Jitterbug

April 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

“My father was a beekeeper before me, his father was a beekeeper before him; I wanna walk in their footsteps.” And their footsteps were like this: [running wildly from imaginary bees] “I’m covered in bees!” (Eddie Izzard)

Like all knitters, I’m fairly concerned about moths. And when I say fairly concerned, I mean absolutely hysterical if a moth just shows so much as the tips of its wings, regardless of whether it’s an actual wool-eating moth or just a butterfly that prefers to stay on the nocturnal side of things.

But apart from moths, I don’t have any particular beef with the generously-legged part of the world population, as long as they’re reasonably small, don’t try and suck my blood, and don’t flutter hysterically into my face. (Or are behind plate glass.) I have my windows open 24/7 as soon as the weather allows, so it’s only natural that between April and September, a fair share of small insects gets confused by my lamps and decides to pop by for a visit.

As far as insects go, my favorites are the stripey ones. Wasps just look really cool in their sleek, patterned body-armor. Bumblebees are fuzzy and adorable, and look ridiculous when their hind legs are so thickly covered in pollen they can barely lift off. And bees are also fuzzy, with the added bonus of making honey.

So when a bee flew into my room the other day, hung around under my desk for a bit and buzzed off again, I didn’t pay it much attention. And when it (or another bee with a very strong family resemblance) came back a couple of times, I still wasn’t worried. I was annoyed, yes, at some point where a bee headbutted me in the knee at 5.30 in the morning until I was very much awake (at 5.30. ngh.), but, y’know. What was a bee gonna do under my desk? Climb in through the back of my stash and build a hive? Absurd, right? Hah, hah, haaa…

My diabolical laughter suddenly rang hollow in my own ears. I opened the lowest drawer of the three, the one most accessible from the back, since the backing doesn’t go all the way to the bottom. I saw… nothing. Poked around a bit. Still nothing. Lifted up a bag of alpaca roving. Wondered whether alpaca roving was generally supposed to buzz, until a fairly enraged bee popped up and flounced indignantly out of the window, calling my mother names while doing so (I imagine).

Under the alpaca roving, there was a second skein of the yellow yarn I made the Swallowtail Stole out of, and nestled carefully among the eggyolk-yellow extrafine merino, I found this:

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I feel a bit conflicted, to be honest. I mean, obviously I can’t have a beehive in my room. But on the other hand, I’m destroying the work of what as far as I could tell was a single, lonely bee, slavering away for days and days, having found the perfect, cozy, dark spot with a narrow entrance and lots of space inside, and now trying to build a new future.

Still, I did the only sensible thing.

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HYSTERIC AMOUNTS OF TAPE.

Man, I could’ve shown you the cool stuff I ordered from Ravelry, or how I’m getting back in the lace groove, or the tons and tons of yarn I bought on our road trip to the Hamburger Wollfabrik. And what am I blogging about? Fuckin’ bees, man.

But hey, at least it wasn’t a moth.

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You’re just a cannibal

March 5, 2011 § 5 Comments

It’s funny how I constantly blog when there’s absolutely nothing going on, but as soon as I’m actually doing stuff, all my motivation for keeping a log just kind of circles the drain.

The long-overdue Berlin recap: Berlin was four days of walking in the wrong direction, getting lost, discovering wonderful things because of a total lack of a general sense of direction, and buying lots of yarn and even more books. I have no sense of self-discipline, I swear. Also, we totally discovered a pub called The Oscar Wilde, and had a drink in his honor there.

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(Also, I tweeted Stephen Fry about it, and he tweeted me back saying he already knew it. On the other hand, HOLY SHIT STEPHEN FRY TWEETED ME BACK.)

We visited a total of three yarn shops: Loops at Prenzlauer Berg, Fadeninsel in Kreuzberg, and handmade Berlin in Mitte. All of them were amazing; Loops and Fadeninsel carried many of the same yarns including two different brands of laceweight (always a surprise to find), handmade Berlin was just stuffed with luxury yarns. Oh my. It was amazing, tons and tons of cashmere and silk and alpaca and stainless steel and paper and Fiber Artist and Handmaiden and more cashmere.

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(and this is just one wall, in one of two rooms. Heaven, I tell you!)

