In which I acknowledge my rubbishness

To anyone who has visited this blog over the last few weeks, I can only apologise.  It’s been a few weeks since I posted anything like a regular update and I’m feeling incredibly guilty.

My only excuse is that work is entirely crazy at the moment as we’re about to launch a new phone in India so I’ve spent the last couple of weeks in sterile (and not-so-sterile) airports, unfamiliar hotels and various cabs in between.  Sadly this time spent away hasn’t been particularly productive on the knitting front either; Indian air authorities have been pretty hot on the no-needles-in-the-air rule and most evenings have seen me too frazzled to concentrate on much other than simple stockinette and BBC World News on a loop.  I promise you that business travel isn’t nearly as exotic as it sounds and anyone who says otherwise has never been to Delhi.

I have managed to get a few things finished though: an early birthday / Mothers’ Day present in the form of Jane Richmond’s Marian for my Mum (which I neglected to photograph before giving it to her so am hoping she’ll send over a pic of her wearing it so I can upload it to Flickr), Handmaiden’s In an Evening Toque and the first of two Great Weekend Mitts from the fabulously-named Lick the Light Switch blog by Wonderfallz.

Great Weekend Mitts

The second I saw these armwarmers on Ravelry I knew I had to make them.  The pic above doesn’t show them in their full final glory – I still had to add the ribbed placket down the left seam (non-functioning in my case – let’s not get over-ambitious!) as well as add buttons sewn down the placket at intervals.  After some stroking in stores and some poking around online, I chose to knit these in RYC Cashsoft 4ply which I adore, both for its super-softness and the great range of colours.  Because I’m clearly on some sort of mission to knit almost exclusively in grey and purple (or so it would seem) I went for a combination of silver-grey and darker granite to which I’ll add a black placket with black shiny buttons. Very much looking forward to the finished pair and the cosy wrists they’ll produce.

The In An Evening Toque is another fantastic pattern.  Again it was a Ravelry find and again once I saw the pictures I knew it was something I’d have to cast on for me in yet another shade of grey.  The yarn here is Rowan’s Big Wool in Oxydised, after I fell head-over-heels for this and another couple of shades on eBay.  Handmaiden was kind enough to email the pattern to me directly as she was having some problems with her blog at the time and I’m incredibly grateful to her for doing so as I adore this hat.  I tend to wear hats quite low on my forehead and so prefer those that are loose and unpatterned enough to avoid leaving brim imprints on my face (never a good look when at work!) and this fits the bill perfectly whilst also being incredibly cosy.  Highly recommended.

In An Evening Toque

As an aside, it’s also worth noting that the In An Evening Toque does exactly what it says on the tin. I am by no means a fast knitter but even I was able to knock this out in a couple of hours whilst half-watching telly. I now understand why knitting with big wool is so immensely satisfying! Mum’s Marian was also done in Rowan Big Wool (Mulberry) and completed in a couple of evenings – hoping to post some pictures of this soon.

In the meantime though, I apologise for my blogging absence and promise I’ll be less of a Dunderblogger over the next few days.

Put a cap on it

I can’t stop staring at people’s hats.  Seriously.  It’s completely subconscious . I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve come to after a brief daytime reverie – usually while sitting on the tube or a train – to find myself staring at a spot about four inches above a pair of curious and occasionally peeved eyes, staring right back at me.  I promise you I’m not a hat fetishist, nor am I planning to liberate these hats from about their owners’ ears and run off into the distance.  All I want to know is if they’re handmade.

One month in I’m still pretty new to knitting, so I’m not yet able to tell the difference between hand-knitting and machine.  Plus I’ve spent the last month spurning the high street knitwear, preferring to gaze lustfully (and ambitiously) at yarn and patterns in specialist stores and online so I have no idea what’s in-store at the moment.  There’s one hat that I’ve seen five or six times now in a variety of colours: a slouchy beret with a chunky star-like stitch for the first ten or twelve rows and then a stockinette stitch with a spiral pattern.  I can only assume this is high street and, given the frequency, my money’s on Topshop or Primark.  But I just don’t know.

Plus as a new knitter who’s relied primarily on books and the web thus far, I have no real understanding of how many knitters are out there.  Stitch ‘n Bitch London regularly have 100-150 knitters at their weekly meetings in Central London.  That’s a lot of people.  I’ve yet to make it along to one of their meetings but it’s firmly on my list of to-dos in the coming weeks.  Until then though, I’ve no idea what any of these other knitters look like, or what age group many fall into.  Any one of them could be the girl who sits opposite me on the train, with the wide variety of excellent wooly hats (I’ve counted six so far and they all match different handbags, seriously).  It would also explain why she regards my train knitting – still the scarf – with a faint glimpse of amusement in between pages of her Metro free-sheet newspaper; it’s not exactly advanced knitting and it’s far from perfect in places.

