FO: Simmer Dim

When I was at the podcaster meetup at Unwind last summer I noticed a woman wearing a gorgeous summery silk shawl, which struck me as the perfect way to manage to wear handknits even on such a hot day. Looking at other people’s accounts of the meetup, I worked out that the wearer must have been Clare Devine and the shawl was her version of Simmer Dim. I had some variegated 4-ply silk in my stash which I got in a swap years ago, so inspired by Clare I decided it was time to make my own Simmer Dim.

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It turned out to be a really fun, quick knit, though I did find myself running short of yarn and despite working a shorter mesh section than the pattern called for I lost my game of yarn chicken on the picot bind-off.

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Rather than unpick the whole thing and do a plain bind-off instead, I realised that I had some embroidery silk in a shade that was similar to one of the colours of the yarn, so I plied it to a similar weight and Russian joined it to the working yarn (on the second try; I managed to Russian join it to the cast-on tail first…).

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I think it would probably have been better Navajo plied than the standard 4-ply I went for, but it was good enough for me to finish the bind-off and I think it looks OK. No-one’s going to notice the change, and the slightly lumpy picot where the join is, while I’m wearing the shawl, anyway.

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All in all, I’m very pleased with this. It’s nice to have more me-made summer shawls and scarves.

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Women in Clothes


Roobeedoo has been talking about a book she has been reading, Women In Clothes, and it sounded interesting so I bought a copy of the Kindle edition, which is about half the price of the paper book, so may be a better option if you’re considering it but not sure you’ll love it, though I think it would have been hard to read on a standard Kindle screen (I read it on my iPad). It’s an odd book, unstructured, a collection of responses from hundreds of women across the world to a survey about their relationships with clothes, interspersed with longer interviews, reflections, pictures of collections of similar items from women’s wardrobes. Interviews with garment workers in Asia (including a survivor of the Rana Plaza collapse) mingle with thoughts on make-up, shopping, clothing as art. The book doesn’t set out to present a particular thesis; rather, the eclectic and seemingly random contents seem to aim at building up a more general picture of how women relate to clothing (and to questions of appearance in general – there are sections on body image, make-up and hair).

For me, it doesn’t quite work. The plural of anecdote is not data, not even where there are as many anecdotes as this book contains. There are no pictures of the respondents, which I think is actually a really clever choice – as readers, we share their thoughts uncoloured by our own judgements on their appearances – but I got the impression that a lot of them were young (in their 20s and 30s), lived in cities and worked in creative professions. There were a lot of references to designer brands, to shopping, to parties, to international travel; the sections about sweatshop workers and Rana Plaza seemed to me to sit oddly with these, to throw their shallowness into sharp relief.

To be fair, I don’t think it’s intended to be a serious sociological study so much as an impressionistic celebration of women’s relationship with their appearance. I don’t recall anything being mentioned about how potential respondents to the questionnaire were identified, which it would have been interesting to know, but I suspect that those who responded were more likely to be people with a strong interest in clothes and their appearance; there are a lot of questions and I suspect anyone who wasn’t particularly interested wouldn’t have got through it. Frankly, I consider myself to be pretty interested in clothes, and I couldn’t answer half of the questions. The first one is “What is the most transformative conversation you have ever had with someone on the subject of fashion or style?”, which I’m not even sure I understand, and a lot of the others are along the same lines. I think that, fundamentally, the book is simply about enjoying and being interested in clothes in a very different way from the way I enjoy and am interested in clothes. The book is about women who are interested in clothes because of how they make them look, or how they make them feel (there’s an interview with a farmer who wants to feel sexy even in the clothes she wears around the farm). Mostly, I am interested in clothes for their own sake, as beautiful objects. I’m interested in colours and patterns and textures, much less interested in shape and style and cut. I wear things more because they are pretty than because they make me look pretty (though wearing pretty things does make me feel pretty, except that sometimes I catch sight of myself in the mirror wearing clothes I think are lovely and see myself looking short, dumpy and rumpled, and my response to that is to spend less time looking in mirrors). If I find something I like I want to buy it in every single colour. At the moment, my dream wardrobe would be a whole series of really simple dresses cut to the same pattern, in fabulous colours and prints and different textured fabrics, with colourful beads and scarves and cardigans to go with them, and really comfortable flat shoes, also in lots of bright colours. (My real-life wardrobe isn’t too far off that, actually.) I really want to make more of my clothes. That’s something the book didn’t seem to cover at all – I’m not sure there were any women talking about making their own clothes, which seems like a big gap to me, and is maybe why it felt so shallow and consumerist.