My total haul (minus a little skein of purple silk that I bought for Saskia; it was so slippery we didn’t manage to wind it into a ball):

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(clockwise from the top: Handmaiden Casbah, Blue Sky Alpaca alpaca/silk, rosewood 4mm circs, handmade Berlin Yarn Edition Scottish wool/linen blend on the cones, Sheepland lace yarn, ggh Baby Alpaca, Kia Ora NZ merino/possum blend). I’ve already knit up half of the Yarn Edition (more on that later.)

However, on the whole I went rrrrrelatively light on the yarn, because we discovered not one, but two full-size English bookstores: one inside Dussmann, and another one right across the street from Loops which happened to be a used-book store that was crammed full to the stucco. It was amazing.

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We went there twice, and I bought a total of eight (I could’ve sworn nine) books there, the most expensive costing €7 (that’s the Wilde bio), the others all under €5. The clerks were stupendously nice, and the beat-up chesterfield was the comfiest sofa I’ve ever sat on.

The downside: dragging it all back to Leipzig.

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Berlin also has a button shop that isn’t hard to find if you don’t first walk a kilometer in the wrong direction (guess how I found out). It’s also crammed full, which seemed to be an ongoing theme that I heartily approve of. It’s also very convenient to know there’s a button shop in a city closer to me than London.

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My special favorite are the two Aslan buttons. I almost keeled over with joy. The big horn one’s already on my Girl Friday cardi, and the three little sunburst buttons are also already on knitwear. (again, more on that later.)

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**

So that was Berlin. Since I came back, I’ve made some considerable progress on the Spanish Armada, I’ve finished the sock I started for Berlin and got regrettably little knitting time on while actually there, although I couldn’t yet be arsed to cast on its twin, and I’ve knit a pattern that is well-loved by many, and as I find out, for a reason. And that reason is that it’s so. damn. clever.

I’m talking, of course, about Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Baby Surprise Jacket. Annelie recently found out she had a knitting neighbor, who loaned her a couple of EZ books. And one of these books, I discovered to my endless delight, has the BSJ pattern in it. Hallelujah! After the disappointment of the Knitter’s Almanac not featuring it, that was a real miracle right there.

And the BSJ is kind of ridiculous, if you think about it. Actually, it’s ridiculous the whole entire time you’re knitting it, because you’re making this… this misshapen piece of fabric. Which looks so unlike a baby garment that the pattern specifically states, “Work will start to look very odd, indeed, but trust me, and PRESS ON.”

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The whole time I was knitting it, I was trying to figure out how to fold it, and only on the last third or so did it approach something approaching sensibility. But when you’re done, and you’ve cast off, the magic happens. You fold it…

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… and fold it again, and sew up the shoulder seams, and attach a couple of buttons, and holy shit it’s about the cutest baby jacket ever.

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It’s so cute that when I was done making it up and photographing it, I pulled out another ball of fingering-weight yarn and started casting on another one… and then gently reminded myself I had more pressing projects. I still see a couple more of these in my future though. SO CUTE. Both of my flatmates, upon entering the apartment and seeing the BSJ drying on the rack, dissolved into helpless squeeing. While sewing I occasionally caught myself cooing embarrassingly at the thing. It’s terrible.

So there’s that. BSJ, and I’m currently reconstructing the pattern of a shawl Annelie’s great-grandma knit way back in the day. It’s garter stitch, and my first try was knitting the center triangle and then knitting on the edging in two pieces. Turns out, when I was staring at it during breakfast at her house just after I’d proudly shown off my swatch, that it’s all in one piece, and still every bit as clever as I thought. Good times.

Hey Ashurbanipal, I’m a Mesopotamian!

February 13, 2011 § 6 Comments

Entirely expectedly, I got a lot of knitting done in the crunch phase of my finals, with the whole refusing more than an absolute minimum for Spanish (I passed the oral! Abysmally, but I passed! Yesss.) and general procrastination.

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(The day before my oral, Saskia and I went down to the canal and sat in the sun for an hour. What a perfect day.)

Incredibly, I’m down to one project. Well, three. Well, technically four, but the Dalek vest has been hibernating for so long and it looks like that’s not gonna change anytime soon, so. (well, four things and a lizard.)

Anyway: the Thermal sweater is finished! Done! All sewn up pretty and with buttons and a little ‘handmade’ tag in the back of the neck. I’ve already worn it to choir, literally fifteen minutes after cutting the last thread, and I’m pretty enchanted by the whole thing.

