Headless Chicken

You know, this photo is the only calm thing about this week- I really have been rushing around like a headless chicken! It’s just been one of those weeks when humdrum irritating chores have gobbled up time and there’s little to show for all that effort. So I’m cranky.

It doesn’t help that the days are now so short, and overcast, that we only have about an hour a day in which it’s possible to read or knit without switching on a light. Only other people who live further north than Newfoundland can really get how dismal this can make you after a couple of weeks, never mind months (sisterly greetings to you all).

But I’ve survived the week, and am looking forward to a cosy evening of DVDs from the library, knitting (of course- guaranteed balm for the sad soul), and my DS’s cooking, so enough moping!

I promised you a look at my favourite building on the Trinity College Campus a couple of weeks ago, didn’t I? Well, never let it be said that I don’t deliver (although the seaside visit will have to wait, I’m not a masochist!). Well, the courtyard above houses my favourite, which is – totally coincidentally, of course! – the Geology building.

Sorry about the perspective: this is one of the few places in Ireland where it’s forbidden to walk on the grass, simply because the sheer volume of pedestrian traffic on campus would destroy the lawn. Thanks to our climate, it’s pretty difficult to destroy an Irish lawn, but  it would be a shame to risk it here, and us natives should give good example to the tourists! So these photos are a bit too up-close-and personal ‘cos I couldn’t step any further back, but you get the gist, anyway.

Here’s the solid oak front door, with a student for scale. This takes me back, because we UCD students used sometimes travel into town to hear international guest speakers here, despite the generation-spanning rivalry between our two universities (they have the nicer geology building, but we have everything else, of course…).

Above the door we see one of the reasons for “differences of opinion”: the British lion, the Tudor rose, the fortress and a second,  enlarged, portcullis superimposed on the Irish shamrocks- not subtle, our former conquerors!

Other details are just gorgeous, though.

And here comes my favourite part: there’s a belt of carved flowers around the entire building….

….and rumour has it that no two flowers are exactly the same!

On my list of things to do on a free sunny day, taking photos all along this belt to document this claim is quite high up. What if it’s not true, though- do I really want to know? I’ll let you know when I’ve solved this dilemma! For now, the thought of all that loving attention to detail always cheers me up….

Which reminds me: something good did happen this week. You know the mystery vintage Knitalong I’ve been posting about? Well, Christelle, the originator of the quest, has invited me to become co-moderator of her group on Ravelry, and I’m delighted! I’ve never done anything like this before, so here’s another steep learning curve (good against Alzheimer’s). I’ve also produced my very first chart on my new software, which I must show off right now (the instructions for using it are on my project page on Ravelry):

Corner Element Rose Medallion Shawl KAL

I feel just like a Kindergarten child proudly showing The Mammy his gold-star collection!

And now for some technical stuff and photos of the work in progress, starting with an overview:

 The lower right-hand corner of the photo shows the lowest point of the triangle.

This is a single corner of a medallion, and in this case the point of the shawl, too.

Here two motifs were grafted together (round 42 was not knit, and the ends of the thread were deliberately not finished off yet).

The edge motif consists of two corners knit in one piece (note that the last 8 sts remain live and saved on a circular needle for the edging, along with live sts from the medallion sides).

The grand finale, four medallions knitted together in the round, ta-dah!

Actually, when I think about it, it wasn’t such an unproductive week after all. Thanks for listening, you’ve really helped cheer me up!


In praise of wool in Wovember

Welcome back to business-as-usual Dublin.

Here’s a nice pub, O’Neill’s, to take a break from sight-seeing or yarn-buying, and have brunch. It’s just round the corner from Trinity College, and across the way from…..

..a lovely display of hyperbolic crochet, much admired by maths-lovers and used to teach environmental awareness in a very immediate way.

I love the attention to detail and , having studied marine ecology for years, I must say it’s pretty realistic, too!

Did you know that Ireland has its very own offshore coral reef in the Atlantic? Well, now you do! It’s a relatively rare cold-water type; when I was doing my first degree (in geology), its existence could only be deduced from the small bay on the west coast whose white sand, on closer inspection, turned out to consist 100% of recent (i.e. fresh) coral debris. As that stuff is not only fragile but also easy to dissolve, it was clear that a living reef had to be nearby, but it took a while to pinpoint it. See how fascinating geology can be?

When things go wrong: a bleached reef has been almost completely killed off by dissolved pollutants- a graphic argument against waste disposal at sea….

Very beautiful skeletons, but it’s still a graveyard.

This toxic reef was constructed entirely out of plastic rubbish (my hands twinge just to think of working with that stuff!) that ends up in the oceans.

