Behind the scenes

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Did you see the knitted ad break during Text Santa tonight? Completely brilliant, wasn’t it! ITV Creative were the team behind it, and I spoke to them about the massive challenge of recreating ads by six major brands completely in knitting. You can read my interview and find a link to the complete ad break here.

Fair Isle Fail

 

imageOh dear! This is my unloved, abandoned attempt to create a cute stranded hat from my Buachaille leftovers. Once again I made the fatal mistake of thinking of Fair Isle as a sort of colourwork alchemy where you can throw together any old colours, however mismatched, and they will magically morph into something that delights the eye. Not in this case! What I’d hoped would be a stunning interplay of bright and muted shades has, in my artless hands, ended up a sludgy mess.

But never mind. Knitting is all about trial and error, and learning from your mistakes. When it comes to Fair Isle the art of choosing colours that work together completely eludes me, but I’m sure it’s just a case of lots of practice and taking lessons from those who know how it’s done. So with that in mind here are five of my favourite examples of Fair Isle at its most fabulous:

  1. Hedgerow by Ann Kingstone

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So jolly! A riot of bold colour, yet somehow it still remains pretty and wearable. This popular design has an army of fans, including the lovely ladies below, who were spotted at last year’s Rhinebeck festival. Aren’t they stunning! I’m amazed at how each colour scheme is completely different and yet all of them look brilliant.

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2. In Mood for Maybe by yellowcosmo16604804709_64d85a1e51_z

This is currently top of my Ravelry queue, although it involves steeking so it’s quite a scary prospect. The colours sit beautifully together.

3. Orkney by Marie Wallin

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The Queen of Felted Tweed. I could’ve chosen any one of dozens of gorgeous designs by Marie Wallin. Like an exquisite persian rug this intricate design weaves together an extraordinary number of shades and patterns.

4. Northallerton by Rachel CoopeyNorthallerton_COOPTOAST1-03_medium2Rachel has the uncanny knack of creating unusual colour combos that instantly look just right.

5. Leftovers Cowl by Wendy D. Johnson

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My leftovers never look like this! A masterclass in the art of making colours sing together. I could look at this all day.

Book review: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

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This was my third Sarah Waters novel (Fingersmith and The Little Stranger being the other two) and unfortunately it’s the one I enjoyed the least. Not that there’s any decline in the quality of the prose – far from it. Waters skilfully evokes the post-war come-down of 1920s London, full of tensions between its fading gentility, aspirational clerks and Bloomsbury-style bohemians. She brings to life the once-grand family home in South London, gradually falling into disrepair along with its occupants, and the central love story unfolds in exquisite and surprisingly graphic detail.
But it’s this detail that’s the problem – there’s just too much of it. Every nuance of every thought, word and deed – every look, every inference – is painstakingly described, but as the story takes a more dramatic turn such realism is at the expense of pace and tension. A pivotal scene which should be shocking and arresting ultimately just drags on. The third act begins well but the tension of its early scenes soon dissipates with too much repetition, not helped by the fact that the reader already knows what the protagonists are trying to find out.
With a bit of careful editing The Paying Guests could have been a more satisfying book, but despite its faults it’s still an enjoyable read. However, I do have a more fundamental problem with its conclusion. It’s one thing to suggest that no love is more noble than a love between two women, But to imply that the pursuit of this love can justify a morally indefensible act such as murder is a step too far.

Seven Skeins

Back in September I signed up to Kate Davies’ Seven Skeins club, and could barely contain my excitement. Kate is a renowned connoisseur of all that’s woolly and home-grown, so when she announced her plans to launch her own yarn us lovers of Britain wool were overjoyed. We knew it was gonna be good!

The yarn, grown in Scotland and spun in Yorkshire, is called Buachaille, and Kate explains more about it on her blog here. It goes on general sale in January, but those of us who signed up to the club are currently enjoying an advance batch.

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The seven shades have beguiling locally-inspired names such as Ptarmigan, Highland Coo and Squall, my favourite being the luminous bright green Yaffle – named after a woodpecker. As well as the yarn, each week club members receive exclusive new patterns. Every Friday there’s a new release – a big incentive to crack on and get finished so you’re ready to start the next one! I’m currently underway with last Friday’s Striped Bunnet, (a slouchy hat), on which I’ve added a couple of extra stripes for good measure.