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(Thermal by Laura Chau, 3mm needles, just shy of 600 g of Zitron Trekking XXL)

I’m proud to report that the sleeves are NOT too long, for once. It seems I’ve finally learned my lesson? Or maybe it was just a fluke. Who knows.

Re: the sleeves though, I don’t know if it was the fact that I had to fudge the sleeve cap a little (I increased to 106 instead of 112), or that my sweater is generally a tad less fitted than the one on the model, but the tops of the sleeve caps were VERY boxy. Very angular. To the point where they stuck out and just looked stupid. I fixed that by sewing the seam in a diagonal line over the last 16 rows or so. The downside of that is that now there’s four little triangles inside the sweater, but they’re not noticeable from the outside, and they haven’t been a problem yet.

More photos (and close-ups of the uber-cute little buttons) when I come back from Berlin next weekend or so, in the hope that I’ll catch some good natural light at some point. It’s been overcast, and that always screws with red colors.

Also, guess what became of the handspun?

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A Hitchhiker! It knit up really quickly on 4 mm needles, and I’m still very charmed by the construction. Alas, I did not get 42 spikes, but the fact that they’re much more pronounced and dramatic than in the sock-weight version more than makes up for it.

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The best thing is that it worked out perfectly. I finished on the last row of a spike without a single yard left over; there were two 2-inch pieces that I cut after weaving in the ends, but that was it. A very, very gratifying knit. Calmed me down immensely in the last couple of minutes before my Spanish oral.

Also, I’ve figured out what’s wrong with my Spanish Armada – I’m missing three stitches on each side. Very, very strange. Rather worrying, actually, but I think I’ll just fudge it with another row and a sneaky increase somewhere in the middle. I’m so confused though why 3 and not 2 or 4. Those I could have explained, but three is indeed very bemusing.

Book rec for this week: Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”! I’d never read it before, but I’d resolved to include as many classics I’ve always wanted to read but never got around to buying in my 52 in 52 project as I could. And in the case of Jekyll and Hyde, it was definitely worth the, oh, €2.50 I splurged on the Dover Thrift Edition. And, uh, it’s much better than that just sounded. It reminded me a lot of Dorian Gray, actually, which isn’t all that surprising, considering they’re both Victorian novels dealing with the strange rift in their society, between virtue and vice, between public and private. It was terribly captivating, a gripping read that had some places where I literally recoiled in horror – perfect, really, for a nice rainy afternoon. It’s under 50 pages too, but it’s packed with mystery and thrill. I loved it.

It’s also narrated from an outside perspective, which surprised me: I’d always assumed it was going to be following Jekyll rather closely, but it didn’t at all until the very last chapter, which of course elevates the mystery a good deal more. You literally don’t know what the hell is going on until the last couple of pages. It must have been so endlessly shocking to Victorians reading it as a fresh story, a fresh idea, without any kind of foreknowledge. All in all, a book definitely worth reading. I might tackle Treasure Island too this year, I really liked Stevenson’s style.

Next week I’ll spend four days in Berlin with Saskia. We’ll be visiting at least two yarn shops, one button shop and four museums, and I hope we’ll not be too tired to see a silent movie on Wednesday evening. I’ve already cast on a sock to drag everywhere and photograph; also I’ve been saving the new Thursday Next novel for the train ride. I can’t wait!

We’re gonna turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse

February 7, 2011 § 5 Comments

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(We’ve been having some lovely weather lately. I just sat on the Augustusplatz and knit for half an hour today, in the blinding sunlight with my jacket open, just because I could.)

I’d love to pull a Yarn Harlot and proclaim my infection with finish-it-up-itis, but while I don’t maintain it doesn’t exist, it certainly isn’t happening to me. Or I’ve already had it for months, it was just that my projects weren’t as wisely chosen as these days?

First, the purchases of the week:

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That’s a skein of Wollmeise (color: Frosch) on top of the Lucifer Box novels by Mark Gatiss, which really deserve their own post and I could go on and on about them. So I’m just gonna say that they’re brilliant, and fun, and adventure-laden, and the hero is the perfect mix of James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, every single character out of Dorian Gray (no, seriously. every single one of them. Well, maybe not Sibyl Vane. But everyone else.), and Captain Jack Harkness. They’re written in the first person, which isn’t normally my thing but works wonderfully with the wit and sparkle Lucifer Box has, and, you know. Even Stephen Fry couldn’t get enough of them. As of now I’ve finished the first two books, and I loved every page. Mark Gatiss is my new hero. (A brilliant gay sci-fi and adventure writer whose well-written hero is cheerfully bisexual but not utterly defined by some stereotype. What’s there not to love?)

