Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Apple Basket!
Right now, an all too well-known winter holiday song comes to mind, because the weather outside is truly frightful: the snow is pelting down, the temperature is just above freezing for the first time in weeks, so everything is thawing and wet and sloshy, and our usual westerly wind is blowing in from the North Sea and causing all this havoc.
All in all, the perfect excuse to stay indoors to read, and write, and knit (after being out for a bit, of course, to enjoy the indoors all the more). This week, I will be musing on the concept of The Stash from several points of view, and of course, there is an update on my knitting.

Apple of the Week:

Around this time of year, usually in January, renowned podcaster Brenda Dayne performs her annual ‘airing of the stash’; a procedure in which she takes out all of her stash to review it. In the latest airing I heard about, she used the phrases from the Ravelry forum buttons: ‘educational’, ‘interesting’, ‘funny’, ‘agree’, ‘disagree’, and ‘love’ to categorise the various yarns and to decide what to keep and what not to keep.

Now, I do not have a ritual like that; I do look through my stash from time to time, re-evaluating and invariably getting rid of some of it. But I have been thinking about stash recently, prompted, probably, by the whole revision & renewal mindset surrounding the New Year. And by a recent thread on Ravelry, in which a knitter sought support to curb – or maybe justify – her yarn purchases. She did, it must be said, receive advice to hold off a bit and remember that next season’s colours and next year’s yarns will be at least as beautiful as the ones she is buying now; as well as encouragement to indulge and enjoy. One fellow knitter linked to her own stash, which is – huge. She has over 900 (yes, nine hundred) entries, and not just a skein of this, a skein of that; there are 20 skeins of this and 50 skeins of that. This woman has truly reached SABLE and does not seem to consider not buying yarn ever again.

SABLE is one of those acronyms that I would never have known were it not for Ravelry; S.A.B.L.E. stands for Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy, meaning that you have more yarn than you could possibly knit (or crochet) with during the rest of your expectable life span. There is, of course, a group for this on Ravelry; I joined it when I realised how many miles of yarn I had, even though I have not technically reached SABLE. With the yarn I have and the rate at which I have been knitting (though I must say, the amount I knit in 2012 was exceptional), I could use up all my stash in 5 or 6 years – and I do intend to live longer than that. That would entail, obviously, that I do not buy any yarn in that period, and that is not, shall we say, entirely realistic.

But I do intend to use the yarn I have, and I know that I can; the notion of intentionally (or maybe unintentionally) building so large a stash that you have no chance of ever getting through it seems, well, strange and somewhat disturbing. On MochimochiLand are pictures from one lady’s yarn room, which seems to be about half the size of my house. This kind of stashing is a form of hoarding, the gathering of a multitude of objects that eventually drown you out and take over your home and your life, be they skeins of yarn or old newspapers, typewriters or a car in the dining room.

Now, I would never say that every knitter with a stash is as obsessive as the Collyer brothers, maybe best known from E. L. Doctorow’s novel about them, Homer & Langley. It makes a lot of sense to have at least some yarn in the house; if you have nothing beyond what you are currently knitting with, you have to make sure to finish your project within the opening hours of your LYS or else wait, before you can start a new one. And some people do that quite happily, I know; my mother is one. But then, she doesn’t knit much. I like having the next yarn within reach (sometimes literally) when I’m about halfway through a project, and for that, a certain stash is indispensible.

I sometimes struggle with guilt over my stash: have I needlessly tied up resources in boxes under my bed, because I lacked the willpower to resist buying something pretty that I didn’t really need? Why can’t I judge the rate at which I actually knit, so that I don’t buy yarn to knit ten projects in the time that I could realistically make three or four?
This is when I implicitly accuse myself of being no better than a hoarder – and maybe even worse: hoarding is, I believe, now acknowledged as a psychiatric disorder, and so hoarders are not to be considered weak-willed, but sick. Unlike the rest of us, who should just stop buying.
But then, I think of something I want to make and realise that I have just the right yarn for it; or I hit upon something like the Tribbles, and all the kilos of bulky cotton are redeemed (lol) – and so, my stash becomes a proper stash: a resource like the nuts in a squirrel’s tree, instead of a slightly shameful burden.

But there is a whole other way to view yarn stashing. After all, who would accuse art collectors of hoarding? Some people collect paintings or sculptures, others collect beautiful and soft skeins that give at least as much pleasure. Seen in this light, a displayed yarn stash – and lots of people do this by placing their yarn on shelves or in glass-fronted cupboards – is just another way of displaying your wealth; a recognised act in most societies.
Hilary Mantel talks of the people in the times of Henry VIII ‘wearing their wealth on their backs’, furs and silk brocades, dyed with the expensive dyes of the day and embroidered with gold & silver threads, beads and pearls. Nowadays, it’s Philippe Patek watches and Chanel handbags, Armani suits and Manolo Blahniks. Same thing.
A not uncommon way for a society to display wealth has been to make offerings to the god(s); in Peru, they used to throw great quantities of gold into a lake, giving rise to the legend of El Dorado, the land of gold. Comparable to this is the custom of grave-offerings, giving the dead an amount of rich gifts to take to the next world (beyond merely personal effects, which is another matter): gold (again), horses, slaves, weapons, &c. A ship for a Viking lord.
Another form of culturally sanctioned and even encouraged money wasting is the custom of giving cut-off flowers on every occasion. Admittedly, flowers are pretty, and our fondness for them probably stems from a primordial need to be around plant life; but these flowers will invariably wilt and die in the space of few days from the cutting and giving.
Compared to this, yarn actually makes a lot of sense.

