Monday, 5 September 2011

Made with Love

Today's blog post is a little bit different. I'm going to show you the beautiful work of other people and share with you how very privileged I feel that they have chosen to show their love for me with the gift of the work of their hands.

First, look at this felted bag that my sister has made for me. It started life as a waistcoat that she found in a charity shop. 

The embellishments are all individually hand stitched, not just to attach them to the bag but to change their texture and add detail.

I am completely in awe of the evenness of her tiny stitches - none of this has been done by machine.

Of course, it has to become my project bag - that way I get to keep it with me always without putting it under too much stress - this is the sort of gift that needs to be used for years to come.

I'm incredibly proud of my sister's skill but also feel so warm inside that she chose to spend so many hours making something this beautiful for me - I will treasure it.

I have been very lucky indeed this week as yesterday I received these in the post.

No ordinary sock blockers but blockers made from beautiful Australian cypress wood by my friend Leon. They have no oil or varnish but the finish of them is like satin because he sanded them over and over again until they were perfect. No embellishments, nothing added - just the natural wood and a dear friend determined to make me something to the very best of his ability.

As someone who makes things by hand herself I can think of nothing better than receiving handmade gifts from loved ones. Both my sister and Leon love to wear jumpers and socks that I have made them and every time I use these beautiful things I will think of them and the time they spent with me in mind, making something beautiful to show their care.

I'm so lucky.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Traditional with a twist

Have you ever had one of those absolutely perfect days, the memory of which you want to wrap up very carefully and keep so that whenever you need a bit of a boost you can get it out and smile? I had one of those days a couple of Sundays ago. It was a few days after all the riots and upheaval in London and I felt extremely fortunate that my friend Laura and I could pack up a picnic, drive out into Sussex and end up somewhere like this - Herstmonceaux Castle. As we parked, Laura couldn't contain herself and squealed loudly -'It's got a moat!' much to the amusement of the people nearby. 'She's American' I offered by way of explanation.
When I booked tickets for a folk concert in this beautiful setting I could not have hoped for a more perfect day - both in terms of the weather, and because both of us needed some time to draw breath from the challenges of living in the big city.

One of the wearying  things about the media coverage of the recent disturbances is the inevitable hand wringing and blustering about 'The Youth of Today' as if they are somehow alien beings sent to disappoint and alarm us. We created the world that they are inheriting and it has never been more important to hear their voices. It was refreshing, therefore that the first musician on the bill was Luke Jackson.  At 16 years old he really impressed me with his honest and relevant songs.

Next up were Phil and Hannah, a duo whose songs were really enhanced by the quality of their musicianship and the fact that they mixed traditional folk with modern twists such as harmonica beatboxing. I'm also a real sucker for a slide guitar...

Finally to the top of the bill were Steve Knightley,

Phil Beer

and Miranda Sykes, collectively known as Show of Hands who gave a great performance of old and new songs. One of the things that draws me to folk and acoustic music is the narrative style, the ability to tell traditional and contemporary stories about ordinary people and help make sense of where we find ourselves as a community. Now I know there are those who prefer their folk music more traditional and those who don't think folk music has anything to say to them I do believe it's important not to lose the old songs because they have things to say that give us another way of looking at where we are now, as well as having some fine, danceable tunes, lets not be too po faced about things! Like any living art I think music needs to keep developing to stay relevant, fresh and enjoyable. This concert  showed that these musicians feel the same way.

And what was I doing when I wasn't clapping and singing and dancing along to the music on a fine sunny afternoon? Apart from trying to make a dent in the enormous picnic we had brought I was of course, knitting!

The project I brought along with me was the Mystery Shawl by Stephen West. I enjoy Stephen West's designs for a similar reason to my enthusiasm for modern folk music. Regular readers will know that a large part of my passion for knitting is that it is an element of the thread that binds me to the line of creative women in my family and beyond as well as the way that in today's consumer society making something slowly and patiently by hand can give so much pleasure. Just as with music, I believe the craft needs new, fresh ideas and approaches to keep it exciting and having used a few of Stephen West's patterns I love the way that he uses clean, simple, architectural shapes to give a modern twist to this most traditional of activities.

So, three out of four clues into the project I have been challenged to find three colours that I think work together.

Confront my fear of intarsia knitting.
And to relax into the peaceful rhythm of longer and  longer rows knowing that the project is growing with every stitch even if this is not apparant to the naked eye.
Whether it be music or knitting, I like my traditions with a twist and have faith that if older and younger people share their creativity we can do amazing things.

