Sunday, 27 December 2009

And sew it goes...

I'd like to introduce my most exciting birthday present; I will be sure to document my adventures with it here. I should also be able to share my Christmas knitting just as soon as I manage to pin the recipients down and photograph them. In the meantime, I do hope you are all having delightful festive seasons!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

'tis the Season to be Meret

Amid that hypothetical holiday knitting I might just be doing, I found the time to make myself a cheery red hat with the Cascade 220 left-over from making my Snow White jumper. I can highly recommend this excellent free pattern, the Meret (or mystery beret) by Woolly Wormhead. The only mini-mod I made was to knit a small i-cord stalk at the crown, as in my view a beret isn't really a beret without one. It didn't really occur to me till after I'd finished it, but this is an especially festive bit of headgear. Not only is the yarn colour called 'Christmas Red', but the crown decreases also form a rather lovely star shape.

I am most pleased with this wee hat and its unexpected yuletide associations; my birthday is on Christmas day, and I still get ridiculously excited about it.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Why I won't be knitting anything for Germaine Greer this Christmas

A friend just brought to my attention  this article Germaine Greer has written for the Guardian, in which she rails against the 'grisly parade of handcrafted gifts' that are created by knitters and other crafters and foisted on unfortunate friends and relatives. Now I may or may not be engaged in a little desperate pre-Christmas knitting myself, as the mystery macro-ed up photo above may or may not show, and this really got my goat. I realise the article is meant to be humorous, in the hackneyed 'Oh no! Another rainbow jumper from granny!' vein, but as someone who now knows just how much time and effort goes into making hand-knit gifts, I do not find it amusing. 

Even leaving aside the cheap cracks, it seems to me that this is a lazy piece of journalism, and an ill-considered and disappointing response to the craft boom from a very intelligent woman. Greer claims that:
 'Craft was not always so revolting... As long as long as people made craft objects for their own use, they were... functional, durable and dignified. Once they began to make craft objects for other people, the work became coarser, the time taken for manufacture is rationed, and the design becomes repetitive and perfunctory.'
There are so very many things wrong with this statement that if only it weren't such a terrible pun I would be tempted to write it off as woolly thinking and call it a night. It seems to rest on a sentimental and slightly patronising imagined past, one in which time for crafting was presumably not rationed, and all items produced were thus imbued with a mysterious dignity. The knitters throughout history who practised their craft to clothe their families, or to make a living, were indeed probably more skilled than the friend who dared to give Germaine a mismatched pair of bedsocks. They were also frequently subject to the kind of servitude that Greer as a feminist surely cannot endorse, as outlined by Kate Davies in this excellent blog post about the poor recompense of nineteenth-century Shetland knitters.

Her take on craft today is equally flawed. It seems entirely counterintuitive, and somewhat egomaniacal, to suggest that one takes less time and care over things made for others than for oneself. Also, obviously, modern craft objects are not automatically 'revolting'; the alternative - something bought from a shop - can be just as hideous as the socks that Greer is so ungrateful for, without the excuse of the thought and effort that went into making them. What she describes as 'the sinister power of the handmade gift' is a reality, if the word sinister is subtracted, because of precisely that thought and effort, which are intermingled with the item during its making, and evident to the gift recipient after it.

Regular readers of this blog may remember that I designated 2009 The Year of Selfish Knits, after turning myself into something of a one-woman sweatshop last winter. As Christmas draws near again, though, I found the idea of nothing hand-knitted under the tree rather a disappointing one. Without giving too much away, I have made a few things. I recognise the fact that the leisure-time and resources required to do this are themselves luxuries, by contrast to the situation of many knitters of the past who knit because they had to and not necessarily because they wanted to. I do feel, though, that to take the time to make a gift is a small, loving act of rebellion against a quick-fix consumer culture, and should be valued as such.

Friday, 18 December 2009

SNOW (and Snow White, again)

We have snow! Above is a snow buddha and what appears to be a snow Lenin in Front Court.

My friend Simone and I took advantage of the white wonderland to take some photos of each other's knitwear.

This is Simone's lovely green Verity beret...

... and here are her gorgeous gloves, made in Old Maiden Aunt Merino/Bamboo.

I warded off the snowy cold with - what else - Snow White, teamed with my Rose Red beret and Milkweed shawlette.

I love snow so much!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Where have I gone?

I just thought I'd write a quick note to apologise for dropping off the face of the blogosphere. A period of personal upheaval coupled with a few secret and quite possibly Christmas-related projects has meant I haven't really had much to blog about recently. I do hope some of you will stick with me, as I should have lots of content to share soon. In the meantime, I hope you are having happy and crafty times, and I offer this night-time shot of my college chapel by way of apology for my disappearance.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Audrey: Black is the New Black

At long last, may I present to you Audrey in Unst, which I am wearing here with a vintage hand-sewn dress I snaffled for a paltry 15 Euros in Madrid this summer.

