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....