A combination of a due date drawing closer and a desire for a bit of quick knitting led me to take a break from my more slow-burn project this weekend for a pair of baby hats. An added bonus was the chance to enjoy the work of two of my lovely knitting friends.
First up was Cookie Jar by Joeli’s Kitchen. I first came across Joeli when I was looking for a Tech Editor for Coniston- little did she know as she guided me through the process of putting a pattern together properly that she was only just beginning. Next thing I knew I’d started getting designs accepted in Knit Now and Joeli was knocking more of my patterns into shape and in the process teaching me so much about pattern writing.
Like me, Joeli juggles her paid work with bringing up two little ones of a similar age to mine, so she knows what she’s doing when she comes up with her gorgeous designs for children. Cookie Jar is easy to follow, comes in a range of sizes from baby to adult and uses simple stitches to great textural effect.
I used the rest of the rainbow yarn I had left over from the Milo I wrote about a few weeks ago. As a heavy DK, the yarn is a little bit lighter than the pattern recommends, so I used the toddler stitch count on 4.5mm needles for a baby size. What I didn’t do was work out how much yarn I had left. As a result, when I got to the second moss stitch band the end of the yarn came whipping out of my handbag (most of the knitting for this was completed on the journey to and from a great family meal out at The Highwayman near Kirby Lonsdale. I can recommend the cauliflower fritters with spicy mayo and the Morecambe Bay shrimp). A quick fudge was in order. Since the design is quite slouchy and I was following the toddler hat directions, I judged that I’d have enough height for more of a beanie style if I frogged, then omitted, the last texture band and started the decreases. With just a few yards to spare I had it completed- a very satisfying and quick project. I’ve mentioned the yarn, by Moonlight Yarns before, but at the risk of repeating myself, although I don’t really like multi-coloured yarns as a rule, there’s something utterly joyful about this one. The colours are so vibrant and the length of each colour repeat is long enough that you get a lovely stripe effect rather than pooling. My project page on Ravelry is here.
With one of my baby knits now a set, I needed something to go with my BSJ- so this time I was working with the yarn of another friend, Victoria at Eden Cottage. A quick Ravelry search turned up Logan by Julie Taylor- a devastatingly cute little pixie bonnet. Again, it’s a clear and well-written pattern with sizes up to a young child’s head size. Instructions are given for knitting flat and in the round, with clear photos guiding beginners through any tricky bits and techniques.
I liked the striped version of the original pattern, but thought that regular stripes in stocking stitch wouldn’t be quite the right match for the irregular, garter stitch stripes of the jacket. I therefore had a try at making it in reverse stocking stitch, keeping the stripes as they were. Not only did this not work well, it also made me realise that I probably didn’t have enough of the grey to make it through all the stripes.
At least with baby items it’s not too heart-breaking to frog and start again. I ended up just making the garter stitch border in the grey, then keeping to the green for the main part. I think it really emphasises the pixi-ness of the hat but I’m aware that this isn’t the sort of design that photographs well without a head to model it. A certain baby needs to hurry up, methinks!
This BFL really loves to be blocked- the yarn plumps and smooths itself out so beautifully. I particularly like the way the lines of double decreases that help to shape the hat look. I rather like it when a piece shows something of its structure as a design feature. Ravelry project page is here.
When you design your own patterns it can be hard to find the time to make other people’s, but making these baby knits has reminded me of just how valuable and enjoyable it is to try out other people’s designs. I’m going to try and make the effort to do it more often.
Making an Elizabeth Zimmerman knit feels like something of a rite of passage. Since sources including Ravelry alerted me to the existence of ‘EZ’s’ seminal works on knitting I’d got as far as reading Knitting Without Tears and, like so many before me, warmed to a book about the technicalities of knitting which also makes you smile with its humour. I’d also tried out a few of her techniques, like making a fold-up hem for the bottom of a garment, which features in my Coniston sweater design. Somehow none of the actual, classic EZ designs ever made it to the top of my ‘to knit’ list.
Then I found out I was to be an aunt for the first time and the question of what to ‘not knit’ for the baby arose. I say ‘not knit’ because, while I’m not superstitious in general, I am deeply uncomfortable with the counting-chickens-before-they-hatch nature of knitting for babies yet to arrive. To balance this with the desire to have something ready to give as a present to the newborn I have to knit things but claim I am ‘not knitting for such and such a baby…it’s just a baby thing that could happen to be ready for when that baby arrives’. Silly, I know, but that’s just the way my brain works. My first piece of not-knitting was the Rainbow Milo I blogged about a couple of weeks back. I decided that to add to that I would make my first EZ- a BSJ.
