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Well hello 2020

Tomorrow is the 25th of January, which makes it, astonishingly, exactly one month since Christmas. I don’t know how one month can be so long, but there we have it.

I don’t really get much out of Christmas. I rewrote that sentence like five times, peering over my shoulder and worrying that someone’s going to hear me say that and I’ll be swept up in some sort of project, where someone takes the cynical but lonely Christmas-hater on a journey to learn how magical Christmas really is and at the end of it she cries a bit and loves it as much as any Normal Person. Please don’t do that, if you’re thinking of it. My Yule-meh is not a sign of profound tragedy, or a wistful cry for help. I’m perfectly happy not really getting much out of Christmas. It’s for a variety of reasons, personal and political (which are, as we know, basically the same thing), and I still manage to live a full and happy life even on Christmas Day. So don’t fret.

The weird thing is that I quite like the whole Christmas/New Year period: I like that we’re all (more or less) taking time off together, and I like that we’re observing the end of the year, and I like that it’s in mid summer, and I love New Year’s itself. But Christmas itself? Eh. Meh. Feh.

Did I say I love New Year’s? I mean I freaking love New Year’s. New Year’s is my total favourite. Now, don’t get all thingy with me and tell me it’s just another day, and that it’s all man-made and arbitrary — what do you take me for? I know that! Who cares? Everything around me is man-made, from books to crosswords to casserole dishes to the very concepts of companionship or pumpernickel. So what? New Year’s is one day in our sweeping swing around the sun where we all take a moment to stand up straight, stretch our backs, look around, and say “hoo, look how much things have changed since we were last here!” And then we all get back into it. I like it.

I’m not much of a one for resolutions, but I have historically thought about all the things I’d like to do in the upcoming year. But not this year. This year I’m throwing seeds into the wind to see where they sow (huh, poetic). I’m experimenting with the idea that if you focus too much on what you think you want, you’ll miss out on the other opportunities that might pop up unexpectedly. I’m trying to limit how focused I am on goals and watching what else might come my way instead. But having said that, it’s no coincidence that the first blog post in a long time comes now, a scant 24 days after the New Year begins.

Tipping point(s)

It’s mid-February. Today is February 14 which, by definition, is halfway through the month. I don’t know what happened, because it was January just a second ago, and then I thought I’d just read a page of my book to remind myself where I was up to…

Anyway, here we are. I love February because it feels like we’re into the swing of the year. There’s a tipping point that tilts us from “The year is just starting out!” to “Welp, here we are!” People have mostly stopped writing 2018 when they write the dates, and we’re almost done with talking about resolutions and intentions and things. There’s an air of getting down to business.

The other thing I love about February is that there’s a tipping point in the weather. This morning I got up and it was 10°C (about 50°F for those of you who speak Fahrenheit).

You’ve probably noticed, but Australia has had a crippling heat wave this summer. Chez Cutlery Drawer was shielded from the worst of it, but even here we had several days over 40°C (104°F) and parts of the country were over 45°C (113°F). Now, I have lived in Australia long enough to know that we get hot here: we know what hot is. But this? This is horrible. (Shout-out to all the pollies and would-be regulators who dithered and wasted time pondering whether or not climate change is a real thing: GUESS WHAT.)

Sorry, got distracted there. Anyway, my point, under all these angry brambles, is that we are finally relaxing into balmier days, where we’re only getting up to 30°C or so. It’s positively cool this morning, and the world feels like it can breathe a bit easier.

The final tipping point is my black cardigan: we went to New Zealand for one heavenly week last week, and I pushed myself to finish the body of the black drapey cardie in the hope I could take it with me. After all, a three-hour flight is some decent knitting time. But in the end, I looked at the size of it and realised I would basically be packing an entire cardigan I couldn’t even wear, and decided to instead choose sanity and suitcase space. I packed two balls of sock yarn and worked on a top-down sock for the duration. My first top-down sock in years and years, actually! Am delighted with the twisted German cast-on and its astounding elasticity.

Amusing/unamusing post-script, depending on how you look at it: after a week ignoring my instincts I finally tried the sock on and it was unequivocally too snug. I have, after a week of solid knitting, nothing tangible to show but about three rounds of ribbing and some slightly worn-looking yarn. But I have experience and that counts for something, right?

