Ain’t Nuthin’ Like A Dame…

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© Practical Publishing

I grew up in a house with no TV. Shocking, yes? We also had no phone. GASP. There were lots of other things we didn’t have – mains water and central heating, for example, but it’s the TV I’m concentrating on here. I only got to watch the goggle box in other people’s houses, and that rarely: people in those days still switched the TV off when visitors came, to facilitate conversation. Those without TVs switched off the ‘wireless’ – as radios were known – and those without wireless put their books/knitting/embroidery down, or removed their wellies/aprons, depending on the time of day.

However, when I was about 9, we got our first TV, a black and white model in a beautiful, possibly fake wood surround, with a big dial for tuning into the channels. There were four channels, none providing more than 8 hours of programming a day. Actually, there were only four channels because we lived near enough to the border with Northern Ireland to get their 3 channels (BBC1 & 2 and UTV). We were lots more swanky than our compatriots further south, who only got RTE. Not RTE1, 2, etc. – it was the only channel then.

I became almost instantly obsessed. I absorbed TV into my bones, memorising cast lists, story lines, directors, production companies – I was a walking IMDB. But my most favouritest thing ever was the Saturday matinee. Every Saturday, one of the channels put on an afternoon movie, usually a black and white classic. There was also usually a Sunday matinee, but they weren’t quite so good: too many musicals, and from different eras. They were great family watching, but oh, the Saturday matinee knocked them all into a cocked hat. On Saturdays, square-jawed men in hats traded cigarettes and incomprehensible quips with sultry, sassy women in suits or negligee, in train stations and piano bars. Cynics and losers sacrificed themselves for love and honour, heroes and heroines self-destructed from their darker passions, life was lived against a backdrop of swelling piano and strings, and the Dame ruled them all.

The Dame wasn’t always a beauty, or a brain. She wasn’t innocent, or evil. What she was, was confident. She knew herself, and was happy with it. She put on no airs, put up no pretences, suffered no fools. Tough and tender by parts, she went after her goals, and even if she failed, you knew she’d be okay. There were many takes on the Dame – Katharine Hepburn’s tomboy athleticism, Bette Davis’ brittle sharpness, Barbara Stanwyck’s hardness, Ava Gardner’s voluptuousness – but the epitome was the wonderful Lauren Bacall. Perhaps because Betty, as she was known to her friends, seems to have sashayed the walk in real life too, her performances have a multi-layered authenticity that other dames simply don’t match. They’re too sweet, too venal, too remote. Even as a teen in To Have and Have Not, Bacall exudes the BTDTBTTS attitude of a woman who knows she can handle whatever comes her way.

Image result for Bacall knitterImage result for Bacall knitter

Image result for Bacall knitter

 

 

Bacall was an inveterate knitter herself, often photographed with a WIP on movie sets and in private life.

And so, to knitting. Normally I like to outline where my inspiration comes from, but in this instance, it’s all a bit … nebulous. I like Bacall, but I can’t say she was the direct inspiration. I’m a big fan of monochrome, tessellation, and fitted clothing, but again, these didn’t call to me. Knit Now put out a call with a theme of budget knitting. That didn’t call to me either! Sheesh, I do nothing BUT budget knitting! Somehow, though, the various elements fermented away at the back of my brain until a couple of days before the call was due, and then it was all, “how do I want to look when I’m strapped for cash? FABulous, that’s how. How can I look fabulous? Try for classy rather than runway. Who’s classy? Lauren Bacall. What’s she worn that’s particularly classy? well, that houndstooth suit in The Big Sleep is kind of iconic…” and so on. Lots of Google image searches for the structure of the kind of sexy-but-not-sexy clothes Bacall wore, trying to pin down an appropriate shape.

The Dame Pullover grew, rather than sprang fully formed into my mind. I think it’s a style that’ll grow on people too. It’s smart enough for the office, elegant enough for cocktails, and, yes, classy enough for everything from a church jumble sale to the Aspen ski slopes. I love it more than is seemly for its creator – I should be more modest about these things, and I usually am, I think – but this is perhaps my favourite pattern of those I’ve produced to date, and I design only what impassions me. The nipped waist, the Vikkel braid borders, the pointless wee buttons on the polo neck make my toes curl with joy.

