Thursday, 28 February 2008

Miss Mattie says thank you

I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has been so positive about the Cranford Mitts pattern. It's very reassuring to hear not only that you like the pattern but also that the approach I am taking to sharing it feels right. Natalie tells me that the merino she has dyed up is flying off the shelves so I'm really hoping to seeing Cranford Mitts popping up in the blogosphere soon. If anyone has any problems at all interpreting the pattern, please do get in touch - all part of the service!

A comment by Suse made me smile. She suggested that they would be perfect for Miss Mattie, so beautifully played by Judi Dench in the series, not knowing that Miss Mattie's Mitts was the other name that I thought about for this pattern. Picperfic asked if I was planning to use the BBC's current classic drama Larkrise to Candleford for inspiration for future patterns. Indeed, Marianne, I am planning to design a whole outfit based on the modes of the lovely Pratt sisters!

To ensure that I wrote the pattern up properly I needed to make myself another pair of mitts, so here they are. They are a slightly more colourful and saturated version of Natalie's, again made with some of her organic merino, this time in Murrayfield with Corduroy for the contrast edges. The solid is more of a 'semi' than the last but I think it works rather well.

In other news, I just had to share that this little corner of my garden was so warm and sunny yesterday morning I was able to sit out and have a bit of a knit and a nice cup of tea OUTDOORS! Hurrah, spring is just around the corner.

The sharp eyed amongst you will have observed that the Manos silk blend that smuggled itself into my bag the other day is on its way to becoming another clapotis. When I got home from teaching on Saturday night I think I had overdosed on socks ever so slightly so a brief desox was required. I've taken the clapotis cure and all is back to normal now...

In another new departure for me I have been doing a bit of test knitting. This is the very lovely Have a Heart sock by Marianne at Picperfic. So far I've learned a beautiful new cast on for a toe up sock and am about to start an intriguing new heel construction. The yarn seemed terribly appropriate, My Valentine 100% merino from Lisa Souza which is a lovely yarn but a little too light and floppy for this pattern; the dot knot pattern doesn't really show so I might try again with a firmer yarn.

I've not been adding massively to the Yarn Archive recently but the library is fixing to burst at the seam. Here is a recent acquisition:

This is a very well produced and glossy book about spinning art yarns. If it had been offered at full price I probably wouldn't have been tempted but there was a second hand copy on Amazon for about £7 so I thought I would have a go and for £7 it's a bargain. There is so much refreshing and irreverent inspiration there but they very clearly say that you need to develop good basic spinning skills to be able to play with the medium effectively. There are recipes for yarns and suggested patterns for them. Now unfortunately, I am a little too mature to avoid looking eccentric if I wore something like this....

but it would be fun to make something pretty like this...

Even if I just kept it as a pet.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Cranford Mitts

You may remember this mysterious piece of knitting that I posted a couple of weeks ago. Well I'm pleased to say that now I can tell you what it has become.

It gives me great pleasure to introduce my most recent design project,the Cranford Mitts.

The inspiration for these mitts came from a recent television adaptation of Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. This was a particularly good costume drama which focused on the lives of a group of genteel but far from wealthy ladies of a certain age in early 19th century England. Some of the most notable features of their dress was the gentle, muted tones that they favoured and the fact that many of them wore delicate fingerless mitts to keep warm in draughty, under heated houses.

When Natalie at the Yarn Yard sent me an 'Unbirthday present' of some gorgeous organic merino in a muted, semi solid bluish green my thought returned to the ladies of Cranford and the Cranford mitts started to take shape. I wanted to create something feminine but practical which could be worn indoors on particularly chilly winter days or outdoors when spring sunshine has returned but a nip is still left in the air. Combining a pretty lace pattern with a fairly tightly knitted sproingy merino gave the effect that I was looking for. The mitts are designed to leave the fingers free so only used a modest amount of yarn.

Last month, I thought that Natalie also deserved an 'Unbirthday present' of her own as January isn't everybody's favourite month so she is the first person to own a pair of Cranford Mitts. She liked them so much that we agreed that I would write up the pattern and that she would offer it on her website alongside some specially designed colourways of the merino. So, any day now, the pattern will be available at the Yarn Yard, free with a yarn purchase or for £2 for anyone who has the perfect yarn in their stash already.

