Friday, June 22, 2007

Painted Halls and the Prime Meridian

My third day in London took me to Greenwich, which hosts the Cutty Sark (closed now, of course, quite sadly), the Royal Naval College, the Maritime Museum, and the Royal Observatory. I plotzed.

View of the Thames from the Pier (semi-rainy days have made for some great clouds):

The Naval College: here, I didn't really know what I was in for, except a walk-around on the way to the Observatory, but what a treat these buildings are.

...especially the Painted Hall, and St. James' Chapel, commissioned by Queen Mary (designed by Christopher Wren. What didn't he do, again?).

The painting behind the altar is of St. Paul's shipwreck on Malta. According to the guide, the pillars and the sculptures all around the gallery are trompe l'oeil, made of plaster not marble, because of costs to execute it. See? You can have the Enlightenment extravagance of your dreams and still save!

Lunch was a cranberry, grape & brie sandwich from Marks & Spencer on the top of the hill next to the observatory. It was heaven. Just nearby was this commemorative statue of James Wolfe. (Somehow, I'm guessing the Quebec version wouldn't strike the same note?)

Prime Meridian, naturally:

The observatory museums were another geeky thrill. A great tour of Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed's life & activities (Newton thought he was years too slow to publish his star catalogues, so had them printed early without Flamsteed's permission. Flamsteed then bought up all but 100 copies and had them burned, as a sacrifice to the proud pursuit of natural philosophy). There were Harrison's clocks, and an exhibit on time pieces and measuring latitude and longitude. They had a few original instruments, like an enormous quadrant and some armillary spheres. I was more than happy to leave a donation at the end, in the absence of an entry fee.

Something I really liked was this sundial, quietly tucked in behind the Maritime Museum, with two dolphins. Their tails meet to give the reading on the dial:

After a walk downtown and up to Oxford Circus (and a yummy ice cream with Flake chocolate), I went back to meet S & C, and we walked down the wharf for dinner.

And finally, knitting status: body of the Hourglass pullover has grown about 2 inches on the Tube ride today. I'm really not pulling my weight.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

"House of Kings, House of God"

My second day in London brought me (after a solid 11-hours of sleep) a whole lot of walking and sights to see at every turn. Setting out after a breakfast on chocolate-almond croissants which my friend (and host) S bought from patisserie Paul, I rode the tube to the West End and took myself to Westminster Abbey, Picadilly Circus, the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, the Tate Modern, and St. Paul's.

I took myself all around Westminster to make the most of the entry fee, but for me the most exciting tombs and markers were in the Nave, toward the end: Darwin, Lyell (just metres from each other: I think they'd be happy in the afterlife, no? Endless conversations about steady-state change.), Newton, Faraday, Dirac, Herschel, and Kelvin. It was a genuinely exciting history of science moment. Not to mention Halley:

With lunch in the cloisters (two-pound sandwiches, on the cheap, have not stopped being a thrill) with tea and a mixed-nut brittle bar, I was a happy tourist.

After getting lost via Picadilly the National Gallery was mainly a stealth walk-through, overlooking Trafalgar square. I enjoyed the Renoirs, the Seurat, and the Cezanne & Kandinsky. So much more I missed!

...But the Tate Modern was the second big thrill of the day. The gallery is in a reconstructed factory building, with elevators all up around the old smokestack tower. (This is Turbine Hall, off the main entrance.) There was enough surrealism to shake a stick at. My favourites were the Mondrians, some really cool geometric sculptures, and paintings by Meredith Frampton.

After that it was a walk across the Millennium Bridge toward St. Paul's Cathedral. Here's London Bridge down the Thames in the farrrr back:

Luckily, it was close to services, which meant you could go and take a peek inside the cathedral. It's gorgeous. (Christopher Wren, man. Where did he find the time?)

Finishing up, my secondary goal of the trip is to try a new flavour of chips (crisps) each day. At 35p, how can you go wrong?

(P.S. There was totally knitting in this post too. ...Which, uh, I'll find photographic evidence of tomorrow!)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

London, baby.

Now that the draft is behind me, the next stage of the game? Is a completely strange and new concept to me, which is Taking A Trip Somewhere And Doing Fun Things (Even If Some Of It Is For A Conference). I left for the airport at 5pm EST yesterday, it's now 6:30pm GMT. I think I've slept a grand total of 1 hour on the flight but somehow there was enough to power myself through a walk through of Covent Garden and the highlights of the British Museum this afternoon.

There will be more words and explanations later, but I believe I may have typed this using only the powers of The Force, a Dairy Milk Creme Egg bar, and some tea.

G helpfully told me on HER first night in London, last year, she lasted til midnight before checking out. ("BEAT THAT, SUCKER.") Yeah, well, just you look out, missy, 'cause I sure... zzzzzzzz.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


(Bloor Street lights up the R.O.M.'s new Crystal.)

So, is this what it's like to actually move on from the ghosts of old WIPs and start something new? Boy howdy. I should do this more often.

Thing 1, the Smart Capitals sock, is moving on and has turned its heel flap. Now I'm on to the gussets, which I'm finding pretty damn trippy on a toe-up. Look at this little thing. It's like a sock that had its leg bit off, going all bottom-up. Cool. I still really love the way the colours are pooling.

Thing 2 is the hourglass pullover which I cast on on Wednesday. Why hadn't I tried a stockinette pullover in the round before? It's crack-tastic. You can take it anywhere. Knit under any conditions. Awesome. I'll give the hem a good blocking eventually to see if I can't keep it from wanting to flip up.

