Monday, July 30, 2012


Items unearthed while packing for The Big Move:
  • A little black-and-white photo of my family's much-missed cat, officially named Mischief but universally known as Meece. The photo was inside a book I was putting in the 'to donate' box. Glad I flipped through it first! In the photo, Meece is jumping down from the window box which was my first gardening playground. I grew freesias, alpine strawberries, a miniature rose, and all sorts of things...


  • Handwritten recipes from my Form 1 'Manual' cooking class, and earlier. Cheese scones and other classics! One recipe was earnestly typed up on an old-school typewriter. :)
    No photos sorry, because they are packed for storage (unpacking a box again would be Not Helpful at this point).
  • Mum's renowned tomato chutney recipe. I hope I can get cheap tomatoes in Melbourne!
  • My MA thesis (eek) on rhetoric in Baroque-period instrumental music.
  • A test-swatch for the amazing mohair stars-and-planets jersey that Mum made for me in the 80s. The jersey itself still fits (yay for oversized 80s styles), but is awaiting repairs after a run-in with dastardly moths at my old house.

No doubt there will be more treasures to come as we make more progress!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Sewing day

Why did nobody tell me sewing stretch fabric is easy? I've always been nervous of trying it, but today I put a shiny new 'stretch' needle on the machine, looked up stretch stitches in its manual, and gave it a go. And it was fine! A little slow, because you need more stitches in a stretchy seam than in a non-stretchy one, but you don't need to iron anything, so I think it winds up faster overall!

I used one of my favourite second-hand tops as a template, because its bat-wing shape is really comfy, and suits my shape too. :) I folded it in half, and traced around it onto paper. Then I folded my fabric into quarters (stretchy silver sparklyness, oh yeah), pinned the paper template to it, and cut around it leaving a half-inch margin for the seams. Then I unfolded the fabric, pinned the front and back pieces together, and sewed the shoulder seams and side seams using a 'stretch overlock' stitch.

I tried it on, and cut the neckline lower at the front. Then I sewed around the edges of the cuffs, neckline, and hem using the same stitch. These edges aren't super tidy, so I might fold them over and re-hem them later.

I repeated the process with some dinosaur tshirt fabric I've had for ages. I made this one a little longer, and shortened the sleeves. This time I folded over the edges before sewing around the cuffs, neckline, and bottom hem.

Ready for cutting
My super-handy pincushion (I love it so)

Seaming the front and back pieces



All done! Each one took about an hour. :)

Next on the sewing agenda is a laptop bag. Here's a peek at my fabric. I'm tempted to put actual crocheted granny squares on the pockets!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Monday night Monteverdi

Last night I went to a Baroque Voices concert, and had a lovely Monteverdi overdose! "The Full Monte: Concert 3" was full of madrigals for different configurations of up to five voices, some accompanied by bass viol plus theorbo or chitarrino. A theorbo, by the way, is a kind of long-necked lute (I think they look really cool with their outrigger strings - see below!), and a chitarrino is a kind of small guitar (I think that's one in the painting below).

Theorbo player, c.1615

The music for this concert was mainly from Monteverdi's third book of madrigals (1592), with some added highlights from the seventh book (1619). Baroque Voices is performing all nine books over the course of their "Full Monte" series - quite an undertaking! To give you an idea of the style of music, here's a video of some of the same singers doing a piece from the second book of madrigals (from their last concert, in April):

And one with instruments accompanying:

The concert was directed by soprano Pepe Becker, who conducted the group occasionally as necessary. The texts of the madrigals are your standard Baroque fare: love-lorn shepherds and shepherdesses, lovers and fair ladies, heroic knights and wicked sorceresses. A neat addition to the concert was the declamation (in impassioned Italian) of some of the texts by David Groves, who had translated them for the programme.

The venue was Wellington's Sacred Heart Cathedral - a slightly odd choice for a secular-themed concert. The interior is a neo-classical pink-and-white confection that always makes me think of meringues or ice-cream cakes!

Sacred Heart Cathedral, in all its pink-and-white glory

One of the most enjoyable aspects (for me) was that lots of the music was unfamiliar. This is the beauty of an unabridged concert series - you don't just hear the same few most-popular works, you get surprises too! Only one of the pieces was one I'd sung before: Ahi, sciocco mondo cieco, a soprano duet which Theresa and I sang for a choir party item once upon a time. Monteverdi is so much fun to sing! I miss my duet buddies, I do...