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There’s a number

Before anything else: I want to acknowledge the work that some very brave knitters have undertaken in opening the difficult conversations about race taking place in the online knitting world right now. These conversations are valuable, necessary and serious, and I have nothing but profound respect for the people who have spoken up in the face of blinding rudeness (at best) and horrific hate (at worst). If you’re interested in the background and details, you can read the official Ravelry thread. (The thread overall became a huge, complex thing and was eventually locked a few days after beginning, but the opening post provides a thorough overview of the situation.)


 

37 cm. Let it be known that this is the point in the black cotton cardigan I’m knitting where I am completely over it and ready to be done. I’m ready to bury this thing under the couch. I’m ready to accidentally leave it in the cat basket for the cats to inadvertently sleep on. I’m ready to accidentally leave it in a changing room somewhere, except I’d have to go shopping to do that. I’ve still got the rest of the body, the pockets, the neckband and the sleeves to go. Wish me luck. More importantly, wish the cardigan luck: it’s just one cool breeze away from me chucking it in the crisper and casting on a hat.

The great unravelling project

This is a little something I’ve been working on for a few months now. I have a lot of handknits in my drawer that I no longer wear. I did a corking good job of them, but I’ve changed shape and changed taste and they no longer serve their purpose. So I’ve decided to unravel them and reclaim the yarn—it’s Bendigo Woollen Mills Classic, so it still looks as springy and bright as the day the order arrived.

(I love the way the above paragraph makes it sound like one day I just opened my drawer and said, coolly, “Oh, I see I have some unworn sweaters: I predict I won’t wear them again in the future, so I’ll reclaim the yarn like the practical person I am.” In that vision, nobody agonised for months about what it meant to dissolve an otherwise perfectly fine creation simply out of whim and whether it would hurt the sweaters’ feelings.)

My Origami cardigan, in the first stage of being unravelled: the seams are unpicked but the unravelling hasn't begun.
Present status: in bits. Future status: unknown.

First up: my Paper Crane cardigan. It’s a beauty, and a great display for this yarn, but the fit is a bit of a shocker. My bad: I should have paid more attention to the difference in size between my sleeves and my arms. (I have this trouble with store-bought clothes, too. I don’t think I have big arms, but the clothing industry seems to disagree?) The yarn in this is gorgeous, but I haven’t the faintest idea what to make with it. It needs a relatively plain stitch pattern to let the patterning of the colours sing, but beyond that I’m not sure. Maybe a tunic or a cardigan with set-in sleeves (that fit)? It would make a fantastic shawl, but I don’t see myself in shawls.

A stack of three handknit sweaters to be unravelled and repurposed.
Three to become one-ish?

Second up: this stack. From the bottom, that’s a Coffee Tunic, a Gytha, and a Corona. All absolute milestone pieces that I simply never wear anymore. But there’s a lot of yarn locked up in this tower. The reason I’ve listed them as one project is because I have some very exciting colourwork plans for this stack. I think I can make something a bit stunning. I’m thinking of a pullover in all-over colourwork, and it’s a beauty. Wish me luck.

My scarf to be unravelled, draped over the back of a chair, with the curling and pilling inherent in the pattern and yarn evident.
Surprisingly dramatic photo, this.

Third: This scarf. Massively too big, it’s too thick to stay wrapped around my neck. A big problem is the curling of the stitch pattern, which I should have seen coming a mile away (but such is the denial of the infatuated knitter). It curls up into a thick tube that I then have to spend the whole day tossing back over my shoulder. Not on. I’ve got no record of what yarn this is, except that it’s a heavenly soft singles and tears came to my eyes when I found it in the yarn store (it had been a trying day). I need to be careful as I unravel it: it’s fairly strong for a singles, but it pills like a mofo (you can see in the picture above, it’s already pretty dang pilly and I have only worn it about three times) and unravelling is not going to help that. Not sure what this will be reincarnated as. A vest? A cowl? Leg warmers?

I’ve kicked off the great unravelling with my most daunting challenge of all: my hair.

