Thursday 31 December 2015

Woven stitch mitts

Unlike some writers of knitting blogs, I don't make many knitted Christmas presents. (Too much pressure!)  But this year, I made a pair of fingerless mitts for my daughter - not quite in time for Christmas, but nearly.  Here they are.

I made her a pair a few years ago which she still wears (see here), but she keeps those 'for best' and wanted a pair that she could wear every day and not worry about.  She wanted a very dark purple, and I found just the right colour in Wendy Merino DK, which I use a lot.  It's called Sloe - the colour of sloe gin.

I knitted them in woven stitch, a slip-stitch pattern that does look like woven fabric on the right side. It has a four-row (or four-round) repeat.  If you are knitting in rounds, on an even number of stitches, it goes like this:
Rounds 1 & 3: Knit.
Round 2: (Knit 1, Slip 1 with yarn in front) to end.
Round 4: (Slip 1 with yarn in front, Knit 1) to end.  

It is somewhat similar to linen stitch, though much less dense.

The mitts fit well (we kept trying them on as I was knitting) and are reported to be very warm.

Wednesday 30 December 2015

Petal Cowl

I wrote in November here that I had been browsing around for patterns like the flame stitch I had seen on a shawl in the Chanel to Westwood exhibition, and found Xandy Peters' Petal Cowl pattern. I finished it a while ago, so it's about time I wrote about it.

The pattern is designed to show off a self-striping yarn (4-ply), and Lydia at my local yarn shop in Huddersfield stocks some very nice ones.  I chose Louisa Harding's Amitola, a delectable wool/silk mix.  The colour is called Gothic, don't know why, and it's not turned out as stripy as I expected - it's more a blend of shades of grey and dark purple, with an occasional flash of red.  But never mind - I love the effect.

I reduced the diameter by a third.   This was my first attempt at a cowl and I thought I would feel more comfortable wearing something smaller. Also, the pattern tells you to cast on 300 stitches, increasing to 550, and I didn't feel up to tackling a complicated pattern over that many stitches.   So I reduced the starting number of stitches to 180.

I should also point out that I wear it upside down - the cast-on edge is at the top.  That's because I think it looks better with a red stripe close to the lower edge, rather than a lot of grey.  

It is a complicated pattern, and there were a couple of rows in the pattern repeat when I just had to plod through the instructions over and over.  But towards the end I felt I understood more what was going on.  It took me that long because I didn't do a test swatch - I decided that tension wasn't going to be that crucial, and knitting a test swatch in the round just to try out the pattern seemed like a waste of time.  I may have been wrong about that - it did feel when I had finished that really the whole cowl had been a test swatch, and I ought to knit it again now that I understand how it works.  And I must confess that there are a few mistakes in the knitting. Once or twice I purled a round instead of knitting, through misreading the pattern, and decided to live with it rather than going back.  (On reflection, it's ridiculous that the mistakes are on the plain rounds where you just knit every stitch, rather than on the really complicated rounds, where you have to keep counting stitches.)    

Now it's finished, I love it. It's warm, it's soft, the colours work really well with the design, the stitch pattern is absolutely fascinating.   I'm quite converted to wearing a cowl - I shall have to knit some more.   And it was, in spite of the trickiness of the stitch pattern, a quick knit - I finished it in two or three weeks.

I have thought about knitting Xandy Peters' Fox Paws pattern  ('recommended for the adventurous') as a follow up, but I'm not sure I'm feeling adventurous enough.  And I've read Yarn Harlot's blog posts about knitting Fox Paws, particularly this one, and I'm not sure I want to have to concentrate      that much on what I'm knitting. Not just now.

Sunday 27 December 2015

A Chess Puzzle

Once upon a time, in a former life, I used to do computer science.  This Christmas, my friend Ian sent me a reminder of some of the research we worked on together - a set of 3 mugs.  Our research involved a chess puzzle, "peaceably coexisting armies of queens":  given a chessboard, n squares by n squares, what is the maximum number of white queens that can be placed so that they don't attack any of the same number of black queens (and v.v.)?  (Two queens of different colours attack each other according to the rules of chess i.e. if they are on the same row, column or diagonal.)

The puzzle had only been solved for small-sized boards, but we were able to apply techniques we had developed to solve some larger instances.  The mugs that Ian sent show a solution for an 11 × 11 board, with 17 queens of each colour and none of the white queens attacking any of the black queens - we found this solution and showed that 17 is the maximum number for this size of board.  (If you want to stick to a proper 8 × 8 chess board, you can only have 9 queens of each colour.)

It makes a very striking picture, and I'm really proud of my mugs.

