Sunday, 10 May 2015

A box of delights

You might have thought that by my age I would have grown out of the excitement that follows the delivery of a parcel but some parcels reward my undignified glee. Underneath the cool and rather sophisticated exterior something was hiding.

There is something about tissue paper that adds to the suspense. I think it's that you get a bit of a glimpse of what is inside but can't quite see yet.

And here it is - four beautiful samples of yarn from a company that is new to me, Yarn Stories. I was really pleased to read that they spin their yarns at a mill in Yorkshire, another example of the skills and traditions of the wool spinning industry in the UK being brought back to life by enthusiastic people.

 The samples that I have been given are, Fine Merino and Baby Alpaca in an Aran weight and a DK and a fine merino in a DK and 4 ply.

I decided to try the Fine Merino DK first. It is as might be expected extremely soft with the matt finish associated with a fine wool. I was pleased to read that they have not super wash treated this yarn so the ball is still good and springy to squeeze with a bit of a halo, not flat and lifeless like many super wash wools can be. It has a four ply construction with a medium twist and what appears to be a more worsted than woollen spin although retaining a good amount of air in the yarn. According to the washing instructions it can be machine washed at 30 degrees but given that the yarn is not highly twisted I would be concerned about some loss of stitch definition and would probably hand wash.

Taking a practical approach to my swatching I decided to use it to make a pair of baby socks for a sock knitting class that I teach. For sock knitting I generally use a smaller needle than the ball band suggests so went with a 3.25mm needle. As the yarn is quite lofty it took the extra compression well and produced a firm but still soft and flexible result with good clear stitch definition.

Overall I was pleased with this yarn. I can't imagine a more butter soft example of a fine merino and at £5.25 per ball is a fairly average price for this quality of yarn.

I look forward to trying the other yarns in the box and will let you know how I get on!

Yarn Stores have also asked me to tell you about an exciting competition to design a blanket square that they are running in conjunction with the Knitting and Crochet Guild. You can read more about it here.

Disclaimer: I was sent this yarn to review by Yarn Stories.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Taking an idea and running with it

One of the things that I love about being fortunate enough to have a library of knitting books and a stash of beautiful yarns is that it is easy for the craft to take me on little...ahem... detours. It isn't entirely my fault though. My friend Lyn, author of the always inspiring blog, Shades of Grey has been visiting and being the seasoned traveller and fellow lover of sock knitting that she is asked if she could borrow one of my Nancy Bush sock knitting books rather than bring her own all the way from Sydney Australia. We share a great respect for Nancy's writing on all things sock related so it wasn't long before I found myself leafing through a few old favourites. 

Knitting on the Road, Sock Patterns for the Traveling Knitter was, I believe, one of the first books on sock knitting that I ever bought and over the years have knitted a good number of the patterns. This time, however, I came across a simple pair of socks, the Hiiumaa Mismatched Mates based on a pair of socks which whilst the colours match...

But the stripe patterns are quite different.

This really appealed to me and seemed to be a great way of adding a bit of spice to my vanilla public transport knitting socks as well as using up quantities of yarn that weren't quire enough to make a pair of socks.  Some stash diving ensued and I emerged with several smallish balls of my favourite work horse sock yarn, Bonny, by my friend Natalie Fergie at The Yarn Yard, a no nonsense wool/nylon blend.

You could either say that I am easily distracted or that I am constantly alive to inspiration as I noticed on my friend Rachel's blog that she was knitting with a fabulous neon peach yarn which seemed the perfect way to celebrate the coming of spring, tempered with stripes from a shade in my much loved collection of sludge coloured yarns.

Now I had chosen my yarns it seemed a bit counter intuitive to make a pair of random striped socks by slavishly following someone else's pattern so I decided to go with my favourite toe up reverse flap and gusset sock recipe and design my own stripe pattern. I ran a search for random stripe generators and came across the wonderful tool developed by Caitlin of the Biscuits and Jam blog. It's really easy to use and gives you a chance to have a look at what the stripe pattern might look like before starting (I wasn't going to relinquish total control after all). I decided that I wanted stripes of 2, 4 and 8 rounds deep with a sequence repeat of 40 rows. I simply refreshed the sequence until I found a pattern that `I liked and started knitting. There is something about stripes that makes the knitting seem to go very fast...

For the second sock I omitted the four round stripes and ran the program again.

I have to admit that I had so much fun that I immediately cast on another sock, using the same method but over a different sequence and this time from the top down.

I like to live dangerously.

In fact I may have cast on another pair,

Monday, 23 March 2015

Magnificent Obsession

I'm not sure what is going on in my knitting world at the moment as all I seem to want to knit in my non work knitting time is socks. You are very likely to see me on the tube or bus or in the Stepney City Farm Cafe quite happily knitting away on a sock, barely pausing to look down at my work.  I'm not even particularly keen on knitting some of the exciting new designs and architectures that are around at the moment. I seem to be quite happy with a good old fashioned sock, knit either from the top down of the toe up with possibly a simple pattern but one that mostly lets the yarn speak for itself and doesn't require a great deal of active thought on my part.