I’ve had dreadlocks since March 2011 (so that’s coming up to eight years, for those counting along at home). Over the past six (okay, twelve) months, I’ve been increasingly aware of the disadvantages of them: that’s usually a sign that it’s time for a change. I didn’t want another pixie cut (that’s what I rocked for the umpteen years leading up to the dreads), so I thought I’d give combing out a go.

Dudes, I had no idea what I was getting into. I had just over forty locks, most of them to my waist and some a bit longer. The first one I tried unravelling while dry and full-length. It took about two hours. After a bit more googling, M and I agreed the first step was to cut them all off at shoulder height, which he nobly undertook for me. This felt like a big deal, but was also pretty exhilarating. Most of the locks are so long because as hair breaks and falls out, it remains locked in: so the bottom third or so of the dreadlocks would have simply combed out, not added to the finished length.

Then we rubbed every one with a fistful of coconut oil and I got back to it. With each one, I followed the same process: rub another round of oil in, and then use a DPN to flick open the end and start detangling the knots, drawing the strands back through the knots to undo them. It took days. Literally days. I would start at about 8:30, work until lunch, and then pick up after lunch and keep going until 5:00. Then I’d do a bit more after dinner. For four days. My hands ached. My back and shoulders ached. Each night, I’d rub more oil in and sleep in a head towel (or attempt to). I was so goddamn oily by the end. Everything in the house was oily. I had to wash all the clothes and towels I used separately, in extra hot water; I had to wash my pillowcases three times; I had to clean every surface I touched during that four-day period. I have watched all of The Private Life of Plants and Life in the Undergrowth (God bless David Attenborough and all his works) and listened to every podcast within reach. The fortitude it took to get out of bed on the final Sunday and tend to the last two bloody dreadlocks was more than I hope to ever need again.

I have two DPNs that may never be the same, but goddamit I have shoulder-length hair that is beautiful, brown and astonishingly healthy for what it’s been through. This has worked out well! Let the great unravelling bonanza begin!

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The shocking sequel

In my last thrilling post, we explored the highs and lows of a project that teased and twisted with its sneaky sizing issues.

After completely unravelling and starting over with the next size down (only to realise that, due to the nature of the raglan top-down pattern, I need have only unravelled six rows), I finished the next size down and…baum-BOW. Still too big, darn it.

So I unravelled—this time, having already sipped the bitter cup of experience, I only unravelled six rows. Hah! Clever clogs bethini!

…only to learn that the difference between this size and the next down was a bit more than that, and had to unravel the whole thing.

We are now on our third cast on. We have already had to unravel four rows because of the classic knitting error that means I failed to discern the difference between “Do it four times more” versus “Do it four times”. (If you’re going to stuff up, might as well rock the classics, eh?) (Nobody need point out that this is the third time I’ve worked this pattern and so have no business making this mistake, thankyouverymuch.)

I have a theory. I think this pattern is throwing hissy fits. Word gets around, you see, and, well—I’ve been doing something on the side. Something that maybe my current project—hell, my whole freakin’ stash cupboard—is angry with me about.


A top-down view of my new spinning wheel, an Ashford Joy 2, double treadle model.
Pedallin’ it all over the place, baby.

That right there is my birthday present to myself: an Ashford Joy 2, a beautiful spinning wheel. (Thank you, we’re very happy.)

It’s tremendous fun and I’m having an absolute smash with it—but if you were, say, a beloved but neglected cardigan, or a stash cupboard already struggling to keep its doors shut, wouldn’t you be a bit jealous too?

A bobbin full of blue handspun yarn, spun on my new spinning wheel.
I ain’t sorry.

It’s going to be okay—me and the cardie, we’re going through a bit of a rough patch, but we’ll figure it out. We always do.

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Whee

It’s one of my favourite days of the year! It’s New Year’s Day! Happy 2019 everyone!

My 2018 wasn’t terrible—I know it was for a lot of people, but I am lucky to be not one of them. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it on the blog but in 2017 I got a diagnosis (after about ten months of biopsies, blood tests and being prodded with a pencil by doctors saying “hmmmm”) of sarcoidosis. Mine’s a very mild and benign version of the pesky disease, so we (me and my million doctors) haven’t moved beyond the ‘active watching’ protocol.

