More Yarn Will Do The Trick

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Video making and editing

After a weekend of blood, sweat and near tears, I can now report I've finished the Jools video ready for the start of the KAL on Easter Monday (interestingly also April Fools Day!). It's never going to win any prizes but I hope it will do the job of demonstrating all the techniques used to knit the beret.

It was a massive learning curve for me. Before we started I had zilch experience with editing video and a couple of days later, I've somehow acquired the basics. Huge respect to all those generous souls who take the trouble to share their expertise on YouTube, without whom I'd still be floundering.
I can't tell you what a huge relief it is for me to actually have the video in the can. My next book, Great Little Gifts to Knit, will be published by the Taunton Press in September, and, like Sweet Shawlettes, offers many different techniques, showcased within a collection of small projects. With this in mind I'd decided to make a series of short how-to tutorials to support both books.

Typically, I sent off the info to my editor six months ago, asking for it to be included in the book. As there was nearly a year before the book was to be published, this seemed like a good idea at the time, thinking I'd have more than enough time to learn how to do it.  But being me, I never got round to it - there were a million other projects vying for my time, so when I saw the new book recently on Amazon ready for pre-sales, this put me in panic station mode.

Meanwhile I was planning to launch my first knitalong (KAL) and a friend whom I knew to be an experienced KAL joiner happened to mention that the best KALs are sometimes accompanied by a short video. Well... never one to shirk a challenge, I decided that now was the time to take the plunge, and use the KAL as an opportunity to practise for the book tutorials later in the year.
Whenever I'd thought about making videos before, I imagined the actual shooting would be the problem. In the event, providing you have a half-decent camera, the video itself is child's play. With P shooting it on my trusty little point-and-shoot Canon S90 using a tripod borrowed from a neighbour, the only difficult thing was finding a neutral location with good, but not glaring light.

After the third take I decided there was no way I was ever going to deliver it any better - I often find the first time I do something is the best and it's all downhill from there - so we decided to call it a day and see what could be done in the editing.

I used iMovie, which is part of the iLife package and came with my laptop, but I have to admit I'd never opened it before.  After sitting at my laptop all day with much tearing out of the hair, I actually got to the point where I had the final edit. However, in trying to finalise it, I didn't realise that the internet connection wasn't stable enough and lost the whole project - the blood, sweat and tears part of the exercise! Time to sleep on it and try again in the morning hopefully refreshed and retaining all the knowledge I'd amassed the day before.

This time I was more careful and managed to get it safely onto the desktop. However, I hadn't anticipated the next problem - how to store it in cyberspace and integrate it into my website. A little more digging on YouTube thankfully produced the answer. I could share it on YouTube privately, then use the embed code on my website.
By this time you're probably wondering when I'm going to reveal the fruits of my labours.  I have to say again, it's not as slick as many tutorials, but I'm pleased with it for a first attempt and am planning to follow it up pretty quickly with more for my new book... while it's all fresh in my mind and I can still remember how to do it.
Amazing how the front and back always look
like different colourways
Fresh green trim to welcome the spring
So there it is, my maiden voyage into video-making - if you've joined the KAL, you'll find everything you need to know to knit the Jools beret. Not long now before I'll be sending out the second part of the pattern so you can start knitting. Meanwhile I've just finished another colourway in Rowan's old 4-ply botany, it's becoming something of an addiction, watching each new colour combination develop. I'm  SO looking forward to seeing those that you create from your own unique stashes.

Off to put up our Easter tree now, have a fun holiday weekend!

Saturday, 23 March 2013

June Tabor at The Early Music Centre

I've hung back in telling you about this gig, mainly because I don't feel easy about making negative comments about live music. I'm a great believer in keeping music live and know from experience how dedicated artists are to their craft, so I wouldn't choose to be dissing the endeavours of someone I know to be one of the finest singers on the British folk scene.
Early Music Centre, York -
a deconsecrated church

I was so looking forward to this gig, mainly as I love June Tabor’s glorious voice. Expecting more in the vein of her successful collaboration with Oyster Band, I have to say, at the risk of upsetting many of her fans, I was hugely disappointed. Last year she won Folk Singer of the Year at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards for the CD Ragged Kingdom - featuring an unforgettably haunting performance of Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart. However, I found this recent gig an interesting experience which I wouldn't wish to repeat.

