Saturday, 12 April 2014

Knitting legacies

Yesterday my friend and partner is woolly endeavours, Nic and I met up to make some really exciting plans for some summer activities which we will be telling you all about very soon.

As a reward for being serious and focussed for several hours we treated ourselves to a bit of a tour of our favourite charity shops.As we both need to be disciplined about the amount of 'treasure' we bring home with us, vintage china was admired and carefully put back, handbags were acknowledged as bargains and left on the hooks but as any charity shop treasure hunter will tell you, finding an innocent looking plastic bag on a bottom shelf can be fatal, especially when you're both textile artists and  it's full of hundreds of vintage knitting patterns.... As if that wasn't enough, the lady behind the counter noticed our interest and produced another four large files from under her desk like rabbits out of a hat. We really could have spent hours going through them and certainly plan a return trip but here is a sample of a few that I couldn't walk away from.

I like looking at old knitting patterns for many reasons, particularly as they offer a window into the day to day lives of people in the relatively recent past. This boy, whose jumper is described as a windjammer. looks like he has come straight out of an Enid Blyton book with his short trousers, shirt and tie under his casual woolly and keen interest in aviation. Mercifully Robin Nylona Multiply turns out to be a very fine wool, nylon blend knit at 30 stitches to the four inches. It's a sign of the times that in an era when new, man made fibres were coming onto the market that Robin marketed their wool highlighting the nylon content rather than as we do now, concentrating on the natural fibre.

I really like the colour photography of the earlier patterns. However, this child seems a little swamped in blue wool. A lot of the patterns of this era seemed to dress children head to toe in very warm woollen garments. I think we sometimes forget that houses at the time were not as well heated as they are now but I also remember that my mum would dress my sister and I up warmly and leave the pram out in the garden, just to make sure we got plenty of fresh air. Despite this rather overwhelming outfit I am quite smitten with the hat and can see mysself adapting it for future baby knitting.

I rather like this next pattern. The artwork has the feel of a cinemascope movie and, If I can instill a little more discipline in my waistline I would happily wear this little cross over top.

This next pattern brings things a little more up to date as by the late 50's and early 60's it was being acknowledged that younger adults had style and tastes of their own and this pattern is attempting to meet their needs. I have a feeling that the couple on the moped aren't actually going anywhere but I love the fact that she is pulling on his scarf to give a sensation of speed. I can't help remembering the one and only time my dad took my mum on the back of his moped. As he leaned into corners, she leaned out. Mum took the bus home.

Both the colour palette and the styling of this pattern move it firmly into the 1960s with its rather groovy mother and daughter headgear sets. Some may have stood the test of time better than others. The caps are rather chic. Helmets? Not so much.

Finally, I have one pattern which came home with me because it has no particular merit other than making me laugh out loud.

Caption anyone?

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Reasons to be Cheerful

Now I'm a pretty optimistic sort of person but the last few days of winter can make spring seem an awful long way away. That's why I was delighted when, a few weeks ago my friend Rachel released her latest sock pattern, Reasons to be Cheerful. She showed me these socks last summer and had made them in a glorious shade of yellow, Brassica by Uncommon Thread. 

Somewhere hidden in my memory the lyrics of Ian Dury's song, Reasons to be Cheerful, part 3 came to mind. 'Did you know'.... I said in the style of the pop music nerd....'That Ian Dury mentioned yellow socks as one of his reasons to be cheerful?'

You can imagine how delighted I was when the gift of this pattern arrived in my inbox and I read what she had called them!

Of course, with a big smile on my face I had to dig out one of my favourite skeins of yellow yarn and cast on immediately. It's Smoothy Sock by Artist's Palette which I have been saving for the right project. By a happy coincidence these socks involve a garter stitch short row toe and heel which is one of those that I teach in my toe up sock class. Last time I taught I discovered to my embarrassment that I had no pairs of unworn socks in this particular style to use as an example. Even though my socks are thoroughly clean I prefer not to display the evidence of the miles I have walked to the whole class!