The kicker for me was the level of fatigue. Oy vey: I was getting through the day and changing into my pyjamas at exactly 5:15 pm and falling to the couch with an audible crash. Going out at all felt
heavy and hard, staying out past 9:00 pm meant the next day would be a waste, and the prospect of travel seemed so profoundly unappealing that I felt like I’d had a bit of a personality transplant.

So 2018 was a good year in that I finally got back on top of things. Maybe it’s the disease’s cycle of action and remission, or maybe the gargantuan doses of fish oil I’m taking have done the trick (don’t @ me), but the last six months have seen me with way more pep, verve, vim, kick and fzzt than I’ve had for a bit. I’ll toast 2018 just for that.

Not sure what to look forward to in 2019, apart from everything! We have some vague plans that may solidify into fun adventures, and I have some ambitions that may firm up into actual things I actually do, for actual. But I’m not going to put my name to anything yet: right now, I’m enjoying the delicate sense of possibility that this time of year always brings me. I’ve been enjoying my New Year’s Day tradition of doing a little bit of everything I want to do a lot of this year—think of it like stitching an embroidery sampler of the year’s fun. (Way to go with the relatable metaphors there, bethini.) So far I’ve done some yoga and music practice, picked berries, gardened and been for a walk, had a nice bath and blogged (hello!). On the agenda for the afternoon: clarinet practice and allllll the fibrey goodness of knitting, spinning, spindling and plying (I have a plying technique I want to learn this afternoon).

May your 2019 be abundant, unexpectedly fun, cheerful and uplifting. May the problems you meet melt away before your beaming eyes, and may conflict evaporate under your sunny demeanour.

Have a good one, dudes!

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Aaaand scene.

Imagine my pride in putting aside my hunch and gut feeling in favour of science. Diligent swatching and measuring and hmmming over the pattern told me that my new cardigan should be cast on in size medium, not small, as is my instinct.

Imagine my disgust when, after a week of error-free work, I separate the sleeves off the body and try it on, only to discover it’s woefully too big. Not even a borderline too big, but an out-and-out, these-sleeves-gonna-catch-the-breeze order of too big.

Imagine my sense of maturity as I diligently slide the needles out and unravel to the start, so as to cast on the size small—perhaps also imagine my sense of smugness, having my original gut feeling confirmed.

Imagine then, my despair, upon rereading the pattern and discovering that I only needed to unravel the last ten rows to turn my size M into a size S.

That’s some Greek tragedy-level shit right there.

fin, weeping

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It’s not just me and don’t pretend it is

So we’ve hit that time of the year, huh? November’s coming—you can hear it crunching down the driveway in its sturdy shoes—and that means the chances of this being the year you’ll Do The Thing are drawing shut like the mouth of the toddler you’re trying to spoon-feed.

I have two responses to this annual feeling of impending conclusion: the first is what I think of as the old French guy strategy—a relaxed, single-shoulder shrug, a ‘Euh, c’est la vie, non?’ and another glass of lunchtime wine in the sun. A useful and wholesome (if stereotypical) strategy and one I heartily endorse. The second is what can only be described as ‘I’m not scared of dying, YOU are’ and it’s where I throw myself into a series of ambitious goals.

Guess which one I’m doing this year? If you’re thinking it’s the one that involves signing up for NaNoWriMo, setting myself reading targets, and planning out the next four knitting projects, well, look at you, clever clogs.

Let’s go through these one by one, shall we? (Yep, back on the lists.)

NaNoWriMo: it’s been a few years since I did it, and earlier this year I had an idea for a novel that’s been going mouldy in my head ever since. Despite my having “learned” a while ago that the only way to get more ideas is to get rid of the ones you’ve got, I nonetheless hoard them and fear I’ll never get another—while simultaneously fearing this one isn’t actually any good. So NaNo seemed like a good way of frog-marching myself up to the Reality Wagon and…look, I don’t know where this metaphor is supposed to go. Something about facing my ideas, writing them down, and admitting the possibility that they suck but that it’s okay. I guess that’s not so much a metaphor as it is the way things are. I should try writing. Clearly there’s poetry in my soul.