Undoubtedly the musicianship couldn’t be faulted, a stellar assembly of Huw Warren on piano, the fabulous Andy Cutting on melodeon and Mark Emerson on fiddle and viola.  Despite this, Tabor never seemed to connect with her audience. Described as chamber, I felt much of the material was more like parlour - no audience participation, with a hallowed and sanctimonious delivery. The only light relief was when she left the stage and Huw Warren was allowed to play one of his own compositions.
Oysterband with June Tabor
This was a cerebral performance. Throughout the two sets, it was hard to find any light and shade, all pieces were performed at a deliberately dirge-like pace.  No matter what the material, the mood remained the same - The Manchester Angel and The Oggie Man, two of my favourite folksongs, were performed with the same faultless austerity as a couple of Les Barker’s parodies.
The first set was devoted to songs from the sea from her 2011 CD Ashore

There is enough misery and pain in the world, and there's nothing wrong with music reflecting some of this, but there's also much to be celebrated. Maybe June Tabor doesn't feel like celebrating at the moment, but in my opinion she would benefit from lightening up a little and exploring some of the more joyous sounds that I'm sure her voice is capable of creating.

Throughout the performance the audience seemed cowed and never uttered a sound.  At the end when Tabor thanked us for not fidgeting, her comment that you could have heard a mouse’s fart perfectly describes the occasion. 

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Making the Jools video!

Today's task is to make a video of the techniques in the Jools Beret, ready for the start of the KAL on April 1st. For hardened YouTubers, this may sound simple, but at the moment for me it seems like a big mountain to climb. We borrowed a tripod from a neighbour so I'm just about to enter the studio (aka the living room) and start rolling. It would have been much better light in my office at the top of the house, but the banging of the roofers is deafening at the moment - a friend over the road took this pic - see what I mean?
Barry and Jim at work
View from an upstairs window
Hard enough dealing with the camera anyway, but coupled with noise distractions... hmmm, we'll see.  Also I'm not fully confident with the editing yet, but will treat this as a trial run and see how it goes. Apparently for simple cuts you can edit in Quick Time, so I'll have a play later and fingers crossed it will all come together.
Both sides of the beret from left to right, small, medium and large.
I was delighted to find that just starting the colour sequence
in a different place produced all these other delicious versions.
So what am I teaching? On the video there will be two cast-ons, a tip for getting rid of the jag when joining work into the round, how to 'make 1' and finally I'll be demonstrating two-handed fairisle knitting. Hopefully this should get rid of the gremlins for any knitters with a fear of fairisle. The two-colour work in Jools is very minimal and as it's worked in the round, the right side of the work is always facing, so the two fairisle rows in the 8-row pattern are a good initiation into the technique.
Close-up of the two rows in the 9-row pattern that involve fairisle
I just can't put this off a moment longer, so be back when it's done, if it all goes to plan I'll be looking back on my misgivings in a couple fo hours time. Don't go away!
Grape hyacinths
I'm back and it wasn't so bad for a dummy run.  I found I could get most of what I wanted to say done in 15 mins and the quality of the picture and the sound both seem to be fine. The main problem is that we now have glorious spring weather here in York, just what we've been waiting for, but I find myself hoping for rain so that the roofers will have a day off and we can shoot it again in my studio for real!

PS Off to see June Tabor at the Early Music Centre tonight, have a listen to her collaboration with Oyster Band on Love Will Tear Us Apart (in the sidebar).

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Love my guitars - old and new!

