Friday, 27 February 2009

Knitters at Large

Where did the week go? I haven't even told you about last weekend and here we are starting another.

First of all, thank you so much for all the positive posts about my new found love of the curve! I wore my Honeycomb Vest several times this week and it was admired by knitters and non knitters alike! Who knew? I have been knitting up a storm this week but that's for another post.

What was I talking about? Oh yes, last Saturday. Definitely the sunniest and mildest and springiest day for ages and just perfect for the first gathering of the fibre flock this year, the Unravel Festival in Farnham, Surrey. It's only an hour from London but it feels so much further, a pretty country town where the festival was held in a very attractive venue - the Farnham Maltings.

It isn't a large festival but there was plenty going on and despite Ellen, June and I being there very early it seemed to be heaving with determined knitters very quickly. Look at this action shot of the IKnit stall - knitters were moving fast!

What I enjoyed most was sitting, knitting and watching the crowds go by. Viral knits a plenty, February Ladies everywhere as well as the odd Clapotis in progress. There was one couple that I stared at for some time, trying to think how I knew them until I realised that they were none other than Marianne and Barry from My Photographic Life and it really was the first time I'd met them in real life. It was wonderful to meet them in person and Marianne's hand spun cardigan is even more beautiful than in the photographs.

There were more familiar faces, Alix, Gerard and Craig from IKnit of course but apart from that loads of knitters and spinners that I didn't know - how can that be after Ravelry? Interestingly enough, several people stopped me and asked about the pros and cons of working on circular needles which I had assumed were completely familiar to knitters these days. I think it's wonderful that this festival and others like it is bringing more and more people together to share skills and ideas.

Around lunch time we decided to take ourselves off and explore Farnham a little more. It really seemed as if it had been waiting for a fibre festival.

Look at this sign over a shoe shop.

And this pub opposite the Maltings.

And most curious of all this mural on the wall of the Police Station. I really hope it isn't a reconstruction of a Scene of Crime...

Finally, I know what you're thinking - did I buy anything? To be honest I am off to Yorkshire for the annual Skipnorth extravaganza in a couple of weeks so I am saving up for that but a couple of little souvenirs followed me home.
This from Skein Queen which is merino bamboo and silk in a colour called Mossy Oak. The colours just jumped out at me and I had to have it before someone else did...

And this luxurious little treasure - two small skeins of naturally dyed cashmere coloured with Mignonette. Enough for an especially decadent pair of Cranfords perhaps?

There's loads more to tell you but it will have to wait - men learning to knit, charity patterns, miles and miles of K2P2 rib - the fun never stops!
Back soon....

Sunday, 22 February 2009

The size of the matter...or the matter of size

Last weekend I got together with a couple of girlfriends. We gossipped, we laughed, we drank wine, ate muffins, tied strings around our waists, attached stickers to our boobs...and measured each other.

Anyone who has seen this book knows that it has a fabulous section in it about taking a number of detailed measurements to ensure that your knitted garment fits properly. The underlying principle of this book is fit, that the instinct of women who don't particularly like their bodies is to hide their curves in large, boxy knits which actually makes them look larger and does nothing to make the most of their best features. We agreed that it is very difficult to do these sort of measurements oneself so as a group we resolved to get three sets of accurate measurements.

Practicality aside I think it's fair to say that I have fallen into the classic curvy girls trap where most of my knitting has consisted of socks, mitts, scarves and sloppy jumpers so that I haven't had to think about the technical, or to be honest, the psychological challenge of knitting garments to fit. I've slowly been plucking up courage. At new year I weighed myself for the first time in years so that I could gauge the effect of eating more healthily and taking more exercise. So far, so good. I allowed myself to be persuaded that I should place a couple of decreases at the waist of my Hoodie-in-a-week to cut down on some of the bulk and the look of the garment is better for it.

Knowing my measurements is another step along that journey. A lack of confidence in its potential to fit properly had somewhat stalled progress on the Honeycomb Vest. This week I measured it and, more by luck than judgement found that it was pretty much on track for a good fit so here it is!

and here is some of the stitch detail.

I am very pleased with this and certainly plan to make more. It will be a perfect garment for work as I can already see signs of spring in the air making heavy coats and jumpers redundant but there is always that nip in the air which precludes going without entirely.
With hindsight I could probably have knit this top a size smaller as the fabric is very stretchy but it might be better to try going down a needle size as a slightly firmer fabric might be preferable. I back stitched the seams rather than mattress stitching them as I felt the heavier seams would give the fabric more stability.

