Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Three new patterns available to download

I'm very pleased to say that after their successful launch at Fibre East this weekend these mitts are now available to download from Ravelry. Just follow the link beneath each photograph or in the side bar. 

Bouldnor Mitts

The beach at Bouldnor on the Isle of Wight is small, secluded and rocky but it has a hidden treasure. As a family we would take our nets and slipping and slithering on the rocks and seaweed harvest juicy prawns which we would cook over a stove on the beach and watch the sun go down. This pattern reminds me of the interlocking fronds of the seaweed. 

Broadlands Mitts

I am descended from Nottinghamshire lace makers who came to work at Broadlands Lace Factory in Newport Isle of Wight in the early nineteenth century. The building still exists as apartments having spent some years as government offices. The decorative cabled lace panel contrasted with the austere ribbing on this mitt evoke the phases in the life of this building. 

Hillis Gate Mitts

A mitt inspired by the deep eaves and tall chimneys of Hillis Gate Lodge, the cottage in the forest where my grandparents lived.

As you can see, I have drawn a lot of my recent inspiration from my family history on the Isle of Wight. 

I hope you like them.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Introducing the Hillis Gate Mitts

I just have time to give you one more pattern preview before Fibre East, The Hillis Gate Mitts. This design is also inspired by the history of my family on the Isle of Wight. The pattern reminds me of the tall chimneys and deep eaves of Hillis Gate Lodge, the cottage that my grandparents lived in from the 1930s to the 1950s. The cottage is one of the gate lodges to Parkhurst Forest in the north west of the Island. My maternal grandparents moved there with their three children when my mum, the youngest was very small. My grandfather was employed as a forester and this was a 'tied cottage' which meant that he could live there as long as he was a forester. The cottage is incredibly picturesque as you can see but through all the time my grandparents lived there it had no running water, indoor plumbing or electricity. My grandmother would light the 'copper' on a Sunday night ready for bath night and the Monday wash. Mum and my uncles did their homework by gaslight and calls of nature were answered in the earth closet at the bottom of the garden.

It was, however, a happy home of which my mum and uncles spoke fondly. When my parents were married they spent the first three years of their married life there.


It did occur to me however, that it might on occasions have been quite chilly so I designed a pair of short but cosy mitts in sport weight yarn that could be worn around the house as well as outdoors.

The green pair are made in Yarn Yard Hug in a lovely 1930s inspired shade of green.

The cable rib design is good and stretchy and runs uninterrupted from cuff to fingertips.

The pattern is echoed on the thumbs.

The yellow pair are made from Quince & Co Chickadee in the Apricot colourway.

Both versions can be made with less than 50g of yarn.

This is the last of my pre Fibre East previews. I do hope that if you are there you will come over to our stand,' Nic and Jane' in Cotswold Tent. We'd be delighted if you would come over and say hello, squish some yarn and try the mitts on albeit briefly as the forecast says it will be hot - even though here in east London as I write we are in the middle of a torrential thunder storm!

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Introducing the Broadlands Mitts

The design that I am previewing for you today is inspired by the industrial history of the 19th century, the story of one building and its relationship with my family.

Broadlands House is an imposing building on the outskirts of Newport, Isle of Wight. It has recently, as is the way with many such buildings, been converted into apartments. In my youth it was the offices of the Department of Health and Social Security but before that it was a lace factory which played a part in the history of my family. 

My three times great grandfather, George Sutton and his son, William, my great, great grandfather moved from Radford in Nottinghamshire, one of the centres of lace making in England soon after 1827 when the lace factory was established. Both worked as lace makers at the factory for many years. George retired some time before 1851 and by 1861 William was a farmer. The factory produced their own patented machine made blonde lace  and was established in such a a 'remote' location as the Isle of Wight so that improvements in their skills and techniques could not be copied by neighbouring manufacturers. Eventually, however, they found it more and more difficult to compete as blonde lace ceased to be fashionable and finally closed on the retirement of the owner in 1877.

The Broadlands Mitts were inspired by the beauty and intricacy of this lace contrasted with the austerity of the lines of the building.

A panel of cables and lace runs up the index finger of each mitt

The rest of the mitt is knitted in an austere ribbing.

The pattern gives two options, a wrist length set shown in the olive green which can be completed with 50g of Cascade Heritage sock yarn available from Wild and Woolly in Clapton, London or an elbow length version which require 75g of Wollemeise Pure sock yarn available from Loop in Islington, London.

The pattern also features an asymmetric thumb gusset which is reversed on each mitt to ensure that the lace panel is as smooth and uninterrupted as possible.

The pattern for these mitts will be launched on our stand, Nic and Jane at Fibre East this weekend and will be available as a download from Ravelry next week.

I would like to think that my grandfathers would approve of me carrying on a form of the family trade!

