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.
It’s not often that a design springs into your head, fully formed and ready to go. For me, its usually more a case of dreaming up the general gist, then refining with swatches, sketches and general tinkering to get things how I want them. In the case of Spirograph it was much simpler.I got an email from Kate at Knit Now about coming up with a design for the summer festival idea using Brown Sheep Cotton Fleece and immediately sketched something on the back of an old receipt or something similar that I had to hand. If I could find that original sketch, with notes like “slanting eyelets spiral round” and “narrows to hug crown of head”, you’d see that what I sketched was exactly what I made.
Publishing lead times being what they are, when I was thinking about this, summer was a bit of a distant dream. As a result, when I decided I wanted to try out making a version for myself, I used Manos del Uraguay Silk Blend and used more pattern repeats for a deeper, ‘lidless hat’, destined more for chilly tramps in the Lake District than chilled out festival nights. It must say something that I’ve worn it regularly since early Spring, through the summer and even more in these autumn days.
The magazine version, in the Cotton Fleece, was a little narrower for more of a summery, hairband feel. I think this is one of the strengths of this design, as it’s pretty easy to adapt to your own tastes or yarn choices- as demonstrated in a certain well-known designer’s version here. (Yes, that is one of my knitting designer-heroes making and blogging about my design and yes, I did nearly wet myself with excitement when I knew about it.)
The pattern is now available as an individual download through my Ravelry shop, with instructions included for both the shorter and longer versions.
Okay, okay, better late than never with this one. It’s been a wee while since the wonderland of sheepiness that is Woolfest packed up for another year and here’s me only just getting around to writing about it. Even so, I think it’s more than worth a mention and a sharing of stash photos- apologies for the quality of these, by the way. Lack of natural light and time has not been kind…
What made this Woolfest special this year was actually the very fact of me being there. Not because of the horrendous weather, although that did give us pause for thought, or because of the complicated childcare arrangements or even my chronic car-sickness. No, for me it was surprising to be there because a year ago, when it was my first opportunity to go for a couple of years, I found I’d lost my knitting mojo and couldn’t actually be bothered. This was probably symptomatic of a lot of other stuff that was going on or indeed not going on at the time, draining my confidence and my energy for getting out into the world. Then I started work on a cushion called ‘Make Do and Mend‘, saw a subs call for a then yet – to- launch magazine called ‘Knit Now‘ and all of a sudden a year had passed and I was going to Woolfest to meet up with people who’d given me yarn support, chat to other designers, say hello to the editor who’d given me commissions and even give out business cards.
Like many, I found the whole scale of the event (it must be three times the floor space it was the last time I went) pretty overwhelming at first and after a cup of tea I needed to get down to earth by meeting some familiar faces (familiar from email contact at least!). Victoria from Eden Cottage had a stall full of scrumptiousness and I was very proud to see my Treacle Toffee mitts on display there, joined by my ‘Starry, Starry Night‘ stole when Kate Heppell from Knit Now arrived with a suitcase full of samples to return. Despite the rain, the place was buzzing with fibre fanatics, but I also managed a quick ‘hello’ to Loraine from Woolly Madly Deeply in the midst of the madding crowd.
In addition to visiting a lot of Alpaca stalls (my friend and driver for the day was a convert as soon as she squidged her first bundle of baby alpaca fibre and would probably have squeezed a live one into her car if she thought she could get away with it) I had a couple of star-struck moments meeting designer heroes Susan Crawford and Kate Davies and also did a (fairly restrained) amount of shopping. I was also very proud to see a ‘Make Do and Mend’ at the Woolsack stand, ready to be gifted to an Olympic athlete
My haul included four balls of natural fleece coloured pure Shetland Wool from Ruth Strong, whose stall was part of the Wool Clip section. It’s beautifully soft but its colour, warmth and robustness make it perfect for the project I have in mind- a hat and scarf set for my Dad where the watch words need to be ‘understated’ and ‘masculine’. I hope to share some WIP pictures here soon.
As well as giving me an excuse to chat to the lady herself, I visited Susan Crawford’s stand to acquire a whole garment’s worth of yarn. I love using British yarn whenever possible and have been looking at what’s on offer from John Arbon Textiles for some time, in particular the vintage shades of Excelana. However, feeling that the colours probably weren’t shown to their best effect on the website, I was really excited to look at them in real life- it’s one of the best things about going to shows like Woolfest, seeing so much of so many ranges in one place, something even the best wool shops just can’t offer. Anyway, if you’re considering Excelana, go for it! The colours are beautiful, soft vintage shades that just cry out to be combined as they tone so well together. That said, I’ve only bought one colour- cornflower blue- which is pegged for a proper, big, ‘hard maths’ project this summer which will be mainly for me and possibly for a wider audience!
