Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Growing up as a knitter

You might be forgiven for thinking, due to my recent blogging silence, that my enthusiasm for knitting had waned. The last couple of months haven't been particularly easy as I have been taking care of a dear friend who has suffered a great loss, I have found myself turning to my knitting more and more as a way of gathering myself up ready for another day. 

This sort of therapeutic knitting, however requires a careful choice of project. For me it has to be something warm and cosy under the fingers with a balance between concentration and swathes of calming, rhythmic stocking stitch slowly growing in my lap and give me the chance to be distracted but not too challenged. Recently I have become increasingly drawn to making full sized garments for myself, something that I have often shied away from in the past in case the garment didn't fit or didn't miraculously make me look like the model in the photo. My bulging sock, mitten and shawl draw speaks only too eloquently to this fact.

This time, however, I decided that I wanted a warm, cosy, generous cardigan that would work as a jacket as the weather becomes cooler. I also wanted a colour that felt warm so I chose one of my favourite work horse yarns, Cascade 220 in a shade called Birch Heather. I particularly like the Cascade Heathers shades as they combine shades in a sophisticated way which makes them look far more expensive than they really are!

I chose the Rosemont Cardigan by Hannah Fettig which is constructed from the top down and once I had realised that I needed to make good notes during the shoulder shapings I found to be a simple, intuitive knit, exactly what I have needed in these challenging few weeks.

I also came to realise that when I got to the shawl collar I was nowhere near finishing the garment. A skein and a half later I was still knitting but to create anything less than a generous collar would spoil the entire cardigan.

The cardigan is designed without buttons and buttonholes so gives the perfect opportunity to show off one of my collection of shawl pins. This one is a particular favourite by my friend Nickerjac.  It's one of the perks of my profession to spend time with talented, crafty people!

In retrospect I could probably have got away with knitting this garment a size smaller but I'm sure I'm not the only knitter who overestimates the size she needs. The sleeves in particular are longer than I need but having turned them back I think they reflect the shawl collar well so am happy with the way that they are.

I'm pleased to say that the temperature has started to drop so I have had plenty of opportunity to wear my cosy new cardigan and am really pleased that I have plucked up the courage to start knitting more jumpers for myself.

In fact, I am enjoying the process so much I have started another garment. More on this later....

Friday, 24 October 2014

These aren't just ordinary drop spindles...

They are east London drop spindles and they represent why it is such a privilege to be part of the local creative community. They were made by Tom Hepworth, one of the green wood workers who rent a space in the Rural Arts Centre at Stepney City Farm to a design developed in collaboration with Nic Walker and me, who regular blog readers will know are the resident textile artists at the Farm.  Amongst other things we host the weekly Thursday lunchtime fibre crafts group in the Cafe and spin the fleeces of the farm's small flock of Jacob sheep. 

 It gives me great pleasure to work in this way with other craftspeople on the Farm as it shows that whilst our skills may be very different, our motivation to create useful things with our hands is very similar and it's wonderful when these skills can compliment each other so directly.

They are top whorl spindles, made with an ash shaft for strength and flexibly, and a horse chestnut whorl. All the wood is sourced in east London, mainly from local tree surgeons. One of the things that I particularly love about these spindles, and what sets them apart from many of the other chiefly lathe turned spindles that I have used  is that they have been made by a green wood carver with very simple tools so that you can see every cut that his blade has made. A drop spindle is a very simple tool itself and this quality lends a real intimacy to the object as you turn it in your hands.

When I met Tom in his workshop yesterday I had the opportunity to have a brief conversation with him about his work. He has been an apprentice in the workshop for approximately a year developing his skills as a green wood carver. His particular passion is for carving spoons and his first range will soon be available for sale. He likes the way that small objects add character to a home and the way that a carved spoon can combine beauty and function in its form. I would say that the same is true of his spindles. Follow him on Twitter at @Hepworth_Tom to see more of his work.

It would have been good to spend longer talking to Tom as it is encouraging to talk to another craftsperson whose values and motivation really resonate with your own but these spindles were on a journey. Much as I would love to say that they are all mine it was my privilege to deliver them to the person who commissioned them, Anna from Wild and Woolly whose shop is a most welcome new addition to the community for east London knitters and crocheters. 

