Monday, 23 February 2009

Who knew!

Saturday morning I abandoned Dave and headed off to Coventry's Spinners, Dyers and Weavers Guild for their monthly meeting. This time, I took along my spinning wheel to ask the ladies at the guild to look at it for me.

I've had this wheel since May last year, but I've not really made much progress with her. I have managed to spin on her, but it's a bit hit and miss for me - although Christina borrowed the wheel last summer and reported that she 'rocked', so things obviously came together for her. With such a glowing report from Chris, my continued struggle to spin has becoming rather disheartening and the act of spinning very frustrating. I decided it was time to get another opinion and the combined vast experience of the guild seemed to be the place to go.

Three ladies had a look at her for me and their prognosis wasn't good. Two ladies tried spinning on her, neither of them getting very far. One lady even went so far to blurt out that it was 'awful' after struggling to get anywhere for ten minutes.

The verdict was that while the wheel was lovely to look at and well made, the spinning action of the wheel wasn't smooth, but juddery. They said that the wheel doesn't turn smoothly on it's axis and has a distinct wobble as well as moving in an elliptical fashion, possibly because the uprights are twisted. The double drive was a problem and adjusting it didn't seem to help, while it would spin it took in the single too quickly making it impossible to get enough twist in it and meaning you need to draft very quickly or the single snaps. These dear ladies tried, but what they were saying matched my own experience and proved that it wasn't just me being not cut out for spinning on a wheel.

The prognosis was that it really needed to be taken to a spinning wheel expert for some serious TLC. I had tales of how some wheels are tempermental and only work for specific people (explaining why Chris got on so well) while some perfectly good wheels will not behave when certain individuals go near them. Choosing a spinning wheel is a very personal thing, so I am told and sometimes a wheel chooses you - which sounds awfully like a cat to me!

In some ways these words of wisdom and advice were a relief to hear but in others, disappointing. After all those months of struggling to get anywhere, I was hoping the guild ladies would wave a magic wand and the wheel and I would suddenly be on the best of terms.

Sadly, it was not to be so.

My wheel sat in the room, surrounded by dozens of other spinning wheels all whirring away while people tutted over my poor baby and then a lady called Alice offered to lend me a wheel. Needless to say I jumped at the opportunity and yesterday morning (Sunday) I headed off to collect my soon to be borrowed wheel.

Alice had got the wheel, an Ashford Traditional, out and dusted her off ready to use. She showed me how to set her up, demonstrated how a wheel should turn on its axis... i.e. no judder, no wobble, no up and down movement, it should just go around and around. She showed me now easy treadling should be (really, it should be) and then, sat me down and told me to have a go.

I picked up the fluff she put in my lap, a piece of washed, raw fleece rather than the tops I'm used to, with a much shorter staple and drew through the leader with some trepidation. I started the wheel, it rotated... In the right direction, never once trying to reverse itself for no good reason... And I treadled, smoothly, no problems as I allowed the leader to start moving through my hands...

And then I put the fluff near the leader, joined it as if I'd been doing it all my life and started to spin.

And that was it. It worked. My hands obviously knew what they were doing. I was drafting without problem and perfectly spun single with just the odd bit of blobbiness was feeding through onto the bobbin.

I was shocked!

I knew I could spin on a spindle, but it now turns out that after month after month of struggling, I also know how to spin on a wheel but my results were so poor that I hadn't realised it. Half of spinning is muscle memory, that is your hands need to learn how to draft and hold the fibre, how to keep the tension in the spun single and how to stop the spin travelling into your fibre store... And my hands know how to do this. Who knew?!!!

I took the wheel home and some hours later I repeated the experience and in less than one hour I'd spun this...


Compare it to this...

bfl 002

My most successful single spun on my wheel in about two and a half hours. If you compare the quality of the single, the one from my wheel is no where near so well spun or even as the one from the borrowed Ashford.

There was no battle. No fight with the borrowed Ashford. I just sat there and spun. Who'd have thought it would be so easy?

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Cycling craziness and crossed stitches

Today got off to an auspicious start with not one, but two incidents worth remarking about as I cycled into work.

The first heart stopping moment came when I was cycling through the back streets and a BMW swerved to a halt in front of me. Having skidded to a stop and wondering what he was playing at, the driver in question wound down his window and asked if I knew where the football ground was. Apart from having been guided far off route by his SatNav, I'm not sure of the etiquette for scaring a cyclist witless by nearly running them off the road because you're lost.

Directions politely given, I went on my way only to encounter a crazy woman in a motorised wheel chair who tried to run me off the pavement as I walked my bike past a particularly busy bit of road. I'll admit to be momentarily confused when she started weaving her chair from side to side across the pavement as she approached, before the penny dropped and I realised that she was trying to force me to step off the pavement, into the road... In front of oncoming traffic.

