This week I have learned…
That when it comes to grading garment patterns, I am actually more confident at the moment using pencil, paper and calculator than the spreadsheets most sensible designers use. Having said that, I do use the Excel formula for calculating even increases or decreases I learned on Ruth ‘Rock & Purl’ Garcia-Alcantud’s Grading Course. I also learned that if I just get on and DO it, it’s possible to sort out several sizes of sweater without too much pain. Yes, you can expect some patterns for garments, people. Hopefully in the not too distant future- I just need to hold my nerve when it comes to all those numbers.
I also learned that when it comes to swatching you need to go large or go home. Having always regarded swatching in rather the same way as getting enough fibre in your diet (boring but necessary and sensible) I’d been producing some larger swatches after Joeli was talking on her podcast about the ‘Swatch Like You Mean It’ course she was taking and also having read this. When it came to the number crunching mentioned above and proposal writing that followed, having a decent-sized swatch was great. More accurate measurements, a much better idea of how the finished fabric will feel and behave, and a clearer sense of how the colourwork or stitch pattern will work too. If designing or planning on substituting a yarn in a pattern, swatching- and swatching large- is a must. Weirdly, once you get used to the idea of using up a fair bit of time on something without an immediate practical use after the measuring and so on, it can be more relaxing to make a larger swatch instead of fiddling with a tiny, curled up square because you’ve cast on the bare minimum stitches you can get away with and still measure a gauge…
This week I also learned three other unconnected and non-knitterly things: no matter how much you risk assess a simple trip to a local theatre, children will find new, interesting and hitherto unimagined ways to injure themselves.. that the tooth fairy accepts polite letters of explanation in lieu of an actual lost tooth…and that wrap-around tops are not for me. Roll on the end of term!
Introducing my latest design for Knit Now magazine: Bluebell Wood. It’s in Issue 33, which went on sale this week and if I’m honest the publication date gave me pause for thought when commissioning was going on some months back. I’d been playing with the idea of botanical designs and the motif used here was meant to echo what you see when you look straight down into the bluebell flower. Woods carpeted in bluebells are a real sign of Spring being on the way for me, but I wanted to use the Shetland yarn I used for swatching in the design. Could Shetland wool work in a Spring design?
I ended up chatting to editor Kate Heppell. At this point she had yet to experience the biting wind of the Furness peninsular on her seaside photoshoot here, but nonetheless she pointed out that in many parts of these islands, signs of Spring don’t necessarily mean it’s quite time to put the woollies away. As I sit here, looking at new leaves and blossom against a backdrop of grey clouds outside my window and contemplate putting a second cardigan on, I realise she is right. In any case, this design uses a relatively light yarn- Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift- which knits up into quite a fine fabric. Of course, being pure wool it’s ultimately breathable as well as insulating which should mean this is a pretty versatile set.
More importantly, doesn’t it look pretty? Both pieces are knit in the round (this makes the scarf double sided) and I think this would be a great project for a newbie to stranded knitting. There are only two colours to juggle, the motifs are quite short in both rounds and rows and once past the colourwork, the rest of the hat and scarf are pretty straightforward- although you do have to work the chart top to bottom for the other end of the scarf! Using Shetland yarn is a good idea for those new to colourwork. The ‘stickiness’ of the yarn makes it less prone to gaping and unevenness and then when you wet block it, the ‘bloom’ means that the colours snuggle happily against one another to give a great finish. I picked the colours to fit the Bluebell theme, but I’d love to see it made up in different pairs of constrasting colours- maybe even a light on dark for a more wintry knit.
As ever, there’s a great selection of patterns in the magazine. As with any title, there are always going to be some months where you want to knit ALL THE THINGS and others where there aren’t so many things to your taste. However, I know Kate works very hard with her team and us designers to try and cover a wide range of ability levels, provide the right mix of garments, accessories, kids stuff and homewares, showcase different techniques and include projects where varied amounts of time and yarn need to be invested. The pattern I have my eye on particularly this time around is the Colour Strands Pullover by Danielle Parkin. I’ve not really done much slipstitch colourwork and I like the effect created here where it’s used for horizontal bands of a chain pattern. A bonus is that not only is it knit in a British Yarn (Woolyknit’s Diggle DK) but it’s very reasonably priced, which could make for a cheap, fun knit. Can I really justify knitting another sweater for myself?!