Finally, if you would like to hear me talking about my day job in knitting please have a listen to Episode 11 of Kate's lovely podcast, A Playful Day. My interview with her is at about 45minutes into the show but please listen to the whole thing - all sorts of knitterly natter plus some very thought provoking comments on recent events.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Back to stripes

After a brief detour I am now firmly back with my stripe obsession and despite the attack of castonitis that I seem to have fallen prey to recently I am pleased to say that I have finally managed to finish something.

I have noticed that I can occasionally suffer from a strange malaise such that I will work on four or five projects at once with all of them reaching quite an advanced stage of completion but find it really hard to decide to concentrate on one and get it finished. Perhaps I get rather too attached to my projects as projects rather than thinking about them as the finished thing and can't bear to finish those final few rows. I don't think it's because I'm worried that they aren't going to turn out well but I do sometimes have a really sad pang as I cast off that final stitch and they go from being my knitting to being a garment. Any knitters out there got any clue what I mean? Or is it just me?

Anyway, less of the rambling - I have something I have managed to finish to show you. This is Taygete, a two colour, triangular shawl, one of the Seven Small Shawls collection by Romy Hill.

It takes me a very long time to decide on a colour combination and I don't always make particularly traditional choices. The yarn in this case is Clan by the Yarn Yard in a warm pinky, purply brown paired with a very pale but quite warm pink. The pink really isn't my sort of colour but I am learning that I need colours in my stash that I may not be keen on in their own right but can have a quite astonishing effect when paired with another. As a pair I have really fallen in love with this combination as it gives a very feminine feel to the brown without making it too frou frou and girly.

Taygete has quite an interesting construction, the stripy garter stitch section starting at one side, increasing towards the middle and then decreased to match on the other side.

A lace border in the main colour is then added by picking up the loops along the two shorter sides of the triangle. Finally a picot border in the contrast colour is added all the way around the shawl.

In general I'm really pleased with the shawl. It took two full skeins of the brown and a skein and a half of the pink and has worked out as quite a substantial piece. Garter stitch has very good stretch. I like the way that it looks as interesting on the back as it does on the front. My only minor disappointment is that there is a tendency for the lower edge of the lace to roll up. I also have to admit that my blocking of the picot edge might not have been as uniform as it could be - and it shows. I'm hoping that it's a case of unearthing the blocking wires and giving it another good thorough, even reblocking.

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Making Monday

My friend Natalie declared the other day that she was in a blog slump and needed some ideas to put some energy back in her writing. As with most things, if you ask your friends,an idea is bound to present itself as many of us admitted that we were suffering from a bit of midsummer writer's torpor.

So, to get us all up and at it Natalie suggested that we declare today 'Making Monday' and blog about something we have made. Now as this blog is all about making things that is hardly breaking the mould for me so I thought that the least I could do was, instead of talking about what knitting I had completed, I would take things back a step or two and talk about making yarn.

Now as you may know, I learned to spin about three years ago and very quickly bought my first spinning wheel. After a few changes of model I am now the proud owner of a Majacraft Susie on which I really love spinning. However, Susie is not very portable so for any kind of spinning outside the house I have tended to take a drop spindle.I have quite a collection of drop spindles as I think they are such beautiful objects but there is something else that I have come to realise recently. I really like making yarn with them.

There is a wonderful, self contained feeling in knowing that I can turn this:

Merino silk by Lime Green Jelly

Into this: 
Bosworth Midi Spindle in Cocobolo with a birch shaft

And then into this:
Two ply light fingering weight yarn

The spindle and fibre have travelled around with me to festivals and fibre shows, it may be a little slower and rely more on eye and feel than working at a wheel but the intimacy and simplicity of the process really makes me feel like I am making yarn, and making it in the way people have made it for thousands of years. 

The other thing that I have learned is that if you make a little bit here and a little bit there it soon mounts up and you have a usable amount of yarn. 

Last weekend I was working on the P-Hop stall at Fibre East and brought along my spindle for the very few moments of quiet that we had. It seemed appropriate, therefore that I made the yarn into something from the P-Hop range of patterns. I have cast on for the Trinity Shawlette which is a very simple but effective leaf lace shawl that can be made in an infinite variety of sizes. So far the knitting is going well.
I don't think the variegation fights too hard with the simple allover pattern and the thing that I am especially pleased about is that the shawl is turning out to be kitten soft - I wish you could feel it. Slowing down and making yarn mindfully has meant that I have been able to brings out the best in this fibre and the finished shawl will be pretty much what I want it to be and will also remind me of all the places that I have settled down for a few minutes to work on it.

