Saturday, 24 December 2011

:: 24 :: Glad tidings we bring, to you and your kin

"Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too,
And God bless you and send you
a Happy New Year
And God send you a Happy New Year!"

Merry Christmas, everyone.

:: 20 - 23 :: a festive home selection

Just a little selection of the festive elements in the house at the moment.

[20] is probably the most history-full. He's Beartje - the bear I've had since I was born, and he's been living in that little stocking/scarf combo for longer than I care to think about. The stocking was one of the first things I remember making on a sewing machine - at a Craft Class at Burnley Mechanics that I attended from about 8 - 15 (ish). 7 years of Saturday mornings in the basement making things. Yay! He's also wearing a very fetching scarf - my first piece of knitting. It's all of 16 years old, so I think it isn't doing badly. The badge is a souvenir of one of Felix's earlier projects, the Missability Radio Show.

[21] is my current knitspot - the sofa is usually a more muted brown, but even it has been overtaken by the spirit of the season. The knitting is a second sleeve. All will become clear before the new year (I hope!)

[22] Our tree this year. I love it. I'd like to add a little more colour for future years, but there are a few handmade touches in there.

[23] is one of them. This little fellow is from a lovely Little Cotton Rabbits pattern released for Christmas a couple of years ago. Julie's knitting is amazing, and this is a fab little pattern - I made two bears and a bunny for my family, though I don't know what happened to the others.

:: 14 - 19 :: Wintry weather

A White Christmas doesn't seem to be on the cards this year, but in itself, that doesn't really affect how I see Christmas. Perhaps it's the dark, and the very real awareness of the winter solstice, or perhaps simply the colder temperatures (and colds too), but what I like most about this time of year is the interplay of light and dark, the contrast of it being cold outside, but so warm and cosy in!

Friday, 23 December 2011

:: 13 :: Glad tidings of all

I love getting Christmas cards, but I'm generally a terrible correspondent, and most years, haven't actually received enough for it to be worth working out a 'display solution'. Perhaps it's a sign of getting older, perhaps it's just that we have so many networks of friends now, but in either case, I've enjoyed receiving news from friends and family near and far. And they gave me an excuse to break out the Christmassy ribbons, craft pegs and mini decorations. I rather like my festive bookcase! If you look closely (apologies for the awful light in the picture), you may even spot a couple of seasonal birds and hearts, and the products of my August Knitting the Almanac-along; Christmas fiddle-faddle in the woods produced a pair of Rico cotton stars, which felt most at home here.

:: 8-12 :: Lots of Christmas Crafting

Erm... so I disappeared again. Sorry! Christmas crafting is a large part of my Advent every year, and this year was no exception.

Of course, I can't show you anything much that I made this year, because it's all under other people's trees, wrapped and gift-tagged and waiting for the big day.

So here're some things made in years past - my own little Mousey [8], made from Ysolda's pattern in Whimsical Little Knits. This is a fantastic pattern, and was a joyful toy to make, since there's very little finishing involved!

The little bunny rabbit [9;11] was made and dressed for a friend (from the purl bee), his clothing made from scraps left over from prototype for the 30-odd jackets I made for the European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO photos). I'm so proud the jackets are still being worn and looking good. Don't know about the bunny - he did send me an email a while ago, but I should probably check whether he's in need of new wardrobe items...

The beret is a Selbu Modern [10] - my first stab at colourwork two years ago for my sister's Christmas present. This was the moment at which I realised (1) that stranded colourwork isn't too scary, but that (2) my tension in that colourwork is *insanely* tight.

[12] Dates from last Christmas, I think, and shows the tea cosy and napkins made for my parents, basically out of my head. The only problem with making things out of my head, I've found, is that I tend to err on the side of caution when guestimating sizes. Teapots don't grow much. Hey ho!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

:: 7 :: Wintry weather

Thankfully, the view from my window today does *not* contain the white stuff... but it has been forecast. May you all be safe and warm as the mornings get darker and the Christmas deadlines approach!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

:: 6 :: Squirrels

Our tree isn't up this year yet, but we are going to be getting one, so here's a glance back to our tree 4 years ago... If you look carefully, you can see a little shop-bought angel - and two squirrels. Why not have squirrels in your tree? Even if one of them is purple (colours dependant on my bead stash, of course!) They'll be coming out again this year.