Reading: it will surprise nobody that I am in possession of several books that not only have I not read, but that I have not immediate plans of reading. (It shouldn’t surprise you because (a) I’m a writerly type with a blog, (b) I like to knit, which suggests I like long-range planning, and (c) I’m a human and a lot of humans do this thing. It’s just statistically likely that I’d have a lotta books around the place.) I’ve decided to set myself the goal of finishing all the books I have acquired this year by the end of the year. This would seem moderate, but it’s only barely so. There are seven books left: one supremely technical, two long and dense (but funny and well-written, so), one emotionally challenging but rewarding (or so the reviews say), one cookbook, and the others action novels. There are roughly nine weeks left in this Year of our Dark Lord 2018, and there are seven books. There were eight, but I finished one earlier today. This seems like a tight goal for me, because, as I said, some of them are fairly dense reads. However, that hasn’t stopped me contemplating the fact that if I read all of them plus another acquired in a previous year, that will be a net win for the To-Be-Read pile.

Knitting: Oh, the knitting. I’m working my way through a sweater at the moment and it’s all I want. It’s supremely simple and satisfying and I’m really happy with it—but I am also nearing the end of it, and I can’t help but notice the absence of a black, drapey cotton spring/autumn cardigan in my wardrobe. You know the sort of thing—something you put on because you’re out having a picnic or on a boat or whatever beautiful people do, and there’s a slight chill to the purple evening air. Something to put over my casual yet glamorous tank-and-shorts combo, or my light summer dress as I walk through long grass at twilight (wtf). And I keep fondling all my sock yarns. And thinking about my handspun and how I really want to get it on my person. In short, there’s a lot of knitting to be done. I’d like to finish both this sweater and that cardigan by the end of the year—am I dreaming too big or too small or both?

There’s a lot of people who are already nipple-deep in end-of-year festivity planning and they’re bugging their eyes at me going ‘SERIOUSLY? You want CHALLENGE? In November??’ and to them I say ‘Have a cup of tea, lovey, and stop yelling at me.’ I like challenge, I like meeting deadlines, and I’m dashed good at both, so why not self-impose and see if I implode? There are also those who sigh and shake their heads at me and ask if I’m trying to prove something and what is it I’m really running from? And I’m supposed to stammer, bite my lip and say ‘I dunno man…I guess in a way, I’m just running from myself…’ And then they can get on with things and I can get back to whatever it is I do. Look, you can wave all the pop psychology at me that you like and ultimately I’m just going to say ‘eh, sure: fear of mortality or whatevs’ and keep on trucking. Let’s see what I can still wring out of the year!

Listless (or listful)

I’m completely convinced that if I just had the right list I’d be able to pull my life together into the shape I imagine I want and deserve. Every now and again, usually when I’m over-tired, over-committed, over-caffeinated or over-stretched in a general life sense, I try to make that list. It usually has things like “finish my French workbook” and “write a really good novel—a tour de force” and “get all the washing done”. Then I read over it and realise that I’m not doing all that today, and I get discouraged. You wouldn’t believe the number of pens and notepads I have right here in front of me, right now, just as part of the ambient clutter of my life, except you totally would believe it because you do it too. Admit it. If it’s not notepads and pens, it’s their digital equivalent. I see you.

Anyway, the greatest thing I ever did for my mental wellbeing was start writing ‘done’ lists. I try to avoid ‘to do’ lists now, but I will admit I will write a ‘reminders’ list. Things that, oh, you know, it would be great if I got around to doing, but they don’t have to be done, the world won’t end, etc. The best part about a ‘done’ list is that you look back at all the shiz you got up to over the day and you’re like “holy nuts, I’m busy!”, even when you don’t feel like you’ve achieved much. On bad days I include things like “cups of tea: 4” and “made bed”. Because sometimes my level of ability fluctuates and it’s nice to have a list that cheers you on accordingly. Watered the desk plants? Great job! Jot that motherfucker down! Wore pants? Kudos! That’s going straight to the list! Remembered to do your physio exercises? STAND BACK, LIST!

