Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Things I Have Learned About Knitting From the Internet

I've learned many things recently about my lifelong hobby - Knitting.  At first, the things I was hearing on podcasts and seeing on the web seemed like sacrilege. I giggled nervously, in case someone else noticed. Now, ladies, because most of you are ladies, I bow to you in homage and thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have freed me to enjoy my knitting again.  Thank you, thank you, Annette, Sadie, Heather, Jo, Nic, Chrissy and many, many more.. you know who you are.

So here are some of the lessons I have learned:

You don't have to be weird to knit

Once upon a time almost every woman knitted.  I learned about the time I learned to drink tea with my great aunt (I was probably 7). I didn't have any great skill, but then I doubt if Aunt D had either.  We turned out v-neck jumpers with dodgy necks and boxy cardigans with huge buttonholes.  But the point was, everyone did it. A woman's magazine had to have knitting patterns in it.. that was the law!  Over the years knitting declined in popularity. Perhaps it was the growth of cheap acrylic and cheap knitwear in the shops.  It was no fun to knit any more. The yarns were unexciting and you could buy something serviceable at far less that it would cost to make. Yarn shops almost disappeared. Patterns vanished from women's mags and people started to say they didn't think anyone knitted anymore...

All of a sudden, the internet arrived and those lonely knitters were able to find each other again. They started swapping ideas, getting together at knit nights and providing a market. I still find I'm an object of curiosity when I pull out my latest hat on the way to work, but increasingly people actually talk to me on the train. They ask how I learned, what I'm making and so many ladies bemoan the fact that they didn't listen when gran tried to teach them.  Every single one of these conversations has been fun and friendly.

Near me, a gorgeous yarn shop has opened up. I was there at the weekend touching everything, holding balls of yarn together to try the colours out and generally picking out bits for me.  My excitement must have been tangible.  I was 17 again.. spending my first week's Saturday-job money on myself... The owner laughed and said "carry on, my dear.. you're among friends here".  Bliss!

You don't have to knit one thing at a time

I actually knitted and wore
things from this book

Yes, you have my permission, you can cast on all the things.  Of course, you need to have a copious supply of needles and some way to store each project so you don't end up with a jumbled, tangled mess. But you can.. it's all up to you.  Way back when, somehow you were only allowed to be working on one thing at a time. If you had a scratchy, dull school jumper to knock out for your rugby-playing brother, that was just tough. You slogged away at it until it was done.  

Of course, having my permission to cast on all the things means, by extension, you also have my permission to obtain the project bags, needle sets (multiple) that will make your knitting organised and ready to carry along with you wherever you go.

The only danger you run is that you may start to feel the pressure to finish something once in a while but....

You don't have to finish what you started

Really, honestly, you don't.  Who is this knitting for, after all?  Isn't the point that it's your hobby?  You should knit things you enjoy and you find beautiful. If it becomes a job or a chore then it's up to you to decide whether you love the recipient enough to finish it. 

Besides, I've found that if I'm not enjoying a project, it's almost always because I've picked the wrong pattern for the occasion or for the materials.  Sometimes I pull a project out three or four times and try something different. Eventually, everything clicks and I race along, wondering why on earth I had so much trouble in the first place. I think of this as the yarn telling me what it wants to be.  A prime example is the wavy crocheted blanket I've mentioned before. Once I had married the right stitch with the colours and weight of yarn I was away. 

There is a world of new yarns and new techniques out there

Woolly Wormhead
strikes again
I thought I knew yarn - I have some stuff that is older than my kids but which has never made it to a finished item.. and my oldest is off to University soon. I think some animals may get a pile of snuggles next year.. Anyhow, I am now feeding my addiction one skein at a time.  I've knitted a gorgeous Woolly Wormhead hat in something scrumptious with silk from the Skein Queen and another in a beautifully soft cotton. I've discovered I actually can knit in the round so long as I don't bother with those tricksy double-pointed needles. Your cast-on edge doesn't have to be tight and rough.. OK perhaps I'll stop giving away my short-comings..

The point is, some of the new generation of knitters don't seem to know the rules I grew up with.  We are finally free to do what makes sense. There are also people who love colour and who love good yarns and who are putting them together in such exciting ways. I am really looking forward to exploring them all.

Pinterest and Ravelry are as addictive as {insert your most addictive addiction here}

Oh my, the days I must have lost to Pinterest.  They send you those tantalising emails "here are some pins we think you'll love"  and you're off... clicking through, looking at another board, discovering there are even more hobbies you've not tried yet and oh, that bracelet is gorgeous.. I have to learn to make it.... 

