Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Casting off and sewing in

What with Skipnorth and burrowing around in my stash to find things I no longer love for the stash swapI am a bit overwhelmed with how many gorgeous materials I do have in my stash and how I really need to get more productive and take advantage of them.

With that in mind I have really concentrated on finishing my U-necked Back to School Vest by Stephanie Japel. Here is a look at the neckband.

And here is the finished article. I am even wearing it today. It's a great fit although there are always little tweaks that you would make with hindsight but overall it was a pleasure to knit and I'm sure it will become a wardrobe staple. Very peculiar looking without a person inside it though.

I was thinking quite a lot about how well this vest fit and what fun it was to knit despite it looking very odd while I was knitting it. Seems to me that what we are getting with the 'new breed of knitting designers' are knitters who design patterns for other knitters as opposed to generically trained textile professionals who have chosen to specialise in hand knitting.
Now don't get me wrong, I am sure there are good and bad examples of both categories but what I think I am trying to say is that I am increasingly drawn to designers who know how hand knitted fabric works, how techniques can be used to create three dimensional forms in the fabric itself so that garments don't have to be knitted in individual pieces as those trained in traditional pattern cutting are used to. Designers who know that there are clever and novel ways of allowing a garment to grow, be tried on before finishing and come together in an elegant way. These skills are learned by looking at what pioneers like Elizabeth Zimmermann or lateral thinkers like Cat Bordhi have created and not letting the mind be clouded by trying to apply inappropriate templates that might be better suited to the needs of mass production than the hand craftsperson. I am very grateful to people like Stephanie Japel and Wendy Bernard who have gathered their hard won skills in books full of patterns that knitters want to knit, where we will enjoy the whole process, be much more confident that garments will fit and not have all that sewing up to do at the end!
Speaking of elegant construction I have also finished my Diagonal Lace Socks by Wendy Johnson. I learned several lovely techniques in the course of making these from Judy's magic cast on to the toe up flap and gusset and Elizabeth Zimmermann's sewn cast off. Wendy has a book soon to be published which I have already preordered. I think her designs are elegant and well constructed and the patterns clearly and well written.

Speaking of sock pattern books and hugely creative designers I am also very excited that Cookie A's new sock book is due out any day - in fact I am going to her book signing at Loop on Sunday - hope to see you there!

Monday, 30 March 2009

Wheel's on Fire

Believe it or not, apart from a few odd metres left on the bobbins, the Skipnorth batt has been spun. 460 grammes of dyed merino and silk spun to an average aran weight. This is possibly the largest and quickest bit of spinning that I have ever done and I'm surprised how pleased I am with the results. The yarn is slubby and rustic but much more gently and subtly variegated than I thought it might be. I have to say it was the easiest thing to spin. I let a little twist get into the batt and literally pulled the yarn out of the end of it. This meant that the slubs of silk were spun in a lot more evenly than if I had tried to exert more control over it. I think I have enough here to make a small ribbed vest.

Here is a photo of the two enormous skeins that the batt made.

and another gratuitous shot just because I think it's so pretty.

Now my bobbins are almost clear my thoughts turn to my next project. I know I've still got just under half of the Muddy Jeans sock yarn to finish spinning but that's a long term spinning project (oh the excuses...). The postman did bring the latest Yarn Yard fibre club offering so I'm thinking about doing something with that because it is one of my favourite colour combinations and so cheering for this time of the year.
One idea I have is to split the fibre up into mostly pink and mostly green and spin it separately so that I have two colours that go together but would make an interesting colour work project. The fibre is Texel which means that it's a slightly more hard wearing and durable fibre than something like merino but not so soft.
Regular readers will know that I am very fond of colour work, especially the idle girl's sort where there is no need to work with two strands at once. While we were at Skipnorth I had a chance to have a good look at this book and found that it contained some really interesting ideas and methods for working with colour.

I could make a pair of socks something like these....

Or maybe a hat and scarf set like this...

Looks like the wheel isn't going to get much rest!

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Going batty in Yorkshire

I'm back from the sensory overload that is Skipnorth and am trying to get myself back into some sort of order. I know that there are blogs all over the place where people have meticulously recorded everywhere they went, what they ate and fully owned up to everything they brought home with them. Then there are bloggers like me who get so caught up in the moment of yap yap yapping with friends they saw last week and friends they saw last year alike that they completely forget to photograph anything that will support a story line and have yet to come to terms with how far their haul is from the 'I don't think I need very much this year...' Suffice to say that I think that Skipnorth gets better and better every year.

