My best reads of 2017

Yeah, I know it’s March 2018 and I’m only just getting around to talking about my favourite reads of 2017, but you know I have a full time job and Etsy and so I don’t have as much spare time as I need. Plus who cares? No-one but me is setting the deadlines.

Last year I set myself a target of 33 books to read over the year on Goodreads’ reading challenge, but in the end I only read 24 but I choose not to care too much about that either because all that means is that I had more Etsy orders last year which is fantastic.

Out of those 33 books, I marked 13 in my book journal as being great reads, so here goes – sometimes when I look back over these I surprise myself..

January

I read three books in January and only really enjoyed one of them.

How to Fight Islamist Terror from the Missionary Position by Tabish Khair
This is basically a modern comedy of errors, really good fun and the cover is larks to flash at the Daily Mail readers on the morning commute.

The worst book I read in January was one that was loaned to me by someone at work and was an anti sugar healthy eating book. Dullsville.

February

I read three books in Feb and only really enjoyed one.

The Foreshadowing – Marcus Sedgewick. Oh my that was a great book. It is written for young adults but there wasn’t anything childish about it. Really definitely recommend this one, its about a girl who suffers premonitions (its set during WW1) and no-one really believes her, its also about the limited freedom of young women of the time. I passed this one to Andy to read after me and he really enjoyed it too.

April

Oh no it took until April for me to really enjoy another book, but that was only two books so not so bad really.

The Glass Painter’s Daughter – Rachel Hore. Now this is one of those books that is passed on to you and you would never have read otherwise but it turned out to be a real page turner. Its about a woman who takes over her dying father’s stained glass business and gets a massive crush on the wrong man. Classic airport read stuff but don’t dismiss it for that, its well written and very enjoyable. The descriptions of the stained glass and processes are really evocative and beautiful.

May

The Hand that First Held Mine – Maggie O’Farrell. I won this book in a book swap game at the UK Bookcrossing Unconvention back whenever that was… Loved this book. Its about a woman who leaves suburbia as a very young woman looking for thrills and ends up drowning. Its all about the people she leaves behind and them remembering her life. Its such a good read, I was so glad to have read it and passed it on to someone at work and it made her cry. Sorry about the crying part but its a thrill to pass on a great book that chimes with other people too. Must read more Maggie O’Farrell.

June

Two great books in June!

Dangerious Liaisons – de Lados One of those rare books where the film adaptation stands on its own and one doesn’t spoil the other. The book of course is much more nuanced and has much more detail and depth but the film is just non-stop thrills – it’s actually my favourite film.

Mommie Dearest – Christina Crawford. Now this one I liked for all the wrong reasons. What a bitch. Poor Joanie. If ever a woman had a rough deal in life… Christina comes across as a spiteful, spoiled cow. No surprise to find she is ultimately cut out of the will. Serves her right. By the way, did you watch Feud? Wasn’t it just fabulous? I cried at the end.

July

Dead Kid Songs – Toby Litt. I am pretty sure I have read another of his books and didn’t like it so I wasn’t expecting to think much of this but I was so so wrong. Fantastic book about childhood and childhood allegiances and friendship. I loved this right up until the terribly clunky end which was crap but not so bad that the rest of the book was ruined. A close run thing though.

August

Four good books in August! No surprise that we went on holiday in August last year.

To the Edge of the Sky – Anhua Gao. Fascinating memoir of life in communist China. Not the most cheerful of poolside reading but I love books about life under communism. The unspeakable cruelty and fear, it fascinates me that people can actually want to cause that much unhappiness. Its extraordinary – what on earth do they get out of it? I know money and power and all that but really, the weight of the misery caused. Surely it isn’t worth it.

Driving Over Lemons – Chris Stewart. Great memoir about a guy who relocates to Andalucia, firstly on his own and then his wife joins him. Its so interesting, their lives are beyond grim to me but they love it. The characters in the area they live in are so colourful and all the plumbing problems and what have you they have to get over… really uplifting book in a ‘not in a million years’ type of way. When I finished reading this book I left it at the train station at Fleet and I’ve just found out its travelled on to South Africa! The person that read it after me really enjoyed it too.

The Palace of Curiosities – Rosie Garland. I definitely read this one in Bulgaria too. Pretty sure I left it in the ‘library’ at the hotel too. This is a magical realism book about a girl who is born covered in hair looking very much like a lion. She ends up being married to a sly pig of a travelling circus type and is completely taken in by him. Its about her waking up to the reality of her life and the people around her.

