Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Still whirling

Now I'd hate for you to think that I am so consumed by mitten love that my enthusiasm for spinning had lapsed. Oh dear no. When it comes to the fibre arts I am shamelessly promiscuous.

There may be some of you with gym memberships and quantities of Lycra clothing. Not me. I have embarked upon a quite different form of fitness regime. Every so often during a happy evening's knitting I might prise myself from the comfy corner of the sofa for an invigorating spin on the wheel - so much more productive than an exercise bike! It's surprising how much yarn a health fanatic like me can produce!

I have been steadily working away on the Lady Eleanor, such that I have had to spin up another skein of the predominantly purple. As you can see, I spun the purple up rather more thickly than the blue so they have been consumed at a somewhat differential rate. Luckily, the entrelac is very forgiving of the unevenness of yarn weight which just adds to its abstract quality. The stole is now about a metre and a half long. I think I need another metre for a really big swishy scarf. Looks like I might be able to spin away a few more grams of flab before I'm finished!

Once the purple merino silk had cleared the bobbin I set about the October Yarn Yard fibre which is a lovely space dyed merino pencil roving. I think it will make lovely socks so I am spinning it up fairly thinly and will ply it on itself for a barber pole ragg wool effect which I enjoy in socks. However, it is taking all my self control not to tear this bobbin off the wheel so that I can start on this....

Merino silk roving which is the November Yarn Yard fibre club offering. I have to say that tears almost came to my eyes when I saw this. It is absolutely beautiful, both in colour and texture. The roving is dyed all over in a luminous silver grey then over dyed in sky blue and teal. Simply perfect.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Grand Passion

It's official. I have been seized by mitten mania. They are such wonderful, small projects, the perfect place to experiment with new techniques, to be playful with colours and delicious yarns. The most sober of winter outfits can be livened up with a flash of multicoloured mitt. The significant advantage over socks being that they can be surreptitiously admired by the wearer at all times without the need to make obvious contortions or shed footwear.

The Marvelous Mittens are finished. I can't speak highly enough of this pattern and would recommend it to anyone planning to take the plunge with stranded colour work. Using only two colours at once and letting the yarn do all the work gives an effect way more complex than might be expected. The variegation, particularly in the Strange Harvest colourway of the Smooshy has added a really attractive dimension to the appearance of the pattern. Can you tell I'm chuffed to pieces with these mitts? I'll be quiet now...

They have inspired me to take a further step...

... working with on more than two colours in a project! These are the Latvian Mittens from Veronik Avery's new book Knitting Classic Style . As I didn't have the yarn called for, I substituted Jamieson's Spindrift from my stash. I think I did a much better job than my previous attempts at choosing and placing colours as I am happy with the way the mitten looks. The colors are distinct but none of them is elbowing the others out of the way in a bid to be noticed.This mitten is complete apart from edging the thumb and turning up the hem. I made it slightly longer than the pattern suggests and work a row of decreases into the cast off to stop the edge flaring which seems to have done the trick.

We're expecting a cold snap at the weekend - which mitts shall I wear first?

Sunday, 18 November 2007

A Tale of two Mitties...

... I know, I'm sorry...

My enthusiasm for colour work remains undimmed as work continues on my Marvellous Mitts. With any luck there will be satisfying photographic evidence of my labours shortly.

Working away on the second mitt, having got the hang of the new techniques my mind naturally turns to my next project. I am definitely going to do some more colour work, probably Latvian Mitts which means that I am going to have to get to grips with choosing more than two colours. A few weeks ago I was talking with friends about understanding enough colour theory to choose a combination of colours that will give me a finished article that lives up to my expectations. I found this article very helpful in explaining what went wrong here...

The mitt on the left is one of the my first experiments in colour work. I didn't have a great choice of colours but somehow, through luck rather than judgement I manage to choose a combination of colours for the central panel that made it stand out but draw the eye towards the whole pattern in a harmonious way. The two outside stripes, whilst not actively ugly are way too close in colour value to stand out as they should.

However, buoyed up by this partial success, I bought myself a palette of some of my favourite colours in Jamieson's Spindrift, very excited about creating a pair of mitts which would be superior in every way. Because of my ignorance of the importance of colour value the two colours in the central band of the pattern are so much out of balance with the rest of the mitt that they draw the eye away from the pattern and focus entirely on the stripe through the middle. This mitt is not likely to acquire a thumb or a partner, poor thing. In terms of helping me learn a lesson, however, it is invaluable.

Other knitting carries on. I have finished the first of the Rose Hip socks. I am very pleased with it as the pattern suits the yarn well. As I brace myself for another glorious week of commuting I can content myself with the prospect of finishing the other one.

