Fail is a four-letter word

A revolutionary failure
The Liberator from Blakes 7 – a series where the good guys failed to win

In the world of Blakes 7 fandom, there are many hotly debated issues, but the end of the series is particularly divisive. There are many fans who feel let down by the fact that everyone (debatably) died and that the evil Federation ‘won’. Personally, I have always been happy, although obviously also devastated, that it ended in such a strong way; I would have hated for the series to drag on too long and then just fizzle out. I have posed the question before – if it had had a happier ending, would I still be obsessed with it forty years later?

However, this isn’t an essay about Blakes 7; I’ve just used that for illustrative purposes. My real aim is to talk about the nature of failure and to determine whether I should feel more disturbed by my failures (they are many). It seems, even before the rise of social media, that we have been increasingly encouraged to sanitise our failings and the word “fail” itself has been demonised. The mantra nowadays seems to be “praise the successes, gloss over the failings”. I, for one, am beginning to wonder if this is really wise.

This has been on my mind over the weekend because I have been watching YouTube videos by someone who writes, self-publishes, and also has a business advising other writers about planning their work/lives. The channel is Heart Breathings, if you would like to check her out; I’d say she does about 50% good commonsense and advice and 50% hustle, and there are a lot of YouTube channels out there with much more hustle. I will come clean and admit I watch a lot of YouTube videos in search of inspiration about tackling my own lackadaisical approach to planning. You have my permission to question whether watching YouTube videos is a sensible way of dealing with a lack of enthusiasm and determination or whether it is yet more procrastination.

I watched one particular video in which this writer and her buddy had a writing retreat and I found myself wondering about the fact that she didn’t meet the targets she set herself. Now, she is heavily pregnant which would definitely affect her ability to work, and the word count goals she had set at the beginning of the break seemed incredibly high to me. Although the first day was mainly travel, she was already far behind her target at the end of it and I wondered why she didn’t revise her target based on that fact. It is fine and dandy to forgive yourself for not achieving your targets, but you need to be realistic when you decide whether you can catch up over a set amount of time, and if you can’t, you will need to lower your expectations.

One of the most interesting things my weekend’s viewing has me thinking is that I should care more when I fail. If failure doesn’t upset me, then what I was trying to do wasn’t important in the first place. I’ll be honest: I’m getting on, I don’t have time to be doing things that I don’t care about. Failure is a feeling, as are success, love, and hunger. Why would I waste my remaining days ignoring such feelings or, worse, not feeling them at all? To a certain extent, we judge which things we care deeply about not only by how happy we are when we succeed, but also by how we feel when we fail at them. When something is important to us, the stakes are automatically higher. We can shrug off a disparaging comment from a stranger far more easily than the same comment from someone we know and admire.

From the partial reading I have done of The Bullet Journal Method (see my previous One Book July musings), one strong idea I have taken away is that if you continually fail to do a particular thing on your list, you would be wise to examine whether it is actually important to you. I am guilty of carrying certain tasks forward from day to day, often tiny tasks that take no time at all to do, because I don’t feel any sense of guilt that I didn’t do them. I need to look at each of these things and ask if I actually care about it. If I do, then I should feel guilty that I am pushing it endlessly into the future; if I do not then I shouldn’t be trying to do it at all.

It reads as if I just spent the whole weekend watching videos, but that is not the case. I spent a couple of hours on Saturday sketching out a version of a planning page that would help me to set goals for the next quarter of the year and break them down into a list of tasks for each month and week. Doing this, I discovered that I don’t actually have a problem with the goal-setting side, and I can see the actions I need to achieve the goal, but I struggle with the concept of assigning particular things to set time periods. Perhaps it is because the projects I am currently working on really consist of doing the same thing repeatedly. Take, for example, searching for a job, which involves checking out particular sites for vacancies each day. I can’t control how many suitable jobs will be advertised in a week, so I can’t plan ahead to put in, say, two job applications every week. All I can do is repeat the process and ensure that when I see a vacancy that I think will suit me I send an application in a timely manner. That doesn’t count as ‘planning’;  it is, by its very nature, reactive. There is a more proactive method which is to send of a set number of ‘cold-call’ letters every week on the off-chance that someone might be thinking about hiring, but that doesn’t appear to be how the job market works nowadays. There is a similar conundrum with writing my novel: I am trying to write a minimum of 500 words a day and the aim of finishing first draft will be achieved when I’ve finished telling the story. In this instance, the proactive course would be to determine at the outset the number of words I want the novel to come in at and set goals of when I want to be at the 25,000 or 50,000 words mark. That is certainly something I want to consider. Funnily enough, knitting is the one thing where I find it very easy to set goals and break down a project into components – when I want to have the back or the sleeves finished by. In fact, if I could approach different types of projects with the same clarity that knitting has, life might be a little easier.

