Friday, January 27, 2012

Fickle? Me?

The only knitting resolution I made for 2012 was that I would knit whatever whim and fancy suggested. But I'm beginning to wonder just how fine the line is between whim and fancy and fickleness. Being led by whim and fancy has a carefree, of the moment, feel to it. To be fickle is to be changeable or inconstant - altogether less flattering characteristics.

Inspired by my whim and fancy attitude I started a new project last weekend - Juneberry, Brooklyntweed's lace knitted small shawl for thicker yarns. (I'm using Madelinetosh 80/10/10 Sport yarn).


As usual for Brooklyntweed, this is a well-presented, easy to follow pattern resulting in a modern yet classic outcome. It's even a bit more technically challenging than my usual projects so I've been feeling quite virtuous about stretching myself and my capabilities. After discovering that the knitting was much easier with a generous application of stitch markers I've been steaming along, snatching time for some rows whenever I could. I thought I was totally absorbed in this project.

Then, surprisingly, yesterday, I was distracted by log cabin knitted squares - specifically, Mason-Dixon Knitting's Buncha Squares. I've had some Mission Falls 1824 cotton for several years. This yarn has a rather old-fashioned boucle texture that I've always thought would be perfect for a blanket. In fact, I've had several attempts at knitting it up in various ways but have never been happy with the outcome. Buncha Squares might be it. I've almost finished one square and love the outcome. It has the attraction of variation within an overall regular pattern that I always fall for. Now I only need to knit (how many?) more.

Buncha Square

This yarn has been discontinued and though I know there are several part-finished projects with it in various places around the house I doubt I would have enough yarn for a useful blanket. But I'll see.

Whim and fancy, or fickleness, might take me in an entirely different direction at any time.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bye baby bunting

A colleague at work is just commencing parental leave for her first baby. Yesterday we had afternoon tea with her and gave her a number of presents for the baby. I love the opportunity to knit baby clothes and had fun choosing pattern and yarn for a little jacket. She'd commented many times that almost everything she's been given so far for the baby is pink (she's expecting a girl) and lamented the current pinkness of everything for girl babies. So it was easy to decide to knit in soft green yarn. I also wanted a pattern that wasn't aggressively girly as it was clear my colleague prefers plainer, less sex-specific designs.

Knitting designer Laura Chau (Cosmicpluto) has produced a very cute baby cardigan she named Sweet Bunting; a simple, bottom-up seamless design with a natty pattern of bunting at the base of the yoke. It would be equally suitable for a boy or girl.

Baby bunting 1
Baby bunting close-up

I'm not a very experienced or very expert fair isle knitter and would like to have done a better job of controlling the tension of the simple fair isle patterning in the yoke. It's a little bit loose; though that's better than being too tight. Fair isle in a highly processed superwash yarn (such as the Morris Empire Superwash Merino 8 ply which I used for practicality with this jacket) does not sit as neatly as fair isle with catchy yarns. Still, I did learn to weave in the floats of yarn as I carried them across the longer stretches of the pattern, and I think I'm developing a desire to improve my colourwork knitting.

I decided to use up the remainder of a ball of green yarn by knitting a hat. Whit's Knits from Purl Bee often has simple but very effective free patterns. I used the size and shape of the hat from the Little Fair Isle Hat pattern, omitting the attractive fair isle design and substituting two row stripes of the contrasting colours. I'm very happy with the outcome.

Baby bunting + hat
baby bunting + hat close-up

I seem to be on a bit of a bunting kick lately, having made bunting for a Christmas gift swap and now knitting the bunting pattern on this jacket. I like simple, geometric, repetitive patterns, and bunting fits these characteristics.

I also liked the gentle pun in the name of this pattern. Bunting originally was the word for a rough fabric made with a glazed surface, ideal for flags and ribbons. Over time the term has transferred from the fabric to the flags themselves. But it has another association. There's the rhyme I remember from my childhood as a chant for rocking or jiggling babies

Bye baby bunting
Daddy's gone a-hunting
Gone to get a rabbit skin
To wrap the baby bunting in.

The internet informs me it's also a lullaby, though this is not part of my association for it.

