Friday, May 15, 2015

Shilasdair Shawlette

When I went to Scotland last year I brought home some great yarn gifts to myself. Some have been knitted up already, others are still waiting in the yarn treasury for their turn. However, I did not only bring yarn back for myself. I brought my mum some wool as well. The choice went to two pretty Shilasdair fingering weight skeins. Shilasdair, hails from the Herbrides, the Isle of Skye. Shilasdair yarns are naturally dyed with locally sourced dye materials. The yarn is a mix  of 10% cashmere, 10% baby camel, 40% angora, and 40% lambswool, an interesting mix of different fibres. I wasn't sure how it would hold up, but my mum says it holds up very well. The colourway of the skeins I picked for her is moss, naturally dyed with meadowsweet, tansy, onion skins and indigo.

 My mum made it into a simple shawlette to show off the colours of the yarn. She used an old pattern from a Dutch magazine. Over here, these types of shawls are called "kippendoekje", or "Chicken cloth". These types of small shawls were worn by Dutch farmer's wives when working around the farm. There was quite some buzz about them in the Dutch knitting community earlier this year when a well known not knitting related Dutch magazine had a special about these shawls. There were a lot of different variations of "kippendoekjes" around, some incorporated a simple lace or texture, or a special border at the edge of the shawl, but first and foremost these were practical items, so they weren't too fussy, except for the ones for Sundays and special occasions. My mum knitted a basic version of this old tradition. She is very happy with the outcome, and is already planning to make a similar shawl in one of the red Shilasdair colourways.

I love wearing shawls, in all shapes and sizes. Small shawls are perfect for this time of the year, when the weather is starting to warm up, but it is not quite there yet.

In other news, my computer is crumbling down. On the one hand, she's an old cat so it was about time to find a replacement, on the other hand the thing was working perfectly fine until last week, so it has come as quite a surprise. Not the best timing, with the thesis writing going on, but I guess these things happen. If I'm around less, you know what to point fingers to!


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Mullspice Hat

Ah, the start of Spring. It marks the beginning of a time in which every self respecting knit blogger will present their readers with at least some out-of-season projects. I will kick things off here with a worsted weight cable hat. I started this project because I needed a quick and fun project for in between working on my thesis. As you read in my last post my knit time is fairly limited at the moment, as I juggle regular uni work with thesis writing. A fast, cable project was just what the doctor order to distract me from my 'meh'-feelings about my limited knit time (or time for anything not uni related for that matter).

Pattern: Mullspice
Designer: Alicia Plummer
Yarn: Malabrigo Rios
Colourway: Glitter

I fell for the rustic feel of the pattern. I had one skein of Malabrigo Rios in my stash which,while being a heavier weight, suited the pattern very much. Because Rios is a heavier weigh than asked for, I cast on fewer stitches. I didn’t do the folded brim, again because I’m using a heavier weight yarn and thought a folded brim would be a bit too bulky for my taste. I wanted to give Rios a try after my disappointment with Malabrigo Worsted. I have to say the yarn seems to hold up a lot better. I can only tell for sure when I have been wearing it for a while, but it looks a lot more promising than the worsted.

The pattern is a bit unclear about the decreases, specifically on what to do with the cables as you decrease. You can sort of intuitively figure it out, especially if you’ve knitted cabled projects before. I think most people expect that part in the pattern. I tried to keep the cable as it starts for as long as I could then I decreased the cables evenly from 3/3 to 2/2 cables and finally to 1/1. Other than that I had no issues with the pattern.

This was my first pattern by Alicia Plummer. Though not everything she makes is completely my style, I do like the rustic feel of her designs. I also think she has quite a recognisable aesthetics to her designs, which is admirable. While I liked some of her other designs, I'm not sure if I will start one soon. For one, I can only handle so many non-colourwork projects before I cave in and cast on an avalanche of stranded projects, and I'm not sure if her pattern writing style suits me. Perhaps Mullspice was not the best pattern as a first encounter, or to judge her patterns on. Mullspice was not a badly written pattern, but some information was lacking.

