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.
Last year my parents fulfilled a long standing ambition and went on a big trip, travelling through Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. My lovely mum being, well, my lovely mum, she decided that the best present she could bring back for me would be knitting yarn. She knows me rather well, you see…
The yarn in question was slubby, possibly hand spun, probably kettle dyed. The big, pillowy skein was a slubby bulky/super bulky weight in a gorgeous cobalt blue. I thanked Mum effusively for finding room in her suitcase for it and promised I would find something to make for it.
But then…aaargh, what to make?! My burgeoning design career being mainly based around a magazine that publishes accessories patterns, I’m pretty much okay for hats, scarves and snoods. I toyed with the idea of a sloppy sort of vest knitted on huge needles, designed to wear over skinny jeans in an off-the-shoulder 80s way. But I wasn’t sure quite how it would work out, or whether I’d have enough yarn (there was no yardage on the label). The Big Blue bundle of yarn sat there for month after month, admonishing me for not appreciating it as a great gift.
In the end I took to browsing Ravelry’s pattern pages, searching under ‘bulky’ and ‘superbulky’ weight projects. It was there I came across this by Heidi and Anna Pickles, for a really sweet yarn basket/container. I realised that the Big Blue project didn’t have to be a garment and that doing this would mean I could enjoy the colour that had been staring down from one of my craft shelves for months in a different way.
I decided to double up the yarn since the ‘thin’ of the ‘thick and thin’ texture was really quite thin, and used some unmarked needles from my collection that I believe are 12mm. As per the pattern, I then worked in garter stitch until I’d all but run out of yarn, reserving the last bit to sew the two ends together and then along another edge to form the base of the basket.
I haven’t even blocked this, just prodded it into shape and stuffed it out with balls of yarn, but it happily stands up, holding a project’s worth of yarn. You might notice that the yarn I currently have stuffed in there is my old favourite, Rowan Felted Tweed. This is waiting partly to fulfill a birthday promise to my big sister (whose birthday, by the way, is in February- eep!) and also because I’m preparing to launch my Make Do and Mend pattern as an independently published pattern. This will be just about in time for Jubilee shenanigans, so I’m planning a little celebratory bonus, currently under development and requiring the aforementioned Felted Tweed. More news on that very soon, I promise!
I’m not usually very good with New Year’s Resolutions. If I ever make them, mine end up abandoned long before the dreary dregs of winter have gone. The start of this last haul through the gloomy cold months is just not the right time to instigate policies of self control or self denial are they?
This year I thought I’d do things a little differently, and instead of promising to give up chocolate after 9pm or take up yoga again, I promised I’d give knitting a shawl a try.
Shawls seem to be a little bit like socks in the knitting world, in that there seem to be groups of people who make them endlessly. They casually refer to designs by name to one another and create pieces of intimidatingly awesome complexity while joking about how the cat kept sitting on their work while it was in progress. Another group have never tried knitting them, and have no intention of doing so as they don’t see how they’ll ever have use for them in their wardrobes.
When it comes to socks, I’m somewhere between the two camps, veering nowadays towards the latter. While I love the sweetie-counter effect of the 4ply/sock section of yarn shops and admire the technical expertise that goes into patterns, I’ve made a couple of pairs, got very bored by making the second each time and never really worn them.
As for shawls, I’ve never really got on with stuff that drapes around my shoulders but could see myself wearing them more like scarves. What scares me is the idea of tiny needles and skinny, skinny yarn (I’m a DK+ girl in general) not to mention the fact that whenever I’ve glanced through patterns in magazines I’ve been unable to make head nor tail of them. Nonetheless, being a curious knitter who likes to try out new things and also quite stubborn about resisting intimidation by scary-looking pattern, I decided that despite my qualms, in 2012 I would make a shawl. It was mainly a matter of finding time and a reason.
This was the reason. Or one of them. This ball of gorgeousness is Skein Queen 4ply Squash yarn in ‘Fairytale’. It’s a superwash wool that came into my hands as leftover from a yarn tasting my knit group did recently. I adore the colours and was going to use it for my Beekeepers Quilt. However, since I had nearly a full skein it seemed a shame not to make a whole item with it. Then it occurred to me that it was a dear friend’s 40th birthday coming up later in the year…and a reason to keep my resolution appeared.