Icarus also has one row of feathers. Which is totally progress. I will now pet its lifeline thread very, very lovingly.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

49,117 the number of words my thesis draft clocks in at. It still seems small, even printed up and surlock-bound into 207 pages. It'll likely grow in revisions, after my committee's read it. Right now, I mostly feel like it's just the time to do it: I know there are places that will need fixing, but I've run out of words of my own. So it's the right time to print and get feedback on.

I feel a certain kinship now with this empty message board in Robarts library: all cleared. Do I:
(a) Sleep.
(b) Drink.
(c) Knit.
(d) Read a novel.
(e) All of the above.

At the moment I'm leaning toward (e), but that's going to be hard. And Icarus needs some feathers, I think.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Parting of the Ways

Oh, 1930. When I first laid eyes upon her, I fell hard. And now, after making my way through the re-knit, and much, much fixing and stitching and blocking and ironing, I see that while the bottom will fit very nicely, the top will most certainly not. And so, it is not to be, for us.

The good news is, I'll keep the shorts because now that they're done to fit they're too damn comfy not to keep. (Seriously, y0. They're a dream to put on.) The bad news is the top is so far from fitting, it is laughable. So before it goes forth to be untimely ripped, I thought I would post up some notes about my experiences making it.

(We'll just skip right on past the part where this is the equivalent of letting
the Internets into my underwear drawer. Movingrightalong.)

First, I think the "tangy" rating is open for debate. There are challenges in the fitting and finishing that go beyond the stockinette and basic shaping of the actual knitting. To make this you'll need to be very familiar with your own measurements and have very precise gauge. As well, the pattern doesn't provide reverse shaping for the back and front pieces: you'll have to figure out the rights on your own after doing the lefts. You'll also need to know how to sew an overcast button loop, and to have a dab hand with a needle for the ribbon and a steam iron for blocking. This piece really comes together in the finishing, and those are where the real challenges are here.

Second, the design is just plain not meant for all body types. The top, I would guess, would best fit someone with a 34A-C measurement. I think there is some room for shaping on the front pieces (e.g. some darting on the sides), though, and they could maybe be lengthened to give more side coverage.

Another quirk here is the stockinette edging on the edges of the undies and the bra fronts. We know the laws of knitting. You can block and press and steam that sucker from here to next Tuesday, but that edge'll still curl. I added 4 rows of garter stitch to the bottom of the undies, and it did the trick pretty well. The look is still clean, but it keeps the edge flat.

DO be sure, if you knit this, to take care with the ribbon and the button loops. They absolutely make it. Unlike the fabric, which will stretch and give, the ribbon will stay put and make sure the garment will stay put at your size. I fell in love a little bit, seeing it all pressed and sewn in place. It's magic. The twisted-cord even worked, for the straps. (Just make sure you fit them snug.)

DO, also, check, double-check, and triple-check your gauge and your measurements as you go, particularly for the top piece. This is the kind of thing where even half an inch will make the difference between something that fits and something that sags.

And really, this is a fun pattern. It's whimsical, designed more for fun than function. But it has some very nice detailing, especially with the ribbon, and I do think it'd be pretty darn wearable on the right person.

I used Patons Grace, in Champagne, which I was totally happy with. It has a nice bit of shine (not a lot, but enough), is smooth and soft, and handled the blocking well. I think what I may do, when I've got time after another few WIPs, is find a couple more balls of it, make a cami, and call it summer PJs.

My thesis kept me inside today so I didn't get to Knit in Public, but I might have time to crank out another discloth. (Stop it. You wish your Saturdays were this thrilling. Oh go on.) And I'll get back to Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, which is simultaneously enthralling and scaring the crap out of me.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

So... June?

(A rare sunny moment this week at U. Sask.)

June's off to a roaring start. In the last week, the following things have gone kaput:
1) The DVD player. (On warranty - still needs replacing)
2) The cable/internet. (Fixed now)
3) The car. (Battery + alternator. WHILE IN TRAFFIC. Fortunately, fixed.)

Fortunately, May ended with a bang. I had a busy few days in Saskatoon, seeing a whole lot of the U. Sask. campus. (More pics up here.) Not least of the excitement was getting to view the synchrotron. Now that is a heck of a thing. In my end of the biz we write and talk and think and say all kinds of things about science and theory and practice and the meaning of it all, but we hardly ever spend time in the places where science gets done. It was the ideal example of interdisciplinarity in modern science: as an instrument, it's a work of physics and engineering. But the people who use the synchrotron study particles and problems in chemistry, biology, medicine, geology, technology, industry, forensics, you name it. And it only cost $150 million dollars!

(Schematic, showing the accelerator ring and beamlines)

For a travel project I started a new sock. It's the "Smart Capitals" pattern from Sensational Knitted Socks. Toe up, lacy, with an 8-row repeat (just enough to be exciting, small enough to be remember-able). It was flashbacks to the "Branching Out" scarf as I struggled through the first two pattern repeats, tinking back row after row, counting and crossing my fingers I'd have the right number of stitches left on each row. Then it started to click and soon the colours were pooling nicely.

I don't know the name of this Lorna's Laces colourway but it's muy pretty, like flowers. I've started the heel flap (how's a toe-up heel flap, for breaking the knitter brain?) but will probably keep this on standby for a while as I finish the re-knit of 1930 and get a few more discloths in. (Marianne, thanks for the info about the mini ones!) Next I have my eye on the Hourglass pullover from Last-Minute Knitted Gifts to bust some of my tiny yet guilt-ridden stash with.

I need to have a thesis draft ready in 2 weeks. And Icarus is 2 rows away from the feathers. Hold me.