Saturday 27 February 2016

A Yarn Story

Last week I bought a copy of Designer Knitting - that's the international edition of Vogue Knitting.  It was the Winter 2015/16 issue, and has some very nice updated Bohus knits, which was what attracted me.  The magazine has taken a while to get to this country - it had not been on the shelves in W H Smiths for very long when I bought it, yet Orange Swan reviewed it on her blog The Knitting Needle and the Damage Done last December.

One small news feature caught my eye, because it mentions the Knitting & Crochet Guild.  Yarn Stories is a yarn brand based in a mill at Slaithwaite, near Huddersfield.  Last year they ran a competition to design a blanket square inspired by the Guild's collection.  The finalists' designs have been used to create a pattern for a blanket.

It's an amazingly rich design, incorporating stranded knitting, cables, crochet, lace,....   The square with the KCG initials is inspired by a Sanquhar glove pattern.   Yarn Stories are selling the pattern, or the pattern + yarn,  here, and very generously donating the profits from the pattern to the Guild.

The item in Designer Knitting has a brief description of the Guild collection - and I should take the opportunity to update one piece of information.  It says that we have 31,000 patterns in the collection.   In fact, we have at least 38,500 pattern leaflets - those are the ones that we have sorted and recorded so far.  I've been estimating for quite a while that we have about 50,000 pattern leaflets altogether, and I think that's about right.  But if you want to count all the patterns, you would have to include the ones that have appeared in books, booklets and magazines  - I wouldn't even like to estimate how many of those there are.  Let's just say a lot.   We're just beginning to catalogue the pattern leaflets, which is a daunting task.  It'll take a while.      

Friday 26 February 2016

On the Other Hand (3)

The last instalment of the On the Other Hand Mystery Knit Along was issued last Friday,  Lots of participants have already finished their mitts and posted photos to the Ravelry group, because Ann and Sarah are offering prizes, to be announced at 2 p.m. today.  There are some really beautiful finished pairs - lovely choices of colours, quite a few with different choices of options for the two mitts.  

My mitts aren't quite finished - I still have the thumb cuff to do on one of them.

I changed the pattern a little bit - I did a single corrugated rib for the finger and thumb cuffs, rather than repeating the double corrugated rib. And I wanted the thumbs to be a bit longer, so I have extended the patterning on the thumb gusset for 4 more rows before starting the cuff,

I'm really pleased with my mitts. Even so, the finished projects in the Ravelry group make me want to knit another pair and choose the other options and different colour combinations. But I already need to knit a pair of fingerless mitts for a workshop I am doing in April, and there is probably quite a low limit on the number of fingerless mitts anyone needs. (My daughter has already reached her limit, with the pair I gave her at Christmas, though she tells me that should I feel an irresistible urge to knit more, she has several friends who would be very glad to receive them. But I'm not sure I'm that generous.)

I'll post more photos of the finished mitts when they are completely finished. It's been such a lot of fun taking part in the Knit Along. Several other members of the Thursday knitting group at Spun have been taking part too - a sort of mini Knit Along. I've enjoyed picking the colours, choosing between the different options and guessing which option was designed by Ann and which by Sarah - I saw Ann last night, and she told me that my guesses were correct - they'll show their original samples in the Periscope broadcast, I believe, and also the second pair that each has knitted to the other's design. Hope I can get organised to watch it live.

Tuesday 23 February 2016

The Trunk Show goes to Birmingham

Angharad and I have just been to Birmingham for the weekend, taking a suitcase full of knitting and crocheted pieces from the Guild collection (Angharad) and another of tools, gadgets and publications (me).  They were selected highlights, designed to give an idea of what the collection covers, and we showed them to the Birmingham branch of the Guild at their monthly meeting on Saturday.

It was their second meeting in the new John Lewis store, above New Street station.  The store has a Community Hub, a room that's available for local groups to use, free - a wonderful resource for the city.   We restricted the trunk show to fifteen people, so that they could all sit around a table and have a close look at the things we had brought - cotton gloves provided.

