Thursday, 28 August 2008

Love is two pairs of smelly socks

I'm back from Wales and had to show you two very happy sets of feet.

First came Florrie's socks. As you can see they fit her perfectly and are quite soft enough for a princess - as well as looking good with jeans! As you know I made these before I travelled from Yarn Yard Lochan.

Brothers and sisters can be very competitive so I needed to make some for George too. When a young man is 9 he gets very particular about what he wears so I was concerned about getting it right.I used some Yarn Yard Beautiful in a lime green and dark blue stripy mix that apparently hit the spot and are just right with the ubiquitous navy track suit bottoms that comprise the majority of his wardrobe. I started on the train and had reached the foot ready for a first try on when I got there and finished the other one over the next couple of days.

They both declared themselves very happy with their new socks and much to my delight and my sister's horror refused all offers of clean ones for the duration of my stay. I really need to make them a few more pairs I reckon!

I've just been reflecting on the challenges that I have set myself for this autumn and whilst I am very keen to build my skills and try new things, the sort of reactions from my loved ones for simple warm, functional items remind me that there will alway have to be space in my knitting time for plain knitting for the family as it warms the heart as well as the feet.

I have always considered my sister to be very talented with a sewing rather than a knitting needle so imagine my surprise when she produced these examples of her knitting!

Finger puppets!
Handfuls of them!

I think they're a great way to teach children to knit so Florrie and I sat down and made another which she and my sis will decorate. It won't be long before she is knitting by herself as she has almost got it!

We also did some more spinning together, consolidating what she learned last time and adding a few more bits of the process. George was upstairs playing with the birthday additions to his train set so it was good to have a bit of girl time! Florrie is a very good and patient learner.

We all had a great time and were very sad to say goodbye. I must dig out some more yarn for children's' socks. it's a wonderful way to still feel connected even though we are apart.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Join us at the Iknit Day!

Just a very quick note to let you know that Natalie at the Yarn Yard is running a competition for a free ticket to see the Yarn Harlot at the IKnit Day which is almost upon us!

Do have a look at her blog here. By answering a few simple questions about Medecins Sans Frontieres you will be entered into a draw and will get to come along to what promises to be one of the highlights of the knitting calender.

Good luck and I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Autumn Syllabus

I don't know about you, but around my way it feels like summer is drawing to a close even before it's started. There's a definite 'Back to school' feel to the air which has set my mind to wandering. When I started this blog I wanted to use it to track the things that I have learned and the way that I have developed as a fibre artist. I've been looking at my recent posts and feel that I've got stuck in a bit of a rut, largely populated by socks and mittens. I've made brief forays into the land of lace and big baggy jumpers but if you have a look at my list of finished objects it is dominated by the small stuff.

And here we have a good example. Despite my Spring Forward socks being the very last thing I cast on recently I have already finished the first one.There is something so comfortable about a delicious yarn and an intuitive pattern which makes round after round fall from the needles and before you know it there's a sock!

The interesting texture belies the simplicity of the stitch pattern.

Having all my knitting books in one place has meant that I have had a golden opportunity to sit down and think about a few projects that I would like to get under my belt during the rest of the year which will take me out of my comfort zone and build on my existing skills. Here is a range of projects which have made my short list.

I have been thinking about having another go at felting for some time.I have a nice stash of very feltable wool upstairs and need to start using it. After I saw Kathryn's beautiful felted bag while I was teaching the sock class I just had to have this book.

And this is the bag in question...

If I can felt to a decent standard the family may be able to look forward to felted slippers for Christmas...

I have become very attached to my drop spindles recently but think it's time to apply a bit of theory to my practice before I get fixed in potentially bad habits. Who else to use as my guide than Priscilla Gibson Roberts who is a passionate advocate for the use of the hand spindle. She also meets my needs for looking at social history as her work is very much grounded in traditional techniques.

