Yarn Along: A post of two halves

This is a post of two halves. If I’d written it yesterday, I’m not sure it would have been. Actually, I’m not sure I could have written it yesterday. Anyway, the usual, fun, yarny stuff is at the top. The more serious note is at the bottom.

It’s been a tough ten days, where I have mostly kept my head down and interacted with people as little as possible. While that’s been bad in all kinds of ways (see below!), it’s been good for the crochet!

Britsock, sample crochet shawl, homemade project bag

I’ve got through my first skein of Britsock for the design I’m working on, and wow, I love this yarn. It’s silky and fluffy all at once, and is just a dream to work with. Deadlines have slipped, so I don’t know if I’ll get this out when I wanted to, but I’m going to try!

Start of crochet cardigan sleeve

Last night, I was actually feeling up to picking up the Cardigan of Doom, and I was so glad I did. With an hour and a half to concentrate and work on it, I got about halfway up the second sleeve! Progress! Hopefully I’ll get it finished today, so that I can unpick and re-do the other one on Thursday and Friday, ready for Mum to try on at the weekend. We will get there!

No books in my Overdrive library message

One of the things I’ve fallen behind on this week is listening to books. I’ve got 4 on loan at the moment, but none have really grabbed me. I’ve tried a few, but none of the writing styles have really worked for me, and I find my attention drifting. So I’m going to give this one a go instead:

cover of book: the last empress

Her story was in Princesses Behaving Badly, which I read a few weeks ago, and while this is a fictional version, if the writing’s good, it’s exactly the sort of thing I like. I’ll report back!

Don’t forget to click the picture at the top of the post to see what everyone else is working on this week.


After making a couple of dozen attempts to write this post, I’m starting to understand why people keep their blogs as purely happy places, where they don’t talk about struggles or problems in any kind of detail. It’s almost impossible to hit the right tone where you don’t sound like you’re complaining, but you get across how tough the week has been. But I’m going to at least try, because this has been my week, and if it’s been your week too, it’s really important to hear that it’s not just you.

Since last Monday week everything has felt very bleak. I haven’t been able to do things with deadlines, some of which were very important to me. I haven’t been able to do the things I enjoy – Ravelry, podcasts, music, reading. Doing anything other than sleeping has just seemed beyond me. I’ve cried a lot, for no reason – a newspaper headline, a missed bus, being unable to decide what to have for lunch. When I’ve seen people, I’ve done a lot of talking. A lot. And tried to say nothing because my words haven’t felt under my control. I haven’t been able to wash my hair. I’ve eaten a lot of things. A lot. Not all of them good for me. It’s been hard to feel anything.

Last night, I managed to have a shower and wash my hair. I’m starting to feel things other than anger and anguish, and my sense of humour is coming back. Now I have to find the energy to face up to all the stuff I’ve missed. I’m trying not to tackle all of it at once, in case it sends me on another downward trend with the sheer weight of things I have failed to do. Baby steps and bare essentials. Everything else is a bonus.

I’m not putting this down for you to feel upset or sorry for me – I have a lot of support and prayer that holds me up when I’m like this, and I hang on, knowing I’ll come out the other side. I have my faith, which is sustaining and the only thing I know when I know nothing else. But the recent documentary The stranger on the bridge has had my colleagues discussing mental health issues for the first time, and with compassion. At the moment, when they say “it makes you wonder who else might be struggling and you don’t know it” I don’t say anything. I’m not up to that conversation yet. But if you are, and you have the chance, please take it. Having things in the open, de-stigmatised, is the first step for a lot of people to be able to say “but I feel like that. You mean I don’t have to?”

And if you’re stuck and wondering what to do, Mind have a lot of information in easily digestible form. It’s a UK charity, but the information is borderless and well worth checking out.

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Yarn Along: Happiness is…

…a zigzag swatch with straight edges. At last!

I’m hoping to get this written up soon, but the ends had been bothering me. It’s such a relief to finally come up with a count I’m happy with!

