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…
This is a a story of indulging in (almost) instant knitting gratification. I’m hard at work at the moment on an exciting project, using gorgeous yarns, that I can’t share anything about just yet. Since it involves a garment (gasp! Not an accessory!) there’s obviously quite a lot of knitting without seeing finished results. In addition I’ve been learning about, and experimenting with, short row shaping. My starting point was this free Craftsy course from Carol Feller and although I’ve decided it’s not the thing for the design I’m working on, I’ve definitely learned (and frogged, but in a productive kind of way) a lot. Pleasing though all this is, last week I felt an urge for a quick, fun and colourful knit.
Ah, the joys and financial dangers of the internet! After a quick twitter conversation with fellow yarny types regarding where I could find hand-dyed, preferably British, superwash wool I ended up ordering (among other things) this fantastically rainbow coloured merino DK from Moonlight Yarns. I’m pretty sure I ordered at some point in the afternoon so you can imagine my surprise and delight when it turned up in the post the very next day.
A quick whizz with the yarn swift then- I’ll never regret the day I bought that- and onto the needles for a Milo. If you knit for babies, especially for parents of a slightly hippy persuasion, then this is definitely one to have in your library. Written by Georgie Hallam of Tikki Knits, who has some great kids designs, it’s really well put together- easy to follow, neat and works just as it should, in a range of sizes. It’s so useful for popping over simple babygros, giving an extra layer of warmth round little tummies but leaving the arms free. An easy, quick knit, it also makes for a bit of a change from the normal choices of gift knits for babies.
The pattern gives a number of options for the cable decoration running down the front. At one point I considered leaving the detail out altogether, given the frequent colour changes in the yarn. However, in the end I went for the horseshoe cables and actually I rather like the way they look in rainbow stripes.
I don’t actually use multi-colour or self-striping yarns very often, but when I do I enjoy watching new colours pass through my fingers every few rows or stitches and then seeing how they work together. In this case, the effect on the mitred neckline where colours clashed together in the garter stitch rows was quite psychedelic. Then under the arms I ended up with colour pooling that formed diagonal rainbow stripes running all the way round…
…Finally, on the body of the sweater there was the serendipity of stitch count and colour runs leading to near-perfect rainbow stripes, so that stitches that were red on one row met orange yarn for the next row, then yellow the next etc., right through to the gloriously intense violet. Having ever-so-slightly OCD tendencies this made me VERY HAPPY.
The whole thing was done and dusted in an afternoon and evening- only just over 24 hours from ordering the yarn to blocking the finished result. At some point I’ll use the last of the skein to make a matching hat I think, but for now it’s back to work
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.
It seems like a long time since summer and the projects I was working on back then. Getting design work usually means that I can’t really share much of what’s in my workbasket at the time, but have to wait until patterns launch. The waiting is over with these though- so I’m proud to present my designs for the new Manos Silk Blend Fino: the Eloise head wrap and Genevieve mitts.
As I mentioned in my ‘Work in Progress’ post, this lovely silk/wool blend yarn is, as a 4ply, quite a bit finer than I’d usually work with. However, if anything was going to convert me, it would be Fino. Like most silk blends it has a gorgeous sheen that works really well with textured designs- hence my choice of lace patterns for these designs (gosh, I paid for that choice at tech-editing stage with the shaping on the mitts, though!). As far as working with it, I had no complaints as it feels so smooth and soft both during and after knitting and I had no problems with splitting, which can be an issue with single ply yarns.Then of course there are the colours- ooooooh, the colours! The range, which is newly launched this autumn, includes solid and variegated shades and the five that I’ve seen in real life have all been rich and lustrous.
Both my designs- which form part of the Manos Silk Blend Fino Book 1 by Artesano- can be made from a single skein of the yarn. They use pretty but fairly easy to master lace designs and both being knitted flat, they’re fairly accessible even for relatively inexperienced knitters.
Eloise continues my interest in the head-wrap/ head band concept. I first experimented with this idea when I made my Spirograph head band, which was originally conceived as a hat without a lid, enabling me to wear my hair in a top-knot without the ‘baked bean head’ effect when I wore a hat over it. Eloise differs in that it’s knitted flat, with a ‘keyhole’ at one end so that the wearer can loop the end back through and button it. This both ensures a good fit and forms a decorative effect as the wrap fans out through the keyhole.
For me, the Genevieve mitts are all about the buttons. The mitts are shaped around the thumb and the buttons hold them together along the inside of the wrists and above the thumb. Rather than buttonholes I opted for an applied i-cord edging incorporating button-loops, a little homage to my fave designer, Kate Davies, and her Manu cardigan. Delicate but warm in this yarn, I think that the choice of colour and buttons would lend itself to a lot of variation, depending on the way they were to be worn. I made a version in a variegated pink/red with silver swirly patterned buttons and another in a plain olive green with plainer copper buttons and the effect was really different from one pair to the other.
