Tuesday 28 December 2010

Boxing Day Walk

We have been staying with family in Kintbury in Berkshire over Christmas, and went for a walk on Boxing Day (26th December) when it was very cold, but fine, with a hazy sun. The fields and woods looked wonderful in the snow.

I especially liked the dead cow parsley heads outlined in frost.  They reminded me of Angie Lewin's prints - I got a lovely book on her work for Christmas - a complete surprise and very well-chosen.

We passed a small plantation of Christmas trees, looking almost artificial with their dusting of frost.

And for canal fans, here is the Kennet and Avon canal, completely frozen.

Boxing Day was the last snowy day, at least for now.  Yesterday the temperatures got above freezing for the first time in about two weeks, and today most of the snow has gone. It's very grey and damp - easier for travelling, but nothing like so picturesque.

Monday 27 December 2010

Christmas Presents

Now that Christmas Day is past, I can write about the things I made as surprise presents.  I sent my daughter and her girlfriend a pair of mitts each.  They are in Oregon, so we spoke to them via Skype on Christmas Day (evening here, before breakfast there).  We have webcams at both ends, so I could take a snapshot of them wearing their mitts. 

One is a pair of convertible mitts, with a button-down top, in merino DK.

 The other is a pair of fingerless mitts in Manos del Uruguay merino/silk DK. The pattern is Nalu, which is free on Ravelry.   I love the way that three stitches break away from the wrist rib, skid across the back of the mitt, and then end up soberly as part of the top rib again.

Both very successful, I think.

I asked J for something knitty for Christmas, but he said he wouldn't know what to choose, so I bought some yarn, put it in a gift bag and showed him on Christmas Day what he was giving me.  Who says romance is dead?  Apparently, I gave him a 4-volume regimental history of the 7th Hussars.  

The yarn is Rowan Felted Tweed DK in Grey Mist.  I already had one ball in a soft green (Herb?) that I acquired two years ago when two Rowan people gave a talk on the company at the local Oxfam shop.  They handed out pairs of knitting needles with a ball of yarn and 20 stitches cast on, so that we could knit while listening.  They retrieved the needles at the end of the session, but we got to keep the yarn, and the perfectly pointless piece of knitting.  It is very nice yarn and good to knit with, so I have been looking for a use for one ball of Felted Tweed ever since.  (They also had a wicker basket full of odd balls of Rowan yarn that we were invited to help ourselves from, so I am looking for a use for several other single balls of lovely yarn, too.)

Louisa Harding's Old Moor jumper

When I saw Louisa Harding's Little Cake  book, I liked many of the patterns and thought immediately that the Old Moor pattern would be suitable for my odd ball of Felted Tweed. It is designed for Willow Tweed,  which is also DK, so I think the pattern will be adaptable, and it uses one ball of a second colour.  So that will be my next project.

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Winter Solstice

Today is the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice.   It's as dark as it's going to get this winter, so like good pagans, we should have a celebration some time about now.

According to this website,  today's sunrise in Manchester (about the same latitude as here) was at 0825, and the sun will set at 1548.  From now on, the days will slowly start to get longer,  although by Saturday, the length of the day will be only be a minute longer (0827 to 1551), so it takes a while for the change to be noticeable.  But in a month's time, the day will be nearly an hour longer. Of course, it will probably still be cold (although hopefully not as cold as today - this December has been exceptionally cold).

One good thing about being retired is that I no longer have to leave the house before it gets light in the morning.  I used to feel like a troglodyte in the months when I left for work in the dark and got home again in the dark.  Much more civilised to stay indoors until it's light.

So, whichever one you celebrate, have a happy midwinter festival!   


Thursday 16 December 2010

Purple Cocoon

I finished knitting a cardigan for myself two or three weeks ago and I have been wearing it a lot because of the cold weather  - and I haven't yet written a word about it.  Very slack of me.  Anyway here it is - it is knitted in Rowan Cocoon, which is a thick, warm, soft yarn in merino wool and mohair. 

I have a long-standing prejudice that mohair is scratchy, but this is definitely not.  It does shed a little bit, though actually I only noticed when I wore a black t-shirt underneath.  

 The pattern is Elise, by Sarah Hatton, from the Rowan Cocoon Collection book.

I have made some changes - I made the body longer and the sleeves a lot shorter.  (I do not have ridiculously short arms, really and truly - the jumpers I buy generally have sleeves that are about the right length for me, I don't find my coat sleeves hanging below my fingertips - but I usually find the sleeves on Rowan patterns are several inches too long.)

