Sunday, 21 December 2008

Knitting for peace

What do you do when you are about to decamp for the festive season for the Isle of Wight and you have one weekend to finish off everything you have left undone until the last minute? You go and sit in a gallery on the South Bank for two days knitting baby hats of course.

Knitting for Peace is the brainchild of Hilary, one of the members of my knitting group in Golders Green. Internationally, a network of knitters create useful things for each other but more importantly come together across divisions that the politicians seem unable to bridge in places like India, Pakistan and Rwanda the simple act of creating things together is used to create connections where none existed before. The hats that I and my fellow knitters have been creating are destined for Afghanistan.
Now this sofa looks a lot like the one that I am sitting on right now (except my sofa isn't white and is a lot saggier...)

People were fascinated to look into the gallery and instead of the conventional art work found these comfy sofas strewn with half finished projects, yarn and needles and were invited to start something of their own or just to add a few rows to an existing project. A few people learned from scratch, others regained skills they thought they had lost and with that remembering came stories of family and community and the things that bind us together . Listening to people's tales of childhood and traditions was an unexpected privilege.
Here are a couple of my hats - probably the simplest baby hats in the world - aran/worsted weight superwash wool, cast on 60 stitches onto a 5mm needle using the Magic Loop, knit until you have five inches of work above the rolled brim then:
Row 1 K3K2tog, repeat all the way round
Row 2 K2K2tog, repeat all the way round
Row 3 K1K2tog,repeat all the way round
Row 4 K2tog all the way round
Repeat Row 4 until there are 3 stitches left, break yarn and thread through stitches, sew in ends with a tapestry needle and start another one! I found that mine took about 40g of yarn.
It's nice to do something utterly simple and quick for a change because as you know, I tend towards the small of needle and complex of pattern...
Not that I have entirely abandoned that habit - here is a glove pattern that I am test knitting for Littleberry. So far,so good - I think it is very pretty but as you can see, I have hesitated at the fingers - I really should get a grip! If you go over to Littleberry's blog you will see that she has made hers in black and deep pink. I thought I'd use a completely different palette and went for a sludgy green and blossom pink in my yarn of the moment, Jamieson's Shetland Spindrift. And no, your eyes do not deceive you - I am having yet another go at that pesky Magic Loop!
Here is the back of the mitten with the traditional Nordic Star.

And here is the more simply patterned palm. I think these two colours give a lovely tweedy effect to the fabric.

I promise I will show you glove fingers - very soon...well, soonish...

In other, more everyday news, I have finished the Fassett Mansocks. Despite being completely over the fairisle style pattern yarns, I do still have a soft spot for Regia self striping yarn, especially the Kaffe Fassett series at the yarn is of good quality and the colours are strong, bright, saturated and well combined.
So pleased was I with this outcome that I cast on for another pair of Mansocks, this time in Austermann Pro Natura which contains bamboo instead of nylon as a strengthening fibre for the sock. The fabric has a slightly less fuzzy feel too. I think they are looking quite the thing for the more adventurous man!

Sharp eyed knitters may also have discerned that I am not using my usual bamboo needles -not only am I using metal needles - these are square needles!

Advertised as being especially good for those with arthritis,joint pain or carpal tunnel syndrome, none of which I can speak of as I remain mercifully unafflicted by any such illness, I can say that they handle very well and don't 'roll' like round needle so I can see how they might be easier to grip. They have good points and rarely snag the yarn. Being metal, however,they don't hug the yarn as well as bamboo so I have to remember to put stitch stoppers on the ends of m needles to avoid finding that they have parted company with my knitting at the bottom of my bag when I come to take the sock out for some homeward bound knitting.
Speaking of homeward bound, it's past midnight and I haven't started packing or cleaning the house yet and am planning to head off tomorrow. Alarmingly I will be spending the festive season entirely without internet connection unless I drop into the local internet cafe so, if I don't speak to you until the new year I hope that your Christmas and New Year are everything that you hope they will be and more.
Thanks to everyone for reading the blog and joining me on my rambles - it's lovely having you here.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Knitwear on location

A couple of years ago I made myself a hooded jumper using a Knitting Pure and Simple Pattern and some Rowanspun Aran that I'd been stashing. For the first time in my knitting life I had a jumper that was just right for me in every way, the fit , the feel, the colour so I wore it every time it was cold enough. One early December I wore it when I was visiting my sister.

