It’s a bit like harvest time for me at the moment. I spent the summer and early autumn knitting and pattern writing like a demon for various commissions. Now I’m in a bit of a lull but all that work is seeing the light of day in print at last. I’ve already mentioned the Wyandotte beret and mitts set in this month’s Knit Now magazine, but also in this issue is my first ever collection. It feels pretty special to be asked to put together a whole collection of patterns and this one was right up my street- Christmas knits in traditional colours and British yarns.
I know, I know, it feels very early to be thinking about Christmas and I groan along with the rest of you when the first ‘Seasonal’ ads come on the telly when it feels like we’ve barely packed the flipflops away from summer. However, anyone who has ever aimed for a knitted Christmas will know that you have to start early in order to sail into December with a drawer full of Yuletide delights all ready to go, rather than curse your way through Christmas Eve as you try to avoid wrapping that handmade gift with the needles still in it.
The collection includes a number of gift ideas and also some decorations. Although the July heatwave wasn’t the best time to appreciate them, the yarns I used were a wonderful tour of some of the best yarns these isles have to offer. Soft, squishy and gratifyingly quick to knit up were Erika Knight’s Maxi Wool and Fur Wool, used for the children’s Elf Hat, and Artesano’s British Wool, which I’ve been hankering after designing with since it’s launch last year. I used the latter for another hat, Snowdrift, which was probably the item I least wanted to send away to be photographed. It has bands of moss stitch (I love moss stitch) and is an easy evening’s knitting. Both these hats end up chunky and cosy but not too heavy.
From those very modern British yarns I moved onto two with a much longer heritage- Jamieson & Smith Shetland Aran for the plaited wreath shown above and Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift for the Trees and Bows Garland. I’ve raved enough before about the integrity and magical blocking qualities of Shetland yarn, but suffice to say I’m really looking forward to decorating my home with these for many Christmases to come. They take a little more time to make, but the elements of the garland are good little portable projects to build up over time while the tubes for the wreath are perfect for mindless, telly-watching knitting.
Also included in the collection are the super-cute (in my opinion) jam jar tealight covers in West Yorkshire Spinners DK. Really quick to knit, using either stranded colourwork or swiss darning for the lettering, they look so pretty with a candle lit inside. Finally for a bit of indulgence, I designed these slouch socks using yarn from another of my favourites, Eden Cottage Yarns. These use the Silky DK in a beautiful forest green colour. Simply made, without heel shaping to worry about, they are meant for slobbing out in front of a Christmas film, feasting on selection box chocolates and leftovers.
Meanwhile, further along the magazine stand…squeal! I’ve fulfilled an ambition to be part of Crafty magazine. I have to admit it, I’m a bit of a sucker for blogger style photography, matt card covers and a geek chic aesthetic, so Crafty had me at hello. Obviously, I love making my regular contributions to Knit Now, but this was a different sort of assignment. The waffle stitch ‘boyfriend’ sweater I was asked to design for them is much simpler than many of my other patterns, since this is a magazine for all sorts of crafts rather than a dedicated knitting title. Using Erika Knight’s Maxi wool means it really would knit up very quickly, even in inexperienced hands. When I was making the sample, so many people commented on how lovely the ‘Artisan’ green yarn used for the lower section was- pics probably don’t do it justice but if you like a true olive green (think those big fat Greek ones) it’s probably worth the investment in this rather luxurious yarn.
As for what I’m up to just now, well I have several designs that I need to bring to publication myself on Ravelry if I can find some quality brain time in amongst all the other stuff. I’m mulling some ideas for submissions and need to do some swatching. What’s actually on my needles is this little scarf for M. The Knitting Goddess yarn she selected at Yarndale has already yielded the requested beanie and it turns out there should be enough for a matching scarf too. She’s quite the little taskmaster, bringing my knitting to me whenever I sit down for a second and demanding updates on when it will be ready. It reminds me of when I was little and my mum would sew at night time. Each morning I’d run downstairs to see what progress had been made on my new dress or doll. I rather like the way that pattern is repeating itself.
I think that’s about all there is to catch up with here- what’s new with you?
