Sunday, 29 April 2012

Is there a choice?

Am I a knitter or a crocheter?  I can do both but, if the pages of this blog are anything to go by, knitting must hold the trump card.  Despite loving the actual process of crochet I really do favour the finished results of knitting.  I can't actually see myself wearing a crochet sweater in all its holey laciness, so reminiscent of the pale mini dresses and white PVC boots of the 60s.  Even more, decorative stuff can tend towards the antimacassa school of craft and is not for me

I admit there must be interesting wearable patterns out there that are neither too fancy nor too solid (I shudder to think of a whole panel of DCs or trebles in all its undrapability) but I haven't found them yet.  And there is another problem, while I can follow pretty much any knitting pattern, chart or text (I just need a pen to tick off the rows) I can't work out how to follow a complicated crochet pattern

So is this the nub, doth the lady protest too much?  Is my problem that I don't crochet because I'm just not very good at it? (except simple stuff, I'm disproportionately proud of my greek island blanket). And does it matter anyway?

Does anyone know of a project that will not exactly convert me - after all I'm not sure this is an issue worthy of a heavy weight debate - but enable me to make something to wear that is a thing of beauty?

If so I'll make it, revisit this post and put up some photographs.




Saturday, 28 April 2012

New Tricks

At Christmas one of my dearest friends was surprised when her doctor daughter asked if she might have a sewing machine as her present.  No one in the family sewed, there were writers, musicians, an artist and a bunch of lawyers and, furthermore, the doctor daughter was known for her love of designer clothes (have you seen the doctor played by Eve Best in Nurse Jackie?).  Needless to say I was delighted to help find the right machine for A.  Frankly I don't need that much of an excuse to spend quality time in John Lewis' crafting department.

How could you fail to find the right button?

After Christmas my still slightly nonplussed friend asked her daughter if she would like to go on a course to get herself started.  Perhaps she was thinking of the Tante Marie cooking course her own mother had sent her on at age 18 saying no one would marry her if she did not know how to cook - how wrong can mothers be?  But A did not need a course, as she said, she has YouTube

Not exactly A's project but one of mine assembled and ready to go

This brings me to today's subject in knitting and crochet blog week - Improving your skill set.  I have books and books on technique, I love them, the more lavishly illustrated the better, I have my local wool shop staffed by the most knowledgeable sisters and their elderly mother who have three lifetimes worth of knitting knowledge and I have my knitting group  But I also have YouTube.

my local wool shop - the full picture

Three needle stretchy bind off? - got it.  Toe up two at a time socks? - its there. Magic loop method? - yes that too.  And then there's Cat Bordhis moebius...

Its all in there .

Friday, 27 April 2012


Thursday, 26 April 2012

A woman for all seasons? 3KCBWDAY4

I have to admit that there are times and places when knitting or crochet is just not what I want to do.  There are hot afternoons, lying under the grape vine's shade with distant sounds of cocks crowing and the voices of people calling to each other across the valley just reaching my ears, when knitting a woolly sweater is farthest from my mind.

But even when this sort of activity is in prospect I still pack yarn and some sort of tangling implement in my bag.  But the yarn will be the least woolly I can get and the project small, small enough to fit in my handbag and the 'implement' blunt enough to avoid the eagle eyed security men and scanners at airports.  Thus last summer as I set off for Paxos I took some assorted colours of cotton, a wooden crochet hook, and a tiny pair of nail scissors.

Not that I was going to avow long siestas with a book falling from my hand as I dropped off to sleep.  But I can always find time to do a little bit of something, and not just on the way to the airport!

However, although I pottered about (crochetly speaking) for a week making squares in combinations of all the colours I took with me, when I had a pile of them I was not sure.  The colours not as good together once made up as in a pile of unworked bargain bin skeins.  They were fire and water

Suitable symbols for a Greek island in high summer, perhaps, but the more I looked at the pile of squares the more I thought of only water, the beautiful limpid shallows in shades of green and the deeper water fading from turquoise to navy blue.  So when I got home I put away the fiery squares and bought a lot more shades of blue (and some greys and pinks for pebbles) 

Once I had made enough I began to lay out the squares to get the colour effect I wanted

At this stage I was really not sure whether it would be a master piece or a total muddly mess.  But it came together

And looks rather fine on the beach that was in my mind's eye as I made it



Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Heroes 3KCBWDAY3

How could anyone have just a single hero in such a diverse craft as knitting, practised by so many different types of people?  There are cutting edge knitters, knitters whose interests lie in structure, those who love vintage and those who just love the comfort of knitting and knitted clothes.  My knitting heroes divide into three groups, family, stars and the experts

Family? two people, one who taught and encouraged me to knit,  and one who wrapped me and mine in the warmth of her knitting love.  Beginning with my grandmother, because you have to start with your first teacher don't you? I remember red, some old red yarn and a pair of short red plastic needles with black button ends and Gran repeating 'in, over, off' into my left ear.