So, here we are, heading into a new week and it might seem negative to start off with the objective of feeling more disappointed and unhappy if I don’t do things well, but being disappointed by my failures is a key component in moving forward. After all, fail is a four-letter word, but if I own my failures and use them as rocks to form the foundation of the life I’m trying to build, it does not have to be a bad word.

 

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How is the knitting going?

10-04-19 Mitts try 1

In an effort to straighten up my thoughts and plans a bit, here’s an update on how the knitting is going in this neck of the woods.

First up, fingerless mitts for my Etsy shop. The above are my first pair trying out a lacy pattern and they are as finished as they are going to get. I have to say, they look a lot better in the photo than in real life. To my eye, the busy dye pattern on the yarn, which I think is gorgeous, doesn’t work well with the lace motif. The glove doesn’t seem to sit too well on the hand, with the lace motif looking a little off-centre. Not to mention that I hurried the first mitt and am not happy with the quality of it. I think these are destined to go to charity. I have cast on for a second pair, but I haven’t got far:

10-04-19 Mitts try 2

For these I am using John Arbon Knit by Numbers 4-ply and everything about it is making me very happy. I am experimenting with positioning the lace panel at the side of the back of the hand to see if I like it.

My golden/mustard/yellow sweater is still patiently awaiting its turn in my affections. I fear that might not happen until the autumn, but we will see.

Over the past week I have been mainly working on the Gaudi cardigan and I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made. As of today, I have the back and both sleeves completed, and am just about to embark on the armhole shaping/colourwork section of the first front.

10-04-19 Gaudi

I am still keen to get this cardigan completed so I can be wearing it. I think I may crochet the button band as I did this with one of my all-time favourite cardigans and it has stood the test of time extremely well. The additional sturdiness of the crochet really helps on button bands, and also the button-holes are so much neater than on knitted bands.

I have been looking at a few of the patterns in the Rowan New Vintage DK pattern book and thinking how splendid they would look in a gradient of one colourway. That could be achieved using John Arbon Knit by Numbers yarns, or wools from the Shetland suppliers. I might do one myself.

Other than these, I have no real plans or thoughts or dreams on the knitting front other than to reach the finish-line on the cardigan and mitts.


How is your knitting shaping up? Have you taken an inventory recently and come to any conclusions about the projects you are working on?


 

Word of the Week – Accomplish

01-04-19 Accomplish

Looking forwards as we start a new week and a new month, my chosen Word of the Week “Accomplish” is an exhortation to set goals and strive to achieve something. To set oneself a challenge, to determine a course. It is wise, in setting goals, to accept that we can still accomplish something even if we do not ultimately reach our target. Sometimes it is enough that we accomplish the understanding that a certain thing is not for us, we do not find it important enough within our life, we do not enjoy it as much as we thought we would, or even that this is simply not the time for us to get the best value from that particular activity.

As well as looking forward, we can apply this word to the month just past, using “accomplish” to celebrate what we have done.

I set myself the challenge for March 2019 to do some creative writing every single day and I am proud with myself for meeting this challenge. It took a slightly different direction from the one I originally envisaged, and in the final analysis I wrote for 25 days on the first draft of my novel, adding 16,730 words to it which averages out to 669 per day. That is amazing progress. Now, not all of those words were freshly-minted during the month because I took some pieces that I had written previously and imported them into my novel. That was part of the evolution of the novel which has become more solid and cohesive in my mind as I have been working on it daily. That being said, it is still a successful contribution given the original context of my challenge: “to work on the creative writing”, not to write a set number of new words in the time period.

I also worked on other pieces over 8 days, adding 16,870 words. Now this was definitely more a case of importing and typing up pieces written previously. However, it means that I now have most of my creative writing within the Scrivener software on my computer, making it much more accessible and seamless to work with.

The big thing to come out of this month for me is that I am loving writing, really engrossed with the story I am crafting, and I am going to make the effort to carry on writing every day even though March is now over.


Do you set yourself goals/challenges/targets? How do you feel if you achieve, or fail to achieve them?


 

In which progress is made

11-03-19 knit progress

We live in a universe in which stars are being born in clouds of gas whilst others cool and diminish; entire galaxies are spinning, colliding, grouping and re-forming. So it is with our everyday lives – there are things we have just started, others that we are making some kind of progress on or completed, and a few which we have abandoned.

I have made progress in my crafty life. The lace-pattern front of the sleeveless pullover is complete and I have made a start on the plain back. In tandem with this, in the past few days I have been playing with my French Knitting kit. I bought it years ago and I used a bit of the very basic nylon yarn included to construct a sample ‘tail’ of knitting then promptly put it in my knitting cabinet and ignored it. Now I am experimenting with a ball of Rowan SoftYak DK yarn which is 76% cotton, 15% Yak and 9% nylon. I’d love to know if anyone has used this for a garment and what they thought so I must check it out on Ravelry. My plan is to make something for myself and also as a prototype item I could put in my Etsy shop. I can’t explain what it is, because it’s not really something you can explain – you have to see it. It is inspired by a necklace I saw at the Norfolk Makers’ event cross-bred with an item that I have recently seen in pictures from a designer’s Autumn/Winter 2019 catwalk show.

