Do you have a favourite brand of knitting needles? Or even a favourite pair? The other evening I didn’t even care about the brand, I just needed some 4mm needles to swatch for a project that I really needed to get going with. Straight or circular, it didn’t matter. Surely, as a rather regular knitter who usually works in the DK to Aran-weight range I should have been able to lay my hands on some, but it took hours of burrowing through boxes and bags, digging out UFOs in hope, before I finally located a pair of 4mm straights. Knowing that I would need circs for the project, I swiftly ordered some from Meadowyarn, then set about swatching and discovered I would actually need to use 3.5mm needles to get the gauge I wanted…
Grumbling about this on Twitter led to some interesting comments from knitting friends. Everyone seemed to have certain sizes of needles they couldn’t live without and others they just never used. For me, the former category would include 3.25mm and until recently 4mm as well, but actually since acquiring 3.5mm needles not so long ago they are getting a lot of use instead. Weirdly though, I seem to have a lot of 3.75mm that never see yarn, while for some they are apparently a must. There are a lot of variable factors involved I suppose- the yarn you tend to use, obviously, but also your own tension and the style of knitting you do (I prefer to use smaller needles than is usual for the yarn when doing colourwork, for example). According to this blog post by Alexis Winslow, even the material your needles are made from can affect the gauge and therefore the resulting fabric and presumably the sizes you’ll tend to use more.
When I first learned to knit there wasn’t a lot of choosing to be done, in all honesty. The yarn I was using was oddments of acrylic from which the ball bands had long since disappeared, so I had no idea of the weight or recommended size. Needles would have been picked out of a jumble of (often bent) metal and plastic needles- my mother is much more of a seamstress than a knitter, unlike her mother, who taught me to knit- mainly on the grounds that they were a matching pair. When I got back into knitting more seriously in my twenties the knitting landscape was oh so different and the wonders of the internet introduced me to the joys of pure wools, artisan dyed yarns and needles in gorgeous, smooth and light bamboo or wood.
The first pair of really nice needles I bought were 3.25mm Brittany Birch straights. Although I’ve acquired a good number of wooden needles since then, these remain my favourite straight needles. In this size, the balance and weight is just perfect as far as I’m concerned. They don’t snag but they aren’t too slippy and I get just the right gauge using 4ply yarn. It’s just a shame I rarely knit anything flat these days. Even when I do, I tend to use my circular needles anyway. While on the subject of straights, my prettiest ones are my Art Vivas. I have a 4mm and a 6mm pair with their signature dotty ends. I love how they look in my needle jar, but sadly I find them to be style over substance. I think I have only ever knitted one project using 6mm needles, as it’s just one of my unused sizes, and as for the 4mm, I’ve tried to use them but find they constantly snag the wool, even after several different attempts to smooth them down. Maybe I just got a duff pair but just as the right needles can feel so right and make your knitting fly, the wrong ones can drive you up the wall.
Wooden needles were my first conversion to the new generation knitting world. Next came circulars. Like many, I would guess, my early ventures in this regard were not great as I tried to get away with cheap plastic or metal circulars with lumpy joins and inflexible or permanently kinked cords. Although I conceded that they were preferable to fumbling away and stabbing myself in the chest with a set of DPNs, it took the purchase of my first decent bamboo circular needle, along with the enticement of seeing so many gorgeous seamless projects on Ravelry, to convince me. My Aunty has recently had a similar conversion, learning to knit in the round so that she could use some yarn I’d given her to make a snood and going on to make (at my suggestion) a Cookie Jar hat for each of my children in super quick time. Those children were the decider for me when it came to using circs. It is so much safer to dump a circular project in a hurry when a sudden baby emergency happens- stitches usually stay in place. Not to mention it feels a lot safer having circular needles lying around than long, pointy sticks- although my curious two learned at a very early age that they do not touch Mummy’s knitting.
