Tuesday, 28 February 2017

L'amour de la laine... yarn shopping in Paris

I recently took an absolutely wonderful trip to Paris with my partner. We were lucky with mild and dry weather, and spent our three days walking along the Seine, gazing through shop windows, and eating delicious food non-stop. We also called in on several yarn shops, which I'd found by searching 'tricot' (knitting) or 'laine' (wool) on Google Maps.

On the first day we went to Cat'Laine, in a little back street, which had a really nice, varied selection of yarns; I bought some black/grey gradient sock yarn. We also visited Lil' Weasel, a gorgeous yarn boutique in an art nouveau shopping arcade. Lil' Weasel had beautiful displays and slightly more luxurious yarns, including some hand-dyed skeins. I decided to stick with commercially-spun wool sock yarn, and found this pretty shade of blue yarn to knit some lacy spring socks. I'm afraid that we didn't think to take photos in these two shops as, quite simply, we were in a bit of a daze due to getting up at 5am to catch the Eurostar.

Towards the end of our trip, I was wondering out loud whether I should pop back into Lil' Weasel to purchase a sweater-quantity of yarn since it was a such a lovely shop. But whilst checking the map, my partner spotted one more yarn shop I'd saved which I'd forgotten about, and suggested going there instead. So we popped into La Droguerie - and I'm so glad that we did!

Communing with the yarn at La Droguerie
Yarn everywhere!

Knitting needles in a vintage display cabinet
La Droguerie is a haberdashery selling buttons, beads, trimmings, yarn, fabric and patterns. You step in off the street to a dreamy corridor of yarn. Sample skeins of every colour of each yarn are hung up on two walls, wools followed by cotton. On each type, there's a card stating the composition, meterage per 100g, and recommended needle size; dotted around are example garments and swatches knitted from each yarn. At the back of the shop are all the cones of the yarn, which will be wound up for each customer. You select the yarn you want, then tell the shop assistant how many metres you need; s/he calculates the weight, and then winds up your skeins of yarn from the big cones at the back. I had such a great time browsing the yarns, and as you can imagine, they came in wonderful colours.

 After a lot of deliberation, I choose this aran weight wool in a bright jade green, which I will knit into a cardigan. I bought 1000m, so I decided to just take a bit cone home, rather than make the shop assistant wind it all off. This kind of system (taking a sample to the shop assistant at the counter) is common in haberdasheries, but quite unique for yarn shops; the staff were all really helpful and patient.

My partner doesn't frequent haberdasheries or yarn and fabric stores as much as me, and he really enjoyed looking at all the colourful displays, browsing the cards of buttons and jars of beads, and taking photos. It was impossible not to come home with something, and I will treasure my handknitted garments all the more with memories of such a special trip.

Sweet shop bead displays, mirrored ceilings, and an amazing knitted rendition of a Sonia Delaunay painting 

Absolutely beautiful faux astrakhan fur trims

Rainbow buttons

Friday, 24 February 2017

January & February: stress knitting, storm knitting

February has simply flown by, I have no idea how. I've been busy with writing deadlines, preparing for a music examination, rehearsing with a new band, and learning Mandarin Chinese. Along with the deadline-related stress and other pressures in my personal life, I had been feeling really down due to the global political situation, which in my opinion has gone from bad to worse, with a plummeting £ and rising inflation helping nobody. I found myself channelling this sense of frustration and helplessness into my knitting, and in doing so, I completely turned around the energy from negative and destructive to productive and creative.

The green socks are my most recent finished project; I have also made blue socks for myself, and a pair of red lace socks for my partner (which are so bright that they have proved impossible to photograph). I've enjoyed seeing his jolly flashes of red ankles during the last few extremely grey months. I'm happy to have knit up these two balls of sock yarn that I purchased in early December, but am constantly surprised by how differently self-striping yarn knits up, compared to the skein!