Apparently, there are huge rafts of stuff like this floating around out there, accreting new garbage into them as they are carried on oceanic currents and blocking sunlight from the phytoplankton as they go, with knock-on effects for the foodchain…

Oops, must be the rain, I’m getting dismal here- let’s have another healthy one, because it’s so pretty:

…. and speaking of healthy (though pretty is not an appropriate word), here’s a prime example of why wool is wonderful:

I knit this gansey for myself over 2 decades ago, from a Christian de Falbe pattern (Designer Handknitting Collection no. 2), using original accept-no-substitutes Donegal Tweed, back when big sweaters were in and I was still doing my best at camoflage in the all-male work environment of field geology. It has withstood field work in many countries, kept both of us warm simultaneously during my pregnancy, functioned as an improvised blanket for small DS, been through the washing machine countless times and now, in its third decade, looks better on my DS than it did on me! I can’t think of any fibre that might rival that …..

(Spoiler Alert: more photos of my WIP for the Vintage Mystery KAL are approaching!)

No, I didn’t fill this one out, either, even at 9 months. Truly.

After all the interesting times this gansey has lived through, it has only needed a little mending. See the neckline? Back then, I had no clue that there were different cast-ons for different purposes, and I used a knit- (aka lace- )cast -on for everything, even necklines and hemlines. Boy, what an innocent I was…. Anyway, after a decade or so, even my beloved wool cannot take that kind of misuse, so I mended the frayed bits by crocheting around all openings (crab claw st: it’s just a row of double crochets (American: single c.), worked backwards i.e. left to right).

This is another Christian de Falbe design from the same era, which of course had the same construction flaw:

This one is done in a handspun pure wool thick-n-thin yarn found in a Donegal grocery shop, tucked in next to the fishing tackle, with recently reknit cuffs and the telltale round of crochet at the neck. No washing machine for this old dear, though- there are limits to my adventurousness!

To top it all, I introduce the NorOShea hat, made out of one hank of Noro Blossom, a large selection of scraps and a dash of gay abandon while knitting! This one practically made itself up as I went along…..

Mind you, the tension was a bit dodgy, so I had to add a wedge in the seam so it would fit, and then a turquoise tree silhouette started twining around it- don’t ask me where that came from, it just took on a life of its own!

Now for some technical lacy stuff, primarily for all those doing the vintage medallion KAL ( by Christeleb78, free on Ravelry), or anyone who likes lace knitting:

first, a couple of picture of how not to do the central motif between the roses. This experiment may have failed, but it clarified my ideas, and confirmed that it is a very good idea not to fasten off any ends until the entire project has been assembled and blocked!

Note that round 42 (plain knit round) has not been worked, so that yo’s will be grafted, as well as ordinary sts.

This means that there isn’t a skinny band of stocking stitch (a total of 3 rows) between motifs, which is what I wanted to avoid by leaving out round 42- see? It’s just a matter of taste though…

Please note that the grafting isn’t perfect, and that I have since abandoned the idea I had, of placing the rose petals at the corners of the motifs:

It was worth trying, but not keeping.

Yes, frogging was scary, but I tinked the last couple of rounds and didn’t lose any stitches, yay! A certain amount of bad language was involved, but nothing that I hadn’t learned from my DS when he was in Kindergarten!

So here’s attempt no. 2:

I’m happier with this one, but it still needed tweaking, so no instructions yet!

Version no.III is now in the final testing stages (it has to work for the edges and corners of a triangular shawl, too), but my recent political activities, some  of which I touched on in my last post, have interrupted work: we all have to prioritize, on occasion…

More next week, I promise!

Whited Sepulchre

Warning: the subject matter of this post is disturbing. I don’t want to upset anyone who may be feeling fragile, so please wait for my next post for more knitting and the like, ok?

The streets of Dublin reflected a very different aspect of Ireland yesterday, one that less palatable than our usual image, but sadly very real, none the less.
I may not often give the impression here, but there are some things in life that I find more important than knitting! Human rights, not surprisingly, I hope, is one such issue. Their regular violation in my own country, supported by the State’s laws, is something I have been protesting against all my adult life and this weekend is the latest example.
So this is why my usual style of post has been postponed: I am furious, I am ashamed of my country and I need to get this off my chest, whether anyone reads it or not! Yet another woman has been deliberately allowed to die unnecessarily in childbed in this country. It took her three days to die in hospital, and she knew all along that a straightforward intervention would save her. Yet that help was withheld…
Savita Halappanavar’s death has attracted international notice, because she was an Indian national. However, Ireland does not discriminate on the basis of nationality, ethnicity, religion, age or gen……. oops, I take that back- anyone who experiences difficulty during a pregnancy here has an equal opportunity to die.
So yesterday, thousands of us took to the streets to express our outrage, our sincere sympathy for the family of Ms Halappanavar and our determination to change this state of affairs. And if it takes international censure to drag this country into the 21st century, then so be it- it’s well-deserved.

