Friday, 28 January 2011

Fishy tails

Ii is very exciting to know that my blog is not only read by people interested in all things knitty but also by people who just like to read stuff.  Of course I treasure each lovely comment made by knitting people and non-knitting people alike and perhaps I shouldn't be surprised as my intention was always to ramble on about my love of the craft and all things connected (thus cardigans for elderly teddy bears).  It is just that although I certainly did not intend this blog to be particularly instructional - I couldn't possibly lecture you, dear readers, on correct technique for this and that stitch or exhibit photographs of perfectly executed pieces of woolly work - but I did think most of you would be knitters. 

So bearing in mind that some of you reading may not know what the fishy thing above is, a quick paragraph of explanation.  Knitters may at this stage scroll down to the next picture.  The little green object with a leafy tail is a stitch marker.  When needing to mark a particular position on a row, say 40 stitches in, you count carefully as you knit and slip the ring over the needle at 40 and keep knitting.  This saves having to count stitches on every row (or round if knitting socks or something else in the round).  The markers need a bit of weight in it to hang down out of the way otherwise, very annoyingly, they just get in the way.

There are lots of commercially available stitch markers but a lot are plastic.  Part of the delight of knitting for me is sensual, using wool that feels and is luxurious, cashmere, alpaca or good quality merino so I don't really want stitch markers to spoil the joy.  There are beautiful silver and glass bead markers available but they are very expensive.  So this week I paid a visit to Beadworks in Covent Garden and bought glass beads, loops and wires to make my own.    

Actually to be totally truthful I was hoping DD2 (graduate in jewelry design and now an art teacher) would make them for me, but she failed to swing by my house in response to what I thought was an enticing comment posted by me on her face book wall.  So my impatience got the better of me and sent me off to her work bench in the garage in search of the special pliers

I made eight in all, in four different colours so that I can use them in matching pairs.  When I posted this photograph last night on Blipfoto there were several fishy related comments and some compliments.

But the real proof is in whether they actually work!  Here is my first ever sock.

Real sock experts (and I know there are many of you out there) will spot that I have already turned the heel of this sock and really don't need stitch markers any more as I motor on down to the toe but I just had to try the little fishes out for one round.  And I am proud to say they do work (with a little more tweaking to make sure there are no parts of the ring or wires that would catch on the yarn).

Happy weekend,


Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Family treasures

More than 30 years ago the announcement that JTH and I were going to have our first baby sent both expectant grans into a knitting frenzy.  My mother (granny) to knitting practical, easily washable, matinee jackets (does anyone these days know what one of these things are??) and my mother-in-law (grandma) to make one of her specialty shetland ring shawls.  MIL had been making these for friends' daughters for years, at last one to knit for her own grandchild.

No 1 child duly arrived (a bit late setting the pattern for a lifetime) on 13th March 1981 and, like her sister and two brothers that followed, was wrapped cosily in grandma's shawl for the first four months of her life.  The shawl was not easy care but ,when you treasure something that has been so lovingly knitted and that has swaddled your darling babies from their first days, the care an attention of hand washing and drying flat on the spare bed with all its pointy bits pinned out straight, it is a labour of love.  Following MIL's instructions, when it was no longer needed I washed it and wrapped it in black acid free tissue, storing it carefully in a moth proof bag.

It is possible to see from this close up that the yarn (ultra cobweb from Jamiesons ) has felted a little but the shawl is in very good heart and can still show off a little.

About five years ago, MIL handed me two tissue paper wrapped parcels.  A pair of identical white shawls knitted in 'her' pattern for my two daughters.  She said she didn't think she would live to see the girls have babies but she wanted them to have shawls.  At the time babies seemed a pretty distant prospect for either girl so I kept the shawls secretly with my own treasure.  Sadly MIL was right she did not live very long after she made the shawls.  But in June 2009 a beautiful baby girl arrived in our family and her proud mummy (no1 daughter) and daddy carried her out of hospital (this time in a car safety seat - no more moses baskets on the back seat of the car) wrapped in the shawl knitted by great grandma.  The second shawl is waiting...

In an earlier post I mentioned being custodian of much of MIL's work basket, it was there that I found the pattern.

It is a bit too early to think of knitting for my great-grandchildren and for the time being the grandchildren are well provided for by the kindness of MIL.  So I thought I would see what a shawl would look like knitted in grown-up colours using a different kind of yarn all together, Rowan kidsilk.  It's quite fiddly to begin with knitting with such light, fine, fluffy yarn on relatively large needles (4mm) but once there is a little weight on the needles the centre panel knits up quite quickly.

Its amazing how quickly one learns a lace pattern like this, the first two or so rows I needed to keep my eyes glued to the needles AND the pattern!  But I surprised myself by learning the different stitches, even recognising what I should knit by looking at the row below (except I confess at night when the darkest section was a bit tricky!)