So this is a playful pattern rich in associations. My colleague was surprised and delighted by the gift and I've had a great deal of pleasure making it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Another world

A few days ago I was half-listening to Radio National which was replaying an interview with Jeff Fatt, one of the Wiggles. He commented that one of the things he liked about his job was that it gave him access to the world that's inhabited by young children and their parents. His words reflected my experience of the couple of weeks I spent looking after my grand-daughter at the end of December and beginning of January. For those couple of weeks I inhabited a world I knew very well when my own children were small, but that I've not really lived in since then. To describe the world of small children and parents and carers as a parallel universe is going a bit too far; but it's certainly a space where your view of the world is transformed.

I found myself going places and doing things I've not done in a long time. I went to the beach and jumped over waves and swam in the sea and built sand castles

Lennox Beach
AM at Lennox Beach

I went to the movies and saw two animated films (you have to know just how avidly I avoid animation in any medium to know what a departure this is from my usual practice)

I visited the local park and playground and hung out at the charmingly unpretentious Ithaca swimming pool.

I visited an animal park and exclaimed over the cuteness of the wombats.

I spent quite a bit of time in the children's section of both the City and State Libraries in Brisbane. Both wonderful.

AM and City Library

[The children's section of the City Library, by the way, has views through its modern angular windows of the Brisbane Casino - a very elegant late nineteenth century building that used to be the State Treasury. Somehow that seems very appropriate and very Brisbane]

I went to a Dinosaur Picnic arranged by the State Museum where we made dinosaur masks and tails and listened to a performance of factually accurate songs about dinosaurs by Jurassic Joe. These songs are readily transferable as earworms and simply by typing this I have 'The Sleepy Stegosaurus Stomp' echoing through my head.

And of course we visited - twice - the very child-friendly Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), my favourite gallery. It currently has a large exhibition of works by senior Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama that extends in a most enveloping fashion through several of the Gallery's rooms. Of special delight to children - and to most of the accompanying adults - is the Obliteration Room where the aim is to cover all the white spaces of the walls, floor, ceiling and furnishings with dots (Kusama has a passion for dots). Everyone is issued with a sheet or two of dot stickers as they enter the room which they can use as they wish. It's fun to see children sitting on the parents' shoulders to reach the ceiling or crawling beneath the table to paste dots on the underside.

Yayoi Kusama 'Obliteration Room' GoMA

As you exit from the Obliteration Room (such a great title) you're inspected to make sure you're not transferring dots outside the room on your clothes or the soles of your shoes. Nevertheless, the dots have escaped to lots of other areas of the Gallery and the surrounding areas. It became quite a game to 'spot the spots' around the cultural centre precinct, and even at the bus stop.

GoMA also has an installation called 'we miss you magic land'. Ostensibly it's designed for children, though as the title implies, it's just as captivating for grown-ups temporarily inhabiting the child's world. To quote the exhibition blurb, Perth artists Pip and Pop draw on 'children’s stories, creation myths, Buddhist cosmologies, video games and folktales, (to) create large-scale fantasy worlds coloured with a bright, often fluorescent palette, using cake-decorating tools, intricate layers of sugar, glitter, modelling clay and mirrors'. (I wonder if any of the participants in the astonishing cake-decorating sections of the Royal Easter Show ever dreamed of putting their talents to such use). The magic worlds are arranged in clusters at various levels and can be viewed through small windows and by looking up at the ceiling.

we miss you magic land
Viewing 'we miss you magic land'

You can even create your own magic world at home, which we did, several times.

Being an adult in the world of children means a change of perspective. Time stretches and contracts. Some things take much longer to accomplish than you could ever imagine possible; others you thought might be absorbing are passed over with barely a glance. You have to expect the unexpected. Things you find deeply boring can entertain a child for hours. Plans you make can be overturned in an instant. At the risk of sounding pollyanna-ish, I rediscovered that many of the most enjoyable things are free (other than the 'cost' of your time). Time at the beach - admittedly made possible by visiting a generous friend, imaginative games, playing with other children in the park or at the library, all cost nothing.

I'm back in my adult world with my adult perspectives - until the next time I visit my children and grandchildren.

Afterword...on my day off from doting I went back (yet again) to GoMA to see the exhibition Matisse: Drawing Life. There are rooms of Matisse drawings and you see the development from his already skilled early works to the late collages. Matisse drew and drew and drew - dozens of drawings each day - to refine his portrayal of the world. You see an artist continually honing his skill and vision. Definitely worth viewing.