The fact that it’s also the first and, so far, only pattern of mine that’s gone through tech editing with no issues is just the whistle to my pucker…

© TMD.
© TMD.

And here’s the sub. Spot the statutory misspelling that escaped me! And the novel design element that I forgot to take notes on, and then couldn’t reproduce for the sample… I’m making a lot of use of my Kindle Fire, a slim Targus stylus, and an app called SketchBookX Express to produce my sketches these days. Find an image, import it, put a layer on top and ‘trace over’ the image, then delete the image and save the tracing. It’s pretty much what the cool kids have always done with Photoshop, but for me, the touchscreen beats the mouse any day. This technique should work as well on any touch-enabled screen, though I can’t recommend software for individual platforms.

Till next time!

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Hattata Flatatta

New finished project!
Well, new-ish. The Offspring year-end class project was on WWII, specifically the evacuation of children. The final day of the project involved them living as children being evacuated, beginning with them being delivered to the “evacuation centre” in the morning, in period costume, and being issued with their ration cards and gas mask (previously created in lessons).
The Offspring decided he needed me to knit him a proper flat cap, sooo…. He already has one, from Cheryl Andres’ Inishmore Cap pattern, but could we find it? So I made another, in some Aranweight natural Herdwick I have lying around. No biggie. He also wanted an authentic vest -preferrably Fair Isle, the picky varmint – but I said nay. I’m not making a Fair Isle vest in under a week. Instead I put him in his old Bam-bam vest (a modified Sherwood by Angela Hahn), banking on Aran-ish patterns being sufficiently common by the 1940s. I made this for him when he was about 4, but with added length in hopes it would last a while. He’s now 10 1/2, so it worked – although the collar is a bit on the tight side. It does look a bit skimpy, but we were going for the impoverished inner-city rapscallion look anyway. Ahem.
At the end of the day, parents were asked to collect their children (their own children, mind) in period costume as their evacuation foster parents. Now my wardrobe is severely lacking in utility frocks, but I looked up how to do Victory rolls in my hair. Sadly, I do not have 1940s hairspray either, so this was a bit of a flop. They just about stayed in at the front, so I wore a headscarf a al Rosie the Rivetter to cover the rest. My frilliest blouse, baggiest workman denims and wellies, and I was a Land Army gel! I thoroughly mortified the poor child by marching in as “Captain Bagshot”, checking teeth and muscles on the ‘malnourished city boys and gels’, and demanding to know what each of them knew about ploughing and calving before making my choice.
Asante sana Squash banana, as they say, or: My work as a mother is done…

Monster Post II

Let’s see, a good long while ago, the father of the Monstrous Offspring’s playmate at the childminder’s asked me if I could make a replacement blankie for her. He is also the Head of IT at work, so I ain’t gunna be p!ssing HIM off, with the state my laptop’s in! I had a look at the pitiful remnants of her blankie, and there was just enough left for me to make out that it was definitely crochet, three long stitches together and a chain between each group, into which the next row’s three stitches went. The long stitches might have been trebles, the number of stitches in the chain might have been 3 or 4 – the poor thing was too matted to tell. But I had a go at it for her birthday, and she was delighted. I was worried she would feel it was trying to take over, but she wrapped it round herself, twirled with it, was a butterfly, etc. Honour was satisfied.

I should really try to crochet more. It’s starting to be a little ouchy on my hand, and that’s not good. I may even have a project in mind…

Tiny Husband has expressed an interest in tie pins and waistcoats – now that his workplace has made ties optional for all but front of shop staff. Contrary beast that he is. So I made him a 1940s knitted waistcoat! The yarn is from a massive cone of natural 100% wool – Herdwick possibly – that I bought for nothing when I was still leaving the universe of dolly-mixture acrylic – didn’t even know Herdwick was a breed! There’s probably more than enough left for Louhi, once I get the courage together for such a long project – and a decent pair of gardening gloves: that stuff is rough! Currently, I’m making a Noodle Shrug for the bridesmaid, using this wool doubled.

