Sunday, 27 September 2009

I want them all and I want them now!

It really has been a beautiful September in my little part of the world,day after day of bright sunshine but with the added tang in the air that makes such a change from the humid torpor of London in midsummer. It may be telling me that autumn is just around the corner but right now stepping outside the door into a fresh bright morning makes you feel alive and happy and full of optimism.

Another great thing about this time of year is that it gives me a chance to break out all those little scarves and wraps that I have knitted, just as a small something to keep the morning chill off my neck. The Flutter Scarf has made an appearance and so have Lady Eleanor and one of the Clapotis but do you know what? I just haven't got enough scarves! I need a whole rainbow of silky, flirty little neck pieces to see me through the change of season. It shouldn't take me too long, right?

Wearing my Flutter Scarf, which I spindle spun from Merino Tencel fibre convinced me that it is the perfect fibre for this time of year so I had a good rummage through my stash and came up with a skein of Yarn Yard Caber in a beautiful shade called Sea Glass which I thought would make a lovely scarf. Armed with some helpful suggestions from friends on Ravelry I hunted around for a suitable pattern but nothing really appealed. I did download a pattern from a well known designer and was a little horrified to see that I had just paid $5 for a pattern lifted straight out of a stitch dictionary which once I had started knitting it just didn't have the rhythm I need to be able to quickly memorise it for train knitting. I then had a bit of a light bulb moment and realised that the best thing to do was to get the stitch dictionaries out myself and find something more to my taste.

This simple lace rib was just what I was looking for so I started knitting, and knitting, and knitting.....

I've been knitting on this for most of the week and I still have this stubborn little ball of yarn which refuses to get any smaller.... Of course, it doesn't help when all attempts at project monogamy fail. Last week I had a meeting in central London and was feeling very pleased with myself in black dress, heels and brown Clapotis thrown carelessly around my shoulders. I clip clopped into John Lewis on my way home thinking that I need a new handbag but of course the only ones I liked were way beyond my price range so I took a little detour to the yarn department. Instead of a new handbag I took home six balls of Noro Silk Garden and two of Kid Silk Haze.Ho hum...

At least I have already cast on with the Silk Garden. This rather uninteresting piece of fabric is another Clapotis. Yes, I know that in the world of the knitter they are so last year darling, but in my little world of finding nice, simple, stylish things to wear I can't get enough of them and a warm red autumnal one will be perfect.

Of course I won't get bored half way through again....

And if that wasn't enough look at this little beauty - a cone of wool silk lace weight that I bought from the crazy Belgians at the Iknit weekender.
And no, this isn't a topographical map of the Gobi desert, it's the beginnings of another Leaf Lace Shawl. The yarn is a lot fluffier and fuller than it looks compressed on the cone so I think it will make a lovely warm shawlette with a good bloom on it.

All three of these scarves would be perfect for wearing on these crisp bright sunny mornings but have I finished any of them - of course not!
In my defense, however, before I was seized by scarf mania and abandoned every other work in progress I did finish, you'll never guess - yes, another pair of socks....
Plain top down socks from my own recipe in Indie Dyer Sock Yarn which I think has produced a rather handsome sock.
Here is a closeup of the fabric - the yarn is nice to work with and the colour combination is muted and sophisticated. I'd happily use it again.

Anyway, I have to go - scarves to knit!

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Frogging a dead horse

After two exhausting but fabulous days at the Iknit Weekender, Natalie and I decided to spend Sunday playing with my stash. It didn't take long for my nice tidy living room to be turned into this;
When wine and knitting come together we all know that the outcomes will be... interesting.

During my massive tidying up session I came across quite a few Works in Progress that I had put aside for various reasons. One was a top down raglan jumper in Jo Sharp Silk Road Aran Tweed in a lovely flecked charcoal grey which I could have sworn I had taken a photo of at some point in its construction but haven't been able to find. Trust me, the yarn was the only lovely thing about it. Bearing in mind I had completed the body, one sleeve and had nearly finished the other its faults included: too wide, too short, ugly and poorly executed contrast colours at hem and cuff, sleeve decreases that did not match each other and no idea how to finish the neck. All in all, everything I know about knitting had clearly deserted me when I worked on that jumper. It had to go but I am such a coward when it comes to frogging my own work. Natalie, however, set about it with way too much relish for my comfort and soon it looked like this:

Now isn't that the most beautiful pile of yarn? It really is the most lovely stuff to knit with. And it isn't the first time I have used this yarn. Fortified with a glass of wine I disappeared upstairs and came down with a couple of projects that I had completed when I perhaps knew a little less than I do now.
Look at this beauty for example. The yarn was an absolute joy to knit with, if I remember correctly it is the DK version of Jo Sharp Silkroad Tweed. It must have been a joy - just look at all that two by two rib knitted in the flat. Look how even the stitches are and how meticulously I followed the pattern. Except for one thing....

