Thursday, 31 March 2011

Day four - Where are they now?

Where are they now? – 2KCBWDAY4
Whatever happened to your __________?
Write about the fate of a past knitting project. Whether it be something that you crocheted or knitted for yourself or to give to another person. An item that lives with you or something which you sent off to charity.
A long time ago now I made my first attempt at socks, a veil is best drawn over that first attempt, so awful were the results of that first pair. Unwearable is probably the kindest term for them. Nonetheless it seems I am not easily deterred and this pair was slowly joined by two further pairs of socks, one a bit big, the next finally just right, as Goldilocks would put it. The stage was set for my first foray into patterned socks.
For these socks I chose some Colinette Jitterbug I had obtained in a yarn swap (or in my case yarn buy) we had held at knitting group, in the eye-wateringly bright colourway of "Mardi Gras" and the pattern Broadripple from How I love those socks, the combination of yarn and pattern is just right, in my opinion at least, the yarn is soft and smooshy underfoot, snuggly and warm to wear and wear them I have. They were for a long time my favourite socks, until my first pair of Monkey socks came along (on that front let's just say there's a reason it's the most popular sock pattern on ravelry). The sight of them peeking out of the "window" in my Mary-Janes never fails to cheer me up and I save them for days when it is especially cold.
My main gripe with the yarn was that they have never ceased bleeding colour when washed, even after two years, only cold water and attempts at fixing the colour with vinegar that made the whole house smell like a chippy. For merino socks knit not at a particularly tight gauge they have worn astonishingly well. Until a week or so ago, when to my horror I noticed a hole in the heel. I was devastated. They yet await mending, which will be a difficult task given how thin the fabric has worn across the whole of the heel. I was aware that they were reaching old age in sock years, which come round considerably faster even than dog years, and had been reserving them for days when I would not be walking in them except around the house, but alas in the end Time's winged chariot has proved too much for them.

I am sadly aware that we may not have that much time left together, we shall have to make the most of it once I have succeeded, with the help of a reprint of a wartime "make do and mend" pamphlet, to darn my beloved socks. They say your first love is always the most special: I shall never forget my Jitterbug Broadripples.

Day three - Tidy mind, tidy stitches

Anyone who knows me very well, certainly my family, would laugh uproariously at the idea of my knitting being organised. Indeed were it not for ravelry my knitting would be in a state of unworkable anarchy. It is bad enough that my yarn is stored all over the place, from individual skeins in among books on the bookshelves, to piles of knitting books in unsteady piles on the floor, taking in bags and boxes of yarn stored all over the place, myriad pieces of paper and a needle roll that has *never* been closed.

I make some attempts to be organised - my projects page on ravelry is organised carefully, because I enjoy organising it and it requires no more physical energy than that of manipulating a mouse and doing a little light typing. Where I fall down is on needing to put things away or find them places to live in the first place. I was never good at it in the first place; now I'm just too tired to have any energy to expend in tidying and sorting. Some attempts have been made: broadly speaking my knitting needles reside either in the top drawer to my right in my desk, in the aforementioned needle roll (kindly made for me by a friend) and double pointed needles (mostly) in a mug. Likewise some of my yarn is organised into clear resealable bags, a few of which are even labelled with what should be in them.

My rough and ready system, if it can be graced with such a term, does work most of the time - I have an idea of where most things are. However, there has been the odd incident, such as selling someone a ball of yarn via destash, then realising I didn't have a *clue* where it was (fear not gentle listener, it was recovered after an exhausting search), which has made me wish I were more organised.

It would be good, if potentially scary, to have all my stash on ravelry, so that I know what I have and so that I can use more of it instead of buying more yarn. I would like the physical storage of the yarn to improve too, such as it all making it into bags and once catalogued finding a place in my big cupboard. It would be fairly pointless to wish that the books could get their own places to live, I suspect that my books:bookshelf ratio is never going to be quite balanced: I'm just one of those people.