This is all by way of diverting attention from the fact that I went on a big me me me drive recently. I attempted to make this for myself using some no-name chunky wool blend from LIDL. It was a very fast knit – all done, plus other knits, on our two weeks in Ireland – but it was just too. Low-cut. And there’s just no way I was going to add even more bulk by wearing something underneath it to hide Pinky & Perky from a curious world. It awaits frogging and a possible rebirth as Owls. My Ruffled Collar Pullover continued apace, but there’s only so much time I felt like devoting to ribbed mohair. Making considerable progress is my Clarice bag. No photos, but it is almost finished, which I am quite pleased about. I’ve only been able to work on it for short periods, as the multitude of bright bobbins tends to attract cat, son and husband, to the detriment of the work.

Then I saw these, and had to have them for my own. They are Penispoopcakewaffle Socks. Brainchild of one Wendy Moreland, it is a free Rav download, not available elsewhere I’m afraid.

For a time, this was all I had completed for myself to wear to UK Rav Day, and durned if I could find a pair of shoes, among the millions I own, that I could wear them with – even just a pair I could wheek off easily for showing-off purposes (why does that sound dirty now it’s in print…). I had slaved and slogged into the wee hours many a night trying to finish off my Joan Crawford (in a black variant of the mystery yarn mentioned in the previous post) for the day, only to be defeated at the last by the finishing. Sew a hem on a jumper, will ya, Biddy Ann? Aye right. I ask you.

And then, the blindingly obvious hit me. Funny how often that happens. Some time ago, I answered a plea from someone about the infamous February Lady Sweater – or as thee, me and the cat would call it, bed jacket. Cardigan if you’re being charitable. This is viral knitting as its finest. The Susan Boyle Youtube video of knitting. Now That’s What I Call Knitting #6306 (which is the number of times it’s been made so far, according to Ravelry) – you get the idea. It’s the adult version of Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Baby Sweater on Two Needles. I first came across it a good while ago, being touted as suitable for a maternity cardi, and thought good luck to it. It’s mostly lace, which is not something I’m dying about at the best of times. What with neither being pregnant nor having the prospect of pregnancy, not to mention having a very great hatred of the current fashion for looking pregnant (even though it worked in my favour when I was) I had no interest in the thing. But a plea went forth, and I answered it.

The whys escape me. I mean, it’s not like no one out there had ever made one. Some people have made – well – quite a few. They’re a bit like sock knitters: they’ve found what they were born to knit, and, well, they go to it with a will. Anyway, this is about me me me, so back to your normal service.

Her questions were quite complex, possibly made so by a difference of language, and in the end I had to cast on to check that my reading of the pattern was correct. For handiness, and because it was roughly the right weight, I started off with an apricot cotton – Paccia La Lana Cinzia – which I got in a fire (or possibly bomb) sale in Belfast about 18 years ago. I had tried doing things with it before, but nothing had quite worked. Undaunted, I plugged on with FLS to the point – at the end of the collar/start of the lace – where her questions ended, and was pleased to report that I was correct (as was she, just confused, but then this is about me me me. I don’t know why I have to keep saying it). By then I had invested a substantial amount of time on the project; I thought I might as well use up this stuff after all that time in a box, moving countries with me.

Okay fine, I just couldn’t stand the thought of ripping it out again.

So I continued. I soldiered on with the lace – it wasn’t too hard, especially after I put 15 million stitchmarkers at every repeat. I could even do it without looking, managing half a row or so (there are about 85 giblillion stitches per row…) on the bus. Then I remembered I was doing a maternity tent – sorry, smock effort. Never a good look on one so sumptuously endowed as moi, and thanks to my recent success in vanquishing the Weed, I am packing a smidge more round the waist than I like. So not just huge jugs to make it sit out, but a muffin top to keep it from sneaking back in. By jaze sez I, I’ll need to do something about this.


So I shaped it. Hah! Pheer my madd skillz. I narrowed it in to my waist, then widened it out again for my hips. Then along the way I thought, you know, for ages I’ve been longing for something a bit piratical, a bit Jacobean, something with booty and flounce and that certain Laurence Llewellyn Bowen sensibility – something with oomph and tra la and a fol de rol to set the cat among the curtains. So I SUPER-sized the hip increase for a bouncy little peplum, ha har! Then I added cuffs, collar and hems in a vintage Astrakhan I have about me, and some gold-and-black buttons I found in the market, and voila! The effect is not fitted, but semi-fitted: I can still wear a jumper underneath. Though part of me is tempted to unpick and re-do it, because I feel I didn’t start the decreases early enough. But whatever.

