Thursday, November 29, 2012

English Notebook: One

I went to England and now I'm back again.

Listen. I've realized that if I try to arrange the notes and photographs from the trip into a neat, coherent, chronological set of entries, I will never get around to showing you anything at all.

So I'm going to post things as and how they occur to me. If you find the scattershot approach disconcerting, please consider that at least you are not trapped in my living room watching me click through slides while Dolores rests her head on your shoulder.

My very first note from this trip–scribbled after a stroll up Regent Street on arrival day–was this:

As usual, the sight of the classic Englishman in full fig is making me want to pile my entire wardrobe into a little wooden boat, douse it with paraffin, set it on fire, push it out to sea, and start over again.

I know perfectly well that not every guy in England is fashion plate. But the tweedy peacocks of Central London reminded me of the joy I used to take in dressing myself, and while my closet hasn't been set on fire it has come under close scrutiny. Time will tell whether I improve myself in any significant way. It can be tough to do while living in a city where a nice, clean Ohio State sweatshirt is considered suitable for an evening wedding.

We took the train from King's Cross Station


to Cambridge. I had never been there before.

My friend Liz lives there, and was graduated from Clare College, so she knows her way around. She took us places we would never have known to go, and told us things the tour guides would not have known.

This is Liz.


She's a knitter (to put it mildly). The fantastic hat is by Woolly Wormhead and was finished while we were eating lunch.

Here are a few things we saw in Cambridge. (There will be more. These are the shots closest to hand.)

King's College Chapel and some of Clare College, from the river.  (Click to embiggen.)

From the River

Had it been snowing, this would have been the cover of my favorite Christmas record, A Festival of Lessons and Carols. I would like to thank King's College, Cambridge, for looking exactly as it was supposed to look.

The Colleges of Cambridge put every other academic landscape I've ever seen (and I have seen far, far too many) in the shade. You can't move five feet without finding something like this polychrome archway in St John's College looming over you. (Again, click to embiggen.)


The Colleges, of course, are on the beaten path. Well off the beaten path was All Saints, a church only lately rescued from dereliction and neglect that was decorated by leading lights of the Arts and Crafts Movement. (There is a handy guide to the windows above the altar showing which designer–Burne-Jones or Morris–was responsible for which saints.)

There was a pottery sale going on in the church, and while Tom and Liz browsed I wandered freely and photographed things.




The walls–all painted and stenciled–were not to be believed, even those still awaiting conservation.

There was a time, you see, when artists didn't consider it a waste of time to apply their talents to the decoration of mundane things like walls. And there was a time, you see, when people hadn't been conditioned by the lazy brutality of Modernism to accept the ugly, inhuman, undecorated box as the only form of construction. (Dear Mies van der Rohe, I hate you and you can suck it.)

There's more. But it'll have to wait a little while. I'll aim for tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

One Swatch, Two Hats, Zero Politics

It's Not an Error, It's a Design Feature

Remember that stitch pattern I promised to write down for you? The one from the vintage baby cardigan?

I sat down to work it out and realized that I'd knit the thing incorrectly.

I have an excuse. The Lister & Co. booklet is in rough shape. The first half of the pages have separated from the second half. The first half contained the key to the abbreviations. The second half is the half that came with me on the road. When I encountered "m1" (make one), I had to guess as to what it meant. It was a single increase, obviously–but what sort of increase?

Since this piece wasn't intended to be an accurate historical recreation, I didn't fuss over what was necessarily appropriate for the period. I tried my preferred "lifted increase" (making a new loop from the running thread between the stitches, and knitting it through the back). It looked good. I moved along.

Turns out, upon consulting the front half, that Lister's editor intended "m1" in this pattern to be a yarn over. (Yarn over in this book is also called "wfd" or "wool forward," which is in part why I assumed "m1" would not also be a yarn over; but the English like to toy with you in this fashion from time to time.)

So in knitting the swatch, I tried it both ways–mine and theirs.


Both have their attractions. Lister's yarn over produces a small hole in the center of the motif that I find very fetching. My lifted increase preserves the solid fabric and looks more like a cable. Use whichever you prefer.

This version of the pattern will give you the raised welt with two purl stitches on either side.

Multiple of 5 sts + 2

Row 1 (RS). *P2, k3. Rep from * ending p2.
Row 2. *K2, bring yarn to near side of work, sl next st as if to p, p2. Rep from *, ending k2.
Row 3. *P2, place right ndl across near side of work and pwise into 3rd knit st. Lift 3rd knit st over first and second knit sts and off the left ndl. K1, inc 1 (see note above), k1. Rep from *, ending p2.
Row 4. *K2, p3. Rep from * ending k2.
Repeat rows 1–4 until you are quite finished.

Two Hats, Both Alike in Dignity

By odd coincidence, I had two hat patterns hit the street within weeks of one another, both knit with yarns from the same company: Blue Moon Fiber Arts, the good people who bring you Socks That Rock.

The first is for Carol Sulcoski's new book, Sock Yarn Studio, a compendium of projects that are made from sock yarns, yet are not socks. I christened the design "Roselein" because of the very abstract little rose at the top of the crown.

Roselein Hat Top

It has ear flaps you begin at the lower ends with Judy's Magic Cast On. The cable pattern on the flaps, the brim and the crown is all the same basic pattern–it's the three different locations (and the number of repeats) that make it look so different.

Roselein Hat

Style note. The buttons and loops on the flaps are meant to be decorative. Unbuttoned: whimsical, carefree, gamine. Buttoned: idiotic. Warm, perhaps–but idiotic.

The other hat was actually knit for Blue Moon Fiber Arts, as part of their 2012 Rockin' Sock Club. Tina Newton, the head of the house, pairs up designers for each monthly installment, so you get two designs that use the same yarns. She paired me with Anna Zilboorg, because perpetual humilitation is my lot in life.

Anna made gorgeous socks. I made a colorwork hat with a band of bare, angular, slightly crazed branches. I call it Buckthorn.

Buckthorn Hat Front

There was some added fun with this one when Tina realized that the variegated yarn she'd sent us was too heavy for shipping. Hey, it could happen to anyone. That yarn had to be replaced with a lighter (but thicker) yarn in a different fiber, and with far less of it. I had to trash the original design and come up with a decent replacement. There are some little tricks in the pattern to make the most of the variegated yardage–plus a variegated curlicue on top for good measure.

Buckthorn Hat Top

If pressed, I would say that I made a stranded two-color autumn hat that doesn't have leaves or snowflakes in anywhere in it. Kids, I'm calling that a win.

And Finally

I had delightful company over the weekend–a weaver and spinner who convinced me it might be time to do something with the bobbin of Border Leicester that's been sitting on my wheel for...uh...three years. So I chain-plied it and now it's done. Fairly terrible, but done.

New Yarn

No, wait. I fib. It hadn't been sitting on my wheel for three years. Because last year, during the Tour de Fleece, I decided my goal would be to take it off the flyer and stick it on the bobbin rack. So I did. Then I had a celebratory finish line drink. And wouldn't you know my victory turned out to be more honest than Lance Armstrong's. Wanna buy my bracelet?