Pinterest led me to Ravelry ... so many interesting-looking designs... and you have to register. So I did. And I found thousands of things I wanted to make.. Oh and then there were groups for the podcasters I'd just started to discover and they were fun and chatty and full of supportive, happy knitters. I love knitalongs, well anything-alongs... and I've won a skein of yarn recently that I'm think might be waiting at the post office for me to collect. So exciting.  Only problem is now I have a queue of things I want to make that will last me forever, a growing stash and a stack of patterns I've already bought that I probably won't complete until the end of next year. Ho hum, what a problem to have, huh?  Happy happy Debris!  

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Magrathea and Bath

Magrathea - one of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy-inspired shawlettes by Martina Behm was a multiple first for me.  It was my first shawl, the first project using yarn from an indie dyer and the first garment I've ever made for myself that I want to wear ALL the time.

The shawl design is simple but very ingenious. Like many of Martina Behm's designs, Magreathea is a long, thin triangle which is knitted on the bias, using mainly garter stitch, with a lace edging.  It is quick and satisfying to knit up and the resulting fabric is cosy but light and sits gloriously around your neck. I really enjoyed knitting the lace and I love the pretty femininity of it.

The yarn is from Soft Like Kittens which is hand-dyed by Annette from Auckland in New Zealand (Annettle on Ravelry).  It's her Double Helix sock base (4-ply/fingering), which is 80% Merino and 20% nylon. I hope and expect it will last forever.  The colourway is called "Breaking Waves", a name which suits it very well. I particularly like the pops of white which evoke the sparkle of sun on foamy waves. The variegation works well for a project such as this.

It felt very extravagant to order yarn all the way from the other side of the world but I am very glad I did. I already have a second shawl in progress using another skein in a different colour.

My Magrathea had its first outing this last weekend on a short trip to Wiltshire and Bath.  We stayed in Chippenham which is a place I've never visited before.  We arrived on the same evening as the Christmas lights were being switched on so the town was in a party mood - which suited me fine.

So, on Friday we mooched around Marlborough and Chippenham, enjoying the Christmassy atmosphere. I visited a wool shop in Marlborough, as you do, and bought a few beading supplies in Chippenham. We took up residence in a special 4-poster-bedded room in the Angel Hotel that was so large I needed binoculars to see the Other Half on his chaise longue.  The hotel was friendly and comfortable and the meals were truly excellent.

Saturday was dedicated to Bath.  I wanted to visit the Christmas Market which I had heard was fun and unusual. Well, with the sunny weather and Bath Rugby Club playing at home, the town was incredibly full.  The market lived up to expectations with so many unusual products and so much ingenuity on display, but unfortunately the crush was a little off-putting.  Still, we decided to make the most of the glorious weather and took a bus tour.  I think we saw the city at its best; the gentle autumn sun on the sandstone was truly beautiful.  On the whole this was a delightful weekend.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Crochet Blankets

I find people are pretty evenly divided about crocheted blankets - they either love them or hate them. I love them. I love the weight and the textures and I especially love the way they lend themselves to geometric patterns. They are a little like fabric quilts in that respect. I have made two crocheted blankets this year and have a couple more in progress. Here they are all together:
The first was the blue and cream squared blanket. This one is for the bedroom. It comes out when it's too hot for a duvet but not warm enough for just a sheet. I expect I'll also use it to supplement the duvet sometimes.
It's made from a value range of 100% acrylic from Hobbycraft.. not the most exciting yarn, but it's warm, nice to work with and very washable. The only complaint I have is it has become rather stretchy due to the weight of such a large blanket. The pattern for the squares came from 200 Crochet Blocks for Blankets, Throws and Afghans: Crochet Squares to Mix-and-Match by Jan Eaton which I have used many times - it has a wonderfully varied selection of blocks and some great ideas for how to put them together. Most of the squares have been crocheted on the train, so it feels like it has taken no time, since that time is otherwise lost. I have a pile of 20-30 more to add and then it will be done, all bar the edging. I think this blanket's simple design shows off some of the things I love about crochet - there are at least 2 patterns there: one from the arrangement of the coloured blocks, and another from the eyelets in the blocks themselves.

