Tag Archives: knitting

SPIDERS? CHICKENS? AIRPLANES?

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Chlorophytum Comosum

This striking plant, called hen-and-chickens in South Africa where it is indigenous, has long been known to the native populations, some of which still use it in various forms of herbal medicine. It was first identified in 1794, and given the name Chlorophytum Comosum.
Since then it has been cultivated into many varieties all over the world, gaining itself common names such as spider plant, airplane plant; the botanical name of this particular one is vittatum. You can tell that it’s a very obliging plant, easy to grow, by the fact that it thrives in my garden even though I’m not possessed of green fingers. It’s certainly what you might call an enthusiastic plant, throwing its offspring out into the world to seek their fortune, rather like the mythical Jason did.

Now that you’ve had a botany lesson, let me tell you how Jason’s latest hat came about.

The chickens/spiders/airplanes that this plant has produced continuously since summer have been catching my eye daily. I needed to do something with yarn! Mythos Minor was particularly enthusiastic as he’s under the impression that the wild antics of knitting yarn and fingers are solely for his amusement, but Jason maintained his thoughtful composure.

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Are we ready to continue?

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Which colour are we playing with first?

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This inaction is getting seriously boring – are you going to knit or what?

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Who’s that coming in the cat door?

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Taking cover

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Mythos Major offers to help

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Plantlets for Africa

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What’s going on?

How and when did these sturdy plants come to the Pelion Peninsula? Greece has been a seafaring nation since antiquity which makes me wonder if some plant-loving adventurer collected the first specimens in the forests of unknown Africa?

CREEPING…CRAWLING…COLOURFUL

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Eye-catching! The Hawkmoth caterpillar

The Death’s-Head Hawkmoth is very large with markings resembling a skull, hence the name, and has long been associated throughout Europe with all manner of superstitions. It squeaks, which I find fascinating, but this unique ability has doubtless contributed to its ill-deserved reputation as an announcer of death, predicting everything from plague to war.

The genus name is Acherontia, a reference to the river Acheron in the Epirus area of Greece. The Acheron flows from the mountains down into the Ionian Sea, and was prominent in Greek mythology as one of the five rivers of death in the Underworld.

Perhaps Persephone wandered its banks, weeping into the dark waters?

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Not small

I’ve seen the Hawkmoth caterpillars on the property fairly frequently, feeding their way voraciously along, but have never been able to capture a good picture of the moth. Unless one happens to fly into the light, they’re not easy to spot at night but I’ve heard the strange squeak they make; one can understand why primitive peoples were so preoccupied with them.

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I wasn’t ready for this close-up!

No pesticides or poisons of any sort have ever been used on this land so we are fortunate to have quite a variety of insects which creep and crawl, flutter and fly about on their foraging missions, ducking and diving from their natural predators. Yes, of course the garden suffers to some extent, but it’s amazing how the birds by day and the bats by night sort things out somewhat.

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Forget the cyclamen flowers, I need the leaves

The colourful Death’s-Head Hawkmoth caterpillars are so striking that the lowly worms inching and squinching their munching way along seem insignificant by comparison.

Whether they creep or crawl, are large or small, worms and caterpillars are highly regarded by birds, so their lives are constantly under threat whatever their colouring.

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Watch out for birds!

Knitting needles, a few yards of yarn and a button or two – I give you GoogliBugs.

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Quite tasty, no?

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Minor’s puzzled…where’d he go?

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What is this stuff?

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Nice ‘n’ fresh!

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Trying to worm your way in?

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Lots here to fatten me up!

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These leaves aren’t up to much, don’t you think?

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The food’s beautifully presented

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Pink’s my favourite colour

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Are we related?

With a lot of luck, these may become moths and butterflies!

PERSEPHONE and POMEGRANATES

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The pomegranate – known since antiquity

The burial mound at Amphipolis, near Thessaloniki in Greece, has been very much in the news recently but now that an ancient skeleton has been found the excitement has reached peak levels. Thanks to modern science we’re accustomed to the fact that age, sex, height of skeletal remains can be determined, but it’s astonishing that scientists fully expect to learn details such as colour of hair and eyes of the person buried in this tomb. He or she was certainly of great importance as indicated by the splendour of the burial chambers, though the tomb has unfortunately long since been looted.

The mosaic floor is of superb quality. Only imagine the skill and expertise required to carry out the back-breaking work of assembling the scene. I wonder if the pebbles were collected and sorted for the artist by helpers? One would think so. This National Geographic article gives a brief description of the mosaic.

Persephone, daughter of Demeter and Zeus, featured prominently in Greek mythology, though the concept of a goddess responsible for the rebirth of plant growth in the spring has a history which predates the latest versions of the Greek myths; birth and death have always preoccupied Man’s mind.

