Friday, March 31, 2006

Thoughts as I walked to Wednesday's Stitch and Bitch

As most people who know me in real life would agree, I am not exactly a walking fashion plate.

But I do have some common sense, which explains why I have never, ever bought a pair of bumster pants, shown the top of my undies to the world, or inflicted an over-flowing muffin top on the general public. Not only would it be cruel, it would make me look stupid.

I was thinking about this when I walked up Chapel Street (very trendy Melbourne street) on Wednesday night to attend the Stitch and Bitch meeting, and was looking at the clothes in the windows, the clothes on other people and caught a glance of myself in a shop mirror and could see the clothes on me.

While my ankle-length black skirt, sensible shoes and over-sized long cotton jumper would not earn me a place in Vogue, it would also not earn me a place on Australia's Dumbest Fashion Victims. I was an appropriately, if unimaginatively, dressed big girl, with a pretty, if pale and unmade-up, face.

Meanwhile a woman of approximately my age, but half my size, click-clacked her way down the pavement, nose in air, the better to not see a fat suburbanite like me. Her skin was a suspicious orange-bronze and had already acquired the leathery look of a woman of a certain age who had spent too much time in the sun. She was wearing orange lipstick, cropped pin-striped 3/4 leg suit pants, a ruffled white shirt, white stiletto fringed cowboy boots and was carrying a Louis Vuitton bag and holding a pair of Chanel sunglasses.

Naturally I assumed that the LV and Chanel accessories were replicas. I wondered how many hundreds of dollars she had paid for the fakes that would fool no-one.

But today it suddenly struck me that it would be even more hilarious if these accessories had been the genuine thing costing thousands of dollars each and everyone assumed they were fakes because of her overall look of a fashion victim.

Money does not buy class.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Knitting credibility 101

My husband is very disappointed that I am not taking the Dr Who scarf (now over 160 cm in length) to the Stitch and Bitch meet tonight. I explained that not only was the scarf getting very heavy and bulky, but as it is pure garter stitch, it has zero credibility in the knitting world. Jeff couldn't believe this.

"But it is so great! And what about the credibility it has with me?!?"

I'm glad he likes it. He is getting very excited at the prospect of it being finished this week.

I pointed out that at least the Dr Who scarf has major cult credibility and doesn't have negative knitting credibility.

"What is negative knitting credibility?"

A garter stitch garment made out of fun fur and novelty yarn. Which is badly finished and has dropped stitches all over the place. And has starred on You Knit What.

Speaking of knitting credibility...

I am nearing the end of Jackie's lace mohair scarf which like all lace will need some serious blocking to bring out the beauty. I usually just use pins to hold the knitting in place when I block, but I have read a fair bit about using blocking wire and think it might be a good idea in this case. So I ring up a well-known Melbourne knitting store (which will remain nameless) and ask them if they stock blocking wire. They didn't. And when I asked them if they knew of any place that stocked blocking wire the woman replied (and I quote), "I think you'll need to go to a proper craft store".

How foolish of me to think that a knitting store that stocks an abundance of various yarns, needles, knitting bags, patterns, stitch holders, row-counters, stitch markers and knitting gauges would sell knitting blocking wire or even know where it is sold.

I'll see if the Stitch and Bitch girls have any ideas tonight.

And on a final note, someone in the Melbourne Stitch and Bitch group sent me this link: Knitters Annonymous.

As you can see I have included a button link to the site on my sidebar. I am contemplating becoming their founding Australian member.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Some thoughts on buying cheaply produced wool

As a knitter on a budget, I was green with envy when I first heard about Knitpicks. Quality natural yarns at a fraction of the price they were sold for at the local yarn store. But only available to residents of America and Candada.

The free market, however, abhors a vacuum and Spotlight has recently brought out a 'Basics'range. This yarn is described as 100 percent Australian wool, made in China. It costs less than AUD$4.80 for 100 grams. And I'm sure it is only a matter of time before the choice of colours expands and we get the Basics alpaca, and the other natural yarn blends being sold by the likes of KnitPicks.

But just how good is this Basics yarn anyway, and should we be using it?