Nothing at all to do with knitting - sorry.

Monday 21 December 2015

2015 - A Year of Books

As usual, I have made Christmas cards for one of my book groups that show this year's books.


We have read:

  • The Shock of the Fall, Nathan Filer
  • Apple Tree Yard, Louise Doughty
  • The Inheritance of Loss, Kiran Desai 
  • The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer
  • Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
  • The Book of Lost and Found, Lucy Foley
  • Plainsong, Kent Haruf
  • H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald

Cold Comfort Farm is an old favourite - most of us had read it before, a long time ago, and we decided to read it again and see if it was as good as we remembered (yes, it was).  I loved H is for Hawk - I have lent my copy to a friend, but will re-read it when it's returned.  Plainsong was a discovery - I had never heard of the author, but enjoyed it very much, and have since read his other novels set in the same fictional town.  The Shock of the Fall is a moving account of a young man struggling with mental illness.  At the other end of the scale, I really didn't like Apple Tree Yard - my copy went to a charity shop as soon as we had discussed it. Not much to say about the others - in fact, I must confess I never read The Interestings because we were going to be on holiday when the group met to discuss it.

We've already started on next year's books - for the next meeting in January we are reading Anna of the Five Towns by Arnold Bennett.


Sunday 20 December 2015

Picture This

Last week's Huddersfield KCG branch meeting was a trunk show of picture sweaters.  I took a large suitcase full of picture knits from the Guild's collection, along with bag full of pattern leaflets, books and magazines.   I mostly chose knits I was already familiar with, and several of them have already featured on this blog - the Postman Pat sweater, with its pattern; the Cherry Brandy sweater (sing-along optional);  the Mary Maxim jacket; the Willow Pattern sweater.  Here are some more.

Most of the picture knits and patterns I showed on Thursday were from the 1980s - the heyday of the picture knit.   (Though the Mary Maxim jacket is 1950s.)   Around 1980, sweaters with landscapes on the front were popular - I found several patterns as well as the sweater below.

Sirdar 6109

A lot of elements appear in several similar designs - there's a blue sky with white fluffy clouds, often some hills or mountains in the background, often a few trees (usually conifers); maybe some water, and sometimes a few sheep.  I showed a Hayfield pattern in the same genre here.

I also showed a landscape sweater of a very different kind, by Sandra Inskip.  We have three or four of her Yorkshire scenes sweaters, all knitted in the natural colours of British sheep breeds. I think this one, showing the Ribblehead viaduct is the nicest.

The flower-vase sweater below is a bit later, I suspect - 1990s?  I haven't seen a pattern for it, and I think it might have been knitted from a kit.  (But see my PS below.)

It's worked sideways, and I guess is intended to be done in stranded knitting.  But the knitter has woven in the colour not in use.....

...which gives an uneven texture on the right side.  I think it's quite an attractive effect.

I like it very much - especially the unexpected touches of  bright colour, turquoise and pink.  If anyone recognises the design, I'd love to know.

I finished the show with a couple of seasonal knits.

The polar bear sweater is from a Scheepjeswol kit.  To me the polar bear has a rather odd expression - as though he is grumbling about a mild toothache.  In case you miss the wintry theme, the back reinforces it:

And finally, although we don't have any specifically Christmas sweaters in the collection, as far as I know, we do have a very nice one with a robin.

I guess the bobbles are meant to represent snowflakes.  The robin is done in intarsia, and the footprints are in stranded knitting...

-- and continue all across the back.  Isn't that charming?  Again, if you recognise the pattern, please let me know.

 PS Karie Westermann has suggested that the Flower vase sweater might be a Kaffe Fassett design.  And now I've searched though his designs on Ravelry  (should have done that before), I see that it's a design called Brocade.  I thought at first it was only very similar, because the main illustration on Ravelry shows a sweater knitted conventionally, not cuff to cuff.  But most of the Brocade projects on Ravelry are knitted cuff to cuff - so that more or less confirms it.  It's Kaffe Fassett's Brocade.  I would still like to know, though, whether the colourway in the collection sweater was suggested by KF or devised by the knitter.

Sunday 13 December 2015

A Christmas Card from Peggy

Last week, we had our Christmas lunch at Lee Mills.  There were nine of us - all regular volunteers working on the Guild's collection. We all brought a contribution of food or drink, and there were Christmas crackers - it was a good do.  (And the table in the office at Lee Mills used to be our dining table at home, so it was quite like old times - we have had many Christmas dinners sitting around the same table.)