The stitch pattern is easily memorised and as a disguised, asymmetric rib gives a very good fit. It's not a quick knit as it is mostly ribbing but it is great for knitting on the go.

All in all I can thoroughly recommend the pattern. It's well written, easy to follow and invites you to grab the skein of yarn that makes you happiest and cast on. Now that spring has finally arrived it's very tempting to put them on immediately but then I would have to cast on another pair for teaching wouldn't I?

This knitting game is such hard work....

I'll leave the last words to someone who helped write the soundtrack to my youth:

Eighteen-wheeler Scammels, Domineker camels
All other mammals plus equal votes
Seeing Piccadilly, Fanny Smith and Willy
Being rather silly and porridge oats

A bit of grin and bear it, a bit of come and share it
You're welcome, we can spare it, yellow socks

Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3
Ian Dury 1942 - 2000

Monday, 17 March 2014

What's lurking at the bottom of your knitting basket?

Spring must be in the air as I spent most of this last weekend trying to bring order to the low level chaos that is my house. The bright spring weather means that I have been putting out line after line of washing, opening doors and windows and letting the fresh air into the house after the long, damp winter. 

It has been such a mild winter that, like most people with a serious wool habit my moth paranoia has gone into overdrive as it just hasn't been cold enough to thin out the little beasties and I am convinced that there will be a total epidemic this year. Rather than relying on the resident feline pest control service I decided to invest in a large batch of Ziploc bags and lavender and start battening down the hatches.

It occurred to me that whilst most of my stash lives in the relative safety of plastic boxes, my works in progress live in a row of baskets near the sofa and were probably vulnerable. Imagine the horror of returning to something you had invested loads of time and effort in to find that something had chewed a hole in it before you had even finished it. Just doesn't bear thinking about...

I have to admit that it's been some time since I really looked at what was in the baskets and it was a sobering experience. There were some things in there that I don't even remember casting on.

Even more alarmingly I came across this really pretty half finished sock in a gorgeous shade of Artist's Palette Smoothy Sock. I have no idea when I cast it on or why I stopped but worst of all I have absolutely no idea what the pattern is.

It's not in my Ravelry projects or in my blog archive. It's knit from the toe up so might be a Wendy Johnson design so if anyone has an encyclopedic knowledge of sock patterns I'd really appreciate it if you could shed any light on it as I'd really like to finish it.

Once I've recovered from the shock of the extent of my WIP pile I may be back for more advice on how to tackle it.

Have you checked the bottom of your knitting basket recently?

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Playing with colour

Remember those lovely little balls of Little Grey Sheep Stein Lace that I was playing with the other day?

They quickly grew from this mitten tip...

 To these mittens.

Using my own Fairlee Mitten pattern I decided that I would divide each skein in two and make some dramatic colour block mittens, using every scrap of this soft and cosy yarn. I was really surprised at the yardage in these skeins and found that I was able to adapt the pattern and extend the cuff and the ribbing quite a long way in the end.

This is why it is so nice to have this pattern to work with as it gives a framework within which to play and create different effects using the characteristics of the yarn to guide the finished article.

I have to say that given the unexpected length of these mittens I was a bit jaded by the time I had finished the first one so I decided to spice things up a bit and further divide the remaining balls of yarn in two so that I could make the colour blocks on the second mitt slightly smaller.

I like the idea of having a pair of mittens which are fraternal rather than identical. It also means that I know which is the left and which is the right. Perfect for putting them on in a hurry on a cold morning.

I can't recommend this yarn highly enough. Being a cross between Shetland and Gotland it has the bounce of the former with the sheen on Gotland. It is worsted spun so it is smooth and strong. I might be tempted to try it for socks as the combination of bounce and strength should make it a good choice.

Mind you, I'm not sure I need them at the moment. As you can see, the photos were taken in beautiful spring sunshine by my friend Nic at Stepney City Farm. Knowing our weather, however, I'm pretty sure I'm going to have a chance to show them off before too long.

Friday, 14 March 2014

And the lucky winners are....

