Friday, 30 November 2007

What's the German for "lay another finger on me and you'll really wish you hadn't had that croissant for breakfast"?

Hail! (Or maybe that should be Wassail, seeing as we're just a few hours away from Advent. Except I'm not entirely sure what Wassail means.) Apologies for the silence - it's mostly been due to not having the internet in the flat ("down for five days" my foot...), and partly simply because I don't have anything particularly cheery to report. Adam's hat (tragic victim of last post's over-zealous scissoring) finally made it back onto the needles, but (and I feel like the world's biggest idiot confessing this) history sort of, um, repeated itself. I have no adequate explanation to offer for this. However! I did manage to salvage a good 5" of Hat #2 (henceforth to be referred to as The Hat of Recurring Doom, for obvious reasons), so all is not lost.

On a less buoyant note, I've had the dubious pleasure of my first brush (ahh, the bad puns just keep on coming) with sexual harrassment (remember the slimy journalist? He's back, and slimier than ever before! Note to all would-be slimy journalists: you pretty much need my written permission for your hand to stray below my shoulders. Or, indeed, above my shoulders. And while I may be the Queen of Gullibility [hey, we're talking about someone who believed that treacle was mined in Russia... ] , even my internal alarm bells start ringing at the eleventieth "accidental" brushing). Luckily my boss, despite unfortunately being away, is an undercover knight in shining armour, and has promised to slay the slimy journalist with, erm, his superior grasp of German. Or something.

Ohh, and there's one good thing I almost forgot - the wool for the secret jumper! I picked it up on Monday (well, half of it on Monday and half yesterday, when I realised that I'd initially ordered enough to clad an anorexic Barbie doll rather than a burly male), and I've fallen head over heels in love with it. (Pictures to follow, so you can share in the adulation. They'll have to wait till my home internet access revives itself, though; I'm not sure what the protocoll on uploading knitting photos to government computers is. For now the best I can offer is this, swiped from an unsuspecting Raveller.) The plan is to make Mike a variation on Jesse's Flames for Christmas - he's been angling for a handknit jumper ever since I presented him with a rather wonky hat one Valentine's Day. (The hat was relegated to a tea cosy suspciously quickly, and has since dropped out of sight altogether. This may not bode particularly well for the jumper.)

P.S. I think I may actually love my boss. He's now enlisted the secretaries to form a protective barrier between me and the slimy journalist. Who do you think would win in a fight: three women armed with staplers and pot plants or a medium-sized man wielding camera equipment?

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Knit 1, accidentally annihilate 1

Normally I consider moderation to be overrated (excess just has a better ring to it, somehow), but when it comes to my Christmas knitting I have to concede that my list may have been a teeny bit overambitious. So it's been subject to a merciless cull, which only two hats and a jumper have survived (but shhhh! The jumper's a secret; more on that later). I cast on for the first hat the other night, and knit for an inch or so before finally admitting to myself that my stitches had been twisted when I joined, and I was now knitting a geometrically interesting but unfortunately unwearable object. Second time round (terrible pun unintended) everything went much better. So well, in fact, that three hours or so in it was finished. It even fit! (No mean feat, as my family all have excessively large heads, the better, I presume, to accommodate our equally large egos.) It looked ridiculous, obviously, as I'm unable to wear a hat without looking like a clown/mugger, but it's intended for my brother who can carry these things off with a bit more panache. Anyhow, the hat was pretty much perfect. The only niggle was that I didn't really like the way my cable cast-on looked with the ribbing. "No problem!" thought I. "I'll simply undo the cast-on edge and bind off in the rib pattern! What could be simpler?"

Oh dear.

I don't know if you've ever tried unpicking a cable cast-on, but let me tell you, it takes forever. Two dire German soap operas and half an episode of Super Nanny, to be precise. And once I'd finally reached the last stitch, the wool got sort of...stuck. I tugged and it didn't budge. Never having been one to recognise a doomed strategy, I tugged harder. Nothing. Frustrated, I cut the wool and pulled at the new end. Still nothing. I made a second cut. And a third. And...well, to cut (oops, there goes another accidental pun) a long story short, I, erm, somehow ended up hacking the entire hat to pieces with a pair of scissors. It is now an ex-hat.