But I digress; returning to the topic of displaying wealth, we have looked at investments in beautiful objects to enjoy – and show off to visitors – at wearing your wealth, and at proving affluence by throwing away valuables. I am assuming, here, that the gods and the dead are oblivious to gifts; you may disagree, and that is entirely up to you.

Giving to the living is yet another chance to demonstrate how much you have; only a month ago, we had the great annual ritual of exchanging items, of assessing the proper value according to the recipient’s status and the relationship between giver and receiver. This, unsurprisingly, led to a host of threads on Ravelry, discussions on how to compare time spent hand-crafting and money spent buying. I will not go into that here; as you know, I made almost all my presents (which I won’t be doing again, but never mind about that now).
The value of a gift can depend primarily on either the affection felt by the giver for the recipient or the wish to show wealth; as such, gift-giving can be highly competitive and designed to oblige the recipient, if not downright humiliate him. Less aggressively, mutual gift-giving can be a bonding act.
In the Bronze Age Hellas of Homer, lords and kings travelling to far places form inheritable bonds of friendship when visiting each other. In those days, there were no inns, so everybody depended on staying at someone else’s home for the duration; and so, the rules of hospitality were clear: a stranger arriving at your door must be invited in, given a bath and a meal – and then, not before, you can ask him who he is and what he is doing there. When he leaves, you give him gifts; weapons, silverware, cloth and other valuables are frequently mentioned.
All of this ritual demonstrates your superiority over your environs: in the face of a possible threat, you open your home and feed the stranger, thus showing him both your house (including servants and guards) and your abundance of food, and the gifts are merely examples of your surplus. This serves a double purpose: if the stranger is above board, you have made an ally; if he was sussing you out, you have shown your strength and warned him off.

So, the notion of having a surplus, a stash, to act as an insurance against hard times, is important, whatever your social status may be; in The Secret River by Kate Grenville, the protagonist’s idea of wealth is having ‘a loaf in the cupboard’.

A stash of yarn can be many things: a disorganised and ever expanding mass; an insurance against lack, if some day you have no money to buy yarn (and that can happen to any of us in these times of economic uncertainty); a way to show off the riches you have accumulated; or a personal treasure trove to cherish and dive into for inspiration and joy.

The Knitting:

I have joined a story tellers’ club and went to my first meeting last Monday, bringing my knitting, of course. After introductions, a song and improvisation using story cubes, it was time for the telling of prepared stories; I snuck out my knitting, all the while making sure to pay attention to the teller (I didn’t want to be impolite, of course, but no worries: old school story tellers are familiar with the concept of crafting while listening), and got quite a bit of sleeve done. And with stocking stitch in the round, I was glad of the fairy tales to keep me entertained.
Well, my Georgia cardigan is practically finished now; all I need to do is find and sew on buttons and block it. It does need blocking, as the edges roll like they were paid to do it. So, more and better pics will be coming next week.

I have started a new pair of socks for Victor; he wears his Watson socks all the time and misses them when they need washing once in a while (he wears them over cotton socks, so they don’t have to be washed all that often). Anyway, I came across a pattern for these Riff Socks, created for the designer’s guitar playing son – perfect, no? The socks have twisted stitches travelling in X’s up along the instep and leg; so we have a discreet pattern, with some interest for the knitter, and the very appropriate name. I am calling this pair Blues Riffs, because – well, they are blue. And blues guitar is a thing.
So, I made the toe and a bit of the instep pattern and got a sneaking suspicion that it was too big; my gauge was off, anyway: 30 stitches to 10 cm instead of 34, and even though he has big feet, they are not bigger than the given XL sock size. A try-on confirmed it; and I will be starting again on 2 mm dpns instead of 2.5 mm. Luckily, I have the KnitPro cubic dpns in both 2.5 and 2 mm, courtesy of my sister :o)

With the ongoing cold weather (though the frost has lifted, it is now windy and thus still quite nippy) I have really been enjoying my flip-top mittens and the not having to take them off to do stuff. The fingers are a bit long, as they come nearly up to my fingertips, and that is a bit unpractical. Note for next time. And I may add a button and loop to keep the hood in place when it is off the fingers, so it doesn’t flap about. But all in all, they are very useful; I love tucking my fingertips inside the hood – it feels extra cosy.

But I need a new hat: a warm one that does not squash my hair. I have rather long hair, and I hate having it all flat and frizzy from wearing a woollen hat. On the other hand, I hate freezing my brains, too.
So, I shopped around on Ravelry and found a handful of hats I would like to make; I chose a quick one to start with, and voila: the Fern hat (or the beginning of one, at least). 
This is a very easy hat, top down, with 8 eyelet increases on every other round until the brim is large enough. Easy peasy. The pattern is the Eyelet Swirl Hat by Meg Myers – at least two of the hats that caught my eye in this search are by her.