Can't wait another moment to tell you I've got a new guitar! So exciting. I've been meaning to get another guitar for years now but never got around to doing anything about it, mainly because I rarely have time to play.
New semi-acoustic addition to the family
A further reason is my love affair with my old Guild D40 - it's been around for most of my adult life - a dear old friend.  This is a guitar with a rich and varied past  - from busking in around the UK and Europe, to the insides of a multitude of folk clubs - in another life when I used to be part of Scarlet Vardo, a duo with Brian, my late husband.
1963 Guild D40
He bought it new in Manchester in the early sixties. The story goes that he couldn't afford a guitar case, which resulted in this cautionary tale. One day soon after its purchase, Brian was carrying the Guild across a busy road between two vehicles stopped at traffic lights. He was in a hurry, so didn't see the tow-rope between the cars and.... sacre blue... quel horreur... he stumbled over the rope, sending both him and the guitar flying!
Brian was fine, which was more than can be said of the Guild, which had a sizeable hole at one side along its base, plus too many scratches to count. Enter Ian Chisolm, at the time a fine guitarist on the Manchester folk scene, who'd been teaching himself the ancient craft of instrument making. He kindly agreed to take on the Guild for no more payment than a pint and the practice.
Although Ian did an excellent job, it was an impossible task to restore it to its former glory. I never got to see it in its pristine state, but after Brian and I got together, I always loved playing it and considered it a huge privilege having this amazing guitar as a schoolmaster.  Over the years we came to love the Guild's ravaged appearance, which maybe contributed something to its gloriously full and rounded voice - to us it always sounded like the best guitar in the world.
Periodically, we'd toy with the idea of a facelift - usually when a major MOT was coming up, but we always chickened out at the last minute, as we were afraid our friend might come back flawlessly devoid of any character. or even worse, the tone might suffer in the process.

Several luthiers have contributed to keeping it up and running, notably Andy's guitar workshop in Soho, Art Robb in Malmesbury and Dave Gregory who lives in the next street here in York. But although its big sound is as seductive as ever, unbelievably rich and mellow, it's certainly not as easy to play finger-style as more modern guitars I've tried.
The D40 is a blue grass model, ideally meant for flat-picking and medium gauge strings, so it's never really been happy with my penchant for light gauge strings, causing various buzzing sounds over the nut. As we were always pragmatic and usually penniless, we took this in our stride and simply packed up the nut with paper, making the action higher on that string.

So what I'm getting round to saying is that after all these years and memories, I've found it very hard to contemplate abandoning my trusty old Guild which holds most of my musical history. But recently I decided I wanted to pick up the pieces of my musical life and play and sing more. I'd been contemplating this for a while and started to realise how much I miss performing.

But every time I picked up the Guild, all I ever did was play the old songs, music I know like the back of my hand. The associations were such that I felt trapped in a time warp and couldn't seem to move on.  In short I needed a kick up the backside, something to push me to explore new ways with music.

For the past six weeks I've been struggling with the candida diet - no sugar, yeasted products, alcohol, dairy, in fact, as we're also vegetarians, not much of anything except cabbage! It's made me feel very low sometimes, especially in this cold weather and one day last week while chatting over coffee (well detox herbal tea for me), P said why don't we go into York today and look at some guitars!
Guitars at Red Cow Music
This provided just the right amount of extra impetus I'd needed - if anyone had told me that an hour later I'd be in York trying out new guitars I'd have told them they were mad. But there we were in Red Cow music, browsing their guitars. I was looking at semi-acoustics, as I already have an amp and I liked the look of a couple of Seagulls and they were within my price range. 

The staff were ultra friendly and asked me if I'd like to try one, so I sat down and picked out a few tunes, loving the playability and balance that was flowing from the strings.  I realised no longer was I having to coax the guitar into giving of its best, in fact the opposite was true.  
National guitar at Red Cow Music
Eventually one of the guys brought me another guitar to try, saying if you like this one, see what you think about this. As soon as the first notes rang out, I had a gut feeling it might be the one. I hadn't gone out with a specific intention of buying a certain make of guitar, but I've always loved Martins and surprise, surprise, that was what I was playing. I was relieved to hear that it was not a top-of-the-range model and encouraged by P, we decided to go check out the other music store, and if nothing else was comparable, we'd come back.

Kismet - half an hour later we were back in the shop looking at cases and I walked out the door with my brand new Martin. I get a thrill every time I look at it, and an even bigger thrill when I play it - now all I have to do is carve out some time, but I suspect that's not going to be all that difficult.  Stay tuned...

