Friday, June 26, 2015

The Summer Exhibition & something exciting

My birthday is always celebrated with a visit to either somewhere arty or a garden followed by a special curry and a bit of fizz. This year was no exception although our plans had to be changed from the garden visit to something arty at the last minute to cut down on the walking part as Mike was feeling a bit wobbly following a fall, poor love.

So it was that we headed off to visit the Summer Exhibition again. Same venue, the Royal Academy in central London, but with different exhibits (although some were very similar to last year and decent paintings were in rather short supply this time much to Mike's annoyance).

This is a very photo-heavy post, even though I've left loads out, so apologies in advance. I'll let them tell the story with a few words thrown in occasionally:

An adventure always starts with a coffee at Bistro@thestation
The train was on time (hoorah!) on the outward journey but was delayed on the return sadly due to a fatality on the line. A young woman had jumped from a bridge onto the railway line and a 74 year old man had gone onto the track to save her but lost his life in the process. She survived but was in a critical condition. So sad.

I was trying to capture the enormity of the work going on at London Bridge station but most of it is hidden behind huge barriers

A moody shot of the Shard

The grand entrance to Waterloo station

The milennium wheel and a purple cow thing (what is that??????)

The traditional pose outside Charing Cross station (notice I've managed to get THE hat again!)

I was looking at rooftops on our walk to the exhibition and the cuppola atop the National Gallery caught my eye because of the way it's weathered with shades of grey

As we were there bright and early there were hardly any people about so I was able to snap this section of Trafalgar Square.

The latest display on the 4th plinth is a skeletal horse by Hans Haacke. It's entitled 'Gift Horse' and is derived from an etching by George Stubbs who was famous for his amazing paintings of horses some of which are held in the National Gallery. The round thing on the horse's front leg is an electronic ribbon which displays a live feed from the London Stock Exchange. This is supposed to link power, money and history.

Fairy-tale turrets

A sit down for coffee and cake at Caffe Concerto on Haymarket. We played at people-watching which is always fun.

Another glorious cuppola; copper this time.

Were were walking along Piccadilly and I loved the shades of grey

I think this is my favourite of the day

We were still a bit early for the Exhibition so we popped into St James's Church which was consecrated in 1684. It was designedby Sir Christopher Wren (who also designed St Paul's Catherdral).

The magnificent organ

This fabulous carving is by Grinling Gibbons who also carved the font seen below. As always there is symbolism and he has used the traditional image of a pelican pecking its breast to feed her young which represents God who though Christ is said to feed all people.

The poet William Blake was baptised here.

The highly ornate ceiling

Our final destination!

Each year there is a different installation in the courtyard. This one is entitled 'The Dappled Light of the Sun' by Conrad Shawcross.

I loved the shadows it created…...

...….and looking at its shape against the blue sky

Looking back at it from the entrance steps it looks as if the artist in the statue is conducting an orchestra!

The staircase to the exhibition had been decorated with strips of tape. You can read about it in the notice below. 

It made my eyes go funny on the way down!

There were many interesting sculptures this year.

Sheep heads with a goat on the end which I couldn't fit into the photo.

This pile of tat made me cross - how can that be classed as 'ART'?!!!!!

These 2 chairs caught my eye because I love things with holes in (as anyone who's seen my pottery work will know).

This one had mirrors inserted into the holes which gave distorted reflections - I appear to be upside down and on my side!

This is the sort of sculpture I'd love to have in the garden

Just imagine that with the light shining through it.

These 3 abstract figures were glorious and I really wanted to touch them but it wasn't allowed.  I didn't make a note of the sculptor unfortunately. I always admired Henry Moore's ethos that sculpture should be enjoyed by all and he loved people to engage with his pieces rather than them to be shut away in a gallery.

This was an interesting piece which refracted light and images as you moved around it

There were a couple of Bill Jacklin's paintings to keep Mike happy but overall he was disappointed by the lack of good paintings this year

I liked this piece entitled 'Origami A - Z'. It was paintings of origami animals and was quite charming.

These lights caught my eye 'cos they looked like bubbles…….

……just as they were supposed to!