Still, all is not doom and gloom. As I was knitting (from this pattern, not that you really need one), I couldn't help thinking that an asymetrical rib might be a bit more interesting, and make the resulting hat look slightly less like something that had escaped from Grange Hill (an inherrent risk in anything knit in grey). So I suppose now I have the opportunity to try that out - as soon as I figure out a damned ribbed cast-on, that is. The other positive thing is that I've been given permission to knit at work! Hurrah! (As you may deduce from that, assignments are a bit thin on the ground at present.) Oh, and I should be able to collect my wool for the Secret Jumper tomorrow, so hopefully more on that next time...

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Vorsprung durch Koffein

Hallöchen! Neglecting the blog wasn't some sort of cunning anticipation-building strategy (tempting though it is to try and pass it off as such), but rather a side-effect of the work placement I started last Monday, which has turned things like "free time" and "sleep" into fond but distant memories. I'm working at the Bundestag, in the office of a politician called Manfred Grund (nope, no one here's heard of him either), and - to cover up my complete lack of knitting news - I thought I'd give you a glimpse or two behind the scenes at the Bundesregierung. This will double up as a handy cure for insomnia for anyone who happens to be in need of one.

Firstly - I have my own office! The most work space I've ever staked a claim to before is half of a double desk at primary school, so this is a rather exciting development. The office is in Jakob Kaiser Haus, opposite the Reichstag on the map above, and if I tell you that this is an entirely typical picture of the interior you may understand why I get lost every time I venture more than a couple of metres in any direction. What's more, the government buildings in the immediate area are linked together in all sorts of baffling ways (every now and then you find yourself following painted arrows through an underground car park), and I have a curious habit of ending up in the right building but on the wrong side of the street. There are some welcome distractions among the labyrinthine corridors, though - the riverside canteen's lovely (though I'm not sure 'canteen' is an appropriate word for somewhere where you can choose from a dozen flavoured oils and vinegars to drizzle over your roast pepper salad [or, in my case, over your skirt] ), and the library's very soothing. My enjoyment of both has unfortunately been slightly hampered by the constant company of an over-friendly journalist (he calls me by my first name, which is pretty much second wedding anniversary territory for most Germans. Though it might be a bit less galling if he could actually pronounce it correctly. He also looks exactly like Ricky Gervais, or at least like Ricky Gervais would look if he wore a waistcoat.)

But I digress! The most exciting thing about this placement is really the little bit of laminated plastic I have to wear around my neck, which grants me access to all sorts of places I really shouldn't be allowed. Like, say, the Plenarsaal, which is essentially the German equivalent of the House of Commons. Although it's not clear from the picture, the blue seats are all in fact swivel chairs, and throughout one another's impassioned speeches the politicians rock back and forth, spin themselves around, wander off to talk to people on the other side of the room and even just amble out entirely when they feel like it. The one innocuously formal touch is the butlers in frock coats who bring round glasses of water. (Well, glasses of clear liquid; I've been giving them the benefit of the doubt.) Interestingly, whenever a vote is taken a fire alarm goes off throughout the entire government complex. No one else seems to consider this odd.

Over the course of the week I've also somehow ended up at a press conference (which, due to my mistranslation of the key word, went completely over my head, but hey, there was free champagne), and a Central Asian ambassadorial-type meeting (more free champagne! As well as cakes, biscuits and chocolates. Diplomats seem to be sweet-toothed), complete with half-hearted simultaneous interpretation and the distribution of "traditional" gifts from Kazakhstan (I bet they picked them up at the airport. One of them was a camel cuddly toy). This all makes a typical day sound much more glamorous than it really is - yes, there are exhilarating parts, but most of my time is spent staring in panic at letters from constituents and wondering what the hell 'Lastenausgleich' means. Still, I suppose placements are always useful to help narrow down what you're looking for in a job, and this one has confirmed what I always secretly suspected: that I like to swish through doors in a suit and heels, clutching reams of important-looking paperwork and frowning intelligently (can you frown intelligently? I'd give it my best shot) when people speak. Unfortunately my physical coordination isn't up to at least two of these.

If I can smuggle my camera past the security team, a proper picture or two might be forthcoming. For now, though, I leave you with this gripping dispatch from Mr Grund! If that doesn't knock your insomnia on the head once and for all, fear not; there are another thirteen in the series...

Saturday, 10 November 2007

It's snowing! (According to me, at least. According to Mike it's sleeting. I much prefer my version of events.) The finished Textured Tunic was going to have its photo shoot this afternoon, but I may need to rethink that a bit. To be updated...

