FO: Byatt

When Karie Westermann released her Byatt shawl pattern in January, I was instantly smitten. I loved the unusual shape of the shawl, and the way it transitions from plain garter stitch to stripes to lace. At the time I’d just cast on for Ysolda’s mystery KAL in some blue and orange Falkland merino from The Yarn Yard, and I couldn’t help thinking how nice those colours would look as a Byatt. When I decided that the mystery shawl really wasn’t working for me, the answer was obvious: frog it, and cast on for a Byatt instead. So that’s what I did.

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I really enjoyed knitting this. I love garter stitch anyway, and by the time I started to feel a little bored of going backwards and forwards I was almost at the slip-stitch striped section, which was interesting to knit without being complicated, and then the lace section was similarly easy to memorise. I didn’t have enough of the blue yarn to do the three repeats of the slip-stitch section specified in the pattern, and had to make do with two; on the other hand, I could actually have done another repeat of the lace, but I think it’s fine as it is. It’s blocked out to a good size to wear wrapped round me, and the merino is lovely and squishy and very cosy.

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The only A.S. Byatt I’ve read was Possession, which I read while I was in sixth form and loved. I’ve always meant to read more, so I thought I’d co-ordinate my knitting and my reading material by reading The Children’s Book. Unfortunately, this was less successful than I’d hoped; the book was beautifully written, but unlike Possession‘s compelling literary detective story it didn’t really seem to have much of a plot, and there were so many characters I couldn’t manage to care much about any of them. I’m disappointed, as I really wanted to like the book, but I spent six weeks on it and still wasn’t quite halfway through, and having put it aside to read some Terry Pratchett in tribute to the great man I really have no desire to pick it up again.

This Girl Can

If you live in England, you may have come across Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign to encourage women of all ages to take more exercise. I’ve been very impressed with the campaign, with its focus on “ordinary” women rather than elite athletes (however inspirational Olympic gold medal winners may be, their achievements are so far out of the league most of us are in that it’s hard to translate them into practical motivation) and on exercising for all kinds of reasons, not just as a complement to dieting or even for its health benefits.

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I’ve never been keen on exercise. PE at school was far and away my least favourite subject. I was slow and uncoordinated; being short-sighted and having double vision almost certainly affected my performance in ball games (somehow it never occured to me to wear my glasses for PE; glasses were something you took off, like your watch) and I never quite managed to understand the rules (spending two years in another country and not being there when everyone else learnt the rules of netball probably didn’t help), while as an early developer the discomfort and embarrassment of breast movement was yet another reason to hate the lessons (for years I’ve said “why weren’t we encouraged to wear sports bras?”, but Wikipedia tells me that the first sports bra wasn’t invented until 1977 and wasn’t sold to a major manufacturer until 1990, so maybe sports bras just weren’t widely available when I was at secondary school in the 1980s. I wonder if girls at school now wear sports bras for PE?). My favourite thing about leaving school was not having to do PE any more.

Since leaving school, while I’ve never been a massively fit person, I have found physical activities that I enjoy. I’ve always liked walking, and when I was at university I learned to enjoy swimming. I belonged to a gym for a while, and even ran a 5k race some years ago. Last summer, after having done very little apart from walking for several years, getting less brisk and more ambly all the time, I started running again using the Get Running app and was very happily running for 30 minutes three times a week when I managed to badly strain a calf muscle just before Christmas. I haven’t been able to run since then (though I’m hoping to start again soon) but by that point I was enjoying exercise so much that I wanted something to replace it and have rediscovered my love of swimming and also started doing yoga to build up my strength and flexibility in the hope that that will help minimise injuries when I start running again. And it’s brilliant. I love the way I feel when I’m exercising regularly.

Now, I’m not suggesting for a minute that “exercise cures depression”, as some people (including medical professionals, who should jolly well know better) would have us believe. It doesn’t. Exercise makes me happy, and makes me feel good, but apart from anything happiness and feeling good don’t actually preclude depression; depression isn’t the same as sadness, and for me at least it’s absolutely possible to have moments of happiness within the overall gloom of depression. They just don’t happen very often, and don’t have any lasting benefit. And depression makes everything so hard that telling a depressed person to try going for a run and blaming them for their depression if they don’t is pretty much the same as telling them their depression would get better if they only went to the Moon, so why aren’t they there already.

On the other hand, I find that exercise-induced endorphins are very good at dispelling temporary gloom, and exercising can pull my brain out of grooves it’s got stuck in, so it does help me deal with stress and anxiety. And the real magic is the physical confidence exercise gives me. I’ve never been particularly comfortable in my own body and for a very long time all my self-esteem was based on my intellectual abilities. Which was OK when I was the cleverest person (or one of a very small number of cleverest people) in my class at school, less good when I was achieving a solidly average high 2.1 at university and getting good but not great marks in my accountancy exams, and no good at all in the world of work where people skills count for at least as much as pure intelligence (yes, even in finance) and I had to spend 20 years working my way up from the very bottom. And exercise changes all that. Suddenly I feel secure and confident in my own body. I’m more than just my brain. When my arms and legs will keep me going up and down the pool for a full 20 lengths, when my muscles will twist and stretch through half an hour of yoga, when I run just that little bit further every time, then I know I exist in my body, that it will do what I ask it to, and although it may never win prizes it can already do more than I ever thought possible. And it’s helped me to attain a kind of balance that I hope will help me to maintain mental stability in the longer term; another weapon in the armoury I’ve built up to fight the black dog when he comes calling.

February and March in numbers

I forgot to post any numbers for February, because it was a short month and I didn’t really realise it was over until we were already into March, so this post is two months together.

Fibre in: 100g. The February instalment of the Hilltop Cloud Best of British club. (The March instalment arrived today, so I’m counting that as an April addition. That will be the last instalment, as Katie has decided to rejig her club offerings, but I had already decided to give up my subscription as I’m not spinning enough to justify getting 100g of fibre every month.)

Fibre out: none, though I have done some spinning after a hiatus of a few months.

Yarn in: 2 skeins. I’ve mostly been managing not to buy anything, but I did a class at Purlescence and couldn’t resist buying these two 200g skeins of Fyberspates Scrumptious, some of the very last hand-dyed Fyberspates yarn as Jeni is concentrating on her commercial ranges now.

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It’ll make a lovely cardigan. Because I really didn’t have enough jumper quantities of yarn in my stash. Honest, guv…

Yarn out: Also two skeins, so at least the stash has remained stable. One sock yarn, one 4-ply silk.

WIPs cast on: two. A pair of Leyburn socks in Laughing Yaffle sock yarn and a Simmer Dim in 4-ply silk which I hope will make a nice summer shawl.

WIPs finished: also two, the Bobbie gloves and my Byatt shawl, which I will post pictures of this weekend.

So it hasn’t been such a bad couple of months, really. Yarn stash and WIPs stable, and only 100g of fibre in, while for the year as a whole I’m still 5 skeins of yarn down (although I’m up 200g of fibre and 1 WIP and frankly 5 skeins is not actually going to make that much of a dent in my stash – but at least it’s still not increasing in size!).

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…