Wednesday, 30 January 2008

The rolling hills of garter stitch recovery

Happily, I'm not used to being felled by a bug so I had forgotten how heartily I dislike it. I have to confess, there have been times when I have shivered out of the house on a cold, dark morning that I have entertained the idea of curling up on the sofa with my knitting, an old movie and a sniffle with some satisfaction. In reality I have probably achieved less this week than I manage to squeeze into the vacant corners of an average week of hurry and scurry. As they say, my get up and go just got up and went. There are, however, glimmers of recovery...

I have, at least, finished the Waving Lace Socks. To recap, they are by Evelyn A. Clark from the Interweave Press Book, Favourite Socks.I used a Lorna's Laces semi solid in Cranberry on 2.25mm needles. I thoroughly enjoyed the knitting of these socks, the yarn and pattern working perfectly together.

And here's a shot of the stitch pattern, without the distracting sight of my badly ironed duvet cover. Well it was chilly outside and I was in my pyjamas....

I plan to make sure there is an interesting lace sock in a lively semi solid on my needles often this year.
Just as we seek simple, comfort food when we're feeling a bit peaky, garter stitch can be a comforting companion when anything more creative feels too hard. I have, therefore, heroically finished the centre part of the Truly Tasha shawl and have started the knitted on border. It's the border which lifts this shawl from being a plain garter stitch triangle to a practical and feminine shawl. It is also the twist in its tail. I have made this a couple of times before so I am no longer under the delusion that once started on the border, the shawl is nearly done. I am not going to dwell on how many feet of border I am going to be making but I'm guessing that it will probably take me as long to finish as the rest of the shawl what with rest stops an'all.

You may think that with this shot I have succumbed to derivatively arty garter stitch photography. Perhaps so, but as far as I am concerned this mountain of garter stitch represents the feet and feet of border knitting I have before me and, as in hill walking, it can only be tackled a step at a time but the view from the top should be worth it!

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Knitting for comfort

One of the disadvantages of living in a big city is the public transport. No, this isn't going to be a rant about the lateness and cleanliness of the trains. My problem lies with the proximity of persons. Don't get me wrong, whenever I change trains at Bank, one of the busiest and most complex of junctions on the network I am always pleasantly surprised at how good natured and calm people are about navigating streams of fellow passengers all going in different directions and piling onto trains until you couldn't fall over if you wanted to. Rarely do I hear any outburst of temper or frustration. When there is space to get my knitting out people often smile or ask questions. However, no matter how well mannered people are they can't leave their coughs and sneezes and bugs at home so it was only a matter of time before one caught up with me.

Today, despite being desperate to be out and about in my favourite sort of crisp, bright winter weather I am huddled up sniffling and snuffling, shivering one minute and hot and bothered the next. Neither use nor ornament as my mum would have said. Mind you, life doesn't seem too bad when you are nursing a mug of hot fruit punch and wrapped up in one of your favourite pieces of knitting.

I made this blanket at least six years ago after my very first trip to Australia. I wanted to bring back something special that would remind me of the place and the wonderful journey that I had been on. My friend took me to a fabulous independent yarn seller called the Jolly Jumbuk where I bought several hanks of the most beautiful aran weight natural light brown yarn. When I got home I thought about what I should make with it, deciding against a jumper as I wanted something that I could have around the house to remind me of my visit so I decided on this shawl design by Alice Starmore. I had the kit but hadn't made it up yet so thought I would use this yarn instead. I loved knitting the complex cable motifs which gave a real balance between simple, rhythmic knitting and parts which required more concentration. This was before the days when I knew about circular needles and spit splicing so I worked away on long metal needles and wove in ends as best I knew how.

The fabric produced is dense and lustrous. Now I'm a spinner and am interested in such things I wish I had found out what the fibre is as I don't think it's merino. Also, if I knew what I know now I might have gone up a needle size to create a more fluid fabric but when I'm feeling sorry for myself I can wrap up in it and think about the warmth that it reminds me of and that it gives me now. It makes me think of the journeys I have been on both as a traveller and as a knitter.