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Low Bellmanear

Had a nostalgic stroll down memory lane yesterday. The weather had been so dire, but suddenly there was a chink of sunlight, so P and I decided to throw caution to the winds and go for a bracing constitutional in the country.
We got in the car and couldn't agree on which way to go. Then it occurred to me that what I really wanted to do was visit my old home, the place where my eldest two boys grew up and where my then husband and I started our fledgling knit design business.  We also had a menagerie of animals: dog, cats, two ponies, a donkey, a horse, goats, chickens, geese, ducks and bees.  People used to ask how we filled our time stranded in the middle of the countryside, but there was never a spare moment. In fact, as we were growing most of our own vegetables as well, we really needed a 36 hour day to fit everything in. 
Goat and chicken sheds - a watercolour by John Snelling
The house is quite isolated, four fields back off the road through farm gates, which had to be opened and closed. It had stood uncared for and empty for years after we relocated to York - a reluctant move, mainly because the logistics of sweater production were becoming impossible from there. At the time we were designing and manufacturing sweaters for both my own collections and also several US designers, and the articulated trucks that delivered the yarn were constantly getting bogged down in potholes on the farm track, especially in the winter. Also, as we were so remote, it was difficult to get help with the finishing and shipping and after much deliberation we decided reluctantly to relocate to the city where we could rent a workshop.

On our previous visit to Low Bellmanear we'd found a building site, suggesting a major renovation was underway, but as it was the weekend there was no-one there to ask.  So two years on, I was becoming increasingly curious to know how things had turned out and even more to see if anyone actually lived there.
Unmetalled road to the house
So we arrived at the entrance of the track that leads to the house, parked the car and set off walking the 2/3rd of a mile.
The track leading to the farm outbuildings in the distance
As soon as I set foot on the track, it felt like I was coming home - the familiar landscape, the weather (often cold and wet in winter, though glorious on a hot summer's day), the sounds of squawking pheasants, even the smell in the air, takes me straight back to the happy times we spent there.
Water colour of Dutch barn, fold yard and stone barn by John Snelling
The first thing we noticed though, was that there were no longer any gates, they'd been replaced by cattle grids for easier access. Great if you're driving, but I now know why cattle don't walk on them, as they're pretty hard for humans to negotiate too. As we approached the cattle grid where the third gate had been, we could see the outbuildings, and quickly realised the dutch barn had gone.
Low Bellmanear
Tingling with anticipation as we walked through the fourth gate, we at last set eyes on the restored Low Bellmanear, sitting pretty in the pale spring light.

We knocked on the front door, but alas found no-one in - pity, it would have been great to introduce ourselves to the new occupant and, curious as I am, maybe get invited in. However not this time.

From what we could see looking on at a distance, the old stone barn had been demolished, as had the fold yard where Mr Lamb (no pun intended), the farmer, used to dip his sheep. The orchard was no longer in use and completely overgrown, Diggory the donkey's wooden shed had also been knocked down, and horror of horrors, all the paintwork has been painted yellow!
Watercolour of the back door when we lived there, painted by John Snelling
Back of the house when we lived there, with derelict barn attached.
Watercolour  John Snelling
I suppose I'm always going to focus on the things that are different first - it's the longing for it to be the same as when we lived there, to find the old character we knew and loved, only polished up a bit.
View up through Fizgig where the primroses are spectacular
 at this time of year
John Snelling's watercolour of Fizgig viewed from the back of the house
However, on the positive side, I'm SO happy that someone is now lavishing tlc on it, and doing that very well in their own unique way. Everyone has their own style and the house definitely looked as if whoever was living there cared about it.
Much of the wolds are now down to arable crops
Whenever I walk in this landscape, I'm always struck by the raw beauty, and how time just seems to wash over it. It gives me hope that even though farming in the Wolds is getting ever more industrialised with bigger fields, fewer hedgerows and dwindling diversity, ultimately the land will be the boss and the balance will be restored.
Walking back at the end the track, the sun was setting over the lake
The restoration of Low Bellmanear is a mere blip in its long history - yet another episode in the life of this 200+ year old farmhouse in the Yorkshire Wolds. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall from when it was first built - it's intriguing to imagine the lives of all the previous occupants, how different they would have been from ours. And for the future, I hope the new custodians will be as happy there as we were for fourteen years.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Django Unchained!

