Books · Reading Challenge

Read the Year: May

“Closer to Nature”

In May I read Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways. I greatly enjoyed his Landmarks (a wonderful marriage of words and nature) last year, and the Tiny Tyrant and I love to read The Lost Words, so he seemed like the obvious author to turn to for this prompt. Plus I already had a copy of The Old Ways on the TBR shelf.

I found this book harder to get stuck into, and my attention and interest wasn’t consistent. While I’ve lived near water for most of my life, I’m not a fan of boats (I can barely keep my balance on dry land), so the various ‘sea paths’ held little appeal. On the other hand, the chapter on walking in Palestine, and then the stretch of the Camino de Santiago (a walk that’s been a lifelong ambition of mine), were gripping. Which does suggest that this book probably holds a chapter for everyone. What I did notice about reading it, was that The Old Ways made me more aware of my surroundings on the ‘everyday’ commutes of my neighbourhood; especially those in-between spaces that have been colonised by wildflowers/weeds and wildlife.

Related Reading

A quick glance at Goodreads reveals that none of my other reads in May were related to nature, which is a shame as I’d planned to finally read Nan Shepard’s The Living Mountain. What is interesting, given how The Old Ways highlights the eerieness inherent in walking paths which have been marked for centuries, is that I read a number of Shirley Jackson’s short stories alongside this book. I’m saving one or more of her novels for October’s prompt, but, despite her reputation among horror authors of note, I found the short stories to be more eerie and uncanny than anything else.

Other Reading

Fiction

I did read some fiction, beyond short stories, in May, as a wave of nostalgia sent me back to David Edding’s wonderful Elenium series. Eddings’ fantasy always seems, to me, rather formulaic in the ‘band of heroes goes to fetch macguffin and save world’ plot that he managed to repeat over 4 different series, but he writes memorable characters, and there’s a rich vein of humour to his writing, that makes these novels so readable. It felt like catching up with old friends, and I’m slowly working my way through the Tamuli as well at those times when I need an easy read. Off the back of the Netflix series (which I never actually finished watching), I also read The Alienist and it’s sequel. Crime isn’t usually my genre, but the detailed historical setting and wonderful fin-de-siècle feminist Miss Sara Howard made this a compelling read.

Non-fiction

My history obssession continued both in written and audible form. Stand-outs were Sarah Gristwood’s Game of Queens, which I’ve been meaning to read since Alison Weir name-checked it at her Edinburgh Book Festival talk last year, and the audio version of John Julius Norwich’s history of the papacy (I was so sorry to hear that he passed away last week; I greatly admired the scope of his interests). The former introduced me to a few 16th C women who had hitherto only been names to me, and I look forward to getting to know them a little better. The latter was a whistlestop tour, which has given me some context for how the papacy made it to its current state. It’s only a shame that it stopped at Benedict XVI, having been written before his abdication.

Running Total

Books Read: 50

Currently Reading: 4

Next Month

June’s theme is the experience of fatherhood, which I’m using as an excuse to read Silas Marner. I expect that other anticipated reads, Alison Weir’s Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen, and The Secret Garden, will throw up other perspectives on fatherhood.

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Polymath Enthusiasms

Odds & (Week)ends #23

And we’re back…

The final assignment is in, we’ve got over our various colds (mostly), it’s starting to feel like summer, and my brain is up to writing a regular update again. I hope.

Except we’re not?

Other than essay writing, May was mostly spent knitting and reading. Since the knitting was mostly Good Intentions related, I want to dedicate a whole post to that. And as my Read The Year post for May is overdue, I’ll cover the books I want to talk about there, rather than repeat myself.

The Shawl Society Season III

Ok, a little talk about knitting, as the Shawl Society isn’t a Good Intention – more of an impulsive decision. Helen of the Curious Handmade podcast has been running themed shawl societies for a couple of years now, in which participants buy the ebook, patterns unseen, and knit through the shawls as they’re released. This year’s theme was irresistible: The Secret Garden, and so I jumped aboard, hoping to learn a few new techniques, use up some of my more impulsive yarn purchases, and end up with some lovely shawls, either to keep or gift. The first pattern, Maytham, is wonderful – simple, but interesting, and hard to put down. It helps that I’m using some Countess Ablaze Tia Merino. I also love Helen’s pattern layout, which makes it so easy to keep track of where you are.

From the Mailbag

I couldn’t resist picking up a secondhand copy of The Secret Garden to read while I work through the Shawl Society patterns.

