Kaffe Fassett at Mottisfont

Last weekend we drove down to Mottisfont, a National Trust property in Hampshire.  We had two goals: first, to walk through the beautiful walled gardens and grounds of this lovely country estate on a crisp autumn day, and second, to see an exhibit of Kaffe Fasset’s work.  It was a win-win!

The exhibit was arranged around colours, with each of five rooms organised around a colour theme.  It showcased some of Kaffe’s work in knitting, tapestry and quilting, from a career spanning 50 years.  Here I am standing in a corner of the Yellow room.  The chair, covered in needlepoint in a shell motif, is really spectacular.

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Here is a closeup of the waistcoat on the wall behind me.

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I especially liked the pink room, which featured, among other things, two fantastic quilts in shades of pinks and oranges.

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Doug snapped the below shot of me getting up close to examine the top stitching on one of the quilts.  As you can see, I match the quilt!  (I am wearing my Laelia cardigan – blogged here – knit in a fantastic hand-dyed orange silk yarn by The Uncommon Thread, and carrying a Ted Baker handbag in a lovely shade of fucshia.)

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There is some beautiful knitting on display.  Here are a few examples:

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And some lovely juxtapositions of classic Kaffe patterns:

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Mottisfont was originally founded as an Augustinian priory in 1201.  It has been transformed many times over the centuries, and is now primarily associated with Maud Russell who, along with her husband, purchased the property in 1934.  Maud’s diaries, written during the World War II period, were published last year.  The National Trust has done a very nice job of bringing Maud to life – through her witty and observant diary entries and through her fashion and decorating flair.

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Here is a touch I liked: a basket of knitting in one of the drawing rooms, with an invitation to sit and knit.  These lovely girls were clearly having fun (and kindly consented to have their photo taken):

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The gardens are beautiful, with big spacious lawns and lots of hidden corners.

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I especially liked the walled gardens.  They have the formal structures you would expect in an English walled garden:

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while still being delightfully wild and slightly unkempt:

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Kaffe’s exhibit will be at Mottisfont until January 14, 2018.  If you go, you can enjoy a fat frog in the green room:

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Or you can drool at the magnificent fruit and vegetable themed tapestries, such as this needlepoint chair:

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Or maybe just enjoy the juxtapositions of knitted items from some of Kaffe’s classic knitting designs. I especially like Doug’s photo below showing a detail from a brightly coloured child’s sweater on top of a large knitted shawl.

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I hope that you are enjoying some colour this weekend!

Failure, resilience, and knitting

I have been thinking a lot this week about the nature of resiliency.  Why?  As Programme Director for a global MBA, it pops up a lot on the job.  It turns out that resilience is important:  it is a key quality of effective leaders and managers, it is vital for companies trying to survive in fast-changing business and technological environments, and it is an important factor in whether students will flourish and grow (not to mention graduate) during their MBA studies.  Given how crucial resilience is, we might think about how one develops it.  How does one learn to be resilient?  Well, it often derives from failure.

I once read an essay written by a professor at an Ivy League university who had served for decades on admission panels. He commented that these elite schools have a tendency to accept students who have never failed at anything.  These students arrive at university and suddenly find themselves in a high-stress environment filled with high achievers who have always been at the top of their class. The point of the essay was that these students often turn out to have very poor resiliency; one little setback and they crack.  A history of continual success can lead to perfectionism and unrealistic expectations.  On the other hand, exposure to failure often leads to resiliency and the development of skills which allow you to pick yourself up and flourish. This professor speculated that accepting students who had overcome barriers or difficulties would be a better barometer of success.

One of the things which I try to impart to students is that failure can be good; that success is built upon learning from mistakes.  This is true of business and true of design – a good design usually develops by prototyping, an iterative process which often consists of getting things wrong in order to get them right.  Many successful companies develop this way too, starting small and building on mistakes, a type of constructive prototyping analogous to the design process.  I try to give students skills to help them become more adaptive and more resilient; I encourage them, in the safe space of the classroom, to push past their comfort zones and embrace risk.

Why am I blabbing on about resiliency and failure in my knitting blog?  Well, we knitters can tell you people one or two things about failure! Knitters positively crow about their failures!  Ripping and frogging (that is, pulling out your work by unravelling it) is almost a badge of honour.  We learn by doing, and often that means learning by doing it wrong. It helps, of course, that knitting is so intrinsically unravel-able (I made up that word!): if you don’t mind the loss of time and effort, almost everything in knitting is fixable by ripping it out and starting again.

Not only are we knitters experts at failure as a part of the learning process, but we do it with a sense of humour! If you don’t believe me, you can look at some of my posts detailing failed efforts, like How to be stupid at knitting, How not to block a sweater, and Stupidity strikes again!

Business consultants, self-help gurus, professional coaches – even futurologists – make a fortune by teaching people to be resilient.  We knitters have no need to pay for such advice.  We learn it the natural way!