My usually reticent sister said 'I want a jumper just like that - the same colour, the same style, the same button. Please'. How could I refuse? Given the timescales it was a bit difficult to make it for Christmas so I packed up the yarn, the pattern the needles, the ball winder and swift and gave them to her in a big box on Christmas morning with an IOU for one jumper. Now I know that she had been after getting her hands on the ball winder and swift for some time so we waited until after the children were in bed so that she could enjoy her Christmas yarn winding in peace then I got started. Ten days after Christmas (well she is a couple of sizes smaller than me!) her jumper was finished and it fit perfectly. So now we both have favourite jumpers that we wear all the time and remind us of each other.

For some reason, however, we don't often put the hoods up...

The photo was taken on one of my favourite sorts of winter day when the temperatures are freezing but the sun has a brightness and the air a clarity that you only get at this time of year. We decided to make the most of it and take a picnic to the Tregaron bog which is a wonderful nature reserve with boardwalks and a hide for wildlife spotting (and eating your sandwiches).

These frosted twigs give some idea of how cold it was.

But just look at the stillness and quality of the light.

Whilst we were rugged up in hats, gloves and scarves (it is so much the knitter's season - don't you just love it?), this robin has almost rendered himself spherical in an attempt to get the most warmth from his feathers. This photo is courtesy of my nephew George who is becoming a very talented and patient wildlife photographer for someone who usually can't sit still for five minutes.

Our other outing of the weekend was a little more sedate, visiting the Christmas Fair at Llanachaeron which is an Edwardian House owned and recently refurbished by the National Trust.
The highlight for me is the ancient walled garden with its espaliered fruit trees and sheltered corners where the sun felt almost warm.

and these cobblestones could influence a future knitting pattern?

I had a wonderful albeit too brief time with my family in Wales. I love travelling, on a good day, for a knitter, even the journey can yield interesting conversations. It's not every day you meet an alpaca farmer and a poetess.

But maybe it isn't every day they meet somebody knitting a pair of these....
Thanks to everyone for their kind words about my mitt pattern in Gerard's book. You made me blush.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

I love Lucy!

A couple of weekends ago, along with a couple of dozen intrepid knitters I set out on the first Socktopus Knitting Retreat. As if two days of knitting in the idyllic setting of the Barsham Barns, near Walsingham in Norfolk wasn't enough, we were to be treated to two six hour intensive knitting workshops taught by Lucy Neatby herself! We knitters in the UK are only just getting used to the idea of meeting international knitting celebrities in the flesh so I have to admit to being quite nervous and not knowing what to expect.

I have to say, however, that from the moment I met Justine, Sally and Jen on the platform at St Pancras I had an absolute ball. The weather may have been so grim that we needed all the barn lights on all day to see what we were doing but to be in such a warm comfortable place with warm comfortable people doing what we all love best - what's not to like?

Lucy turned out to be warm and approachable with a veritable fund of tips and tricks and techniques to improve the knitting of everyone in the room. Having considered myself a reasonably competent knitter, I learned to my great satisfaction that it is even possible to learn something about the slip knot with which we start our projects. I'm so glad to be a lifelong knitter - I'm never going to run out of things to learn.

As is often the case when I'm overexcited and yapping too much I completely forget to get my camera out so I am afraid that all I have to show from this amazing weekend are these funny little objects....

Exhibit one proves that I have mastered and am in love with the tubular cast on, managed to get to grips with Quilting Stitch and am going to have to practice the braided crochet cast off before using it on a real life garment...

This enigmatic piece of knitting contains an example of my grafting which, even with the aid of a toe chimney looks like the before picture in an advertisement for orthodontics. I did, however, redeem myself with two very creditable deliberate holes.