A 1930s child's Fair Isle cardigan

Some of the pieces that we showed are favourites that we have shown several times, like the child's Fair Isle cardigan bought in Jenners in Edinburgh in the 1930s.  But we try to include some things that we have not shown before - on Saturday, we showed Kaffe Fassett's Citrus Pyramid jacket for the first time.    

Kaffe Fassett's Citrus Pyramid jacket

The daffodil doiley travelled safely in its pizza box, and arrived with the daffodils uncrushed.

Another new item was a 1950s sleeveless top, knitted sideways in a mauve yarn with a silver metallic thread running through it.  It was donated last year by the daughter of the woman who knitted it.  It came with a photo of the knitter wearing it (off the shoulders) in 1958 and looking very glamorous.

The 1950s sleeveless top, and a  set of crocheted Russian dolls

We stayed on Friday night with Janet, the convenor, and I stayed on Saturday night too - the prospect of a Birmingham balti was irresistible.   And on Sunday, Janet and I went to the Toft Alpaca Shop and farm.

A scarf pattern from the Toft Alpaca Shop

We had coffee in the cafe, and browsed the patterns and the (delectable) yarns in the shop.  The yarn is mostly undyed, but there is a surprising range of colours.

 And of course we wanted to see the alpacas, so went for a walk across the farm.  We were told that there were about 200 alpacas in the further fields - we didn't see that many, but certainly quite a lot.

We had a very nice lunch in the Dun Cow in Dunchurch, the nearby village, and then I came home. It was a really good weekend.  Thanks to Janet for her generous hospitality, and to the Birmingham branch for providing an enthusiastic and appreciative audience.

The Birmingham Guild meetings are open to everyone - you don't need to be a member of the Knitting & Crochet Guild.  If anyone would like information on future meetings, you can email Janet:  janetwcollins at outlook dot com.


Wednesday 17 February 2016

On the other Hand (2)

It's now week 2 of the On the other Hand Mystery Knit Along, so we have the instructions for the hand part, including the thumb gusset.    I've done the first mitt, as well as the cuff of the second.    

I did Option 2, the stranded knitting option, and it looks really good  (apart from my slightly uneven knitting).  I tried Option 1, but my knitting wasn't turning out very neat, so I switched.  I love the thumb gusset, with the colours reversed.  (And for non-knitters, yes I do know how daft it sounds to say 'I love the thumb gusset'.  I don't care.)  

Not sure how they are going to finish off the thumb - part 3 should give us two options for finishing the mitten, so each option will have to fit with both options for week 2.  We'll find out on Friday. 

I must confess I didn't entirely follow the instructions.  I tried the cuff in the medium size, and decided it was a bit tight, so the cuff is the large size.  But then I decided that a large hand size might be too large, so I switched back to medium.   So large cuff, medium hand.   (Did I test my tension beforehand?  No, I didn't. Partly out of couldn't be bothered, but also I thought that testing my tension on stocking stitch might not be a good guide to my tension on stranded knitting, because I'm not a very good stranded knitter.  And knitting a tension swatch in stranded knitting for a pair of fingerless mitts seems wasted effort - you might as well just get on with it.)

I am quite pleased with myself that I did knit the hand part with one colour in each hand, as you are supposed to.  And it was surprisingly easy to do.   

I'm still not sure that the green and red contrast enough in shade.  I took a photo of the two balls of yarn, before I started knitting, and converted it to black-and-white, as Ann recommends, and they were sufficiently different, I thought.  But then I've taken other photos of my knitting in progress, and sometimes the two colours come out the exact same shade of grey.  I think it depends on the lighting.  Damn.   

But never mind - I'm obviously not going to go back and start again.  I like the two colours together - that's why I chose them of course.  I think the pattern on the palm may not show up very well at any distance, but then that's kind of a secret little pattern for me to admire as I wear them.  And on the plus side, I've made a couple of mistakes, with a green stitch where it should have been red, and v.v., and the mistakes would be much more obvious if there were more contrast.  (I might swiss-darn the mistakes later. Or not.)   