And I popped in, as I always do, to see the wall of Ian Fairweather paintings in the Queensland Art Gallery. I love his paintings as design, but I also find them sad and nostalgic and somewhat tortured. Definitely worth revisiting.

Ian Fairweather 'Kite-flying' (1958)
[Ian Fairweather 'Kite-flying' 1958]

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A big shawl

For some time now I've been wanting a big shawl - one that's long enough to drape securely around myself and that's deep at the back to keep me warm. Finally I've achieved it.

Large shawl 4
Shawl 2

It feels as if it has taken me ages to finish this shawl, but in fact I only started it at the end of October and finished the knitting just before Christmas. However, it was a lot of knitting. I didn't have time (or energy) to organise the blocking before I went away in late December, but inspired by this morning's Knitting Guild meeting and the chance to show it off to friends I conquered the blocking yesterday. That's what it felt like: a war, as I pushed and prodded and measured and pinned the shawl into submission across almost all the spare space on my living room floor.

The pattern is Stephen West's Transatlantic Shawl, and I just kept knitting and knitting till I felt it was big enough. Initially I'd bought four 50g skeins of the Rowan 4 ply wool for the solid dark graphite colour, but I needed to go back twice to Calico and Ivy to buy additional skeins to make it large enough. The variegated black and cream yarn is Schoppelwolle Crazy Zauberball where the skeins seem to go on forever. The pattern includes increases on every row at the edges, so the resulting shawl is very wide - and long at the front if I don't wind it around myself.

Large shawl 1

One of the great things about this pattern is its use of texture. I particularly like the contrast between the horizontal garter stitch ridges of most of the shawl and the strong vertical lines of the central slipped stitch pattern.

Large shawl close-up
Large shawl close-up 2

I'm very happy with my shawl, though as it began to grow I was surprised by its proportions...surprised and initially a bit dismayed by its width. But now it's finished I'm really happy to have such long shawl 'tails' to anchor the shawl as I wear it. A very good outcome.

Finally, I'm pleased to have a shawl in shades of grey. Clearly, it will match most of my clothes.

And really finally, thanks to DrK for the pics of me wearing the shawl

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Five Best Films 2011

It’s taken me longer than usual to compile my list of best films from last year – mainly because I’ve been finding it so hard to decide what to include. I don’t think there were any stand-out films for me in 2011, but on the other hand there were lots of high standard films that I’d recommend – possibly with some qualifications. My list today might be different from my list tomorrow, but if I leave it any longer there’ll be no point at all to the exercise.

The usual background to my film-viewing applies. I still don’t watch films on DVD. Apart from a few films seen in museums or on planes my movie-watching has been in the cinema. Maybe my list will seem a bit out of date as some of the 2011 films being talked about as possible award winners are still to be released in Australia, so maybe I’ve not yet seen the best for the year.

I watched 59 movies in 2011; an increase on the 52 in 2010. I’m quite surprised by this total as I was away from Sydney for half of last year’s Sydney Film Festival that is always a time of compressed film viewing for me. The distribution of the countries of origin of the films I saw is roughly consistent with past years’ viewing – 28 or just under half were from the USA, 7 were Australian movies, 9 were from the UK and the remainder were from other countries.

Even though I saw relatively few documentaries, some of them were remarkable, even though they didn’t make my top five. If ever anybody wondered why researchers need transparent, publicly justifiable codes of ethics they should watch Project Nim about the deluded 1970s project to raise a chimpanzee within a human context. The Australian film The Tall Man is a factually and emotionally accurate adaptation of Chloe Hooper’s book of the same title that outlines the tragedy of the death of Cameron Doomadgee in custody on Palm Island in 2004. Catfish is a film for our times. It’s a playful, maybe truthful, story of an attempt to unravel a false online identity – or is it? Page One is a dense, intelligent depiction of a year in the life of the 'New York Times'. I really had to concentrate to follow the wealth of information and ideas about the making of news that were contained within it. All these documentaries were innovative in the way they told their tales, as well as telling tales that needed to be told.

