Thursday, January 29, 2009

Where I rant about the weather, public transport and short-term thinking

Yesterday the Minister for the Obvious Lynne Kosky blamed underinvestment over a long period of time for the virtual meltdown of Victoria's public transport system.  And that was BEFORE the temperature reached 43.4 degrees Celsius (110 Fahrenheit) IN THE SHADE - it hit about 60C (140F) on the train tracks, causing them to melt and buckle.

Like most Melbournians I am in a pretty grumpy mood at the moment but I've been fuming about the state of our public transport for years now.  I'd have a bit more sympathy for Lynne Kosky being scapegoated over the trains if she wasn't simply the latest in a long line of government ministers who had put public transport in the too hard and too expensive category.  Even if you don't care about the environment, a well-maintained public transport system makes good economic sense - but only in the long term.  Most politicians can't see past the next election.  Public transport use has jumped 30% in the past few years due to increases in the cost of petrol - and would be higher still if it were reliable.  The economy is rooted, more and more people are giving a damn about the environment and demand for public transport is only going to increase.  So how about a few extra dollars for improving and maintaining and fixing and extending Melbourne's rail network?

In my job I get to talk to a lot of engineers and here is the sorry truth about our rail network.  Much of the infrastructure is over 100 years old and being held together by the engineering equivalent of band aids and string that were never supposed to be long term solutions.  Engineers who actually understand how these things work say the fact it hasn't all fallen apart completely is a bloody miracle and testament to the ingenuity of their predecessors.  Our trains are made of components that were originally designed for the cooler German and French climates where it is reasonable to engineer tolerance to a temperature of 35 degrees because the climate is cooler there.  In Melbourne you can pretty much guarantee at least a couple of weeks in summer of temperature exceeding 35-40 degrees.
Every day we hear about how the economy is in free fall and the governments need to bail out yet another industry or sector.  Now here's an idea.  Instead of bailing out a sector that is in global decline (sorry auto-makers), how about pouring some of that cash into the rail system?  The engineers and technicians and tradespeople currently working in the auto industry have the intellectual aptitude to be cross-trained in the skills needed to build and maintain the tram and rail network - surely it makes more economic (not to mention environmental and political) sense to do this?

I'm not saying it would be easy; it needs a committed leader with a strong conviction and plenty of imagination and charisma to move us out of a state of inertia.  But these people do exist; it can happen.  I'm heartily sick of all the economic doom and gloom stories in the media.  Why can't we turn this economic downturn into an upturn?  The simple fact that we are all buying less unnecessary cheap crap is already having a positive environmental effect.  If the government invests in decent infrastructure it will all be in place for when the next upturn arrives.  And even if that time is beyond the next election, the masses are less likely to revolt if they can reliably, safely and financially move from A to B.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Why one should always pack knitting on a train journey

My train sat for 25 minutes at Eltham station this evening as the late-running earlier train crawled up and down the final few stations of the line (it's a single track beyond Eltham). The upside was that it was almost empty, had fully functioning air-conditioning and I had packed my knitting. So Blue Lagoon has been finished for my swap pal slightly earlier than anticipated. I love the yarn, a truly soft and delectable merino and the colour is divine. I was seriously tempted to keep it for myself but I have many other gorgeous colours in my stash, many other gorgeous completed hats and only one head to wear it on.

I seriously doubt, however, that I will be knitting tomorrow. I will be prepared, however, with all options including a book as well as my knitting.

Melbourne faces worst hot spell in 100 years

A girl passed out in the train this morning and the temperature hadn't even reached 30.

The curse of Caulfield

To my absolute delight, one of my best friends has recently moved back to Melbourne.  Next week she'll be moving into a new home in Caulfield.  She will be for me the ultimate test as to the strength of the curse of Caulfield.

