Sunday, 29 April 2007

I had a fantastic day yesterday. My friend E and I went to a spinning class at the Handweavers Studio . We have been planning this for a while since getting a little taste for spinning when we went on the Skipnorth holiday in March. There were seven of us in the class, taught by the remarkable and inspiring Nancy which took us back to the absolute basics of having a raw fleece in front of us, identifying all the parts, choosing fibre to spin on a spindle straight from the fleece, carding and finally spinning and plying on a wheel. Above is the hard won fruits of my labour of which I am indecently proud. It may have the texture of weathered rope and smell quite strongly of sheep but for me, it represents such a lot of learning and the realisation that I really, really, really want a spinning wheel as there were moments in the day which may have lasted as long as three seconds at a time when I felt completely at one with my wheel, enjoying the rhythmic sound of it spinning and watching what to me is still magical, the transformation of a handful of fluff into yarn.

Of course the practical part of me knows that I don't really have room in the house for more fibre related equipment, nor really the time to do it justice but when did that ever stop me...

The studio and shop in themselves are a real treasure trove of fibre arts related gems. I could have quite easily been separated from a great deal of cash but I confined myself to these finds that I am absolutely delighted with - eight back issues of my favourite knitting magazine, Interweave Knits. They are all from between 1999 and 2003 and the patterns, for the most part are such classics that they don't go out of date. I am sorted for bedside reading for the next few weeks.

One of the other great things about doing a course is the opportunity to spend time in the company of like minded people and to discover levels of connectedness. One of the participants is planning to set up a fibre related charitable programme with women in Albania, for which both E and I enthusiastically volunteered our help and support. It involves supporting women in relearning traditional craft skills as a way of supporting them both emotionally and hopefully economically. Who said you can't change the world with knitting?

One of the strangest moments of the day was when I was diving under the table to fetch an escaped rollag (listen to me dropping random spinning terms into the conversation...) and noticed my neighbour's beautiful socks. I said ' You're a member of the Rockin' Sock Club aren't you?' She nearly fell off her chair in surprise. There can only be a handful of us in the UK as it is a US based company. For the uninitiated the Rockin Sock Club is an annual subscription where participants are sent a mystery skein of Socks that Rock yarn and a pattern every two months. I recognised that she was wearing last month's kit and also remembered that I hadn't started mine yet with this month's yarn arriving any day. Of course, I had to dash home and in between admiring my hairy spinning and flicking through the mother lode of old Interweaves I got started on my sock club sock. I can't think why I never started it before - the colours are absolutely gorgeous and the pattern is ingenious. One of the benefits of a club like this is that it encourages me to try new techniques as I can get teribly stuck in my sock knitting ways. It's a toe up style which I am not very familiar with but so clever. I only have one question for the expert knitting community at large:

The pattern calls for a crochet cast on of 32 stitches which is later 'unzipped' so that the stitches can be picked up. The instructions say that the stitches are cast on through the bumps on the back of the chain. Now, not being a crocheter I can barely construct a chain, let alone tell the back from the front and when I come to unzip I end up picking the stitches out individually. Help!

As you can see I have made a fair bit of progress on the sock and have also resisted the innuendos and sniggering going around the knitting community about what the shape reminds them of. It does though, doesn't it....

On that note I shall sign off possibly the longest post I have done so far, complete with links now that I have discovered how to do them. One final word of thanks to Lixie for mentioning my baby blog in one of her recent podcasts as well as her reference to one of my more embarrassing domestic escapades in her debut edition!

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Ooh look! Another pair of socks. Zzzzzzzzzzz............... I think I'm boring myself. They are the source of some satisfaction, however as one sock has been living a solitary bachelor life for some time. Take that, second sock syndrome! For the record, this earthy yet urbane chap is Claudia Handpaint in a colour called Walk in the Woods. It is a great favourite of mine with all the sheen and plushiness of Koigu without the usual alarming colour conflagrations.

Apart from routine commuter socks I am very excited as I am currently working on something of a commission. This is a first for me but I didn't have to be asked twice to whip out my stitch dictionaries and play around with wool. I'm tolerably pleased with the retina scorching fruits of my labour but its early days yet.....

Monday, 23 April 2007

Tomorrow is my sister's birthday. It is our habit to send each other birthday care parcels full of jokes and treats and things that we have made. So what better than to send these Colinette Jitterbug socks back to Wales where they belong. I hope she will like them as the colours remind me of the muted tones and undulations of the Welsh hills. Happy birthday sis!

Sunday, 22 April 2007

As previously mentioned I love knitting, designing, wearing and giving away socks. When I first discovered the passion I used a lot of the commercial plain and printed yarn which can just be flung in the washing machine and comes out fine and fuzzy time after time. Of course, as the passion deepened so did my taste for more and more exquisite and high bred yarns. After a couple of felting and shrinking incidents I realised that these thoroughbred socks needed the tender treatment of a hand wash.

One of the joys of a sock habit as prolific as mine is that an endless supply of socks is to hand each morning and if I need an extra special spring in my step, a new pair can always be found to add colour to the day.