I am, of course leaving the best news until last. If you have always wanted to learn how to make your own yarn, one of these beautiful spindles could be yours as I will be teaching an Introduction to Drop Spindling workshop at Wild and Woolly on Wednesday 29th October and Wednesday 5th November between 7.00pm and 9.00pm. The price of the workshop is £50 which includes an east London  spindle and fibre. When I spoke to Anna yesterday she told me that there were still one or two places left on the course but they were going fast!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Introducing the Atherfield Hat

I know, I know, not another pair of fingerless mitts this time but as I sit here listening to the wind whistle around the house and think about heading out to work later I thought it was time to launch this warm and cosy hat. 

Inspired by the seamark off the coast of Atherfield Bay on the Isle of Wight, this hat was originally conceived for teaching intermediate knitting students the basics of knitting in the round, working ribbing, stocking and reverse stocking stitch in the round and the use of the double decrease. We used a cosy chunky yarn so that the project could be knitted quickly and hats could be shown off at the next class.

It soon became clear that this slouchy beany style with width given by the way that the stocking stitch and reverse stocking stitch bands rest on each other suited pretty much everyone who tried it on. I'll come clean and admit that I struggle to find a hat that will suit me but even I'm happy with the way it looks on me!

The pale green sample is knit in Woolyknits Lofty in Olive and the darker green sample is in Jo Sharp  Silk Road Ultra in Elm.  Offered in two sizes this hat knits up really quickly and can be keeping your ears warm within a couple of evenings.

It makes a perfect quick gift from that spare ball of chunky yarn that you might have lying around. This hat can be made from one ball of chunky yarn as long as it has at least 106m per 100g.

I love the way that these hats stack up on each other. I can't help but imagine having a pile of these hats in a rainbow of colours by the front door so that I can grab one to match my mood or outfit as I leave the house.

 The pattern is available as a download for £2.50 from my Ravelry Shop. It would make a perfect first project for someone who hasn't knitted in the round before or for an experienced knitter who fancies a bit of instant gratification.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Serendipitous Vedbaek Shawl Knit Along

Like most of us, I like to pride myself on my individuality and resistance to following trends and jumping on bandwagons but sometimes the knitting community can be very persuasive and can sneak up on you when you least expect it. I was watching one of my favourite podcasts, Fiber Trek recently and Sarah mentioned the Vedbaek Shawl by Karina Westermann. Both Sarah and Karina communicate so persuasively about the connection between textiles and landscape and value warm, rustic yarns with clear provenance that exemplify this relationship.

Add to this a very generous discount offer from Karina for Fiber Trek listeners and the realisation that I had the perfect yarn for the project in stash and I was hooked. The yarn is a blend of Jacob, Shetland and Alpaca in the Moss colour way by Jillybean Yarns. Jilly's yarns are a great favourite of mine as she sources them from farms around her home so they are always interesting, one of a kind blends.I know that Jilly and her family are going through some tough times right now so I hope she can draw comfort from the fact that she brings colour and warmth to the world.

 I love the way that the grey Jacob fibre in this yarn gives it such a movement and depth. I would describe the feel of this yarn as quite crunchy but lofty, airy, light and warm. A perfect pop of vibrant colour and cosiness for the cooler days.

The Vedbaek pattern is relatively simple with clean lines ending in an arrowhead motif inspired by Karina's studies of Doggerland, landscape now lost under the north sea and the people who inhabited it.

It's the sort of knit where you can lose yourself in the rhythm of the pattern and really enjoy the feel of the yarn as it moves through your fingers.

The finished article is a simple piece with clean lines which really appeals to my personal sense of style. I'm really glad that for once I decided that it would be good to join the pack.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Life, the universe and work in progress

My sister and I are fortunate in that we tend to agree on a lot of things. The issue that would have us both nodding most vigorously in agreement right now would be that tasks always seem to take longer  than you imagine they will. We like to think this is because of our optimistic, active depositions. We refuse to countenance any notion that we might sometimes be a little unrealistic.