One of the volunteers who came to the lunch was Julia.  She designed and made the Guild stand at the Knitting & Stitching Show in Harrogate, featuring "Peggy", a 1940s/50s figure, welcoming visitors into the stall, and Julia had made Christmas cards for us, each with a personal message from Peggy.   Here's mine:

The message reads: "It's time to stop writing your blog, Barbara, and start on the Christmas log!" - the chocolate Yule log cake. So I thought I must show it here - it even quotes the web address!

For readers who didn't see the stand at Harrogate, here's Peggy as she appeared there, wearing a crocheted apron from the collection.

The lace curtain, tablecloth, tea cosy and doiley are also from the collection - it's one of my favourite doileys.   (The flowers in the pot and the giant wasp are also knitted or crocheted.)

I should have written about the Knitting & Stitching Show earlier - it was at the end of November, and I was there for a while, on the Guild stall.  But I think it's not too late - Julia's display was splendid, and worth recording.  (To enlarge the photo, click on it.)

(The bunting that I wrote about here isn't visible in the photo, but it was there, just out of shot.)  


Sunday 6 December 2015

A Cosy Cushion

I wrote in October about a cushion cover I was knitting for my daughter, using a slip-stitch pattern.  I knitted a miniature trial version first, before starting the full-size one.  I knitted most of the patterned side on the KnitAway weekend in Blackpool, and now the whole thing is finished.


I've used a slip-stitch honey comb pattern.  Mary Thomas gave directions for it (under the name Honeycomb Slip Stitch) in her 1934 Book of Knitting Patterns, and it must be much older than that.  For the middle square of the cushion, I have used it wrong side out, because I think that side looks more interesting in two colours.

The outer border is done in the same stitch pattern, right side out.

I picked up stitches all round the centre square, and knitted in rounds until the square was big enough to fit the cushion.  Slip-stitch honeycomb lends itself to a neat mitre at the corners.

I cast off the square using an i-cord bind-off, so that it looks like piping around the edge of the cushion, and then picked up stitches along two sides to knit two stocking stitch flaps for the back. The buttonholes are not at all neat, I'm sorry to say, but as they are at the back of the cushion you can't see them, and they are very rarely going to be used.  So I don't care.

It's a very soft and cosy cushion, and my daughter likes it.  (She doesn't care about the button-holes either, or more likely hasn't noticed.)   And the colours look good as a contrast to the navy throw and grey-blue cushion on her sofa.  My own design, and I'm proud of it.

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Bedspreads on Show

On Saturday, we had a handling day at Lee Mills for the Hebden Bridge W.I., when we got out a small sample of the really special items  in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection to show them.  Everyone had cotton gloves, so that they could examine pieces closely. Here, I've picked out a  few to write about.

A handling day on site  allows us to get out some  of the bedspreads - they don't get taken on trunk shows because they take up far too much room.  The white crocheted bedspread that we showed is also very heavy.  It's possibly 19th century.

The other bedspread we showed is one of our favourite pieces.  It's crocheted in several shades of yellow, plus white.

We have identified the pattern that it was made from, too - it helps that it was made in the colours suggested, so that it matches the illustration exactly.  The pattern was published in July 1930, and we assume that the bedspread was made in the 1930s, too.

The introduction to the pattern is in entertaining:
One of the bright discoveries made quite recently is that hand crochet work forms a perfect blend with modernistic furniture, the peculiar texture of crochet being an excellent foil to the highly lacquered surface of cubist designs. To illustrate this point, our own bedspread was photographed on a set of modern kidney-shaped furniture of eau-de-nil lacquer, designed by Lady George Cholmondeley. Notice how she has revived the Victorian use of dressing-table draperies! 

I remember that in the 1950s, many little girls wanted a kidney-shaped dressing table with a curtain round it, including me.  An advantage of the curtain was that it didn't have to be a proper dressing table, just a base with maybe some shelves, and then a top cut out of plywood.  It's hard to think of  kidney-shaped dressing tables as an expression of 1930s modernism, and the bedroom furniture does not look at all 'cubist'.   A beautiful bedspread, though.

We showed some rayon garments from the 1920s and 1930s too, including a very pretty top in five pastel colours.  It seems to be knitted in a slip-stitch pattern, but I don't recognise it.

Close-up of stitch pattern

Wrong side of stitch pattern 

We also showed some much more recent knits, including a couple of Patricia Roberts designs (new acquisitions) and the 'Foolish Virgins' jacket designed by Kaffe Fassett.  I've picked a long cabled tunic with flared skirt and hearts worked in intarsia, designed by Jean Moss - as usual at handling days, the insides of garments get close attention, too.


