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Twine Hat

The new issue of Knit Now came out this week and I’m looking forward to reserving at least some of the Bank Holiday weekend for reading it. The editorial includes an article about the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement on knitters by the lovely and talented Karina Westermann (who also designed the Prosperine half circle shawl for this issue) and it’s this aesthetic style that was the influence for The Collection this time around. Lovers of painterly details and femininity (without twee-ness) will find a lot to like among these designs. My personal favourite is Claire Neicho’s beautiful, William Morris-inspired Chrysanthemum Vest:

Claire Neicho Chrysathemum Vest Knit Now Issue34

Image copyright Practical Publishing

Experience tells me that I would regret making this style of garment for myself as it really wouldn’t suit my figure, but I can absolutely see myself reproducing her gorgeous colourwork pattern in a jumper or cardigan I could carry off more successfully. It uses Jamieson and Smith Shetland Heritage for goodness sake!

Also in this issue is my Twine Hat. A rather more restrained affair than some of the beauties mentioned above, it was nevertheless a real pleasure to design and make. Having learned my lesson from overloading myself with too much in the way of commissions, when I set about writing the proposal for this design I went back to basics- the stuff that I really like (and can manage in a realistic timeframe!):

Anna Elliott Twine Hat Knit Now Issue 34

Image copyright Practical Publishing

I decided on a hat because I like designing hats- they are big enough to get something interesting going on between casting on and off, but small enough to provide some fairly quick gratification.  I asked to make it in a good, ‘sheepy’, wool yarn (Blacker Yarns Pure Organic Wool Corriedale/Hebridean) because I like using yarns with the sort of integrity and texture that result in a piece that feels like it’s been around forever even when it’s just come off the needles. Finally, I used single, travelling cables in a simple, rhythmic pattern on a background of reverse stocking stitch because it’s just a look that I like. It’s not one that is easy to reproduce in machine knitting, so this is the sort of hat that, while quite subtle, will be identifiably handmade to those in the know.

Twine is a fairly straightforward beanie for anyone who can follow a cable chart. Additional height could be added at the top for a more slouchy look and it would work well for men too. It’s the sort of design that could very much let the yarn be the star, with the cables being more prominent if you used a silk blend yarn or a solid colour with strong stitch definition, or being more of a textural touch if it was variegated yarn. I’d love to see some different versions made.

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Playing hooky

Sorry, couldn’t resist the dreadful punning title. But it’s true, I have been skiving off the knitting for a little of this week. Look away now if you read this blog for my usual devotion to pure wool and 2-needle action, there are crochet hooks and acrylic involved today! It’s probably because I’ve been putting in the hours with The Shawl, which is now at the edging/beading stage. Beading is a bit of a revelation to me and one I think worthy of its own post. Maybe when I have finished, or at least got a bit further along the border, and am therefore a bit less prone to frustrated swearing and anger (it’s great, really, just….challenging when you learn a new skill. Ahem.)

Hooky 4

The bit of hooky is therefore light (and oooh, gosh very bright) relief. My crochet skills are basic, to say the least. The sum total of my projects to date are a load of variously sized granny square blankets and a triple crochet draught excluder. I apologise to the very talented crochet designers out there (some of them are my friends, for now at least!) but I tend to see crochet as a homewares and interiors craft because of it’s more robust, less prone to stretching qualities. No doubt I’m missing out on many marvelous potential garments but truth is I’ll always be happier with two sticks and it would take a lot to persuade me that I’d rather have a crochet rather than knitted cardigan.

Anyway, I digress. I’ve been reading the lovely Attic 24 blog rather a lot recently and being a colour fiend couldn’t help but be seduced by her gloriously multi-coloured creations. At the same time I’d been pondering what to do with a rather shabby IKEA Poang chair that we’ve carted from place to place with us and which has come to rest (with a matching foot stool) in my new/under development studio/workroom. A bit of an IKEA-hack seemed in order. Given my aforementioned lack of skill and the sheer number of granny squares in my past I decided to give the lovely (and apparently very easy to master) ripple pattern a swerve, along with the idea of a granny stripe. Instead I’m working in easy stripes of triple crochet with some bright colours inspired by Lucy’s work and hoping to make a cover for both chair and foot stool.

hooky 3

For reasons of economy as much as anything else, I decided to go for Stylecraft Special DK instead of a wool yarn. Even if crochet doesn’t gobble up yarn at the rate it’s meant to, this is a whole chair and foot rest we’re talking about here, so BFL would bankrupt me. I could also mention that Stylecraft is apparently the yarn du jour amongst the crochet types out there, so I thought I should bow to superior knowledge and pick seven colours from its huge range.