My sister and her partner are currently restoring a beautiful house in its own woodland and were hoping to move in this spring. I decided that I would make them a housewarming gift of a crochet blanket. What could be simpler? And crochet is dead quick isn't it? I decided to use up some of my precious stash of discontinued Rowan Yorkshire Tweed 4ply and worked up a granny stripe sequence based on how many balls of each colour I had. It will come as no surprise that I have quite a few balls of this yarn so I produced a good long foundation row and got busy with my 3mm hook.

It soon became clear that despite some evenings of very speedy hooking this project was going to take a lot longer than I thought. Also, the stripe sequence is pretty broad so once committed to an extra repeat it takes a great deal of work to get the pattern symmetrical. I decided however, that if the worst came to the worst I would give the blanket to my sister in whatever state it was in and use our evenings chatting by the fire to finish it. I didn't quite manage it but because I had been sewing my ends in as I went it is still quite useable for snuggling under. This was back in May...

Meanwhile back at the house, the decision to add a two storey extension had set back the moving in date a little - phew!

Last week I went to visit the family again and we got out the blanket and wool so that I could add another few stripes. I really hoped that I could get the final stripe sequence finished but despite crocheting busily through several evenings in front of the fire I am still about 10 cms short.

Meanwhile, back at the house, the last few coats of plaster are going on the walls....

And my nephew is still working on his mountain bike trail through the woods.

The next time I plan to visit is Christmas. We are sure that by then we will be sitting by the fire in the new house while I cut off the final loose end on the blanket and my nephew rides a complete circuit of the woods on his new bike...

I love being part of a family of optimists!

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The lonely guanaco

As regular readers may recall, I often visit my sister and her family who live in the beautiful and dramatic countryside in Mid Wales. After a long train journey it's lovely to be picked up at the station and make the familiar drive to their village. It's a comfortable feeling to comment on what has changed, what has stayed the same and look out for the sort of wildlife that just doesn't live in an east London back garden. My favourite part of the drive is across a high plateau where red kites and buzzards perch on fences and flocks of sheep graze nearby. Occasionally, if we are very lucky a rather more long necked creature will be grazing amongst the sheep. It's the lonely guanaco.

A guanaco is a camelid,  non domesticated member of the llama family which, I understand make extremely effective guard animals for flocks of sheep. Whilst in Mid Wales they might not have coyotes or wolves to contend with, at lambing season the flock can still be vulnerable to foxes and buzzards or badly controlled domestic dogs so this is a working animal. We have often wondered aloud why the guanaco is alone in a field of sheep but have discovered that two or more are less effective as guard animals than one. In other words, they are such sociable creatures that they slack off their job to hang out with their mates.

This is why we have always felt a little bit sad for the lonely guanaco, like a lighthouse keeper he is destined to spend his days alone, keeping others from harm.

I've told friends this story, also observing that according to the reference books, guanacos have an undercoat which is much prized for its softness, second only to vicuna in the fineness of the fibres. It needs to be separated from the coarser guard hairs which means that the yield per animal is not great. Imagine my surprise and delight last week when a friend who has just come back from the California Wool and Fiber Festival gave me a small caramel coloured cloud and asked if I knew what it was. I could tell straight away that it was a camelid fibre. How we laughed when she told me that it was guanaco, and baby guanaco at that! She said that as soon as she came to the Royal Fibers booth and got chatting with the owner about guanacos she knew she had to bring me some fibre.

Having never spun such a fine fibre before I got out my trusty copy of the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook and found the relevant section - complete with a photo of the creatures themselves in their native habitat. The advice was to spin the fibres finely even if I want a thicker yarn so I chose the lightest of my IST spindles and carefully began. I certainly requires more concentration and patience than the more robust fibres that I am used to spinning and I need to take care to remove the very few remaining guard hairs as I go but so far so good.

I have an ounce of the fibre which I am hoping so spin into a heavy lace weight yarn and maybe make some very delicate fingerless gloves so that whenever I wear them I will think of the lonely guanaco and what happens if you are too easily distracted....