So, while it was interesting in parts, I didn’t particularly enjoy Women in Clothes or find it thought-provoking (other than trying to work out how I could be as interested in clothes as I thought I was if the book was leaving me so cold). It’s not a book I would recommend, though I know many other people would.

Go, go, go, said the bird

This week’s prompt for the Love Your Blog challenge is “Ugly”. I have to admit that I struggled with this one. Ugly is not a word I use very often. I don’t like its harsh judgementalism. I wouldn’t ever call a person ugly, and as for things, one person’s ugly is another person’s beautiful. A prime example here is shoes; personally my taste runs to clumpy and utilitarian, and I don’t find glittery, strappy high-heeled things (think Jimmy Choos) aesthetically pleasing at all, yet received wisdom is that those are objects of beauty and Doc Martens are ugly. Most people agree that 1960s office blocks are ugly, and yet even they can have their moments of beauty.

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But really, there’s a lot of ugliness in the world. There are wars and repressive regimes, and people so desperate to escape them they crowd onto small boats to attempt dangerous voyages to countries which don’t welcome them even if they get there. There are people who live in safe, wealthy countries who show no sympathy or compassion for those less fortunate than they are. There’s homophobia, racism and sexism. There are people dying after their benefits are stopped, terminally ill people being declared fit to work. There’s the cancer that recently took a former colleague’s wife; she was only a few months older than me and their children are 8 and 6 years old. There are so many awful, ugly things in this world. (Please imagine this last paragraph as a film montage with “What a Wonderful World” playing ironically in the background.)

And there’s not a lot I can do about it. I do what I can; I vote, I donate to charities, I sign petitions (not that I’m entirely convinced that does much). But realistically, my life isn’t going to make a great deal of difference to anyone apart from the other generally comfortable citizens of a wealthy western country who I come into day to day contact with. And human kind cannot bear very much reality. Which is why I spend my time collecting and making beautiful things, as a distraction from my own powerlessness in the face of all the horrors of life. And why this blog, like so many others, may seem unrealistic in its narrow focus on crafting, its insistence on making the best of things (even when I was blogging my way through the depths of depression, I tried to keep my posts here focused on the positive; learning, growing, recovering or even just coping). It’s not that I don’t know there’s a big bad world out there; it’s just that this is my refuge from it.

A Playful Day

(To read more posts on today’s theme, see the links here.)

FO: Leyburn

Getting back into the swing of actually finishing things, after a slow start to the year, my latest socks:

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The pattern is Leyburn, though I modified it to knit top-down as I’m not a fan of toe-up socks (I always end up making the feet slightly too long, and I find a flap and gusset heel gives a much better fit in any case).

I picked the pattern to suit the yarn, a skein of Laughing Yaffle sock yarn that was the yarn that demanded to be knitted when I went stash-diving for sock yarn on a grey February day. The slipped stitches work well with the variegation, and the pattern was fun to knit; if it seems to have taken me a long time to finish them that’s just a reflection of the amount of bus-time I have these days (less than I used to, because on swimming mornings I end up with two 10-minute journeys rather than one 25-minute journey, and it hardly seems worth getting my knitting out, and I often end up using the homeward journey to catch up on the day’s activity on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram rather than knitting). The slipped stitches do make for a tighter fabric, and the tops of the legs are quite tight around my calves despite being worked over considerably more stitches than I’d normally use, but they do fit, and they’re lovely bright socks for spring.

Everything Changes But Ewe

They say life begins at 40*. Certainly, since I turned 40 last year my life has changed so much it really feels like a new beginning. A year ago, I was chronically depressed, working in a job I hated, surrounded by people I didn’t get on with, in a field I more or less fell into in my early 20s and which I had never really been enthusiastic about. I was already heading full-tilt for the breakdown that came a couple of months later.