Hmmm…the perils of picking colours from the internet. The yarn is actually not bad at all for being a pure acrylic- soft and bouncy and with no noticeable squeak- but the pink and green are a little more on the wild (day-glo?) side than I envisaged. The overall effect of my stripes is pretty eye-popping and I have to admit to having had a few wobbles about whether it’s quite the colour combination I wanted. I think it’s growing on me though, especially when I try it on the chair itself. We’ll see.

Hooky 1

On a far more subtle (tasteful) note, I seem to have lined up another sewing project for myself. There’s a list of these. A growing list. Once I’ve finished The Shawl I need to think about what I’m going to wear as Sister Of The Bride this summer. I had been all sorted, having made a hat with Sara Gadd on our hen weekend at Higham Hall a couple of weeks ago which was intended to go with the dress I was going to buy- not make, buy. Then on the way to the weekend I had a nice little shopping spree in the Standfast and Barracks factory shop in Lancaster, picking up some lovelies including this Ianthe Liberty Tana Lawn. Said fabric was meant to be the rather posh backing on a quilt but then it ended up being left lying near the hat and I thought how well it would work as a dress to go with the hat and the next thing I knew I was ordering this Mortmain pattern by Gather and a pretty lace edged exposed zipper…

hooky 2

Anyone know how to stretch time so that there are twice as many hours in the day? Answers on a postcard please!

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New Life

Whatever your personal and particular beliefs around this holiday, there can’t be many people who don’t respond to the joy of an extended weekend with longer days of sunlight, the promising warmth in that sunlight and the broadening colour palette in the outside world. I totally fit the cliche and find myself wanting to Spring clean and start, or restart, projects. Energy, vigour and colour is what’s required!

Easter 3

Most exciting of all my projects at the moment is what I’m calling my ‘studio.’ I may be giving this space more status than it deserves, it being a slightly rickety sun room tacked onto the back of our house. Since we moved in nearly four years ago it’s had no particular long term status and has become a storage space for otherwise homeless odds and ends, most recently due to the kitchen renovations. The combination of a more-or-less finished kitchen and a knitting/craft ‘corner’ that’s threatening to take over the entire living room means that it seems high time me and my wool/fabric/book stash had a room of our own.

Easter 6

With the children packed off to their grandparents for  a good spoiling C and I went through that awful process of creating a much larger mess in order to achieve a better end. We did manage to chuck a satisfying amount out of the house and store a reasonable amount in the loft though. There’s still some way to go, but I am at least now beginning the more delightful process of bringing stuff in for arranging on newly empty shelves. With luck and a bit more work I should begin to be able to show off ‘after’ pics soon.

Easter 4

With most of my current knitting projects requiring too much thought or pattern following for car journeys, the long trek down to my parents on Friday was a time for me to restart the hexipuffs of my Beekeeper’s Quilt. Still very much at a nascent stage, my collection grew by five and a half as we negotiated the M6 and M5. This is definitely going to be a long time project (as in, years and years) but that’s fine by me.

Easter 2

Over the holiday weekend I’ve also been taking advantage of my mother’s superior knowledge for a restart on another quilt- a long overdue ‘big girl bed’ one I meant to give to M nearly two years ago. It’s mostly made from the fabric of dresses she had as a little girl but the Jacob’s Ladder pattern required more small squares cut, as well as someone to figure out how it will all go together- hence the need for motherly advice. I think I now have  a clearer idea, all the pieces I need and a space in my ‘studio’ to set my sewing machine up, so as long as I can maintain momentum I’ve a fighting chance of getting this one finished in time for her birthday in June.

Easter 5

As if to prove what a ‘big girl’ this big girls’ quilt is being made for, I’ve also been able to spend a bit of time with M this weekend doing some proper, sharp-needle-and-thread sewing for the first time. I’d bought a copy of Mollie Makes magazine and it came with cute kit for a ditsy fabric flower brooch. With help, M drew around a lid on each piece of fabric, cut out the circles, folded the circles into quarters and sewed a simple running stitch along the curved edges without skewering herself or my fingers. The finished brooch looks very sweet on her new Spring mac although I think I am more proud of it than she is!

