Friday, 24 August 2007

Japanese Style Part II - Tea

Despite the proliferation of cool and swanky coffee houses all over the place, I'm still a tea drinker. I like the idea of going into a coffee house with a book or the newspapers on a lazy afternoon when I've got nothing better to do. I like the smell of coffee very much, but that is where the love affair ends. For me, coffee smells better than it tastes. With a St*rf*cks [sorry] on the high street of every itty bitty little town (yes, one arrived here this year too), it seems that the British tea drinker is getting left out in the cold.

A few days ago, I heard a discussion on the venerable Radio 4 about the fact that sales of regular black tea is at an all time low
in the UK. But there was a light at the end of the tunnel. It seems that sales of specialist teas - chai, green teas, red teas, fruit and herbal teas were enjoying a bit of a renaissance. People are starting to get picky about their tea, and not just their tea, but their tea making accoutrements too... It made me think about the type of tea I drank (ahem, any number of teas - green, fruit, herbal, black ...), and what I drink from. I have the mother of all teacups & saucers: it holds three-quarters of a pint, and no one drinks from it but me. I also have a whole variety of teapots, depending on what I'm drinking, e.g. this one is for fruit teas. I got it from Mariage Freres in Paris, home to a tea museum, and some of the most fabulous tea rooms I've ever visited (and yes, my schoolgirl French is hideous).

I reserve this one that I bought in Japan for when I'm feeling ultra-special, and want to have a cup of green or white tea with a touch of honey. Sacrilege, I know - did I introduce you my sweet tooth?

Bettys by Post is a fabulous way to indulge. Not only are teapots becoming small items of desire, I noticed that tea is being packaged ever more attractively... "Woman's Hour" on Radio 4 has an article about the perfect afternoon tea at Claridge's Hotel. Coffee, watch out!

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Halcyon Days

My family has always been international. My extended family lives all over the world, and my nuclear family is rarely all in the same place at the same time. At one point we were all in completely different places, several time zones from each other. For example, when I worked in Thailand, I used to call my parents early on a Sunday morning, and they would be answering early on a Saturday evening.

Right now my sister and her family are living in Japan. So we don't get to spend much time together. We tend to meet up in the summer and at Christmas. As I sit here on a dreary weekday morning, I am remembering the fun times we had this summer...

For almost the entire two months that he was here, my nephew insisted on calling me "Ganma". I would say, "Aunty", encouragingly. He would just look at me and repeat "Ganma". When I asked him if I looked like grandma, he nodded emphatically, "Yes". As though I'd asked the world's most stupid question. Okay, then...

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Oh, Habu...

I just couldn't help myself, once I had my hands on the little bundles of gorgeousness, I had to play with them straight away. I'm not normally a fan of mohair; I can't stand all the fluff. But this? Oh my lord, I had to reread the ball band! Is that what silk and mohair feels like? Oh wow, just SOFT... The 100% silk was a completely unexpected texture: almost crispy, without the slipperiness or the sheen that I normally associate with silk.

I started with two strands of the silk/mohair, and got a beautifully soft, but saturated colour. Then I added a strand of silk. The colours blend seamlessly, but with a subtle distinction where I changed yarn combination. Next I removed one of the silk/mohair strands, and got almost a heathered effect. What to try next? I added another strand of crispy silk, and finally I removed all mohair to leave just two silk strands, and then a single silk strand. The texture moves from being luxuriously soft and supple to being quite textural (almost coarse) as the colour shifts from light pink to soft brown. This little swatch has been following me from room to room over the last couple of days. I can't stop looking at it, touching it, and marvelling at the colour/texture combinations.

What will it look and feel like when I block it? I haven't even dared to try the Shibori yet. I bought quite a lot of this yarn, so I have some choices about what to make. All the designs I've seen made of Habu have been kind of zen and spare, and I think that's also what I want to do. An intricate lacey pattern would be a waste, I think. So, whilst I look for a design, I think I'll do another swatch and felt it Shibori-style.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Japanese Style Part I - Yarn

I was going to write a post about my last weekend with my sister and her family before they headed back to Japan. But I got distracted when the postman slipped a little grey card through my letterbox. It was one of those good news/bad news moments.