Here's a black and white photo, just to show that the design does show up properly, at least if the light is good. 


Monday 15 February 2016

A Woven Stitch Cowl

I've been knitting a lot of neckwear lately - the Petal Cowl and the Seascape scarf.   Both of those were knitted in Louisa Harding's Amitola yarn, which is lovely, and I wanted to try the thicker version, Amitola Grande, which is about Aran thickness, and the same soft mix of wool and silk.  So I knitted another cowl in it last month - I was knitting it at Sheringham after I finished the Seascape scarf, and it was a quick knit.

I knew from a cowl that a friend had knitted in Amitolda Grande that it was likely to have very definite stripes, and I wanted a more blurry effect.  So I knitted it in woven stitch again, like the mitts I made before Christmas.   In that case, I chose woven stitch for its texture, but the effect of the slipped stitches on a variegated yarn is to avoid sharp changes of colour between rows, by mixing the colours together.  The effect is  really nice....

  ... and the other side is very presentable too.

I made the cowl quite small, and shaped towards the top - I didn't want to have too much loose fabric around my neck.  (It doesn't keep you warm and just gets in the way, is my opinion.)

I like it very much - I've been wearing it a lot.

This colourway of Amitola Grande is called Sleepy Hollow (525).  I usually like to know the names of yarn colours - they are often very evocative.  But Sleepy Hollow is a horror film, I never watch horror films, and I'm not very happy to think of a horror film when I look at my cowl.  (I have just watched the Sleepy Hollow trailer and the colours are very muted, with lots of browns and greys, so perhaps that's the reason for the name.)

Thursday 11 February 2016

A Popular Pattern

There are tens of thousands of pattern leaflets in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, but I sometimes wonder whether some of them were ever actually made.  I don't just mean the horrors like knitted patchwork trousers - some of the designs that look quite stylish now might not have actually appealed to knitters at the time.  In most cases, all we know is that the leaflet was published - we don't know how many copies were sold.  Sometimes, we can tell that a copy in the collection has been used, and maybe the knitter has written on it (e.g. these), so we know that at least one copy of that leaflet was sold.  But occasionally we know that a pattern did catch on, and sold very well.

Stitchcraft, March 1954

One pattern that we know sold well was first published in Stitchcraft magazine, not as a leaflet - it was the cover design in March 1954.  Then in May 1954, Stitchcraft carried an ad saying:
Knitted blazers with the "Bulky  Look" are all the rage,  When this P & B design was featured on the front cover of March Stitchcraft it was so popular that all the copies sold out in two days.  For this reason you may have been unable to obtain the pattern.  So many women have asked for it that we have rushed out a special colour booklet (C-786) covering this blazer.
The blazer is not what we would call bulky now - it is knitted in DK yarn, on sizes 9 and 11 needles  (3.75mm. and 3mm.)  The stitch is quite textured, though, which would make it thicker than stocking stitch.

And twenty years later, the pattern was issued again, in Patons' All Time Greats booklet - I assume because it had been such a good seller first time round.

From All Time Greats
It's a smart blazer, but I can't say I want to knit it - especially not in white, such an impractical colour.  But maybe its time will come again.

And while looking through the issues of Stitchcraft from 1954, I found another of the originals of the All Time Greats designs - the cover design was taken from the February 1954 Stitchcraft.  I guess that it had also been a popular pattern in 1954.  It's very elegant - and I like the way that the stylist has found a pavement of pink, grey and white tiles to pose the model against.  But it's a lot of plain stocking stitch in fine yarn - not so popular these days as it was in the 1950s.    