Seriously. I’ve been recommending it all over the place for a week, and I’ll do it here as well: If you only discover one author this year, let it be Mark Gatiss. At least read Vesuvius Club. You won’t be able to stop there, anyway.

Second, I finished the Kai-Mei socks! I admit it’s kind of embarrassing that I’m the first one to finish a design out of Saskia’s birthday present, but, eh. They’re warm and lovely and SO CLEVER, and I think I’m going to knit a couple more socks with that construction, although not necessarily the same lace panel.

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I wore them to Annelie’s to show them off, partly because it’s always nice to show off an FO to real people, and mostly because Annelie had given me the yarn. And once again, it was one of these things that only happen with yarn people.

Annelie: Oooh, you finished the socks!
Me: Yup. *pulls up pants leg a bit* … you can touch them if you want to?
Annelie: Ooooh, they’re so soft!
Me: Yeah, I think there may be some alpaca or something in there.
Annelie: No idea. … Honeeeeey! Honey, come here for a second!
Annelie’s husband: … yes?
Annelie: Remember that yarn I had for the longest time?
Annelie’s husband: … no?
Annelie: you know, the one I got from XY, in Karolinsiel, don’t you remember?
Annelie’s husband: … no?
Annelie: well, Patti knit it up into socks. Here, touch them!

I have to say, he’s very well-trained in terms of yarn-related behavior.

Apart from surprise!sock-fondling, we actually got some work done on Sunday. I was at Annelie’s for six hours and I sat at the wheel for at least 5 of those. I had ~flow, man. But now, along with some gorgeous yarn I finished with only seconds to spare before I had to leave, I’ve also got sore muscles in more expected places.

Yes, I finished my first wheel-spun yarn. And I shall subject you all to a lengthy slideshow of every stage of the process.

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Well, actually I won’t. Kind of. I’ll put the major part of the lengthy slideshow under a break so the tl;dr crowd can’t complain (although, pretty pictures. what’s wrong with you people? have you got no soul?), but here’s some of the most important ones. Because I took this here:

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(Drachenwolle, 130 g BFL, color ‘Stroh zu Gold’, gorgeous but useless)

and turned it into this:

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(~130 g, 226m, still gorgeous, knittable!)

and it only took me two afternoons (and a total of two hours or so of pre-drafting on the Saturdays before). How would you not want to see more of where that came from? (Am I trying to guilt you into clicking that ‘more’ link, just so that I can geek about spinning a bit more? Damn right I am!)

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There’s been a run of crazy dreams

January 30, 2011 § 2 Comments

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I don’t know why I don’t post as many pictures of the church next to my house anymore. I used to be such a whore for it and the pictures are always quite stunning. Especially this morning, when it started getting light, and I saw the beautiful misty crispness of the day.

I don’t know why I’m awake – I’ve been up since 6 for no reason at all. All the more stunning since by all rights I should be hung over like crazy. My new favorite cocktail is Agent Jack: 1.5cl cointreau, 2 cl lemon juice, 5 cl whiskey, 18 cl cola. We call it Captain Jack around here.

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News on the knitting front: zero. I’ve been wrestling with the Spanish armada but haven’t gotten anywhere due to the abysmal charts; I’ve done a couple of rows on the second sleeve for Thermal but haven’t gotten anywhere due to my pronounced disinterest.

But I’ve been reading.

It gives me such joy these days. To sit down with a good book is such a simple, overwhelming pleasure, tactile as well as intellectual. Sometimes, I feel like the internet removes us from our senses too much. It’s all the same smooth, sterile, ultimately uninteresting keys. No touch, no smell, no taste. Not that I’m not grateful for the internet, but it’s like apples and oranges.

I’ve been buying books like a madwoman. Dover Thrift Editions and used books on Amazon make it hard not to. Some are totally in my comfort zone – the Lucifer Box series by Mark Gatiss, several Oscar Wilde books are among them, one of them no other than De Profundis, which is beautiful in its bitterness. With some, I’ve surprised myself, like ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, or Stephen Hawking’s ‘A briefer history of time’, which is turning out to be the most enjoyable and funny read as well as an educational one. I feel like there’s a whole world just opening up to me. Like the last two years were in this tiny bubble, and suddenly I’m bursting free and expanding.

I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed books.