The Dr Who scarf is an eclectic collection of yarn brands, chosen for colour. For some reason the limited Basics colour section was the only brand to feature the exact shade of light tan I needed for the scarf.

While I am not sure how well it wears, Spotlight's 'Basic' wool is extremely soft and it certainly does not seem to be any worse quality than any other very soft wools I've used (soft yarns in general don't wear as well as the firmer yarns and don't retain garment shape/patterns as well but they do feel better next to the skin and that is why we sometimes use them) ; there is minimal shedding and if anything far fewer flaws/knots than I find in other yarns.

But I wonder about the ethics of using it. The only way that we can buy 100 percent Australian wool for such a good price is if the inputs are very cheap. How much did the farmers get for this wool and did it cover the cost of raising the sheep? And I wonder under just what conditions the yarn was spun in China, what the workers at the mill were paid and how they were treated, that meant I could buy 8ply Basics wool cheaply in Australia.

Just some thoughts.

First Stitch 'n' Bitch meeting

I finally stepped out of my nice safe virtual knitting world where I was the only real-life knitter I knew and attended a Stich 'n' Bitch meeting in Elsternwick yesterday.

I knew I was at the right place when I spotted the exact pair of socks, complete with the red and blue shading and unusual design, that I had been admiring on a blog, on the table of the cafe. They were the work of 'Ozknitter' who reminded me so much of a girl called 'Jen' who I work with. While Jen isn't a knitter, she both looks like and has a very similar personality to Ozknitter. In fact the biggest difference I noticed was that Ozknitter talked about knitting with the same level of knowledge and interest that Jen talks about computers and design, and then Ozknitter said something about html coding and I thought "Sh*t, I KNOW that however hard I try, I am going to call Ozknitter 'Jen' by accident". In fact, I'm pretty sure I did but no-one noticed.

It's also rather confronting to realise that real people actually read my blog (DER!!! it's on the internet and various knitting rings!!!). One girl turned around and said quite conversationally "I tried setting up a blog but it's not like yours where it is updated all the time".

Another girl was knitting a pair of socks on one circular needle using the 'Magic Loop' technique I have read about but never understood. It's comforting to know people can actually do this in real life - it's not just a cyber knitting myth - and if I continue to attend SnB meetings I might one day learn this skill.

Before I left, my husband was predicting that the average age of the SnB knitters would be considerably older than my own. He was wrong. While no-one wears their age on a button, I think most people were in their mid 20s to mi 30s. I'm not quite the old granny of the group but at 35 I am definitely not the youngest either.

The next meeting is on Wednesday night in South Yarra. I'm definitely going, work permitting.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Buying, selling, reading and knitting

Damn eBay. Sometimes it is better for me to not look and hence not be tempted. But I will give away my secret of getting a genuine yarn bargain.

I take the time to look at ads with dodgy photos. I have bought some gorgeous quality wool for the opening bid price because no-one else looked past the blurred photo to read (for example) "12 blues of Patons Totem purple wool, colour AB, dyelot 325". Opening bid $15.00, postage $8.10.

Anyone who gives that level of detail clearly has the genuine product. If they were a rip-off artist they would have a much better photo. And would be selling iPods, not wool.

Patons Totem is generally about $6.00/ball (full price) at Spotlight. So 12 balls would set you back $72.00. If you bought 12 balls at full price which I hardly ever do. So I start discounting the figure to get down to a number where the wool is still a great bargain. Generally I make the assumption that at some stage I could buy the yarn from Spotlight on a 20 percent discount day. This is not 100 percent fair as the discount days are generally more in the range of 10-15 percent but it ensures I don't overpay via eBay. I also factor in a discount of about 10-15 percent to take into account that the colour may not be exactly what I am expecting based on the photo but it will still be usable (I have never met a purple I don't like although I like some far better than others!). And that if I were buying yarn from the store I would be buying a specific number of balls for a project rather than being obliged to take all 12. So generally I discount the full price by a third. At $48 (including postage), this wool would be a good buy. At $24, it would be an absolute bargain. And the opening bid is $15.00 plus $8.10 postage = less than $24.

How could I resist?

