So today you sold your house, your home for 17 years. Mine for nearly as long, though maybe, deep down, just as long. That could explain the tears. Goodness only knows how you feel. As an adult myself (not a "grown-up", you understand, I was climbing trees only yesterday), a mother and a home-owner, I think that I can say that I am a little more understanding - although I in no way claim to have got all the bases covered.
The move into Maison Lymer signalled the end of an extended period of part-time separation of your husband, our father, from us - "us" being you and your five children - as he commuted from our home in Essex to his new job in mid-Wales. As you know, my Husband is sometimes away for work but never have I had to cope with such a long-term separation. Never during the sale and purchase of a house. And never with five children. And whilst the permanent family reunion might have provided some relief, you left behind your mother and sister – both had been within an hours reach in the car; now you were looking at least four hours of driving and without the convenience and informality that comes with geographical closeness. That can't have been easy. Quite the opposite, in fact.
And then you swapped a (seemingly) full and vibrant life, where everyone and everything was within walking distance, to not knowing anyone, not having a school gate at which to converse (since we, and many others, used the school bus) and having to get in the car for everything. Given our recent moving into the countryside, this, this I'm "getting" a little. It can be oh-so-isolating. Yet also oh-so-wonderful.
We moved when I was, crickey, how old was I? 15? I'd been there at the auction where the farm was divided into its designated five lots, "our" lot being the farm house and a small field. I was with Daddy at the auction, as he bided higher than the amount that you'd both agreed. I remember the conflicting emotions: Guilt that he'd done so and I hadn't stopped him; a solid sense that I was betraying you; excitement in the adrenaline-filled auction room; annoyance and despair at the opposing bidder; the sure teenage "rightness" that we should get the house, that it was clearly ours and only ours. As you know, we lost the house that day but through a series of legal twists and turns, what we thought we lost, we found. Or rather, it found us.
The house itself was a wreck. Of course, I didn't realise how much work needed to be done until I look back on it now – and I'm sure that I don't remember the half of it. I can visualise the photos of a corner of the house being supported by a "jack" as foundations were rapidly replaced. I remember floor boards, lots of bare floor boards and then floors with no boards. Vaguely I remember these things but what I most remember is that way that you very quickly, almost instantaneously, made it a home. Our home. Despite working full time (and have I mentioned the five children?), you produced curtain upon duvet cover upon cushion upon blind. You hung wall paper and you painted. I have no idea how long it was before the house was decorated but in my memory, it doesn't seem that long. Children moved bedrooms, ceilings fell down (okay, only one), yet life carried on. We went to school, we played, we did our homework, we had friends round, visitors came and went and came again. It would have been mayhem in my home, but not yours.
I was trying to think of my happiest memory from this time, and I can't, there are too many. There's the time we went to visit a new friend / neighbour at the top of the road and came home with a horse. (Borrowed horse, but even so.) Selecting the wall paper for my bedroom (I felt so grown-up!) and the joy and delight at how you made it all work. Right down to the vase – which wasn't appreciated as a moody teenager but is now treasured. The pride in bringing Boyfriend, now Husband, home to meet you for my 21st Birthday (even if this included a twisty drive to the hospital in Aberystwyth to visit my grandmother – excellent first introduction to the family). And then, of course, there's my wedding. The first of three that you've hosted - such wonderful, generous gifts you have given to the three of us who have married from home. And not just the day itself, but the preparation. Oh my goodness, the preparation. The laying of concrete, installation of a temporary kitchen, the cleaning and cleaning and cleaning (the receptions were held in a barn, a very old barn). And I know that I don't know the half of it. How you "saved" the wedding dress I'd made (who else was going to tell me that it was too big?), the stunning dresses you made for my sisters to wear as my bridesmaids and your stunning, oh-so-gorgeous outfit. My mother do things by halves? Never. Ever.
And then, of course, there are the every day things that mean so much, especially when you think that they're being taken away. I can picture you in your sewing room but I can't count all the finished projects that have come out of there. We've knitted together in that house. In the kitchen (do you remember ripping out that entire black cardigan because I'd made it too big?), the sitting room, the garden. At least you don't have a stash to move. But we've knitted together in many other places too. My home, Rowan HQ, New York... The important thing is that we've been together and we're still together now. Our relationship has been woven in ways that I would have never have dared hoped and continues to grow, and grow stronger. That house may have provided the backdrop, but the people were, are, its focus. You've always been people-orientated, it's one of your most beautiful qualities.
So I just want to say thank you. Thank you for the giving us the opportunity to grow-up, as individuals and a family, and thank you for giving us such a magnificent home in which to do so. I know it hasn't always been easy and I thank you for the sacrifices and hard-ships you have endured to make it work. I pray that these will not re-visit you in your new house and I wish you every joy in your plans to make it your home. At the beginning of this next chapter in your life, I send you all my love. I look forward to seeing you in your new home (though before then too) and being allowed to contribute. Have I mentioned to you my new love of quilting?