I have also been working on some Mother’s Day cards to put in my Etsy shop and I’m pleased to say the two designs I’m doing this year are now for sale (clicking the picture captions will take you to my Etsy shop).

11-03-19 knit MD card
A Mother’s Joy
11-03-19 MD card 2
You’re a Gem

The cards feature simple, graphic designs infilled with images of swatches that I have knitted myself. I’m planning to expand what I offer in the way of printed knit-related products to include packs of inspiration cards on a knitting theme and I already have some birthday card designs in the pipeline. At present I’m offering two colourways, but I will increase this with more colours and some textures as time goes on. For my actual knitwear, I am looking at the relative merits of Etsy and Folksy. The latter being UK-based has appeal as I am keen to encourage more ‘local’ buying by not offering to send my hand-knits overseas. That’s not to say in any way that I want to exclude the non-UK residents, but to encourage them to support the skilled craftspeople in their own countries. This is the reason I buy yarns from indie-dyers who, like me, are based in the UK although I love to look at offerings by dyers working all over the world.

I am going great guns with my self-imposed month of creative writing challenge, although the format of the challenge has changed somewhat in the first week. I’ll do an update about this on Wednesday.

Well, that’s what I’ve been doing for the past few days. I hope the weekend has been enjoyable and productive for all of you who so kindly read my blog. Feel free to let me know in the comments what crafty (or not-so-crafty) projects you are working on.


 

InCoWriMo 2019

Today is the sixth day of the International Correspondence Writing Month 2019 and I am pleased with my progress to date.

Whilst the aim is to write a letter – or, indeed, any hand-written missive which can be a note, postcard, post-it, so long as it’s written by hand – every day through February, many people taking part will inevitably be fans of pens and papers and so the letters can be quite decorative, or include little gifts. I like to write in my letters about which pen and ink I am using because I love to read this information in the letters I receive. I have some decorative notepaper, quite a bit of it from Kikki K, so I don’t decorate the letters themselves, but I do like to add some fripperies on the envelopes.

Speaking of envelopes, I am addressing the letters this year with my lovely little typewriter. One year I hand-wrote the addresses with fountain pen and ink and then overlaid them with sellotape to provide a waterproof layer; the other year I hand-wrote the envelopes with ballpoint pen. Of the three, the typewriter is the nicest – it still seems like a hand-crafted solution, whilst being neat, legible, and waterproof.

For letters that I am sending abroad, I have a pack of postcards from Norwich Castle Museum. These feature images from the Norwich School of painters, mostly local scenes or still-lives. Many of these hang in the Castle Museum itself as it houses a good art gallery as well as the historical and natural displays.

The little bone-handle pen-knife in my picture above is an item I use for opening letters. To the best of my knowledge, it belonged to my grandparents when they lived in their lovely house in York, and passed along via my mum to me. It is a delicate item, very much for the genteel lady. My dad always carried a pen-knife which my sister now owns. It was mainly used for peeling apples, sharpening pencils, and for tamping down the tobacco in his pipe. I find it sad that the pen-knife is now seen as a weapon rather than a utility item, and is therefore (understandably) frowned-upon.

In other news, yesterday was my birthday and it was very book-orientated. 2019 is definitely going to be a year where I read a lot. I have already determined that I am going to get back into the habit of just browsing in bookshops. It seems to me that I stopped reading a lot at around the time when I stopped browsing in bookshops a lot; I am not sure which one led to the other. However, it does seem to me that when I take the time to simply wander around and look at books, I see all manner of items which catch my eye and I am certain that this can only be of help to me in my desire to read more. My favourite bookshop to browse in was a small independent book store in Norwich called Gliddons which was around until the 1980s. I remember buying my first copies of books by John Fowles, Elizabeth Jane Howard, and F Scott Fitzgerald there, as well as many a sci-fi book from the bookshelves in the basement. Second to that, the big Borders store which opened in Chapelfield in 2005 and sadly departed in 2009, was a favourite. This was a huge book shop for Norwich and I can remember buying many a ‘business’ book there, as well as the first paperbacks I owned of Haruki Murakami novels. The best shops for browsing the books in Norwich now are The Book Hut (independent), Jarrolds (independent, part of local department store) and Waterstones (chain).

Right, I am heading off to clean out a fountain pen then tomorrow I can refill it with a new colour ink, ready for some more letters.


Are you taking part in InCoWriMo this year? Have you done it in previous years? Would you do it in future years? What do you think?


