As of March 2012, this blog has moved to a new home on the web:
It's still a bit of a work in progress, but please come on over and take a look!
Friday, February 10, 2012
Picture above copyright Knit Now Magazine
We like to boogie...here it is then, design number two for February: Jitterbug Boogie. The pattern appears in this month's issue of
Knit Now, having been chosen for the 'Designer Challenge' feature using Araucania Botany Lace.
Inspiration comes from all sorts of places and this one's heritage was a proper mish-mash. It started with some Colinette Jitterbug that I had in my stash. Now I love the idea of sock yarn- with all those gorgeous colours, that section of a yarn shop is always like the sweetie counter- but I just can't get on with knitting larger things in that weight and have chronic 'second sock syndrome' which means I've never really got on with them. In part because of this situation, I was quite attracted to the viral knitting phenomenon of
The Beekeepers Quilt, presenting as it does a chance to use up pretty lighter weight yarn. Beekeeping introduced me to knitting tubes that are joined at either end (by using Judy's Magic Cast On or similar) and then a slightly random Twitter conversation about dyeing hair pink got me thinking about cartoony, rockabilly hair and the possibilities of knitting around a hairband...and Jitterbug Boogie was born.
A small amount of sock yarn, along with a store-bought hairband and some stuffing means you can knock out a hairband in an evening, and once I'd made one, I wanted to try a larger-bow version. This time I tried a different yarn: Rowan Kidsilk Haze held double, which, with its fuzzy halo gave even more of a retro effect. I think you could have a lot of fun messing with the basic concept like this- use different yarns, add buttons or bits of netting to go for more of a cocktail hat effect or do full on matching by choosing a colour that's the same as your shoes, bag or gloves.
UPDATE 17th February: Okay people, seems between my dubious web abilities and the limitations of this format, my first giveaway was a bit of a non-starter. I'll run it again another time if I can sort out the technical problems.
Thursday, February 9, 2012
Introducing my new mitten pattern- Treacle Toffee. Of the two designs I have out this month this one is a bit special. By this I'm not being self-congratulatory about the idea- they're relatively simple mittens in toddler, child and medium adult size with a thumb gusset and a stitch pattern found on a vintage pattern leaflet. It's not even because the Maya DK from Eden Cottage Yarns I used for these samples was heavenly. No, the reason they're special is down to what they're part of.
We're incredibly fortunate in that we have two lovely young children who've so far rarely given us cause to worry, healthwise. However, we are ever aware of how lucky we are in this, knowing as we do parents whose children have been suddenly and seriously ill, or whose problems have meant their little lives so far have seen far too much of hospital wards.
Roald Dahl's Marvellous Children's Charity raises money to help individuals and organisations that care for very sick children, aiming to provide quality of life no matter how ill they are. Definitely a pretty marvellous idea, which is why it's great that Knit Now has begun a campaign to raise money for the charity by asking designers to donate mitten patterns which are then published and sold for a minimum donation.
Treacle Toffee is the second design to be released as part of the Knit Now Marvellous Mittens campaign. The first was Patricia Clift Martin's beautiful Flapjack Mitts, which is still available, along with my pattern, by donating at JustGiving.com. It's worth knowing that if you buy the pattern you have the right not only to make them for yourself or as a gift, but you can also make them to sell for charity- either this one or another of your choice. Warm fingers and a warm glow of doing good, what more could you ask in the cold of February?
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Not for a moment would I complain about the huge good fortune that has meant me spending most of the last few months designing, knitting and writing up patterns for my own designs. As I've said here before, it's a very exciting new aspect to my knitterly life. However, now that things are just a bit quieter on that front, it's been wonderful to have a go at knitting someone else's patterns for a change.
The someone else is the humblingly fantastic Kate Davies, who inspires not only with her designs and her writing, but her whole approach to life and the particular challenges it throws at her.
One of her recent designs is Sheep Heid, a fairisle Tam which uses 9 natural sheep shades of Shetland wool to depict...sheep! It's not my first time doing fairisle as you can see, but it is my first time using proper Shetland yarn and I'm also using the opportunity to teach myself to hold one colour in each hand and 'pick' as well as 'throw' the yarn doing colour work. Considering how much colourwork I've done on other projects, it's about blooming time I did this.I've already found that I can get a decent speed up doing it, not to mention the time saved with not having to stop and unravel every row or two.
It's certainly a different feeling, having to follow a pattern rather than worry about whether I'm writing up instructions properly. This, in addition to not having a fixed time when I need it finished, has made the project quite a relaxed one so far. However, it's not been plain sailing. My initial crazy enthusiasm to get going, coupled with a fair few sessions when I should have realised I was too tired to attempt chart following, has meant rather a lot of ripping back. A couple of times the mistakes were so small that I could maybe have left them...but I knew I couldn't live with them so back I went. I guess having knit almost twice as many rounds as I've kept has all been good practise for my colourwork tensioning and that yarn-in-each-hand method. I'm actually a little further on than this picture shows, but haven't had either the time or the light to get any more recent ones. For those who know this pattern, I'm halfway up the ewes!