A year or so after I started using circular needles I acquired a Knit-Pro set and thought that with these wooden interchangeables I was pretty much set for life. They have certainly had, and continue to have, a lot of use, with my only niggles being that a couple of 3.25mm tips broke off recently (one when I sat on it, admittedly, but the other for no good reason) and the tendency for the tips to unscrew during use so that the yarn snags at the join. Those aside, I love the texture of the needles and find the versatility of the interchangeable tips really useful. However, having knitting friends online can be a danger to the bank balance. Some of them started to wax lyrical over metal needles- specifically ChiaoGoos and HiyaHiyas. Metal needles? My mind returned to the heavy, cold bent things I dug out of my mother’s sewing box and those cheap numbers I bought when I first tried knitting in the round. I was swiftly assured that these were not the same in any way. I tried them. I swiftly gained a new obsession. The main appeal of ChiaoGoo needles for me is the texture of the needle. They appear to be slightly brushed and this gives the absolute ideal balance between slip and grip. The only way I can put it is that they whisper through your stitches. As for HiyaHiyas, the flexibility and smooth join of the cord is just fabulous. Magic loop is so easy, as is eliminating the laddering that can occur when knitting in the round. HiyaHiyas are also super smooth and pointy, just not quite the utter joy of ChiaoGoos, while the thicker, more robust red cord of ChiaoGoos is not quite as flexible and easy to work with as the HiyaHiyas, but again you don’t get any problems with kinks. Basically, if I could have a ChiaoGoo needle with a HiyaHiya cord I would really have found my perfect needle. For the time being, anyway.
Of course, there’s always something else to tempt me- I’ve never tried carbon tips for example. Or those prism shaped ones. I’m eminently suggestible when it comes to new needles. Just don’t ask me to lay my hands on the right size when I need it…
My hands have been anything but idle this week. I’ve got a dress I’m sewing from the ‘pile of fabric shapes’ stage to the ‘it’s starting to look like a garment stage’, reminding myself in the process that while I like the quick gratification of sewing, the clearing up afterwards drives me mad. I’ve also been knitting away on a commission using all the colours of Eden Cottage’s new mill-dyed wool/silk yarn, Milburn. I can report that it’s lovely to work with- not the necessarily the choice for a newbie to colourwork as it isn’t particularly ‘sticky’ but it looks wonderful and feels incredibly comfortable in your hands. I’m planning to investigate this yarn’s possibility with textured stitches in the coming months as plans are afoot!
Last night I just fancied a change from the full on knitting and sewing, so I decided to do a bit of hooking. I used my Stylecraft stash, but rather than working on my long-term chair cover project I decided to try making a mandala to send to Lucy at Attic 24. If you went to the inaugural Yarndale festival in Skipton you’ll have been unable to miss the gorgeous crochet bunting she organised- a triumph of communal crafting with contributions from around the world. This year, rather than more bunting, she is asking the many readers of her lovely and uplifting blog to contribute mandalas (bright coloured, circular crochet circles) to help decorate Yarndale 2014- you can find out more here.
I’m very much hoping I’ll make it to the event itself, but if that doesn’t happen, I’m determined that my handiwork will be there. Being part of a mass making project like this is another first for me, following my first knitalongs (Woolly Wormhead’s Mystery KAL last autumn and the Ravellinics earlier this year) in recent months.
Since granny squares are my main area of experience with crochet, I chose the Granny Mini Mandala pattern contributed to the cause by Zelna Olivier. It was quick and easy and really rather fun, although I’ll always prefer two sticks to one, of course! As per Lucy’s instructions, I lightly pressed my finished mandala and coated the back with PVA to stiffen it (this is to help with display). It will go in the post in the next day or so, then I’ll look out for it on the spectacularly colourful Pinterest board and, with luck, at the event itself on the 27th and 28th September.
It’s a tricky thing when you offer to make something for somebody. Especially when that someone is your sister (if you have sisters, you’ll understand). Especially when the something is for them to wear on their wedding day. Nonetheless, I was still over the moon when my older sister said that yes, she would like me to make her a shawl to wear when she gets married this summer. This was, it must be noted, what I suggested I should make for her. I loved the idea of making a shawl for her so much that I neatly forgot that I have very little experience making shawls. Very little being I made one once and it was rubbish. Hmm.