Odds and Sods

  • Royal Mail appears to have lost my second Nerd Sock Club instalment, so while that’s getting sorted I’ve cast on a Lamina Wrap. The plan is to use Sock Club remnants and some Wickedlets mini-skeins to gradually knit the wrap over the year.
  • My potato plants are coming up beautifully, but it’s occurred to me that I don’t actually know how you know when to harvest potatoes. Time to Google?!
  • With the TMA out of the way I’m planning on looking at some Craftsy sewing classes and getting the sewing machine out. No doubt much swearing will ensue. 😐

Upcoming

I’m working my way through 14 Days to a Solid Writing Habit (well, my notes from it) again over the next couple of weeks, as it originally coincided with my assignment and I’d like to actually do all of the exercises and, you know, build a habit. I will probably spend every spare moment working on my shawl, but I’d like to get my socks finished this week too. No pressure! 😬

Take care, and don’t let Monday get you down.

Knitting · Year of Socks

Year of Socks: Still April

Work in Progress

I got the Double-stripe socks cast on as a travel knitting project for my birthday day out, expecting to then put them aside, and concentrate on my other WIPs. But I fell out with my other WIPs, so I ended up knitting these almost monogamously, and finished them in the space of a week. The yarn is a fairly standard 75% merino/25% nylon sock weight, which was pleasant to knit with. What makes it so special is the way it’s been dyed. The main yarn has been layered with black, blue and purple which create a wonderful effect somewhere between speckled and variegated. As you knit, the yarn ranges through black, grey, aubergine, purple, teal, lilac, sky blue and white. The pop colour has a similar effect, meandering through red, coral, fuchsia, pale pink, and primrose. The two skeins look beautiful together. The pattern is a simple one, mostly twisted rib, with a heel flap and turn, and definitely a good choice for showcasing this special yarn.

Finished Object

I made the medium size, and find it a little tight to squeeze my foot into as the twisted rib has less stretch than regular rib, though they are comfortable enough once they’re on. If I make these again I’ll increase the stitch count for a slightly looser fit. I’ll also make the cuff longer. Overall, I’m happy with how these turned out: they really fit my perception of Jessica Jones, and I’m looking forward to wearing them on days when I need to feel like a badass superhero.

Next Project

This time last year I was still relatively new to knitting, and wound skeins into balls as soon as I got them, whether I planned to knit them or not. I’ve since learned that doing the latter puts unnecessary stress on the yarn, and decided that a simple way to choose my next few projects would be to use the yarns sat ready to knit first. Which in sock terms meant some Coopknits Socks Yeah! in Kunzite and Malachite that I wound last summer. I’d planned to knit the Antirrhinum socks from A Year of Techniques anyway, albeit in different colours, so this is kind of a no-brainer. I’ve got my project bag set up, but I’ll wait till I’ve wrangled those other WIPs into submission before I cast on.

Socks away!

Knitting · Year of Socks

Year of Socks: April

Work in Progress

I had this mad idea that I would rush these and get them finished in March, but, between other WIPs and being ill, my BOB socks proceeded in fits and starts, mostly on bus and car journeys (socks are such a good travel project). This is a great pattern: simple, straightforward, but with options and suggestions that allow you to customise it a little. The short row heel instructions are easy to follow, and I think this might be my favourite kind of heel – I can knit it as I go, and don’t have to pick up stitches. I knit the first sock with bamboo circulars, and did struggle to pick up the wraps with the blunter tips, so I moved to metal sharps for the second socks, which made life much easier, and I think will be my sock needles of choice going forward.

Finished Object

Though you can’t tell from the photo, the second sock ended up noticeably bigger than the other – a pointed lesson in why not to change needle type partway through a project. I’m not going to reknit, however, because the socks are for me, both of them fit, and you can’t really tell once they’re on.

I enjoyed working with the Squirm Sock. It’s an 80/20 blend of merino and nylon, and I was surprised by how much softer that ratio was compared to 75/25 blends of sock weight I’ve used before. I adore this colourway, and am plotting what I might make with a sweater quantity of it.

Next Project

The plan was to knit my A Year of TechniquesAntirrhinum socks next, as I’ve had the yarn sat waiting for ages, but I was seduced away by the arrival of the first Nerd Sock Club parcel from easyknits. The theme was Jessica Jones:

I’ve chosen a pattern called Double Stripe Socks, which calls for 2 colours. I’m excited to get started on these, but have learned my lesson and won’t try to predict when I’ll finish 😂

Socks away!