My hands have been rather sore this week, so I’m rather behind on the rest of my stitching, especially Frejya, which seems to hurt them even more for some reason. Little and often is all very well, but it doesn’t get you very far on your row count! On the plus side, Sol’s is coming on nicely, so definitely go and check hers out.

pbb

After a few weeks of podcasts, I went back to a book this week, with Princesses Behaving Badly. While the style isn’t one I usually like, as it’s short sections on each Princess rather than a coherent narrative, it actually rather suited the way I listened to it, which was in fits and starts. The historical detail was a little patchy – some stories were picked over in detail, while other were just delivered without comment – but in general, it was a fun listen and great survey of women through the ages. I’m having trouble deciding where to go next, though. Do I want fiction or more history? Fun or serious? Long or short? What are you reading at the moment? Inspire me!

Joining up with Ginny as usual:

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#loveyourblog: Ugly (warning: Contains Classics)

A Playful Day

As soon as I saw the prompt for this week’s #loveyourblog challenge, I knew I wasn’t going to write anything personal. Like a lot of people, my relationship to words like ‘pretty’ and ‘ugly’ is kind of complicated, and while I try to be honest in this space, that’s not a road I’m up to exploring at the moment.

It wasn’t until Saturday that I knew what I was going to write about for today. If you follow me on Instagram, you would have been slightly bombarded with pictures of me doing a tourist trail around my own city. I’d say I was sorry, but I had a great day! My most thought-provoking stop was at the Ashmolean Museum, where they have a small display of painted figures from antiquity, called ‘The Gods in Colour’.

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Alternative interpretations of the same statue, with the ‘original’ in the middle.

Most people who studied Classics know that the beautiful white marble statues that we see in museums are far from authentic – I saw a painted statue for the first time in the Cast Gallery in Cambridge when I was 16, so this isn’t a new idea. This classical ideal of pure white marble and clean, elegant lines is a myth created by the scholars who found the statues. We know from Greek literature that statues were painted, but that didn’t stop some of the discoverers scrubbing them clean so that they better matched their ‘ideal’. Most of the sculpture would have been painted, and if the traces are anything to go by, the ancients were not afraid of colour.

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An archer wearing truly magnificent stockings.

Given they had natural, bright pigments to work with, it’s not really surprising that the results were also bright and garish. What I did find surprising was the amount of patterning. Apparently they really, really liked their geometric shapes and weren’t scared to show them off.

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Some of the pigments available in all their gaudy glory!

I really like seeing replica statues painted, because it challenges our idea of what we think is beautiful. To us, some of the colour and pattern choices suggest a distinct lack of taste on the part of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and yet much of what we think of as beautiful comes from their sculpture. It’s all over the place at the moment thanks to the British Museum exhibition and BBC programmes to go alongside and all illustrated with glowing white faces and bodies. Turning that on its head and pointing out that these people with their ideal bodies would have been daubed in paint patterns that sometimes look like they’ve been done by a colour-blind toddler is entertaining.

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I had the distinct impression that this lion was looking at me in a funny way…

But, and this is why I’m not wholeheartedly recommending this exhibition if you want to know more about painted statues in the ancient world, the quality of the statues that they’d painted was something of a disappointment. I don’t know if it’s because they’re no longer allowed to literally take casts for fear of damaging fragile statues, but I found the painted works looked amateurish in the sculpting. Adding the unfamiliar paint job then just made things worse, and there were some pieces that I really did feel looked ugly, not for the paint job, but for the detail of the underlying piece. I think I also felt that the paint had been applied very flatly, particularly on the human figures, which I found odd. The Greeks knew how to sculpt figures and drapery to make them look almost lifelike. Why do we assumed they wouldn’t have painted them to match. It almost felt like a deliberate attempt to stress the strangeness of the statues, as though to poke people in the eye, saying “you think sculpture is white and shiny, I will show you different!” Greek art is constantly subtle and surprising, so to paint the statues with none of that felt off-kilter to me.

2015-04-18 12.10.37 A watercolour made by artist Emile Gilleiron at the time of discovery (1888), which I think shows the effect of the paint much better than the replicas.

Painted or not, the original sculptures were made with a remarkable skill that the paint was supposed to highlight, not mask. I think I would have preferred to see Photoshopped pictures of the originals with colours on, rather than the slightly strange-looking replicas. Of course, my eye is attuned to see Greek sculpture as white marble, slightly weathered by time so that the surface has acquired a sheen and patina, rather than the gaudy colours of these casts. It’s entirely possible that the originals would have struck me as slightly odd as well!

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Do I prefer the foreground-Augustus or the background-Augustus? I’m not sure that this exhibition helped me to work that one out!