Stitchcraft, February 1954

Tuesday 9 February 2016

On the Other hand

We are in the first week of the On the other Hand Mystery Knit Along fingerless mitts, so we are knitting the cuffs.  There is a choice of a corrugated rib cuff, or a corrugated rib  and lice cuff (which at least one person taking part thought was a typo, perhaps for corrugated rib and lace - but no, in Norwegian designs, lice are individual stitches of a contrast colour.)  One of the choices was designed by Ann Kingstone and the other by Sarah Alderson, but we don't know which is which.  (Guessing is allowed, though.)  

I chose the corrugated rib cuff,  I haven't knitted a corrugated rib before, as far as I remember, so that seemed quite adventurous enough for now.    Here's the first cuff:


I've just bought some more needles, so that I can knit the second cuff this week too.

The yarn is Wendy Merino 4-ply, in Pacific (a dark blue-green - the main colour) and Rose (a soft red).  I watched Ann's Periscope broadcast, now uploaded to YouTube, on Shade contrast in stranded colourwork knitting, where she says that it's not enough to choose different colours - you also need them to be sufficiently different in shade, otherwise at a distance they won't be distinguishable.  I thought that the green and red I had chosen might not be a good shade contrast, so I followed her suggestion of photographing the balls of yarn and converting the photo to grayscale, so see how different they were.  And in fact the red showed up as much lighter than the green, so I think they will be OK.

I also watched Sarah and Ann's Periscope broadcast introducing the Knit Along.  They talk about our Huddersfield knit-and-natter group, where they came up with the original idea of having a joint knit-along.  The group is called Bitter and Twisted - we named it when we started meeting in a pub, where  there was the possibility that some of us might drink bitter, though I think that in fact none of us do.  (Twisted obviously refers to yarn.)  I remember them discussing various ideas for possible projects - I think that gloves were suggested at one point, but I'm pleased that it's simpler than that.

I intend to have finished both cuffs by Friday, when the next part of the pattern is due to be released.  I expect that both Ann and Sarah's choices will involve stranded colour-work, but that leaves a lot of scope.  It might be difficult to choose....      

Monday 8 February 2016

Ribbon Circus

Ribbon Circus is a yarn shop in Hebden Bridge, on the main road which runs along the valley, through the town.  That means it's not far from the river.  On Boxing Day (December 26th) there were severe floods along the valley - the river Calder filled the valley bottom and flowed along that main road, as well as in its proper channel.  The shops and houses along both sides of the road, including Ribbon Circus, were flooded - I was told that the water on the ground floor reached chest height.  Like many other businesses that were affected, the shop has not yet re-opened, but it has had a lot of support from spinners and the knitting community generally, and on Saturday they held a fund-raiser.  

Ribbon Circus following the flood

I went along to support the event.  I hadn't been in Calderdale since before Christmas, and it was shocking to see the aftermath of the floods.  There are still clusters of sandbags everywhere - not much use against water that's several feet deep.   Everywhere there are signs of repair work going on, and stacks of ruined materials outside buildings.

The fund-raiser was mainly a yarn sale - several spinners had donated yarn, and local knitters had cleared out their stashes.  A lot had already been sold by the time I got there, but there was plenty left.

The Hebden Bridge W.I. had baked cakes, and were offering tea, coffee and cake all day.  (The cakes all looked delicious, and I can confirm that the two I sampled definitely were.)  Several of the W.I. members visited Lee Mills last November to see some of the collection (I wrote about the visit here) , so it was great to see them again and meet Helen and Caroline of Ribbon Circus.   I'm told that the day raised £2000 towards the cost of repairing the flood damage.

I walked around the town, and saw that businesses are gradually re-opening.   A rather damp experience, as it rained all day - a completely unnecessary reminder of the reason for the fund-raiser.  The Hebden Beck, which flows through the town and into the Calder, was looking very full again.

Hebden Beck
It's hoped that the shop can re-open before the end of February.   I'll keep an eye on the website, and re-visit Hebden Bridge then - preferably when it's not raining.    

