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Wovember 2013 is here!

Dear readers, Wovember 2013 has arrived! Another round of Woolly Wonders to be shared with the world. Like last year, I will be working hard, together with Kate Davies and Felicity Ford, to celebrate wool in all its myriad aspects. This means I will be a bit quiet on my own blog. You can join in with the fun over at WOVEMBER!

That said, I’m planning to track my WAL progress here. What is WAL? A WAL is a Wool-Along, where we invite Wovember blog readers to join in on a woolly project of your own choice, for the month of Wovember. More details on the Wovember blog.

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I’m going to work on a new pair of woollen trousers, using a herringbone tweed I bought at the Jamieson’s of Shetland mill in Sandness, my first ever machine-knit cardigan, also in Shetland wool, and last but not least, I’m already working on a Fair Isle cardigan in Foula Wool. Come join us in a woolly project. What will you be working on?

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People often ask me: Tom, how do you manage to do so many projects? The answer is very simple: I love stitching on the train. My daily thirty-minute commute means I have at least one hour a day of crafting time, and I’ll have something to work on during lunch hour, too.

However, there is a limit to what is manageable on the train. My Foula Cardigan is making good progress, which is great news, but it does mean it is now becoming somewhat unwieldy.

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Foula Cardigan in progress

So I have been looking for a smaller project to take on the train. When I met Sandra Manson and Martin Curtis during Wool House back in March, they asked me to work on some cushion covers, using Jamieson & Smith’s Heritage yarn. The Heritage yarn is a bit different from their regular jumper weight yarns: first of all, the colours are based on jumpers from the Shetland Museum and Archives collection. This means they are all flat colours, as opposed to the current trend of heathered shades. Secondly, the Heritage yarns are worsted spun. Therefore the yarn is smooth, and stronger than the woollen spun jumper weight yarns: perfect to indulge in a spot of embroidery.

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Shetland wool cushion, embroidered with Jamieson & Smith Heritage yarns

An easy project to take on the train, and it’s something I can do free-style. No need for patterns or charts to refer back to once in a while. No need to count stitches. I couldn’t help but use a stitch which I have been using a lot in darning lately: Scotch darning, although there are some other names going round for this stitch, too.

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Meta-embroidery: the lot numbers of the ball bands found their way into the design

At work I have a scrap paper doodle pad, as I find that doodling helps me think through things, and often I end up incorporating words I hear, or numbers I see on my computer screen, and this habit is hard to supress. Indeed, I ended up stitching the lot numbers of the ball bands.

Erica Wilson’s Embroidery Book is endlessly inspiring, and I was intrigued by the square fillings used in crewel work:

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Patches of square filling stitches

Once you understand the principle, it is very easy to create your own variations. As the cushion cover fabric is very forgiving due to its thick, felted surface, it’s easy to try something and, if you don’t like it, to undo it again. No holes or other marks remain! I have made every patch free-handed. No measuring out or marking the fabric beforehand. This feels very natural, as my doodles are also often made up of grid-like structures that I fill in one way or another, and I relish the slight wonkiness this creates. To me it makes the rigid grids more alive.

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Couching, back stitches, French knots, weaving, and satin stitches

As you can see, the needles have not been put back in their needle case. I don’t think this cushion cover is quite finished yet. So keep an eye out on the train, you might see me stitching away, adding a last flourish to this cushion.

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Due to my Dutch heritage I’m an avid coffee drinker, but living with an Irish man has shown me the joy of tea. Recently we switched from tea bags to loose tea leaves and we moved on from brewing in a cup to brewing in a new, shiny Brown Betty:

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The latest addition to our ever-expanding collection of crockery

But it looks like there’s something missing in this knitter’s household. One, where are the biscuits? And two, what about a Tea Cosy?

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Tea pot with the obligatory tea cosy and biscuit tins

The stitch pattern is a classic honeycomb stitch, which, despite appearances, is a very easy slip stitch pattern. In other words, you only knit one colour at a time. However, I did use a genius technique to avoid the jog in the stripes on crown of the cozy. TECHknitter explains all on her blog – I used her so-called travelling jogless stripes variation. Can you see where I changed colour?

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Invisible change of colour on the crown of the cozy.

When I had finished the cosy, it looked a bit bare. In my mind a tea cosy needs a whimsical flourish on top. Enter i-cord. I made a long cord using all available colours, and added it to the crown of the cosy.