This wonderful, exciting challenge (with the pressure of a VIP customer and an immovable deadline) had to begin, of course, with a pattern. I put together a few ideas on a Pinterest board and sent big sister off in the direction of Ravelry. Personally, I was hoping she’d choose Shipwreck, but she decided she wanted something smaller and lighter and settled on After Hours by Wendy Gaal. With the benefit of 20:20 hindsight (and the wisdom of others more experienced than me who have since expressed their opinion) I may have tried a bit harder to avoid a lace pattern using sock weight yarn on 7.5mm needles. Especially as the needles I was using in that size were slippery metal ones. Still, I can’t fault the pattern writing. After a couple of false (and sweary) starts, I settled on using the charts, referring back to the written instructions when I needed to. It was an act of faith getting through that stage when it looks like a string vest and only having stitch counts to really tell me that I was on track but once the blocking had worked its magic the beautiful design was revealed. It’s reminiscent of peacock feathers, which will work beautifully with her dress- not a conventional white meringue, this being my sister.
Yarn choice was also key for this piece. The intended wearer has skin that is very sensitive to any form of itchiness in clothes. I had to work hard to convince her that not all wool was itchy and eventually she agreed we should order some Eden Cottage Tempo- a super smooth merino with silk- and see how it felt. The colourway is Silver Birch and when it arrived and looked at it in artificial light I wondered if it was too blue- we needed something silvery. However, the beauty of this hand-dyed colour is that it changes in different lights- in daylight and against the dress fabric it was perfect, a kind of antique silver with the blue tones just lifting it. Although this was a project involving a lot of cursing, eye-strain and worry there was never a moment when I didn’t enjoy the yarn.
The final hurdle of the project was beading- something that had intrigued me for a while but that I had no clue how to attempt. I remembered reading once that there was one method involving threading all the beads onto the yarn before you begin, but this pattern just called for the beads to be applied on the border using a tiny crochet hook. Reassurance and advice from online friends including Anniken Allis and Tracey Todhunter led to me sourcing my silver beads from Debbie Abrahams- size 6- which I used with a 0.75 hook. I actually really enjoyed the beading part- the technique was quite easy to master- and have since been playing with some beaded swatches so if nothing else, this is a new skill I may well use in future designs.
There is something else though. I’m very proud of myself for knitting way outside of my comfort zone and I’m really pleased with how it looks. I seriously hope my sister will like the finished result (Ravelled here) too and I’ll be incredibly proud and touched when she wears it on her special day. Will I be knitting another shawl any time soon? Probably not, but at least I know I can!
The new issue of Knit Now came out this week and I’m looking forward to reserving at least some of the Bank Holiday weekend for reading it. The editorial includes an article about the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement on knitters by the lovely and talented Karina Westermann (who also designed the Prosperine half circle shawl for this issue) and it’s this aesthetic style that was the influence for The Collection this time around. Lovers of painterly details and femininity (without twee-ness) will find a lot to like among these designs. My personal favourite is Claire Neicho’s beautiful, William Morris-inspired Chrysanthemum Vest:
Experience tells me that I would regret making this style of garment for myself as it really wouldn’t suit my figure, but I can absolutely see myself reproducing her gorgeous colourwork pattern in a jumper or cardigan I could carry off more successfully. It uses Jamieson and Smith Shetland Heritage for goodness sake!
Also in this issue is my Twine Hat. A rather more restrained affair than some of the beauties mentioned above, it was nevertheless a real pleasure to design and make. Having learned my lesson from overloading myself with too much in the way of commissions, when I set about writing the proposal for this design I went back to basics- the stuff that I really like (and can manage in a realistic timeframe!):
I decided on a hat because I like designing hats- they are big enough to get something interesting going on between casting on and off, but small enough to provide some fairly quick gratification. I asked to make it in a good, ‘sheepy’, wool yarn (Blacker Yarns Pure Organic Wool Corriedale/Hebridean) because I like using yarns with the sort of integrity and texture that result in a piece that feels like it’s been around forever even when it’s just come off the needles. Finally, I used single, travelling cables in a simple, rhythmic pattern on a background of reverse stocking stitch because it’s just a look that I like. It’s not one that is easy to reproduce in machine knitting, so this is the sort of hat that, while quite subtle, will be identifiably handmade to those in the know.