The main modification was that I knitted the button bands at the same time as the fronts.  The pattern specified that the button band should be knitted sideways, picking up stitches all round the edge.  I hate picking up stitches anyway and in this case,  I thought that it would be especially hard to do it neatly, because the fabric is knitted on 7mm needles and so is quite loose.   Instead I adopted a rib pattern that is used for the button bands in an old (machine-knitted) cardigan of mine.  Normally you can't use single rib for an integral button band, because it is too stretchy, but if you slip all the knit stitches on one side, it becomes much tighter, both widthways and lengthways.  In my old cardigan, the side with the slipped stitches was used as the 'public' side, but here I have used it the other way round.  I haven't yet found this stitch pattern in stitch dictionaries, but it is like a rib version of heel stitch, I suppose.  It makes a firm and substantial button band.

Following my own advice, I used short rows to slope the shoulders and then Russian grafting for the shoulder seams.  The result is very neat -  I think a conventional seam, being more bulky, might flatten out the cables.  And so far the shoulder seams have not shown any sign of stretching under the weight of the sleeves. 

There is another important modification that I made to the pattern, that I will write about in another post.

It is a really comfortable warm cardigan - just what I need for the weather we have had this month.  It's cosy without being heavy.  I love the cables too - though I found that it was quite easy to make a mistake, especially in the very wide cable pattern, and not notice for several rows.  Someone said somewhere that Cocoon is impossible to unravel, so you should never make a mistake.   Fortunately for me, that's not true.  I love the colour, too.  Altogether a successful project. 

Tuesday 14 December 2010

One scarf, one mitt

I have just finished the scarf that I have been knitting for my sister's Christmas present, that I started in October, as described here. I can write about it now, because it is not going to be a surprise and she saw it three-quarters finished a few weeks ago.

Unblocked scarf

Blocking it made a huge difference, especially to the scalloped edging which was something that M particularly liked in the pattern. It wasn't really evident in the finished, unblocked scarf, but after pinning it out to dry on the ironing board, it looks much more as it is supposed to do.

She also asked me to make her a fingerless mitt, because she has arthritis in her left thumb and thought that keeping it warm by wearing a mitt might help. Just one mitt, not a pair. So I have sent her one made with left-over yarn. It's also Sublime baby cashmere merino silk 4-ply, like the scarf. The back of a mitt is a good place to try out new stitch patterns - this one has Elizabeth Zimmermann's Sheepfold pattern (from The Opinionated Knitter). It looks complicated, like a flattened cable, but is easy to knit and doesn't need a cable needle.  Worth using again.

Monday 13 December 2010

A Little Bag in Shadow Knitting

I started a little stripy bag in shadow knitting back in October, described here. I finished it this week, as a birthday present for a friend who is 11 today.  Happy Birthday, Sarah!

I had to make the handles stripy as well, because I was running out of the navy blue yarn, but I like the effect. (It's moss stitch, two rows of each colour.) And I lined it with fabric in a sort of batik print. 

Friday 10 December 2010

Hamlet Live

Last night we went to see the National Theatre's production of Hamlet, with Rory Kinnear. We saw it at the Pictureville cinema at the National Media Museum in Bradford. Last night's performance (in London) was broadcast live to cinemas around the country, and around the world, as part of the National Theatre Live programme.

It's a great production, and it was wonderful to be able to see it in that way - the fact that it was live did make it a different experience  from a pre-recorded film.  At  the same time, we could see the actors in close-up on the big cinema screen, so in some ways we had a better view than we might have had in the National Theatre itself.   Rory Kinnear's performance made even the very familiar soliloquies fresh, meaningful and affecting - he gave a very convincing portrayal of increasing despair at the awfulness of everything.   It was so involving that at the end of the play when the actors took their bows, you felt like joining in the applause (and many people did, in fact), even though the actors were hundreds of miles away and obviously couldn't hear us.

And for the first time in two weeks or so, the temperature got above freezing. It stayed above freezing all night too, so almost all the snow and ice has gone.  So a good day altogether.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Knitting Scales

I have been musing on what to knit with the 6 balls of  bronze-y coloured Rowan silk-wool yarn I bought  recently.  I have borrowed a copy of Barbara Walker's Knitting from the Top, so that will give me the structure of a raglan-sleeved cardigan that I can knit downwards until the yarn runs out, but I still need to choose a stitch pattern.

Because of the slightly metallic sheen, I've been thinking of fish-scales and the sort of armour made of small plates.  So on a bus journey yesterday, I tried some possible stitch pattern that might look vaguely like that.
(For anyone who thinks, like my husband, that the photo is upside-down, it's not. I'm going to knit top down, so I want to see how the stitch pattern will look that way up.)

