Thursday, August 26, 2010


So this month I’ve been easing myself into knitting with some knitted washcloths. The logic behind this was that these are useful, so I’m not wasting wool; that they are small, so I won’t get bogged down in a daunting project; and they allow me to experiment with different stitches.

I’ve been using cotton, bought in bright and cheerful colours from the Veritas around the corner. I’ve discovered that I really like cotton – this is the first time I have worked with it, and I’ve been surprised. I was expecting it to be really unforgiving, really inelastic, but it’s flexible and versatile. I will be interested to observe its durability – does it wash better or last longer than wool? Travel better?

So far, I’ve made washcloths in seed stitch, in horizontal stripes, in box-stitch, in daisy stitch and I’m currently doing one in basketweave. I have fallen in love with daisy stitch – it’s a very dense stitch, coming out much smaller than other cloths with the same number of rows and stitches, but I love the texture and the pattern. It’s very small and subtle, but really pretty. Horizontal stripes really didn’t work – but I’ll have a go at changing colours soon and see if that looks any different. The seed stitch is incredibly elastic – it stretches a lot in all directions. The basketweave is fun in a gimmicky sort of way, but I wonder whether or not it would wear evenly – there seems to be more flexibility and less strength at the changes of stitch.

My knitting style is evolving as well – I started off taking my right hand off the needle to wrap the yarn around the needle, but now I keep it wrapped around my forefinger at all times, which has made me a faster knitter, and given greater evenness to my stitches, which I like. I’ve also started casting on by twisting loops onto one needle with my fingers, rather than knitting each stitch into the last. It’s much faster, but still means that the first edge is too long and ends up rumpled.

Next up will be something a bit bigger, I hope - maybe a hot water bottle? I want to have a go at ribbing and cable, and I'm really looking forward to Celtic knots! Feel free to share any good patterns or ideas...

The times, they are a-changing

So the move is almost upon us, and I can proudly announce that I will be moving house in the most eco-friendly way possible - by train. (That's not the reason, it's actually cheaper because my boyfriend gets these vouchers from work, which give him money off green stuff like train travel). However, the flipside of this is that I can only take what I can carry with me - one suitcase and a big rucksack. That's not a huge amount of stuff, but we're leaving some here.

So there's a lot of emotional stuff flying around right now - I've had an interesting year here, and I think I've learned a lot, but I also feel that I let a lot of opportunities pass me by. Places I didn't go, museums I didn't see, people I didn't befriend as thoroughly as I could have... Some of it was beyond my control - I spent a lot of this spring helping my parents with stuff, but a lot of it was just due to laziness, bluesiness and apathy on my part. I have an ongoing problem with apathy, and it frustrates me no end because I feel that by this age I should be able to get on with tackling problems like a sane adult, rather than putting my head in the sand and hoping they'll go away!

Somehow, I never manage to convert this sense of general regret into a determination to get more out of the next experience - always the apathy and always the sense of lost opportunities. But I'm going to try, this time. Maybe I should make a list? :-)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Surprises pleasant and unpleasant

As I'm coming to the end of my time in Belgium, I've been trying to squeeze in a few last trips and experiences. Yesterday we went to spend the day in Antwerpen and the nearby commuter town of Lier. I have to say that Antwerpen disappointed me, or more specifically, the museums disappointed me.

The city itself was as busy as Brussels, and has an if anything more beautiful centre, with the advantage of a river and a ruined castle. It still didn't tug my heart-strings, though - not the way Prague or Riga or Paris did - and I didn't come away feeling like I wanted to go back. Budget limitations affecting choices of activity, two museums were duly visited. The first was the Rubenshuis, home of Antwerp's favourite painter. Overpriced, especially considering what was inside - the place couldn't decide if it was a reconstruction of his house, or a slightly more picturesque than usual gallery of his studio's artwork. There was no attempt to involve the visitor in the house itself - the rooms were there, there was some furniture, but it felt very very dead. And given the lack of evidence for the actual internal structure for the house in Rubens's day (most was rebuilt), there were some odd decisions made concerning, for example, the location of the kitchen. The paintings were mostly by Rubens's students and contemporaries, rather than the man himself, and while there was no shortage of supplementary texts praising his inspiring style etc etc etc, there was nothing at all informative or interesting. In short, very disappointing. I would have preferred either a close look at his work, maybe looking at some of his influences and his development as an artist, or a house carefully reconstructed based on contemporary building patterns with explanations of decisions taken, and some detail about his household and working environment, his daily life and family. The gardens were nice, but poorly maintained - weeds, and some plants in serious need of pruning. The only good thing: the museum provided a small sample of the cuir doree (gilt leather) used to decorate the walls, so you could have a feel without damaging the walls themselves. Maybe one and a half stars out of five?