Well not exactly, in fact I'm beginning to feel the opposite is what Django needs, a little less liberty to create more problems for himself. Yes,...he's been in the wars again.

At the moment our home is enveloped by scaffolding for work that's being done on the leaking roof. It never occurred to us that the cats might think we'd erected one massive climbing frame for them, but of course that's just what they thought.
Arlo seems to be more interested in my knitting basket than swinging from
the rafters, thank goodness
Arlo, being the more cautious of the two, hasn't been inclined to risk life and limb on it yet, but Django was full of the joys of spring a few days ago and threw himself wholeheartedly into exploring his curious new toy. He had no problem with the first level, the trouble started when he attempted to launch himself from a standing start up to the second level - 8 feet higher!  He managed to get his front paws onto the timber at the top, but  couldn't get a hold and he plummeted down two floors to the garden below, watched by the bemused builders.

P and I only found out about this a couple of hours later, after wondering why Django hadn't appeared for his breakfast. Knowing what an incorrigible adventurer he is and that he wouldn't ever miss a meal if he could help it, we were wondering what had happened to him. So P thought he'd ask the builders  first of all, not really expecting anything to come of it, but he was then regaled with the alarming story of his accident and told he'd picked himself up and scurried off on three legs!
Arlo is so chilled, I swear I found him sitting in the chair exactly like this
Needless to say I was frantic when I heard all this with all sorts of things going through my mind - oh no not again, hope he's not badly injured, hope it's not the same leg as last time, please Django be OK.  We set out straight away to find him and sure enough he hadn't gone far, just into the front garden where he could take cover and regroup. He seemed very sorry for himself but was managing to walk, but when we were safely inside again and I tried to examine his legs he hissed and growled and ran off upstairs.

So off to the vet's again, where it was duly ascertained that no bones were broken or dislocated and thankfully, after a thorough examination, Django was sent home with some anti-inflammatories.  Phew! What a relief.
Django licking his wounds on the evening after the fall
He was very subdued that evening, stayed close and just lolled around in his basket in front of the fire.  Luckily, three days later, he seems no worse for wear and hopefully the sprains and bruises are beginning to heal now.

In his brief two years on the planet, Django must have used up at least three of his nine cat lives. The first episode was not long after we got him when he went missing for 24 hours and only after diligent and persistent searching did we find him locked in a neighbour's garage in the next street. Full story here. Another life was lost about a year ago when he was run over, presumably by the dustbin van outside our home.  This was a terrible incident and took three months and many many visits and stayovers at the vets.  It's at times like these that you're glad to have taken out pet insurance as the total bill for this was around £2000! More about this episode here.

Fingers crossed all will be quiet on the Django front for a while now - here's hoping he won't be needing any more of his six remaining lives in the near future!

Monday, 4 March 2013

A day out in Gateshead!

We had an interesting day yesterday in Gateshead and Newcastle - twin cities on the banks of the Tyne. The primary reason for our visit was to see Richard Thompson and his trio in concert at The Sage, but as we'd never been to the Sage or its near neighbour, The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, we thought we'd make a day of it.
On the Millennium Bridge
We arrived at about 1.30pm and although it was bitterly cold on the banks of the Tyne, the stupendous views down the river over the Blinking Eye bridge and exploring the little embankment market kept us happy and on the move.
There was a great little stall selling Italian leather, and it had my fav Graffiti purses at amazing prices. Note to US readers - when I say purse I mean what we carry cash in, not a handbag, What was it that  Churchill famously said about being Separated by a common language...? Anyway I just couldn't resist getting another one in a glorious spring colourway - always good to have a reserve.

