Sunday, May 22, 2011

Hopeful knitting

Actually, I hope I get some knitting done. I'm knitting a lot, but also tinking a lot. This "perfect knitting" goal is diminishing my production. Even though I should get back at it, I'm taking a break to share a special place, an appropriate one for a Sunday posting.

This is the chapel of King's College in Cambridge. It seems all the colleges in Cambridge have chapels, but this one is the most spectacular and is open to the public most of the time. There's a fee, of course, but it is worth it, especially since they allow photos. There's a lot to be said about the chapel, but I'll leave that to the Internets. It is sufficient to say that it took 100 years to complete its construction. Although the ceiling and the windows are the big wow, I liked the floor, too.

The painting is Rubens' The Adoration of the Magi. I was amused to read that Rubens painted the Magi to resemble himself, while painting Mary and Joseph to resemble the King and Queen who commissioned the painting.

There's a huge organ, terribly historic and ornate, with an enormous wooden screen in front and an elaborate choir loft behind it. I can only imagine what it must be like to hear it played, with choir accompaniment, in such a space.

These images remind me of the hope, the expectation of success, the striving to achieve a goal that must have driven kings, workers and clergy who were willing to continue over 100 years to complete this beautiful building, I can't shirk from spending a few weeks on a mere knitting projects.

After all, each stitch is a step in the right direction. One little stitch, a couple of seconds, added with thousands of others will accomplish the task. Look at the effect that single footsteps, one after the other have had over the years--

That threshold is worn away. I saw a lot of steps and thresholds this worn in Cambridge. It's not something I see often in the U.S. By comparison, our buildings are so new!

The door goes into one of the side chapels.

I needed a pep talk today. I just started the border of a shawl, one that is knitted along the edge. These seem to take so long, back and forth again and again over a short row. I'll go now and see how many repeats I need to do each day to finish it this week. It's got to be done by the end of the month!

Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Gray is Perfect when knit

In the past month, (I've been home a month!) I have made great progress on knitting little things and little progress on big ones. I blame any lack of progress on my new goal of perfecting my knitting. It's much less daunting to perfect a little project than a big one. I won't denigrate the little ones, though. Besides producing a satisfying result, making the little projects perfect does encourage me to plan the big ones carefully.

Last year, I bought over 1,000 yards of this gray and aqua yarn (Blue Sky's Alpaca and Silk). Since I have a wealth of sweaters, I hoped to concoct a shawl. I knit Andrea's Shawl and ripped it out. It wasn't what I wanted. I tried Ulmus, but it didn't work in a plain yarn. That pretty pattern really needs a little variegation to make the slipped stitches blend together, I think.

When I saw the fingerless mitts by Mary Rourke, Lusekofte-sque, I decided this lovely design, which recommends a similar yarn, would work for these two contrasting colors of Alpaca and Silk. While I was knitting the mitts, I re-thought shawl designs. I'm making a little progress on the shawl now that I've had success with the mitts.

I'm also working on perfecting socks. That is, I'm developing a set of sock patterns that are perfect for me. I've gotten the top-down, heel-flap-and-gusset, princess-sole, minimum-purl version knit and written. Now I'm trying a pair from the other end.

These are knit with Paton's Kroy Jacquards. The first one was straightforward--toe-up, yo-yo heel. I knit until I had used a full ball of yarn. The problem came with the second one. I knit the entire foot before I realized I was knitting the stripe pattern in reverse. Since I wasn't happy with my finish on the heel, I was glad to rip it out and start from the other end of the second ball. After all, the way to get matching stripes is to start at the same point and knit in the same direction. I reasoned that knitting the heel again would give me a chance to solve its problems.

If only that had worked. Instead, I cut and joined the yarn several times to try to match the stripes, finally giving it up on the final repeat. That one is just a little off, though. The other six match, and the heel is darned close. I'd call this a success. And, in case you didn't notice, that is a sheep my feet are resting on. It's my new knitting room doormat, courtesy of Tuesday Morning. Using it for my photo shoot gave me a pass on dusting the floor!

Ah, pretty gray knits, warm hands and feet, sheep rugs--what's not to like?

I'll be writing a lot about these perfected socks in the next couple of months. I hope there's interest in a pattern. They may look like simple ribbed socks, but they have a couple of secrets.

Posted by Picasa

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The yarn shopping might be different, too.

I didn't attempt to go to a yarn shop when I first arrived in London. There was far too much else to see and do, and very little space in my luggage for yarn.

