Wednesday, 24 June 2009

In honour of my favourite tree

As regular readers may recall, I was born and brought up on the Isle of Wight, in the same house that my father still lives in to this day. At the top of the garden is a large horse chestnut tree which has a huge place in my heart. My favourite tree. Many of my childhood memories are associated with this tree. I have swung from its branches, sat in it and shared secrets with my best school friend, climbed it to the topmost branches so high that, like a cat I couldn't turn around and had to call my mum, a seasoned tree climber in her day to come and get me down. Later on dad hung a swing from its branches and we would seek shade from the hot summer sun under its branches.

The seasons of the year could easily be plotted by the condition of the tree. January and February bare except for the shiny brown sticky buds. March and April watching the delicate green leaves bursting from the buds followed in May by its beautiful towering candelabras of blossom.

Through June and July the flowers turn into prickly green fruit swelling though September and October to reveal glossy brown conkers to collect and share with friends. November and December see the leaves disappearing from the tree and the cycle beginning all over again. This tree has completed this cycle every year of my life growing broader and taller, losing branches here and there but continuing to cast its protective shade over my childhood home.

I've long wanted to design something that was inspired by this important tree. When Natalie from the Yarn Yard said that she wanted to name a yarn for me I knew straight away that I wanted a bright, juicy green that reminds me of the leaves of the horse chestnut tree newly burst from their buds. I think she did rather a good job. The yarn is Toddy which is a blend of merino for softness and nylon for strength.

Every year I have created a sock design for Natalie to launch at the annual Woolfest in Cumbria which starts this Friday. This year is no exception although I know I have cut it fine as I only cast off the second of these socks on the bus an hour ago . These represent my humble attempt to pay tribute to my favourite tree in sock form. The Horse Chestnut Socks.

In a new departure they are knit from the toe up. The central panel represents the columns of blossom as they turn and produce their spiky fruit.

This is flanked by the diagonals of the deeply ribbed leaves which wrap themselves further around the leg as they travel up past the ankle.

I resisted the temptation to dangle a couple of conkers from the top as although I want them to pay tribute to my beautiful green companion I want them to be handsome socks in their own right, suggestive rather than derivative. I hope you like them.
Natalie will be displaying the socks on her stand at Woolfest and will be taking down the email addresses of people who would like to receive a copy of the pattern which will be available soon after we get back home again. It will also be available to people who aren't able to make it to Woolfest.Watch our blogs for details.
I will be travelling to Cumbria tomorrow and will be at Woolfest on both days. You will probably find me somewhere between the Yarn Yard, Kindred Knitters and P/Hop stands. Do come and say hello and watch the P/hop menu board where alongside the ever growing selection of patterns available for a donation to Medicins Sans Frontier we may just be launching a new venture.....Skill Snacks!
Now what knitting shall I pack....

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Sunshine, knitting and Glen Matlock

Well I'm back from the Isle of Wight Festival, free from sunburn, alcoholic poisoning or trench foot thanks to plenty of suncream, spending the nights at my dad's house and a weather forecast that didn't let us down. This was the view from my knitting spot.

And here is my knitting spot itself. Note the uncool but very cosy travel rug. Note also good progress being made on the second Ribbed Ribbons sock.
We didn't spend all our time at the festival. On Saturday we joined up with other Island knitters to take part in World Wide Knit in Public day in St Thomas's Square in Newport. It was lovely to catch up with people I've met before and to meet new faces. Hello to Sam and her daughter, Rachel, Rachel and Jan.
Over the years I have see this festival grow and grow and have learned to take from it the things I enjoy best, not rush around trying to see and do everything.
For example, these flags make a wonderful colour inspiration.

And it wouldn't be a festival without a good old fashioned spelling error.

Everyone is getting environmental these days - this exhibit on the future of honey bees was well attended and informative.As a creative person it's good to see other people working in whatever medium. I loved this dragon sculpted from sand. He even had smoking nostrils!
Finally, there was music. One of the downsides of a huge festival is that unless you want to get up close and personal with a huge crowd of people, you have to accept that the big name bands will be as ants in the distance with their presence confirmed by big screens. Jen and I found ourselves spending most of our time at the acoustic stage listening to three very good sets by James Walsh, the lead vocalist from Starsailor followed by Glen Matlock from the Sex Pistols. It was only when we were singing along to Pretty Vacant that we realised that the last time we did this was thirty years ago when my knitting consisted of monstrous mohair jumpers.
But then Glen's changed a bit too...

Friday, 12 June 2009

Out and about in Coventry and London

For those of you old enough to remember the earlier years of television, today's posting has the feel of the Outside Broadcast about it when I take my knitting kit out from the security of my living room, into the big wide world. This will partly account for the fact that I still haven't managed to finish anything.That and a minor fall from grace which we will speak of later....

Firstly,this weekend I attended the first UK Ravelry Day in Coventry. Despite the teeming rain I think a good time was had by all. I fear I came home with enough lace weight to lasso the moon twice. It was wonderful to see so many new indie dyers that I hadn't come across before as well as some more established names and I had to support them - it's the closest I'm going to come to being a patron of the arts.

Of course, the day wasn't all about retail therapy, there were loads of people that I've only known through their Ravelry names as well as new people to catch up with. I was especially pleased to meet Lou on the P/Hop stall and to hear that the Cranford Mitt pattern was proving popular. I understand that together with the other lovely patterns that have been donated that they raised £250 on the day through the collecting tins alone.

There were also courses and talks arranged. I chose to go to the 'main event', a talk by Meg Swansen,daughter of Elizabeth Zimmermann and member of US Knitting Royalty.

She was introduced by the Crown Prince of Knitting Royalty, Jared Flood (aka Brooklyntweed in case any non knitters are reading). How can you not respect a man in such a lovely yellow jumper?