Knitters of the world, stand up straight and proud, and repeat after me:

“I AM A KNITTER!

I LAUGH IN THE FACE OF FAILURE!

RESILIENCE IS MY MIDDLE NAME!”

In the thick of it

As a knitter it is very important to take care of your equipment.  And what piece of equipment could be more important than your hands? As someone who has a history of hand and wrist problems, including repetitive stress injuries, I am always trying to be cognizant of maintaining good practices for hand health. I think that it is better for your hands to be alternating between different kinds of knitting, and in particular between different weights of yarn and needles. In that vein, I decided to cast on something using a thick yarn.

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I tend to prefer knitting with lighter weights, but I had bought this yarn last fall with the intention of making a quick Christmas gift, and then never got around to it. It is incredibly soft and is in a very vibrant and saturated purple.  I love how the chunky yarn in a heavily cabled fabric makes such great texture – it results in beautiful hills and valleys bursting with light and shadow.

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The yarn is Whitfell Chunky by Eden Cottage Yarns, a 100% baby alpaca in the colourway Damson.  The pattern is the Umbra cowl designed by Louise Zass-Bangham. I tried this cowl on at a wool fair last year, made with this yarn, and it was wonderfully cozy; I bought some on the spot.

Do you know the other advantage of knitting with chunky yarn? It takes no time to finish something!

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This cowl took a few short evenings of knitting. The pattern is intuitive and doesn’t require much attention.  It is good TV knitting, or carrying-on-a-conversation knitting. The only difficult part was grafting it together.  Here I will let you in on a secret: I suck at Kitchener stitch!  Really, this is on my list of knitting techniques that need major work.  I inevitably end up with more stitches on one needle that the other. (Many more than the one stitch you would expect.)  If I stop concentrating for even a second, something goes wrong.  Here you can see how lousy I am at Kitchener; look at this terrible join:

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Oh my! Quelle horreur! Am I going to let my knitting perfectionism take control and force me to rip it out and re-graft, and then re-rip it out and re-re-graft, and then re-re-re-rip it out, etc. etc? No, I’m not.  It’s staying this way! A New Kelly is evolving!

Having had a week in the thick of it (knitting-wise and otherwise in fact), I will return to my colourwork fingering-weight jacket with happier hands.  I hope you are safe and dry this weekend.

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Kathy Bear says: “Knit another one for the baby!”

I have just finished knitting a lovely little baby cardigan, a gift for a colleague who is pregnant with her first child.  The baby is due next month, which means that I am shockingly finished in plenty of time.  I intended to take some un-modelled photos of the cardi to show you before gifting it; however, despite it being terribly cute, the sweater sans baby was missing some vital “je ne sais quoi”.  What to do?  Kathy Bear to the rescue!

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The sweater is knit with The Uncommon Thread BFL Light DK in the shade “Into Dust”. The pattern is Mignon, by Loop London.  It only comes in one size (3-6 months) and I knit it exactly as written, except that I went up a needle size, using a US6.

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The details of this sweater are adorable.  It is knit in one piece with very little finishing needed.  I love this shade, which is a sweet lavender with enough depth of colour to keep it from being too sweet.  It is both very girly and sophisticated.

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I also adore the button, which seems made for this yarn.  The button, pattern, and yarn were purchased from Loop in London.  I used the same buttons, but in blue, for a cardigan I knit for Leah last summer.

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Kathy Bear was hand-made for my daughter Leah when she was born.  She was made by Jill Davis, a lovely friend and gifted seamstress.  Jill and Doug went to high school together and she has two lovely daughters of her own.  She clearly knows how to make a bear with personality.

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Kathy has two dresses which she has worn for over twenty years.  She thinks a fancy cardigan is long over-due.  She is also clearly unimpressed with this baby nonsense.  “Knit another one for the baby!”, she says.

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How to spend a half day in Singapore

Yesterday I found myself with a half a day in Singapore.  I had arrived by car from Malaysia around 1pm, and had a plane to catch late in the evening.  I also had my rather hefty purse and a carry-on bag on wheels.  It is August and humid. I tried to think of the best way to spend the afternoon, without lugging my bags around all day in the heat, and without arriving at the airport in the evening feeling like I’d been through the wringer. I was jet lagged, so I needed to build a bit of downtime into the day.  I also wanted to have fun, soak up some local culture and hopefully eat some good food. The answer: The National Gallery of Singapore.

I spent some time in the gallery last year and knew it had a bit of everything I wanted from the day.  I had my taxi drop me off right at the front.  I went up to the desk and asked if they could check my baggage for me for the day; they were very obliging.  I then set about ticking one thing off my agenda: some delicious local cuisine.

