Sunday, August 24, 2014

Travel and cruising and knitting

I'm off travelling again. After years of being condescendingly dismissive of cruises as a travel experience, I've now given in and have signed up for a cruise. I only have knitting to blame for the situation I find myself in. My desire to improve my colourwork knitting led me to browse websites of classes by modern colourwork guru Mary Jane Mucklestone. I discovered she was giving classes on a ship travelling across the north Atlantic. Then I discovered the destinations - from Copenhagen to Bergen in Norway, the Shetland Isles, the Faroe Islands (the Faroes! - my current fantasy travel destination), Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in Canada, and finally, New York. Lots of my travel and knitting obsessions in one trip.

So, after the usual nightmare of flying from Sydney to anywhere in Europe I'm now in Copenhagen for a couple of days before my cruise. 'My cruise'. I never thought I'd need to write that.

Denmark Copenhagen Nyhavn

Despite the fact that it's late summer in Copenhagen the weather is uncannily similar to what I left in Sydney's winter - squalls of rain, wind, sunny patches and a maximum temperature of around 17 celsius. Nevertheless, Copenhagen is wonderful. Very civilised.

A trip is also an excuse for knitting. Again, despite the fact that it's summer, it will be cold in most of the places I'm visiting and I persuded myself I really needed some fingerless mitts. I used some Noro Silk Garden from my yarn collection and after a couple of day's very simple knitting I had my mitts:

unmatched mitts 4

I think one of the joys of knitting with Noro is the unexpectedness of the colour combinations and sequences. I have a kind of informal personal knitting rule for Noro which is to simply accept whatever colour comes my way as I'm knitting with it. In this case I not only have a pair of nicely slouchy mitts, but they're totally unmatched. They have the added benefit of matching - to the extent that this is ever possible with Noro - a Zumthor hat I knitted a couple of winters ago.

Unmatched mitts and tree

[Thanks to Margarita for the fun photos].

I also decided I needed a kind of between seasons scarf for the wide range of temperatures and climates I'll have on this trip. (You can never have too many scarves). Again, this was a very simple knit with bands of stocking stitch and reverse stocking stitch alternating diagonally across the scarf. Most appropriately, the pattern is 'Groovy'.

groovy scarf 4

I've knitted the scarf from 100% linen. After finishing it I washed the scarf quite vigorously to make the linen softer. I decided not to block the scarf but rather to dry it in a way that preserved its grooves. I'm very happy with the outcome. I'll report back on its usefulness.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Besotted

Very occasionally, you love absolutely everything about a knitting project. I was besotted while I was knitting this scarf - or shawl - and I now wear it everywhere. I don't want to be separated from it. It's one of those knitting projects that gives great results from a relatively simple and easily memorised pattern. The lace edging makes everybody think it's much more challenging to knit than it really is.

Saffron shawl 2

It's another of Kate Davies' designs, a Hap for Harriet, and I've knitted it in Cascade Yarns' laceweight silk/wool blend that's rather oddly called Forest Hills. Because it's knitted from a single 100gram skein of laceweight yarn it's wonderfully light and soft and ideal for mild Sydney winters. Along the way I've had to develop a theory that yellow is the new neutral so that I can wear the scarf with just about anything. Of course, when most of your clothes are grey or black this theory can hold up rather well.

Saffron shawl 4

I've enjoyed making this scarf so much that I'm tempted to cast on for another, even though I have no need whatsoever for yet another scarf. Still, that's never stopped me in the past.

I've had a small hiccup with yet another of Kate Davies' wonderful patterns - a hat she's named Fugue. The yarn for this was acquired from the ever-enabling MissFee a couple of (several?) years ago. I finally decided to knit this up as part of my goal of becoming more proficient at colourwork.

Grey tam close-up

The hat's knitted on relatively small needles from a thickish sportweight Corriedale yarn and consequently is dense enough to probably be waterproof, or at least damp and shower-proof. A very Scottish hat. But my problem is that the hat's slightly too big, and because it's relatively heavy it falls around my eyes. I just don't have enough hair to anchor hats securely.