Ignoring the fact that I was on foot, pushing the bicycle, which made me a pedestrian and legitimate user of the footpath, what this lady was doing was dangerous in the extreme. If she had managed to force me into the road at that point, I'd not be sitting here typing this today.

So a word of warning, watch out for excitable lost men in BMW's and crazy women riding motorised wheel chairs, they're the kind of danger the highway code doesn't tell you to look for.

Back in the distinctly less stressful world of crafting, I've been continuing to play with Tunisian Crochet.

Next up for me is looking at crossed stitches and here we have a sample of Front Crossed Simple Stitch (FxTss).


The idea here, as with crossed stitches in standard crochet, is to work the stitches in pairs, working the second stitch and then the first stitch, so they cross over. I've crocheted this swatch in a DK weight wool using a 6mm hook and since the foundation stitch is a Tss, I'm working the front loops throughout so there is a bad case of curl going on here. It's pretty though and the the resulting fabric is dense, with the stitches pulling in from the sides narrowing the swatch quite a bit compared with previous samples done on the same number of stitches.

I was feeling adventurous, so I decided to try this again, but this time I extended the foundation stitch to see what would happen...


Extending a Tunisian foundation stitch means adding an extra chain once you've worked the stitch. i.e. you put your hook through which ever bit of the previous row you're picking up from, yarn over and pull through forming the standard foundation stitch... Then yarn over again and pull through a single loop, creating an extra chain and lengthening the foundation stitch you've just made.

In this case, I've made a swatch of Extended Front Crossed Simple Stitch (ExFxTss). I've no idea if this is featured in the excellent Encyclopedia of Tunisian Crochet as I made it up on the spur of the moment, based on the previous swatch. Extending the crossed stitch gave the piece more drape, eliminated curl entirely and changed the pattern from little 'x's to inverted 'v's.

I like it.

Finally - it's been published by the Beeb, so that makes it official - knitting is good for you.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Youpunkeroo and lazy, crafty Sundays

Saturday morning I made my way over to Coventry's Canal Basin to check out the new shop called 'Youpunkeroo' that I talked about in my last post. I was met at the door by the owner, a lady called Lisa who recognised me from my avatar picture.

It turns out that Youpunkeroo is a craft workshop and drop in centre, rather than a shop exactly. The idea is that you turn up and try out crafts, with Lisa and her husband on hand to teach you the basics. Website is here and blog here.

Thursday nights is craft night, intended for knitting and other needlecrafts but Lisa said they had the pottery wheel going last week as two ladies wanted to have a go. The group meets from 7pm to 9pm and it's currently free, but a nominal charge (or kitty) may be introduced to cover tea, cakes and heating, depending on how things go... Which sounds fair enough to me.

Good luck, Lisa - hope things go well for you!

Sunday, I drove over to Helens for a 'lazy, crafty Sunday'. The venue was originally Helen's house, changed to Lorna's house and then back to Helen's house at the last minute. Personally, I wasn't confused because I only know where Helen lives, so I was going to drive to hers and then follow her :)

As it was, I arrived first so got my pick of spot on the comfy sofa. I had tea and did some spinning. There were crisps/chips and excellent dip and Lorna's famed 'wet chicken' soup which sadly never got sampled. Then there was more tea, cupcakes and knitting as I started on the second (third) Jaywalker to match this one which I finished last week.


Good company and a pleasant afternoon, doing needlework - what more could I ask for. It also turned out I knew more about how to fix knitting which has gone wrong than I thought I did, even if the knitting in question was defying the laws of physics and knitting!

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

More Tunisian crochet

In the past few days I've heard news of a new craft shop which opened up in Coventry's Canal Basin last week. I've been messaging back and forth with the shop's owner on Ravelry, who says it's open Wednesdays, Fridays and weekends. The shop's called 'Youpunkeroo' and is aiming to be a sort of workshop, with drop in and do as well as group sessions and classes. She's also starting up an evening crafting group on Thursdays, starting this week. I haven't checked the shop out as of yet, but it's on my to do list.

Knitting has been continuing apace, with the Jaywalker sock accompanying me on our trip to the Royal Armouries on Saturday. It didn't get much of an airing though, only coming out so I could knit a row or two in the evening. The first sock is finished and fits. I'm still not 100% happy with it - the ribbed cuff is more decorative than functional for example - but I've decided that it will have to do as I'm not sure I'd have the heart to rip it out and start again. If I did, the Jaywalker may never happen and the yarn would be reknit into a different sock. It is a pretty sock, which is why I've persevered so far, but there are limits to how many times I'm willing to rip out and reknit the same sock.