This is why I love making things.

If you want to see who else has been Making Monday, Natalie is keeping a list on her blog here

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Born Stripy

Today's shawl is slightly different. My current enthusiasm is for stripy shawls combining more than one yarn. This one was born stripy.

My friend Katie has just taken the brave step of setting up her own fibre business. Her speciality is combing and blending fibres into interesting roving so of course I had to give it a try. I bought one called embers which is a blend of orange, red and yellow merino with a little alpaca, a little silk and a few sparkles thrown in for good measure.

I haven't spun with such an array of fibres all in the one roving before so I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the fibre was to spin and very soon had a respectable hank of fingering weight yarn.

As the yarn has quite a lot going on I decided that I wanted to choose a pattern that didn't fight with the yarn but also had some interest. The Holden Shawlette seemed to fit the bill.

The stocking stitch body allows the yarn to show off its essential stripyness. I was really pleased at how even and consistently random the striping was - the sign of a good blend.

The lace patterned edge allowed me to play with the striping a little. It was good to see that the pattern and yarn didn't overpower each other.

All in all this was a quick and very satisfying project. I have to say that I usually shy away from fibre that has sparkle in it but to Katie's credit she adds it with a light touch - light enough even for a confirmed wool lover like me. I think this shawl will be a cosy and bright addition to an autumn outfit. But first let's have a bit more summer please!

Katie has written a lovely piece on this project here.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Rocking out with a Flying V

Yes, the stripy knits just keep on coming!

Today's offering is Different Lines, another shawl by Veera Valimaki, the same designer responsible for the Stripe Study Shawl. It has her trademark short row shaping but is worked sideways from one point this time creating a shawl which is triangular like a Flying V guitar or a paper dart.

It makes it very interesting to wear as there are all kinds of possibilities in the way that it can be draped. it does make me wish I was a little more soigne and elegant as I can leave the house with it looking just the way I want it and by the time I have reached the bus stop it's trailing behind me or I'm asking someone on the bus to retrieve the other half of my shawl pin which has landed between their feet.

This time I wanted a lighter, more drapy shawl so I went for Yarn Yard Toddy which is a sock weight merino yarn in a solid grey and a semi solid hot pink and used a 4mm circular needle.

I like the gentle variegation in the pink as it softens the very graphic style of this shawl. My version of the shawl has two extra pink stripes as I wanted to use every scrap of the pink.

People have asked me whether I found so much garter stitch tedious to knit. To be honest, from a process point of view this project is saved from being a completely mindless knit by the short rows. As every row begins with ten, then twenty stitches etc etc the stripe starts to build quite quickly which is more than can be said for the four inches of grey border at the end. There's no getting away from it - it's dull, dull knitting. However, it's absolutely perfect for taking away for the weekend to the Isle of Wight Festival where I could knit along quite happily, chatting to my friends and listening to Seasick Steve, Iggy and the Stooges and Pulp.

Had to put it down when the Foo Fighters came on though - was dropping stitches!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Flying Buttresses

The next shawl in my series of stripy projects was a very speedy knit. Dream Stripes by Cailliau Berangere in some Rowan Yorkshire Tweed 4ply in Shrew and Barley. I modified the pattern slightly, giving it a small garter stitch border and emphasising the centre line with yarnovers rather that lifted increases to give the shawl a little more fluidity.

I'm really pleased with the colour combination especially as on their own these colours are both, well a bit dull. Especially Shrew as I have to say the Rowan yarn naming people were absolutely spot on with their description - it is exactly the shade of a little brownish grey , scuttling creature... shudder....

So how come you have it in your stash? I hear you ask. Good point. It might have something to do with a strange disorder which used to come over me in the days when Rowan did really good, woolly wools. It was known as the All Discontinued Rowan Must Be Rescued And Come To Live In My House Syndrome. Yes, even the colours that nobody else wants - because it's half price, it's Rowan and it's DISCONTINUED!! The large bags of Rowanspun, Yorkshire Tweed and Scottish Tweed are witness to my efforts on their behalf.

Imagine my joy when rummaging in my stash for likely striped shawl partners I came up with this two. I think the grey and cream highlight each other very well. The grey lace edge makes me think of ornate Gothic architecture hence the title of this post.

