Wednesday, February 13, 2013

the Taco monster strikes again

Last night, as Dan and I sat on the sofa digesting our pancakes, I set about winding my two skeins of yarn. There weren't any loo rolls handy so I opted for the tried and true thumb method of creating a centre pull ball. Dan obligingly held the yarn for winding when it became obvious it was too stuck to itself to unskein easily. Sooner or later, Taco got involved. First a passive observer, then a mischievous poker and finally a very naughty bear indeed. We made quite the three-some, all more or less tangled in yarn. It would have made a great picture, but as all three of us were tangled up it wasn't an option. Taco got over excited to the point I was forced to give a wee smack to get her out of it. She bore the grudge, you could tell.

This morning as I lay in bed waiting for my turn in the shower, I started making some mini swatches:


When I got back from the shower, I found this:


Caught red handed! The look on her face was priceless. The fact that she knew it was bad as bad can be, but she went ahead anyway... what a terror....

Knitting mode engaged

It's been pretty sleepy over here in my corner of the internet. I have been knitting rather a lot though - and perhaps those two are linked. Reluctant to pick up the laptop again at the end of a long day, but happy to sit with needles while my tired brain winds down in front of the box. There is a jumper for me, socks for dan and vest/tank thing to photograph at some point. For the moment there is this:

Awesome jumper

This is Furrow by Marie Wallin, featured in Rowan magazine way back in issue 40, circa 2006. It was earmarked for Dan almost as soon as I laid eyes on it. I acquired the yarn piecemeal, whenever I found it on sale. In October 2011 it was packed into a suitcase and shipped as yarn and pattern to Philadelphia ahead of our arrival. In January 2012 I finally cast on. That cardboard grid was my faltering attempts to stop the six strands of yarn twisting together. In the end it was cast aside in favour of the classic "pull from the tangle" method of colour work. 

It is enjoyably rhythmic once the pattern is set in your mind, but the gauge is an eye watering 42 rows to 4 inches. Added to that, sitting underneath it once it got even slightly warm last year was unbearable with all those strands of yarn pulling at you all the time and generally getting in the way. It experienced a hibernation. In January 2013, when it got arctic, it appeared again. I slugged at it almost every evening and surprised myself with the progress I was making. Still working on the back piece a began to flag a little as I started the 24cm after arm hole shaping.... I struck on an idea. An incentive. I resolved that after finishing the back I would reward myself with something fast and dirty. On Saturday I bought these two skeins:


And last night I cast off the back of Dan's jumper. This morning I set about taking a quick snapshot of this bit of fabric I'd finally managed to produce. The only suitable spot was out on the floor. Taco arrived almost instantaneously and announced her curiosity. This sequence of photos took roughly 30 seconds...


It's not 33% of a jumper, it's clearly a Taco bed - look at all those nice inbuilt strings I left for her to chew on! Aren't I kind! Don't worry folks, the jumper was rescued from Taco's naughty claws and stashed safely away.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Temperatures are soaring here on the East coast and more than one English rose is wilting a little. Dan and I have been getting acquainted with our air conditioning and have learned to love it in recent days, despite the cacophony of white noise it produces. The key difficulty it has to be said is continually making the conversion from Fahrenheit to Celsius. There was a general lack consensus about what temperatures were suitable and constantly checking on my phone was getting tiresome. I made us a little temperature conversion chart to stick beneath the thermostat. Dan's observation was that the scale didn't go far enough - I pointed out that it was the limit of what I deemed acceptable. For a compromise Dan settled on the graffiti addition of simply, 'Too Hot!!'. 


Now I look at it I see I managed to spell 'Fahrenheit' wrong. If anybody else is in need of a conversion chart, you can download the correctly spelled version by right-clicking on the image below.


Sunday, June 17, 2012


After trying to contribute to knitting and crochet blog week I found my creative and blogging energies completely sapped. I just don't have the time to commit to writing that much guff in a week, let alone reading all the other entries. There were some brilliant ones out there and it was fun to start with, but towards the end of my short stint I found my creative energy and enthusiasm crushed rather than charged. Together with a toxic combination of getting anxious about a brief trip back to Blighty and some temporary work angst, what I ended up with was an unplanned blog holiday. Which is kind of a shame because I was rather enjoying the relative frequency of my posts until then. I think I've probably learnt that lesson now though and in the past few days I've had itchy fingers again - so here we are.


