected a dozen or so people I know to join it; instead, within a week or so it had 100 members and is now up to 242! I seem to have managed to capture the zeitgeist somehow.

So, hello again!

Holiday knitting

Yes, I know my holiday was two months ago, but then I stopped knitting for a month because of my elbow*, so I have only just finished my holiday knitting projects.

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Stefanie Bold’s Berlin socks, in the oldest skein of yarn in my stash, a skein of Opal Handpainted which I bought in 2007, years before I discovered indie dyers. I really like how this pattern works in varigated yarn and I’m very pleased with the socks.

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And Martina Behm’s Brickless in Wollmeise merino superwash. I’m less pleased with this; it’s a lovely pattern, and beautiful yarn, but the pattern is written for a much heavier yarn and although lots of people have knitted it in 4-ply I’m not sure it really works. After knitting the specified 6 repeats I had a shawl that blocked out to 8 feet long but is mostly really, really skinny in a fine yarn; I’ve got it wrapped twice round my neck in the photo which is wearable but a bit of a faff to get right, and I would have preferred a shorter, wider shawl.

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As you can see, it’s significantly longer than the width of our double futon, but even at the widest point it doesn’t come all the way down the back and is mostly signficantly narrower. Which just goes to show that even where gauge isn’t critical, using a different weight of yarn to the one specified in the pattern can produce a less than ideal result.

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*I eventually cracked and went to a private physio about my elbow, and she diagnosed it as not being tennis elbow at all, but a combination of a pinched nerve and a strained bicep muscle. I have been doing my exercises, which have definitely helped, and have come to the conclusion that knitting doesn’t actually make it worse so I might as well start again. Still, I don’t suppose I’d ever have finished Wolf Hall if I was knitting as normal, and it is a very good book, so I don’t mind the month off that much.

Glasgow School of Yarn

Last weekend I went to Glasgow for the fourth Glasgow School of Yarn, run by The Yarn Cake (link not working at the moment as they’re having website problems, but it should reappear at some point). The School of Yarn is held in the beautiful Rennie Mackintosh church in Glasgow; I have been every year, but this is the first time I’ve had a phone with a camera good enough to take blog-quality photos.

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Not only is the church beautiful, but it has lots and lots of space for people to sit and knit and chat, which is a big part of what makes the School of Yarn such a wonderful event.

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The marketplace is small compared to many shows, as space in the church is limited, but it was full of beautiful things and wonderful colours.

GSoY marketplace

This year’s stallholders included Abstract Cat, Jess of Ginger Twist Studios with her lovely hand-dyed yarn, Susan Sharpe Ceramics, A Peppermint Penguin, Easyknits and local woodcarver Wood Ewe, as well as The Yarn Cake itself with Drops, Jamieson and Smith, Malabrigo, Rooster and Baa Ram Ewe’s Titus yarn.

As always, p/hop also had a stall, and I had volunteered to spend Saturday morning looking after it.

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It was really busy on the stall and by the time the next volunteer came along I was utterly worn out by the effort of interacting with so many people (yay introvert issues – there is a reason I could never ever work in a customer-facing job), but it was worth it as we raised over £700 for MSF over the weekend, and after some delicious Yarn Cake stew, a piece of cake and a quiet sit-down I felt refreshed enough to embark on some shopping (I had resisted buying anything at all on Friday, as I knew that if I did that I would only end up doing even more shopping on Saturday, and there’s only so much I can carry with me on the train…)

Because I’m still not able to knit, I didn’t buy much yarn (though I couldn’t resist one skein of Ginger’s Hand Dyed), but having discovered that drop spindling is a portable craft that doesn’t hurt my elbow and that after nearly a year of wheel spinning I have a much better idea of how to do it, I did buy two spindles from Wood Ewe (a 22g Turkish spindle and a supported spindle to try out) and some fibre from Easyknits.

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I also bought some more bobbins for my wheel and a lazy kate so I can attempt a three-ply yarn sometime, and a lovely pendant from Susan’s stall.

There were not one but two TV crews filming short pieces about the event, which you can see here and here – the second one even features me and my spindle. As always, it was a wonderful weekend, helped this year by glorious sunny weather, and wonderful to catch up with the friends I’ve made on my trips to Glasgow over the years. Congratulations to Antje and her team on another fantastic School of Yarn, and roll on the next one!