I am looking forward to combing my stash for more unlikely combination in my ongoing attempts to justify my yarn stashing habits.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Earning my stripes

Recently I have become somewhat obsessed with knitting stripes. There seem to be a huge number of new patterns for shawls in particular which involve using two colours of yarn creatively - this usually involves a measure of striping.

The fun starts with deciding which colours go together.... For me that can be quite a drawn out process - I have to be able to see a combination in my mind's eye and be satisfied that the combination makes each colour more 'itself' than on its own such that I can't stop looking at it.

If you could see my coffee table at the moment you would see baskets of yarn, overflowing with colours that I keep moving around until a combination jumps out at me as just right. Of course, as in the case of this shawl, a neutral and an acid colour are an easy partnership. Lime green also happens to be one of my favourite colours.

The shawl pattern that I chose was the Stripe Study Shawl by Veera Valimaki as its asymmetric shape and use of short rows to vary the shape of the stripes was very appealing both in terms of process with the short rows breaking up the prospect of knitting enormous, mind numbing swathes of garter stitch and with the visual impact. I love its clean, graphic lines.

The yarn is Elsbeth Lavold Silky Wool, which, whilst somewhat heavier than the recommended yarn has enough drape to work for this project.

I think the end result is quite effective. I love the quirky, asymmetric style of the piece which also makes it surprisingly easy to wear.

Over the next few days I will share with you how severe my obsession with stripes has become...

Monday, 20 June 2011

Getting Cosy

One of the things I have noticed about knit blogging and spending any time on forums such as Ravelry is that knitters are very keen on organising gift swaps. To be perfectly honest ( with apologies for sounding like such a misery...) they have never really appealed to me. With a busy full time job and a list of things I want to knit for myself and my loved ones that runs to several pages I have tended to prefer to spend my time on these projects rather than working on something then posting it off into the ether hoping that the recipient whose tastes I have only had a few clues about is going to like it.

But you know what they say, never say never, and when someone in a group of knitters I know both in person and online suggested a tea cosy swap I allowed my arm to be twisted. I was assigned the task of knitting a cosy for my friend Heather, a rather classy lady who knows what she likes but also has a twinkle in her eye.

I thought I would go for reasonably conventional but with a twist so I chose probably the least flamboyant pattern from Loani Prior's book of tea cosy patterns (before this challenge I didn't even know such a book existed....)

The pattern is deceptively simple with the added advantage for me that it involves a posy of crocheted roses allowing me to practice some of the skills I learned on the East London Crochet Group weekend last year. I completed all the component parts without incident. Then came my nemesis, sewing the thing together. My first attempt was a bit of a disaster. The base for the flowers insisted on protruding upwards spilling the flowers out of the top in a higgledy piggledy fashion - not the elegant posy in the photograph. I had to call an emergency meeting with my friend Katie and my sister over coffee where we decided that the flowers needed to be lashed down much tighter and the baggy top would just have to look after itself. As you can see the end product doesn't look too shabby after all.

I think Heather was pleased.

With my cosy in the hands of its intended recipient I could relax and wait for my surprise - and here it is! Although I don't think Deb and I have met, she has clearly taken the trouble to look at my projects and get an idea of my taste as it suits me perfectly!

How could I fail to like a big sunny sunflower in my favourite colour?

The accompanying cheesy biscuits didn't last long. I knew there was a reason I thought gift swaps were a bad idea....

While we are on the subject of tea cosies, Laura from Marie Curie Cancer Care contacted me to tell me about their giant tea cosy competition. You can read all about it here.

I might just join in myself!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The Yarn Whisperer

My friend Natalie at the Yarn Yard dyes beautiful yarn. This is not news. She creates yarn in all the colours of the rainbow. Sometimes, at the end of the day, when she is trying to make sure that she uses every last drop of dye she produces colours that the rainbow hasn't thought of. And sometimes she says, Jane,I've dyed a skein that I think you will like, and it's always one of these end of the day creations....

This is what happened with this skein of Crannog, her tightly spun heavy lace weight merino. We were sitting at her kitchen table while an enormous pile of yarn lay nearby. Natalie dived into the pile and extracted this one which was different to any of the others and said - 'This one's yours!' She was right - I love it! The colour is difficult to describe, a sort of greenish grey that looks like bronze in some lights.

Choosing a pattern for a favourite skein of yarn can often be quite difficult. I wanted something reasonably simple which would let the yarn do the talking. I cast on Alceste by the very talented Asa Tricosa. It is a very elegant, open piece which suited the yarn well. I could see myself wearing it...