I spent yesterday on another fabulous day with knitters, this time in Swindon with a group of people from the Crafty Threads and Yarns forum. It seems to me that knitting draws together the most amiable of people but as usual I was far too busy to get my camera out. Someone asked me if the rose hip sock was another one of my patterns. As all it consists of is a four row repeating pattern incorporated into a standard sock pattern with a picot edge I didn't really feel I could claim it as a sock pattern but it got me thinking. Most patterns use established formulas of some sort so it's not possible to be completely original but how much originality is enough?

We were all looking at the new Cat Bordhi book, New Pathways for Sock Knitters which revolutionises sock patterns by placing the gusset increase/ decreases in all kinds of places and combinations. Something like this is clearly a new development but at what point can we claim to have designed a sock pattern?

For me, I feel I need to find something a little novel and different that will capture a knitter's imagination and be fun to do or encourage someone to tackle a technique they might not have thought about before. The basic discipline of a sock remains. I'm no Cat Bordhi!

I really must tackle one of her patterns very soon. Back to the knitting...

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

More knitters than you can shake a needle at!

Along with several hundred knitters I went to the I Knit S 'n B day in central London on Saturday. Now I am a veteran of a number of knitting events and I have to say that I can't remember enjoying myself more. There was music, entertainment, classes, talks, retail therapy but the most important thing was that there was space and opportunity for knitters to mingle and talk. Over half the space was given over to places for us to sit and do what we like to do best, knit, chat, gloat, enable, catch up with old friends and just be somewhere that gets why we love to knit! A huge thank you to Gerard and Craig for organising it and for having the confidence and insight to know what knitters want and to make it work.

The Golders Green Knitters were out in force. it was also wonderful to catch up with dozens of knitters, too numerous to mention from the different parts of my knitting life, Skipnorth, the Knitterati, The Knitting and Crochet Guild to name but a few. A special hello to Franney and Aunty Noo from the Crafty Threads and Yarns forum who I met for the first time in person. Within five minutes we were chatting away as if we had known each other for years. Knitting's like that...

Despite bringing my camera with me, I managed to take a grand total of one photograph. I give you the I Knit 'Knit a River' , the world's first knitted petition, made by thousands of knitters as a campaign tool for Water Aid, who work for access to clean water for the millions of people who don't get to take turning on the tap for granted. I had no idea how big it had got - I wonder where my square is...

Because there were so many people to talk to and things to do, despite there being plenty of stalls with glorious fibres, yarns and knitterly paraphernalia, my haul is modest.

This gorgeous Blue Faced Leicester in a pinky brown semi solid colour is from Pixeldiva, who I have known since she was a beginner knitter! It's great to see the lovely stuff she is producing.

Blue Faced Leicester seems to be a recurrent theme as this sock yarn is naturally dyed, 100% BFL from Oxford Kitchen Yarns . I could have quite happily bought up their entire stock, the colours are so translucent and complex.

However, I haven't touched them yet as I continue to be obsessed with my Marvelous Mitts. I have now finished the right hand one. It fits absolutely perfectly and I love how the colour combination has worked. Although the purple is more solid than the yellow, it has enough movement in it to give the whole mitt a slightly handspun quality to it. I am indecently pleased with this mitt. I had no idea that with a bit of patience and concentration I could produce something that looks so complex and beautifully shaped. You can have no idea of the flight of fancy I am having about my next project!

I have already cast on for the second mitt and won't be disappointed by a cold snap should one arise...

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Of rooftops, rose hips and too clever by half...

The Umbrian Rooftop socks are finished. They are comfortable, well fitting and handsome. They are definitely what the yarn wanted to be. As I can only really cope with a simple pattern for travelling on the train to work, I had the happy dilemma of finding another sock project.

This time, I had a little more time so I chose to wind up the skein of Fleece Artist Casbah that I bought from Alice at Socktopus. This is sumptuous yarn, with just a touch of cashmere to give it a lovely texture. Looking at the colour of the yarn it reminded me of a packet of rose hip tea that I had just finished. The red is rich and autumnal and warm in tone. I wanted, therefore to find a pattern that evoked rose hips so I found a simple eyelet cable pattern which does the trick but is simple enough for travel knitting. I am pleased with how they are turning out so far.

You know, I've been thinking about how I choose to match designs with the colours of yarns. For me, the colour seems to come first and will evoke a memory or impression which I then try to interpret in a stitch pattern. Having no formal design training I am aware that this is probably a rather naive approach. I am reminded of the choreography of Pan's People, the dance troupe who used to perform on Top of the Pops which was the most influential pop music programme on British television when I was growing up. When they were called upon to interpret a record, they would take the most literal approach possible such that they were sometimes simply acting out the words of the song.It was highly amusing. I worry that my design style is a bit reminiscent of their approach. Still, it makes me happy and I'm learning all the time. Speaking of learning...