In a fit of startitis I cast on for another jumper (or sweater, if you prefer the American term); this time, the driftwood by Isabell Kraemer (Rav link), a free Ravelry download. This is a top down Henley with contiguous sleeves that look like set-in sleeves; it makes for some quite interesting and at first somewhat incomprehensible increases at the shoulders. The trick is to just go with it and trust the pattern, which is very well written.
The pattern calls for worsted weight yarn and 4.5 mm needles; I have to be different, so I am using Rowanspun DK that is actually more like a sport weight, and 3.25 mm needles. Guess what: my gauge is off. So to get the pattern size XS, I am going by the numbers for size L, hoping that my calculations are right. I’ll give you an update on that next week.

I have been wanting to make a jumper with this yarn for quite a while: back in 2005, my sister and were in London and found it on sale at Liberty’s. (The colour in the yarn photo is more true to life than the wip photo.) 
We each bought a pack of 10 skeins, and I made a jumper with half of mine. I still wear this jumper nearly every day (only at home when nobody is around), even though it is rather shapeless by now and too big since I lost weight. But now, it seems, I have found a new jumper to replace the old, worn out one.

Well, this is it for this week; I hope you have a great week and come back next time!
Until then:
Happy Knitting!

Sunday, January 20, 2013


Hello, everybody, and welcome once again to the Apple Basket! I hope you’ve had a wonderful week; I have been knitting and writing quite a bit, mostly fiction. So this time it will be short & sweet: just a quick update, impressions from the week gone by, and no pics, since the weather has been mostly dismal and the light not ideal for photography.

So, winter has settled here; chilling, Siberian air masses are moving down over the country, and the temperature has not been above freezing, zero degrees Celsius, for over a week now. Luckily, it’s not windy; otherwise it would be really cold. The meteorologists are beginning to consider if this winter might come to qualify as an ice-winter. Now, the official definition of an ice-winter is that the icy conditions in the straits is so disruptive to traffic that the state’s ice-breaker ships need to work for at least one day. That definition, however, is old and becoming out-dated, since modern steel vessels are tougher than wooden sailing ships and thus can deal with thicker ice on their own.
Instead, they are working with a ‘cold sum’, for which every day with a middle temperature below freezing scores a point for every degree below freezing. So, one day with a middle temperature of -2° C equals two points, three days with a middle temperature of -1° C equals three points, &c. Based on the sums from previous winters, they reckon that an ice-winter has a sum of at least 150 cold points.
A high number of cold points does not automatically constitute an ice-winter according to the classic definition, though, and there have been examples of problems with ice even though the winter was not exceptionally cold. So, all in all, the modern number-based definition seems to make more sense.
And, by the way, the cold sum reached 37 on 17th January, and they expect it to reach 71 by the end of the month.

I have been working away on my flip-top mittens, and since I am constructing them and writing the pattern up as I go along, it did take a while. Every time I go out, I miss those mittens! The first mitten was finished on Thursday, though, and I knew that the second mitten would be much quicker to knit than the first, now that I was done with all the tentative knitting, trying on, ripping back and re-knitting to get the perfect fit. So by then, it was only a matter of straightforward knitting; I even test knit my own pattern.
I made rather long, tip-less fingers because I always get cold, and a hood to go over the fingers and knuckles, so this way my fingers apart from the very tips will be wearing two layers of tightly knit wool. The thumb is hooded, as well.
The top-down approach makes for excellent fitting opportunities: I can try on each part of the mittens and immediately know how it is going to sit on my hand.

I am planning at some point to release the pattern, probably after including a larger size or two. My hands are quite small, so the pair I am making now is in an EU size 7. Maybe Victor will want a pair (my other two boys already have flip-tops) – that way I will be making the calculations for a size 10.
Or maybe not. Judging from the look on his face when he saw the above, I think not.

I am currently watching Dexter, the 2006 TV series about the killer of serial killers. What I am noticing – apart from the blood and body parts, of course – are the girlfriend Rita’s cardigans. In nearly every scene, she is wearing cute, lacy cardigans over summer dresses or tops. Of course, it being Miami, the weather is always summery, at least seen from a Scandinavian perspective.
So here I am, with - 6° outside and snow on the ground, daydreaming about lacy cardigans and floral dresses. I even looked through my stash to see what fingering weight cotton I have ...

Oh well, I guess it will be some kind of summer at some point; though for now, I am happy knitting with wool.
The Georgia cardigan is nearly finished: I started the second sleeve this afternoon. Which means that I get to go and find buttons soon ...

My next little project will be a secret thing that I will tell you about later, and then socks for Victor – no mittens, apparently.

So, that’s it for this week – I will be back next week with more, and pictures. Until then: have a great week, and Happy Knitting!

Sunday, January 13, 2013


Hello, everybody, and welcome once again to the Apple Basket! Winter has returned, and the snow is gently falling outside, so it feels like January again; not like the spring-like temperatures we have had lately.
I do hope you have had a great week and been encouraged rather than oppressed by resolutions and goals and whatnot, now that we are at the end of the second week of the new year; I have had an interesting week – more on that in upcoming posts – and have been steadily working towards my goals.
Hence the title of today’s post: some psychological research suggests that happiness lies not as much in achieving and acquiring as in seeking and striving. Happiness is a process, not a state.

This week, it will be mostly about knitting – with all the happiness-inducing process that entails – and something about books in various formats.