But sometimes, with the best will in the world, even with the vision of a beautiful, wearable piece in my mind's eye I just can't get into a rhythm with the pattern. This I hasten to add has nothing to do with the pattern which is gorgeous! It must just be the way my brain is wired. I got about a third of the way through and found that I was still welded to the charts and counting out every row, making it impossible to relax while I was making it even thought it is not a complex pattern and has beautiful clean lines. But for me, knitting is as much about the process as the product so the project languished. But I couldn't forget about that beautiful yarn. It wasn't going to let me leave it unknit!

So one day I gritted my teeth and ripped out half a metre of beautiful knitted fabric. Grrr....

Then I cast on Lilah from the latest issue of Knitty and everything fell into place, my needles flew and in no time at all I had a beautiful shawl! I think the yarn and pattern really suit each other - sometimes it reminds me of the gilt frame around a painting as the colours work with each other in the light.

The pattern is simple but with enough changes to keep it interesting.
The 800 metres in a skein mean that I can create a substantial shawl which I have worn lots of time already.

Blocking it took up most of the space on the bed.

Much to the disgust of Mr Talsi....

Friday, 10 June 2011

Pulling it out of the bag

Thanks so much to everyone for their kind comments about the Hypernova (or Hypertension as it was rechristened during the latter phases of its construction...) I still can't quite believe I made it.

You reminded me how much I enjoy blogging as a way of sharing my enjoyment of the textile arts with like minded people so, not having any shortage of subject matter thought I would shock you all with another post in the space of a week. This time I wanted to share with you the enjoyment that I am getting from spinning.

People who have been reading this blog over the years will have seen my first attempts at spinning and will have seen how my enthusiasm and I hope, skills have developed in that time.

Whenever I go to fibre festivals, alongside the skeins of hand dyed yarn there are more and more beautiful braids of hand dyed fibre. Before you know where you are the cupboard is brimming with 100 gram braids of gorgeous colour and texture which I can now spin finely and evenly into a pretty good three ply worsted for socks or a decent heavy lace weight for shawls. This is good - but sometimes you just want to be a bit more free and easy and do something on a bit of a larger scale.

This is where Wingham Wool Works giant batts come in. At this year's Skipnorth event where a party of enthusiastic knitters and spinners go a little 'wool blind and crazy' in Yorkshire for a weekend I came away with a large plastic sack containing a 500g blue grey cloud of grey Falkland fibre blended with blue and green merino. Only part of the batt is on the floor in the following picture but it does give you a sense of scale...

Now I can't claim to be the world's greatest technical spinner so the joy of the batt for me is that it allows itself to be literally thrown at the wheel and some sort of viable yarn seems to emerge. What I was hoping for was a sort of heavy aran verging on a chunky weight yarn without too much twist.

As you can see from the single, the blue and green merino was well blended with the Falkland but still shone through. The resulting yarn was rustic, but reasonable consistent.

The muted, cloudy colours made me think of sea glass on a pebble beach.

The yarn was very quick to spin and because I had consciously worked to minimise the twist, still retained a good deal of spring. I would like to claim that I achieved a semi worsted finish but the process was way more chaotic than that!

The next phase was to decide what to knit. I have to admit that an analysis of my projects would show that I tend towards accessories rather than garments so my first thought was to make a large, warm wrap. I cast on for a Clapotis but soon discovered that the fabric did not have the sort of drape that this project would need. In fact it soon became clear that the finished object would more resemble an ironing board cover than an elegant, Paris inspired wrap. Perhaps I could make a cardigan...

I happen to be a great admirer of Knitting Pure and Simple patterns and was delighted to discover that they are now available to download from the Patternfish website and found a pattern for a cap sleeved long line cardigan which I thought would do the trick. The fabric that I made at the recommended tension made me happy so off I went.

In next to no time the yarn knitted up into a garment that I am really rather pleased with. Hand spun yarn is just such a joy to knit with. I love all the lumps and bumps and variegations but somehow the fabric is still beautiful.

And as a final twist of good luck I rediscovered this shawl pin, bought from Moving Mud at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival a couple of years ago and realised that it made the perfect finishing touch. Made my day!

When I look at this cardi I love thinking about how it used to be a big plastic bag full of fluff and now it's been transformed into something beautiful and practical.

And people ask me why I love knitting and spinning?