Yarndale

Season of mist and mellow fruitfulness! Yes, autumn is drawing in, and for me, that means two things: knitwear season is upon us, and Yarndale time has arrived once again.

The festival, which takes place at the end of September in Skipton’s auction mart, wasn’t on my radar until we moved to Leeds for the Yarn Widower’s Masters. Once we had settled in, I found a knitting group that didn’t hold meetings during my working hours, and promptly proceeded to make a group of excellent friends, which is most unlike me. One of the first questions they asked me (in November) was, “Are you coming to Yarndale?”

My first response was, “What is a Yarndale?” My second response, after a quick explanation, was, “I am now!”

Since we moved, I don’t see those friends as much, but I know that I can pretty reliably bump into them at Yarndale, even if I don’t make any specific plans to do so. For me, like many knitters, Yarndale has become a major part of my social, as well as yarn-acquisition, calendar.

So, here is how it all went this year.

I looked at getting there by train, but quickly realised that this would take forever, thanks to three changes and a rail replacement bus each way. Luckily, the Yarn Widower had a gig in Leeds, so he was prevailed upon to give me a lift both ways. Ergo, more money for yarn, right?

I remembered being a little child last year, so I set off wearing now fewer than four hand-knitted items (a Featherweight Cardigan, a scarf for which I can’t remember which pattern I used, some Regency Socks, and my beloved Scalemaille Mitts). It quickly became apparent that I was going to overheat in a big way, but I couldn’t bear taking any of it off. After all, it’s not often that I get to be surrounded by so many people who really get how special hand knits really are.

On running into the Leeds contingent, it became apparent that I’d been a bit of a bad influence. Last year, I’d turned up with a hipflask full of scotch, and a few people had decided to follow suit this time (and yes, mine made a repeat appearance). Much as I enjoy the event, I find it easier to cope with densely packed people with a little bit of added mellowness. I have also now seen a friend who shall remain nameless under the influence of an ungodly mixture of whisky, energy drinks and yarn fumes, so don’t even try telling me I’m the one with a problem.

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Even amongst the chaos of knitters on a yarn excursion, it’s still a wonderful way to catch up with friends from all over. To the vendor who had to listen to my off-colour anecdotes while trying to convince a friend that she didn’t need a Starry Night/Tardis themed crochet hook (she had limited funds and can’t even crochet), I am sorry, but the joke was just too good to pass up.

So, the haul. Before I show you this, I want two things noted for the record: firstly, I donated a substantial bag to the Oxfam yarn amnesty, so I technically came home with less yarn than I set off with.

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Secondly, the Yarn Widower continued his Yarndale tradition of adding a new musical instrument to his collection (a marching baritone this year, an orchestral tuba in 2016), so even he wanted to complain about my acquisitions, he wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.

Anyway, I now have: two skeins of Aruncania Botany Lace. They discontinued a lot of shades when they were bought out by Debbie Bliss, and I absolutely love the yarn, so I tend to buy it up whenever I see nice colours, as the ends of lines are almost always discounted.

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These two lovely skeins from the Dye Ninja, which are going to be the basis of my version of Woman Must Make Her Own Arrows, when I finally get around to it.

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Two skeins of John Arbon Knit by Numbers, plus beads, for when I manage to make a Fabergé Shawl without messing it up (there are a few painful attempts in my past).

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Pretty fibre from John Arbon. No plans for this yet, but it’s always fun to spin with pretty colours.

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This gorgeous braid of Blue Faced Leicester, from a vendor that has shamefully vanished from my memory, and hasn’t included any branding on the tag…

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And finally, a Latvian mitten kit from Hobbywool. I was so glad to see these guys at Yarndale, as I tried to visit their shop in Riga when we visited last year, but didn’t realise that the summer solstice was a national holiday and therefore everywhere was shut.

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We then repaired to Leeds for restorative burritos, and I got to stand on a street corner in town for half an hour on a Saturday night waiting for my lift (“I’m literally five minutes away, honest!”). I don’t recommend this, but I did get to see a man so drunk by 9pm that he was trying to punch his own shadow in the doorway of a McDonalds. Never change, Leeds. But maybe sober up a bit?

In short, the day was overwhelming, exhausting and occasionally infuriating, and I can’t wait to do it all again next year.

