The artifice in art

I’ve been in choirs for most of my life, and the director I’ve spent the most time with was (luckily for me) probably the best. When directing a choir full of exhausted scientists towards the end of a term, she would point out that in order to make the songs we didn’t like sound good we would have to pretend to love them. Disliking a song tends to make a choir sound dull, so we needed to pretend to be into the music even for pieces we didn’t like or couldn’t relate to.

She used U2 as an example. “It’s been how many years?” she asked us. “Do you really think Bono still hasn’t found what he’s looking for?” The same point came up over and over, but that was always my favourite example. The idea was that art usually involves some faking. Some bending of the truth to make a point. I don’t consider myself an artist, but I do think about art in the course of what I do these days.

I’m slogging away on the blue tank top, and it looks like I’ll finish on time barring disaster like repetitive strain or a really nasty gauge surprise. I’ve thought a lot about clothes as I knit: how they fit, how they’re put together, what lines I should accentuate and which I should play down, and how best to achieve that with knitted fabric. Then comes figuring out how to make that happen through the craft: can I incorporate something clever to make the knitting easier or more interesting or elegant? After that comes the math. There is nothing fake about math. It is necessary to bring the fake beauty of the art into reality as a flattering garment, and oddly enough I find myself engrossed every time I attack the math parts of a knitted piece.

That’s the craft, not the art. And that’s where I am now, calculating armhole depth and hoping my calculations are good ones. If this works, this top (and others like it?) might become a wardrobe staple. And that would be awesome.

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Polygamous knitting

The black lace shrug is proceeding quite nicely, thank you. Despite my madness induced break, I’ve been steadily working, a few stitches here and there when I can fit them in, and have made excellent progress. One arm is done, blocked, and I’ve even tried it on to make sure it fits. It does. The second arm is past the elbow. Happily, I am a standard issue human and have only the two regulation arms, which means I don’t have far to go.

I am also working on a sock.

Sock in progress

Sometimes things just aren’t right for lace knitting. I knit while I teach, but the experience is better for everyone if I knit something I don’t have to look at or concentrate on. Same with gaming. Sometimes I break those rules, but every time I do I am reminded in one way or another that it’s a bad idea and I should stick to my sock projects when multitasking.

These socks are part of my Black Socks 2010 Collection. A year ago (so Zappo’s has reminded me) I bought a pair of shoes unlike anything I have ever worn. I’m not a shoe person. I own three pair: dress shoes, gym shoes, and everyday shoes. This is my everyday pair, and they’ve done an excellent job so far. The catch was that I’d been wearing boots for a long, long time and therefore unconcerned with the colour of my socks. Since all my socks are my handknits, most of them are riotously coloured. These shoes reveal my socks, which matters to me when I’m pretending to be a normal person. So I needed black socks. I ordered a tonne of black sock yarn from The Loopy Ewe the week before I moved here and spent the summer making black socks.

All those socks are too much alike, and a pain in the neck to sort in the laundry. So this summer I’m going to make plain black socks with a stripe around the toe made of some leftover coloured yarn. The socks appear black when I wear them in the Real World, but they’re easy to match.

It also gives me something simple to work on when I have other things to pay attention to. They are toe-up, so I can’t tune out during the heel, but I hope to have a standard toe-up heel-flap heel memorized by the end of this adventure.

A sudden malaise

I have two pieces of deadline knitting and a stack of commissions making me jumpy and preventing me from having fun at social occasions. So what did I spend my evening last night making? A tea cosy.

Tea Cosy

Not because I need a tea cosy, mind you. My largest teapot (a 4-cup that valiantly fills the role of a much larger pot) has a cosy already. My smallest teapot is just a one-cup deal, and a cosy would be a little ridiculous. It’s not the ridiculosity that stops me, I think, but the fact that it’s one of those pots that sits on top of a little matching teacup and I wouldn’t want to get fuzz in the cup. My middle-sized teapot, the one I bought in a fit of self pity last summer, is too cute for a cosy.

This cosy doesn’t even fit any of those teapots. It’s built for a 6-cup teapot, which means it probably would have fit the white teapot I left behind in the US. (I do not mourn it; don’t get the wrong idea. It was a means to an end, and not worth shipping over.) So I brought it to the shop and got the shop teapot to model it. It doesn’t fit the shop pot quite right either, but it’s still really cute.

I think the thing that got to me was the stitch pattern, a simple mistake rib. The execution disappointed me a little, so I might rewrite it with fewer shenanigans and make it available through the shop. It’s the tea cosy everyone wants, a good, thick, comfortable looking cosy with no bells or whistles. It goes on, it keeps the tea warm, and it looks like it might be good for a hug on a bleak, dark winter’s day.

Why did this come over me the night of the warmest day of the year in Dublin? The world may never know. But the world may get another tea cosy pattern out of it.