On that subject, here is a WIP update: I sorted out the sleeves issue on the red cardigan by rather inexpertly threading a narrower circular needle through the sleeves and body sections at the point of joining so that I could pull everything off the needles and unravel. It all went a bit wrong because I’d not caught the same rows each time going through the lace sections but with a bit of fiddling and possibly some swearing I got it sorted. I’ve now completed most of the yoke and have run out of yarn- the perils of repurposing, eh? I’ve sent off for an extra skein but of course being kettle dyed it is unlikely to be an exact shade match, although this has been true of all the skeins so far and it’s not been a problem. If needs be I’m going to have to alternate skeins row by row to blend the new stuff in. This may involve unravelling some of the last few rows I’ve been doing, sigh! I am tantalisingly close to finishing, but apart from waiting on yarn will be putting this aside for the next few days as I have swatching and sketching that needs urgent attention. The Shawl, meanwhile, still awaits me having the time, energy and reserves of sanity to look at it again. It watches me reproachfully from my WIP pile…
Please don’t run away, people who aren’t parents! I promise this is not going to be a sickly post about the cute stuff my kids gave me for Mother’s Day. I realise that it’s of little interest to anyone apart from well, me. Most of this post is going to be knitting or at the very least textile related so the pic above is mainly for context purposes. That said, even the cynics among you have to raise a small smile at my ‘Favourite Things’ according to my son: Knitting (I think that might be his brown jumper), Watching TV (I do watch too much. I am usually knitting while doing it though), Cooking (sometimes with knitting nearby if a non-sticky surface is available. Makes pot-watching less tedious) and Making Things (I do believe that’s my yarn swift on a table). Not a bad precis of his mother, really.
My ‘Mother’s Day’ was actually last Saturday rather than Sunday, for a number of technical reasons, and it was wonderful. After the swimming and ballet lessons were over with, we set off on a two hour-ish drive to Gawthorpe Hall (in-car knitting was my new Spirograph, portable project fans). The reason for this pilgrimage was the re-opening of the Gawthorpe Textiles Collection, which also marked the beginning of the Textilefest they are running over the coming summer and into autumn.
I’d never heard of Gawthorpe or the textile collection amassed by Miss Rachel B. Kay-Shuttleworth until I read in various places about the knitting and crochet patterns commissioned this year to raise funds for the continuing preservation and education work there. Designs by Kate Davies, Debbie Bliss, Claire Montgomerie, Jane Ellison, Emma Varnem and Sara Shippen were all inspired by pieces in the Gawthorpe Collection and having seen tantalising glimpses of these treasures I wanted more.
It was well worth the trek. Hidden away behind schools and residential parts of Padiham, near Burnley, Gawthorpe looks like a miniature Downton Abbey. Just the right size of stately home to buy when we win the lottery, it was concluded. We enjoyed a quick pit-stop in their brand new tearooms (very nice, although I was denied my usual National Trust scone as they don’t seem to run to them yet) before exploring the three floors of textile treasures in the main house. Actually, the treat for me was that while C took the children for a yomp around the grounds, I explored the three floors of textile treasures including listening to a talk by textile artist Angela Davies- whose work is on display alongside that of Bella May Leonard and the samples from the knitting and crochet patterns. I apologise for the lack of pictures of these treasures- the work is kept in low light and glass cases to preserve it and while your eyes quickly adjust so that you can enjoy all the wonderful techniques, colours and textures, I knew that my inexpert photography was not up to dealing with it. The Gawthorpe Textiles Collection website does, however, have a gallery of many pieces from the collection, or better still go and see it for yourself!
The Textilefest, as I mentioned, is set to run until the end of October this year and includes days when you can explore different parts of the collection with the curators as well as knitting and sewing workshops. Seizing my chance while the others were still yomping in Spring sunshine, I joined in a workshop to make a Suffolk Puff brooch with Rabia Sharif. This involved a very pleasant half an hour of stitching in the impressive surroundings of the Textile Library, which is not normally open to the public. You can see my finished effort, a little rosette sort of a thing, in the photo at the the top of this post.
From one little known North-West treasure to another, for our journey home we took the scenic route through the Forest of Bowland. This not-so-little corner of England seems to get forgotten about, maybe because it’s hard to compete for attention with the Lake District to one side and the Yorkshire Dales not far away on the other. It shouldn’t be so overshadowed though as it’s a breathtakingly lovely landscape of hills, valleys and rivers. I’d lived in Lancaster for a number of years and while I was vaguely aware of it being there on the other side of the M6 I didn’t really appreciate the extent of it- definitely another little gem worth exploring if you are within reach, especially on a lovely Spring day like we had last weekend.