Yesterday, I was one of the fortunate few to attend Edinburgh's first ever "Stitch Gathering
", organised by Jo Avery
. Contrary to my usual stitches, this was a sewing, more accurately a quilting, event, and so this definitely counted as being "fun but outside my comfort zone" - having never quilted (!). But it was during Edinburgh's first ever YarnFest
that friend, K, and I were "recruited" and, given the absence of complicated prerequisites (and I did make my own wedding dress, after all), we signed up just as soon as we could.
Preparation for the big day started long before the gathering itself: We were sent fabric tickets accompanied by a suggestion to embellish them in whatever way we desired so that the resulting pieces could be combined into a quilt to mark the event. Given that my preparation didn't actual start until "not enough time before" Sunday, I'm ashamed to say that my ticket was one of the few naked ones. (Maybe I should I ask for it back so I can contribute more fully?) I did, however, produce the required name badge: This was a community event so we were asked to make a name badge for a designated partner – and pretty much the only criterion was to use stitches. Unsurprisingly, my first instinct had been to knit something but in keeping with the spirit of the day, the name badge I made was created using fabric (Liberty Lawn and silk left over from my bridesmaids' dresses, in case you're interested), needle and thread. Given Jo's blog
on the subject, I guessed that my effort was going to be atypical – and so I was extremely relieved when my name badge buddy, Nicola, was seemed pleased with the corsage.
I'm absolutely delighted with the badge that she made me! Nicola had googled me and, on discovering that I'm a knitter, she thoughtfully embroidered a ball of wool and some knitting needles on the piece she made using the remains from a quilt she made for her daughter. I shall treasure it.
As well as the opportunity to improve my skill base, I have to confess that one of the retreat's elements that I was looking forward to was the goody bag. Not normally high on my list, but from the outset we had been promised a "goody bag to die for". I was not disappointed. As you can see from the photo, we were given a Liberty bag (mine was in blue – perfection) filled with almost countless delights: A roll of fat quarters, a box of sewing threads, a thread and yarn cutter, a button tin, some needles, a hexagon flower block set, a fabric pen, more fabric including some Liberty lawn, buttons, embroidery silks, broach, pen, oat cakes and water. Happy days.
After distribution of the goody bags, swapping of the name badges, the real business began with the first workshop of the day. We'd been given a choice of three and K and I were both learning how to make bibs with Julie Rutter
. From its description, I'd assumed that this was a beginner's class (I remember some comment about this being a good place to learn how to sew curves), but I thought that it would provide a good reminder of machine patchwork – and I was in no way disappointed. Julie is lovely: A great teacher, very personable and extremely talented with a good eye for colour and design. She is also a very good baker of cookies (and thank you so much for those!). I felt that her workshop was perfect: Interesting, enjoyable and with a completed bib at the end. A whole class of completed bibs
, in fact - brilliant!
Lunch followed the first workshop and with it came the opportunity to admire what some of our fellow "retreaters" had been creating. My badge buddy, Nicola, had made a beautiful pin cushion with Jo whilst others had been experimenting with some crazy patchwork. Jo hosted a "Show and Tell" where a few of us presented some previous work – embroidery, quilting and so on. I didn't think I had a contribution until fellow attendees Lesley and Catherine persuaded me to show the bag
I made with Poppy Treffry
. And I'd like to thank everyone there for their generous and kind comments.
After the fat quarter swap and lucky dip, the afternoon session began with our second workshop. I had opted to learn how to do paper piecing – something that I hadn't even heard of until the workshop programme was released! (See how brave I was!!) In the beginning, this was more than a bit of a brain teaser and I struggled to see how any of the teeny, tiny pieces of fabric that I'd lovingly cut were going to form the finished mat. Thankfully I wasn’t the only one. I think that Jonathan Avery accurately summarised our feelings when he said that "this was taking cutting up bits of fabric only to sew them back together again to the extreme". Still, under the guidance of our able tutor Katy Cameron
, we progressed - inspired somewhat by the delicious cupcakes that she provided as a reward for completing our first section (yummy, yummy – thank you!). As you can see, I didn't complete the mat – but then none of us did so I was in very good company. After the morning's euphoria of a finished project, I was disappointed that I hadn't achieved similarly in the afternoon – particularly since in finishing the mat we would have quilted our work. As it transpires, somewhat belatedly, this had been something that I'd hoped to learn. I'm guessing that a "Beginners Guide to Quilting" might not have had the appeal to some attendees as the specialist workshops offered – though that said, I've attended conferences where there have been sessions teaching the basics alongside expert presentations. Interesting.