Twine is a fairly straightforward beanie for anyone who can follow a cable chart. Additional height could be added at the top for a more slouchy look and it would work well for men too. It’s the sort of design that could very much let the yarn be the star, with the cables being more prominent if you used a silk blend yarn or a solid colour with strong stitch definition, or being more of a textural touch if it was variegated yarn. I’d love to see some different versions made.
Sorry, couldn’t resist the dreadful punning title. But it’s true, I have been skiving off the knitting for a little of this week. Look away now if you read this blog for my usual devotion to pure wool and 2-needle action, there are crochet hooks and acrylic involved today! It’s probably because I’ve been putting in the hours with The Shawl, which is now at the edging/beading stage. Beading is a bit of a revelation to me and one I think worthy of its own post. Maybe when I have finished, or at least got a bit further along the border, and am therefore a bit less prone to frustrated swearing and anger (it’s great, really, just….challenging when you learn a new skill. Ahem.)
The bit of hooky is therefore light (and oooh, gosh very bright) relief. My crochet skills are basic, to say the least. The sum total of my projects to date are a load of variously sized granny square blankets and a triple crochet draught excluder. I apologise to the very talented crochet designers out there (some of them are my friends, for now at least!) but I tend to see crochet as a homewares and interiors craft because of it’s more robust, less prone to stretching qualities. No doubt I’m missing out on many marvelous potential garments but truth is I’ll always be happier with two sticks and it would take a lot to persuade me that I’d rather have a crochet rather than knitted cardigan.
Anyway, I digress. I’ve been reading the lovely Attic 24 blog rather a lot recently and being a colour fiend couldn’t help but be seduced by her gloriously multi-coloured creations. At the same time I’d been pondering what to do with a rather shabby IKEA Poang chair that we’ve carted from place to place with us and which has come to rest (with a matching foot stool) in my new/under development studio/workroom. A bit of an IKEA-hack seemed in order. Given my aforementioned lack of skill and the sheer number of granny squares in my past I decided to give the lovely (and apparently very easy to master) ripple pattern a swerve, along with the idea of a granny stripe. Instead I’m working in easy stripes of triple crochet with some bright colours inspired by Lucy’s work and hoping to make a cover for both chair and foot stool.
For reasons of economy as much as anything else, I decided to go for Stylecraft Special DK instead of a wool yarn. Even if crochet doesn’t gobble up yarn at the rate it’s meant to, this is a whole chair and foot rest we’re talking about here, so BFL would bankrupt me. I could also mention that Stylecraft is apparently the yarn du jour amongst the crochet types out there, so I thought I should bow to superior knowledge and pick seven colours from its huge range.
Hmmm…the perils of picking colours from the internet. The yarn is actually not bad at all for being a pure acrylic- soft and bouncy and with no noticeable squeak- but the pink and green are a little more on the wild (day-glo?) side than I envisaged. The overall effect of my stripes is pretty eye-popping and I have to admit to having had a few wobbles about whether it’s quite the colour combination I wanted. I think it’s growing on me though, especially when I try it on the chair itself. We’ll see.
On a far more subtle (tasteful) note, I seem to have lined up another sewing project for myself. There’s a list of these. A growing list. Once I’ve finished The Shawl I need to think about what I’m going to wear as Sister Of The Bride this summer. I had been all sorted, having made a hat with Sara Gadd on our hen weekend at Higham Hall a couple of weeks ago which was intended to go with the dress I was going to buy- not make, buy. Then on the way to the weekend I had a nice little shopping spree in the Standfast and Barracks factory shop in Lancaster, picking up some lovelies including this Ianthe Liberty Tana Lawn. Said fabric was meant to be the rather posh backing on a quilt but then it ended up being left lying near the hat and I thought how well it would work as a dress to go with the hat and the next thing I knew I was ordering this Mortmain pattern by Gather and a pretty lace edged exposed zipper…
Anyone know how to stretch time so that there are twice as many hours in the day? Answers on a postcard please!