Grey tam

I guess I have various options for my too-big hat. I could pull it out and re-knit it to an appropriate size, but I think this might take my colourwork practice just a bit too far. I could give it to someone with a bigger head or more hair, but I like it and want to keep it. So, I'm going to try sewing some grosgrain ribbon to the inside of the band - like many old-fashioned berets had - to try to make it fit me. Wish me luck!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Such vibrant colour

I'm visiting a friend who lives on the north coast of New South Wales. From tomorrow we'll spend three days at the Byron Bay Writers Festival, which seems to have become one of my yearly pilgrimages. But today we travelled to Murwillumbah to visit the Tweed Regional Gallery which, earlier this year, installed a replica of the studio of renowned Australian artist, Margaret Olley.

Olley Studio

Australian painter Margaret Olley's life has been well-documented - she and her studio home have been photographed, painted, and filmed. There are biographies and beautiful catalogues of her many exhibitions. She was a gregarious host and attended many public events and, as she became wealthy, was a generous benefactor to the NSW Art Gallery, as well as a number of regional galleries (including the Tweed Regional Gallery). It seems very appropriate that as her life was so public, so the workspaces of her home and studio are now on public display.

Olley kitchen and studio

The recreations are lovely. There's such vibrant colour, so many wonderful shapes, and such appealing vignettes in the midst of clutter. I wonder why we find artists' studios so appealing? I imagine one reason is that it gives us an insight into the process of an artists' work: not just the end product, but the way the work grows and is constructed. Olley's studio, like that of Giorgio Morandi I saw years ago in Italy, is particularly interesting because it contains many of the objects - the jugs and bowls and fabrics and rugs - that occur and recur in her still lifes and domestic interiors.

The Tweed Regional Gallery goes from strength to strength. Among other works it currently has an exhibition of works on paper by prominent Australian artists that I found very engaging. And there's always the landscape, attention-arresting as you approach the Gallery and see the river and paddocks with mountains to the west, but just as wonderful when glimpsed through the narrow windows that punctuate the gallery's walls.

Tweed Gallery view

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Colour-work

One of my knitting goals for 2014 was to become more proficient at colour-work. On second thoughts, 'goals' is a rather grand term for the vague hopes I had. So a few months ago I knitted the Kate Davies pattern Peerie Flooers using seven colours of Rowan Fine Tweed yarn that I had acquired some time ago from a very yarn-enabling friend.

Tam 3

I'm very happy with the outcome, and except for a few places, visible on the inside, where I carried the yarn a fraction too far without weaving it in, I think it is well-made. The tension is even and the pattern displays itself neatly.

Tam - inside

But knitting this hat has made me doubt that I will ever become a really proficient colour-work knitter. It's another version of the well-worn discussion of knitting styles. Traditional colour-work is usually done two-handed - using one colour in each hand. I'm not only very right-handed, but I also have a rather clumsy and inefficient knitting style that involves completely relinquishing my hold on the right-hand needle while I throw the stitch I'm working on. With colour-work the inefficiency of this process is emphasised because I also need to put down and take up a different colour.

Tam 2

So, what should I do... try with greater determination to master two-handed knitting? I'm very aware of the advice about the desirability of learning new skills as one ages - both intellectually and physically. But I've tried (OK, maybe not hard enough) and the frustration of not being able to knit well with both hands takes away the pleasure of knitting, which is the main reason for doing it. Another option would be simply to avoid colour-work and declare it not for me, but I love the finished projects and I love the association of colour-work with long-established knitting traditions. Alternatively, I could continue to potter along as I have been. After all, the outcome is fine, and if it takes me longer to finish a project than it takes other people, does it matter? I'm not knitting for my living and I don't have queues of people anxiously waiting on finished projects.

Tam 1

Knowing my laziness, I suspect I'll fall back on my tried and true, though inefficient, pottering along. In fact, I've almost finished another Kate Davies hat design, Fugue, in two shades of greyish-blue using my clumsy technique. So far, I'm very happy with this outcome, too.

