Monday, 16 December 2013

Everyone needs snowballing mittens for Christmas

Today I am delighted to tell you that I have been invited to launch a brand new free mitten pattern over on my friend Rachel's lovely blog My Life in Knitwear where you can also see a photo of me with an inflatable Santa!

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

A Round of Applause

Last week I taught the last session of another set of beginners' classes. This is where I ask students to go away and find a pattern that they would like to knit, using the skills that they have just learnt. One of my students showed me the set of beginners' patterns and tutorials published by Tin Can Knits. Why have I not found these before?

There is a scarf, a blanket, a cowl, mittens, socks and a jumper, all worked in worsted weight yarn and designed to introduce new skills in an incremental way. They have been generously published free of charge with teachers invited to use them with students. 

Of course, I had to dash off and cast on one of these projects, just to see how they worked. I chose Maize, the mitten pattern.

I decided that a simple pattern presented an ideal opportunity to use a skein of my hand spun yarn and chose this merino and silk yarn, spun from a braid by Hilltopcloud. The pattern was very easy to follow  with enough individual design touches to make it attractive to knit. If this pattern is a good representative of the collection I can thoroughly recommend them to new knitters and experienced knitters looking for a quick and simple project alike.

It only took me a matter of hours to knit up these mittens so it is a great project for anyone who wants a pair of cosy mittens in a hurry.

The stitch pattern adds interest but is understated enough for it to be an ideal pattern for hand spun yarn with a bit of ...ahem...texture.

Working on this simple project inspired me to embark on a small mitten project of my own. I'll keep you posted!

Friday, 6 December 2013

Close Knit

One of the pleasures and pitfalls of working in a beautiful knitting shop is the opportunity to see all the lovely new things out there to tempt knitters. Right now we have all fallen in love with these Alpaca fur pompoms from Toft Alpacas so this little grey cloud had to come home with me. 

I'm not sure that it quite fits in with my personal style but I know someone for whom it would be absolutely perfect - my twelve year old niece. Next step was to find a suitable pattern.

On my bookshelves I have a huge collection of back numbers of Interweave Knits, going back many years. For me, and many other knitters this publication has in the past been the most eagerly anticipated source of the best of knitting patterns but recently, maybe because now there is such a huge increase in the resources that are available online and from independent designers it has rather gone under my radar and I haven't renewed my subscription for a couple of years. However, a quick flick through the latest copy revealed the perfect pattern, - the Cote - Nord cap by Amy Cristoffers. Using a skein of the always reliable Cascade 220 it was a quick and enjoyable knit . There also seem to be a number of very knittable patterns in this issue so I shall make sure that I don't forget about it again!

I never plan Christmas knitting as I don't enjoy the pressure of deadline knitting but this will make a perfect stocking filler.

As a family we all love making things and often give each other things that we have made as presents. As we don't get to see each other every day they are a real tangible reminder that someone cares enough about you to take the time to sit and make something for you and when you see it they are recalled to your mind and form part of the fabric of daily life. My sister often makes me laugh by telling me about the random conversations that happen in her household in which I make an appearance. For example:

N: Mum, have you ever cried in an advert?
S: No, I don't think so.
N:I bet Aunty Jane has.

Embarrassingly she is right.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Out of my comfort zone

I think that one of the reasons that the appeal of knitting has endured with me is that it is endlessly adaptable to meet the different aspects of my personality. The design side has allowed me to express my creativity, to experiment and play with colour and texture. The infinity of techniques and styles has allowed me to continue to learn something new about pulling loops of yarn through each other with sticks every day.

However, it is another role that knitting plays in my life that I wanted to briefly touch on today. Whilst I love the challenge of designing and tackling complex patterns and techniques, the simple meditative act of repeating the same action over and over again to slowly produce something of beauty and use is something that I really value in an increasingly fast paced world.  This is why I derive as much enjoyment from knitting a plain sock in beautiful yarn as I did when I first learnt the alchemy of sock knitting.

Likewise, when I discover a yarn and pattern combination that produces a garment that I love, even though it may involve many hours of simple stocking stitch I find myself quite happy to knit it a second and even a third time as my collection of Vitamin D cardigans in Elsbeth Lavold Silky Wool clearly demonstrates.