How could any serious knitting syllabus not include spending some time with Elizabeth Zimmermann? My garment knitting is currently confined to cosy but not particularly elegant or fitted top down raglan snuggling jumpers. These are fine but I think it's time I learned to move on to something more interesting. Learning from Elizabeth Zimmermann isn't just about how to follow a pattern and practice complex techniques, she encourages knitters to think for themselves - although she makes no apologies for being very opinionated!

I am particularly drawn to the elegant construction of her hybrid sweater.

Diving once more into the historical side of knitting I'd really like to knit myself a proper traditional gansey. As you may recall if you have read this blog for some time I made a gansey with traditional Cornish motifs on it for my friend Leon in Australia. He loves this garment and wears it day in day out in the winter. I am very proud of it but have to admit that I knitted it when I was a much less well informed knitter and made it in the flat, in pieces, without the underarm gussets. This time I want to make one in the traditional way, in the round using all the right traditional techniques.

I do now, however, that I don't find crew necks particularly comfortable so I am planning to take a pattern from this wonderful book. I love the photographs. Doesn't this little ragged band look like they are just about to start a jolly good playground scuffle?

Rather than a round necked, long sleeved navy gansey I plan to adapt mine in the style of the Herring Girls whose ganseys would be of non traditional colours, often buttoned at the neck and with elbow length sleeves.

Here's another photo from the book for good measure.

You just don't get faces like that any more do you? This man was the sole survivor of a lifeboat tragedy where the other 12 of the crew died. I fancy I can see it written in his expression.

Moving on, I really want to try to incorporate techniques such as cabling into my knitting but am definitely not the shape that would look good in an aran jumper.

Enter More Big Girl Knits - patterns that work for the curvy girl who wants to knit interesting things that fit.

Not only is there loads of good technical information about how to knit to fit your body shape,whatever size you may be, it also has gorgeous projects like this which I hear calling my name!
Finally, there are very few days in London when really warm knitwear is called for so I want to start making pieces that are wearable without suffocating myself so I thought I might try a waistcoat or two. In the US I understand they are called vests which as we Brits know is a piece of gentleman's' underwear that the prudent man is chary of shedding any time before the end of May.
To suit me, a waistcoat has to have a strong vertical line which I think this Japanese inspired design does quite well.
I think I have probably planned my knitting life for the next year as I know that between all these projects I will be wanting to continue to knit socks and mittens and maybe even gloves... As a designer I know that this is my niche and I have plans for more designs for submission to publications or to publish myself. I am developing a reasonably full programme of teaching too which means that one way or another life is going to be very full and interesting!

Tomorrow I am off to Wales for my nephew's 9th birthday. I am going to try to be good and take only works in progress.

I'll fess up on how I got on when I get back!

Sunday, 17 August 2008

The wisdom of knitters

I hope my commenters are feeling pleased with themselves. You were all absolutely right, rather than get bogged down in my morass of work in progress I needed to focus in on getting at least one thing finished - and here we have them - the Scroll Lace Socks by Bowerbird Knits are finished. Despite the fact that they was about twice as much knitting in them as an average pair of socks the pattern was easily memorised and flowed very well.

This finishing lark is quite addictive so I also put the finishing touches to these socks for my niece. The last pair I made for her are lovingly folded in her drawer but she did admit that she finds them a bit scratchy so the search began for yarn for a princess. The yarn I ended up choosing was Yarn Yard Merino Tencel which is very warm and soft. I do hope that she likes them. I will soon find out as I am off to Wales to see them next weekend for my nephew's 9th birthday. I love visiting at this time of year, not only for the birthday celebrations but also for the Talybont show where this year the sheep should be back after last year's blue tongue scares.

This week I have been beavering away on my works in progress. I have started the second sleeve of my charcoal jumper, finished the first bobbin of my green merino silk spinning and reached the final flutter of my flutter scarf. One more good bobbin full should finish the thing! How exciting.

Finally, I have to fess up. All this hard work deserved a small reward.... So, I have cast on for a new sock. This is Spring Forward from the latest Knitty in Sanguine Gryphon Eithos yarn in the shade Parmenides. It's lovely soft, lustrous merino and is knitting up very nicely I think.

