Sometimes I knit

Helsinki Colours
Why have just one colour when you can have them all?

I know this blog has been lacking content on its main theme for a while now and it is high time to write about knitting.

About a week before my trip to Helsinki I knew for certain that I would not complete my vintage Aran sweater in time. It wasn’t a sudden realisation and it didn’t feel like a failure, it was just the result of a number of other things being more important than the knitting. I got the back, front, and one sleeve completed then set it aside until my return.

Instead, I used a skein of DK weight yarn hand-dyed by Noodle Soup Yarns to whip up a quick beanie, or watch-cap, to keep my ears warm as I headed north. I guessed the number of stitches and used logic for the decreases and, thanks to the miracle of the rib stitch, I ended up with a warm, lightweight hat that did exactly what was required of it. I still have plenty of wool left so I am considering adding a bobble now the trip is over.

I also took some good old knits with me for my holiday. I had my Cable Front Cardigan which adds warmth at the back of the neck without being too cumbersome. It works really well under a coat because, although it is thick, it is well-fitted around the shoulders and sleeves. On top of my coat I added the Mama Weer All Crazee Cowl; appreciating both the added warmth and the gorgeous pop of colour against the grey of the coat. On the subject of warmth, I still think a calf-length wool coat can’t be beaten.

This weekend I intend to cast on the second sleeve of the aran jumper, even if I only manage to knit a couple of rows. I will keep you updated on my progress.

Starting 2nd sleeve
I’ve made a start on the second sleeve

I hope your knitting is going according to plan.

Inside my planner / 1

My planner Page 1
The first page in my planner

I thought I would split my planner setup into a couple of posts and today I want to cover the diary section, or true planner section of the book. Before I start, there’s a bit of technical information to go through. All the pages I’m showing today have been printed onto William Hannah’s plain paper which they provide punched to suit the disc system in their notebooks. I am using the A5 paper because I have an A5 notebook, but the A6 paper could also be added to these rings if desired. I use the Pages software on my MacBook computer to design the pages (I use the term ‘design’ very loosely – I’m not claiming that I have any talent in that direction; if I can do it you most certainly could) and my HP Envy 5030 printer fitted with HP inks supplied using their Instant Ink subscription service. I feed the paper through one sheet at a time because I had a problem with the punching if I put in several sheets together. I don’t print enough pages for it to bother me that I have to take my time. Now, the aesthetics.

As I open the lovely cover of the William Hannah notebook and turn the first cardboard divider, I am greeted by my Word of the Year, Vitality. I like this being at the very beginning because it keeps it to the forefront of my mind. On the reverse of the sheet I have printed a verse of a poem by Louis MacNeice because I like to have poetry or a quote at the front of all my journals and notebooks.

After that page it’s straight into the diary section. I’ve learnt over the past couple of years that I like to keep three months of my diary with me and that will basically work out to be the previous month, current month and next month. When the month turns I will take out a month from the beginning and add a month at the end. Any appointments that I make outside that timescale I add to either a sticky note or to a spare sheet of paper at the end of the diary section so I can fill in the information when I get to the appropriate month. I don’t have significant amounts of forward-planning in my life so I don’t really need to see the whole year ahead, although I do have an idea for a monthly calendar spread over three A5 sheets which I might look into incorporating.

Because I moved into this disc-bound system from a ring-bound planner in the last week of January, I didn’t bother to re-print the sheets for the first three weeks of the year. This means that my planner starts from Thursday 23rd January 2020 which is a little random. However, January 2020 was an unpleasant month for me and I am glad to be able to ignore it and treat it like an unwanted guest who stayed into the new year and who I was glad to see the back of.

Diary + Pens
My diary and pens part-way through the week

My diary pages are based on the column layout that the wonderful folk at Mark and Fold use in their Diary, which I heartily recommend if you’re looking for a bound weekly diary or planner. I loved using mine the past couple of years.

Diary Layout 1
My diary layout as the week begins

My first column is just lined and headed “Focus” so I write in a few themes I want to incorporate at the beginning of the week. These themes are often recurring, but some weeks I need to step back from my general goals and concentrate on something specific. I find it useful to have to think as each week starts what is most appropriate right now.

To the right are seven columns, one for each day of the week, which are ruled and have a slightly thicker edge under each third line, splitting the day up into six sections which I pretty much work through top to bottom. If I have appointments or things to do specific to the day, I note them in there as soon as I know about them. Birthdays go to the top and I’m underlining them in red to make them stand out. Any hugely important items, such as my trip to Helsinki, are noted in the space between the date and the first line. Anything that spans days is written as centrally as I can manage with lines to the edge of the dates it covers. I use the very bottom 3 lines for the day to fill in my exercise details (steps walked and calories burned, plus exercise minutes if I do a specific exercise routine rather than just my regular walking); I fill this in early on the following morning. If there is a TV show I will watch, I tend to note it in the section above where I will write my exercise information.