A BSJ, for the unitiated, is a Baby Surprise Jacket. It’s a modular jacket- that is to say, it’s knitted in one piece then formed into a garment with the addition of two seams- in garter stitch. It’s described as “a very entertaining bit of knitted engineering” and given that the pattern has been around for over forty years and that there are over nineteen and a half thousand projects on Ravelry alone you have to conclude it’s worth making one at least once in your knitting lifetime.
Having seen a number of striped versions of the project, I decided I wanted to make mine in two colours. British, or better still, local yarn is always a preference for me and as one of my favourites, Eden Cottage Bowland DK is not only from sheep in the next county over from us but is also parent-friendly superwash it seemed like a good choice. The fact that Victoria at Eden Cottage is lovely and creates colourways that I adore helped too! I’d already bought and loved the Lichen colourway in some sock yarn and thought it would look amazing paired with Slate. Kind of a Mid-Century Modern feel- still bright enough for a baby knit, but a bit of a change from the usual pastels.
Armed with my lovely yarn and a copy of the pattern, I was ready to go. Having mentioned on Twitter that this was what I was attempting, I received a number of responses along the lines of ‘It will look really weird, but don’t worry, it works’. Admittedly, the hand-drawn illustration of what the completed, unseamed item would look like did look odd- rather like one of those ribbony, frilly edged bits of seaweed. Even so, I was confident I could handle it- how weird could it be?
Really weird, as it turns out. As someone used to working from- and writing- modern knitting patterns, where everything is set out row by row and new stitch counts are given every time there are increases or decreases, this was a departure. EZ is much more ‘do this for a bit, then do that’ and although it’s all accurate and works if you follow it, it feels a lot more like you’re freestyling. However, I was all ‘yeah, I can handle this, I’m not fazed’ and soon got into the swing of it- hah! As the lady herself suggests, I kept calm and knitted on with [sort of] confidence and [quite a lot of] hope, but the further I got the more I felt that this was less BSJ and more WTF? The thing is with this design is that you don’t know until you’ve done all the knitting, cast off and done the folding thing whether you’ve got it right or not. While you’re knitting you really can’t tell if you’ve messed up or not- it’s not for the control freaks among us. The pay-off for this nerve-shredding is at the end, when you do the folding thing and ‘AH!’ there is the sweetest, neatest little jacket.
Even the sweetest, neatest piece of knitted engineering will always benefit from good finishing- at the very least blocking, but I decided this merited extra TLC. I’ve been a fan of applied i-cord since making Kate Davies’ Manu cardigan. It’s a bit fiddly and yarn hungry but it gives such a smart finish, especially to the slightly raw looking selvedges you get on a garter stitch project like the BSJ. The Purl Bee has a really good tutorial for applied i-cord here, which I consult every time I forget between projects how to do it- which is, literally, every time. I added it around all the edges, including the wrists, and included loops for the buttons I blogged about here.
With this classic amongst my projects I think I can consider myself initiated into the extensive ranks of EZ knitters. Now I just have to wait for a baby that, you know, might just happen to arrive and seem worthy of a hand-knit or two…
I’m currently nurturing a burgeoning addiction to buttons. It’s not like it’s bad for my health, unless I try to eat them (although some of the pretty, coloured, shiny ones do can look temptingly edible) and it’s not going to break the bank unless I go completely crackers. So whether it’s picking up additions like the ones shown above to my vintage/re-used collection at local fairs organised by Vintage Village Hall …
…Or trawling the vast online treasure-trove and enjoying the unbeatable customer service of Textile Garden, I’ve definitely got a regular habit.
Some of my buttons are acquired for projects-yet-to-be-specified. Others, like the silver and bronze Textile Garden lovelies above, are for a particular use. However, recently I found myself stuck for inspiration about which buttons to use for certain rather important jacket I was finishing. Then I remembered the tutorial for Wheelhouse Button’s in Kate Davies’ fabulous Colours of Shetland book:
I’ve yet to have time to attempt any of the designs in the book (and let’s face it, I’ve yet to be able to decide which should be first as I basically want to knit ALL THE PRETTY THINGS in it) but being no stranger to Kate’s meticulously well written patterns, I had no qualms about trying out this method for covering plain buttons in yarn. Since this jacket is for a small person I used buttons roughly half the size of those used in the book, but the instructions were clear about how to adapt for this and with the minimum of fiddling about and really not much time I had a cover for a button. Even the inside looked lovely, if you’ll excuse the dodgy phone pic:
I just love those swirling rings of yarn- they reflect the gentle rhythm you get into as you weave the yarn round and round to make the covers. It’s very soothing and as the lady herself says here, in her blog about the Scatness Tunic she designed them for, slightly addictive. There’s just something about buttons…
Anyway, I satisfied myself with just making three. I’m hoping that their size will be about right- not too big as to dwarf the small wearer of the jacket, but big enough that they won’t be in danger of being swallowed. Being covered in yarn they are also, on that last count, easier to sew on really tightly than conventional buttons and are also softer for delicate skin. Plus they’re matching, yarn covered buttons. What could be better, really?