This little chap is a very neat and tidy garter stitch short row toe, somewhat sullied by my much frogged and still jagged sewn bind off. I can see a pattern here - as soon as I get a sewing needle in my hand my fingers turn into sausages!

Here is an example of my garter stitch grafting which showed minor improvements.

And finally, this grand piece shows that my Channel Island Cast off is too loose, my garter stitch short row heel is pretty good and I have learned several new ways to cast off.

These scraps of knitting can in no way serve to express the great time I had with a group of people, some of whom are already friends and many more who were friends by the end of the weekend.
Huge congratulations to Alice for organising us so beautifully and with such a light but deft touch and to Lucy for her planet sized brain and ability to share her knowledge so gently.
I was completely exhausted when I got home but it was worth every stifled snore on the train to work the next day....

Saturday, 13 December 2008


Gracious! Is it really this long since I last blogged? I knew it had been a while when I started to get anxious messages from friends and regular readers asking if everything is OK. Regular readers.... I am very proud and a bit bashful to be able to say that - and very happy to be able to say that yes I'm fine and thank you so much for your concern and I'm very sorry it has been so long.

It's been a combination of lots of challenging things going on at work, a couple of weekends away which I will tell you all about in my next post together with it being the time of year when if I'm away at the weekend I have no chance whatsoever of finding any natural light to photograph anything as I leave for work in the dark and come home in the dark.

Anyway, less excusifying and more knitting I hear you cry so, anxious as I am not to disappoint I have got some rather exciting news to share with you.

You may have seen that Gerard Allt from Iknit has just brought out a book.

I popped into Iknit the other day and bought my copy which Gerard kindly signed for me.

He also asked me to sign his copy! Yes, I have had my first pattern published in a real live book! Look! Count the exclamation marks!!

Allow me to introduce the Hearth and Home Mitts.

I am particularly amused by having them modelled by an apparently hunky man.

With a trowel that is clearly encountering dirt for the very first time.

We even have an artist's impression.

Huge thanks to Gerard for giving me a chance to take part in this great project. This is a great collection of patterns brought together in a warm and generous style. Do take a look if you get a chance.

I'll be back soon to let you know what I learned from Lucy Neatby and to show you why I was very glad of my warm knitwear when I visited my family in Wales. There may also be mitten progress photos....

Friday, 28 November 2008

Modesty regained

I thought I'd just drop by to reassure anyone who might be concerned for the fate of my naked hot water bottle. As you can see, thanks to your helpful suggestions it is much more appropriately dressed for this inclement weather. In the end I went with this pattern as I really like the way it uses the ribbing to draw in the neck, doing away with the need for buttons or strings or whatever.

After working on the Komi mitts my eyes (and fingers) were really calling for something even more pared down and minimalist so I omitted the shaping at the bottom as well as the cable pattern. If I were in another mood I would use this shape as a base for all kinds of embellishment flights of fancy but as far as I am concerned, right now it suits my needs exactly.

And it matches my duvet cover. The yarn is Filatura De Crossa Primo in Teal knitted on 5.5mm Addi Turbos for those of you who enjoy the technical details.

I have to dash now as I'm on my way to Norfolk to meet up with a lovely group of knitters for a Sock Making Retreat with Lucy Neatby! Yes, I am very excited. And late.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Mitten mania - I can handle it...

I was so pleased with my Selbuvotter that I have been deep in my other mitten books dreaming of future projects.

This is another of my favourite books. One of the reasons that I find mittens such a fascinating little project is that luckily for the knitting community, some wonderful books have been written capturing the patterns and styles of different ethnic groups and locations. These mittens, drawn from the Komi people of Russia are an altogether larger garment from the Selbuvotter and also use much starker,more geometric shapes, softened by a joyous use of colour.

For mittens I like to use traditional 2ply Shetland yarn. It has a sturdy, woolly quality which bends the colours into a warm solid fabric. It also comes in a dazzling range of colours - just look at this....

