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Monday, February 27, 2006

My Secret Pal Keeps on Rocking!!!

First of all, I'd just like to thank everyone for their good wishes on my birthday and also for all their kind words and encouragement regarding my Olympic knitting. It, and the TLC from my DH (which included at one point reading out the 28-row edging pattern to me whilst I rested my aching shoulder against a cushion and knitted) got me through. DH now knows most of the knitting abbreviations! How neat is that? I don't think he's going to become one of those new age men who knit though because, despite all my assurances that he'll love it, he's not convinced. I've also made some new knitting friends through taking part in the Knitting Olympics and have added to the amount of interesting blogs I like to visit.

I, and quite a few others I think, discovered that we were able to find the self-discipline necessary to stick to just one project during the Olympic period and we could also be much more productive than we ever thought possible. No way would I advocate that sort of knitting productivity in the long-term. Knitting, in fact, is my escapism from the hectic cacophony that can be life. It has become my space where I feel safe and unconstrained and I wouldn't want to spoil that. Being able to be monogamous knitwise though is another matter. It brings to mind all those UFOs lurking around like cast off lovers (ha, I should be so lucky)! These abandoned projects are mostly to be found in dark places where they don't get chance to catch my eye and give me the equivalent of a baleful look! Just think, if the Olympic self-discipline were to be reprogrammed and hardwired into my brain, the balls and skeins of yarn for these projects could all very soon become twisted, twined, cabled, bobbled, intarsia-ed, fair-isled and generally otherwise manipulated in such a way as to make them recognisable as something wearable! If only I could recreate that Olympic drive until they were all done!

Anyway, enough of that. Now I've had chance to catch my breath, the Olympic shawl will be properly blocked before it goes to my niece for her new baby daughter (not born yet).

And now, to get back to the main purpose of this post, can I just say that not only does my secret pal rock but she keeps on rocking!!! Look what the postman brought!

And just look what was inside!!

Two balls of Zitron Ethno! Just the right amount and exactly the right shade to make the Fickle Fingers Scarf that I fell in love with from the last issue of Interweave Knits. Do you remember I bought some Noro Iro from the Knit Tin as a substitute for the Ethno so I could make this scarf? I don't think my secret pal saw this on my blog - she didn't say she did - yet, in the parcel was a lovely handwritten note in which she suggested I might like to make the Fickle Fingers Scarf with the yarn. She seems to know me very well!! Now I've seen the Ethno "in the flesh" I realise that the Iro is probably not all that good a substitute. I didn't realise that the Ethno is a boucle type yarn and a very yummy one at that! Anyway, to refresh your memories, this is the Fickle Fingers Scarf below.

Also, in the parcel was a really pretty zipped purse that I'm thinking could be used to store some of my knitting accessories in and not one, but two, bags of very luxurious chocolate from Walters Specialist Confectioners in Berlin. My favourite was the hazelnut and vanilla chocolate and I was safe with that as DH is averse to nuts. It was a different story with the dark chocolate flake pieces though! However, I still managed to tease DH with it for a suitable length of time before offering him some. Some of us never grow up, do we?!

I adore the Revolution teabags in their separate little boxes that my secret pal also included. I hope she'll correct me if I'm wrong because the boxes are labelled in German but it looks like I have one each of Earl Grey Lavender, Chamomile, Honeybush Caramel, Peach, and Bombay Chai. The bags themselves are made from a sort of silky looking material and the herbs inside appear as if they're freshly dried. This makes a nice change from the herbal and fruit teabags that are generally available which, in my experience, seem to be devoid of colour and freshness. I used to grow a few of my own herbs and make my own tisanes so I notice this. Does anyone know if the Revolution teabags are available in the UK?

What else can I say. Everything in the parcel is so perfect! Thank you so very much, secret pal! I hope you also got my Thank You e-card?

All this talk of tea has become so tempting that I'm now off to put the kettle on. Now what shall I have? Earl Grey Lavender? Chamomile? Bombay Chai? . . . . . mmmmm . . . . .