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Winter fruits: Apples and pomegranates are frequently mentioned in the Greek myths

Needless to say, after all the skulduggery and trauma of being dragged underground, Persephone was more than a little anxious to return to her mother from the Underworld.  In one version of the Greek myth, Hades agreed to free her if she hadn’t eaten or drunk anything while in his underground kingdom.

But he tricked her, of course – Greek myths are big on tricks and treachery!

He fooled her into eating some pomegranate seeds, with the result that her freedom came with certain conditions: six months on Earth, six months with him as Queen of the Underworld. Thus did the ancient Greeks explain the seasons.

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Jason’s quite cosy in warm winter colours


Some years ago I knitted my friend a shawl in what has become my signature style, using many colours and textures of yarn; the original shawl is featured in my first book (2000).

We were photographing this one in late Fall before Aeolus, that normally nimble god of the wind, had dispersed all the Bougainvillea blooms, and together with a bowl of pomegranates on the table – the colours were irresistible. So much fun setting up the pictures!

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Highlighting the colours

Persephone is a lovely classical name, not often heard nowadays; Persa is the common pet name. Persephone, a favourite subject of artists and sculptors, is frequently depicted delicately draped in floating wraps and shawls.

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Worn by an antique olive jar

Did she knit brightly coloured shawls to cheer her through the dark dismal days in Hades?

IT’S HAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN

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I knit. I love colour. Two simple statements, but the fact is that my very earliest memories have to do with colour and with knitting. I was not yet three years old, gravely ill with pneumonia, lying on a bed in my grandparents’ home, while the doctor fussed in and out and my mother sat knitting steadily, reassuringly, by my side. Her yarn was brown, but the floor and walls blazed with the vibrant hues of kilims. I recovered; we continued our interrupted vacation and returned to Scotland.

A few years passed and I joined the Brownies, learnt to knit and got my badge. And no, the required knitting was not of the my-first-scarf variety, but a baby’s sweater, no less. I’ve been knitting ever since.

Knitting is not my Winter activity, it’s my constant activity. All kinds of knitting, all kinds of items, but hats are my default knitting. Hats in progress are scattered throughout the house to be worked on at any opportunity. By each chair, next to the bed, in bags hanging on available hooks and knobs, in the car, and always at least one ziplock bag with yarn and circular needles in my travel bag. You just can’t get into too much trouble with a hat. It will fit someone, for sure, and will never go wasted.

Hats are my gauge swatches where I try out new techniques. Hats allow me to indulge in wild colour. They never bore me as round and round I go on my circular needles. Hats are obligingly quick to knit, happy to use all my scraps of yarn. And they do pile up so cheerfully!

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Silent and solemn as ever, my clear-headed Jason is very good about wearing a hat so that I have a record of it, as well as memories of the scene, something I’ve learnt to do in recent years, having failed to do so in years gone by.

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And he’s not my only helper – various of the hairies and furries are always very eager to get involved.

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This year’s hats are about to be sorted. Some will be gifts, but most will leave home to travel where they are needed to bring a little warmth and colour into lives.

Hats off to knitting!

CHEESED OFF

Poseidon's been pouting, Zeus has been raging and now Aeolus, god of the wind, has joined in. They've been trying to outdo each other all weekend. Rain, lightning, thunder and wind. Not your gentle Zeus-snoring breaths, mind you, not fluffy little clouds ruffling the water, but great gusts of violence. Tempests. Squalls. Gales. Call them any name you like.

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Lord Beaufort would have been in his element. Lord Beaufort, who survived being shipwrecked as a lad because someone messed up a chart, and who grew up determined never to have that happen again. Can't say I blame him. I've no desire to make Poseidon's acquaintance either. Anyway, Lord Beaufort went on to do great things after his bad experience, not least of which was becoming a Rear Admiral and a Sir, and generally going up hugely in the world. And while he was achieving all this, he also made time to tinker about with his Wind Force Scale. In use all over the world, it describes the effects varying wind strengths have on smoke, trees, water and so on. It makes for interesting reading, and gives you some idea if you're about to have a really rough go of it.

"Wow, look!" I'll exclaim, gazing out upon a froth of wavelets dancing with little white horses, as I  consult my printout of Beaufort's Scale. "I reckon that's a Beaufort 3. Maybe even a 4."

Not this time though. Not on your life. The Pagasitic Gulf has been battling a Beaufort 7 at least, more like an 8 with distinct notes of a 9 at times. Olives are raining down off the trees, bits of geraniums are flying about. The hairy and furry members of the household have the right idea. This calls for restful calm within the house, with tea and munchies, a book and some knitting. And friend Sally's cheesies are just the thing.