The curse of Caulfield is an invisible series of concentric force fields that seem affect those who live in or near Caulfield.
  • The first force field is fairly weak and just makes residents disinclined to go north of Dandenong Road or south of North Road
  • The second force field is stronger and causes them discomfort if they need to head north of Toorak Road or south of South road
  •  The third field is stronger still, causing acute pain if they are asked to travel to Kew, Doncaster or Moorabbin
  • By the fourth force field, which intersects Foote Street, Templestowe, most Caulfield residents are in squirming agony.  Unless they are heading for lunch at a Yarra Valley winery.
  • And they seem to believe that the path to my residence, a further 15km further north-east is guarded by fire-breathing dragons.  Which is handy for keeping certain people at bay.
I've never really appreciated the appeal of a flat concrete suburb dotted with over-priced bigger-than-the-block concrete houses.  In every socio-economic, political and aesthetic sense I clash with the suburb.  But I know quite a few people who live there, including a former Lower Templestowe resident who now tells me how wonderful her life is now that she never has to drive further east than Murrumbeena or further north than the Harold Holt Pool in Glen Iris.  (I can't imagine having such a tiny, narrow outlook on the wrold.)  It will be an interesting test of our friendship if she is willing to endure the trek to J & my housewarming.  I did the reverse journey the other week - it only took 50 minutes.  Plus another 10-15 minutes to find parking, which is not a problem in our town.  But I digress.

My newly-returned friend grew up in Doncaster where her parents still live.  I had hope when she made the observation that my home was only a 20 minute drive from there.

But ever since signing the lease for her new house in Caulfield, which takes effect from one week into the new school year, she has been complaining about how for a whole week she will have to schlep her kids all the way from Doncaster to their new school in Caulfield.

Maybe the curse kicks in, the moment someone decides to move to Caulfield.

Australia Day - - Celebrating the Inner bogan in us all

You know Australia Day is coming up when:
  • VB-themed thongs are being sold in the local Coles
  • Mitre 10 is having a "Spend $60 and receive a free pair of thongs with built in beer-opener" promotion
  • Target and Big W are selling kid's t-shirts, women's bikini's and men's bathers (along with unisex towels, caps and thongs) emblazoned with the Australian flag - all of which are made in China
  • Everyone, no matter their class, creed or religion, is hosting or attending a BBQ

Monday, January 26, 2009

Celebrating Australia Day with the lamb marketing board

The Australian lamb marketing board should be pleased. A few weeks ago J said to me "Australia Day is coming up. Hope they do another good lamb ad this year. And are we having lamb on Australia Day."

Australian comedian Sam Kekovich basically takes the p*ss out of politics, current events, etc with his annual monologue about how eating lamb will lead to a better Australia. This year's ad was mildly amusing.

But compare it to the classics!




Stashbuster Jnr Hat

This is my fifth hat of the year; a child-sized hat made out of DK scraps in my stash. I made up the pattern as I went and am quite happy with how it turned out. The green was a bitch with lots of breaks - I'm seriously thinking of chucking out the remainder.

It will probably end up going to a charity a fellow knitter has set up to raise funds for medical accessories for her seriously disabled daughter. (Ravellers can read all about the project here.)

Clearly I don't have enough knitting in my queue as I seem to find myself signing up to more and more projects every day. I'm currently doing a 'Favourite Colours' swap with the Australian Ravellers - I've been paired up with a Clever Chook who keeps her own sheep and llamas and dyes her own yarn; I'm a bit intimidated but she sounds like a lovely easy-going lady. And on her list of requests was a beanie. In a large size. And teal green. I cast on today and am already a third of the way there. After thumbing my way through every hat pattern I could find, I decided the simple 2X2 rib in a quality wool would make a very nice, if simple, hat that she would actually want to wear. I used some decadent Dream In Color 'Classy' - Blue Lagoon - from my stash - it actually looks much nicer and greener in real life.

The Hats for Israeli Soldiers project is still going - I find black a very boring colour to work with so I am alternating hats for them and hats for other purposes.