Books · Reading Challenge

Read the Year: March

“Unknown Woman”

Since I spent most of the month finishing February’s novel, for March I settled on The Diary of Lady Murasaki, a short book with journal and letter extracts written by the woman known as Murasaki Shikibu, a Japanese author and courtier, about her time in the service of Empress Shōshi, at the height of the famous Heian period. The main events documented in the diary are the birth of Prince Atsuhira, and the celebrations which followed. For comparison, Appendix 2 offers translations of records of these events made by male authors, and I was struck by the attention that Murasaki shows to the people involved in comparison to those authors. She details the reactions, interactions, and outfits of a wide range of participants, and builds a textured picture of the events that unfold, her gaze at times critical, at others empathetic. It’s a wonderful window into history, and astonishing to think, as the translator notes in the introduction, that this elegant, refined world existed at a time roughly 50 years prior to the Norman conquest. At the time she wrote this ‘diary’ Murasaki was already well known as the author of Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji), considered to be one of the first Japanese novels, and still revered as one of its greatest cultural works. Certainly one I’ll be adding to the TBR list.

Related Reading

Mary Catherine Bateson’s Composing a Life came to my attention via a Brain Pickings newsletter. A book examining the ways in which women construct their lives seemed like a good companion to the Diary, which moves between formal comment on public events, and inward-looking musing on what is possible for women. Composing a Life draws from the stories of five women (including the author), moving between the anecdotal, and published research. The main argument is that women have a long history of composing their lives through compromise and negotiation between personal ambition and desire, and societal pressures and responsibilities, and that there is potential in embracing this model for both men and women, rather than competitive ‘equality’. We’ll be in April before I finish this one, but I can already tell that I’ll be coming back to it.

Other Reading

Fictional Non-Fiction

Do D&D manuals class as fiction or non-fiction? They are books that offer the tools to tell a story, which suggests non-fiction, yet role-playing relies on suspension of disbelief, just as fiction. No doubt smarter people than I have answered this question. All I know is that I find them very enjoyable to read, both as a writer and gamer. This month I perused Xanathar’s Guide to Everything (an extension of the Player’s Handbook), and The Tomb of Annihilation (an adventure module set in the jungles of Chult). For me the latter wasn’t on a par with Storm King’s Thunder or The Curse of Strahd, but there were some fun ideas there (for a taste of ToA check out the 2017 Acquisitions Inc live shows on YouTube).

Non-Fiction

I’ve been reading Folk Fashion in a slow and thoughtful manner, as it raised questions for me around my own choices and processes of making. Broadly speaking, her thesis is that there is nothing inherently sustainable about making our own clothes if we engage with the process in the same mindset that we engage with fast fashion. She also explores the circumstances under which we feel permitted to alter or unmake existing designs and garments, and the ways in which we might encourage ourselves, and others, to do so. While this is a well-referenced, academic work, it is very readable, and I feel that I will be unpacking her insights and reflecting on my making for a while to come.

Running Total

Books Read: 20

Currently Reading: 5

Next Month

The next Read The Year prompt is to “Grab a book that will help you to explore your creativity” so I shall be working through Keri Smith’s The Imaginary World of… in April.

Year of Socks

Year of Socks: March

Work in Progress

My second project was Katya Frankel’s Brixham sock pattern, which I snagged from an old copy of The Knitter magazine, designed in Eden Cottage Yarns Oakworth DK. I had the specified yarn in the Lichen colourway, and I used magic loop for the first sock, as I didn’t have small circulars in the right size, but caved and ordered them in time to knit sock two as I just find it a smoother and quicker method. Being DK, they sped along nicely, and I turned my full attention to sock two in the week running up to EYF, so that I could wear them to the festival (which turned out to be an excellent plan as it snowed on us). The cuff transitions from rib to a gansey-inspired knit and purl pattern, which I wasn’t too sure about, but looks great when the socks are worn. The pattern calls for a traditional turned heel (my first experience of that), and was clear enough that I didn’t feel the need to resort to my copy of A Year of Techniques. I stuffed up the slipped stitch heel flap on the first one, somehow, and I’m not picking up the stitches as neatly as I’d like when turning the heel, but I think I’ve done quite well for a first attempt.

The Oakworth DK was dreamy to knit with, and I really loved the luminosity of this particular green. This yarn has been in short supply on the Eden Cottage Yarns online shop, and hasn’t featured in an update for a while, so I did speak to Victoria at EYF to ask if it had been discontinued. I was assured that it is on the list to dye again, but they have a wide range of bases, and dye in small batches, so it can take time to get around them all. Certainly a yarn I’ll be keeping an eye out for in future updates from them.