Finally there is a blank box at the bottom of both pages for more creative stuff. I try to fill in a quote or piece of poetry in the right-hand box at the beginning of the week, then if I find a quote I like during the week I write it in the left-hand box, or I can just decorate it.

I do think of this more as a diary than a planner because there really isn’t that much forward-planning in my life due to a combination of the kind of work I do (tends to be more reactive) and the type of person I am (if I plan to do something I will find a million ways not to do it, if it’s optional then I am much more likely to work on it).

When I first started planning a diary section that I would print myself, I was going to use a different colour for every month, but I have fallen in love with the turquoise blues and I think I will stick with them until I’m fed up, then have a change. The Waterman Inspired Blue ink is really cheering my days in this cloudy, chilly spell we’re having. I am having to force myself not to ink up every pen with it, and to use the pens I’ve got different coloured ink in at least occasionally.

Thank you for dropping by to read about my set-up in the William Hannah notebook. I am very happy with this as my daily companion; it truly is an item that I know to be useful and feel to be beautiful. Keep an eye open in the coming weeks for the third part of the set-up which will be about the notes section and what I choose to keep in there.

 

A day in Helsinki

My lovely daughter is treating her aging mum to a birthday trip to Helsinki, Finland. It’s a beautiful city. We visited the Design Museum yesterday and my eye was caught by this chunky knitted skirt.

Helsinki is a lovely city, small enough to walk around comfortably, frequent trams, and surprisingly few cars. There is a good variety of shops, from the small boutiques to larger malls and department stores.

A nice walk took us down to the sea front which looks out across to the many islands off the shore. These were also in evidence when we took a spin on the SkyWheel later in the day. Below the Skywheel some brave souls were open-air swimming. The air temperature was below freezing all day and by that time the wind was getting up and we were feeling glad of our extra layers, yet these people were walking around in swimming costumes.

I haven’t seen any knitting yarn yet, but we did find the a couple of good stationery shops. In the first I bought a lovely postcard which had been printed by them, so a great souvenir for my holiday journal. The other was the Lamy Concept Store, quite a small shop, but devoted to just Lamy pens. I resisted the urge to buy anything, but I did try out all of the nib widths (Lamy do a really good selection) and found myself very taken with the 1.5 and 1.9mm stub nibs – something I have never considered before. I am tempted, very tempted. It’s not something I’d use on a daily basis, but would add something to cards and special letters.

My daughter informs me that the Finns drink more coffee than anyone else, so we are trying to keep up with frequent coffee breaks. On the food front, I surprised myself by enjoying a bowl of Finnish Porridge at breakfast – I usually detest porridge. This version was made with barley instead of oats and I had a good spoon of local Ligonberry jam to sweeten it. Yummy.

I hope you are enjoying yourselves wherever you are.

Planner ahoy!

IMG_2120
The glorious William Hannah A5 Notebook

Well, I have teased you for long enough and now it’s time to reveal my 60th birthday gift-to-myself – the A5 William Hannah Notebook in Bordeaux and Petrol. When I fully processed the fact that I was unlikely to treat myself to a pen to celebrate my 60th birthday, I wondered what else would fall into that ‘special gift’ category and this was the natural conclusion. It’s expensive enough to make sense only for a special occasion, high quality so it’s going to be a lasting gift, and I already knew that this size and type of notebook would keep me happy.

I have been using this for just under two weeks and in all honesty the camera is being hyper-critical because in real life the scuffs are nowhere near as noticeable as they seem in the photos. Being a vegetable-tanned leather, the outside is naturally going to show the marks of everday life and I’m more than happy with that. I love the rich burgundy colour of the leather on the outside contrasting with the super petrol-blue suede inside. It’s like the flamboyant silk lining in a sensible coat or on the back of a waistcoat. I thought long and hard about the colour combination to opt for, toying with the idea of ordering a custom colourway, but finally opting for this one, even though the bright red options do make my heart sing.

IMG_2122
Petrol suede lining, custom dividers

The notebook has a disc system to hold the pages in place which is similar to the wire binding of the Filofax notebook, but slightly different. The engineering of the metal discs and the rod which runs through them holding them secure against the spine of the cover are the crux of the flexibility this system provides. Like the Filofax notebook, pages can easily be added, removed, moved around. As with the Filofax notebook, I like to keep this fairly slim with just three months of week on 2 pages diary, a to-do and notes section, and some sheets for creative writing. I have two dividers – the Scarlet at the front then a Tabriz Blue one between the diary and notes section. I also have two bookmarks – a Scarlet one marking the current week in my diary, and a Tabriz Blue one between the notes and creative writing areas.