Edit: Hurrah! It is now definitely, unequivecoally, Mike-satisfyingly snowing! The Textured Tunic was forced to retreat indoors, where dodgy lighting and puzzled passers-by were the order of the day. You can't tell an awful lot about it from this picture, beyond the fact that it does indeed exist, but as my semi-resident photographer appears to be asleep it's the best I can do for now:

When not standing in front of mildewed walls, I like to hang out with cardboard cutouts

I'm ridiculously proud of myself - it fits perfectly, is wonderfully soft and cosy, and was a doddle to make. (Though I hadn't got round to sewing on the button when this was taken - no prizes for guessing what the shoulder's held together with in the photo.) My only complaint is that the pattern called for eight balls of wool, so as I was planning to lengthen the sleeves I bought nine, but still have three left. Harumph - 12 €, wasted! Maybe I could make a matching top for an exceedingly small child.

Pattern: Textured Tunic from Stefanie Japel's Fitted Knits. The pattern seems to run a little large - I knit the 34 1/2" size at a slightly tighter tension than stated to get a good fit.

6 balls (bah! etc) of Lana Grossa Royal Tweed in colour 005

6mm and 6.5mm 29" circulars (I'm never quite sure why people include this bit in their FO summaries - what are the odds that anyone's remotely interested in my needles? It might up the chances a bit if I told you that said needles are rather fetching shades of green and blue.)

Notes and modifications: Hmm, where to start? I'll take the "notes" bit first, and say that the photo of the finished top has been flipped in the book - the shoulder slit actually ends up on the right hand side (this confused me for a while; I was convinced that I'd somehow managed to knit the whole thing inside out). Also, unless I'm even more unobservant than previously suspected, there isn't a buttonhole for the shoulder button, so I just overlapped the front and back 'corners' and sewed them together while attaching the button.

As for mods:
a) I made the box stitch panel an inch shorter than directed, so that I could get started on the...
b)...waist shaping without wreaking havoc on the stitch pattern. (I don't mess with stitch patterns. Bad things happen.)
c) I left setting up the side slits until I was 13" in (as opposed to 10") - they were going to be above waist level otherwise (though I have a feeling this might be me rather than the pattern). Anyway, because I started them so late, and the sweater already seemed rather long, I decided not to go down the full long-side-slits-with-buttons route, and made mini-slits instead. I'm actually a bit mournful about this; I might need to make another one just to get those buttons...
d) The biggest change I made, though, was to the sleeves. I'd seen one Raveler complain that, as written, they "might as well be tourniquets", but I decided to ignore her words of wisdom on the grounds that my upper arms are pretty diminutive anyway (the last time I saw my sister, her friendly greeting of choice was "hey, your arms are looking slightly less skeletal than usual! Can you still do that freaky thing with sellotape? Erm, anyway, moving on...) A couple of ripping backs later and I can confirm that the pattern does indeed produce tourniquets! I abandoned the instructions and just invented my own sleeves, working the box stitch section even (and an inch or so shorter, so that it would line up with my shortened body panel), decreasing to the elbow and then increasing to the wrist for flared full length sleeves.
Did I mention that I'm feeling sort of proud of myself?

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Fame at last!

Who'd have thunk - there's a knitting pattern with my name on it! And it's rather sweet if I do say so myself. Actually, if you can get past the horribly dated styling on her website, lots of the designers' patterns are worth a look, but then maybe that's not surprising considering she's the author of this scrumptious-looking book.

Hmm. Does a post need to be longer than three sentences to justify its own existence?

Monday, 5 November 2007

Monday miscellany

1) a simple seed stitch (I know that's an Americanism, but doesn't it sound so much more appealing than moss stitch?) scarf, modelled by the ever-dignified Bangers. Not to be outdone, Bangers' long-term companion, Mash, is dropping hints for a balaclava with ear holes; I'll keep you posted on that one...

2) my Ravelry invitation came! (I'm 'Boffcat', originally enough.) I've already managed to squander spend a deeply alarming perfectly healthy amount of rummaging around on it, though rather than finding ideas to use up the yarn I already have I seem to have accidentally compiled a list of entirely unrelated projects requiring equally unrelated yarn. I'm sure it's just a teething problem. My one slight grievance with Ravelry is that you need a Flickr account to add photos to your projects, and this in turn requires you to set up a Yahoo ID. I can only assume that every subatomic particle in the known universe already has its own Yahoo ID, because it took me at least twenty minutes to find a name that wasn't taken. (When I tried the ever reliable "Boffcat", the best it could offer me was "Boffcat73". Is it honestly trying to tell me that there are already over seventy Boffcats availing themselves of Yahoo's services? Maybe we should have a reunion.)