On the whole, I thought it was an excellently organised event. The day flowed without interruption from welcoming coffees to the after-show party at Jo's shop. The class rooms were well arranged with appropriate numbers of tables, power points and communal equipment (such as irons and cutting boards). The workshop topics were varied and interesting. Jo was supported by an excellent team of friendly helpers and my colleagues-for-the-day were wonderful. Thank you all for a super time!
Do you ever have those weeks / months / years when it can all get a bit much? When a day firmly planted in front of the "Sound of Music" with your knitting and a box of chocolates should be medically prescribed? I seem to be in the middle of one of these: My sister is emigrating to Australia. A life long ambition of hers realised so big tick – although this, obviously, isn't about the excitement of a new life ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD with her husband and her new job, this about the people she's leaving behind and, specifically, me. Now other sister can't claim to be innocent in all of this either as she's going to be moving "down South" (us residents in Scotland don't have to be any more specific about locations south of the border - although I can tell you it's Kent and that's the OTHER END OF THE COUNTRY) some time soon as her husband has a new job and it's only logical that she and their children should go with him. Apparently. Then there are my parents, selling the ol' family home to live somewhere more suited to couple-dom. And Youngest Son has decided that he only needs to sleep for part of the night - so if I sound a little less robust than normal, you'll know who to blame.
Then there's the usual, every day stuff: Attempting to give my all into being a good "stay at home mum" – while at the same time secretly plotting new workshops and blog entries; building a swing / slide activity centre thing – but forgetting that I might like somewhere to knit, I mean sit, while the fun ensues; ensuring that the cats keep their freshly caught "take out" out of the house; teaching the kittens to be yarn-friendly; confining one of the chickens as she's starting to eat the eggs – a habit that can easily spread to the rest of the flock unless quickly curtailed; knitting for a craft fair; homing a lorry load of furniture from my parents (did I mention that they're moving?) – which, with their generous help, has mostly been achieved but for a few remaining boxes; starting to prepare for the "Modern Quilting Retreat
" I'm attending on Sunday (as in a few days time)...
Now you know me, I like to knit in such unsettled times. Not for craft fairs. Not for work. Not because "I should", but for fun. Pure pleasure. The disappointing news that my sock workshop in Manchester has been cancelled means that the deadline for completing the second sock could be moved to October when I'll be in Sheffield. Now someone more akin to my mother's sensibilities would continue knitting and finish the sock regardless. However, someone like me is more likely to be panic knitting in the week up to the workshop (despite this never being a good idea with lace) or taking the "pair" (one sock finished, one not) as a teaching aid. It also seems that, unless I get my skates on, the jumper that I'm knitting Oldest Son will not actually ever fit him. And whilst there is a Youngest Son, he wasn't the intended first recipient of this garment. So there are at least two projects I should be knitting. And with quite imminent deadlines. So I'm not sure that I can justify the fun knitting.
That said, the new Rowan Magazine is out (have you seen it?) and so I should be knitting something from there as part of my "uniform" (this "should" is said with a definite twinkle in the eye). I was sorely tempted by some of the amazing colour work but have since been persuaded that in the interests of meeting my aim of not just knitting but actually wearing a current garment, I should try something that knits up quickly. Big Wool here I come!
You'll realise, of course, that all of this knitting-related over-thinking is just me seeking a distraction from the rest of my life, as I haven't actually knitted in days. Tis strange that this is one element of my life that I can control, and yet I haven't got the energy or will power to do so. So time continues to pass and the rows remain unknitted. If I could knit my sister or my brother-in-law a more locally based solution, would I? No, of course not. Okay, maybe not. This is part of the rich fabric of our lives, the opportunities sought and taken, the fresh starts, the abandonment of eldest sisters in deepest, darkest Scotland('s Borders) – there'll be tapestries depicting these tales on walls in homes for years to come. I did it, for goodness sake, and everyone supported me.
It's just that I find the build-up to a big, emotional event difficult to cope with – possibly even more so than the occasion itself. I find these times exhausting, the near-constant anxiety of having to face the appointed day head – and heart - on. The last time I see my sister before she leaves; saying goodbye to my other sister and her family, mine and our best friends and playmates. Turns out that I've probably already been to the family home for the last time and, I confess, there is some relief in knowing that. But take a creative journey, and quite the opposite is true: The excitement in planning the details of the project, it's exact design, style and colour; the thrill of casting on; the anticipation as the fabric grows; the sense of accomplishment as the first section and then others, fall off the needles; the pride in finishing.
So this truly is a time to be knitting. A little positiveness might help to off-set some of the other. There's no harm in trying. And, who knows? Oldest Son might actually get his jumper.
Yesterday, I had to throw away a pair of red shoes whose soles were anything but whole; today I put my knee through my last pair of jeans. In terms of my wardrobe, things weren't looking good. As I was verbalising as much to Husband, I happened to mention the invitation I'd had to share a friend's stall at a local craft market. I'd initially declined as the stall is next weekend and I don't have any surplus (completed) projects and nor do I have any surplus time to knit some. I'd barely even finished telling Husband of my D’s response to this – "What? Not even three things?" – while wondering which school of motivational techniques she'd gone to, before I found myself banished upstairs to the studio to knit.