I have thoroughly raised my colour work game and am working on the Marvellous Mittens from Karendipity . This is a wonderful pattern which is more of a tutorial in stranded knitting techniques than a pattern. So far I have learned to do, a braided cast on (this took a whole evening....), a herringbone braid, and how to catch in a float without letting go of the needles. I am very happy. The yarns I have chosen are Dream in Colour Smooshy (more Socktopus...) in Vivid Purple and Strange Harvest.I love the colour combination although I wonder if it offers enough contrast. The pattern asks for a solid and a hand paint but I preferred to go for a pair of semi solids as I am looking for a slightly less busy effect. There are certainly enough patterns and features on the mitts to catch the eye and warm up the chilliest day.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to the first I Knit S n'B day which was one of the best knitting events I have ever been to. Further report follows!

Friday, 9 November 2007

Surprised by a gentleman in the shrubbery

It is fair to say that when it comes to knitting, I find those 19th century values of fidelity, constancy and perseverance somewhat lacking in my character. However, when I am gripped by a project I am capable of working on it to the exclusion of all others until I have seen it through.

So it has been with the end paper mitts. They have been a real joy to knit. I am really pleased with the colour combination, it gives the mitts an almost medieval quality. This is the first time that I have been satisfied with the fabric I have produced using a stranded technique. However, were I to make them again I think I would do a folded picot edge as the ribbing, certainly using this yarn, Jamiesons Spindrift, has a slightly 'unfinished' look compared with the opulent density of the colour work sections. I haven't blocked them so the fabric may yet bloom.

The other inducement that I have had to apply myself to what is for me, a complex project requiring a level of consistency and concentration is the recent discovery of Craftlit, a podcast for crafters who like books. It has been around for a couple of years. I heard mention of it some time ago but finally got round to listening to it this last weekend. The presenter, Heather Ordover, has a very deft touch, weaving life, craft and intelligent but accessible literary criticism around readings from classic books. Her serialisation of Pride and Prejudice was quite addictive and was responsible for me reclining on my chaise longue ( or in my case, saggy old sofa) for way more hours than is good for me in the company of Mr Darcy and my end paper mitts. I have a substantial stock of back episodes to get through so the television hasn't been on for a week in my house. My knitting and vocabulary are improving daily.

In fact my stranded colour work has improved so much my ambition is running miles ahead of it so I can't wait to show you the project I have embarked upon now...

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Fingers and thumbs...and heads

As the season turns and we all start anticipating colder and greyer days it seems that lots of us are thinking and talking about colour work. A quick whizz around Ravelry is at once inspiring and humbling when I see the beautiful work done by talented knitters. I still find colour work, particularly stranded colour work quite a challenge. For many years, any attempts that I made ended in a tangled, scrunched up disappointment.

My big breakthroughs came a couple of years ago with discovering knitting in the round on circular needles and the technique of holding one strand in each hand. In this way, the right side of the work was always facing me and it was so much easier to keep the strands of yarn untangled and my tension even. I may have got a little carried away...

Through that whole winter I developed a positive mania for knitting colourful hats. Anna Zillboorg must bear the responsibility for this. Using her book '45 Fine and Fanciful Hats to Knit' no head at Yarn Archive HQ need go uncovered. They really are great fun to knit especially as they are sized for the use of DK weight yarn which is great for beginners. These are by no means some of the most outrageous designs in her book. Even I drew the line at the Stacked Star...

I also had fun with her mitten book - although once again, the eccentricities of many of them were a little too much even for me. I have noticed when linking these books that they are changing hands for an extraordinary amount of money now that they are out of print. They are great fun and a wonderful introduction to colour work but I'm not someone who is prepared to part with £80 for a mitten knitting book!

Having developed my skills on these larger scale projects I attempted some finer work by starting some fairisle socks but became frustrated at my poor technique with stranded knitting and double pointed needles (way too much like patting my head and rubbing my stomach) so confined it to embellishment and having discovered slip stitch knitting set aside the challenge of further developing my skills.

All the beautiful examples of stranded knitting that I have been looking at, particularly on Natalie's blog have spurred me into action! Having some time to myself at home this weekend I decided that I needed to grasp this particular nettle and brush up my skills. I decided that the Endpaper Mitts by Eunny Jang would be a good place to start as the pattern is regular and designed for beginners. I also love fingerless mittens. Surprisingly, they are going quite well. The pattern is well written with Eunny's trademark attention to detail. I am using Jamieson's Shetland Spindrift in Yellow Ochre and Rose Heather which make a rather regal combination. I am also rather proud that I am dealing with my 'Issues with yellow'.

I set out this year to improve my skills and am sometimes struck by the fact that things I might have found difficult a few months ago can now be tackled and I wonder what I was making all the fuss about!

Buoyed up by this discovery, my ambitions are now running well ahead of my skill base so, having limbered up on the endpaper mitts I am determined to try something a little more challenging next time.

I may have to get my glasses fixed first...