E is for Evidence – Sue Grafton. What do I need to say about the mighty Sue Grafton? Love these books, even though I’m only up to ‘E’ I fully intend to read the rest. They’re great light quick reads and yes I know the stories can be a bit silly but that’s a big part of their charm.

September

31 Dream Street – Lisa Jewell. Oh looks like I enjoy light reads more than I thought I did. This one is like a soap. Woman lives across the road from a shared house and becomes intrigued by the people that live there and disillusioned by her own life. It all comes right in the end.

Yarn Harlot – The Secret Life of a Knitter. You do have to be a knitter to get the most out of this book, its a riot if you are into knitting. I thought that her experiences would be somehow very different to mine because she is in America and has kids and all that but turns out there is a universal very funny truth of experience for knitters worldwide. Love her.

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Vintage Patterns

For several years now I’ve been collecting vintage knitting patterns, I keep them all squirrelled away safely in folders but rarely actually knit them. This is madness. They’re gorgeous and deserve to be knitted, so this year I am not going to buy any more modern patterns and I am going to work through my vintage collection.

These are my most recent acquistions, most of them bought from Radio Days in Waterloo in their closing down sale but the booklet on the right was a gift from my dear school friend Carole (one of the best people you could hope to meet in your life and the author of many a jolly jape at school) and this is now one of my Precious Things that no one else will ever be allowed to touch.

Someone may need to remind me about this vow on Ravelry, and frequently. Speaking of which if you are on Ravelry say hello, I’m Ginpoodle there too (also Twitter, Instagram and Facebook).

Committing to knitting vintage patterns will also tie in nicely with my other new thing for 2018, I’m only going to buy British yarns produced by people who have no kill flocks like Hooligan yarn and Doulton Yarns when I knit for myself.

At the moment I’m knitting this little beauty for a customer, which I think I’ll be able to finish today and then I’m on to another mustard cardigan and then another one in biscuit. So that’s most of the year in vintage knits already. Actually thinking about it that’d means I only have another three slots available this year unless I give up work which isn’t really an option.

French Lavender Cardigan

This is another update on the vintage cardigan’s progress.

Knitting to order is never going to make you rich, I think it works out that I’m working at a rate of about £2.14 per hour but creatively it’s a great exercise because you knit things you might not ever have come across and it stops you falling into comfort zone knitting. Plus the thrill of someone actually asking you to make something for them is a treat and then you have The Fear once you’ve posted it to hear whether they like it or not, and they always love it so the relief is lovely but the positive feedback is even better. Sounds corny, I know, but it is such a lift.

Of course every now and then cardigan knitting is interrupted with a snood order and that is a good thing because crochet uses your hands and wrists in a different way and above all things we want to avoid an RSI don’t we? I’ve been making snoods for 11 years and if I say so myself, I’m pretty good at them. I make them everywhere, it’s a nice portable project so you’ll often see me on the train whipping one up and because crochet is only one hook and not two needles clacking together you can slip in a bit of snood making in situations where you should be quiet. I go to free lunchtime concerts in London as much as poss and I always take something with me to make, that something more often than not that thing is a snood.

But I’m not here to talk about snoods am I?

I had a bit of a set back over the last couple of weeks, first of all I had the dreaded Chrimbo lurgy that everyone gets every year. That laid me pretty low for a good week and meant I didn’t have the mental energy to concentrate on knitting or films or books or anything much. Just a lot of flopping around feeling grumpy. I’m pretty much over that now (grumps included) but then I heard from my favourite button supplier that buttons I had ordered from Italy are out of stock so I’ve had to substitute a slightly darker shade which I’m keeping my fingers crossed will look good. I am pretty confident they will but I’ll wait until I have them in my hand to make a judgement. So just the button bands to go, then the sewing up and it will be ready to sell.

After this I have another vintage pattern commission to get my teeth into. I’m really looking forward to it and I’m enjoying making garments rather than small projects like shawls and socks. In fact I’m going to give up making shawls altogether when I’ve finished the three I have on the go.

So, since starting this post I’ve finished the cardigan! Not only that but it’s been posted off to it’s new owner, and I am delighted to tell you she loved it.