 

A cast-on, an update, and a modification

07-01-19 sock progress
Plain vanilla sock using yarn dyed by Noodle Soup Yarns of Norwich, UK

THE CAST-ON

On New Year’s Day I finished the socks I had been working on seemingly forever, and I put away my sock-knitting project bag so that I could concentrate on the Gaudi cardigan. Then my sister appeared wearing the beautiful hat she had whipped up in a trice from the Noodle Soup Yarns skein that I gave her for Christmas and I suddenly knew I had to cast on a sock with the skein I had gifted myself at the same time. Although this skein is named “Spooky Smog, as I wound the wool it made me think of a kingfisher in a deep, dark wood, so I am calling these socks “Kingfisher in Fangorn Forest”. Thus far, it has to be said, the kingfisher itself is absent, but I am enjoying the forest nonetheless.

This is my standard sock pattern, 60 stitches on 2.5mm KnitPro Zing needles and the yarn base is a 3-ply 80/10/10 mix of Superwash Merino/Cashmere/Nylon. It is a tiny bit thicker than a lot of sock yarns, and I am loving the fabric that this is creating. It is very squooshy. Noodle Soup’s dyeing is very luscious and, even though this is a really saturated colourway, there is no dye coming out on my hands as I knit.

I made good progress after casting-on yesterday, and have turned the heel of the first sock and started working on the foot. One thing I experimented with on my previous pair of socks was using what Interweave Knits refer to as a Barn Toe and I was very pleased with the way this fitted. I will use the same method for these socks.

GAUDI UPDATE AND MODIFICATION

07-01-19 gaudi progress
Gaudi progress as at 7th January 2019

Here is my progress to date on the back of the Gaudi cardigan. I am so pleased with how this is knitting up, although I am debating back and forth with myself as to whether or not I like the yarn (Rowan Felted Tweed DK). So, on the plus side, I love the colours, I love the tweedy effect and I love the feel of the fabric created. The only downside is that I don’t like the alpaca content and that’s something I struggle with regardless of the brand of yarn. I just don’t like alpaca, even a tiny bit. I hate the constant barrage of what look like dog-hairs that come off it as I work and I don’t see that it adds anything of value to the feel of the yarn. However, I am reserving judgement until the project is finished, and it is not something that is going to prevent me from wearing and adoring the cardigan.

Now, to the modification. I remember the good old days, back in December 2018, when I was all gung-ho about how I was going to knit Gaudi exactly as it was written. However, time has moved on and I am a more experienced person now, so I have changed how the colourwork ‘yoke’ portion is knitted. The pattern is written to utilise slipped stitches and I did a few rows in this way without too much trouble. However, the way the raglan shaping is constructed meant that I was stranding the yarn across the back and it seemed to make more sense to me to do the colourwork similarly to how you would do a Fairisle pattern. I ripped back and started working it this way, and I am really liking it – both how it looks and how pleasurable it is to work. Here’s a close-up:

07-01-19 gaudi close-up
Modified colourwork section

I know this is less three-dimensional than it would be with slipped stitches, but it appeals to me.

I hope your knitting, or any other craft pursuit, is going well and that you are making progress towards any goals you have set.


 

2018 in 9 chapters

Prologue

2018 is singing a triumphant closing number and 2019 is poised to make its entrance so what better to do today than reflect on some key themes from the year? You might want to make yourself a cuppa before you head into this – it’s going to feel like you’ve been reading for a whole year before you get to the end!

Chapter 1 – the ignominy of scriptwriters

I’m going to start with Kojak, but I promise I will bang on a lot less about this subject in the New Year (maybe!). Today I want to talk about how cruel script-writers can be. Since July, I have sat through four series of this excellent show from the 1970s and in almost every episode, Detective Bobby Crocker has crossed a busy New York road. Every time he crosses a road, he does it perfectly – he looks in both directions before he crosses, he carries on looking both ways as he crosses, if a car approaches, he calmly and politely alerts the driver by holding up his hand, if a car stops he generously raises a hand in acknowledgement and thanks. I am not kidding, every time I cross a road now, I think about Bobby Crocker and his road-crossing technique!

I therefore consider it a betrayal that, in Series 5, the scriptwriters decided that he should get knocked over by a car whilst crossing the road! This scene could have been done with any other detective in Manhattan South and been utterly understandable. But no, they had to choose Crocker!

(It’s okay, he only banged up his elbow and lived to fight another day, but that’s not the point.)

Chapter 2 – knitting

So, on to the serious stuff. At the end of 2017, when my knitting spirit was slightly under par, I decided to set myself the goal of knitting one garment and three pairs of socks for each of the four seasons, with the year divided at December 21st 2017; March 20th 2018; June 21st 2018; September 23rd 2018 and ending on December 20th 2018. I actually knitted three garments (the chunky sweater, sleeveless top, and maroon superwash sweater) plus two pairs of socks (both in Mr B Yarns – “Where the Wild Things Are” and “An Inspector Calls” colourways). I am not downhearted because that’s an improvement on the previous couple of years. Also, I am only counting my personal knitting – it would be a lot more impressive if I added in stock I’ve knitted for my Etsy shop, and the Christmas gift jumper.