The Knitting:
So, last week I posted a quick overview of my Christmas knitting; there are a couple of items I would like to chat about some more, because they have a story to them.
When I was reading the Dark Tower series by Stephen King (if you like epic fantasy and haven’t done so yet, you really should) and Victor could finally chat with me about the books and the characters, I found out why he had been mentioning – and quoting – the billy bumbler named Oy. And I found out what a billy bumbler is: a creature something like a cross between a raccoon and a dog, with soft, stripy fur and gold-ringed eyes. He speaks on occasion, which is how he gets his name: the boy Jake says ‘Come here, boy’ or something similar, as you would to a dog, and the billy bumbler responds: ‘Oy!’
At some point, Victor casually asked if I would knit him an Oy, and I said ‘Um ... [insert non-committal mumble].’ And then I decided to knit him one for Christmas.
Now, I am not all that experienced in knitting toys, certainly not enough to wing it; so I had to find me a pattern. I actually bought a book of dog patterns, Best in Show by Sally Muir & Joanna Osborne, and picked out the one that best resembled the descriptions of a billy bumbler. I googled artists’ representations of Oy for comparison; and then I realised that the body of all the dogs in the book are knitted vertically from belly to spine. Since Oy is striped, that would entail stranded colourwork knitting. Which I like a lot, I just don’t want to do it if I can find another way.
That other way in this case turned out be the way of the tiger: I found on Ravelry a pattern for a cotton tiger from an Australian women’s magazine from 1966. That was fun; the instructions are obviously made for experienced knitters and thus very brief. None of your modern mentioning stitch counts after in- or decreases; no pictures other than the photo of the finished tiger posing along with the other items included in the article.
So, substituting soft, grey mohair for yellow cotton (only identified as ‘mc’; you have to guess – or maybe reason – which colour is which), I dove into it. I made a few alterations, one of which was knitting each leg in one piece instead of two and seaming it (too much like work); the face became two-coloured; and I ended up making double layers because the fabric was too loose and the stuffing would have shown. I stuffed it with merino roving (bought almost 1½ years ago when I thought I was going to start spindle spinning and then hurt my shoulder).
And voila: Oy the billy bumbler. That took a bit of explaining on Christmas Eve.

More explicitly, Victor had asked me to make him a cross stitch Dark Tower bookmark; so again, we googled images of the Tower and the Rose to decide on the overall motif. And while he wasn’t around, I drew it up, coloured in, and went through my leftovers from various cross stitch kits – luckily, there is always lots of yarn in those.
With cross stitching, as with so much other image work, you focus on the details while working on it, and the overall picture only emerges when you take a step back and look at it. In this case, I didn’t even have a this-is-how-it-is-supposed-to-look picture to tell me if I was doing it right, only my own sketch, coloured in with roughly similar colours to the yarn I was using, and with my eyes on the single stitches, it did look rather dodgy along the way. So getting to the end and viewing the whole thing was quite a revelation, a ‘hey, I can do this!’ moment.

Similarly the Dalek and the Space Marine: I googled images, drew up the motifs, picked out colours and tried to get it to look right. Including surreptitiously (or not) checking out Andreas’ models to do the shoulder part right: the colour on the edges shows which company a Space Marine belongs to, while the overall colour of the armour shows his chapter. So this guy is Ultramarine, 3rd company.
I did make a LOT more half and quarter and whatnot stitches than I have ever done with a professional kit; all those slanting lines and weird angles do not lend themselves well to a squared chart – or maybe it’s the other way round.
But the boys liked their bookmarks; they seem to be a welcome update to the ones I made years ago with wild animal motifs. Andreas being who he is, he did point out the shortcomings in the design of the Space Marine, and has a couple of times encouraged me to make him another, better (as in more ‘historically’ correct) bookmark some time. Which, of course, I will be happy to.

And my first foray into Estonian lace knitting, the Regrowth shawl, was finished in time for Christmas! I had to move furniture, spread out (non-matching) sheets and take up about half of the free floor space in the living room to block it – and this was on the same day that we brought in the Christmas tree – but it turned out beautifully, if you don’t mind my saying so. Well, I can say it without being immodest, at least, since I didn’t design it or anything, I just followed the charts.

Rowan Magazine number 53:
So, let’s see what Rowan have in mind for the coming summer season! As always, the patterns are grouped into three themes, this time Glorious, Ikon and the usual Essentials. Some of the patterns already have pages on Ravelry; I will link to those I mention if possible.
There are a couple of brief articles: an interview with the Danish designer Vibe Ulrik, a bit about modernism in fashion, about cotton and about travelling in Santorini. Oh, and an ad for Martin Storey’s Scottish Heritage Knits, a veritable fair isle fest.