The good news: my Habu had arrived at long last. I have been lusting after some of their yarn ever since I read a review of their cashmere in Knitter's Review. The bad news: Customs & Excise and the post office between them were "taxing" me another 50% of the purchase value... Grrr. I didn't want to buy it from the US, as I knew I was likely to be clobbered by C&E. I had searched all over the Internet for UK retailers - there are perhaps two, and neither sold what I particularly wanted to buy for my first exposure to this unique company's yarn.

I checked Habu, and saw that they would be putting in an appearance in London in October. I told myself to wait, at least then I would be able to touch the stuff before I bought it. I began to exercise a level of restraint previously unheard of in my lifetime, and then one day I innocently wandered over to Coloursknits and read her post from 31-Jul-07. Oooh boy, oh boy, oh boy... Let's just say that from Vanessa's blog, somehow or other with no conscious thought on my part, and entirely on their own, my fingers typed out Naturesong Yarn. Click, click, click and 15 days later, I received this... Kakishibu Tsumugi Silk A-1B 2/17 (100% silk) in #52 Bengara.
And this... Silk Mohair Kusa A-32B 1/12 (60% mohair and 40% silk) in #26 Madder. I can't begin to tell you how beautiful these yarns are... The colours are so subtle, so natural, so restrained. I can't imagine that I will get anything other than the most elegant article made from this.

I am hoping for many new experiences with these yarns, not least of which is trying the Shibori felting technique.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Book Club Choice: Carry Me Down

Aptly named book... I felt miserable reading it.

This book has been nominated for the "Man Booker Prize 2006", I'm still trying to work out why. In fact I'm trying to work out what happened. Did anything happen at all? Why was this book written? Did I learn anything from reading it? Is my life enriched in any way? Okay, now I'm getting pretentious. Geraldine Bedell of The Observer says, "Carry Me Down is almost claustrophobically narrow...", and I wholeheartedly agree with that. She goes on to say that it is "also enthralling and absorbing and capable of arousing sympathy to a degree that is almost painful". I wholeheartedly disagree with that!
I would count myself as a reader; I'm probably more of a reader than a knitter. I've certainly been reading consistently longer than I've been knitting consistently. In fact, I'm a lifelong reader. I only got reacquainted with knitting again a year ago after a nearly twenty year gap. I read for pleasure, for escapism (especially when I'm someplace I don't want to be), and occasionally to learn something new. I tend not to read non-fiction unless I'm intensely interested in the subject (e.g. David Starkey's Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne). Since reading is a very pleasurable thing for me, I only read what I like, and I didn't like this! Why did I bother? It was the book club choice for last month. I belong to a small book club of around seven women who all live on the same estate/sub-division. Naturally we are all quite diverse: some are stay at home mums; others professional women without children; others run their own small businesses; there is a homeopathic doctor, etc. I've been a member of this book club for a couple of years, and quite often find myself reading books that are out of my comfort zone. I hadn't realised that there were certain things that I want/need from a book. Components, which if they are absent, make me dislike a book intensely and probably not finish it. What I've learned (in no particular order) is:

  • I absolutely loathe books written in the first person. It makes a book narrow in perspective, and generally limits the author's ability to explain the motives behind the various characters' actions.
  • I despair if a book is unrelentingly gloomy (e.g. Jung Chan's Wild Swans - gah) ... I get to a point where I start to get depressed myself. Or I'm so annoyed that the characters don't try to improve their situation, that I lose interest in them.
  • I like books to be descriptive, I want to be taken to the place and time.... I want to be in the book, transported. This may sound crazy, but when I'm reading, I don't actually see the words on the page - for me it is like watching a film. I'm either a disaffected bystander, or I'm the main protagonist experiencing everything first hand. If a book isn't descriptive, I can't get lost in it.
  • I don't like books where time/place/events are uncertain. When did it happen? Did it happen? Was it all a figment of the protagonist's imagination? Yuck, give me a break...
Carry Me Down failed on all points... It wasn't my choice (can't ya tell?). I can't wait for book club tomorrow. Someone can tell me what this book was about. I'd also love to know why it was chosen. The person who picked it told us at least two months in advance that this would be her choice.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Grrr... & Yay!

