Monday, January 26, 2009

Monday Monday

Just a quick update.

Not much knitting has been done over the weekend, due partly to my inability to count. I sat down yesterday to knit a few circles of Astrid and duly cast on. 84 stitches it said. So I divided it in my head and cast on three needles with 16 stitches on each needle. Duh. After two attempts to get the pattern to work ( and rather a lot of swearing) when it was obviously wrong I realised what I'd done. I'm not sure quite what has happened to my brain these days. It seems to have turned to mush. I gave up on knitting for the evening and finished my book instead.

I'm storming through The Red Riding Quartet by David Peace. I finished 1977 on Friday and 1980 yesterday. I wouldn't normally read two books by the same author one after another. I like to take a break in between. But these are very much in the same vein, and they follow on after one another as halves of the same story. Both were excellent and I'm looking forward to 1983 but I will just find time to fit in this before I start that.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Book Update

I have been sadly remiss in my postings bookwise this month, being distracted by all that time off and all that craft stuff.

But I have been reading. I started off the new Year with a surefire favourite. Without Fail by Lee Child. I've been reading his books all out of order, so this is one of the early ones. This one came before he could tell the time without the aid of a watch! It was quite a surprise to me - I was so used to him needing no such instrument that I was quite taken aback when he looked at his watch in one chapter. Anyway, that'll teach me not to read them in the right order. So, what was the book like. Well you know what to expect with a Lee Child - snappy plotting, great main characters, bit of love interest and everyone wants to get Jack Reacher. This one is no exception. He gets summoned to Washington by the Secret Service to check out their security on the Vice President Elect. Seems there's someone doesn't think he should be the VP-Elect. Who you gonna call? I found all the presidential security stuff fascinating, and there's quite a bit of backstory to old Jack himself - all about his brother. which I also liked as you don't normally get much on Jack's history or family. A really good thriller that does just what it says on the tin.

I moved on after that to Salt River which the final part of James Sallis' John Turner trilogy. It's a fine piece of writing, very much character-driven rather than plot-driven and I loved it, which may surprise some of you as I usually prefer a plot-driven book. This is just so beautifully written though that it just sucks you in. It was one of those books that you read slowly because you don't want it to end and there is no greater compliment I can give a book than that.

Next up was a complete change of time and subject. Company of Liars by Karen Maitland was one of the Waterstones New Writers promotion last year and also one of their Books of the Month. I do love the cover which totally sums up what the book is about. The story revolves around a group of people thrown together by chance, travelling across 14th Century England in search of work and to escape the plague which is on their heels. It's narrated by Camelot who sells fake relics. The other members of the company are a magician, a musician and his apprentice, a pregnant woman and her husband, a story teller and a strange white-haired girl. I'm not sure what to say about this book. I was enjoying the story as it meandered along but it was meandering and it didn't seem to be really going anywhere, much as the band of wanderers were going nowhere really. I kind of expected there to be a big revelation at the end, and while there were several smaller revelations I had already seen them all coming so there were no surprises. The plot seems to lose its way towards the end and fizzled out in a disappointing way. It was a shame as I'd been enjoying it but I felt let down by the end. Maybe this is a result of reading so much crime fiction. You come to expect a certain level of resolution and a certain level of tension at the denouement and this just didn't deliver in that department. This was a first novel and I'm hoping there will be better from her in the future. Her next is called The Owl Killers and is also set in the 14thC. It will be out in March and I shall certainly take a look.

I'm now reading The Man in the Moss by Phil Rickman, which is one of his more supernatural titles, not a Merrily Watkins mystery. And 1977 by David Peace. More on these as I get further into them. On the basis of the first few pages though I'm preferring 1977 to The Man in the Moss and I'm thinking that 1977 is a better book than 1974 which bodes well for the books to come in that series.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

It Was Nice While It Lasted

I'm back at work tomorrow after my couple of weeks off so I thought I'd better update you on the crafty stuff I've been doing.