Online Groups

I am cutting down my membership of online knitting groups and subscriptions, I find they draw me in too much and I end up wasting far too much time wasting my creativity time looking at endless pairs of socks.  Marvellous though they are, and I am often inspired or awed by what other people make it stops you from following your own path.  I get so caught up in admiring other people’s work I’m not honing my own skills.  Plus a trend I’ve noticed in some Facebook groups is that once they get popular more admins are needed and sometimes they become over-moderated.  I personally think moderation of a group needs a light touch, people don’t need slapping down every five minutes, if someone posts something that infringes a copyright for example its best to delete it and send them a private message, no need to gloat all over the group about your take-down policies and how you won’t suffer any sort of appeal or dissent.  Its ok for people to disagree with you or offer an opinion you don’t agree with, you don’t need to constantly slap them down.

I think the ones I will stick with are the ones that tie in to a podcast.  My absolute favourite knitting podcast is Louise Scollay’s Knit British, there is something absolutely fascinating in every episode, actually that’s wrong, the whole podcast is fascinating and I think I might be the only person in the world who is glad she has had to reduce the amount of episodes she produces because now I stand a chance of keeping up to date and looking up all the scrumptious yarn, projects, patterns and producers she finds for us.  I’ve not even touched the surface of her Ravelry group but I went along to one of the 100 episodes celebrations in last weekend.  I had been aiming for the Bath one but  there was industrial action on that train line so I went to the London one instead and it was absolutely fantastic.  I met so many lovely people working on gorgeous things and I really hope I can meet them again.  Fingers crossed I’ll bump into some of them at Unravel next month.

I think Ravelry is a much nicer place to hang out than Facebook, I don’t know what it is about FB but it seems to make people come over all opinionated and strident and I’ve just not seen that sort of thing on Ravelry.

So I’m still a bit conflicted about online groups, on the one hand its lovely to see what other people make and be inspired, but on the other its often quite a negative experience in that it drains time to no purpose or you encounter negativity.

I’m also going to unsubscribe from a lot of the major yarn suppliers’ email newsletters. Its just so much clag isn’t’ it?  When I want some yarn I go looking for it, I don’t need to be emailed several times a day to remind me.  Lord knows I don’t need any prompts to buy yarn.

French Lavender 1940s cardigan

I’m working on another 1940s cardigan, this one is in soft lavender which is not a colour that suits me at all so I’ve never thought to make anything in this colour until a potential customer got in touch to suggest it.

Now I don’t know about you but I let personal bias affect everything I choose to make so it’s nice when someone gets in touch and prompts you to do something different.  So far I’ve made this cardigan in biscuit, black, mustard and now this lavender and I’d say it works equally well in light and dark shades.  I’m part way through making a navy one for me too but as that one is for me the chances of it ever getting finished are a fair bit slimmer than me.

So here we are – progress not quite to date because this is now very nearly finished.  I’ve knitted this in every spare minute and just have the button bands left to knit before I sew it up, these pictures are a random assortment of places and stages of knitting including at home, on trains, at concerts and at work (in my lunchbreak).

Marvellous Mustard 1949 cardigan

Yesterday, I finished making one of these cardigans from my Etsy shop – Ginpoodle.  I love this cardigan, it is made following an original pattern from 1949 that I have resized.  It is a lot of work but the stitch pattern is just so gorgeous and its very forgiving because the the stitch makes it quite stretchy.

First of all the customer requested a mustard colour in pure wool, so that meant several very happy hours online trying to track down a mustard colour wool in the right weight and in the right quantity.  Turns out there were very few options and the prices ranged from affordable to eye-watering.  The nicest shade of mustard turned out to be the cheapest one – hurrahs all round.  So off I go to order it, only to find out the colour is discontinued so there was only the odd ball to be had here and there. Disaster.  After a couple of days I managed to find an eBay seller who had it in stock so I hit ‘Buy Now’ faster than I’d move if you told me there was a free buffet.  The next day I received an email from the seller to say he didn’t actually have the quantity I’d ordered. Grrrr. Now at this point I know there is very little of this stuff to be had anywhere so I’m feeling a bit panicky, but then I remembered my usual snood yarn supplier also stock pure wool and thank god for them they had the same yarn, but on a cone. I love them so much.

All this meant that by the time the yarn arrived it was two weeks after I’d received the order so the delivery date had to be adjusted. That’s the thing with custom orders, if I need to order in a special colour yarn it will take longer to complete because of course I can’t start until I have the yarn in my hands.

