Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A meandering kind of post about colour, knitting, plants etc

Some attempts at artistic, still life kind of pictures of knitting. 

This one above is only partly of knitting, the Thai silk scarf and the bottle of Jameson are just as important, but I felt light was quite Vermeer-ish, and typical of the equinoctial sun into that part of the room of an evening, and that there is light in the evenings is cause for joy. 

The same light falling on red cashmere,

just forty grammes of it, laceweight, but knit double, and made into another example of the ever-popular Hitchhiker pattern.  

The name derives from the supposed fact that there are supposed to be forty-two of the little points or steps that run down the edge of it. However, it is modular in its construction and you can make it with as many or as few points as you want. This is the third one I have made now (the previous ones were a rainbow-coloured and a blue) and none of them has in fact had forty two points, the first had thirty-seven, the second, made of much finer wool so needed to be bigger, had sixty-something, this one has a scant thirty-one, owing to its being made of just forty grammes of very fine cashmere (discounted but even so). I was slightly disappointed when the yarn arrived that, despite being assured that it came only from Mongolian goats living at very high altitude, it wasn't as fluffy and soft as I expected. However, once I was knitting with it, and even more when I came to wear it, its inner beauty became apparent; it has a long, sleek staple, and is so light and soft you don't know you're wearing it, except you're warmer by an order of magnitude.

I'm afraid our friend Dutch E does not get such luxurious fibres for her birthday present. It occurred to me that though she has a spring birthday, she always gets a rather wintry present from us: a bottle of sloe gin and usually of recent times something knitted. She is extremely fond of sloe gin and provides good coffee every week all the year on yoga mornings, so I have to make sure I husband the supplies so that there's always some available in March. If it's the vintage of the winter just passed I try to caution her to keep it as long as possible before drinking, which maybe she can for a few weeks, rarely longer, but this time there's a good bottle left from the winter before (this winter's is still on the fruit, I have been sloe slow). She's also an enthusiastic recipient of hand knits - and she must genuinely like them because she's Dutch and so does not tell white lies. So I took up some scraps and leftovers and thrifted skeins from Emmaus,

and set about making her yoga socks. These are kind of like leg-warmers, kind of like socks, only there's a slit where your heel goes, so and ribbing at the bottom which surround the arch/instep, so the foot and lower leg is covered but the toes and heels are free to grip whilst one is endeavouring to hold the tree or archer pose, for example. You can wear them inside Wellington boots too it seems, but I've never got around to making myself any so I've no idea if they're any good in either capacity, and have a feeling E will just hitch them up over her ankles and wear them like leg-warmers. Knit-savvy people might notice that these are being constructed in the round on tiny, 9-inch circular needles, a technique I'm lately experimenting with. The little jar that once held Espelette pepper flakes now holds safety pins for use as stitch markers, the smaller pâté one tapestry needles, beads and rubber bands to stop the stitches falling off the needles; the cup contains tea and the book TS Eliot. Attention span deficit, moi?

When knitting things which come in pairs - which owing to the bilateral structure of the human body - is most things apart from hats and scarves, even jumpers having two sleeves therefore requiring a level of duplication - there is always the question: to match or not to match? I am something of an enthusiast for non-matching; as well as being a source of originality, creativity and interest, it goes some way to getting round the well known SSS - second sock syndrome, or indeed second mitten, second glove, second leg warmer, even second sleeve - whereby one makes an article with brisk enthusiasm, only to experience a sinking feeling on realising that you have to do it all over again. So I decided to vary the stripes on the yoga socks:

This, however, does induce some frowning among my knitariat - did I not want to make them match? I tried to explain that there is roughly the same weight of each colour on each... But I fear they transgress the pensée unique, they are not worthy to be citizens of the Republic of Knitting, One and Indivisible. In addition they do not follow the tricouleur rule, the aesthetic maximum of three colours which divides good taste from what the English do. Ah well, it was conceded, they'll keep her legs warm, that's the important thing. 

However, I think there is a case that my yoga socks are upholders of liberté, egalité and perhaps most of all, fraternité: they are an expression of a degree of creative freedom, they are equal in size (E's legs being likewise as far as I have observed) and contain equal amounts of the same colours, just in different distribution and placement, and though they may not be identical twins, they are brothers. So, marchons!

Anyway, E being Dutch and arty and not averse to all things, counter, original spare, and strange, and usually up for some wacky colour combinations, is very pleased with them, as well as with the sloe gin.

I'm not sure truly that these things aren't more about personality than nationality or culture, though I also remember German students I used to teach in the UK rather thought their British host families were over-fond of inappropriate amounts of colour. In spite of all temptations to belong to other nations (and no longer having the vote in his own) Tom remains an Englishman, pretty much through and through, but he is quite uncomfortable with too many gaudy mismatches, and really prefers things to come in properly matching sets and a fairly limited range of generally sober colours. He can just about cope with mirror opposites, such as these slipper socks, though I don't think he'd wear them himself:

They are experimental, first trying out the tiny circular needles and then the application of bathroom silicone to render them non-slip (effective but needing further work on the application). They are weirdly shaped and rather remind me of some of the examples of early knitting and proto-socks developed in places like Turkey and Persia in the middle ages. I rather like them though.