:: 5 :: Saint Nicolas

Happy (belated) Saint Nicolas! Also, I made my first batch of mince pies - the season is truly here. I use this recipe from BBC food, which makes a pastry with just a bit of extra 'zing' (it's the orange). Because I'm me, and never have time to wait for butter to soften, I made these with margarine. I'm not sure I could tell the difference.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

:: 4 :: Pitt Rivers

If all the doors of my advent calendar opened on places where I had found calm, and peace, and inspiration, then the various museums of Oxford (on a quiet winter's day) would feature prominently. From the beauty of the Ashmolean's paintings (and its much talked-about architectural redesign), with the added bonus of being right next to the Taylorian languages library, through the dark and mysteriously purposeful spaces of the Museum of the History of Science, and the briskly insightful exhibitions in the Bodleian, to the soaring space pictured here, which houses both the wondrous collections of the Pitt Rivers (yes, I know, including shrunken heads), and the Oxford Natural History museum, the free entry of these museums was an amazing addition to my time in Oxford. They wouldn't be there without the academic presence of the university, but they are (refreshingly) not academic spaces. Just curious spaces, full of light and air and information.

Friday, 2 December 2011

:: 3 :: Lighting up the town

Yippee! Today's the day I teach my first knitting workshop, and the Malvern Christmas Light Switch-On is happening! This is one of the ladies from the Switch-On parade a couple of years ago. I am working this afternoon, so might not get to see much of the day, but I am hoping to run past the Arts and Crafts fair in the Priory churchyard, and maybe see a lovely lady from near Ludlow, who has sheep. And weaves blankets. And sells her own yarn...

:: 2 :: a bit meta

It might seem a bit self-referential, but here's a bit of last year's advent calendar. It hasn't been put back up this year, at least in part because it only really fits sweets, and I'm looking for better inspiration for the countdown. I have been admiring this over at mooncalfmakes, which looks like a great plan (we have *lots* of tea). Will think on.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

A New Month

I've always enjoyed bloggers' advent calendars, and felt that this year I should do one too. My aim is to keep it up, and post a little something every day through until Christmas. I'm finding that the more I blog, the more I want to blog, so I'm hoping that this will give me the little boost I think this blog needs. It might also give me the opportunity to catch up with the crafting I've been doing! I know I've missed out on Wovember, but thought this picture captured much of my connection with wool - in its natural state, I've been surrounded by it all my life, and only relatively recently have I developed that connection further. I'm currently looking into local sheepbreeds to me (in Worcestershire), and wondering which of the British Wools I've seen are actually spun here. I know that Laxton's Mill in Guiseley (about 20 miles from where this sheep portrait was taken) are spinning yarns (inc. wools) for a number of companies, but I've yet to find out exactly which ones. I'd love to see really clear labelling from yarn companies, saying not only 'Made in X', but where the fibre was 'grown', and where it was processed and spun. Is it a British sheep breed, 'grown' in Britain, and processed here? Or is it British sheepswool, shipped across the world for processing, and sent back for sales? There are clearly wider issues regarding the ways 'Wool' is branded, and used in marketing more generally, but as a knitter, it's the provenance of my wool (and yarn) that preoccupies me.

While we're looking back a little, here's the project from the end of last month's Almanac-along (in the interests of transparency, I should mention that the grafting was done this morning):

It's the Moccasin Sock, knit on 2.5mm needles, in Regia-4ply-sock in one of the Kaffe Fassett colourways. The construction on this sock is EZ-interesting, in that you knit all the ribbing flat (the leg, and the top of the foot) first, knit the st-st toe-top, and then pick up stitches all the way around the foot to knit down (with a short-row section for heel shaping), decreasing round the toe and heel ends, and finishing the whole thing off with a good bit of grafting down the length of the sole, and seaming up the back of the leg. It looks like a very odd sock off:

but is surprisingly comfortable on.

As to the future:
That, my dear readers, is Mr P's Christmas Cobblestone. Cast on this morning, and to be knit as my 'Last Minute Hurry Up Sweater' in time for the Big Day. Another high aim... let's see how it goes :)

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Workshop update

Just to let you know that the 'Knit a Mini Sock in a Morning' workshop has been postponed until the 3rd December - again, 10am-1pm on the Saturday.

In case you were wondering, the mini sock in question would look something like this:

The penny on the left is included for scale, and the sock on the right is the Child's sock, which, along with a plain Adult sock, will be provided to students on the day.