With time and money constraints, the second museum visited was the Maagdenhuismuseum. Deeply, deeply disappointing. Really, don't bother. There was almost nothing about the abandoned girls who give the museum its name, despite the apparent similarity to the Foundling Museum in London. The signs were almost exclusively in Flemish, and the only things to see were a few uninspiring paintings on the usual subjects. There were three records of verbal agreements to take in girls, attached to their tokens (I think - my Flemish is extremely sketchy!) and that was it. Enquiry revealed that there were some relics from the girls' day, but they were in a second building and not open to the public. No stars. Can I give negative stars? It was a really unpleasant experience.

Moving on from Antwerpen, we spent a lovely evening pottering around Lier. The inhabitants are sometimes insultingly known as "sheepheads", meaning stubborn or stupid, which apparently comes from the occasion when the town was offered a choice between hosting the university or the sheepmarket. The sheepmarket was chosen as it offered greater financial rewards. However, the university went to Leuven, which seems to have got the better deal. Lier is a small commuter city serving Antwerp and Brussels, but it's an eight-century town with an astonisingly well-kept historic centre. The Begijnhof was so peaceful and even still had the names of old inhabitants on the doors. The bell-towers sounded lovely, and there's a really cute clock - the Jubelklok - in the Zimmertoren which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It has figures who strike bells and things in the side, who actually move! And it shows things like the phase of the moon and sign of the zodiac. The whole thing moves fractionally every four seconds. Impressive for something built in 1931. The town felt a bit surreal - it was a bit Stepford-esque, just a bit too perfect and too clean. I would have said it had been designed that way, if it weren't for the history giving that the lie. Still, very beautiful, with the canals and weeping willows, bridges and churches, and flowers everywhere. I was expecting something much drearier, and was definitely pleasantly surprised.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Long time no see

So I've been a lazy blogger for a while, despite the huge volume and diversity of thoughts and reflections I wanted to share. But hopefully I'll get around to posting a few of them up in the next month. I think blogging is a muscle - you have to exercise is regularly, or every entry feels like hard work! So I'll start myself off small and work up. Today, I am starting with a book review.

Kate Morton - The House at Riverton

This book is about the relationship between a young girl who goes into service in the Edwardian era, rises to become a lady's maid, and leaves service after a dramatic event in the family in which she seems ambiguously invovled. The story follows her recollection of the events of her youth, prompted by a film being made about this family. I really, really enjoyed this book. In fact, I read it in one day because I couldn't put it down. I wouldn't call it a challenging book - there was more than one intended surprise which could be seen coming from miles off - and one or two of the characters were a little simplistic, but they were all very sympathetically written, and minor characters worked well as cameos even where they were not given much depth. The author built up the tension very well, however, and by the final show-down I was absolutely gripped.

I mostly came away from the book with a sense of the romanticisation of the relationship between servant and mistress, and of the lives of people in service generally. There was very little about the relentless labour, and much more about the sense of being privileged to work there. It does seem odd that certain historical periods and contexts draw so much more focus in novels, film and tv than any other - the golden age of the English Country House, the Tudor court, 1066 and the industrial revolution seem to cover most areas. Odd that we see so little of, for example, Anglo-Saxon life or World War 2, or Restoration England. Maybe I should write historical fiction to even up the gap...

OK, slight tangent there. Anyway, it's a thoroughly enjoyable book but will not rock the foundations of your being.


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