The most important thing is that I love and wear the items I’ve knitted this year, so I consider it good, solid progress. What I am taking forward into the new year is a renewed commitment to work on the project/s I have on the needles every day, rather than to revert to my normal ‘boom or bust’ nature. A tiny bit of progress every day is the best way to go, and I find if I pick up something intending to only knit a couple of rows I will probably still be there at the end of an hour thinking ‘just one more row’. This is especially true of the Gaudi caridgan I am currently working on.

I do like the idea of dividing the year into the four seasons and I will continue with that for the coming year, just in a more organic, less goal-driven way.

Chapter 3 – reading

I haven’t read as much in 2018 as I intended to, although I have read more than I did in the previous few years so, again, there’s been a bit of progress.

The reads I have recorded were:-
Frenchman’s Creek” Daphne du Maurier – re-reading of an old favourite
Eight Girls Taking Pictures” Whitney Otta – gift from my daughter and a thoroughly fascinating book
Hypothermia” Arnaldur Indridason – Skandi-noir crime-thriller passed on to me by my daughter
The Great Gatsby” F Scott Fitzgerald – another re-read; another old favourite

For Christmas this year I received four books as gifts, so these will be my initial reads going forward:-
Little Miss Christmas” Roger Hargreaves – read this as soon as I unwrapped it on Christmas morning
Iceling” Sasha Stephenson – science fiction, really keen to read this as soon as I’ve finished the Murakami
Killing Commendatore” Haruki Murakami – new book; my favourite author; lovely dustcover, but simply stunning covers underneath it; started reading this on Christmas Day
Uncommon Type” Tom Hanks – I’ve seen so many snippets about this since it was published and I’ve been thinking about getting it, so great to receive it as a gift, and keen to read after I’ve read the others

As with the knitting, I am finding with reading that if I do a little each day I achieve more than if I think I will spend a big block of time reading something.

Chapter 4 – creative writing

Back in the early part of summer I put in a lot of work on my creative writing and I hit 10,000 words on the first draft of what I like to refer to as my novel. Then I stopped. I had good reasons for stopping, not to do with lack of enthusiasm for the project, just that my attention was needed elsewhere. Towards the end of the year I’ve been thinking seriously about short fiction pieces, and looking at Medium as a platform to get some of my writing past the draft stage on into an arena where it stands a chance of being read. I intend to write more about this in the next couple of weeks as I firm up my plans.

Chapter 5 – weight and health

I think in 2018 the most beneficial thing I have done is change my diet, lose weight, and become more active. It took a big change in my lifestyle to prompt me to do this; I had been unhappy with my weight and generally feeling lumpy and unfit for a long while, but I was stuck in a rut of spending too much time on work I didn’t particularly enjoy and not enough time on creative things that I would enjoy, then compensating myself by over-eating.

Now I am two stone lighter than I was; I have eaten well, though not to excess, over Christmas without either gaining or losing any weight; and I feel a hundred times better about myself than I have for a long while. The trick (for me, at least) is to recognise what your particular downfall is and then just apply yourself to correcting it. For me, it’s snacking – I never have been one for eating huge meals, but will happily graze on sweetery until the cows come home. Forcing myself into a routine of eating three meals a day and not snacking in between has been the key as far as eating goes, and I think if I maintain this then I have a good chance of establishing a weight that I am happy with and can maintain.

That is one side of the equation. The second, equally important thing for weight loss is EXERCISE. I don’t think you can lose weight just by changing your eating (input); you also have to address your exercise (output). I initially committed to doing at least 30 minutes of exercise a day and quite quickly upped this to an hour a day. About 50% of the exercise I do is walking because it’s the thing I enjoy and I can easily do and I find it beats cycling into a cocked hat for general fitness.

The other 50% is down to that blue plastic step! No, it isn’t pretty; no, it isn’t exciting; but, boy, does it work! I don’t use it for fancy workouts; I don’t follow some wonderful programme – I literally just step on and off it for 30 minutes. Sometimes I listen to music whilst I’m doing it (Dusty Springfield is great!); sometimes I watch TV (The Professionals; Alias Smith & Jones); I just make sure I do at least one session a day – two if it’s rubbish weather or there’s some other reason I don’t want to go out for a walk.

The third element in my fitness triumvirate is the Apple Activity App (and it’s only the Apple Exercise App because I choose to live within the Apple ecosystem as opposed to the alternatives). I use this to keep me accountable for exercise and general movement. It tracks three things:-
Move – I keep this target purposely low; it’s currently set to making sure I burn 360 calories per day and most days I will double this, every so often I will triple it. ‘Move’ is hard to define as I notice I get a higher ‘score’ if I sit and knit than I do if I actually go out and walk, but you take it as it comes, really. The app also tots up your Move streak and at the moment I have met my Move target for 110 consecutive days.
Exercise – I have this set to 30 minutes per day; again, I usually achieve more than this. Both timed workout sessions and general exercise count in this one, although you have to go for a brisk walk rather than a general amble for it to be deemed exercise.
Stand – This is always set to a minimum of 12 hours ‘standing’ per day – which means that you have got off your chair and moved around for a minimum of a minute in each of those 12 hours. It’s a good one because it is surprisingly easy to remain relatively motionless for huge stretches of time, and on this one sitting knitting doesn’t count as ‘standing’ – you do actually have to get up and walk about.