I am much more comfortable doing this when I know exactly what brand is being sold because for some reason not all 100 percent 8-ply wools are all equal. I finally worked out this is partially because there are at least 2 completely different standard constructions of yarn (a firmer mercanised-spun yarn that is less likely to fray - such as Patons Totem, and a twisted yarn that is much softer and more natural looking - such as Cleckheaton Country) . But there is also some 'x factor' that somehow makes one 100 percent wool yarn seem cheap and nasty while another one just screams quality.

Nonetheless I took a chance on an unknown 100 percent wool yarn when buying another badly promoted yarn product on eBay.

The seller had a jumper kit from the 1980s that had never been made up, listed for $19.95 plus postage. No-one but me would be tempted by the cliche Australiana circa 1985 jumper pattern which had a giant rosella in full flight over the back, front and shoulder of the garment but surely someone else should have been doing the maths of "16 balls of 100 percent wool, at least half of them in a timeless classic navy blue plus red, yellow, grean and teal that I could make up into anything I wanted... and it's from the 1980s which means the wool won't be one of those cheap and nasty imports that flooded the country post-2000..."

I got it for just over $30, including postage. And while I am seriously contemplating making up the jumper I can hear my late mother reminding me that if one can remember the fashion from the first time around , you are too old to get away with wearing it the second time around.


It's still great wool.

There is a new link on my side-bar to my Etsy shop where you can buy some of the handmade items I have made over the past year. The prices are in US dollars (as it is the nature of the site) but I will do invoices in Australian dollars and discounts for direct bank deposits for locals (although I totally understand any Australian who doesn't know me who would rather use PayPal and have the creditcard guarantee rather than get a few dollars discount). While I would like to think people would buy my stuff, I really don't know if they are willing to pay anything approaching the real value of my time and the materials I use. It only costs me US $0.10 a listing so if I don't sell anything, it's not as though I've really lost anything. I made a deliberate decision to not seriously underprice my work (unlike some people who list on the site) and not to list anything that is badly made or made out of poor quality materials.

Lots of people are at least looking at my items and maybe some of them are even reading this blog because of my Etsy profile. Hi new readers. See I am a real person with a real knitting history.

Elizabeth Zimmermann's 'Knitting Without Tears'. A birthday present from my American in-laws (OK, at my request). Have to love Amazon.

I approached Elizabeth Zimmermann a bit like I approached Noro wool - certain I would be disappointed because of all the hype and then delighted to discover my pre-conceptions were unfounded. I love her informal chatty style and stress-free approach to knitting. She is the goddess of knitting who doesn't take herself or anything about knitting too seriously. I love how she can wax lyrical about her walrus tusk knitting needles (admitting that she put it in to boast) and the next moment describe using an aluminium needle to fix a motor boat, rubber bands to convert DPNs into straight needles and a pencil sharpener to convert a straight needle into a DPN.

And she has a jumper design that forces a perfect size 10 woman to do just as many (or few)calculations as a size 22 short-waisted, big-hipped, small-waist, large-breasted woman to create a jumper that fits.

I'm a convert.


The Dr Who scarf. It is getting very heavy. My husband loves it.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

How does your garter scarf grow?

Sorry, no pics today. Both Blogger and Photobucket are being uncooperative. Blogger won't upload any pictures while Photobucket seems to only want to publish in Jolly Green Giant size, no matter how I edit the pic. Grrr

I measured the Dr Who scarf last night and it is just over one metre in length.

In terms of knitting I am well over half-way through the pattern which makes me wonder just how long (or short) this scarf is going to turn out. According to the pattern it is supposed to be 270 cm in length. I am beginning to suspect that this length includes the fringe, which will add an extra 25-30 cm at each end. So the real length of the scarf should be about 215 cm which I'm still not going to get near.


Unless I hang the scarf from one end so the bulk of the 400 grams weight of wool stretches the scarf.

According to the knitting goddess Elizabeth Zimmermann, if one knits a skirt the best way to get the length right is to knit it to about 3 inches (or 7.5 cm) shorter than you want the final length to be, then hang it up for 2 weeks and remeasure the skirt again when it will have miraculously grown to the right length.

