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?

Monday, 6 June 2011

Taking pride in my work

Every now and again a project comes along that makes us step outside our usual comfort zone and stretch ourselves to the limit of one aspect or another of our knitting skills and endurance. I want to tell you about one such project. Some time last year, my friend Rachel did a test knit of a new pattern, the Hypernova Shawl by Arlene's World of Lace. It was spectacular,yet simple in its construction, elegant chevrons radiating out from the centre into a shawl shaped like three quarters of a circle. I already had the recommended yarn, Wollemeise Lace-Garn in a shade with just enough movement to emphasise the chevrons so it was only a matter of time before I cast on...

As with all projects that start at the centre and work their way out I whizzed through the first few repeats. The set up required some concentration but once I had the chevrons in place I was away and knitting....and knitting...and knitting.

I think if anyone had actually told me at the beginning of the process how much knitting is involved in this shawl I might never have cast on. If anyone had told me how difficult it is to correct an error in a double yarn over on the bias I might never have cast on. The minor errors that I made whilst learning this lesson kept jumping out of the fabric to taunt me but I was committed now. Weeks turned into months and I was still knitting. I would take the shawl away for whole weekends undistracted by any other project and I was still knitting. More and more stitches piles onto my circular needle. Rows started to take half an hour, then three quarters of an hour... Every increase round added another sixty stitches to the needle. By the time the cast off round came around there were the best part of a thousand stitches in every row. The cast off itself took a good three hours to complete.

Of course, if you are amongst my friends and knitting neighbours none of this will be news to you. I may have whinged a little.. I may have flounced off a couple of times and embarked on a few instant gratification projects... I may have expressed doubt that anyone could possibly complete this project and retain their sanity... I may have required a loyal band of friends giving me a countdown over the final twenty rows, offering donations to P/Hop in return for my perseverance.

But then I blocked it...

Even though I have knitted lace before and am used to the transformation that blocking brings I was not prepared for the difference between the crumpled bundle of blue yarn and needles I had been carrying around for months and the thing of beauty it has turned into.

Just look at it!

I might knit another one... one day...