Someone who doesn't worry too much about too much colour is David Hockney, who was the subject of a documentary the other night (I put the link in to the i-player even though you can't get it outside of the UK). It was one of those rather irritating wandery documentaries where people who have very little to say are encouraged to say it at great length as if it carried great import. Nevertheless I stuck it out and there was more than enough to make it worthwhile. Mentioning it in an e-mail exchange with my brother, he said he was rather put off by the hyping up of figures like Hockney, 'a pseudo-blond with silly spectacles' and that there was more satisfaction to be gained from the work of less trumpeted outsider artists. I dare say he's right, but these things aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, and I do enjoy Hockney's continuing enthusiasm for life and readiness to try new things; even the silly glasses have gone now he's achieved grand-old-manhood. He's never been really difficult as an artist it's true, and his British based landscapes of more recent years are very accessible indeed, the best of them, such as these,

seem to me to bring back the very first sense of wonder and exaltation I can remember as a small child on the top of the Chiltern or the Malvern hills, looking out over 'the coloured counties'. 

And among the many somewhat banal things he was quoted as saying, I found some comfort in the unremarkable truism: 'Just because you stop doing something doesn't mean you've rejected it'. I know it's obvious, but one can expend quite a bit of energy in anguish and sadness by forgetting it.  (I also rather enjoyed the scene where the Hockney family were playing Scrabble, and they'd had to replace the 'X' tile with a cannibalised 'I' because the cocker spaniel had eaten the original).


Other cheerful things. A communication from the garden centre where we have a loyalty card of dubious worth stated they were offering a free plant and free 'rempotage' - potting on. Reading the small print I wasn't quite sure what this might consist of, but went to find out, and in the middle of the flowering plants area, a cheerful girl in rubber gloves stood surrounded by a vast amount of fluffy potting compost. One had to buy the plants and the pots, but they would pot them on for you using their own compost, up to ten. So I took the opportunity to spruce up the herb containers, with new plants of origano, Moroccan mint, lemon and dwarf thyme, in good sized pots, 

and some parsley for the window sill in a very traditional terracotta pot. 

Kitchen windowsill, with parsley and also pea shoots, cress, daffies, potted jasmine (a fragrant extravagance) and the free plant whose name I don't know.

I like terracotta but can only have it where I remember to keep it wetted enough. I have no green fingers, kill plants very easily (unless I'm trying to, in which case they thrive stubbornly), and am not honestly a talented gardener. I tend towards what I think Joan Bakewell said, that gardening is outdoor housework. To me now it has somewhat taken the place of paid work; a demand from outside (inasmuch as the seasons and the growth of plants dictates its necessities), a kind of rent I pay for my room in the world, good for my moral and bodily well-being but to some extent a kind of duty which I'm often reluctant to get on with, yet once I'm there doing it I usually realise how much I'm enjoying it, really much more than actual housework. I'm aware this is a kind of heresy, and sounds rather churlish and ungrateful. 

Anyway, having the potting-on job done, though a very small one which I could have done quite easily in a short time at home, gave me a boost and an incentive to get on with the job of clearing up and re-ordering the herbs, and I feel the better for it, and today the seeds came from Chase Organics, including, for the first time from their catalogue, some Roscoff pink onion sets, though presumably for appellation controlée reasons these are sold as Keravel pinks.


So, a meandering and rather long-winded post of mostly domestic detail and cogitation. We're expecting visitors at any moment so I'll most likely be gone again for a bit...


Pam said...

That all looks very lovely. Your knits are beautiful. I rather like the Hockney paintings. I so prefer things that look at least vaguely like something. Abstract splotches don't do it for me.

I MUCH prefer gardening to housework, though do both.

I met a Labradoodle yesterday and vaguely yearned for one. So woolly! So friendly! And then I thought of how sad it would be when it died. So, no.

Anonymous said...

Funny, I had just finished watching that Hockney documentary when I read your post and saw that photo of the striped yoga socks in close up. It looked a lot like a landscape to me, perhaps the horizon line in the centre with poplars above it and a ploughed field below, all done in the best possible fauvist taste! Glenn x

Nimble said...

Thank you for the turn of phrase: proto socks. I like that and their boxy toe boxes.

Your herbs in pots look very pleased. I have one inside plant at the moment and it may have mites. I will be a gardener in the next life. Or maybe in my 60s which is ten-ish years off and similarly unimaginable today.

Ellena said...

The cousins of your Yoga Socks are
being knitted here and are named Snuggle Socks.
The more colorful and less matching ones are everybody's favorite.
I'd love to get a sniff of herbs and wake up in your kitchen.

marja-leena said...

I always love your meandering posts, Lucy - like having a visit at your place! Your knittings are all gorgeous and that cashmere shawl is to die for! I love gardening but have to watch I don't overdo it for the sake of my knees, easy to do this time of year when the weather is glorious.

Catalyst said...

I've always wanted to grow herbs but I just don't have the patience for it.

HKatz said...

There's always so much texture in your posts - both in the photos and the words. The things you discuss, I could be holding them up and running my fingers over them. Different (to me) ways of looking at the world.

Sheila said...

Ah, Lucy, your wonderful blog and wonderful pictures! I'm just in for a peek. Still papers to write, and taxes to "do" (and later pay), but I had to come have a look and remind myself that soon I'll be back to a more normal pace of life.

These are lovely. I'm going to share with my sister, who knits.

Love to you and Tom!

Zhoen said...

A veritable smorgasbord.

My only gardening talents seem to lie outdoors, pots inside not so much.

Rouchswalwe said...

Immensely cheered after meandering along with you in this post. Love the word, "knitariat" but can't agree that socks have to match.

The yoga socks are not only talkative but quite cool!

Fire Bird said...

I loved the Hockney documentary. Wonderful clothes and interiors, full of colour, and inspiring me to want to make our home 'even nicer', as well as the paintings and the man himself, who just always comes across so warm and funny...