The style perfectly suits my shape and the fabric is warm enough to add a useful layer in all seasons in our mild but changeable climate.

I have written before about my endless stash of mill ends of Silky Wool and continue to work my way through it. While exploring my stash I came across this rather beautiful cone in a deep mahogany. It was very tempting to just settle down and cast on another Vitamin D but, after an interesting Twitter conversation about all the lovely cardigan patterns that are around at the moment I thought it was time to tiptoe out of my comfort zone.

The pattern I finally chose was the Old Town cardigan by Carol Sunday which is a lovely drapey, edge to edge garment with a wide lace collar and front edging knit from the top down which is my favourite way of knitting so I settled down and cast on, looking forward to a relaxing, predictable knit. I may have been a little misled....

First came a provisional cast on.

Then stitches left on a string for later.

Soon I was picking up and knitting stitches down the side of a lace panel.

And putting in a line of matched decreases.

 I have produced a piece of knitting that, if I am totally honest I have no real idea where on my body it might end up when the cardigan is finished. Rather than a relaxing knit with lots of stocking stitch where I can let my mind wander and unravel the events of the day it is a magical mystery tour which I am totally gripped by as I can't wait to see what happens next.

I may have to cast on a plain sock for when I want to vegetate....

Monday, 21 October 2013

A Knitting Holiday at Home

The last few weeks have been quite busy with commission and sample deadlines, festivals and general gadding about. This weekend I was scheduled to go and work at the Glasgow School of Yarn but due to circumstances beyond my control this didn't happen so I was faced with a weekend without commitments. 

I consider myself to be really lucky to be making my living doing what I love but one of the things that I miss is the freedom to cast on what I like, whenever I like. I'm not one of those designers who started out because I couldn't find anything out there that I loved - quite the reverse! I have enormous respect and admiration for a whole host of people and find that I am always learning something new from the techniques that other people use.

With this in mind and as a way of giving myself a bit of a break I decided to declare last Friday a Knitting Holiday when I allowed myself to cast on whatever I liked with no limit to the number of projects that I started. This was a chance for me to have a look at all the projects that I have been dying to start and match them to favourite yarns and get started.

I settled down in my favourite corner of the sofa with a cup of tea and started knitting. 

First on the needles was Catkin by Carina Spencer. I love knitting and wearing shawls but need them to stay in place as I rush around. This design is shaped to fit the shoulders and even has a row of buttons to help me manage it. I rummaged around in my stash,  came across my two skeins of Wollmeise Twin and realised that they looked quite good together. So far so good...

Next I would a skein of one of my favourite and sadly discontinued yarns, Clan by the Yarn Yard. In some ways it is quite similar in texture to Wollmeise being smooth and made up of multiple plies of merino wool so is an ideal yarn for socks which need good stitch definition. I have had the book Coopknits socks by Rachel Coopey for ages and have attempted to cast on Dawlish, the first pattern in the book two or three times. I must have been a bit tired on these occasions as I managed to misread the pattern in several different ways. However, casting on in holiday mood I have no idea why I made such a hash of it the last time....

Upstairs in the Yarn Archive (or spare bedroom as some people call them) I have a large box of Jamiesons Spindrift yarn in all colours of the rainbow waiting to be knitted into traditional mittens, hats and scarves. I have long been an admirer of the way that Kate Davies combines a deep knowledge of the historical context of textiles with influences from nature so managed to find some shades that will work together to create a version of her Northmavine Hap Shawl.

I really enjoyed my brief Knitting Holiday at Home. I didn't go quite as crazy as I thought I might. I even managed to finish a pair of socks. They are only plain, worked in my favourite toe up method with Regia Kaffe Fassett yarn but I never tire of working with this yarn as the striping and colour combinations are always so easy on the eye and sophisticated.

I can thoroughly recommend taking the occasional day out just to indulge in the joy of knitting, no rules, no worrying about how many projects are already on the needles, no thinking that I should be concentrating on my own designs. I found the day inspiring and relaxing and was able to return to the day job with renewed enthusiasm and ideas.

I'm definitely doing it again even before I've finished these projects....    

