Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Umbrian rooftops

What with all this finishing of projects, the other morning, with five minutes before I was due to leave the house, I realised that I had no portable, mindless knitting to put in my bag. With no time to get out the swift and ball winder I had to make a lunge at whatever pre-wound ball of yarn could be rummaged from the sock yarn box. Voila! A ball of Cherry Tree Hill Super Sock in a colourway called Serengeti.

I have had this yarn for about three years and tried to make something complicated from Nancy Bush's Knitting on the Road with it before I learned that busy hand painted yarns can look like a present left on the carpet by the cat if the pattern isn't properly selected. Burdened with this unpalatable image this yarn has lain forgotten. With no time to prevaricate I grabbed the ball and a set of needles and ran for the train.

As we chugged along on a grim, grey morning through the less than inspiring regeneration of the London Docklands my mind mercifully wandered back to my recent visit to Umbria and the beautiful relationship between light and colour and shape in some of the things I had seen there. Looking at the yarn in my hands as I completed a basic ribbing I was reminded of the views out across rooftops in the various medieval hill towns that I had visited and the way that even repeatedly repaired buildings were beautiful because of rather than despite their longevity and changes of use.

It occurred to me that if I used a simple waffle rib I could recreate something of the effect of the Umbrian rooftop views and bring just a little bit of the late summer warmth of Italy into my dreary early morning commute.

Looks like this yarn was in the right place at the right time.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Out and Proud!

I am delighted to announce that the pattern for the Have you Checked your Breasts socks is finished and ready for you to download should you wish to. I thought long and hard about the title of this post to continue with the message that we need to be open and unembarrassed about breast awareness but I didn't want to attract the attention of the wrong sort of googler. I wouldn't want to be the cause of any disappointment for those in search of fruitier fantasies.

On the side bar on the right you will see a section with three elements. Firstly, a link to the file hosting site from which this pattern can be downloaded as a pdf file free of charge.

Second is a link to a Justgiving page that I have set up in support of Breast Cancer Care which I would ask you to visit and make a small donation to support this important organisation. I chose Breast Cancer Care as their objectives match up with the spirit in which this pattern was developed, to encourage women to seek information and support in the care of their breasts in an open and positive way.

I was brought up on an island, in a small rural community. When people wanted to offer fruit and vegetables from their gardens for sale they would place the produce at the front gate with an 'honesty box' next to it which they trusted people to put money into in return. It is in this spirit that the request for small donations is made. We have created a wonderful online knitting community where I feel safe to revive old community traditions.

Of course, if you can't afford to make a donation, please take a copy of the pattern with my best wishes. If it helps you to remember to check your breasts and speak to your loved ones and ask them to do so too then this pattern will have done what it meant for.

Third is a link to the Yarn Yard. Natalie, Mrs Yarn Yard, has been both an inspiration and a collaborator in this project from the beginning. Not only did she write the piece on her blog which got me thinking about the concept for these socks, she has been busy dying up mini skeins of a beautiful crushed raspberry yarn which will be plenty enough to work the ribbons which she is offering free of charge with any purchase of sock yarn from her. She has also developed a lovely warm, creamy yarn called 'Porage Oats' which is a close cousin of the one off skein that I used for the original. Natalie will be launching this yarn at an online party that she will be holding on Saturday - do pop over and join us!

This has been a really satisfying project for me. I have had to work quickly to get this launched before the end of October so whilst Natalie has read it through for me to ensure that my explanations make sense, it hasn't been test knitted so of course I will be on hand to deal with any queries you might have. A Have you Checked your Breasts sock isn't just for October!

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Of Socktopi and woolly jumpers

As promised, here is the final shrine to my acquisitiveness from the Ally Pally Bacchanalia. The Socktopus haul. Although strictly speaking this yarn was ordered before the event and only picked up there I shall not take refuge behind semantics.

It is beautiful though isn't it? For us inhabitants of these sceptred isles, Alice has found our Achilles heel. (Now that has to be a name for a sock pattern...) She has contrived to bring to our very doorsteps yarns which we have up until now only been able to lust after from afar on our overseas friends' blogs or coughed up enormous shipping charges to obtain.