Now no-one in their right mind would knit a skirt in garter stitch; they'd do it in stocking-stitch or maybe a rib (OK, no-one in their right mind would knit a skirt in the first place but I have seen pictures of stocking-stitch and rib skirts). And garter stitch is notoriously stretchier than other stitch patterns. So presumably it would grow by a lot more than just 7.5 cm; maybe 15-20 cm.

Which means that I would only have to knit about two metres, maybe even less to get a scarf that will end up approximately the same length as the pattern.

Which means that maybe I am not so far off track as I thought I was.

Jeff at least seems to be very happy with how the scarf is growing. The scarf is very heavy and will be able to be used as armour or a weapon, as well as a cult item and means of keeping one's self warm.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

We interrupt this knitting blog for a political statement

Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews says there's no ulterior motive behind his release of 400 pages of industrial relations legislation during the Commonwealth Games.
Of course not.  Only a cynic would suggest he was trying to bury the draconian new legislation amongst a flurry of Australian sporting success.
I guess we should all settle down and enjoy the circus while it is still on offer.  Because I'm not holding out hope of much bread by the time this legislation is enacted.
In knitting news I'm powering away with Jackie's scarf on the tram to work and Jeff's scarf at home in front of the TV.  I've calmed down about the lace knitting as I seem to have settled down into a pattern.  And I can see it is going to look a LOT better once it is blocked.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Knitting as therapy - the Dr Who Scarf

Image hosting by Photobucket

I'm going through a horrible "I have the attention of a goldfish" knitting phase.

So I haven't finished Jackie's autumn leave scarf, let alone Gabi's cardigan. I haven't even started the socks I swore I would after the knitting Olympics. The pink mohair drop-stitch shawl is still in its bag.

Rachel's given birth to a baby boy. I have a baby beanie I knitted a while ago for him if nothing else.

But at least Jeff's Dr Who scarf is going well. I am knitting garter stitch back and forth while watching TV. And as an experience knitted I have managed to do this without gaining or losing any stitches. Whoo-hoo!

In a way it is good to occasionally do this kind of thing. Garter stitch garments can actually look OK when they aren't full of dropped and gained stitches.

I'm probably only 1/4 of the way through - and I am knitting the so-called short version (so-called because although 270 cm is LONG compared to most scarves these days, I am thankful Jeff doesn't want a full-scale 670cm replica!). Only time will tell if I manage to keep my focus on this sufficiently to finish the damn item before starting something else again this week.

Goal for week starting 19/03/06. Finish a WIP. Any WIP. Maybe Jackie's scarf.

And in late breaking news

I decided to put up a couple of items for sale via Etsy, which is like eBay but only for hand-made items. Very US-centric but there appears to be a few Australia sellers. So far 26 people have had a look at my hat but no-one has bought it which is not surprising given I have no feedback and the international postage costs are horrendous. I'm not holding my breath but it's there if anyone is interested.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

And now for the Commonwealth Knitting (and Crocheting) Games

Last Friday I wished I had a camera on my mobile phone so I could show the world what a wonderful city I live in. Melbourne is hosting the Commonwealth Games which is like the Olympics but without any of the major sports powers in attendance. Nonetheless, the Games organisers are convinced this event is bigger than the Sydney Olympics and justification for imposing a Police State.

Not content with annoying the crap out of most Melbournians for running ads suggesting communters avoid public transport during peak hours (hello? Some of us have jobs to hold down), they are preparing for the Games with the level of secrecy and self-importance any tinpot dictator would be proud of. Probably the best example of this was last Friday when they put up huge blue barricades blocking any possible view off the bridge crossing the Yarra near Flinders' Street Station, posted security guards and had signs stating "No Public Viewing. Move On."

I just wished I had a camera to record this moment, so I could post it on the blog along with an appropriate caption. Like, "Melbourne welcomes its visitors" or "Why tourists prefer visiting Sydney, rather than Melbourne".

Today my ride home was delayed twice by the Queen's Baton relay. Initially this was in South Melbourne when our tram was stopped by a cavalry of police on motor cycles, ensuring that the accredited media and poor sod carrying the baton had right of way down the centre of a main transport route at peak hour. I arrived at the city just in time to watch the police block off the trams up Flinders Street, so that the Baton circus could pass up the road, delaying a mere several thousand plebs trying to get home.