Finished Object

The Brixham socks are a good fit, in terms of length and heel, but I dislike the pointed toe. I think when I knit these again (I do have another cheeky skein of Oakworth tucked away 😄), I’ll decrease at the sides and then graft the toe as I did with last month’s Dave Socks.

Next Project

I picked up a gorgeous skein of Undercover Otter‘s Squirm Sock at EYF, colourway Pieces, and will be casting on Louise Tilbrook’s BOB socks with it. The pattern uses the wrap and turn method for the heel, and is well suited to speckled colourways, so I’m looking forward to the result. I may even finish these before the end of March 😱

Socks away!

Knitting · Polymath Enthusiasms

Odds & Week(ends) #21

The Edinburgh Yarn Festival Edition

The Marketplace

 

This year I made a plan for which stands to visit, and what to buy, and I’m pleased to say I largely stuck to it, so I have projects lined up for most of my purchases. The impulse buys: a fabulous skein of DyeNinja’s new High Merino Twist Aran in her Embers colourway, and Rusty Ferret’s blue-purple Space Muffin on her Doll base (she had me at “space”), would suit any number of patterns I own. I had a slightly panicked moment at the Martin’s Lab stand where my bank, confused by a sudden large payment in Polish Zloty, declined the transaction, and blocked my card. Luckily I had a back-up, but who knew I’d need to inform my bank I was going to my local Yarn Festival?!

Beyond the lovely yarns on offer, it was wonderful to spend time with my tribe: I had so many fun moments with fellow knitters, complimenting each other on knitwear, sharing advice on colour choices and potential patterns; and it was such a pleasure to meet so many of the dyers who I interact with on social media, and express my admiration (generally in an incoherent, slightly starstruck way, but I think they got it 😳).

The Darning Masterclass

In the afternoon I attended Tom van Deijnen’s Darning Masterclass. He covered both Swiss Darning, for reinforcement and embellishments, and Sock Darning, used when holes have already formed. My many years of embroidery experience meant that, once I understood how the stitching interacted with the knitted fabric, everything fell into place for me. I’m now eyeing up all fabrics I come into contact with as prospective mending projects. Tom also ran an Advanced Darning Masterclass this year, so I hope that he’ll be back next year as I’d like to learn more.

 

From the mailbag

My new knitting notebook arrived this week (and can be spotted above in my darning pics), and I dealt with my EYF fomo by setting up a section specially for my day at the festival.

Odds and Sods

  • I finished Anna Karenina. Finally!
  • The Darning Masterclass was held at the Water of Leith Conservation Centre. I had a few minutes to look around and will definitely be taking the Tiny Tyrant for a visit.
  • The Truly Myrtle Spring Shawl Autumn Wrap Up KAL cast-on was yesterday (the 17th). I cast my Windsinger on while travelling in to EYF. I’m using Old Maiden Aunt merino cashmere nylon 4ply in colours Cold Sheep and Pretty Floral Bonnet. img_8998The deadline is the 17th May, and you’ll find some beautiful WIPs under #springshawlautumnwrapupkal on social media.

Upcoming

We have a busy week ahead, including a day trip to Amble. I think there may be a Neighbo(u)rhood Sheep Society parcel to collect this week as well, because I spotted a new NSS pattern on Ravelry. And I want to make a push on my Lanes cardigan, as I’d quite like to wear it.

Take care, and don’t let Monday get you down.

Polymath Enthusiasms

Odds & Week(ends) #20

Cooking on a Bootstrap During Snowmaggeddon

The sudden influx of rewards from projects I’ve backed continued this week with the long-anticipated arrival of Cooking on a Bootstrap from Jack Monroe. It proved to be good timing, as we were then struck by the ‘beast from the east’ snow storm.

While not technically snowed in, in practice, since the buses stopped running along our road, the Technician is working away, and the supermarket is too far for TT to walk there and back even in good weather, we were snowed in. Being unable to get out for supplies encouraged my creativity to make the most of what I found in my cupboard, ably assisted by my newly-arrived cookbook.

Exploration and Reflection

As mentioned a while back, I’m taking part in the KnitBritish Wool Exploration. I submitted my first review, on Gotland wool, in February, and I’m partway through my explorations of Ryeland and Jacob, guided by Louise’s excellent template for notes, which you can find on her blog. I am finding that the number of swatches and pieces of A4 are becoming unwieldy, so decided to use a sketchbook to collate the information.