I’m pleased I was able to see more Australian films last year than the year before and that so many of these were good. Snowtown, with its depiction of how evil can so easily become ‘normalised’ in a marginal community, just missed out on making my top 5, and The Hunter, with a charismatic performance by Willem Dafoe, tells a suitably allegorical story for the grandeur of the Tasmanian landscape in which it is set.

There were also other brilliant performances that I could note, but that fell outside my top 5. Two such performances portrayed parenthood in its awful complexity - Tilda Swinton was heart-breaking in her portrayal of the reserved, tormented, unrelenting mother at the heart of We Need to Talk About Kevin, and Brad Pitt’s creation of the domineering, loving and unsuccessful father in The Tree of Life meant that, for me, the parts of that film in which he appeared were probably the most brilliant film moments of the year.

So finally to my top 5 films for 2011:

My first choice is endorsed by any number of prestigious international awards including the International Competition Award at the Sydney Film Festival. It’s an Iranian film, A Separation. It's deeply interesting because of its depiction of everyday life in Iran, but more particularly by showing Iran's dispute settling and justice system. A couple acrimoniously decide to separate because she wants to leave Iran and he wishes to stay to care for his father who has Alzheimer's disease. Their daughter is torn between the two. The separation leads to stresses in their daily life and unfortunate and damaging choices are made. The film probes with great subtlety issues of truth, ethical choice, and responsibility, while revealing differences of viewpoint and experience - by class, by gender and by religion. This film investigates universal moral dilemmas while providing insights into a very different world. I imagine it’s the kind of film that irascible Sydney journalist Bob Ellis had in mind when he argued that all politicians should be compelled to go to film festivals to learn about other realities and appreciate different viewpoints.

I found second and third difficult to separate so somewhat arbitrarily I’ll place the Australian film, The Eye of the Storm, second. This is a tour de force of Australian cultural production. The film is an adaptation of Nobel prize-winner Patrick White’s 1973 novel of the same name by director Fred Schepisi and features many great Australian actors in major and minor roles. White’s novels are complex in their chronology and often very interior and have proven resistant to film-making; so much so that this is the first of his novels to be filmed. I loved this film. Elizabeth Hunter, played by the inimitable Charlotte Rampling, is dying. She has dominated, manipulated and emotionally alienated her children, Basil, a once-successful actor reliving his glory (Geoffrey Rush) and Dorothy (Judy Davis), the Princess de Lascabanes, whose title is the only remnant of an ambitious ‘European’ marriage. The film is melodramatic, beautiful, touching, scathingly hurtful, and occasionally slyly funny. Judy Davis’s portrayal of the betrayed, wanting to be loved daughter is raw and affecting. There’s so much in this movie. As well as being essentially a tale of family relationships it’s also a wicked depiction of class and naked aspiration in 1970s Australia.

Third is the much-acclaimed Coen brothers’ film True Grit. I’ve not seen the original John Wayne version of this film, or if I have, I’ve forgotten it. (I grew up in the 1950s on a movie diet of Saturday afternoon matinees in which westerns figured largely. When I became more sophisticated in my tastes, I spurned westerns. When I became more accepting in my tastes I realized that I liked a good western). The star turn of this movie, as with so many Coen brothers’ movies, is its tone. It’s wry, sarcastic, aware, kind and very funny. The centre of the movie is 14 year old Mattie Ross – brave, honourable and truthful. This is such a resolved and believable performance from Hailee Steinfeld. But all the acting is excellent. Even though I needed sub-titles (not available) for most of his utterances, Jeff Bridges as strutting, drunken, wily, but truly gritty Rooster Cockburn brought me to laughter and compassion; Matt Damon’s LaBoeuf was masterfully underplayed and had me chortling whenever he was onscreen; and finally Josh Brolin could play anybody and I’d willingly watch, but here his bumbling, heartless villain was perfect. Where do the Coens go from here?