The Hawking, by the way, is a byproduct of my recent obsession with Benedict Cumberbatch. He played Stephen Hawking in the heart-wrenching BBC movie ‘Hawking’, and there was so much joy in this movie. So much excitement at the wonder of the universe. So much life and joy in such overwhelming sadness. And it makes me feel so humble and small: Stephen Hawking knows where the universe comes from. Last week, I didn’t even know where Stephen Hawking is from.

Funny how you get the most fantastic impulses from the weirdest places. But then, I tackled Goethe’s ‘Faust’ (one of the key dramas in German literature) because the drummer of my favorite band at the time did a stripped-down-to-the-basics audio adaption of it. Another unexpected result of the Cumberbatchitis is that I found a fantastic recipe for Indian/ Parsi scrambled eggs.

So here I am. Reading the possibly longest letter in modern history and eating fantastic eggs. And later going over to Annelie’s to spin.

Have I mentioned how much I love my life?

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Whispering sounds of silence

January 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

(Warning: this post might not make a lot of sense if you haven’t read or at least watched Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray”.)

I realize this blog might not be the ideal platform for this – maybe, just maybe, I should start another blog for my reading, since I plan on doing that a lot this year. But for now, you’ll have to choose between reading all of this or simply ignoring it (I’m putting most of it behind a jump just in case). I need to share this.

Because today, I was sitting in a Starbucks and I suddenly got what Dorian Gray was all about.

In my effort to read at least one book a week (which isn’t too much of a problem, I’m realizing, since I read slightly more than a page a minute), I’ve been devouring Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, which is meta on so many levels (and some besides), and it got me thinking about Dorian Gray. Which is just as well, I suppose, since I’ll be needing to think about him quite a bit this year.

The thing about Dorian Gray is that how good it is largely depends on the way you read it. If you read it for the language and aphorisms and witticisms, you’d hardly be disappointed, but I always found the characters rather one-dimensional. Merely a vehicle for all the wit, so to speak – also, the story, while based on a terrific idea, is kind of thin on the details, and seems more like a canvas than the picture. Not much happens in Dorian Gray.

But then, I’m realizing, this is Oscar Wilde we’re talking about. If his characters seem flat, they’re probably so intentionally. Maybe I haven’t been looking deep enough, or in the right places. The whole book is about outward appearance in contrast to the inner workings of humans, so…

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We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet

January 2, 2011 § 10 Comments

A happy, if rather belated New Year to all of you!

I began 2011 with friends, a list of cocktails I’d always wanted to try, and when my hangover was finally over, a Doctor Who marathon and the first three charts of Spanish Armada in the gorgeous burgundy Centolavaggi Saskia gave me for Christmas.

2010 was a pretty good year, all in all. Despite starting on a sad note, it went on to become a year with a long summer, adventures, alcohol, music, near-death experiences in the gushing rain, academic and culinary accomplishments, drastic haircuts, and lots and lots of knitting.

18 kilometers of knitting, in fact, or probably some more with frogging and re-knitting, and a sock or two that might have slipped through the net.

Despite my undiminished enthusiasm, I’ve decided to cut back a little on knitting time. Not because I knit to much (even though I do), but because I’ve resolved to join a choir, read 52 books in the next 52 weeks, and dick around with sewing a bit.

I’m doing fairly well on the reading front – the first Narnia book’s almost done, and I’m halfway through TH White’s ‘The Once and Future King’ (I’m cheating a bit with that one; I’d already read the first 100 or so pages. Then again, I got it for Christmas 2009, so it’s about time I finished it). I’m terrible at reading one book at a time, so as long as I finish 4-5 books a month, I won’t worry about keeping them in line. Why the 52 in 52? I need to read more. This may seem weird from somebody who spends the majority of the day in front of a computer, but as nice as fanfic and the internet is – I need some more literature in my life! So Narnia, and TH White, and my Amazon package containing 5 Jasper Fforde novels should be arriving any day.

As for the sewing thing, I’ll see how far I’ll take that – but at the moment, I’m fairly obsessed with recreating some garments from the new Narnia movie, so I hope I’ll finish at least the waistcoat before losing all my patience and crawling back to my cobweb lace knitting for some relaxation.

So. I’ve finished the first sleeve of Thermal, I have five rows left on Henry, and I’m knitting a cobweb lace shawl for the next Max Raabe concert at the end of March. Saskia got tickets for Christmas.

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