Easter 1

Finally to my main ‘work’ this weekend:  The Shawl. I’d been taking a break from it for the last couple of weeks because I couldn’t figure out where my wildly incorrect stitch count was coming from and was too tired in the evenings and too busy at the weekends to sort it out. I knew I had time on my side these last few days but I swiftly decided that rather than trying to work out where I’d gone wrong, it would be quicker and easier to start again. I used the stitch markers again but didn’t bother with the lifelines as they hadn’t seemed to help much before. Restarting with the knowledge I’d gained from the first attempt turned out to be a really good idea. I relied more heavily on the charts rather than the written instructions,did a lot more counting and probably less swearing than the first time around. Although it’s sent me squiffy-eyed, spending big chunks of time on consecutive days/evenings has helped me keep on track and now I’m on the final body section. Next I need to order some beads to take on the challenge of the edging but I feel that again, I have a fighting chance of getting this one in the bag in time for it’s June deadline- my sister’s wedding.

I hope you too have had a restful and creative weekend.

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Learning

This week I have learned…

Learning 2

That when it comes to grading garment patterns, I am actually more confident at the moment using pencil, paper and calculator than the spreadsheets most sensible designers use. Having said that, I do use the Excel formula for calculating even increases or decreases I learned on Ruth ‘Rock & Purl’ Garcia-Alcantud’s Grading Course. I also learned that if I just get on and DO it, it’s possible to sort out several sizes of sweater without too much pain. Yes, you can expect some patterns for garments, people. Hopefully in the not too distant future- I just need to hold my nerve when it comes to all those numbers.

Learning

I also learned that when it comes to swatching you need to go large or go home. Having always regarded swatching in rather the same way as getting enough fibre in your diet (boring but necessary and sensible) I’d been producing some larger swatches after Joeli was talking on her podcast about the ‘Swatch Like You Mean It’ course she was taking and also having read this. When it came to the number crunching mentioned above and proposal writing that followed, having a decent-sized swatch was great. More accurate measurements, a much better idea of how the finished fabric will feel and behave,  and a clearer sense of how the colourwork or stitch pattern will work too. If designing or planning on substituting a yarn in a pattern, swatching- and swatching large- is a must. Weirdly, once you get used to the idea of using up a fair bit of time on something without an immediate practical use after the measuring and so on, it can be more relaxing to make a larger swatch instead of fiddling with a tiny, curled up square because you’ve cast on the bare minimum stitches you can get away with and still measure a gauge…

This week I also learned three other unconnected and non-knitterly things: no matter how much you risk assess a simple trip to a local theatre, children will find new, interesting and hitherto unimagined ways to injure themselves.. that the tooth fairy accepts polite letters of explanation in lieu of an actual lost tooth…and that wrap-around tops are not for me. Roll on the end of term!

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Bluebell Wood

Introducing my latest design for Knit Now magazine: Bluebell Wood. It’s in Issue 33, which went on sale this week and if I’m honest the publication date gave me pause for thought when commissioning was going on some months back. I’d been playing with the idea of botanical designs and the motif used here was meant to echo what you see when you look straight down into the bluebell flower. Woods carpeted in bluebells are a real sign of Spring being on the way for me, but I wanted to use the Shetland yarn I used for swatching in the design. Could Shetland wool work in a Spring design?

Anna Elliott Bluebell Woods Set Knit Now 33

I ended up chatting to editor Kate Heppell. At this point she had yet to experience the biting wind of the Furness peninsular on her seaside photoshoot here, but nonetheless she pointed out that in many parts of these islands, signs of Spring don’t necessarily mean it’s quite time to put the woollies away. As I sit here, looking at new leaves and blossom against a backdrop of grey clouds outside my window and contemplate putting a second cardigan on, I realise she is right. In any case, this design uses a relatively light yarn- Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift- which knits up into quite a fine fabric. Of course, being pure wool it’s ultimately breathable as well as insulating which should mean this is a pretty versatile set.

More importantly, doesn’t it look pretty? Both pieces are knit in the round (this makes the scarf double sided) and I think this would be a great project for a newbie to stranded knitting. There are only two colours to juggle, the motifs are quite short in both rounds and rows and once past the colourwork, the rest of the hat and scarf are pretty straightforward- although you do have to work the chart top to bottom for the other end of the scarf! Using Shetland yarn is a good idea for those new to colourwork. The ‘stickiness’ of the yarn makes it less prone to gaping and unevenness and then when you wet block it, the ‘bloom’ means that the colours snuggle happily against one another to give a great finish. I picked the colours to fit the Bluebell theme, but I’d love to see it made up in different pairs of constrasting colours- maybe even a light on dark for a more wintry knit.