Overall I'm quite happy with the end result. The hat came out a bit bigger after a blocking. I have a small head, and think I could have gone for the smaller size, but it doesn't bother me much.I think I will get a lot of use out of my Mullspice when the cold sets in again.


Monday, April 27, 2015

A Promise

The months since January began have been trying. Combining and balancing research, thesis writing and all my regular course work has been hard. Really hard. I do love my research topic and enjoy discovering more and more about it. It is just that the balance between uni work and "other stuff" has had the scales completely tipping over in favour of the former. I feel like the only things I've done since 2015 started is work for uni and sleep. Some of my class mates spread the work over 2 years instead of trying to do it all in one year, and to be honest I don't blame them. My personal life is virtually non existent at the moment. Weeks have past in which I have not knitted a stitch (seriously I don't think I knit at all during the whole of February and March). I used to write in a personal diary at least a bit every day, now weeks can pass without me having even opened my notebook. And let's not even mention my sewing machine. Now if you know me, you know that this is really unusual. I've had busy periods before, and complained about them, but this is insanity on a whole new level.

This blog post is to remind myself, and people in a similar situation, that these things do not last. Even though sometimes it may seem like it doesn't. It is also a promise to myself. A promise of all the good things to come when things, eventually, ease up. When it does, I plan to make the most of it.


Friday, April 10, 2015

Foxglove Cardigan

The Foxglove is a flower I associate with my childhood. I grew up, knowing it as 'Vingerhoedskruid', the Dutch word for Foxglove. 'Vingerhoed' is Dutch for thimble, which is a very apt name I think. 

I associate the flower with home, bumblebees and with my mum. My mother is a garden person. When I think about my childhood and my mum, images of her making a mess in our garden spring to mind. She wanted a garden where birds had trees to sit and make nests in, where hedgehogs had woodpiles to crawl under, and where bees and other insects had flowers to feed on. My dad used to joke about our garden and how wild it must have looked to our neighbours' eyes. My mum spend a lot of time in that garden, as did we as children for we had lots of grass to play on and trees to climb in. I made my first modest Treehouse in that garden.

 My mum planted specific flowers to attract bees, especially bumblebees, which she is very fond of. One of those flowers was the foxglove, a flower bumblebees are apparently especially attracted to. From late spring to early autumn these flowers coloured our garden. Incidentally, I was born and grew up in one of the few places in the Netherlands were the wild variety of the foxglove can still be found. Beware though, while these flowers look beautiful, they are also incredibly toxic, and can be fatal when eaten by humans.

When Kate's book arrived at the Treehouse, it was not hard to decide which project to make first. I loved many of the designs, but I thought it fitting to knit this one first. The design asks for 2ply Shetland yarn, which has become one of my favourite yarns to knit with since first trying it. I've used a similar colour scheme, but not exactly the same colours as Kate. I used Jamieson & Smith Jumperweight colour FC55, which from afar is a purple shade but when surveyed from up close it is revealed to be a complex mix with purple, pink, blue and even yellow fibres. I simply love such a complexity of colour. I've shoved my work-in-progress under many a friend's and family-member's eyes to  make sure each of them got to see the explosion of colours up close.

I knitted the sleeves first and then the body, as to save the best for last. While I was knitting the yoke, I noticed that the last row of the chart was different from the pictures of Kate's Cardigan. Incidentally, at the same time someone on Kate's Ravelry forum noticed it as well, and mailed Kate about it. I'm not sure if this is an actual errata, or just something Kate changed her mind about. In accordance with the project photos it should be an entirely white row, instead of a purple and white row. It does not make a huge difference in the yoke, so do whatever you like. I went with the photos and knitted an entirely white row. Other than that I had breezed through the pattern.

Not to long now, and spring will cause foxgloves to colour our gardens, forests and fields again. Can't say I'm looking forward to warm temperatures, having to pack away my woollen jumpers and the accompanying hay fever, but even I can't deny the joys of more daylight and more colour outside. 

Enjoy the weather!

Monday, April 6, 2015

March Reads

March was a huge month for books at the Treehouse. I read quite some novels, and it would have been more, had part of the month not been devoted to my midterm exams and essay writing. Most of the reading I did for this month was exceptionally good. Some of the books are well known classics, that had been high on my to-read list before, others are new to me authors whom I am very happy to have discovered. I especially enjoyed discovering more African literature and I can see myself reading a lot more of that in the future.

Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart is one of Africa's highly acclaimed novels, and it did exceptionally well internationally. I consider myself a book lover. Books are a huge part of my life, and they always have been. However, I had never before heard of Things Fall Apart. Now I'm sure that part of that is my fault, but I think it also says something about the focus on Western Culture in Western society. It also draws attention to how, in an academic context, interest in these non- western and different ethnicities in literature is really something that has started only recently to change for the positive. Me and my fellow students take it for granted that these works are valued just as high as works from western canonical writers, something I'm glad, but also grateful for. However, it is gems like these that make you realise that it is only a very recent development, and it's good to keep such things in mind when planning your reading.

Things Fall Apart offers the reader a lot. It concerns big themes like the British Empire, colonialism, traditional African tribal life and Christianity, but it works on a smaller scale as well. The inner struggles of Okonkwo, the protagonist, are described so vividly and alive. His troubled relationship with his father and everything that ensues from that are transcultural themes, but through Achebe's detailed description of African tribal life and the African setting, and the troubles that arrive when colonialism enters the scene, it becomes an intricately African novel. Okonkwo is a hard to like as a protagonist, but he is not hard to understand. Though Okonkwo's attitude towards women is troubled, to say the least. It is sort of compensated for by some of the stronger female characters in the novel.
I breezed through this novel and I thoroughly recommend it.

Mhudi - Sol T. Plaatje 

An other African novel I read this month. Mhudi was the first full-length novel in English by a black South African. This book really grew on me while I was reading it. It set in South Africa in the beginning of the nineteenth century. Ra-Thaga an Mhudi are on the run after their villages have been raided and massacred by another African tribe. The complicated South-African history of the different tribes, traditions and languages plays a central role in this novel, and is one of the things I liked best. The way the story is narrated taps beautifully into the African tradition of oral storytelling. Telling stories is even an important theme within the story itself. I love how Plaatje combined the western way of storytelling, which Plaatje encountered at school, with the African way he was brought up with. 

The Boer people are also featured in the novel. They are descendants of Dutch settlers, who left the Cape to escape British Rule when they took over South Africa. Through Ra-Thaga and Mhudi, Plaatje manages to tell the complicated history of the different African tribes and their contact, tribal wars, the arrival of the Boers and colonization by the English. This novel left me wanting to take an in-depth look into South Africa's history, and the more I read about it, the more I valued reading this novel. This book meant a lot for African literature and paved the way for many great works to be published. I was really saddened when I was told the publisher is not going to produce these books any more, so it will go out of print. Lets hope he changes his mind!

In the Skin of a Lion - Michael Ondaatje

In the Skin of a Lion is written by Sri Lankan-born Canadian author Michael Ondaatje. He wrote The English Patient, a story which most of you are probably familiar with. It's a postmodern novel, and this comes through in the fragmented structure of the novel. Ondaatje doesn't offer just one perspective, he offers multiple. At times it can be trying to piece the fragments together. Personally I like these post-modern techniques, but  if you are not a fan it can be hard to get sucked into the story because of this. The language in the novel is poetic and dreamlike at times, but at the same time the scenes can be rough and gritty.  The depiction of the immigrants and the working class that build  Toronto is vivid. The depiction of the immigrants is vibrant and couldn't feel more real to me. The description of their hopes, dreams but also their strength, struggles and sad heartbroken stories is one of the best features of this novel.

Now, do I recommend this novel? Well, by reading through my description of the novel I'd say yes. However, I do realise this is not for everyone. If you like clear cut story lines, you won't find them here and you probably are better of picking another novel. If you thoroughly dislike post-modern features, step away. But if you have a soft spot for clever poetic language, fragmentation and stories about outsiders than this could be something for you.

All Quiet on the Western Front -  Erich Maria Remarque

This novel might go down in my top reads from 2015. I don't read a lot of war literature, I have read some World War I poetry at university, but that is about it. As far as war literature is concerned this has to be top notch. It has sold millions and millions of copies over the years, and rightly so.
All Quiet on the Western Front, or Im Westen nichts Neues is one of the most famous war stories so plot wise, there is not much to say.