In case you’re wondering, the yarn you can see here for the jacket and buttons is the yummy Bowland DK from Eden Cottage Yarns. I will write more about it and the finishing of the jacket soon.
I feel like I’m stepping into a room where you can write your name in the dust on every surface. Okay, it’s not been that long, but it feels like ‘Write blog’ has been staring accusingly from my to-do list for more than just a couple of months. Of course, the more time I’ve left this space in a state of neglect, the harder it becomes to work out what to write. I’ve decided that the only way forward is to attempt a sort of ‘okay, this is what’s gone on, wipe the slate clean, onwards!’ approach.
So. Pattern releases. There have been a few that should have had a bit more of an airing than they did. Firstly, the other two Eden Cottage designs that premiered at the Harrogate Knitting and Stitching show: Bramble and Flora. As a yarn, I love and recommend Eden Cottage BFL. I also think the world of Victoria and her business and am really pleased with the designs I (eventually) came up with, along with the photoshoot we did at my in-law’s farm. However, if ever a project was beset with obstacles- time, illness, discovering your original idea looks just like a design in a clothing catalogue, technical problems with printing- then this project was. To put the tin lid on it, sales have been…modest, let’s say. Still, all part of the learning curve I’m on as a designer. There really are so many things to learn.
Where the collection for Eden Cottage had some sort of coherence, my recent clutch of designs for Knit Now have been a little more diverse. I’ve come back to stranded colourwork again for the Tweedy gloves and Folk Dance dress, the latter being the first time I tried the technique of mixing ombre yarn (Crazy Zauberball) with a solid colour. The ‘Dodger’ spats were a very quick, fun knit with Rowan’s very fluffy, bulky-weight yarn, Tumble. It’s not the sort of yarn I’d normally use but I have to say the colour was beautiful and the yarn very soft. Obviously, being the weight it is, you also get very quick results.
Knit Now also launched a spin-off just before Christmas in the form of Quick Baby Knits. The idea was that you could buy the magazine and that any one of the patterns featured could be made with the yarn that came free with it. I thought this was a really great idea for people who do a lot of knitting for little ones, or who are perhaps taking up the craft again because a baby is due. My contribution to all this was ‘Baby’s First Book’- yet more colourwork, this time to make simple, two colour images on each page and a personalised front cover.
That rounds up the pattern releases but it doesn’t really tell the full story of what my needles have been up to. My Christmas season also included a couple of Kate Davies stranded colourwork designs (is this a phase, or an actual addiction!?)- Snawheid, made for a fabulous and much appreciated colleague, and Boreal, made for me. Yes, that’s right, I actually found time to sit down and make something just for myself! It was my Christmas treat/project and I have absolutely no photos of it yet, not least because the weather has been so unrelentingly grey. We haven’t even had the snow everyone else seems to have had this week and my Boreal would look AMAZING in the snow. I think when I finally get some pictures sorted I will have to write about it separately here, because I love it so. I have also been working on a project I owe my sister as a birthday present from last year, but we won’t talk about that because her birthday is NEXT MONTH and it shows that I shouldn’t promise anyone knitted presents ever.
So that’s surely a slate cleaned, all ready for a 2013 jam packed full of thoughtful and creative blogs from yours truly? Hmm, I think the knitted present issue above should teach me something about rash promises. I think the best I can do is do my best.
What’s more exciting than having a design published in a magazine? Having two designs published in a magazine! Knit Now Issue 7 is due to hit the shops on 5th April and I’m delighted to say that you’ll be able to find both my Starry, Starry Night stole and Elfine pixie hood patterns included.
This happy situation had the added bonus of giving me the opportunity to work with some of my favourite yarny people. In the case of Starry, Starry Night it was Vikki at Eden Cottage Yarns. I first came across her hand-dyed yarns when I was looking for something suitable to make my Treacle Toffee mittens (still available through Just Giving to raise money for Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity, folks!). I’d seen her work mentioned in a magazine and liked the idea of using a fairly local business, as she’s based a little way North of where I am in Cumbria. The Maya yarn in ‘Autumn’ that she sent me lived up to all expectations, with its gorgeous colour and amazing softness and as a result I kept an eye on her website to see what else she came up with. When the ‘Purple Iris’ colourway appeared I knew I wanted to work with it- beautiful deep purples highlighted with soft pink and grey and in BFL yarn produced very close to us in the Forest of Bowland.