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SALLY's Cheesies

INGREDIENTS
4 oz butter – softened
8 oz grated cheese*
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1-1/2 cups flour – sifted

METHOD
Preheat oven to 350 degF
Mix butter, cheese and seasonings.
Add flour and form into a dough.
Roll out and cut into straws.
Or use a cookie press if you like to get really fancy.
I simply roll the dough into small balls and flatten with a fork.
Bake on a greased cookie sheet for about 25 minutes

*Notes on cheese
Use an Extra Sharp Cheddar cheese if possible.
I don't usually have this available, so I add a good amount of cayenne pepper.
Chili powder works just as well.

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These are very popular at parties.
They keep well and are great with soup.
OK, so I lied, they don't keep long in this household!

 

LOST AT SEA

 

The Pagasitic Gulf has a fairly good natured temperament, but as the saying goes, still waters run deep and in this case they do quite literally for the Gulf’s depth is about 100 meters in most parts. Though usually calm, the Pag can be moody, showing flashes of anger just when least expected, particularly after Poseidon decides to get his trident in a twist. Rather high and mighty is Poseidon, conscious of his position as one of the Twelve Gods; his realm is the sea and he’s a touchy character. Very. Poseidon is quick to take offense, and even quicker to vent his fury, striking his three pronged weapon to cause earthquake and tsunami, shipwreck and drowning. For my part I’ll take his raging seas any day rather than his earthquakes.

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Pagasitic Gulf from Google Earth

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The waters of the Pagasitic can boil up in no time, frequently subsiding just as swiftly, but when Poseidon’s tantrums are out of control, the sea might rage for days, depositing all manner of debris along the beaches and among the rocks. Plastic, that prince among pollutants in all its forms, nets, ropes, wood, medical waste bearing foreign labels and doubtless dumped at sea, bottles, branches, logs, shoes, clothing, toys, to name but a few. My dog Sophia, keen swimmer and beachcomber, supplemented the toys we constantly bought her, by retrieving various playthings and balls from the tangled messes hurled onto the shore.

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After one particularly fierce storm when Poseidon was completely out of control, I noticed a piece of green knitwear twisted tightly around some vegetation. Intrigued, I retrieved the mangled bundle and set about separating the knitting from the twigs and pine cones, burrs, thistles and bits of root gripping it. A very damaged, hand knitted sweater was finally freed. I was rather upset at first; it was difficult not to think that maybe a life had been lost. But then again, why should that have been the case? It could just as easily have been blown overboard, or accidentally dropped into the sea. Or been swept by a wave off the beach. Washed away in a heavy rainstorm. What about the person who’d lost it? Was it their only sweater? Sophia and I walked home, and I placed the matted little heap on a table to dry in the sun.

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The next day I picked off some of the seed pods stuck all over it. This sweater has been in the water a long time. It’s faded in parts, badly ripped, it’s brittle and disintegrating, but it has a story to tell and I’m trying to understand it. There’s a temptation to indulge in a flood of metaphor and sentiment with regard to it, with waffle about unraveling and dropped stitches, and being battered by life, about what it was and what it no longer is, but the fact remains that someone went to the trouble of making it, and somehow it got lost. The fact remains that it’s handknitted, and that one seldom sees handknitted clothing here any more. The street markets in Europe have seen to that.

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So where did it come from, this little sweater? And by whose hands was it made? The yarn is wool, it’s quite badly degraded, but it appears to have been handspun. This makes me think of Albania where I know women who spin beautiful yarns on drop spindles to knit for their families. The garment is knitted back and forth in pieces, which have been seamed together; the sleeves are set in; the neckband is crocheted. The yarn has been held double at all the cast on edges – a technique commonly used in Greece, Bulgaria, Albania, Turkey and parts of the Middle East. A close examination reveals no damage to the cast on edges, which is interesting in that other areas of the sweater have been torn. The cast on stitches are fairly rigid, they have very little elasticity, which again brings Albania to mind.

The workmanship would win no prizes, but this is a utilitarian garment, made to serve a need. It is not the work of privilege, if I may phrase it so. The hands that drew upon age-old knowledge and techniques to make it, that did so with love and concern, created a garment that links all those of us who knit. Who knows how far it’s traveled?P1110973 [HDTV (1080)]A IMG_2241 [HDTV (720)]A

 

 

 

The Pagasitic Gulf

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The long narrow Pelion Peninsula projects hook-like into the Aegean Sea, curling its tip in a warm hug tightly around the waters of the Pagasitic Gulf on its western coast. The gulf is very deep; its waters conceal many a wreck, both ancient and modern, not to mention the treasures lost by would-be conquerors and pirates. Wonderful beaches and inlets abound, several of which are accessible only by boat, where the happy sailor may find his own particular bit of paradise.

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The gods of Greek myth took their summer vacation on Mt Pelion at the head of the Gulf for they knew a good thing when they saw one.