This last weekend we finally got a decent crop of furniture - after being mostly furniture-less (apart from our sofa) for the last six months. The continual annoyance of never being able to put anything away was beginning to tell, so it came at the right time. When we landed in Philadelphia with little to our names except some bags of clothes and a bit of sentimental tat, the plan was to accumulate second hand furniture we liked gradually. I don't think I realised just how gradual that would be at the time, but there were good reasons for the plan:

  1. We didn't want to end up with identical Ikea furniture to the stuff we'd never liked and left behind - particularly the dressers with the drawer bottoms that continually drop out of the bottom.
  2. Second hand furniture is both more ethical and less likely to loose all it's value when we need to re-sell it for the trip home.
  3. Being surrounded by things I don't enjoy aesthetically makes me cross. Hence the need to exorcise patience when waiting for good things to turn up in the second hand furniture shops and flea markets. We could have kitted the apartment out with ugly furniture months ago, no problem.
But we got two dressers (one with a giant mirror we've no clue what to do with) and a bedside table for a bargain price, so I spent Sunday taking great joy putting things away just so. Especially Dan's things for some reason...





Thursday, April 26, 2012

Looking towards summer [3KCBWDAY4]

Today on for knitting and crochet blog week, we're supposed to be talking about the seasonality of our craft. I thought I'd skip this topic and go for the wild card, until 10 minutes ago when I remembered I'd moved... 

I don't live in London any more, I live in Philadelphia and the intensity of summer will be very different. Sure, back in the UK you'd get the odd few days when it was really hot - but swapping knitting for flopping about in the garden was not exactly a hardship. Good weather is still a rare enough event in the UK that every moment is savoured. Philly? That's gonna be a whole different ball game. I havn't experienced Philly in the summer, I've only been warned about the heat and humidity. I no longer have a garden to flop in and hug the shade. I suspect only time will tell if I can knit with hot sweaty hands through a long period of heat.... Anybody have any top tips for dealing with the heat?

This post is part of the knitting and crochet blog week, which you can find more about here, or you can just Google 3KCBWDAY3 to find more participants.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Kate Davies - Knitting Heroine [3KCBWDAY3]

One of the best things about amazing online world of knitting, crochet and craft in general is that there is no shortage of amazing inspirational women. I have my own long list of crafters whose careers I follow with interest, but today I wanted to write about one of my all time favourites. She's pretty much a knitting superstar so it's unlikely that anybody hitting here as part of 3KCBW will have not heard of her, but for the few readers I have who don't knit, this is my official heads up - because Kate Davies is well worth the read even if you're not a knitter.

I've been reading Kate's blog from almost the very start of her blogging career, which is about five years now. Having inhabited the online world for well over ten years, I now know that it takes something very special for one blogger to hold your interest for that long (something I clearly don't have!). I look forward to every post, even the difficult ones. One of the key reason's I keep coming back is because she writes brilliantly, thanks no doubt to her academic background and the obvious passion for her subjects. Her posts are well composed and thought out, arguments reasoned. And there are arguments to be had - she never shy's away from the politics of women's enterprises, both historical and contemporary. In a craft blog world that is often apolitical, that just wants everything to be 'pretty', that is dam heroic in my opinion. The second key reason is that I learn a great deal from her more extended essays. I love learning about the historical significance of particular textiles - I don't have time to study these things at length on my own, but I do have time to sit and read about Kate's latest research with a cup of tea. And then?? Joy UPON joy, there is often also a beautiful pattern inspired by that research. And if that's not enough, there's the incredible scenery in her walks around Scotland to admire, or Bruce the dogs latest adventure to amuse yourself with. Which brings me to the third reason why her blog has such an ardent following. The variety in her posts means you never know what you'll get when you click over, which means you always want to. Combine all this with the honesty and integrity with which she addresses her readers and Kate Davies is not just a knitting hero to me, she's a personal hero too.