I have a good sized plastic bin full of balls of this yarn which comes in very convenient 25g balls but I have to own up to the occasional fantasy of having a box containing all the shades on this card. The shade card is a good substitute however, I think every home should have one.

After much deliberation I chose this pattern. What attracted me to it was the way it plays a palette of toning colours against a neutral tone. In terms of my self education in not making a hash of colour choices I thought I might be able to have a good bash at this!

Here are the colours that I chose. Jamieson's Spindrift in (clockwise from top left), Sand, Foxglove, Madder, Anemone and Mulberry.

And here is my progress so far. I have to admit that I have been knitting pretty much exclusively on this since the weekend to the point that the second finger on my left hand is positively sore with jabbing it in my ham fisted two handed stranded knitting style.

In other news I have made good progress on the hand spun scarf. I am very pleased with it as because it is worked on the bias with a reversible stitch, the gentle striping and texture of the yarn is accentuated. Now I have to set to and spin up the next batch.

One of the habits I am least proud of is my tendency to abandon a project when it is 99% finished. My flutter scarf has been finished since September, just requiring a gentle blocking. Finally, this weekend I realised that having removed layers of detritus from my spare bed, I could use it as a perfectly good blocking surface. A gentle blocking has really made a difference to the scarf which has a lovely floaty, fluttery finish.
I think the merino tencel is a good fibre for this pattern as it has a lightness and sheen that sets it off well.
I didn't over block the edges as I wanted to retain the flutteryness. Now that some time has elapsed since I finished this project it is hard to remember that it was fully accomplished with a drop spindle and pair of knitting needles. Simple things....
Finally, it's definitely getting chilly so I have invested in a new hot water bottle. Of course, every knitter knows that it just isn't done to go to bed with a naked hottie...

Can anyone recommend any good hot water bottle cover patterns?

Saturday, 22 November 2008

In praise of remarkable men

When knitting alone proves an inadequate refuge from the working week I like to pack a bag and head off to the Isle of Wight to spend a weekend with my dad. We eat, we chat, we watch undemanding television, solve crosswords and watch the birds and animals that visit his garden in great abundance.

Coming back to my childhood home, albeit briefly to enjoy the small things in life which are, paradoxically also the most important parts of being a human being is a really restorative process. I am reminded that I am amongst the very luckiest, to have such a warm and secure family base from which to tackle the more challenging tasks that life throws up.

I also got plenty of time to knit. I am extremely proud to be able to show you my finished Selbuvotter. I think that these are amongst the most impressive things I have ever knitted. I keep having to pinch myself to be convinced that I actually made them myself. There are one or two errors but over all I love the colours, the pattern and the fit of them. I am delighted to hear that we are expecting some cold weather very soon.

My brain is sometimes not up to the challenge of complex colour work so I took along a plain sock project. These are man size socks in Regia Kaffe Fassett which I think is a particularly good ordinary sock yarn. It has great, well chosen, saturated colours on a good, sturdy, comfortable base yarn that machine washes beautifully.

I also managed to rescue the Jolly Waves socks which were languishing after a needle size issue ruined the stripe pattern. As you can see, I resurrected the striping on the leg by going up a needle size but there is still a distinct difference in the width of the stripes from one sock to another. As far as I'm concerned it's good enough though...

The more time I spend with my dad the more I realise where I get my enthusiasm for growing and making things. He also reminds me how much I have yet to learn. Here he is admiring the last of his aubergine crop before cutting them to make one of the best vegetarian moussakas I have ever had.
As a lifelong reuser and recycler, dad teaches me how important it is to treat the things we have with respect and to repair rather than replace. He does sometimes take this to somewhat eccentric extremes.
On Sunday morning he greeted me thus; 'I was laying in bed this morning thinking about how to repair my nutcrackers'.