This is a new departure for me, to set a price and formally sell a pattern but as a designer, I feel that the fibre arts and people who work in it need to value themselves as creative and artistic people and that their work has worth. I think it's important to create an environment where it is possible for the incredibly talented and creative people that work in this field to make a modest living from the pleasure that they bring other people. Now, I wouldn't presume to place myself in that category but I do also feel that I have a responsibility not to undercut their efforts by launching too many free resources into the system. I'd be interested in hearing what you think about this.


...I know you are all on the edge of your seats wondering what my little sock family has to say about my mental well being this week. Well, I think the findings are a little inconclusive. Whilst Moderate Lethargy in the person of the Undulating Rib peach sock is still holding its position in first place, the battle for second place has hotted up with Completely Knackered personified by the plain pretty in pink sock ahead of Bright Eyed and Bushy Tailed complicated yellow sock by a nose. It's all to play for....

Yesterday saw the last of the three part sock knitting classes I have been teaching at IKnit. I am going to really miss the two groups of students who have all worked really hard and every single person has been rewarded by amazing progress. It was a real pleasure to enjoy the waving of newly socked feet in the air and take part in the rounds of applause as another sock came off the needles. There is good news for anyone who would like to join the fun and be inducted into the world of sock knitting as IKnit and I are holding another set of classes in April. Visit the IKnit website for details.

IKnit is a lovely place to work, full of enthusiastic knitters, books, yarn.... The only trouble is it's a very tempting place to be when you are really trying to be good and use up the Yarn Archive at home. I'm afraid I couldn't help myself, after spending three weeks sitting under bunches and bunches of skeins of the new Manos Silk Blend I gave in and brought this home with me....

... I'm sure you would have done the same.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

More accurate than a fortune fish

Ever since I was a child, my favourite Christmas cracker novelty has been the Fortune Fish. For the unenlightened, a fortune fish is a thin, red plastic fish that when you place it on the palm of your hand, reacts to the heat by curling and writhing in a range of manners. Enclosed with the fish is a small paper which tells your fortune based on the way the fish moves. Quite uncanny...

Now I can't offer a fortune fish with this cracker of a blog post but I can offer my psychic socks!

Here is the now familiar trio of socks, one plain, one gently patterned and one a little bit tricky. As you can see by this week's progress there has been some change in my overall level of liveliness during my commute. The dominant state, unfortunately has remained one of moderate lethargy with the first of the mildly challenging Undulating Rib socks quite finished but look! The tricky yellow Sock for Veronik has stormed into second place leaving the unchallenging Pretty in Pink socks to plod along in Veronik's yarn overed and purl three togethered wake! I am clearly having more periods of lucidity than hithertoo.

And just in case anyone was thinking that this triple sock madness was a sure fire precondition for a nasty case of Second Sock Syndrome, worry not, I have already cast on more moderate lethargy for next week...

Yesterday I taught the second of three sets of sock knitting classes at IKnit. This was the big one, the heel turn, so there wasn't quite so much banter and a lot more serious knitting this time as there is a lot to go through. As usual, everyone impressed me with their skills, tenacity and determination to improve their knitting. Next week's session will be much more relaxed.

I also think it is essential for me to keep learning if I am to improve as a teacher so I have been spending some of my evenings teaching myself a few new tricks...

First we have a top down sock on two circular needles:

I'm making this sock using Mountain Colors Bearfoot in a colourway that I can't remember as it's been wound in my stash for ages. Can't think why as it makes the softest, haziest socks because of the small amount of mohair. Really must do more rummaging in the stash... I'm not sure how I feel about the two circulars method. It's better than dpns for avoiding dropped stitches in transit but seems a bit more time consuming with all the pulling on cables and repositioning of ends. I'm using Addi Lace needles for the first time though and really like their pointy tips and slightly less slick surface.

In further pursuit of enlightenment I also cast on these...