Boundless optimism

When I started reading knitting blogs, I immediately took to the Yarn Harlot. I liked her writing, I enjoyed her stories, and I appreciated the kinds of things she knitted. Her stories were funny, even if I didn’t relate to the specifics.

A few years down the line, here I am, trying to execute a hairbrained idea of an outfit for this wedding in a couple weeks. This is not something I would have done when I started knitting, but it looks like I’ve learned more from the Yarn Harlot than how to correct a miscrossed cable. I was agonizing over what to wear. I don’t have a lot of “dressy” clothes, my dress sense is stuck in early college, and I hate shopping. (These may all be related things, and you can decide for yourself which are causes and which are effects.) I wondered idly whether I’d be able to wear a dress that might be in storage with my in-laws and might fit by the time of the wedding, but was concerned about whether it was realistic to hope for either of those things.

Then the sale bin got filled at the shop and I ended up with 12 hanks of Mirasol Tupa:

Tower of Tupa

I’d been thinking about making this crazy simple shell since I saw it in the latest Debbie Bliss Magazine. I wanted to use the Mulberry Silk we’d gotten in stock around the same time, but didn’t pounce on it for a variety of reasons. (Costs, probability of rowing out, time required.) Then I acquired the knitting machines, and knew it was possible for me to churn out the pieces pretty quickly. When the Tupa appeared in the sale bin, I pounced. It’s a silk wool blend, but I think it’ll make a nice top. So I swatched.

Swatching is good for you

This was done on the machine, a Brother 890. The DK weight yarn is a little big for this standard gauge machine, but using every other needle worked out okay. Using the machine to churn out miles of I-cord or stockinette seems like cheating, which is odd when I consider that I don’t feel spinning with a wheel rather than on a drop spindle is cheating. Since starting with the machine, I’ve thought a lot more about garment construction and design rather than individual stitches, which is different from my usual knitting adventures.

Hand knitting is about persistence, to my mind. There is a lot of craft to learn, sure, but the real obstacle may simply be boredom and frustration at how long it takes to make anything. Even a chunky hat takes the guts of an evening, and that’s not doing anything special with the pattern. A jumper can take weeks, even if nothing goes wrong. Machine knitting is a different beast. While most of my time on a knitted jumper is spent forming stitches, most of my time on the machine involves struggling with shaping, worrying about weights, and raging at the ribber. It is criminally easy to create rectangles of fabric, which shines a glaring light on my inadequacies as a designer and any mistakes I make (or corners I cut) with finishing.

In any case, I’ve committed myself to create this tank top on the machine. I will not be hand knitting it, even though if I started now I could probably finish it in a week. All my hand knitting time is currently devoted to the shrug I will wear over this not-yet-created top.

I must be crazy.

Deadline knitting

The other piece of awesomeness in my Loopy Ewe sock club package was a set of custom TLE red “Oh Snap!” pouches from Namaste. I didn’t photograph them along with the yarn because by the time I headed out to take pictures I had already stuffed the bags with projects:

Oh Snap! bags

They may not look like much, but as I’ve learned over years of making and using and cursing different bags for knitting, the see-through nature of these bags is key. They are sturdy and light, they lie pretty flat, they hold a lot more than you might think, and they slide easily into whatever bag you want to carry your stuff in that day. These two projects can now sit on my desk, and I can grab the one I want without having to look into several bags to see if they contain the project I’m looking for.

Yes, I should be able to remember which of my many (non-identical) bags contains the black lace shrug. It doesn’t always work out that way…

Black lace, you say? Why yes, I have started one of the least bloggable projects ever:

Lace in progress

Yes, lovely. Not only does lace look like vomit as it comes off the needles, any black knitted object is impossible to photograph. No matter how pretty the stitch markers may be:

Chainmaille stitch markers!

Chainmaille stitch markers! (silver)

Those are from Red Panda, and I really like them. They do make noise when I knit, since I’m using the very clinky Addis to knit this, it’s not that much more noise. I love that even though the rings aren’t continuous (usually a deal-breaker for me), they are so expertly cut and joined that they don’t snag on the yarn. Which is saying something, as this is very snaggy yarn. I had to change needles twice due to joins that snagged ever so slightly — even with needles that I’ve used before without any trouble.

I blocked out a little of the lace in the hope that it showed things more clearly:

Black lace, stretched out

Still not impressed? I’m not either. I’m kinda hoping it looks better when it’s actually on a person, otherwise I’m going to be very disappointed when this gets done. The pattern is I Do from Knitty, something I started a long long time ago and abandoned. I’d like to wear it to a friend’s wedding in early June, which gives me not very much time to finish this. I’m a very different knitter now than I was when I tried to do this the first time, and it’s been weird to revisit the pattern with five more years of knitting experience under my belt.

In any case, if things progress as they have been, I should be done in time to decide whether the finished object is ready for prime time.

