Monday, 13 June 2016

Making Lemonade; or Hay while the Sun Shines

Every once in a while I am summoned North to ensure our somewhat mad golden retriever is fed, watered and exercised while the usual inhabitants of the house are elsewhere. This tends to involve lengthy train journeys and using up some annual leave, but what I need to remember is that actually, it is also a series of days of freedom in a beautiful setting, with no other demands on my time than those of the dog's routine.
In fact, my most recent visit has been particularly revealing in terms of how a negative could be turned into a positive, and how looking on the bright side can really transform an experience.

Problem the first: the dog and knitting do not work very well together. She likes to be fussed, and in particular sees the times in which the humans are in soft chairs as times for putting her head in your lap and licking / investigating whatever you may be holding.

Solution: Pack a sewing machine. It might seem a little crazy, but actually, my sewing machine does fit in my suitcase, and I'm (thankfully) strong enough to carry heavy things.

Problem the second: the planned project I had thought I could whip through on this long weekend has a significant decision outstanding on it, and was not ready to bring.

Solution: Let's start all the things! I have a fabric and pattern stash for exactly this sort of eventuality, and in fact very rarely buy that fabric without a pattern / project in mind for it (otherwise I end up with the wrong amounts of stuff), so out came the box of fabric, and the box of patterns, and with a quick notions check - I have a zip stash too, and a collection of thread, I was all set.

Problem the third: I forgot to pack my dress-making shears.

Solution: turns out I'm in a house where I can put my hand on shears, and tape measures, without much difficulty!

Problem the fourth: I had checked that the Burda pattern 'envelopes' I pulled out included the pattern pieces, but not the precise details, and found that waistband and facings were missing when I opened them. I also had forgotten that being Burda Style magazine patterns, the traced pieces would be all that was in the packet - so no instructions.

Solution: after 15 years of sewing experience (but not considering myself particularly accomplished - I make it work, and the first 5 years were characterised by student theatre, where if it will last the week of the show, and pass muster from the auditorium, you're golden), I discovered that I can actually draft waistband pieces and neckline facings without much difficulty. I can also sew a skirt and dress without instructions. Woot!

Pins travelled surprisingly well in their pincushion, and cutting out was straightforward - barring the fact that my knees don't like the floor as much as the pins and scissors do. Sewing up was actually very enjoyable, and the dog seemed quite content to remain under the table while the work was being done above it!

So at the end of the weekend, what do I have to show for it? A new Belcarra top for work, which fits and will hopefully serve me well if summer has in fact actually arrived; the front (with pockets) and two back pieces of a skirt from Burda style, which needs the waistband interfacing and lining, an invisible zip and a hem (turns out the zip I found in the right colour and length was not an invisible one, and for this pattern, it would make a difference); and a third iteration of my trusty Burda style dress, to refresh the Kaffe Fassett model which I'm shocked to discover I made 5 years ago, and as a more colourful, breathable alternative to my black 'office' version.

Not bad, when considering it was combined with at least 3 hours of walking per day, and a tiny bit of knitting did also get done!

Now to address the question I don't yet have a definite answer to: why do I have to travel 300 miles to get any sewing done? Yes, knitting is easier to turn to in odd moments at home, but I do have occasional stretches of time, and weekends are just as prevalent in the Midlands as the North... I need to tidy. My sewing table is well set up, but it gets used to put things on, and I really need to remember that I need that space clear if I'm to get a project out, work on it, and put it away again.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Top Haps

Shortly after I knit my first Hap, I failed to manage everything I was carrying with me effectively, and dropped it en route to the railway station. It was found, and all is well, but in posting my loss on social media (in the hope someone local would spot it and know who it belonged to), I found a particular fact of note: the majority of responders thought I must have mis-typed, and had instead lost a hat. My husband is proud to state that thanks to KnitBritish, he now knows what a Hap is.
It was for Louise's wonderful Hap-Along that I knit said Hap – Brooklyn Tweed's Kelpie. This was rather a serendipitous happenstance: I had been bought an Eden Cottage Yarns yarnling sampler set for my birthday; have a signficant stash of sock-leftovers for the final stripe, which I didn't dare risk a yarnling on; and came across a sale in the Isle Yarn shop just before the cast-on date. It was a pleasing and steady project – the construction of a hap means you've plenty of simple lovely garter stitch to help you familiarise yourself with the yarn before you begin the more intricate lacy sections.

My second Hap of 2015 was in fact not finished until 2016, but it was perhaps my most impetuous project ever – I saw Karie's publication announcement* for the Mahy (rav link) on Twitter, decided it had to be made, and arranged a detour from planned events on a weekend away to ensure yarn was bought. Pattern, yarn and cast-on all came together within 2 days of publication, and progress only stalled as I hit the Christmas knitting crunch. Helpfully, the size of the Mahy is also such that it finally justified the long-delayed purchase of blocking boards: children's play pieces from John Lewis (handily delivered to our local Waitrose) which can be configured according to the shape of the garment. I was very pleased to finish this in time to meet Karie at Joeli's retreat in February!