Monday, 22 September 2014

When sock knitting bears fruit

After a very warm late summer, this morning, just past the equinox I can feel that things are starting to change. The sky is bright and clear but the air has a crispness to it mingled with the peppery smell of falling leaves on cool damp earth. Autumn may finally be here.

I love this time of year. After the humid lethargy of a London summer, autumn air has a clean energy to it. Best of all, I can continue to use my garden as an outdoor office by making sure I have a good supply of hand knits to wrap up in - what's not to love?

As regular readers will know, I have a large and growing collection of hand knitted socks but that doesn't mean that I take them for granted. Of course, I have many pairs, some knitted in beautiful yarns, others made with intricate patterns and colour work but there is also a place in the sock collection for those work horse socks made with £2 balls of yarn for wearing around the house as you see here. One of them might also have been washed with something red giving it a slight pink tinge but, tucked inside my red Birkenstocks they still keep my toes cosy and fit perfectly. I still wouldn't swap them for a commercial sock.

 At the other end of the scale, these socks that I have just finished are my idea of yarn heaven. I am still going through my top down, plain sock knitting phase and chose one of my precious last skeins of Mountain Colours Bearfoot, a wool and mohair mix which makes some of the cosiest socks I have ever owned. They get quite fuzzy with wear but that just seems to make them feel warmer.

I'm afraid my camera hasn't quite been able to do justice to the deep reds and blues of the yarn.

You won't find me pulling these on first thing in the morning for a day working from home but if you see me out and about in my glad rags you might just find me slipping my shoes off and showing off my socks!

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Creative Blog Hop

Last week Rachel from My Life in Knitwear tagged me as part of a creative blog hop where invitees are asked to talk  about their creative processes and methods of working.

I am lucky in that I work in the fibre crafts industry, primarily as a teacher but also as a designer and in retail. Knitting, crochet and spinning are also my main pastimes so very often my professional life and personal life wind themselves around each other and it can be very difficult to discern where one ends and the other begins at times. For the purposes of this exercise I will be talking about myself as a knitter and reflecting on how that influences my world both professionally and personally.


1. What am I working on?

As you can see from the photographs I usually have a range of projects going at any one time on top of any design work that might be going on. I have never been a monogamous knitter as for me, knitting has several different roles in my life and the projects that I take on reflect this. Sometimes I use my knitting as a way to relax at the end of a busy day so I need a project which is relatively simple and repetitive so that I can get into that meditative zone where i can really shake off the issues of the day. I spend a lot of my time travelling on public transport so I like to have a small, simple project such as a plain sock on the needles to fill in the moments when I am lucky enough to get a seat. I have knitted so many socks in my life that I now have the pattern memorised so it is a very easy project but has enough variety in its anatomy to keep me moving forward. Sometimes my imagination is captured by texture and I need to cast on to remind myself of the tactile pleasure of the opportunity to handle so many different materials. In my knitting world there is equal room for the softest merino to crunchier yarns such as Shetland and Jacob so my works in progress reflect this.

Alongside the projects that meet my needs for meditation and tactile pleasure are those which I choose to build my skills whether it be a new shape or construction technique, an intricate or complex pattern or a project which may take months rather than weeks to complete.

I have huge admiration for many of the designers in the knitting community today and I am delighted that I have the opportunity to enjoy their work whilst creating a niche of my own.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I wasn't sure how the balance of my work would develop when I decided to become a freelancer in this industry but am really pleased that most of my opportunities have arisen in the field of teaching. Many of my contemporaries appear to be primarily designers who teach. I am a teacher who designs. I teach a range of skills from beginners in knitting, crochet and spinning to intermediate knitters and sock knitters whether they be top downers or bottom uppers!

I get the greatest pleasure from helping someone gain a new skill and to watch skills and confidence blossom. I find teaching a child to finger knit and seeing them concentrating really hard and showing their work proudly equally satisfying as showing an adult the magic of constructing a sock heel where disbelief needs  to be suspended until the shape emerges.

