Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Top Haps

Shortly after I knit my first Hap, I failed to manage everything I was carrying with me effectively, and dropped it en route to the railway station. It was found, and all is well, but in posting my loss on social media (in the hope someone local would spot it and know who it belonged to), I found a particular fact of note: the majority of responders thought I must have mis-typed, and had instead lost a hat. My husband is proud to state that thanks to KnitBritish, he now knows what a Hap is.
It was for Louise's wonderful Hap-Along that I knit said Hap – Brooklyn Tweed's Kelpie. This was rather a serendipitous happenstance: I had been bought an Eden Cottage Yarns yarnling sampler set for my birthday; have a signficant stash of sock-leftovers for the final stripe, which I didn't dare risk a yarnling on; and came across a sale in the Isle Yarn shop just before the cast-on date. It was a pleasing and steady project – the construction of a hap means you've plenty of simple lovely garter stitch to help you familiarise yourself with the yarn before you begin the more intricate lacy sections.

My second Hap of 2015 was in fact not finished until 2016, but it was perhaps my most impetuous project ever – I saw Karie's publication announcement* for the Mahy (rav link) on Twitter, decided it had to be made, and arranged a detour from planned events on a weekend away to ensure yarn was bought. Pattern, yarn and cast-on all came together within 2 days of publication, and progress only stalled as I hit the Christmas knitting crunch. Helpfully, the size of the Mahy is also such that it finally justified the long-delayed purchase of blocking boards: children's play pieces from John Lewis (handily delivered to our local Waitrose) which can be configured according to the shape of the garment. I was very pleased to finish this in time to meet Karie at Joeli's retreat in February!

And the latest, possibly greatest news of 2016 in terms of haps? Kate Davies has turned her attention to the hap shawl for her very-very-nearly-published book project. With essays and historical research alongside contributions from Gudrun Johnston, Lucy Hague, Martina Behm, Jen Arnall-Culliford, Veera Välimäki and other absolute stars of the knitting galaxy, this project is one which has been murmured about in hushed tones over the last year until the news of pre-orders opened, and since I placed my order, and started seeing the designs being featured on Kate's blog daily, the anticipation has only been building. Words do, at this point, fail me, and I can only direct you to read the blog, pore over the beautiful designs, and perhaps order the book.

(ETA: since I first published this post, I have also become aware of the lovely Louise Tilbrook's beautiful Hebridean Hap design, recently published and inspired by the amazing tale behind Rachel Atkinson's Daughter of a Shepherd yarn.)

The moral of my tale? Haps are amazing. They can be simple, they can be stunning, they can be striking; they speak of hard work, of comfort, and of style. And they mean you can talk about being Hap-py to your heart's content!

*if you haven't seen her more recent publication announcement - that of the Kickstarter campaign for This Thing of Paper - head over here to find out about it. (Brilliant and inspiring, in my opinion)

Saturday, 21 May 2016

A New Start - the Engines On socks

If years can be said to have a theme, then 2016 for me is turning out to be a year of new starts. Over the last few years, there have been a lot of changes of direction in my life and work, and as those have stabilised, I've begun taking stock, and looking at new goals, new plans, and what I want to be spending time with.

I'm very much looking forward to seeing where this new impetus takes me, and in the spirit of adventure have already made it to two fantastic knitting events this year - Joeli's Kitchen Retreat 2016 (back next year as Joeli Creates a Retreat), and Edinburgh Yarn Festival.

The yarn fumes were of course overwhelming, and the creativity of a group of knitters really rather infectious. Little wonder, then, that having spent some time chatting with Helen of the Wool Kitchen and Amelia of Woollenwords, I walked off clutching a skein of Ground Control, and determined to make the most of this beautiful yarn.

Anyone who knows Helen's dyeing palette will recognise her inimitable sense of colours together, and in Ground Control in particular, the flashes of bright and warm incendiary shades amongst the deep and tonal greys. The Wool Kitchen Sock yarn, composed of 80% superwash BFL and 20% bamboo, has a wonderful strength and woolliness to it, whilst the bamboo gives it just that touch of sheen and drape.

To celebrate those rocket-fuel moments, I decided I needed texture - something to break up the smoothness of stocking stitch and inject instead a pop of contrast. Paired with a slipped-stitch heel and deep ribbed cuff, the knit-purl texture is at once soft and comforting and strong and structured. The resulting sock is a simple and straightforward unisex knit, sensible and yet showcasing the yarn's rebellious streak!

The pattern is available through Ravelry by clicking on the button below.

Engines On - socks

Thursday, 19 May 2016

My Name's Ruth, and I'm a... podcastaholic

I'm a podcast addict. Have been for years, when the podcasters I listened to became daily companions, and my Radio 4 habit moved from the radio itself to the downloadable/portable version. The situation is even worse now, since I've upgraded my phone and now have the magic to ensure all my favourites are downloaded automatically as they are released. I regularly end up with a dozen hours or so of podcast material sitting waiting patiently for me to go for a long walk, or be stuck on a train.

And that's fine... I walk to and from the station every day, to exercise classes a few times a week, and I listen all the time. Often it is as an accompaniment to knitting – the 10 minute train journey to work is less irritating and more productive if I'm knitting and listening to a podcast than if I'm just waiting for us to get somewhere.*

Why listen to podcasts? I work in an office without radio, so can't listen to most things live. Even Saturday Live, that bastion of British slow weekend listening, is on at a time when I might need to be running errands / prefer to be in the great outdoors. Being freed from the radio schedules enables me to catch up with Start the Week, In Our Time, or Ramblings at a quiet moment in the week.