Another problem I face is that my living arrangements are far from ideal; my belongings have to try to squeeze into one room, which by your mid-20s can be tricky. This room is not endowed with very good storage, my mother came up with the design of the cupboard and it is unworkable, hard to access, too deep and only really designed to hold those large unlovely plastic crates. I find it impossible to find anything in large plastic crates and too hard to get things in and out of them when I'm exhausted and sore. If I ever (please dear Lord, please!) get my own place I would design the storage with far more care and ingenuity, to enable everything to have its place, with the things I use most often easily accessible. Then all I'd need is some will power to put things back where they belong. Hmm only one small flaw in that cunning plan then.

Anyhow, my thoughts on organisation, not the cheeriest I'm afraid. But thank you Casey and Jess for ravelry - without you my knitting would be lost!


Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Day two - skills

It seems almost incredible to reflect that I've been knitting for over four years now; it seems both like forever and an astonishingly short time. Looking through my projects on ravelry I can see how my skills have improved year on year and this ongoing learning process, refining and increasing my skills and knowledge that makes knitting and other crafts so satisfying.

Crochet has been the biggest skill breakthrough of the last year, thanks in part to my good friend Fran who kindly spent most of a knitting group session teaching me to make a granny square, which gave my flailing crochet skills enough of a boost to get going properly. I have not taken to crochet in quite the same way as I took to knitting, it was not quite as easy to get my head around and has not come as naturally. It took me a long time to be able to rows of double or treble crochet without it becoming narrower and narrower; and my first attempt at a crocheted dishcloth resulted in a most odd, tight fabric, unintentionally made of slip stitches throughout! Likewise my first attempt at Lucy from Attic24's hexagon pattern resulted in a shape with six and a half sides (due to my own incompetence, no reflection on the quality of the pattern).

While knitting will always be my first love there are some things for which crochet cannot be beaten, first among these the classic granny square. They are versatile, quick, fun, practical and can be wonderful vehicles for playing with colour, as well as being a fashion trend for the coming year, according to the knitting magazines (which of course means it must be true). Last month I honed my granny square skills making a square a day for Sarah London's Knit a Rainbow project, which was a good challenge and has improved both my crochet stamina (I can find it hurts my hands quite quickly so need to do small amounts often) and speed.

My crocheting beyond the granny square has resulted in various motifs, flowers, snowflakes and a star. The second "thank you" owed for help with getting into crochet must go to Lucy of Attic24 for her clear photo tutorials, which enabled me to make various small projects before I had got the hang of following a normal crochet pattern.

Now I have moved on to my first major crochet project, a scarf made along essentially granny square principles in the most stunning Natural Dye Studio yarn. After one false start which resulted in one stitch too few attempt two is going along slowly but well and will hopefully be perfect for all this gorgeous spring weather we've been enjoying.

Looking into the future I am hoping to get better at increasing and decreasing in crochet and to make myself a full sized crochet blanket. Here is to the next year's skills.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Second Annual Knitting and Crochet Blog Week - day one

I have somewhat belatedly decided to join in with the 2nd Annual Knitting and Crochet blog week, organised by Eskimimi, which started today so without further ado I shall crack on with day one.

Day one - "A tale of two yarns"

When I first started knitting, just over four years ago, I paid little or no attention to what my "wool" was made of; so far as I knew "wool" was "wool", be it acrylic, wool, whatever. There was very little range available in Durham, most of it originating from petroleum. It took the discovery of ravelry and the subsequent widening of my knitting horizons to introduce me to fibres which were more natural in origin. Since then a gradual transformation has taken place in the yarn I knit with, starting with wool or cotton blends and gradually getting further and further into what is sometimes called "the good stuff". My bank account has not enjoyed this process as much as I have.

However, with the help of people at knitting group I have discovered that sheepy goodness does not have to break the bank. Britain abounds in traditional companies making inexpensive super-wash wools, mostly in DK, that provide excellent value for money. A jumper's worth of these yarns, even for one who, like me, takes a somewhat larger size, can be bought for no more than the cost of a pure wool jumper in a high street store such as Marks and Spencer's. They are very versatile, so far I have made cardigans, baby clothes, a tea cosy, letters for knitted poems, hats, toys and fingerless gloves. Brands I like include Cygnet Superwash DK, King Cole Merino Blend DK and Drops Karisma Superwash and one of my plans for this year is to make a crocheted blanket big enough for my bed out of various greens and blues from this range of yarns.

