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.
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
You win some, you lose some. The cherubic (and dare I say photogenic) boy you see wearing my ‘Coniston’ sweater in the pic at the top of this page is my son. How fortunate, you might think, to be a knitting designer blessed with a ready-made model. Think again. This child has been known to choose shorts and (reluctantly) a t-shirt as his attire even in the depths of winter. He runs hot. In addition, if he thinks it’s a handknit, especially a mummy-made handknit, he won’t touch it with a barge pole. Coniston was designed especially for him, in non-itchy recycled yarn, with a hood because he likes them and a wide neck for his large noggin. Other than the day I bribed him with chocolate to take this photo, he’s worn it maybe half a dozen times if I’m lucky, and even then under extreme protest.
Even my boy with his penguin-like abilities to withstand cold sometimes gets cold hands, however, and it was making me feel bad as a mother, let alone a knitting mother, that he didn’t have a decent pair of mittens. Not so bad that I would spend my time making something he wouldn’t wear though, so a design conference was called. I can’t really recall who came up with what aspect of the design, but we decided that if I could make something that was easy to get on, like a mitten, but had a bit more finger-moving ability, like the ‘lobster claw’ gloves he’s seen his Daddy wear for bike riding, he might just wear them. Furthermore, if they made his hands look like monster claws, then the chances of him wearing them went up even more. This is how the ‘Dragon’ part of the ‘St George & The Dragon‘ set was born.
When I decided to see whether Knit Now might be interested in our idea, it was a natural step to come up with a hat to go with the gloves. Knowing that my boy’s tastes usually run to the simple, rather than the ‘full on dragon’s head’ complicated, I thought that a beanie replicating a knight’s helmet was the way to go. With a simple cross of reverse stocking stitch on stocking stitch, it’s easy enough for even a beginner.
The design appears in Knit Now’s Best of British issue, which I’m delighted about. I’ve become more and more drawn to using British-produced yarns in recent years, for reasons including environmental considerations, a desire to support this ancient industry that’s part of our heritage and, selfishly, the sense of integrity and linking to the past that I feel when I’m using them. For this project I got to try out Woolyknit Aran. Woolyknit yarns were a new one on me but I suspect this won’t the be the last time I use them. The quality of colour and soft, springy feel were lovely to work with and the finished items blocked to a quality-looking finish. Furthermore, they aren’t bank-breakingly expensive, a factor that can lead some people away from buying British or buying wool.
So, the question is, will my reluctant little model wear them? Hmmm…the jury is still out. The gloves have had a few outings, but since they knit up so quickly in the aran, I don’t mind too much if they end up being passed down without much wear to his little sister. Now, there’s a much more willing knitwear model (she is particularly attached to a textured beanie made by her great-grandmother)- if I could only get her to stay still for pictures….
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!
There are so many sensible things you could do if you find yourself with a bit of a windfall, thanks to pattern sales of a certain design being lots more than expected. Taking your husband for a pre-Valentine’s, no kids trip to Edinburgh is not necessarily the most sensible, but I’m so glad that was what I chose. We had a precious couple of days of everything from brilliant winter sunshine to snow, eating delicious food uninterrupted and at a leisurely pace, wandering around galleries (including the brilliant Wilhelmina Barns-Graham exhibition at the City Art Centre) and knitting. Of course knitting.
Although it doesn’t really look like it in the picture, this is in fact Woolly Wormhead’s Runway hat from Knit Now Issue 14. I actually started it before Christmas using some stashed Manos del Uraguay Fino, and it was making slow but pretty progress when it got shelved in favour of other things. A snow-laced train journey North and an afternoon lounging in front of ‘Man vs Food’ (I know! But it is weirdly addictive) and I had a hat. I’m a known fan of strong colours, but having somehow packed a wardrobe of monochrome clothes I loved this bright accessory even more, providing as it did a zinging counterpoint to the February grey.
This is the start of an exciting week for me, as I’m hoping to release not one, not two, but three new designs!
All three designs have been developed using Eden Cottage Yarns’ Bowland DK, which you can discover more about here. It’s the result of my ongoing collaboration with Victoria at Eden Cottage, hence the samples of the new designs are due to be displayed on her stand at Harrogate Knitting and Stitching Show.
‘Acorn’, shown here, takes a motif I’m fond of (you can see it in a different incarnation here) and puts it around a slouchy beanie hat and on the back of some neat little mitts. The charted design simple but satisfying to achieve and felt, as I went through the development process, perfectly suited to the colourway used: Autumn. There are so many rich warm shades in this yarn and of course, being a hand-dye, every batch is different, therefore every version of this hat and mitts will be unique.
Acorn is available from today in my Ravelry shop, with the printed version also going on sale on the Eden Cottage stand at Harrogate.
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.
…or how sometimes what seems like the worst thing can turn out for the best.
My working relationship with Victoria at Eden Cottage Yarns began not long after I started designing. When Knit Now asked its designers to come up with patterns for their ‘Marvelous Mittens’ campaign I submitted Treacle Toffee and, having seen Eden Cottage Yarns featured in a magazine, I asked if I could use some for my design. I loved it so much that I kept checking back to see what other colourways Victoria was dreaming up. When ‘Purple Iris’ came along, I immediately knew I wanted to design with it, and Starry, Starry Night was the result.
One of the many things I like about this yarn company is that a lot of the wool is not only dyed locally (in the same county I live in) but also sourced locally, from sheep reared in the Bowland Forest, just a little way further east. When Victoria said she was looking for pattern support for her lovely Bowland DK yarn, then, it was no surprise that I jumped at the chance.