Buoyed up with this success I made a couple of decisions. Firstly, I am not going to sit on favourite skeins of yarn in anticipation of knitting a whole slew of smaller jumpers. I think I deserve to wear garments knit in my favourite yarns now.
A little stash diving later and I came up with some more of my carefully squirrelled discontinued Rowanspun Aran in a vibrant springtime green.
I also found my copy of Stephanie Japel's Fitted Knits. I have enjoyed looking at this book for some time but never plucked up the courage to try any of the designs. Given the season and the success of my last vest I settled on this:

And here is my progress so far.

I feel that facing up to a few stark realities and being prepared to do something about them has given me the confidence to start really making knitted garments for myself. I am sure there will be some setbacks along the way. Never underestimate my capacity for eccentric choices and hit and miss colour combinations! Right now I feel like digging out all those books with garments I fell in love with but decided weren't for me and rummaging around in my stash and starting at least half a dozen things at once.
Well I suppose it's one way to keep my head out of the fridge....

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Stick a fork in me - I'm done!

Well, it was fairly predictable - once I'd started that Clapotis on Thursday night I was completely at the mercy of its colour changes and stitch drops. I also knew that it would look great with my purple jacket and I needed a change from the entrelac... So I knitted and knitted. It's amazing how much can be achieved if you cart a project around totally unselfconsciously and knit on it absolutely everywhere that you get a chance - in the queue at the cash machine, checkout, every train, bus, car you spend more than 30 seconds in...

By Sunday morning I had this to show for my efforts.

and the coneless cone was looking like this...snigger....
At the beginning of a Clapotis it is hard to understand what is so appealing about them. Just a funny shaped piece of not particularly drapy knitting. It's only after you start dropping the lines of stitches and watching it fold and flow along the ripples that they create do you get the point of a Clapotis.
Here is a closer look at the front
But the texture is equally interesting from the back.

By yesterday morning I was within sight of the end. I bundled the whole thing and knit on it during the journey to work. I knit again as I travelled between sites. By the time I got on the train and headed for home I was down to the last twenty stitches. I finished them off and then set about dropping the final columns of stitches without flapping my six feet of shawl over half the train carriage. By the time I got onto my final train I was sewing in the ends and as I left the station I was wearing it! One last gratuitous shot of how the colour stripes and the dropped stitch rows intersect on this bias knit scarf.
And finally, here it is in all its glory, knit in five days with just under 400g mill end, 'water damaged' Noro Silk Garden which cost me the princely sum of £4.

Normal service will return shortly.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Humouring the child within

I don't talk much about my life outside knitting on this blog as I want to keep the focus on the creative part of me which as someone with, believe it or not, a serious career can get sometimes get a bit crowded out.This blog has helped me keep a hold of my creative side in many, many ways as it makes me stop and think about and celebrate the things that I am making with my hands and the learning experiences and the fun that I am having. In my working life I have a great deal of responsibility and can't pick and choose the bits of my job that I fancy doing and those that I don't. As a knitter, the world is my oyster!

With all this pressure in my day job, is it any wonder that in my knitting life I can be a little erm.... undisciplined.... Having said that, I am happy to reveal that I have managed to finish something - here are my latest commuting socks knit in JKnits sock yarn in the colour Reno. I really like the way that the colours have fallen and the fabric is soft and silky. As a 'knitting experience' however, I found the yarn quite slippery and splitty and difficult to pick up if mistakes needed correcting.

I've also finished spinning the Yarn Yard merino silk roving. As you can see, it's got a bit of thick and thin about it but what I was concentrating on was getting a heavier, more rustic yarn that showed as many of the colour combinations as possible from the roving.

I tried to spin the singles quite softly and then concentrated on plying thoroughly so that the plies relaxed and puffed up as much as possible when they were spun against each other. I'm planning to make an entrelac wrap with it so I wanted to make the most of its 'next to the skin' softness.

I really appreciated the kind words and comments on my last post about my worries for my friends affected by the Australian bushfires. At the time of writing I had no idea of the scale of the destruction that was unfolding. Luckily my friends are all still safe although the fires came very close to them indeed.

Sitting here, so far away,watching the snow melt it was easy to feel rather helpless so I am really glad to tell you about a campaign that a fellow knitblogger, Jacqueline has started over on her blog Serendipity . I am lucky enough to have met Jacqueline in person a couple of years ago so am particularly happy to support her campaign. She is asking people to make a donation to the Australian Red Cross which will entitle them to be entered into a draw for all kinds of really lovely prizes donated by other knitters. I had a good rummage in my stash to find something special to offer and am adding these five skeins of Rowanspun 4ply in a very pretty pale pink called Sugar. This yarn is discontinued so very hard to find. There is enough there to make a good sized lacy scarf or shoulder shawl or a hat and glove set.