Danielle Parkin Colour Strands Sweater

As ever, there’s a great selection of patterns in the magazine. As with any title, there are always going to be some months where you want to knit ALL THE THINGS and others where there aren’t so many things to your taste. However, I know Kate works very hard with her team and us designers to try and cover a wide range of ability levels, provide the right mix of garments, accessories, kids stuff and homewares, showcase different techniques and include projects where varied amounts of time and yarn need to be invested. The pattern I have my eye on particularly this time around is the Colour Strands Pullover by Danielle Parkin. I’ve not really done much slipstitch colourwork and I like the effect created here where it’s used for horizontal bands of a chain pattern. A bonus is that not only is it knit in a British Yarn (Woolyknit’s Diggle DK) but it’s very reasonably priced, which could make for a cheap, fun knit. Can I really justify knitting another sweater for myself?!

On that subject, here is a WIP update: I sorted out the sleeves issue on the red cardigan by rather inexpertly threading a narrower circular needle through the sleeves  and body sections at the point of joining so that I could pull everything off the needles and unravel. It all went a bit wrong because I’d not caught the same rows each time going through the lace sections but with a bit of fiddling and possibly some swearing I got it sorted. I’ve now completed most of the yoke and have run out of yarn- the perils of repurposing, eh? I’ve sent off for an extra skein but of course being kettle dyed it is unlikely to be an exact shade match, although this has been true of all the skeins so far and it’s not been a problem. If needs be I’m going to have to alternate skeins row by row to blend the new stuff in. This may involve unravelling some of the last few rows I’ve been doing, sigh! I am tantalisingly close to finishing, but apart from waiting on yarn will be putting this aside for the next few days as I have swatching and sketching that needs urgent attention. The Shawl, meanwhile, still awaits me having the time, energy and reserves of sanity to look at it again. It watches me reproachfully from my WIP pile…

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Mother’s Day- best of the North West

Mothers DayPlease don’t run away, people who aren’t parents! I promise this is not going to be a sickly post about the cute stuff my kids gave me for Mother’s Day. I realise that it’s of little interest to anyone apart from well, me. Most of this post is going to be knitting or at the very least textile related so the pic above is mainly for context purposes. That said, even the cynics among you have to raise a small smile at my ‘Favourite Things’ according to my son: Knitting (I think that might be his brown jumper), Watching TV (I do watch too much. I am usually knitting while doing it though), Cooking (sometimes with knitting nearby if a non-sticky surface is available. Makes pot-watching less tedious) and Making Things (I do believe that’s my yarn swift on a table). Not a bad precis of his mother, really.

My ‘Mother’s Day’ was actually last Saturday rather than Sunday, for a number of technical reasons, and it was wonderful. After the swimming and ballet lessons were over with, we set off on a two hour-ish drive to Gawthorpe Hall (in-car knitting was my new Spirograph, portable project fans). The reason for this pilgrimage was the re-opening of the Gawthorpe Textiles Collection, which also marked the beginning of the Textilefest they are running over the coming summer and into autumn.

I’d never heard of Gawthorpe or the textile collection amassed by Miss Rachel B. Kay-Shuttleworth until I read in various places about the knitting and crochet patterns commissioned this year to raise funds for the continuing preservation and education work there. Designs by Kate Davies, Debbie Bliss, Claire Montgomerie, Jane Ellison, Emma Varnem and Sara Shippen were all inspired by pieces in the Gawthorpe Collection and having seen tantalising glimpses of these treasures I wanted more.

2014-03-29 14.58.40

It was well worth the trek. Hidden away behind schools and residential parts of Padiham, near Burnley, Gawthorpe looks like a miniature Downton Abbey. Just the right size of stately home to buy when we win the lottery, it was concluded. We enjoyed a quick pit-stop in their brand new tearooms (very nice, although I was denied my usual National Trust scone as they don’t seem to run to them yet) before exploring the three floors of textile treasures in the main house. Actually, the treat for me was that while C took the children for a yomp around the grounds,  I explored the three floors of textile treasures including listening to a talk by textile artist Angela Davies- whose work is on display alongside that of Bella May Leonard and the samples from the knitting and crochet patterns. I apologise for the lack of pictures of these treasures- the work is kept in low light and glass cases to preserve it and while your eyes quickly adjust so that you can enjoy all the wonderful techniques, colours and textures, I knew that my inexpert photography was not up to dealing with it. The Gawthorpe Textiles Collection website does, however, have a gallery of many pieces from the collection, or better still go and see it for yourself!

The Textilefest, as I mentioned, is set to run until the end of October this year and includes days when you can explore different parts of the collection with the curators as well as knitting and sewing workshops. Seizing my chance while the others were still yomping in Spring sunshine, I joined in a workshop to make a Suffolk Puff brooch with Rabia Sharif. This involved a very pleasant half an hour of stitching in the impressive surroundings of the Textile Library, which is not normally open to the public. You can see my finished effort, a little rosette sort of a thing, in the photo at the the top of this post.