There were many things I should have been doing this weekend other than going to a new yarn festival. Our kitchen is nearly completed but the newly plastered walls need painting and the gorgeous wooden worktops need oiling. I’m still dealing with a minor disaster involving a deadline and a sample I thought was fine until I came to finishing it and found it really wasn’t and needed redoing (I should be be knitting now, for goodness sake). The usual heap of school preparation work. The house that is an utter tip. I had quite decided and stated on various online media that I was not going to Yarndale because I needed time and space. Then I woke up on Saturday morning, looked at our tip of a house, looked at various ‘please come!’ messages from yarny friends and thought ‘sod it’. Following her ballet and tap class, little M and I set off.
Yarndale counts as being fairly local to us. As our town is often described as being at the end of the longest cul-de-sac in Britain any journey usually begins with the 45 minute trek to the motorway. Even Woolfest, in the same county, is a good two hours away. Skipton, where Yarnfest was held, runs the splendour of the Lake District pretty close for a spectacular drive in. After leaving the South Lakes, we wound our way past the majestic Ingleborough into North Yorkshire and its Dales. Judging by the slightly stunned faces of the car park staff when we arrived, they hadn’t anticipated quite so many yarnies making their way through the splendid countryside to attend. Rumour had it just after we arrived that they were having to turn people away from the substantial parking at Skipton Auction Mart.
Once inside, little M dealt pretty well with the crowds and showed herself to be quite the little knitter-in-waiting. She insisted on having a look round Baa Ram Ewe‘s ‘Narnia’ stand before becoming quite taken with the sight of spinning wheels in action and the possibilities of fibre…
I’m afraid to mention the friends we caught up with in case I miss anyone out but between designers, editors, indie dyers and yarn suppliers it was amazing to realise how many lovely people I’ve got to know in my short time writing patterns so far. People may find a lot of bad things to say about the internet, but in the right hands it can weave a wonderful virtual community and it’s so exciting when virtual becomes in-the-flesh reality.
Kudos must go to the enthusiastic bunch who dreamed up and brought to fruition the idea of Yarndale. It was clear from the stunned but happy faces of stallholders and the huge queues for food that the enthusiasm and popularity of the event was more than anyone had imagined. A little smaller than Woolfest (this time) it nonetheless offered lots of interest, variety and quality to keep all shades of fibre enthusiasts happy. The sunlit patch of grass outside where we ate our long-queued-for pasties made me wish we’d thought of a picnic- and we didn’t even get as far as exploring the adjacent park. In terms of goodies to bring home, I was remarkably restrained. My only purchase was actually little M’s. Very taken with the jewel-like colours of the sock yarns (as was I!) she eventually, after careful deliberation, chose this SparkleLynne from The Knitting Goddess (whose brilliant mini-skeins I used for my Bloomsbury designs) in sweetie shades of bright pink, orange and yellow with white and sparkles. As we drove our weary but happy way home, I was already contemplating the design for the hat she wants me to make from it…
How does a chicken end up as something as rock ‘n’ roll cool as this? No, it isn’t a joke. When the brief from Knit Now earlier this year said ‘Monochrome’ and I wanted a new twist on that classic combination of black and white, this was what sprang to mind:
We’ve recently acquired some new chickens and while we got some reliable (and beautiful) crossbreeds, when we were at the breeders, I had to go and admire the purebreds as usual. Wyandottes (as pictured above) are one of my favourites. Those white feathers edged with black remind me of nothing less than the Cecil Beaton costumes for the Ascot Race scene in My Fair Lady and I thought they would translate pretty well into some colourwork on a hat and mitts.
The yarn used for these is also of the pure and traditional kind: Natural Knits Shetland DK from the Knitting Gift Shop. Although they look like black and white, the colours are actually a natural dark brown and cream. The yarn, which is definitely on the heavy end of the DK scale, has that wonderfully rough edge and smell that makes you feel like you could follow skein out into a field and find a sheep attached to the end of it. Being Shetland it also has the brilliant quality of taking blocking as if it’s a kind of magic. A good soak leaves the margins between colours- which let’s face it are as hard as you can get when working in such opposing shades- clean and smooth, the yarn plumps up to a smooth even fabric and the slight scratch of that sheepiness gives way to softness and integrity.