Finally, even though it's over a month away, some of us are starting to get excited about the annual Skipnorth knitter's weekend away in Yorkshire where knitters from all over the UK and further afield, meet up in a youth hostel in Haworth and prowl the surrounding countryside for mill shops and spinning emporia and haberdashers extraordinaire before retreating to the hostel for workshops and spin ins and lots of cake eating.
Someone asked what our best ever bargains had been from previous trips and I remembered about a kilo of coned Noro Silk Garden that I bought a couple of years ago for the ridiculous price of £10 because it had been water damaged and was in fact still wet when I bought it. It was then that I discovered what a niddy noddy was and bought one at Winghams to skein up and dry the yarn. As it turned out, one cone dried perfectly on the youth hostel radiators once the waterlogged cardboard cone had been removed and here it is in all its glory - 400g of glorious colour. Now I know the Noro isn't to everyone's taste, it's pretty rustic, tends to have all kinds of vegetable matter in it and can be knotted in the middle of a colour change, destroying the gradations of colour that are its best feature. As you can tell from my spinning, I'm firmly in the rustic camp and love the stuff!
As for the niddy noddy, it was soon joined in my house by a spindle and some roving. Now, two years and two spinning wheels later perhaps I can blame my spinning addiction on two cones of damp Noro...
You can probably predict what happens next... Despite having loads of projects on the needles and plans for designs and class plans and grown up stuff like that I got it into my head that I wanted another Noro clapotis and I wanted it NOW! I know everybody in the knitting universe has either knit one of these or considers themselves way to stylish to fall in with the common herd but I love them. I think this will be my seventh, some of which I have given away, some I have kept and wear on a very regular basis. I'm a smart casual, simple sort of dresser, my winter uniform for both work and home is a black long sleeved t shirt, denim skirt or trousers and boots. If I throw a clapotis or other hand knitted scarf or shawl around my shoulders I feel dressed and can constantly ring the changes without thinking too hard in the morning!
So I cast on...
and have been knitting on it greedily ever since. I keep meaning to stop after each colour change but then I want to see the next one and then I want to get to the bit where you drop the stitches because it makes me feel naughty and I'm wondering if I can finish this in a week...
Because I can you know....if I want to.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Spinning, fidgeting and searching for spring

I've noticed that this year, I haven't talked much about spinning. Be assured, spinning has been going on, albeit slowly as I have been patiently and carefully spinning this month's Yarn Yard club fibre which is more of the superwash merino and nylon sock fibre. This is the same fibre that Natalie kindly gave me as a Christmas present and whilst I loved the colours I wasn't particularly happy with the standard of my spinning. Has this ever happened to other new spinners? When you first start out every skein seems better than the last and you imagine that you are on a smooth ride to spinning perfection. Then things seem to stall for a while and you find yourself turning out skein after skein of adequate but flawed yarn without any obvious signs of improvement.

I'm sure it's a matter of patience, practice and concentration so I am happy to take my time over this. The colour is inspired by a favourite pair of muddy old jeans. How apt, as my favourite jeans sprouted an enormous and irreparable split across the rear end at Christmas....

I like the way the colours are blending so far.

Now usually I am pretty monogamous about my spinning but yesterday was the monthly meet up of spinners at IKnit so I knew I would be distracted and yapping. A project requiring a little less precision was required so I chose a previous month's Yarn Yard Club Fibre, this time a merino and silk to spin something a little more thick and chaotic for a scarf. I feel another attack of entrelac coming on as it has worked so well with my other hand spun yarn projects so I took one of the two 100g plaits, divided in two, split the two halves down the middle and spun them end to end to create big runs of colour. The next plait will be divided into eighths so that there will be as much opportunity as possible for all the colours to mix with each other to maximise the range of shades in the entrelac squares. this is the theory anyway....

I thoroughly enjoyed my spinning day at IKnit, spinning with Hannah and Alix while Gerard made us cups of tea and fed us chocolate. You can see the fun we had on the IKnit blog here. Hannah showed us her beautiful Bosworth Moosies, which,as the name suggests are made with real moose antler. Alix was drum carding some lovely Portland Fleece; some of it with shiny bits, some of it with tweedy flecks and some into big beautiful snowy white beards of batts. They were beautiful. As she turned the handle I found myself transfixed in the way that Mr Toad in the Wind in the Willows is when he sees a motor car. I wonder how long it will be before one of these infernal machines is coming home with me....

I don't know where the time went but it was six o'clock by the time I had left having had a great spin, learned loads and discovered that Alix and I both share a passion for Seasick Steve.

Where was I? Have come over all unnecessary.... Ah yes, spinning - here is how it looks so far. I love the bright orange against the greys and apricots. It may well become a favourite.