Monday, 30 September 2013


I have to admit that just as a keen cook will pore over recipe books or a gardener leaf through seed catalogues, as a knitwear designer I love looking through books of stitch patterns. When I find one I like I imagine how it would look in different yarns, at different scales, whether it can be stretched or compressed, I really do live an exciting life!

A good example of this is the stitch pattern that I chose for the Glasgow School Mitts. As I recall, it started life as a sample in a Japanese stitch pattern book but as I swatched it went through so many iterations and adaptations it ended up quite different from the original but it worked for me in terms of both the general appearance of the fabric but also how it fit the overall garment and seamlessly accommodated the thumb detail. 

A few months ago at Fibre East I caught up with Katie from Hilltopcloud whose stand was, as usual full of really lovely braids and batts of fibre. Katie knows my tastes pretty well so put a batt in my hands saying that this was the one I should have! I didn't think about it for too long as she was right, grey merino and Shetland flecked with pink and aqua silk. It was one of those batts which I had to take home and spin up immediately and it soon found itself becoming abut 160m of heavy aran weight yarn.

Now, as my friends will tell you, I'm not the tidiest, most stylish dresser in the world and don't see myself as the sort of person who wears matching accessories but I try not to look like an explosion in a wool shop. It occurred to me that I might be able to make a cowl that would make a good partner to my grey Glasgow School Mitts now that autumn is on its way without looking like a matching set.

 I also wanted to make sure that I produced a balanced design whilst at the same time using up every scrap of my precious hand spun yarn.

I first knitted up a small test swatch just to get an idea of tension (to give it the title of tension square would be overstating things a little) and then cast on the appropriate number of pattern repeats to give me the size of cowl that I wanted.  Once the pattern was established I put in the right hand cable twist then worked the rib pattern until I had used approximately half the yarn. I then knew how many rows of rib I could do before doing the the left hand cable twist , matching ribbed edge and cast off. I'm delighted to say that my spinning is a little more consistent than I feared as I ended up with only a couple of metres of yarn spare!

 Overall I was really pleased with this little experiment. It's lovely to feel I have done justice to a lovely skein of hand spun yarn and produced something comfortable and wearable.

I will probably write the pattern up as a bonus 'extra' for the Glasgow School Mitts in a more widely available yarn but I just wanted to share a little something about the way that with hand spun, you tend to have to let the yarn take the lead.

I think the cowl goes quite well with the mitts although I don't think I'm ready for the matching shoes and handbag set yet!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

A golden afternoon in east London

I hadn't really planned to write a blog post today and I apologise for the lack of photographs, but it was just one of those days that I wanted to capture in words so that I could remember it.

It's that time of year when a day can start out damp and drear and I mentally brace myself for the end of summer but then the sun manages to burn off the mist and by midday when I set out on my mission the sun was out and seemed to put everyone in a good mood.

Walking to the bus stop I exchanged smiling banter with the road sweeper and as I knitted away the bus journey my fellow passengers were in the mood for chat, particularly older people commenting about how lovely it was to see someone practicing the old skills.

Searching for my destination in the shadow of some rather dauntingly brutalist tower blocks on the Brownhills Estate I popped into a corner shop to ask my way with the owner taking the trouble to come out onto the street to show me. I was heading for the Community Cabin to take part in A Curious Line, an arts project which encourages members of the community to knit pieces which will be photographed and scanned onto tiles to decorate a pedestrian subway near a new school to make it feel an interesting place to walk through rather than the rather scary place that subways often are. When I arrived a busy group of young people from the local school and elders from a craft group were busy around a table covered in all kinds of materials to knit with. There was string, wire and fishing line along with the usual wool and needles.

Within minutes I was working with the school pupils, all teenage boys, teaching them to knit. They confounded any stereotypes and proved themselves to be keen and willing to learn and were soon producing some pretty good knitting. Once they were settled into their task I had a chance to talk to some of the older women who once again were having none of the stereotypes of what one should do in retirement. Feisty, opinionated, computer literate and prepared to try new things they regaled me with stories of staging a sit in on the 309 bus and annoying  the controller to the point that he called the police (who, I am delighted to report supported the passengers and insisted that the bus carry on to its destination), and spoke passionately to the school students about the importance of trade unions. They scoffed at the idea that they spend their afternoons playing bingo and dominos.