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Last week I finished Stranded Pawkies, a pair of fingerless mitts that included my first attempts at a tubular cast-on and afterthought thumb. Despite the technique-fest they were still a quickish knit, and although they came up a little big I’ll definitely wear them. If we ever get any cold weather again that is.

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Likewise with Cochal, my finished knit from the week before. It’s a deep cowl that can double as a hood, and it’s crying out for a bitter Easterly wind to fend off. Buachaille is a warm, springy yarn that’s been delightful to knit with so far, and I’m looking forward to keeping up my accessories marathon for a few more weeks. If winter ever does arrives in the UK I’ll be fully equipped, that’s for sure.

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Lush On Tour

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No, that’s not a reference to my enthusiastic sampling of Poland’s craft beer during my stay in Gdansk. The ‘Lush’ in question is of course my cardigan, which I managed to finish in time for my trip. Here I am wearing it at the European Centre for Solidarity, a worthy-sounding but actually completely excellent museum on the site of the famous Gdansk shipyards.

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I really enjoyed knitting the cardigan and was delighted with how it came together – quickly and painlessly on the whole, although I did make a bit of a meal of the buttonbands, picking up too few stitches on my first attempt and having to rip them out. Also I’m the world’s worst at knitting on dpns; no matter how much I tighten the stitches you can see the ladders for miles, so my sleeves are less than perfect. Oh, and there was the small matter of only buying nine buttons when I’d actually made ten buttonholes…but quirks aside, it’s an easy-to-wear, nice looking knit with which I’m very happy.

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Gdansk is in the north of Poland so it can get quite cold, but our weather was more of the  damp and mild variety – perfect for a shorter-sleeved knit like Lush. Here I am enjoying my morning tea on the balcony of our apartment, a modern, airy space called Apartment Lastadia. The old town, with its long, pedestrianised main street and beautiful, baroque buildings – most of which are exact reconstructions of those destroyed in the war – was a mere ten minute walk away.

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P1020706The Baltic has amazing resources of amber, and Gdansk is a treasure-trove of amber jewellery – it’s everywhere! One narrow, cobbled lane called Mariacka Street is lined with amber boutiques, their wares beautifully displayed outside in illuminated glass cabinets, which makes for a magical sight when you walk along at dusk.

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At the centre of the old town is St Mary’s Church, one of the largest brick-built churches in the world. Whilst not particularly beautiful it’s certainly impressive, and a climb to the top of the tower (400 steps) reveals fantastic views of the old town and beyond. We were very excited to be able to see our ‘house’ (just to the right of the green spire)!

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Central European food is hearty, stodgy and not to everyone’s taste, but I love a good pierogi (these are dumplings with a wide range of fillings) and we had some excellent ones at Pierogarnia U Dzika on Piwna. We also enjoyed some lovely, coffee filled times just down the street in Retro Cafe, ‘Pistachio Indulgence’ being my favourite caffeinated tipple. The cosy interior was so inviting on a grey afternoon.

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But the Solidarity Museum I mentioned at the start was my favourite thing in Gdansk. As far as ‘cold war’ museums go it’s definitely the best one I’ve been to – and believe me, I’ve been to a lot! It tells the story of the Solidarity movement, from its bloody beginnings in 1970, when 42 shipyard workers were killed by government troops during a strike, through the rise of Lech Walesa and Solidarity’s triumphant victory in 1980, followed by a brutal crackdown by the Polish govenment and the imposition of martial law, to the eventual crumbling of communism in 1989. What could’ve been a dry, dispiriting tale was transformed using imaginative exhibits and vivid displays into something inspirational.

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The hats of shipyard workers decorate the ceiling of one exhibit

P1020686    The first uprising took place between 14th and 22nd December 1970. Behind each of these neon numbers are accounts of what happened on that day

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Whilst the Polish press refused to cover events in its own country, the world’s media enthusiastically chronicled Poland’s fight for freedom from oppression

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The actual gates of the shipyard which were rammed by government tanks
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The museum seemed to be hugely popular with young Poles, often couples, who made up the bulk of the visitors. It’s no mean feat to make history accessible and engaging to the younger generation – the curators have done an excellent job.