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Rematch

img_0726I am currently knitting the Lush Cardigan from Tin Can Knits’ Handmade in the UK, in purple Explorer Coast DK. Those of you who know me offline may be wondering if you’re experiencing a glitch in the matrix. Yes, this is identical to a project I finished two years ago. However, I proudly sewed on the buttons, and within the space of a single wear, the blasted thing went from three inches of negative ease to more like eight inches of positive ease.

The hem was rapidly approaching my knees, and my hands had disappeared under sagging cuffs (I had decided to make the sleeves full-length, but still). In short, I had accidentally knitted a front-fastening sack with a fetching lace yoke.

Given that I’d swatched properly and checked the fit throughout, I was fairly sure that I hadn’t had a tension accident. As I was a relatively new knitter and it was my first garment, it took me a little while to work it out, but I got there in the end. Explorer Coast is a lovely yarn, but it’s 55 per cent wool, 45 per cent cotton. I hadn’t considered the way that cotton tends to stretch out under its own weight, particularly when used in larger projects.

We were in the process of moving house and city at the time, so I washed and dried it again, and when that didn’t help, put it in time out for a few months, because there was no way I was emotionally equipped to deal with it while living in a sea of half-built IKEA furniture.

But I knew what needed to be done, and once the dust had settled, I finally got my nerve up, and I frogged my first-ever completed garment. Completely. All while wishing I hadn’t woven in the ends so thoroughly. Then I re-skeined and washed all of that bastard lying yarn and returned it to the stash. Specifically, the box in the attic where I corral all of the jumper project yarn so it doesn’t taunt me on a daily basis. And there it stayed, until a few weeks ago. I hadn’t been ignoring it per se, but I’m easily distracted by things that are new and shiny.

A little while ago, as part of a drive to start using up what I semi-jokingly refer to as the Deep Stash, I pulled out the reclaimed yarn and took a long hard look at it. The temptation was to go with a new pattern, but I bought this yarn and book together, goddammit, and that is how it will be used. Also, I really like Lush and still want to wear it.

Because I’m not a total glutton for punishment (shut up, am not), I am doing a few things differently this time. I’ve checked my tension again, then gone down a few needle sizes. I’ve also chosen a smaller size in the pattern – believe me, I never thought I’d knit an adult size small again either.

Despite the amount of negative ease in Lush, I’m still faced with a challenge. I am, shall we say, full in the bust. To an extent that selecting a jumper pattern based on the “to fit bust X inches/cm” measurement always results in a garment that fits neatly over my chest but hangs pretty loose everywhere else. And what’s the point of knitting your own jumper if it doesn’t look like it was, well… made for you?

Now, I know I made some adjustments last time, and based on the fact that the wretched thing was eight inches too big all over, it clearly worked. I just can’t remember what I did, and I didn’t write it down, so I’m having to do the sodding maths all over again (is anyone sensing a theme with this project?).

Thus far, I’ve settled on a sort of Frankenstein solution, which involves grading various sizes together in the relevant places, mainly by adding extra decrease rounds on top of the waist shaping. It’s hard to tell if it’s working at this point, as the whole thing is working up far too small. This isn’t worrying me too much at this point, although I’m starting to wonder if it should, as last time, it didn’t start to sag until after it was finished. How it will stretch out that much if I can’t do it up in the first place is another matter.

It’s certainly interesting from a process knitting point of view, and not just because Lush is an entertaining and well-thought-out design (which it absolutely is). No, it’s because while there are certain things I knit over and over again, such as plain ribbed socks, this is the first time I’ve ever ripped out an entire project and used the yarn to make the same pattern again. Call it a rematch, if you will. I’m undeniably older, hopefully wiser, and I’m interested to see what a few more years of knitting experience brings to this do-over.

Now, according to most of the rules of blogging, this is where I would close with some sort of defiant statement about how “this yarn/pattern isn’t going to beat me this time!”, but I’m not going to. I know that that sort of public grandstanding is a surefire way to activate the laws of irony, but I’m also acutely aware that this yarn – and let’s face it, it’s the yarn, not the pattern – has behaved so unpredictably thus far that there’s every chance I’m going to get my arse handed to me again. The only certainty is that it will be a different kind of screw-up, and therefore should at least have the potential to be interesting and/or informative.