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Olympic Shawl

Rotten photo as just finished and had to take it with flash. Also needs a proper blocking. Better photos to come later. Finished at 6.30 pm. Phew!!! Just checked on Yarn Harlot's blog and there's 17 minutes left. How close is that!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Birthday Goodies

First of all, thanks for all the kind words and encouragement in the comments to my previous post. It's these that are really keeping me going with my Olympic knitting.

It was my birthday recently and I thought I'd post about the knitterly related gifts I received so it wasn't just me admiring them!

As you can see from the photo above, I got two books: Alice Starmore's 'Celtic Collection' and Alison Ellen's 'Handknitting - New Directions'.

There are also two greetings cards from other knitters. The bear one on the left in the photo above is from Jan and the concertina type one (below) is from Katie and illustrates a virtual visit to a museum.

Each fold brings you to a different part of the museum with pictures appropriate to "where you're at". The text which travels along with your walk through the various galleries reads, "Pass through these portals and muse on an amazing array of collections, catalogues, cabinets of curiosities, dazzling treasures and unexpected pleasures to delight the senses."

Then there are bear buttons from The Button Queen, again from Katie. These are just so cute! Here's a close up!

Next, some Swarovski Crystal 4mm beads (200 of them in different colours). I won these on eBay for £8 and they're my birthday treat to myself.

And these beautiful handmade stitchmarkers were given to me by Mary-Lou. Here's a close up so you can see how special they are.

There are a couple of other things in the photo at the very top which aren't necessarily birthday related but, as they arrived today and they're from other knitters, I've included them.

There are two more of those wonderful Hikone Screen postcards from my secret pal and two sets of double pointed needles (dpns) that Penny of UKHK kindly sent to me as they were surplus to her requirements or, rather, they were a bit short for her liking. As using dpns is my next challenge, they've arrived at just the right time.

DH is also on a promise to buy me a knitting bag from Purlescence when their new stocks arrive. They have a fabulous array of knitting bags on their site if you want to take a look!

Thanks so much to all for the kindness and generosity shown. I feel thoroughly spoiled.

I'm really taken with the book by Alison Ellen. This book was on my Wish List and was also mentioned by Fred on UKHK recently. It has not disappointed. In my opinion, it rates alongside Debbie New's 'Unexpected Knitting' in terms of inspiration. To give you some idea of what's in the book for those who haven't seen inside, it starts off with a discussion of how the basic stitches actually work and this leads to sections on such things as multidirectional knitting including spiral squares, Mary Thomas's circular medallions, hexagons, octagons, short row circles, double cloth knitting, interlocked diamonds - the list goes on! Then, when it comes to colour knitting, fair isle and intarsia are, of course, discussed but then there are also diagonal stripes, diagonal fair isle technique, different stitches stripes, short row stripes, zig-zag, lacy, wavy and slip stitch stripes and slip stitch mosaic, etc, etc. There's a section on designing and calculating, too, including calculating stitches for a jumper and a chapter on projects illustrating some of the techniques in practice. This is just on a browse so I can't wait to have a proper read!

By the way, what is going on with the weather?? I awoke to a snow storm this morning!

I'll leave you with a photo of a couple of items my MIL picked up recently. These are little oval tins (about 3.5 by 2.5 inches) with jellies inside and I'm thinking once the goodies have been consumed, they'll make fantastic little containers for stitchmarkers and such like.

How does she find all these items that feature bears??? She always picks them up for a song, too! She waits until sale time (e.g. after Xmas) and then seems to pick up radio signals via her bear searching radar and zooms in on these unsuspecting little creatures. So, however much they try to hide, they end up in her bag and, eventually, find themselves with the rest of the huddle (or should that be cuddle or hug, perhaps) of bears here!

Well, now I must get back to my office work and then, this evening, as I've got nothing planned other than to stay in where it's nice and warm and do my Olympic knitting, I'll start the fourth broad border of the shawl after which there'll be the edging and sewing up to do.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Keeping up the Momentum (aka Trying not to Flag!)

From the comments left on my last post, I gather some of you were under the impression that, because I'd finished the centre of the shawl, I was on the home straight. Wrong, unfortunately. I knew that this was the case because I'd used less than a quarter of the yarn that I know I need to knit up before I'm done.