More top down socks in Cherry Tree Hill, again of unknown colourway, done using Magic Loop on Knitpicks Options 2.25mm. I think I like this method better than the two circulars although the heel turn felt a bit awkward at times. I also discovered that I must knit more tightly in this method than on dpns as the fabric is definitely snugger. Again, it feels a slower method of sock knitting than dpns with all the repositioning but it might be just a question of practice. I will definitely be using this method instead of 40cm circulars for jumper sleeves as I find the longer points much more comfortable.

And just in case you thought I had done far too much learning for one week look at this...

Time for a lie down - I feel the return of moderate lethargy. Now where did I put that sock...

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Creatures of Light and Darkness*

The Henley jumper whilst still a largely shapeless piece of dark grey fabric is slowly unfurling into the shape of a garment. I'm very pleased with the texture of the fabric which is soft, firm and plushy. As you can see I have now divided for the sleeves and am working my way down the body.

The pattern calls for a ribbed edge but I am thinking about replacing it with a contrasting facing to perk it up a bit. I have these three shades of Jo Sharp Silkroad Aran which I am trying to decide between. What do you think? Will any of these do or should I go for something a little less sober? Shocking pink? Lime green?

Members of the Yarn Yard roving club who have yet to receive this month's parcel may wish to look away now....

Knitting away on a grey project, no matter how great the tactile pleasure means that I am very receptive to splashes of colour but nothing could prepare me for the sock in the eye of this month's offering. Those of a nervous disposition may need to brace themselves. Natalie claims that my spirited advocacy for this particular shade is partly responsible for this..

What a welcome burst of sunshine for this time of year! My immediate thoughts were of harlequin tulips and dashed out immediately to explore my garden for the signs of spring bulbs.

My bobbin has been empty for the last couple of weeks but I couldn't wait to get spinning on this. The fibre is Blue Faced Leicester which is a fibre I enjoy spinning very much. I decided, however that I wanted to spin a yarn where the colours are more blended than they are in the roving. I have in my mind the shades of a Tequila Sunrise so I have broken the roving into shorter lengths so that the runs of colour are limited and when plied will give random gradations of yellow through orange to red. That's the theory anyway, let's see whether my spinning skills are good enough to translate my vision into reality!

Last Saturday I taught my first sock class at IKnit. Whenever I teach I realise how much I enjoy it. Classes always attract such a diverse and interesting group of people and it's a pleasure to share my enjoyment of sock knitting with others, some of whom start off looking very dubious! As usual everyone proves themselves to be entirely equal to the task. I'm looking forward to next week when we tackle the heel turn.

Teaching reminds me that when I started this blog almost a year ago my objective was to record my development as a knitter. I have therefore been doing a bit of reading.

Stay tuned to discover what I have learned...

* Borrowed from an album title by Jackie Leven

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Shrinking, growing, renewing and celebrating

Now, I have become very protective of my sock babies. I think it may be due to them being created as a symptom of my attack of acute startitis last week and my determination that they shouldn't be disadvantaged by this inauspicious start. No culling of the weaker sock for me, we believe in the ethical treatment of works in progress here at Yarn Archive HQ.

Luckily, because all three have patterns with varying levels of complexity they have proved to be very obliging companions for my journey to work. When I am feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed I can get on with my yellow Sock for Veronik. When it's all I can do to stay awake, I turn to the simple Pretty in Pink sock but as you can see from this picture, it would appear that I have spent most of my time in a state of moderate lethargy, hence getting as far as the heel turn on the Chewits sock whose pattern requires a modest level of wits about one. Perhaps I should always have a little trio of socks going, as a barometer of my energy levels...

To be fair, it may also have something to do with really enjoying working the Undulating Rib pattern on the Chewit sock. It's one of those patterns which looks like nothing at all until you stretch it out . The little lozenge shapes make the pattern even more reminiscent of sweets, I think.

I am also enjoying the texture of the horseshoe lace on the Veronik sock. The sun was very low in the sky when I took this photo which really makes the texture stand out. I never cease to be delighted at the variety of effects a few combinations of stitches and yarn can make.