Still, being under temporary house arrest does mean that I have been able to catch up on my knitting and of course a poorly girl is allowed to indulge herself with new and interesting projects isn't she? The first is a long glove from Veronik Avery's Knitting Classic Style. I have been a member of the Rockin' Sock Club this year and to my shame have only been moved to knit one pair of socks of the six kits I was sent. It's lovely yarn but somehow the patterns didn't quite appeal. This yarn is called Lenore from their Raven series which are all deep, deep colours based on the shades of a raven's wing. I decided that this yarn would look great as a pair of really gothic opera gloves and so far they are knitting up quite well. Ask me again now I am about to tackle the fingers... Think I'll go for a lie down...

I've also got another couple of projects on the go which are at the swatch stage. The above is Yarn Yard merino in Horseshoe Lace from Barbara Walker, which I am pleased with so far - it has a very architectural feel to it which contrasts well with the softness of the yarn.

And here are False Flames, also by Barbara Walker, in this month's Yarn Yard sock club yarn. I need to think a bit more about this one.

I'll step away from the keyboard now - wouldn't want you catching anything.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Finished objects pursued by a bear!

One of the ways in which knitting provides a precious sanctuary from the vicissitudes of real life is that if you keep knitting and don't let yourself get distracted by bright, shiny new projects, eventually you will have a bright, shiny new garment to show for it. Very little in my working or home life is that simple and rewards my efforts so generously.

Ta Da!
First up we have the Tarra Bulga socks. I think they have turned out rather handsomely. I can thoroughly recommend the yarn, Somoko by Fleece Artist. The wool and mohair in the blend make the sock very soft with a cosy haze and the silk makes the colours shine and glow. The stitch pattern gives a comfortable and well fitting sock.

The Tikka Masala scarf is also finished. It was just the project to re balance my knitting spirits. It was also just the project to take with me to Knitflicks at the Brixton Ritzy. Every third Saturday of the month there is a special showing of a film on current release where the lights are left on so that we can knit! This month's showing was No Country for Old Men, the new Coen Brothers film so my friend Anne and thought we'd go along. If you have a strong stomach I can thoroughly recommend this film. I am made of reasonably stern stuff but at one point I actually dropped my knitting and had to chase my ball of wool in and out of several rows of seats before we left. Any odd mistakes in the scarf are attributable to being put off my stroke by some particularly tense moment. I also recommend this film if, like me, your mental list of attractive older men includes Tommy Lee Jones who gave a fine performance.

Have you seen this magazine? Piecework is another publication from the Interweave stable and covers a range of needle arts, particularly from a historical and anthropological perspective. Every now and then, as in this case they dedicate an issue to knitting. As you can see from the front cover they have recreated some mittens with poetry knitted into them with notes on how to draw up a pattern for yourself. The minx in me would love to produce some beautifully knitted mittens in elegant colours with a saucy limerick knitted into them! What do you think?

They also have a pattern for knitting Roveniemi mittens which, whilst very pretty are made in possibly the most gratuitously complicated technique I have ever seen. I won't go into particulars but suffice to say it involves 14 small balls of wool all in play at once, tamed by skewering them all on a straight needle. Not something I will be subjecting myself to in the near future but fascinating nonetheless.

And finally...

This lady knits hats from bear fur. Words fail...

Sunday, 20 January 2008

A positive paragon of self control, well, almost...well, actually not at all...

I'm terribly proud of myself as I haven't much to show you right now in terms of knitting progress. Not that I haven't been knitting, I've just been sticking to my existing projects (mostly) and who wants to see a couple more inches of a scarf or sock? Zzzzzzz............

First I'll answer a couple of questions. Diane asked about the lavender bags. I bought the lavender from these people. The organza bags came from someone selling off extra bits and pieces from her own wedding but they can be bought from the lavender suppliers or from other sellers on EBay a little less cheaply.

It is only lavender in the bags but if anyone knows of a good source of cedar chippings I'd be grateful. I wouldn't want to miss an opportunity to outwit the winged foe should they have the temerity to approach my address.

Now to the first of my small confessions. I have been trying to hold hard on the stash enhancement as I already have an elegant sufficiency but alas the will is weak. Can you blame me when you see this?