Roscommon Lamb Festival, part 2

As you might expect from the name, the Roscommon Lamb Festival is about lambs. Well, lambs and sheep. I learned that County Roscommon “has the highest lamb output in the country,” and that the festival itself is meant to showcase the benefits of locally produced food and craft. Whether you’re concerned about ethical treatment of animals, your carbon footprint, or supporting your local economy, there is some compelling reason to consider buying and eating locally. Combine that with the slow food movement and the increased interest in crafts, and it’s clear that the Lamb Festival is tapping into some timely concerns.

I’m a unapologetic city girl. I have minimal experience with sheep, and while I am aware of and appreciate the hard work that goes into animal husbandry I haven’t actually witnessed any of it. (Petting zoos do not count.) About as close as I’ve gotten to any of it is watching my sister muck out a stall at the barn she took horseback riding lessons at. I certainly don’t raise the sheep that produce the wool I enjoy knitting with. So I was excited when I found out that one attraction of the Wool Craft Village would be a demonstration of the path wool takes through the various crafts I take advantage of. There was a stage with a shearing machine, professional sheep-shearers, and a bunch of sheep to be sheared:

Sheep pen

Every so often, they’d bring out a sheep and shear it while all of us gawkers watched:

Sheep being sheared!

The sheep were surprisingly unconcerned about the entire affair. A few of them kicked a little when they were turned on their sides, but for the most part they were pretty chilled out. They didn’t look sedated, so my guess is that the shearing procedure has been developed to cause the least amount of trauma possible.

We also met Lorraine, a customer who heard we were coming to the festival and came to the booth to meet us. After chatting a little, we found out that she has her own sheep and had brought them to the festival. So I headed out and met her sheep and took a picture:

Lorraine and her sheep (bad picture, blame me)

We learned a little more about the ins and outs of raising sheep. I asked what happens to the wool after she gets her sheep sheared, and she (a knitter herself, remember) replied, “It goes straight to the wool merchants.” For the past few years, the cost of wool in Ireland has been incredibly low, so low that it costs more to shear the sheep (paying the shearers) than farmers can recover by selling the wool. There is a little buzz this year about prices going up a little, but it’s still astonishingly cheap right now.

After you shear the sheep and process the wool, you have to spin it. So there were spinners:

Spinner

One of the spinning wheels had been custom made by the spinner’s husband, but that one is (I think) an Ashford Traditional, the same kind I have. (Have I been spinning on it? No. One of these days.)

After you spin the wool, you make it into stuff. You can weave it, knit it, crochet it, felt it, make rugs, etc. So there was a knitting circle:

Knitting circle

That’s Michelle standing up in the middle. She organized the Wool Craft Village, and I thought she did a great job. There was a nice mix of vendors, the demonstrations were interesting (judging by the crowds of people around the shearers and spinners!), and she was available for us in case we needed anything. I think she also managed to have fun, so everyone won. We were grateful for the invitation to participate in the festival, and it seemed like a lot of people had a lovely day out as well.

Roscommon Lamb Festival, part 1

The shop received an invitation a few months ago to participate in this year’s Roscommon Lamb Festival, the first to feature a Wool Craft Village. Kheldara (Rav link) and I volunteered to staff our table, so it came to pass that the weekend before last I drove out Wesht and discovered all the delights the Wool Lamb Festival has to offer.

Since the Village didn’t officially open until 2-ish, we got a late start and hit the road with a carfull of stuff around 10:15. We set up as soon as we arrived:

Ready to sell...

I had my Irish radio debut while we put the finishing touches on the table. One of the presenters, Eugene from Shannonside, was set up in the station’s truck outside and asked a few of the vendors if they’d like to chat. I balked at first, fearing my telltale accent would mark me as a carpetbagger, but Eugene assured me it was exactly what they wanted. We chatted about the festival, about knitting, and about how the downturn in the economy was focusing people’s attention more on creative endeavours.

The Wool Village itself ended up being several straight hours of fun — we chatted with visitors, spotted a few shop customers who were delighted at being able to see us without having to make the trek to Dublin, and met some of the other vendors. I didn’t get a chance to talk to everyone, but I did snag a picture of one of the weaver’s tapestries in progress:

Woven tapestry in progress

She uses natural dyes in her work, and had a demonstration of the dye process at her booth. It threw me for a moment when I saw the dye pots — I’d thought they were vats of the fabled lamb stew. (We never did get any lamb stew. It was in a different location.)

There were a few yarn vendors at the Village, and a few people selling finished objects. We had a felter on one side of us who sold beautiful and practical felted pieces including purses, scrapbooks, fingerless gloves, and wraps. I couldn’t get good pictures of her stuff, but it was amazing. She confessed it was hard to sell some of her finished goods sometimes, and I can definitely relate. On the other side of us, a crocheter sold finished items, mostly baby blankets and clothes:

Crocheter selling her wares

Clearly, the fibre crafts are alive and well in Ireland.