Photography by Nic Walker.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Introducing the Bouldnor Mitts

This weekend, the 26th and 27th July is rather a momentous one for me. For the first time, my friend Nic and I will have our own stand at Fibre East, a lovely fibre festival in Bedfordshire where Nic will be selling her beautiful hand dyed yarns and I will be selling my patterns.

I'm delighted to say that I have a new collection of patterns which will be launched in hard copy at Fibre East and will be available online via Ravelry next week. I thought you might like to see a preview of at least some of them.

As you will know, my favourite things to design are fingerless mitts. I love wearing them as they are such a practical item for someone like me who lives in a city and needs something to keep my hands warm when it is chilly but is forever getting on and off buses, in and out of shops and really can't be doing with pulling my gloves off every time I need to reach for my Oyster card or rummage in my handbag.

Despite living in the city, I am still a country girl at heard and most of the inspiration for my work comes from my childhood home on the isle of Wight. The first pair of mitts I wanted to show you are no exception.

 I am pleased to introduce the Bouldnor Mitts. The inspiration for these heavily cabled mitts comes from a small, rather inaccessible and rocky beach on the north west coast of the Isle of Wight. On the surface it doesn't have a lot to offer as once you have scrambled down the overgrown footpath to reach it there is only a small patch of shingly sand and blue slipper clay, perfect for getting on you shoes and annoying your mother with.

As you explore further you discover that there are rocky ledges and long fronds of seaweed making the footing quite treacherous so after much slipping around and gasping and giggling everyone is pretty much wet through. It is these fronds of seaweed that inspire these mitts.

Although the charms of this beach may not be obvious it has hidden secrets which it doesn't give up easily. We always used to visit with our Uncle Bern and Aunty Gert who knew every inch of the land and shore. They would bring with them huge prawning nets (and a small one especially for us kids) which we would push through the seaweed and sand and if we were lucky would catch ourselves enough prawns for a beach barbecue.

There is nothing quite like sitting around a fire, wrapped in towels after hours spend splashing around pushing heavy nets through the water, peeling fresh prawns and watching the sun go down over the sea from a beach where you are the only people there. On an island crowded with holiday makers this was a rare and special secret place.

When I look at these mitts I think of the way the fronds of seaweed wrapped around each other and how jealously they guarded our harvest. It is, however, a simple cable pattern knit in fingering weight yarn, in this instance Quince and Co Tern, a wool and silk blend in the appropriately names shade Kelp.

I hope to see some of you at Fibre East. Nic and I will be in Cotswold Tent. Do come over and try on these mitts and imagine yourself sitting on a rock, looking out to sea from a small deserted beach.

Thanks to Nic for the great photos.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Sound and memory

Yesterday I had a brief Twitter conversation with a couple of friends about how one person might find a particular sound sinister and unsettling whilst another might find it soothing and reassuring. This resonates with the images and memories that a certain sound, possibly heard many years ago, might evoke.

The sound in question was the tinkling of wind chimes. For some it is eerie and reminiscent of horror and suspense movies. I blame John Carpenter for this. Other people find any regular sound that they are not in control of disturbing. I love the sound as it holds warm and happy memories for me. Our family had a set of Japanese glass wind chimes which were too delicate to be used every day so they were carefully packed away and brought out every Christmas along with the more traditional ornaments. I remember being allowed to gently pull the string and listen to the soft tinkling sound the chimes made as they touched each other. Inevitably, even with this careful use, one by one the chimes broke until it was no longer repairable.

My sister and I often spoke nostalgically of these chimes. None of the modern ones sounded  or looked 'right' to us. One day, however I struck Ebay gold...

Two very unprepossessing cardboard boxes arrived in the post.

The packaging gives a clue to the vintage of their contents. We think they must date from the 1950's or early 1960's.

Inside, instead of today's ubiquitous bubble wrap is a nest of the finest wood shavings to protect the delicate contents.

Slowly and gently, the chimes start to emerge from the tangled strands and the wind chime starts to take shape.

The glass chimes are all hand painted in very simple, but obviously Japanese strokes of colour. Some are long and thin and made of clear glass.

Others are diamond shaped. They are joined to the frame by the most flimsy of red strings, secured to the glass by small circles of gold paper.

Whilst the painting style is consistent, the shards of glass are cut from a range of clear and textured glasses making me wonder whether these were the offcuts from domestic glazing re purposed into something beautiful.

The whole thing is suspended from a network of red strings attached to two fine circles of tin, all knotted at the top to secure them with a small grey tag hanging down which can be gently pulled to hear the chimes.

It was so lucky that I was able to find two of these so I gave the other to my sister as a way of evoking happy memories of gathering together at Christmas as a family. As I write this I listen to the news and can't help but think about those people who set off on journeys and will now never return home and also of those whose homes are no longer safe places.