I enjoyed spinning the blue and silver Yarn Yard merino silk roving so much that when Natalie put up these beauties in her shop I was lost. Here we have 200 g of Menthe and 100g of Victoriaah! na. I think they might make a very lovely Lady E but I'm not leaping into spinning them in case I have a better idea. Any thoughts?

Next is last month's Yarn Yard sock club offering. I know I keep saying this but I think that this really is my favourite yet. It makes me think of faded Moroccan carpets, deserts and campfires and am already toying with some ideas.

My last yarn shot is Yarn Yard again, this time merino in a colour called Chutney with a co-ordinating skein very kindly added as an un-birthday present. Just the thing to lift these dark, dreary days. I have plans for this too and have been swatching already (oops....) hence the fact that I wound two of them into skeins before I had even photographed them!

Finally, I just couldn't resist starting just one little project. It's a real pleasure, even in the midst of trying to develop my own design style, to spend some time working on a sock pattern written by a real expert. These are Evelyn Clark's Waving Lace socks from Interweave Press's Favourite Socks. I'm using Lorna's Laces in their almost solid Cranberry. I'm enjoying both pattern and yarn. I never ceased to be amazed at what lovely and complex looking designs can be achieved by the careful placements of yarn overs, k2togs and ssk. The yarn being a hand dyed almost solid has just enough movement to add another dimension to the pattern. I know that some people find Lorna's Laces a little stringy but I love its closely spun texture which gives really crisp stitch definition, particularly with lace patterns.

So as you can see, I may not have been the paragon of virtue that I aspired to be - but I promise you, I could have been a whole lot worse!

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Purple Haze

It would appear that there is a purple haze hanging over today's entry. Coincidence perhaps? Or could it signify that the very act of confessing my knitting slump spurred me into a positively purple patch of finishing things off? Who knows... and thanks to everyone who reassured me that I am not the only grazer, both at the knitting bag and at the fridge!

First down the catwalk we have the lovely, diminutive Lady Eleanor, finally off the needles. To recap, this wrap is based on the Lady Eleanor Shawl from Scarf Style knit in my own hand spun 50% silk 50% merino from Lisa Souza in the shade Wild Thing. I used about 250g in total, largely as my spinning was somewhat uneven and I managed to spin the skein where the purples predominate more thickly than that which is more blue heavy. It doesn't harm the overall effect I believe as I wanted it to have a rustic feel. For this reason I have also decided to leave it unblocked. especially because I think the back looks as good as the front and I don't want to lose the shapes and contours.

I am, actually quite thrilled with the way it has turned out. It is butter soft and just long enough to toss over my shoulder in what I hoped was a very chic and continental manner. I wore it to work today with my purple boiled wool jacket and a denim skirt feeling very pleased with myself. I must practice getting my satchel off without half strangling myself in my scarf before I go out in it again...

Moving on fro Lady E I am pleased to say that the Lavender Farm socks are finished! It really was touch and go whether I would run out of yarn, which technically I did about four rows from the end. I was just about to undo the cast off on the finished sock and start transfusing yarn until they balanced until I remembered I had a few metres of singles left on the bobbin so I plied it against itself and I managed to squeeze four more rows out of it. Hurrah! They are very warm and soft and look quite groovy in a Pippi Longstocking sort of way. I am now wondering if I can get away with wearing them with my long denim skirt and khaki suede Birkenstock clogs as they stay up pretty well but would they sag if I ran for a bus leaving me less like Pippi and more like Norah Batty.Can you see a theme developing here?Anyone else as prone to wardrobe malfunctions as me?

Grace and elegance may elude me, but I can spin yarn which comes close to those qualities. This is 100g or the Yarn Yard fibre club merino silk. It has to be my best spinning yet. There are about 400 metres there so it is coming up as a 4ply/fingering weight and I hope to end up with about 800 metres in all as I have 100g yet to spin. Thanks to everyone for their suggestions about patterns. I am having fun looking at patterns on Ravelry and burying myself in stitch dictionaries so will let you know what I decide. I've finished two projects so I'm sure I deserve to cast on right away!
Recently I have been rummaging around in the Yarn Archive as the Golders Green knitters are holding a stash swap in a couple of weeks. Surrounded by so much of my precious yarn, my blood suddenly ran cold. What if the moths came?