And because I was, I don't know, BORED maybe (joke) I contacted The Big Issue and asked them if they'd like some hats for their vendors. The answer was 'yes please'. Eighty-five percent of the vendors are male, so they'll also mainly be in the duller colours. Hopefully I can convince some fellow Melbourne knitters to join me with this.

The biggest joke is that this may be the last knitting I do for the week. Temperatures in Melbourne are predicted to hit above 38 and even 40 for the next seven days in a row. If you are looking for me, I'll be in the freezer.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Not that I'm gloating...

OK, maybe just a little bit...


But can you see the recommend price of some of these buttons? (You may have to click onto the original Flickr photo)

I'm already sharing the love on the Australian Ravelry karma swap.

The joy of silk

If money were no object and I could trust myself to wear it, I would probably only knit with pure silk. Note, pure silk. Not mixed with merino or cotton or any other fibre but the 100% pure unadulterated thread made by murdering the innocent babies of caterpillars for their protective cocoon.

Sorry. Went a bit over the top there. But every time I read about how (most) silk is produced, I'm wondering where is PETA and why are they worrying more about sheep that at least don't have to die every time someone wants a jumper (only if they want a lamb chop...)

(Silkworm rights activists promote the use of Tussah silk which is gathered after the moth emerges but it produces a more yellow/brown and rougher yarn.)

I received the above silk a a "bonus" in a Ravelry trade. It's been sitting in my stash for a while. I was flicking through my 101 designer one-skein wonders book and had an overwheleming sense that the Cross-Stitch scarf (Ravelry link) would be the perfect pattern for this yarn. And I think I was right! I have no idea if I have enough yarn for a whole scarf but I will knit it as far as it goes and if all else fail, turn it into a headband.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Foolish purchase or the ultimate bargain?

I must not buy crap... I must not buy crap... I must only buy what I need or what I genuinely want... A bargain is only a bargain if you use it...

So there I was in Clegs this morning to buy a 40cm 5.5mm circular needle (a genuine need to make hats from the 12-ply Bendigo yarn - my 5mm circulars give too tight gauge and the 6mm too loose gauge and I am not going to knit an entire hat with my cheap Chinese-made bamboo DPNs because this is too irritating for a whole hat).  I was going to hang off buying them until my Addi Clicks arrived - I ordered and paid for them a month ago but it seems there is a huge backlog in Germany and I have no idea when they may finally turn up.

ANYWAY I look, as always, on the clearance tables which is a very dangerous thing.  Fortunately all the yarn on offer either contains mohair or is novelty or is orange or is acrylic and I have no desire to even touch it with a 10-foot pole.  Then I look at the button box.

I normally don't worry about being tempted here - the buttons are only 10 cents each, which means I can't do too much damage.  But this morning's offering contained the motherload.  Clegs had obviously decided to unload novelty buttons that weren't selling well.  I ended up spending $17.50 (you do the maths) on cute little wooden sheep, ceramic cats, plastic dogs and Beatrix Potter characters (I am a huge fan of Peter Rabbit) - all these buttons normally retail for $2-$5.50 each.  Most of them are too big and heavy to use in knitting and I am not a sewer... What the hell am I going to do with all of them?

I tell myself that I am taking part in lots of swaps this year and these will be lovely additions to my packages.  Some of the buttons I can use on handmade cards and other projects.  And a few of the buttons are actually usable on finished garments.

But 175???  Lord help me.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Another black ribbed beanie done

No point posting a picture, it's identical to the other two.

A photo and dimensions have been sent off to Israel to see if it will meet Israeli army requirements.

If not, I have a list of locals, starting with my husband, who want one.