More of my summer projects are in the pipeline as I write- with a certain Holla Knits imminent- so watch this space!
Issue 12 of Knit Now magazine is in the shops this Thursday, which means that for the first time in a while I can write about a finished item, rather than works in progress- hurrah! These are my ‘Royal Oak’ cushions and as they’ve been quite a long time in the development it’s great to see them out there in the wild at last.
The origins of the textured patterns were in this acorn motif. Developed for a still yet-to-be released project, it uses a combination of simple cabling, moss and knit stitches. It occurred to me that if the motif were to be repeated over a larger space such as a cushion cover, it would create a different effect.
The result reminds me of different things- sometimes the sort of multiple arched windows you see in cathedrals, sometimes honeycomb. I’d love to see the design made up in different colours too- I think natural ‘sheep’ shades would give a different effect again, bringing the texture even more to the fore.
Colour and yarn turned out to be quite a factor in this project. When I originally envisioned the cushions, I thought of them in earthy natural greens or browns. However, working with Knit Now on finding a yarn that had the crisp stitch definition needed, but that made this a reasonably priced project, proved quite a challenge. In the end we decided on Adriafil Stella Alpina (mine was supplied by Purl City Yarns)and, looking at all the colours available, these seemed the best for a slightly vintage, autumnal feel. The stitch definition on this yarn is beautifully crisp and for an affordable wool yarn, it has a lovely feel and depth of colour.
Further development on this pattern included the addition of an oak leaf motif to make a complimentary pair with the acorn. I used a series of single cables to achieve the curves of the leaf edge and oh! the headaches I had over perfecting and charting it, even though it’s not a particularly difficult design to actually knit.
I also tried using a circular method to knit these cushions, beginning with a seamless cast on and working across the patterned front and stocking stitch back simultaneously. I loved doing it this way, as rather than having a great big square of dull stocking stitch to plough through, you get half a round of chart following, then a whizz across the back and the project seems to grow in no time. The fact that there’s no seaming is another bonus- but I’m aware that for some that would be a problem. I’ve heard interesting debates between designers about seamed versus no-seams garments, with one side arguing in favour of the structure and stability provided by seams and the other preferring the ease and clean finish of seamless items. I can therefore understand that for some knitters, seams would be preferable on a cushion to keep its shape, so for that reason there are instructions included for a knit-flat version.
I know I’m biased, but I do think that the collection of patterns in this issue of Knit Now is a real class act (see them here on Ravelry) and urge you to go and check them out!
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!
>After all the late night knitting to get ‘Make Do and Mend’ finished and posted to deadline, a huge amount of washing so that for once we didn’t go on holiday with bags full of damp clothes to be dried once we arrive and usual craziness of getting our little family on the road, we had a more-or-less blissful week in Lyme Regis with beloved parents/grandparents and my sister.
The sun shone (mostly), the views were like a children’s story book, much sand was dug, much ice-cream eaten and a good time was had by all.
I did manage to find a fossil on Charmouth beach, a tiny ammonite which I packed somewhere safe that I now can’t recall (no, I haven’t got around to unpacking everything yet!) and as always found that profound sense of peace and happiness that comes from being on the shore. It never ceases to amaze me how nature puts together colours in a way that we can never really reproduce, like these beautifully smooth stones.
However, all those natural colours haven’t completely won me over and my quest for colour continues. I know I should have brought back something local, but a shop called ‘Siciliana’ in Lyme Regis caught my eye- I wonder why?! The owner sources and imports ceramics from a number of family producers in Sicily and his shop is a mouthwatering feast of colour. This little jug and bowl are destined to be a toothbrush holder and soapdish in the colour-saturated bathroom I’m planning. We can’t afford a complete re-do, so I’m thinking that the absence of cool, sophisticated newness is a good excuse for crazy, mismatched loveliness. Just add that project to the endless list…
Long journeys (including the trip back, all seven hours of it, in the cab of the transporter with our car on the back, said car having conked out on day 2, eek!) and leisurely evenings as our salt-crusted children slept off their days of running about on the sand meant that I really got cracking on some knitting. After all the itty-bitty work with DK the other week, it was lovely to get back to Artesano Aran and Manos Del Uraguay Wool Clasica, chunkier needles and quicker growth. I finished the vibrant blue/purple Artesano project and, despite patchy reception for recieving emails on my phone, recieved yet more exciting news about the design. Once again, watch this space. Big Queen Bess, the Manos project, is going really well too. Not only am I onto sleeves, but I’ve tried it on once or twice (and had to be helped out of it by willing, and laughing, volunteers so that I didn’t drop all the stitches from the circular needle that was still in it) and I’m pleased with how it looks. Best of all, given my previous record, I actually think I’ve ordered enough wool to finish the project! I almost don’t dare say it, but I think I’ll be able to finish it without desperate shout outs on Ravelry for the last few metres to finish a sleeve. Wonders will never cease. Hopefully pics will follow soon.