The second yarn I will mention today is another inexpensive favourite of mine, which I believe deserves to be better known: Drops Alpaca. It is a light, lofty yarn, that works at a range of different gauges to produce fabrics with different characteristics. Knit with large needles it makes an elegantly draping shawl, knit more tightly it becomes a dense warm sock or glove. Although fuzzy, as you would expect from alpaca, it still has good enough stitch definition for lace and it comes in a dazzling array of colours. What is even better is its value for money - 50 grammes of yarn yields 200yards or 180metres for the princely sum of £3. Drops have recently introduced a "sister" yarn, Drops Baby Silk Alpaca which looks similarly lovely, although it comes in a more limited palette, and I am keen to try it. Another of my knitting ambitions is to make a jumper or cardigan in Drops alpaca.

The main stockist for Drops yarns in the UK is Scandinavian Knitting Design, a very reliable company, however, the yarns are becoming more widely stocked. My only gripe with Drops is that although they have many free patterns, the majority are simply translated straight from Norwegian, meaning that they can be extremely difficult to follow. They generally require completely re-writing into an intelligible English pattern since they follow little of the standard style in which English and American patterns are generally written. This is a tremendous pity because they are good designs and there are a lot of them, I suppose the phrase "don't look a gift horse in the mouth" comes to mind, since they are free. But it makes me sad that such a great company are not succeeding as well as they could - many people do not want even to try their patterns as they see them as too difficult to follow. In my more daring moments I have considered contacting Drops and offering to re-write some of their designs into the standard English pattern style. We shall see.

Anyhow, while I could write about yarn for a lot longer I shall leave it there for day one: tomorrow we tackle knitting skills.


Thursday, 24 March 2011

Can you tell what it is yet?

So... can you tell what it is yet? I've been on a bit of a simple, vanilla knitting kick lately and enjoying the soothing nature of the garter stitch. It becomes a bouncy, springy, pleasantly thick fabric with good elasticity. I'm especially proud of the provisional cast on - the first time I have been able to learn a new technique after watching instructions online. The yarn is Cadenza by Colinette in colourway Slate, I love the flashes of colour in amongst the blue grey of the background, most cheerful and they mean that the yarn "goes with" quite a range of my clothes.
The picture above should have made it clearer, I've been making Garter Stitch Mitts by Ysolda Teague, one of the best written and most ingenious patterns I've knit in a long time. As you can see they are knit from side to side, starting with a provisional cast on and forming the thumb and wrist shaping through judicious use of short row shaping. My only modification to the pattern was to do six rows of thumb stitches instead of four to add slightly to the size. The mitts are then closed by undoing the provisional cast on and grafting the stitches together using Kitchener Stitch. Indeed this was the hardest part of the operation, although it went more smoothly the second time thankfully. The finished mitts are lovely to wear, soft, warm and sufficiently closely fitting so as not to get in the way while doing important day to day things (such as knitting!) but not so closely fitting that they impede movement. I would definitely recommend both yarn and pattern; it's especially fun confounding non knitters with what on earth you are making.
They are a good addition to my growing wardrobe of fingerless mitts, mittens and gloves - there's got to be an upside to Raynaud's right?

Thursday, 10 March 2011

A granny square calendar

The photos in this post show February mapped out in granny squares. I'm delighted that I managed to reach my personal goal of a granny square a day and my crochet is vastly improved for it. Hopefully they will make a difference in the lives of those affected by the floods in Australia; in the meantime I'm moving on to making squares for earthquake victims in Christchurch. It's only a small gesture of help in the face of the devastation, but lots of small actions to make the world a better place do add up: there's more information here on facebook.

In general I am not doing too badly, rubbing along, tired, I'm struggling to
sleep for some reason just lately, but enjoying all the signs of spring that are all around and the sunshine we have had this week. Amazing what difference a bit of sunshine makes, everyone seems to brighten up.

Also pictured sitting on one of the squares is a new arrival to the house, a small macaroni penguin named Samuel, sent to me by a wonderful raveller. I really am most especially thrilled by him, he's a great little companion.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Irises in the sunshine

Just a quick post to share some pictures of miniature irises my parents bought this week at RHS Wisley in the gorgeous sunshine. I do like spring.