Socking it to Sochi

Even to someone who lives in a self-imposed news blackout it hasn’t escaped notice that serious concerns have been raised about the wisdom of holding the 2014 winter olympic in a town in Russia, and no wonder, with Russia’s record on LBGT rights as appalling as it is.

I wasn’t thinking about this, or indeed anything much beyond the beauty of her hand-dyed knitting yarns when I landed on the Old Maiden Aunt Yarns (OMA) site this morning. Where, I wondered, had all these yarns been all my life? Why, I asked myself, had I never taken note of them before?

Not only are the yarns just awesome (and the website is very impressive too, to this newbie) but the lovely personality of the dyer-in-chief, Lilith, comes across clearly in her blog. It was there that I read her post to russia, with love which deals with her dilemma over participating in Olympic knitting-related activities (the “Ravellenic Games”) on the knitting site Ravelry. She says:

as a member of the LGBT community, i’ve experienced discrimination and hatred firsthand, and try my best to actively work for equality. and as a queer business owner, i feel like my business & associated activities should also reflect my personal and political beliefs. i thought long & hard about even bringing this up, as i definitely don’t want to discourage anyone from participating in the Ravellenics, or ruin the experience for you. it’s always so much fun, and i’m really happy that my customers want to participate and compete for Team OMA!! but i also felt that by not saying anything, i was rather letting myself down.

so, here’s what i’d like to propose for Team OMA – for every team member who successfully completes their Team OMA Ravellenic Games project, i’ll personally donate a minimum of £5 to Stonewall UK, an organisation who works towards LGBT equality both within the UK and internationally. i may end up being able to donate even more per person, depending on how many/few of you complete your projects!!

i’ve also created “nothing to hide” (kermit the frog fans should recognise the reference!), a rainbow-hued sock yarn that i’ll be dyeing from now until the official start of the Games in february.

What a superb way of tackling the dilemma. A skein of the wool, nothing to hide, is winging its way here already (I hope).

Whether I get into the whole “knit a complete object during the course of the Olympics” again remains to be seen. In 2012 I joined in for the first time and made a cardigan which I enjoyed very much and wear frequently. It also, tangentially, meant I saw the opening ceremony which I would otherwise have deliberately missed and found it to be rather inspiring.

The uncertainty hasn’t stopped me from looking at possible patterns, though. I’m inclining towards the aptly named Victor (from the recent book Op-Art Socks by Stephanie Van Der Linden) with the spirals (which, with a stretch of the imagination might resemble the Olympic rings) in a deep shiny black.

What is certain is this won’t be my last acquisition of Old Maiden Aunt Yarn.


Steek! Steeeeeeeeeek!

Yes, I did it. With the help of Kate Davies’ brilliant steeking tutorial. Used a single ply (but very strong because of the nylon content) sock yarn and a 4.5mm hook to crochet the reinforcements. It was slightly difficult to locate the “leg” of the centre stitch because it was purled rather than knitted but once found it was easy to get into the rhythm of what to do.

Here is the double line of reinforcement from the back. Very neat!

OMG – cutting knitting. Palpitations. This flies in the face of nature and every rule of, well, everything.

Or maybe not! The colour in that picture is a bit weird but the steek is thoroughly awesome. A whole vista of cardigans without purling opens up before me.

Next up – button bands.

He always finds it

cat on a not mat

In fact I think he lies in wait until some careless child leaves the door open for more than a nanosecond and he slides past, silent and invisible. Thank goodness he didn't chew the needles. Those luscious (and expensive) wooden points used to be more desirable than catnip to him.

The knitting is now off the needles, apart from the front bands.

I currently have a delightful jumper which fits like a glove widthways but is slightly longer than I'd hoped.

The colour work is effectively invisible other than in a very strong light, but when examined under optimum conditions doesn't look too shabby.

There's only 40cm left of the last ball of green wool the pattern said is required. Luckily I bought an extra one so should have enough for the front bands.

The front bands, of course, have to be knitted on after the front of the jumper is cut up the middle to turn it into a cardigan.

I have never taken scissors to knitting in this way before.

I am apprehensive.

Sagas and knitting

So it turns out that knitting and sagas have been going together like, er, two things that go really well together, for a very long time. During the long winter of long nights one person would read (or recite from memory) while the rest of the family would get on with useful stuff – like knitting!

This illustration and the text below are from the Biographical Sketch of Jónas Halagrimsson:

During the long months of winter darkness, the time between lighting the lamps in the evening and going to bed was known as kvöldvaka (“evening waking”). During this time the members of the farm household would gather in the commons room (baðstofa) and devote themselves to various indoor tasks, many of them connected with the wool industry. Ebenezer Henderson, who probably observed scenes like this during his residence in Iceland over the winter of 1814-15, writes:

A winter evening in an Icelandic family presents a scene in the highest degree interesting and pleasing. Between three and four o’clock the lamp is hung up in the badstofa, or principal apartment, which answers the double purpose of a bed-chamber and sitting-room, and all the members of the family take their station, with their work in their hands, on their respective beds, all of which face each other. The master and mistress, together with the children, or other relations, occupy the beds at the inner end of the room; the rest are filled by the servants.