I really should have checked my gauge swatch for length as well as width... I even remember knitting away on the bus on one of the sleeves and an elderly lady asking me what I was doing and asking me tentatively 'Aren't those sleeves going to be a bit long?' Hell no, I thought - I haven't reached the end of my increase rows yet - they're bound to be right....

I have bitten the bullet and started to dismantle this jumper - the wool really is too lovely to waste on this unwearable monstrosity.

Which brings me on to my final exhibit. Once again, the most gorgeous yarn - Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool in one of my favourite colours - Verdigris. Look at the beautiful and complex cables on this pattern from her book Viking Knits. Did I stop to notice, however, that the pattern called for Silke Tweed not Silky Wool? Of course not! Then I might have realised that the two yarns are a completely different weight. Did I do a gauge swatch? Of course I didn't! If I had done, my error might have dawned on me even at that late stage. Did I notice that the patterns had a distinctive eighties feel about them with their drop shoulders... Not at all - I was seduced by the beautiful and complex cables.

Which is why the finished article looks like this...

With sleeves that I have to admit are moving in the direction of that most reviled 80's phenomenon The Batwing.

So what have I learnt?

I have learnt that when good knits go bad you need a trusted friend to help you face the facts that sometimes nothing can be done to save them and the yarn deserves better.

I have learned that there are much better and more flattering ways to construct a garment than drop shouldered jumpers knit in the flat.

I have learned not to ignore little old ladies on the bus.

I have learned that if you sense something is going wrong STOP KNITTING NOW!!! It will not miraculously improve if you just press on.

I have learned that even though I know way more about knitting than I did when I made the first two jumpers I am perfectly capable of making a complete dogs dinner of something if I don't pay attention to first principles - even a simple garment will punish you if you 'wing it'.

Most of all I have learned that after a couple of glasses of wine with a good friend these disasters are very, very funny.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Has anyone seen Alice?

I'm afraid I'm by no means the first blogger out of the blocks with my report on the Iknit two day knitting extravaganza so I feel liberated from the need to write a blow by blow account and can ramble at my ease through some of the impressions of the days.

I was there literally, from when the doors opened and the knitters started to gather and when we were finally asked politely to vacate the premises thanks to the timings of classes and the numbers of people I found to catch up and chat with. Every year Iknit feels more and more like a great big party of all the people I know from the various corners of the knitting universe that I inhabit.

As in previous years my dear friend Natalie came down to stay with me - not as her yarn dying alter ego The Yarn Yard but as herself so that she could have as much fun as me with everyone who wants to chat with her and to enjoy recharging knitting batteries with courses and talks from some of the best in the business.

So- here we all are then on Friday morning, eagerly entering the Horticultural Halls.

As usual, Gerard and the Iknit team had made sure that there was plenty of space for the charity projects that knitters are involved in. As regular readers may know, I have been working with the P/Hop campaign raising money for Medecins Sans Frontiers and they were able to have a stall in the main hall. Knitters up and down the country donate books and yarn and make shawls and blankets to raffle, patterns and skills were P/hopped and field staff were there to talk about the work the money funds.

In this photograph, I am struck by the juxtaposition of the warm, cosy knitted goods with and the image of the armed man. Sobering.

The good news is that we raised over £800 from generous knitters. Thank you to everyone who donated.

In other news, one of the lovely things about events like this is to be inspired by the incredible work of other knitters. It was wonderful to see Roo's beautiful beaded wedding shawl in person - here it is meeting another Aolian sibling made by Gill from the Woolly Workshop. I know this photo is slightly blurred but that Gill just doesn't stand still and its such a happy scene.

One of the best things about this event were the wonderful knitting teachers who we had the opportunity to learn from. On Friday I took a lace class with Annie Modesitt. Yes, THE Annie Modesitt! She filled the room with her personality even though she must have been exhausted and gave a class which was informative, idiosyncratic, entertaining and memorable. Here is my desk, complete with swatch and copious notes. I am determined to improve my lace knitting this winter and maybe I'll be pirouetting my work at the next Iknit Weekender!