Huge thanks to Lixie and Nic for their impeccable organisation. It was wonderful to meet so many new people and put names to Ravatars. I just wish there had been more time as I felt like there were some people I hardly got the chance to catch up with at all - next time!

First of all I did want to show you one of the highlights of my shopping. As a relatively new spinner I was saving most of my budget for our visit to Wingham Wools on the Sunday. I had in mind that I wanted some interesting blends and some coloured roving for dying and was leaving one shed sideways due to the size of my shopping bag when Wye Sue asked if I'd seen the batts. Now I have never spun from a batt before but chose myself 460g of mostly pink and grey merino with some silk slubs which looked beautiful. I was advised to simply tear off strips from the batt and spin them end on end.

The moment I got home on Monday did I unpack and get the first load of washing on? Not on your life! I got the wheel out to have a go with my batt and was absolutely captured. It is so much fun and virtually spins itself if you don't mind a lively lumpy, bumpy characterful yarn with random flashes of colour. Thanks for the recommendation, Sue!

This is my first 100g of singles, spun in the matter of a couple of hours. I can't wait to see what the yarn turns out like - I am aiming for an approximately aran weight and am thinking of turning it into a little vest maybe.

One of the other things that surprised me was, despite this being a whole weekend devoted to knitting and spinning, how little of either I managed to get done while I was away. My main achievement was the progress I made on my diagonal lace socks. I started these so that I could teach Judy's Magic Cast on at my little workshop on Friday which I think went quite well. Everyone made a very good job of the technique anyway.

I have to say that I am very impressed with the new skills that I have learned in making this sock and if not a complete convert, I can see at least an equal number of toe up to top down socks in my life from now on. The reverse flap and gusset heel works beautifully and I have also finally mastered the sewn bind off so I no longer have to worry about how to finish a toe up sock without the cast off being too tight. Thankfully the pattern in these is a simple one so I can concentrate on getting all the new techniques under my belt - next time perhaps something a little more complex...

Finally, on our way home, to take the edge off the return to reality, Laura and I visited Saltaire, a woollen mill and model workers' village from the 1850s which is now an Arts and Shopping centre.It's an amazing place with the old mill providing the most enormous space for galleries and restaurants, book and houseware shops as well as an historical exhibition charting the history of the establishment of the village. I can thoroughly recommend a visit.

So Skipnorth is over for another year and I need to turn my attention to finishing off some projects so that I can show you what else followed me home...

Thursday, 19 March 2009


Do you remember Pete, my knitting student?

Take a look at this

I have to say that I welled up when I watched the video but it reminded me why I'm proud to be associated with the P/hop project.

Must dash - leaving for Yorkshire in half an hour and I still haven't finished packing - will be back next week to tell you about my adventures.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Ms Conscientious

After my weekend of self indulgence, this week has a completely different, but not unpleasant character. On Thursday, my friend Laura and I will be driving up to Yorkshire to join 40 other knitters, crocheters, spinners and all round fibre fiends for the annual Skipnorth retreat in Howarth. This year I am leading one of the workshops which is on sock knitting so I am taking my responsibilities very seriously. I have refreshed my memory on how to do Judy's Magic Cast On which I have to say is very easy once you get the hang of it and produces a very good looking sock toe.

You can hardly see the cast on point at all.
I also cast on the second sock of the Lacy Cable knee socks which use the provisional cast on short row toe and heel construction only with yarn overs rather than wrapped stitches.
It produces a beautiful line of increase along the side of the toe.

When I saw the list of participants in the sock workshop I knew I was going to be on top of my game as I am sure that some of them know more about sock knitting than I do. I decided to set myself the target of everyone coming away from the workshop with at least on tip or trick or new skill that they didn't know before.I have gathered up a resource pack of tutorials from the net for each person so that they can choose a skill to learn with my or other group members' support. I hope they will enjoy it.
I've really enjoyed preparing for the workshop as it's great fun to learn new skills and techniques and to brush up ones that I don't use very often. As we speak I am working through a toe up sock with a flap and gusset construction and am hoping to have time to have another go at the sewn bind off - something that I didn't have great success with last time I tried. Perhaps someone on the workshop can teach me?
As further proof of my conscientiousness I just wanted to draw attention to the fact that I am still working away on my other projects and haven't been completely seduced by new projects. I have now finished the body of the Ribbed Tunic. When I come home from Skipnorth I need to settle down and study the construction of the set in sleeves. My brain can only take so much...

