Tuesday, 27 September 2011

It began so well

It's no2daughter's birthday today, we have a 'sponsored shopping trip' planned for Saturday but I wanted to add a present I had made myself  She has great taste and likes original, quirky stuff, like this felted bag from Gifted by Mags Kandis

An ideal project I thought to use up all the left overs from my rose mittens, easy and speedy to make in three different sized granny squares and learn a new skill (felting) at the same time

Not quite so quick, I had to work fast to get all 66 squares done in time, but crochet is such an easy thing to do on the train.  Then there is the added bonus of conversations that begin with 'What ARE you making?'  Everyone from people who refer to crochet as knitting and vis-a-versa to a lovely musician who chatted about knitting socks and finding yarn shops around the world as she travelled with her viola

So it was finished in time and the sewing up marathon began

How many times have I wished I had the foresight to sew in ends as I go?  So easy with crochet, but I am impatient and want to see the finished effect as soon as possible.  I even go to the lengths of tucking all the unfinished ends in under the work as I lay it out, just so I can stand back to admire.  After an evening of piecing together and half a day of sewing in the tails it is ready for felting.  

Just one more portrait.

Now - I am very experienced in accidental felting.  You may have read my cushion post where I made the best of a bad job. But I have never intentionally felted anything.  The book had plenty of handy hints but no real explanation of the basics.  After the usual sort of research I found instructions, to place the item in a laundry bag and wash at a higher temperature than recommended for wool, adding a pair of jeans to give it a good bashing. No specific temperature was mentioned but as the max temperature for wool is usually 40deg I began at 50deg and chose a pair of old very well faded jeans.

Well, instead of a sturdy chunk of felt in glowing colours the unidentifiable object that exited the washing machine looked like a pile of sheep's entrails.  I washed it hotter, then in the sink with a kettle of boiling water.

It had most definitely not felted, it had not even shrunk, it had stretched! And the colours had run so that the whole lot looked more like the old blanket that had trailed around this summer's festivals with no2son. Most of the yarn was Rowan pure wool DK, one or two tiny sections that were in Rowan cashsoft had felted up as tight as a tick but the rest - disaster!

I can't bring myself to throw it away yet, but what shall I do with it?  I am going on a knitting course in a few weeks and we are invited to bring projects to show and tell - the good and the bad they say, but this one is so embarrassing.

Does anyone else  have disasters like this? Feel like sharing?



Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Intellectuals do not polish their bath taps

The lovely thing about blogging and all the nice people I meet through comments and visiting other blogs is that it's all about shared interests and a love of making things.  But it also means I don't know much about you all apart from just that.

So I don't know how many of you will recognise today's title and how many will be asking yourselves whether or not it has a whole lot more to do with woolly thinking than knitting. But some of you, like me, may have been avid readers of the doughty columnist Katherine Whitehorn in the Observer since your impressionable teens.  And it was she in the late 60s whose analysis of women's bathroom cleaning habits struck a cord with me and many other aspiring 16yr old intellectuals!

I met my good friend the fabulous novelist Elizabeth Speller when we were both Cambridge undergraduates, several years older than most of the other students, a little more than 20 years ago.  Both of us had chosen to train as nurses when we left school (I had even qualified) and  both had spent many years not polishing our bath taps (or in my case polishing and hoping no one would make the connection).  But as we joined the wonderful community of women at Lucy Cavendish College, all delighted in finding a place to study at last, we discovered one (there were many) unexpected liberating fact about education and the self confidence that came with it.  We no longer had to prove our intellectual ability or worry that people would think we were airheads if seen with a copy of Grazia. We joked that we could now be seen with copies of glossy magazines and not just The Times and Middlemarch - we could literally have it all, and love George Elliot and Vogue equally

And so it is with knitting, sewing, crochet of embroidery.  I have always had a talent for it.  I love making things and the wonderful feeling of relaxation as I sit down with a ball of beautiful knitting wool and a pair of needles (particularly alpaca yarn and bamboo needles).  I may have said it before but I can feel tension lift and blood pressure subside as I begin.  Although for several years I was too busy, keeping up with the law (reader I became a solicitor) or reading the whole of the Booker short list, to spend time browsing craft books or knitting patterns, a change has come over my life and with it the content of my book shelves

Although there is some way to go before I need the same space for craft books as I have for novels.

I thought about Katherine Whitehorn  as I read The Hell of Handicrafts in the Observer Magazine on Sunday with it's caption  'I have a degree in astrophysics you know' beside a photograph of the writer Alex Clark icing some cupcakes .    She was not having a poke at we crafty people, she wrote affectionately about her sister in law who could re-line a coat and knit two baby suits in the time it takes to say licketty split, just at her own efforts.  She describes her attempt at knitting a scarf 'soon I'm clicking away', for the first seven or eight rows she has fun then gives up saying 'luckily I already have a scarf, I bought it with money I had earned by going to work instead of staying home and making things'

For me and other people like me, probably Alex's sister-in law too, that is not the point. And most of us know that trying to make money out of what we make is where there be dragons.  How could you cost a pair of tiny baby bootees for sale when they take at least two evenings to kit?  I don't stay at home all the time making things.  I go to work, do thinking stuff, but in the train on my daily commute I knit, or crochet, ( which requires a different sort of thinking stuff) .  On my days off I join friends in a knitting group.  Its all part of the mix.  I no longer feel I have anything to prove, I am a lawyer who knits, enjoys both and loves the surprised look on people's faces when I tell them what I blog about.

