The Gotland Vest

I completed a project with the Gotland wool. This was my vacation knitting project, the one I took with me to Ottawa when we went to visit family over Christmas.

Here are some bobbins of singles, glowing as they do from the wonderful sheen and depth of the fibre:
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I tried and tried to decide on which colours of the Gotland to use, and in the end I just spun them all and figured I’d sort it out later. I spun up one and a half pounds of undyed and 8 braids of dyed, and they came out to about a sport weight. I couldn’t decide what colours to do when it was in fibre form, so I thought it might be clearer to me in yarn form.
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What was clear when I laid them all out was that I wanted to use them all. I had decided to render this project on Ravelry, which was the body strategy of one pattern and the chart of another.

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Here is the finished vest:

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Now I have a whole lot of leftover handspun Gotland, and no project in mind, and not enough of any one colour to provide the background for another sweater. I may have to spin yet more Gotland to make use of what I’ve already spun -(this is how I end up with bins and bins of handspun yarn to deal with.) I’m most tempted by the Schoolhouse Shetland sweater by Meg Swansen, or maybe the Ram’s Horn.

As a last note, I’m gonna come clean. This wool is itchy. I made the neck tight enough that I’d need a turtleneck to fully protect my skin against the pickiness, and I do spend a bit of time while I’m wearing it tugging it away from the delicate skin of my throat, pulling up the underlayer and tucking it between wool and skin. I possibly should invest in a turtleneck of two. That said, it’s so worth it. The sheen on this wool, the cozy look of the halo on the fabric, and the warmth it provides – it’s wonderful. This is a light-as-anything vest, but it provides an amazing degree of warmth. Wool that itches carries significant benefit, and we’re good to not forget it. Give itchy wool its due – it’s warm, beautiful, and enduring. It’s much better to go buy a couple turtlenecks than to never use it.

Gotland

I’ve been meaning to spin up some Gotland for ages, ever since I first got my hands on some back in the summer, but it actually sold really quickly, and I had other fish to fry so to speak. When I got more, I determined that some of it would be mine.

Gotland is a funny thing, not what many spinners or knitters would consider to be a desirable wool. It’s not soft. It’s not all that easy, and it makes a yarn that you probably wouldn’t want to wear next to your skin.

But do you really wear woolen underpants? Honestly, why does everything need to be next-to-the-skin soft?

Here’s what Gotland is. It’s long, and so won’t fuzz up all to heck if you need to reknit something (not that I ever make mistakes, of course), and the garment will wear well. It’s shiny, and shiny needs no argument in its favour. It’s light, hollow, and so should keep its warmth well even when it’s wet.

I live in Raincouver. This is a serious consideration.

Before I did a test spin, I read up on what the more experienced spinners on Ravelry had to say. a) They agreed that it needed to be spun woolen, as spinning it worsted would result in twine. This makes sense – it doesn’t have much crimp, more of a wave like BFL or Icelandic. A high crimp wool will still puff up if you spin it worsted, but a wavey wool doesn’t have much body to start with. b) They suggested a lighter weight yarn for the same reason. c) They said don’t expect to wear it on your neck.

I wanted to use it for colourwork (I want to use many things for colourwork). In particular, a yoke style cardigan with a Fair Isle motif or something similar. I’ve had Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Fair Isle Yoke Sweater on my to-do list for ages, and given that the instructions are essentially to do an EPS sweater and put the charted yoke pattern on the top, it seemed a good fit for handspun yarn of uncertain gauge.

I’m ready. I have dyed 22lbs of Gotland in 11 different shades, several of them in varying strengths of related shades. I have done a test spin, and it came out to a lovely and knittable (not twiney) sport weight.

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And now, I’m choosing colours. I’m not being haphazard about this process like I often am. I have learned my lesson. Colourwork is not just about the right combination of colours, its about the placement of those colours, the overall effect, the minor combinations that occur within the larger whole. This takes time, consideration. Natural light. And the absence of determination to cast on that very day.