I started (after the moss stitch band) with the Openwork Diamonds pattern from Walker's A Treasury of Knitting Patterns.  But a lacy stitch doesn't seem appropriate if you are thinking of fish scales or scale armour.  So for the rest of the swatch, I filled in the holes in the lace pattern (on the row after a yarn over, I purled into the back of it, to twist it rather than leaving a hole).   I think either of these stitch patterns would work well with the raglan increases for the sleeves and would look neat. 

But now that I have tried knitting with this yarn, it seems quite thick for double knitting, and it's producing a denser fabric than I expected (on 4mm needles).  So I'm not sure it's going to be suitable for a light evening cardi.   Maybe a more open stitch would be better, maybe some sort of mesh.  That would be kind of chain mail, rather than scale armour or fish scales.  

And since I'm going to unravel my swatch, maybe I could measure the yarn I've used and estimate the required area of a small cardigan and see if I'm going to have enough.  The plan is to stop when the yarn runs out, but I don't want it to look stupidly short.  More investigation needed.        

Monday 6 December 2010

Tea at the Vicarage

At the Knitting and Stitching Show in Harrogate, I bought a copy of Stitchcraft from September 1934.  Amongst other things, it has several knitting patterns, almost all for clothes for (young, slim) women. There's one outfit for a toddler, but otherwise no men or children to be seen. The fashion then was to wear a close-fitting top with a long slender skirt, and many of the knitting patterns for jumpers look almost wearable today, except that they are probably too short for most of us - they are only 18 in. long.

There is also a charming ad for Patons and Baldwins knitting wools, entitled "Heard at the Vicarage sewing party". Alison, Janet and Enid are discussing the jumpers they are wearing. (It's a Knit and Natter session, in fact.) 
They are obviously intended to look (to a 1934 reader) young and fashionable, as they admire each other's handiwork, as well as the Patons and Baldwins' patterns and yarns.

Janet: ..... Patons & Baldwins never design stodgy styles. How do you like the bright idea I'm wearing now?
Alison: Lovely, dear. What pretty little cape sleeves! But you know I'm all for cosiness, so this long-sleeved style is more suitable for me.
Janet:  Well, the squiggly white hairs all over do make it attractive.

And so on...  (No idea what the "squiggly white hairs" are - the yarn is called Kempy.)

I think that the whole magazine is aimed at young women aspiring to be fashionable, though it's a bit difficult to grasp that the styles they feature were once the latest thing.  For instance, it's suggested that you could make a dressing table set with the free embroidery transfer, and it is just the sort of thing that would have appealed to my Grandma.

And elsewhere there is a puzzling piece about what an "older schoolgirl" could wear, by the magazine's Paris Correspondent. (Stitchcraft had a Paris Correspondent!)     "With the older school-girl in mind, I asked Anny Blatt to choose two models from her collection of knitted frocks".  The suggested outfits look very smart, though you wouldn't think of them as suitable for a teenager (especially as most girls then left school at 14).

Thursday 2 December 2010

Black banana cake

We don't often eat cake, so we don't often bake cakes. But we had some bananas lurking in the kitchen that had got a long way past the point where anyone wanted to eat them au naturel.  And last week, J watched a TV cookery programme in which Nigel Slater made a banana cake that requires over-ripe bananas. So we tried the recipe today.

It has chocolate in as well as bananas, and it is very good.  And it's easy to make (as long as you remember to watch the hazelnuts while they are toasting so that they don't burn). The recipe is here.

Saturday 27 November 2010

Knitting and Stitching Show

On Thursday, I went to the first day of the Knitting & Stitching Show in Harrogate, which runs until tomorrow. It was held in the International Centre, which is huge, and the train to Harrogate was full of (mainly) women who were obviously heading for the show. I had not been before and just wanted to see what was happening, rather than buying much - though a lot of buying was going on. It was very busy - in some parts of the exhibition halls, there were just TOO MANY PEOPLE, and I remembered that I really don't like situations where there are too many people trying to move around. Fortunately, there were other areas that were a bit quieter.

Some random things I saw:

Habu Textiles jumper

At the Habu Textiles stand, there was a jumper made of some kind of stiff but very fine yarn. I asked about the yarn, and it is silk and stainless steel. Could be fun to try, though impossible to unravel if you made a mistake.

I did buy a small amount of yarn, from a stand selling cashmere and camel yarns imported from Mongolia. It's a small new company called Noos, which is apparently the Mongolian for 'wool'. The yarn I have is laceweight - they had some beautiful scarves on display which I shall try to emulate.