I'm now off to get on with my charcoal jumper. Honest....

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Test of endurance

Spurred on by the feeling of accomplishment from working on my stash and books, this weekend I turned my attention to my knitting needles and works in progress. I am now the smug owner of sorted and stored straight, dpn and circular needles all in one place and under control.

Would that the works in progress were as disciplined. It has dawned on me that the majority of my projects are in that difficult middle phase where the cast on enthusiasm has departed and the end seems too far off to act as an incentive. I have spent the last few days knitting up a storm yet the end remains tantalisingly out of reach on all fronts. I wish I had the focus and strength of will to concentrate on a project at a time and systematically tick them off but sadly I have the attention span of a gnat and need to rotate them every so often. Progress is therefore not always visible to the naked eye. They also make for extraordinarily dull photography. Take a snooze inducing tour with me....

First we have the scroll lace socks which are past the point of no return but still requiring a foot.

I'm starting to get a vague scent of home with these but I am at the point of wondering what possessed me to embark on a pair of 80 stitch extra long socks on 2mm needles.

They are a positive sprint when I compare them to my Thermal, which despite the investment of another couple of hours knitting is managing to defy the laws of physics and actually get shorter the longer that I work on it. There is so much work wrapped up in this and the fabric feels so soft and lovely that I will press on...

There was something in the blustery wind at the weekend which carried with it foreshadowing of autumn which lent working on my squishy and slouchy grey jumper a sense of renewed urgency. This, in contrast responds well to a bit of hard work and lo and behold we have a sleeve! I just have to brace myself for the other one and the collar....

I seem to have been knitting away on my Mrs Trellis shawl forever and it is certainly growing more quickly than it did when I started. I have, however, only done 15 of the 30 pattern repeats and then there's the border. This one is going to run and run...

Spinning has been happening too but all I have to show you is another 29g skein of yarn for my Flutter. Are you still awake? I'm starting to flag...

By this time I had spent so much of the weekend glued to the sofa it was very likely that my backside had grown roots so it was time to hop up and get a bit of exercise on the wheel. I've done about a metre and a bit of the entrelac scarf and have run out of green yarn so have started spinning the next 100g of Menthe. It really is the most beautiful stuff to spin...

I am rather proud of myself that I have managed to make tangible progress on most of my projects, if we don't think about the Thermal, and have resisted the temptation to cast on something new although things have been buzzing through my head all the time.

I'm also impressed that you have managed to read this far without dropping off so here is our reward. Saturday's post was very kind.

First she brought me this beautiful Elemental from the very lovely and talented Ambermoggie.

She is an Air Elemental representing inspiration and ideas. She has a woodpecker feather in her hair. These birds live on what they find in the wood as I use wood to bring ideas into fruition with spindle, wheel and needles. I think she is beautiful and just perfect for me. She is a drop spindler herself and has taken up residence with my spindles.

The final thing I have to show you may not be suitable for those of a nervous disposition. If you are easily excited please look away now, for your own protection. May I present the knitting geek book to end all knitting geek books.

There really is no hope for me...

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Bits and pieces and booby gussets

It's been a bit of a whirlwind of a week. All good, and mostly fibre related but has all shot by in a bit of a blur. What have I been doing?

Earlier this week I taught a Sock Masterclass for Socktopus Alice. I had four students and was delighted to discover that two of them had taken one of my beginners' classes and have been hooked on socks ever since.i don't think I could have been paid a higher compliment. So hello to Kathryn, Ali, Nora and Sarah. It was a pleasure to spend time with you all and I hope you enjoyed the class.

Below is a picture of the class project we worked on - a supremely useful cup holder, inspired by the mildly controversial pattern in the recent Guardian supplement, as a way to demonstrate a few fun colour work techniques.

I will be teaching this class at Iknit next Saturday and I believe there are still places left if anyone is interested, or in desperate need of a cup holder...

Another wonderful thing about the class was that all the participants are accomplished knitters in their own right and I always learn something from them.Kathryn had the most fabulous felted bag so of course I dashed home and ordered the book, and the handles.... I may limber up this weekend with some felted slippers.... I am like an impatient child.