Anyway, I've now finished two of the broad borders of which there are four with mitred corners. These are sewn around the centre portion and then there is an edging to knit all in one piece (metres and metres of it) which will be sewn on to the outside of the broad border. All that knitting still to do and ALL THAT SEWING!

To give you an idea of how the shawl is shaping up, I roughly pinned the pieces together that I've already knitted but, if you want to see how the finished shawl will look (hopefully!) check out the photo in my post of 26th January entitled "Christening Shawl" here. It's the pattern in the photo at the top.

Centre & two pieces of broad border roughly pinned together

The little bit of knitting on the needle in the photo is the start of the outer edging. I started this to give me a break from the pieces of broad border which are very intricate (being 68 different pattern rows on a lot of stitches)! On the other hand, the edging is a 24 row repeat going on for an eternity but on only 16 to 29 stitches (depending on which row is being worked) and, Oh Bliss, 4mm needles! I know it's only 0.75mm thicker than the needles that the rest of the shawl is worked on but it doesn't half seem to make a big difference. The centre of the shawl which was only an eight row repeat now seems a cinch compared to the rest of it.

DH has been so impressed with the amount of knitting involved in this project that he has offered to calculate the number of stitches I will have knitted if I ever reach the end! Well, that's accountants for you!!

I've been working on this shawl almost every evening and much of the weekend, too. The question now is will I finish in time to collect a virtual medal? I'll give it a good shot even though my shoulder is now aching and the closest I can get to physiotherapy is DH manipulating it as if he's kneading dough. It's not as if it's a real medal after all! But, anyway, I'd still like one and I hope the rest of you will make it, too! Right, back to the grindstone . . . . .

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The First Lap

I finished the centre of the shawl last night and will be casting on for the broad border this evening.

Thanks to all who've been cheering me on and have left encouraging comments. I'm finding the hardest challenge of all is just sticking to the one project but, at least, this way my niece might get the shawl for her little one sooner rather than later.

Good luck to everyone else and, hopefully, see you at the finishing line.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Valentine's Joke

He loved her very much. He wanted this Valentine's day to be special, so he had ordered a bottle of her favorite liquor imported from France and it had arrived in time for the occasion.

On his way home, he stopped at the local florist. He had planned to have a bouquet made with her favorite flower, white anemones. But to his dismay, he found that the florist had sold all her flowers and had only a few stems of feathery ferns left for decoration.

In a moment of inspiration, he had the answer. He asked the florist to make a bouquet using the flask of liquor instead of flowers and what she produced was magnificent well beyond his expectations. He added a card, and proceeded home.

When he arrived, his wife was beautiful in her most elegant gown, and it was apparent that she had spent much of the day preparing a romantic candlelight dinner for the two of them.

He presented her with his gift, and she opened the card to read, "Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder." With a tear in her eye, she whispered to him lovingly, "Yes, and with fronds like these, who needs anemones."

Monday, February 13, 2006

The State of Play

After a very dodgy start, this was the state of play when I went to bed last night.

Just over eight inches of the centre of the shawl. Bear in mind that the Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino I'm using has a tension of 25sts/34 rows to 10cm on a 3.25mm needle which is what I'm using. This makes it equivalent to 4ply. Also, it's a lacy pattern which makes it slower to work than stocking stitch, etc. This is the mantra I repeat to myself to keep me going because I haven't used up as much of the yarn as I should have done by this time. Having said that, I only did four rows on Friday night. Most of Saturday was spent on shopping and attending Maidstone Knitters where I did no Olympic Knitting whatsoever but stuck to a good old stocking stitch Noro sweater so that I could relax and chat without worrying about making mistakes.

Well, the pattern states work the shawl centre until it measures 17" in length! That means the centre's almost half done!! I've now been able to give up the stitchmarkers I resorted to because I've got used to the pattern which speeds things up no end.

I CAN DO IT . . . . . Can't I????????????????????

