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!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Gnomes, yarn and party hats

 This week was full of gnome candles, suspiciously new yarn, cool sheep tea mug and more cookies than I care to admit. This can only mean one was my birthday this week!

This was a weird birthday. The day crept up on me, almost unnoticed. I've been struggling to shake off a nasty cold for a while, I'm very busy with my courses at university and on top of all I need to invest a lot of time in my research for my thesis. I'm trying to balance going to courses, working for said courses and research for thesis, and "life stuff" is suffering from it. It's been hard. I've been living in a self-made cocoon and my sense of timing is more or less non-existent at the moment. So when my mum called me a week or so ago to ask what I wanted for my birthday, my initial response was: "What are you talking about, that's weeks away!". HA! I celebrated my birthday this weekend.  Having a break from uni related things, even just one day was a welcome break.

The Treehouse was wrapped in more garlands than usual, friends came over, presents were unwrapped and my cats meowed a birthday song for me. All in all a pretty good day. Here are some snapshots from my birthday and some of the (yarn related) presents I received:

Have a nice week!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Follow Your Arrow II Finished

 The shawl is done! I knitted the last clue in the lighter blue, so as to make clue four and five one continuous piece. In the end I have a shawl all made up out of B clues. I choose each clue based on what I liked best, when I reading through the pattern. So it's purely coincidental that it ended up being all B's. After seeing both clue fives (and deciding to go with clue B) I thought that clue 4B and 5B built really well on each other, especially in a solid colour. In the end I did a variation on clue 5B. Instead of having two point I made four smaller ones, creating an effect that reminds me a bit of a lotus. I made the clue a bit lacier as well. This is the only clue, in which I differed a bit from the pattern as written. I did not do any extension rows. While I had enough yarn to do that if I wanted to, I felt that the shawl was done.

Can you believe this was my first time doing Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Bind Off? I've been knitting for years and have come across it before, but apparently just never saw the need to try it. My loss! It enabled me to block the shawl beautifully into these pointy edges, thanks to the stretch.

The yarn I used was Old Maiden Aunt Merino Superwash. It's one of those yarns I had been meaning to try for a while, but never really got around to. It is beautiful hand dyed yarn, and it knits up beautifully. The smooth superwash did require some getting used to after all the "sticky" yarns I've been using for my colourwork projects. I have to admit that I'd forgotten how much worse it is to weave in ends with smooth yarns. Luckily there weren't many ends to weave in, so irritation was kept at a minimum.

 I meant to post this last week, but I was in rotten-cold land, had to stay in bed for a couple of days, and had about the worst week at uni in terms of workload. Subsequently, I couldn't  take photos and blogging about it had to wait.

Can you believe it's March already? Time to turn my personal calendar over again, and add another year whenever I need to fill in a survey, I suppose! This weekend I'll be celebrating my birthday. I'm much looking forward to that!


Monday, February 16, 2015

Follow Your Arrow Clue IV

(fellow arrow knitters: there will be spoilers in this post so click away if you don't want to see them!) 

The end is in sight! The last clue is in, and I hope to choose and knit on the final clue tonight.
But first I have to show you what I did for clue number four.

I made clue four entirely in my contrast colour, the light blue, so the bands with the arrow motif wouldn't feel so lonely. Pick and choose for clue four was easy, clue B  immediately stood out to me and I'm quite pleased with how it looks and works with the other clues.

Now I'm on to the last clue, with a bit of luck I have a finished shawl in a couple of days.