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.