How to torment your fellow public transport users


In 35+ degree heat

Using wool

And with a big smile on your face

Monday, January 19, 2009

I finished the stashbuster hat on the train this morning and am quite happy with how it turn out. I had to fudge a little near the top but it still looks reasonably professional and artistic, rather than sloppy and home-made. I think it may be a bit bright for charity donation and am seriously tempted to send it in to the Alice Springs Beanie Festival. I knit for love, not money (the amount I could sell a beanie for - even a pure wool beanie - would price my time at only about $3-4/hour which is less than 20% of minimum wasge in Australia) but I would rather the hat be warn than just tucked up in my cupboard for years.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Stash busting hat making

Part of my challenge this year is to use up some of the stash - if for no other reason than to free up space for more yarn :)

I can't even recognise where some of this yarn came from - I particularly like this particular purple but didn't have enough for an entire hat on its own, so I did all the ribbing in it. The blue/green is the remains of the Utiku Multi Colours (gem) while the pink and yellow remnants are from I don't-know-where.

The hat below is made with a very clever pattern that I got as a freebie when I purchased some yarn from a small Australian company. It's knitted sideways, with short-rows.

Oz Knitters 4 Israel

I have set up a new blog, Oz Knitters 4 Israel, to promote the Hats for Israeli Soldiers project in Australia and try and find some sponsorship. I am acutely aware that while I am fortunate enough to be in paid employment most people who have the time to do this sort of thing - ie pensioners - don' t have the kind of money that enables them to send off a package every few weeks to Israel.

In the meantime, here are a couple I made earlier (as the saying goes).

Monday, January 12, 2009

Hats for Israeli soldiers

One of my projects this year is knitting hats for Israeli soldiers. You can read all about the project here and here.

It's easy for people in countries like Australia to condemn what is happening in the Middle East but without going into history, politics, etc the situation is a hell of a lot more complex than most people in the West appreciate. Everyone wants to be able to point to a "goodie" and "baddie" side but life doesn't always work like that. I don't want to turn this into a political blog, but this article is worth reading.

Like many Jews around the world I felt helpless and distressed when the latest conflict erupted. The mere existence of Israel means Jews around the world are in a better position today than 100 years ago. The vast majority of Jews in Israel do 2-3 years compulsory army service and are in the reserves for life - whatever their personal politics. What could someone living on the other end of the earth do? And then I read about the Hats for Israeli soldiers project.

I know (see previous post) that one can't buy hats like I can make. I know a hand-knitted pure wool hat provides physical and emotional support that no mass-produced hat from China can reproduce. And thanks to Channah Koppel, the founder of the hats for Israel project, I know how to knit a hat that meets both the soldiers' and IDF's requirements and how to send it to them.

The only problem is that the official pattern calls for 10-ply (worsted weight) pure black yarn which is not widely available in Australia. I have tweaked the pattern for the more easily available 8-ply and 12-ply yarns. While Channah says pure wool is not mandatory, I firmly believe there is no point knitting with acrylic yarn. You won't enjoy the knitting as much and the soldier won't get the warmth and water-resistant benefits of a pure-wool hat. And Australia produces some of the best and most reasonably-priced yarn in the world - one can buy a huge 200 gram ball of 8 or 12-ply Australian made and spun wool from Bendigo Woolen Mills for just $11.20. This is enough for 2 hats out of just one ball of 8-ply yarn (or 5 hats out of 3 balls of 12-ply yarn). Or buy what you enjoy knitting. Cleckheaton Merino Supreme is sublime but unfortunately has been discontinued - I'm knitting it from my stash.

The only caveats are that the yarn must be machine washable (so it doesn't felt when washed) and it must be black, and the hat must be knitted according to the official pattern.

The 8-ply pattern uses less than 100 grams of yarn, making it a cheaper (but slower) knit. The 12-ply pattern uses about 120 grams of yarn making it a faster (but more expensive) knit.