3) the Textured Tunic is knitting up so suspiciously quickly that I've almost certainly overlooked some crucial step (like, say, making armholes). I was going to post a progress picture, but my camera is under the impression that it was left on all night and is therefore completely out of battery. (I dispute this, but it doesn't seem to make much difference.)

4) contain your excitement if you can, but I've just done a load of laundry! I realise this doesn't sound especially (or, indeed, remotely) newsworthy, but, as I don't have a washing machine in my flat, washing clothes necessitates knocking timidly on the landlord's door and asking if I can use his. It's amazing how much longer than you think you can go without...

5) and finally, 'tis the season for Christmas knitting! Curiously, my list seems to be comprised moreorless exclusively of hats this year. (More curiously still, apparently 'moreorless' isn't a word, which is a bit unfortunate given the frequency with which I use it.) One of my brothers specifically requested a beanie, but unfortunately I can't remember which brother, so I'm hedging my bets by making them for both. I was thinking of Knitty's Tychus for Rick, and something a bit more classic for Adam; possibly Harris from Noro Knits (though if he ever found out that the original was modeled on a girl, its desirability might suffer a fatal blow). I was planning to make a hat as a surprise for Mike, too, but he rather scuppered the surprise element by directly asking for one. Ohh, and last but not least, a beret and scarf set for my sister. It's proving a bit trickier to find the right pattern for that, though: I like the crisp texture of this moss stitch beret, but I'm not convinced by the i-cord crest (which, to my uneducated eye, looks more like the model has an apple stalk coming out of his head), and a matching scarf might be a bit on the dull side. The construction of SockPixie's 'La Parisenne' looks fairly Heather-proof, and the chevrons would be a bit more scarf-friendly, but I'm not sure my sister's really looking for a " kaleidoscopic effect" in her headwear, or indeed her neckwear (also, just as an aside, shouldn't it be Parisienne?). And soft, squishy and generally tempting though this beret looks, I'm guessing it requires a slightly more intimate knowledge of cable needles than having eyed them dubiously in John Lewis once or twice. Decisions, decisions...

Edit: I can't believe I forgot that it's Guy Fawkes Night today! Usually it's one of my favourite nights of the year, but alas, the Germans don't seem to have got the hang of it for some reason...Oh well, hope everyone else is marking the occasion more satisfactorily!

Friday, 2 November 2007

The secret lives of stitch markers

I know it looks like a Medieval hat, but it is in fact the beginning of my Textured Tunic from Fitted Knits. I'm just about to separate the sleeves from the body and start the box stitch section (for the third time - my inability to count to two is proving a bit of an obstacle). And nope, my tension's not spot on, but this is sort of intentional - the recommended 13 stitches per 4" makes for an overly loose and holey fabric, plus I've come across some people complaining that their tunics came out too large. (My general stinginess and reluctance to buy larger needles may also have something to do with it, but moving swiftly on...) I like the way the Lana Grossa Royal Tweed's knitting up - it's lovely and soft, and light and airy rather than heavy and bulky. (Incidentally, just in case anyone wanted another opportunity to marvel at my general dimwittedness, I always assumed that 'Lana Grossa' was a designer's name. Call myself a linguist...)

As for the title - gaah! Stitch markers are fast becoming the bane of my existence! They may look innocuous enough, but I am convinced that they are pure malice in plastic form, existing solely to derail my knitting as much as is within their power. Mine look rather like those round paperclips that were popular for a while in the 90s, and I can't help but feel that this is a bit of a design flaw, as it means they slip on and off my needle cord at whim. Spacial awareness Wunderkind that I am, I then invariably replace them in the wrong place, and my raglan seams end up meandering all over the place. My doomed Somewhat Cowl was similarly afflicted - do all stitch markers have it in for me, or should I do battle with my inner miser and fork out for some more sensibly conceived ones?

In non-knitting news, I have a flat! I'd show you pictures, but, well, I don't have any, and I imagine the current tenant might object to me traipsing into her room with camera in hand. (For some reason people generally do seem to object when I do that sort of thing.) But it, and my new flatmates, Lisa and Mischa, might make the odd appearance come December. Also - just to backtrack to knitting for a minute - thanks largely to the lovely people at Craftster I've thawed towards the purple cardigan a bit, and a full reprieve may be imminent. If nothing else it's incredibly cosy, and is putting in a sterling performance as an ersatz dressing gown.