I’ve chosen (on the recommendation of those friends who name-drop shawls) Liz Abinate’s Traveling Woman Shawl. I’m told it’s an easy one to begin with, and it looks lovely. So far I’ve begun on the ‘set up rows’ and already I can begin to see how shawls work. It might sound dim, but I didn’t even know where you began with a shawl- top? bottom? one of the corners? It’s the top, apparently (or at least, it is with this one). I’ve yet to hit the lace yet, when charts, repeats and multiple stitch markers will kick in, but so far it’s not been as bad as it looks. I may never become fluent in shawl-speak, but I think I’m going to keep this resolution. I might also add that, even without a resolution, this year I’ve taken up running…
More Mama love in this post I’m afraid! This delightful chicken (from Anna Maria Horner’s gorgeous book ‘Handmade Beginnings’) was meant to be among the presents my parents gave to M for her first birthday. When I conveniently got a nasty bout of tonsilitis in the week leading up to P’s birthday, my lovely mummy flew to the rescue, driving 5 hours up the motorway to look after the littles and in the process ran out of time to sew the chicks in time for M’s birthday the following week. As a result, the finished birdy, complete with six chicks with Velcro wings to nestle safely under their mummy’s wings, arrived today in the post, no less special for its tardiness. It must be a good week for chickens, as our dear old hen Penelope has decided that she will honour us with a precious few of her rarely laid eggs- three in a row!
Our wee boy is three! As usual with parenting moments like this, it feels like ages and yet no time at all since he was in an incubator in Royal Glamorgan Hospital having surprised us all by arriving 2 months before his due date. It’s fair to say he hasn’t stopped since, with the fading remains of a black eye appearing in all his birthday pictures as evidence of how he throws himself full tilt at the world (the injury occurred during nap time for goodness’ sake!). This year he had a party at his Granny and Grandpa’s farm, with a tractor and lambs in the field next door, a straw bale fort to play in and just the right amount of sunshine for a lovely day. Despite a nasty bout of tonsillitis during the previous week I somehow managed to pull off the ‘Combine Harvester’ cake I’d been planning so I felt I did my bit, but it was a host of wonderful family and friends who really made his day.
Our baby girl is nearly one! With her brother turning three the week before it’s going to be a busy time. Somehow I’ve managed to swerve organising duties on both counts, as each of the grandmothers are taking a turn at hosting. All I have to do is send out the invitations, make a few cakes (including one like a Combine Harvester, gulp!) and turn up with the little ones. As we’re not exactly sending out a huge number of invites to M’s party, I had a go at making my own cards today, doodling with some felt pens. The theme, like her Christening is ‘All Things Bright And Beautiful’, partly because she’s a summer baby who arrived with the flowers and partly because she is just that…bright and beautiful.
I’m posting this at the risk of spoiling the surprise, but in the hope that a dodgy internet connection means the intended recipient won’t be reading this. It’s either a birthday cake or, if there are too many of those about, an Easter cake. Whatever the official designation, it’s a big lot of chocolate yumminess!
I used Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Fudge Cake recipe from Nigella Bites. I halved the ingredients as, despite her claims that if dumped you could eat this yourself in one sitting, in my experience, the full monty feeds a lot of people. I also substituted the dark chocolate in the frosting for white chocolate, partly to ring the changes, but mainly to achieve the correct colouring for the sheep. A little extra melted white chocolate for the legs and to stick the sugar flowers on and some dark chocolate for the face completed the effect.
Well, it was a weekending of wonder. First, on Friday a joyful and lovely wedding then braving some wild weather over the weekend, culminating in a probably foolhardy drive back from Windermere, negotiating winding country roads, in the dark and rain, through floods and standing water! This after an abandoned attempt at walking at Tarn Hows (called off due to wind that would have felled a toddler, even in his rainproof suit and wellies) and a too-late attempt to visit Blackwell (we went to the teashop instead and have promised ourselves a proper look soon). Having braved the floods on the way in, we didn’t want a completely wasted journey, so we ended up at the Water Mill at Ings, where the micro-brewery beers were responsible for me being named driver!
As peace (of a sort!) descended on our house once again today, the weather had other ideas. As rain lashed against the window panes, we settled in with tea and the radio to catch up on some cooking and tried not to think of how Granny and Grandpa are by now sunning themselves in Barbados (Happy Honeymoon!). I decided to improvise with the contents of the two pumpkins and made a soup flavoured with a red chilli, grated ginger and thyme. If we decide to brave it for a walk tomorrow, I think this will be in the flask.
Also on the stove- butternut squash and red pepper curry with coconut milk and a vegetable stew. We can now just about see into the fridge again, and the freezer is comfortingly stocked up.
As you can see, after all this industry a nap was called for, which gave me the chance to start yet another knitted birthday project. Which reminds me, on Friday I’ll be able to show the last one, as the birthday girl will have seen the results of all that cabling.