Using this app has shown me that I am very motivated by achieving targets, no matter if they are completely arbitrary and even if I don’t really understand what constitutes a particular achievement. Give me a big, shiny, virtual medal and I’ll obey you!

Chapter 6 – stationery

My love of stationery has continued to thrive in 2018 and I have been lucky enough to be able to use my fountain pens and lovely notebooks even more as I have gone through the year. In February I took part in InCoWriMo for the second year and totally sucked at it! I will do it again in 2019 and I’m determined to succeed in sending out 28 letters this time. I’ve corresponded with some lovely and interesting people doing this challenge and it is well worth it.

I didn’t increase my store of fountain pens during the year, and I don’t have any intention of doing so in 2019. I did receive two lovely new bottles of ink as Christmas gifts. These are from Lamy’s new Crystal ink range and they are both simply gorgeous. I feel rather ho-hum about Lamy’s standard inks so wasn’t sure if this higher-end range would inspire me, but I am very impressed with the initial try-out. Although they aren’t huge bottles (30ml compared to 75ml in a bottle from Graf von Faber-Castell), this keeps the price at a point where you can comfortably put it on a gift list. (I am a normal person some of the time and I can completely understand that people who don’t use fountain pens might baulk at shelling out £23-£29 for a bottle of ink from lines like Graf von Faber-Castell and Pilot Iroshizuku.)

I am still a sucker for a pretty, or simple but incredibly well-made, notebook. In fact, I choose my handbags based on how easily I can fit an A5 notebook and pen into it. On that front, I received a further very thoughtful gift at Christmas, a leather case to carry three pens which is proving to be such a good item to take in and out of your bag.

Chapter 7 – being a fan

A huge part of this year for me has been about being a fan, primarily of Blake’s 7, but also of Dr. Who, Kojak, Alias Smith and Jones, and the hundred other little flames I keep burning across the years. Being a fan brings me so much pleasure and it is a joy that I share with my grandson which is even better than experiencing it alone.

This year was a happy one as we went about celebrating 40 years since the first showing of Blake’s 7, and we pushed the boat out with a weekend convention where I met loads of lovely people: fans, crew and cast members. I am still smiling with pleasure every time I think about it. It was sad, too, as the inimitable Jacqueline “Servalan” Pearce passed away; a tiny, but larger than life lady who leaves behind the most marvellous memories with all who met her, however fleetingly.

I know it has also been a tough year for Ian Kubiak who organises the Cygnus Alpha conventions and I just want to ackowledge how much poorer my life would be if I had not stumbled upon his web page in 2016 and reignited my love of Blake’s 7. Ian, his family and all who help out at the conventions have earned a very special place in my affections.

Chapter 8 – word of the year

I am not keen on New Year’s Resolutions, but for a few years now I have chosen a ‘word of the year’ to give me something to focus on. These have been “Return” (2016); “Flexibility (2017); “Home” (2018). Whilst I didn’t really manage to be terribly flexible in any way at all during 2017, I think keeping home in mind through 2018 helped me a lot and it was very successful. I have always been very much a homebody – it is where I feel happy and free to be creative. For me, there is nothing better than shutting the door and knowing that nothing needs to intrude unless I will it. Except, of course, for those lovely people I don’t actually know who like to spread joy by phoning me from foreign climes to suggest that my broadband will be disconnected unless I give them control of my computer.

For 2019 I have chosen “Establish” as my word of the year and this is to help me focus on getting things onto a firm footing through 2019 whilst trying to be more the person I want to be and less the person that convention suggests I should be. I am looking forward to seeing how this works through the upcoming year.

Chapter 9 – visitors on WordPress

I have loved writing my blog this past few months, but I think even more than the writing, I enjoy seeing all the countries where visitors have logged in to view my posts. In 2018 these have been (from lowest number of visits to highest number):

Switzerland – Thailand – Philippines – Netherlands – Austria – Japan – United Arab Emirates – New Zealand – Ukraine – France – Portugal – Egypt – Russia – Croatia – Indonesia – Sweden – Hong Kong – Finland – China – South Africa – Australia – Romania – India – Ireland – Germany – Canada – United States – United Kingdom.

So, if you are the person who visited from Switzerland today and read my Quote of the Week from Bob Dylan, thank you, I hope you enjoyed your trip. And, of course, my heartfelt thanks to everyone who has come to look at my tiny plot on the internet and has enjoyed what they have read here.

Epilogue

Whew, this is a mammoth blog entry. I would like to end it by wishing everyone all the best for the coming year.