A sample of things to come

One of my responsibilities at TiK is to knit samples for the shop. It’s useful for us to be able to point at a piece of knitted (or crocheted) stuff for each yarn we have, since people sometimes have trouble looking at a ball or hank of yarn and imagining what it will look and feel like when it’s knitted up. (In the case of some yarns, the packaging makes it impossible to accurately imagine what it’ll be like.) After a mad flurry of knitting for the Knitting and Stitching Show last year I was set to the task of designing what became the Lava Flow Cowl, and that took a while. I was mostly left alone after that, but spring and summer yarns are coming in and need samples made. (The Saroyan snuck in there, a quick and pleasurable knit.)

We received the Misty book last week, and I was impressed with the classic shapes and light yarns. Even though I’m on deck to knit a garment in laceweight (yikes!), I volunteered to make the Starr hat. I’m using Debbie Bliss Cotton DK, as the yarn called for in the pattern is also a DK cotton (that we don’t stock). I’d prefer a charted pattern, but like most patterns I didn’t mind so much once I settled into it and got the gist of how the stitch pattern flows.

Starr closeup

Still quiet

With the shadow of the Sackboys removed, I have moved on to other handknitting challenges and obligations. The Big Commission still looms (haha) overhead, but after meditating on the recent issues with it over the past few days I have more ideas for how to deal with it and get it done and get on with forgetting about it.

Last night I headed out to see Amanda Palmer (AFP) and assorted hangers-on. It was meant to be part of the Evelyn Evelyn tour, but the massive travel snarl created by the volcano ash prevented most of the actual show from showing up. The result? A completely random opening act Bitter Ruin, who blew me away. I would have bought a CD if there were any left. This was followed by a sort of shadow of the actual Evelyn Evelyn stage show, with AFP describing what would be happening and Jason Webley (the other Evelyn) joining via webcast. They had pretty successfully figured out how to sing together in spite of the 2-second lag, so it was possible to get some idea of what the music would have been like had they been in the same room and wearing the same dress. (Not identical dresses, the two of them in the same dress.)

AFP’s solo set at the end went well, and the debut of “Fuck the Ashcloud,” AFP’s and Neil’s impromptu songwriting collaboration lamenting the impending cancellation of their planned week together went about as well as anyone could have expected.

I got lucky, I think. The show took place at the Academy, where I’d seen JoCo in the basement venue. I’d never been in the upstairs, which is a slightly bigger, two-tiered deal. I wasn’t in the front of the queue, so all the space by the stage was taken by the time I got in and I headed upstairs to the bar. There were couches set up, and no indication that I wasn’t allowed to sit on them…so I ended up slouching in a comfy couch on a balcony for the entire show. The area is often reserved for people with VIP tickets, but this time it was open to anyone of drinking age. Awesome. I had a lovely evening.

I also finished a pair of socks. What better project to take to a show about a pair of conjoined twin singer/songwriters than a sock?

Socks

Extreme yarn acquisition

I had a slight falling down in the past couple weeks. In the wake of a very bad month financially (in which Revenue panicked and kept all my money thinking I was suddenly very rich since I briefly had two employers), I went a little bananas. A friend went “home” to the US to visit and offered to buy stuff, which ended up being the last straw. I spent some quality time on the Loopy Ewe website and solved my sock yarn problem.

This is one of the things I bought. I have a problem with the colour green. I can’t wear most shades of it without looking washed out, but I love it desperately. So I buy green sock yarn and I take pictures of it.

Fiber optic Blackbird, close up

That’s Fiber Optic Foot Notes in “Blackbird,” a shade of green that makes me weak in the knees.

The shop got in its latest order of Malabrigo, still (to my knowledge) the only LYS in Ireland where you can get Malagbrigo at all. The stuff flies off the shelves. Last time, I bought two skeins of the lace. This time it was two skeins of sock.

Malabrigo Abril, close up

That’s Abril. It is a fairly normal colourway for me — dark. Blues. Purples (controversial, but I have a history of showing interest in purple when it’s teamed up with blue or green). No real surprises there. The second one came out of left field though:

Archangel, close up

How would you describe that colour? Pink? Orange? Pinks and oranges with a little purple thrown in? No words can explain this colourway such that it would sound appealing to me. If you described it to me, I would not get excited about it. I would choose the other option, if it was down to this skein and something else and I was basing the decision on a description. Yet I find it compelling. Archangel is a weird colourway.

Weirder still is the fact that these two skeins of Malabrigo sock are not ever going to become socks due to my strict rule regarding nylon content. (100% wool wears out too fast. I won’t knit socks with it anymore, at least not socks I plan to wear.) So these skeins might go straight into my sock yarn blanket. Which is supposed to be made of leftovers…