Monday, 14 November 2011

My first workshop

If you happen to be in or near Malvern this Saturday morning, and would like to learn to knit socks, please do call The Knitting Parlour!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Followed by some sewing

I've not just been knitting, though I have got more to show you. A few weeks ago Theresa Furey, a friend and photographer, got in touch to ask if I might be interested in sewing some birds to help with marketing at a vintage bridal fair. Sounded lovely, so she bought some fabric, and I got stitching. As usual, I failed to take any 'in progress' shots, but she very kindly sent me some pictures of her booth on the day and said I could share them, so here's a wide and general idea:
(If you look carefully, you can see a little bit of the bunting I made for her too :) I love the styling of the whole booth - Theresa told me some of her plans, and I'm very very impressed with how they all came together! And here's a close-up of one of my birds (all 120 were complete individuals, and this one definitely has more of a head crest than some :)

Friday, 4 November 2011

FO Friday

Time for some knitting! This is a project I started on my way to my hen party in Manchester (thanks Maz!) on 2nd July, having been too busy on the 1st to begin the July portion of the Almanac knitalong. I did (madly) think that I might get it finished in order for it to qualify for the Knitgirllls' Stash Dash, but the Big Blue Blob of Doom (as it came to be referred to) soon grew to a size at which rows became rather long, and rather slow to complete.

It's knit from 100g Old Maiden Aunt merino/silk laceweight in the moody colourway that I bought at the first Ravelry day in Coventry, and then looked at for two years before winding it into a skein and casting on.

The pattern is essentially EZ's July Pi, with my own insertions of lace patterns. For those who are interested, I worked the very centre exactly according to EZ's instructions, inserting the Flower motifs (from a stole pattern in Victorian Lace Today) into the 72st section. After the next increase round (to 144 sts) I had to do a little maths, knitting two rounds plain, and one round of [*K47, Kfb, repeat from *] to end up with 147 sts so that I could work 5 repeats of the Gull Lace pattern used in the February Baby Sweater, followed by another 2 rounds plain, and the increase to 294 sts. I then knit 3 rounds plain, and decreased 4 sts regularly around the 4th round to end up with 290 sts, so that I could work 5 repeats of a Horseshoe lace pattern from A Gathering of Lace, increase 4 sts regularly around the next round, and knit 4 rounds plain. Time for another increase round, to 576 sts, and an immediate shift to a diamond lace pattern that I altered from one found in Knitted Lace of Estonia, which I repeated 3 1/2 times (96 rounds), until I reached the point for the next (and final) increase round. Increase round worked, I knit 1 round plain, and cast off (on a larger needle to try to ensure stretchiness of cast-off edge).

Despite initial suggestions that it might be a shower cap, it now measures 135cm across. Yay!

Monday, 31 October 2011

So much to tell, so little time!

It's been a busy summer, and autumn, and as it gets darker earlier, I'm wearing more of my knits, and wanting to knit even more! So while it's all been rather quiet here on the records side (and as the Knit 1 Geek 2 girls and Knitmore Girls say, if there's no record, it didn't happen), there's been a lot happening behind the scenes... big changes, small changes, and new endeavours that might prove interesting. Sadly, my camera has gone awol (most vexing!), so I can't share my most up-to-date knitting adventures just now, but I thought you might enjoy a brief overview of recent highlights while I put together lengthier posts to explain them! Here goes: in August, as Liz promptly recorded, I married Mr P :). It was a beautiful, beautiful day, and I can't say how much it meant to be surrounded by all my best friends and family on such a momentous occasion. Rachel did a great job of capturing us all for posterity, too! Here's a quick glimpse of the bridesmaids:
and my favourite of me and Mr P:
and stay tuned for more details coming soon! At the very beginning of October, Juliet and I took part in the Earth Fest held at the Fold at Bransford. We took along some yarn, some patterns, and some knitting, and knit, and talked, and showed people knitting. How would you rather spend your Sunday? We were between the ladies doing this:
and the ladies doing this:
but have managed to take zero pictures of ourselves!

The Earth Fest was in some ways a taster for a new endeavour, if that isn't giving it too grand a term: I'm working on a series of knitting workshops / classes, and am in negotiations to teach them. At the moment, that's all I can tell you on that front, but what I can mention is that since I've been working out what I can teach, and how I could provide pattern support for that teaching, I've been doing some designing.

At the moment, all my available patterns are free, and on Ravelry, but again, watch this space, and I'll be sharing more in the next couple of weeks. It's been lots of fun, and I've even managed to rope Rachel (wedding photographer extra-ordinaire, and general star - expect to hear more about her too) into a photoshoot. (Please excuse the fact that I'm the model - it was a case of needs must!)

Well, I hope that's enough to whet your appetites, and I promise to bring you more detailed posts about the wedding, my actual knitting, and the new patterns shortly.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

A half-way point

A *while* ago, I mentioned a project I was taking part in this year: knitting my way through Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitter's Almanac, month-by-month, as part of a knit-along based in The Knitting Parlour and on Ravelry. The months have simply flown by, some more quickly, easily or rewardingly than others, and I'm shocked to realise that we are now half way through this challenge, so I thought it would be worth spending a little time thinking over those first six projects, and taking stock.