Just one thing: when it happens, please don’t remind me that I was so annoying smug and Zen about the prospect. Past me is really irritating when she gets like that. But here in the present, I’m four inches past the armholes and feeling cautiously optimistic. Wish me luck.

In Which Crafts Combine

There’s a lot of talk in woolly circles about people being “bicraftual”. Normally, this refers to people who both knit and crochet. It’s surprisingly uncommon – most people either have a very strong preference for one over the other, or are like me. I tried crossing over to the dark side (crochet), but I just can’t get the hang of it. It’s not even as if I just need to get over the hump of being a beginner and therefore rubbish, as in the same timeframe I’ve gone from roving falling apart in my hands to being a reasonably proficient spinner. There is something about crochet that just. Does. Not. Compute. So the bicraftual label is not one I normally claim for myself.

However, I do sew. I sew pretty badly, but that’s besides the point. As it isn’t one of the “Ravelry crafts” – that’s knitting, crochet, spinning, weaving, dyeing and tatting, for the uninitiated – I tend not to consider it as part of the same crafty sphere.

I’m currently making an exception, because recently knitting and sewing have come together in a way that I didn’t really expect. To be fair, it’s mainly because I’m cheap and incompetent, but never mind.

I decided to make a pair of pyjama shorts from a recent-ish issue of BurdaStyle. Don’t ask me which one, as it is currently in disgrace. I traced off the pattern pieces, drafted on the seam allowances and set to work. And before any of you start on me in the comments, yes, I checked my measurements. Several times, because I was a little bit taken aback (OK, and also slightly offended) to find that I had a size 16 waist according to the sizing chart. But I told myself to stop being vain and silly, to trust the pattern and tape measure, and continued.

Partly because this was my first time sewing with a knitted fabric, and partly because the pattern directions were sodding confusing, I didn’t register the true size of what I was making until the time came to put the waist elastic in. I get that these are pyjamas and are meant to be loose-fitting, gathered in by the elastic. However, what I had made was HUGE. Proper ribcage to knees Victorian bloomers huge. Of course, I didn’t notice this until after I’d gone through the massive ball ache that is hemming round a corner.

So I ripped all the seams out, hacked off the seam and hem allowances, plus a few inches at the waist for good measure, and redid it all. Still massive. Rinse and repeat.

Did I mentioned that this was the third time I’d had to hem around those sodding corners? In jersey, which slips and slides and gets pulled out of shape if you look at it funny? Good. So I think you can appreciate that perhaps I didn’t do my best, neatest sewing on the final product, and thus it looks like it was sewn by a particularly uncoordinated drunk. Distressingly, I was sober the whole time so I can’t use that excuse, but I think you can see why I couldn’t face ripping it out and redoing it a fourth time.

This project also involved a scalloped lace trim around the hem. “Great!” I thought to myself on the way into the haberdashery. “I can use the lace to hide the wonky hem.”

There was technically nothing wrong with the plan. However, as I went round multiple haberdasheries, it became clear that everything that even vaguely met the requirements of the pattern and what I had in my head either: a) cost upwards of £8 a metre, so to hell with that, or b) didn’t exist. I tried the internet, but still nothing.

So I had a little think. This, my friends will tell you, never ends well. “I know!” I said to myself over a restorative ice cream, “I’ll knit a scalloped lace edging for it. I’ve got loads of Victorian knitting pamphlets, and they’re full of this kind of thing. Also, crochet cotton is way cheaper than this.”

Again, this was perfectly sound reasoning, but this time I had failed to account for the fact that none of the patterns in these periodicals seem to have been proofread, never mind test knit. An afternoon of attempting to Macgyver a few of them into submission (and cursing the name of Mlle. de Riego) followed, until I realised that Franklin Habit had already done the hard work for me over at Knitty. So I stopped frantically charting lace and starting knitting instead.img_0545

This is the result. Yes, those are 1.5mm needles. I’m knitting a lace weight ballgown, and you only just realised that I have a weakness for big projects on tiny needles?

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It’s also been quite fun having a project that will fit in a pencil case, but I digress.

Anyway, it’s taken a while, but I’ve finally managed to churn out enough edging to go around both legs, and sewn it on. I’ve even put the waist elastic in. So behold (I have ironed it, but for some reason it still photographs really creased).