Much nearer to home, the Wensleydale Longwool Sheepshop had a stand, with some beautiful yarns. It's very soft and lustrous, in some lovely colours. I was tempted by the 4 ply in a soft red. Didn't buy any though. (I'm still practising not buying yarn, even though I didn't succeed altogether.)

The most fun was the Knitting Noras stand.  They are a knitting group in Bolton, Lancashire, who raise money for charity in various ingenious ways, as well as meeting to knit and chat.  They produced a Naked Knitting calendar, maybe last year, and this year are selling Naked Knitting postcards, featuring members of the group. The one I bought features two of the women members wearing just strategically draped shawls - another has a couple wearing just a pair of socks each. From the same stall, I bought two pin badges and a pair of 2mm. wooden needles (to replace a bamboo pair that broke - they are quite fragile).

Note for overseas readers:  once upon a time, not very long ago in fact, schools had a regular programme of inspecting children for  head lice. The woman who did the inspections was called the nit nurse, known to the children as Nitty Nora (or even Nitty Nora the Bug Explorer). Doesn't happen any more, though of course head lice haven't gone away. And the nit nurse is, I assume, commemorated by the Knitting Noras.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Russian Grafting

I came across Russian Grafting in a post by Fiona on her blog and it immediately struck me as a really neat way of joining two pieces of knitting.  I have seen a couple of other tutorials too, since then: for instance, there are two on YouTube, one here that uses a crochet hook, and another here that uses a pair of knitting needles, as in Fiona's tutorial. When I tried following Fiona's tutorial, it seemed to me that the method could be simplified a bit. With the existing methods that I have seen that use a pair of knitting needles, you have to pull one stitch through another, which I find a bit awkward - the advantage (if you think it is an advantage) is that most of the work is done by the right needle.  If you are happy to work with the left needle on stitches that are on the right needle, as well as v.v., I think the method I describe here is simpler.

So suppose you have two pieces of knitting to join together, with the same number of stitches in each. (My two pieces are the samples I was using to practise sloping shoulders in my last post.) You first need to arrange them on the needles so that the  free ends of yarn are at the outside edges, away from the needle points.  (Strictly, you only need one of the yarn ends to be there.)  Because of the free ends, the last stitches on the needles can get very loose as you are working, so I think it is helpful to prevent that by making a slip-knot in each free end, as close as possible to the last stitch.

I'm working with the wrong side of the work facing me, but actually it doesn't matter whether you work on the wrong side or the right side.

The first step is to choose the first stitch on one needle as the working stitch.  (I have borrowed that term from Fiona.) It doesn't matter which one - I'll choose the one on the right. Slip the first stitch on the left needle over to the right needle (purlwise - we don't want to twist the stitch) and pass the working stitch over it. This drops the old working stitch, and the stitch it has passed over becomes the new working stitch.

 The current working stitch is on the right needle.  Slip it and the next stitch on the right needle over to the left needle.

Pass the working stitch over the other stitch, which becomes the new working stitch.

Then you do exactly the same thing, but switching left and right:   The current working stitch is on the left needle.  Slip it and the next stitch on the left needle over to the right needle.    Pass the working stitch over the other stitch, which becomes the new working stitch.

Repeat these two steps until only one stitch is left.

Then undo the slip-knots and secure the graft by threading one or both free ends of yarn through the final stitch. And the graft, finally, is a neat row of zigzagging, interlocking stitches.

You always know which is the current working stitch, except at the very beginning, because it has just had the previous stitch passed over it.  As the graft progresses, the current working stitch  is at the head of a zigzag line of previous working stitches.   

You can see that in the shoulder seam of a cardigan I am just finishing, and will write about later. The complete graft is again very neat, I think.

(The rest of it is not very neat yet - I'm knitting a built-in button band, that is not yet finished.)

I'm really converted to Russian grafting - it gives very good results on many different stitch patterns.  I used it to join together the two halves of the moss stitch collar on my Textured Cardigan. It's much easier than grafting using Kitchener stitch, which I think would be quite tricky on moss stitch. The seam is not at all bulky or stiff, like a sewn seam can be. And you don't need to worry about getting the right tension - it's all taken care of by the knitting you have already done.

Following my last post, minniemoll commented that she had tried grafting shoulder seams, but found that the join wasn't strong enough and so the sleeves stretched under their own weight. I can imagine that that would happen with Kitchener stitch grafting, because it is meant to look and behave exactly like another row of knitting. Russian grafting won't be so elastic, I think. Anyway I shall try it in the cardigan I am finishing, and report back.

Monday 22 November 2010

Neat Shoulder Seams

This post is quite a technical one about knitting, so for any non-knitters who happen to see this - I wouldn't bother reading it.