I started off the break with a nasty dose of startitis and I cast on three different knitting projects in the first week. I blame the cold weather as I suddenly felt the need to knit a cardigan, a shawl and a pair of mittens simultaneously.

The cardigan is of my own devising with some (quite a lot of) help from Ann Budd's miraculous Handy Book of Sweater Patterns. It will (hopefully) be a round yoke cardigan and the main body will be in Sirdar Charleston. It's a funny yarn - quite weighty and warm and with frizzy bits sticking out all over - sort of like what you might get if you crossed a mohair with a yak - but totally manmade. It feels nice anyway and it was in the stash so I feel virtuous. Actually all the things I cast on were from the stash (and hence were either bootsale finds or bought in some sale or other) so I've been very frugal. The yoke is destined to be some handspun from Artists Palette Yarns - merino in a lovely foresty dark grren with hints of yellow and paler greens. There's a possibility it might disappear into the black and if that's the case I shall intersperse the rows with something lighter - a heathery purple probably. I've knit the body and am halfway up one sleeve so it's going well so far. I've spun the green stuff too as you can see from the photo, despite ongoing wheel problems. I went to the first meeting of my spinning group since Christmas and was merrily spinning away (slightly lopsidedly) and the other connector snapped too. Luckily there's a new set already on order for me. I managed to shorten the connectors and cobble the wheel together but doing so has changed the angle you put pressure on the treadles and the wheel now slowly walks itself across the floor when I'm spinning. Grrrrr.

Anyway, also on the needles is a pair of Snowflake Mitts (Ravelry link). I blame Jo for this temptation as I first saw them on her blog and knew right away I wanted to knit them. I'm using some Rowanspun 4ply in a range of greens and neutrals and while I don't like them as much as I do the original blue mitts, I think the mossy green effect is very nice (plus I didn't have enough shades of blue in the stash).

Finally my third project is Astrid from Norah Gaughan Book One. I believe I may have said in my New Year Would Like To List that I wanted to knit more of Norah's patterns and here I am already on the first. The yarn is some Jaeger Alpaca in a beautiful petrol blue (from the stash, she says smugly). So far I have done 6 of the circles. There are about 50 altogether and they are a bit fiddly to do so it may take me a bit of time. The alpaca is also possibly not the perfect yarn for this as it is sticky and the large circles involve several dropped stitches which are allowed to run - they need a bit of encouragement in this yarn!

The other thing I've been doing is quilting. When I was in Florida I bought a jelly roll (Moda Civil War Crossing) from Rainbow's End in Dunedin. And when I bought my new sewing machine last week I thought I'd have a little go at making the quilt I'd been planning. This would be my first quilt ever and my first large project since an ill-fated patchwork skirt in the 1970s. The new machine really made a difference and while I'm by no means an expert yet, and some of the piecing leaves a lot to be desired, here is the quilt top -

I love the colours, especially the faded blues. It still has a border to be added and then it needs binding and quilting but I'm really pleased with it so far. The pattern is Garden Trellis from Jelly Roll Quilts . I only started it on Friday so as to test the new machine. I think if I was to do it again I'd choose a pattern that didn't use bias cut squares as they were a bit tricky to handle for a relative beginner (the pattern did warn of this, but I chose it anyway!). Next up though, apart from the ongoing blocks for the sampler quilt (I think I'm still only at block 4 of 75) will be something bright and modern.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Definitely Not a Luddite...

I have on my desk the Yarn Harlot's page-a-day calendar called Never Not Knitting and yesterday she was espousing sympathy with old Ned Ludd, knitter and smasher of that heinous object the knitting machine.

I'd have to say that although I love my spinning wheel and prefer to hand-knit over machine knitting, I'm not in agreement with her. You see I'm a lazy crafter. I like to get my crafting materials when they're ready to use. Not for me the bags of filthy, smelly, just off the sheep fleece. I like my fibre all clean and combed and preferably in a nice pretty colour - all ready for me to spin with. Of course I can wash a fleece and card it if I need to, I just choose not to. I can even dye it if I want, but why go to all that trouble when there's usually someone more talented and with more time on their hands who can do it for me.