Progress has also been made on the Back to School vest I have divided for the neck and completed the left front.

This is going to be a warm and substantial vest which I have tried on and fits in all the right places. Observe the bust darts...

And finally, a quick win - I finished the Escher socks which I am really pleased with. I'm starting to build a small library of very simple patterns which I can use without thinking too hard on the train. This will definitely be one of them. I see more Escher socks in my life....

If I get time I'll let you know how many extra skills I got under my belt before Skipnorth - if not, have a lovely weekend and think of us, knee deep in wool and fibre....

Friday, 13 March 2009

Reality bites

I had a lovely, restful weekend on the Isle of Wight with my dad. Nothing much happened, we chatted, ate, watched the red squirrels mounting raids on the bird table and I knitted. Here is one of my favourite knitting spots where I can catch the full benefit of the morning sun over my shoulder.

So, with all that lovely new yarn and new books to try out how did I get on? The first book that I turned to was Knitting Socks with Hand painted Yarn by Carol J. Sulcoski. As well as patterns, there is some useful information in this book about the different types of hand painted yarns on the market and how to use their properties to best effect when choosing a pattern.

The first pattern that I chose were the Escher socks which use a very simple interlocking rib to break up the colours of the yarn. I chose some often cantankerous Socks that Rock in medium weight and am very pleased with how they have come out. The medium weight yarn is a heavy, round yarn which makes a very firm sock. The colours have also behaved reasonably well.

Whilst knitting the sock, the simple, easy to remember pattern seems rather dull and ineffective.

However, when it is properly stretched it shows of this elegant pattern to great effect. I can see myself adding this simple pattern to my 'vanilla sock' repertoire.

Especially as, apparently, they give one the power of levitation in the presence of a golden retriever. Now there's an after dinner trick to be proud of.

Now, if I had been single minded and not seduced by the other lovely yarn I had brought with me I would probably have finished the Escher Socks but oh no, I had to try casting on another pair. Again from the hand paints book they are the Braided Gem Socks for which I have used the Apple Pie yarn. Here is what they are supposed to look like:

Here is my version:

A little closer look at the stitch pattern:

All very nice, I hear you stay but look what happens without the aid of a sock blocker and a lot of tweaking. The stitch pattern is not symmetrical so the socks bias like crazy

One for the frog pond I think.

Over all, I think the book is useful although on closer inspection there aren't many patterns that I would actually make and I'm disappointed that they would include such an obviously flawed pattern in their collection unless it can be entirely cured by blocking. Does anybody know.

I also had a good look at the other book I took with me - Socks a la Carte by Jonelle Raffino et al. To be honest, with the yarns that I had I couldn't find anything to inspire me. The book is based on a very clever concept, a range of cuffs, legs, heels, insteps and toes which you can mix and match using pages that have been sliced through the middle so that you can see what the sock you have in your minds eye is going to work. I have seen most of the patterns in other books so this book didn't offer much in the way of new ideas to me but might be a good choice for someone who has just started making socks although I think there are better on the market. Overall, I was a little disappointed.

So there we have it - I didn't come anywhere near using all the materials I took with me but I did have a change to do some knitting, swatching and reading and recharge my batteries, knitting and otherwise - bliss.....

Friday, 6 March 2009

Total project amnesty!

It's a beautiful day here in London and I am just getting ready to spend a long weekend with my dad on the Isle of Wight. It's the first proper break that I have had since Christmas, spring is definitely on the way so I am going to make a spree of it and treat it like a real holiday.

On real holidays normal rules don't apply so I am declaring total project amnesty on my knitting and taking all new projects with me, a bit like when you go off for your summer holiday with all new underwear (or is that just me?).Mind you, working with this total freedom has been a bit harder than I expected. I should have left the house hours ago but I stood next to all the plastic boxes that make up my wall o'yarn and was completely unable to make up my mind.I blame the yarn fumes...

Anyway, eventually I came to my senses and I chose these. Bear in mind I will be coming back on Monday but it wouldn't do to find myself short of yarn would it?

First is some Socks that Rock Mediumweight in one of the club colourways from the year before last. I love the way this yarn knits up but sometimes struggle to prevent pooling and flashing.

Then some Cherry Tree Hill Supersock Solids in Nantucket Red. This is 100% merino with a distinctive high twist which makes it very hard wearing.