I just about finished it in time to travel to Ireland, where I wore it almost constantly. The photos had to be taken that evening, before it was finished, or blocked or anything – you can see the ball of astrakhan balanced on my shoulder. I’m not sure now why it was so urgent, but it was. One day I’ll get nice pics. Ones where I don’t get exasperated by the photographer’s fear of pressing a button on my very complicated camera phone while panicking over the location of the passports…

Next installment: UK Rav Day!

TTFN
K

Monster post

It’s gotta be. Nearly 5 months since my last post, and let me tell you I have not been idle.

The first report is of the Bob The Builder jumper, last seen almost two years ago. Hallelujah, it’s done. Good job I was making a big size – he’s still got room to grow into it! Forgive the look of misery on his face – I was committing the cardinal sin of interrupting his viewing of Ben 10…

So what else? Ah Christmas. Scarves and smoke ring kind of things, mittens that I stupidly didn’t photograph before they were handed over. Ah well. We went to Ireland for two weeks over Easter, giving Tiny Husband’s HR person heart failure at taking so much time off so early in the financial year. Several gauge-swatch bunnies, Ava’s pink hoodie and Adam’s Trellis cardi were finally given to their intended victims – or not in the latter case, as it was not originally intended for Adam… I’m just too much of a flibbertygibbet with crafts. But I suppose it makes up for being so staid and dull everywhere else.

The Mighty Offspring also benefitted from a Fat Controller hat. This is the top hat worn by Sir Topham Hatt, the eponymous director of trains on Sodor Island and Thomas the Tank Engine’s boss. I made this by laying out cash money – yes! coin of the realm! – for Dark Twist’s Miniature Top Hat pattern, then promptly ignoring most of it. I used Rowan Big Wool rather than a worsted, because, well, I didn’t really want a miniature, just a little’un for a little’un. I think there was some mad nonsense about felting it by boiling it, then plunging it into freezing cold water too, but I am here to tell you – do not waste your time on this pish. Throwing it in the washing machine on a boil wash cycle with a pair of jeans that have got a bit saggy in the arse is yer only man. All I got for that boiling and freezing nonsense is frizzy hair and chilblains, and the Offspring hiding in a corner with his fingers in his ears until Daddy came home. In a way, I’m sorry I didn’t just leave it the size it was, because he looks so cute in it, an Artful Dodger – which fits his personality a lot better these days. The remaining yarn was made into a pair of felted slippers, which spend too much time on the run to be snapped on camera!

Two more pairs of socks, one a green and beige on-the-fly Fair Isle (and I must get a pic of these on him), the other a Spidey pair. I’m really becoming quite inured to arachnids, as I also made him a pair of my Mitts-to-Mittens with the Spidey pattern – though Gordon knows where they are now. Probably in his special superhero chest, wherever and whatever that is this week. The Spidey socks were the last pair I made using the 52st pattern, as I’ve noticed they’re a bit baggy even on MO’s feet. The green and beige were made using a 48st version, which is quite snug. At that point I kind of stopped with the socks, partly because he really had enough for now, and partly due to a misunderstanding. I did buy some socks (they were cheap), big enough for his feet which of course meant they came up over his knees. Not too long after, we were having this little chat about socks and shoes, and he told me he didn’t like the socks I made him. Now, I didn’t at first factor in that ‘buy’ and ‘make’ probably mean much the same thing to a highly-verbal three-year-old who nonetheless only has a three-year-old’s understanding of the magical ways in which goods and services appear in his world. He has about ten lyrically-described birthdays a week – doesn’t mean he’s getting cake every day. Turns out he doesn’t like the long socks, only the Mommy socks… I have started again, as I see some of his socks are a bit small now. More of which anon.