On Saturday, I took a sock knitting class with Marjan Hamminck, alias Yarnissima. Her style could not be more different to Annie's with all of us busily working away on our mini sock projects and Marjan moving quietly between us, gently correcting mistakes and answering queries.

Here is my sock knitting work.I am now proficient in right slanting and left slanting lifted increases which I will certainly add to my repertoire.

At the end of the class as I was packing up my things I mentioned that I would have to hurry if I was to make my Alice Starmore colour work class, the highlight of the weekend. I leave you to imagine how I felt when my neighbour pointed out that according to my list, I should have attended that class the day before.
Idiot, idiot, idiot.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Fortune comes in threes

As promised, today's post not only contains actual knitting content made by moi, but not one, not two but three finished items (pause for fanfares and ringing of bells).

Unsurprisingly, all three are pairs of socks as of course, there still aren't enough pairs of handmade socks in the world.

First up is a pair of mansocks in Regian Kaffe Fassett knit to my usual top down sock recipe. This is the second time I have used this yarn and am once again very impressed with it in terms of machine processed yarn at a reasonable price. I like the colour combination, placement and balance of small and large lengths of colour which take it out of the ordinary.

Secondly, here is a pair of socks which have languished for some time - Cookie A's Kai-Mei socks in Knitwitch's Blue Faced Leicester sock yarn which I bought at a bargain price at the Woolfest before last. This pattern combined quite a lot of unchallenging ribbing with an eccentric and fun to knit diagonal motif. Whilst I thoroughly recommend this yarn for being wonderfully soft I did wonder whether something a little more tightly spun like Wollmeise or Yarn Yard Clan might be a better choice for this pattern as the motifs expose quite a lot of single strands in the detailing and might look better if they were a little more robust.

I couldn't help but get my sock lasts out again as they show off the matching motifs very well and make them look terribly elegant. Finally, it was no hardship at all to finish Wendy Johnson's Riding on the Metro Socks in the Yarn Yard's latest addition now known as Clan. This yarn isn't available for another two weeks and I can't wait to get my hands on some more. Whilst the colour isn't one that I would normally choose, it is very good for showing off the intricate lozenge pattern on the socks. This yarn is very tightly spun so any pattern stitches stand out in great relief. I would advise against anything too highly patterned or full of twists, especially in the foot area as they might become uncomfortable. Come to think of it - might have been better to use the Knitwitches for this project and the Clan for the Kai-Meis!

Once again the sock lasts show off the patterning in a very feminine way - if only my own feet were as elegant.

And finally, you didn't really expect me to be out in the garden with a pair of feet and a camera under my arm and not get up to more mischief?
Look what I found! A man eating plant!

Exciting news to follow - not only have I finished another item but the Yarn Archive is expecting a very special visitor!

Thursday, 3 September 2009

The Sheep of Talybont

Yes, today's post is another outside broadcast - this time all the way from Wales at the Talybont Village Show which my sister and I try and visit every year and am pleased to report that this year was not disrupted by rain, foot and mouth, blue tongue, nor any other unfortunate incident.

This meant that there were plenty of beautiful sheep to photograph. Much to my shame I am not entirely sure of the breed of some of these lovely animals so if anyone would like to oblige by posting a name in the comments box I will be very grateful.

Let's start with this magnificent specimen.

And this beautifully matched pair.

I love the soft muzzle and general sheepiness of this creature.

Compared to the distinguished Roman nose on this chap.
Now I can identify this lovely Jacob. Just look at his gorgeous fleece.

And this inscrutable beast.
I believe this heroic profile belongs to a Welsh Black.
But I've never seen this dainty creature before.
It was lovely to see the spinners out in force.
And that the show held a prizewinning class for hand knitting.
This is my only minor gripe about the show. With all the beautiful sheep and spinners about, it is a shame that the evidently talented knitters in the village did not have access to better materials and still chose to use acrylic yarns for their work.

Here is the beautifully knitted prize winning entry.

And an exquisite piece of incredibly fine lace in the table decoration class.

I think it is wonderful that the people of Talybont put on such an excellent show every year. In addition to the sheep and knitting there was obviously much more in the form of livestock, produce and handcrafts.
If there is such a show near you do go along and maybe even enter a class - there really is a great deal of inspiration to be had.
Just in case you think I have abandoned my needles for the camera look out for the next post when at least three items will be off the needles!