I laid out some options, I took some pictures. Here they are:

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The majority of the sweater will be the natural grey, which is why I included it in the picture. Which one do you like the best?

Obsession

It’s no secret that I do a lot of projects, and I enjoy a variety of string-based crafts. I have in my time done macrame, knitting, crochet, embroidery, sewing, felting, spinning, weaving on four straws, finger knitting, and making a bunch of those God’s Eye things (or whatever their current, non-religious name is) at summer camp. I like it all. But sometimes, I like something best.

The Best thing changes. It’s usually knitting, of course. It always reverts to knitting eventually. But sometimes I get an obsession going, and I can’t seem to do anything else. And it’s not just getting obsessed with a technique, it’s a single project.

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There was the Time of Friendship Bracelets. I spent endless time in front of the big wall o’ DMC thread at my local Lewiscraft (and any Lewiscraft that was near to me when I needed a fix). I made bracelets for myself, and my friends. Then I learned new techniques and made bigger ones, more complex ones. I loved the rhythmic knot-knot-knot across the row, and I loved how portable and cheap the craft was. I could keep a project in my pocket at all times, and as long as I was wearing pants I needed only a safety pin. In summer, I also carried a bandana around so I could pin the project to it and tie it to my knee. I had a *system*. A few years’ worth of teachers had learned to spot the small but rhythmic motion of my arms when I tried to do the bracelets during class (bandana tied around a heavy book in my desk, in case you wondered).

There was the Time of Socks. I learned to make socks in my last year of high school, which was the year my boyfriend went to university. He had a thing of wearing mismatched socks, which was perfect – no second sock syndrome for me! Also, they were cheap and easy to mail. The socks were awful, actually. Most acrylic, worsted weight yarn, and because of my previous 3 years of knitting Eastern Uncrossed style without knowing it, all the stitches were twisted until I learned to knit into the front leg of the stitch (Eastern Uncrossed knitters compensate for the clockwise purl-stitch wrapping by knitting into the back leg of the stitch on the knit side). Still, the socks made him happy, and gave me something to do besides repeatedly telling all my friends how much I missed my boyfriend.

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In my third year of university, there were the crocheted bookmarks. This obsession actually embarrasses me a little because it just so clearly got out of hand. I learned to knit with crochet thread, and beads, and I had a little leaflet that showed me how to make three different bookmarks. For awhile I alternated – one pineapple, one without beads, one with beads. And then two with beads. Then more with beads. Then off to the store to buy more thread – four or five colours at a time, oh and more seed beads of course. Lewiscraft was still in business at this point, so it was one-stop shopping.

I ended up with a lot of bookmarks. I was studying for my English degree, which means a minimum of three books on the go at any one time and that’s just for coursework, so I had a use for a lot of bookmarks, and enough variety that I could match the bookmark to the book’s cover.

It was at that point that I should have known there was a problem.

I couldn’t stop. As soon as I finished one bookmark, I pulled out the thread and beads to pick a new combination, and I never stopped finding something beautiful. There were always two or three damp bookmarks on a teatowel being blocked. I offered them freely to anyone who admired them, but they still piled up. I gave a jar full of lovely beaded bookmarks to my stepmother for Christmas (she’s a reader, and also a crafter, so she liked the present). They still piled up.

I was freed from the bookmarks one day when I walked past a panhandler, a young woman who was crocheting little things and setting them out on her blanket for sale. I said, “I have these bookmarks, they’re really pretty, and I just made way too many. Would you like to sell them?” I went home and returned to her twenty minutes later, 56 beaded bookmarks all stacked and wrapped in a plastic bag.

15 years later, and we still have a few kicking around.

I haven’t had an obsession like that since. There was a time that my go-to project was socks, but while that was something I enjoyed, I didn’t fall into doing it to the exclusion of other things. I made a lot of stashbuster scarves, but at least 40% of my motivation was to deal with my stash, and not just make ever new combinations of colours.