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Now, as I approach 41, I seem to have managed to bid the black dog goodbye, for now at least. I’ve just started a new job, in a different field which I hope I will continue to find as interesting and fulfilling as I have done so far. I have built strong working relationships with my new colleagues. It feels very much like the beginning of a new life. It’s exciting, and wonderful, and also scary and overwhelming at times.

So I’m glad, when it all gets too scary and overwhelming, that not everything is new. I can still reach for my needles and yarn and make one stitch after another, steadying me, grounding me, reminding me that every project is just a series of individual stitches, and every life is a series of steps, and even when it all seems new and strange it’s based on the same techniques I’ve known for years. It’s just a case of putting them in a slightly different order; deep down, the knowledge is all there already.

*In fact, the phrase appears to have been popularised by a self-help book published in the 1930s to help people deal with the rapid increase in life expectancy at the start of the twentieth century.

A Playful Day

(Posted in response to this week’s Love Your Blog theme of “Beginnings”; to read other posts on the theme, go here.)

A handbag!

I am somewhat obsessed with bags. Not designer bags – I hate blingy bags, prefer lightweight fabric or nylon to leather, and will always rank practical considerations over aesthetic ones – but I’m always looking for the perfect bag, the one that will be both pretty and practical and will be just the right size to fit all the things I want to carry. (Actually, I have probably already found the most perfect bag I’m ever going to find, my purple Kipling New Raisin, but I keep looking just in case I come across one that’s even more perfect.) I hate all the bags in the shops at the moment (bling is definitely in, as are straps so short you can only carry the bags in your hands), so I thought maybe I’d try my hand at making my own. I really like the look of this convertible bag, but for my first attempt I decided to use a kit from U-Handbag, to make their Simply Stylish Bag.

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I wasn’t entirely impressed with the kit; it arrived without the printed pattern, though a pdf version was emailed promptly in response to my query about this, and when I came to make the bag I found there was barely enough fleece included and definitely not enough interfacing (I ended up having to piece together scraps to interface one of the bag pieces, as I was making it on Easter Sunday and none of the shops were open). Also, there were some small errors in the instructions, where RS and WS were mixed up and if I hadn’t used common sense and looked at the photos I would have ended up with the pocket and the tab back to front, and there was also a step where it said “do this to prepare for topstitching” and then didn’t actually tell you to topstitch, but it wasn’t too tricky for an intermediate sewer to make.

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The kit came with a short leather strap (about 60cm) but I much prefer bags to have longer straps that I can wear across my body (shoulder straps always slide off my shoulder unless I hold them there), so I ordered some webbing and a metal slider and ring to make a cross-body strap for the bag, which I like a lot better.

It’s come out very nicely, though I’m not actually sure I’ll use it; the open top, with only the flap as closure, seems rather insecure, and the bag is wider and shallower than I prefer. It’s certainly not right for my everyday stuff, though I might find a use for it on weekends; then again, the main point of making it was to learn how to make a bag, not to have a new bag, so that’s fine.

Finding my people

A Playful Day

I grew up as a geek before the internet. Which was pretty miserable, as I moved from one deep obsession to the next (Narnia, Swallows and Amazons, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Tolkein, Katherine Kurtz, the Chalet School, Doctor Who, Asimov, Anne McCaffery, Ursula Le Guin) in a world where no-one else even knew what I was talking about. Sometimes I managed to convince my friends to read the books I was obsessed with, but even when they liked them they never seemed to fall in love with them as I did. I discovered Doctor Who Magazine when I was about 12, so I knew that there were other Doctor Who fans out there, but I was pretty sure they were all grown up, and I was only 12. There were half a dozen other geeks in my year at school, and by fourth year, when the whole school year started being taught together for GCSEs, we found each other in the top sets for every subject and became friends, but although they were also geeks they weren’t necessarily geeky about the same things as I was; they tended to be more into epic fantasy and role-playing games, whereas for me it was Doctor Who and hard SF and history and Jane Austen and E M Forster. So, while it was nice to have people to sit with at break and lunchtime, they were fellow-travellers rather than soulmates. And then I went to university and concentrated on being an English literature and feminism geek. This worked quite well and I did meet a lot of like-minded people, but then when I left university I lost touch with everyone as people went travelling, moved to different cities, got caught up in building careers and adult lives and couldn’t find the time to answer letters. And I was back to being a geek alone, working in places where absolutely no-one understood the things I was interested in.