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It turns out I am bicraftual, just not in the way I expected.

Top Ten Stupidest Responses to Knitting in Public

It’s World Wide Knit in Public Day today, so in addition to knitting on a train, I would like to share with you the ten most ridiculous things that people have said to me while I was knitting.

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Today’s public knitting

1. What lovely crochet!

No. Just no. I know you’re trying to relate by reaching for the first (or only) “makes things with string” word you can come up with, but this really isn’t helping. Aren’t there enough cultural depictions of knitting for you to know what it is yet? Also, as a note to all non-fibrecraft people (AKA muggles): yes, we really do care about the distinction between knitting and crochet. We will cut you if you keep mixing them up (believe me, the crocheters will do worse. A lifetime of doily-making can push a person over the edge).

2. Are those socks for me?

Surprisingly, no, because I hadn’t met you when I cast them on. This one annoys me because it’s a question designed to have no right answer. If you say yes, then there’s every chance you’ll end up with a sock-obsessed stalker. Say no, and they’ll use your response to feign outrage and try to guilt you into continuing the unwanted conversation. This technique seems to be used solely by middle-aged men who want to do weirdly paternalistic flirting, and on behalf of knitting women everywhere, please stop.

3. Can I have a go?

Unless you know what you’re doing, there’s no way I’m letting you loose on my lacy socks, and if you knew what you were doing, you wouldn’t have come out without your own knitting, would you? Warning – if this question is accompanied with grabbing at my needles, I will flinch and emit high-pitched keening noises. If your hands actually touch my knitting, this will escalate to hissing and slashing. I have an inner cat, and she hates you too.

4. I wish I had time for that!

These words are almost always uttered by someone who is sitting on public transport fiddling aimlessly with their phone. There. There’s your time. You are not as busy as you think you are. Please ignore the fact that this is my travel and unexpected waiting knitting, and that I have five other half-finished projects at home. Instead focus on my productive, stress-relieving use of what would otherwise be dead time. But seriously, this is what I do when sitting around watching TV. You have time, I promise.

5. Them: What are you doing?

Me: Knitting.

Them: No you’re not! That’s needlepoint.

If you already knew what I was doing, then why the fuck did you bother asking? That’s leaving aside the fact that needlepoint is a type of embroidery, and that you clearly think I’m too stupid to know what I’m doing, so why are we talking?

And yes, this is really a conversation I’ve had with a human adult. I think the DPNs threw them, or perhaps they think there’s some kind of conspiracy to misinform the general public about types of needlework. Who know? Who cares?

6. Pointing, staring and whispering (in any combination)

This is just rude. Knitting doesn’t render me oblivious to the world around me, and I’m not shoving the needles in my ears, so there’s no reason my hearing would be affected. But still people persist. Please stop doing this, or drastic measures (up to and including interpretive dance) may be taken.

7. Will you teach me?

Argh! New knitters are so important, and under most other circumstances, I would love to introduce you to the basics, but: this carriage is bouncing and rattling like nobody’s business, I don’t have any beginner-friendly equipment with me, and I need to get off this train in exactly eight minutes. I may be a bad emissary for knitting, but there’s a time and a place. If you really want to learn, try your friendly local yarn shop. Or maybe look it up on the internet.

8. My [insert relation here] knits too! Do you know her?

Yes, I definitely know the person you’ve only described as “my aunt”, total stranger whose name I don’t know either. We sat next to each other at the Annual Meeting of Every Knitter Ever, Anywhere in the World, and she warned me about a nephew who likes to ask stupid questions on public transport.

9. “How long is that going to take you?”, followed by shock and disbelief at the answer.

I appreciate this may seem like an occupational hazard of knitting a floor-length dress in lace weight, but I’ve been getting this one ever since I first started knitting on the bus. Whether it’s surprise that a sock was a week’s worth of commutes, or amazement that I can’t just whip up a jumper in a weekend, people always underestimate how long knitting takes, and I find it really annoying. Bonus points if the words “It can’t possibly take that long!” are uttered.