For other reasons, this probably would have been a very welcome action but his enthusiasm for my possible money-making threw me into more than a little of a panic: What on earth was I going to knit? Something small, that didn't take too long to complete and that I could sell for lots of money. And three of them, obviously. Just pass me the golden yarn and I'll get started then.
I think that most knitters will agree that the above wish list is just that, a fantasy. Knitting is not a fast craft (and you crocheters keep quiet, please!). Even small things take a surprisingly long time to knit. And when selling them, I don't believe potential customers are anywhere near ready to pay even a half reasonable rate for the time taken to produce said knitted item. So what was this golden nugget going to be?
Husband suggested a corsage. I thought that this was rather predicable and boring, and rejected the idea (although – and don't tell him just yet – the idea of making a couple is starting to appeal). I quickly scoured my books (see, I always knew they'd come in useful) for ideas, but unfortunately, I'd neglected to purchase "How to Get Rich Fast in Knitting" – but who knows? Maybe after this latest adventure, I'll be writing my own.
Having no idea of the market (literally – I've never been to this craft market) or a full itinerary of the items on the stall I'd be sharing, we (oh yes, I'm sooo sharing the responsibility of this venture) decided that I should start with some smart phone covers. Knitted in the round and with a bit of Kitchener at the base, these should knit up in next to no time. Well, if you call between 90 and 120 minutes "no time", then yes, yes they do.
I presented completed cover number one to Husband who, while generally positive, suggested a few adjustments – which have been included in subsequent designs. As I said, this is a joint venture. Then arose the tricky subject of pricing. It being my knitting, and a project that I just knitted off the cuff (= trivial / easy / simple / absolutely nothing special), I was at a loss to think that anyone would pay anything much for it at all. Husband pointed out that even for mass produced covers, you could easily pay between £5 and £10 – and this was without the beautiful yarn, the hand knitting and the almost seamless end result. In projects such as these, it isn't the raw materials that cost the most it's the (wo)man power and even if you take an optimistic estimation at the national minimum wage, is anyone seriously going to pay £9.29 for a woolly phone cover?
Somewhat sceptical of this venture, I nevertheless decided to continue knitting. After all, I had promised D, who had sensibly made her contribution on a sewing machine, that I would indeed be providing three of something knitted. Husband thoughtfully took the boys out to play so that I'd have just enough time while dinner cooked to have a good stab at cover number two.
Cover number two, I decided, would be nice is a different colour way. In order to do this, I needed to wind the skein into a ball. In our house where we don't have those whirly-twirly winder attachments, this is a two man job. My men were outside having fun so rather than wait for help, I decided that the quickest thing to do would be to wind it myself. Idiot, that I am.
In the hour it took for dinner to cook, I successfully wound a single and very small ball of wool. In the magic that is winding a skein solo, very, very quickly the yarn became a complete mess, a series of tangled knots. There was nothing to do except sit on the floor, find the other end of the yarn, take a very deep breath, not reflect on the stupidity of the situation, and start winding. Looking up, I caught sight of the jumper that I'm knitting for Oldest Son and even in its incomplete state on the needles, it mocked me. For if I wasn’t going to be making phone covers, this time could have been used to continue knitting its back. I begged it to stop and, praying that Husband wouldn't return before the winding was complete, I continued. Obviously we'll be pricing this cover at a mere £15 – and whilst it doesn't include any blood or sweat, there might be a few tears.
Trying to remain positive, I am still knitting – I try, after all, to be a woman of my word. But I have no confidence that even if I can price them, the covers will sell. I imagine a series of expert knitters perusing my handy work, pointing out all the defects and carelessly dropping them back onto the table. I can hear the embarrassment in my friend's voice as she rings to tell me that nothing of mine sold but the whole of the rest of the table was cleared. I can feel my anxiety levels rising and, not for the first time, wish that I'd just knitted myself a patch for my jeans and been done with it.
I'm only a quarter of a way through cover number three so I'd best get back to the needles. Then there's some packaging to consider. And maybe the corsages. To say nothing of the "real" knitting that I'm supposed to be / would like to be doing. Thankfully I only have until this "Woolly Wednesday" to complete my work as I'm meeting D to relinquish my contribution – any longer and I suspect that I'd go properly insane. So watch this space. This time next week I may be addicted to craft stalls – or wrapping up my current efforts Christmas presents for my nearest and dearest.
When you go to your Knitting Group, do you:
(a) Rush to your nearest / favourite yarn shop and buy a pattern and accompanying yarn – because if you didn't, you’d have no knitting to take with you?