Walking home with my shopping I stopped and chatted to a lady I know from the bus stop who asked if I was still knitting and admired my shawl.

I know these small incidents may not seem remarkable by themselves but as I closed my front door it reminded me that although London can sometimes feel a cold, hard, impersonal place, it is possible to have a day when a bit of sunshine puts a spring in your step and the old city seems to smile back.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

A mindless interlude

This post comes to you courtesy of my out of control stash and my friend Rachel aka Knittingtastic. You see it happened like this... We met up for lunch the other day and the conversation turned, as it quite often does, to the fact that we both have quite substantial stockpiles of yarn but never the right thing for that new project that we are itching to start. Rachel was thinking about a project which requires an eye watering number of balls of Kid Silk Haze. I remembered that somewhere in deep stash I had a few balls which I had no particular plans for and suggested that rather than immediately go out and buy more yarn we ask each other if we have anything suitable on a sort of 'yarn credit' arrangement. I know that Rachel has very good taste in yarn - I'm no fool...
Later on that evening with towers of plastic boxes wobbling overhead I found the KSH I was looking for plus a big bag of Sugar ' n Creme dishcloth cotton that I had brought back from a trip to the US about 5 years ago.

I had over the years wondered what had become of it. Now here is where Rachel pops up again in my litany of self justification as only a few weeks ago she had blogged about making dishcloths so I thought, why not? I had just cast off a couple of large projects and was caught up in tha tend of summer, beginning of autumn feeling of wanting to plan my autumn knitting but not quite wanting to let go of summer so a bit of mindless dishcloth knitting seemed the perfect relaxation.
I found a simple,practical pattern, The Double Bump Dishcloth which has all the qualities that I wanted, easily memorised, lays flat, and is reversible and cast on. In what seemed like minutes
 I had this.

 Now for someone who has been working on two seemingly endless stocking and garter stitch projects this seemed nothing short of miraculous so I cast on another.

And another

I have a mixture of solid and variegated balls of cotton so it was interesting to see how each one would knit up

 Soon I had a small pile

And have already cast on Number 5.To get me in the mood for this somewhat old fashioned activity which I first did at the age of six in Primary School I used a pair of vintage plastic needles from the collection that I keep just because they are pretty. They are the perfect size and texture for dishcloth knitting although I have to treat them with respect as they are a bit brittle, a rather lovely peach pair has already gone the way of all things since I started this project.

I have plenty of cotton left so I can see myself knitting a quick cloth when I really haven't got the brain power for anything else. The only trouble is that I'm a little bit loathe to make my nice new dishcloths dirty in the kitchen which I accept might be a little odd. I have, however, decided on a compromise which I can live with. For some reason I have absolutely no problem with using knitted washcloths in the bathroom and have done for years. Some of these are showing their age a little so I have decided that these will do very nicely as dishcloths whereas my beautiful new ones will either become gifts (possibly together with a nice bar of hand made soap to dissuade the recipient from pressing them to culinary duties) or will start their working lives in the slightly more rarefied atmosphere of my bathroom.

Sometimes I forget it's only knitting. 

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Rainy Bank Holiday Saturday

Recently I have become accustomed to getting up to sunny skies, flinging open the back door, treating the garden as an extension to the living room and generally living a rather outdoor life. It was a bit of a shock to the system this Saturday to wake up to grey skies and heavy rain which was clearly set in for the day. At times like this there is only one thing to do - dig out a favourite skein of yarn, make a pot of tea, settle down on the sofa and spend the day learning a new skill. Several friends have made the Pax shawl by Aiobhne Ni which uses a technique of Tunisian crochet that is entirely new to me. 
So the first thing to do was select my yarn. I chose one of my last precious skeins of Crannog,by the Yarn Yard, a heavy lace weight merino sadly now discontinued. These things are made to be used so I set to and placed it on the swift. I'm not sure what happened but half way through winding I got into one of those tangles where you end up taking the ball off the winder and winding the rest by hand. Not an auspicious start. 

The next task was to make an awful lot of crochet chain. More on this later...