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Flame is Lit

The Olypmic Flame was finally lit at 2135 hrs. I was getting really impatient to cast on but, nevertheless, I enjoyed the Opening Ceremony which was spectacular with its futuristic tableaux and theatrical representations of baroque images of excess (ladies in crinolines and lavish ornamentation, etc) to the avante garde ballet illustrating futurism. The choreography was brilliant and I particularly liked the culmination of the choreographed dove to illustrate the symbol of peace. Yoko Ono then said a few words before introducing Peter Gabriel who sang "Imagine" and then the Flame (photo below taken from the TV) was lit.

At last I cast on the stitches for the lace shawl on my 3.25mm needles and how much do you think I got done?

Four B----y Rows!!!

DH was watching Commercial Breakdown on BBC1 and I just couldn't concentrate with all the noise, laughter and pandemonium that was being registered on my poor protesting eardrums. It didn't help that, for some reason, I decided I didn't need stitchmarkers and it was one of those rare occasions when I'd resorted to taking an antihistamine (which always makes me feel groggy) due to a flare up of eczema!

Anyway after doing a few rows and frogging it twice while Scruffy looked on in disgust, DH was very kind and came up with the idea of listening to it via a set of headphones. Ah, peace at last! I did four rows, decided to cut my losses, and went to bed.

Oh well, I can't let Team GB down so I shall have to make up for lost time. Talking of Team GB, thanks go to Pixeldiva who has set up a Wordpress Blog for us here so we can check on what's going on with one another without having to spend valuable knitting time checking all the blogs.

On other news, today is the second meeting of Maidstone Knitters. We've had a few enquiries since last time and, one of our new members, Sharon, will be bringing along some bobbin lace to show us with a view to giving us a demo next meeting. I'm looking forward to that. One thing I know for sure though is that I'm not taking my Olympic knitting with me. I shall take something that I don't need to concentrate on so that I don't end up having to frog the whole thing yet again!!!

And before I go, just to say that I've sworn the Knitting Olympics Athletes pledge as follows:

I, a knitter of able hands and quick wits, do hereby swear that over the course of these Olympics I will uphold the highest standard of knitterly excellence.

I will be deft of hand and sure of pattern, I will overcome troubles of yarn overs and misplaced decreases. I will use the gifts of intelligence and persistence (as well as caffeine and chocolate) and I will execute my art to the highest form, carrying with me the hope for excellence known to every knitter. I strive to win. To do my best, and to approach the needles with my own best effort in mind, without comparing myself to my fellow knitters, for they have challenges unique to them.

While I engage in this pursuit of excellence and my own personal, individual best, I also swear that I will continue to engage with my family in conversation, care for my pets, speak kindly with those who would ask me to do something other than knit, and above all, above every stitch thrown or picked, above every cable, every heel stitch, every change of colour, I swear this:

That I will remember that this is not the real Olympics, that I'm supposed to be having fun and that my happiness and self-worth ride not on my success....

but on my trying.

Friday, February 10, 2006

On Your Marks .....

Well, the idea was that I would try to get WIPs off the needles before the big day but that hasn't quite happened. I got distracted again with some Valentine's Day projects. I have almost finished one of my WIPs but all I can say about that at the moment is that it's a jumper because the recipient doesn't know about it yet.

So, what have I done in the way of Olympic preparations? I haven't swatched and I've only given the pattern a brief once over in that I know that there's a centre, a border around the centre, and then an edging around the border so it's knitted in three parts.

Please, don't worry though, team members! I won't let you down because, you see, I have given it some forethought. I've got all my supplies at hand!

As you can see, I am all ready to go with:

Yarn and pattern;
Needles (both straights and circulars);
Plenty of teabags;
Biscuits (in the bear biscuit tin);
Wine and bacardi breezers for strictly medicinal purposes. The stronger drinks will act as tonics when I need a little bit more oomph and, when those bottles run dry, there's more where they came from;
My team mascot, Scruffy, (who's my favourite bear) and, as he's wearing a zippy car jumper which reads Jaguar Racing, he may bode well;
Champagne - just in case I have anything to celebrate at the end!

Apparently, Stephanie, over at The Yarn Harlot, has decreed that wherever you are in the world, cast on time should be 2pm but, as I will be doing my 'work proper' until this evening, I'm going to wait until the Olympic torch has been lit some time after 6pm tonight.