As I mentioned before, I really do have too much wool for my own good. It has been taking up valuable space in my small house and, having had a long, critical look at it over the last couple of weeks I have realised that I am much more aware than I ever was of the sorts of things that I enjoy making and the things I want to make in the future. My stash has been home to some lovely yarn but I have to accept that either by weight ot colour or texture, some of it would give someone else a great deal more pleasure.

As luck would have it, the Golders Green Knitters held our first Grand Stash Swap last week with the very purpose of rehoming some of our unloved yarn. You cannot believe how much yarn we brought. Have a look at Lixie's blog for pictures of its true awesome majesty... Thanks must go to the staff of Starbucks for not batting an eyelid while the feeding frenzy was at its height and to Lixie for her remarkable skills in keeping a dozen over excited knitters calm and finding new homes for most of the yarn with great saleswomanship and cunning persuasion. Only two carrier bags of yarn were taken to the local charity shop for further rehoming.

My biggest thanks go to the members of the group who pledged nearly £200 to Breast Cancer Care for my rehomed stash.

I didn't come home entirely empty handed of course. I was delighted with my haul and can't believe anyone could part with these treasures.

First some Claudia Handpaint which is one of my very favourite sock yarns; 100% merino, tightly spun so that it wears beautifully and dyed by someone who thinks about what it is going to look like on the sock. I also snaffled some Malabrigo in a wonderful earthy, olive shade -how could anyone part with Malabrigo??

Next, some beautiful beige cashmere which I am sure will make a beautiful lacy scarf.

These are probably my favourite objects from the whole swap; tiny skeins of naturally dyed silk. There is only 14 yards in each skein but the colours just glow. They are dyed with logwood, madder, indigo and loads of other evocatively named plants and are way more beautiful than my photograph can communicate. Having said that, I can understand how they came to be in the swap. Exquisite they might be, but what can I do with them? I'd be grateful for any suggestions. Would they work added in with the cashmere, at the ends of a feather and fan stole for example? Tell me what you think.

I also acquired some really useful books. I have been after the Twisted Sisters book for a while and the crochet book came with a very kind offer from Julie to teach me the basics - perhaps I'll be able to add crocheter to my profile by the end of the year after all.

Last but by no means least I have been extraordinarily lucky and honoured to have been given this blog award by Malin, Natalie, Missmalice and Terri.

The rules are as follows:

'Give the award to 10 people whose blogs bring you happiness and inspiration and make you feel happy about blogland. Let them know by posting a comment on their blog so they can pass it on. Beware you may get the award several times.'

So, the first four are easy - right back at you ladies! Awards mean so much more when they come from people whose work you admire yourself and these are blogs I check out on a regular basis.

As for the others....

Not a Shy Violet. Vi's warmth and humour shine through her blog even when the going is a bit tough - the blogosphere is a brighter place because of her.

Littleberry. As a new spinner I am often in awe of the beautiful yarn that Littleberry spins.

Real Life, Live and Unscripted. Adrienne's bouyant and positive personality makes this blog a joy to read - as is the dazzling array of crafts she is involved in.

My Fuzzy Life It's been great fun to share Nikki's knitting and spinning adventures.

Tarty Crafty I enjoy Della's intelligent and thoughtful posts.

Picperfic Marianne's photography is quite gorgeous.

There are many other blogs that I could mention as it never ceases to amaze me how often I meet knitters who are also incredibly articulate and excel at all kinds of other things as well.

Here's to us!

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Like a Fox in a Hen House

I've heard that when a fox manages to get into a hen house, the sight and smell of all those warm, feathery chickeny bodies sends him temporarily insane. Instead of treating the nesting boxes as a menu, selecting the plumpest and most savoury looking for his supper, a red mist descends and he snaps to left and right in an orgy of consumption and in a trice he is surrounded by more limp bodies than he could ever possibly need to satisfy his appetite.

I have a confession to make. During my temporary indisposition my knitting appetite was very weak so I drifted around, browsing through pattern books, sorting my stash and generally being idle and listless. But now, my desire has returned and the thought of all those yarns and patterns and possibilities... oh my!