An ongoing theme since Christmas has been Tunisian Crochet, which is what I wanted to write about today. I'm still slowly working my way through the book (Encyclopedia of Tunisian Crochet) Dave bought me and having great fun in the process.

I decided that rather than continue crocheting little squares, I'd up the stitch count to 30 and make slightly bigger pieces, which I'll keep and eventually join together to make a blanket. This is by no means a quick project and I'd expect to keep plugging away at it throughout the year as my fancy takes me.

I've worked through the standard foundation stitches and skipped the more exotic or unconventional ones. Then I started looking at combining standard crochet stitches with Tunisian foundation stitches.

Remembering that the book is written by an American lady, it talks about using Double Crochet with Tunisian foundation stitches. Double crochet (our Treble) is a stalwart of the crochet world and gives a lighter, less dense fabric than is typical of Tunisian foundations. It's executed by forming the Tunisian base row in the normal way, then working forward along the row crocheting through your chosen foundation loop, but doing a DC (tr) rather than a SC (dc) and failing to pull through the last loop (so the stitches accumulate on the hook as normal). The result is a very loose top to the stitches when you do the return row, reminiscent of broomstick crochet/lace - which can distort the work with each successive row.

To get around this, I took one of the suggestions from the book and alternated rows of DC with standard foundation rows...

This for example is a sample of alternating rows of Tunisian Simple Stitch (Tss) and Double Crochet Tunisian Simple Stitch (DcTss).


I've gone up to a 6mm hook for this in my ever continuing quest to conquer the curl and looking at the fabric I think that's about as big as I should go for the yarn I'm using, which is a superwash wool in DK. The recommended hook size for this would be 4mm, so that's an increase by four sizes! It still doesn't lie flat, but the bigger hook combined with the taller stitches is giving a fabric with more drape to it, so I reckon that if worked into a blanket and after a bit of blocking it might flatten out.

Next up, I tried the same thing with a Tunisian knit stitch. Again, I've alternated rows of Tunisian Knit Stitch (Tks) with Double Crochet Tunisian Knit Stitch (DcTks).


The photo doesn't do this justice and it's actually quite pleasing to look at. The main problem I had was keeping track of the stitches with this one and I took to counting at the end of each row. Somehow I was regularly managing to decrease which wasn't what I was after at all. What this sample did do was teach me how to read the work which helped no end in spotting where a mistake was once I'd figured out that I must have made one!

Finally, I had a go with the same thing using alternating rows of Tunisian Purl Stitch (Tps) and Double Crochet Tunisian Purl Stitch (DcTps)...


This one lays flat without any trouble at all. It also ends up with very distinctive rows of purl bumps across the front - not exactly unattractive, but very obvious. With this one, rather than having problems with accidentally decreasing, I was increasing! Working the back loops could be quite difficult on the DcTps row, with the extra stitch height pulling on the previous row and distorting things so it was hard to see where I was supposed to put my hook. Bearing in mind I haven't read how you deliberately increase (or decrease) I think this is something of an accomplishment!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

A day out up north

Yesterday we were intending to go the Foreign Fields, LARP Fayre in Bristol but unfortunately it was canceled at the last minute by the venue's Health and Safety people. With all the snow and ice, they decided it was too dangerous for the event to go ahead and pulled the plug. This caused quite a bit of disappointment in our household, especially since it's Dave's birthday today and the trip was part of his birthday plans.

After a bit of head scratching, Richard suggested we go to the Royal Armouries in Leeds, which Dave has been angling to visit for a while. I briefly weighed it up against a Butterfly Farm and a Sealife Centre, but lots of swords, guns and armour won out. So yesterday, we headed off to Leeds along with Richard and Nat - after carefully scrutinising the weather forecast, which promised the day would be cold but fine (it was) with no expected snow (they were right this time, thank goodness).

The building didn't look like much from the outside but once we reached the stair case and looked up... All I can say is wow, I have never seen so many guns, swords, bayonets, knives, maces, armour and miscellaneous weaponry in one place, let alone hung from the wall as it was.

So started a day of looking at more and more weapons and absorbing information about the history of warfare. It was a long, bloody history and the european section made me feel rather sad as it does seem we've spent a long, long, long time working out the best way to kill one another. Thought provoking, sobering and very interesting stuff.

After lunch we headed into the Oriental section (the birthday boy's choice and a good one) which was more of a feast for the old eyes. Impressive diorama's had been set up like these...

And can you imagine this War Elephant charging towards you?

I was particularly intrigued by the craftsmanship that had gone into making the items on display. Faded and worn they might be, but each piece of armour was as much for ceremonial purposes as anything and were works of art in their own right. Each piece was carefully decorated while the armour was covered in heavily embroidered and beaded fabric, so that what you had was clothing which happened to contain armour.