So, in January, we made an Aran. I'm not the fastest of knitters, and I never really thought that I could knit a jumper in a month, let alone a complex cabled pattern. What I did think I could do was put together a series of cable charts to plan an aran for myself and plan the waist shaping and sleeve placement (with lots of EZ's help, of course) to design my own aran, and finish it in February. When, in the end, I did actually knit all of that in a month, I was astounded, to be honest. I love my aran cardigan, and I love that the pressure / competition of the knit-along made me grit my teeth and steek my cardigan - my first steek!

February was much more straightforward, and a project I'd been wanting to knit for a while - without the excuse of a baby to knit for. The February Baby Sweater has had quite a following in recent years, both as itself, and in its adaptations as the February Lady Sweater and Feburary Fitted Pullover. My Baby Sweater came together very simply with a remnant couple of balls of DK from my stash, and I'm very pleased with it, though less satisfied than with the projects that I've been able to adapt.

By contrast, March (A Difficult Sweater) boded well for the challenging aspects of the knit-along, requiring a little reworking of the original elements to create a pattern I liked, and a jumper I would wear. Sadly, the satisfaction of the project as challenge was undermined by a complete gauge FAIL on my part. I failed to adequately account for my tension in colourwork with travelling stitches (which is much tighter than reasonable thought would suggest), and nearly ended up with a doll's jumper. A frogging session ensued (all against the month's deadline, of course), and re-knitting began. But nothing could quite catch me up to the deadline, particularly when other (more time-necessary) knitting needed my attention. So this is what I have:

 a jumper being knit in the round, with the colourwork and travelling stitches in place, and at a point about an inch below the waist. The initial problems may have been dealt with, but there is a lot of knitting needed on this one. My plan, by the way, is to make it into a dk v-neck raglan, but without steeking (it's superwash wool). I would like to get it finished before the end of the year. We'll see.

After March came... April. A blanket knit in squares, but cunningly grafted (or Kitchenered, or woven) together so that the uninitiated might be ever confused as to which direction it had been knitted in. Excellent plan! Only I don't really like monochrome blankets, particularly if they are basically in stocking stitch. So I made it a little larger than in the book, simplified the squares a little, and finished this:

on the 8th of June. Of course, I wasn't knitting monogamously all that time, so I did manage to make the May Mittens (for which I had *much* fun playing with a page of graph paper)

and the Ganomy Hat - definitely a quick knit, since I finished it over two evenings! I did end up ripping out the point on this, and reknitting it with some ravelry directions for a flatter crown, but I don't have any pictures of that one :)

And so, with 5/6 projects finished, all prepared for winter, and having steeked, knit and designed colourwork, and knit mitres for the first time, I look forward to the second half of the year. I am, of course, getting married in that half of the year, but who would I be if I let that get in the way? After all, the wedding shawl is knit, and I've spent some of yesterday afternoon selecting lace motifs for my July Pi shawl... so what could go wrong? I'll let you know - Nether Garments may be my Nemesis!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Happy International Women's Day

Amid the hustle and bustle of Shrove Tuesday, World Book Day, the space between the Oscars and the Oliviers, with the many burdens, questions, and general detritus of every life bearing down on us, the fact that today is International Women's Day is something that may have been missed. Enshrined in institutions, days like these can lose their relevance, or simply become lost in the noise of daily routine. Why does it matter? Why should we care? How important is it that today be a special day for women, when there is no International Men's Day?

The answers to such questions might be different for everyone, but, to me, it is important to remember, and recognise, the achievements of women throughout the ages. Why, after all, shouldn't we celebrate creative thinkers, authors, painters, educators, or crafters whose work was denigrated, criticised, undermined, undervalued, or simply forgotten because of their gender? I enjoy knitting and crafting, but I am immensely grateful that, thanks to the struggles of women who have gone before me, I am able to knit without denying my intelligence, without being categorised as 'weak and feeble woman', and that knitting and crafting is a choice, not an obligation. I have the choice to dress as I like, to speak my mind, to make friends with anyone I choose to, to work, to earn my living. I went to university. I was awarded a degree. I vote. These things, that we might take for granted, are all hard-won, and so I say, thank you. Thank you to thinkers, writers, and activists, because without you, there would be no international women's day.