And this is Apple Pie by Apple Laine (another of my standby favourites) which is a merino silk blend in a colour called Earthly Pleasures. The colour repeats are reasonably short on this yarn which makes it a versatile choice for simple patterns.

I am going to be using these yarns to try out these two new books. I'll be able to give you a proper review of them when I get back.
Just in case I find that I don't want to spend all my time on sock knitting (perish the thought) I have decided to take some hand spun that I made last year from this fibre bought at Woolfest. Bonkers bamboo and merino in the colour Pavoreal.

It was the first yarn I spun on my Majacraft Little Gem so it is high time I used it.

And what better place to start than here. It is a bit heavier than most of the yarns that Nancy Bush uses but as my tastes are for the simpler.less complicated shawls I am sure I will find something that I can adapt.

Finally, even though this week I have been working hard on my vest and tunic (more pictures to follow when they can show more than endless expanses of ribbing and stocking stitch), I have also managed to finish one of my Wollemeise knee socks. This yarn goes on for ever - even covering the top of my largest sock blocker. They are a lovely fit so I will have to get cracking on the other one.

Must dash as I need to pack. With all this yarn and books to squeeze into a small space it would be tempting to leave out changes of clothes and toiletries but we won't be doing that -we are knitters - not wild animals...

See you next week!

Sunday, 1 March 2009

P/hopping and ribbing...and ribbing...and ribbing

Remember the 'Have you checked your breasts socks' that I designed a couple of years ago? I used the 'honesty box' principle for people to donate to if they enjoyed the pattern. Natalie of Yarn Yard fame and Medecins Sans Frontieres have taken this idea and run with it and have come up with the P/hop campaign which is to raise money and awareness of this important organisation. Knitting patterns are being donated for free download with users being asked to donate what they feel the pattern is worth in terms of Pence /hour of pleasure.

I have decided that I will no longer be selling my Cranford Mitts pattern but will now be offering it free in return for a voluntary donation from the p/hop site. Do go over to the site and have a look at what else is being offered and come back regularly as there's lots going on all the time.

Our link person at MSF is the very enthusiastic Pete who until meeting Natalie had no real knowledge of knitting or the knitting community. Imagine his surprise when a donor approached him and said that they would make a substantial donation to the fund...if he learned to knit. Generous knitters donated red and white yarn so that he can knit himself an Arsenal scarf and I offered to get him started with knitting lessons.

He bravely came along to the Golders Green knitting group last week and took to knitting like a natural. Look!

Do visit the site and cheer him on!

In other news my enthusiasm for knitting fitted garments has not diminished. Socks? So last year.... I've now finished the ribbing on my Back to School Vest and have started on the shaped top. Having been used to knitting jumpers in the flat and not knitting to fit I am constantly amused by the shape of these garments as they hang from my needles. This rather reminds me of the hats that Irish fans wear at rugby matches.
I'm enjoying the way that this yarn is knitting up - it's going to be a warm, robust garment when finished with a lovely tweedy but modern look.

As I mentioned in my last post, I was absolutely dying to go through all my pattern books, casting on like a woman possessed. You will be surprised to learn, therefore, that I managed to confine myself to one.
This book is an absolute revelation. Loads of really interesting and modern designs - all knitted from the top down with loads of information on how to get them to fit and to make them our own by changing design elements.
I don't know about you, but every now and again I find a pattern which so perfectly suits my tastes that I have to cast on immediately. This is such a pattern.

Despite all the wonderful information about making the garment my own by changing every element by some spooky coincidence I found the exact yarn for this garment already in my stash - Elsbeth Lavold Silky Wool in Bronze and could think of no other yarn which would do as well.
And I started knitting. The construction of this tunic is very interesting. It starts off with a provisional cast on along the back of the neck, knit down to the armpits then stitches are picked up along the unraveled cast on edge and knit down the two fronts then joined at the underarms. The piece is then knit back and forth until the neck and button slit is fully knit then joined in the round and knit down to the hem. Sleeves are then picked up from the shoulder edge, shaped with short rows then knit towards the cuff. Ingenious!

The shaping is further enhanced by gradually 'fading' the bodice into the skirt with wide ribs. Very clever. I have, however, had quite enough of K2P2 rib for the time being.

I hope the acre of stocking stitch that I'm about to tackle doesn't become tedious despite how much I have been looking forward to it as a relief from the ribbing. Where did I put that sock?