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The Pagasitic’s waters are usually calm, their gentle winds making them popular with sailors though they can erupt in fury when disturbed by strong gales. The sea reflects every colour presented to it in weather fair or foul, constantly changing hues depending on cloud cover, proximity to sand and rock, to flower, bush and tree. Spectacular sunsets explode in all the fiery colors and fade away over shades of blue, green, turquoise, navy; storms and rain have their own striking palettes.

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The Pagasitic Gulf fascinates me with its beauty and history, inspiring me to knit this shawl.

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‘BYE ‘BYE BIRDIES

 

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Summer is reluctantly drawing to its end here; there are all sorts of little reminders that winter is sneaking up on us.  The cyclamen has begun to appear. Tiny clusters at the moment, but in a few weeks there’ll be large areas of these delicate pink plants with their distinctive flowers and leaves.

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Most of the swallows have already left, but one particular swallow clan and their offspring remain. These have returned to their large communal nest on a balcony for the third year now. At least I think it’s the same extended family. Apparently swallows mate for life, and this group has certainly done its bit for the swallow population with three sets of hatchlings this season. This is probably why their flight has been delayed as the last of the baby swallows have only just left the nest. I suspect ma and pa are quite anxious for the youngsters to build up their strength so that they too can journey along the ancient and perilous migration paths.

Busy, busy these parents have been for months, zapping past my window from the first glimmers of dawn until they’re mingling with the emerging bats at end of day. I’m delighted that their mud home has remained unoccupied so far during the long winters, for I’ve noticed that these sturdy dwellings are often taken over by winter squatters, and once that happens, the swallows shun the nest.

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I haven’t yet been able to identify the housebreakers which are small and somewhat sparrow-like, but they certainly do disrupt the swallow housing developments, and make an enormous mess of droppings from the high-rise apartments they have commandeered under the eaves.

 

Swallows feed on the wing, catching insects in mid-flight, but they flash by so quickly I’ve never yet been able to capture a decent photograph. Instead, here are pictures of a spotted flycatcher returning to her colourful home in the roof with an unfortunate grasshopper – dinner for the three raucous fledgings she was nurturing in June – and dessert of some sort of grub.

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She spent the whole summer only a couple of feet from my study window, so I was able to watch her preparing the nest with cheerful snippets I’d made available. When I sew, I try to trim seams outside in the garden, while small pieces of yarn from knitting projects get tossed out the windows. These bits blow around and are quite often picked up by birds to weave into their nests.

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Mama flycatcher was quite selective in what she chose to use, with a strong preference for red.

As for Raki, he was enthralled by the spectacle, and spent long periods chittering indignantly at the comings and goings, and although the nest is now empty he still stares hopefully up at it. But soon our feathered winter vistors will arrive and we all look forward to their antics.

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IRON AGE

It’s pretty much a daily occurrence: I approach the washing machine with a load of laundry, trying not to make eye contact with the ever-growing pile of clean cloth staring accusingly at me. Ironing. I hate ironing. I have friends who love it, who find it satisfying and soothing. They tell me that serenity washes over them. Who are they kidding? The only thing that washes over me when I contemplate the tragically wrinkled and rumpled waiting silently is resentment. Where’s the imagination in ironing? How many ways can you press pants? What can you possibly do to completed collars and cuffs that can be called creative?

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How did all this smoothing of garments come to be desirable anyway? When I was knee-high to an ironing board Santa Claus brought me my very own toy iron. He brought my brother a truck. Yes indeed, gender roles were well ironed into place back then. Unlike the old folk song “dashing away with the smoothing iron” does not steal my heart away, but rather strikes terror into it. No really, when did the perfectly pressed place one into a socially acceptable category?

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Do you suppose some Stone Age woman noticed that her grass mat looked more inviting when subjected to weight and heat? Did her smelly skins and furs become more appealing after being sprayed with water and covered with rocks yanked from fire? Does this mean she held the patent for those backbreaking, great heavy metal irons filled with hot coals that were in common use before the advent of electricity? No wonder they were called flat irons. Knocked you flat with exhaustion they did. I have to concede we have it easy.

 

But ironing, in relation to the smoothing of fabric that I’m making something from, I am happy to do. Pressing the pieces and seams when sewing is satisfying as that work is structural. The fabric is manipulated as a means to an end; it’s not the repetitive maintenance that the routine ironing of linens and garments requires.

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The same applies to the preparation of knitted pieces, either prior to assembly, or after completion of the item. We knitters have a variety of techniques available to us – we can pin the pieces out to shape and spray them with water. We can dunk the pieces, or the finished article in water, wring out the excess and leave to dry. We can use a combination of both methods. We may choose to iron the knitted fabric, that is to say, apply heat and/or steam to it depending on the composition of the yarn – something which should be done with care.

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Such processes smooth out the work and are generally referred to as blocking.

 

Call them what you will, these various methods should result in a better appearance of the fabric, and now that we’ve ironed this out, excuse me while I attend to the laundry.