I admit that when worn over my shoulders on a winter's evening, knitting in a drafty corner of our sitting room, I really do look a bit of a granny!  But tied carefully around my neck its a different thing altogether.  And one chilly summer's evening in the garden last year when my granddaughter fell asleep on my lap it kept us both warm.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Book review: Made at Home by Lisa Stickley

The lovely people at Quadrille Publishing sent me Lisa Stickley's gorgeous new book to review.  From first sight it's a delight.  The instructions and cutting layouts are quirkily hand drawn in charcoal and white with occasional splashes of red and yellow. The beautiful colour photographs follow this simple colour palette too, misty, atmospheric shots that make you long to stitch up every project and create the same perfect shabby-chic home.

If you own this book the section on basics (equipment and techniques)  is all you will ever need to make some lovely hand made treasures.  I decided the only way to test the book properly was to make up one of the projects.  But which one?  Cushions, place mats, napkins or an apron? Hard to choose, but I decided to be prettily practical and begin with the suit carrier. Delving into my stash I came up with remnants from my kitchen/breakfast room curtains (the fabric might look a bit fancy for a kitchen but I was going through my theatrical period when I made them)!

When I sew I tend to use patterns and project books for the ideas and cutting layouts and then launch off on a frolic of my own when it comes to construction.  When making the suit carrier I decided to follow the directions to the letter, trying to put myself in the position of someone who had never sewn before.  The instructions are very simple, set out clearly and prettily on the page (I like the tiny irons and scissors that dot the page and love the hand drawn-ness of the diagrams). 

If I were being very picky I would say a couple of the instructions are a tiny bit confusing.  For instance in explaining how to apply the binding Lisa says to stitch it 'all the way round the first front half' then 'repeat this on the corresponding straight edge of the second half'  But I think this shouldn't be too much of a bear trap for a beginner, cross checking to the illustration it was clear that the binding is applied to the straight sides only of both halves of the front . 

I have made clothes, all my curtains and the odd cushion but not something like this.  And despite a more or less efficient system of storing out of season clothes in the wardrobe in the spare room, I have always relied on flimsy dry cleaners' bags.  Now I've finished my first Lisa Stickley project I am bowled over by its loveliness, after a rummage in my stash box I have found enough fabric for three more!

Oh and the fabric Lisa uses!  Almost all of it looks like good cotton with the same screen printed design, keeping to the charcoal, yellow and red colour scheme.  I wonder where I can buy some?!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

In search of perfect colours

It took me ages to find the right colour combination of yarns to make my new mittens.  I loved the colours given for the mittens in the Rowan knitting and crochet magazine no 48 but wanted mine to match my purple coat and my cream, grey and ginger checked jacket (the jacket is the tricky one).  So I spent an indulgently long time in front of the wonderful shelves of Rowan colours in John Lewis picking up this colour and that.  The lovely assistants put down their knitting and joined in my oohs and aahs.  Don't you just love it when shop assistants get as enthusiastic about what you are making as you are yourself?  I spent quite a long time choosing, and for such small project!  This is what I bought.

As I laid out my hoard to photograph with the pattern and jacket I realised - I had forgotten the ginger!  Speedily rectified by a quick trip to my local wool shop ;  another wonderful place, more a community of knitters really and housed in the garage of someones home, (the shop deserves a blogpost all of its own) I rushed to cast on.

Unfortunately I was so intent on getting the intarsia right (definitely not one of my best skills) I forgot the shaping for the thumb. I could have undone the mitten halfway down but I looked long and hard at the first flower.  It clearly looked more like a squashed satsuma than a rose so I unravelled right back to the beginning.

rather a sorry sight...

 At the second attempt my knitting improved (somewhat) 

But I still relied on blocking to get the rose design properly even.

I'm very pleased with my extra long pins with heart shaped heads (little things...) they are ideal for this work. I'm less pleased with how the yarn fluffed up despite rinsing ever so carefully in very dilute eucalan (thank you Sarah for telling me about this stuff).  I sorted it out with one of those defuzzing combs but I don't expect this to happen with pure wool. 

If you don't count the unravelling they took me about a week of evenings to knit.

I love wearing them.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Tools of the trade

I love having the right equipment for a job.  When I was at university and exam time approached, before I could begin to revise I had to go to the union shop and stock up on pencils, highlighters, notebooks and post-its (there was probably also a bit of procrastination there)

It is the same with knitting.  I love bamboo needles, tiny scissors for snipping, row markers and sewing up needles for various weights of yarn to name a few.  And I love my needle roll.

It was made by my late father-in-law for my mother-in-law and his hand is all over it, literally in that even when writing numbers his distinctive draftsman's handwriting is easily recognisable.  Also in the material he has used, sturdy, suitable for the job and probably lying close to hand, left over from some other job.  FIL was in charge of what was called the 'special shop' at a furniture company in High Wycombe.  There they made up all the new designs and worked out how they could be made commercially.  FIL was intensely interested in design but it also had to be durable and  functional.  My husband's family were what was called locally a furniture family, FIL had followed his father into the business (JTH only nearly did).