Reaching Lancaster we then headed up the Lune Valley road to Kirkby Lonsdale. Just outside Kirkby is The Highwayman, one of my favourite places to eat- not least because they serve Morecambe Bay potted shrimp and the most amazing cauliflower fritters. So- knitting, making things and eating (if not cooking)- a sunny, Spring day full of my favourite things and one which I was very grateful for.
I may well be back tomorrow as I have a NEW DESIGN to talk about. Until then, Happy Knitting!
Knitting. So calming. I’m sure I’ve read of research showing how it combats anxiety, depression and stress. My personal experience certainly (usually) backs this up. And yet…
Here are two projects doing little for the cause of knitting in my neck of the woods just now. The red cardigan, which has been on the needles for what seems like a long time now, finally got the sleeves put on at the weekend. Here and there I’ve snatched moments to begin the raglan decreases, the weight of what feels like a nearly finished garment an almost comforting pull on my needles. Then the other night I noticed that the stocking stitch sections on either side of the sleeve are not equal. In other words the lace section is not central, which I’m fairly certain it should be. Tired and sore-eyed as it’s nearing the end of an unusually long and busy Spring term, I dumped the whole lot into its bag and resolved to look at it again another day.
Another day came and I couldn’t face unpicking back several inches to the sleeve joins so I took up The Shawl. Progress on this hasn’t been too bad up until now. I have (on the advice of those much wiser than me in these matters) put in stitch markers and a lifeline. I have limited myself to a few rows a night so I can concentrate on doing them well. I can’t pretend that I have hit a spot-on stitch count every time, but it’s been nothing the occasional tweak can’t solve. It was with reasonable positivity, then, that I picked up this project to avoid the cardigan. I worked a couple more rows (they are taking longer as the stitch count increases, of course) then got close to the end of the next one and found myself not just a stitch out but four stitches out. One stitch could be a misread yarn over but four? I tinked back to the last stitch marker and worked the section again. Still four out. Tired and sore-eyed as it’s nearing the end of an unusually long and busy Spring term, I dumped the whole lot into its bag and resolved to look at it again another day.
There are clues, are there not? Themes running throughout these sorry tales. Tiredness, limited time, poor lighting. I should know better, but even when tired the urge to knit is strong. The soothing rhythm, that trance-like zone the knitter enters into where thoughts get taken up again like the yarn, and ideas, issues, plans get worked through evenly, methodically like so many stitches. I don’t just want to do it, I really think I need to do it. But not unpicking botched sleeves, not puzzling over the loops of a lace shawl. Not on a dark workday evening.
I knew I needed some gratifying, simple knitting to do. Not that my knitting to-do list, which also includes pattern write ups and swatching, needs any more topping up. No matter. First, I’ve added some hexipuffs to my still very modest pile. Part of the reason my hexipuffs haven’t got very far is that up until now I haven’t had a lot of 4ply knocking around, due to my pathological avoidance of it. Since my recent knitting has represented a complete volte face in this respect I suddenly have stash to use. In this case, some of the Silk Blend Fino from my designs for Manos the other year and the very last of the Old Maiden Aunt ‘Nothing to Hide’ sock yarn. I like the idea that my eventual Beekeepers quilt will have scraps of yarn from different projects in- I’m wondering if the remaining Excelana yarn from my Deco cardigan should be added to the basket. It would join the Quince & Co left over from my Robin shrug amongst others.
The other simple project I’ve started is a new Spirograph. I’m hoping to reformat my independent release patterns soon (I’m working with Adam from Grizzly Bear Designs, who was responsible for my lovely logo) and I want re-photograph this design. I loved Kate Davies’ version of this- for many reasons!- not least of which was the colour she chose for hers. I had this lovely Artesano British Wool -yet more booty from the Rocking Kitchen retreat- so I’m seeing how it works out. The colourway- Beryl- is in a similar pallette to Kate’s so I’m hoping it will work similarly against dark hair. It’s DK weight, but fairly generous and springy in terms of weight, so I think it will do well. As I’ve often said, this genuinely is the design of mine I wear the most. I’d like to think that what the Beekeepers Quilt and Spirograph share is an idea that is simple enough to be a soothing, satisfying knit but that works well and has that dash of originality. Obviously Beekeepers is phenomenally successful whereas Spirograph has just been an excitement to me in terms of its sales, but you see what I mean.
In any case, these simple, satisfying knits are doing their job in mending frayed nerves. The next few days promise at least some daylight working time and with luck some rest and leisure time. I will address myself to that pattern writing and swatch making and yes, fish the cardigan and shawl from their resting places to sort them out somehow. Onwards and upwards my friends, and be sure you are armed with some pointy sticks!