(b) Rush to your nearest / favourite yarn shop and buy a pattern and accompanying yarn to take with you?
(c) Raid your stash, looking for a new and interesting project to take?
(d) Raid your selection of WIPs ("Works in Progress") so see if any of those have become more interesting in the time they've been hidden away?
(e) Pick up your knitting bag with your current project – no matter what it is – and take that with you?
If you answered Option (a), then you're probably my mum, a woman of many talents but zero stash. (Hi Mummy- and thanks for checking in!). If you're not my mum then please do introduce yourself: It would be lovely to hear from you and your views on The Stash. We are open to all schools of thought here – and often at the same time!
If you answered (b), (c) or (d) then I'm keen to hear what stopped you taking your usual knitting? Was it the opportunity to (re)start something new in new company? Or perhaps your current project requires deep concentration so wouldn't be appropriate for knitting in company? I doubt any of you would be so insecure as to need to take something a little less ordinary for fear of say, Knitter's Judgement?
Mis-judgements can be terribly hurtful, regardless of its source or subject matter, but somehow seems even more so when from one knitter to another. (Stereotype: Knitters aren't mean to each other. Aren't we supposed to be some of the most inclusive, open-minded people you'd hope to meet?) But allow me to set the scene: Some friends and I were attending the grand opening of a new yarn shop. It promised a famous top designer and cakes. Free cake. (I was going for the cake. I had all the knitting projects I needed.) It wasn't until my mum phoned as I was en route
to the yarn shop that a "need" for a new project presented itself: I needed
to knit something for my sister's first child. As it happened, the famous top designer produced a lot of baby patterns so I was pretty sure that I'd be able to find something. Perusing the many patterns (and somewhat distracted by the absence of the promised cakes), one of the members of staff offered to help. She suggested a garter stitch jacket as it would be very suitable for the novice knitter. Just knitting and with very little shaping. How or why did she think that? Because I wasn't wearing anything hand knitted? Because I hadn't a complicated knitting project poking out of the top of my bag? Because I didn't then open my mouth to correct her? Would it really have been that hard to have engaged me in conversation prior to offering advice? Despite being hurt and a little upset (I thought I was a knitter yet this professional knitting-type person clearly didn't share this opinion - so who was I?!), I bought the pattern book and required yarn – I suspect it was the quickest way to close the conversation. I was in such a rush to get out of the shop that it didn’t even occur to me to ask the top designer to sign my copy (what would she write anyway? "Enjoy your first project"?!), or stop to eat from newly furnished plate of pretty little cup cakes. I'd had none of the positive experiences associated with buying a new project and I wanted out.
It's happened again – and not just to me, but friends too. And although it's not nice, I feel somewhat justified when they've reacted in similar ways. We all know that knitting can be an emotional journey – so why sully it from the start? Is there something that a Professional Knitter is looking for when engaging with other so-called "knitters"? If you're truly accomplished do you give off a slightly different aura, perhaps a haze of some kind? Or do you just never leave the house without something hand knit to complete your outfit? Or maybe you just have the ability to form a comprehensive sentence, gently informing the mis-informed that you've been knitting for a decade or two?
And although this incident happened years ago (Oldest Nephew has just celebrated his fifth birthday), you can tell that I'm still smarting. And it seems that it's influenced my behaviour when knitting in public, even if I'm knitting among close friends. It seems that I try to present an alternative – and fictional - version of Katherine-the-Knitter. One who often brings new – and exciting – projects to the group, not because she's bored (heaven forbid!) or embarrassed of the length of time spent knitting said projects (which has nothing to do with having too many on the needles at the same time) but because she's such a super fast and dedicated knitter. If only.
My friends know the truth, the absolute truth, of my project status, despite the charade I try to perform when out and about. Seriously, did I think that the Edinburgh coffee scene would be unimpressed if they saw me, week after week, knitting Husband's jumper? Unlikely. Turns out that I felt that had to be seen to knit something complicated otherwise perfect strangers might not think that I was a Good Knitter. And, of course, we all know how important the opinion of perfect strangers is. Yet even before these times of change (having my own children, giving up my own work), being recognised as a Knitter was important to me. It was part of what defined me.
It's now part of my job to help out at a knitting group ("Oh how tight are my diamond shoes" ) - "Woolly Wednesday" at the Bead Shop Scotland
, Haddington, in case you're interested. But I don't usually knit. Instead, I spend the time admiring other peoples' work, listening, chatting, helping out with the odd problem. And I do my upmost to never, ever to judge.