This straightforward cardigan took me an embarrassingly long time to knit. I'm not sure whether to ascribe this to the black yarn, the acres of stocking stitch, or my general lack of mojo. Anyway, she's finished now, and I delight in her every aspect, from the deep, inky colour, to the twisted rib, to the lace bib...

... to the vintage glass buttons I got from Loop ages ago, which have been patiently waiting in my button house for the right project. Incidentally, I bungled the positioning of the top buttonhole, so just sewed the button on in the right place and added a snap fastening behind it.

I think it will be an awfully long time before I knit anything black again. I Magic Loop-ed both sleeves at once, which had the advantage of using up every scrap of yarn, and the disadvantage of making me feel like I would be knitting till the end of time. There is, however, no denying how useful a black cardigan can be - since I finished this it has been practically surgically attached to me. I hope that is just the right level of effortless glamour for a latter-day breakfast date at Tiffany's.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Cutting the Cord

I love trimming the yarn ends in a new piece of knitwear. Audrey in Unst had the longest gestation period of anything I have knitted, so this ceremonial snipping was especially sweet. I plan on wearing it today, and I shall endeavour to rattle off a few frames, and write it up properly.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Balls (or 'how I broke my favourite knitting toy')

Can you spot the difference between these two ball-winders? I'll give you a clue: the one on the right works, and the one on the left is totally fecked. It took a fatal tumble from its abode on top of my wardrobe, and no amount of pleading or super glue could reattach that handle. Its amputation is perhaps clearer in this photo:

For me, a ball-winder is one of those vital pieces of technology that I don't know how I got by without. It makes the difference between laboriously hand-wound balls of yarn that snaggle up as you knit from them, and elegant, centre-pull yarn cakes that take a fraction of the time to create. Do you have a piece of crafty kit you can't imagine living without? Is there something you long to find beneath the Christmas tree? If anyone was struggling for Christmas/birthday presents for me, I lust after a swift to make the yarn winding process even, well, swifter. Oh, and a sewing machine...

I should soon be able to wind up some stash treasure, as I am a gnat's breath away from finishing my Audrey in Unst cardigan. Just fancy, there may soon be some actual knitting content on this blog! I am also planning a post on achieving a good fit with knitted garments, following on from an interesting comment from Zoe, so if there is anything you'd especially like me to cover, or any tips you would like to share on this subject, do feel free to leave a comment.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Anniversary Embroidery

I can now reveal the embroidery I gave you a peek at a while ago; I think it is fairly self-explanatory! I stitched it on chambray, and made the hoop into its frame with the help of some fabric glue and this purl bee tutorial. This is pretty much my first attempt at embroidery, and will definitely not be the last. As I believe I already mentioned, I relished so many aspects of the process, from designing the image to choosing colours and stitches.

I got to see some truly amazing professional needlework and garment design this weekend as part of Brit Chic, which we went to see at the Gate Picturehouse in Notting Hill. The film was a fantastic patchwork of  archive footage from the British Film Institute. Every one of the snippets was interesting, though I found especially inspiring the sight of  several women clustered around a frame stitching hundreds of microscopic beads into a leaf pattern for the 'apron' of a 50s couture gown. The cinema itself was the perfect setting for the film, with velvet love seats nestling under a deep burgundy coffered ceiling heavy with Edwardian plasterwork.

It was a most delightful anniversary, and I hope that this piece of embroidery might serve as a reminder of it.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Acceptable in the 80s

We have been having a succession of dreary, drizzly days here. Fortunately, I have a secret weapon to ward off rainy day blues...

I went through a phase of collecting 80s girls annuals - Patches, Blue Jeans, Jackie. They are packed with endearing photo love stories, dreamy pin-ups, entertaining quizzes, and ideas for inventive things to do on a rainy day...

There are some cracking suggestions here: 'Crawl everywhere! Everyone'll think you've gone mad!'; 'Put on your youngest-looking clothes and go to a children's matinee. Join in the jokes and eat plenty of ice-cream'; 'Clean the inside of your bedroom window and watch the outside being cleaned for you by the rain'. I decided to brighten up my rainy day by following one of the last injunctions: 'Give yourself a rainbow face, 'cos you often see a rainbow when it rains!' - here is the result.