I don’t know.  They could all be shop-bought.  Perhaps she scours Accessorize with the same childish excitement that I get when I go through Café Knit or Texere.  Maybe the shops of London are currently full to the brim with chunky knitwear that could rival even the most expert of knitters.  Or maybe – just maybe – there’s more knitters out there than I think.  Either way I really need to stop staring at random people’s heads.  Sooner or later someone’s bound to take advantage of my knitting needles.

Whose round is it?

They say pride comes before a fall. I don’t know if it’s pride that drove me to it – complacency or over-ambition seem rather more likely – but fall I did.

I’ve been knitting a cowl recently, another magic loop affair while my boyfriend’s scarf languishes idly by (not completely idly though, as it’s recently become my portable project for when I’m sitting on the train to and from work and as such is progressing nicely). It’s a slightly more advanced pattern than those I’ve completed to date, with slipped stitches, yarnovers and psso’s aplenty.  It’s also a dry run for the cowl I’d like to knit for a friend’s birthday present in the suitably indulgent Fyberspates Scrumptious DK yarn– purple for me and deep pink for her – meaning I’d quite like to get it right.

All was going well.  I’d cast on the requisite number of stitches, got to grips with the twisted rib border and even made a start on the first round of the pattern – pretty good going for only two evenings’ work.  The third evening’s work was preceded by dinner and drinks with two former colleagues, both of whom were a little late in arrival: half an hour or 1.25 cocktails, if you prefer.  As the evening progressed, wine was ordered, stories were shared and any recollection of New Years resolutions was pushed aside with the arrival of the dessert menu.  It was a lovely night and one that finished surprisingly early as we each trundled towards our respective stations at a respectable 9pm.

Arriving home to find the house empty, I allowed a small snicker of delight at the fact I could continue my cowl without fear of neglecting my boyfriend and his scarf.  Set up on the sofa, I had my wool on one side, more wine on the other and endless QI repeats on the telly courtesy of channel Dave.  And so, I knitted.  I knitted long and I knitted fast (for me, anyway) and sped through line after line of the pattern into the early hours before eventually succumbing to a Rioja-induced slumber in bed.

This morning I woke to the sound of birdsong, gentle breezes in the trees outside and a decidedly grumpy thudding in my head.  Have you ever had a morning where you can hear yourself blink?  Well… precisely.  My first thought was water.  My second thought was the cowl.  Getting through to the living room was no mean feat but once there I understood what my fuzzy subconscious had been trying to tell me: badness had happened.  In my haste the night before, I had managed to drop, add and k2tog stitches at random to the extent that there were now holes and ladders running down multiple rows.  Some sections looked flawless while others were disastrous; overall it looked less like a cowl and more like a tea cosy, assuming the teapot has between five and seven spouts of varying height and girth.

I’m ashamed to say I ripped it all, then and there.  I’m still getting to grips with remedying mistakes and in this case there were so many, my addled brain didn’t know where to start.  The yarn, while being beautifully soft, doesn’t really lend itself to ripping and so I’m still picking up tufts of purple fluff from around the sofa and the rest of the house.  But I’ve rescued most of it and I’ll make a fresh start on it again tomorrow, minus wine.  Lesson learned.

Knitting in the name of

During the rather dull periods of my day when I’m not knitting (or writing about knitting, or thinking about writing about knitting, or – ahem – buying yarn to knit with), I have a full-time job. In marketing. Now I know that for many this marks me out as some sort of shallow, money-grabbing product pusher, intent on parting you from your hard-earned cash in return for something shiny and pointless. But I promise you I’m not like that. For starters, I’m not really involved in the advertising side of things. I write the leaflets, manuals and website content that tells you how to use your shiny pointless thing and my aim is to make it all as simple as possible. I do, however, work in the mobile phone industry, which has a particularly bad reputation for doing anything and everything to make you buy one product or service over another.

Which is why I was wholly unsurprised to see Vodafone Ireland hopping on the guerrilla knitting bandwagon in the hope of convincing people that they were kooky, young and ever-so-slightly daring. If you haven’t seen the advert already, feel free to click on the link below though I feel I should warn you that it is particularly nauseating in places (particularly the use of the eponymous Irishism “deadly”, suggesting that the whole script was written by someone whose only other experience of Ireland was the occasional episode of Father Ted). And if the advert sickens you, definitely don’t visit the Vodafone website…

Bad hair, machine knitting and dodgy word choice aside, it’s undeniable that this is a truly terrible ad. Not just because the overall message is unclear (though anyone in the know is welcome to explain to me what exactly is the consumer benefit in “cheering up your top-up”). In using guerrilla knitting to inspire their new campaign, Vodafone has attempted to associate itself with a movement based on rebellion, individuality and secrecy – the polar opposite of a commercial advertisement aired on national telly. It just doesn’t work for a big corporation. Particularly one that has nothing to do with knitting.