Apart from a brief flirtation with Phildar yarns in the middle 70s when, living in France, I did not pick up the pointy sticks again until expecting my first baby, and encouraged by the frenzy of knitting the news pitched my mother in law into, I made a few tiny hats. But MIL did so much more. She made a perfect shetland shawl, every sort of baby clothing (and ne'er a lemon yellow lacy matinee jacket in sight) and she went on to supply jumpers, cardigans, dresses and even a toddlers coat! But it's the shawl that I remember her for, I tell the full story here

I'm sorry there is no photographic evidence of the 'red thing'

Stars?  About the same time as I was knitting baby hats Kaffe Fassett burst on the scene.

All that colour and pattern (and knots and leftovers!) At the same time my mother was learning to spin and experimenting with vegetable dyes. I asked her to spin and dye the yarn for a sweater with an all over design of poppies, cream with two shades of red and two of green. I'm afraid to say neither of us was up to this particular challenge and the half knitted sweater languished in my craft basket for years and eventually got thrown out (much to my regret now)

Lastly the Experts and this brings me to about three years ago. A new interest in knitting and a discovery. There are serious crafts women out there! The Yarn Harlot who writes so wittily and sensitively, Erica Knight who deigns such elegant and contemporary things (that cause squeals of delight when given as presents). Then there is the queen, Elizabeth Zimmerman

What can I say? A woman who can see a garment in rows and stitches. I have just finished my first baby surprise jacket, every stitch, every increase and decrease a marvel. And once done, flip the thing you have made over (it looks like a giant flatfish) and voila! It's a baby jacket. And i-cord (does this really mean idiot cord or did Ez get there before Steve Jobs?) I intend to finish off as many of my future projects with an i-cord.

She writes so well too, sometimes with an acid tongue (perhaps she did mean idiot cord!). She died in 1999 but her books and work live on through the work of The School House Press. Now that's true immortality

'Pass by the synthetic department, then, with your nose in the air’
Elizabeth Zimmermann not sparing her contempt for synthetic yarns in The Knitters Almanac 1972



Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Photography Challenge day - 3KCBWDAY2

Playmobil is The Little Model's current favourite toy when she comes to visit.  She has begun inventing little conversations between the tiny figures and taking them out to play.  Yesterday we set the school out for a knitting lesson

Habu cotton gima , left over from Erica Knight's little notebooks with needles made from tooth picks and tiny beads seemed (nearly) the right scale for the figures.

When TLM had gone home I unpinned the pieces of my vintage cardigan which had been blocking on the spare bed since the weekend.

I have been making this for AGES and yet, despite how near I got to the end and being able to try it on at last, I was falling asleep mid stitch before I had finished the i-cord bind off on the neck band and left the sleeves to sew in another day

But in the morning...

And on a closer look

I found the last button under the sofa.  The silk yarn was a joy to knit and is sooo luxurious to wear.  I am thinking I need a very special skirt to wear with it



Monday, 23 April 2012

my colours 3KCBWDAY1

You may have noticed the panel (at the side of the blog) that I have had up for a few weeks and wondered what I was up to.  Well, knitting and crochet blog week has arrived.  I joined in this bit of fun last year when a total novice blogger and  had a lot of fun, so here I am joining in again and blogging every day for a week

Today it's all about colour.  It was my very talented cousin Sharon Verry who first remarked on my consistent choice of colours for clothes when she gave me this beautiful scarf.

She said - 'I have made it in your colours'.  My colours?  I didn't know I had my own colours, then when I looked at the dark reds, greens and blues I realised they were colours that made me happy and - yes - nearly all my clothes were in some variation of this colour combination

Then thinking about my yarn stash and about this post I realised how much yarn I have in similar shades

There's Noro double knitting

Sock yarn from Opal

Fabulous wool and silk Manos

Yet more Noro (laceweight this time)

Finally this, my first stash purchase, Gedifra, bought three years ago from John Lewis sale and where it all began.  Not where knitting began, I've clattered around on the pointed sticks for years but the beginning of a new way of buying yarn, simply for its self.

And believing that having no idea what to make with a few balls of beautifully coloured yarn is not sufficient reason to resist the purchase.

As I said at the beginning these ARE my colours.



Tuesday, 17 April 2012


I just cannot bring myself to throw the tulips away

In their almost dead, petal dropping state they are still so beautiful.  Like some fading society beauty photographed by Cecil Beaton.