10. You need to put that away! It’s dangerous!

Believe it or not, this was on a train rather than a plane. The knitting in question involved small wooden circulars and was resting in my lap unobtrusively. I looked at the man who had requested I stop, then I looked at my knitting. I considered pointing out that one could do far more damage with the pen he was using to do his crossword, that, psychologically speaking, I pose a much greater threat without knitting to keep me calm, and that if wanted something really dangerous, I could show him the wickedly sharp and stabby embroidery scissors in my notions case. I also considered that I did not want to be thrown off the train and questioned by the British Transport Police. So I smiled very politely and kept knitting. Compromise is a beautiful thing.

A Woman’s Worth and the Value of Needlecrafts

Like a lot of knitters, I don’t tend to think of my output in terms of monetary value (spinning is another story, as I compulsively tell myself that all of my expensive equipment helps me save money on yarn, despite the fact that I haven’t cut down on my purchases since I got my wheel). However, this week, I’ve had to try to put a price on some of my work, and I’ve run into a few problems. I think they’re symptomatic of something far bigger and more insidious than me and my socks, so I’d like to devote a bit of time and space here to unpacking them.

The socks in question are made of sport-weight yarn, and come up to the knees of a tall man, with a nine centimetre turnover to boot. This is a substantial amount of knitting. I’m not sure exactly how much, because they’ve been train and unexpected waiting knitting and I haven’t been keeping track (I’m aware that this was my first mistake). Regardless, I would estimate 16 hours per pair, at the very least.

The minimum wage for my age bracket is currently £7.20. I will spare you my rant about how this still largely doesn’t reflect the cost of living, and why should people under 25 not be paid a living wage as well, as it’s all beside the point. If we take the lower limit of time spent on these socks, the minimum labour cost are £115.20 per pair. And that’s before we take into account the cost of materials, or the notion that any profit should be included.

Now, there’s something in the previous paragraph that your eyes may have skipped over. I’m talking about the minimum wage, as well as the shortest possible amount of time spent. Knitting is a skill that I’ve taken the time to learn, albeit largely by teaching myself. Why is my immediate reaction not to put a greater value on it?

I think there’s a number of reasons for this. Firstly, much like the occupations in which I have professional or semi-professional experience (music and writing), knitting is something that people see as a fun hobby. People tend to undervalue things like that, as if  “doing what you love” should be a reason to accept poverty pay. The compensation for work should in part reflect the amount of time it has taken to learn and perfect the skills required. It took time to learn how to knit quickly and evenly, follow a pattern and all of the associated technical tricks, just as I’ve spent years practising putting words in the right order, and getting to the point where I can sing well enough to consider it as a career.

Yet still people persist in asking me to do all three of these things for nothing, peanuts, or that mystical currency of “exposure”, which my landlord consistently refuses to accept in lieu of rent payments. And this touches on the second part of the problem: people are unwilling to pay the true value of hand-knitted items. Partly, this is because people don’t realise how long it takes (I can’t be the only one who’s been met with surprise when I say that I can’t turn out a jumper in a weekend), but it’s also because historically, we have been taught to undervalue needlecraft as “women’s work”. It sounds trite, but there are very few – in fact, I can’t think of any – traditionally “masculine” crafts where the disparity between time taken to produce an item and its perceived market value is so large and there’s a reason for this.1

Until relatively recently, needlework, from the time-consuming tedium of mending and straight seaming to the most elaborate of fancy-work, was done “in-house”, so to speak. It was just art of the general unpaid domestic labour that women took on, and was regarded as proof of their feminine virtue, or of their accomplishments (there is a very interesting discussion of what makes a woman truly “accomplished” in Chapter Eight of Pride and Prejudice, for anyone who wants to read more about the topic). Essentially, even if the plainer work was done by servants, pretty much all women of every social class did some form of needlework, a great deal of it without pay.

And of course, people are always reluctant to start paying for something that they’ve always got for free, so here we are.

What is really needed is a shift in perspective. At one point in her oft-quoted manual Etiquette, Emily Post observes that in some periods, “no dress was fit to be seen if it hadn’t a month or two of some one’s time embroidered on it. I really like that phrasing, the idea that elaborate needlework is a literal signifier of somebody’s time, and I plan to employ it should I need to put a price on my work in the future.

It isn’t terribly fair that the people who have historically been disadvantaged by the undervaluing of needlework are the ones who have to do the heavy lifting to fix it, but we live in a capitalist system, and history teaches us that the market never stops exploiting workers just because it’s the right thing to do. Equitable treatment is won by workers making a fuss, and being prepared to collectively withhold their labour if necessary. So if people don’t want to pay what hand-knitted socks are worth, no hand-knitted socks for them. The free market can sometimes work both ways.