When I sit down to spin (or to knit, or quilt or weave) I want all the enjoyment of the craft without all the hard work. If I've only got half an hour to spend I want to be spinning - not up to the elbows in greasy water! So I'm thankful for all the machines - the washers, carders, combers, blenders and industrial dye-baths that produce the fibre I like to spin with.

Agree with the Luddites - never!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Things I've Learned This Week

While marooned in the house this week by weather and the need to recuperate from the minor op I had on Monday I have learned a few things.

1. Chickens don't like snow.........

2. Chickens have no idea of portion control........

All our chicks are roughly the same size and age, though they are different breeds / hybrids. One seems to be under the impression that it's crossed with an ostrich.

3. The internet is an instrument of Satan and I have no will power. I bought a new sewing machine. Honestly, I was just looking, just thinking about maybe, possibly, at some time in the future, replacing the sturdy old workhorse I have been using for the last twenty five years, (which has a cracked case and only does basic stitches.) And my finger must have slipped because a brand new shiny machine arrived this morning - and it can do things I didn't even know sewing machines could do! Can't post about it now - too busy playing with it.

PS the scattered bodies in the chicken photo are not roadkill or even henkill but Bubba's abandoned toys.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Vintage Knitting Books

As I've been sorting through my books I've come across a number of fascinating vintage knitting and craft titles.

From the bottom of the pile upwards they are - The Pictorial Guide to Modern Home Needlecraft, published by Odhams in 1946. This is a lovely book (with great endpapers - see left) covering all kinds of tailoring and is a must for the dressmaker.

Modern Needlework in 600 Pictures dates from 1937 and covers much of the same ground but is full of great photographs which explain everything in great detail. It's really good for explaining how sleeves are set in and all that technical stuff!

The Knitter's Craft by James Norbury was published in 1950. It has a great picture on the endpapers of Wensleydale Knitters dated 1814 (see right) and apart from some great tuition at the beginning has some wonderful vintage patterns.

The next two are both Odhams titles - Knitted Garments for All and Modern Knitting Illustrated. Neither of then are dated but they seem to be from the early 1940s. Both contain a multitude of patterns - everything from Fair Isle Mitts to a Vest and Pantie Set and some great Camiknickers.

Then we come to Mary Thomas. I've got Mary Thomas's Knitting Book and Mary Thomas's Book of Knitting Patterns - both of these are excellent books. I think you could pay a lot for early edition of these in nice condition, but mine are reprints and well-loved (that's bookseller speak for tatty). The patterns are great though and they both include photos of early knitting history.

The next book on the pile is in a very sad state indeed. It's Fleming's How to Teach Needlework. This is quite a rare little volume, undated but the preface is dated 1887. I guess if it was in good condition it could be valuable. Mine is not at all in good condition. It has handwritten notes and patterns scrawled on the endpapers and in the margins and patterns cut out from magazines pasted over some of the pages. The lady who owned it was obviously a knitter as the knitting patterns are pasted over all the sewing pages! I love it. As a piece of social history it's just superb.

Finally perching on top of all that lot is the beautifully pocketsized Encyclopedia of Needlework by Th. De Dillmont. My copy is a little olive cloth bound hardback, published by S. N. Cooke of Birmingham but not dated. I've had a little look and I can't see when it was published. It covers all kinds of needlework from embroidery and tapestry to knitting and crochet. It's just the most delightful little book - it fits just right in your palm and begs to be read. Wonderful.

Most of these books have been out of print for a very long time but secondhand editions are mostly available at very reasonable prices from (or if you're over the pond.) I'll continue to collect vintage craft books whenever I find them (at a reasonable price!) and I'll update you with any finds.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Looking Forward

So, last time, I said I would be posting about what I'm looking forward to this year.

Well. I'm hoping to read some really good books this year. I'd like to think I might find another writer of the calibre of James Sallis this year, but I'm not holding my breath on that one. He's the kind of writer you could go your whole life without finding, and I can't believe I'd never heard of him until about six months ago. I just finished his latest John Hunter book and it is a masterpiece. More about that later though.