The above represents a pick n'mix of yarns that I have always wanted to try. From left to right we have... Somoko and Kasbah from Fleece Artist, Shelridge Farms solids and hand paints, Smooshy from Dream in Colour and Evolution by Chameleon Colourworks. In centre stage we also have Cat Bordhi's New Pathways for Sock Knitters book which I have been stalking for ages. There are eight new sock architectures in it which speak to the sock geek in me who wants to try each one immediately. A winter of migrating gussets awaits this sockaholic.

And just to prove that I do occasionally produce a garment with proper grown up sleeves and buttons and everything, here is my finished hoodie. It's huge and woolly and all enveloping and makes me wish for cold crisp autumnal days when I can bundle up in it and go swishing through fallen leaves. Much as I mourn the passing of the longer days, rejoice as we enter the woolly season!

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Photo Finish

I have noticed that one of my knitting habits seems to be that whilst I like to have multiple projects on the needles, quite often I will reach the end of a number of them all at the same time so today I have several finished objects to show.

I teach an occasional sock class at Loop which is always great fun. We finished one recently. It was wonderful to see the socks produced by Sandra, Hannah, Tricia, Henrietta and Enrico and to draw them gently into the world of sock knitting. I really enjoyed the class and think that they did too. Henrietta has told me that she is on her second pair already. Just to prove that I try to teach by example, I have also finished my class socks. They are knit in a Lana Grossa jacquard yarn which was fun as I haven't knit with self patterning yarn for a long time.

Loop and I arrange a sock class whenever we have enough people expressing an interest in learning to knit socks. So long as you can cast on, knit,purl, increase and decrease then the class is fine for you. We work over three sessions of an hour and a half where we go through the basic elements of top down knitted socks but we look at loads of other things too, yarns, following and writing patterns, different ways of constructing socks. By the end of the class everyone knows I am completely obsessed but we do have a lot of fun.If you feel like joining the craziness please contact Loop - we'd love to meet you.

I also finished the socks in Wild Orchid from the Knittery.I absolutely love the way these socks have turned out and am definitely keeping them for myself. They have a picot edge and an offset slip stitch heel flap which I think shows off the yarn to its best advantage. The Knittery yarn is dyed by Daphne in Victoria, Australia. I have spent a lot of time in Victoria with friends who study and grow native orchids and can say that the colour combination really evokes some of these beautiful and interesting plants. Daphne and I are working on a project at the moment. Watch this space...

Speaking of Australian influences I have finished the St Kilda Gelato mitts just in time for the change in the weather. I made these from my own hand spun blue faced Leicester which was dyed by Natalie at the Yarn Yard using the same stitch pattern that I used for the Cornish Scallop socks. I am very happy with these mitts. They are warm and fuzzy soft and I love the way the stitch moves the colour changes in the yarn in ripples.

On the subject of hand spun, I don't often show repeated progress shots as I don't want to bore readers but I make no apologies for gloating over the progress of my Lady E. I am delighted with the way it is coming out - very soft and drapy. I am enjoying how the two yarns move away from each other colour wise and then come together giving a lovely effect across the wrap.

Finally, I'm making good progress on writing up and finishing the second of the Have you Checked your Breasts socks. I have reworked the heel flap pattern to make it look a lot more clear and even so am on schedule for getting the pattern uploaded before the end of the month.

Busy, busy, busy!

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Encouraging the small supplier

...and other justifications for retail therapy.

In addition to yarns and roving, Ally Pally is a wonderful place to enjoy the enthusiasm of specialist booksellers and a whole range of talented craftspeople whose work makes knitting, which is a visual and tactile art that much more pleasurable.

Most of my knitting is done on double pointed or circular needles. However, there are occasions when straight needles are called for so I treated myself to a couple of pairs of Lantern Moon rosewood needles. They really are beautiful objects. I am already using the 4mm pair on my Lady E and I have to admit that they add to the tactile pleasure by being very smooth and with tapered ends that don't get caught up with all the backward and forward knitting involved in entrelac.

The needles are resting on an interesting addition to my knitting book collection full of wonderful traditional Scandinavian knitting designs which can be used on hats, mittens, jumpers and all manner of things. They remind me that I must not neglect my Norwegian colour work cardigan... I bought them from Felicity J Warnes which is a remarkable second hand book shop specialising in textiles and textile arts. They are based in a residential street in Enfield, north London, so I will definitely be making a trip to see them in the near future when my purse has recovered from Ally Pally.