There are many reasons I knit. However, most of them come back to the fact that I enjoy it. A lot. When you’re doing something you choose to do you obviously get to know your comfort zones. Mine include knitting with pure wool, yarn around the DK/worsted weight, needles in the 3.25mm-4mm zone, cabling, colourwork, using circular needles to avoid sewing seams, hats, snoods, sweaters, cardigans, mittens, gloves, head bands, the occasional scarf, wrap or cushion cover. Stepping outside these boundaries isn’t necessarily a no-go, but I just won’t be so happy if I’m fiddling with a skinny dpns and yarn to make tiny scraps to sew together for a toy or wrestling broomsticks and rope-like cotton yarn for a massive throw.
The thing is, I spend a lot of time in my day job telling children that if they are willing to take the risk on trying something new and learning from mistakes, they will gain new skills and move forward. You can’t keep saying this without admitting that it’s good advice for grown-ups too, so in that spirit I’ve been trying to go beyond my comfort zone in at least some of my projects recently.
My first challenge this year was my Sochi Socks. A measure of how much my mindset has been changed by that experience comes in the form of this little ankle sock. It’s made from a Space Cadet Lucina Merino/Nylon/NylonSparkle yarn mini skein I got in my Rocking Kitchen goodie bag and uses the Fish Lips Kiss method for the heel. I knocked it out in an evening and as you can see, a second is on the way (fingers crossed the yarn lasts out!) It helps that the pattern for the heel is really simple to follow and produced a very good fit, but the point is, I made this sock partly because little M requested it and partly for fun. For fun! I never thought that knitting socks would be something I would do for fun. If I hadn’t taken part in the Ravellenics with my rainbow socks I probably never would have.
If I’m completely honest, the socks were also a bit of a distraction tactic. With several other projects completed or on the verge of completion, I was running out of excuses to start the next challenge. It’s another one I was completely responsible for getting myself into. My sister is getting married in summer and I’ve offered to make a shawl for her to wear on the Big Day. I am really happy that she accepted my offer and love the thought that I can put lots of love and craft into making it for her. Only problem: it’s a shawl. I’ve never really done a proper, skinny yarn on fat needles that you block the heck out of lace thing before. My only ‘proper’ shawl attempt ended up as a kerchief because I used the wrong weight of yarn and for some reason didn’t make any other adjustments to stuff like the number of repeats I’d put in. That’s before you get onto the fact that the pattern she’s chosen- After Hours by Wendy Gaal- has beading on it too.
I gave myself a metaphorical kick up the backside last night and cast on using the lovely Eden Cottage Yarns Titus 4ply in Silver Birch we’ve chosen for the project. After the four or five attempts it took me to get through the first ten rows, culminating in me reading every word of the pattern aloud as I knitted, I complained bitterly on various social media about the slippery, loopy, how-the-heck-do-you-keep-track nature of knitting shawls and concluded that starting a project such as this late at night when in a fractious mood was probably not ideal.
This morning I was spurred on by a flurry of helpful and supportive comments from online friends much cleverer and more experienced than me when it comes to knitting shawls. I’ve yet to put a ‘lifeline’ in ( I intend to soon) but I have introduced stitch markers to mark each section and started reading from the charts instead of the written instructions. The stitch markers are Fripperies & Bibelots RingOs in Cherry Blossom- they are so pretty! They are also far too small for the needles I’m using, so I’ve improvised with some HiyaHiya knitter’s safety pins. The safety pins wouldn’t have shown up very well on their own, but with the RingOs hanging from them they are easy to see and look gorgeous.
I’m glad that one of my friends Jacqui Harding pointed out that “It is normal for it to look like a limp rag of uselessness” because at this point, even with pretty stitch markers hanging off it, that is absolutely what my nascent shawl looks like. However, the second ten rows were considerably easier and more comfortable than the first, so there is progress. At the moment I can’t ever imagine this sort of knitting being in my comfort zone, but the fact is, I’m knitting rounds on a little sock on my breaks from the shawl knitting, so anything could happen.
At last- a finished object to share with you! Since the triumph of my Sochi Socks, too many projects on the needles- commissions, swatches and knits-for-pleasure- meant that I felt I was always knitting, never finishing. This week I’ve suddenly hit that sweet spot where things are getting finished. I’m particularly pleased about this cardigan as it’s been a long time coming.