Thus my set-up is incredibly simple, minimal, functional. This planner/notebook is a refinement of the system that has worked for me for the past couple of years, elevated by a high quality cover and some seriously gorgeous paper. Honestly, William Hannah provides exceptionally good paper. My pens are in ecstasy. One of the little touches that take the products to a different level is the fact you can choose not only the type of ruling you have (plain, dot grid, grid or lined) but the colour the ruling is printed in, and with the initial set that comes with your binder you can mix and match which papers are provided. It’s pure genius.

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Suble branding on the back

In future posts I will give you a glimpse of what’s inside, but for now it’s all about the leather, the suede and the lovely textured cardboard dividers.

Creative interlude

It was writing class at Norwich Castle Museum today, and we were studying birds. I was pleased with my final piece of writing.

Still life?

Painter playing god retrieves
My broken body, makes it live

Paints me a basket, fills with fruit
Opens my beak, who cannot bite

Paints me an Arcadian sky,
A bench of stone, a shaded terrace

Paints me clouds, who cannot fly
Arranges wings of carnelian hue

Lays me on my opulent bier
Obscuring all in gauzy haze

Paints me an eternal life
Dead upon this canvas heaven

Are your creative activities making you happy today?


Amanda Addison who hosts our writing group at Norwich Castle Museum has a new book being published this coming week. Boundless Sky is the story of Bird’s migration and the people he sees on his journey. It’s lovely.


 

All hail the Metal Rat

Talisman
My Metal Rat Talisman

Much to the despair of my grandson (who, for the purposes of this blog, I shall call ET*) I have an abiding love of horoscopes, both Western and Chinese. ET thinks horoscopes are twaddle – well, that’s Leos all over! To be fair to him, I don’t entirely believe in horoscopes in any logical way, it simply seems to me that they are no less plausible than most belief systems and only dangerous when taken to extremes.

My own horoscope consumption goes as far as buying a cheap, mass-market book each year for my star sign, Aquarius, which gives a few daily lines of prediction. I buy mine for £2 from The Works, from which we can deduce that there has not been a lot of scientific research put into the text!

When I look back, I don’t recall my family being particularly influenced by such matters, but then again I have always known the astrological signs of my family and my mum used to read her horoscope if she came across it in a magazine. Indeed, I recall her dismay when, laid in bed with a bad chest infection, she read that she would be having a great time and be the life and soul of the party. I believe she black-listed Russell Grant after that! (Interesting fact – I share my birthday with Mr Grant – day, not year!) Also, the clock that hung on the chimney-breast in our living room had the twelve zodiac signs around its perimeter and my parents must have chosen that from a range as being the one that appealed to them the most.

At some point I started to take an interest in the Chinese astrological system, and familiarised myself with my sign, the Rat. In the Chinese system, each sign gets a year and the zodiac runs on a 12-year cycle. On top of that, each sign cycles through the five elements – wood, fire, earth, metal, water – so you only come round to your birth-year combination after 60 years. I was born a Metal Rat and today we’re going into the year of the Metal Rat,  so I reckon it’s something special. I am valiantly ignoring the general opinion that the return of your birth sign is considered to be a bit unlucky in Chinese astrology.

Many years ago I bought the little Metal Rat figure from an extremely dodgy local bric-a-brac shop and I have decided to keep it in a more prominent position through this year to remind me of my heritage and perhaps bring me luck. For the past eleven years I have been promising myself that I would buy the Cross Year of the Rat fountain pen as a 60th birthday treat-to-myself when 2020 finally rolled around. Now it’s been released, the £336 price tag combined with the fact I’ve already got the gorgeous Aquamarine Lamy Studio has made that pretty much 100% less likely to happen. I do love the colour and the decoration and, being metal, it reflects my birth year’s element precisely. With silver-coloured accents instead of gold it would be perfect, but I probably still wouldn’t buy it.

Cross Townsend Year of the Rat

Don’t worry, though, I have a totally different 60th birthday treat-to-myself to reveal next time I write!


* I’m not calling my grandson ET because I think he’s an alien, although I sincerely hope he is. I think I can safely assume he’s from the same spaceship as me and the rest of our family and will be part of the crew when our time on Earth is done and we re-group to travel onwards. I think he will probably turn out to be the captain! I am calling him ET because they are the initials of his first and middle names – I am the proud parent/parent-in-law of an awsome couple of film buffs!