I'm hoping that there will be some really good crime books out there for me to review this year. A bit less of the mediocrity that I've found in some this year, and more good quality stuff. I'm planning to expand my literary horizons and read more non-crime. I know I probably say this every year but I'm still trying.

On the crafty front I'm planning to knit several more Norah Gaughan designs, following on from Mobius, which I haven't really blogged about - it got lost somewhere in the mayhem of Christmas, but it's finished and I love it. I'm being a bit of a project tart this week and have cast on three different new projects - a shawl, a pair of mitts and a cardigan - whoops! I'm going to do more weaving this year. I've not really got the four shaft loom I acquired last year up and running yet - still needs a little TLC but I will get a project warped up on that shortly. My spinning will continue much as the last year. My wheel is a little under the weather at the moment as the conrod connecter snapped just before Christmas, but I've spoken to the lovely people at P&M Woolcraft and a new set will hopefully be winging its way from Canada shortly. In the meantime I've done a short-term fix which will work temporarily - it just means the spinning action is a little uneven. I shall actually start to sew the quilt I've been planning since I got back from Florida - possibly even this week! I've got all the fabric ready, just need enough daylight to be able to sort the colours the way I want them.

On other fronts, now that we know the Evilpixie can look after the house/dog/chickens, we are planning to have a few more trips than we've been used to. Wonderwool in April is a definite, especially as it ties in with the Mid-Wales Food Festival - something to keep Pete occupied while I fondle the fibre. We might make a weekend of that as it's a long day with the driving as well. We're going to have a long weekend to Barcelona or somewhere else where we can get a cheapish flight. A visit to Scotland is also on the cards. We've not been up there since my father died so it would be nice to meet up with old friends and revisit some favourite places. We'd like to go to Seattle too and then travel down the west coast of the US but that will have to wait till the exchange rate improves a bit (and we've saved up some money!)

I can't say that I've set myself any resolutions for the year - they always seem too much like tempting fate. I think I'll just see what happens and take it from there. Bring it on.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Auld Reekie

Now,before I get flamed let me just explain that I have nothing against the fine city of Edinburgh in itself. I love Edinburgh. It's a beautiful city and one where I've spent some really good times.

But there seems to be something about books set in Edinburgh that just get on my wick. I had a look down my list of books read last year and the most disappointing ones were set in Edinburgh.

So the Annual Fiat Punto Award for the Book Hurled onto the Backseat with the Most Venom goes to - Blood Lines by Grace Monroe (who is two people, so I'm getting my money's worth). Weak and inplausible plots, unlikeable characters and a setting (Edinburgh's legal community) that I really couldn't give a stuff about.

The I Can't Believe I Paid Good Money for This award goes to - Doors Open by Ian Rankin. It probably wasn't all that bad really, but it wasn't what I had been expecting and I was disappointed by the characters and resolution. Could do better. (And I hope he does!)

The Friends of the Earth Save More Trees Award goes to anything by Grace Monroe. Please Avon, do not inflict any more of this tosh on the bookbuying public.

Worst Book of the Year though goes to a little known category of book, one I only just discovered. The knitting mystery. In particular this goes to Knit One, Kill Two by Maggie Sefton. It's a cozy of the worst sort - and it was so badly written that it was horribly compelling - I had to keep reading just to see if it could possibly get any worse. And trust me, it could. Now I'm not a fan of cozies anyway, though I know a lot of people are, so I didn't really think it would be my cup of tea, but surely even a little knitting mystery should be better written than this. I also spotted on the shelves in US bookstores mysteries about crochet, quilting, beading, scrapbooking - you name it, it has a little sub-genre all of it's own. Now I think I get the appeal of reading about a craft that you love but why does that standard have to be so bad. Can't they find some better writers who knit? Tragic.

Next post is about what I'm looking forward to in 2009. You can bet your life it's not a book set in Edinburgh. Or a knitting mystery. Or a knitting mystery set in Edinburgh.