Here's the tunic properly displayed:

As well as knitted and crocheted pieces from the collection, we showed our visitors a selection of tools and gadgets (wool holders, needle gauges, crochet ball holders, and so on) and a few publications.  As usual, it's a pleasure to show off the collection to an enthusiastic and attentive audience.  I hope we'll have a return visit to Hebden Bridge some time, to show them a different selection of items in a trunk show.

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Flame Knit

At the "Chanel to Westwood" exhibition in Barnsley, there was a wonderful shawl in a fine silky knit,  worn over a dress with Art Nouveau-style embroidery, in a display of garments from the 1910s.

The label said this about the shawl:
"The shawl in fine knit rayon is knitted in a 'flame knit' pattern which is a traditional design.  This stole is the oldest example we have of this pattern but the flame knit remains popular up to the present day having a particular association with the Italian knitwear company Missoni where it became one of their signature designs." 
It was hard to see the stitch pattern on the shawl very well - the close-up below is the best I could do.

I would love to know how the stitch is done - I assume that at that date, it would have to be hand-knitted.  There were knitting machine in the 1910s, but not I think sophisticated enough to knit such a complex stitch pattern.  So if it's traditional hand-knitting stitch pattern, you would think it would be documented in stitch dictionaries - but I haven't been able to find it.

The nearest thing to a flame-like stitch pattern that I could find, searching on Ravelry, were some patterns by Xandy Peters - she has a pattern called the Petal Cowl, which you can buy through Ravelry.  (The image is taken from her blog post about it.)  I have bought the pattern and have started knitting - I'll write about it later.  It's quite a tricky knit, though doable.  She has an even more complicated-looking pattern called Fox Paws, which looks wonderful and more like the shawl, but she says it's "recommended for the adventurous" and slightly more complex than the Petal Cowl, so I'll leave that one for later.  But these stitches are her own invention, so not the 'traditional design' used in the rayon shawl.

If anyone can put me on the trail of the traditional 'flame knit' pattern, I should be very grateful.

Monday 23 November 2015

It's An Illusion

Last week we had the monthly meeting of the local Knitting & Crochet Guild branch, with a workshop in Illusion Knitting, aka Shadow Knitting.  It was led by Ann Kingstone, one of our members, who had designed a square for us to knit, with a pattern of a star.  The star is more or less invisible when looked at straight on, lit from in front (or in a flash photograph) but appears when the square is lit from the side and/or looked at from an angle.

No star

Star lit from the top 

Star seen at an angle

I started my square with a provisional cast on, to allow for picking up stitches all round to add a border, as Ann suggested, but I haven't decided yet what to make from it.

To introduce us to illusion knitting, Ann had brought a shawl that she was given by Steve Plummer and Pat Ashcroft  of Woolly Thoughts - it has a portrait of Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid in the Harry Potter films knitted into it.

Hagrid shawl, from 
At the workshop, we were wondering where the idea for illusion knitting came from - it seems such an unlikely technique to invent from nothing.  Later, I looked in Vivian Høxbro's book Shadow Knitting.  She says that first came across the idea in a translation of a booklet by a Japanese woman, Mieko Yano - a similar account is given on a blog by Mrs Petersson here, who says that Mieko Yano was teaching illusion knitting and other Japanese knitting ideas in Sweden in the 1980s.   But I don't know if Mieko Yano invented the technique, or whether it was developed earlier in Japan. Intriguing. 

Wednesday 18 November 2015


It's the Knitting and Stitching Show in Harrogate at the end of this month, and the Knitting & Crochet Guild will have a stall there, as usual.  Julia, who has designed the Guild's stall, asked for some bunting in her colour scheme of pink, green and cream/white.  So I got some cheap acrylic yarn (really cheap - 3 balls for £2 in Poundland, plus an extra ball for £1) and set to work.

I made the triangles in crochet - not my thing usually, but I could cover the ground more quickly than if I knitted them.  I did quite a few triangles when  we were in Suffolk ten days ago (it got dark early, so there was quite a bit of crocheting time).  And last Thursday, being the 2nd Thursday in the month, was the day when I go to three knitting groups in one day - lots of triangles then.   Now I've used up the yarn and made 34 triangles (two wouldn't fit into the arrangement above).   They will be made up into bunting, with more triangles made of printed fabric with crochet medallions on some of them - I saw then all laid out in order yesterday and they looked very pretty.

So if you're going to the Harrogate Show, stop by the Guild stall and say hello - and please admire the bunting!


Monday 16 November 2015

A Sock Purse

It's been a busy two weeks: apart from other things, we went to Suffolk for a few days holiday with friends.  As usual, I was on the lookout for knitting-related things, but the only thing I spotted was a Victorian purse.  It was in the little museum in Framlingham Castle, a nice collection about life in the surrounding town.