So I have cast on this:

Ann Budd's Undulating Rib socks from Interweave Knits Favourite Socks in The Natural Dye Studio Alpaca Merino. I bought this from Amanda, the dyer at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace last October and had a long and very interesting conversation about how different fibres take up dyes in different ways with this being much more muted than a pure merino would look from exactly the same dye bath. Fascinating. The colourway isn't one that I would normally have chosen but it reminded me of the colour of Chewits, those orange and lemon flavoured sweets we had as children.

I also cast on this: I thoroughly enjoyed everyone's comments on my defense of the colour yellow and am glad to see I'm not entirely on my own on this one! True to my word I thought I would cast on a pair of yellow socks and found this rather lovely but simple pattern in the 2007 Interweave Knits Holiday Gifts. They are Socks for Veronik by Mona Schmidt in Oxford Kitchen yarns Blue Faced Leicester sock yarn in gold. The yarn has lovely subtle shading in the dye but is not as soft as I imagined it would be. The stitch definition is very good, however, and it may well bloom after washing.

I also cast on this...

A good old plain top down sock in Apple Laine Apple Pie in Pretty in Pink. Just because...

With the bit firmly between my teeth by this time I also cast on this:

A Knitting Pure and Simple top down Henley Jumper in Jo Sharp Silkroad Aran Tweed. I'd forgotten how much I love this yarn. Despite its earthy look it it butter soft and oh so cosy!

Picture me, therefore, reclining on my sofa surrounded by all these little woolly objects, started with enthusiasm and tossed aside in my lust for something else new and gorgeous.

I feel for that fox...

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Yellow yarn needs love too!

When I designed the Karenina sock for the Socktopus sock club I knew I was taking a little bit of a risk choosing to work with a golden yellow yarn because, as anyone who makes a brief survey of the answer to the favourite colour question on Ravelry will tell you, yellow doesn't often make an appearance. Now I've always had a bit of a soft spot for yellow. It was my mum's favourite colour. I can still remember her in one of her favourite summer dresses, a sleeveless shirt dress in a glowing shade of sunshine yellow. It always makes me think of long sunny days at the seaside.

On visiting the Socktopus Sock Club blog, it has made me smile to read that many people said how yellow is indeed one of their least favourite colours but had really enjoyed using this one. Obviously, it had to be the right sort of yellow and Daphne at the Knittery did do us proud. One of the best bits of being in a sock club is to allow yourself to be taken out of your comfort zone isn't it?

So, I would like to continue my campaign, to bring yellow in from the cold. It can be a warm, vibrant colour, can give a rich depth to other colours and, particularly at this dark and chilly time of year, remind us that sunnier days will soon be here.

Just to inspire you I had a rummage in my stash and came up with these examples of how interesting and diverse yellow can be.

Here is, from the top, Gypsy Girl Creations in Brindle, Smooshy, by Dream in Colour in Strange Fruit, (I used some of this yarn in my first pair of Marvelous Mittens), and finally Woolen Rabbit sock yarn in Tupelo Honey. How can you resist that name?

Next is some naturally dyed sock yarn and four ply yarn, both Blue Faced Leicester from Oxford Kitchen Yarns surrounding some Rauma Finullgarn.

And here we have more Oxford Kitchen and some Apple Pie by Apple Laine.

I have also done some knitting. Below is the first sock in the Yarn Yard Sock Club January Yarn. I needed to work quite a large swatch before I was happy with the effect as some of the shades in the painted yarn merge a little into the solid but over a broader expanse of pattern gives the effect that I was looking for, a faded and well used carpet. The false flame stitch is easy to work and gives an interesting, almost woven texture to the fabric.

I am grateful to members of the Socktopus sock club for tips on techniques to improve my socks. With this one I have knitted down the inside of the picot rather than sewing it and worked the colour change at the side of the foot rather than the back to better conceal the jog. I enjoy the way we are always learning from each other.

And have you noticed? There's yellow in this pattern too!

Lastly, thank you to everyone for their get well wishes - I know I'm better now as I'm enjoying my knitting again.