I’d bought the John Arbon Excelena 4ply yarn three (I think) years ago at Woolfest. I had an idea for a cardigan I wanted to design, the details of which I can’t recall now. Needless to say, other stuff got in the way and a whole pack of gorgeously soft, cornflower blue British wool sat in my stash, shamefully unused. As the weather got chillier last year I really felt the need for a fine knit cardigan and got fed up with seeing that yarn just sitting there, so I accepted that my own design was just not going to happen any time soon and went hunting for a pattern.
The colours for the Excelana range have been designed in association with vintage-knit marvel Susan Crawford and they really are spot on. There’s a subtlety about the colours that works in perfect harmony with the Exmoor Blueface wool to create something that feels instantly classic. If you found a time capsule of knits from 70 years ago, this is how I imagine they’d look and feel. The fabric created is comfortable against skin but at the same time isn’t overly soft- it has that robust feeling of good pure wool that feels as if it will serve you well for many years. The colour isn’t a glowing, eye-popping bright, but instead harmonises beautifully with colours around it- even on the needles I had a lot of remarks about how lovely it was.
To set all these qualities off, I chose ‘Deco’ by Kate Davies. I’m already a confirmed fan of her work, although usually I’ve tackled her colourwork designs, so I knew that the pattern would be well written with great attention to detail. The slipstitch pattern and vintage feel seemed spot on.
The construction of this cardigan is bottom up and seamless. As is the way with such cardigans, it began with knitting what felt like a long ribbon. I don’t usually go below DK with my yarns (although recently I’ve broken this rule rather a lot) and certainly not with garments. Gosh, it takes a loooooooong time to grow! I had decided to add extra inches to the slip stitch ‘Deco’ patterning at the bottom, as I wanted it to hit my upper hip rather than my waist. Now I’m glad I did. At the time I cursed the idea. Little by little I worked my way up through the waist shaping, the stepped patterning up the front and the patterned shoulder section seen here on the back.
The part I enjoyed the most was the shoulders and sleeves- I wrote about it here. The neatness of the 3-needle bind off and the sleeve caps created by short rows and stitches picked up gradually around the armhole is something only knitters could really appreciate (I know, I’ve tried to explain and demonstrate to non-knitters and they get that faraway look of incomprehension and boredom). Certainly it was well worth the juggling with two (or was it three?) needles. Should you be attempting it yourself, make sure you set aside enough time to knit the entire sleeve cap in one session- this is not a part of the pattern you can put down and pick up again. More cursing as those admittedly short but nonetheless hard-won rows were unpicked and begun again.
Another hiatus before the sleeves were completed was thanks to the Winter Olympics and the demands of commission/submission deadlines. I have to admit as well that round after round of 4ply stocking stitch was sometimes passed over for the more instant gratification of the other, aran-weight, cardigan I’m also working on. Nevertheless, on Wednesday night I cast off, Thursday blocked (with great care and blocking wires- this yarn is worth it and will thank you for it) and Friday spent a couple of meditative hours stitching cotton tape facing to the button bands and then adding snap fasteners and vintage buttons. This way of finishing a cardigan was another departure for me but one that I would absolutely revisit. The tape gives structure to the fine fabric of a 4ply button band-I don’t often wear cardigans buttoned up but when this one is fastened, it has much less distortion and gaping across the bust that I find is usual with traditional buttons and button holes.
I am no process knitter.Yes, I love to have needles and yarn in hand whenever and wherever I can, but ultimately I like the satisfaction of a completed object, whether it is a design brought from concept through commissioning to being ready for a photoshoot or in this case a garment I will wear and wear. Just now I’m on the brink of completing a couple more pieces, which you’ll see here sooner or later no doubt. In a way I’m clearing the decks for a very important project I’m about to embark on- one with a very particular purpose and very definite deadline. More on that soon but in the meantime, god speed to your own projects, may they reach the happiness of finishing soon!
The latest issue of Knit Now is in the shops today and I have a new design in it. Mooring is one of those quietly pleasing designs that grew on me more and more as I made the sample so that now I’d count it as one of my favourites.
The design brief called for a seafaring influence and as I gathered images for my Pinterest moodboard, I found myself drawn to the idea of ropes. I remember going to visit the Ropery at Chatham Dockyards when I was younger and loved the idea of how generations of sailors relied on ropes to capture the power of the wind and keep them safe from it when they were moored. Cable stitches were the obvious way to go, but I wanted them to run around the hat, rather than down it, like ropes wrapped around capstans. I achieved the effect I wanted by using a provisional cast on and knitting the cables flat before grafting them together. After that it was a simple matter of picking up stitches along either edge to create a brim and crown. I really like the way this gives the hat a slightly corrugated slouch.