My guess would be that it was dreamed up by an edgy creative agency executive who confused guerrilla knitting with graffiti knitting, assuming it was nothing more that the yarny equivalent of a student with a free hugs sign. It’s just a bit of fun, it raises a smile or two; surely there’s nothing more to it than that? One or two angry yarnstomers might tell him otherwise.

So what to do? How to respond to this poisoned chalice of a challenge? The angry knitter in me wants to protest: to knit vivid swatches decrying the campaign and storm the company HQ, demanding they withdraw the ads and apologise (all yarn-based compensation welcome). But the marketer in me knows that publicly decrying the ad will only serve to draw yet more attention – and potentially revenue – to their ill-conceived campaign, to the extent that guerrilla knitting could become associated with the brand for the foreseeable future: a horrible thought. So however much I’d like to protest, there’s only really one option: if you don’t like it, don’t buy it. Switch on Rage Against The Machine and jump about for a bit instead. It helps, I promise.

A confession

I have a confession.  Oh God, I’m not even really sure how to say this, so I’ll just have to come right out and say it: I’ve been cheating on my boyfriend’s scarf.  It doesn’t mean anything and I don’t even really know why I did it.  But you were away and I was online, just having a look and all ready to carry on with the scarf and then I saw this really easy pattern.  For a hat.  I’m so, so sorry.

At first it was all new and exciting because I was knitting in the round and I’d never done that before.  One minute I was casting on and the next minute I was looping the magic loop like there was no tomorrow.  And it was wonderful, odd baggy ladder stitches aside.  Within days I had something resembling a hat as it took shape in front of my very eyes, as the scarf lay abandoned at the end of the sofa, all straight and ribbed and scarf-like.

But I’ve ended it.  I just couldn’t take the deception any more: the endless lies and cover-ups as to why the scarf wasn’t getting any longer despite my feverish knitting episodes; the guilt of secret post-work trips to Peter Jones to buy a second skein of Rowan Cocoon in Bilberry; the knowledge that my boyfriend was so looking forward to the scarf that I’d cast aside in fickle pursuit of a slouchy hat.  I’m done.  It’s over.  And rather pretty is it too.

Slouchy HatSlouchy Hat 2

Avoiding The Curse

Without wishing to sound overly slushy, I love my boyfriend.  I really do.  In what may be one of the only successful speed-dating experiences the world has ever known, we had each attended the event with low expectations and – in my case at least – a healthy blood alcohol level to discover that amidst the social oddities, overly-keen and unfortunates (complete with actual hunches), there was someone there with whom we shared a bit of a spark.  Good albeit brief conversation was had, smiles were exchanges and ticks were added to the box.  Almost a year later, we’re happily ensconced in a South London flat, littering the rooms with toolboxes, yarn and duplicate books.

He has been nothing but supportive since I took on The Knit, though I suspect this is in no small part due to an Xbox-shaped Christmas present that has successfully managed to divert a fair whack of his attention.  However lately there have been suggestions that he might be interested in benefiting from my new ‘skill’.  Having recently completed my first small project and therefore naturally harbouring ambitious aspirations of full jumpers, dresses and knitty world domination, I was quick to suggest possible patterns and even began scouring Ravelry for a suitable offering.  Which was when I discovered The Sweater Curse.

Wikipedia – the source of all online knowledge – describes The Curse as follows:

Knitters use the term Sweater Curse or the Curse of the Love Sweater to describe a situation in which a knitter gives a hand-knit sweater to a significant other, who quickly breaks up with the knitter.  In an alternative formulation, the relationship will end before the sweater is even completed.  The belief is widely discussed in knitting publications and some knitters claim to have experienced the Sweater Curse; a recent poll indicated that 15% of active knitters say they have experienced the sweater curse firsthand, and 41% consider it a possibility that should be taken seriously.

Cripes.  The entry goes on to point out that a huge amount of effort, time, money and indeed “romantic imagination” goes into each Jumper knitted in these circumstances, all of which could suggest the application of additional stress on The Jumper as it becomes less about the garment itself and more about its conception as a declaration of love.  I have therefore obviously underestimated two things: firstly my hitherto unrealised need to confirm the depth of my emotions in garment form and secondly how much effort it takes to knit a freaking jumper.  Sorry, Jumper.