 

1 Yes, I know mechanisation has played a part in this, but crochet cannot be done by a machine (yes, really – every piece of crochet on mass market clothing is made by hand, generally for a pittance and in exploitative conditions), and it suffers from exactly the same problems, so this clearly isn’t the whole story.

The Shawl Manifesto

Recently, I’ve seen a number of articles and social media posts about shawls. They all focused, either in passing or as a main topic, on how making shawls more wearable, or how to style them so they look less, well… shawly.

I can see where they’re coming from. Big, bold shawls in all the colours of the rainbow are an ever-popular type of knitting – they’re the perfect canvas for meandering cables, brain-melting lace or in-your-face colour contrasts. They’re one-size-fits-all, and most can be adapted to suit the amount or weight of yarn you have on hand, making them perfect for using up odd skeins or particularly special yarns. In short, shawls are fun to knit.

The wearing, though… Most people, knitters or not, don’t really see shawls as part of their repertoire. So they don’t wear them. And where does that leave us? With lots of brilliant creations that are painstakingly knitted, carefully blocked, and then neatly folded away in drawers.

It’s clear that this doesn’t sit well with a lot of people, hence the recent plethora of advice on toning them down and making them blend in more easily.

Fuck that. I’m here to offer an alternative.

You can bunch your shawls up around your neck if you want, and I’m not knocking that concept per se (it’s great for staying extra warm in winter, or making wraps work with coats and other thick outerwear). But what if… What if we stopped trying to make our shawls less dramatic and embraced their, well, shawliness?

Imagine billowing down thee street in a cloud of hand-dyed merino, maybe even with some beads sparkling around the edging. Pin on a pi shawl that comes down to your knees to meet friends for coffee. Rock a glorious shawl whenever the mood takes you or the temperature suggests it.

To me, it is the perfect combination of practical and glamorous, and will always be the most elegant way to leave the house wearing what is essentially a small blanket.

What if people stare?

Maybe they will. Staring is rude, but then, rude people are an unfortunate fact of life. I’m fairly sure that people stare at me about the same amount, regardless of whether I am wrapped in yarny goodness, or schlepping to the shops in an old jumper requisitioned from the Yarn Widower. I’m not jaw-droppingly beautiful, but I haven’t broken any mirrors recently either, so I don’t think that’s got anything to do with it.

People are going to stare sometimes, so you might as well be fabulous (and cozy) while they do it. Besides, what do a stranger’s opinions matter?

Now of course, people might go further and actually make comments on your knitwear. If you don’t like those comments, may I recommend the Captain Awkward method of Letting It Be Awkward. Say “wow” or “really” with as little inflection as possible, and just look at them while they stew. They know it’s rude, and they are the ones who decided to be rude, so turn it back onto them by doing nothing. Then swish off into the sunset, wearing your shawl like a superhero cape, because that is who you are now.

What if my friends and family think I’m weird?

Then they’d be right. Knitters, like all the best people, are generally pretty weird.

While my immediate response is “to hell with them”, I’m aware it’s not that simple. Disregarding the criticism (or even gentle mockery) of those closest to us can be really hard.

There are two parts to this answer. Firstly, do you think that your nearest and dearest haven’t already noticed the knitting? Because they have. Whether it’s picking stitch markers out of the hoover or accepting that you won’t head out for the day without a half-finished sock in your bag, knitting quickly becomes a part of life. With this in mind, why should wearing a shawl be any different to wearing an amazing hand knitted jumper?

The second part of my answer is about how people perceive knitting as a craft. Knitting still has a bit of an image problem, especially when it comes to laymen (or muggles, if you prefer). Despite huge amounts of evidence to the contrary, some people still believe that knitting is purely an activity for the old and uncool, and is mainly made up of grandmothers churning out baby clothes (as if there were something wrong with this).

These people’s heads would explode if you told them about Stephen West, or the Pussyhats, or the, um, eclectic range of patterns in the “whimsies” section of Knitty.

Now, while my first line of defence is still “who cares about those people?” with a side order of “‘fuck off’ is already a complete sentence”, there’s something important I’d like to share with you.