Hat - two greys

However, there's possibly a problem with this pottering along solution. It's fine for small projects such as hats, but it may not work so well with larger projects that would end up taking so much time. Later this year I'll be taking some classes with a very well-known exponent of colour-work so I'll see what happens then. Maybe my embarrassment at knitting so clumsily in the presence of other knitters will be sufficient to push me to become more proficient with my left hand... but maybe not.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sticking to my knitting

For a blog that began its existence as a knitting blog, there's lately been a marked absence of knitting. I have been knitting, quite steadily, but not very productively. And even when I've finished a piece of knitting, I've been very tardy about blocking or recording it. I've not been inspired by any particular project, and as a result much of my knitting has been 'filling-in-time' knitting, using yarns I already own and making something that can easily be picked up and put down. Perhaps predictably, this has resulted in stripes and scarves.

Stripes x 2

Inspired by knitting friend Linda, I knitted a one-row stripe scarf. This is about as simple as knitting can be as it is simply a rectangle of stocking stitch. But it does have a couple of tweaks that make it that little bit different. The one-row stripes are achieved by knitting backwards and forwards on circular needles and sliding the knitting along the needles when needed to achieve the one-row stripes. Effectively, you knit two plain rows, then two purl rows and it results in stocking stitch.

One-row stripes

The fingering weight yarn is knitted quite loosely on 4mm needles so that the scarf drapes well. I already had the yarns; the brown is Wollmeise 100% wool in Feldmaus colour, and the pink Swans Island fingering weight yarn that is 100% merino. Fortuitously, both yarns had a about the same degree of colour variegation which resulted in a nice tweedy outcome. Initially, I experimented with the brown Wollmeise and a toning self-striping yarn but the resulting fabric lost the effect of the stripes and looked rather messy. Because the scarf is stocking stitch all the edges roll - a finish that I really like.

One row stripes 4

I'm very happy with the outcome.

My second stripey project is actually something I really wanted to wear. I've had some grey and black Lush Yarns (now discontinued) for several years. It's an unusual fibre combination - 90% cotton and 10% cashmere - that results in a soft rather than crisp cotton fabric that's ideal for Sydney's climate. I've knitted a Baktus scarf; a tried and true pattern that's garter stitch (my favourite), ideal for stripes, and very easy to wear.

Baktus 4

I simply knitted, increasing every sixth and then every fourth row till I'd used half the yarn, and then knitted on, decreasing to mirror the shape already completed.

Baktus 2

Again, I'm really happy with my rather spiffy new black and grey scarf. I even like the way the stripes are fractured on the reverse side so that I don't have to worry about using it right side out.

Baktus 3

So what am I knitting now? Yet another scarf and yet more garter stitch, though no stripes this time. But more of that once I've finished.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My final four films

SFF last film

I had a fun finale to this year's Sydney Film Festival with 'Snowpiercer'. Sci-fi is so far from being one of my preferred film genres that I probably found this film more novel than sci-fi aficionados would. I loved the central conceit. In the aftermath of a disastrous intervention to avoid global warming the world has frozen. The only living creatures are those enclosed in a lengthy train propelled by perpetual motion and continually circumnavigating the world. The train is organised into sections - ranging from those in first class whose every whim is indulged to those in the rear of the train where survival is marginal, life degraded, and the periodic desire for revolution inevitable (and encouraged to control population growth). The allegorical possibilities of this arrangement are almost endless. The film is violent, but in the rather abstract way of graphic novels. I was intrigued by the tone of the film - veering from the almost-serious exploration of such themes as the exercise of power and its betrayals to the black humour of the wonderful Tilda Swinton's portrayal of a didactic petty official. It's a mainly English language film featuring a well-known international cast from the UK, USA and Korea and directed by successful Korean director Boon Joon-Ho. Four out of five.

One of the reasons I found 'Snowpiercer' intriguing is its combination of cultural sensibilities. I guess the sci-fi genre is now so internationalised that it enables input from a range of cultural traditions. This blending of cultures was evident in another film I saw - the Chinese film 'Black Coal, Thin Ice' that this year won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale. It's set in the present day, in an industrial town in the north of China. It's winter and there are many grimy, icy streets. Again, this is a genre film. Its director, Diao Yinan has clearly been influenced by the conventions of the urban crime thriller - there's a disillusioned detective who drinks too much, corrupt cops, crime gangs, a mysterious, vulnerable woman who cannot be trusted, and a long-unsolved crime that haunts the disillusioned detective. Despite (or because of) these well-worn devices, setting them in a Chinese context gives new interest to this genre. Again, a four out of five.