After the market we strolled back over the Millennium Bridge to the Gateshead side of the river, adrenalin pumping in anticipation of what The Baltic might hold. 
We'd heard so many good things about it - the building is certainly awesome, and we were greeted warmly by lovely peeps in the entrance and told enthusiastically about the exhibitions. We decided to go straight to the top floor and work down, so we could have a rest and a little sustenance in the rooftop restaurant before we started.
View from the restaurant
The views from the restaurant were brilliant and my peppermint tea and P's mocca also were spot on. Fully rested and raring to go, we duly decided to start making our descent down to the fifth floor - the children's gallery and official view station. There were lots of fun things for little ones to do as well as more educational activities - a great space for.parents and children and the all the kids were loving it.
View from restaurant
However, we were eager by this time to actually see some art, so we figured the next floor must be where the exhibitions start...  wait a minute, this one is closed.  OK, so we'll just go down to the third floor... would you believe it, closed too. By this time, slightly bemused, we continued down to 2, and lo and behold, we found the first exhibition.
Under the Blinking Eye
This was the work of Marcin Maciejowski, who as the catalogue claimed, re-presents everyday images of our time. I'm afraid everyday is exactly the word I would use, as unfortunately, try as we might, the work did nothing to inspire, excite or move either of us. 
On to the first floor and you know what... you guessed it, closed again!  By this time we were slightly disheartened to say the least, but we went on to the ground floor, hoping for better things.
Above is the complete exhibition of Avid Jablonowski, whose sculptures allegedly investigate the history and potential of communication in visual culture.
Here's a close-up of one of the exhibits, which were basically slabs of stone, variously adorned with different media - a printing press, exposed film, a camera, pigment. There was a curator on hand to explain what it was all about and I must say he was kept very busy doing so. 

At no point were we told that three of the five galleries were closed. And all in all it was a very poor experience, the best thing about it was the rooftop restaurant!
The Sage
So on to The Sage, where we'd decided to have a meal before the show. I felt a bit iffy about the building when I first saw it, like a giant glittering slug nestling in a field, but I soon came to love everything about it.  From the moment you walk in it feels like a cosy cocoon and we were soon settled down, comparing notes about our photos before eating. In no time at all, after a scrumptious meal, it was time to find our seats in the auditorium.
Inside Sage
What a great space, we took our seats and prepared to be blown away by perhaps the best guitarist Britain has produced in recent times. Richard Thompson has had many reincarnations since his days with Fairport Convention, and his love affair with the electric guitar is renown. This concert was part of The Electric Tour and as we'd never heard him play an entire electric set, it was hard to know what to expect, except to expect the unexpected.
When the trio walked on stage, it occurred to me that Richard looked exactly the same as when we last saw him about ten years ago - the beret, the badge and the same dark clothes. No problem either about recognising the gorgeous dark chocolate vocals and the masterful guitar licks - Thompson's guitar playing is as near as it comes to a Zen experience. But it took no time at all before we realised this was a competely different animal.
The band was tight, in fact this was precision in the extreme. Overtones of Hendrix, Cream and Led Zeppelin psychedelia flowed forth, fluently and flawlessly executed, even though at times it felt as if the notes were being delivered by a scatter gun! Powerful and loud, with the drums (even though for sure the drummer was ace) completely drowning the bass, it was virtually impossible to hear any of the lyrics. This was the boys having a great time, a virtuoso jam session with all and sundry invited. It seemed strangely inappropriate for a sit-down concert though. 
Blinking Eye by night
However, the encores were generous, with a couple of acoustic numbers thrown in, and I know the critics went home happy, though I'm not so sure about the audience, who like us, might have liked a little more of the Richard Thompson we know and love, retro and soppy as that may sound - and electric or not is not the issue.
There was just enough time after the concert to take some night-time pics of the bridge before driving home.  I know I've been sounding like a bit of a philistine here, moaning about the art and the music, but overall I'm glad to say it was a fun day and we both had a great time, irrespective of whether the art and the music was to our taste or not.
PS We really enjoyed the support - the American country singer/songwriter, Robert Ellis. Have a listen.


PPS  This trip inspired the Blinking Eye scarf and shawl, available now on Ravelry.