I have struggled to find a sensible storage solution for my double pointed needles. I started with a jam jar which had its limitations, both aesthetic and practical then invested in a Lexie Barnes needle case where pockets were just the wrong size and shape such that my needles either disappeared down inside the case or fell out in a jumbled heap. This Lantern Moon case appears to be just the thing.The needles are secure, accessible, and the case is very very pretty...

I was completely ambushed by this knitting bag on the Hipknits stand. I walked away once, honestly I did, but then realised that I had a mental picture of myself carrying it so I found myself heading back. It's a Hab Bag which is made from a lot of recycled materials and found objects such as pebbles and shells from the beach. I would much rather support someone who is using their skills to produce one of a kind, beautiful things than buy from chain stores so I had to make it mine. It's the first time I've ever had a made for the purpose knitting bag so feel terribly grown up.

Finally, let me introduce you to a friend I met at the Knit and Relax area. Woolly is an Estonian sheep, the pattern for whom can be made from a recent issue of Spin Off Magazine. As you can see - he is an extremely talented knitter. Of course he has his own blog here .

I think I have covered pretty much everything from Ally Pally except one -Socktopus. I picked up an order I had previously made from Alice which is so extensive and gorgeous that it really deserves a post of its own. Watch this space....

Monday, 15 October 2007

In pursuit of Lady E

Lady Eleanor and I have had a long and difficult relationship. Ever since I bought the Scarf Style book she has been calling 'Knit me, knit me...' To my surprise, the entrelac was pretty straightforward so on my first attempt I zipped along and soon had a couple of feet of scarf. Horrible hairy orange scarf.

On my second attempt I used some lovely Elsebeth Lavold Silky wool in a lovely golden green colour. The drape was beautiful. The monochrome knitting was dullness itself.

Third came some Lorna's Laces Lion and Lamb. Colour repeats way too short. Turned into a mishmash.

Are you impressed by my tenacity yet, or just wondering why I continued to flog a dead horse?

Fourth attempt. Noro Silk Garden. How could I possibly go wrong? Everyone is producing gorgeous versions in this earthy stuff. Mine looked awful. Colours which looked beautiful in the ball fell in unattractive combinations, even when I took to editing the yarn for a particularly jarring electric blue.

The whole project has been shelved for about a year, until I learned to spin. As I spun the Lisa Souza roving the old idea started tapping on my shoulder. Extra roving was ordered and what at first glance seemed a setback, with the second order being radically different in colour to the first, in Lady E it can be used to advantage.

Half the second batch was spun.

The yarns were wound and introduced to each other.

Finally, it looks as if I might have a Lady Eleanor that makes me happy. She will be a little smaller and lighter than the original but already has wonderful drape and colour play which combines a level of symmetry with dynamic and interesting yarns.

Now I can't stop knitting.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Conspicuous Consumption

So here goes with Part 1 of the ritual gloatfest from the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace, one of the highlights of the British Knitters' Calendar for which we all save vigorously and then blow our budgets anyway (with apologies to my fellow knitters with more self control than me). I am not saying that I spent myself into penury but I wasn't sorry when the friends I was with all decided that instead of the night out at a jazz club that we had planned, we would stay home and watch the rugby instead!

This is the third year that I have attended and feel more 'at home' every year. I have noticed that knitting has a much stronger presence than when I first started attending, and am particularly pleased to see plenty of independent producers selling their own work. Whilst Woolfest will still be the place for spinners and those of us interested in the whole process there was plenty to gladden the hearts and eyes of any knitter here. So, what came home with me?

First some small bags of merino roving in a range of greens for livening up my spinning and trying new techniques in colour play. These are from Knitting4fun who stock a huge range of colours at prices keen enough to encourage experimentation.

I was also seduced by these beautiful hand dyed silk tops from Oliver Twists Threads which I am planning to work into my spinning although they are so beautiful as they are I may just keep them as pets.

Next we have yarn. Not for the first time do I wish that this blog came with an optional 'Feel This' facility as most of the pleasure in these beauties is in their softness. I will have to make do with three words. Hand spun cashmere. This yarn comes from Shilasdair who are based on the Isle of Skye. I bought three 50g skeins, enough to make three pairs of fingerless mitts for Christmas presents although the hard bit will be parting with them. For the quality of the materials, the natural hand dying and the hand spinning I was frankly shocked by the price which was less than half of that of commercially spun cashmere sold in high end knitting shops and this is so much more beautiful.