Last but not least let me introduce my new pet:
Okay, not really. But since all I do at the moment is stroke and cuddle it, it might as well be! This was my ‘off list’ purchase- the inspiration skein. With the other two lots of yarn, I came with specific ideas about weights, colours and what they were going to be- it’s how I tend to shop for yarn as I’m not much of a stash fiend. However, the last time I bought a skein of yarn just because I loved the colour and feel of it, it ended up as ‘Spirograph‘, which popped into my head more or less a fully formed idea. With that in mind, I allowed myself to buy this vivid pink, stupendously soft Fyberspates Scrumptious DK/Worsted just because I fell in love with it. My hope is at some point an idea for what to do with it will pop into my head.
While I wait for inspiration to strike, don’t be fooled into thinking my needles are still. There’s a lot of Shetland love going on, some serious texture and a fair bit of colourwork- not all on the same project I should add! One year on from losing my knitting mojo, I think I can safely say it’s back with a vengeance.
Hey everyone, look at my Sheep Heid! Ooh, yes, I’m happy with this one. It’s no surprise really that Kate Davies comes up with the goods yet again with this design- it’s not as if I’m the only one who loves Owls and Manu after all. However, it still deserves to be said that she writes a damn good pattern- not just a pleasing design, but she manages to make the prospect of quite a large chunk of fairisle in 9 (!) shades of yarn not nearly so daunting with her mix of clear, well written instructions alongside touches of her own personality and humour.
The nine ‘sheepy’ shades of Jamieson & Smith yarn used were definitely part of the joy of this project. It seemed so right to be using the yarn that’s produced in the same place that the knitting style sprang from and developed. Everything from the names of the colours- gaulmogot, katmollet, mooskit, shaela, sholmit, moorit, moglet- to the springy, textured feel of the yarn made me feel connected to Shetland and its generations of craftspeople somehow, even though I’ve not been there- yet!
This wasn’t the first time I’d tackled fairisle- witness my Fyne Vest from a few years back. However, this was my first time doing it in the round- arguably the way you’re ‘meant’ to do fairisle. I did find that knitting stranded colourwork in this way felt a lot easier. For a start you can see what you’re doing all the time, rather than having the back of the work facing you on wrong side rows. It’s also easier to keep tension even- the challenge in all such colourwork projects. The other factor that improved my tensioning was using the ‘two handed’ method, where you hold one colour in the right hand and ‘throwing’ it when you knit that colour, while holding the other colour in the left hand and ‘picking’ it when you knit that colour. It didn’t feel in any way natural at first, but I found I built up speed quite quickly, and as you can see from this view of the wrong side of the work, it produces a pretty neat result.
I may have successfully got to grips with two-handed colour, but it wasn’t all plain sailing. Work went on while two small children swarmed around me, while I was a passenger in a car negotiating snowy motorways and while I was recovering from a 24 hour bug, amongst other things. However, none of those were necessarily the reason why I seemed to have to go back and frog an inordinate amount of times. Sometimes it was because I started in a wrong but very similar colour- even though I carefully made a reference sheet with scraps of each yarn matched to the colour key beforehand. Sometimes it was down to good old-fashioned miscounting the stitches, other times, who knows? On all but one occasion I went back and sorted it – the ‘stickiness’ of Shetland yarn and the use of nine different colours of yarn loses its appeal somewhat when attempting this- but when I finished the band of ewes for (I think) the third time and realised that one sheep had only half a face (see pic above, it’s the one in the middle) I decided to just leave it. I could have Swiss-darned it afterwards but in the end I’ve decided it’s my own unique little stamp on it, so it stays.
There’s a lot to love about this hat design, but one of my favourite things is the colour gradations at the crown. They really show off the beautiful colours of the yarn and the beautiful rhythm of the pattern, as this shot (right) shows.
With all the colour changes and a slight problem I had keeping the beginning of rounds even, this was a project where washing and blocking performed a particular magic. Kate Davies recommends soaking the finished tam in warm soapy water for 20 minutes before shaping, to allow the fibres to plump up and even out. It made a big difference- it was on my head more or less as soon as it dried and has been helping keep me cosy on every cold day since. Those shetland sheep know a thing or two about keeping warm!