I'd have liked to have seen more costume on display, but that could just be my costumer's eye needing to be satisfied. I did take lots of pictures, but the lighting and position of the cases meant that if you took one photo, you also got reflections of everything else nearby.

It was good nonetheless, although by the end of the afternoon I was exhausted, not just from all the walking around but from information overload.

To sum up, the museum is definitely worth a visit and don't expect to see everything in one day. Pick which exhibits you'd like to see and plan accordingly. If you like history and have an interest in events which shaped the world we live into today, I think there'd be something here for you.

When we were done, we headed back to Richards before going out for a bite to eat. I think we may have bored poor Richard when we unexpectedly started frothing about our time in the Cam. While the bureaucracy may have sucked the life out of it for me in the end, there were definitely good parts about the game before it all went sour and last night, the good memories flowed. It hasn't been mentioned in our house for years, so I've no idea where all the enthusiasm came from but gosh did we froth. Sorry Richard!

The journey home was very quiet and I do mean very quiet. The M1 at 11pm on a Saturday evening is not usually busy, but last night there were sections of the journey when we were the only car on the road. When other traffic did pass us (I'm a slow driver who observes the speed limit) it was one or two cars and that was it. Wierd. Perhaps the snow had scared all the other drivers into staying at home!

Thursday, 5 February 2009


As I near the end of a week which has been dominated by the weather, I thought I'd post the obligatory picture of our garden buried under a respectable amount of snow.

The last time I posted a picture like this was nearly two years ago and if you compare the two photographs, taken from the same spot, they do look remarkably similar!

Snow has been the focus of pretty much everything this week as the white stuff has been falling on and off since Sunday. Things have kept going, until today that is when the local Councils started to run out of Grit, which means they've taken to rationing it.

This is bad.

Coventry's council and the highways agency still have grit, but they're prioritising which roads to treat.

This morning, none of the side roads had been treated, or at least none of the ones I drove over had been. Fortunately, most people seemed to have stayed at home - as evidenced at work by the number of empty desks, closed cafes, nursery and cancelled lectures on campus today - so the traffic was light, but if it hadn't been, I dread to think how bad the roads would have been.

Still, I made it in to work. Albeit very slowly and tentatively, all the while warily watching out for children dicing with death as they sledged on plastic sheeting down the slippery, ice/snow covered roads I was trying to drive over.

Hopefully, things will be a bit clearer come the time for the journey home tonight. I shall be watching the forecast closely.

Monday, 2 February 2009

No surprises in London

The temperature has dipped again, reminding us it's full on winter out there as it's been snowing on and off since yesterday lunchtime. Reading the news, it looks like London has pretty much ground to a halt, so perhaps last week and not this week was the time to be on that training course.

The trip itself was OK I guess as these things go. My hotel was in Tower Bridge, while the training centre was just around the Corner from Bank tube station. I hate traveling on the tube, so I hiked over and back each morning, with each journey coming in at just under two miles... Which all went towards canceling out some of effects of living out of a hotel and restaurant all week!

I got lost quite a bit too. This is the first time I've been on a training course where I haven't also had a streaming head cold to deal with as well. I was surprised at how much more alert it made me feel and willing to wander around the streets of London when the class was done. Nothing spectacular, I just sort of explored looking for any worthwhile shops really; Dave tells me that despite my efforts I missed a book shop. :(

The course itself was pretty much as expected. There were only six delegates, all experienced sys admins and the course material was heavy going, with some sections rather like pulling teeth. The instructor was very excitable and obviously enthusiastic about his subject, which (for those who like to know these things) was the Solaris OS. I was on a 'delta' course for experienced systems administrators, i.e. a course to highlight what has changed in the latest version.

As planned, I took the much lamented Jaywalker sock with me to plough on with in the evenings, making a couple of changes this time. I cast on on 2.25mm needles and did a K1b, P1 rib for the cuff which will hopefully pull it in a bit. Once past the cuff, I returned to my 2.5mm needles for the rest of the sock. About half way down the leg (which I've knit considerably shorter) my fingers were incredibly sore, so as an experiment I switched from the metal needles back to my Clover bamboo DPNs at which point the going got a lot easier. Having knit this sock leg twice on metal pins, it seems that I've adjusted enough to the pattern that I can cope on my much blunter bamboo's. This meant much relief for my poor fingers.

Nothing to see at this stage, but the sock returned from London at approximately the same point I ripped it out last time and I've worked on it some over the weekend, so that it's now past the gusset and I'm knitting down the foot towards the toe.

The moment of truth when I try it on will come at some point soon... Unless of course I get distracted by lace in the near future.