Being someone who loves the company of other people I really enjoy the way that I am constantly learning about how people learn and developing different ways of approaching the teaching of a technique. Above all, the whole process should be fun for all of us. I love to entertain people with the extent of my fibre geekery, tales of mistakes I have made and the size of my yarn stash and to see knitters grow in skills and enthusiasm.

3. Why do I create what I do?

I've been a knitter for as long as I have been a reader and a writer so it really feels as if it is part of who I am. It has woven itself through my life in many ways. I have used it to relax, celebrate important occasions, express love for friends and family and preserve a small part of my creative self whilst spending the majority of my life and career in making a living in the world of management. I believe that my passion for sharing the craft with others is partly influenced by how important I believe it is to retain a creative dimension to our lives no matter how busy we are. Knitting is so easy to pick up, carry around and put down that it can easily be used to create a space for quiet, slow craft in our hectic modern lives.

4. How does my creative process work?

It's quite difficult to find a way to incorporate the word 'process' into a description of how my creativity works. I have huge admiration for people who can produce a consistent volume of high quality design work or knit 52 beautiful pairs of socks in the course of a year. The inside of my head is a bit more like a pinball machine with ideas and enthusiasms bouncing around. I may be completely obsessed with knitting socks for a few weeks and knock out several pairs in quick succession but then all of a sudden I will be seized with the desire to cast on a hat and then someone might mention a particular pattern on a podcast or Ravelry group and I find myself sleepwalking into taking part.

It's a similar story with my designing - I may not design anything for weeks and then all of a sudden I will become obsessed with a stitch pattern or have a REALLY GOOD IDEA followed by a midnight rummage in the stash and then a design will be flying off my needles. I always design on the needles which can be quite time consuming but I am obsessed with fit and function so want to make sure that the garment really works before I launch it.

All in all, the main theme that underlies my creative life is that I get an enormous amount of pleasure and satisfaction from what I do and being a teacher allows me to share this with other people. I consider myself to be very lucky.

I'd like to thank Rachel for tagging me in this challenge as it has really made me sit back and reflect critically on my creativity. I am passing the baton to Natalie of The Yarn Yard  and Nic of Nickerjac whose creativity I respect enormously and would be curious to know how they approach these questions. I am also sneaking in a third tag to Frances of City Views, Country Dreams whose blog I really enjoy!

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Simple pleasures

Well as I said in my last post, once I started knitting on those simple socks I found it very difficult to put them down. Within a matter of days I had a brand new pair of stripy socks! I used Yarn Yard Bonny, 2.5mm circular needles and a pattern which originated in the sock recipe in Ann Budd's Handy Book of Knitting Patterns which I have fiddled around with and memorised over the years. 

There is something very comforting about working on a project that is so familiar that I have memorised the pattern. Despite the simplicity, the project quickly moves through clear stages which prevents it becoming monotonous. Knitting down through the leg the pleasure comes from discovering how the stitch pattern is going to develop. Turning the heel still feels like such a neat and clever process. Most surprisingly of all, I have even learned to enjoy Kitchener stitch, something that until now I have never really felt happy with the results of. The secret for me has been to work the stitches fairly loosely then to place the toe over a darning mushroom and gently tighten up the stitches before fastening them off.

I enjoyed the process so much I couldn't resist casting on another pair, once again in Yarn Yarn Bonny.

One of the things that I find fascinating about knitting with hand painted variegated yarns is that you can never quite predict how the garment will turn out as the placement of colours is subject to so many variables, the length of the skein, number of stitches, size of the needles and most importantly the placement of colours by the dyer.

As you can see by the example of these socks, both pairs are knitted in the same yarn, with the same sized needles to the same pattern. However, the way in which the colours work with each other has led to completely different striping effects. I have no idea how it happens.

 With the grey and yellow socks the stripes are broken and shadowy whilst on the red and green socks the stripes are clear and unbroken.

I may have cast on another pair...

Friday, 15 August 2014

Going Back to my Roots

I hadn't realised how much my sock knitting had declined until the other day when my friend Sadie asked me how many pairs of socks I had knitted in the last couple of years. I thought about it, had a bit of a count up and realised that in that time I have made only five pairs for myself and three as magazine samples. A glance down the side bar of this blog will show that in previous years I made far more than this, peaking at the point where I managed to finish 29 pairs in one year when I took it into my head to enter the 52 Pair Plunge on Ravelry and failed. I am in awe of anyone who has the speed and dedication to manage all 52 as I was pretty proud of a score of 29!