Prolific knitter I may be, domestic goddess I am not. A rare Sunday at home means that thoughts have to turn to matters of a laundry variety. I was aware I hadn't done a hand wash for a while but was a little abashed by the number of socks I was pulling from my laundry bag. I felt like a magician pulling the flags of all nations from his sleeve. So here it is, a sizeable, if by no means complete snapshot of my sock collection. For the lovers of detail amongst us I believe from left to right the line contains: Cherry Tree Hill, Socks that Rock, more CTH, three lots of Schaeffer Anne, two of Claudia Handpaint, two Mountain Colors Bearfoot, two Lorna's laces, one Koigu, on Trekking XXL and one Sheldridge Farms.

I'm looking forward to the feeling of satisfaction that I will get when they are all folded neatly in my sock drawer.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

Here is a more substantial picture of my current work in progress. It is Rose by Alexandra Virgiel (Knitty's Soleil with sleeves) and is made in Rowan Cotton Glace in Spice. It's coming along quite quickly but I do find cotton a little hard on the hands to work with exclusively, yes another excuse for my blatant project infidelity...

As this journal becomes more than a few weeks old I have noticed that it is already peppered with a significant number of works in progress that remain in my knitting basket. Perhaps one of the roles of this record is to prick my conscience every now and again to ensure that they don't disappear like that soap star who goes down the road for a packet of biscuits and fails to return, unremarked upon by the rest of the cast.

Friday, 20 April 2007

Spring is well and truly here now, with days so warm that it is sometimes hard to remember that it really is only April. The swifts are yet to return from their winter migration even though I scan the sky for them daily. All this warmth and light has a real influence on what I want to wear and knit, even the colours I want to be around. Autumn and winter see me drawn to muted, tweedy shades. Come the spring I'm looking for fuchsia pink, lime green and spicy orange.

Knitting for me will always have to have a strong element of the practical within it, even though I am striving to improve my skills and tackle complexity for the love of the art. However I woke up on Monday saying to myself 'Planning my summer working wardrobe would be so much easier if I had half a dozen or so plain knitted cotton tees...' With an Amazon's build like mine (!!) that's an awful lot of stocking stitch, and cotton is a hard taskmaster if you want your stitches to be even... I can at least manage to tackle one.

So there we have it, temporarily on one side are the greys and soft blues of the current inhabitants of my knitting bag - enter the plain, simple, bright orange celebration of the new season.

Monday, 16 April 2007

The melon shawl is finished. Once I was on a roll with the border I stayed up way later than I should have done to finish the knitting, blocked it on the carpet where, on a day like this it was dry by the late afternoon.

The first picture shows it in its damp, pre-blocked state - it looks so miserable and unprepossessing in this state - like a lettuce forgotten about a t the back of the fridge - it's quite remarkable that with a bit of coaxing and pinning it can be transformed into something so... grown up! I'm glad I used the brilliant lime green - it might have looked a bit sedate and not really me in a more muted shade - will be fabulous with black, my wardrobe staple.

I am surprised at how substantial it feels. The yarn feels like hairy spiders web to a good old fashioned wool devotee like myself - I think it will be great for summer evenings out - as if a girl needs an excuse...

Sunday, 15 April 2007

This weekend I have been a true and faithful knitter, devoting what knitting time I have to finishing the border on my Melon Shawl. Good news! I only have about 18 inches to go - I could have my first major finished piece to post about by the end of the week if I can hold fast to my task.

However, I do need to post a warning to other Victorian Lace Today knitters. I have been reading in a number of places that the yardage guidance is not particularly accurate. It is certainly true in my case. The book says that this shawl needs 3 balls of Kid Silk Haze. I bought 4 to be on the safe side and am very glad I did - I ran out before I was even halfway round the border - I doubt that I will have much left from the fourth ball so the yardage is out by a good 20%. I am lucky that it was easy for me to compensate but there are those who may have used one off artisan yarns for whom dodgy yardage information will be a big deal.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

This is my latest effort at sock design. What I was hoping for was a gentle fading of the handpaint into the solid by varying the proportions in the slip stitches. it hasn't turned out exactly as I had hoped - I think it would be better if I used a slightly more contrasting solid as the transition gets a little lost towards the end. However, I did enjoy experimenting with a different heel and toe. Referring to Nancy Bush's Vintage Socks I used an adapted Dutch heel where instead of a stocking stitch heel flap I used a reinforced Sl1K1 for the right side row to increase the life of the sock and give a better fit around the heel. The toe is a spiral toe from the same book.

Having reviewed the last few entries I think I need to reassure myself that I am capable of finishing pieces of work so here, by way of proof are my finished East is East socks. I have to say that I am very pleased with the way they have turned out. A couple of people have suggested that I might want to start to write up some of my sock patterns. I am extremely flattered by this and am very willing to oblige but am not really sure how to go about it. Patterns seem to be written in so many different styles. Does anybody out there know of any good guidance on pattern writing or can offer any helpful advice?