Yes, it's the time that all you spinners have been waiting for, I have made the draw for the winners of the spinning book giveaway. As you can see, I went for the high tech red bowl/green bowl method of allocation.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to comment on the blog and let me know your preferences. In all, thirteen of you asked for Yarn Works and ten for Spinning and Dying yarns. Unfortunately one of two of you left messages but didn't leave me your name. I'm afraid I haven't included you in the draw.

The winner of the draw for Yarn Works is Happyluckyalix.

And the winner of Spinning and Dyeing Yarn is KarenE.

If you could both contact me by direct message on Twitter, Facebook or Ravelry and let me have your name and postal address I will pass them on to the publisher who will send your books off to you.

Thanks again to everyone who participated in the draw and to the publishers, Aurum Press for the kind donation of the prizes.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Growing New Knitters

Most Thursday lunchtimes my friend Nic and I plus as many crafty people as we can gather, steal away from our busy lives and gather in the cafe at Stepney City Farm to knit, crochet, drink coffee, eat cake and have lunch. It has become a real oasis of calm for us and we have been made really welcome by the team, who know us as 'Their Knitters'. 

A few weeks ago the Farm announced a crowd funding appeal to help them raise the funds that they needed to keep the farm providing the important service to the community that it does so Nic and I decided that it was our opportunity to pay something back for the wonderful times that we have spent there. We offered places on a "Learn to Knit' workshop in return for donations and yesterday we delivered on our promise.

We provided yarn, needles, project bags and other goodies to three enthusiastic beginners who were a pleasure to teach. There were also drinks and chocolates provided by the Farm but I was too late to photograph the chocolate...

Everyone mastered casting on, knit, purl and casting off.

Some ambitious souls decided to branch out into crochet and someone even had to make an emergency call to the local yarn shop for supplies on the way home!

 I love watching the different ways people hold yarn and needles and hooks - it's as individual as a signature.

I think it's true to say that we enjoyed ourselves just as much as the participants. We are in discussions with the Farm about more yarn and fibre based activities later in the year but in the meantime please come and join us on a Thursday lunchtime and I'm sure that you will fall in love with the place as much as we have.

Friday, 7 March 2014

From knitting to clothing - a success story!

When I ruefully examine the pile of half finished knitting projects that surround my favourite corner of the sofa I sometimes wonder whether I might have problems letting go of my knitting. Of course, when I start a project it's usually because I've seen lovely pictures of the finished item and have a mental image of how wonderful it will look when it's done. I also love the process of seeing the pattern develop stitch by stitch and feeling the fabric moving under my fingers. I have to admit though, that when I finally cast off a project and sew in the last end, before I step back to admire it I feel just a little bit sad that it is no longer my knitting but has to go on and make its way in the world as a piece of clothing.

It may also be the case that until I actually finish a project I can imagine that this time it is going to be the most perfect item I have ever created and I will look exactly as gorgeous in it as I thought I would when I saw the photo...

But sometimes a project delivers more than you hope it will. When I grabbed a handful of skeins of Yarn Yard Clan that had been sitting in my stash for ages and decided to cast on a multi coloured version of Veera Valimaki's Different Lines I wasn't sure whether I would be able to combine the colours in a way that made me happy. 

 I'm delighted to say that through a combination of luck and judgement I was able to put together a combination that makes me think of spice markets and desert landscapes or a little closer to home, the coloured sands of Alum Bay, a tourist attraction on the Isle of Wight where you can fill a test tube with layers of different coloured sands.

I was really lucky to find a patch of early spring sunshine to take these photographs in as they enhance the warm, spicy shades.

I made the shawl as large as I could, weighing the skeins after every section to make sure I got as much from them as possible. It is likely that my kitchen scales spent more time in my knitting corner than in the kitchen...

The result is a good sized, asymmetric shawl in a sort of flying V shape which I can wrap around my neck a couple of times. The yarn is very smooth which makes it warm but not fuzzy, perfect for the early days of spring.

I'm very glad that I braced up and cast off this project.