In December, I knit a pair of fingerless gloves for my Aunty's Christmas present. I used hand-dyed Shetland yarn from my stash, which I bought in Doncaster in 2013. The pattern is 'Tuuli' from Pom Pom magazine issue 7, a copy that I had some writing published in. I really loved these gloves and was so sad to give them away to in January, I knit a second pair for myself. I made my pair without the turn-up on the cuff, as I was running out of yarn. I really love how incredibly light Shetland yarn is, these gloves are really warm and weigh next to nothing. They've kept me nice and toasty whilst driving in snowstorms and playing the piano in chilly rooms.

I have been thinking of starting a knitting/sewing video podcast, and I'd appreciate any thoughts or advice you had on the matter. Would you watch it? What do you think I should include? Do you have any tips?

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Screen, paper and face

We are sitting in the window of a chain café on the edge of the Strand. We are drinking small cups of coffee with Italian names which have just been prepared using coffee beans grown somewhere in South America. We have been looking at photographs taken fifty years ago in West Africa of people running, dancing, jumping, playing. A painter told me that good paintings lift you, they give you something, you walk away feeling like you're richer. She's not keen on photography, yet I feel that this notion of being rich in spirit even when your pockets are empty can be applied to all works of human creativity. Certainly, I feel wonderful after looking at all those photographs of anonymous people in a far-away place and a far-away time. They are here and I am there.

Back to the present, and suddenly we hear a burst of shouting and calling. A group of people are passing by waving placards, and I remember the notice that I'd seen tied to a traffic light at a pedestrian crossing advertising a march to show support immigrant workers. I'd also seen it advertised online, and suddenly here it is in front of me. I am at leisure, sitting here in the middle of the day philosophising, because my four grandparents migrated to London to study, to work, to seek refuge from persecution. They found jobs, then each other; they renounced their former citizenships to settle and stay; they raised children. They paid taxes. They never claimed social benefits. Why would they?

There is a problem in this country called race, and people who do not have peach skin, deep eye sockets, straight hair and thin lips are ceaselessly made to feel unwelcome. I can't be proud of a country whose people constantly question my birthplace. It is always assumed that I, and others who resemble me, come from somewhere else. The location is abstract, and foreign, and far away. When migrants are demonised by the media and by politicians, as they currently are, I wonder what is the desired alternative. Nationalism in England has a nasty undercurrent of racism and fascism. Currently, new migrants and religious minorities are scapegoated for the nation's problems; whilst descendants of old migrants are constantly made to feel unwelcome, like we're not part of the country. I guess that I don't always want to be British, but I am, and there's no where else for me to go. This is the home that I come from, and I have no choice but to stay.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Malick Sidibé exhibition at Somerset House

We finally made it to the Malick Sidibé exhibition at Somerset House; it was absolutely wonderful, in so many ways.  It closes on the 26th February, so I am typing like the wind in order that any readers might have time to catch it in the next 5 days!

Malick Sidibé was a Malian photographer, who took iconic portrait photographs in Mali following independence  from French colonialisation in 1960. I had previously seen his photographs hung in group exhibitions, and this is the first solo show in the UK. The exhibition was divided into three sections according to their topics and style, and framed photographs were hung in three beautiful high-ceilinged rooms in Somerset House. Nightlife in the capital Bamako depicted snappily-dressed groups of men and women dancing the twist and showing off their record collections. Daytime by the river Niger showed groups of teenagers posing, playing, swimming. The last room displayed a selection of studio portraits, some of which were certainly more posed than the location photography, but all were equally energetic. Sidibé's subjects are notable for their charismatic style, whether clothed in a three-piece checked suit with polished loafers and pork-pie hat, or standing topless wearing a sarong or old jeans. His photography is utterly fresh; you can almost hear the peals of laughter, shouts or cries ringing out. The atmosphere of the exhibition was kept equally upbeat with a varied soundtrack designed by DJ Rita Ray, which I felt was really successful.

All photographs were black-and-white, and were heavily textured from darkroom processing. The crinkly photographic paper was hung loose in white frames, which really gave an additional layer of tactility to the show. We are in the age of images which exist only onscreen, and I can honestly say that the curatorial choice to emphasise the physicality of photographs made it a very special show. I look forward to more like it in the future, and really encourage you to go before it closes!

Malick Sidibé: The Eye of Modern Mali. Somerset House, till 26 February. 
Free entry!
Click here for more information.