This next blanket is a happy accident. I took a couple of projects on holiday with me this year, but when it came to it I just didn't want to work on either of them. So I went yarn hunting. All I could find right then was a small hardware shop that stocked a small range of acrylics. Armed with a few balls of speckly blue and cream DK and a 4.00mm hook I went searching on Pinterest for inspiration. I found a baby afghan that appealed to me, so I took the basic granny chevron pattern and came up with this. It grew very quickly and was very satisfying. It's really a lapghan - big enough to cover either your lap or wrap around your shoulders. It's surprisingly light and comfortable. Again, the acrylic yarn is an advantage because it has had tea spilt on it at least twice and it has washed up very well. I love the pattern - I want to use it again.

The third blanket came about because I loved the blue and cream chevron so much I wanted to start on another right away. I found a whole load of aran-weight yarn, but then found that the extra weight and the granny chevron just didn't work together. I tried a few things and eventually the yarn told me what it wanted to be. It's crocheted using Lucy from Attic 24's wonderful Neat Ripple Pattern. This one grew so quickly I think it was done in 2 weeks of an-hour-an-evening while I was watching tv. It's a full single-bed size so it has been used for snoozing under on the sofa. It lives in the lounge and gets a lot of use.

Finally, I have been working on this granny-square blanket for my plaid-loving daughter. It's about half-done and was my commuting project until I decided to start on some Christmas knitting. Granny squares have been overused, I think (just remember those tanktops in the 70s) but they lend themselves very well to playing with colour. It's a real mixture of yarns for this one - mostly wool, but the colour was the biggest consideration. I spent a long time in the store laying them out and taking them outside into the daylight. Inspiration for this one came from Pinterest again. The original is called Lakeshore Plaid Blanket by Ana from Lanas Hilos. I can lose many, many hours on Pinterest - but that's a story for another day.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Something Old

I found a beautiful pot in my local antiques barn.  Ok, it's a bit bright, but I like that.  The first glance made me think of Winnie the Pooh.  I can imagine this being the jar that he keeps the very, very special honey in.  It must have once had a lid or cover because it has a rim.  I bought it for a few pounds only and thought it would make a nice pot plant holder.

Well, once I got it home I found that, since it is narrower at the top and your average plant pot is wider at the top, only small plants will fit and then the proportions are all wrong.  So.... I did this with it....
OK so it is a little untidy, but I can see all my needles and It encourages me to put them away as soon as I'm done with them.  Also, buried in there are some needles I inherited from my Nan and aunt. So at once I have a pretty display, a reminder of the past and a useful object.  

If you believe the marks on the base, this jar of mine comes from Los Angeles.  I love that I have something so jolly from so far away.  I will have to do some research and see if I can discover something about the potter.

As to those needles, below are some of the oldest. They don't get all that much use any more, but they have clearly seen a lot of service.  It is lovely to think that some of my infant clothes might have been made by these. I made a point of knitting something for each of my children with them. I have made a lot of use of the number 9s with the inch markings. 

Monday, 18 November 2013

Getting Post

I have a childish delight in receiving things in the post.  From the moment I see the postman at the door or that little red card on the mat I have a little tingle of anticipation: is it that yarn I ordered or a complete surprise?  Way back I would send off for free holiday brochures, just so I would have some post arrive with my name on. I hit gold when I ordered some information about holidays in Yugoslavia, as it was then: I received maps and all sorts of beautifully photographed booklets about the different regions. Bliss!

This last week I have had that pleasure almost every day. Some of the things I have ordered have been for Christmas presents, some have been for me. It doesn't matter - the reward is the parcel itself.  Nevertheless, some of the things that have arrived this week have been delicious.
I blame my podcasting habit for some of this. Top left is a project bag from Daisy Bun Boo - a beautifully made large, round bag, with a small pocket and a drawstring. I heard about these from Knit.Spin.Cake - I think they are made by Aimee's mum. Thoroughly recommended.

Next clockwise is a wool winder - I needed this to deal with the next item around: yarn from Soft Like Kittens all the way from New Zealand. Boy, this stuff is so glorious. I have been dithering about whether to order some for a couple of months. I love the colours Annette gets into her dying (Annette makes the Gentle Ribbing podcast) but thought that having it shipped halfway around the world was just too extravagant. I am just so delighted with it I can see me doing it all over again. I have two skeins of sock yarn and two of DK. I've already started turning the tealy-blue mix into a shawlette.

Finally I have a little kit from Manfield Craft - a mother and baby sheep kit. Basically you get two wooden sheep - one mum and one baby - and enough wool to make them each a jumper. I'm looking forward to making those, but they will have to wait until the shawl is done and maybe until I've used some more of the yarn.

I am now making a concerted effort to be content and not order any more goodies.