Monday, December 31, 2012

What do you mean I'm not in NZ?

This year for our Christmas festivities Willie's immediate family and I stayed at Apollo Bay, a few hours drive down the coast from Melbourne. We all had a lovely time - it was most relaxing! And a little cooler, which I appreciated.

It was great to finally see a bit of the Australian countryside, and I spent rather a lot of time watching for interesting new birds and other wildlife. A highlight was seeing a flock of cockatoos gathered around a picnic table seagull-style, while a family ate fish and chips! We also spied some wild koalas when we stopped at a eucalyptus forest on the way back to Melbourne, and I saw an echidna moseying along the roadside at the beach.

But there were also some surprisingly New-Zealand-like moments! Apollo Bay had pohutukawa trees scattered about, like a typical beach town back home, and there were familiar birds around, like fantails and pukekos.

The biggest surprise was when we went on a bushwalk to Marriners Falls - the bush was just so ferny it felt like being on a bushwalk in New Zealand...

(click to enlarge pics)


Friday, December 21, 2012

New pattern: Starstuff hat

The Starstuff hat is a cosy beret-style hat with a starry brim. I designed it as a companion to my Starstuff mitts, which I recently revised and updated.

The striped ribbing and colourwork stars are borrowed from the mitts design, but here the stars appear only around the brim, rather than as an all-over pattern. The decreases at the crown form a larger star, gathered into an optional beret 'stem' at the top.

I used Zealana Kauri once again, a lovely fingering-weight possum-blend yarn. The purple colour is 'Tuhi' (I used just under one ball), and the green is 'Kea' (left over from my mitts). I like the matching-but-not-quite effect of using different background colours for the hat and mitts set.

A giant Christmas tree has appeared in our apartment building! It seemed the perfect backdrop for a photo or two...

I blend right in... kinda...

The fancy staircase is also fun for posing on. ;)

The Starstuff hat pattern is now available on Ravelry, either separately or together with Starstuff mitts.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A night at the opera

Last night Willie and I, Matt, and Chloe went out to Madama Butterfly at the State Theatre! Puccini isn't my usual musical fare to say the least, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a great spectacle, and the singing was fantastic, especially Hiromi Omura who played Butterfly. The set was simple, with some touches that made it magical: pools of water, glittering stars, and drifting cherry blossoms. I was grateful for the surtitles translating the Italian, as I wasn't familiar with the story beyond the basic naive-Japanese-heroine-meets-caddish-American-villain outline.

I've been to a couple of operas before: The Marriage of Figaro a year or two ago in Wellington, and L'Orfeo more recently. It's a great excuse to dress up and be fancy - a lovely escapist way to spend an evening. It was fun to introduce our newbie guests to the bizarre and sublime world of opera!

The teaser trailer:

Hiromi Omura in the same role, in a past production:

We had really good seats, thanks to a competition Opera Australia is running. The idea is to make an origami butterfly, and take a photo of it in a public place. I took my slightly dodgy butterfly along on one of my raiding-trips to the State Library music-scores room. ;)

A butterfly on a butterfly

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A tardy cardie

Knitting garments is time-consuming. I fall in love with cool new designs, and put them in my Ravelry queue, and ponder what yarn I might use and what colours would maximise the general awesomeness. But they take me so long to actually knit (in between working on smaller projects), I've made a total of two finished garments to date: a Beatnik jersey and my Chickadee cardie.

Therefore it's not really surprising that the Cria cardigan I started in September, in a big burst of knitting productivity at my parents' house, has gained only about a dozen rows since I've been in Australia. Luckily, I seem to have my garment-making gumption back, and I'm chipping away at my green Cria. On Sunday I brought it to Willie's sister's house, and knit a few rows while they played music in the next room. I couldn't resist trying it on the mannequin-on-stilts that looms in a corner of the lounge...


I still have the sleeves and most of the body to knit. I'm using 4ply pure wool yarn from Anna Gratton, which I bought at a Wellington market back in May - which illustrates just how long my 'garment cycle' is!