Glorious consists of 11 feminine, lacy or floral garments, beautifully photographed in Santorini. Quite makes you want to go there and soak up the sun while gazing out over the blue, blue sea; the challenge in deciding what you might want to knit and wear lies, as ever, in separating the actual garment and its qualities from the lovely surroundings.
We get 10 jumpers / sweaters / tees / cardigans and a wrap; they all look fairly practical and wearable. Three of the garments are long-sleeved jumpers (useful in a Scandinavian summer) with various floral motifs: Hydra sports flowers all over (but WHY is the model wearing shorts with a floral motif that is louder than the jumper?!), Rhodes wears a cluster of roses on the front, and Halkidiki shows blossoms on a blue-and-white striped background. All very sweet and summery.
The cardigan named Artemis features a textured stitch pattern and lots of little flowers at the neckline, very cute. But all the photos show only the front, so you can’t see whether you’re supposed to attach the flowers all the way round at the back of the neckline – and the pattern instructions says to ‘use photo as guide’. Very helpful. I guess you have to count the number of flowers visible in the pictures and see if there is a surplus to put in the back.
Crete is quite attractive: a cream-coloured tee with three-quarter length sleeves, a bit of lace at the lower edge of the sleeves and the body and a keyhole opening tied with a ribbon (i-cord, crochet or twisted) at the neck.

From summery femininity to retro-ish colourfulness: Ikon wants to celebrate modernism, the 60’s and all that. With names like Carnaby, Hip, Mod, and Vidal, these garments are ... mostly odd. Several of the men’s things look like they came straight from a shop – and I don’t mean that as a compliment. One of them (Yves) even has creases down the sleeves as if it had been folded up for storage & shipping.
We do have a bit of the airy femininity here, as well: Pixie is a short-sleeved tee in Kidsilk Haze with little not-quite-flowers in various colours. Rather cute, though I seem to remember having seen something very similar a few years back. But then, having to come up with 30-odd unique designs twice a year can’t be easy.
A collection for the hipster crowd.

How essential are the Essentials, then? Well, this is a collection of more or less basic shapes, mostly long sleeves, with ice cream flavour names. I quite like a couple of them: Cappuccino is all in ribbing, with a vertically ribbed central panel and slanting side panels that give an interesting shaping to it.
Banoffi is presented as the ‘Handcrafted’ knit, which seems slightly absurd given the overall concept of the whole thing – or is that just me? Anyway, it does look like a first attempt at sweater knitting: with four strands of yarns in different colours held together and worked on large (6½ and 7 mm) needles. It must also be heavy as sin: for the smallest size it calls for twenty (20) 50-gram skeins! – so you will be lugging around a whole kilo of cotton (or cotton blends). And the neckline is huge.
There seem on the whole to be a lot of wide necklines; you would have to either have broad shoulders or not mind that your neckline slips down over one shoulder.
Rather more attractive is Bubblegum, your simple, striped jumper in blue & blue. On the body, the stripes are even in width, while the sleeves have more of the light blue with narrower stripes in the darker hue.

So, all in all Rowan is rather traditional in its range and outlook: apart from the one wrap, all patterns are for jumpers / sweaters, cardigans and tees. All jumpers are knitted bottom up and seamed; nothing is worked top down, sideways or in the round.
The patterns are almost exclusively for knitting; only two lacy tees are crocheted: Kos and Tutti Frutti.

Having done with the knitting of the past and the (potential) knitting of the future, let’s take a look at the knitting of the present.

My little project this week is finishing up a batch of woollen squares; back in September, I joined the Knit-A-Square (KAS) – prompted by the lovely Jo of Shinybees podcast fame – group on Ravelry to knit something for South African AIDS orphans. There are over a million children in this situation, and they do get cold; so people knit them squares for blankets, hats, sweaters, toys – you name it. I found a use for some Greenland wool that I had used for some of my first plant dyeing experiments the year before last: smallish skeins in blue, purple, red, yellow, and brown. I am getting 10 squares from that; not an awful lot, but it is something, and the wool is warm.

The Tribbles are turning out to be very useful, by the way: I enjoy them – as much as one can be expected to ‘enjoy’ tools for washing up, anyway. At some point I will probably make a batch in a lighter yarn, just for comparison.

The Georgia Blues cardigan is coming along very nicely: the body is nearly done, and after that I will just have the sleeves left. I really like the top-down approach; it makes it much easier to try on the garment as you go. And I like the ‘organic’ feel to it, with the garment growing outward from a centre, in this case the neckline; with socks, of course, the equivalent is the toe-up method.
You see, there was a reason I wished for the Daniel Yuhas book (Knitting from the Center Out) that I got for Christmas! Which, by the way, I will have more to say about, when I get properly into it; so watch this space.

The weather has turned cold again here; we had a lot of snow in early December, and then – nothing. Well, rain and wind and such nonsense, but no proper winter weather. Until this week, that is. Now we’re below zero (Celsius, that is) night and day, and there’s even a bit of snow on the ground.
And why am I going on about the weather (again)? Because I need new mittens, of course! Not that I haven’t got both mittens and gloves; but I really, really, really need some flip-tops, so I don’t have to expose a whole hand to the cold when I need to take out money or my phone or something. I can, of course, just wear handwarmers under mittens, and I have done that before (last month); but I think I deserve flip-tops. I want to do them top-down or finger-down, something similar to Knucks with hoods. So as soon as the squares are done (autumn and winter are approaching in South Africa), I am knittin’ mittens.

One of my goals this year is to read a lot of books. Surprising, right? I bet you didn’t see that one coming ... Anyway, just for the heck of it, I entered the Goodreads challenge – there is a widget in the sidebar; I am loving these new toys – and so far, I am ‘on track’, having read three books a week.
Now, I know I’ve mentioned this before, so bear with me, please, if I seem to be repeating myself: I love audio books. Finding the time to sit down and read a paper book – which I love and have loved for thirty-five years – can be tricky, particularly when you want to be knitting, too. It can be done, with something to hold the book open and some simple knitting that doesn’t need to be looked at all the time; but having someone read you the book, while crafting or on the go, is brilliant. Can I just say: James Marsters reading the Dresden Files?