Reducing the stitch count of the pattern to shape the beret resulted in this almost Fleur de Lys idea- which is still feathery after all! Before I saw it in this photo shoot it reminded me a little of something from a painting of the Tudors, yet it looks right at home with the mod styling here. What I hope this means is that it’s a bit of a classic that will adapt to different wearers’ wardrobes. The thickness and strength of all that stranded Shetland colourwork should certainly mean it lasts.
Knit Now Issue 26 is out in the shops from today and details of these and other designs in the magazine are here on Ravelry. You might notice that this design is not the only place my name pops up- more on that soon!
After the excitement of a week when I completed two sweaters I suppose it would have been hard for this week to match up in terms of knitting satisfaction. In the event it’s definitely had its ups and downs, so apologies if this is a bit grumbly in parts.
There’s been a lot of puzzling over numbers and charts, rather than working with yarn and wool, for a start. I don’t mind doing this so much- the numbers for sizing are definitely a lot easier since I took Ruth’s course- but it’s a lot of fiddling about and it leaves my head spinning as I really don’t have that sort of brain. It’s all part of the designing process, though, so it’s got to be done.
Getting back to knitting, rather than number crunching, I’ve had the first couple of parcels of yarn support for some new commissions come by post this week. Work has begun on one of the samples and I have to ‘fess up that the needles I’m using are another pair of Chiaogoos. Having treated myself to a pair of 3.5mm the other week and found that, just as I’d heard, they were gorgeous to work with…so I found myself ordering some 3.25mm (on the grounds that this is a size I use a lot). It so happened that the very same evening I accidentally sat on my Knit Pros and broke another tip- my third needle casualty in as many weeks, after years without any breakages. Some way of the universe balancing out how many needles I have perhaps- or just a good excuse to build my collection of red-corded lovelies.
The sample knitting is getting along fine, which is always good news when you’ve a deadline to work to. Interspersed with this I’ve also been swatching for a couple of other submission deadlines I wanted a shot at. Normally this stage of the process- coming up with an idea, sketching and swatching- is something I quite enjoy, but this week it’s reminded me that sometimes it can be hard grind. One idea seemed to evolve quite easily, I was pleased with the swatch and I feel like I’ve got a reasonably good pitch to make for it. The other should, should, have been easier because I thought I could adapt an idea I’ve been playing with for a while. Maybe it was because I was trying to shoehorn an idea I’d evolved in a slightly different way into someone else’s brief. Maybe it was because I didn’t have the right colour or type of yarn to swatch with. Maybe it just wasn’t a very good idea. Whatever the reason, I ended up spending many frustrating hours knitting, unravelling, knitting again, blocking, deciding it didn’t look right, diving into my stash, knitting again etc. until in the end I decided I needed to ditch the whole concept and start from scratch.
Even then, it wasn’t easy as my new idea involves some slightly complicated traveling cables that were originally asymmetric and just didn’t work out. I think I was unraveling as much as my swatches by this point! Sheer bloody-mindedness resulted in my staying up until the wee small hours of this morning finishing the final, final swatch, which is now blocked and pinned and drying. I think I’m happy with it so just a sketch and the description to do, then I’ll see in a month or so if it’s all been worth it.
Finally, I got around to a partial sort out of my stash this weekend. The spur was the new loft hatch, which should have the knock-on effect of creating storage for other stuff, which means that I can clear out the sun-room tacked onto the side of the house and make it into a studio. The process of sorting out one lot of stuff freed up a large storage basked which I’ve decided to use for my stash. I’ve tried stashing by yarn weight and by colour but never really got along with either. This way it’s more of a free-for-all, dive in and rummage about sort of affair, but I’m wondering if that might stimulate more creativity in the end. We’ll see. The sorting process also unearthed my Beekeeper’s Quilt WIP. Yes, I know it’s a hugely popular design and that this fact alone is enough to put people off, but I still really like the idea of having one. I also like the excuse to buy pretty little skeins of yarn for it (not that I’ve had to so far, it’s pure stash busting at the moment) and find it calming making the little puffs in between other things. At the moment they are rewards for time spent doing prep work for the new school term- it’s only a week or so until that madness starts up again so I’ve had to take a deep breath and open the door on the biggest drain on my creating time there is. Since Ofsted inspection (for those not in teaching, think Harry Potter’s Dementors with CRB clearance) is likely to feature in the coming half term I am moved to quote Elizabeth Zimmerman:
Knit on with confidence and hope, through all crises…
The setting: our hotel room on our family holiday to Scotland.