Well, I think I might be back in obsession territory. Remember when I showed you the freeform crochet and knitting I’ve been doing? I haven’t stopped. I made the big white-on-white wall hanging, then the smaller blue and green wallhanging. Those pieces are still waiting to be fixed to a background…somehow. There’s work, sewing work, and I really don’t enjoy that much. I wanted to figure out how to do freeform work without having to sew stuff. Cushion covers? still a bit of sewing, if they’re going to look nice.

Then I hit upon a tea cozy.

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It’s perfect. It’s fairly quick and easy (I can make one in two or three days), it’s creatively satisfying, and I can sell them (which means they don’t pile up). I have made 9 so far, and I’m not running out of steam.

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It’s my favourite kind of project, too – one that can be done without a plan, a bit at a time. You don’t have to plan freeform work so much as just sort of grow it. It’s like training a vine onto a trellis. You start with some awesome yarn:
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You make some little pieces.
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Then you stick those little pieces together into bigger pieces, maybe the size of your hand, embellishing as you go.
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Then you fit those pieces together into something the right size and shape for your finished objects. Fortunately a tea cozy isn’t a very precise shape, and crochet is very flexible, so it’s not too challenging.

That basket is just following me all around the house. Every couple days I realize my pieces are ready to coalesce into another cozy, and then I finish it, and then I pick a new combination of yarn. I’ve dropped of two pieces with my hairdresser who sells giftables in her salon, six pieces at Place Des Arts where they are on display in the Christmas Market, and sold one to a friend who was going to deliver some to Place Des Arts but decided her mom needed one as a gift.

Have you ever had a project obsession?

Sale, and an upcoming market

As my blog readers (all 5 of you) know, I have a somewhat small place – a townhouse with no yard to speak of. The back patio is my “studio” and part of my livingroom and dining room are given to storage space. I have an uneasy truce brokered between my many storage totes and my family, but they have their limits.

I just ordered my next round of supplies: 22 lbs of Gotland, 22 lbs of Corriedale, 10 lbs of BFL, and 10 lbs of Finn. I need to make space before they arrive. To that end, I’m offering a 15% discount from now until the new box arrives on my doorstep. Just enter the coupon code SHEEPTEMBER when you check out. May I recommend the Polwarth, or the Shetland? Those bins are especially bursting. Actually the Polwarth doesn’t even get a bin, as there is no room in the existing bins, and adding a fifth bin to the tower o’ bins in my dining room is not only an eyesore (more of an eyesore) but a safety hazard.

In other news, I’ll be taking the wool for a walk on Thursday. I’ve taken a vendor table at Indie Night, an event put on by the newly formed Knit Social . There will be a free table (I destashed a bunch of stuff last time at the free table, knowing it would go to a good home), a collection basket for purple baby hats, hats which are donated to newborn babies in hospitals to raise awareness of the Period of Purple Crying, and a handful of other excellent indie yarn and fibre vendors from this region. Also, your admission gets you a $2 coupon for beer. Gotta love a yarn sale that has a bar.

The sale is in the evening, which means I have to pick up my girl from school, get dinner organized, and leave here by 4:30 (presuming my husband gets home on time), somehow with all my wool. Well, maybe not all of it. Realistically, this isn’t a giant 3-day fibre show, so I’ll probably bring just two or three braids from each batch, and leave it at that. *IF* you think you would like to buy a sweater’s worth of fibre from me, probably best to let me know in advance what you want. I’m happy to take reservations, or even tentative reservations.