I recently borrowed a copy of The Principles of Knitting, by June Hemmons Hiatt - a wonderful book.  I learnt such a lot from it, even about simple things that I thought I knew all about. It's unfortunately out of print and secondhand copies are very expensive - I have heard that Simon and Schuster, who published it, have been planning to reissue it, and I wish they would.   It is so useful - she has thought about every little detail involved in knitting, from the basic principles onwards. One of the many, many things that have caught my attention in the book is in the chapter on short rows, where she says that one application of short rows is to make the slope for a shoulder seam, and that it gives a much smoother line than the usual method of casting off in stages.  That seemed an intriguing idea so I have knitted a sample to try it out.

I'm going to describe the technique here, mainly for my own future benefit - I shall forget if I don't write it down. It might be useful to other people too, though of course it's easy to find tutorials on short rows.

I knitted a small sample with 21 stitches, and I'm pretending that the left edge is the armhole edge and the right edge is the neck edge.

The usual method for sloping the shoulder would be something like: cast off 7 stitches at the armhole edge on the next row and following two alternate rows. So the leftmost 7 stitches are worked once, as you cast them off, the middle 7 stitches are worked 3 times, including the casting off row, and the final 7 stitches are worked 5 times including casting off.

Using short rows, we start shaping instead at the neck edge, and knit the first 7 stitches. Then we turn, without knitting the rest of the row. To avoid creating a hole between the 7th and 8th stitches, I use the wrapped method, as described by Hiatt. The yarn is taken round the 8th (unworked) stitch before turning the work to purl the 7 stitches at the neck edge.

Once the work is turned, the first purl stitch should be pulled tightly so that it is as close as possible to the wrapped stitch.

Then purl to the end of the row (the neck edge) and turn to work the next (knit) row.  This time, I am going to knit the first 14 stitches.  But I need to do something about the loop of yarn that is still wrapped around the 8th stitch.

The aim is to hide the extra loop on the inside of the work.  It will be treated as an extra stitch that will be eliminated by a decrease. The 8th stitch is slipped temporarily onto the right needle, and the wrap loop is picked up with the left needle.

The wrap loop and the 8th stitch are knitted together.  Because of the way that 'knit 2 together' works, only the 8th stitch is visible on the outside of the work,  and the wrap loop is hiden behind it.

On this row, I turn after knitting 14 stitches, again wrapping the yarn around the next (15th) stitch to avoid leaving a hole, and then turn to purl these 14 stitches. Finally, the next (knit) row is worked over all 21 stitches, again dealing with the loop of wrapped yarn by picking it up and hiding it on the inside of the work. The final result is that since the start of the shoulder shaping,  I have worked 1 row over the leftmost 7 stitches, 3 rows over the middle 7, and 5 rows over the rightmost 7.   So this is an equivalent slope to the casting-off-in-stages method, but much smoother (and of course, I haven't yet cast off). The places where I turned after working part of the row are hardly visible.

The corresponding shoulder slope that will be joined to this one is done in much the same way except that the wrapping and  subsequent picking up of the wrap loop are both done on a purl row.  To hide the wrap loop on the inside, the wrapped stitch has to be twisted first by slipping it knitwise, and then the loop and the stitch are purled together through the backs of the loops.  ( I can't remember all that  - I just stare at the two stitches that have to be purled together and think about which one has to be in front and then work out how to do it. Sometimes by trial and error. Of course, if you were doing reverse stocking stitch, you would want to hide the wraps on the 'knit' side, so the number of variant rules in quite large.)  

Finally, we have two smooth shoulder slopes to be seamed together somehow.   Of course, you could cast off, front and back, and sew the two pieces together, and the result would be neater than the usual method. But why do that?  Much better to either cast them both off together, using what Hiatt calls a joinery cast-off, or to join them by grafting. Since I found out about Russian grafting, I have been using that technique whenever I can, so I'm going to use it to join my shoulder seams. I'll write about that in the next post, because the way I do it is slightly different to the method in the tutorials I have seen.

Friday 19 November 2010

I want a Knitting Clock!

I was browsing through the Crafts magazine in the library yesterday when I came across a piece on this clock, designed by Siren Elise Wilhelmsen.

 It is based on a larger version of a French knitting/ Knitting Nancy toy, I think, with 48 prongs instead of the common four.  The clock knits a complete round of 48 stitches every 24 hours, and over the course of a year it produces 2 metres of knitting.  At the end of that time, you change the yarn and start again - each ball of yarn is labelled "Mehr Zeit", or "More time".  And you can use the clock's knitting as a scarf, or else hang it up to symbolise Time Past, I suppose.  Probably not very practical for accurate timing, but isn't it cool?
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