Me: Look! I’ve finished this- what do you think?
Husband: Very nice. I like the colour.
Me: I’m going to photograph it tomorrow.
Husband: You’re going to soak it in the sink and block it here, aren’t you?
Me: Yes! How did you know?
My darling husband didn’t reply, just gave me a look that said he had been married to a knitting addict for long enough to know that holiday packing priorities for me begin with the craft projects, with clothing etc. a bit of an afterthought. And that blocking can happen anywhere I can get away with.
I actually only brought three projects with me. Well, three knitting projects and a craft project. The latter was some felt sewing, puppets from a recent issue of Crafty:
I made a little progress on these, but have to confess I was slightly fixated on the knitting mentioned above. Having got this blocked I managed to fit in a successful photo shoot in between the swimming, horse riding sessions and huge amounts of eating we did. I’m hoping to show the results of this very soon, because I’m very excited about it!
With that done, I once again gave the second sock of a pair I’ve had on the needles since February(!) the swerve- at some point I really, really will learn 2 at a time sock knitting- and cracked on with the ‘Little Honey’ sweater I’ve been working on for M.
I’ve really enjoyed knitting this. The pattern is well written and I’ve learned a couple of things from doing it- including how to increase stitches at raglans without leaving little holes (although sometimes I quite like the decorative effect of those) and putting in lines of waste yarn to open up for pockets at the end. It took a little longer than it should have, mainly because M needed the smallest size to fit her chest but more length to cover her tummy. I only realised how much more length after doing the bottom rib section, so had to do a bit of ripping back.
I also, for reasons unknown, decided to attempt my least favourite part- the finishing off, including in this case, the fiddly sewing up of pocket trims and linings- at long past bedtime last night. When my mum was teaching me how to wallpaper, she told me that I should always stop for the day just before the next fiddly bit. She quite rightly pointed out that attempting the challenge is always easier when it’s first thing in a new session than last thing in a session where you’re tired. Obviously I took that lesson when wallpapering but forgot it in this case, even though it totally applies. This morning I undid all the terrible finishing I’d done, bleary-eyed and impatient, the night before and did a much better and quicker job of it.
Details for this project can be found in my Ravelry notes here. I’m off now to get some patterns written up…
A few years back my aunty and uncle lived in India for a time. Among the various goodies they discovered and brought back for family members were lightweight woolen rectangular shawls. I was given one and I loved it. The pattern on it was a mixture of autumnal browns and reds with dark navy. It was light enough to wrap around my neck like a scarf, but then unfolded it was a great cardigan substitute when it got chilly. It quickly became one of my favourite accessories.
After a number of years of wear it just disappeared. I don’t know whether I lent it to someone who didn’t return it, left it somewhere or just lost it in one of the several house moves since I last remember having it. It’s not like me to lose stuff and it annoyed me but I just had to accept it was gone. Then I was chatting to one of my cousins (whose parents were the ones who had given it to me) and she said that she tended to prefer a slightly thicker version of the shawl she had now and did I want a couple of the lighter ones she still had? Did I? These two lovelies appeared in the post yesterday and I feel like I’ve got my comfort blanket(s) back.
While I don’t know exactly how I came to lose my shawl, I know exactly how I lost, or rather destroyed, my favourite needles. I tend to be mainly a circs girl these days, but when I was swatching the other week I was using straights. My favourite straights- Brittany Birch 3.25mm. I’d had my pair for years- I think they were about the first pair of ‘posh’ wooden needles I’d ever bought. They are so beautifully balanced, light but not insubstantial, smooth to knit with, pointy enough for precision but not so pointy that you split the yarn…I felt so happy to be using them again that I even tweeted about them. About 20 minutes later I sat on them and broke one in two. Marvellous.