Because I see it as part of my role (Little Miss Goody Two-Shoes), I think that I'm the only one who religiously attends wearing something hand-knitted. Of course others will at times too, but carefully chosen garments – not shout-out-loud "I'm a Knitter" garments. There are the sock knitters who might be knitting the same pair of socks over a meeting or two but given that they knit so many, I confess the specific designs have all become a bit of a blur. There are a few garment knitters who seem to rotate between a small number of projects – but return to each at frequent enough intervals so that you can watch them grow. There are the dedicated knitters who loyally work on a single project before starting something new – be it a jacket or a family of teddy bears. There are the small project knitters who flirt from project to project, often finishing what they've started with a most enviable speed. Then there are the knitters to be afraid of. Very afraid. These knitters tend to have a new project each time. A few might actually have completed the last project before starting the next but often these knitters are very comfortable having multiple, multiple projects on the go. And what projects. Look at this beautiful, entrelac blanket I'm creating from left over sock yarn. (I've got left over sock yarn, I could do that.) Yes, this is the second (second!) of Kate Davies' "Rams and Yowes
" blankets I've knitted. (I've never knitted a blanket in the round, I should really try that. Plus, have you seen it? It's stunning.) So this pretty cardigan is knitted from side to side... (Ooh, that sounds interesting – I'd love to try that.) And so it goes on. Seriously, these knitters should come with a health warning.
And what have I learnt? Does it matter what you knit? Not a jot. Does it matter how often you knit the same project? Goodness no. This is a place for knitters to relax and enjoy themselves, to knit as and when they like. Knitting time is precious. And we all know that knitting projects require different levels of attention, which is why we can arm ourselves with relaxing stocking-stitch designs as well as thought-provoking cables or brain-teasing lace. And anyone who doesn't understand that, well, maybe they're not a Proper Knitter.
I've just been invited to a new knitting group, one where I can go as just Katherine. Question is, which Katherine will go? The one who works consistently on one project at a time? Or the one who thinks that she’s got something to prove, a need to justify herself by her many projects? My first meeting is in a fortnight – and I'll let you know.
For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you might be aware that on my recent trip to Cornwall, I listened to "The Knitting Circle" by Ann Hood. This was a truly wonderful experience, not only because it helped pass the many hours alone in the car but because it was, unexpectedly, a deeply moving and interesting book.
I had plucked the CDs almost at random from our local library. Audio CD – tick. Knitting in the title – tick. While I'm normally a little more selective when it comes to the literature I'm going to read, this was my first time borrowing an audio CD and I was just thrilled to have found something knitting related.
After saying goodbye to my boys and leaving them and their "Thomas the Tank Engine" CDs in the care of my parents, I began the business of some "grown-up" listening. And oh my word, it really is grown-up. I think that I'd been expecting some light-hearted knitting chat – you know, the kind that often accompanies a group of women knitting, particularly women that only really know each other through the knitting. That's not to say that the conversation is always superficial, it's just that us wily women can be cautious about revealing our souls to strangers.
And yes, this feeling was reflected in the book – but so also were the intimate, highly personal, highly emotive secret-tellings between the women. If I hadn't been driving, I'm sure that I would have wept at times. Yet this is also a knitting novel, and discussions on yarn and techniques were scattered throughout. If I hadn't been driving, then I would have picked up my needles to try a few.
I've just stumbled across Ann's webpage and found a little background to her writing – here's the link
in case you'd like to see it too. Thank you Ann, as a knitter and a mother who has grieved, your book touched me on many levels.
If you're wondering why I haven't picked up the needles in a while, it might have something to do with creating elsewhere. Outside, in fact, in my newly found pleasure of gardening. Now, since I've had a garden for all of about five minutes, I'm not claiming to be an expert of any kind. However, even in this limited time, I have noticed a few similarities between this and knitting.
To start with, both activities seem to require an optimistic – if not unrealistic – frame of mind. How many gardeners do you know who have "finished" their garden? How many knitters do you know who have knitted all that they want to? Constant commitment is required and for those of us who dabble with both, it's a wonder we have time to do anything else. Our shared thought processes can be seen in other ways. Some Gardeners, I understand, make the kind of New Year resolutions that wouldn't sound that unfamiliar to your common knitter: "This year, I will finish the herb garden / water feature / decking / whichever of the many projects I started some time ago and have yet to complete." "I’ll stop spending money on new plants, instead using some of the many seeds I already have (neatly stored away) or take cuttings from existing plants in my garden / those of my family and friends." "How many pairs of secateurs does one gardener need? Seriously, I need to rein in the accessory buying." Sound familiar?
Then there's the output, the finished product (if any). We are enjoying our first "crop" (and I use the word generously) of produce from the garden: Lettuce aplenty, cucumbers and strawberries continue to be consumed while there's the promise of tomatoes, raspberries and apples to come. Admittedly, none of these have been grown from seed, but most have been re-planted, watered, tendered, watered, rescued from slugs and other nasties and watered, watered and watered. Which, in our case, is done via watering can and hose – neither automatically and so both time consuming. Not that one ever does, but if one were ever so foolish as to calculate the cost of a unit of fruit / vegetable coming out of the garden, I believe the number would be eye-watering expensive, mainly due to the (wo)man hours. A bit like knitting then. Which is why most knitters, like gardeners, never claim to knit for the sole purpose of the end result: To them, the journey is just as (if not more) important than then finished product. Oh yes, this is one hymn sheet we can definitely share.