The Natural Dye Studio has always been a supplier that I have a great admiration for both for the beauty of their products and their ethical values. I had a long conversation with Heidi, the extraordinarily creative and knowledgeable woman at the heart of it and came away inspired and with some new and interesting sock yarns to try; alpaca and silk, alpaca and merino and some good old merino just because it takes up the colours and glows so beautifully. I love the way that these natural dyes whilst quite capable of creating intense colour, also have a complexity and subtlety which is very appealing.

I left my more extravagant and self indulgent acquisition until last. 100g of lace weight quivut. Before anyone goes racing for the smelling salts I will run through my self justification. There is enough here to make a substantially warm but very lightweight scarf. For the price I could have bought less than half the yarn for a Rowan jumper. Lace knitting is time consuming and exacting work so I have bought myself hours and hours of entertainment. Most importantly of all, I can say that I have knitted with quivut. Not only is it beautifully soft, it is dyed on top of its natural brown colour to produce wonderful, rich complex colours - I think I need a lie down now....

Here ends the first installment of my report back from Ally Pally. I have one or two other items to share over the next few days. However, by far the best bit of the event was the chance to talk with really knowledgeable people, catch up with friends old and new and to make connections which will allow me to further challenge myself as a knitter, teacher and designer over the coming months. I have been discussing commissions for two new sock designs and teaching another sock knitting class as well as some very kind offers for supporting the Have You Checked Your Breasts socks so am very glad to have had the opportunity to participate in such an inspiring event.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Chasing the light

I like to take my photographs in natural light but with a combination of shortening days and long working hours I find myself having to grab whatever chances I can so this morning I rushed out into my wet garden clutching an armful of woolliness with five minutes to point and shoot.

The first Have you Checked Your Breasts sock is finished. Thanks to everyone for their kind and encouraging comments. There are a few adjustments that I want to make to the heel pattern so I will be getting cracking on the pattern in the next few days. I am aware, however that I may be in danger of getting a bit 'socked out' so I have been spinning.

I've plied the first 100g of the Lisa Souza merino silk roving. The photo really doesn't do the yarn justice and as for the silky softness... I just wish you could feel it. I was looking forward to getting started on the Lady Eleanor shawl when the extra two skeins of roving arrived. I was quite prepared for the roving to be slightly different as no two dye lots are the same but wasn't prepared for it to be quite this different...

Whilst some of the colours are consistent, the proportions certainly aren't. Mind you, the yarns tone beautifully so I know I can make a gorgeous shawl from it by alternating the colours on the entrelac tiers. The only snag being that I have to set about spinning up 100g of the second roving before I start. Impatient? Me? Of course!

It's been all spin, spin, spin in this house...

Monday, 8 October 2007

Have you checked your breasts socks

I was very moved by this entry on Natalie's blog. Over the following few days I thought a lot about what I might do to support the campaign to encourage women (and men) to be breast aware and to make it part of life, something we talk about and aren't embarrassed by.

I thought that I would respond in the way that I knew best - a sock pattern! I wanted to do something that was symbolic rather than figurative so here are a couple of pictures of my thoughts so far.

The idea of the pattern is that you can choose any solid or semi solid yarn for the body of the sock and have some fun with pink ribbons which curl around the sock in a slip stitch pattern. I wanted to make a pattern that was interesting in its own right and didn't look like the stereotypical awareness sock.

I was particularly keen to put a design on the heel flap as this is a part of the sock that isn't often seen, usually hidden inside shoes and symbolises the fact that checking our breasts is easy to hide away from and forget about but needs to be something we are open about. This pretty pattern is meant to be seen so use it as a house sock or a clog sock but most importantly, every time you put them on or fold them into the sock drawer let the flower on the heel remind your to check your breasts and better still remind someone you love to check theirs too - go on - don't be shy, it could be the most important gift you ever give them.

Once I have done a little bit more adjustment I will be offering this pattern as a free download link from the website but I will also be putting up a Just Giving page with a request that you make a small donation to Breast Cancer Care who provide information and support to both those affected by breast cancer and promote awareness in the wider community. I did think about selling the pattern and donating the proceeds myself but I believe that knitters are honest and supportive and will value the pattern and what it represents.