I’d discovered the internet in my last year at university, or what passed for the internet in 1995. I’d found Usenet, so I knew that the internet was full of people who were interested in the things I was interested in and wanted to discuss them, but I didn’t own a computer, let alone an internet connection. It wasn’t until a few years later, after I’d met T, that we finally got an internet connection in his flat. I didn’t have a lot of time online; we had a dialup connection on a single PC, and I was only there on the weekends anyway. I signed up to and mostly lurked, but unsubscribed after a few months because I was overwhelmed by new messages. I did better with, and was disappointed that by the time I got there alt.wesley.crusher.die.die.die was pretty much dead.

Where it really took off, though, was Buffy. I started watching the series mid-way through season 2, because I read an article about it in the Guardian that made it sound like exactly my kind of thing, and I was hooked. And by then, Usenet was being superseded by bulletin boards, which I found much easier to deal with, and I joined the Buffy UK board (which was subsequently replaced by Tangent 21). I met one of my best and oldest friends through those boards, and there are other people I still see around the internet fairly regularly. I even conquered my shyness and my fear of London and went to a couple of meetups. And then, in 2002, I decided to try out the new thing lots of people were talking about, called LiveJournal.

Livejournal is a blogging site, but it’s also a community site. It has the best commenting function of any blog site I’ve ever seen, making it really easy to have in depth discussions of posts, while the customisable security settings make it possible to talk about sensitive subjects without necessarily making them visible to the entire internet. And the “friending” functionality made it possible not only to find and read the blogs of interesting and like-minded people, but to show your interest by adding them to your friends list, hopefully prompting them to check out your journal and starting a dialogue that could lead to friendship. I met most of my friends through LJ. I started knitting because other people on LJ were knitting. I discovered SF fandom, which I would have adored if I’d found it when I was 15 but which, in my late 20s, didn’t quite suit the person I’d become. I felt like I really belonged, in a way I never had before.

I set up this blog in 2009, mostly to avoid boring the non-knitters on my LJ friends list with knitting posts. I’d set up other specialised blogs before, but somehow this one stuck. LJ has got very quiet now, though there are still people there and I value it as a space to discuss more private issues with my friends, but my social life has moved away from my space there on the fringes of SF fandom; thanks in a large part to Ravelry, the social space I now inhabit is made up of crafters: knitters, crocheters, spinners, weavers, sewers, jewellery makers, dyers. Fibre festivals, especially the independently organised ones like Glasgow School of Yarn or Unwind Brighton, are our equivalent of the fan-run conventions in SF circles; our chance to meet and talk nineteen to the dozen sharing our passions, to put faces to names, to admire each other’s handiwork.

Of course, just sharing a hobby isn’t enough. Our interest in making things was what brought us together, but what holds us is our shared interests in other things. My favourite Ravelry group is the Archers Listeners, where we discuss all manner of things only tangentially (if that!) related to The Archers; they were the people who inspired me to start running. Discussions at my knitting group often turn to SF books. There are knitting patterns inspired by Doctor Who, by Buffy, by Star Trek, by Terry Pratchett. We aren’t just crafters, we are people who craft.

I’m so glad I came back to my blog. I’m loving writing again (you might have worked this out from the sheer number of posts!). I enjoy talking about the things that interest me, wherever those conversations take place, but what I’ve missed since the LJ days is the chance to do what I’m doing here, now: to work out my thoughts at length, to put them up here and say to everyone out there, this is what I think. How about you?

(This post was written in reponse to Kate at A Playful Day‘s “Love Your Blog” challenge, on this week’s theme of community and interactions. To read other posts on this week’s theme, check out the links here.)