Friday, February 3, 2012
After the flurry of activity to meet my end of January deadlines, it's been pleasing to have a bit of a change of knitting pace. I've been able to make a start on knitting something from someone else's pattern for a change- more on that another day- and get swatches done for summer edition submissions.
I find the concept of summer knits tricky- for me it's a bit like when you try to cook vegetarian food by finding meat 'substitutes' instead of concentrating on what is intrinsically valuable in the ingredients you are using. To me, knitting is about wool and warmth and winter, even if I knit all year round. But whatever I might think, magazines keep coming out and other people who keep knitting in the summer months don't all want to stick to stocking up on woolies for the upcoming winter. I've therefore been embracing the possibilities of cotton and bamboo.
Okay, so I've been mostly embracing cotton and bamboo. The acorn motif swatch shown is, admittedly, wool. There's a legitimate reason for this, which will become apparent if one way or another the pattern comes to fruition. The seashore colour mix yarn, however, is Patons Mirage DK, a cotton/bamboo blend, while the bright colours at the top are Patons 100% Cotton DK. Now I'm not much of a fan of knitting with cotton, as I often find it stiff and/or splitty, but I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised by knitting these swatches, as I've enjoyed working with the yarns much more than I expected.
I've also, thankfully, found myself falling in love with the designs I'm working on for my proposals. It must be something to do with their being all about being outdoors enjoying the warm weather, while at the moment outdoors is a bit less hospitable. This falling in love is fortunate, as in my limited experience of successful submissions, it seems to be a vital element for success. It's as if a lack of commitment and joy in a design somehow shows through in the sketches and swatches, in the same way someone desperate to be in a relationship is somehow very unattractive.
Sketching, scanning and putting together of proposals is on the list for this weekend, then it's out of my hands- which by then will be on to other things...
Monday, January 30, 2012
Today I lost a mitten. Not just any mitten, though. These were the
Ysolda Snapdragon mittens that very nearly defeated me. Several years ago, when I began them, I found the combination of knitting in the round and cabling so fiendish that after several attempts with the chart, then the written instructions, then both at the same time, I was ready to give up. In the end I struggled on and then, a year later (!) had the mental strength to struggle through the second one.
This morning I must have dropped one after I scraped the ice off the windscreen. I had that funny 'something's wrong' niggling, but was in too much of a hurry to stop and look if I'd dropped anything, so I didn't realise until I was at work. Turned out that the niggle was right. Boo!
Thankfully I didn't have enough time to grieve the loss of my handiwork before I was back at home and found the missing Snapdragon draped over the fence. You'll have seen these sad but hopeful little tributes to good citizenship before I'm sure, but in this case lost item and owner were reunited.
All's well that ends well and all that. But this, along with a conversation about C's need for new socks the other day has got me thinking about how our relationship with handmade items must have altered over the years.
When C was talking about needing new socks, I reflected that there must have been a time when, if you weren't in the income bracket that allowed you to buy socks knitted by someone else, the mother in a family (and quite possibly anyone else who could handle needles) would have had to have been knitting socks more or less constantly to keep a family's feet warm. Either that or making other garments, or mending them. With fewer clothes per person, and with time and labour needed to replace or repair them, people must have known their clothes better and forced to value and care for them more than we do.
That said, while our age is one of 'throwaway fashion', where dubious ethics in manufacturing and cheap synthetic fabrics allow us to spin through the buy/wear/bin cycle with alarming speed, handmade has retained or perhaps regained its value. With ideas of hippies crocheting waistcoats out of hemp or grannies knitting hideous acrylic Christmas jumpers now recognised by many as outdated and inaccurate ways to view handcraft, the quality, integrity and individuality of items made by hand is now valued by a growing number of people.
Time is an increasingly precious and rare resource in this world, so the time that's taken to make something by hand is part of what gives it this value. In addition, where once skills such as knitting, sewing, darning and so on would have been as normal for someone looking after a family as being able to switch on a washing machine is now, these days they are a rarer trick and that rarity gives more value.
While we may have lost a more widespread knowledge of these handcrafts, it appears to me that increasingly we are finding (or re-finding) our appreciation of them. Hurrah!
Friday, January 20, 2012
There comes a point, maybe when you see your name in a magazine you've been able to buy in your local supermarket. Maybe when you get your first cheque through for a published pattern. Maybe when you find yourself being told to 'drop an email' to someone for yarn support, someone whose enough of a knitting 'name' that you bought a stitch dictionary edited by them the previous week. Anyway, at some point you realise that the game has changed.