I've been spinning again off and on all day today as I just haven't been able to settle. Regular readers will know that I spend a lot of time and have many good friends in Victoria, Australia, some of whom live deep in the bush. Since the news of the dreadful bushfires started coming through I have been listening with gathering dread to the names of towns and villages that I know well. Spinning has prevented me from too much pressing of the refresh key on the Australian news websites. So far, I understand, my friends and their homes are OK but the fires came very close and are, in many cases still burning out of control. One of the reasons that I love Australia so much is that you get such a sense of nature still being in charge. Bushfires are part of the natural ecosystem there but these are like nothing anyone has seen before. My heart goes out to those affected.

At times like this, knitting does soothe and calm. I'm still working peacefully away on the Santa Cristina spindle spun scarf. As you can see I still have plenty of roving left but it's a long term project.

The scarf has grown too.
With all this talk of bushfires it's hard to believe that only last week my garden was under 30cm of snow. Today it is almost entirely gone and has uncovered these little beauties.
They are snowdrops that I transplanted from my dad's garden last year. They make me so happy, both reminding me of home and that spring is around the corner.
I was further encouraged to hunt around the garden for more signs of new growth and look what I found.
Rhubarb! Not enough for a crumble yet though.

I've re read this post and it is a dreadful jumble but then so was my weekend - good and bad, funny and serious but, like these brave little plants, ultimately optimistic.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

This post is brought to you by the colour green....and white

I'm not sure if I mentioned this before, but towards the end of last year I was lucky enough to get through the 'lottery' of obtaining a place in the inaugural Wollmeise Sock Club. Now I had heard all kinds of hoo ha about this yarn which flies off the shelves of its few stockists within minutes of it arriving. As far as I am concerned, no yarn is worth me getting out of bed at an unearthly time of the morning or sitting over the computer for hours when I should be knitting so I was delighted to get the chance of Wollmeise without tears and see what all the fuss is about.

I have to say that it is gorgeous. It comes in very generous 150gram hanks of solidly spun, round, smooth merino which are dyed in good, strong, vivid colours. One of the first yarns was this one, the colour of box hedges, apparently.

The yarn does come with a free pattern but I decided that I wanted to find a pattern which was long and toe up, so that I could take advantage of every inch of the yarn. Finally I settled on these Lacy Cables Knee Socks by Susan Gutperl which are more of a sock 'recipe' than a step by step pattern but incorporate an interesting lace panel for the calf expansion so it is never a dull knit.

The recipe suggests using your favourite toe construction so I remembered being told that the toe on Diane Mullholland's Express Lane socks from the Inside Loop was good as it uses yarn over instead of wraps. After a couple of false starts I declare it very good indeed and will certainly be knitting more toe up socks from now on using this method.

It even stands up to close scrutiny.

And here is a closer look at the cable lace which is very simple to memorise.

As I was shivering away taking these photos in my garden on Sunday I was enjoying the intense green colour and looking around the garden for reassuring glimpses of green reflected in nature. I was pleased to remember that the winter salad vegetables that I planted have not only served me well in perking up my sandwiches all winter, they are also food for the eyes on a deep winters day.

Here we have mizuna,


and the lushest of the lot, winter purslane.

It certainly was chilly when I went out to take the photos. If you look really closely at the sock you can just see the odd....snowflake. You can also see a couple of toast crumbs as well but we won't dwell on that.
By the next morning my winter salad and everything else was buried under this:

And this scene of the table I like to knit at on summer evenings gives you an idea of how deep it was.
We don't really do snow in London so transport came to a standstill and I had a nice cosy knitting day.
Stay safe, everyone.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

A fine week's work

Thanks to everyone for your kind responses to my design mishaps. For me, it's important that this blog is a genuine record of the triumphs and disasters of my knitting life rather than a sanitised showcase of the best bits.

Mind you, today's post is much more fun to write. I put the finishing touches to my Hoodie-in-a week and here it is in all its glory.

In fact, I've already worn it once! On Saturday morning my friend Alan called and asked if I fancied going to see Oliver! up in town. Not only was I going to get a chance for a fine evening's entertainment and a good chat with an old friend I had a golden opportunity to wear the outfit I had seen in my mind's eye when I started knitting - brown boots, long denim skirt and my new hoodie plus my new Selbuvotter for good measure.

Our seats were right at the back of the upper circle. Neither of us is abnormally tall but there just wasn't enough legroom. Add to that being surrounded by people who spent all their time chatting and eating a very rustly picnic of boiled sweets I'm afraid we sneaked away after the interval. Even though it was very chilly, we settled down at an open air cafe on the Covent Garden Piazza drinking warming Irish coffees and listening to the busker. I felt like a knitwear advert.

Observant readers may have noticed that I haven't used the winner of the button ballot. That is because I am an idiot. I neglected to check whether they fitted through the button hole first...This is the only one that fitted but I have rather fallen in love with it's old fashioned quaintness.

Which is a good job as I still have one or two left....

If anyone would like a couple just let me know.