This stuff was worth the wait though. This yarn is beautiful, the colour isn’t flat at all, it has tones of gold and orange that you only really see if you’re knitting with it, it just gives the most beautiful shade of mustard I’ve ever seen. Why they have discontinued the shade I don’t know because everyone that has seen it loved it.

It starts off with a teensy bit of ribbing, then goes into a broad rib pattern (note excellent nail colour matching that I am very proud of) before going into the cathedral stitch repeats.  Now, if you can see, they’re  like little lacework arches a bit like cathedral windows, I’m fairly sure I’ve seen this same stitch in a stitch directory somewhere with a different name so if anyone can jog my memory please do.

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The fronts of cardigans are nice and quick to do because they’re so narrow, which can lull you into a fall sense of security of how long its going to take you to make the whole thing because at this point you’re so pleased with your progress you’ve completely forgotten the way sleeves take over your entire life with no end in sight.  Look at this picture and you’ll see I’ve already started the back, I’m just at the start of the cathedral stitch.  I’m using my gorgeous KnitPro carbonz which I love despite the ‘z’ that should be an ‘s’ irritating me.  Normally that sort of nonsense would put me off buying them altogether but they’re so chic in black and silver and my partner works with carbon fibre so it makes me feel like he’s nearby when I knit with them.   At this point I really should have blocked those two front pieces because they look pretty ropey and uneven to my eyes until they’ve been blocked.

In rare moments when I was not knitting I read this book, several years after all the other knitters in the world have read it.  Its very funny indeed, if you are a knitter and you haven’t read it already please do get a copy, you’ll see yourself on every page.  The lighting in the middle pic is horrendous because that’s my desk at work, I’m knitting at my desk in my lunchbreak and everyone else is pretending that’s normal.  The third pic is back home with the back piece finished on my vintage trunk.

All I’m going to say here is… arrrrgh sleeve hell. Though as I was making them I realised a jumper with a plainish body and cathedral stitch sleeves would be lovely and I should make one for myself.  Remind me would you?

img_0537After sleeve hell comes blocking hell. I don’t know why I hate blocking so much but I do. I think it’s all those pins and stretching.  I always worry its going to ruin all my work or not dry properly and smell of damp.  This never ever happens, the knitting is always vastly improved and it does always dry much more quickly than you expect. But blocking always gives me The Fear.

Last week I visited the Knitting and Stitching Show at Ally Pally on the Wednesday, and despite having already bought about a ton of buttons in various colours and materials for this cardigan I bought these beauties from the Italian Button stand.  I couldn’t resist, they’re perfect aren’t they? There are 14 buttons on this cardigan. If you don’t like doing up buttons or are always in a frightful rush do not buy this cardigan.

I taught myself a better way of doing buttonholes too so they came out all neat and perfect first try, normally I oversew them afterwards but no need now.

So here it is, the finished cardigan.  I love it. I know I made it and its not very British to blow your own trumpet but I think it’s beautiful. I am very happy with it and fingers crossed it’s new owner will feel the same. The flat feels a bit empty without it.

 

Today I’m Making… Fuss Free Festival Shawl

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I am a member of the excellent FaceBook group Everyday Knitter run by the knitting designer Louise Tilbrook.  I’ve watched for ages people making her simple garter knit shawl and finally got around to casting one on while on holiday in Bulgaria last month.  To be honest I didn’t really enjoy the holiday so I was glad of it.  It was like a home for sausage obsessed grumps.

It is a very simple design so perfect for showing off a nice interesting yarn, and because it’s lovely and simple to knit it is perfect for holidays and knitting in front of the telly.

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I am making mine using 200g of DK yarn, its a Rico Design Creative Galaxy that I bought in a sale at Pack Lane Wools in Basingstoke earlier this year.  I’m pretty sure I only paid a couple of pounds for it. It’s lovely yarn, really soft and a little bit fuzzy which offsets any scratchiness you might have felt from the hundreds and hundreds of little holographic sequins it is shot through with.  The pattern only asks for 100g of sock yarn but I love a big snuggly shawl so I’m doubling up and using DK. This is mine at the half way point.

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So far I have knitted it on holiday by the pool in Bulgaria, in front of the telly at home, commuting to work by train and at my new Saturday afternoon knitting group at the library café in Fleet, Hampshire.  Tomorrow I have a hospitable appointment I am frankly dreading so I’m going to take it with me as a sort of comforter.

Here is a link to my one on Ravelry, where you can also buy the pattern though I think Louise is still sending you a free one if you sign up to her newsletter so check that out first!img_0394