After all this admiration, you'd think I'd have an unending stream of Kate's design's to wear, but in fact I've made just one - an owlet jumper for my nephew. I didn't quite realise that until I'd written this, so I think this year I will resolve to cast on another.

This post is part of the knitting and crochet blog week, which you can find more about here, or you can just Google 3KCBWDAY3 to find more participants.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Taco dreams of yarn [3KCBWDAY2]

These pictures, the title of this movie and these imaginary animals inspired me to make this:

We have had our overgrown kitten for around a month now and she's developed into quite a character (read: become a total nuisance) in that time. Amongst her favourite things to do, along with chewing power cables, is attacking my knitting. It started out as cute, then annoying and finally ended in chewing on a work in progress in the middle of the night*... She likes the sticks, she likes the string, she likes them in motion and she likes them when there not in use. This is what I think her dreams must look like these days. And yes, she really does look as undignified as that cartoon Taco chewing on the wool, this kitty is not big on dignity.

This post is part of the knitting and crochet blog week, which you can find more about here, or you can just Google 3KCBWDAY2 to find more participants.

*It's okay I fixed the damage, ugh!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Confession - I am a colour addict [3kcbwday1]

I love colour, particularly deep saturated hues - I don't really do pastels, it's just not enough pigment for me. I don't wear black because the effect on my mood is too pronounced. In fact the last time I wore black (apart form the occasional band t-shirt, the only exceptions) was back when I had to wear it for my school uniform and that was... well a long time ago now. My wardrobe has some whites and creams, but as I'm prone spilling things down my front on a regular basis, it's not a huge swathe. The last thing I wanted on our wedding day was a white dress.

C is for Colour

When I was a kid, the walls of my bedroom were painted white and I hated them with a passion. I found the walls of white oppressive - really, I can't stress that enough. When I was a teenager  I was finally allowed to decorate my room and I went nuts - three shades of dark blue, one light blue and one purple. It was a sight to behold... In my defence this was the hight of "Changing Rooms" fever across the UK. The problem is, when the usual restraints of budget are taken away I still have this tendency. Grown women are supposed to behave with a little more thoughtfulness and restraint. This brings me to the problem at hand:

I was gifted a token for Loop, Philadelphia that appeared not long after our arrival here. I trundled down to the shop with Dan in tow and promptly fell in love with Brooklyn Tweed's Shelter yarn and bought seven skeins in seven colours. I didn't have a clue what I was going to make with them. The heady aroma of yarn clearly went to my head and I indulged my inner teenager. Must have colour!!

Taco Belle gazes at her hearts desire...
Problem is, three months on, I still have no idea what I'm going to make with this lovely stuff. I toyed with the idea of making a tea cosy for our new teapot (which badly needs one - cold tea is not nice), but the abuse Dan and I put our tea cosies through is probably a bit of a poor end for the Shelter yarn. When we moved here I was thinking a lot about blankets and cushion covers, but now it's heading into summer making either doesn't appeal much. I don't really want to sit under a blanket all summer while I work on it. It's probably just about enough to make a straight forward stripy something or other, but a plain stripy jumper/cardigan/tank doesn't appeal either.

I do like very much Brooklyn Tweed's Inversion Cardigan, and stripes might be okay in that situation. I would probably need to buy an extra skein or two to make the border one solid colour, which would tie it together better. Then I had an idea that I could use this lovely star stitch pattern for the body, rather than just plain stripes. Trouble is I can't decide whether the overall effect would be like a was wearing a giant cushion cover... not very chique. Any ideas out there? Or other patterns to suggest? I just can't make a decision...

So I actually put some effort into composing this shot, the intention being to create a 'rainbow' of colour.  Taco Belle had other ideas, invading the frame as soon as the shot was composed. I didn't get a single capture without her in it. She is obsessed with yarn...

