We’ve had a very full Christmas with lots of gathering, talking, playing, eating and drinking (ahem). The kids have been in cousin heaven with their Sydney cousin down for Christmas and basking in the attention and cricket and game playing abilities of lots of uncles. I think the prezzies I made went down well – there’s only one left to deliver and I promise, Mini Manc, to send it off tomorrow the next business day.

Here’s my hot tip for Christmas 2009: start knitting now. Not the prezzies – just start knitting like the Goodies, anytime and anywhere. Get your family and friends used to seeing you knit all manner of things anywhere you are. That way, it is quite acceptable for you to get out your knitting over coffee after Christmas lunch. And it makes for much hilarity when your KK opens their present only to realise the socks were on your needles only two hours ago and that in fact they saw you knitting them!

I can recommend a book called Retro Knits: cool vintage patterns for men, women and children from the 1900s through the 1970s. A gift from my sister, it’s full of fab patterns that have been modernised just enough. The patterns have been regraded for contemporary sizes but they haven’t mucked around with the design or shape of the original. Those 1970s leg warmers are pretty special! I’m already planning a couple of tops, particularly a drapey V-sleeve top from 1910.

I’m getting ready for the New Year today by sorting out my stash and finishing a few items or getting them off the repair pile. Hopefully I will get some sewing done and the time to finish off a knitted top. My plans for the evening? Staying home with the kids while my Bloke does his muso thing at a New Year’s Eve gig. I’m not complaining because these days my pumpkin time just keeps getting earlier.

Addendum: the recipe for corn soup

I’m having trouble making the document upload, so I’ve written out the recipe in full. Once I figure out how to upload a document, the recipe will be available as a pdf. Enjoy!

Corn Soup
Ingredients
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large potato, finely diced (optional)
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1 tin (420g) corn kernels, drained
1 tin (420g) creamed corn
500ml chicken stock
300ml water

Method
Sauté onion in olive oil for three minutes. Add garlic and potato, and continue to sauté for another three minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in smoked paprika and cinnamon and allow to infuse for 30 seconds.
Add corn kernels and creamed corn, mixing the ingredients thoroughly. Stir through chicken stock and water. Slowly bring to the boil and then allow to simmer for 12-15 minutes or until potato is cooked. Season with salt.
Serves 4 adults as a light lunch. Or two adults and a starving 9 year old, with just a bit left over for lunch the next day.

Flavour substitutions
Rather than smoked paprika and cinnamon, you can use more traditional combinations such as bacon and thyme. Sauté two rashers of chopped bacon with the potato and add a handful of fresh thyme or a teaspoon of dried thyme with the chicken stock. Season with salt and black pepper

Corn Soup

I’ve been working on a recipe for corn soup for the past few months. It’s not tricky but I did want to get the flavour balance just right. That’s important because it’s the most sophisticated thing about the recipe. The rest of is pretty basic and intended to be an easy meal.

It’s available here. Let me know if there are any problems downloading the file.

Train knitting

Over the last month, I’ve received more comments that usual on my knitting. It’s fascinating the stories I hear.

A middle aged woman who emigrated from the Balkans some 30 years ago – she was a farmer’s daughter, she explained, and hadn’t been taught ‘indoor’ things only outdoor skills like fixing tractors. She wished that she had learned from her mother and grandmother, as I had. It was thrifty to knit for oneself and one’s family and it was a womanly art that she had missed.

An elderly woman from Eastern Europe who watched me knit with an expert eye as I placed the thumb gusset on a lacy wristwarmer being knit on two circulars. She declared that she thought herself a very good knitter but even THAT was too complicated for her! So we discussed technique, how we had learned, and the benefits of circular needles.

Greta, from the university club, who exclaimed that her mother-in-law from Europe had brought with her the ’round needles’ for knitting in the round and top-down and how this had not been seen before. Greta had not seen someone knit circularly for such a long time and nodded in approval and explained again what I was doing as each friend joined the table for an end of year drink.