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So, I hear you ask, what of the enthusiastic sampling of Poland’s craft beer? Well, I can happily report that Gdansk has a small but healthy craft beer scene, and that we partook of this keenly.  All in all, a great trip!

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A Lush Knit

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I’m a bit late to the party with this I know, but I’ve wanted to knit the Lush cardigan by Tin Can Knits for ages, and I’ve finally got round to it at last. If you’re a knitter then you’ve probably seen this design; it’s extremely popular on Ravelry and Pinterest – you may even have knitted one yourself. There are certainly plenty of them about!

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The construction is fabulous: first you knit an intricate (although actually quite simple) lace strip which is the cardigan’s signature yoke. It stretches all the way across the back and is a real showpiece. Stitches are picked up along the top edge for the neckband – this was mine just after I’d cast off the collar (much in need of further blocking).

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The next stage is to pick up stitches along the bottom edge for the body. This top-down construction means you can try it on as you go, make adjustments and get a really clear idea of the finished result. Here I am checking out the body length having just finished the waist shaping (excuse the poor selfie).

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As it turned out I decided the body was long enough about an inch before the 12.5 inches specified in the pattern, so the option to try on was brilliant for me. All that remains now is to knit the sleeves, which are picked up at the armholes and worked in the round, and then finally the front bands, which again are picked up. So, no sewing up! I’m aiming to get it all done in time for my annual pilgrimage to Central Europe – Gdansk in Poland this year – on 17th October. Sounds easy you might think, but in my experience sleeves always take waaaay longer than you think they’re going to. So we shall see…

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Apologies for the back-to-front nature of this post, but I’ll end with a word about my chosen yarn. It’s one that needs no introduction really. It’s Debbie Bliss Rialto DK, which is a smooth and smooshy 100% merino. The quality is excellent, but it was the colour that sold it to me really, a gorgeous mellow mustard. If all goes well then I can see an autumn wardrobe forming around this containing lots of teal blue and deep burgundy. But I’d better get on and finish the knitting first!

 

 

Book review: The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante

The Days of Abandonment

I love to read, and don’t get nearly enough time to do it. I’ve made a pact with myself going forward to try and review the books I read; it’s all too easy to forget that reading isn’t just about turning the pages and reaching the end, it’s about digesting and reflecting on what you’ve read, and sometimes I neglect this stage in my eagerness to add another book to my ‘finished’ log and put it on the shelf, ready to start the next one.

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So, to kick off, here’s my review of THE DAYS OF ABANDONMENT by Elena Ferrante:

The Days of Abandonment is the second novel by daring Italian writer Elena Ferrante. It follows the decline into madness of Olga, whose husband casually discards her for a younger woman, leaving her angry, distracted and unbalanced. It’s a no-holds-barred account, full of vulgar language and searing rants, but also beautiful reflections on life, ambition and love. She may be losing her mind but Olga is conscious of everything she’s experiencing, like a curious, bemused observer. This results in some painfully honest descriptions of everything from bad mothering to what must be one of fiction’s most humiliating and least erotic sexual encounters ever! The crux of the novel is a kind of Escher-like nightmare where, imprisoned in her flat, Olga circulates repeatedly through a montage of ever-increasing horrors, mirroring perfectly her sense of being trapped inside her own sick mind.
This is a brave and surprising novel with many layers. While disturbing and grim at times it is also refreshingly frank and full of character. Here’s a flavour:

“When the children were at school, I lay down on the sofa, got up, sat down again, watched TV. But there was no program that could make me forget myself. At night I wandered through the house, and I soon ended up watching the channels where women, above all women, tossed in their beds like wagtails on the branch of a tree. They simpered indecently behind the superimposed telephone numbers, behind captions that promised lavish pleasures. Or they made coy, teasing remarks in sugary voices as they writhed. I looked at them wondering if Mario’s whore was like that, the dream or nightmare of a pornographer, and if, during the fifteen years we had spent together, he had secretly longed for this, just this, and I hadn’t understood. So I became angry first with myself, then with him, until I started crying, as if the ladies of the television night, continuously, exasperatingly, touching their giant breasts, or licking their own nipples as they wiggled in faked excitement, made a spectacle that could sadden one to tears.”

Elena Ferrante is also the author of the epic Neapolitan trilogy – My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, and Those Who Leave & Those Who Stay – which are now definitely on my ‘to read’ list.