I am the master of procrastination.  At university, despite being a mature student (a 38yo mother of 4 when I began my first year reading law at Cambridge) I very quickly mastered the art.  I know I should have known better but...

Supervision to go to - hours spent in the law library photocopying the cases and articles I needed to read before the 4pm deadline - reason, 'I could not work in the library needing the comfort of my room, coffee and biscuits before I could concentrate'.  

Essay to write, ditto photocopying and a whole packet of cadbury's boaster choc and hazelnut cookies.  

Exam revision- a master class in procrastination 
1. I needed to give the children some mummy time over the Easter holiday 
2. I could not begin to revise until I felt enough anxiety to give me the necessary drive 
3. I have to have a set of spiral edged notebooks (one for each paper), A5 size, a set of highlighter and half a dozen pencils and a pencil sharpener.  
4. day 1 of actual revision, sharpen all the pencils (and repeat as necessary between bouts of doing the actual revision)

Many years on I am unreformed.  At the beginning of the year I resolved not to have so many knitting and sewing projects on the go.  It seems that whenever a shop gives out one of those handy calico bags for life I find a new knitting project to fill it.  If you look at my ravelry page you might think that too-much-stuff-on-the-go is not one of my vices but you would be wrong.  I just don't get around to posting the WIPs.  My resolution was not to work on only one project at a time but to have less and to finish up everything that had been sat in a bag for more than a year.

With that in mind I am working very hard on my vintage cardigan.  I am nearly there, 

but I have recently experienced a return of the Old Trouble.  I bought a Swift and cannot resist playing with it and winding off the odd skein or two

 And then my attention alighted on this

Swiftly Swifted it became this

There are 800 yards of aran weight Araucania, after a search on Ravelry (it is so easy to search under yardage, weight,, style - its Google for knitters) I came up with this which the pattern says can be made in any size from size 8 up to HUGE with 750 - 1,500 yards of aran weight

© Spoked cardigan by Carol Feller
I need to make a medium sized version - very roughly I  would need 1,100 yards for this sweater. I realise I am asking a lot to make a sweater out of my yarn but there is far too much for a cowl and its too chunky for a shawl so I am stamping my feet and shouting I WANT A SWEATER.

So here is a possible solution, I have another 300 yards of a very similar colour in DK weight.  I figure the slight variation in colour will not matter as all the yarn is hand dyed and varies quite considerably (the producer recommends to knit with two balls in alternate rows to blend the colours.  As for weight, I'm thinking I shall knit all the ribbing in the DK, as the main body is knitted side to side and the ribbing added later.  What does anyone think? (and dont worry about telling me to finish the vintage project first - I'm already telling myself that!)

extra DK yarn in the centre



PS My old college is Lucy Cavendish its well worth checking out the website,r even if setting off fo university is farthest from your mind at the moment.  I first read about the college in a women's magazine when a nurse on night duty.  I cut out the article and pinned it to my kitchen notice board.  The cutting was old, yellow, and curly before I took it down and seriously considered completing my education.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Hats off!

I wear hats, sometimes for fun and sometimes for warmth, I wear them on snowy days, sunny days and wedding days.  But there was a time when women would not go out without a hat, particularly mature women like my grandmother.  I just remember her in the 1950s when she was in her late 60s and, true to her upbringing in the early part of the 20th century she thought it was positively improper for women to be seen outdoors without a hat.  Hats (and gloves) were for correct, respectable dressing, not just for fun and vanity.

So when the latest Titanic challenge came along with the description, Mature Ladies hat it made me smile and remember my grandmother... but it also made me frown.

I earmarked some silk dupion from my stash, bought some tape and some buckram, printed off the instructions and considered using a hand printed silk velvet scarf in some way as a trim.  

But I had never made a hat before and this one came with a set of rather confusing instructions and no pattern.  I decided to wait until others on the vpll1912project had made hats and blogged about them.  I have never joined a group sewing project before but this is the big advantage, everyone sews at their own speed and blogs about their successes and problems they have solved which helps the rest of us.  Before plunging my scissors in I read blogs from Liondefleur and Pam

Two basic shapes - a crown, and sides that slope outwards towards the top and at the bottom a band that folds under and tapers to one's head circumference (the tabbed section with notches cut in it).  Essentially one has a stylised toque that stands a little bit away from the head.

To get the crown right I needed a little height.  Steaming the oval of buckram over a saucepan and moulding it on a pudding bowl gave me roughly the right shape

Before fixing the crown to the sides I cut an oval of silk about twice the size of the buckram crown and loosely pleated it over the dome, fixing with small stab-stitches where I wanted the folds to go (I was aiming for a walnut whip sort of arrangement).