The couple on the train this morning, ‘rough as guts’ you might say and living their life as cheerfully as they could and certainly with frankness. By the end of their journey, I knew that they had both experienced mental illness, had probably spent some time in Fairlea (the old women’s prison) or at Mont Park (a psychiatric institution now closed) and how Thomas Embley was a safe place to be (the new psychiatric institution built on or next to Fairlea). Their friend embarked a few stops after they and they talked of Thomas Embley, how this friend was no longer in a secure ward, the disorientation of psychiatric seclusion (how you might wonder whether the Russians had towed the moon away) and swapping notes on the economic stimulus package. All three were fringe dwellers and I came to know this because knitting and the knitting of a sock are a comfort and drew their thoughtful comments.

I’ve become accustomed to talking with strangers this way. I’m not a particularly outgoing person and at first I bridled at the intrusion into my privacy. Not long after I started knitting on the train, mental illness in our family reared its very large, frightening and awful head and knitting was a retreat and a solace. I didn’t like to be brought out of that any sooner than my stop. But through that illness I began to learn how to simply accept others, and maybe without fear or judgement. I’m still learning, but I’m more likely to respond with interest and develop a conversation. And when I hear conversations about psychiatric hospitals and women’s prisons spoken with the frankness and acceptance of those three this morning, I don’t fear it.

Train knitting is a good thing.

Not quite a handmade Christmas

Some time ago I came across the Handmade Pledge. It was appealing – the pledge to support indie crafters by buying handmade gifts and requesting that others buy handmade for the pledgee. But I haven’t signed up and I suspect I won’t. I tried figuring  that out this morning (pretty early, while knitting a sock that will be a gift).

First of all, a little bit more about the pledge. It is expressly in support of indie crafters in a move away from conspicuous consumption, the environmental damage involved in mass production, a political protest against unfair labour practices and the multinational ‘big box’ department stores and their homogenous style. As the site says, some take the pledge for political and environmental reasons and others in support of the individuality and creativity of the indie scene. These are all good reasons to take the pledge, whichever part of the globe you come from.

But I haven’t taken the pledge because real life intervenes and the things that have intervened are things that I think a burgeoning indie craft movement should recognise. Mostly, it’s economics. It takes a certain middle-class privilege to take the pledge. It takes a reasonably secure income, access to a secure high-speed internet connection, time, and exposure to the craft scene. A low paid job dependent on hourly wages won’t really get you there; public internet access is not great for the security of your banking details (and most indie craft is accessible online); working overtime, double shifts or the second job really eats into your crafting time; and a certain cultural orientation is required which relies on leisure time to explore one’s own creativity and value that time spent as a worthy activity (rather than supporting other family members, working those extra hours, or spending time on family and housework).

So I haven’t taken the pledge even though I’m middle-class with a steady income. I don’t have time to commit to making all of my gifts, much and all as I would like. I do have to consider housework, tiredness, and enjoying time with my family. I have to actively manage my stress levels and help others manage theirs, so saying I’m going to be out of the loop for the weekend while I craft isn’t really fabulous. And we have budget limitations so I couldn’t really commit to buying handmade. I respect the talent and hardwork of crafters enough that I accept the higher prices that go with hand made items.

This isn’t meant as a rant against the buying handmade pledge but a call to understand the economic and social constraints that may prevent many from participating. And having some understanding of those constraints means that indie crafters (and I hope to be one of them someday) can adopt a new way of selling our goods. A range of goods that can be priced into the lower range; investigating different physical market locations; a referral system that shows customers where to buy affordable, handmade fair trade goods.

It just seems to me that if you’re going to be alternative then you need to go beyond the surface of things and offer an alternative structure or way of operating. Think about why you find the system unacceptable and see how you can do things differently for the benefit of the greatest range of customers.

Hear endeth the lesson.

Recurring theme

These were peeking out of my knitting bag and it struck me that the colour combo is becoming a bit of a theme. There’s the header, that italian fabric from earlier and now this. I even have two memory sticks, one blue, one orange.

Blue and orange
tangerine flax
Stitch doodle
The blue is Cherry Tree Hill’s Sockittome in ‘Moody Blues’; the orange is a flax in ‘Tangerine’ obtained at a ridiculously cheap price from Discount Brand Name Yarns.
I haven’t worked with flax before so I’m doing some stitch doodles to see what comes out. I’m planning to handwash them and then throw them in the dryer to see how they soften.
I’d like to do a constructed summer jacket with the flax. Panels, sewn, intersecting lace and plain stitch – a combination of drape and structure.