My little niece gave me a lovely lavender bag made by a friend of my sister, all beautifully embroidered and beaded for Christmas. It's lovely but it's JUST ONE BAG! It would be like defending myself from a barbarian horde with a fruit knife! An industrial sized stash needs industrial sized thinking so I bought 500g of lavender and a huge pile of organza bags of the type used for wedding favours and got busy with the spoon.

Here is a small platoon of my purple army. Go get 'em boys!

Sunday, 13 January 2008


Do you ever stand in front of the fridge, not really hungry, but pick away at enough bits and pieces for the calorific equivalent of a decent meal and still close the door feeling vaguely unsatisfied? I've been a little like that with my knitting over the last few days. I've done a few rows of this, a few rows of that but haven't particularly enjoyed it or had much to show for it.

Extending the dietary metaphor a little more, I know that there are admirable people who would snap themselves out of their ennui by setting themselves the equivalent of an 'Eat from your store cupboard challenge' and institute a firm programme of clearing up any long term works in progress before allowing themselves a new and attractive project.

Sadly, while that laudable creature is whipping up a wholesome lentil soup with all the old vegetables at the back of the fridge I am rummaging around in the recycling bag for one of the takeaway menus that drop through my letterbox every day to order something indulgent as a way of perking up my jaded palate. Did I ever pretend to be a role model?

So, whilst following a link to the Cornflower blog, in my opinion the most intelligent of the 'Knitting and lifestyle' blogs, I came across this simple ribbed scarf. Before I knew what I was doing I was rummaging in my stash and came up with a similarly beautiful skein of hand painted merino from the Yarn Yard and cast on this satisfyingly simple scarf as a bit of a pick me up. The colours remind me of all the beautiful shades of curry spices; golden turmeric, fiery chili, warm cumin and intense ginger. To remind myself of the self indulgence of casting on this project, what better than to call it my Tikka Masala Scarf? I chose to cast on 40 rather than 52 stitches as I wanted more length than width and am enjoying the play of the warm colours and the soft, springiness of the yarn. More healthy than a vindaloo...

Despite my minor domestic knitting slump it has been lovely to get back to my spinning wheel again, especially with the beautiful Yarn Yard merino silk roving from last month's fibre club. It is spinning up like a dream. I am hoping for a largely fingering weight yarn to knit a wrap that puts me in mind of flowing water with plenty of movement. Does anyone have a favourite pattern to suggest?
I had a lovely day yesterday with a newly formed group of spinning knitters in London. It was good to catch up with Diane, Alice and Ali again and lovely to meet Grit, Michaela and Jan. Once again I was struck not only by how pleasant the frends I have made through knitting are, but how intelligent, articulate and interesting knitters are, with fascinating lives beyond the bond of our craft. We are hoping to meet once a fortnight at each other's houses with plans for meetings in the park and fleece washing sessions in the garden when the weather is bright again. I am really looking forward to it. Thanks, Diane for the warm hospitality and chocolate cake!

My wheel isn't portable so I brought along my Lavender Farm socks which are at least knit from hand spun. I have been making good progress of them as they have been my travel project. I am now approaching the end of my ball of yarn and am having to decide whether I am going to have enough yarn to make a matching pair or whether I have to do a yarn transfusion from the other sock to even them up.
Wish me luck!

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Open the box!

I won't bore you with the story of how surprised and delighted I am that this parcel has finally arrived, since the order was placed and shipped in August... Suffice to say that the delivery was not made on the appointed day but had been attempted on Christmas Eve by which time I was far away in the bosom of my family. However, they had the presence of mind to leave it at my local post office which meant that I could pick it up myself on Saturday - hurrah! Let's not delay any longer - what's inside?