Before attaching the silk to the sides I cut a piece of tape to fit my head circumference, folded under all the tabs at the bottom edge (you can see how I cut the tabs on the picture above) and fitted them to the tape. Then I tacked the whole piece into a ring shape by creating a back seam.  

Thus I now had  the hat in two pieces, a crown covered with silk, and the as yet undraped sides sloping outwards towards the top and folded under at the bottom edge.  Inside it funnelled into a diameter to fit my head.

The silk for the rest of the cover was cut twice as deep as the buckram.  Now I know the hat in the sketch looks a little as though it is based on a wonky concertina but I wanted rather more fluid folds.  First I tacked four equal sized pleats at the front, back and the middle of the sides only, still leaving plenty hanging down to turn under as a lining.  Once I had pulled up the pleats I messsed them up a bit and tacked them in place just as it took my fancy - like this...

I then pushed all the spare fabric hanging at the lower edge up inside the hat to form the lining fixing a small crown of silk at the top of the inside to cover over all raw edges.  I reckoned that the extra folds of silk would pad out the inside of the hat and help it to fit snugly.  I made the whole hat by hand, no machine stitching.  There were no time consuming lengthy seams but the main reason was it is easier to tweak the shape as you go to get the drape of the fabric just right.

I mentioned at the beginning that I was going to try and use a velvet scarf as a trim.  But this scarf is made by my very clever cousin Sharon Verry  (she works as part of an artists cooperative in Cornwall called the Guild of Ten ) and I had no intention of destroying it, I needed to find a way to use it in a whole piece.

In the end I didn't, the scarf, it was too bulky, a small scrap of the fabric highlighting one or two of the folds would have been fab but I don't have any small scraps!  So I contented myself with a small corsage of feathers instead.  The hat is quite comfortable, I think to feel totally secure I would need to employ a hat pin or two but other wise I feel rather glamorous in it



VPLL Checklist

  1. Pattern Name Spring Hat for Mature Woman
  2. Sewer’s Skill Level: Advance
  3. Pattern Rating:  I LOVED IT! there was no pattern, I was helped by others who had experimented with the shape and blogged their measurements   
  4. What skill level would someone need to sew this pattern? Intermediate.  The sewing is not really difficult (I did all mine by hand to help create the shape as I sewed) But you need a bit of courage to follow your instinct
  5. Were the instructions easy to follow? The instructions were fairly short, I had to use my own experience, improvise and see what others made of it to pull the whole thing together.  The illustrations were the most help
  6. How was the fit/sizing?  The construction allowed me to get the fit just right (see my comment about using tape above)
  7. Did you make any pattern alterations? There wasn't a pattern exactly but I did make the front lower as other bloggers had advised
  8. Other notes:  It's so glamorous!

PS I am making progress with the tunic  I may have mentioned my big failing as far as knitting is concerned - I have the bad habit of not knitting test pieces.  However, in this case there are several reasons why I simply  must play around with yarn and stitches.  I have no pattern, no idea what some of the colours will look like once knitted up and am not even quite sure what some of the stitches are.  So what I knitted was more in the way of a random sampler than a tension square.

BUT I know what I am going to do now.  I have gauge, colours (I am going for the colour way at the top of the piece) and I have some idea how I will combine crochet with knitting to get the right effect.  I still have to figure out the tassels but I can leave that till most of the tunic is done.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Poiret style

If you are a regular reader of my blog you might have wondered how long it would be before I made a link between the titanic project and knitting.  Well, trawling through my books on vintage knitting I struck gold, a tunic in the style of one of the most favoured designers of the early 20th century Poiret

It's a perfect shape to go with my scallop edge skirt and something I imagine also becoming a favourite item in my 21st century wardrobe.  Perfect too that it is attributed to Poiret (or at least in the style of) as he was at the height of his powers in 1912, having left the couture house of Worth to establish his own house in 1903.

There's no actual pattern for the tunic in the book but I'm going to try and work it out.  It's knitted in a type of rib (row 1: K row 2: P7 K1 rep to the end) the horizontal coloured panels are knitted as you go, the verticals knitted separately and stitched in place (although I might experiment with intarsia here.  There is a row of double crochet eyelets encircling the waist and providing decorative detail near the shoulder.  The cord has crochet bobble and tassel ends and there are bobble fixings closing the  side vents.  A close look at the photographs reveals a yarn with a soft sheen, silk or cotton perhaps.

I don't know whether in 1912 cotton for knitting could be produced with the lovely lustre that we can get today so I guess that it was made in silk.  But in my stash I have some lovely 4 ply Rowan 100% cotton in brown and olive green

So I'll use this.  I also have some other cotton in various colours

After trying every colour combination I decided to use sky blue and mint green.

So it's off to do some serious swatching before embarkation on the main project - watch this space