Remarque's descriptions of life at the front, the trenches and comradeship between Paul and his platoon is so well written and so real. Things in this novel are not all bad, but when it is it really hits home. To me this was not just a sad novel; there are light , funny, angry, sad and heartbreaking moments. But everything is written so beautifully. Most of all this novel is so very realistic written. It is not a moralistic play about good and bad guys, it's mostly a novel about a guy who has to cope with something that basically just happened to him. The theme is almost transcultural, even though Paul is a German soldier, the things that happened to him were universal for all countries involved. I think that is part of the reason it did so well.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man has been on my reading list for a while. As a student of English Literature I was aware of James Joyce's  mythical and complicated reputation, and indeed what he meant for modernist and Irish literature is mind blowing. Most people are slightly scared to touch any of his works because of this reputation. Luckily this is his first novel, and things are not as crazy as they are going to get in his later works. Yes, his prose is still complex and his use of free indirect speech is experimental, but by god, was it worth it! The novel is an autobiographical fiction, meaning it is still fiction, but Joyce heavily drew on his own experience for the story. Many of the things Stephen does are similar to Joyce; they went to the same schools and their families show many similarities.

His depiction of growing up in Ireland, a country on the brink of revolution, tensions between Catholics and nationalists, and Stephen's own awakening as an artist are brilliant. It helps if you know a bit about the Irish history, you don't need to , but I think it adds a lot to the novel. It tells the story of a young Stephen, starting as a toddler, growing up to a young man, and this influences the narration greatly. The first chapters are narrated as if it is written by a toddler, and the following chapters grow up with the narrator. Joyce has done this exceptionally well, and the first chapter might be my favourite because of this. Not the easiest read, but definitely worth reading.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

"Let them make cakes!" she said

 Look what has arrived at the Treehouse not to long ago! A yarn swift and ball winder! For years I've been winding yarn into balls the old fashioned way, with the help of either a chair or someone's hands. Many of my in-progress photos thus include these funny tightly wound balls of yarn.  My cats had a lot of fun running after them, each time I tugged too hard on the yarn and of the ball went everywhere.

 My partner was often employed to help me with the tedious and time consuming task of winding balls. At some point I mentioned the existence of ball winders and yarn swifts to him. He was intrigued and wanted to know more about this magical world of yarn cakes and more importantly; fast ball winding! Even more so when I explained how one didn't need a second person to help any more, as the skein is put on the yarn swift, and know...on someone's hands.

I never tried a winder before, but I had seen one at work when a member of a knit circle I used to go to showed me the details. I remember saying that it might be helpful to get one, at some point. Well, guess what I found in a big box and wrapped in gift wrap for me?

A yarn swift and ball winder! Boy, was I excited! I immediately wanted to see it at work and try winding some skeins! So I dug up a few from my stash and put the winder to work. It didn't take long to figure out how it all worked (mostly because the set up is really very simple) and off the swift went turning! After a load of turns I had a brand new shiny yarn cake, in a lot less time then it would have taken me doing it the old way. In few enthusiastic moments I tossed about the idea to turn ALL the skeins into yarn cakes, but my sensible boyfriend who is not as easily swayed by yarn magic as I am, talked me out of it.

But I did try two more skeins... just for kicks!

I'm very happy with these new crafty tools and I'm not the only one! A certain someone is very pleased that he won't have to help his yarn obsessed girlfriend any more. Though I can't image why, who would want to pass up on the chance of excessively touching yarn?


Monday, March 23, 2015

February Reads

Hello there,

It's time for another book post. February was a better month for reading in many ways. It was also a month of classical reading. I never considered myself the kind of person that liked this particular genre. I blame this prejudice partly on my own ignorance, and partly on me having only encountered arrogant teachers and pupils at secondary school who felt superior because of this field of knowledge. This kind of attitude gives me an irrational dislike that I find hard to shake off. Many years later, having encountered lots of really cool people in the field (I'm starting to think it had more to do with my secondary school than anything else) and tried my hand at one of the epics I have in fact been able to shake the feeling off. Now I find myself in the unlikely position of actually taking a course on classical literature...and lo and behold...I'm actually enjoying it! Who would have thought it right?