But then there are the specifics of the actual gardening "tasks". Take mowing the grass, for example. To me, this is a little like knitting Fair Isle. Now for some of you, this might be more akin to knitting plain stocking-stitch having, as you probably do, lawns made up almost exclusively of, erm, grass. Not so with us. In amongst our grass are daisies, buttercups and other green-leafed infiltrators than I quite merrily decapitate with the mower. So while I might end up with (mostly) consistent coverage of the ground, it's not all of the same plant – hence I mow Fair Isle. Speaking of mowers, we have two. The first is an electric jobby that reminds me of knitting Fair Isle with one hand: Slow and often frustrating, particularly at the end of each row, when you have to flip over the cable to prevent it been chewed up by the mower on the next run / untangle it from the feature stone unhelpfully placed in the middle of the grass. And then there's all-to-frequent emptying of the grass bag which extensively prolongs the task of mowing – often the way with these associated – and yet essential - duties. Mowing, with our sit-on tractor, now that's like knitting Fair Isle with both hands: Faster and a lot less frustrating. No cables to fuss over or restrain our movements; the bigger trailer means less frequent grass emptying, less time wasted. Oh yes, the tractor is quite the machine.
Speaking of colour work, it seems that I much prefer intarsia when working outside. I really love being able to see where – on the surface – one plant ends and another starts. I take pleasure in creating those seas of soil surrounding the islands of green stems and foliage and I'm really taking to container pots. My one wee niggle is that I don't really know what I'm doing, can't always tell weed from non-weed. Sometimes, this bothers me a great deal, especially since the previous owners of the garden (and house) are professional gardeners. I'm acutely aware that I'm undoing their hard-work and that saddens me. On the other hand, this is now our garden and we're not professional gardeners. In fact, half of this family are under that age of four and that half want the garden for (in no particular order) scootering, paddling (in the pool), eating, running, climbing, chasing (each other, me, cats etc), watering (of the patio, decking – anything that’s in easy reach of the paddling pool with a bucket) and so on. With a few exceptions, the presence or absence of anything other than grass is of little interest to them. Then the other two of us – who are quite a bit older than four – may have aspirations to return the garden to some of its former glory but are restricted somewhat by the practicalities of such a task. And in these moments, I have been known to near-strip a bed, leaving only a few pretty plants (one hopes they're not all weeds) and moving a few containers to cover the bare soil. Usually around this time, conversations meriting the value of turning the existing beds in the "big garden" back to grass may be heard but these are, so far, being rejected by the male – and, quite frankly, unrealistic – member of the parenting duo. (Harsh words, oh knitter, harsh words. Perhaps these plant beds are Husband's Stash. Ponder on that, why don't you, and then see how eager you are to purge.)
Turns out that with gardening, I'm quite the little "finisher". Not just content to cut the grass, I want to neaten the edges too. We have a strimmer to this but I confess that I don’t much like it. Using the strimmer is like weaving in ends with a crochet hook: Clumsy and without the degree of finesse that I desire. You know how the finishing can make or break a project, well so too can the strimming. Mainly I seem to be breaking the strimmer wire but the honeysuckle also had a lucky escape. Bring out the long-handled clippers, I say.
And then there's the pruning. That was my "steeking" devil as I was very, very apprehensive the first time I picked up my secateurs but now I'm happy to cut both plant and yarn. Funny how things change. As, no doubt, will my view on gardening.
But now, it's the midge-ing hour, signally the time to go inside and perhaps tonight I will seek out my needles – as, unlike the outside projects, these knitted ones don't grow themselves.
Is that a sock hanging by it's (partially knitted) heel flap?
As you're probably aware, I've been giving a fair few sock workshops, which has been absolutely fab. However, in amongst all of these socks being knitted by other people, it's only just dawned on me that there haven't been any socks on my needles for quite a long time. Well, since the 4th April when I finished the last pair – although it feels a lot longer than two months. Must have something to do with all of the other projects I've completed. (I have told you about Husband's jumper, yes?)
Coincidentally, or perhaps I should more honestly say "inspirationally", Rowan sent me a skein of their beautiful new sock yarn: Fine Art
. Made from merino wool, kid mohair and mulberry silk, it really is the yarn of angels – and after reading about the women who have hand-painted the yarn
to give its gorgeous colours, I'm sure that you’ll agree that this is an apt description. I was given "Phesant", which has lots of browns and reds in it, so you'd be right in thinking that it might not have been "my" colour. However, in terms of socks, it's spot on! Clearly this yarn is to be knitted into socks that are seen and I have just the right selection of brown shoes in which to do this. Thank you, Rowan: You made exactly the right choice for me.