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

I am aware that I was determined not to start another shawl project until the Melon Shawl is complete but it is no longer a portable project giving the amount of swishing around of 6 feet of mohair adding a knitted on edging appears to entail. This may well be due to poor technique on my part but contributed to my need to have a reasonably portable non sock project to hand at the weekend. I decided to tackle the Luna Moth shawl pattern which is free on the Elann website using my good old favourite Rowanspun DK, this time in a subtle turquoise with yellow and green flecks. I have to admit that it has taken me a while to get into the swing of the pattern but I have developed a level of rhythm whereby now I don't have to have the pattern permanently stapled to my knee. As is often the case with lace, it currently resembles a rather unprepossessing bundle of stitches but I am really looking forward to the first time that I immerse it in water. I love the way the damp wool smells as I pin it out and see the pattern emerge properly for the first time - makes it all worthwhile!

PS I know I wasn't going to go on about it but I have now managed to produce 12 inches of the Melon Shawl edging - only another 11 feet to go....

Despite the fact that as predicted, knitting time was confined to train journeys and the quiet time after children's bedtime, some inroads were made into the yarn mountain I carted with me to Wales. I finished the Apple Laine socks. They are going to be extremely warm as the fabric has turned out to be very thick and dense. The plushiness of the fabric made them a pleasure to knit and the simplicity of the project made them the perfect companions on a sunny train journey watching the flatlands of the Midlands give way to the hills and mountains of Mid Wales.

I am now home from Easter with my family - we had great times. One of the things we try to do is to make sure the kids have as much fun as possible without huge quantities of chocolate being consumed by all and sundry! Last Easter I spent the five hour train journey making egg cosies with left over sock yarn so that I could give everyone a gift of an egg cup and cosy with, of course, a small chocolate egg hidden inside. Whilst the egg cups have seen good service I kind of expected the cosies to be a bit of a novelty and to go on one side afterwards... I was really pleased, however, when my sis told me that when my 7 year old nephew, G comes home from football training he is usually ravenously hungry and often cold so requires instant warm feeding. One of his favourite meals is boiled egg and soldiers so, in order for it to be ready when he comes in my sis puts it on the table in good time - complete with it's egg cosy!

Thursday, 5 April 2007

I am going away to spend Easter with my sister and two small children in Wales. I am travelling by train. Therefore, packing needs to be confined to the essentials, especially on a day like today when the trains are bound to be 'crush loaded' as I believe they say in the trade.

I am skilled by years of experience in packing the right amount of clothes and general gear to fill a modest case. However, when it comes to my knitting I am seized by some irrational notion that I MIGHT RUN OUT OF YARN!!! I give you, my wool packing for the weekend. Part of me knows that if I chose to knit solidly for all the hours of the long weekend I would still not get through it and the chances of that with two excitable children around are zero, but the other part is unable to decide which, if any to leave out. Because, you see, I need something mindless for chatting in front of the television. I need something mildly but not overwhelmingly challenging yet compact for the 5 hours I am about to spend on a crowded train, I'm bound to finish the socks as I am already on the foot of the first one. Choice is quite impossible.

So if you see someone with the tiniest of suitcases rolling along behind her fighting her way through the London crowds this afternoon, shedding balls of wool - that'll be me....

PS There is, of course, a perfectly good wool shop where I will be staying.
I don't intend to use this blog to record every six inches of progress that I might make on my projects - I would be sure to bore myself rigid, let alone any hapless visitor who might pass by. I do, however want to highlight certain milestones. I have now finished the centre panel on the Melon Shawl and have started the knitted on border. I have to say it was like learning to use this challenging yarn all over again but I am making better progress now I have the general idea. This cunningly angled photograph disguises the fact that I have only managed about 7 inches so far. I rather wish I hadn't done the mental calculation that I have another 12 feet of it to go.... These short rows mean that it is difficult to relax into a rhythm but the way the border transforms the appearance of the shawl makes me want to press on.

Monday, 2 April 2007

In the absence of other news here is a gratuitous yarn photograph. 950 metres of lace weight cashmere by Knitwitch in a shade called Crushed Strawberry. It has some variegation but not too much to overpower a simple lace pattern. Whilst I am determined not to start anything with it until I have finished the melon shawl I have it on the table both for decorative purposes and so that I can think about the sort of pattern that might suit it. Sometimes the planning is the best part of a project and I intend to savour it.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

I am very excited about these socks. I have spoken already about my passion for slip stitches. Ha! That was before I discovered mosaic stitches. I would describe them as a slip stitch's more sophisticated older sister. Barbara Walker's Second Treasury has a very good introductory chapter which leads the knitter gently by the hand from simple zigzags right through to the most intricate of mazes and labyrynths, all created by only using one strand of yarn at a time. I am quite captivated. However, I am aware that a grand passion can be nipped in the bud by launching myself into an over complicated design before I have grasped the basic principles.

Thoughtfully, Walker offers this pair of patterns, Macedonian stitch and Russian stitch by way of an introduction to the principle. I think they lend themselves perfectly to a sock as one stripes vertically and one horizontally. I gave the sock a folded over hem in order to use the Macedonian stitch as the cuff then allowed the Russian stitch to run down the ankle and instep. The yarn is, once again from the Yarn Yard Sock Club.