Golden Oldies

The sun was shining (!!), so I thought I’d treat us to a wander around Trinity College, in the centre of Dublin. See the doubledecker in the bottom left? well, its brothers keep coming between us and the building, traffic is hectic out here.  So off we go, into an oasis of scholarly peace…

OOPs, sorry- first, a SPOILER ALERT! this post contains a couple of photos, after the Trinity Tour Part I, of a Vintage Mystery KAL (Knitalong, to the uninitiated) which Christelleb posted on Ravelry this week. I have her permission, but I don’t want to spoil the suspense for anyone who wants to wait for the official start in January, so for those who don’t care about that I’ve included a photo-tutorial for casting on the centre of a circular piece of lace (trying not to give anything away, here!), which can be a bit fiddly.

Alright, let’s start walking again.

…through the front door (student for scale), into the porters’ lodge….

..which is floored with ancient wood (bog oak, perhaps) hexagons. The doorway itself is constructed of massive glittery Leinster granite, and the quad beyond of limestone cobbles. The latter are treacherously slippery, especially when wet (i.e. most of the year!), so recently some paved paths have been added (practicality beat tradition on that issue). Now welcome to the front Quad:

Don’t forget to get off your bicycle, or the porter will hound you out!

Would you believe I ordered that procession of fresh graduates, just to add atmosphere for you?

I thought not, but it was worth a try.

Don’t they look well though? The golden embroidery is absolutely sumptuous, sorry I couldn’t get any closer…

I’m guessing the white fur on their hoods would traditionally have been ermine (they’re English graduates, FYI), but I don’t think any animals were harmed in the making of this ceremony, unless you count exam stress in Trinity students … Note the result of walking on those cobblestones for four years: those girls are perfectly steady on their high heels!

Moving further away from the main entrance, the atmosphere becomes stiller- it’s hard to remember that Dublin is buzzing just a short hop away.

Trinity was founded by Queen Elizabeth I in the late 16th century (1592); some of these trees may well have been alive then too….

I’ll show you my favourite building on this campus next week, as it’s being cleaned now, behind that scaffolding. I love the way both old and new buildings are reflected in this sculpture (“Sphere within a sphere” ,1996, by Arnaldo Pomodoro).

This is Fellows’ Square, showing how modern buildings have been added cheek-by-jowl with those from from another age. The lawn is adorned by “Cactus Provisoire” (1967) by Alexander Calder.

Final WARNING: vintage mystery about to be partially revealed, after this example of woolly exuberance. Scroll down further on your own responsibility!

(Can you tell I’m having fun with this? Good!)

And now for the beginning of a vintage mystery (posted by Christelleb on Ravelry for free!) which seduced me this week. I’ve never done a KAL before, never  mind a mystery one, but the combination of the words “vintage” and “lace” is almost certain to hook me, and this one’s lovely. The shawl is made up of medallions, which are straightforward enough for a newbie to tackle, and I already have an idea how to simplify the assembly, but I’ll let you know if it works next week.

The size of the central hole can be adjusted by simply pulling on the yarn tail- best to adjust after blocking.

Isn’t it pretty? I’m using Garnstudio Drops Alpaca-Silk Lace (800m/100g), the same as I used for my Monet Cardigan, just a different colour. When I did the sums, the original wool used was ca. 675m/ 100g, almost the exact same as the Midara Roma I used for Mwaa’s  semi-circular shawl, but I didn’t have enough in my stash, so I’m using the skinnier (and slipperier!) stuff, on 3mm DPNs. I just knit round 41 onto the circular needle for storage.

By the way, USEFUL TIP I just learned, for users of Proknit interchangeable needles: they have those little holes near the joints, for tightening up with a key, right? Well, you can thread a lifeline (safety thread) through that hole before knitting a round, and you will be automatically threading a lifeline through those stitches as you go. Three cheers for Lisa of This is Knit for that advice!

Now, casting on 8 stitches as a circle onto double-pointed needles (DPNs) is a challenge, even if you don’t make it more difficult for yourself like I did, with slippery yarn on metal needles. Wood works better, and a set of five needles is a godsend when your pattern repeats are divisible by four (see photos). By the way, I used a different coloured marker on the first needle- it helped! Here’s how I cast on for projects like this, with the help of a 3mm crochet hook (shown with 4-ply mercerized cotton so you can see better, it doesn’t look so chunky in laceweight). I find that this way the needles are much less likely to go slip-sliding away than with a pure Emily Ocker beginning, please let me know if you find it helpful. And credit to my DS, who took the following photos starring my fingers.

Start by putting a loop anti-clockwise around your left index finger as above, then insert the crochet hook from above. Put the yarn around the hook and pull it through, then….

..put yarn around the hook again and make one chain stitch (is that called the same in American? Please let me know.).

Now work one double crochet (American: single crochet, I know that one) into the loop next to the chain st.

Your chain followed by a double crochet (Amer: sc) should look like this.