The ones you see above are therefore replacements for my old favourites- I had to buy these ones because the previous ones were so old, but I believe Brittany will replace them through the original retailer if you bust them within the first 5 years. They sit alongside a couple of other old favourites- Eden Cottage Bowland DK and my ‘summer’ tea mug. The yarn, in colourway ‘Harvest Gold’, is in the process of being knitted into a new design. It’s one I’ve been brewing for a while, it’s child-sized and it’ll be an independent release. If you want to know more you’ll have to watch this space! I bought the tea mug last year at Chatsworth. We were staying in a yurt, which was very well appointed with a proper bed and a woodstove but, like most holiday lets the mugs were pretty rubbish. Since tea is such a key feature of my day I really wanted a nice mug to use. Promising to abide by the ‘one in, one out’ policy when I got home (if we didn’t apply this our kitchen would be overrun by mugs) I got this one by Madeleine Floyd. It has a gorgeous picture of a blackbird, along with it’s call and egg on. Unlike the chunkier mugs I prefer in winter, this one is quite small and the china quite fine. Beautiful.
Finally, in the picture above you might also note my Chiaogoo needles. My fantastic designer pal Karie Westermann had been raving about these, so when I was shopping at Meadowyarn for my Brittany replacements I thought I might as well pop them in my order too. It was soooooooo worth it! They are fabulous. The cable join is so smooth that you never, ever get stitches caught. The cable is really flexible and easy to use, even in magic loop. As for the needle tips themselves, I was a bit concerned about them being metal. The only metal needles I’d really used before were the cold, super slippery, often slightly bent and rather heavy ones that had been around when I was learning to knit as a child. These are so very, very different. Smooth, but with enough texture to keep things under control. They have the perfect amount of pointiness and are definitely not too heavy. Can you tell they’re my new favourites?
During the school terms, my designing work fights for time with my work as a teacher and the ongoing challenges of mothering two young children. Sitting down to swatch, sketch, even to crunch numbers for grading often comes as a welcome relief when squeezed into the schedule. As you can imagine, the closer I got to the end of the school year, the more jobs got shunted to the ‘Summer Holidays’ list. This meant that as soon as we broke up I launched into a hectic round of hitting sample and pattern deadlines, swatching, putting proposals together for another deadline, sketching and general hatching of new design plans. I added to this formatting Bloomsbury to sell for charity, setting up a Facebook page for Audrey’s Teashop (do please go and ‘like’ it!) and the initial stages of getting a logo designed.
Believe me, I am not for a second complaining. I love, absolutely love, doing design work and still find it completely amazing that I get paid to do it. However, my hell-for-leather approach rather took its toll on me and suddenly I found that my head was spinning with it all. One day I just got a very strong urge to find something simple to knit that was designed by someone else. I wanted to knit the way I used to (at least some of the time, I was always a bit of an improviser) where someone else had decided top down or bottom up, this size of needle or that one, raglan or yoked, this yarn weight or that one. Where someone else had done the measuring, counting and headscratching of getting the fit and grading right. Part of me screamed “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! THERE IS SO MUCH ON THE ‘TO-KNIT’ LIST!” , but the quieter, more insistent instinct took over and I found Little Honey on Ravelry.
Unlike my knitwear-phobic son, my little girl will actually wear what I make her, so I thought that this sweet little striped jumper would be great for her. I’m using some stashed Manos del Uraguay Fino. I know I’m probably nuts to make a wool/silk blend sweater for a three year old, but I’m prepared to handwash. It is also incredibly soft and with the lightness of silk should make a great early autumn layer. The colours are what Sheldon from ‘Big Bang Theory’ would describe as ‘zazzy’ but if you can’t wear bright stripes at that age, when can you?
After I began the project I discovered that maybe I’m not so misguided after all, as a couple of designer acquaintances online agreed that they often start or wished they could start similar projects when they get overloaded with doing their own work. It can definitely help to relax your brain, inspire you with new ideas for techniques and reinvigorate the creative energies. I have a feeling that this ‘head space’ project may be one that gets temporarily abandoned a few times on its road to completion, as I’m already back in the designer groove but with luck I should be able to show it off by the time term begins again.
I’ve released a new pattern! Well, new-ish. Bloomsbury was originally published in Knit Now Issue 18 but I’m now free to publish it independently and I’m really happy to do so.
The idea for this design started with the yarn. As people who know me as a knitter will be aware, I don’t really do socks, owing to my chronic Second Sock Syndrome. As a result I don’t know the indie sock yarn dyers out there very well. However, for one reason or another I stumbled across Knitting Goddess’s mini skeins packs and loved the idea of a project with multiple colours that could be made for a tenner- cost usually being the biggest stumbling block for multi-coloured designs unless you can swing it from your stash.