So…I swatched on my holiday. I sketched my ideas for a pair of cardigans and spent a lovely hour or so with Victoria when she did a trunk show in Manchester’s Purl City Yarns, choosing the perfect colour combinations. I signed up to Rock & Purl’s Grading Course to make sure I’d get the sizes and pattern writing spot on. I was all on track to get going when…I got a Christmas catalogue from one of my favourite clothing companies, People Tree. Flicking through it I was dismayed to find something that looked remarkably like my cardigan design in their range.
I was gutted, frankly, but it was just one of those things. Supportive designer friends told me that there were enough differences between the two to save me from any accusations of breaching copyright. They suggested that I could make some small changes to differentiate it even more, but the fact was, I couldn’t face the thought that I could release a design and someone could say ‘She’s just copied that from People Tree’. In addition, I didn’t feel I had either the time or the heart to make big design changes.
There was nothing for it but to have a rethink. I went back to the start, swatched again and rediscovered what I loved about the yarn. Instead of cardigans (I’m off cardigans for a while!) I’m looking at a collection of retro inspired accessories- back to what I know well, eh? I’m aiming for lots of texture and a little colourwork to work in harmony with Victoria’s lovely colours.
What’s strange but wonderful is that actually, it’s working much better than I expected. It’s maybe even working better than the blessed cardigans would have done. Apart from being on a bit of a downbeat, timewise (we’re hoping for a release date of late November) it feels so natural to be making these designs, as if they’re what the yarns want to be. Serendipity, I’d say.
On the subject of accessories, Coco Chanel is said to have advised that before leaving the house, one should take off whatever was the last item you put on. Now, it’s not everyone who’s a follower of her pared-down aesthetic, but I think we can all learn something from the doyenne of style’s less-is-more mantra.
Take knitting techniques. I never cease to be amazed by the sheer number of fancy stitches and techniques out there. Seriously, a glance through Ravelry project pages can show you tricks with yarn and sticks that seem to defy nature and the laws of physics. I am full of admiration for knitters and designers who can do that stuff, but I do have a little worry that sometimes when a whole garment screams “LOOK AT MY CLEVER KNITTING” it can come across as a little bit try-hard. A wee bit self-conscious in proclaiming the highly skilled, handmade credentials that say this is absolutely not a shop-bought article. The Chanel-influenced part of me wants to whisper “tone it down a little”.
This is the joy of knitted accessories as far as I’m concerned. A small but perfectly formed canvas, you can make them in a luxury yarn without breaking the bank and pepper them with stitchy wizardry without it getting over the top. A fancy-pants handmade accessory worn with a simple outfit quietly asserts your originality and skill but will never end up wearing you.
The point of this little sermon was to highlight the gorgeous techniques that make the items in the Holla Knits Accessories collection so worth you getting your needles warmed up.
Take the beading on Teresa Gregorio’s Knight Service. On an all-over garment not only might you go mad with all the bead threading, but you’d also risk getting a bit too pretty-pretty. On this shrug with its major shoulder shaping it looks fierce and urban on top of the pretty, and totally luxe to boot.
Then there’s the super-smooth colourwork on Katie Canavan’s Scallop of the Sea bag- so elegantly modern retro!
There’s more amazing colourwork (and colour choices) on Emma Welford’s Wallpaper Cowl, but what makes this one for me is the Latvian braid. A traditional technique (though a new one on me until I saw the project-in-development pictures) in beautifully harmonised shades it takes the finishing on this design to another level.
My contribution to the collection, the Snowball Bonnet, challenges you to dust off that old favourite of knits for grandchildren in the 60s and 70s: loop stitch. I’m going to write a little more about that one when the Holla Knits Accessories Blog Tour hits these pages on October 16th- details below.
Meanwhile, I strongly urge you to check out the full collection at Holla Knits.com. You’ll surely find at least one design to beguile you with its wit and originality.
As I mentioned, the lovely Allyson at Holla Knits has organised a blog tour to launch this collection. It’s going to be packed full of giveaways, so be sure to give it a follow. You’ll notice that the Audrey’s Teashop stop has a yarn and pattern giveaway- I’m delighted to say that this is going to involve yarny prizes for not one but two lucky winners! Here are those all-important dates and places.
October 8: The Sweatshop of Love – collection and pattern giveaway
October 9: Under the Red Umbrella – Subscriber exclusive KP yarn giveaway, pattern giveaway
October 10: Rohn Strong – pattern giveaway
October 11: Emma Welford Designs – pattern giveaway
October 12: Knits in Class – Subscriber exclusive yarn giveaway / pattern giveaway
October 15: Bumblebirch Designs – pattern giveaway
October 16: Audrey’s Teashop – pattern and yarn giveaway
October 17: Gynx – pattern giveaway
October 18: Adaly Myles Place – pattern giveaway
October 19: Canary Knits – Subscriber exclusive yarn giveaway, pattern giveaway
October 22: Webs Yarn Store Blog - yarn giveaway
October 23: The Sweatshop of Love Hosts Homestead Heirlooms! – subscriber exclusive purse kit giveaway
October 24: Knitted Bliss – pattern giveaway
October 25: Stash, the Knit Picks Staff Blog
October 26: Holla Knits hosts Tara Shade! – Subscriber exclusive yarn giveaway, pattern giveaway