I also made him a woolly sweater, Crab Apple, based on Blue Garter’s Twisted Tree Pullover – with the usually mods for not having the right yarn in the right weight, etc., etc. – do I really have to say this? The pic does not do this justice – it is one of the things I am most proud of making – utterly gorgeous, beautiful stitch definition. I dread the day when he’s too big for it. In fact, I’m plotting how I can lengthen the sleeves and such to get a bit more wear out of it…

But the interesting bit is the yarn. I bought it out of the bargain bin at this market stall I go to. I’d seen other yarn like it before – similar weird rolled-up looking balls – but they didn’t appeal. Many of the colours were drab, and they looked like they were the work of a particularly ham-fisted beginning spinner: I’ve done a bit of spinning so I know whereof I speak here – all twisty and lumpy and bumpy, only singles and the fibre looked rank – nasty old ropy cottony looking stuff. However, this one day, there were 2 balls whose colour just demanded to come home with me, a beautiful vivid sap green. And at 69p for 2 balls in the sale, I wasn’t going to fight over it. Sadly, I had to get the brown because there was no more green, and I needed 3 balls in total, though I must say, it came together well in the end.

It was brutal to work with. I imagine knitting Brillo pad fibre would be easier on the hands. I switched from index to middle to ring finger flicking as blisters rose and fell, and even to my shame did the odd row Continental. I went through many times that 69p’s worth of Norwegian hand liniment. My hands turned green – the dye just seemed to brush off the yarn! and every dozen or so stitches I’d have to stop, grab the ball, and dangle the knitting from it to de-tangle it – it was horrifically overspun. Then I began to notice it was FELTING. Well, sort of getting that another-go-at-90deg look about it, at least. Then there was the quantities of hay I had to dig out of it… Finally, when I wet it to block it, it looked like the dye was just going to leave it completely – it absolutely gulched out of it for ages. The odd thing is, the colour wasn’t really affected – there’s a few white flecks that weren’t there before, but otherwise, it’s the same sap green that drew me in the first place.

Then I went to UK Ravelry Day in Coventry a few weeks ago – a grand day out which I will make mention of – but anyhoo, I was tootling around the rain-soaked stalls, mindful of my budget* but determined at least to beard Jamieson & Smith in their, er, stall, and cop a feel of a few fibres that shall remain nameless (dirty, dirty qivuit), when I just ceas’d all motion. I posed myself a few searching questions and ascertained that something had caught my surveillance attention out of my peripheral visual field. There was a little hurried conferring with longterm memory, with visual memory loudly denying all knowledge and blaming everyone else, and then finally reading comprehension and categoric memory kicked in with a few facts that hitherto had not been going to the same parties, all whilst, unbeknownst to the cerebrum, the legs had wafted me towards a stall I had just passed.

And there by the hokey were some balls with the same odd rolled-up shape to them. Same godawful ropy stuff, in glowing colours – multi-coloured in this case, but I was too stunned to hold that against them. Ye see, all that mental conferring and confabulating – putting of straw and blisters together with dye runs and felting, and marrying that to a chance flicker in the corner of my eye on a rainy Saturday in Coventry – had already told me what I would see written on the gracefully hand-painted sign beside them…

Noro Silk Garden
£13.99

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Aha.

But it doesn’t end there… I have poured over Yarndex and online Noro sites, asked questions on fan forums, gone to yarn shops and looked and asked, and I’m no further forward. Noro’s not cornflakes – they don’t make yarn for anyone else, and no one else makes yarn for them. It looks like it might be Maiko 105 colourwise – but Maiko is a new range, and I bought this yarn before Maiko became available! Anyway, Maiko’s also supposed to be plied, not single. I’ve bought more in the interim (yes, even before UK Rav Day!) which has a different structure – 2 plies, evenly spun – but in colours that are closer to Cash Iroha, which is a single (not plied) yarn… So I don’t know what to think – and neither does anyone I’ve asked. It looks like it should be, but it’s not quite right… There’s only a few ‘solid’ Noro ranges, and the colours I’m finding are oh so close – but the weight and the construction is wrong, even for discontinued colours. Quality control reject? Pre-production run that didn’t get past the design stage? Did someone hit the saki too hard at the office party, and do the yarn factory equivalent of photocopying their bum? Or is it something completely different, that just happens to bear certain remarkable similarities? Employees trying to make a bit of extra cash on the side? Industrial espionage? Wool piracy?

Akk. I’m not used to putting in this much detective work and getting nowhere. Answers on a postcard?

TTFN
K

* I was rushed to hospital with a suspected heart attack in May! It wasn’t – I have the heart of a GOD – but the health insurance policy gave me some free money for the two-day stay in hospital, which was my UK Rav budget…