And as for the classics; well, there is the Moby-Dick Big Read, which comes as a free podcast on iTunes. Each chapter is read by someone new, which some people find off-putting, I know, and to be honest, some readers are better than others. Chapter 58 is read by Benedict Cumberbatch, so there is that to look forward to; whereas chapter 79 is read by a jazz composer ... with a very peculiar intonation and way too many sound effects.
Nevertheless, that may be a good way to take in a classic novel, not least for those of us who have not grown up in an English-speaking school system and so have to seek out a lot of this literature for ourselves.
What could be better, then, than to listen to these classic novels with the aid of a real live English teacher? The fabulous Heather Ordover at CraftLit, ‘the podcast for crafters who love books’, introduces, comments and explains. If you don’t know this podcast already, go take a look. The link will take you to the homepage, and I trust you to be able to find iTunes on your own. All of the literature on CraftLit is classic, since it has to be old enough to be in the public domain; and a lot of the readings come from LibriVox. We have had Jane Austen, Dickens, Hawthorne, Shelley, Henry James and lots more; and there is a library, so you can go back and find older episodes containing specific books – or do as I did last summer and simply begin at the beginning, in 2006.

Now, of course CraftLit has a group on Ravelry ... and from that group I learned something new the other day. Several times, I have heard Heather talking about the author Jasper Fforde and his book Shades of Grey (this is in podcast episodes from 2010: I haven’t caught up yet); and it had me wondering. Why would someone like Heather praise the bad prose of a sado-masochistic erotic novel? Well, I finally saw the Jasper Fforde name and title in print in a discussion thread, and the penny dropped ... Shades of Grey is number something-or-other in a series about a female detective named Thursday Next, set in a parallel universe; it all sounds rather wacky and Pratchett-y – I can’t wait to read it.
And, of course, Fifty Shades of Grey is something completely different.
Once again, my world is righted through Ravelry :o)

So, what else has happened? I fell off the sheep, as they say hangs head in shame. Shopping in a local supermarket (føtex), I came across their brand of sock yarn (Bumbo) at reduced price – and accidentally bought 10 balls of it. Oops. I got six balls in variegated blues and greens; if the Georgia turns out to be as useful as I intend it to be, I am making at least one more. 
And I got twice two balls for socks, in grey and blue. All in all, it cost me 165 DKK (about €22 / $30); so it could have been worse, I guess.

Later in the same day, I was looking up something on amazon, and it told me that the price of the Doctor Who box set Revenge of the Cybermen had decreased from £27 to £14.75; so as the shopping dams were already broken, I simply had to buy that. And since there is free shipping to Denmark when you buy for at least £25, I now had the perfect reason to get that book on lace knitting I’ve been coveting lately. And the first Thursday Next book.

But these are all good things, I’m sure you’ll agree – every item will contribute towards my happiness and the happiness of others: I will be knitting, reading, and watching; and my boys will be watching with me, and reading. And they get socks.

So, to end on this happy note: have a great week! I will be back with more, and until then:
Happy knitting!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Happy New Year!

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Apple Basket! Yes, I am back, and I do hope that you are, too.
It has been a while, I know, and I am sorry about that. Coming up to Christmas, I had so much to do that I felt unable to take time off knitting to write ... bad planning. I did finish the last present around noon on the 24th, just in time to wrap it before Christmas Eve – which is the time, as you may know, that is celebrated in Denmark.

Then, of course, Christmas happened – and I got the flu; so between that and visiting family near and far, I was pretty much fully occupied. I did start on an essay about the Winter Solstice; but that will have to keep. Since the world didn’t end this time around, either, I expect to get another chance to share my wisdom (!) on that topic.
But now the gift frenzy and the festivities are all over, the boys are back in school, and I have only a cough left to remind me of my mortality, so it is time for the first Apple of this year, and a substantial overview of The Knitting.

The Apple of the Week:
So, a new year has begun – but why now? Using the span of a year as a measurement of time makes sense, whether it is regarded as a whole cycle of seasons or a whole cycle of the Earth around our Sun. Different seasons present different opportunities and challenges to Stone Age hunters as well as to farmers; it seems obvious to note the return of a set of similar conditions. But how does one decide when to mark the beginning of a new year?

Several ancient calendar systems have chosen springtime as the Beginning: this is when the world wakes up from her winter sleep; the ground thaws, plants grow new leaves, birds mate, and life generally becomes easier and more pleasant – for a while, at least. It is time for the farmer to sow, for the sailor to put out to sea without the threat of winter storms, for the armies to leave their winter shelters and march again.
A lot more can be said about this particular choice of timing for the new year’s beginning, and I will do that in a few months, when the time is right.

In the Celtic calendar, the year ends on Halloween, when the doors between this world and the next are open, and the dead walk among us. The new year begins after a not-day, on what in our modern calendar would be the 2nd November.
The Jewish calendar lets the New Year begin in the autumn, around harvest time; and for the Chinese, the year changes in January or February. In some desert regions, the new year begins when the rains come.
Practically every time of the year is regarded as a starting-point by one culture or another, and none can be said to be more or less right than any.