Something very similar to this was exhibited last year by the same artist and we saw lots of items that were very like things artists had produced last year which seems to go against what the exhibition is supposed to be about - ie fresh and innovative ideas. We must be getting old and grumpy!

A striking tapestry by Grayson Perry - detailed photos below

This sculpture is entitled 'Darwin accelerated' and I liked the idea of a shell being divided into a sort of honeycombe.

Finally we have a photo from the Concept room,  where architects produce amazing avant garde designs, which we always enjoy.  I loved this quotation 'The art of landscape is tricking nature into improving your design'. How true; it's what we gardeners try to do all the time!

As we left the exhibition we spotted a sign for the Society of Antiquaries' collection for a free exhibition about Magna Carta throught the ages so we popped in and it was really interesting. Well worth a look if you're in the area.

After that it was time for a jolly good curry nearby in Albemarle Street and then home for some champers. Perfect.

The Exciting news

2 bits of excitement actually:

i) I received my DNA sample kit for the PROTECT study . Of course, I have said categorically that I do not want to know if I am going to develop dementia but am quite happy to take part in the study as someone "who has not received a diagnosis of dementia". 

It's so important for researchers to be able to monitor a large group of people over a number of years to learn more about how the disease develops and who may be more at risk. 

Research is they key to unlocking the secrets of dementia and I urge everyone to volunteer to help learn more about this devastating disease so that future generations don't have to experience it.

My 'spit-kit' as I call it

ii) The lovely Wendy Mitchell, who I've mentioned a lot recently, will be accompanying Piers Kotting to the House of Commons for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Medical Research's 2015 Summer Drop-In to promote Join dementia research

How fab is that?!!!

I shall be contacting my local MP to pester him, politely of course, to attend to find out more about JDR.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Notes from the Sophie CAL 2015

I promised that I'd share some of my thoughts on the CAL on here as well as on FB and Ravelry so here I go:

Getting started

Before you start there are 2 things you need to think about carefully - what you'll use it for and where you will display it, both of which make a difference to your choice of yarn for the project. If you want something that can be thrown in the washing machine without worrying then you might like to consider a 100% acrylic yarn or one with a wool/acrylic mix. If you want something to wrap yourself in to keep warm you might want a heavier weight yarn. Remember that the weight of yarn you choose will determine its finished size so if you want a large blanket you probably need to use an aran weight yarn.

Think about the cost of the project, especially if you choose to make the larger size as it's a real yarn-eater! I used yarn from my stash which I'd bought over many years at a fraction of its retail price. If I'd had to pay full price for it then the project would have been a non-starter. More about how much yarn I used later.

Lots of people said they had trouble choosing their colours which I can fully understand as I have seen many variations that I adore and could easily have gone in a completely different direction from the one I chose.

Here are some suggestions on choosing your colours:
  • Remember that it's your project and so it doesn't matter if other people don't like your colours as long as you do. 
  • Think about where you want to display it. Do you want it to tone in with the area or contrast? I chose colours to tone but I would also have been happy with bright clashing colours if it had been for a different area.
  • Do you want to use pastels or bright colours?
  • Have a look at some of the single colour ones as they have a completely different feel.
  • Choose your main colours and then find 1 or 2 to use judiciously perhaps to highlight a special round.
  • Play around with the colours and see how they work together (of course this is easier if you've got some in your stash or if you physically go into a Yarn shop rather than buy things on-line!).
  • My own choice of colours came from the curtains in our lounge & music room which is where it will live:

It took several attempts before I got colours I liked for the centre

Seeing how it looked with other things in the room

Following the pattern and tweaking it to suit you

The pattern was well written and had been tested incredibly well too so I found it a joy to work with. I didn't look at any of the 'How to' videos but people said they were very helpful. There were lots of links to tutorials and I thought the stitches were explained clearly, so much so that I felt it was fine for new crocheters as well as those with more experience.

I had the benefit of starting after the first few weeks and so I could see how the pattern was progressing. I noticed that the beautiful texture of these bobbles and petal-like shapes didn't show up if you used different colours for each round so I worked out my stripes accordingly so that the petals were formed by the cream colour I'd chosen as my background. I read that some people carried their yarn at the back in order to do this but I didn't - I just added the new yarn in when required which was much less wasteful.