The Aeneid - Virgil

The Aeneid was the first classical epic I read and my first encounter with classical literature since a long time. This was little over a year ago, and I had to reread it for my classical literature course. So far this is my favourite of all the classical reads I had to do. I read an English translation, and, as most of the writings at the time, it is written in poetry. For me it was particularly interesting to read it in the light of other epics I read before, such as Beowulf and Paradise Lost.

I liked this book. I know a lot of classical literature fans prefer the Greek epics, but I enjoyed this epic a lot. Unlike Homer, of whom we know absolutely nothing, a lot more is know about Virgil. This adds a layer to reading the epic as it is chock full of propaganda about emperor Augustus. Apart from the propaganda motif, Virgil modelled it on the two best known Greek epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, thought interestingly he reversed the order (first half Odyssey, second half Iliad).

The Odyssey - Homer

Well, what can I say? This is most likely the most famous of epics. Even if you have not read the actual Odyssey you are most likely familiar with a lot of the characters. It builds on the events that happened in the Iliad, a book I have not read yet. I keep hearing that, whereas the Odyssey has a complex narrative and characters, the Iliad is a lot more superficial, so I'm not really motivated at present.

I liked the narrative, a lot happens, especially in the first half of the books, which keeps the pace in the novel. Many of the features of an epic were virtually modelled after this book, so it was fun reading it from the master's hand. Interesting motive in the epic is that it does not so much care whether Odysseus is actually telling the truth about all his adventures, but how he tells is, whether he is convincing enough. A theme that still rings home in a modern sense to some extend. Reading this from a modern perspective is trying at times, especially when it comes to Odysseus' attitude towards women.

De Leeuw van Vlaanderen (of: de Slag der Gulden Sporen ) - Hendrik Conscience
The Lion of Flanders, or: the Battle of the Gilded Spurs

 This novel is a Dutch historical Classic. It was written by Flemish writer Hendrik Consience in 1838. The book is about the medieval Flemish-France war and highly romanticises this war. It is written from a Flemish perspective and glorifies the Flemish share in the war and is critical of the French. Therefore this is a highly coloured vision of the war. It is considered a classic read in Belgium and in many schools this is a mandatory read. I am slightly ashamed to say that I had not heard of the novel before. Perhaps this has a lot to do with my focus on English literature, as I hardly read any Dutch novels anymore, as well as the novel's dated publication. I'm not sure the novel is actually still in publication, but because of it's status as a classic, many households have the novel on the shelves so I had no problems with getting my hands on a second hand edition. 

As for the novel I was quite surprised with how easy it read. I breezed trough it. I had expected old fashioned language and a slow paced novel. Well the old fashioned language was there, but not as dominant as I expected it to be. All in all I was pleasantly surprised by the novel and I've already recommended it to some friend who are into historical novels. 
Flemish knights before the Battle of the Golden Spurs
 Not for Profit. Why Democracy Needs the Humanities  - Martha C Nussbaum 

Ah, nothing like a non-fiction book defending the humanities to keep up spirits about the world. 
I read this for a course on the place of the humanities in society. Nussbaum defends the importance of the humanities by making some (to me) valid points, but she does take a long time to make those points. She takes a whole chapter to say things that could be said in one or two pages. This makes it a long-winded, repetitive and at time dairy read.  

Towards the end of the books she makes some statements about the place of philosophy in the Netherlands. Given that I grew up and live in the Netherlands, I am able to test these statements. She raves about the place of philosophy in Dutch society and she gives some examples as testimony to this prominent place. Unfortunately these statements are doubtful at best and plainly not true at worse. We had an in-class discussion about these statements and none of my fellow students, nor my teacher recognized Nussbaum's statements. This makes me wonder what her base for these statements was and whether she actually researched the state of affairs here. It also makes me doubtful of some of the other examples she mentions in the book.

Thank you for reading this, I hope you had a good month of reading as well!