The ancient Roman calendar is the basis for the Gregorian one that we use; the names of the months are mostly the same, and the system of 12 months with roughly 30 days in each is familiar, as well.

But: the original calendar, allegedly designed by Romulus himself, featured 10 months from March to December; the first four months were (more or less) named after Roman gods. So:
Martius           after Mars, god of war and fertility
Aprilis              may mean ‘opening’
Maius               after Maia, the mother of Mercurius (Hermes in Greek)
Junius              after Juno, the queen of the gods
After those, they gave up; the following months only had numbers: Quintilis, Sextilis, Septembris, Octobris, Novembris, Decembris, aka the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth. Imaginative, eh?
We recognise most of these names, of course; those that have stayed with us. Quintilis was renamed Julius after Julius Caesar, since that was his birth month; and later, the emperor Augustus wanted his own month, too.

These 10 original months consisted of about 30 days each – which leaves a gap in the year. The time of winter had no name; this was a dead period. The problem was soon remedied, though, by the second Roman king, Numa Pompilius; he named two more months at the end of the year, Januarius and Februarius. These were named after the two-headed god Janus, who gazes into both past and future; and the purification ritual februum, held at year’s end.

There was on several occasions some fiddling about with the number of days in each month, and every time someone came up short, they stole the missing days from the last month of the year – which February has never really recovered from.

Anyway, March was still the first month of the year, in keeping with the Greek and Babylonian calendar systems which the Roman calendar was based on, and the people celebrated New Year in the spring. But during the Republic (509 – 44 BCE), the magisterial year came to begin on the 1st of January; and so, when Julius Caesar reformed the calendar during his third consulship in 46 BCE, he kept this date as the beginning of the new year.

It may seem odd to have several different beginnings of the year; but for farmers and country people in general, the seasons of the soil were the most significant, while the magistrates in the city saw to their own affairs. It may be compared with the academic year nowadays, which begins after the summer holidays in August or September; talking to a child of school age (or, indeed, a teacher!), ‘next year’ can mean equally the next year in the calendar or the next level of school.
The 1st of January did not become the official New Year’s day in Europe until the 17th century, by which time it had acquired a new layer of meaning: the circumcision day of the child Jesus, since a Jewish boy is circumcised on the eighth day after his birth.
Incidentally, the Church has her own day for beginning the year: the first of the four advent Sundays, placing it in late November or, occasionally, very early December (this time around on the 2nd December 2012).

Well, that’s the date taken care of, but what about the year? I have already seen talk about 2013 being an ‘unlucky’ year – presumably because of the 13 in it – so why does this year have that number? Silly question, I hear you cry: we are counting since the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, whether we believe him to be the Christ or not. What’s funny, though, is that the king Herod who ordered the slaughter of the babies to get rid of this one perceived threat to his rule, died in 4 BCE. So Jesus was born not later than that; this discrepancy was noted centuries ago but does not seem to be fixable.
Other traditions count from other starting points and come up with wildly varying numbers; so let’s not fret about the number 2013. We could choose to note, instead, that this is the first year since 1987 that has four different digits.

So there you have it – the date and the year may be random, but I wish you a Happy New Year all the same :o)

The turning of the year is traditionally the time to take stock, to do like Janus and regard the past and the future at the same time. How did you fare in the past year, did you accomplish what you set out to do? And what about the coming year: which goals and wishes do you have set up for yourself?
These considerations can of course be done at any time, and should probably be addressed more than once during the course of a year to make sure that you are still on the right path towards your goals.
The yearly stock-taking, however, is a sound undertaking, and you can pick any time of the year to do it: you could pick your birthday, your own personal new year’s day; or coming back from the summer break to a new academic year. 31st December / 1st January is the obvious point, supported by the media, by the expectations of people around you, by the changing of the date to be written itself.

Whenever you choose to do it, make sure that you set yourself reasonable goals. The public view of January seems to be a month of purgatory, of dieting and exercising to get rid of the Christmas-induced blubber and to be ‘healthy in the new year’. At the same time, we have to get started on all those old projects that lie in wait, all the old hibernating dreams, so that we can become who we really are: fit, healthy, slim, creative, sexy, social, and rich (feel free to add to the list). And all that in January.
Really? No. It is all well and good to set yourself a number of goals and work to fulfil them – just don’t try to do it all at once. If you stop smoking and drinking and eating sugar or wheat or whatever is the trend right now, and start exercising five times a week, and put on lingerie every night for your man’s sake, and join a pottery class as well as that course in French conversation, and set out to write a novel, all in the first week of the new year, chances are you will give up most of it, if not all, during the second week.

Make a list. Find out what you really want to accomplish, and why. The ‘why’ is important for clarity and motivation: you want to do what you want to do, not what your friends do or the magazines tell you the celebs do – or what you think your mother would want you to do.
Then break down your plans into smaller bits, make a timeline and set dates for these partial goals. Losing 20 kilos, writing a novel or running a marathon are huge and daunting tasks – but you can have one cookie instead of two, write 100 words and run for one minute, right? Every journey, including the unexpected ones, begins with a single step.

The Knitting:
For this section, we need to call on Janus again to look back and forwards; I have so many things I couldn’t really share before Christmas, so let’s first take a look at that. Afterwards, I will show you what I am working on right now, and divulge my plans.