Blockers! Long blockers, short blockers, big blockers, small blockers, sock blockers, glove blockers, rabbit blockers, hedgehog blockers. Blocker heaven. A huge thanks to Chappy for these wonderful objects and for sharing the frustration of their multiple crossings of the Atlantic. The delivery company in question must take responsibility for their larger than necessary carbon footprint...
To be honest, I rarely use them to actually block socks but they are useful for displaying and photographing my socks and are particularly handy for teaching sock knitting.Their arrival is quite timely as I am pleased to say that I have just been asked to teach a sock class at IKnit (see under new classes) in Vauxhall, South London in February. So if you want to find out what this sock knitting malarkey is all about or if you just want to spend some time in the company of a true sock geek please sign up - I'll be delighted to meet you and share my enthusiasm.

Another big thank you to Chappy for the thoughtful gift of these lovely stitch markers. I particularly like the set on the left which read, 'Laugh, wish, love, inspire and imagine'.

Notwithstanding the excitement around the final arrival of the parcel, knitting has been happening. I have finished the Komi Mittens. I love these mittens and was terribly disappointed when we didn't have any snow last week to give me a chance to debut them. Here they are sitting in what would appear to be my favourite shrub although to be fair, in the winter garden there isn't a great deal of choice!

Mitten love hasn't managed to completely dislodge sock knitting from my affections. Here is the first Tarra Bulga sock. I am quite pleased with it although the stitch pattern appears to bias a little. I hope that when I block them (did I tell you I had new sock blockers?),that they will straighten out a bit.

Coming back to work after a lovely restful break has been a real shock to the system. Even though the pattern in the Tarra Bulga socks is easy to memorise, I have been so tired on my journey home that half asleep I have been knitting random stitches so have had to put them to one side temporarily and do something Really Simple. Enter my latest Yarn Yard Fibre Club hand spun. I divided the skein in half and am knitting some absolutely plain toe up socks so that I use up every crumb of the yarn. It is also an excuse to debut my Really Long Blockers. The yarn is a little uneven in places and the striping is somewhat irregular but they are turning into some lovely soft socks, much less harsh than my previous, rather over spun socks - so there's progress. The colours remind me of a lavender farm that I once passed with the vibrant rows of lavender interspersed with paths and grassy borders so they have become my Lavender Farm socks. They are so simple and soothing but engaging that I managed to get through this evening's journey without nodding off.

I'm wondering how high I can make them...

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Do you want to know a secret?

The sharp eyed amongst you may remember that back in November I mentioned that I was working on a very exciting secret project. Well, I'm pleased to say that now I can reveal what I have been doing. It is with quite a lot of pride that I introduce you to the Karenina sock which is the inaugural design for the Socktopus Sock Club. Now everyone has their parcel I feel I can mention it without spoiling any one's surprise.

Alice, the person behind Socktopus and I met early last year on a spinning class and we still laugh about the fact that we bonded as sock knitters as I recognised her Rockin' Sock Club socks! We have stayed in touch ever since and I was really honoured when she asked me if I would design for her new sock club. I am very touched and at the time a great deal nervous at Alice's faith in me by asking me to do her inaugural design. This was a big moment for both of us!

Anyway,back to the sock. One of the exciting things about this commission was that I was able to work with a yarn designer and develop a hand painted yarn for the pattern.I chose to work with Daphne at the Knittery as I have used and love her yarns. There was also the mention of that little word 'cashmere...'

I wanted to do something appropriate to the festive season but not too obvious so red and green and Santa and reindeer were out. I took as my inspiration a vintage purple and gold glass tree ornament. Daphne sent yarns that completely captured the essence of what I was trying to achieve, two beautiful semi solids with just the right amount of movement. We knew we were taking a bit of a risk with the gold as people can be a bit wary of yellow but a sock club is about coming out of your comfort zone a little so we pressed on. The yarn is a cashmere and merino blend which is a real sensual pleasure to knit with.

I also wanted to use slip stitch pattern to show that colour work on socks is much easier than you might think and doesn't involve lots of stranding and worrying about tight floats and other alarming concepts.

As I was finishing the design I also discovered the joy of audio books and was absorbed in listening to Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Now this is a long book which I had tried and failed to read in its printed form. However, with the spoken word lending life and characterisation to the story I was completely caught up in it and realised that the socks also had something of the opulence of Russian style as exemplified by Faberge eggs about them so the Karenina socks were thus named.