From one little known North-West treasure to another, for our journey home we took the scenic route through the Forest of Bowland. This not-so-little corner of England seems to get forgotten about, maybe because it’s hard to compete for attention with the Lake District to one side and the Yorkshire Dales not far away on the other. It shouldn’t be so overshadowed though as it’s a breathtakingly lovely landscape of hills, valleys and rivers. I’d lived in Lancaster for a number of years and while I was vaguely aware of it being there on the other side of the M6 I didn’t really appreciate the extent of it- definitely another little gem worth exploring if you are within reach, especially on a lovely Spring day like we had last weekend.

Reaching Lancaster we then headed up the Lune Valley road to Kirkby Lonsdale. Just outside Kirkby is The Highwayman, one of my favourite places to eat- not least because they serve Morecambe Bay potted shrimp and the most amazing cauliflower fritters. So- knitting, making things and eating (if not cooking)- a sunny, Spring day full of my favourite things and one which I was very grateful for.

I may well be back tomorrow as I have a NEW DESIGN to talk about. Until then, Happy Knitting!

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You can’t win ‘em all…

Knitting.  So calming. I’m sure I’ve read of research showing how it combats anxiety, depression and stress. My personal experience certainly (usually) backs this up. And yet…

red cardigan wrong Here are two projects doing little for the cause of knitting in my neck of the woods just now. The red cardigan, which has been on the needles for what seems like a long time now, finally got the sleeves put on at the weekend. Here and there I’ve snatched moments to begin the raglan decreases, the weight of what feels like a nearly finished garment an almost comforting pull on my needles. Then the other night I noticed that the stocking stitch sections on either side of the sleeve are not equal. In other words the lace section is not central, which I’m fairly certain it should be. Tired and sore-eyed as it’s nearing the end of an unusually long and busy Spring term, I dumped the whole lot into its bag and resolved to look at it again another day.

Shawl wrong

Another day came and I couldn’t face unpicking back several inches to the sleeve joins so I took up The Shawl. Progress on this hasn’t been too bad up until now. I have (on the advice of those much wiser than me in these matters) put in stitch markers and a lifeline. I have limited myself to a few rows a night so I can concentrate on doing them well. I can’t pretend that I have hit a spot-on stitch count every time, but it’s been nothing the occasional tweak can’t solve.  It was with reasonable positivity, then, that I picked up this project to avoid the cardigan. I worked a couple more rows (they are taking longer as the stitch count increases, of course) then got close to the end of the next one and found myself not just a stitch out but four stitches out. One stitch could be a misread yarn over but four? I tinked back to the last stitch marker and worked the section again. Still four out. Tired and sore-eyed as it’s nearing the end of an unusually long and busy Spring term, I dumped the whole lot into its bag and resolved to look at it again another day.

There are clues, are there not? Themes running throughout these sorry tales. Tiredness, limited time, poor lighting. I should know better, but even when tired the urge to knit is strong. The soothing rhythm, that trance-like zone the knitter enters into where thoughts get taken up again like the yarn, and ideas, issues, plans get worked through evenly, methodically like so many stitches. I don’t just want to do it, I really think I need to do it. But not unpicking botched sleeves, not puzzling over the loops of a lace shawl. Not on a dark workday evening.

hexipuffs

I knew I needed some gratifying, simple knitting to do. Not that my knitting to-do list, which also includes pattern write ups and swatching, needs any more topping up. No matter. First, I’ve added some hexipuffs to my still very modest pile. Part of the reason my hexipuffs haven’t got very far is that up until now I haven’t had a lot of 4ply knocking around, due to my pathological avoidance of it. Since my recent knitting has represented a complete volte face in this respect I suddenly have stash to use. In this case, some of the Silk Blend Fino from my designs for Manos the other year and the very last of the Old Maiden Aunt ‘Nothing to Hide’ sock yarn. I like the idea that my eventual Beekeepers quilt will have scraps of yarn from different projects in- I’m wondering if the remaining Excelana yarn from my Deco cardigan should be added to the basket. It would join the Quince & Co left over from my  Robin shrug amongst others.