And the latest, possibly greatest news of 2016 in terms of haps? Kate Davies has turned her attention to the hap shawl for her very-very-nearly-published book project. With essays and historical research alongside contributions from Gudrun Johnston, Lucy Hague, Martina Behm, Jen Arnall-Culliford, Veera Välimäki and other absolute stars of the knitting galaxy, this project is one which has been murmured about in hushed tones over the last year until the news of pre-orders opened, and since I placed my order, and started seeing the designs being featured on Kate's blog daily, the anticipation has only been building. Words do, at this point, fail me, and I can only direct you to read the blog, pore over the beautiful designs, and perhaps order the book.

(ETA: since I first published this post, I have also become aware of the lovely Louise Tilbrook's beautiful Hebridean Hap design, recently published and inspired by the amazing tale behind Rachel Atkinson's Daughter of a Shepherd yarn.)

The moral of my tale? Haps are amazing. They can be simple, they can be stunning, they can be striking; they speak of hard work, of comfort, and of style. And they mean you can talk about being Hap-py to your heart's content!

*if you haven't seen her more recent publication announcement - that of the Kickstarter campaign for This Thing of Paper - head over here to find out about it. (Brilliant and inspiring, in my opinion)

Saturday, 21 May 2016

A New Start - the Engines On socks

If years can be said to have a theme, then 2016 for me is turning out to be a year of new starts. Over the last few years, there have been a lot of changes of direction in my life and work, and as those have stabilised, I've begun taking stock, and looking at new goals, new plans, and what I want to be spending time with.

I'm very much looking forward to seeing where this new impetus takes me, and in the spirit of adventure have already made it to two fantastic knitting events this year - Joeli's Kitchen Retreat 2016 (back next year as Joeli Creates a Retreat), and Edinburgh Yarn Festival.

The yarn fumes were of course overwhelming, and the creativity of a group of knitters really rather infectious. Little wonder, then, that having spent some time chatting with Helen of the Wool Kitchen and Amelia of Woollenwords, I walked off clutching a skein of Ground Control, and determined to make the most of this beautiful yarn.

Anyone who knows Helen's dyeing palette will recognise her inimitable sense of colours together, and in Ground Control in particular, the flashes of bright and warm incendiary shades amongst the deep and tonal greys. The Wool Kitchen Sock yarn, composed of 80% superwash BFL and 20% bamboo, has a wonderful strength and woolliness to it, whilst the bamboo gives it just that touch of sheen and drape.

To celebrate those rocket-fuel moments, I decided I needed texture - something to break up the smoothness of stocking stitch and inject instead a pop of contrast. Paired with a slipped-stitch heel and deep ribbed cuff, the knit-purl texture is at once soft and comforting and strong and structured. The resulting sock is a simple and straightforward unisex knit, sensible and yet showcasing the yarn's rebellious streak!

The pattern is available through Ravelry by clicking on the button below.

Engines On - socks

Thursday, 19 May 2016

My Name's Ruth, and I'm a... podcastaholic

I'm a podcast addict. Have been for years, when the podcasters I listened to became daily companions, and my Radio 4 habit moved from the radio itself to the downloadable/portable version. The situation is even worse now, since I've upgraded my phone and now have the magic to ensure all my favourites are downloaded automatically as they are released. I regularly end up with a dozen hours or so of podcast material sitting waiting patiently for me to go for a long walk, or be stuck on a train.

And that's fine... I walk to and from the station every day, to exercise classes a few times a week, and I listen all the time. Often it is as an accompaniment to knitting – the 10 minute train journey to work is less irritating and more productive if I'm knitting and listening to a podcast than if I'm just waiting for us to get somewhere.*

Why listen to podcasts? I work in an office without radio, so can't listen to most things live. Even Saturday Live, that bastion of British slow weekend listening, is on at a time when I might need to be running errands / prefer to be in the great outdoors. Being freed from the radio schedules enables me to catch up with Start the Week, In Our Time, or Ramblings at a quiet moment in the week.

I'm also freed from radio reception – so I can listen to podcasts from France or further afield that I would not be able to pick up on my radio, and which mean I can practice what my teachers always preached – listening to actual French on a regular basis.

It also means I can pick up on the plethora of podcasts which are not tied to the radio, and feed my knitting habit! In my actual daily life there are sadly few knitterly encounters, but with the Knitmore Girls, Shiny Bees, APlayful Day, Caithness Craft Collective, Knit British, Down CellarStudio, 2 Knit-Lit Chicks, Commuter Knitter, Prairie Girls Knit andSpin and Yarns from the Plain, I have a wide range of knitting 'friends' with their fingers on the pulse of current knit-culture, and I can keep up with them all (almost!)

A final benefit to this podcast habit? A saving in eye-strain. I work with a screen all day, and as the years creep on, I find that by the end of the day I'm sometimes too tired to watch another screen. So I switch on my podcast, and am entertained and informed.

Are you a fellow listener? If you're laughing to yourself on the train, is it because of something they said? Who are your favourites? Do you have a preferred listening station?

*This is why I don't succeed in staying up to date with videocasts – the times I listen are not times when I can be looking at a screen, though I do sometimes prise myself up early enough in a morning to catch 20 minutes with the Knitgirllls before I have to leave!