I'm also freed from radio reception – so I can listen to podcasts from France or further afield that I would not be able to pick up on my radio, and which mean I can practice what my teachers always preached – listening to actual French on a regular basis.

It also means I can pick up on the plethora of podcasts which are not tied to the radio, and feed my knitting habit! In my actual daily life there are sadly few knitterly encounters, but with the Knitmore Girls, Shiny Bees, APlayful Day, Caithness Craft Collective, Knit British, Down CellarStudio, 2 Knit-Lit Chicks, Commuter Knitter, Prairie Girls Knit andSpin and Yarns from the Plain, I have a wide range of knitting 'friends' with their fingers on the pulse of current knit-culture, and I can keep up with them all (almost!)

A final benefit to this podcast habit? A saving in eye-strain. I work with a screen all day, and as the years creep on, I find that by the end of the day I'm sometimes too tired to watch another screen. So I switch on my podcast, and am entertained and informed.

Are you a fellow listener? If you're laughing to yourself on the train, is it because of something they said? Who are your favourites? Do you have a preferred listening station?

*This is why I don't succeed in staying up to date with videocasts – the times I listen are not times when I can be looking at a screen, though I do sometimes prise myself up early enough in a morning to catch 20 minutes with the Knitgirllls before I have to leave!

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Picking up a Work that has been long in Progress

How old is your oldest WIP? When do you start the counter? When you cast it on? When you put that skein aside with a plan to knit the project? Or when you welcomed the skein into your stash?

This latter might seem extreme, but the story of the project I'm now trying to resurrect starts then: when Felicity Ford arranged a dyeing workshop to celebrate Liz's hen do in 2011 (she blogged about it here), and I dyed a skein of sparkling lace-weight in a range of greens.

That skein sat patiently waiting for a project to come along until some time in late 2012/ early 2013, when I finally wound it into a cake, and embarked on Laminaria (inspired at least in part by Leslie of the KnitGirllls, whose Shipwreck Shawl is amazing). I clearly started some knitting at this point... and then it languished.

I decided last year that I wanted to pick it up again, and definitely made progress, completing all of the first chart. On the train / train / tram / bus journey to my accommodation for the recent Joeli's Kitchen Retreat, knit, and ripped, and knit, and ripped, and counted, and decided I must be in the transition chart, and knit again. And I'd just worked out where I was with the chart when I arrived at my destination, and realised that there would be no opportunity for complex lace over a weekend of conversations. Since then, I've been prioritising some tiny knits (which will be shown off once their recipients are here to receive them), and it's only now that I've a bit of time ahead, and (confession:) am stuck with Second Sock syndrome that I've decided this is the moment to work out exactly where I am.

So, expect rude words, and ripping, and counting, and a possible bout of startitis if I fail to stick to it!

Monday, 2 May 2016

A Royal Exchange: Malvern for Manchester to see King Lear

An unexpected side effect of having occasional reasons to travel North is that I can sometimes make it to exhibitions or theatre productions that would otherwise pass me by. Recently, a weekend trip put me in Manchester for the day, and if I chose the weekend to be one on which I could catch King Lear, who would judge me?

I haven't seen King Lear since I was 17 or so, and the local amateur theatre team staged it. Of that production, I remember being heartbroken over Edmund's betrayal, and the absolute devastation of Lear's breakdown. I also remember the minor distractions of costumes that didn't quite work, the audience all around being visible in the well-lit space, and being slightly impressed that Lear could carry Cordelia. (Yes, I'm the person watching great work and simultaneously undermining it by mulling over the practicalities of exits and entrances, lighting and costume changes. Sorry.)

This time, the distractions were wonderful - the Royal Exchange is a brilliant venue that I've not spent enough time in, and the realisation that the wings encircle the audience in the theatre 'pod', who in turn encircle the stage was a moment that made my heart glad.

Also, they made it rain. Proper rain, so the theatre technicians spent the interval vacuuming the water out of the set. It was understated and fantastic, and the way that stage became cliff, and castle, and heath without any physical change to set was testament to the skill of the production, and the strength of the performances.

Don Warrington's Lear is bombastic, determined, and driven by something you can't quite see to make decisions that he thinks are for the best. Regan and Goneril are clearly different women, allies from the nursery with different driving forces who too easily become rivals for Edmund, while Cordelia transforms from youngest, favoured child to leader of an army.

This raised one question I don't know how to answer - where is the King of France in this venture? His wife's claim is his, and yet she is the one leading the army? I found the added distinction between Regan and Goneril as powerful women leading their husbands from within the bounds of social norms and Cordelia, leading an army dressed in trousers and armour intriguing.

Lear isn't a play I know well (I don't think I've ever read it all), so the alliances, betrayals and suspense carried their full weight. The strength of the production - of each individual member of the cast, who brought character to each role, and beyond that, belief in all the possibilities of that character. The Fool (Miltos Yerolemou) and Edgar/Poor Tom (Alfred Enoch) in particular brought a life and conviction to their scenes which made the wild spaces beyond society all the more appealing, and the political, social world unreasonable. I've not seen a more powerful presentation of the need to rebuild a society that has been poisoned by poor decision-making at the top.

Lear is a tragedy: everyone knows it ends badly. But hope is a powerful thing in an excellent production - and the tragedy was all the more harrowing for the very real sense that it could all have been prevented, and ended well. This production (by Talawa Theatre Company) continues at the Royal Exchange until the 7th May, and will then be moving to Birmingham Rep in a couple of weeks (19th-28th May). I heartily recommend it.