Everyone knows that the local food in Malaysia and Singapore is fantastic. Alas, I have coeliac’s disease and must follow a 100% gluten-free diet.  After 30 years of this, I don’t usually find it difficult, except when I travel.  In Johor Bahru, where I had travelled on business, I found it especially tricky. First, none of the wait staff seemed to know what I was talking about when I tried to instigate the gluten conversation.  Second, even more troubling, there seems to be a commandment in the local service industry, to say yes to anything the customer asks.  It goes something like this: If the customer must be pleased, and the customer doesn’t want gluten, then tell them that the food is gluten-free.  And because I found it difficult to engage in conversation directly with the chefs, I ended up ordering plain rice and grilled fish everywhere.

There are a range of restaurants at the National Gallery, including one called the National Kitchen by Violet Oon.  It is small with fabulous interiors, and they were extremely accomodating.  My waiter went and talked to the chef, who told me which dishes could be made specially gluten-free for me.  The manager came to talk to me to make sure I was happy.  I ordered the Udang Goreng Chili – described as “Angka prawns tossed in a spicy chilli padi garlic rempah”.  I am not sure what the normal dish looks like, but here is my gluten-free version:

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These prawns had so much chili and garlic, you would not believe.  They were utterly fantastic!  All of my food cravings were satisfied.  Add in a lovely glass of wine and the lovely decor, and I had a great lunch!

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They even had a fantastic gluten-free dessert: kueh beng kah, a steamed tapioca cake, served warm with gula melaka syrup and coconut cream.  Heaven!

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To build on a great start to my afternoon, my trip coincided with a major exhibit at the gallery of Yayoi Kusama’s work.  Doug and the girls and I were lucky to catch Kusama’s exhibit at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin in 2006.  It was a real treat to spend the afternoon at this exhibit in Singapore.  The exhibit is huge, spanning four galleries, and takes about 2 hours to get through.  I love this, one of her many Venus de Milo pieces (Statue of Venus obliterated by Infinity Nets, No. 2, 1998):

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Here is a photo I took in the installation “The spirits of the pumpkins descended into the heavens” (2017). (You can see my face as I hold the camera in the box in the centre and reflected throughout):

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The sheer scale of some of the installations are impressive.  This room has 50 enormous canvases of her black and white drawings stacked up on every wall:

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The originals were done in magic marker and each contains repetitions of faces, eyes, and other small motifs.  Here is a closeup of the intersection of two of the canvases:

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In the tulip room, part of which you can see here:

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I happened to catch a photograph of a young woman with the ‘dots’ from the exhibit reflected on her sunglasses.  I love this photo!

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The exhibit is only open through the 3rd of September and the admission lines are long (the entrances are timed and are very well managed).  If you are anywhere near Singapore, I highly recommend it.

After the exhibit, I went up to the roof gallery where I sat and looked out on the fantastic view of Singapore, while enjoying a drink and my knitting.  Here is a photo of said knitting against the backdrop of the view.

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To make the end of the day even more fantastic, as I sat enjoying the view (and a very nice drink) a wild and wicked storm suddenly blew across the city.  I watched it advance across the skies and then they opened and the heavens poured down.  I went inside to the Supreme Court terrace, and was able to watch the rain pelting on the roof.  Fantastic! Here you can see the darkening skies on the right, while the sun still shines on the left:

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If you ever find yourself with half a day in Singapore, I say: forget having a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar, don’t challenge your vertigo at the Marina Bay Sands, and instead take yourself to the National Gallery!

A bit of knitting progress

I have just arrived in Malaysia where I will be doing some teaching.  I am very jet-lagged and wide awake in my hotel at 3am. This makes it a perfect time to write a post!  I have started knitting again, but cautiously. My hands and wrists are still bothering me.  It started out with my right thumb and wrist and quickly morphed into a more generalized problem with both hands.  I am pretty sure it is a repetitive stress thing.  I stopped knitting altogether for about two weeks, during which I used ice and compression and general idleness (oh no!) to try to fix the issue.  It is still not resolved, but much better.

I reported in this post that I was going to knit a baby sweater for a friend.  I am almost finished with it. (Baby sweaters are so fast!)  Here is a progress photo:

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This photo was taken a week ago, and I am further along.  I only have to add the sleeves and do some minimal finishing.  It is an adorable little knit, using the pattern Mignon, from Loop Knitting.

I have also been continuing to progress with Sofi, my Hanne Falkenberg designed jacket.

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The body is knit in one piece, which means very long rows and very slow progress, especially for a slow knitter like me (even more so with hand problems).  But it is so gorgeous and so much fun to knit that I am enjoying every minute of it.  We shall see whether I change my mind when I get to the sleeves, however; they are knit in seed stitch. Sleeves in seed stitch: double trouble.

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I didn’t want to bring either of these projects to Malaysia.  I did not check a bag so have only a minimal amount of stuff with me.  However, it is a 13 hour flight each way, so at the last minute I searched through my knitting supplies and discovered this little bag, which I had packed at some point with all of the supplies to make a pair of mitts:

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Who would have known that I could be so organised?