One thing I do agree with Ms Clark about is on watching The Killing while reading the subtitles and knitting at the same time.  I admit it is tricky, it is quite possible to knit by the feel of it but there are times when you just have to give your full attention to one or the other.  This is where one's partner comes in very handy - Ms Clark asks hers if he can help with casting on, I prefer to ask JTH to fill in the gaps I have missed whilst looking down to pick up a dropped stitch!



Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Book review Knits to Give by Debbie Bliss

The book arrived from Quadrille Publishing with perfect timing.   I intend to include a small hand made present in each person's stocking at Christmas and this book is full of fabulous ideas.You know how it usually goes? you get a gorgeous new knitting book and you just don't know where to start.  Which project will you knit first?  And when you finally choose, despite owning The Stash Beyond Life Expectancy you never have the right yarn at the right time.

Problem solved with Knits to Give from Debbie Bliss.  Thirty project presents, all of which (so the author says) can be knitted in a week and many require only odd balls from your stash.  As a  lover of Debbie Bliss yarns I have a lot of oddments and some larger batches of her yarn in stock.   But the joy of little projects like this is that you can also use oddments of other yarn as exact sizing and tension is less crucial for a little scarf or a tie.

At first glance I couldn't decide between a fabulous stole

or bracelets

and even bought the yarn to make this shrug for The Little Model.

But I decided to begin with the bracelets and use (I hope Debbie will forgive me) some stash yarn (I'll make the shrug and the stole later).  I'm rather pleased to find a suitable project for my sari yarn.  The moss stitch version shows off the glowing colours to perfection.  I chose cotton left over from Knitting a Name for the other two.

My only problem, cheap bangles (from Primark) do not go over my large hands.  I wonder, has all that knitting and crocheting caused hand enlargement?

No matter DD1 will be delighted with them.

I also carried out a little consumer survey of the book at my Friday knitting group.  We were a little thin on the ground last week but Claire loved the baby blanket (but agreed with me that this project would take more than a week unless you had no children to collect from school, no meals to prepare and no job to go to).

Jenny loved the tea cosy and Cary-Ann the blue rabbit baby bootees and the zebra.

The instructions are all so well set out and easy to follow.  And I know I always go on about beautiful quality paper and cleverly photographed projects but a book can be a thing of beauty in itself, can it not?

Thankfully there is only one cushion.  Once that would have been a serious omission in any book of small craft projects but honestly, enough already! Leave us room on our arm chairs and sofas to sit and on our beds to sleep!  Instead the home section includes (in addition to the teacosy that Jenny covets) a pot of pansies and table mats.  The other sections are For Him, Her, Baby and Kids

Its a scrumptious book and if my only criticism, apart from my knitting speed not being up to knitting the baby blanket (or the stole) in just a week, is that one or two projects use a prodigious amount of yarn (7 balls of aran for a pair of socks)  I still recommend it to you.

You will pour over it if you tend to dream over beautiful photographs and of being the goddess of hand made

You will use it a lot if making your own presents is your thing

And you will love it if you simply seek the joy of making beautiful things in delicious yarns.



Thursday, 8 September 2011

Yarn Shopping at Affinity

I have said it before, I am not to be trusted in yarn shops.  The colours call to me, the textures tempt me and the assistants...? well assist me to part with my money. My stash resides in a trunk under my bed, it is filled to the top, I have to sit on it to close the catch and JTH says if I buy any more yarn we will have to put the bed on stilts.  But there is nothing like wandering the shelves and lusting after yet another hank of jewel coloured merino.  The background picture to this blog gives you an idea of the sort of temptation I give in to far too readily.  It is by kind permission of my local wool shop (I thought you might like to see all of it).

But what about on line shopping? Until recently this did not really do it for me.  Sure I have shopped at a few when I knew exactly what yarn I wanted but until recently virtual shopping for yarn did not give me the purr of pleasure I get from my LYS (or John Lewis rapidly expanding department). But things are changing, yarn lovers are entering the fray.

My friend and fellow yarn addict Vandy Massey has recently pulled off a little miracle with her new online yarn shop Affinity Yarns

Her website is elegant and unfussy.  Sooo easy to navigate.  And she delivers the delicious yarns exactly as promised with clear information on delivery times before you buy.  All the information on the yarn (that these days I have to get out my glasses to squint at the ball band when I am in a shop) is clearly set out on each product page. This is what she says about my favourite 'go to' yarn Debbie Bliss Cashmerino

There's plenty to tempt too, including the rainbow selection of yarn from Yarnscape hand dyed by Alison

Yarnscape Dance is our September GiveAway

This is where I want to say something about what is so special about Affinity .  Vandy sells what she loves and she loves hand dyed, hand spun, natural fibers. As well as gorgeous Yarnscape you can browse and buy fabulous yarn by Fiberspates and wonderful Jarol Aran (undyed yarn from specific breeds of sheep)

I think it is very important whenever I recommend anything to you that I try it out properly first.  So last Friday evening I ordered two skeins of lace weight yarn, yarnscapes wintersea and I'm pleased to say it was promptly delivered by our postman on Monday morning

The yarn is beautifully soft and sheeny and its name absolutely perfectly describes its colour.

I used to live close to the Northumbrian coast and gunmetal streaked with blue and cream is exactly the colour of the sea on a sunny, chillingly cold, winter's day.

Vandy had told me that Alison of Yarnscape lives and works not far from her and this meant that Vandy could offer Alison's almost entire colour range on a 3-7 day delivery,  because Vandy can just ring Alison to get the colour in.  If Alison does not have any ready she can dye to order in the week.  Well I happened to leave a comment on Alison's blog to say I had ordered some of her yarn and she emailed back 'Oh it was you was it?  Vandy rang me for another skein'.  So I can say it works! Affinity only offers what Vandy would like to knit with herself and can deliver on time as promised  and when it arrives you will be very happy.