8-ply hat
Use 4mm 40cm circular needle and/or double-pointed needles (3.75mm if you are a loose knitter, 4.5mm if you are a tight knitter).
Loosely cast on 112 stitches. Join work, place marker and work in K2 P2 rib until work measures 9.5 inches/24 cm

Shape crown
(Here you begin a series of decrease rounds. When you find the hat getting too small to work on the circular needle, switch to double-pointed needles.)
Round 1: K2, P2tog to end of round (84 stitches remain)
Round 2: K2, P1 to end of round
Round 3: K2tog, P1 to end of round (56 stitches remain)
Round 4: K1, P1 to end of round
Round 5: K2tog to end of round (28 stitches remaining)
Round 6: Knit
Round 7: K2tog to end of round (14 stitches remaining)
Round 8: K5, K2tog twice (12 stitches remaining)
Round 9: K2tog to end of round (6 stitches remaining)

Break yarn, leaving a 6-inch/15cm length. With a tapestry needle, thread the yarn though the remaining 6 stitches and pull tight. Weave in the ends. Wash and dry your hat and mail it to: Channah Koppel, POB 3081, Efrat 90435 Israel.

12-ply hat
Use 6mm 40cm circular needle and/or double-pointed needles (5.5mm if you are a loose knitter, 6.5mm if you are a tight knitter).
Loosely cast on 84 stitches. Join work, place marker and work in K2 P2 rib until work measures 9.5 inches/24 cm

Shape crown
(Here you begin a series of decrease rounds. When you find the hat getting too small to work on the circular needle, switch to double-pointed needles.)
Round 1: K2, P2tog to end of round (63 stitches remain)
Round 2: K2, P1 to end of round
Round 3: K2tog, P1 to end of round (42 stitches remain)
Round 4: K1, P1 to end of round
Round 5: K2tog to end of round (21 stitches remaining)
Round 6: Knit
Round 7: K2tog, K1 to end of round (14 stitches remaining)
Round 8: K5, K2tog twice (12 stitches remaining)
Round 9: K2tog to end of round (6 stitches remaining)

Break yarn, leaving a 6-inch/15cm length. With a tapestry needle, thread the yarn though the remaining 6 stitches and pull tight. Weave in the ends. Wash and dry your hat and mail it to: Channah Koppel, POB 3081, Efrat 90435 Israel.

52 hats

I haven't been blogging too much lately. Plenty I have to say; just not sure I want it out there in the public domain.

I joined the 52 hat challenge on Ravelry - yep the aim is to knit 52 hats in 2009.

On weekdays, I travel for 3+ hours/day on public transport. That is a lot of knitting (and reading) time. If I knit both ways, I can get a hat made in just 2 days - 3 if I decide to read on one of the legs.

I like knitting hats. They are a fast and easy knit, giving pretty-much instant gratification. I don't know if I'll ever buy another beanie again, as a basic beanie made out of quality yarn is better than anything that can be bought in the stores. Unfortunately the most satisfying hat to wear - a basic 2X2 ribbed beanie - can also be the most irritating to knit. So I alternate the ribbed beanies with the fun patterns. Veronik Avery's short-row hat - this is particularly effective in Noro yarn - or Sally's Super Sideways hat, a free pattern I got with some variegated yarn from a small Australian business that also utilises short-rows to produce a unique double-thickness hat. I have a pattern book of "folk hats" waiting to be explored and probably another dozen hats on printouts around the house.

Obviously there is no way that I or even my family and friends could use 52 hats, so a lot of these Will be going to charity. But I am determined that such hats will be appropriately styled and coloured for people to wear. They will be thoughtful hats. And while the full-ribbed hats are the best, I may decide to knit a few plain beanies with just a ribbed brim for my own sanity.

I am

  • A knitter
  • A reader
  • A feminist
  • A Zionist
  • A trade unionist
  • A wife
  • A daughter
  • A good friend
  • A conscientious worker
  • A gamer
  • A sci-fi fan
I am
  • Caring
  • Thoughtless
  • Charitable
  • Selfish
  • Lazy
  • Hardworking
  • Loyal

  • I wear long skirts
  • I live almost in the country
  • I work in the city
  • I changed my surname when I got married

Some people think many of the above are contradictory

But they are all me