The yarn I used was Erika Knight British Blue. This is a generous DK weight which has the stitch definition essential for showing of cables, but a lovely softness in both feel and appearance. It gave the hat a feeling of being a comfy, classic favourite, even when it was fresh off the needles, which was exactly what I wanted. Blue Faced Leicester wool is popular for a reason and you really can’t argue with how smooth and squashy this feels- it manages to feel warm without being too heavy, even with the volume of wool cables take up.
Normally when I write about a new design being published that’s all I’d talk about, but this time I thought I’d mention a little more about the magazine. I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with Knit Now since it launched a couple of years ago and for me, it’s issues like this one that sum up why I love working being part of it.
It’s a ‘Best of British’ issue, which means that all the yarns used for designs have been grown, spun and dyed in the British Isles. The influences and ideas are also firmly rooted in our native traditions. Now I wouldn’t for a moment deny that there are wonderful yarns and patterns to be had from all over the knitting world but it is a joyful and undeniable fact that we have long and proud history here of wool, knitting, weaving and fashion, so why not celebrate it once in a while? There’s even a ‘woolsack’ at the centre of the UK Parliament as testament to the historic influence of the fluffy stuff. I’ll stop with the flag-waving now, but suffice to say that with a lot of angst surrounding national identity and unity at the moment, it’s uplifting to think about something positive and creative that brings us together.
The nautical influence I mentioned before dictates a beautiful, and very weather appropriate, colour palette for this issue- stormy grey blues with dashes of warming ochre yellow like those rare moments the sun breaks through and promises a whisper of Spring. Knitting style influences include the colourwork of Shetland, such as the beautiful Stormy Waters hat and mittens set by Claire Neicho and twists on the traditional Gansey theme, including the wonderfully feminine Wheatcrop Jumper by Ruth Garcia Alcantund. Personally, I could absolutely see myself in editor Kate Heppell’s Thousand Tide’s Tunic. As I’m currently working on a cardigan in the same shade of Excelana Vintage Wool, I’d think about mixing it up- perhaps using Persian Grey for the main colour and Nile Green for the detailing.
Incidentally, should you wonder how they achieved such an authentically ‘windswept’ look for the photoshoots, a lot of them took place round my way on the Furness peninsular. When Kate contacted me asking if there were any suitable seaside locations near me, I was pretty doubtful as the place I live in definitely tends much more towards the industrial than pretty fishing village. However, I took up the challenge, called on the knowledge of the locals I know and went out exploring. Turns out there are more photogenic places on my doorstep (before you even reach the Lake District) than I realised, with the only catch being that when you are on the coast, there isn’t a lot between you and Greenland- or at least that’s how it feels! Thankfully the rain held off for some fabulous shots, but all the knits in the magazine couldn’t stop that onshore wind biting. It’s no wonder I spend so much time buried in wool, really.
As if all that isn’t enough to float your boat (nautical theme, geddit?!) there’s an interesting interview with Yorkshire designer Ann Kingstone and another with Magnus Holborn about Foula sheep (Foula wool is on my ‘need to investigate’ list), plus this issue also comes with a free wool needle ‘pebble’ (I constantly lose my wool needles. This may help me hang on to them a little longer) and a booklet of ‘Knitting Expert’ tutorials.
Happy knitting, everyone!
Ta-da! Yes, I know that one pair of socks is nothing for some prolific footwear knitters, but up to this point socks have been a sticking point for me. I’ve made a few pairs but I really, really struggled with the second one each time (I have one that’s been languishing on the needles for nearly a year now). I also found I couldn’t really see the point, since the socks I’d completed were baggy and too thick to wear with shoes. However, not only do I have chronically cold feet but I’m also so drawn to sock yarn. It’s those jewel bright colours that do it for me. When the Sochi Ravellinics came around there was only one thing to do- face the sock demons.
This was only the second Knit-A-Long event I’d been part of. The first was Woolly Wormhead’s Mystery KAL last autumn. While I love Woolly’s patterns, I learned from doing it that it’s not really the best sort of KAL for me. I found myself feeling jealous of those people posting about setting aside the day the first pattern installment was released to knit. That would rarely if ever be an option from me so I ended up putting pressure on myself to catch up. I think I’m just too competitive basically- give me a time limit and other people doing the same thing at the same time and I want to be the first to complete. It ended up with me giving myself wrist strain from trying to knit too much, too fast and I really didn’t get to enjoy my knitting.
The Ravellinics was a different experience. I loved the anticipation of gathering my ‘kit’ together and checking out what other members of my team (Old Maiden Aunt) were planning. Joining the mass cast on during the Opening Ceremony felt really special and as I was doing my own thing, I knew that even if there was only time to literally cast on, that was fine- no-one was ‘beating’ me. As I was making my first pair of ‘two-at-a-time’ socks every part I completed was a little victory.