I wouldn't have him any other way and to be honest I'd been lying there thinking about a colour scheme for a pair of mitts so we both have our idiosyncracies...
On the subject of remarkable men, I was lucky enough to drop into Iknit the other evening to join a standing room only crowd enjoying readings from Franklin Habit's new book of essays and cartoons called 'It Itches'. I have enjoyed Franklin's knitting blog ' The Panopticon' for many years. He has the rare gift of being able to write seriously and humorously with the same deft touch as well as being a very clever cartoonist.

Unfortunately, there weren't enough copies of the book for us all to buy and have signed so the very generous Justine who had the foresight to pre order asked the very obliging but slightly baffled Franklin to make the following dedication in her book:

Sally and I can paste copies of the dedication in our books when they arrive!
Speaking of books, I found this little gem in a charity shop near work recently. It is of 1970s vintage, translated from Danish and is written with the wonderful naive optimism so characteristic of the time. The author notes how important it is for the knitter not to be tied to published patterns but to learn basic methods, particularly knit in the round as a framework for the knitter's own creativity. In this respect the book coincides greatly with the values of great knitters such as Elizabeth Zimmermann.
However, it has to be admitted that the patterns lack the stylish, timeless qualities of Zimmermann.
In my last reference to remarkable men I offer you this, just to prove that one can be remarkable for all the wrong reasons.

Oh dear....

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Twisted Sisters

Good news! Despite my addiction to casting on new things I have managed to finish a few projects. First up we have the plain socks in Yarn Yard merino sock yarn that I was making on the Magic Loop as part of the sock class I taught at IKnit. I finally decided to abandon the educational endeavour and switched to double pointed needles which resulted in a much speedier and neater sock. I have to accept that on the matter of socks, I am a confirmed Luddite. None of your new fangled circular needles for me! At least not for generic socks.

In fact, I was enjoying the project so much by the time I finished that I decided I had enough left for a small pair so cast on these for Florrie. Now it was touch and go, I'll admit as I was reduced to harvesting the cast on tail to finally close the toe on the second socks. It will be worth it though - to see the look of delight on Florrie's face and the expression of mild horror along with the mouthing of 'How could you?' from my sister when I present them with Mother and Daughter Socks! A golden opportunity to gently plant the seed of fear in my sister's mind that I am going to follow them up with Mother and Daughter Ponchos for Christmas...

I have also finished my hand spun mitts which I am now calling my Fir Cone Mitts as the patterns remind me of the scales on a fir cone. I'm really pleased with this project as they fit beautifully and I have more or less managed to keep the sequence of colours intact for each mitt so that they match. It's a lovely feeling to know that my spinning has developed to the point when I am able to realise projects that I have in my mind instead of hanging on for grim death and finding a use for whatever yarn I have been able to keep intact!

I am going to try out this pattern in a more commercially available yarn as a potential contribution to the p/hop project that Natalie at the Yarn Yard is developing. In brief she is setting up a Just Giving site for Medecins Sans Frontiers together with a collection of free patterns with the idea that you calculate the 'Pence per Hour of Pleasure' that the pattern gives you and donate accordingly! I'd better make sure it's error free as nobody will want to donate Pence per Hour of Frogging!
In an effort to make sure I continue to use my hand spun yarn I have found a pattern in this book which despite its rather 80s looking cover has some pretty patterns.

This is a basket stitch scarf knit on the bias which I thought would show off the orange and pink hand spun rather well. Sort of cross between a Lady E and a clapotis really...

Finally, I thought I would start an occasional series that prove I complete the spin, knit, wear cycle occasionally. I thought these socks looked rather snazzy for work. I made them a couple of years ago from Shelridge Farm Soft Touch Ultra Heather Yarn which as you can see, has worn really well. The pattern is Conwy from Nancy Bush's Knitting on the Road which I have made a couple of times and can thoroughly recommend.

Do you wear your knitted items every day?
PS I haven't cast on for the Fairisle Gloves yet but I nearly spat out my teeth when Harriet commented about how much they were asking for my pattern book on Amazon - they're only gloves for goodness sake - and yes, anyone is welcome to Glovealong with Littleberry and I and no, I didn't pay anything like that amount for it!