Ever get that feeling that you can’t think about stuff for needing to get on and do it? It must be a more common malaise these days, as with the wonders of modern life we are very rarely unplugged from the world and in addition are likely to be juggling myriad roles, all requiring a different mindset. That’s certainly true for me, addicted as I am at times to my smartphone, tablet and laptop, and juggling an increasingly revived career in primary school teaching with motherhood and designing. I tell myself I need to take time to stop and think, but in reality I take knitting projects with me for the car journey if we go on a country walk, take photos for Facebook at the summit of the hill we walk up, read educational theory books in the bath, put a pile of marking on the passenger seat to do while I wait for my son to come out of school….It might keep my productivity levels where I want them, but it was in danger of leaving me running on empty when it came to creativity.
It might just be me trying to put a good spin on the horrible coldy/fluey lurgy that’s hit our household in the past week or so, but along with the aches, sneezes and coughs has come some really productive time to think- when I was trapped under sleeping, poorly children, when I took over the job of taking the boy to his swimming lesson when my DH got sick and finally, when the bug got to me and I was so rotten with it I could barely knit (the horror!)
At the start of all this thinking time I realised that with the pace I was hurtling along at, I’d lost a bit of focus on what I wanted to be designing- and for whom. I ended up making a whole load of lists- of designs that had done well, of designs I enjoyed producing, of elements I enjoyed working with, of the sort of items I most like designing. I ended up with a sort of master list of what I should probably try to make my designs about- examples from the list include stranded colourwork, textured stitches, British wool, vintage influence, headwear and nothing finer than 4ply, amongst other things!
The most recent issue of Knit Now is a good example of where, even without the list, sticking to what I like best served me well. I had three designs included:
Bloomsbury e-reader and glasses cosies. It felt like such luxury to be working with seven different colours in a design, but using mini-skeins from Knitting Goddess kept it really affordable- I was so pleased with the rhythm and energy I think is created by the 30s inspired geometric design and different juxtapositions of colour. Stranded colourwork, indpendent dyers- both on my list!
Pemberley beret and handwarmer- this one was all about finding stitch textures that showed of the amazing lustre and deep colour of the Fyberspates Scrumptious DK. Relatively simple lace motifs mixed with stocking and garter stitch allows light to catch on the silkiness of the yarn from different angles, which reminds me of traditionally luxurious fabrics like brocade and velvet- perfect for a design inspired by country houses. Textured stitches- tick!
Mitford Scarflette. Here the stitch was really the star again. It allowed a fairly small amount of yarn- Lanas Stop Alpaca- to be turned into a pretty, textured and cosy scarf. The design also uses a keyhole to fasten – not shown in the picture- which means it can be styled with a definite vintage vibe.
As to future designs, enforced sofa time meant I also got down to some swatching (my poorly head could just about take a square’s worth of knitting). I had a lovely time trying some cabling with the lovely Artesano British Wool I’ve had waiting around in my stash for ages. A few false starts led to a satisfying result in colourwork using two shades of Rowan Felted Tweed. Enough with the thinking now- bring on the doing!
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.
Waste not want not in these frugal times! I wanted to use up some bits and pieces of sock yarn in a sweater for M (P’s sweater is still not finished, but since he doesn’t like any knitwear at the moment I’m not in any great hurry to be honest, plus I haven’t ordered the extra yarn I need). When I say bits and pieces, I mean that in the sense that there really wasn’t much of it. I made it a simple top-down number in my current favourite for baby knits, k3 p2 rib, and having made it just about long enough in the body, I was down to the scraps for sleeves. Hence these teeny weeny balls- two of each colour, so that I wouldn’t knit one sleeve longer than I could match with the other. In the event the sleeves ended up elbow, at a push bracelet length and the body…well let’s just say it’s more suited to a warm but not too bulky layer underneath dungarees. Still, I like the effect, it’s cosy and comfortable for it’s wearer and it didn’t cost a thing but time.
This is the first version of a sweater pattern I’ve devised for M. I’ve named it ‘Queen Bess’ due to the influence of Elizabethan fashions on the design- hence the ruff-style collar, puff sleeves and smocking. It was actually quite pleasingly simple to knit, despite its quite intricate looking finish, with a top-down construction where the only fiddle is expanding the smock stitch into the increases round the yoke. It also has the advantage of being cosy without being bulky, thanks to the k3 p2 rib it’s based on.
As I have the possibly over-ambitious plan of publishing the pattern on Ravelry I’m now having to do the maths to work out how to make it in at least two more sizes. To this end, I’m going to try out the next size up so that M can have it for next winter and rather than the usable but dull acrylic I found in my stash for the prototype, I’ve invested in some rather beautiful Dazzle DK from the Natural Dye Studio (colourway is ‘Wisteria’, a kind of pinky-purple and I got it here). British Blue Faced Leicester, dyed without heavy metals or other nasties. Yum! Yes it’s handwash and yes, it’s for a baby but following reassurances given by other online knitting mums, I’m going to go with the theory that its easy enough to swoosh a few handknits in the sink with wool wash every now and then, and that if its worth my care and attention to knit, its worth knitting it in nice yarn.
This somewhat solemn little chap is a small piece of a new beginning. Maybe a small piece of what will become something bigger. For quite some time my friend and I have talked about creating the sort of toddler group we’d like to take our littles to- less of the heaps of plastic toys and mothers sat around on chairs ignoring any newcomers, more natural materials, being in touch with the seasons and connecting families together. A lot like the Steiner playgroup we’ve been to, really. However, the Steiner group is a good hour and a half to drive to, a fact which has been increasingly hard to live with, both in terms of environmental conscience and, with rising fuel costs, budget. Our answer? To start up the group we want in our own living rooms- and once a month at the woodland recently bought by my friend’s mother. If all goes well, we’ll invite more families to join us and perhaps eventually find an official venue.
