FO: Olympic Forest National Park

My A-Z of shawls ended up having something of a hiatus after I finished my Nuvem. I did start knitting Boo Knits’ Out of Darkness as my O, but ended up chucking it in the bin as the yarn I was using turned out to have quite bad moth damage. I was sorry about the waste of time, but I wasn’t actually too sad not to have the shawl, as I’d had some doubts about whether delicate beaded lace was really my kind of thing. I don’t do fancy outfits; my shawls are part of my normal everyday wardrobe and I tend to opt for simpler patterns which make more use of colour and texture, rather than complicated lace. It took me a while to find an alternative, but after spending quite a lot of time searching Ravelry I eventually came across Very Busy Monkey’s Olympic National Park and fell in love with the tree and leaf design.

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Obviously, such a leafy shawl needed to be green, and I picked an almost-solid merino/silk from Skein Queen which had been sitting in my stash for several years.

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It turned out to be a really quick knit, taking me less than a month to finish despite the pattern requiring enough counting that I only tended to work on it at the weekends. Watching the branches and leaves develop was fascinating and made me want to keep on knitting to see the pattern emerge. It’s not a large shawl, but the shallow shape makes it work nicely as a scarf, while the silk content of the yarn makes it feel lighter and more summery than a shawl in 100% wool would do.

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Fashion On The Ration

I was talking to some of the knitters from the Archers Listeners group on Ravelry recently, and someone mentioned our trip to the theatre four years ago and suggested that we should have another get-together. I had just seen an article about the Fashion on the Ration exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, and thought it sounded interesting, and so a plan was hatched and yesterday morning I was up bright and early to catch the coach to London.

In the end there were five of us who managed to make it along. We met at iKnit where we browsed yarn, chatted and knitted, while getting to know the owner Gerard’s two chihuahuas.

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We then headed off to the Imperial War Musuem, where we had time to look at the display about holders of the Victoria Cross and George Cross before going in to the exhibition.

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There were photographs and paintings, like this one by Laura Knight, showing women during the Second World War, but we were most interested in the actual clothes. There were plenty of uniforms, some examples of making do and mending (including a fabulous dress made of patchwork hexagons and a dressing gown from silk maps) and a few knitted things.

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The main focus, though, seemed to be a big display of “Utility” clothes, which included some lovely dresses.

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We were all very much in favour of the principles behind the Utility scheme. I hadn’t realised before that it wasn’t just about ensuring that rationing standards were adhered to, but also about combating the problem of poorly-made clothes which didn’t last, in an environment where replacing worn-out things was problematic. So very different from today’s disposable fashion!

There were also clothes designed to reinforce wartime propaganda, such as this dress which combines an Air Force wings motif with a quote from Churchill’s speech on the Battle of Britain:

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It was a really interesting exhibition, and about the right scale, too; it took us about 40 minutes to wander through and look at all the exhibits, which made it seem worth the £10 entry charge but not so big as to be overwhelming. And some of the clothes were lovely. If you’re interested in clothes and can get to London while the exhibition is on I definitely recommend it.

Just call me Pollyanna

The theme for this final week of the Love Your Blog challenge is “Gratitude”.

A Playful Day

I’m immensely grateful for everything crafting has done for me over the last ten years or so. Without knitting to calm me down and remind me that even when the world seems darkest there is still beauty there, I’m not sure I’d still be here.

I’m grateful to be a knitter in the age of Ravelry and internet shopping which make it so easy so access patterns and yarn.

I’m grateful to all the dyers and designers whose work enables me to create beautiful things. I’m grateful that I live in a country whose climate suits knitwear, and that I have a job that pays me enough to have plenty of money left over for yarn after I’ve covered essentials.

I’m grateful to be able to take public transport to work, so I have more knitting time.

I’m grateful to Bethan for showing me her copy of Stitch’n’Bitch back in 2005 and starting me on this journey, and to all the other friends I’ve met along the way, who’ve made me feel that I’ve finally found a place where I am welcomed and accepted and loved. And I’m grateful for the way that support and acceptance from others has helped me come to accept myself more, too, and to develop confidence in other areas of my life.

I’m grateful to Kate, for dreaming up this interesting, thought-provoking challenge which has really helped to revive my interest in blogging.

I’m grateful to the people who read this blog and interact with me, either here or on Twitter and Facebook, who make me feel that it’s worth while to keep making the effort to create with words as well as with yarn.

And I’m grateful to the sheep, without whom none of this would have been possible. Thank ewe!

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(To read more posts on today’s theme, go here.)

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

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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.

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(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.