My third and final play this term, which opens next Tuesday, is set in the 80s. I have gleefully taken this as an excuse to seek out films like Sixteen Candles, to hunt through charity shops for shoulder-padded chic, and to experiment with make-up. Elsewhere in the annual, Patches '86 advocates such classic combinations as orange and pink for eyelids, so I decided to try it out. The above photo does not quite convey how much make-up I had on - I felt like the widow Twanky, and yet I appear positively subdued in contrast to this audacious party look:

It's difficult to know where to start - the jaundiced stripe above her cheek bone, the darkened brows... The thing that most attracted me to this image, though, was the slightly wonky phalanx of stars marching across her forehead. It reminds me of a look I attempted to create for myself when I was about 13, that involved a similar line of jewels carefully Pritt Stick-ed to my visage.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Bad Blog Karma

I had a rather peculiar experience yesterday. I returned to a place I had blogged about - I am not going to name them, because I do still wish to lend them my support despite the following story. I went in by myself, intending quietly to read through a script. Instead, a lady I presume to be the owner confronted me: 'Are you Giulia? The one whose blog we've been hearing so much about?'. It transpired that, while she was, on the whole, happy with what I had written she was not happy at all with my photographs. Some confusion arose around this point: she said I really should have asked before taking any; I replied that I had. I offered to take the photos down anyway if she liked; she said that I could keep them up.

She was concerned about copyright, and the fact that once something is on the internet it is difficult to control how it is used. I'd be most interested to hear from people who are more legally minded than I, but I was under the impression that I own the copyright to all images on my site. While it would be possible for someone to copy one without my knowledge or permission, this is equally true for any website, including this company's official one. I have so far resisted putting up an explicit statement about the copyright of my content, but I am now considering it and, again, I would love to hear from anyone who knows more about this than I do. I must admit I was also a little upset from a personal point of view, as I have really been working on taking better photos recently, and wasn't sure whether she was implying that she didn't think those I took were good enough to represent her business.

This has been my first experience of being recognised by someone I don't already know because of my blog, and, as you may have gathered, it was not an entirely positive one. The on-line craft community is such a supportive one that perhaps it has made me a little naive about the rest of the big, scary internet. I guess I am most surprised in this case as I had originally gone out of my way to support the company in question; I will think more carefully about doing that in the future.

I do hope it doesn't seem petty to relate all this, but I was somewhat nonplussed by the whole experience, and thought maybe the best way to get it out of my system would be to write it down. How do you go about blogging about places you like (or, for that matter, don't like)? Have you ever been recognised because of your blog? I'd love to hear other people's stories, especially happy ones!

Monday, 9 November 2009

Sucker Pun(ch)

With the slightly insane dramatic commitments I mentioned in a previous post, I have got into a bad habit of not eating properly, and just chomping something whilst walking between rehearsals (I hope my mother isn't reading this, she would be horrified!). As a result, I have now become something of an international expert on the Marks and Spencer sandwich selection. I was in the queue there today, when I spotted these sweets, realised their name was a play on words, and bought them without a second thought, even though I really don't like rock. I can never resist a pun.

Cambridge. Autumn. Pretty.

By the end of this term I shall have acted in three plays. Last night Play #1 ended, and we celebrated until the morning birds began to sing. Today, all my poor, pickled little brain can manage is to bring you is some soothing shots of Cambridge prettiness.

Because this place is only ever so slightly bigger than a postage stamp, many of its glories are piled on top of each other in a higgledy-piggledy fashion, and can be espied peeping over walls, through cloisters, or between rooftops.

On the subject of walls, I have enjoyed watching this one transmogrify from this...

... into this.

Sometimes I do feel a little hemmed in by Cambridge, physically and figuratively. There have been several periods during my six years here when I thought I couldn't wait to flee escape to metropolitan excitement (which in my mind was an ever-changing carousel replete with glamorous bars, yarn shops, boutiques, coffee houses, theatre book shops, haberdashers with every shade of velvet ribbon etc.). Undergraduate terms are so short here that it was hard to form an attachment to the place as a home rather than some sort of academic holiday camp.

For various reasons, though, I decided to prolong my stay, and I have more or less come to terms with my decision. I think I might occasionally blog about nice things to see and do here, to ward of fits of anti-Cambridge grumps. After all, there are far worse places to live, really.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Where do you keep yours?