But I am refusing to get mad by all these delays. Even if it took me two hours to get home. Because if it wasn't for these delays, I would never have got talking to a lovely old lady who was passing the time crocheting a cushion cover (as one does) in our tram. And I wouldn't have pulled out my knitting and had a lovely 1 1/2 hour conversation debating the merits of wool versus mohair; ribbing versus lace and God Knows What else. She obviously thought she had it all over a young girl like me and was quite startled to discover that I could knit something beyond garter stitch and that even if I was making a scarf, I was no novice. Just by pure luck I had the diagonal rib short-row scarf in my bag, so I was well and truly showing off by the time the tram crawled into Kew.

I knitted a few more rows of Jackie's lace scarf and it is getting better. But I needed something truly brainless to do in front of my Tuesday night TV, so I started Jeff's Dr Who scarf. I am following the pattern on Sarah Bradbry's Mostly Knitting website but have chosen the colours according to the guide on The Dr Who Scarf website. I must say it is very relaxing and even if it is only garter stitch I can see that my knitting has improved no end since I last tried to knit a plain wool garter stitch scarf when I was about 10.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

I hate lace knitting

Why do I do this to myself? Here I am, knitting a scarf for a friend who won't notice or care if it's in garter-stitch and would be impressed if I did a simple 3X3 rib. and I decide to try a lace pattern. I got it from a site called Mohair Dreams and it is relatively simple but still annoying (I can't knit it while watching TV or if I'm a bit tired or stressed and I've already made a few mistakes I've had to fudged around), and like all lace looks like crap pre-blocking. I'm also wondering about the intelligence of doing a lace pattern in a variegated yarn but I'm already 88 rows in and I'm not ripping it out for anyone.

I hate the yarn. It's a good quality mohair and is nice to knit but not when it is 36 degrees outside (hello Mr Weather - summer was supposed to finish LAST month; we're supposed to be cooling down now - and don't give me that global warming shpiel; I'm not in the mood for it.) Like all mohair, it is a bitch to unknit when I make a mistake. And I loath the colours. It's supposed to be Autumn Leaves. I'm thinking baby diarrhea myself. But that's the chance you take when you buy mohair off the internet; it's not the seller's fault it was brighter than I expected. And the recipient of the scarf for some reason seems to like brown and orange rather than purple and blue, so maybe she will like it. Maybe I'll also give her something else with it for her birthday.

I was getting so frustrated with my inability to work on this project in front of the TV that I slipped out to Spotlight yesterday and bought the wool for my husband's Dr Who scarf. Yes I know I have a room full of unknit wool. But not in the right colours for the Dr Who scarf. So this means I have a nice brainless project to work on in between.

The Dr Who scarf is VERY wide. One pattern called for 60 stitches of 8ply/DK on 4mm needles; the other 55. I only cast on 55 and I used 3.75mm needles (as I'm a loose knitter) but it looks like it is going to be huge in width, even if I knit the shorter length (which I'm planning to as the good husband doesn't plan to be looping the scarf multiple times aroun d his neck like Tom Baker).

I just realised I hadn't posted all my knitting Olympics medal tags. Firstly a new Team Australia tag that seems particularly suitable today.

Image hosting by Photobucket
And now my team DPN medal:
Image hosting by Photobucket
And my absolute favoutite, the Knitting Championship gold medal which some Christian moron objected to because it has a naked person on it. Now let's just ignore the fact that the original Olympians competed in the nude and take a good close look at the medal.
Image hosting by Photobucket
And here is a larger version:
Image hosting by Photobucket
Can you see any nudity??? Maybe the raunchy chest and bare feet?
Where would the world be without the Christian Right?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Rainbow Connection complete

Despite the heat (we pushed 30+ degrees Celsius the last few days), I finished the Rainbow Connection hat and scarf this evening.