I have no new pictures for you this week, so I’ll share something I’ve been sitting on. Below is a photo of the work of one of the kids from my summer kids’ knitting class. This is a 12 year old’s very first freeform piece: IMG_0157

State of the Wool

It’s amazing how much mental energy I find I have when the noise level around here goes down. Older Kid is back in school, and suddenly I find myself with a much greater ability to get things done – even if I have to do them with a toddler underfoot. (This month, the toddler discovered the step stool, and all the things she can reach if she uses it. I find that thing in the darndest places…)

The weather has gotten good suddenly, and I realized that I don’t have a ton of time to get my fleeces washed if I want to be able to spin them while it’s still nice enough to spin outside. You see, the fleeces, they’re dirty. And I don’t seem to have the capability to get them totally clean before spinning, like an industrial processor can. I lack strong chemicals to dissolve vegetable matter, for one. And I’m afraid of felting the things, so I’m really rather cautious about any movement, so even a lot of the general crud is pretty much sticking to the fibers through the washing process. Since my usual spinning area is behind the couch in the family living room, I’m reluctant to spin pounds and pounds of wool that sheds so much crud; better to do as much of it outside as I can.

So now I have washed my whole black Shetland, and am in the (slow) process of separating out the guard hairs and carding it. I’ve found that if I run it through the carder gently, and do it twice, I get a pretty good prep. My first attempts at carding raw but cleaned fleece didn’t go well, I only carded it once; that second trip through makes all the difference. Lets more crud flake off, too (honestly, the crud situation is pretty intense).

The black Shetland doesn’t make for much of a photo – it’s a pile of black wool with VM in it — so I didn’t take one. But! Here, *here* is the Clun Forest:

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I tried something new with the Clun Forest, I dyed it in the wool. Partly I wanted to do that because I’ve never done it before, and I know that when it’s dyed in the wool then carded and spun, you get a much more even colour throughout the yarn, less of the striping-type variation that you’d get with dyed rovings. Also, the Clun Forest is white, at least mostly. The tips are really dirty though, and as I’m having trouble getting all the dirt off (it’s not only stuck, it’s slimy and thus adheres even after considerable soaking), I figured I’d disguise that staining with some dye.

This is my second time washing this fleece, and the fibre feels much better this time. Last time it felt scratchy, but this batch feels much softer. I’ll spin it finer than I did the last one, and send the fibre through the carder twice, and hopefully this way I’ll finally turn out a decent yarn.

I will say, spinning from prepared top is definitely a more instant gratification experience. But I’m learning so much from doing it the hard way.

Are you tired of me talking about dirty, dirty fleece and all the ways it can turn into terrible yarn if I don’t get it right? Here, take a break and look at something clean and nice. Here is one of my three WIPs:

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This is going to be a wall hanging, probably about 4 feet wide by 3 feet long.

Unexpected Vacation

Hi folks! Sorry for the radio silence. It’s been a taxing couple of months. At the end of July I taught at the kids’ arts camp at Place Des Arts for a couple weeks, and in the middle of that, destruction/construction started out on my back patio, aka my studio.

Some of you know that I live in a smallish space, a townhouse. I don’t have a yard per se, I have a little postage stamp of a garden that I’ve never actually gardened in, and a patio. Fortunately the strata association is really just the 13 units who share the space, and so it’s more like a co-op than a strata. I don’t have to abide by any particular rules about the use of the outside space. There are stratas whose members are required to leave things neat and clean all the time, and me leaving a shelf full of aluminum pans, jars of dye, strainers, buckets, etc. would be disallowed. As it is, I get to use the patio as my “studio” and no one has ever complained. The President of the association (my next-door neighbour) occasionally walks past and asks “what’s cooking?” and then laughs when I always answer “wool.”

There was some water damage in this back patio. The time to find and fix it was designated, and workmen came to take up some patio stones. They said they thought they could be in and out in two weeks. Then they found much more damage than expected. They removed all the stones. They removed layers. They said the support beams were so rotten that it was remarkable that no one had fallen straight down into the electrical room. They put a bar across my back door so no one could accidentally get out and step 12 feet straight down into said room.

Then they put a tarp over the back of my house (so no rain got into their work area, with the exposed electrical wires), and thus it stayed for 7 weeks.

I would have been freaking out at the sudden, total loss of my workspace, but actually the timing was pretty good. I was about to start my teaching, and realistically I wasn’t going to dye any wool during that time. And my older kid is out of school, so if there’s a good time to take a hiatus, August is it. My stock of dyed wool was sky-high to start with, and I was running out of any viable place to keep new stuff anyway.