Such reasoning may seem backward thinking, but it is even more important to remember that equality has not yet been reached, and that the International part of International Women's Day involves us all. The best account of this that I have read is Mariella Frostrup's piece in Sunday's Observer. It is International Women's Day for a reason - the aim is not women's equality in Britain, but around the world, and there is, on that scale, a huge amount of work still to be done. I cannot do it justice, but I thought is particularly interesting that policies and practices which improve Gender Equality improve the economic position of a country, so that, unsurprisingly perhaps, improving women's rights and position improves the situation of the country as a whole.

So, this is why I am proud to call myself a feminist, and proud to celebrate today. If you still need convincing (even after reading the Observer article), how about the Yarn Harlot's post?

Happy International Women's Day!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

A January Aran

Once upon a time, there was a knitter, and this knitter had a conversation with her boss at work. The conversation went something like this:

Knitter: I've been wanting to knit more Elizabeth Zimmermann patterns for ages.
Enabler: Okay.
Knitter: Have you read the Almanac? It's really well written, and there are lots of patterns - like the February Baby Sweater.
Enabler: Oh, so that's where that comes from? Didn't someone do a Lady-version of that?
Knitter: Yes they did, and there's a February Lady Jumper out there as well. That's the thing - EZ patterns are so versatile, and she really encourages her readers to experiment, and make things that fit them, and that use their favourite things.
Enabler: So why's it an Almanac, then?
Knitter: Well, the patterns are all written around the idea that they might be what you want to knit at that time of year - jumpers in the winter and spring, small, lighter things in the summer... that sort of thing. You could kind of knit your way through the whole book in a year.
Enabler: We could...
Knitter: Oooh. That's an idea - we could do that, you know. But not next year - I have lots on next year.
Enabler: But now we've thought of the idea...

And so, the knitter went away and thought, and daydreamed about jumpers, and designing, and making herself do things that seemed terrifying and difficult (like steeks, and knitting a colourwork jumper in a month), and mentioned it at the Knit'n'Natter group, and then a Ravelry group was set up... and then it was New Year's Eve.

And on New Year's Day, as the chimes of Big Ben faded away, the knitter pulled out her needles, and nice sheepy yarn (vital, for the jumper was to be a cardigan, and would be steeked), and cast on. And she knit, and she knit, and she cursed the dark and the choice of navy yarn, and she knit, and she carried on knitting for most of the month, even when her intended pointed out a 'really clever bit that goes this way, and then the other way' (mis-crossed cable) about 40 rows back, and she had to rip out the four stitches of the cable column and knit them back up, until she had a perfectly functional jumper.

And then she learned to crochet a slip-stitch chain, and knit a swatch so she could practice, and cut up her swatch, and crocheted a slip-stitch chain in the front of her jumper, and waited for her intended to come home. And he cut up the front of her jumper, so she didn't have to, and so she could pick up stitches for button bands, and finish her cardigan on the 30th of January. Whereupon she went out, so that she could wear it, and came back, and said: "What am I going to knit between now and Tuesday??"

Sunday, 6 February 2011

New Year, News, and New Projects

Last year brought a few significant changes.
In June, this happened:

In July, I got dressed up:

In August, I became a member of the team here.

And now 2011 is here. Time to start anew. I'm looking forward to it, although, as usual, I'm reeling somewhat from the very busy Christmas `break'. Now that we have returned from the no-longer-frozen-North, and recovered from the holiday, new projects are on the needles, and the drawing / sewing / daydreaming board. The biggest new project for 2010 (other than the Wedding, of which more later (no doubt), is a knit-along I'm running, both in 'real-life' through TKP, and on Ravelry... Knitting the Almanac 2011 started, as many of these things do, with an enthusiastic conversation about Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitter's Almanac, and has grown into a year-long knitting challenge. Personally, I'm envisaging the 12 projects as a series of adventures in knitting, requiring me to experiment, to attempt new things (like steeking), and giving me the gumption to try my hand at designing. As Jasmin from the Knitmore Girls has put it, EZ's patterns are sometimes less like patterns, and more like recipes - you might be able to follow them blindly and come out with a garment, but the intention behind them seems to be to get the knitter thinking, to teach a skill, rather than simple facts or knowledge, and to make our garments individual again. The January challenge - an Aran sweater - is well under way, and it's been really interesting to see how different knitters have taken the challenge on board in different ways. So far, I've seen hats, socks, jumpers, and dresses, all from the same jumping-off point! It should be fun - and as EZ herself says: "the rest of he designs in this book will now seem childishly simple"! February is baby things, so I'm making the February Baby Sweater, which I've been wanting to knit for ages, but there's lots of double-knitting going on, which sounds really interesting too.