Good luck GB Team Members! GO, GO, GO!!!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

More Beads

Do you remember my futile bead hunt just after Xmas? Well, since then, I've been doing some more research. You see, I do have one beaded project on my list of "to dos" for which I even have the materials ripening away in my stash (the delicious but, unfortunately, now discontinued Jaeger Cashmina yarn and Jaeger beads) to knit Lily Chin's Patagonian Night Sky Scarf below.

I think I may have developed a penchant for hoarding though because my innards tell me that what I really want, in fact need, is a stash of beads of different sizes, colours, types, etc, so that whenever I get the urge to beadily embellish, I can just very smugly and, with an impressive air of nonchalance, open my ornate box (yet to be acquired) of beads (there will probably be beautiful vintage buttons in there, too) and select some to meet my fancy!

So, with this plan in mind, the first thing to do was to find out exactly what is what in the way of beads for knitting. Sue, (that is Sue of the Curly Extravaganza Scarf creation), very kindly let me have her Bead Merchant catalogue on loan so that I could see the full array of beady delights that are available. She also sent me a few beads as samples. Both she and Yvonne also suggested more London beady boudoirs to visit when I make my next visit to Ells & Farrier. So I got all organised and compiled the following list to add to my 'Beads for Knitting' folder.

London Shops to Visit

Ells and Farrier , 20 Beak Street, London W1 (near Libertys);
The Bead Shop, Tower Street (over towards Covent Garden);
Buffy's Beads, top floor of Kingly Court (off Carnaby Street) - also sells pearls and more precious stones!

Internet Outlets

The Bead Merchant
Earth Faire (a US based company)
G J Beads
Heartstrings (another US based company)

I thought that Heartstrings seemed a good site for knitting with beads and I also liked the look of the Earth Faire site because, although some of the beads were obviously for other uses, there appeared to be a good selection that would be suitable for knitting and a good choice of kits for beaded knitting projects, too. So I sent an email to Earth Faire enquiring which types and sizes of beads would be most suitable for which sorts of yarn. I didn't really expect to get more than a brief answer and, then, not necessarily for a while so I was pleasantly surprised when Ellen of Earth Faire answered very promptly and very fully.

I learned from Ellen that there are some general rules of thumb which might help and one of these is that the larger the number of the bead size, the smaller the bead.

The size 11/0 beads as well as other small ones like the 3.4mm drop beads and the pressed glass beads from the Czech Republic (the leaves, the daggers and the larger drop beads) will fit on thread (perle cotton, silk serica, fine braid and tapestry braid) as well as most lace weight yarns. These are small and/or their holes are small.

The size 8/0 beads (round or triangles) will work well on lace weight and up to fingering/sock weight yarns.

The size 6/0 beads will also work on these thinner yarns but are best on sport weight, dk weight and some light worsted weights. The same is true of Earth Faire's Megatamas and most of the 4x4 Cubes, though some of the Cube beads they carry (the ones from Toho) have larger holes and will work on even heavier worsted yarns.

The size 5/0 beads (round or triangles) will work on up to these worsted yarns as well.

They also have a small amount of size 3/0 beads which will work on heavy worsted and some chunkier yarns.

Lots of really useful information here. I was well impressed! Ellen also told me that she could let me have a small sample pack to "play" with as she realises that, in her words, "purchase on the internet requires a little extra help sometimes and we want you to enjoy the process and have fun with the beads."

Well, I wrote back thanking Ellen and saying I would very much appreciate a small sample pack and got these in the post just over a week later.

From left to right and top to bottom there are:

Size 06 Crystals;
Noir-lined aqua Megatamas;
3.4mm heather mix Drops;
4x4 salt & pepper mix Cubes;
Size 05 evergreen mix Triangles;
Size 08 dark peach lined Crystals;
Size 08 cobalt Beads;
12x7mm Wavy Leaves mix.