I focused on other stuff. I washed, carded, blended and began spinning the black Shetland fleece I bought in June. That was an interesting new experience that I’ll tell you all about soon. I re-knit the sleeves of my Adult Tomten for the 4th time, and they’re finally right. I started a big freeform project that is destined to be just a piece of wall art, and I can’t wait to show you pictures of that, it’s fantastic.

Still, it was all a bit grating. The loss of the house’s only outdoor play space is, as you can imagine, a bit troublesome in a house with a 6yo and a 2yo, in the summer.

It’s over now, and school is starting on Tuesday, and the toddler has mostly given up napping. Now, we figure out what life’s new rhythm is.

In the next couple days, expect to see listings for the 4lbs of Finn and 1/2 lb of White Masham I dyed on Friday. The chocolate alpaca/tussah is up next!

Eye Candy

It’s been a busy, busy month. I’ve had visits from both my dad’s family and my mom, and I’ve just finished up my two weeks of teaching kids classes at Place Des Arts.. I’m a little tired.

Actually I’m a blithering idiot, I have no coherent thoughts to speak of, and I plan to spend much of the rest of the week letting my kids watch cartoons. But below are some pretty pictures of the needlework that’s currently making me happy – some new Freeform pieces. I’m grooving on freeforming so hard right now, I’m thinking about making enough of them to mount an art exhibit. There’s something freeing about the idea of making objects that serve no purpose other than to be attractive. I’ve always been a crafter, an artisan, a maker of utility objects. That usefulness, it means something to me. But this uselessness concept, the arts gratia artis thing, I haven’t thought about that angle since the last time I tried to write poetry (I was 22, in case you wondered). I dunno. The idea…it’s compelling.

Look! Yarn:

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If the above inspires you at all, check out my Classes page. I’m trying one more time to get a Freeform class going at Baaad Anna’s in October. There’s interest, but we’ve never managed to gather all the interested people together at the same time. Fingers crossed that we can do it this time – I want to share this technique! It’s too cool to do alone.

Freeform Knitting

I like to do a little freeform knitting from time to time. A few years back, someone showed me a Prudence Mapstone book, and I was blown away. It was like knitting, except you didn’t follow a pattern, you used any old bit of yarn you pleased all together, and you played played played. My kind of handcraft.

I started to do a little. I couldn’t find much in the way of instruction on how to do freeform knitting – most of the instructions seemed to focus on crochet. Crochet is a medium that lends itself well to freeforming. You only have one live loop at a time (give or take), so you can change direction pretty easily. Crocheting makes squares, triangles, shells, loops – all shapes.

Knitting tends towards the rectilinear. That’s okay, there are ways to both work with that pattern and break it, but its natural tendency is to have the last row be much in the shape as the first row. It has to be a little more of a conscious choice to get going in new directions.

Here is my first freeform project, a blanket I’ve been working on for ages:

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A close-up of an embellishment.
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One technique for forcing a break of those straight lines is to use a magic ball. A magic ball is a ball of yarn made from many shorter pieces of yarn, varying lengths, colours, and sometimes weights, all tied together end to end. In this technique, you knit or crochet along until you reach the end of a piece, and when the new piece comes, you do something new.

So that was my project today. I took the kids, who have been so very patient while we all got sick and better in succession over the past week and a half, to a local play place, and I took my magic ball, a set of DPNs and crochet hooks in various sizes, and my Koala Caddie apron, pictured here:
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I made this:

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This magic ball thing, I like it. It takes some of the decision making away. My freeform projects tend to be of the variety that only come out when the kids are asleep, because I like to concentrate, pull out the stitch dictionaries, get Just the right piece in Just the right place, and such. They’re a little slow, as a result. But with the magic ball, and a lot of yarn chosen for for its texture, I can let myself do just a whole bunch of garter stitch. I switch it up with shaping, short rows, modular techniques, the odd bit of crochet thrown in – I just go with the flow. And as such, it makes for a perfectly pleasant, low-pressure take along project.