Naturally, I've been scheming about what cardie or jersey to make next, even though this one won't be finished for a while yet. I have two special batches of 4ply yarn in sufficient quantities, and a short-list of patterns for each. The first is Vintage Purls Sock in 'Hotel Magnifique', which is all crazy rainbows! It will need a relatively plain design - I'm considering Billowing, Barnsley, Deco, and Candelia. I'll have to work out which would suit me best, and what I'd most like to wear.

The second batch of hoarded garment-yarn is Skein Top Draw Sock in 'Golden', which looks like faded sunflowers. I think this yarn will be able to take a little more detail in the design. At the moment I'm torn between Praline, Conic, and the others I mentioned above. Because these skeins are underweight 'seconds', I'll need to calculate the necessary yardage carefully - the long-sleeved designs might be pushing it.

The plotting-and-scheming stage of a project is totally my favourite!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Starstuff revisited

I finished my stranded mitts! Twinkle, twinkle, little possums...

'Starstuff' mitts in Zealana Kauri (Kea + Blue Pania)

Blocking really worked wonders for my tension - the stitches are so much more even and tidy, and the star pattern shows up clearly. My beloved possum-blend yarn 'bloomed' a little too, so they're even softer after blocking, with a lovely halo of possum fur.

The pattern, Starstuff, is now fully revised and available for download from Ravelry. While the design remains essentially the same, I edited the instructions for clarity, re-drew the charts to make them more straightforward, and made a few small design tweaks to the ribbing sections. I've learned a lot about colourwork (and knitting in general) since I first released my Starstuff pattern in 2010, so the revision was well worth doing.

I used a little more than half a ball of the blue yarn, and a little less than half of the green. I plan to make a coordinating hat, once I've made some progress on my other projects. I'm thinking stars around the brim, and a solid centre.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Possum perfection

Recently I've been knitting with some particularly scrumptious yarn: Zealana's Kauri in fingering weight (4ply). It's a blend of 60% merino, 30% possum, and 10% silk, and it's just as cosy and soft as you'd expect from that combo. Mmmmmm...

Yarn with possum-fur content is very cosy and warm, and has the added benefit of supporting the eradication of a serious environmental pest. Reducing New Zealand's possum population is good for our native wildlife, including precious endangered birds. You can read more about possum-blend yarn on the Kiwiyarns Knits blog, and about the possum problem in general on the NZ Forest and Bird website.

Zealana Kauri in 'Kea' and 'Blue Pania'. Zealana does the best colours!

The possum-fur content gives it a subtle fuzzy 'halo'

I ordered my Kauri from Great Southern Yarns, which stocks brands like Brooklyn Tweed and Malabrigo that can be hard to find in New Zealand, as well as lovely local stuff like Zealana.

Being a two-plied yarn with a bit of fuzziness to it, I thought Kauri would be ideal for stranded colourwork. Happily, I've been intending to revise one of my early patterns, for a pair of colourwork mitts.

A sneaky peek...

The colours are working well together, and my tension is looking pretty good. I've learned a lot about colourwork (and knitting in general) since I came up with my Starstuff pattern. All going well, I should have a fully-revised version done by next week, and a finished pair of mitts to show you. I'm looking forward to blocking them, so I can see the final tidied-up effect!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

New pattern: Beachgrass

My new summer hat pattern Beachgrass is now available on Ravelry. Yay!

Yesterday Willie and I took the tram to St Kilda, and pottered around the beach and the shops. We stopped for tea at a neat bar called The Vineyard - hopefully next time we'll be able to get a seat outside. On a sunny Saturday afternoon the competition was fierce!

I wore my new hat, and it really did keep my head cool in the sun. Best of all, because it's a loose-fitting hat with great air-flow, I didn't end up with the dreaded hat-hair. :)

Beachgrass is simple to knit, and has a really relaxed, casual look. Most of the shaping is achieved by blocking, so you don't need to pay close attention until you reach the crown decreases.

I designed it with plant-fibre yarns in mind, but it would look stylish in wool too (for a cool-weather hat). In wool, the brim would be much more stretchy, so getting the size right would be a snap.

For my Beachgrass hat, I used Hemp for Knitting's Allhemp6 yarn, in 'Sprout'. As I mentioned in my previous post (Experimenting with Hemp), this yarn softens quite dramatically after washing. I recommend washing the skein before you start knitting, to make it less rough on your fingers. Pre-washing will also give you a more accurate swatch, because the fabric will be closer to the finished item.