Were the painted statues ugly? I’m still not sure I know. But I find looking at something I thought I knew and trying to see it differently a really valuable lesson.

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Yarn Along: Frankencardi strikes again

Thanks to everyone for the encouraging comments on yesterday’s post – I think it’s important to say these things out loud, so that you know you’re not on your own with them.

After saying yesterday that I’ve been restrained about starting new things, today I managed to bring 3 projects with me, although I’ve only really had a chance to work on one of them.


My Hap for the Knit British Hap Along is pootling along nicely. At the moment, I’m just going back and forth, back and forth, letting the rows grow and pondering exactly what I want to do about the edging. Do I want just a feather and fan edging or do I want to add a border on top of that? Am I going to work it straight onto the grey, or am I going to add a ‘buffer’ row in between. And if I do, what colour? Decisions, decisions, none of which matter as I’m gradually building the centre. It’s a perfect project for chatty break times, as I don’t have to concentrate on the pattern, and I don’t notice how long the rows have become!

The project behind it is a design that I promised myself I’d finish writing up at lunchtime, except I was lulled by the sunshine and ended up Happing instead. Ah well, another day.

 Someone pointed out to me that buying a yarn project bag with moths on was a little inappropriate, although I confess that hadn’t even occurred to me! Still, now it seems just right for carrying around this monster of a project. Because yes, the Frankencardi has done it again. Despite the fact that it has been the perfect size in every other way, for some reason, I decided that the arms weren’t going to be long enough. So I added a few rows at some point on the sleeve, wrote down what I did and threw the piece of paper away in a fit of triumphant enthusiasm when I finished the sleeve. Which means it’s just as well that it turned out to be too long and needs ripping out. As I can’t quite face that right now, I’ve brought the yarn to make the other sleeve, and will deal with the faulty one at home, where I can count the rows a few times and work out what I did. I will finish this cardigan by the end of the month, because otherwise, I have a feeling it’s going to finish me!

Shep life

For reading, I’ve been mostly listening to podcasts this week, although I’ve also picked up the Radio 4 Book of the Week broadcasts, The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks. I normally listen to unabridged recordings, and so while I’ve been enjoying this, it’s made me really, really want to get the full version, because I can tell much has been left out. If you don’t already follow him on Twitter (@HerdyShepherd1), I strongly recommend it for pictures of lambs, puppies and the stunning Lake District countryside.

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#loveyourblog challenge: Beginnings

It’s not lost on me that there’s something deeply ironic about being late in posting this because I didn’t know where to start. And when I’ve gone and looked at other people’s posts, I feel that, once again, I’ve managed to completely miss the point of the prompt! But as that happens to me a lot – as a crafter, as a blogger, as a person – I’ve decided not to worry too much, because I refuse to believe I’m the only person who hits these kinds of blocks.

A Playful Day

Historically, I’ve been really, really good at starting things and really really bad at finishing them. Until recently, I’d have twelve or thirteen yarn projects on the go at once, and let’s not even talk about the sewing ones. After getting rather overwhelmed a while ago, I cut back that number drastically, trying to get some kind of control. That seems to have backfired a little, because I now have three or four projects that need starting, and I can’t quite seem to manage it.

P1040566It was more or less at this point, with the project bags stretching down the hall, that I realised I might have got a bit carried away…

At heart, I think I prefer the planning to the doing, the thinking to the acting. I love research, plotting, drawing up lists and diagrams, scheming and dreaming. But recently, as the plans I’ve been making have been taking me outside my comfort zone – write a pattern, publish it properly, record a podcast – I’ve been pulling back, scared to move from thinking about doing things into actually doing them.

If you suffer from anxiety, you’ll know that it goes beyond a vague “feeling worried” feeling. For me, there are very physical symptoms involved. My chest gets tight, my stomach drops away, my face tingles and in really bad attacks, my vision greys out. For no obvious reason (because anxiety isn’t rational and doesn’t always rise and fall with actual, objective reality), my ‘background’ levels of anxiety have been high lately, and it’s been keeping me from making a start.