I have, amazingly enough found time for a bit of knitting. It is with great delight and relief that I present the final happy couple from the Summer Pick 'n' Mix series. Phew! This is the Haystack sock again, done in a completely different colour combination to show how much the colour choice alters the look of the sock, she says, stating the blindingly obvious.

I have also been working away on the entrelac scarf. With 7.5mm needles this project is galloping along.I am going to have to get the rest of the fibre on the wheel before I run out! I estimate I should have plenty enough to make a long enough scarf for swishing about purposes. I have to say that I love the fabric - it's so gloriously uneven and random but,thanks to Natalie's colour sense, holds together perfectly.

Remember how I said, only last week that I was alarmed by how many knitting books I had? Ahem... Yesterday, my friend Anne and I decided that we needed an afternoon off so we made an appointment to visit the Felicity J Warne textile art bookshop in Enfield. I have met Felicity at various fibre shows and festivals and whilst I know that she only brings a small selection of books with her I had no idea what an Aladdin's cave of wonderful things her shop is. It is tucked away in a residential street so there is no way that you would know it was there unless told. In addition to all the textile art and design books she also has a good collection of womens' and social history books.

It's wonderful to meet someone who is passionate and knowledgeable about their work, and makes a good cup of tea too!

I was reasonably restrained in my purchases, limiting myself to half a dozen books that I couldn't possibly go home with out. This is the prize of my haul. I have been looking for this book for ages as it combines knitting and social history but has always been prohibitively expensive on Amazon. Felicity's pricing policy is knowledgeable but very fair.

This book is the social history of Hand Knitting and Spinning in New Zealand and I haven't been able to put it down. It has the usual complement of wonderful old photographs....

Of Mary McDonald knitting a jumper on long double pointed needles.

Of Jean Drummond whose hands are a blur of movement as she couldn't wait for the camera to complete its exposure to continue working on her sock.

Of course, whilst I aspire to be a serious minded social historian, when faced with a photo such as this, of course I have to giggle and point at the bosom gussets.

Oh dear....

Sunday, 3 August 2008

The great British summer - with added ferrets

This weekend I spent doing my bit for spreading the knitting word by teaching in the Big Knit tent at the Innocent Village Fete in Regent's Park. The Innocent smoothie company do a charity promotion annually where they get people to knit little hats for their smoothie bottles for Help the Aged. At this point my utilitarian streak pops up and asks what the point of knitting hats for bottles which have no apparent use is .However, as a way to teach the basics of knitting they are a good quick project so the event was a lot of fun with a purpose!

The weather wasn't particularly kind, especially on Sunday. The hats in this photo were dripping from a heavy shower.In the end we resigned ourselves to being either wet or steaming!

Of course, there were opportunities for other entertainment. On Saturday I had a long lunch with Sally and Justine from the Miss Flip Knits podcast. My stomach ached from laughing by the time we had reported late for duty.

On Sunday Gerard from IKnit and I sneaked away, via the free gin tent (we were wet and chilled,it was medicinal) to the ferret racing.

For the uninitiated this is a ferret.

In theory these creatures are supposed to run through these ferret assault courses. In reality they are clearly so well fed that they are not motivated by the food reward at the end. In spite of the man with the megaphone. We were a little underwhelmed.
With all these distractions there hasn't been much spinning and knitting going on at Yarn Archive HQ.

I did, however, ply the first bump of the July Yarn Yard club yarn.

And I have started the entrelac scarf. I'm very pleased with how it is looking.

Even from the back. I think the rustic look of this pattern is a perfect partner for handspun. These calm closeups are deceptive, however. This small patch of knitting is the product of a frenzy of swatching, ripping and discarded needles. I started off with 48 stitches on 5.5mm needles. Much later it is now 24 stitches on 7.5mm needles.

It's now got the sort of drape that I am looking for and is narrow enough so that with luck and a fair wind I will get enough length to be good and swishy.

Must get going on the rest of the roving.