I had high hopes for the Australian documentary, 'Black Panther Woman' that features Marlene Cummins who, as a vivacious teenaged Indigenous woman, was associated with the short-lived Australian version of the Black Panther movement in Brisbane (of all places) in the early 1970s. Forty years on, Cummins reflects on this moment in the movement for racial equality in Australia and of the frequent failure to extend the objectives of equality to Indigenous women. It's a delicate balancing act to support and engage with the fight for Aboriginal rights and yet provide a critique of the misogyny within that struggle. The film doesn't quite succeed. It feels a bit too careful; a bit too restrained. Even so, initiating a discussion of these issues is a very brave move for Cummins and the film's director, Rachel Perkins. Three and a half out of four - mainly for its courage.

And then there was 'The Two Faces of January'. Total pleasure. This is a most professional film. Beautiful Greek locations; Viggo Mortensen (sigh); based on a novel of the same name by exquisite crime writer Patricia Highsmith; screenplay and direction by Hossein Amini who waited many years to film a story he loved. What's not to like? The blurb for this film in the Festival program says 'This is a gripping thriller set in stunning locations with beautiful people doing dangerous things'. An apt description. It isn't innovative, but it is a perfectly-made conventional film. I imagine it will have wide commercial release and I would unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone wanting to see a sophisticated, masterly, beautiful, thoroughly engaging film. Four and a half out of five.

Another year of intensive film-going done. As I'm sure I've written before, I really value the opportunity to 'get my eye in'; to see a number of films in a short period of time and appreciate relationships and trends, as well as being able to contrast different traditions and approaches to film-making.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Four more films...

I think 'Locke' is the best film I've so far seen at the Sydney Film Festival. It's innovative, but accessible. A very neat film. It's shot in real time and has one location, the interior of a car, and only one actor, the accomplished Tom Hardy. The central character, Ivan Locke, is a man marked out by his capability. He's a very successful and careful building project manager with a wife he loves and a close relationship with his sons. He has built a life of duty, care and control - the opposite of the feckless father whom he rejected. But a one-night stand with a lonely woman for whom he felt only compassion led to pregnancy and he is driving to a city an hour and a half distant to be with the woman having the child for whom he feels responsible. A series of phone calls on speaker phone is the only 'action' of the film. Locke's life falls apart - both his job and his relationship with his wife crumble as his sense of duty and his desire not to be like his father force him to be with a woman he hardly knows who is fathering his child. It's a quiet tour de force by Tom Hardy and simple but perfectly controlled direction and script by Steven Knight. Another four and a half.

'Two Days, One Night' is a rather old-fashioned social realist film by the renowned French Dardenne brothers, who wrote and directed the film. Marion Cotillard gives a moving performance as Sandra, a woman who over two days and a night needs to persuade her co-workers to support her retention at the factory where she works by giving up their bonuses. As she speaks with each of her co-workers their financial and family circumstances are revealed and the injustice of the choice to be made is clear. This is a moving film with great performances, but it's not engaging film-making. Maybe a three and a half for its performances and its politics.

I didn't really like two of the films I've seen. 'Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter' was beautifully filmed and visually memorable, but there simply wasn't a sufficiently interesting narrative to drive the action or make us care for Kumiko, the central character. It's partly realistic and partly fantastic and for me veered uneasily across these genres. Three out of five. I spent some time wondering why 'Words and Pictures' was scheduled for the Festival as it seemed too light-weight for the Festival context. It's a romantic comedy with predictable characters and a predictable story - designed for viewers who are no longer young but not yet old. It's the kind of movie you might go to on a rainy day if nothing else was offering. It stars Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche who are both charming and who make their way through the film with minimal demands on their otherwise considerable acting skills. But I think I solved the question of why it was scheduled. It's veteran Australian director Fred Schepisi's latest offering and this year Schepisi gave the Ian McPherson Memorial Lecture for the Festival. Despite my admiration for Schepisi, this film only deserves a two and a half out of five.