The rich hues of Purple Iris somehow made me want to design something with a bit more of a glamorous, romantic feel than some of my other pieces. It made me think of Elizabeth Taylor with her violet eyes and diamonds, of proper grown up party dresses and the night skies above the sort of evening soirees I rarely get to attend these days! What I came up with is a wide stole with an asymmetric hem trimmed in feather stitchlace. Scattered across the stole at the whim of the knitter- charts are provided so you can decide where you want to place them- is a constellation of stars. Formed in eyelets, these allow flashes of whatever fabric is worn underneath the stole to be glimpsed. I had in mind summer wedding guest outfits and the like, but if you aren’t likely to get many opportunities to wear it in this way, the DK yarn means that while it’s a warm cover-up, it’s light and drapey enough to wear round your neck as a scarf. I’ve loved working with Vikki’s yarns and hope to do so again in the future.
The second pattern I have in this issue is the Elfine pixie hood. It forms part of the ‘Designer Challenge’, where three designers
are given the same yarn to see what they can come up with. This time the yarn was provided by a good friend of mine who’s recently become the sole UK importer of Lion Brand yarns. You’ll see these yarns all over the place on Ravelry, as they are well known and widely distributed in the US. As a knitter, Loraine had enjoyed using the yarns when she got the chance and wanted to let more UK knitters get hold of them. Woolly Madly Deeply is the result, and it’s well worth checking out, not just for the mail order yarns but also for the free patterns, offers and blog.
The yarn used in the challenge was Superwash Merino Cashmere and that, along with the delicate pink colour, said ‘baby’ to me. The pixie hood combines my fondness for vintage styles with my knowledge as a mother of young children. Most babies quickly master the art of removing hats and flinging them out of their buggy so pixie hoods offer an advantage in that they can be gently and comfortably tied under the chin. This might not stop the removal and flinging, but it at least slows things down. The scarf part also provides additional cosiness, since the ends can be tucked into the front of a jacket or wrapped around the neck. A textured stitch in the border is interesting to knit up, but the project grows quickly in this aran yarn, so it would do for a last minute present- there are three sizes for baby up to young child- plus it looks so cute!
Images and information on all the patterns in the magazine are available on Ravelry.
Is it normal to envy the wardrobe of your toddler daughter? I have to admit to having wished in the past that I could do ditsy prints and stripy tights the way she does and now this Tiny Tea Leaves is bringing on the green eyed monster even more.
It wasn’t as if I didn’t have enough projects in progress, all of them design development or commission samples. Hell, one of them is even a sweater that’s destined for little M whenever I finally get around to it- being a large ‘frog and re-do’ job it keeps getting bumped for smaller projects with newer and therefore more exciting yarn. But she’s outgrown her summer cardigans, and a friend had given me this pattern and I had more than enough Rowan British Sheep Breeds DK in Brown BFL from an idea for a pirate design boys sweater that I have struggled with, frogged and in the end given up on (possibly for good, not least because the boy in our household is resolutely opposed to hand-knitted garments of any kind).
It’s a pattern that well deserves its popularity. Easy to follow, even when picked up and put down in favour of other projects or the occasional tokenistic domestic chore, the result is lovely in its simplicity. I can see myself making further versions for her as she gets older, and different yarns could make it anything from a fluffy party dress cover-up to a sensible school cardigan.
As for the yarn, well first of all it’s held up remarkably well considering the several times it’s been knitted, frogged and re-knitted on its journey from pirate to tea-leaf. The small amount of frog-based kinking that could be seen on some of the stocking stitch parts of the body disappeared without trace with blocking and the finished result is soft and springy. As is so often the case with colours created by Mother Nature herself, it would be hard for a dyer to come up with something better than the warm greyish-brown. The sheep also still makes itself known in the scent, faint but comfortingly present even when the cardigan is dry.
When it came to choosing buttons I could quite easily have gone for the natural options of wood, shell or bone, which would have suited the yarn. I felt that this might make it feel just a little bit too serious for a one-and-a-half year old and that colour was needed instead. These very pale pink ones seemed to have just the right amount of delicate prettiness for a little girl.
I say little, but the smallest size on the pattern is listed as 2T, which in theory should be on the large size for M. I think the yarn used was a bit lighter than the recommended and I have to admit that rather than matching the gauge, I just knit on the right sized needles for the yarn, made the smallest size and hoped for the best. It seemed huge when on the needles and I thought it would end up with a lot of growing room, but it appears my baby has been growing up without me noticing it, and actually the size is perfect for her right this minute. Now I just have to find room on my knitting ‘To-do’ list to make the grown-up version for me.