While I prepare for Fibre East I am reminded that no matter how busy I am I will make time to visit the P-Hop stand. Never has the work of Doctors Without Borders been more important.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Sheep in the City

As regular readers may know, my friend Nic and I have been working with Stepney City Farm over the last year. We run a knitting group there every Thursday lunchtime, have organised a Fleecy Fun Day and participated in their recent craft fair and are very much known as 'their knitters!'

As with most City Farms, Stepney is run as a working farm with the purpose of offering an educational and community development resource to local people. Amongst their livestock are four Jacob sheep, Tallulah, Trixie, Rosemary and one other whose name I am afraid I have forgotten.  

Jacob sheep are a rare breed with coloured fleeces which whilst not the softest in the world are still popular with hand spinners. This year two of the farm workers were trained in sheep shearing and we were asked to process their fleeces and to use them to demonstrate how the wool on a sheep's back can be put to use.

The first task was to wash, or scour the fleece which in its natural state is full of lanolin, dust and vegetable matter. As you can see, no specialist equipment is required, simply hot water, liquid soap, a clean cat litter tray and an old colander. Feline supervision is optional.

Once washed and dried an old pillow case makes a handy storage bag for the fleece.

The next part of the process is to  select some nice long locks from the fleece. Despite being first timers, our novice shearers did a really good job with plenty of usable fibre to be had. You might have noticed that in the photograph the sheep looks light  brown and white. You can see from this photo how the tips of the fleece have been sun bleached and that underneath it is a dark, rich brown.

Once the locks are selected they need to be carded to open them up ready for spinning.

This turns them into a fluffy cloud of fibre known as a rolag.

Now comes the spinning of the fibre. One of the wonderful things about Stepney City Farm is that they have a Rural Arts Centre with studios for craftspeople in residence. One of these Barn the Spoon, is an expert green wood carver who, whilst he specialised in spoon carving surprised and delighted us with this lovely drop spindle.

The wood for this spindle was harvested locally in Cemetery Park and carved using the simplest of hand tools.

I particularly like how you can see every stroke of the knife as it was cut into shape but at the same time is perfectly smooth and fit for its intended purpose.

It spins well and smoothly and fits in with the way that we have processed the fleece, slowly, carefully and with the minimum of fancy equipment until there is enough for a tea cosy for a teapot which Jess Joslin, the resident potter has promised to make to add some style to lunchtimes for the volunteers.

I will, of course, keep you posted and show your the teapot and its cosy when we have made it. I have absolutely loved being part of this process, collaborating with the other craftspeople on the farm to create something that represents the combined efforts of the team who care for the sheep, the shearers, the woodcarver  the potter and the fibre artists.

I'm sure the tea will taste extra good.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Taking the plunge

I am often astonished when I look down the sidebar of the blog to see that in the first few years of recording my knitting activity how much I used to finish. Nowadays I am lucky enough to earn my living as a professional knitter which strangely enough seems to leave me a lot less time for knitting - how did that happen?

Whilst I still absolutely love knitting socks, my output has certainly slowed from the memorable year that I attempted the 52 Pair Plunge, an online knitting challenge organised through Ravelry,  and managed a reasonably creditable 29 pairs.  With this in mind, and having examined the still alarming number of socks in progress I have in my knitting basket I have decided to join the much more modest 26 Pair Plunge and see if I can move them on to my sock drawer. The rules of the challenge are that socks need to be finished between July1st 2014 and June 30th 2015 but it doesn't matter when they were cast on so it is perfect for motivating me to do some finishing.

So, I a very pleased to report that I am able to present my first finished pair for this year,  Dawlish Socks from Coopknits Socks by Rachel Coopey knit in Clan, a much loved but sadly discontinued yarn by The Yarn Yard. I love Rachel's designs and when I cast these socks on last September entertained the notion of working my way through the book using my precious stash of Clan which, lovely as it is, being a discontinued yarn can't really be used for my own designs. I'm very tempted to raid the stash for  casting on the next pair but I really should finish some works in progress first.

I'm really pleased with the way the socks have turned out although having such a long hiatus between starting and finishing meant that I found it hard to regain the rhythm of the pattern and did about as much ripping out as I did knitting on the second sock. The pattern is perfectly well written - it was just me repeatedly losing the plot by thinking I remembered what was going on rather than referring back to the pattern!

One of the reasons that the yarn is a great favourite of mine is that the multiple plies make a dense, smooth yarn that gives excellent stitch definition. It is on the heavy end of the sock yarn spectrum which makes for a very dense, warm fabric.

I love the regular but asymmetric design of these socks. I must confess that they are designed to be a mirrored pair but I chose to make them identical as making sure I have them on the correct foot first thing in the morning would be a step too far for me at such an early hour.

Right, off to rummage in the knitting basket for lonely single socks.