Lastly, if you’re dead curious about what I sound like or how I knit (how a knitter holds their yarn and needles is always of interest to me, I don’t know about you), here is the video that my daughter insisted on filming as I knit. Pay no attention to the mess behind me, I swear those piles of books are going to Value Village any day now, and please forgive me for my southwestern Ontario accent. In my mind, I sound a lot more sophisticated.

Where Even Is That Horse?

It’s been a heck of a week here at Casa Del Two Sisters. Me and the girls have taken turns being sick – mercifully there was only a little bit of crossover there. For the last 12 days, the house has gone to heck, dinners have gotten increasingly boxed and processed, and my production level has dwindled to nothing. The capper on the week was me being sick, so sick I couldn’t even muster the energy to sit up and knit, for yesterday and today. Well, yesterday. Today I managed to knit, and I’m nearly done on my Caller Herrin’.

Today, my box of Polwarth (a full bump) Teeswater (about 8 lbs) and Alpaca/silk (or something similarly lovely and fine, I can’t entirely remember right now, about 2lbs worth) arrived. Tomorrow my studio assistant/nanny comes, and I Get Stuff Done.

Before the Great Illness, I had gotten some wonderful spinning done. I was commissioned to do some chunky weight Shetland, undyed. I don’t normally do chunky weight because it’s not my favourite to knit with, the but crafter wanted to use it for some nalbinding, and apparently a heavier weight is better for that.

It turned out GORGEOUS. I’m totally willing to toot my own horn on this one. It’s so squooshy that I want to sleep on it.
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The commissioner only wants three of the skeins; I’ll be listing the rest, about 235 yards, in the Fall, when knitters are buying yarn again. July, not such a busy time for yarn sales.

I also finally got around to spinning up some fibre that’s been sitting around for ages. It’s the remainder of the fibre that was commissioned for this project.. I had 225g left, and I spun it into a DK weight (maybe a sport)? I got 670 yards out of the fibre, and it is also so squooshy I want to wear it on my naked body. Rambouillet is a merino variant, and it has the spring that you should get out of a merino (but more body, which is why I prefer it). The spring on the skeins – you can actually stretch these skeins. I’m so proud. Airiness, springiness, these are the things you want in a good knitting yarn, and they’ve taken me some practice to achieve.

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Dinner is on the table now – an actually cooked from scratch dinner. Tomorrow, I’ll get some dyework done, and Friday I should finally, finally be able to make it to Three Bags Full to deliver the fibre they asked for two weeks ago.

Wool Rescue Complete!

Hey have you been wondering what became of the wool from this post? Well, it’s done. Not only done, but all knitted up and presented as a gift even.

Here are the skeins and the yarn laid out, a lovely fingering weight two ply:
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I’d like to claim skill in understanding colour blending, and I’ll take a bit of credit, but the truth is that while I’d hoped the yarn would come out to a brownish, maroon type colour with flecks of flame red, I didn’t know for sure it would work out. But it did. Here is the scarf I made:

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That’s the pattern “Isobel” if you’re inclined to search for it on Ravelry. Free pattern, easy peasy lace. I blocked it last night, put the fringe on while watching riot coverage (yeah IDK either), got it photographed this morning before taking the kid to school, and got it into the gift bag for my daughter’s teacher. Very much hope she likes it; it was more of a labour of love than most.

Come to think of it, it’s an even more appropriate gift than I thought. I love my daughter, I do, I think she’s awesome, but she’s 6, and she’s very much a blend of my husbands and my best and worst, and she’s equally maddening and fantastic. There are times when I wonder whether her metaphoric garish colours will ever settle down into something more, uh, generally enjoyable. Her teachers are kind, though, and generous, and they believe in the power of gentle guidance and patient demonstration to turn even the most unsettled human being into someone wise and wonderful.

They are wonderful, and she is wonderful, and the scarf, well I’m gonna go ahead and just say it, I think it’s wonderful too.