The pattern I used: ‘Brother Amos Hellfire Lace Socks’ by Brenda Dayne actually uses short row shaping for the toes. I couldn’t work out how this would work for the two-at-a-time method, so I made the toes separately then fiddled about until I got them lined up for two at a time knitting on the instep. Similarly, turning the heel and tackling a lace pattern that sometimes carried over the end of a round seemed too tricky for two-at-a-time so I separated them again for this part. Thinking about it, most of these socks were knitted one then the other, so maybe I’ve cured that second sock syndrome! I had a few hiccups with stitch counts after the heels and with the lace patterns on the ankles but nothing I couldn’t handle.
Most of these socks were knitted using two short 2.5mm circulars. I found these way more easy to handle than a set of dpns. I find double pointed needles uncomfortable and awkward to work with. I get ladders at corners no matter how many tricks for tightening I try and I end up stabbing myself in the chest with them or dropping them down the side of the sofa. That spiky bunch of needle ends and yarn start to feel like an unfriendly sea creature I’m wrestling with! The pattern called for a change to 3mm needles for the tops, rather than adding ankle shaping. I ended up using 2.75mm as the gauge seemed much too loose on the larger needles. Even so, the finished socks are not as snug as I’d like around my (reasonably skinny) ankles. I think another time I’ll use 2.5mm throughout- now there’s something I never thought I’d say, usually being a ‘nothing below DK and 3.25mm’ girl.
If my love for colour is what makes sock yarn so appealing, then this yarn ticked all the boxes. The ‘Nothing To Hide’ colourway was created especially for the Sochi Games by Old Maiden Aunt and it was seeing it, and quickly snapping some up, that made my mind up about taking part in the Ravellinics. I don’t often use variegated yarn but it’s really great for keeping you going (for example on that dreaded second sock) as you think ‘I’ll just knit to that purple, because I want to see how it looks against the green’. Then you see a great orange coming up and you knit to that and before you know it, you’ve added another inch. I think the lace pattern worked really well with this yarn too. I’d been looking for something that wouldn’t be lost in the variegated colour but that wouldn’t fight with it either. I like the way the colour swirls up the socks and the lace adds interest. I should add that they feel fantastic on my feet and are fine enough to wear under boots, even if that seems a waste!
My knitting year has kicked off with a challenge, then. I’m definitely going to tackle more socks- I’m thinking a bit of a spree at Woolfest and Yarndale in preparation for a summer of sock knitting. That way by the time my tootsies start to get chilly again in the autumn I’ll have a whole drawerful of bright coloured warmth. At the moment I’m back in my comfort zone, project-wise. A number of accessory commissions in my usual groove are underway and I’m still snatching moments here and there to work on my two cardigans. The next challenge is coming up, though. A shawl. A proper, lacy shawl. With beads. For my sister’s wedding. I mean, for my sister to wear at her wedding. Eeep! I’m going to have to start it soon so that I have lots of time to deal with any difficulties that may arise but I suppose that in the inevitable moments of crisis I should look at my Sochi Socks and think ‘If I made those in less than two weeks, I can do anything!’.
Knit on with confidence and hope, through all crises
This week has brought good things in variously sized packages. News came earlier this week of the safe arrival of a third daughter for my oldest friend. I’m delighted for her and her family and now of course feel that I should be adding a baby item to my slightly ridiculous list of works-in-progress (2 cardigans, 2 pairs of socks and a hat at the moment, with more coming up fast and those unfinished dresses to sew as well!)One of the many agreeable aspects of designing for commissions, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, is yarn support. Parcels of yarn arriving at regular intervals is something I could never tire of, especially when it’s as zingy as this:
I am so totally out of my usual knitting zone at the moment, with so many projects on needles smaller than 3.25 and the use of variegated yarn. But when stocking stitch is required, the sort of long-ish colour repeats seen on this Noro Taiyo 4ply are a great motivator- you just want to go a little further to see what the next bit will look like. We were looking for sunset shades for this design and these are spot on, even in the cold winter light here.
Once the Noro design is done I’ve also got this Rennie Supersoft 4ply to knit up. Despite being a firm fan of home of other well established Scottish yarn producers, I don’t think I’ve ever worked with JC Rennie yarns before. The colour is very pretty without being sickly and on initial squidging, the feel is soft but has a reassuring, tweedy firmness. I will say more when I’ve had a chance to get it cast on.