Over the years, I’ve met a great many people with what could be described as niche interests. Not just knitters, but Morris dancers, early music lovers, LARPers, model train enthusiasts, brass band nuts and dedicated fan fiction writers, to name but a few.

And I’ve observed an overarching trend with these people, and how I respond to them. When I encounter someone who is doing (or talking about) that one thing that they love and are really good at, they come alive in a very real way. This gives them the kind of magnetism that means that I can’t help enjoying their company, even if I know nothing at all about the interest in question.

Sometimes I want to be friends with these people. Sometimes I want to be them. Sometimes I want to be on their face. I have been known to have difficulty distinguishing between the three, but that’s besides the point.

The point is that the joy and total absorption that comes when you engage with your passion makes you more sympathetic, not less.

And yes, wearing your handiwork on the regular may get you a reputation. But is there anything wrong with being “the one who’s always wearing amazing shawls”? It’s definitely better than “the person with questionable hygiene who always stands too close” or “the knuckle-cracker”, so I will take that label with pride.

Really, this has been a long and unusually earnest way of making a simple plea:don’t let your knitwear languish in cupboards and drawers. No more saving it for special occasions. Do what you love. Free the shawls.

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For illustrative purposes, a quick photo of me wearing a big shawl, taken by the Yarn Widower.

Songs and Sock Yarn

There’s nothing quite like waking up to a massive pile of laundry and a weirdly affectionate cat to make you realise that the holiday is most definitely over.

What’s more, this week I’ve been tackling the laundry single-handed, as the Yarn Widower abandoned me for the delights of the European Geosciences Union General Assembly, and then has to dash off to a gig in Edinburgh first thing tomorrow. Don’t feel too sorry for him, though, as he seems to have had a grand old time in Vienna.

My travels have been rather less glamorous, but the embryonic ballgown (all one and a half inches of it!) and I had a little trip to Flint Mountain on Sunday to sing in a concert. It was great fun, and there was an impressive turnout for a Sunday afternoon, even if I did have to sleep for 14 hours afterwards.

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Sadly, I was in too much of a rush to obtain conclusive photographic proof that I was in a church without spontaneously combusting, but I did take pictures of yarn and music.

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For those that aren’t familiar, the above photos show the ballgown cozying up to the Big Yellow Book, as it’s affectionately known. It’s pretty much a bible for first and second year singers at music college, and is full of a selection of Baroque songs that come with utterly ridiculous, over-the-top accompaniments courtesy of its 19th century editors. It’s completely bonkers, and therefore great fun to sing.

After I’d returned to a more or less functional state, I decided to take advantage of the extra downstairs space by bringing my wheel down so I could spin while watching trashy TV (which is so truly awful that I can’t bring myself to admit what it is).

My project for the week involved some delightful BFL roving from Countess Ablaze in the OOAK colour Tropical. Now, the lustre and long staple length of BFL screams socks to me so I did a bit of research. As the aforementioned Countess has recently pointed out, not all four ply is sock-worthy, and there’s nothing worse than spending loads of time on a pair of socks that promptly stretch out of shape or sprout holes. Particularly when you’ve gone to the trouble of spinning the yarn yourself.

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This is (half) of what I started with. I forgot to take photos until half the singles were already spun. I know, bad blogger.

BFL is already a good fit for socks, as it’s pretty tough, but I wanted to make this stuff as close to bombproof as possible, with loads of twist. Enter cable spun yarn. This involved spinning (in my case) four lots of singles, which then became two bobbins of heavily overplied two-ply.

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Excuse the poor light, but I’m a massive insomniac, so this is perfect witching hour, bore-yourself-to-sleep spinning. As I’m a chronic underplier, I ran it through the wheel twice on a high ratio to make sure. The two-ply is then plied together (i.e. in the same direction that the singles were originally spun). The result should be a really tough, rounded yarn that gives excellent stitch definition and can really take a beating.

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This is the actual end result, helpfully modelled by a local tree. It’s in a public space, so I was worried that someone would ask what I was doing, and I would have to say “photographing yarn in a tree” as if it were a perfectly normal thing to do. I mean, I think it is, but it’s not really that kind of neighbourhood.

I don’t think it’s bad for a first attempt at a new spinning technique, but the real test will be how the eventual socks hold up. Patterns, anyone?