In a case of 19th century bits and pieces was a little purse made from a tiny sock.  I thought at first it was knitted, but on looking closer, I don't think so - I think it's crocheted.  And I'm not sure how it's meant to be used.  Although it was displayed with the chain stretched out, in fact the bar at top left has bits of frayed thread attached, so presumably originally the two bars were parallel at the top edge of the sock - I don't know whether there was any way to fasten the two bars together, though, and whether the chain was just used as a hanging loop.        

It's very neatly made, and I like the fancy clock especially.  

 It reminds me of the little socks I have seen made as Christmas decorations.  It doesn't look as though it would be very practical as a purse - I imagine that Victorian pennies would get into the toe and be hard to extract.  But on the other hand, it's evidently been used a lot, for the top to fray so much.  Maybe you would just hold on to the toe and tip the coins out into your hand?  A pretty little thing, anyway.  If anyone has seen anything like it, I'd love to know.

Monday 2 November 2015

Knitwear: Chanel to Westwood

On Friday, I took a train to Barnsley to see the Knitwear: Chanel to Westwood exhibition at the Civic.  I had already seen the exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey, but it is worth a second visit (especially as there is free entry at the Civic).

The exhibition is based on the collection of Cleo and Mark Butterfield, who have been collecting vintage fashion for many years.  It's a mixture of machine and hand-knits, and from couture to high street.  As the title suggests, there are pieces attributed to Chanel, from the 1910s and 1920s, as well as pieces by current designers including Vivienne Westwood.

1920s knitwear, some attributed to Chanel 

Also from the 1920s were some rayon jumpers and dresses, mostly crocheted.  We have many similar jumpers in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, whereas we don't have any wool jumpers of that age that I can recall - maybe all the woolly jumpers were either eaten by moths, or reknitted into something else during the Second World War.  I particularly liked a filet crochet jumper in pale orange rayon, with a large flower motif worked across the front. An enlarged illustration from the original pattern is displayed on the wall behind it, and I recognised the illustration, from Fancy Needlework Illustrated.  

Fancy Needlework Illustrated No. 67

There was a very colourful display of 'Fair Isle' knits (though I don't know whether any of them were actually from the Shetlands).  I spent some time admiring them, and trying to date them individually - there were some from the 1940s, and some from the 1970s or later.

 I have been researching some of the Fair Isle knits and patterns in the Guild collection recently, so I was very gratified that I could identify the patterns behind some of the knits.   One pattern was particularly easy to recognise, because the colours of the pullover match those in the pattern.

The Stitchcraft Men's Book was published in the late 1940s - presumably the pullover also dates from then.   Two other pullovers in the display were I think knitted in the 1970s, both to the same pattern, I believe.

They are I think both knitted from Patons pattern 1595, though it's fascinating to see the difference that the choice of colours makes - including a much darker colour in the mix completely changes the overall look.  It seems to have been a very popular pattern - as well as these two pullovers, there are at least three items in the Guild collection that were knitted from it, that I showed here.  

Patons 1595
And there were other Fair Isle knits in the display which I didn't recognise at all  - that was just as interesting. 

A few of the garments on display were made by Cleo Butterfield for herself.  One in particular struck a chord with me - a cardigan knitted to a Patricia Roberts design.

The label says "The mammoth task of completing this complex cardigan, using a huge range of different stitches to create a picture of three-dimensional bees, flowers and a beaming sun partially obscured by clouds, was so great that, once it was finished, Cleo didn't have the energy to attach buttons."   At least she finished the knitting - I had an unfinished Patricia Roberts knit that I kept for years, until I finally ditched it last year.

Some of the commercial machine knits were very appealing too - I liked these two pieces by Ossie Clark (left) and Biba (right) from the early 1970s.

There is no catalogue of the exhibition, but many of the garments on display are featured in Vintage Fashion Knitwear by Marnie Fogg - one of my birthday presents four years ago.  When I first saw the Chanel to Westwood exhibition in Bermondsey, I was puzzled that some of the garments seemed familiar, until I realised that I had seen them in the book.

In the same gallery at the Civic is a small display of garments from the Yorkshire Fashion Archive.  They are a small selection of the clothes designed and hand-knitted by Isora Steinart for her daughter Nita Hyman.  The selected pieces are from the late 1950s and early 1960s - all beautifully made and very elegant.    

 The exhibition is on until November 14th - and there is a lot more in it that I haven't written about.  If you haven't seen it and are within reach of Barnsley, I can recommend it.

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