In many ways it was quite easy - just plain garter stitch; knit every row. Being loopy mohair, it was too easy to occasionally end up with an extra stitch on a row but I just knitted two stitches together when that happened. And if I dropped a stitch I picked up an extra stitch somewhere along the row. The one advantage of loopy mohair is that it is very forgiving, hiding every mistake. There's no point trying to do any fancy stitch with loopy mohair as everything is hidden by the boulce yarn.

It was quite fun, knitting 24 hues, but quite time consuming to sew in all the ends. My friend Susan wanted to know why I didn't start with purple on one end and finish with red on the other (like a real rainbow); the reason is that there were quite a few shade of pink that wouldn't have fitted in if I had knit this way.

Sometimes my non-knitting friends ask why I don't sell my knitting. Well, this hat and scarf set used $50 worth of materials and probably took about 15-20 hours to knit. The minimum wage for an adult in the manufacturing industry is about $12.75/hour - and as I get no annual or sick leave entitlements for my knitting, the minimum casual rate of wages would be more appropriate - around $16.00/hour. So is anyone going to pay $350.00 for this hat and scarf set? I don't think so. And if I sell it for less, I am selling my skill and labour for less than someone packing goods on a production line. This is why I stick to knitting for fun and gifts - not profit.

Fortunately I have the skills to earn a living in ways other than knitting. I also like writing and for a while earned my living this way. But eventually I got sick of being underpaid for my skill while watching people who were far duller earning far more for doing far less. So I decided to earn my living another way, so I could go back to enjoying doing writing instead of resenting what I was paid for it.

The other advantage of something being a hobby, rather than a job, is that you don't have to answer to anyone or work a certain number of hours. While I have got my strength back in my right hand (after a scare some weeks ago), I still get the occasional strange pain around my wrists, so I limit the amount of time I knit between breaks.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The knitting is getting out of control again

Rainbow connection scarf and hat - up to the red shades, have started decreasing on the hat; will probably finish it sometime this weekend.

Jackie's birthday scarf - mohair has arrived, it's lovely and soft but a bit lighter coloured than I expected. The shade is called Autumn Leaves. I'm planning a basic rib with maybe some eyelets in the knit part. Biggest problem is the yarn is in a hank and I need to wind it into a ball without tangling it. No, I don't have a ball winder or skein-holder - I will try the back of a chair.

Jackie's mohair also came with some gorgeous blue mohair which I will probably also knit up as a scarf - there will be no shortage of recipients who it will suit (Mother-in-law, cousin, various friends). And me but I WILL NOT KEEP THIS ONE. Honest.

I still haven't done Rachel's baby present or finished off Miss Gabi's lace cardigan.

I still haven't finished my own drop-stitch mohair shawl.

I still haven't started the 6-ply socks I've planned.

My husband wants his own Dr Who scarf. In the original colours and technically correct pattern but not as long as the original (thank God). It's in garter stitch and I need to buy some revolting tan, greeny-brown, orangey-red and khaki-green wool which I can't bring myself to do. But I need to.

I've also committed myself to donating some hats and scarfs for an APHEDA fund raising auction (maybe one of the sets I've already knitted ...)

And I'm sorely tempted by two new free patterns: String-or-Nothing's Kureopatoria Snake Pattern scarf (which I will almost certainly make using my favourite yarn, Noro Kureyon) and Knitty's 'Winter Surprise' pattern, Startsky. I love the shawl collar; I love the fact that the pattern goes UP to my size but it will be a big project and is ranked as 'extraspicy' which translates as 'Advanced' which I'm probably not quite at the level of doing. I could probably swing it but I can't justify buying any more yarn now. The aim is to knit through my stash faster than my rate of buying. Which is difficult. Especially as I've joined the Melbourne Stitch and Bitch Group and already have details of a yarn-store's close-out sale.

I'm getting plenty of knitting done in the morning on the train and at lunchtime at work (my office is so well air conditioned that the milk can be stored safely there if the fridge goes on the blink). But the heat is building up again at nights. It is officially autumn (or FALL as the Americans call it) and the temperature is hitting 30+ degrees Celsius again (in the 90s Fahrenheit). The tram is so crowded and over-heated on the way home that knitting is impossible and it's still too warm in the evenings as well.

But it is too gorgeous to be drowning in so mucyh lovely yarn!