Christmas gift making is proceeding at an orderly pace and is a great way to slide into the festive season. I hope they like them.

Stuff

I’ve been a little more preoccupied this week than I expected. I had two days at home at the beginning of the week cos I figured I didn’t want to pull out all my babysitting favours while my bloke was in Darwin. And mainly I wanted two days at home in the lead up to Christmas to get that side of life organised. Didn’t happen, though I shouldn’t be surprised.

Today’s the last day of school and the week has been full of expectation and fulfillment. The tadpoles have been bringing home work (so much! productive is all very well, but do I have to keep it?) and their Christmas bags full of handmade decorations. They’re also focusing on their new rooms and new work and the new year, pointing out their new teachers, discussing new activities and new possibilities. It’s a peculiar combination of reflection and looking forward. Master Tadpole has been particularly vigorous this week and revelling in ‘Grade Three privileges’ which means doing bugger all since there’s no carry over work for next year. They also get to sit on chairs around the mat rather than having to sit down on it. This is hugely exciting, it seems. Master Tadpole’s way of reflection and looking forward was to read both the Room 7 round up in the newsletter as well as the news from next year’s room.

Miss Tadpole has found it exciting and extraordinarily tiring. She chose not to sing in the Cycle 1 Christmas songs last night. I don’t think she had the emotional energy for a performance. An organised child, she likes to have things planned and happening. So next year has been planned but isn’t yet happening and she’s struggled with the tension between present and future. She loves her teachers dearly and has to say goodbye and at the same time is so looking forward to Cycle 2 work. No doubt things will resolve themselves with a few good sleep-ins and counting down to Christmas and family visits.

I made a squishy for Room 7 – one of Wee Wonderful’s bears – and completely forgot to photograph it before we wrapped it up. It looked good; it veered towards alien at one stage while I was embroidering the face but I managed to get it back to bear-like. Presuming bears wear mary-janes and blue paisley dresses. A robot was also planned, but I had to admit defeat at 10 o’clock last night. It wasn’t even cut out so it really wasn’t going to happen. Room 7 has a box of squishies for the children to hold while doing reading so there was a robot book to go with the intended robot. Ah well, it will have to be delivered next year.

I should probably turn my attention to making some Christmas gifts. I’m hoping to do some handmade decorations or paper or cards but we’ll see if it happens.

I smell like mango

20 mangoes will do that for you. Very sticky, very yummy. Our school had a mango drive and we bought two trays this year. 40 mangoes – 36 by the time I started slicing and dicing them for the freezer – which ought to last a while.

Master Tadpole is eyeing them off for his ‘mongoes’ (mango and orange smoothies, a recipe of his own devising), my bloke is eyeing them off for his own smoothies and mango lassies. I like to think I’m a little more sophisticated. Mango icecream, mango and passionfruit trifle, mango dacquiri…

And because inquiring minds want to know, the remaining 36 mangoes are on track to provide 7.25kg of diced fruit at $6.95 per kilo.

Good country, ‘straya.

Knitting WIP

I’m enjoying my 1940s ‘lacy top’. It’s moving along at a nice pace, even if I did leave a needle behind today and couldn’t knit on my way to work (it’s okay; I recovered from the panic and remembered I had my craft notebook with me – I’ve planned a range of children’s costumes).

The lacy bit looks like this:

Fir cone swatch

Fir cone swatch

These were the tools necessary to resize according to my dimensions and what the swatch was telling me (except for the calculator):

Tools of the trade

Tools of the trade

Some adjustments:

Scrawls, notes and sums

Scrawls, notes and sums

I’ll be able to show you the results in a week or so.

Going troppo

My bloke heads up to Darwin for a few days on business. He’s replacing a bassist for a cover band and he’s off VERY EARLY on Saturday to play a few gigs.

I’d been hoping to finish an Hawaiian shirt for him to wear up north but it didn’t happen. I can show you the fabric which will make up the most of my bloke’s summer wardrobe. Consider yourselves warned.

Motorbikes and surfboards

Motorbikes and surfboards

It probably glows in the dark

It probably glows in the dark

Beachside style

Beachside style

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