Monday, July 9, 2012

The four-day scarf

Yes, I knit a full-sized, longer-than-I-am winter scarf in only four days!

I was helped by the fact that I used bulky yarn - some yellow ochre merino that I scored for $3.50 a ball at a Knit World sale - and by the very, very repetitive stitch pattern, which meant I could knit while watching tv. The stitch pattern is a brioche stitch variant, which is stretchy, thick, and, most importantly for a scarf, identical on both sides.

A great explanation of how to knit brioche stitch can be found in Franklin Habit's 'modern translation' of Jane Gaugain's Faucett, or Bandeau for Neck (1846), which I used as the starting-point for this scarf. I left off the fancy fringe, and neglected to seam it into a tube. I simply cast on 27 stitches and knit till I'd used up four balls of yarn.

Trying out such an old pattern and really liking the result sparked me off into investigating other old knitting books. I downloaded a few onto my kindle from Project Gutenberg, and skimmed through some pdf copies from the Antique Pattern Library. I had no idea there were so many available!

The nineteenth-century books sometimes use quite different terminology from what I'm used to. Some are pretty transparent, e.g. "pearl" for "purl", but others are less obvious, and you do need to check the author's explanations. For example, Gaugain's Lady's Assistant (1840) uses "P" for a knit stitch ("a plain stitch or loop"), and "B" for a purl stitch ("a back, ribbed, seam, or pearl stitch").

If I didn't already know how to knit, I'm not sure I'd be able to learn how from the directions-for-beginners in these books, which are quite convoluted and awkward. And the diagrams, while sweet, aren't the most clear - and worse, aren't from the point of view of the knitter!

From Beeton's Book of Needlework (1870):

And from The Ladies' Work-Book:

Often, the books don't include pictures, so one needs to either be good at visualising what the instructions describe, or willing to do a bit of trial-and-error. There are plenty of plain and fancy stitch patterns in these books, for use on scarves, blankets, etc, and patterns (called "receipts", as in recipes) for shawls, caps, muffs, mittens, baby clothes, bags, socks, you name it. And, being products of the nineteenth century, most of them are really big on "D'Oyleys". These are crocheted examples, from The Ladies' Work-Book - impressive!

Because I was looking through these books while embroiled in making a brioche stitch scarf, I took note whenever I came across the same stitch pattern. It seems to have been popular for scarves (or "comforters"), and for cushions.

Mrs Beeton's instructions:
Ordinary Brioche Stitch is made by casting on an even number of stitches, and working the rows as follows:--
Make 1, slip 1, take 2 together; repeat. Note.--The made stitch and the slipped stitch of the previous row must always be knitted together, and the decreased stitch of that row slipped.
And from Cornelia Mee's Exercises in Knitting:

And from My Knitting Book (1843) by Miss Lambert:
The Brioche knitting-stitch is simply—bring the wool forward, slip one; knit two together.
Miss Lambert explains that a "Brioche" cushion is "so called from its resemblance, in shape, to the well known French cake of that name."

The upshot being, my new scarf is seriously old-school. :)

Knitting isn't the only craft represented in these old needlework books - there are tons of crochet patterns, embroidery patterns, and instructions for various kinds of lacemaking. As an example of some of the weird and wonderful things to be found, I'll take my leave with this fabulous crocheted Tobacco Pouch from Beeton's Book of Needlework...

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

On the move

So, I'm moving. Willie has accepted a job in Melbourne (at a law firm), and he starts in early September. Whoa, we're moving overseas!

But first, we need to get rid of a ton of STUFF, and figure out what to take and what to put in storage of what remains. Luckily various relatives are keen to take some of our furniture. And Willie has a 'Planning' spreadsheet a mile long. ;)

I've been to Melbourne once, last year, and it seemed pretty cool. A bit like Wellington but bigger, and with better public transport and funny accents. I was impressed with the NGV gallery and wished I had longer there - guess now I will! And the state library was pretty fancy. We're not sure yet whether we want to rent an apartment in the central city, or a flat further out (maybe Fitzroy or Brunswick). Here's a pic of us being touristy on Brunswick St, home of the fun op-shops and eateries:

I need to find out which choirs etc would suit me - looks like there are plenty to choose from! And brush up on my audition skills, i.e. polish up some songs that show off what I can do, and keep practising sight-singing. Hopefully I can find a good teacher over there too. Robert's keen to "make the most of me" while I'm still here, so I'll be doing some more solos at St Mary's in the next couple of months. I'd better get practising...