After much ripping back and starting again I have finally mastered the techniques for the body of the shawl which includes short row shaping. Things that I learnt include:

I needed a much larger crochet hook than I thought I did.
I sometimes can't count up to four
Or eighteen
Or nine
Crannog stands up very well to being manhandled.
This technique is very useful for showcasing multicoloured hand dyed yarns
The stitches don't look anything like knitted or crochet stitches

More irritatingly, I have yet to work out how to make a crochet chain that is loose enough not to create a tight edge, but open and even enough not to create a ragged looking edge. I'm still not happy with this one so more ripping may ensue.

Does anyone have any advice?

Overall I'm really pleased with my day's work - I haven't perfected the technique by any means but I have done enough to know that I enjoy the process and with a bit more practice should be able to produce interesting and attractive fabric. Not bad for a rainy Saturday.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

I've been knitting

I've been meaning to write something all week. Trouble is, every time I prepared to sit down I would say to my self  'But I don't have anything to show'. I spend several hours every day knitting away but the only things that I have cast off (and frogged and sworn at and started again if I'm honest) are prototypes for patterns that may or may not appear here at some point.
However, when I'm not 'work' knitting,and to be frank, I still find it very difficult to think of it as work, I have been knitting away diligently, productively and almost monogamously but am still at the point where I am completely committed to a project but know that a significant amount of knitting lies between me and the finished article.

For example we have this:

Flushed with success at completing my grey Vitamin D cardigan and knowing how much wear I have already got from my green one I dived into my seemingly bottomless stash of bargainous Coldspring Mill Silky Wool and came up with this glorious yellow. When I have finished a project the hours of time invested in it seem to fly out of my memory so I cast on another one thinking I would have knocked it out in a week or so despite the fact that I am not exactly knitting the smallest size...

Acres of stocking stitch later I have a yoke, two sleeves and quite a lot of body done but am still a good six inches away from covering my ...assets. The rows are long and will get longer before I'm finished. What is it about long rows that sap the strength from even the most optimistic knitter?

As if these marathon rows weren't enough, it just so happens that my current shawl project has also reached the stage of eye wateringly long rows with the prospect of a hearty slab of garter stitch edging between me and the cast off. Of course, I really like the pattern, Life on Sundays by Veera Valimaki, and the yarn, the sadly discontinued Clan by The Yarn Yard is absolutely perfect for it.

Being tall and ahem..somewhat statuesque I decided that I would work more repeats of the pattern until the yarn ran out. Little did I know that someone appears to have invented the yarn which has no end. I may be knitting a cover for a football pitch.

Of course, the moment these are off the needles I will have forgotten all about this and you're not going to remind me if you see me casting on a 4th Vitamin D are you?

Friday, 2 August 2013

Pop Spots, eventually,,,,

The story of this project starts back in March when I bought two really pretty braids of Blue Faced Leicester and Camel fibre from Katie at Hilltopcloud when we were on the annual Skipnorth knitters' weekend . I have to say that Katie is becoming one of the best dyers and blenders of fibre for spinning that I know, creating sophisticated shades with interesting fibre blends which are always well prepared and easy to spin.

 The first is mainly shades of gold with flashes of red and green.

The second is mostly purple and toasted brown.

I bought the fibre specifically with a two coloured shawl in mind. My stash is full of 100g braids of this or that fibre, all beautiful in their own right but when it comes to larger projects I can sometimes be a bit stumped. These shades seemed to complement each other and had enough contrast to work together. I managed to spin two skeins of pretty even yarn that falls somewhere between a heavy lace weight and a fingering weight. I'm really glad that I didn't rush the spinning or the plying but took my time to make the yarn as even and balanced as I could.

One of the perks of working at Loop in Islington is the chance to be among the first to see any new designs that they commission. When Pop Spots by Juju Vail came out it seemed the perfect pattern to showcase this yarn. The pattern is interesting but simple enough for the character of the hand spun yarn to shine through.

 Due to the camel content of the yarn, the finished shawl has a distinct halo which makes it feel very warm despite being light and translucent.