Here is Meg herself looking extremely elegant in one of her mother's trademark patterns, the Ribwarmer. I may have to look at that pattern again.

I think Meg's presentation took some of us by surprise. Over here we have limited experience of what to expect from 'name knitters'. Those of us who met Stephanie Pearl McPhee at Ravelry might have been expecting an hours seamless stand up routine complete with jokes, science, history and knitting tips. This was not Meg's style at all. She read extracts about camping from her mother's books then opened up a question and answer session which was the main part of proceedings. There then followed a slightly uncomfortable and very British silence. Once people had cottoned on things went a lot more smoothly as she has a very conversational style and was received warmly. We also got to see original Baby Surprise Jackets and other examples of Elizabeth's knitting. At the risk of sounding heretical, I am impressed by the technical virtuosity but some of her colour choices - eek!

I'm afraid that once again I totally failed at taking any more photographs on the day. This is a bad habit of mine - partly I think it is because I am so caught up in the moment and chit chatting away that I forget. There is also an element of reserve where I feel I don't want to be waving my camera around lots of people who might think I am taking liberties and are worried that they might end up on a blog somewhere...

Now to my minor fall from grace as mentioned before. The only ball of commercial yarn that I bought was this Noro Silk Garden Sock as I've been dying to try it out for some time.

Now I have been diligently plodding away on my mountain of WIPs all week until Natalie mentioned that she had started a Baktus scarf, something that was proving very popular on Ravelry. In short, you take a skein of sock yarn, cast on 4 stitches and then one at the beginning of every 4th row until you have used half the ball then decrease every 4th row until you have made a very elegant little triangular scarf. Now this yarn would be absolutely perfect I thought. So before I knew what I was about I cast on and knit and knit and knit.

I'm not even half way yet...
In other news that I haven't shared with you for a while, I finally finished spinning the two singles for the Muddy Jeans yarn. I have had this on the bobbin for months as I wanted a nice fine even sock yarn. I have wasted quite a few metres just trying to get it right. I am now in the middle of plying which once again is taking me way longer than I imagined that it would take.
Here are the bad boys in all their glory.

Yesterday I had a day off work to attend a knitting course. Not just any knitting course but a class in knitting seamless sweaters with that man again, Jared Flood.
Here he is with his flip chart. Check out the yellow jumper again!

And here is the desk of a diligent student.

...who also loves yellow.
He is a very charming and inspiring teacher and I of course set off home wanting to cast on at least half a dozen jumpers immediately. I satisfied myself with a couple of inches on the sleeve of my yellow cardigan now I realise how fashion forward I clearly am in my colour choice.
And best of all, ladies - he let us all touch his Cobblestone the construction of which is way more complex and intelligent than I had first realised and showed us a technique for getting the kinks out of your SSKs - we now have the SYTK (Slip, Yank, Twist, Knit)
Whilst you practice that I will be off on the Isle of Wight for the Festival for the next few days. As it is World Wide Knit in Public Day on Saturday, look out for a group of us in St Thomas's Square in Newport from Midday onwards or if you are going to the festival look out for a knitter with a bright green sock!

Thursday, 4 June 2009

The tedium of virtue

Well, another week has slipped by and I have been thinking about potential blog posts for several days and come up empty. I've certainly been knitting determinedly and trenchantly but have neither started or finished a project which doesn't exactly make the most riveting blog fodder.

I'll show you what I mean. Here are the Ribbed Ribbons socks. Since we last spoke I have nearly got up to the end of the gusset expansion. Please,please, no stamping and cheering.

I have nearly finished the body of the top down yellow cardigan. I have made this pattern several times and somehow in the excitement of starting a new project I can get myself to the point of dividing for the sleeves in the blink of an eye. Then the endless tundra of stocking stitch stretching from armpit to arse unfolds itself and I feel like I'm plodding through sand. I was half hoping that I would finish this in time to wear at Ravelry Day but despite carting it back and forth to work several times to take advantage of travel knitting time I have to accept that there's no way, even if I stay up all night that it will be done in time. Here, as evidence in my defence is the much expanded article.

And as for the lace. I'm sure it has also managed to get itself into that wrinkle in the space time continuum such that the rows are becoming hundreds of stitches long....

but the ball of yarn isn't getting any smaller... Hot on the heels of this conundrum come all the usual newbie lace weight users anxieties. How big is the shawl now? How big do I want it to be? How gently must I block cashmere?

You see what I mean? Hardly news to hold the front page for. However, I do have other things to tell you. I'm teaching a range of sock knitting classes over at IKnit on Sundays throughout the summer. There's a beginner's top down sock course, a toe up course for the more adventurous and then a couple of fun one off classes , one on adding colour to your small projects and one with tips on how to get started on designing your own socks. I usually have great fun (don't know about anyone else) and have met some fabulous people who have gone on to do some beautiful work so it would be lovely to see some of you there.
I'm saving my best news till last. News that made me blush to the tips of my ears. Natalie at the Yarn Yard has named one of the colours in her gorgeous Summer Collection after me! It's one of my favourite shades of green and it's absolutely beautiful. Thank you,Natalie. There will be a laceweight too and we have some plans for it that we hope to be able to show you at Woolfest but I can't say any more because it's a secret!

In the meantime here are a few gratuitous shots of some of Natalie's lace wight yarns which might just have happened to fall into my shopping cart. This is Mist, temporarily discontinued and terrifyingly fine.

And my personal favourite, Gloaming, a heavier lace weight in a merino and silk blend.

As I mentioned previously I am coming to the Ravelry Day in Coventry tomorrow (Saturday) and will have my Ravelry name (probablyjane) badge on so please come over and say hello if I don't pounce on you first!