So yarn sorted, I needed a pattern. And oh my goodness, this was tough. I was pretty sure that I wanted a Rowan (or at least "Coats") pattern thereby allowing Little Miss Goody-Two Shoes to model her Rowan yarn in a Rowan pattern. But, as you may also know, until very recently, Rowan didn't have that many sock patterns – and now living in the countryside, we don't have a John Lewis on our door-step with their extensive – and convenient – range of knitting patterns. (And yes, even in "Hicksville" we have the internet, although in my experience, books don't tend to be bought in ones, or even twos, and such extravagances really aren't needed. Particularly when it comes to knitting patterns.) But the answer arrived on my doorstep in the pages of the current version of "The Knitter
" by Barb Brown. Beautiful lace socks designed for Rowan's Fine Art. Super. Thank you, The Knitter.
As you can see, "Alda
" is knitted in blue ("Kingfisher") and aside from using "Phesant", there is one other change that I'm going to make: If you look closely at the photo, you can see a slight discrepancy in the colour way at the top of the foot. Now, this could be a variation in the yarn itself but I'm more inclined to think that it's where the heel gusset has been knitted as a continuation from the yarn that was used in the heel. This means that the colour sequence of the yarn is slightly "out" when compared to the rest of the leg, hence we have this disturbance in the colour pattern. In an attempt to avoid this, when I get to the heel, I'm going to stop knitting with the yarn from the outside of the ball (as I've been using for the leg) and, instead, use the yarn from the middle of my ball. This should be fine as the heel is knitted differently from the rest of the sock (using stocking-stitch rather than the lace pattern and using straight knitting rather than in the round) so the heel often looks distinct from the rest of the sock. Then, when I start knitting the gusset (and the top of the foot), I'll go back to end of the yarn I first used so that the colour way continues in its original pattern. Savvy?
And now the heart of the challenge: The timescale. You all know that I can knit socks, but you also know that, given even less than half a chance, I'll start knitting them and then get distracted by another project (or six) so it'll be months or years before they're complete. But this will not be the case with these socks. Oh no. The first of these socks will be completed in the three weeks I'm teaching my "Anatomy of a Sock" class at the Wool Shop Scotland
, in Haddington. In week one, we 'cast on the socks and knitted the leg and this is what I'll do so, that by week two, I'll be knitting the heel along with the group. Actually, it would be ideal if I could be a few rounds ahead as it would be wonderful if the class could see a finished sock in week three – but I'm aware that’s probably not realistic so they’ll have to see it at a Woolly Wednesday
. I’ll finish the second sock in time for my next workshops in the Trafford Centre in September and Sheffield in October
. Sounds good, eh? Too good? Let's see.
So, watch this space for progress. Week Two of the class is on Monday, tomorrow. So I'd better get back to my needles.
Okay, so it's been a while. Again. And I'm really sorry. If it's any comfort, then my knitting is also feeling neglected – to the extent that I'm beginning to wonder if I'm ever going to finish my current project, let alone wear it at the beginning of next month. Anyhoo.. I thought that I'd share with you some of the things that have been distracting me (in a pleasant way) and keeping me from my needles: My garden and other animals.
So the chickens continue to be a source of education. The three laying hens (Custard, Pepper and Salt, in case you're wondering) have been on strike for the last week or so. Turns out they're broody (again). Now I thought that a hen had to be sitting on an egg (or several) to be broody so that shows how much I don't know. Anyway, we turned them out of their house this morning and locked the door behind them so they had no choice but to get a good dose of sunlight (such as it was) and have a proper meal. And then this evening there was an egg. It's a start.
And then there are the plants. Bearing in mind that this is our first garden, I'm trying my hardest not to jump in with an unmanageable number of "projects" (does this sound familiar?!!) but I fear that I may not be succeeding. Truly there's more than enough to do without us adding new plants to the mix but what's the point in having empty greenhouses? So we're growing tomatoes (four different varieties), pepper (three kinds), lettuces (too many to be sensible) and strawberries (three varieties). Outside, "we've" (my dad) just planted raspberry and gooseberry bushes and a pear tree - and so with the existing apple trees, we have the beginning of an orchard (hee, hee).
Unlike knitting, I'm hopeful that these projects are capable of looking after themselves, doing most of their "work" during the night-time hours when I'm asleep. Because this is so new to me – and because I haven't spent hours reading around the subject – I'm a little nervous that I'm missing something important in their welfare. Watch this space. I really do hope to bring you some fruitful news.
But speaking of things that don't happen on their own, I think that I'll try to get a couple of rows knitted. I'm on the first sleeve of my jumper – if I could find my row counter then I'd be able to tell you how far I've progressed. Oh dear. Maybe I won't be knitting tonight after all (sigh).
On the brighter side, here are a few more piccies from the garden this evening.