Anyone who does anything creative daydreams about making it their living- digging the escape tunnel from the daily grind so that one day they can drop through the trapdoor and exist in a world with fewer alarm clocks and pairs of work trousers and more cups of tea and beautiful views from that studio you'll need, of course. Depending on who you are and what you do, these might range from out and out fantasy to hard and fast plans. It's funny though, despite my love of knitting, I'd never thought I'd ever make anything from designing- owning a yarn shop was my favourite daydream, as even in the realm of make-believe I was too aware of not having the design background I felt sure was needed for writing patterns.
I imagine I'm among quite a number of newbie designers who have Ravelry to thank for getting them to venture, or in my case, pretty much stumble, into the world of pattern writing. The chance to post your pattern for free or for sale is a lot less daunting than the prospect of sending off a proposal to a magazine, all the while imagining them howling with laughter at your rank amateurism. Of course, toe dipped, and even with the sort of mediocre response my ideas got, confidence grows, a new magazine's call for submissions caught my eye, what I assumed would be a one off turned into a series of commission and suddenly I was looking at my hobby in a whole new way.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not preparing to give up my day job, especially since it took a year of tears and struggle to get one. At this moment, I'm quite happy if I've found a way to pay for my yarn habit, not to mention the fact that it's added a whole new dimension to my relationship with knitting.
It's a relationship that keeps me on my toes of course. There's the sinking feeling and subsequent sorting out if you discover an error, or worse still have it pointed out by a knitter keen to get on with making your design. There's the self-doubt about whether you've got any ideas, or whether any of your ideas are good enough, when you look at the latest moodboards of a call for submissions. There's the waiting for a response when the deadline passes. There's the pressure to get a sample and pattern complete when you're up against a deadline (or in my case this month, four samples and patterns, which is why this space has been neglected lately).
But for all that, you'll hear absolutely no complaints from me about this new phase in my knitting life. The buzz of getting a 'yes' via email? Fantastic. Justifiably saying 'I have to knit?'That's hardly a chore. Getting gorgeous yarn sent to me for free? Wonderful- I've been up to my ears in projects for the last four months and hardly bought any yarn at all. The deep satisfaction of the journey from idea to submission to making and writing? Love it. The thrill of seeing my name in print and getting nice comments about my design on Ravelry? Yes please! Getting money I can justifiably spend on knitterly things? Well, it's no bad thing really, is it?
Progress is definitely being made in my knitting life at the moment. Thankfully, that includes progress on those projects with a deadline, but also in other ventures, all of which I hope to share news of very soon. Knit on, my friends!
Saturday, January 7, 2012
Wool. If it's good enough to keep sheep warm in the fells, then it should be good enough to keep me and mine warm up there too, right? On a recent quest to find enough daylight to take reasonable photographs of projects and blow the holiday cobwebs away, we found ourselves in a favourite spot- Blea Tarn, on the Wrynose Pass near the Langdales. The wind was blowing a hoolie, as it has been on and off for what seems like weeks now, and up there it was strong enough to knock a certain small boy off his feet- luckily he found it hilarious.
We had a blustery, slightly shortened walk and managed to get a few nice shots and I also took the opportunity to test out Kate Davies' exhortations to wear wool as an alternative to the usual synthetic fleeces to keep the chill out here. Her daily walks take place in Scotland, for goodness sake, so if she maintains that woollen layers are an effective way to keep warm then I believe her.
You don't just have to listen to one of my admittedly favourite designers though. A project a few years ago proved that the clothing worn by early Everest explorers, which had a strong wool element, was in many ways as effective as the 'smart' fabrics of today. You can read more here. The rising popularity among outdoor clothing companies of merino for base layers also demonstrates the recognition that nature is pretty good at creating her own 'smart' materials.
So, on a normal walking day you might have found me wearing a handknit hat, scarf and gloves at most. This time I added a pair handknit wool socks over my normal socks, a merino base layer with a cotton long sleeve t-shirt and a handknit sleeveless vest over that (my 1st-prize-at-Great-Eccleston-Show-winning Fyne Vest to be precise!), knitted wool mittens and a wool beret. Everything else was synthetic fabrics, which probably put me at about 50/50 wool to synthetics.
Without any fleece involved, it felt a lot less bulky than normal. As I didn't exert myself very much I can't comment on the breathability, but I didn't feel the need to strip off so many layers when we retired to a cafe in Ambleside for cake afterwards. As for being warm, well, the wind blew fierce and the wind blew wild, but I was just fine, and I'm a cold bones sort.
It's made me realise that despite all the knitting I do, I don't actually have that many woolly things I can wear for this sort of thing. Whether through knitting or shopping, it's something I intend to rectify this year.