My most recent output is testament to this:

First a pair of socks which have been on the needles for some time but recently finished off. They are Dead Simple Lace Socks (I told you I was in an uncomplicated mood) from Wendy Johnson's book Socks From The Toe Up knit in Yarn Yard Macushla, a merino, cashmere and nylon blend in one of Natalie's signature colour ways that is made up of a subtle blend of colour washes and glazes to come up with the overall effect.

Whilst the sock looks a pinkish orange from a distance it is actually made up of highlights of brick, yellow and white.

Secondly, another Wendy Johnson pattern, this time Mock Cable Socks from the same book using Madeline Tosh Sock in Firewood. This is another yarn where the dyes are used expertly to produce amazing colour effects.

I really enjoyed knitting every stitch of these socks.

And just to ring the changes I had a request from my niece for a pair of socks so what better than another Madeline Tosh yarn from completely the other end of the scale, Pop Rocks. This time I chose to knit them from the top down using Anne Budd's Handy Book of Patterns to work out the numbers.

I still get enormous satisfaction from turning a heel.

I'm not sure how long this period of sock comfort knitting is going to last as I have several more pairs in the pipeline but I have a plentiful supply of sock yarn and no shortage of willing recipients including myself so this could run and run.....

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Badges of Honour

As I mentioned in my first post of 2015 being an enthusiastic maker and wearer of hand knitted socks, it is always a sad day when I discover that I have worn holes in them and they need to be set aside to be repaired. You will have seen that I was less than satisfied with my first attempts at darning so when Anna at Wild and Woolly announced that she was going to be hosting a darning workshop with Sanae Chita of the Textile Surgery I was first in the queue.

Sanae is a very modest and patient teacher who is very creative and has an enviable attention to detail. She invited us to bring along a selection of garments which we wanted to repair so of course I armed myself with a big bag of socks. At this point I was wishing that I was one of those well organised knitters who sets aside a small amount of the yarn that she used to make the socks so that when it came to the time for repair I had the materials for a neat and virtually invisible darn to hand. I am not that knitter. 

However, thanks to Sanae, I no longer feel that this is something to feel bad about as I have learned to  love the art of visible mending and armed with this wonderful array of colourful darning threads I plan to enjoy making repairs from now on!

So,  instead of choosing the grey yarn that best matches these socks I decided to use the brightest red in my palette. Not only was it so much easier to see what I was doing, I realised that I loved the way that my much loved socks are wearing a sort of badge of honour which not only prolongs their life but also shows that they have been worn often, with great pride.

As I was working on my darning technique I also started to wonder exactly how old these socks were. Through a combination of this blog and my Ravelry project pages I have been able to piece together something of their history. These socks are Lindsay Socks by Cookie A and were both started and finished in July 2010. They were made in Koigu KPPPM.

The next socks are a bit of a mystery as I don't seem to have made a record of them anywhere. I know that they are Trilobite Socks by Wendy Johnson and were made at some point after 2009 as they were the second pair that I made from that pattern.

I chose a dark grey darning thread to contrast with the golden yellow of the socks. I wish I could remember the yarn that I used as whilst I love the colour, the yarn has not worn as well as I had hoped.

Having been firmly bitten by the darning bug by this point I set out to tackle this pair of sock which I was astonished to discover were made in 2007. The pattern is my own and was designed to evoke the colours and textures of the rooftops in the Umbrian hill towns I had visited on my holiday in Italy that summer.

Two holes in these socks so I decided to go for two shades of blue. The yarn is Cherry Tree Hills Supersock in the colour way Serengeti.

Finally, these pale yellow socks are the lace and Cable socks again from Wendy D Johnson made in May 2009 from Indigo Moon Island Time in Apricot.

I love this delicate combination of shades.

I was quite pleasantly surprised at how old all these socks were and how with a little imagination, what had previously seemed like a chore feels more like an extension of the creative process that went into the making of the socks in the first place. It's a celebration of longevity, of slow craft and respectful of the resources that went into this simple garment.

These colourful repairs really are badges of honour as far as I am concerned.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Hold on to your hat!

I'm sitting here at my desk, writing, looking out at a bright and blustery Saturday afternoon thinking about my fellow knitters experiencing the gale force winds in Scotland and hoping that they have all found a cosy place to knit and ride out the storm.

If the wind isn't too fierce I do like to go out walking in it and feel the cool air on my face. However, I find having my hair flapping around in my face quite maddening so the perfect knitterly solution is, of course a hat. After years of claiming that I really don't go in for hats I have to admit that they are becoming much more of a wardrobe staple than they used to be.

You will have seen this hat before - it's the Atherfield Hat which I designed specifically for teaching students their first steps in knitting in the round and discovered that despite the fact that my usual style of knitting is small items on small needles, I really enjoy the instant gratification of a simple hat knitted in chunky wool.

So I thought I'd make another one. These are both made in Woolyknits Lofty available from Wild and Woolly. The green hat is made in Olive and the red one is Cranberry.

Of course then, Loop took delivery of the very lovely Madeline Tosh Home which is a beautifully soft chunky yarn in the usual gorgeous Madeline Tosh range of colours so before I knew where I was I had made another two! They are knit in Hosta Blue and Tern. The yardage with this yarn is a little shorter than the Lofty so I omitted a couple of rows of ribbing to ensure that I had enough yarn.