My fourth choice is the documentary Bill Cunningham: New York. I liked this film so much I went to see it twice on consecutive days. Bill Cunningham works for the New York Times where he has two weekly columns - one of which documents New York high society at charity events and parties, and the other of which features street style. Bill Cunningham turns 80 while the documentary is being made and he still spends his days walking the streets of New York, lingering on street corners, photographing street fashion, and his nights bicycling from grand event to even grander event photographing the rich and well dressed. He refuses to photograph celebrities only because of their celebrity - they must also have style. As Anna Wintour says at one stage - to have Bill ignore you is death. Bill Cunningham gains admittance to the most exclusive of Paris fashion shows because 'he's the most important man in the world', but he dresses in a blue workman's jacket, only eats the simplest of foods in down-market cafes, and has lived for many years in a tiny studio in Carnegie Hall, crammed with metal filing cabinets of his photos, sharing a bathroom down the hall and with no kitchen. He's lived his life among the rich and famous but has a very strict code of owing nothing to anybody. He works all the time and is passionate about clothes and style. He lives a busy, honourable life devoted to the observation of clothes. There is nothing innovative or extraordinary about this documentary; it’s just that the subject is fascinating.

Fifth is a Spanish film called Amador, directed by Fernando Leon de Aranoa. I feel a bit reluctant to include this film as it hasn’t had a commercial release in Australia, however I hope and imagine it was widely distributed in the Spanish-speaking world. The film is set in a large Spanish city among marginalised migrant workers who gather discarded flowers from the markets and spruce them up for reselling. But Marcela and Nelson need money for a new fridge to store the flowers. Marcela, who is pregnant but reluctant to tell her philandering husband, takes a job caring for an old man whose relatives are building a house outside the city. He dies within a week of her employment, but she's already committed the money she will earn caring for him. What to do? This is a very gentle social critique that is nonetheless effective for its gentleness and moments of quiet black humour. It's much more in the tradition of a British film-maker such as Ken Loach than it is in the tradition of the exuberant and elaborate work of a film-maker such as Almodovar. This is a very plain film – simple, unadorned and spare. I loved this film with its completely unanticipated resolution.

So, there’s my five from 2011. I hope you don’t mind but I’ve repeated myself from previous posts in writing about some of these films – at least I’m being consistent. It’s a bit of an eccentric list as it’s inevitably shaped from those movies that have come my way in 2011. It’s a much less grim list than previous years. True Grit might be described as a comedy; Amador has its gently humorous moments and a Shakespearian happy ending; Bill Cunningham is very cheerful; even The Eye of the Storm is nastily funny occasionally. This year only my first choice is grim by the standards of past years. I wonder if I’ve changed or the movies have?

I’d love any thoughts or comments on this overly long post – or any suggestions of other good (or bad) films you’ve seen.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Knitting 2011

I completed eighteen and a half knitting projects in 2011. The half is not an incomplete project but the additional rounds I knitted on my grand-daughter's blanket to match her increasing size.

Ten stitch shawl

This is a slight increase over my 2010 tally, but is somewhat meagre when compared with the prodigious output of some of my knitting friends. Still, the important things are that I'm still finding knitting pleasurable and that I've been happy with almost everything I knitted last year. The majority of the objects I knitted in 2011 (twelve of the eighteen) were gifts for friends and family and, to the extent I can tell, have been warmly received and frequently worn.

By broad category I knitted

2 cardigans (one adult; one child's)
4 shawls
4 pairs of socks
3 scarves
3 hats
2 pairs of mitts
and one blanket extension

My public knitting failure for the year was that I didn't complete the s62011 sock challenge of knitting six pairs of socks to group-chosen patterns. I managed three of the pairs for the year and then just departed on a frolic of my own (more of that later). I've decided I have sock ennui - a grandiose label for the fact that I'm a bit fed up with knitting socks.

So, my personal prize-winners for 2011:

First, the piece of which I'm most proud - Gudrun Johnston's 'Audrey in Unst' cardigan. I knitted this for my daughter and it was a perfect fit and style for her. This must be one of the best patterns ever - well written, classic and even a bit retro in its styling, and with knitted-in sleeves that create such a neat finish. Lovely.

audrey 2

The most favourited project on Ravelry has been the dotee's blanket already pictured above. I think this is one of those projects where the bright and unexpected yarn combines really well with the simplicity of the pattern. It's great fun.