I awoke this morning to find a big, crafty mess sprawling across my desk. Ugh. It looked like some elves had had a debauched embroidery party, and not bothered to clean up after themselves. Disgusting. I tidied the debris away into here:

This is not the best 'storage solution', I know, and it is most likely I will need another if my floss collection continues to grow. Until it does, though, I am delighted to be able to use my beloved vintage Turkish Delight box, a birthday gift from a few years ago. Edward Said would doubtless have had much to say about its flagrant orientalism, and of course its crude caricatures of a lascivious, pampered gentleman and a promiscuous maiden might be seen as offensive. Personally, however, I am spellbound by this glimpse of an imaginary East. It seems to make sense of Edmund's decision to betray his siblings in return for Turkish Delight The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I was having a conversation with a friend a few days ago about how we had both built up a mental image of the confectionary from that book, and been most disappointed with the real thing, rather like the protagonist of 'Araby' from James Joyce's The Dubliners. I suspect this box may once have contained dreams along with Turkish Delight, and so it seems a fitting receptacle for the materials to give my imagination play.

To return to the title of this post, do you keep you crafty supplies anywhere interesting?

Mojo, mojo, wherefore art thou, knitting mojo?

Late last night whilst circumnavigating the internet, I stumbled across a whole new archipelago of stitching inspiration, which I shall name The Embroidery Blogs Islands. For those interested, you can find a lot of them through Feeling Stitchy. I started a little something today, which you can see a sneaky peek of above.

I bumped into someone I hadn't seen in a while in the street today, and he asked me 'How's the knitting going?'. Suddenly I felt rather shifty, and replied 'Uh... fine. But look at this embroidery I have in my bag!' The truth is that I just haven't felt the urge to knit recently. This has been a most peculiar experience, as normally my brain resembles a speed-dating service between patterns and yarns, trying to match up a large number of both, and my fingers usually have to knit ever faster to keep pace with its voracious demands. I suspect this lack of mojo may be the result of knitting a whole lot of stocking stitch in black yarn. While I love the way my Audrey in Unst is shaping up, I must confess that I am really looking forward to finishing it. The potential for free-styling with embroidery is a welcome relief from the rather dreary certainty that I can't even pretend to have finished with one half-sleeve and one sleeve cap done. It is also quite exciting to be able to veer off in a different direction, using a different colour, without the need to resort to the dreaded intarsia.

Do you have a craft you use to have a little holiday from another craft? Do you have any tips for coaxing my poor mojo back in from the cold? I'd love to hear from you on the subject!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Turquoise and Tripod: daily outfit #4

How close shall I stand to this thing? This close?

Hmm... no, I want to be able to see my outfit, not the individual pores on my face. How about this?

Sigh. Clearly this tripod thing is going to take a little bit of getting used to. If you can make me out amid the 'arty' blur, I am wearing:
Hat: Rose Red Beret, my own work
Cardigan: Liesl, my own work
Dress: Urban Outfitters
Tights: Marks and Spencer
Shoes: Office

My cousin gave me this necklace several years ago, to wear to be her bridesmaid. The stone is a black opal, and I was and am entranced by it. I remember being mystified by the popularity of diamonds, which in my fourteen-year-old opinion could not hope to compete with the fire and intensity of the opal's shifting colours.

I had always thought that opals were supposed to be unlucky, but after a few minutes of serious, interwebz-based research I have discovered that this is in fact a fairly recent superstition, which seems to date from the publication in 1829 of Walter Scott's Anne of Geierstein. Hermione, one of the characters in the book, wears a beautiful and mysterious opal talisman, which she guards carefully. One day, a drop of holy water splashes onto it; 'the opal... shot out a brilliant spark like a failing star, and became the instant afterwards lightless and colourless as a common pebble', while its wearer is reduced to 'a handful of light grey ashes, like such as might have been produced by burning fine paper.' I have just dabbed a cautious drop of water onto mine, and am pleased to report no fatal consequences.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Rainy Day Blues

I would have shown you an outfit today had I and it not got absolutely drenched walking to and from the library. Instead I am going to have a soothing bath with this:

... and this:

Monday, 2 November 2009

Coraline down a lane: daily outfit #3

Blouse: Uniqlo
Cardigan: Coraline, my own work
Belt: Topshop
Skirt: Radio Days vintage shop, Lower Marsh, London SE1
Shoes: Office vintage

Looking at myself squinting into the afternoon sunlight, I'm still not entirely sure about this outfit - is it a little too busy? It was an attempt to pick on some of the many delectable colours in this skirt (close-up below). I made Coraline a little on the cropped side, which makes it the ideal partner to anything high-waisted. This cardigan is a bit of an autumnal winner, warm yet lightweight.

I am so in love with the print of this skirt, in particular those little outlined, uncoloured flowers, hinting perhaps at a forgetful botanist wandering off for a cup of tea from a thermos and leaving this sketch unfinished.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

A Harrow(ing) Graveyard Experience

As a Hallowe'en special, here are some photos from a recent visit to the graveyard of St Mary's in Harrow on the Hill.