Let it not be said, however, that I have completely abandoned working with fine yarns. I bought Toasty, the beautiful hat book by Rachel Coopey from her at Unravel back in February and thought it was time to try one of the beautiful designs. This is Ripon, for which I used Eden Cottage Hayton 4ply in Steel.

I absolutely love the way that the hat comes together at the crown.

I can definitely see more hats in my life. My friend Rachel very kindly gave me the latest Woolly Wormhead Mystery Knitalong hat pattern as a surprise gift so whilst I have missed the knit along I have some gorgeous yellow yarn set aside and am planning to cast on just as soon as I get a few other things off my needles. 2015 is certainly going to be the year of the hat as far as I am concerned!

Monday, 5 January 2015

2014 - worth mending

As is traditional at this time of the year when the nights are at their longest I have been gathered in with my loved ones reflecting, remembering and looking forward. I am so lucky to have a family who will let me take time out from my daily life and spend time with them collecting my thoughts and resources ready for the year ahead. They remind me as we reminisce how whilst many things stay the same but also as I watch my niece and nephew grow into their teenage years how things move on and life changes.

It always aids reflection to be able to sit and contemplate views like this.

Or this.

 2014 has been a year of mixed fortunes. Work wise I feel really fulfilled. My freelance career has grown slowly but solidly. I have exhibited at craft shows in my own right and have had the opportunity to work in some interesting places such as the RAF Museum in Hendon and the Stepney City Farm. I've developed new knitting classes and released more patterns both in magazines and independently. My enthusiasm for knitting and the impact that making things by hand can have within the community continues to excite and inspire me.

2014 has also brought sadness and difficulty. I lost a cousin and supported a dear friend through both marriage and the death of her husband in the space of less than a year. It reminded me that whilst building my career is important as I need to put food on the table, the most valuable things that I have are the people that I am lucky enough to have drawn around myself. They may need patching up and looking after now and again but are all the more precious and beautiful for all that.

In this spirit I used some of the quiet time that I have had over the last week or so to make a few repairs to well loved pieces of knitwear such as my grey Vitamin D cardigan here which I managed to tear a small hole in.

Or this pair of socks which fell victim to the shaped instep of my favourite Birkenstock clogs.

I'm certainly not claiming to be the world's most competent darner but it is something that I am determined to practice in 2015.

For me it's a really important skill. We all put hours of work into making things for ourselves and our loved ones and get great pleasure from wearing them so it makes sense that we don't just discard them when they start to show wear and tear. 

While I was concentrating on my darning I took the time to think about the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. I'm not really someone who makes New Years resolutions which set impossible goals and end up making me feel rather guilty. Instead I think I am simply going to make sure I look after what I am lucky enough to have, whether it be my good health, my good friends or my good warm socks!

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Growing up as a knitter

You might be forgiven for thinking, due to my recent blogging silence, that my enthusiasm for knitting had waned. The last couple of months haven't been particularly easy as I have been taking care of a dear friend who has suffered a great loss, I have found myself turning to my knitting more and more as a way of gathering myself up ready for another day. 

This sort of therapeutic knitting, however requires a careful choice of project. For me it has to be something warm and cosy under the fingers with a balance between concentration and swathes of calming, rhythmic stocking stitch slowly growing in my lap and give me the chance to be distracted but not too challenged. Recently I have become increasingly drawn to making full sized garments for myself, something that I have often shied away from in the past in case the garment didn't fit or didn't miraculously make me look like the model in the photo. My bulging sock, mitten and shawl draw speaks only too eloquently to this fact.

This time, however, I decided that I wanted a warm, cosy, generous cardigan that would work as a jacket as the weather becomes cooler. I also wanted a colour that felt warm so I chose one of my favourite work horse yarns, Cascade 220 in a shade called Birch Heather. I particularly like the Cascade Heathers shades as they combine shades in a sophisticated way which makes them look far more expensive than they really are!

I chose the Rosemont Cardigan by Hannah Fettig which is constructed from the top down and once I had realised that I needed to make good notes during the shoulder shapings I found to be a simple, intuitive knit, exactly what I have needed in these challenging few weeks.

I also came to realise that when I got to the shawl collar I was nowhere near finishing the garment. A skein and a half later I was still knitting but to create anything less than a generous collar would spoil the entire cardigan.

The cardigan is designed without buttons and buttonholes so gives the perfect opportunity to show off one of my collection of shawl pins. This one is a particular favourite by my friend Nickerjac.  It's one of the perks of my profession to spend time with talented, crafty people!

In retrospect I could probably have got away with knitting this garment a size smaller but I'm sure I'm not the only knitter who overestimates the size she needs. The sleeves in particular are longer than I need but having turned them back I think they reflect the shawl collar well so am happy with the way that they are.

I'm pleased to say that the temperature has started to drop so I have had plenty of opportunity to wear my cosy new cardigan and am really pleased that I have plucked up the courage to start knitting more jumpers for myself.

In fact, I am enjoying the process so much I have started another garment. More on this later....