Whatever your personal and particular beliefs around this holiday, there can’t be many people who don’t respond to the joy of an extended weekend with longer days of sunlight, the promising warmth in that sunlight and the broadening colour palette in the outside world. I totally fit the cliche and find myself wanting to Spring clean and start, or restart, projects. Energy, vigour and colour is what’s required!
Most exciting of all my projects at the moment is what I’m calling my ‘studio.’ I may be giving this space more status than it deserves, it being a slightly rickety sun room tacked onto the back of our house. Since we moved in nearly four years ago it’s had no particular long term status and has become a storage space for otherwise homeless odds and ends, most recently due to the kitchen renovations. The combination of a more-or-less finished kitchen and a knitting/craft ‘corner’ that’s threatening to take over the entire living room means that it seems high time me and my wool/fabric/book stash had a room of our own.
With the children packed off to their grandparents for a good spoiling C and I went through that awful process of creating a much larger mess in order to achieve a better end. We did manage to chuck a satisfying amount out of the house and store a reasonable amount in the loft though. There’s still some way to go, but I am at least now beginning the more delightful process of bringing stuff in for arranging on newly empty shelves. With luck and a bit more work I should begin to be able to show off ‘after’ pics soon.
With most of my current knitting projects requiring too much thought or pattern following for car journeys, the long trek down to my parents on Friday was a time for me to restart the hexipuffs of my Beekeeper’s Quilt. Still very much at a nascent stage, my collection grew by five and a half as we negotiated the M6 and M5. This is definitely going to be a long time project (as in, years and years) but that’s fine by me.
Over the holiday weekend I’ve also been taking advantage of my mother’s superior knowledge for a restart on another quilt- a long overdue ‘big girl bed’ one I meant to give to M nearly two years ago. It’s mostly made from the fabric of dresses she had as a little girl but the Jacob’s Ladder pattern required more small squares cut, as well as someone to figure out how it will all go together- hence the need for motherly advice. I think I now have a clearer idea, all the pieces I need and a space in my ‘studio’ to set my sewing machine up, so as long as I can maintain momentum I’ve a fighting chance of getting this one finished in time for her birthday in June.
As if to prove what a ‘big girl’ this big girls’ quilt is being made for, I’ve also been able to spend a bit of time with M this weekend doing some proper, sharp-needle-and-thread sewing for the first time. I’d bought a copy of Mollie Makes magazine and it came with cute kit for a ditsy fabric flower brooch. With help, M drew around a lid on each piece of fabric, cut out the circles, folded the circles into quarters and sewed a simple running stitch along the curved edges without skewering herself or my fingers. The finished brooch looks very sweet on her new Spring mac although I think I am more proud of it than she is!
Finally to my main ‘work’ this weekend: The Shawl. I’d been taking a break from it for the last couple of weeks because I couldn’t figure out where my wildly incorrect stitch count was coming from and was too tired in the evenings and too busy at the weekends to sort it out. I knew I had time on my side these last few days but I swiftly decided that rather than trying to work out where I’d gone wrong, it would be quicker and easier to start again. I used the stitch markers again but didn’t bother with the lifelines as they hadn’t seemed to help much before. Restarting with the knowledge I’d gained from the first attempt turned out to be a really good idea. I relied more heavily on the charts rather than the written instructions,did a lot more counting and probably less swearing than the first time around. Although it’s sent me squiffy-eyed, spending big chunks of time on consecutive days/evenings has helped me keep on track and now I’m on the final body section. Next I need to order some beads to take on the challenge of the edging but I feel that again, I have a fighting chance of getting this one in the bag in time for it’s June deadline- my sister’s wedding.
I hope you too have had a restful and creative weekend.
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!