Next, the item that's been most worn. While I can't count accurately how often my gift knitting has been worn, I suspect the winner has to be the dotee's striped yoke cardigan. Not only has she worn it when I've visited, but there are photos from kindy and other outings at which I've not been present where the cardi has featured. Again, this is a great knitted-in-one-piece pattern from Alana Dakos (though a distinct down-side is all the weaving-in of the yarn ends for the striped yoke!)

striped cardi 3

And finally, the project that was most fun to make. This is a hard one as some projects such as the "Audrey' cardigan were extremely satisfying to make, though all the stocking stitch could not really be said to be fun. I think my choice is my frolic socks - knee-high socks in stripes of Noro Silk Garden sock yarn and a vaguely toning maroon semi-solid yarn. These socks were begun on a whim and finished in ten days, so I must have enjoyed knitting them.

frolic socks 3

So that's it for 2011. I have a shawl I've finished knitting but not blocked and some almost completed socks to get me off to a good start in 2012. I have no plans for 2012 knitting other than to have no plan.

In 2012 I shall knit as whim and fancy dictate.

Monday, January 2, 2012

12 in 11: December and ...finale

Did I succeed and reach year's end with only twelve clothing purchases across the year? Yes I did! I bought no clothes in December and so (with a little bit of creative counting urged on by my readers) I reached my goal for the year.

Across the year I've bought three pairs of shoes (Mary Janes that accommodate my heel inserts and that are already extremely worn; some Trippen sandals and glittery beaded slippers from Malaysia that need a particular occasion for wearing); two pairs of winter pants - beautiful fine wool Alistair Trung sale pants I've been wearing for 'best' and some indestructible heavy fabric grey pants I've just about lived in; a black Nicola Waite overdress that I wear either over pants or with thick tights (Nicola Waite makes such great clothes for larger women); three long-sleeved t-shirts for winter; a summer Marimekko oversized t-shirt that's currently my go-to favourite; and a grey Mandarina Duck handbag I've used almost every day since it was purchased. The final item is some earrings I bought on a visit to the Canberra Old Bus Depot Markets. I subsequently bought some additional earrings and a necklace while travelling but at the urging of my readers decided not to count these as they fall into the categories of both handcrafts and souvenirs.

So what have I learned from this challenge? Probably that it's good to have some external constraint on my clothing purchases - it's kept me honest to know that I need to publicly justify them. I've ended up with purchases that have been practical (as well as beautiful in some instances) and that - with the exception of the beaded slippers - have been well worn across the year. I'm surprised to find just how many of the items I've bought have been 'brand' items. As I wrote in an earlier post I've liked to think of myself as disregarding brand snobbery. I think I've now discovered that I just like to be selective about the brands I'm snobbish about!

I've enjoyed this challenge and what it has taught me; and I've enjoyed the comments it's elicited both within this blog and in person. I don't think the challenge can be continued indefinitely - my summer clothes in particular are just about falling apart and need rethinking. I don't think the challenge has brought a major change to my purchasing patterns; I've just been a bit more restrained. I've decided to keep an informal clothes-buying tally across 2012, but not on the blog, to see whether publicly acknowledging my purchases does make a significant difference to what I buy.

I was gloating about my success with this challenge to my daughter when she suggested that I should extend it for 2012 to an area of purchasing where I'd REALLY have difficulty exercising restraint - book buying. This brought me up short. Being careful about the books I buy would be much more difficult than taking care about clothes buying. I've thought and thought about this suggestion and have decided to set myself a 12 in 12 book challenge for the year. This will be really hard but just might make me thoughtful enough to use all the sensible alternatives there are to the indiscriminate book buying I currently practice. So, in 2012 I intend to

* use libraries. My local library is the excellent City of Sydney Library with its many convenient and interlinked branches, and I also have access to the library at the university where I work. I have no excuse for not using them.

* read currently unread books that I own. There are not many of these as I'm not a great browser of book shops unless I need something to read immediately. But I suspect I might find more of these than I think I own once I go searching.

* reread books I own. I have a great affection for nineteenth century literature and could engage in more systematic rereading. In particular, I'd like to reread some turn of the nineteenth century Arnold Bennett (a past favourite) to see what I now think of it.

* borrow books from friends. This really means making a strong resolution to return books I borrow from friends. In the past I've been reluctant to borrow books as I've not always been meticulous about returning them. This needs to change.

So, my 12 in 12: Books challenge begins now. Wish me the will-power and restraint I'll need to succeed!