Grrr... #1
"So", I think to myself, "I can either have this operation at the end of May or the end of July. I know, I'll have it in May, then when I'm at home for ~2 months, I can enjoy the lovely weather...". Only we get the wettest June and July in living memory - people have to be evacuated from their homes 'cos it won't stop raining... Then the day comes when I have to go back to work, and what do we get, people? Glorious freakin' sunshine - for the entire week, no less... So of course, everyone is taking holiday, and I'm sweltering in the office alone. Grrr...

Grrr... #2
How is it that I always do this? I am merrily knitting along, mentally patting myself on the back for getting to the point where I can (a) read my knitting, (b) predict what is coming up in the pattern, and (c) occasionally glance at the TV on a purl row... Except that actually, I can't do (c), 'cos I always drop a stitch. Then I have to tink back trying to locate it; then I have to tink the previous row 'cos I can't find it [grits teeth]; then I stop knitting all together 'cos I'm losing my temper, and I've now managed to drop two stitches, which are merrily unravelling down a couple of rows. At this point I carefully use my crochet hook to prevent the two stitches unravelling further, and gently put the knitting aside. I fume for a day, forget about it for a second day, and come back on day three to find the crochet hook has slipped out. I put in a stitch holder [grinding my teeth], and leave it for yet another day...

Grrr... #3
Over on Ravelry, I see a post about the "Innocent" fete in Regents Park this weekend. There will be a knitting tent, and a number of other UK-based Ravelers will be there. I go on line and buy my ticket in advance, jumping through all kinds of unnecessary hoops to validate the ticket when it finally arrives on Friday. Anyone would think I'd bought tickets for a major music concert! Anyhoo... Saturday morning dawns, beautiful and clear (see Grrr #1 above). I go to my local itty-bitty train station, only to find that someone had "trespassed on the line" at Basingstoke (several stations down line), and all trains are horribly delayed or cancelled... So, nope, I didn't make it, I go home again (and got myself embroiled in Grrr.... #2). I did try to maintain some perspective: someone lost their life yesterday, and irrespective of whether (s)he jumped, was pushed, or was genuinely trespassing, it must have been a tough day for the train driver, who suffers the shock of seeing someone on the line and being unable to stop... My knitting (non)event pales into insignificance by comparison.

Yay #1
I love, love, lurve Ravelry. I've been eyeing some Louet Euroflax yarn to make a Moss Grid Hand Towel from Mason-Dixon Knitting. I couldn't find it in the UK, and I didn't want to feel that I had to buy lots of yarn to justify shipping from the USA. Lo and behold a fellow Raveler has exactly the colour I want, and she's willing to trade/sell! A few quick emails and it's in my hands... Amazing! She was equally surprised at how quickly I got it, given that she lives in California.

Yay #2
I've been drooling over the pictures in Coloursknits blog for some time. Vanessa is extremely talented, and she has knitted a gorgeous Habu pink Silk Mohair Kusa and white stainless steel combo, and then felted it using the Shibori technique. I am so utterly in love with this that I went ahead and ordered some Habu myself. I have ordered the Silk Mohair Kusa and Kakishibu Tsumugi Silk, and it's due here any day now (pictures when it arrives!). I've lusted after Habu for so long, but didn't know what to make with it. When I saw Vanessa's scarf, I knew I wanted to make a version for myself. I wasn't sure how the Tsumugi Silk would felt, and so I asked in the Ravelry forums. I got lots of additional information about Shibori, and a suggestion that I write Vanessa directly, which I did. She wrote back and gave me a pretty full explanation of what she did... How great is that? So now when my yarn arrives, and I finish MS3, I can start it...