Wikipedia goes on to suggest the ways in which such an endeavour may bring about the end of your relationship:

  • Unlucky timing. Knitting a sweater takes a long time, and the relationship dies of natural causes during its making.
  • Rescue mission. The knitter senses subconsciously that the relationship is about to end, and knits a sweater as a dramatic gesture to save it.
  • Catalyst for analyzing the relationship. Giving or receiving a significant gift such as a sweater may cause either the giver or receiver to evaluate the relationship. For example, the gift may seem too intimate, too domestic or too binding to the significant other. It can be seen as a signal that makes them realize that the relationship is not reciprocal, prompting them to end the relationship before it involves obligations.
  • Aversion. The significant other may simply not want to wear anything hand-knit.  A hand-knit sweater can also subject them to ridicule, either because the sweater looks bad (i.e., poorly made or unfashionable) or conveys overly domestic connotations.
  • Misdirected attention. The knitter loves their sweater a little too much, and pesters the significant other about the sweater instead of working on their relationship. Alternatively, the knitter loves to knit too much, and spends too much time with their knitting instead of with the significant other.
  • Delusion. The knitter imagines incorrectly that their significant other likes them, and is not disillusioned before knitting the sweater and giving it to them.

Unlucky timing is understandable; you don’t see it coming and as a result your efforts are laid to waste.  The rescue mission concept is somewhat worrying in its Brangelina-like efforts to save the world’s children by adopting them, though I suppose if you were a particularly good knitter with an entirely shallow other half, you could convince them to stay by dangling cashmere in front of their moisturised refueled complexion.

Gender stereotypes aside, I’ve never been prone to over-analysing a relationship.  I understand how it can happen and have been present at many an emergency wine-fuelled summit where female friends have converged, seeking to understand more about a man’s desires, impressions and intentions from his eight word text message.  It’s just never really occurred to me to think “I had fun” means anything other than “I had fun”.  I therefore fail to understand how any garment could be a cause for analysing your relationship, but there you go.

Misdirected attention and delusion are both rather sad to be honest, though I mean that in the sense of ‘upsetting’ rather than ‘lame’.  It paints knitters as people so devoted to their craft that they become somehow detached from reality and seek to impress others with what they can knit rather than simply be who they are.

Of all of these options though, I fully understand the dangers of aversion; it could be rubbish, he could hate it, he could refuse to wear it and I’d end up grumpy.

A scarf it is then.

The interwebs is my oyster

I realise anyone reading this is probably all-to-familiar with the wealth (and dearth) of stuff there is out there but bloody hell there’s a lot of information online.  In the last two days, I have – with the help of the internet – managed to learn two different cast on methods, understand where I was going wrong with the bind off (far too tight), order needles and yarn in all different shapes and sizes and read umpteen excellent knitting blogs and guides.  And I’ve barely even scratched the surface.

I shouldn’t really be surprised.  After all, I work in digital communications and technology and am reasonably tech-savvy.  But still, the thought that the internet would prove to be quite such an epic source of knitting information had never really occurred to me.

Of all of my discoveries, Ravelry was by far the greatest revelation.  If ever I am asked to name a site that exemplifies a social networking community, I’ll be there in seconds and damn the knitting-revelation consequences.  In fact, it’ll probably already be open in a Firefox browser in the background, hiding behind my work and whispering sweet yarny nothings to me when no one’s looking.  It’s astonishing.  For anyone still unaware, imagine an online forum with tens of thousands of members, all able to befriend and talk to each other across multiple boards, topics and specialist groups.  Then add a library with tens of thousands of patterns, many of which are free and posted by individuals willing to share hints and tips to anyone who gets stuck.  To that add a yarn search engine worthy of Google-like godliness that allows you to match up a yarn with a pattern and watch me melt into a happy puddle of social media serendipity.  And on that note… *sigh*

The beginning

Much as I’d like to have chosen a less obvious and clichéd post title, it does sort of sum up where I am at the moment.  I have started to knit.  Literally in the last week.

After a weekend spent clearing up the spare room that we’ve somehow managed to turn into a chaotic lair of boxes in the two months that we’ve been here, I picked up my Stitch ‘n Bitch book (by Debbie Stoller – awesome) from under a pile of coats and started to flick through it.  Then last week I stopped off at iKnit in Waterloo on my not-so-direct way home from work to buy some needles (uh, wood) and yarn (ummm, it’s blue?) before plonking myself down onto the sofa.  According to my other half, I then spent the next three hours muttering to myself while flicking through various pages of my book and stabbing at the aforementioned blue wool with the aforementioned wooden needles.  All while wearing what he likes to call my ‘angry-concentratey face’.

All very valid points.  To my mind though, I was learning how to cast on and cope with some simple knit stitches, back and forth along the needles and slowly but surely creating a small blue swatch.  All before buggering it up somewhat with a dodgy bind off, but that’s beside the point.  I had created something; it was little and it was blue and decidedly lumpy in places, but it was an achievement.

Since then, I’ve become mildly obsessed.  I now have five small, blue swatches, each in a different type of stitch: garter, stockinette, 2×2 rib, purl with a colour change (also blue, I’m afraid) and even an attempt at the heart patterned swatch from my book.  It’s amazing (I mean The Knit; the swatches are far from amazing).  I can make something from wool and sticks.  Surely world domination is only a few more swatches away?