The work is no sooner begun, than one of the family, selected on purpose, advances to a seat near the lamp, and commences the evening lecture [i.e., reading], which generally consists of some old saga, or such other histories as are to be obtained on the island. . . . The reader is frequently interrupted, either by the head, or some of the more intelligent members of the family, who make remarks on various parts of the story, and propose questions, with a view to exercise the ingenuity of the children and servants. In some houses the sagas are repeated by such as have got them by heart; and instances are not uncommon of itinerating historians, who gain a livelihood during the winter, by staying at different farms till they have exhausted their stock of literary knowledge.

In the illustration reproduced above, a man who has just entered from outside chats with a woman who sits on her bed knitting. In the background (in the baðstofuhús, the private apartment panelled off at one end of the baðstofa), a woman dandles a baby. To her right an older man is engaged in fulling (i.e., squeezing, compressing, and thus thickening) the wool of a mitten or sock. To his right a boy reads out loud from a book in order to entertain the others.

It’s true. Who needs the television or radio or even, although this might have to be whispered, the internet, if you have a saga-reader, a bed, some knitting and a saga. Unless of course the saga is being read over the internet in which case that does become necessary.

I rather imagine that blogging will be pictorial progress (assuming there is any) for a time.

Fleecing the sheep

“Did you know” ask Craig and Gerard “that there are more than 60 breeds of sheep in the UK?”

We had the best of the weekend weather yesterday, without a doubt. The spawn and I winkled Jean from her work and went to the Alternative Village Fête where, to celebrate all things ovine, we selected beautiful British yarn from the baskets available and Jean, SecondSpawn and I knitted a swatch to attach to the I Knit London sheep.

We were not alone. Large numbers of people leapt at the chance to do likewise, sitting in the sun, accompanied by various attractions ranging from Rediscovered Urban Rituals, the Bollywood Brass Band and (very surreal, this) a man who made a hat entirely out of cake icing (and plastic cups and sugar-coloured-sprinkly-things too, but they weren’t mentioned).

FirstSpawn is not a knitter but he kept us in stitches (sorry, couldn’t resist) with wisecracks about his “new” mobile phone. Due to an unfortunate incident over which I shall draw a discreet veil he is now reduced to using a, uh, vintage (more than ten years old!) handset – my very first mobile in fact. In a youth culture where only the very latest, most complex and most expensive will do his brick is going to stick out like, well, a brick. However he is putting a brave face on things.

“You know how small is good in mobile phone terms”, he says, “well *my* mobile phone has got the smallest screen I’ve ever seen”.

How is it he still lives?

how is it he still lives?

Knitting carefully folded and placed on the back of the sofa in the sitting room which is allegedly an animal-free zone.

Yeah, right.


Cats, as we know, have small brains. Much of their limited capacity is utilised in ways the average amoeba would not find challenging. Take, for instance, phototaxis. The average vegetable is capable of phototaxis. And the average vegetable uses it for a useful purpose – photosynthesis. The average cat is also capable of phototaxis, but the purpose is highly maladaptive.

I am talking, of course, about the ability of the average cat to assess the quality of light reflected from its coat and, having done so, move to position itself precisely on a surface displaying exactly the opposite properties. My cat, for instance, is mostly white. This means he comes to rest on the darkest possible surface, ideally an item of my clothing, upon which he can then shed his hair liberally. Black cats, obviously, choose pale clothing to sit on.

Why this should be is a mystery. It would appear to be counter-productive given the average reaction of the average cat owner on discovering their clothing looking like it’s been caught in a pillow fight is not positive and friendly towards the offending cat. My theory is that cats are so unbelievably vain they care not for the opprobrium this behaviour attracts since their only concern is to set themselves off to best advantage.

There is another taxis that cats have refined to an art form, and this is fibretaxis. For there is no place, however obscure and protected, that one can place ones knitting that the average cat will not locate in order then to sit, lie or otherwise lounge squarely on the work in progress. No item of knitting is too small or insignificant. An inch or so of sock is as inviting as, for instance, the completed back of a large garment.

Here we have a typical example of the behaviour in action.

Feline fibretaxis

Reading from top left to bottom right we have the cat insinuating itself on the edge of the knitting (which has been placed on the kitchen table to be measured); total occupation is achieved with the entirety of the cat’s body (including tail) placed inside the boundaries of the knitted surface; any suggestion of removal is greeted with extreme contempt; the territory is defended with vigour.

Why? I ask myself. Why, why, why? I whimper as I nurse my slashed hands and attempt to remove white hairs from my green garment without getting it covered in red blood.

The cat merely looks inscrutable (he is, after all, an oriental breed) and I realise my question is in vain. He has about as much idea of why as a cabbage has of how, but without the advantage of tasting delicious boiled and covered with melted butter and freshly-ground black pepper.