This, then, is ‘Pete’, our Steiner inspired story telling puppet. I hand-sewed him and filled him with wool, as this seemed to fit with the spirit of our enterprise. I haven’t hand-sewed anything much for years, and had forgotten how soothing it can be, providing the project is small enough.
If this idea is our indoors green shoots, then there are plenty of real green shoots in the outdoors. We’ve had a blessing of February sunshine today, inspiring us to go out to the woods. Trembling snowdrops somehow managed to avoid the stomp of muddy wellies and the leaf litter was peppered with tiny green spikes of promise- Spring is on the way!
How can someone with so many packing boxes marked ‘craft stuff’ (no, they still aren’t unpacked yet, but the day is getting closer), of which at least 50% is yarn stash, keep running out? Having more or less conquered the body of the long running saga that is the Pirate Sweater, I’ve now run out of Rowan British Breeds BFL before I’ve finished the sleeves or the pocket edgings or the hood (this last may be an optional extra, haven’t decided yet).
While I was deciding where to get more I thought I’d start on another idea for a child’s sweater design I’d had. Hmmm, seem to remember posting a couple of weeks back that this year I was going to concentrate on making things for the home rather than clothes- oops! Anyway, this sweater is going to be for M and is already christened ‘Little Queen Bess’ for it’s Elizabeth I influences- a frilled, ruff-like collar, smocked upper body and puffed sleeves. As I was just trying out the idea before finding some nice, preferably British produced, DK yarn to make the proper version, I picked up a ball of what I’m fairly sure is acrylic yarn from my stash. I thought there would be enough, but surprise, suprise, I got to the arms and found myself knitting slower and slower as the ball dwindled to nothing. I burrowed through the packing boxes and found all sorts of cream coloured yarn, which was all either too yellowy or too white. Eventually I realised that the yarn was leftover from some teacosies I’d made, including one that hadn’t sold in the Folksy shop and so had found it’s way into our kitchen….Yes, that’s right, I’m unravelling the teacosy to complete the sweater, having to avoid the tea-stained sections where necessary. Such is the lot of the cash-strapped knitter!
I’ve been totally preoccupied with possible nursery schools and wallpapering this week, with a background soundtrack of money worries. However, in the longer term plan, this year I really want to improve my sewing skills. I must have advertised this fact at least a couple of times, as my Nana-in-law very kindly bought me this cute sewing basket for my birthday (no more stuffing spare machine needles etc. in an old cardboard box), while my brother and his partner got me what they describe as ‘The Ferrari of sewing scissors’ (her mum teaches sewing, so no doubt they are). So I’m tooled up, but what about the projects?
Patterns from Oliver & S have been on my covet list for a long, long time but I’d never quite committed to buying. Then just after Christmas we sold some stuff we no longer needed on eBay and therefore had some money in the PayPal account…and Oliver and S did a lovely ’20% off during January’ offer…so welcome to my stash Music Box Jumper (that’s a pinafore dress for us Brits), Music Lesson Skirt and Blouse and Sketchbook Shorts and Shirt.
The reason for this selection is two-fold. Firstly, they range from what Oliver and S deem easy to medium in terms of how much sewing experience is needed. So in theory, if I work from the easier to the harder patterns I’ll increase my skills-base. Secondly, as I mentioned earlier in the post, the subject of nursery schools is on the horizon, which will mean school uniforms. The idea of P wearing cheap store-bought stuff doesn’t really appeal as
a. He has sensitive, eczema-prone skin
b. We try to avoid cheap, sweatshop produced clothing if possible, but don’t have a lot of money to back up our ethics.
c. He’s going to be at school five mornings a week. Then more the following year. So if I make clothes for him to wear the rest of the time then why not for school time too? A bit of mummy-love to take with him on this big step towards independence.
I’m hoping, then, that I can make the Sketchbook shorts in a long-trousered version for school uniform and with any luck will manage shirts by the end of summer when he’s due to start. Looking to the future, the girl’s patterns will be lovely for when M starts, just need to get a summer dress pattern to do in gingham- I like this one and fortunately I have a few years to acquire the necessary sewing ability before she’ll need it.
It’s not even a year since I completed this sweater from some yarn left over from a different project. It got a good lot of wear until the warmer weather, not to mention a bit of abuse when P, teenager style, pushed his thumb through one of the sleeves just below the cuff. Going through yet another as-yet-unpacked box the other day, searching in vain for lost Christmas stockings, I found it, along with the remains of the leftover yarn. I wasn’t quite ready to give up seeing him wearing it, since it had turned out to be one of those charmed unplanned projects that turn out really well, so I decided it was time for a bit of ‘make do and mend’- something quite refreshing in this season of spending and excess.
When I originally made this sweater, the difficulties of measuring a wriggly toddler meant I made the body and arms too short. I discovered this fact after I’d finished it and tried it on him, but then also discovered that the advantage of ‘top down’ sweaters is that you can undo the bottom edges, pick up the stitches and add some more. This came to mind when I found that P has grown a good few inches in arms and body over the summer, so I needed the sweater to ‘grow’ with him this season.
Here you can see the hole where P had stuck his thumb through the sleeve.
I inserted a circular needle into an unbroken row of stitches below the hole, then frogged the sleeve down to that point.
Then it was just a case of joining in the new yarn and adding a few more stripes and a new ribbed border.
Hole mended and inches added, it should last another season at least. Wonder how many years I can get away with it?!?