Propser 2019
“Live long and prosper.”

 

Finished object – Rowan Stockport

Stockport front

I am pretty sure this will be my final finished project in 2018, unless the elves come round and knit a bit of my old gold jumper for me whilst I sleep. It is the pattern “Stockport” designed by Sarah Hatton and was included in the Rowan Knitting and Crochet Magazine Number 46 issued in autumn 2009. This top is designed for Rowan Cocoon yarn.

I used Scheepjes Colour Crafter yarn, 100% acrylic, DK weight, with 300m per 100g ball in the shade Sint Niklaas (No. 2019). I am still not a fan of acrylic yarn, but this was far from unpleasant to work with. I achieved the correct stitch gauge holding this yarn double and working with 6mm wooden needles; my row gauge was off, but I just knitted extra rows to make up for it. I knitted the smallest size because the recipient is so svelte that she may be operating on the basis that in an extreme survival situation, the thinnest one will be the last to get eaten.

My choice of yarn was determined by the fact that I was knitting this garment as a gift for my lovely daughter and needed to fit in with her particular requirements. As far as possible, she only wears black, white and grey so the colour choice was pretty limited; she only wants man-made yarns for ease of washing and drying (small flat, no washing line). I originally thought of knitting a boxy stocking stitch jumper inspired by an item in a local boutique, but after a lot of searching ended up with this design. I fear a pale grey, boxy, stocking stitch, DK weight jumper might have been the end of me!

I thought the pattern was enjoyable to knit and, on the whole, easy to execute. The cables on the main body and the neckband were worked to written instructions which were simple; the braided cable on the chest and upper back were from a chart. Because of my dislike of following charted patterns, I transferred the information to a system of written instructions using index cards and once that was done I found it very enjoyable to follow. I am glad I worked this out, because I have some patterns with complex charts that I have given up on because I couldn’t follow the chart, and now I know I can try them again if I write out the pattern to suit my own brain.

Stockport neck

The only negative thing I would say about the design is that the neckband didn’t work out too well for me. Because it is designed as a flat piece, I found the top edge sat oddly once it was attached. To resolve this, I worked a round of crochet stitches on the top edge, picking up two stitches out of every three, which worked very well indeed, but it did give me a twinge of concern that the whole garment might not turn out well. The design is supposed to sit as a boat-neck, and I think this modification will allow it to do that, but before I put in the crochet stitches, the top edge did not pull in at all and just sat straight up from the shoulder.

Stockport braid

This pattern edges towards the yoked designs which are very popular at the moment, but they are not my favourites. I don’t think they suit me in particular, but also they seem more complex than a design without a yoke. I am, however, considering the possibility of using the cable pattern from this top juxtaposed on a basic jumper design with a round neckline and set-in sleeves and knitted in a lovely, jewel-toned Shetland wool (sapphire, ruby, garnet, amethyst, emerald – all would be appropriate). I would wear that baby until the cows come home, or until it disintegrated into tiny shreds, whichever came first. In fact it’s probably time to be eyeing up the wool.


I hope your knitting is going well, and that you are happy with the projects you’ve managed to finish this year.


 

Is this an appropriate time to knit in public?

Get you knitting out
It’s 1976 and two desperate criminals are holding you hostage in a church….

 

The good news is, I have a finished object! The less good news is that I can’t show a picture because it’s my super-secret Christmas knitting. I’m pleased to have this finished in good time for gifting, and to have it finished just in order not to see it in my work basket any more. Now I can get a bit of colour back into my life.

Previously, I mentioned that although I’m halfway through my old gold/mustard cardigan, I am not totally sure it’s what I want to be knitting with this wool. I thought the time away from it doing the Christmas knit would resolve that, but I am still just as undecided. By that, I mean that my head is saying I should keep on with the cardigan because I’ve already put in a fair amount of work on it, whilst my heart is saying knit a chunkier jumper because that’s what I would wear right now. I think most people who know me think it’s a given that I will follow my head, but actually I always follow my heart then quickly think up sensible-sounding justifications. So the chances are I will cast on for a chunkier knit this evening. I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, I’ve thought a fair bit over recent months about the question of whether it’s okay to knit in public and, if so, whether there are times when it is appropriate, or inappropriate, to do so. My good old friend, Kojak, has helped me out here. If you recall, we previously encountered our lovable, sexy, bald, dew-eyed cop as he prowled the corridors of the court-house, hand-knitted sock in hand. This, however, is not the only time knitting happens in the series. The still above is taken from an episode in Series 4; two desperate gunmen have taken hostages and holed up in a church. The younger of the two women being held decides this is the time to get out her knitting – a lovely big red jumper by the looks of things, being knit on a pair of straight needles. She, clearly, is a fan of knitting in public and also knows a thing or two about how knitting can help you de-stress. I am not so sure I would get my knitting out under those circumstances. The chances are that at least some of the people are going to get shot and that alone would put me off. I know the blood wouldn’t show against the red wool, but even so, what if a stray bullet should damage your jumper before you’re even half-finished?