We need 8 double crochet sts (scs) in total- one for each knit st to be cast on- this is what the loop looks like after 4 dcs, leave it nice and open until you’ve made 8 dcs, then pull the tail gently to close it up:

Place the loop of  the 8th dc on the first DPN, then pick up and knit a second stitch from the front loop of the very first double crochet:

See? Now pick up and knit one stitch from the front loop of each remaining dc, two at a time- you can use the crochet hook for this, it’s easier, just slide the sts off the wrong end of the hook onto the appropriate DPN.

Doing this on a table helps, especially if it’s your first time.

Now you’re ready to rock and roll, have fun!

And I have 3 more medallions to knit before I can try out my construction idea, so I’m off, bye….

Yarn diet: progress!

Hah! You thought I was joking, when I said I was going to acquire yarn instead of junk food, in an attempt to unearth my waist, didn’t you? Well, I’ll have you know I’ve lost half a stone of the blubber that accreted onto me when I was immobile with my banjaxed back and hip (and comforting myself with crisps and biccies -yes, I admit it, chocolate ones), so there! How it works (I still have a way to go before I get back from the “overweight” to the “healthy weight” range): any time I’m tempted to buy tasty rubbish in the supermarket I repeat my mantra of “you could get half a ball of alpaca for that” or “that’s worth 200m of silk”, and there’s my instant incentive to resist. Well, it works for me, and the proof of the pudding is that I have a waist again, or at least an indentation at the appropriate site!

The hand-dyed beauties above (Oliver Twists) represent my accumulated “resistance rewards” since I last splurged, plus a little extra on account (so I can’t afford biccies even if I weaken…). I was invited along to the Knitting and Stitching Show in the RDS, where I made a beeline for the O.T. stand, as they are a small British business and that was the only chance to see their hand-dyed goodies in Ireland until next year. Irresistible- it’s true, I lost the run of myself, but look at those colours! I rest my case.

I already have the perfect designs for two of them mapped out, but I’ve reached the stage where I can’t knit fast enough to keep up with all the ideas. I’m developing the knack of actually making one project while my head’s away with the fairies designing the next one, though my wires sometimes get crossed, with dubious results. No wonder many established designers farm out their designs to professional knitters to actually knit up, though I believe that a lot of inspiration gets lost if the design is only done on paper/screen, in two dimensions. Not to mention the sheer enjoyment of making whatever it is (and having it morph into something unexpected but even better as you go)! It seems to me a bit like having babies, handing them over to be reared elsewhere, then collecting them when they’re 18.

Speaking of which, I recently was informed by my son that I’m considered by (at least) some of his peers to be a cool parent. Pleased but mystified, I asked why, and am now in a position to reveal for your delectation, if not your emulation, some key attributes:

  1. Be a geologist (I suspect that anyone who’s really handy with a hammer can tick this box)
  2. Detect camoflaged Airforce hangars built into the Swiss Alps.  2 a. Get away unscathed (it’s a long story..)
  3. Do an all-nighter helping to get an architectural model finished for a deadline the following, without homilies on time management
  4. Watch the entire series of Black Books with sprog when exam nerves threaten
  5. Watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer with sprog (it’s a great opportunity to have That Talk about the Birds and the Bees in Practice (don’t leave it too late), and squabble over which of you has the better chance with Spike (I’m not giving in on this one, I saw him first!)

There was nothing quite like this in any of the parenting books I read- and believe you me, as a lone parent I have done my fair share of consulting the oracles- but actually, apart from the choice of profession, when I boil it down a bit, it seems to amount to nothing more complex than finding or developing interests in common and spending time doing them together- can it be that simple?

So what else have I been doing this week, apart from winding lots of very fine yarn by hand? It’s time to start saving up for a yarn-winder, my wrist is falling off. Well, the Library Knitting group has almost finished the knitted Nativity (pattern by Jean Greenhowe) we’re planning to raffle in aid of a local charity. Each of us did a figure, and very fiddly work it was too. The knitting took very little time, but putting the bits together- well, “never again” is the polite way of expressing our consensus! Mind you, the result is rather sweet, and the kiddies love it, so we’ll chalk it up to experience…..

I’ve also been working on my Lace Sampler Baubles, these are the Gothic versions for those who want to decorate a vampire’s bedchamber or celebrate the Winter Solstice! Please note that they are resting on a platter of stone, made up of fossilised skeletons- I’m proud of that touch. P.S. Belemnites, not humans.

And this is a preview of a shawlette I’m designing, using an Estonian Lily-of-the-Valley lace stitch and a single hank of Bluefaced Leicester Sock Yarn (Fyberspates), acquired at the beginning of my yarn diet- see, I’m not just hoarding the stuff!

So, short’n’sweet this week. I’m hoping to get some (dry) fresh air next week and take some outdoor photos-cross your fingers!