When I was running this idea past Natalie (and checking that the heel pattern did NOT look like a nipple) she made a very generous offer. Anybody that buys the yarn from her at the Yarn Yard for these socks will receive a mini skein of pink yarn free of charge to make their ribbons.

I hope to have this pattern available before the end of October. This is another new departure for me so I would be grateful, as ever for any advice you might have on making this a success.

Friday, 5 October 2007

A night on the town

The Queens of the Night are finished and ready to party. They've just been caught sneaking out for a Friday night on the town. Alert the paparazzi.

Ready for my close up Mr DeMille.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

It's all gone Lime and Violet!

I had some very exciting news yesterday - my Bracket Fungus socks were featured on Lime and Violet's Daily Chum. I am quite speechless - which is unusual for me... I have only been blogging for six months and designing for about four so am constantly and warmly surprised at how quick the knit blogging community is to embrace and encourage new writers and designers. So today, quite coincidentally, everything in my world has gone Lime and Violet!

Today was a beautifully sunny early autumn day. Too warm to wear a coat but with enough coolness in the air to warrant a little something around the ribs to deal with any pesky draughts. Perfect weather for me to whip out what I still resolutely refer to as my Tank Top.

I am a child of the 70's after all and had an absolute eye burner of a stripy one that my mum made out of scraps from the bottom of her wool basket. This, rather more stately garment is one I made last winter from a Knitting Pure and Simple pattern, knit in the round to the armholes then divided for arm and neck. The yarn is Jo Sharp Merino DK which is a real joy to knit with; smooth sturdy, saturated. A real solid knitting experience. Of course, now I've worn this I am determined to add a few more to my wardrobe before the winter is out. This time something with a deeper vee and narrower shoulders as, much as I love this one, I would prefer a slightly more feminine silhouette.

What with launching my Bracket Fungus socks onto an unsuspecting public and receiving such warm and encouraging feedback, my mind is whizzing with all kinds of new ideas. It's at times like this when I need to steady myself down a bit and focus that a completely plain, simple stocking stitch sock in a lovely yarn that does all the work for you is called for.This is Wild Orchid from the Knittery which is, rather spookily, also Lime and Violet....

Pink for October

As you can see, the blog has has a fresh coat of paint. This is to mark Breast Cancer awareness month. You can sign up and pledge to turn your website pink for the month here . I'm doing this in particular for my mum who died of breast cancer in 1984 and for my brave and beautiful friends Kath and Cathy who are living with it.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

My very own Spirals!

Regular readers of this blog will remember that back in June I was commissioned by Natalie from the Yarn Yard to design a sock pattern for her to give away with her yarn on her stall at Woolfest. The brief was to show how hand paints and semi solids can be used together creatively and that colour work does not have to be daunting for a beginner.
I designed the Spiral Sock pattern in slip stitches for her and also made several examples in different yarn combinations to show how they changed the effect of the design. Now this is a dream task for any sock knitter - all the pleasure of of that first sock, over and over again - with no guilt about second sock syndrome.
Recently, Natalie set up a knitalong for the pattern on the Crafty Threads n' Yarns forum and invited me as the designer to join them to answer any questions that people might have, especially those taking their first steps in colour work. It occurred to me that although I had knitted this sock several times over, I didn't actually have a pair for myself so the knitalong seemed like a pretty good opportunity. I have to say that I was completely bowled over by the beautiful socks people produced, especially Murdo for whom these were her second pair of socks - ever!
To my shame, while nearly everyone else has long finished their socks, I was seduced by other projects and fell behind. But no more! The socks are done, complete with the cunning little short row adjustment that I invented sitting in a field in Oxfordshire to even up the toes. I used Cherry Tree Hills Supersock in solid purple with an oddment of handpaint whose name escapes me. These socks are a great way to use up those pesky little balls of hand paint that are too pretty to part with that we all have lying around.
From today, Natalie has very kindly given her permission for me to post a link in my patterns section on the sidebar to the Spiral Socks (newly updated with aforementioned cunning adjustment), on her website and will send anyone who asks a copy of this pattern. No yarn purchase necessary but if you can escape from her site without a little something in your shopping cart you are a better sock fiend than me!
For some reason, I have a flurry of projects, all nearing completion in the next couple of days. Watch out for the eye popping debut of the Queens of the Night...you can leave your hat on.