Now the sock club parcels have arrived, beautifully presented by Alice with her style and attention to detail they seem to be going very well. It's very exciting to see Karenina socks popping up here and there on people's blogs and Ravelry. I am very grateful to have been given this opportunity and very pleased that people have been so kind about them. Thank you.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Family Ties

As I have mentioned before I come from an extended family of knitters. Thanks to my mum and grandmother I could knit before I went to school as I always had one or the other of them close at hand to magic away any knitting disaster I handed to them in childish despair. As they are no longer with me, my knitting remains a strong connection that I still feel with them.

In my recent visit to my dad he mentioned that he had come across a piece of my mum's knitting and produced this, the baby shawl that my mum had knitted for me. As you can see it is a circular shawl, knit in robust and sensible off white baby yarn with a spiral garter centre and a feather and fan lace border.

Here is a detail of the stitch pattern. As you can see, this forty... ahem...something piece has admirably stood up to the test of time. My heart was also very much warmed to hear that having found it my dad mentioned that he had been putting it around his shoulders for sitting up in bed and reading. Now we are a family who don't gush a great deal about our emotions, being of no nonsense northern and peasant stock so of course we made the usual cracks about 'My what big eyes you have grandma', but I really treasure the idea that my dad is deriving warmth from something that was knit to welcome me into the world all those years ago.
And just to prove the provenance of this venerable garment, look what I found in the family album and yes, that grumpy little character is me showing absolutely no appreciation of mum's handiwork!

While I was delving in the family archive I also came across this marginally more cheerful image of me a few years later sporting more of my mum's knitting which I remember as white with a variegated blue wool for the stranded section. This photo tells a number of stories. Firstly, it demonstrates the British enthusiasm for the seaside - even if the temperature requires the wearing of a ski jumper whilst playing in the sand with the good old bucket and spade. Secondly the snugness of the collar of the jumper bears witness to the fact that knitwear designers sometimes forget the basic anatomical fact that the heads of small children are disproportionately large compared to the rest of their bodies. I attribute the slightly apprehensive look on my face to the knowledge that the removal of the garment would require significant wrestling and the possibility of the loss of my ears. When my younger sister, slightly more well endowed in the ear department than myself, inherited the jumper, mum relented and inserted a zip in one of the back raglans, to my sister's great relief.

Capturing these images of my knitting heritage has been a great pleasure. I like to think that mum and nanny would be proud that I am carrying on the family tradition.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Smitten by another mitten

Happy New Year Everyone!

I am now back home from spending time with my family and am bracing myself for the return to work tomorrow. I did have a wonderful time, just the right combination of raucous familyness and companionable silences. I feel warm and rested and reminded of the things that matter in life.

So, back to the knitting. You may recall that for my ten day sojourn I packed enough yarn for at least three pairs of mittens, three pairs of socks and a washcloth. Suffice to say, despite plenty of time devoted to my craft I brought most of that yarn home with me, plus a couple of balls of black sock yarn I found in the local wool shop and felt I needed to buy to Encourage Them.

However, what I failed to produce in terms of quantity I think I managed to make up for in terms of quality - take a look at these little beauties!

These are Komi mittens from the book Knitting Marvelous Mittens by Charlene Schurch. The yarn I have used is Jamieson's Shetland Spindrift. This has to be my most adventurous colour work project to date and I absolutely loved every minute of it although they were incredibly time consuming. They are knit on 2mm needles which gives a beautiful firm, dense, almost velvety fabric which will be incredibly warm. The pattern is very well designed with the reticulations (a posh term for big geometric pattern I understand...) fitting in with the shape of the mitten really well.
When I looked at the shape of the thumb in the picture I thought it was going to be very awkward and had been designed in that way to accommodate the shape of the design but in reality it follows the curve of the thumb perfectly.

I'm also quite pleased with my colour choices too - in fact I actually prefer them to those suggested in the pattern. I can see a lot more of these sort of patterns in my future as I am no longer intimidated by them. It's all one stitch at a time after all isn't it? Mind you, after the hours of work I put into them I may need a little bit of instant gratification work some time soon.

Having time to spend thinking and reading and talking I've got lots of things to share over the coming weeks but I need to ease back into reality now and finish unpacking...