As I mentioned in my last post I have come across a fair number of half finished pairs of socks in my WIP baskets and have joined the more modest 26 Pair Plunge this year as a way to motivate myself to get them off the needles. Next out of the basket are these, Kristi by Cookie A. This time I had already recorded them on Ravelry and was somewhat staggered to read that I had started them in August 2010 - exactly 4 years ago and had almost completed the heel turn on the first sock when I last put them down. Over the last few days I've managed to finish the first sock. The pattern in itself isn't difficult to accomplish but needs pretty regular reference to the large chart which means they aren't good for travel knitting. 

This probably explains why they were abandoned as most of my socks have been knitted on the go so I need a different approach to be able to complete them. I am aiming to do about an inch or so every evening between other commitments as I am determined to get them finished now I've been reunited with them.

This return to sock knitting and realisation that I have had half finished socks languishing in my basket for so long has made me reflect on how long sock knitting has been part of my life. I estimate that I taught myself to knit socks at least 10 years ago and have been knitting them steadily ever since. When I first started knitting socks I was charmed by self striping and variegated yarns as they made it so easy to make an interesting pair of socks with very little effort but as my skills developed and I started knitting more complex and patterned socks like the ones above, I became more interested in semi solid and solid coloured yarns and set the variegated yarns aside.

We human beings can be very fickle though, and as I was twisting stitches this way and that on my Kristi socks I started thinking about how lovely it would be to just grab a jolly skein of variegated yarn and just knit away on a good old basic sock, so I went on a little stash dive and came up with this little beauty, one of The Yarn Yard club yarns in what is still one of my favourite sock yarn bases, Bonny, a no nonsense 75%wool, 25% polyamide sock yarn which is properly warm and woolly and wears really well like a good sock yarn should.

Despite the fact that I have been knitting most of my socks from the toe up in recent years I decided that I might as well take the whole journey down memory lane and cast on some good old fashioned top down flap and gusset socks. That was last night and I can't seem to put them down...

 It seems to me that a lot of sock yarn dyers including The Yarn Yard have responded to their customers' desire for more semi solid and solid shades and good, well planned variegated skeins are a little more hard to come by. Which is why I am relieved that my stash diving revealed that I have a nice healthy stash of Yarn Yard Bonny to satisfy the craving for old school sock knitting for a little while.

Speaking of old school sock knitting I am delighted to say that I am going back to my roots and will be teaching a three week introduction to top - down sock knitting at Knit with Attitude starting on October 12th 2014. There will be more details on the shop web site very soon. Participants will have the chance to observe the true extent of my rediscovered sock geekery.

That means that I can now get back to the sofa, get out my sock in progress and carry on knitting secure in the knowledge that it is of course, teaching preparation!

Friday, 8 August 2014


Back in March I had a good rummage in my WIP basket and found these unfinished socks. With the help of knowledgeable blog readers I was able to identify them as Rosebud Socks by Wendy Johnson.
With pattern and socks reunited I was resolved to get them finished and immediately got several pattern repeats under my belt. It felt very strange working with 2.25mm wooden needles and was convinced that they would break at every stitch but didn't want to change needles as in my experience, even a change to the same size needle in another medium can affect my tension so I pressed on!

However, after making some good progress I am afraid that they were set on one side again as other projects took priority. Finally, at the beginning of July I decided to join the 26 Pair Plunge on Ravelry as a way of encouraging myself to get my large pile of half finished socks off the needles, one way or another.

I'm pleased to say that it was the encouragement I needed to finish these pretty socks and they are now pair number 2 of my 26 pair target.

Once the rhythm of the pattern is established it is an enjoyable knit which I was able to finish relatively quickly. The Artist's Palette yarn is a pleasure to knit with and these socks will make a welcome addition to my sock drawer.

Only 24 pairs to go...