This being me, the design I came up with obviously wasn’t going to be socks! The brief was ‘Literary Knits’ and I liked the idea of mixing new literary- eBooks, specifically a cosy for one- with old literary- the Bloomsbury group. Obviously Virginia Woolf et al are mainly remembered for their writing and bohemian lifestyle, but I’ve always rather liked the vibrant colours and patterns the group surrounded themselves with at Charleston, their country retreat. It’s an aesthetic reflected in the cake design book by Vanessa Bell’s descendent Cressida Bell, which is firmly on my covet list.
The Bloomsbury cosies are knit in the round with the ends grafted together. This has the wonderful advantage of hiding all the ends, so that you don’t have to weave them away so long as they are secure. I consider this a huge bonus as weaving in ends is one of my least favourite jobs. The interlocking triangles of the design make it a fairly easy chart to follow as you only really have to keep track of colour changes. What I enjoyed about making it was seeing how the different pairings of colours set one another off- sometimes one would seem to retreat next to another, other times they’d both seem to pop. In the finished design this forms a rhythm that keeps your eye moving over the design, a little bit like a patchwork quilt design. Being a colour fiend I have to say my heart belongs to the rainbow brights of the eBook cosy, but at the same time I do love the calm subtlety of the blue/grey spectacle case version.
Now to the ‘Why’ part of my title for this post. I’ve decided that any proceeds from selling Bloomsbury will go to the charity Plan UK. The reason I want to do this is because they do great work to educate children in some of the poorest countries in the world. You don’t have to be a teacher to understand that education is vital to every society, in so many ways. Education can combat prejudice, exploitation, disease, poverty and inequality , hugely improving the life chances of future generations. For teachers in this country, one of the biggest challenges we face is children becoming uninterested in education and disengaging from it. For children- especially girls- in some countries, it is not a lack of interest that keeps them from being educated but rather a lack of money, the fact that they are sent out to work and/or married off while still of school age or that their education offends the principles of others. The danger of this latter fact can be extreme, as the case of Malala Yousafzai illustrates. Charities like Plan UK do everything they can to keep children in education and I really hope you’ll support their work by downloading the pattern- the literary theme seems appropriate since literacy is so key to education.
To get your hands on ‘Bloomsbury’ for the suggested price of £2 please visit my Just Giving page. When you make your donation you’ll be sent a link to download the pattern, along with an coupon code for Ravelry if you’d prefer to download it to your account.
Please excuse the dodgy phone pics here. I am away from home for a few days and the camera battery has decided to conk out on me. These details are of the cosy, wintry knits I’ve been working on during the hottest weather we’ve had for several years! All six projects were made using British yarns and all six were very different to work with but equally delightful. From the top there is the ever-faithful Jamieson & Smith Shetland Aran, which has a timeless integrity I just love (I used it before for my Boreal sweater). Below that you can see some West Yorkshire Spinners BFL DK- so soft and so easy to work with. Then there is the Eden Cottage Silky DK- my love for Vicky’s colours are well documented but this is the first time I’ve worked with this buttery, luxuriant wool/silk blend- yummy! The chunky monkeys in the next shot are Erika Knight Fur Wool and Maxi Wool- really quick to knit up, squidgy soft and just a lot of fun really. Also in that shot is Artesano British Wool, which I can only describe as ‘sproingy’. This may or may not be a real word but it’s absolutely what this yarn is like. Lovely stitch definition too. Finally there’s more Shetland (no such thing as too much Shetland!). This time Jamieson’s Spindrift- a classic for a reason and what stood out for me this time was the way the colours are rich and yet somehow subtle, so that whatever you make has a feel of having been around forever.
If you live in these isles there are many reasons to buy British wool: Support for an industry that is literally part of the fabric of our society and culture. Support for farmers who are custodians of the countryside and rural communities we hold so dear in our hearts. Kindness to the planet by avoiding the use of too many petrochemicals (yes there’s the processing and dying but at least the actual fibre comes naturally) and saving on fuel costs by buying reasonably locally. All that aside, I urge to to buy and work with British wool simply because it’s bloomin’ lovely!