Remember The List? This is the slightly amended version after the additions I made along the way:
4 cowls: Minotaur, Moya, Moebius, and Owl
6 hats: Turbine, 2 Nottingham, Knotty but Nice, and 2 Helmet
4 pairs of mittens: Podster Gloves, Knucks, and 2 toddler mittens
1 pair of socks: Farmer McGregor
2 shawls: Dragonfly Wings and Cassandra
6 animals: 2 Little Owls, Oliver Owl, Nessie, Tarragon, and Oy the billy bumbler (from the Dark Tower series by Stephen King); 
a set of stitch markers; 
and 3 cross-stitch bookmarks: the Dark Tower itself + the Rose (read the books); a Dalek (no introduction required), and a Space Marine from Warhammer 40K.

Everything got done, right in the nick of time – I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I am really pleased with that. I would have absolutely hated to have to hand out IOU’s.
So, here comes the picture gallery; all the links are to Ravelry pattern pages.
From top left: Minotaur, Moya, Moebius, and Owl Cowl
Top left: Turbine, Nottingham x 2; Knotty but Nice, Helmet x 2

Podster Gloves, Knucks and two pairs of toddler mittens
Farmer McGregor socks by Alice Yu

Bottom half: Dragonfly Wings, top right: Cassandra, top left: Regrowth
From top left: 2 Little Owls, Oy the billy bumbler, Tarragon, Nessie, and Oliver Owl
Stitch markers

Left: a Dalek and a Space Marine; right: the Tower and the Rose

Those were the Christmas presents I gave out; I got knitting-related presents, as well: my lovely sister gave me a skein of Fyberspates Scrumptious DK in a gorgeous, deep purple. I promise you, this yarn is made of kitten fur, it is soooo soft. I have to find just the right thing to make with it: I am leaning towards a cowl or scarf, something to wrap around my neck. Yummy.
And KnitPro cubic dpns, 2 and 2½ mm; those I would have had to buy, if they hadn’t been presented to me – after knitting my Dad’s socks on 2 mm bamboo needles that bend, I need something sturdier.
And books: my parents gave me Knitting from the Center Out by Daniel Yuhas; I love books with new techniques, and I already have a couple of things in my queue from that book. How do you like heel-up socks, for instance?

Now for the now:

Having read through several Ravelry threads on the joys of handknitted dishcloths – many of them started with a Why? – I have come across the concept of tribbles:  round, knitted scrubbies, named after the featureless, multiplying creatures in Star Trek.
Now, while washing dishes and pots with a cloth is alien to me, I have usually employed a polyester sponge with one rough side; and so using and reusing washable cotton scrubbies instead of adding yet more petrochemicals to the landfill appeals greatly to me. I can use a tribble for up to a day, depending on the level of yuckiness involved, then toss it in the hot wash and this time of year in the dryer. Voila: it’s ready for a new day.
I have entered into this new project by making a set of 10 tribbles in a bulky cotton; a few years ago, I was planning to make a bedspread out of mitred squares in different colours, but gradually came to realise that I would have to not only weave in all the ends, but sew up all the bloody squares, as well. And weave those ends in, too.
So the squares have been sitting around together with the remainders of the huge, 1-kilo spools of thick yarn for way too long. I have used bits of it for cushions and potholders – and now I may have found a new use for it. A tribble takes up 20 grams of yarn ... so they have plenty of resources for multiplying!

The tribbles are my little project this week; the big one is the Georgia Blues that I was going to cast on in September. I found the pattern for this sock yarn cardigan in an aplayfulday group thread on Ravelry, fell in love, bought it straightaway and decided on a yarn: the Arwetta sock yarn in the Perfect Storm colourway that I used for my Bigger on the Inside shawl. Then, of course, I had to go and decide that I wanted to dye the yarn for it; that took a while, and in the meantime the Christmas knitting had descended on me. So the cast-on for this cardigan was officially put off until the 25th December, and I could daydream about it whenever I felt oppressed by gift knitting.
It is a very easy knit: a top down raglan cardigan, all in stocking stitch with incorporated button bands and the sleeves done in the round. No seaming at all. Perfect for my fevered brain, for TV knitting or for reading.
The yarn is knitting up nicely, as well: I know and love the base yarn already, the Zitron Trekking XXL, from sock knitting for both Victor and my Dad. With variegated yarn, especially hand dyed, there is always an added element of surprise: how will it look? – and it is behaving rather well, I think, even living up to the name of the colourway Clouds Across the Moon.

So, all is well on the knitting front; the immediate future holds more stuff for me, more socks for Victor, and sometime soon I need to start looking into the next birthday sweater for my nephew.

Oh, and I mustn’t forget my own 2013 Doctor Who toy-along: during the Ravellenics, I was inspired by another Raveller’s project to try and make little Doctors, and decided to make 13 toys in 2013: the 11 Doctors, a Dalek, and K-9. So, I’ll be reviving that thread – in the Who Knits? group – and looking more into patterns for little stuff, probably some amigurumi. More about that – and, of course, come along and join in the fun, if you are so inclined!

That’s it for this week; the new Rowan magazine, no. 53, has come out, but that will keep for next time. Have a great week, and:
Happy knitting!