I did manage a quick visit to I Knit on our final day, a Saturday, only because we were at the nearby Parliament and London Eye. It was good timing, though, because I found the shop crammed full of their local knitting group. Actually, it was also full of lots of scrumptious-looking food. The knitting group members really lay out a good spread.

It is a small shop, rather bohemian. I found it quite interesting and I also found yarn. No complaints. But then, I am telling things backwards. Earlier in the week, we had spent three days in Cambridge.

As soon as I pulled out my knitting on the train to Cambridge, I noticed a lady a few rows back eyeing it and smiling. (Not that I was twisting and peering all about, ultra-touristy-like. My seat was facing backwards, giving me a clear view of the passengers behind.) Shortly, she reached into her bag and pulled out a sock pattern, studying it for a few minutes. I took this as a signal that she might be willing to talk knitting, but was disappointed when I couldn't make eye contact with her thereafter. I was forced to assume that the sight of my knitting reminded her of the sock pattern.

As the train was pulling into the station, I decided I was missing an obvious opportunity. I brazenly and rather loudly accosted her across the intervening seats, asking "Excuse me, do you knit?" She answered with a quiet "Yes" and a nod. I then asked if there was a yarn shop in Cambridge.

When she began to explain that she wasn't from Cambridge, I was amazed to hear the fellow across the table from us speak up to assure me, "There will be a yarn shop in Cambridge." He had us in his beady gaze the entire last hour and an half and hadn't said "boo!" or whatever the appropriate idiom might be. I was surprised that he responded and began to try to puzzle out the meaning of his response. Did he mean that a yarn shop was planned, but it hadn't opened yet? If that was what he meant, I thought it odd that he seemed to think I would be happy to hear his reassurance. While I stared at him, the lady I had asked thankfully wiped the puzzled look off my face by explaining that there is a John Lewis and that they carry yarn. Or rather, as I was quickly corrected in that very same shop a couple of days later, wool.

Following the correction, I was directed to the John Lewis crafts department, where I found a more-than-helpful shop clerk. At first, she seemed very concerned that I had taken a photo, the one in my earlier post. However, once I had answered her question, yes, I am from the U.S., she observed, "Oh, knitting is very big over there, isn't it?"

After I hesitantly agreed, she went on to explain that she thought it just hadn't caught on in the same way in England, at least not yet. Recently, she explained, newer yarn shops have opened that are similar to the ones in the U.S. These newer shops carry modern yarn. However, the older shops do not, and much of their stock is acrylic or acrylic blends. Altogether, after comparing what I know of the yarn shops in the U.S., the number and frequency of classes and the attendance and trade, with her experience in Cambridge, I had to agree with her. Perhaps knitting doesn't draw the same enthusiastic numbers in England that it does here.

Regardless, I was happy to find such a helpful clerk. She was the reason I found the only knitting shop in Cambridge. Since she told me there was one, I searched for it, trekking across the colleges to find it.

I don't know I would have realized it on my own, just looking at the Internet yellow pages, but the sewing shop does sell yarn. Still, I was a bit surprised to find half the building dedicated to it. Lots of sock yarn, a good bit of acrylic, but still, decent yarn. Just in case anyone reading this is planning a visit to Cambridge and wants to shop for yarn--the newer, more trendy yarn shops are in Ely, a little to the north of Cambridge. If I had really wanted to explore British yarn shops, I'd have gone there. As it was, I just wanted a few souvenirs. These are my purchases from both I Knit and The Wool Shop--

That's mostly German sock yarn--Rico Superba Klassik, King Cole Zig Zag and Regia, from The Wool Shop. I also bought Italian Sirdar Escape there--that's the showy yarn up front. It will be used for an Inspira Cowl once I find a coordinating contrasting yarn. In the middle there's some green Duo Comfort by Adriafil (Italian, again), a wool and cotton blend that I hope can withstand machine washing. If so, it will become slippers for my traveling companion. I let her select it, so I know she will like it. On the left, near the back is my sole English yarn. It's Wensleydale Longwool from Sheep Shop, spun in Yorkshire. I'm so tickled with it that I started knitting a swatch already.

As I said earlier, I was knitting while traveling England. I just finished the socks I took on the trip, but first I'll show you the pair that waited at home for me.

I finished these shortly after I came back. They're Wakefield Socks, with such a pretty stitch pattern it shouldn't be buried in shoes. I could say that's why I didn't continue the pattern over the part that goes into my shoes, but it wouldn't be true. I wanted a smoother surface against my foot, for comfort's sake. I couldn't resist carrying the twisted stitches down to the toe, though. They are so dynamic.

Details here.

More little knitted things are blocked and drying. If it will stay sunny, I'll post them soon.

Posted by Picasa