As I wanted to use up as much of the yarn as possible I ended up making a shawl that fell somewhere between the small and the large sizes. I have to admit that it lay fallow for several weeks as I braced myself to tackle the cast off with knitted on lace border. As it turned out it was surprisingly quick to do and was polished off in a couple of evenings. Isn't it funny how you can put off a task as you think it might be difficult or tedious only to discover that you were making a fuss about nothing?

It's a bit on the warm side to wear it at the moment but it is light and warm and come the cooler months will become a firm favourite. One of the things that I enjoy about being a spinner and a knitter is that a project may take months from buying the fibre to being able to show off the finished item but by that time I know every stitch and nuance of the yarn and how it works with the pattern and feel as if I have really made it my own.

Sometimes the best things really are worth waiting for.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Compton Bay Hat and Mitts

This month I was more excited than usual when my copy of Knit Now magazine dropped through my letterbox. 

Allow me to introduce the first pattern that I have had printed in a magazine - the Compton Bay Hat and Mitts.
 Knit Now is still a relatively new knitting magazine and what sets it apart from the others is that it specialises in patterns for small projects and accessories. The editorial style is also very open and supportive towards new designers so they seemed the ideal first magazine for me to approach. I have learnt a great deal through the process of this pattern coming to print. I made the first submission back in February for just the mitts seen below. My submission was accepted along with the note 'Could you make a hat to go with them?' Eek! I have never designed a hat before but nothing ventured, nothing gained, I had a go and found I really enjoyed it. I was glad to be taken out of my comfort zone.

Another benefit of making this submission is that it really taught me how the process of getting an idea into print works and all the stages that have to be gone through. Waiting for yarn for the sample, knitting to a tight deadline, writing to a strict format, last minute queries about details in the pattern were all new to me.

As a relatively new designer my ideas often go through a number of trial runs before I am happy with them. I thought you might like to see a couple of the versions of the mitts that I made while I was developing the pattern. The set above are made in the Uncommon Thread Bluefaced Leicester DK in the Into Dust shade. The pair below are made in Quince & Co's Tern in the Kelp shade. 

Clearly I am going to have to work a little bit more efficiently in the future as when I get an idea I'm really excited about I am sorely tempted to knit it up in all kinds of colours and yarns. I'm fighting the temptation to cast on another hat as we speak but the next Knit Now submission deadline is almost upon us and I need to focus!

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Spinning a little yarn

Right now everyone seems to be spinning. Whether spinning along to punishing cycle racing or inspired by the season of fibre festivals being in full swing, wheels and spindles are spinning and yarn is being produces. Here at Yarn Archive HQ is no exception. I have been treadling away on my faithful Majacraft Little Gem, despite the stifling heat of our current mini heatwave. This is not the only step I have taken outside of my comfort zone.
Earlier this year  I remember admiring a pair of hand spun socks and being told that the fibre was Southdown, something I hadn't tried before. When I came across a pretty but subtly shaded skein on Hilltop Katie's stand at Wonderwool Wales I decided to give it a go.
My first impression was that it was incredibly springy and bouncy, soft but quite matte in appearance.

I wanted to knit a pair of socks so decided on a sock weight 2ply yarn. The staple length was a lot shorter than I am used to so was subjected to the discipline of a short forward draw being exactly what it says - short! I was pleasantly surprised,however at how easy to draft this well prepared fibre was, despite the short staple length. I worked reasonably slowly, ensuring a decent amount of twist went into the yarn and was pleasantly surprised at how the yarn retained the bounce of the fibre. I managed to spin approximately 380m of yarn, so plenty enough for a pair of socks. The subtle dying of this grey fleece means that the resulting yarn resembles the inside of a sea shell. I need to find a suitably nautical pattern to do it justice.
After I have completed a long,careful, disciplined spinning project I get the urge to do something speedy and entertaining so I turned to another braid of fibre that I bought from Katie at Wonderwoool Wales. This time it is a Jacob and silk blend. I was so fast in getting this on the bobbin I didn't even stop to take a photo. Within a few hours  I had a couple of hundred metres of aran weight yarn.   

It's certainly a robust yarn with the silk rather adding to its lustre rather than softening the overall impression. It's perfectly usable, but not next to the skin soft.

What would you do with it?