New spirograph

The other simple project I’ve started is a new Spirograph. I’m hoping to reformat my independent release patterns soon (I’m working with Adam from Grizzly Bear Designs, who was responsible for my lovely logo) and I want re-photograph  this design.  I loved Kate Davies’ version of this- for many reasons!- not least of which was the colour she chose for hers. I had this lovely Artesano British Wool  -yet more booty from the Rocking Kitchen retreat-  so I’m seeing how it works out. The colourway- Beryl- is in a similar pallette to Kate’s so I’m hoping it will work similarly against dark hair. It’s DK weight, but fairly generous and springy in terms of weight, so I think it will do well. As I’ve often said, this genuinely is the design of mine I wear the most. I’d like to think that what the Beekeepers Quilt and Spirograph share is an idea that is simple enough to be a soothing, satisfying knit but that works well and has that dash of originality. Obviously Beekeepers is phenomenally successful whereas Spirograph has just been an excitement to me in terms of its sales, but you see what I mean.

In any case, these simple, satisfying knits are doing their job in mending frayed nerves. The next few days promise at least some daylight working time and with luck some rest and leisure time. I will address myself to that pattern writing and swatch making and yes, fish the cardigan and shawl from their resting places to sort them out somehow. Onwards and upwards my friends, and be sure you are armed with some pointy sticks!

Beyond the Comfort Zone

There are many reasons I knit. However, most of them come back to the fact that I enjoy it. A lot. When you’re doing something you choose to do you obviously get to know your comfort zones. Mine include knitting with pure wool, yarn around the DK/worsted weight, needles in the 3.25mm-4mm zone, cabling, colourwork, using circular needles to avoid sewing seams, hats, snoods, sweaters, cardigans, mittens, gloves, head bands, the occasional scarf, wrap or cushion cover. Stepping outside these boundaries isn’t necessarily a no-go, but I just won’t be so happy if I’m fiddling with a skinny dpns and yarn to make tiny scraps to sew together for a toy or wrestling broomsticks and rope-like cotton yarn for a massive throw.

The thing is, I spend a lot of time in my day job telling children that if they are willing to take the risk on trying something new and learning from mistakes, they will gain new skills and move forward. You can’t keep saying this without admitting that it’s good advice for grown-ups too, so in that spirit I’ve been trying to go beyond my comfort zone in at least some of my projects recently.

Comfort zone 1

My first challenge this year was my Sochi Socks. A measure of how much my mindset has been changed by that experience comes in the form of this little ankle sock. It’s made from a Space Cadet Lucina Merino/Nylon/NylonSparkle yarn mini skein I got in my Rocking Kitchen goodie bag and uses the Fish Lips Kiss method for the heel. I knocked it out in an evening and as you can see, a second is on the way (fingers crossed the yarn lasts out!) It helps that the pattern for the heel is really simple to follow and produced a very good fit, but the point is, I made this sock partly because little M requested it and partly for fun. For fun! I never thought that knitting socks would be something I would do for fun.  If I hadn’t taken part in the Ravellenics with my rainbow socks I probably never would have.

If I’m completely honest, the socks were also a bit of a distraction tactic. With several other projects completed or on the verge of completion, I was running out of excuses to start the next challenge. It’s another one I was completely responsible for getting myself into. My sister is getting married in summer and I’ve offered to make a shawl for her to wear on the Big Day. I am really happy that she accepted my offer and love the thought that I can put lots of love and craft into making it for her. Only problem: it’s a shawl. I’ve never really done a proper, skinny yarn on fat needles that you block the heck out of lace thing before. My only ‘proper’ shawl attempt ended up as a kerchief because I used the wrong weight of yarn and for some reason didn’t make any other adjustments to stuff like the number of repeats I’d put in. That’s before you get onto the fact that the pattern she’s chosen- After Hours by Wendy Gaal- has beading on it too.

 After Hours Shawl WIP

I gave myself a metaphorical kick up the backside last night and cast on using the lovely Eden Cottage Yarns Titus 4ply in Silver Birch we’ve chosen for the project. After the four or five attempts it took me to get through the first ten rows, culminating in me reading every word of the pattern aloud as I knitted, I complained bitterly on various social media about the slippery, loopy, how-the-heck-do-you-keep-track nature of knitting shawls and concluded that starting a project such as this late at night when in a fractious mood was probably not ideal.

