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!

Friday, 7 November 2008

For Peace comes Dropping Slow*

For me, once again, this week, knitting and spinning has provided the chance to take a deep breath and tune in to a more simple rhythm, a refuge in a frenetic week. A new spinning project is on the wheel. This is another Yarn Yard offering, blue faced Leicester humbug roving over dyed in deep pink and orange.

It was particularly pretty in its predrafted form.

After a month of spinning a heavy lace weight I decided that I wanted something heavier and bouncier so I concentrated hard on putting less twist in to thicker singles. 200g of roving flew through the wheel in no time. This BFL really is the most beautiful silky, glowing fibre which has made a gorgeous, complex yarn. I have 200g more to spin up which should be enough for a reasonable substantial scarf. I could do another clapotis or entrelac but I am looking for something a little different. Anyone got any ideas?

I've also been beavering away on my Selbuvotter and can show you a completed mitt.

Well, almost!

I have to brace myself for tackling the thumb... I was discussing my aversion to knitting digits and how it has prevented me from making a pair of gloves with Littleberry Knits and before I knew where I was we had agreed to do a two person glove knitalong to help address this aversion - how did she do that? Speaking of Littleberry, do visit her blog and think about joining the silent auction in support of Breast Cancer Haven that she is holding at the moment. You could be the proud owner of a skein of her hand spun yarn which is stunning.
I have chosen this mitten and glove book. I love how many variations there are of this simple garment drawn from national and regional aesthetic traditions. As you study them you can start seeing connections between areas as well as features that make them unique.

I have chosen this design. I'm not sure what the photographer was thinking to take a picture of dark brown gloves against a dark brown background but if you peer very closely you can just about make them out.

I thought that these would be a good option as whilst the pattern doesn't extend up the fingers thus reducing the 'fiddle factor', they do require me to choose a palette of colours rather than just two which will work together. These mitts use mostly natural shades which blend into each other subtly plus a central highlight colour. I have rummaged through my mitt yarn box and come up with this colour combination.

The proof of the pudding, however, will be in the knitting.

*with thanks to Jackie Leven

Sunday, 2 November 2008


October is now over and I have spun my skein of pink yarn. Thank you to everyone for your positive responses. I also wanted to let you know that my Justgiving page has now closed and we have raised over £170 for Breast Cancer Awareness. I am grateful to you for your generosity. The Have you Checked your Breasts sock pattern is still available for free download. I have moved it in with the other free patterns on the sidebar.

I did, however get a response from a friend which was the last thing that I wanted to hear. I am publishing short extracts which I hope that she will not mind.

Dear Jane

I love reading your blog. And I wanted to say thanks, for mentioning Breast Cancer Awareness month. For me, Jane, and surprisingly so, Breast Cancer Awareness has taken on a whole new meaning for me.

Jane, I am telling you this because I really do appreciate you spreading the word about Breast Cancer Awareness and the importance of getting a mammogram. I don't want anyone to go through what I'm going through!

If courage and good humour were guarantees of recovery I am sure that all will be well. October may well be over but we need to take good care of ourselves and those we love all year.

And just as my friend did in her message, let's get back to the knitting. I've been making the Jolly Waves sock my travel project this week. I started knitting these socks on Lantern Moon ebony dpns. I knew that this was a risk as I snapped one of them like a dry twig last time I worked with them so I tried my best to use them gently. Sure enough, despite my care I managed to snap one so swapped back to my usual Crystal Palace bamboos. Now I've been a bit tired and distracted this week and as you can see, was not doing what I exhort my students on a regular basis to do - read my knitting. I did not notice that the stripes were not as they should be to the extent that when they reached the leg they had gone all to pot. I can only imagine that, despite these needles being the same size, I had been holding the fragile ebonies so tentatively that it had affected the tension and therefore the striping of my socks.

I'm going to have to rip back to half way down the foot where the needle change happened and start again with a larger needle and hope that the stripes sort themselves out. I'm amazed at how sensitive this yarn is. Usually, I find ripping back very irritating but it's a learning experience and not the biggest deal in the world after all.

All my good intentions at sticking to my numerous works in progress were thrown out of the window the other day when RooKnits mentioned that she was starting a mitten from the Selbuvotter book.
I have had this book for a while and have been plucking up the courage to embark upon one of the beautiful and intricate patterns. I promised myself that once I had finished a few projects I would allow myself to have a go but I am weak...

The other morning I was unceremoniously woken at 5.00am by an angry mouse trying to escape from the humane trap I had set in the kitchen. I knew I couldn't bear to leave the poor little thing to struggle until my normal getting up time so I got dressed and marched him to the end of the garden and released him. Of course by this time I was wide awake and the stranded mitten bug took advantage of my enfeebled state.

Before I knew where I was I had gathered all my mitten books, my box of mitten yarns and was matching patterns and yarns.

Seems like counting balls of yarn is much more effective for me than counting sheep so it wasn't long before I was contentedly asleep, surrounded by yarn...

This weekend, I decided life was too short not to indulge myself so I cast on NHM 7. Traditionally, Selbu mittens are made in black or red on a white background. I prefer something a bit different so I chose a deep red and yellow ochre in Jamieson's Spindrift.

I have to admit that I have been completely transfixed with this project. I have been so utterly absorbed with doing just one more row to see how the pattern will emerge and so delighted that something so beautiful is dropping from my needles that I am feeling more peaceful and relaxed than I have for a long time. It feels as if the intense concentration is somehow recharging my batteries. It is just what I need.

Terri Shea, the author also makes this wonderfully reassuring observation:

The greatest discovery I made in studying the old mittens is how the old knitters were not necessarily any more talented than we are. They followed patterns,made mistakes, corrected them - or didn't....

What they did seem to do better than we do is to accept the mistakes that they made....Today we have an expectation that everything we make should be neat and finished and cleanly, perfectly designed. That's because in the mass produced world, it is....

A Selbu knitter wouldn't have thrown away a project if it wasn't perfect. She would have made what fix was practical then continued knitting.

Selbuvotter are folk objects, not high art. A hallmark of folk art is the small mistakes and inconsistencies; They are what give a piece its life and liveliness, compared t the sleek perfection of Fine Art and mechanised production.... We are all imperfect, and it is our faults and flaws that make us unique and beautiful.

This week I have had the chance to put a lot of things in perspective. I've learned that life can change and throw us challenges when we least expect it. That while I have thought that I have been having troubles, they are nothing to the things that friends are coping with.

I've also been reminded that when knitting misbehaves it isn't a big deal, it's only knitting. At the same time, by giving me the chance to take a step back and lose myself in total absorption in a project, rebuilding my resilience, this simple process with sticks and string can be surprisingly powerful.