 

Delicious

Lamy Studio glam shot
Lamy Studio Aquamarine Fountain Pen

The time has come to talk about my newest fountain pen, in all its glorious aquamarine splendour. This is the pen I narrowly avoided meeting when I visited The Writing Desk in Bury St Edmunds last summer and I was thrilled when it arrived in my gifts this Christmas.

The Lamy Studio pens have a modern-classic, retro-futuristic vibe all of their own. This one is a limited edition with the all-metal body powder-coated in a deep aquamarine colour, nicely on the blue side of the turquoise/teal part of the spectrum. The iconic clip, based on the design of a propeller, is chic, understated, but rebellious and quirky. The pen has a good weight in the hand, without being overly large or heavy. Some may dislike the metal section (the part where your fingers sit as you write), but I find it comfortable in use. Unusually for me, I am sticking with the Medium nib which my sister chose, although I initially thought I would swap it out for a Fine or Extra-Fine nib. I find I am enjoying having a little variety in the thickness of the nibs in my collection; indeed, I now have an even balance between fine and medium nibs.

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Lamy Sudio + Waterman Inspired Blue

I currently have the Studio filled with Waterman Inspired Blue ink, which turns out to be a real tone-on-tone pairing. I have long been wary of turquoise inks, having tried them in the past with unsatisfactory results, however I treated myself to a bottle of Waterman’s version and it is really hitting the spot for me. Lovely and vibrant, it sits confidently on the paper, providing text that is easy to read. The medium nib in the Lamy adds an element of shading, with the ink pooling slightly in downstrokes and fading a little in upstrokes. I don’t always want this effect and I find in my Waterman Hemisphere with its very fine nib the ink is uniformly on the paler side which ideally suits my needs in my diary/planner.

I have decided in 2020 to limit my ink purchases to ones that I can buy in person and take home with me, adding an interesting element to this handwriting hobby. There so many inks available online, in such a plethora of colours that it can be quite bewildering. However, unless I travel away from my home city, the choices are quite limited. Here, I can buy coloured inks by Cross, Waterman, MontBlanc and Lamy from my local independent department store, Jarrolds. That’s pretty much it, although I do appreciate that I’m lucky to have a stockist of even that ilk within walking distance of my home.

Normally I would also mention paper when I talk about pens and inks, but I’m holding back on that because I have something equally gorgous in the paper line to talk about in the near future (in fact, I’ve teased you already with glimpses of it). For now, though, I hope you’ve enjoyed a brief overview of this pen and ink combination.

Studio + Inspired Blue + William Hannah
The pen, the paper

It is the dawning…

Aquarius journal front
… of the Age of Aquarius

Here is another stationery item I have picked up recently. I found it on one of my regular meanders around the stationery aisle of my local TK Maxx. It is labelled as being manufactured in China for Robert Frederick of Bath, with a recommended retail price of £12.95 reduced to £4.99.

The journal has a hard cover with nice, suedette-feel finish, which is embellished on the front with a golden naked man pouring water from an ern and the word Aquarius in a fancy font and on the back cover with the name and address of Robert Frederick simply debossed. The cover is a very attractive rich shade of blue. It has the increasingly usual elastic band closure and gussetted pocket inside the back cover plus one ribbon bookmark. The endpapers are black. There is no information about the weight of the paper or number of pages, either inside the journal or on the plastic bag it was sealed in, however it is pretty average thickness so I’d say 70 to 80gsm, cream-coloured, printed with grey dotted lines 8mm apart. My manual count came up with 96 sheets in the book.

Aquarius journal pen test front
Aquarius journal pen test front

My fountain pen test shows the paper to be pretty average quality. Most of the inks bled through a bit, although there was not much ghosting/showthrough to be seen. Funnily enough, the Diamine Wild Strawberry ink in my Lamy LX behaved best with this paper and I’ve seen it misbehave on papers that the other inks have been fine with. That just goes to show that there’s no exact science to judge which combinations will work; it’s all just trial and error. However, the amount of bleedthrough with the other pens wouldn’t prevent me from using both sides of the paper.

Aquarius Journal pen test back
Aquarius Journal pen test back

I am an Aquarius and I love a good, rich shade of blue, so buying this journal was a done deal as soon as I saw it. I checked and TK Maxx had some others from this series and I saw a couple of colours, but I don’t know whether or not the colours are unique to the horoscope sign.

In conculsion, this is a decent addition to my journal collection and I will probably use it when I finish the thick bound book I bought at Morrisons before Christmas.

 

 

Red shoe days

My whole wardrobe is pointless because I have no red shoes.
(Me)

I’m sure we all have red shoe days, even though each person may call them by a different name.