This post is part of the knitting and crochet blog week, which you can find more about here.
Special blog week code thinger-mejigger: 3KCBWDAY1

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A weekend in Lancaster County

This weekend Dan and I left Philadelphia. Since arriving at our new abode on the 10th of December, our existence has been almost entirely lived within the constraints of Vine Street to the North, Wharton Street to the South, Front Street to the East and 40th to the West. Even that's being generous. We've had minor excursions I can list: one party in South Philly and one in the suburbs, a bar on Spring Garden, an abortive trip to Northern Liberties, the inevitable Ikea mission, a cycle ride as far as East Falls. Our patch covers approximately three square miles, which is kind of painfully small and at times claustrophobic.

Our patch in blue
The actual size of Philadelphia

But this weekend we spread our wings a little. We signed up to zip car, booked it for the weekend and headed off to a B&B on the edge of Lancaster County. Neither of us had driven a left hand drive car before, or driven on the right hand side of the road. Dan was brave enough to have first go and drive us west out of the city on Friday night and into the sunset.

I was over excited and took a lot of crap pictures whilst we were in the car
One of the more unexpected consequences of this new driving experience (apart from having to think very hard at every junction) was the constant fighting with your own brain about what was going on. The worst time being at night on the virtually empty roads of deepest Lancaster County - you'd been driving alone on the road for a while, you were relaxed, then a car would start coming towards you from the distance. The moment my eyes could see it was on the left hand side of the road, my head was screaming that it was on MY side of the road, even though I could clearly see for myself I was on the right hand side of the road. This came complete with adrenaline and increased heart rate and near panic, until the car approaching was almost passed and no one had crashed. On the other hand, the fact we did achieve this backwards driving made me happy for my neurones as I thought about them successfully undergoing plasticity - it got easier in other words.


In the rush to get away I forgot my book, my knitting pattern (although it turns out that was just hidden in a bag pocket) and a US/UK adaptor for the camera charger. Fortunately the landscape of Lancaster County wasn't so awe inspiring that the lack of an SLR upset us very much. We spent Saturday morning poking around Amish country. Ten minutes in Intercourse (yes, it's really a place) was enough to give us the House of Bruar heebee jeebies. We're just not that kind of people - or that kind of tourist. But we know now to trust our instincts and run in the other direction. After a nap we trundled round Middle Creek Reservoir before dinner - it was nice enough, but the trails definitely weren't put together by the National Trust!


On Sunday we trundled slowly back towards Philly via the Antiques markets in Adamstown - which were huge! It was fun looking at old American junk though and I still have the antiques market bug from the endless trawls I used to do with my Mum. Convincing Dan to go was the only battle, but I think even he enjoyed it in the end. After that we trundled a bit further home, stopping off at French Creek State Park. Whilst we were sitting next to the lake, enjoying the breeze and identifying birds with the help of the lovely book Dan bought me as an emigrating present, it dawned on me how obsessed American's really are with hunting. All around us we could hear shots being fired the whole time and it seemed like almost every inviting green patch I could find on the map had "State Game Lands" emblazoned across it. I am not enamoured with the American way of 'enjoying' the country side.

This shot was taken with my iPhone through our binoculars - no geese we're harmed (by us at least).
Although it has to be said that perhaps the most exciting part of the weekend was the drive back into Philly - approaching the sky scrapers from a distance brought back the sense of excitement we got when we approached the city in a taxi from the airport for the first time. I always used to like driving into London along the flyover for that sense of swooping down into the melee - but Philly's towers are much more impressive.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Day Job

I'm still here, quietly plugging away at life. The dark cloud of homesickness and petty misery has left us I think, at least for now. Beer, bikes, cats, a little furniture and some time, sent the dreaded dirge on its way. I'm knitting away on one of the few projects I brought with me - one that's been hibernating since the pre-wedding knitting mania. In the mean time I'm still being inspired intermittently by the day job. Fuelled largely by Instagram, I've been taking pictures of my work life as I find the moments that make me smile. I've also been reading a lot more about science-life in the blogosphere and I think some time soon I might have to find the time to jot a few of those thoughts down.

Scientific still life

Setting up a flow chamber

"Preliminary data" (quote marks intentional)

A collection of scientists in a darkened room

My desk - not for sitting at...