It’s taking all my willpower not to pepper this entry with lists. I wanted to write a list of things I never do lists of, and a list of things I compulsively do lists of, but in the end the whole thing got a bit to meta-listical and I had to go lie down. Plus, if I’m honest, there’s a lot of things that I don’t necessarily write lists of, but I record in a pretending-not-but-actually-is a list way—spreadsheets for everything but knitting; Ravelry for everything else. Sure, they’re more complex and involved, so at first glance you might not even realise they’re lists, but they are, my friend, and you’re in their tender grip.

Turn it around

Do y’all remember Knitty’s pattern Cheesylove? It was published in 2002, which tells you all you need to know about my ability to react to inspiration.

Anyway, after having it on my to-knit list for some fifteen years, last year I finally cast it on and dedicated myself to it with an impressive degree of monogamy (socks don’t count, I think we can all agree). I even used some of the deep stash: the black Merino Supreme that Cleckheaton discontinued a long long time ago.

The fact that this isn’t an FO report post should hint at something. Yep, the whole thing was a bit of a dud. As I knit, I was struck with how heavy it was. Well, I thought, at least the yarn is nice and soft: I can wear it with just a t-shirt underneath and it’ll be fine. I noted how long the sleeves were becoming. Well, I thought, they’ll shorten as they stretch around the arm. It’ll be fine. Of course, it wasn’t fine.

The jumper was small enough that I was encouraged to try it on, but large enough that it made me look like a loaf of bread with a teeny weeny head. “Are you going to unravel it and redo it?” Asked M, after the weeping and stomping had subsided. No. Absolutely not. I thought about it, but in the end decided I no longer wanted a Cheesylove.

Here’s what we learned:

  1. A pattern does not age, but a knitter does. What I loved when I first put Cheesylove on my to-knit list is no longer my jam. It’s to be expected when you take fifteen years to act on something: my tastes, knitting skills, and wardrobe have all changed.
  2. Bulky is as bulky does, and even if a ball band suggests it’s Aran-weight, if knitting at Aran gauge takes aching hands and bent needles then you’re forcing a bulky yarn to act as an Aran. And bulky yarns make bulky fabric. Bulky fabric does not flatter me.
  3. Sometimes companies discontinue yarns for a good reasons, not just blatant perversity. Merino Supreme has long been my darling, but I see now that it’s bulky, you only get like 3 metres of yarn per ball, and it pills like a mofo. Farewell, Merino Supreme, and don’t let the yarn cupboard door hit you on the way out.

Here’s how we responded to the whole situation:

  1. I will resolve to turn patterns around faster. When I see a pattern I want to knit, I’ll try to do so ASAP. This means less languishing in the queue, less putting things off, and more importantly, dedicating myself to knitting a thing instead of just doing more socks. (There will always be socks.)
  2. I will turn yarn around faster. When I see yarns I badly want to make something with, I’ll do it, instead of saving them for some as-yet uninvented perfect pattern. The sheep are always growing more wool, and the yarn companies are always coming up with new things, so there’s not much risk that I’ll never have anything so lovely again. Get it out there!
  3. I will stop dismissing things just because they’re hot right now, and acknowledge that I want to knit them immediately: this is to safeguard against the trap of only deciding to make something about five years after it’s fashionable and then wondering why it doesn’t look as cool on me as it did on everyone else. Current case: fades, speckles.
  4. Oh, and I’m going to stop knitting garments that are heavier than DK weight. I’m small, and I don’t have the curves to flesh out a heavy-weight jumper, so when I wear something heavy-weight, my head looks weirdly small and my body strangely mountainlike. Nothing quenches the creative ardour faster than realising you’ve laboured for two months on something that makes you look like mashed potatoes with a pea on top.

I am not, by nature, a spontaneous person. Those of you who think you’ve seen me do something spontaneous, trust me: whatever it was, I’ve mulled it over as a possibility for some time. Probably months, possibly years. I’m working to improve this. I’m also chronically indecisive, which doesn’t help matters. These aren’t necessarily bad traits, but they do come with trade-offs: you miss out on stuff while you’re dithering!

In light of all this, I bought a LOT of yarn and three new patterns. It only took me three days to choose the colours, too. It’s going to be amazing.

 

 

 

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