Saturday 6 February 2016

Vintage Shetland

I don't know how other bloggers manage to write about things on the day they happen.  I can't write posts fast enough, and they  always seem to lag behind events.  So here I am writing this, and I want to write about something that happened today, but I haven't written about yesterday yet.  So today will have to wait until tomorrow....

Yesterday.  Susan Crawford visited the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection with her husband Gavin to do some final research for The Vintage Shetland Project.   (I pre-ordered a copy of the book before Christmas, and she tells me that I should get it in April.)   She hadn't visited the collection before - it was wonderful to show it to someone so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about knitting history.   We showed her some of the Shetland lace, and I got out some lace patterns from the 1940s and 1950s - here are a few of them.

Bestway 2548
Bestway 2548 claims to be 'designed in the Shetland Isles', but is in pineapple stitch, which I have not heard of before.  It looks a pretty stitch - I might knit a swatch to try it.

Bestway 2559
On the other hand Bestway 2559 does not claim any link with the Shetlands at all, although it uses feather-and-fan,  a very well-known Shetland lace stitch.  (And we have a Shetland scarf in the collection similar to the one shown in the pattern.)

These two Bestway patterns date from the early 1950s.   We looked at two Copley's patterns from the 1940s that use Shetland lace stitches, or very similar ones.  Lacy knitwear was popular in the 1940s when clothes rationing meant that women wanted to knit jumpers using a minimal amount of yarn.  Copley's 1440 uses only 3 ounces of wool (although it is so see-through that you would definitely need to wear a vest under it, I think).

Copley's 1440

Although it doesn't mention any Shetland inspiration for the design, at least Copley's 1440 uses Shetland wool.  The jumpers in Copley's 1271 are knitted in cotton bouclé (4 ounces, or approx. 100g., for each), so quite remote from any Shetland original.

Copley's 1271
(The woman on the bottom left is wearing a completely ridiculous hat.   She looks like she's got a flue brush on her head.   I don't know why that's the comparison that comes to mind, or how I know what a flue brush looks like, but I feel strongly that that is what my mother would have said, and she would have used one back then in the 1940s.  To brush flues, of course.)      

So we had a great afternoon with Susan and Gavin showing them things from the collection.  And talking a lot.  I'm sure Susan would have been quite happy for us to leave her locked in with the collection overnight, but eventually she had to go home.  They have a farm to run and animals to feed.  And she has a book to finish!  (I am so looking forward to getting my copy in April.)  

Friday 5 February 2016

Yesterday at Spun

Yesterday being Thursday, I went to my local yarn shop, Spun, for the regular knit-and-natter session.  Lydia has a display of winter knits in the window, including two sweaters from the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.  I showed both of them in December at the Guild branch meeting on picture knits (see here).

They work well in the display, because the backs of both are interesting as well as the fronts - the bird tracks across the back of the robin sweater, and 'ICY' on the polar bear one.

(Though I don't really understand why anyone should want to have 'ICY' written across their back.)

Several people at Spun had already signed up to the Mystery Knit ALong that's being run by Sarah Alderson and Ann Kingstone, and were choosing two colours of 4-ply yarn for it in the shop.

The Knit Along is a pair of fingerless mitts - you'll find it on Ravelry if you search for a pattern called On the Other Hand.  There will be three stages, with two choices at each stage, one designed by Ann and one by Sarah, so there are 8 different combinations altogether.  (Or 16 if you make the thumb cuff and the hand cuff different, though personally I wouldn't.  Or 16 x 16 if you knit each mitt independently, though personally I think that would be daft.)

The description of the pattern on Ravelry includes the tags:  cables, corrugated ribbing, slipped stitches, stranded, twisted stitches  -  none of which are an essential part of a fingerless mitts pattern.  So it's going to be complicated.

I signed up for the Knit Along when I got home.  I'm already knitting a scarf in 4-ply in a dark teal colour, and will have some left over, so that's one of my colours.  Not entirely sure yet about the other.  The first instalment of the pattern was due to be released at 11 this morning - haven't looked yet.  Very exciting!