How about you? If it was 1976 and you were holed up in a church with two desperate criminals, would you be knitting?


 

Delving into history

Last night I found myself ambling through the blog posts I wrote before the long break. As I was wearing my Laccaria cardigan and reading the post about completing that cardigan, I felt inspired to photograph my current ‘wardrobe’ of knitted garments and analyse how old they were. This has been very interesting because researching the dates (which meant going back through my computer records and my hand-written notebook) has really brought home to me what a fallow period I fell into with my knitting (not to mention my general creativity) in that period when I wasn’t blogging.

So, following the photos from top to bottom and left to right, we find:-

Turin – Martin Storey for Jaeger – JC Rennie Supersoft Lambswool – August 2010
The oldest of my handknits which I still wear, this yarn has worn like a dream (no wonder I loved it so much), and this cardigan never fails me.

Square neck cardigan – Rowan Studio 11 – The Uncommon Thread BFL DK Cumulus – August 2013
Another absolute favourite which I have worn and worn. The colour is a little bit more blue than the photo manages to show, and the yarn is just gorgeous. It has pilled a little, but that can be forgiven when I consider how much I have worn and washed this baby.

Sleeveless tank – 1000 Sweaters – JC Rennie Supersoft Lambswool – June 2018
One of my more recent knits, but using up the trusty old JC Rennie wool, this is the top I am wearing today. I wasn’t sure when I made it how much I would wear it and the answer is, not a lot so far, but I still enjoy it and it’s useful to have as a layering piece.

Rib detail v-neck – 1000 Sweaters – Willow & Lark Ramble DK – October 2018
Most recent completed project, and I am so happy with this one. I could have made a better yarn choice and I don’t feel that this will be as long-lasting as some of my garments, but I can’t fault my choice of colour or pattern at all.

Mari – Martin Storey for Rowan – Bergere de France Ideal – February 2018
This was always going to be an oddity in my wardrobe because the yarn is not the sort of thing I usually buy. It is two strands of Ideal held together – one in what I affectionately term ‘Radioactive Red’ and one in cream. I ordered the red and started one or two things in it, but the colour was a bit offputting. In the end I ordered the cream to try and take the edge off a bit, and knitted this aran-weight jumper by Martin Storey on the basis that if nothing else it would be a warm layer to wear around the house. As it is, I wear it outside for cycle rides and walks when I don’t want to wear a jacket and I really rather like it. It is what I would term a ‘sloppy joe’. The pattern is actually written as a polo-neck but I just did a little stand-up crew collar which works very well.

Laccaria – Berroco – JC Rennie Supersoft Lambswool – 2012
Back to the older knits and this one has seen a goodly amount of wear. I was on the brink of disposing of it earlier in the year because I had got too fat to wear it, but my diet has brought it back into frequent use, although I tend to wear it mainly indoors. The only real downside is the 3/4 length sleeves which are great in summer, but not so good now the chillier days have arrived. Also, I need to fix the second bottonhole from the neck because the button won’t stay done up.

Chevron border cardigan – 1000 Sweaters – Cascade 220 Heathers – January 2018
I bought this yarn to knit Gullveig by Norah Gaughan for Berroco and one day I will knit that beauty, but the charted patterning was too much for my addled brain when I tried it. Instead, I knitted up this lovely worstead-weight caridgan when I needed a quick warm jumper project. It fits in exactly the same niche as the next cardigan and I love both of them.

Burr – Veronique Avery for Brooklyn Tweed – JC Rennie Supersoft Lambswool + Donegal Tweed – March 2016
This pattern sat on my must-knit queue for a long while and I just love the finished object. I omitted the waist shaping and worked a simple band rather than the collar in the original pattern. I love the little shaped rib details at the waist and cuff, and the eyelet rows at the shoulders – these little details just elevate the whole design. I have worn this so much as it is the ideal outer layer over a dress during autumn and spring, then as a cardigan during the colder months.

As I said, looking back through my notes has made me aware of the failures as well as the successes, and I am shocked by the number of projects I have started then abandoned because for some reason they were not working. Much of it is poor yarn choice, and I am afraid that may always be the case as I am easily seduced by yarns that don’t turn out to be as good as I hope. Then I lost sight of my creativity for a long while (actually, lost sight of myself which is even more dispiriting) and I am extremely thankful that I have found it again this year. In fact, whilst I’ve been writing this blog post I have been simultaneously writing down notes about possible patterns to knit or re-knit – I have a Bergere de France pattern book full of cabled knits that are singing to me at the top of their voices. I did try one of these patterns before, but the yarn wasn’t well suited to it and, anyway, I wasn’t the right shape for it at the time.

I hope you have enjoyed delving into my past, and seeing my current hand-knit wardrobe. Have you thought of doing this yourself? I can thoroughly recommend it.