Next, I’m assuming this was another arrival by post, unless they walked it down from Shetland to my local bookshop. I had the always-welcome Book Token amongst my birthday presents this year and decided to treat myself to Shetland Textiles: 800 BC to the present by Sarah Laurenson. Ordering it through my local indie bookshop meant that I could support their business and also use my token, so I went for that option instead of getting it over the internet. It’s turned up just in time for half term so I’m hoping that I’ll get a chance to do some reading. Larger than I expected (a nice surprise), it’s dense with essays and glorious pictures and therefore I feel I need to find some quiet, calm time to read and digest- not a bathtime read!
Finally, a Ravellinics Sock Update: After starting each toe separately, I’ve been working them two-at-a-time and have just completed the foot and gusset. I think I’ll have to separate them for the heel and possibly keep them that way for the remainder but at just under a week into the Games I’m happy with progress so far. My Ravelry project notes can be found here.
I’ve been pondering what I what write in this post for a while. These days, I mainly write about knitting , with a little bit of family and food thrown in. I’m aware that if you read this blog because you’re after those sorts of posts you wouldn’t necessarily be expecting an exposition of my thoughts on rights to sexual freedom and political expression. Nor would you necessarily care to hear a probably too personal story from me explaining how I came to believe that, love, celebration and creativity is a great way to face down hatred and destruction (I do believe that, by the way).
My pondering, in case you’re wondering where this is going, stems from the fact that during this Winter Olympics I’ve decided to take part in my first Ravellinics. So on the one hand, knitting and watching highly skilled people do impossibly dangerous stuff on snow and ice without injuring themselves (too much). On the other, all that (important, shouldn’t be ignored) stuff about freedom, hatred etc. You’re here for the knitting. Therefore I will stick to writing about the knitting and you can read what you will into the significance of choices I’ve made. Or just enjoy the knitting stuff. It’s very pretty and there are even some penguins involved…
Let’s get it out of the way straight off the bat. My chosen Ravellinics event is Sock Hockey. People who know me and my knitting, please stop laughing. I know that the point of Ravellinics is to complete your chosen project within the time frame of the Olympic Games but it’s meant to be a challenge, okay? For me, there’s not a lot more challenging than trying to complete two whole socks in…okay, in any time frame.
To try and give myself a fighting chance I’ve found a toe-up pattern so that I can complete at least some of the socks two at a time. As I’ve mentioned before, I learned how to do this recently and have used the technique successfully for sleeves since. The pattern is Brother Amos Hellfire Lace Socks by Brenda Dayne, which I think will have enough interest in the lace patterning to keep me going but doesn’t look too fiendishly complicated. The lace patterning should also hold its own against the yarn I’m using, where subtler texture would probably get lost.
Ooh, the yarn! I’m knitting for Team Old Maiden Aunt. If you aren’t aware of indie dyer Lilith’s work, you should go and have a look immediately. I’d bought some gorgeous blue/grey/purple yarn from her a while back, which is currently awaiting cast on as part of a new design once I’ve cleared my current backlog a bit. When I saw her special Olympics yarn, ‘Nothing to Hide’ with its gorgeous rainbow hues, it brought out the magpie in me and I had to have it. Pretty enough in the skein, it was one of those yarns where you squeal with joy when you wind it into a ball because it’s so lovely! I seriously cannot wait to get it on the needles and then wear it (if I keep saying things like that it will happen, yes? Positive affirmation and all that.)
With yarn and pattern in place, I needed a kit bag (imagine me standing in a sporting pose and doing some stretching at this point). Not finding anything I really wanted to buy, I ended up scouting about on Pinterest for those Japanese Knot bags you see around the place. I used a mish-mash of a couple of different patterns and how-tos and made up my own template. The fabric was some of the penguin print cotton left over from my pyjama pants and a tiny flower print I had stashed away for another purpose. The finished result is cute, if a little on the small side, possibly. I’ve got some ideas for refinements for future attempts.
Naturally, the kit bag had to include the best kit for the job. This was one of my excuses for yet another order to Meadow Yarn for Hiya-Hiya circular needles. I could also add that the pattern calls for the use of two circular needles. Or that I need to use circulars to do two-at-a-time. Or that possibly the reason I don’t get on with sock knitting is that I appear to be incapable of handling a clutch of dpns without periodically losing one of them and/or stabbing myself in the chest with them. Obviously, buying more of these silky smooth metal needles does not mean that I’ve recently developed an obsession with them. Obviously.
Details of the project are on Ravelry here. I’ll see you at the finish line. In my new socks.