I refuse to believe that it’s just me who gets like this, so I thought the pep talk I’ve been giving myself might apply to other people as well. Mine starts with a lot of prayer and a little crying (I’m sure you have your own starting place!), then:

~ Pick three things. If you’re like me, you already know the whole “how do you eat an elephant? In very small pieces” aphorism, but when you’re feeling overwhelmed, that doesn’t help, because the list of small pieces is mammoth (see what I did there?) So pick three things that you can do. Just three. Easy things. Things that don’t involve research or thinking or any extra information to do them. Then cross them off the list and pick three more. You’ve broken your little things list into even littler pieces, and that can make it a lot less manageable. I find that once I get going, it’s then easier to tackle the next thing.

~ For me, this is about ‘activation energy’. Chemical reactions often require a certain amount of energy to be put into them in order to get energy out. On a bad day, the amount of activation energy required to just tidy my desk can be overwhelming, and I don’t have it in me. So I clean my computer keyboard, or rearrange my yarn into colour/weight/yardage order, or clear out my Ravelry queue, or tidy my sewing box. Once I’ve done that, I go through my to do list and cross out what I’ve done, or what is so far beyond its deadline that no one but me remembers it. This is usually enough activation energy to get me to send an email, which in turn gets me to look up something I need and so on and so forth. It’s finding the little job that will spark off all the others.

~ Leave it half-finished. I know, not exactly one from the productivity manuals, but seriously. If you’re doing something and it’s taken all your energy or anxiety control to get to the halfway point, leave it half-finished. The other half will be there when you’re up to it. When I know it’s a bad day, I only start jobs that can be abandoned in the middle. Then I cross them off and re-write them at the bottom of my list, so I know I did something, and I don’t forget to come back to them. I think this is especially important with creative endeavours. If it falls off my list completely, I forget that I’ve started it, but if it keeps popping back up, I remember, add a little, then put it down until it’s ready to be worked on again. We all know about putting projects in ‘time out’ or hibernating them on Ravelry, and I think there’s a lot to be said for tackling something rather than putting it off completely because we don’t have the time or energy to do it all in one go.

Those are all sensible, practical ideas for getting started when you can’t, but above all lately, I’ve been coming back to this:

Being scared is not a good reason not to do things.

Bunnell_Point_Cliff

There are good reasons not to do things, and some fears are well-founded. If the cliff is high and the rope is frayed, fear is the right response, as is not starting to climb! Not having enough oomph in you to get past the fear right now is a good reason. The cliff will still be there when you’re ready. But if you’re standing at the bottom of the cliff, with the right equipment, enough energy, and you want to climb? Being scared is not a good reason not to do it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go clean my computer keyboard.

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Freyja Along: Row 1. Get Comfortable.

Another day, another post! I know, I know, when will it end, you ask? Inspired partly by the wonderful posts I’ve been reading this week, and partly by the sunshine, I’ve felt more inspired than usual to commit words to the screen. I’m sure I’ll run out oomph in the end, but right now, I’m enjoying myself, so I hope I’m not boring you too much :)   Really, with inspiration like this around me at the moment, it’s mostly a challenge not to just fill my Instagram feed with flowers.

Anyway, I’ve got a few dozen things on the go at the moment in various stages of completion, planning or dreaming, so at least you’re not having to hear the same story three times in a row. Because, yes, I am the person who forgets who she’s told what story to, and ends up telling it twice. Or worse, repeating it back to the person who told it to her (cringe!) I’m not the only one who does that, right?

Speaking of telling the same story, Sol and I are both ploughing our way through the first rows of our Frejya shawls. It’s the row that reminds you this isn’t really a project for absolute beginners. I mean, I’m not one for telling saying that beginners should only make squares or should do anything but exactly what they want, really. But at the same time, if you haven’t made a Tunisian Lace shawl before, watch the videos and do the reading before starting.


Aoibhe Ni’s videos are absolutely awesome. She explains really clearly, uses big yarn and goes at a pace I can actually follow!

Having made the Phoenix shawl, I felt pretty up for having a go at another Aoibhe Ni pattern, and Frejya was the one that really spoke to me. However, it does start with an EPIC chain, so I did my usual thing of chaining for ages without counting, then going back and counting them. Because yes, that’s clearly the most efficient way of doing it. This one might be a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’ and I highly recommend putting in stitch markers at regular intervals as you go to help you keep track. I also advise adding ten or so chains to the end, just in case you miscounted, as they’re easily unpicked later. A better option – more easily counted and giving a stronger edge – would be do to foundation double crochet as Sol did (her tutorial here). I’m normally a huge fan of foundation stitches, but I didn’t even think of it for this shawl, probably because they take longer to do than chains and I was itching to get to the real stitching.