I chose a sketchbook as the paper will be sturdy enough for me to attach the swatch to the relevant page, and the spiral binding should mean that it copes better with multiple inserts. While the first part will be dedicated to the KnitBritish breed swatches, I’m going to use the rest to start noting down my own impressions of particular breeds and brands.

Tangentially, I started reading Folk Fashion today (a book from my Christmas haul), which is making me realise that I rarely reflect on my making in any structured way – there’s a lot of “ooh, pretty I want to knit (with) that”, but less attention on whether it’s an item I need, or uses what I already have. It can sometimes feel like I’ve shifted focus from high-street consumerism to independent supplier consumerism, and I feel like I need to slow down and unpack that a bit. It seems that the Wool Exploration is part of that thought process too. A topic I may return to if I come to any conclusions worth sharing.

From the Mailbag

For obvious reasons it’s been a slow post week, but my Read The Year book for March made it to me, along with the aforementioned cookbook.

Odds and Sods

  • Libby Johnson of the Truly Myrtle blog and podcast is running an Autumn/Spring Shawl KAL between 17th March – 17th May. I shall be taking part as I’ve wanted to make her Windsinger shawl for a while.
  • Craftsy has been offering unlimited access this weekend, so I’m taking the opportunity to audit a few courses that I’d marked as favourites.
  • If you missed out on the Kickstarter of Cooking on a Bootstrap, Jack Monroe has announced that a revised version is being released via a traditional publisher too.

Upcoming

The worst of the snow is over, and thawing fast, but they’re predicting rain from tomorrow so I expect to get damp when heading out in search of supplies. Nursery is due to re-open tomorrow – a relief because the Tiny Tyrant and I are sick of the sight of each other. My main plans for the week are to knit, and start plotting what I want to do and see at EYF.

Take care, and don’t let Monday get you down.

Books · Reading Challenge

Read The Year: February

“Obsessive Love”

Full disclosure: I have yet to finish Anna Karenina. This should not be taken as a criticism – it’s a result of my starting late, reading less than usual, and the style of the novel, which encourages a slow reading pace and close attention.

I knew very little about the novel going in: I knew it involved an affair between Anna and Vronsky, and was an examination of marriage and love, but there is also a secondary plot, interrelated with the first, about Levin, a friend of Anna’s brother, and Kitty, related to Anna by marriage (and a former flirtation of Vronsky’s) which examines the theme from a different angle.img_8727

Having read War and Peace a few years back, I remembered that Tolstoy can be quite wordy, but I had forgotten his talent for delineating characters. In some respects his knack resembles that of Elizabeth Gaskell (see last month’s post), in showing faults, and foibles, as well as the good, but his eye for character errs more toward the satirical than the sympathetic.

I’m about halfway through, and while I’m aware that things don’t end well for Anna, I’m allowing myself to hope a little for Levin and Kitty.

Related Reading

Madame Bovary seemed like a suitable accompaniment to Anna Karenina, but my slow pace meant I never got to it. However, Napoleon the Great, which I listened to on Audible, tied in more than I expected. The Napoleonic era was much earlier than Anna Karenina , which is set in the 1870s, but it was a time that fundamentally reshaped Europe, and the reforms which resulted from Alexander’s wars with Napoleon underpin the concerns of Tolstoy’s characters. In its own right Napoleon the Great is a fantastic book, which gave me a new perspective on both the man and his actions.

Other Reading

I’ve not read many adult books this month, partly because it’s been a short month, partly because the books I was concentrating on are so long.

Fiction

I borrowed some Hulk comics through my Amazon Prime membership. I’ve never bothered to buy any of the Planet Hulk tie-ins, but I wanted to check them out because Thor: Ragnarok used some of the Hulk material. They’re interesting from that perspective, but I’m glad I didn’t buy them, as I don’t think I’d read them again.

Non-Fiction

Back in January, I ordered a book about Portuguese calçada (the mosaic-style, cobbled paving that is widely used in Portuguese cities). Calçada Portuguesa is a photograph book, but does briefly cover the history of calçada (which is of more recent provenance than I imagined, given its ubiquity in Portugal), and shows the spread the art form to former Portuguese territories worldwide. It’s also trilingual: Portuguese, English, and Chinese (I assume they mean Mandarin), which is a nice touch.

Running Total

Books Read: 12

Currently Reading: 8

Upcoming

Since I still have half of Anna Karenina to read, my March book needs to be short. The theme is ‘Read a book about a woman you hadn’t previously heard of’. I was planning to read a biography of Christine de Pizan, but have settled on the shorter The Diary of Lady Murasaki.