In this next photo you can see how the petals and bobbles really stand out in the cream colour. You can see how I've used the pale yellow, one of my accent colours, as a stripe just to keep a link to the starting point. For the border around this area there was the option to use crab stitch which I did - shown in dark red. This really helped define the area. A lot of people find crab stitch difficult as it can seem odd at first so I'd suggest practising on a test piece so you become confident it in.

Lay your work out at each stage to see if the colour sequences please you. It's much easier to rip back one row than to continue and have to do it several rows later.

When I wasn't sure which colour to use for the next round I'd get some colours together and lay them against it. Sometimes I'd even work a line of stitches to see which I preferred.

Make sure your accent colours are well balanced within the colour sequences. My 2 accents colours werer the pale yellow and the dark red.

Make sure you count, count and count as it's very frustrating if you find you've got the wrong number of stitches, especially when your stitch count is around 400! The pattern always tells you if you need to include the so-called 'hidden' stitch which comes after the corner. I count in 10s or 20s and place a marker on the 10th/20th stitch so that if I lose count it's quite easy to work it out.

When you get to the butterfly border there is an option to use backpost stitches at the start and end. Please just do it or you'll regret it as it forms a lovely edge and defines the area beautifully. One of the final stages addresses this for anyone who has omitted it and uses surface crochet which I think is much more fiddly than backpost stitches.

I made a slight modification as well - the row after you finish the top of the butterfly said do sc then dc (US) but I did hdc then dc (that's htr and tr in UK terms) instead as I think it makes the border look more balanced. The butterflies look ragged until you straighten them out a bit so don't worry - see here for more details.

To block or not to block

Throughout the instructions you are told to block your work. However, unless your tension is not quite right this shouldn't really be necessary at every stage. I blocked my work for the first time when it was squared off and it worked out fine.

As your work gets bigger and bigger it will get very heavy. This is more of an issue when you're using an aran weight yarn as I did. If you work with it on your knee you'll find that it will stretch out of shape as it dangles down so what I did was to crochet whilst sitting on the settee so that my work was supported as much as possible.

The best tip I can give is to smooth and flatten out your work on a table or the floor after each crochet session. This really helps to keep it in shape without the constant need for blocking.

Finishing Edge

I chose not to add any extra rounds or squares but I didn't like the way it was finished in the instructions so tweaked it ever so slightly. For round 112 I did dc (sc in US) in pale blue then 113 I did htr (hdc US) in a mid blue which gave a firmer edge.

Then for the final round I used the really dark blue to make backpost dcs (bpsc US) which made the edge sit better than in the written version.

Sorry I can't show it any better than this but the colours are quite close so there isn't much contrast:

The end result

I love it. What I love most is that, because of the yarn I used and the lovely raised stitches, it has the feel of a candlewick bedspread (do you remember them?). I almost wish I'd made it for our bed but then I can always make another similar one can't I?!

I'm very happy with my colour choices and it looks great on the settee and near the curtains shown here in the lounge:

We have the same curtains in the music room which adjoins the lounge so it was bound to work in there too. What we also have in there are large stencils high up between the beams so it looks great with them too!

At the moment it is draped over the piano and really adds a splash of colour there.

Yarn & hook details

Hook: I used a 4mm hook throughout as that is my preferred size when using Rowan Summer Tweed.

Yarn details: Rowan Summer Tweed (now discontinued but I have a huge stash of it 'cos I adore it!), 70% silk 30% cotton, 108m per 50g ball.

Colours used:

10 x 508 Oats
10 x 515 Raffia
3 x 514 Reed
2 x 538 Butterball

3 x 522 Smoulder
3 x 526 Angel
2 x 541 Blossom

2 x 527 Sprig
2 x 522 Bamboo
2 x 550 Hedgerow

1 x 500 Powder
2 x 548 Swirl
2.5 x 529 Denim
2.5 x 547 Navy

Thankfully I rarely paid full price for the yarn as I bought batches of it on eBay for an average of £2.50 a hank but even so at 47 hanks it still cost a fair bit!

Finished dimensions:  150cm square unblocked.