Monday 1 February 2016


Last week we were staying at Auchinleck House in Ayrshire, a historic country house restored by the Landmark Trust.  I suppose it's quite small by stately home standards, but it housed 13 of us (+ dog) very comfortably.

We deliberately chose last week because Monday was Burns Night - 25th January - so we had our Burns Night supper in grand Scottish surroundings.

As is traditional, we had haggis, tatties, neeps and whisky sauce, followed by cranachan.  The haggis was piped in (though with an accordion rather than bagpipes) and Burns' poem Address to a Haggis was read while one of the party ceremoniously cut the haggis open.   Between courses, we recited Tam O' Shanter, taking turns to read a few verses each - not easy for the English, like me, who need a translation for lines like:
...ilka carlin swat and reekit,
And coost her duddies to the wark,
And linket at it in her sark!
After dinner we had more poems - William McGonagall as well as Burns.  And a certain amount of whisky was drunk.

The weather was fairly miserable the whole week - wet and windy, with occasional short sunny spells when the wind blew the clouds away.  But it was quite mild, so could have been much worse.  We went to Ayr and to Alloway, Burns' birthplace.  There you can visit the 'Robert Burns Birthplace Museum'; the Brig o' Doon; the old ruined church of Alloway, which features in Tam O' Shanter; the monument erected in memory of Burns; and the cottage where he was born.  (And for people who like that sort of thing, e.g. John, there are two exciting mort-safes inside the old church - used to protect newly-buried bodies from the anatomists.)

Until we went to Alloway, I hadn't known that Burns was so revered so early - he died in 1796, and the tradition of Burns suppers to remember him started only five years later.  The huge Burns monument in Alloway dates from 1820, and just below the monument is a collection of life-size stone sculptures of characters from the poem Tam O' Shanter, which were created in 1828.


Tam O' Shanter is, of course, wearing the 'guid blue bonnet' mentioned in the poem - and a pair of knitted leggings, too.  I wondered when tam o' shanter became applied to a particular style of head-gear. Again, it was surprisingly early: in the 1830s, Tam O' Shanter bonnets were advertised in Scottish newspapers as a type of headgear - specifically for men at that time.

Back to Auchinleck.  Because of the weather, and the fact that it was getting dark by 4 in the afternoon, we spent a lot of time in the house. That was no hardship - it allowed us to enjoy the house and the company of friends.  The house was built for the father of James Boswell, the friend and biographer of Samuel Johnson.  The Landmark Trust has put a collection of books relating to Johnson and Boswell in the library - another grand but very comfortable room, with open fires at each end, and a pleasant place to sit and read (or knit).  

I don't think I have ever looked at a copy of Johnson's Dictionary before, so I decided  to see what he says about knitting.   He defines 'to knit' as 'to weave without a loom', so I don't think he was a knitter.  But the entry for 'knitting needle' is interesting - Johnson's was the first English dictionary to use quotations to illustrate the use of words.  For knitting needle, he gives: "He gave her a cuff on the ear, she would prick him with her knitting needle."  It makes you wonder what the rest of this scene of domestic discord involved.  The Oxford English Dictionary (which adopted the idea of using quotations) uses the same quote, and dates it to 1712.  

And I did some knitting, by the fire in the library or at the dining table after dinner.  I mentioned in my last post that I need to practise Swedish twined knitting for a workshop in a few months' time.  Last week I had a go, and knitted a little sampler of different stitches.

It's turned out very well, I think.  Amazingly, it's very like the illustrations in the book!  I was using two strands of the putty-coloured yarn (apart from the casting on where I used a bit of another colour).  The inside is also very neat - you can see how the two strands of yarn are twisted over each other. .    

I do need to practise some more, but I'm really pleased that I've managed to produce something that looks like it's supposed to.

It was a very good week altogether - awful weather, but a beautiful and comfortable place to stay, and good company.

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