Hemp yarn is very eco-friendly, hard-wearing, and versatile. Give it a try!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Experimenting with hemp

After all my plotting and planning for some suitably summery knitting, I ordered some hemp and cotton yarn from South Seas Knitting. It has now arrived in my hot little hands, mwahahahaaa...

Hemp for Knitting Allhemp3 (4ply) and Allhemp6 (8ply)

Habu Textiles Non Twist Cotton Boucle (2ply)
I have a cunning plan for the Habu cotton, but as I've used cotton yarn before on occasion, I was more excited about trying out the hemp!

I have it on good authority (thanks Mum) that hemp yarn softens up a lot after washing and wear, so I wasn't alarmed by the stiff rope-like texture of the Allhemp yarns. I gave the skeins a wash and let them dry, so that the yarn would be a bit softer and more pleasant to knit with. A word to the wise: unless you're washing a skein of yarn very gently, do tie some extra bits of scrap yarn around the skein to keep it tidy. I didn't bother, and the vigorous washing resulted in some pretty stubborn spaghetti monsters...

Now ready to get knitting, I got out my stitch dictionaries and played around with a few open, lacy stitch patterns. Two skeins of the 4ply hemp are going to become a scarf or shawl for Willie, so I tried striping some of the stitch patterns to see what happened.

The colours are 'Aubergine' and 'Chocolate' - an unlikely combo!

I like this 'knotted openwork' stitch with the two colours in play.

We'll need to do some more sketching and thinking, but narrowing down the stitch pattern choices is a good start. :)

The other 4ply skein of hemp will become a hair-tamer for me. I've been trying to come up with a stitch that looks like the black, bobbly seaweed that's common on New Zealand beaches. The colour of the yarn ('Licorice') reminded me of it, and it's a nice summery image. I'm having trouble getting the bobbly bits right, but I think I'm getting there. I still have a few permutations to work through, and I'll probably reduce the width too.

The 8ply hemp yarn, on the other hand, has already become a hat! It's nice and slouchy and airy, just what I was going for. It's also nice and simple. :)

A hat, not a mutant green jellyfish (honest)...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A walk in the park

A few days ago I continued my exploration of Melbourne with a wander around Treasury Gardens and the adjoining  Fitzroy Gardens. It was very pleasant! Lots of huge trees, birds, and other folks enjoying a bit of greenery.

Treasury Gardens, just off Spring St. (click to enlarge pics)

Local wildlife: office workers taking lunchtime naps

Over the road to Fitzroy Gardens

The Conservatory, full of colourful flowers and talkative tourists

Ducks on patrol! 'Wood ducks' according to my Field Guide phone app.

A cool old tree, with St Patrick's spire in the distance

Sunday, October 21, 2012

In my natural habitat

Yesterday I spent my Saturday afternoon at the library. ;)

I'd visited the State Library before, in my one previous trip to Melbourne, and thought it a very pretty and relaxing place to be. Now that I have more time to explore, I had a proper look around the collections. It's not a lending library - it's more like NZ's National Library, where you use the books etc while you're there, and photocopy/scan whatever you need to take away.

I had lunch on the sunny lawn outside, and then sniffed out where the music scores are kept. It turns out they have their own room! I think there are more scores in storage, that you can ask for if you want them, but the selection on the shelves was pretty good. There were plenty of composers I hadn't heard of, which is always a good sign...

Mmmm, French Baroque!

Medieval goodies...

I had a good rummage through the Baroque-era stuff, hunting down solo soprano pieces I haven't sung before. I ended up photocopying a couple of entertainingly frilly Vivaldi pieces (Nulla in mundo pax sincera, and Amor hai finto), and the two solo Leçons de ténèbres by Couperin. I'd better brush up on my French-style Latin pronunciation... :)

When I was done wrangling the photocopier, I had a wander around some of the other collection rooms and the reading rooms. There were hardly any free seats to be had! I'll have to come back on a weekday, snag a comfy chair, and spend some quality time with the music journals.

One of the reading rooms, with the books around the perimeter
More books upstairs!

The dome in the La Trobe reading room

Pretty fancy!

Love the little green lamps. :)