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Now, I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t have been in such a hurry. Row 1 comes in 5 sections, and wow, it takes concentration. If you haven’t worked an Aoibhe Ni pattern before, I strongly recommend taking each section slowly, and even write it out again if it’s not quite making sense to you. Again, if I was sensible, I would have been marking the sections as I went (as Sol did – you can probably tell which of us has actually been paying attention…). But I’m not, and I didn’t, and so although I had marked where in the pattern I am, when I picked it up again after a bit of a break, I had to work out exactly what I’d done.

Counted rows

This is where it really helps to be able to read your crochet. I think for this pattern there are two things you really need to be able to tell. One is how tall your stitches are. In the picture above, a stitch is a column of bars, and by counting them, you know which stitch you’ve just done. So in this picture, the marked stitch has 9 bars, making it a 9Ltr. When I was trying to work out where I was, counting the bars was the first thing I did.

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The other useful thing is to be able to tell how many stitches you just made into a chain. This varies through the pattern – sometimes it’s one, sometimes two, sometimes three – so by looking at this pattern, I can work out roughly where I am. In the picture above, you can see how the long stitches are ‘anchored’ in the chain. Each stitch has two ‘legs’, so you need to count pairs of them, not the individual strands. I took a few bazillion photo trying to illustrate this for you, so I hope you can make it out! It’s probably easier to see on your own work.

I think being able to read your work is one of the biggest things to learn. It’s certainly where I struggle in knitting, because while I understand how to make the stitches, I still don’t really know how to work out where I’ve made a mistake or even count stitches reliably. So I heartily recommend spending 5 minutes in close-examination, really getting to know your crochet and making sure you understand what you just did!

This is almost the halfway point of Row 1, so hopefully I’ll be back next week with notes on tackling charts. Or possibly bemoaning just how long the row really is…

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Yarn Along: WILL IT NEVER END?

Right, I just need to start this blog with an announcement: Mum, I love you.

Also, this was supposed to be the matching post to Sol’s about how our Frejyas are coming along, but mine started misbehaving last night, and I need to do some counting before I can finish my post. So let’s go with my other misbehaving project instead!

That would be the cardigan I’ve been making for what seems like the last eleventy million years. Or rather, the three cardigan’s worth of stitching that I’ve done in that time, due to my utter and complete inability to count.

The cardigan is for my mother, and is the Swing Ridge Cardigan from an old Interweave Crochet. It’s a fab pattern, dead easy, and I actually like that it’s seamed, as it’s meant I’ve been able to carry around the pieces fairly easily to work on at Knitting group or on the bus.

And of course, therein lies most of the problem. You see, I tend to make patterns where I can use stitch markers instead of counting. Or where the exact count doesn’t matter because it’s not for me. But when you’re making a garment for someone else, you really do have to pay at least some attention to what you’re doing, or this sort of thing will happen:

One of these sides is not like the other…

Or instead of repeating rows 5 and 6, you’ll repeat row 5 twice and then wonder why your stitch count is off. Or you’ll completely lose track of just how many times you’ve repeated it and have to stop and count rows. Again.

I ended up writing out the part of the pattern I needed and photocopying it, since proper paper is easier to rub out pencil from!

What hasn’t been helping is the pattern’s habit of saying “repeat these rows X times”, which could mean that, or could mean “X MORE times”. I took it to mean that. At least I think I mostly did. The trouble was, each time I came to an instruction like that, I struggled to remember what I’d done last time I came across it! My inability to count or pay attention to what I’m doing is one thing, but I felt the pattern wasn’t helping me out there.

But I’ve been working keenly on it this week, as I’m seeing Mum on Saturday and want to attach at least one sleeve to check the length (before I make the other!). Everything is loosely tacked rather than sewn, as it needs blocking before actually seaming, so at the moment it’s a bit like a Frankencardi, but as we’re meeting early in the morning, hopefully there won’t be too many other people around, and most of them will be too focussed on their coffee to notice.

But just to re-iterate, most of the problems are my own fault, not the pattern’s. I really need to learn to pay at least some attention to what I’m doing! And Mum, I still love you ;)

This week’s crochet has been brought to you by all the knitting podcasts and more than my fair share of coffee.

To see if other people have more brain cells and less-caffeinated blood, head over to Ginny’s for the link up.

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