This is a bit of a diversion but I just have to post the next picture here.  About 10 years ago in a clutch of postcards of High Wycombe furniture workshops in the 1920s and 1930s FIL was thrilled to spot his father, the manager of Ercol's upholstery section on one of the cards, here he is.

But back to my tools and another piece of furniture history.  Our old dining room table is a brilliant sewing table, long enough to cut out curtains and so old and scuffed that a few more scratches from scissors and pins make no difference.  I began life as a temporary board room table.

Scarily fires were a pretty common occurrence in furniture factories and one day fire damaged the factory where FIL worked to such an extent that there was not even a table left for the directors to sit at to decide what to do next.  It would be the job of FIL's team to make a new table; but as a stop gap he contacted a shop on the high street and bought the longest table they had in stock. When it was replaced it became someones desk then was pushed into the corner of a store room until JTH and I got married and we bought it together with a some other bits and pieces from the 'company store'.

Recently, when I needed something to keep all my small knitting tools I thought about the needle roll.  I needed varying sized pockets for all these little treasures (because when you have a stitch holder just the right size or a tape measure just when you need it ordinary things do become treasures)

So using two Cath Kidson prints and left over yarn from my stash I cut out lots of different sized squares and rectangles.  The yarn was used to knit a patch for the making up needles.

I love the relaxing process of hand finishing.

And so it sits on a side table, with glasses to hand, beside where I sit and knit

Friday, 7 January 2011

Winter knitting project

My sister-in-law has a fine collection of knitting and craft books.  Last winter JTH and I were enjoying lovely walks through bare woods and over frozen fields with my brother and his wife followed by cosy suppers and good wine at their home.  Thrown casually over a kitchen chair was a beautiful hand knitted afghan.  So it was time to fossick around on SIL's book shelves.

The pattern came from blankets and throws to knit by Debbie Abrahams, a much more exciting book (well for knitters) than the title would suggest.  As soon as I got home  I jumped on to Amazon.  The only reason I did not begin knitting right away was that I couldn't decide on which project to begin first.

I needed a pattern suitable for my mother-in-law's stash.  Her stash is not very large, she had always been quite a frugal knitter, using up odds and ends in fair isle jumpers and hats.  But when I inherited the ottoman that contained all her crafty things I was quite excited to find a number of little balls of wool that reminded me of things she had made for my children when they were small.  So an afghan of memory squares seemed the ideal project.  I chose this one.

The pattern calls for Rowan wool cotton but I used mostly pure wool from (probably) a variety of manufacturers, using similar colours to the original design.  Gradually the pile of completed squares grew. 

I sorted the squares into piles and then into order for the great sew up.  Perhaps I should have blocked the squares but I was a little impatient to see what the finished blanket would look like.

I loved the border knitted in sturdy double moss stitch, it was just right for the style of throw, but the rows were very long.

Despite knitting on the train, in the car (as a passenger!!) and on holiday by the time I finished it was Summer...

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Old Bear

At 5.30 yesterday morning when our granddaughter woke it was far too early to do anything but to gather her into our bed and hope she would go back to sleep.  She had another idea and despite dummy and 'bannet'  she sat up and demanded grandpa's teddy.  I have no resistance at such an early hour and didn't really think about how worn and fragile a 60 year old bear is and it was not till we decided it was time to sit up and read Each Peach Pear Plum that I realised that poor ted's paws were so worn that his stuffing was leaking out with each hug.

So over the last couple of days teddy has been undergoing a makeover.

Firstly he had new soft leather palms and soles of the feet covering up the old cracked oiled cotton

Then JTH and I discussed teddy's eyes.  Should he have new shiny glass eyes like the eyes he had when he was new or just buttons to emphasise that this was conservation not restoration?  JTH, already unsure about my conservation work - was it right to have new paws?  vetoed new eyes and I'm inclined to agree

Bear has never worn clothes.  But GD likes to undress her toys and so I knitted a cardigan and scarf.  It was fun making up the pattern as I knitted. 

One of the things I like to do when I knit  is to have as few sewn seams as possible.  Instead of casting off the fronts and back I grafted the shoulder seams and left the neck stitches on a stitch holder before knitting the three rows garterstitch for the neck band.  I picked up the sleeves at the shoulder, knitting two rows of garter stitch to give the sleeves a hand grafted look and decreased down to the garter stitch cuffs.

After some debate I decided to use odd buttons in roughly the same colour as the little scarf.

He normally sits in safety on my jewelry box on top of my dressing table but for the time being he has been installed on the little apprentice piece chair in the sitting room