The red shoe day comes when you’ve had a spell of bad luck, when it seems like everything that can go wrong is going wrong, when everything’s against you and every single moment seems like a struggle. It’s the day when you have to do something, anything, to lift your spirits. For me, it’s the day when I reach for red shoes.

Red shoes are magical. I don’t mean in the Wizard of Oz way – there’s nothing so magical that it can transport me home – but in smaller ways. Of course, red signals danger so they are quite literally a warning that you shouldn’t mess with me, but they are also an assertion: “Look at me – even with all the rubbish I’m still here and I’m rocking it!” Red shoes are undefeatable. With red shoes on, the same things happen, the same annoyances crowd around me but deep in some well-hidden corner of my heart I am silently saying “I’m wearing red shoes, so bollocks to it!”

I also find red shoes inexplicably beautiful and when you’re down in the dumps you need something to remind you of the beauty in the world. On a red shoe day, every time I catch sight of my feet they bring a little smile of happiness and gratitude to my face.

Somehow, somewhere along the way, I have failed to replace my red shoes and I don’t have a pair at the moment, so now my shopping list consists of a navy skirt and a pair of red shoes.

I’d love to know how you combat those you and me against the world days.

An unexpected find

9-ring binder closed
9-ring binder closed

I picked up this item in my local branch of Morrisons’ supermarket this week for the princely sum of £3.00. It isn’t pretending to be a high quality product, but I found it irresisible because of the 9-ring mechanist which looked surprisingly similar to a Filofax Deskfax configuration.

Filofax have made many different sizes of binder over the years and the ever-reliable Steve Morton over at Philofaxy has recorded that the Deskfax size was introduced around about 1992 and only produced for a few years. It uses B5 paper, which lies between A5 and A4. If you’d like to read Steve Morton’s full post, it can be found here.

9-ring binder with Personal paper
9-ring binder – compatible with Personal paper

I have checked and this inexpensive file does seem to have the same ring spacing as the Deskfax which means that the paper inside it would fit a Deskfax and this plastic binder could be used to archive papers from the main Deskfax binder. Of course, that would only be useful if you had a Deskfax binder which I don’t; I bought this purely because it piqued my interest. This ring configuration allows Filofax Personal-sized paper to be inserted, but the rings are not consistent with the punching on their A5 paper.

9-ring binder pen test front
9-ring binder pen test front

The binder comes with 96 sheets of 80gsm, ruled, cream-coloured notepaper. This seems similar quality notepaper to the journal which I bought just before Christmas – not the greatest, but actually pretty good considering the price these items are being sold at. The test page using my fountain pens shows the minimum of bleedthrough and a tolerable level of ghosting/showthrough. I could very happily write on both sides of this paper. Each page has a block at the top left with the initials of each day of the week and then an area to write the date at the top right. The line ruling is quite strong and black, with the lines being a generous 9mm apart, giving 24 lines in the writing area.  The additional bold lines at the top under the date area and at the bottom include little vertical notches which help if you want to draw vertical lines to divide up the page; these are approximately 7mm apart.

9-ring binder pen test back
9-ring binder pen test back

The closure system for the binder is a simple, black elastic treasury tag which slips into notches on the cover, and there is a single plastic flyleaf which, like the cover itself, is slightly frosted. On a couple of the holes in the flyleaf, the punching hasn’t quite removed the centre circle, I think that’s understandable in this level of product.

Does this paper size have a place in my life? Would I, perhaps, think of buying a Deskfax-sized organiser if I found one? Not really. At heart, I am happiest with A5 paper and I increasingly find that an A5 exercise book is just about perfect for portability and ease of writing. However, the B-series paper sizes are gaining in popularity with the planner community, providing a larger writing space than the A-series sizes without feeling like too much of a leap. Many fans enjoy the B6-size planners because they retain the portability of the A6 or Filofax Personal planners but give a bit more writing space. The main advantage to the A-series paper sizes is that they exactly double in size as you go through the scale; so if you divide an A4 sheet in half, you get two A5 sheets and if you divide the A5 sheet in half, you get two A6 sheets. This makes them very adaptable, especially in countries where the A-series paper predominates. If you divide a B5 sheet of paper in half, you do not get two B6 size sheets* (Edited to correct: the lovely Amanda of paperpensink has corrected me – B5 halved does give you two B6 sheets. Thanks, Amanda!)

In conclusion, I think this is an excellent product considering the pricing and the type of shop in which it was sold. Top marks to Morrisons.


Interesting fact – whilst I was writing this, there a plane was flying over leaving a trail in the blue sky and for a good while the clouds it was heading towards were moving at the same speed as the plane.