This morning I was spurred on by a flurry of helpful and supportive comments from online friends much cleverer and more experienced than me when it comes to knitting shawls. I’ve yet to put a ‘lifeline’ in ( I intend to soon) but I have introduced stitch markers to mark each section and started reading from the charts instead of the written instructions. The stitch markers are Fripperies & Bibelots RingOs in Cherry Blossom- they are so pretty! They are also far too small for the needles I’m using, so I’ve improvised with some HiyaHiya knitter’s safety pins. The safety pins wouldn’t have shown up very well on their own, but with the RingOs hanging from them they are easy to see and look gorgeous. Fripperies and Bibelots Ringos

I’m glad that one of my friends Jacqui Harding pointed out that “It is normal for it to look like a limp rag of uselessness” because at this point, even with pretty stitch markers hanging off it, that is absolutely what my nascent shawl looks like. However, the second ten rows were considerably easier and more comfortable than the first, so there is progress. At the moment I can’t ever imagine this sort of knitting being in my comfort zone, but the fact is, I’m knitting rounds on a little sock on my breaks from the shawl knitting, so anything could happen.

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Deco cardigan- worth the wait

Deco 1At last- a finished object to share with you! Since the triumph of my Sochi Socks, too many projects on the needles- commissions, swatches and knits-for-pleasure- meant that I felt I was always knitting, never finishing. This week I’ve suddenly hit that sweet spot where things are getting finished. I’m particularly pleased about this cardigan as it’s been a long time coming.

I’d bought the John Arbon Excelena 4ply yarn three (I think) years ago at Woolfest. I had an idea for a cardigan I wanted to design, the details of which I can’t recall now. Needless to say, other stuff got in the way and a whole pack of gorgeously soft, cornflower blue British wool sat in my stash, shamefully unused. As the weather got chillier last year I really felt the need for a fine knit cardigan and got fed up with seeing that yarn just sitting there, so I accepted that my own design was just not going to happen any time soon and went hunting for a pattern.

The colours for the Excelana range have been designed in association with vintage-knit marvel Susan Crawford and they really are spot on. There’s a subtlety about the colours that works in perfect harmony with the Exmoor Blueface wool to create something that feels instantly classic. If you found a time capsule of knits from 70 years ago, this is how I imagine they’d look and feel. The fabric created is comfortable against skin but at the same time isn’t overly soft- it has that robust feeling of good pure wool that feels as if it will serve you well for many years. The colour isn’t a glowing, eye-popping bright, but instead harmonises beautifully with colours around it- even on the needles I had a lot of remarks about how lovely it was.

To set all these qualities off, I chose ‘Deco’ by Kate Davies. I’m already a confirmed fan of her work, although usually I’ve tackled her colourwork designs, so I knew that the pattern would be well written with great attention to detail. The slipstitch pattern and vintage feel seemed spot on.Deco 2

The construction of this cardigan is bottom up and seamless. As is the way with such cardigans, it began with knitting what felt like a long ribbon. I don’t usually go below DK with my yarns (although recently I’ve broken this rule rather a lot) and certainly not with garments. Gosh, it takes a loooooooong time to grow! I had decided to add extra inches to the slip stitch ‘Deco’ patterning at the bottom, as I wanted it to hit my upper hip rather than my waist. Now I’m glad I did. At the time I cursed the idea. Little by little I worked my way up through the waist shaping, the stepped patterning up the front and the patterned shoulder section seen here on the back.

The part I enjoyed the most was the shoulders and sleeves- I wrote about it here. The neatness of the 3-needle bind off and the sleeve caps created by short rows and stitches picked up gradually around the armhole is something only knitters could really appreciate (I know, I’ve tried to explain and demonstrate to non-knitters and they get that faraway look of incomprehension and boredom). Certainly it was well worth the juggling with two (or was it three?) needles. Should you be attempting it yourself, make sure you set aside enough time to knit the entire sleeve cap in one session- this is not a part of the pattern you can put down and pick up again. More cursing as those admittedly short but nonetheless hard-won rows were unpicked and begun again.

Vintage buttons on Deco Cardigan design by Kate Davies

Another hiatus before the sleeves were completed was thanks to the Winter Olympics and the demands of commission/submission deadlines. I have to admit as well that round after round of 4ply stocking stitch was sometimes passed over for the more instant gratification of the other, aran-weight, cardigan I’m also working on. Nevertheless, on Wednesday night I cast off, Thursday blocked (with great care and blocking wires- this yarn is worth it and will thank you for it) and Friday spent a couple of meditative hours stitching cotton tape facing to the button bands and then adding snap fasteners and vintage buttons. This way of finishing a cardigan was another departure for me but one that I would absolutely revisit. The tape gives structure to the fine fabric of a 4ply button band-I don’t often wear cardigans buttoned up but when this one is fastened, it has much less distortion and gaping across the bust that I find is usual with traditional buttons and button holes.