The cold sunlight reached through the trees and streaked the grass.

As we descended the hill, the ground was satisfyingly crunchy with fallen leaves.

Perhaps the young Byron mused on these matters from his favourite spot while a pupil at nearby Harrow school. This was here, on the Peachy stone, which is at the top of the hill, and offers an impressive panorama. Byron's young daughter Allegra is buried somewhere in the churchyard, in an unmarked grave.

Many of the gravestones have sadly been erased by time and weather, but this splendidly gruesome Victorian poem is still proudly visible.

It reads:
To the memory of

Bright rose the morn, and vig'rous rose poor Port.
Gay on the train, he used his wonted sport.
Ere noon arrived his mangled form they bore,
With pain distorted and o'erwhelmed with gore
When evening came to close the fatal day,
A mutilated corpse the sufferer lay.

 No one can 'o'oerwhelm with gore' quite like the Victorians. Happy Hallowe'en!

Friday, 30 October 2009

Coco Belle Cupcakes

Remember a little while ago I was bemoaning the dearth of nice places to have coffee in Cambridge? Yesterday I discovered the Coco Belle Cake Company, a little cafe which is an oasis of cupcake calm next to the Grafton Centre. Cambridge already has its fair share of traditional bakeries and tea shops, such as Fitzbillies, and Auntie's, both popular with tourist keen to tuck into a sticky slice of England.

Coco Belle satisfies a slightly different confectionary need. Though the cupcake is a less indigenous species than the Chelsea bun, the owners of this bakery have not attempted to transform this nook of Burleigh Street into a shrine to fifties Americana. The warm pine furniture (including a dresser!) encourage you to linger and enjoy your cake with cup of tea or coffee. I did wonder whether perhaps the colour of the walls was a sly nod to the well-spring of cupcake frenzy, the Magnolia Bakery in New York, but perhaps that's reading a little bit too much into things.

The cupcakes must be among the most photogenic of baked goods, and these ones lived up to their appearance in deliciousness. They were also very reasonably priced, at only £1.85 a cake. I do have two titchy quibbles, firstly that I wish their selection were more seasonally inspired. They had a very subtle take on Hallowe'en, with chocolate spiders on their chocolate cupcakes; while I can respect the choice to spurn the violent oranges and blacks that adorn most cakes at this time of year, surely a compromise might have been achieved by a sophisticated pumpkin, or autumnal spice cupcake?

The second gripe is not so much aimed at the proprietor of Coco Belle, but at whoever it is on the local council who made the decision that what the tiny centre of Cambridge really needed was five branches of Starbucks and several more of Neros and Costa. I would love to see a more proactive policy whereby interesting, independent businesses like this are encouraged into the centre rather than forced into the periphery. It is places like Coco Belle which make Cambridge different and special, and I wish they were supported as such. A monster branch of Primark is soon to open a few doors up from the cafe, so I hope it might benefit from the increased passing trade. If you live in or are passing through Cambridge, I would heartily recommend a visit to this cute little place.

Snow White in action: daily outfit #2

Jumper: Snow White, my own work
Liberty tana lawn Shirt: Cacharel
Bag: Miu Miu
Skirt: Paul Smith
Boots: Dune

Yikes, I didn't quite realise I was so swathed in designer - that was not intentional. I bought the skirt about five years ago with the money I made working crazy hours in an unpleasant shop in the run-up to Christmas; it is one of the things I love most in my wardrobe. The surprise lining still makes me smile, and I often rearrange the outer layer in crossing my legs to give 'accidental' glimpses. A lot of people I have flaunted my lining at (ahem) say I should wear the skirt inside out, but I prefer to keep its exuberance selfishly guarded.

One of the reasons behind this series of outfits was to 'road-test' my knitwear, and see how it holds up to different situations. I always wonder that about how much wear the handmade garments I read about on people's blogs get: something might look stunning for one artfully staged photoshoot, but then lose out to less stellar items  in the daily search for something to wear.

I must admit that I was a little apprehensive about Snow White in this respect. The neckline is so striking, but does not look its best with anything strappy or t-shirt-y, in my experience. After a lot of experimentation I have decided that I like it best with a shirt underneath, preferably this shirt, with its juicy Liberty print (Edenham, B, for any curious sewists). To my mind it matches both the crisp, tailored detail and the hint of feminine prettiness of the knit (and it hides the bra straps!).

I had planned to post about an outing I made today to Cambridge's newest (and only) cupcake cafe, but the image uploader seems to be as sleepy as I am, so I shall save that for another day. Oh, and I may make a Flickr set of these outfits, at the kind suggestion of a commenter, but that may take me a little while to get round to!
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