There is even a loop to help thread the beads onto the yarn included which you can also see in the photo above. I'm well pleased with this little lot and the incredibly helpful service from Ellen at Earth Faire. After the Knitting Olympics I'll have more time to have a play and order some beads to start off my cache and, perhaps, also one of the kits.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Postcard and a Bit of Fluff

Thanks so much for all the kind comments and good wishes for mine and DH's wedding anniversary. I made sure that I went to Marks and Spencers and bought nice food that wasn't going to make me into a kitchen slave. Normally I'm against paying exorbitant prices for the sake of not having to prepare Brussels sprouts, for example, but on occasions such as this I make an exception! I lit candles, set the table nicely, put on some ambient music and had DH's pressie and card ready for him to open when he arrived back home from work. I do like going out for meals but, just sometimes, it's nice to be home and do one's own thing, don't you think?

Yesterday, I received another postcard from my Secret Pal. It's the Hikone Screen again! This time, though, I have a bigger chunk of it. If you compare this postcard to the last one, you'll see that the bit of Hikone Screen shown in the previous one is also shown in the bottom left hand corner of this one. It's a bit like Russian dolls in that smaller pieces are contained within larger ones! Thank you, Secret Pal! The Postal Service has stamped it on the wrong side which is a bit of a shame but I shall treasure it all the same.

I'm really enjoying my Secret Pal experience and am, I think, very lucky as regards both my spoiler and spoilee. I probably have enough clues now from the postcards, etc, that I can actually find out the identity of my Secret Pal if I so choose. Normally I love sleuthing. I'm a great one for solving mysteries and I love cryptic crosswords, etc, but on this occasion I'm getting so much fun out of the mystique that I've decided not to become an armchair detective . . . at least for the moment! ;-) I will tell you that she lives in Germany but that's all I'm saying.

On the knitting front, I'm frantically trying to get certain things on the needles finished before the Knitting Olympics commences on Friday! Let's face it, as a potential knitting athlete, I should be training and limbering up by swatching and so forth before the big event. But what do I do instead but go and get sidetracked with yet another scarf. I do like the instant gratification provided by scarves and also think that as I started the Curly Whirlies blog, I need to contribute something now and again. So, as I'm on a stashbusting mission, too, I used the two half used balls of Kid Silk Spray in the Regal colourway that were left over from the double stranded Ruffles I made to knit this Garn Studio Ruffle Ended Scarf with Rosette.

On the right it is shown with the rosette and, on the left, without it. I used completely different yarns so it doesn't look quite the same as the original. The scarf in the pattern is knitted in mohair yarn of a similar gauge to Kid Silk Spray and the rosette is done in a chunky yarn from what I can gather. However, the only yarn I had to hand for the rosette that was suitable as regards colour was some Rowan Big Wool which is thicker than chunky yarn. I also didn't have a large enough crochet hook so the rosette is knitted rather than crocheted as in the pattern.

Personally I think the rosette looks too heavy in the Rowan Big Wool and I prefer the scarf without it. I will probably make another rosette and use it along with this one to embellish a bag - perhaps a bag knitted in black coloured Rowan Big Wool - as I think that could look quite striking.

The pattern of the scarf itself is garter stitch with a row of dropped stitches every fourth row and the ends of the scarf are extremely ruffly being crocheted in double trebles.

The outcome in Kid Silk Spray is a scarf that is very light and airy which is why I refer to it as a Bit of Fluff!

Before the big day on Friday I hope to post photos of the rest of the almost finished objects that are currently on the needles here and there. Crossed fingers, toes, etc!!!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Third Time Lucky!!

Seventeen years ago today, I tied the knot for the third time. Fortunately, this time, I made the right decision!

There was another very significant person around and that was my DS aged 15. (Excuse the numbers on the photos but it was easier to scan in from these than from the album).

DS was never very tall for his age until DH came on the scene when it seems he was influenced by DH's tallness as he had a sudden growth spurt and is now in excess of 6 feet in height (DH is 6' 7").

Here's DH and DS fifteen years later at DS's thirtieth birthday party performing a karaoke duet!

The other two people in the photo are the guy we hired to organise the karaoke and the organiser's girlfriend who is a professional singer. She certainly outdid all of our brave attempts but it was fun all the same!

Well, now I'm off shopping to buy something special to cook tonight.

This is where I get the candles out and prepare a special romantic meal - just for the two of us.