Deco Cardigan design by Kate DaviesI am no process knitter.Yes, I love to have needles and yarn in hand whenever and wherever I can, but ultimately I like the satisfaction of a completed object, whether it is a design brought from concept through commissioning to being ready for a photoshoot or in this case a garment I will wear and wear. Just now I’m on the brink of completing a couple more pieces, which you’ll see here sooner or later no doubt. In a way I’m clearing the decks for a very important project I’m about to embark on- one with a very particular purpose and very definite deadline. More on that soon but in the meantime, god speed to your own projects, may they reach the happiness of finishing soon!

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Best of British

The latest issue of Knit Now is in the shops today and I have a new design in it. Mooring is one of those quietly pleasing designs that grew on me more and more as I made the sample so that now I’d count it as one of my favourites.

http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/mooring-hat

Image copyright Practical Publishing

The design brief called for a seafaring influence and as I gathered images for my Pinterest moodboard, I found myself drawn to the idea of ropes. I remember going to visit the Ropery at Chatham Dockyards when I was younger and loved the idea of how generations of sailors relied on ropes to capture the power of the wind and keep them safe from it when they were moored. Cable stitches were the obvious way to go, but I wanted them to run around the hat, rather than down it, like ropes wrapped around capstans. I achieved the effect I wanted by using a provisional cast on and knitting the cables flat before grafting them together. After that it was a simple matter of picking up stitches along either edge to create a brim and crown. I really like the way this gives the hat a slightly corrugated slouch.

The yarn I used was Erika Knight British Blue. This is a generous DK weight which has the stitch definition essential for showing of cables, but a lovely softness in both feel and appearance. It gave the hat a feeling of being a comfy, classic favourite, even when it was fresh off the needles, which was exactly what I wanted. Blue Faced Leicester wool is popular for a reason and you really can’t argue with how smooth and squashy this feels- it manages to feel warm without being too heavy, even with the volume of wool cables take up.

Mooring mag

Normally when I write about a new design being published that’s all I’d talk about, but this time I thought I’d mention a little more about the magazine. I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with Knit Now since it launched a couple of years ago and for me, it’s issues like this one that sum up why I love working being part of it.

It’s a ‘Best of British’ issue, which means that all the yarns used for designs have been grown, spun and dyed in the British Isles. The influences and ideas are also firmly rooted in our native traditions. Now I wouldn’t for a moment deny that there are wonderful yarns and patterns to be had from all over the knitting world but it is a joyful and undeniable fact that we have long and proud history here of wool, knitting, weaving and fashion, so why not celebrate it once in a while? There’s even a ‘woolsack’ at the centre of the UK Parliament as testament to the historic influence of the fluffy stuff. I’ll stop with the flag-waving now, but suffice to say that with a lot of angst surrounding national identity and unity at the moment, it’s uplifting to think about something positive and creative that brings us together.

The nautical influence I mentioned before dictates a beautiful, and very weather appropriate, colour palette for this issue- stormy grey blues with dashes of warming ochre yellow like those rare moments the sun breaks through and promises a whisper of Spring. Knitting style influences include the colourwork of Shetland, such as the beautiful Stormy Waters hat and mittens set by Claire Neicho and twists on the traditional Gansey theme, including the wonderfully feminine Wheatcrop Jumper by Ruth Garcia Alcantund. Personally, I could absolutely see myself in editor Kate Heppell’s Thousand Tide’s Tunic. As I’m currently working on a cardigan in the same shade of Excelana Vintage Wool, I’d think about mixing it up- perhaps using Persian Grey for the main colour and Nile Green for the detailing.

Incidentally, should you wonder how they achieved such an authentically ‘windswept’ look for the photoshoots, a lot of them took place round my way on the Furness peninsular. When Kate contacted me asking if there were any suitable seaside locations near me, I was pretty doubtful as the place I live in definitely tends much more towards the industrial than pretty fishing village. However, I took up the challenge, called on the knowledge of the locals I know and went out exploring. Turns out there are more photogenic places on my doorstep (before you even reach the Lake District) than I realised, with the only catch being that when you are on the coast, there isn’t a lot between you and Greenland- or at least that’s how it feels! Thankfully the rain held off for some fabulous shots, but all the knits in the magazine couldn’t stop that onshore wind biting. It’s no wonder I spend so much time buried in wool, really.

As if all that isn’t enough to float your boat (nautical theme, geddit?!) there’s an interesting interview with Yorkshire designer Ann Kingstone and another with Magnus Holborn about Foula sheep (Foula wool is on my ‘need to investigate’ list), plus this issue also comes with a free wool needle ‘pebble’ (I constantly lose my wool needles. This may help me hang on to them a little longer) and a booklet of ‘Knitting Expert’ tutorials. 

Happy knitting, everyone!

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