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I-cord crown in all its glory

I knitted this tea cosy using left-overs from a number of Fair Isle swatches, using Foula wool. Magnus and Justyna from Foula Wool have asked me to write a knitting pattern for a men’s cardigan, so I’ve been swatching like crazy. Those of you who follow me on Twitter and Instragram will have seen some swatches already.

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Foula Swatch Number 1

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Foula Swatch Number 2

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Foula Swatch Number 3

Knitting the swatches and the tea cozy has allowed me to get to know the yarn. It has a great handle and is full of character. And of course, I love the seven natural colours it comes in. As it’s a DK weight, it knits up quickly. As somebody asked me this on twitter: the swatches are knitted in the round, with additional steek stitches. These are knitted with both colours together. I only casted off the fabric, not the steek stitches, as these were all dropped down all the way. Then I cut all the loose strands and knotted them in pairs using a reef knot. For swatch two I made a calculation error, so I ended up with only three steek stitches, so I used a crochet reinforcement instead.

I have now selected the stitch patterns I want to use. If you want to know how the cardigan will turn out, you will have to be patient, as I will reveal the cardigan and knitting pattern during Wovember 2013. But don’t be surprised if I post some teaser pictures in the meantime.

The Tea Cosy is Ravelled here.

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WOVEMBER2012 is approaching fast, about which a bit more later. First, I want to tell you about a blanket I have just finished – just in time for Wovember! Having worked on a few projects which required a lot of thinking, I wanted to knit something from a pattern, so I didn’t have to think too much about what I was doing. Having ogled at Kate Davies’s beautiful Rams and Yowes Blanket ever since she released the pattern, the choice was quickly made. It’s knitted in nine, yes NINE! natural shades of Shetland wool. Just look at it:

Isn’t it just gorgeous? Kate has used this natural pallette to great effect in this very contemporary design. But there is more to this blanket than meets the eye. It juxtaposes modern design against traditional construction – although it also includes Kate’s very own ‘steek sandwich’, about which you can find more on her tutorial page.

The construction mostly follows that of a modern Shetland lace shawl (traditional Shetland lace shawls were knitted in pieces and made whole with a combination of picking up stitches and grafting together): first you knit the centre square, then you pick up stitches all around to start the border, lastly you finish it off by knitting on an edging. As Kate used a stranded colourwork technique, the centre square is actually knitted as a tube, as that makes that MUCH easier. The tube includes a few steek stitches. Once the tube is finished, the steek is cut, and you can open up the tube into a square.

Then you pick up stitches along all four edges of this square to start knitting the border in garter stitch; of course, as the border is knitted in the round, this means alternating knit rounds with purl rounds. In order for it to lie flat, the corners are mitred and I accentuated this by knitting the corner stitch on every round. It also neatly disguises the jog when you change colours.

Like a traditional lace shawl, this blanket also has an edging:

It may seem inconsequential, but this garter stitch border has an applied i-cord edging (difficult to see in this picture I’m afraid). As the border consists of a double layer (this hides the cut edges of the steek), it had a very soft rolling edge where it folds over from front to back. Adding an i-cord edge makes it look much sharper and finished. As each new colour is introduced on a purl row – often a no-no in colourwork knitting – they visually blend in really well. Genius! Here’s a shade card I made of all those gorgeous nine natural colours of Shetland fleece. The numbers refer to the Jamieson & Smith official shades:

I really like the steely grey of shaela and at some point I’d like a jumper knitted in just that colour. In the blanket, I particularly love the combination of sholmit against gaulmogot, although secretly the garter stitch border is my very favourite element. Although the design itself is not traditional, Kate has used some typical Fair Isle colour combination rules: both background and motif colour change within the pattern and these colour changes are usually mirrorred along the central axis.

Despite the appearance of the patterns, which shows highly stylised yowes (the Scottish word for ‘ewes’ or female sheep) and rams’ heads, this is not the easiest pattern to knit, due to the long floats at the back. I solved this by weaving in extra-long floats. Additionally, after washing the blanket, I ‘fulled the back’ by rubbing the back of the blanket with the palms of my hands. This starts the felting process, but you stop well before the knitted fabric turns into felt. This means that the floats start to integrate a bit with the knitted fabric, giving a neater finish.

I can’t think of a better blanket to celebrate Wovember2012 with! As I will be busy helping out over at Wovember, I will be spending less time on my own blog for the duration of it. In addition to all the admin side of getting blog posts together and scheduling them etc, I have also planned to sew a pair of woollen trousers, so I will be very busy indeed – come join me at WOVEMBER and share your love of WOOL with us!

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It must’ve been almost a year ago now, that my mother asked me to knit her a lace scarf. For some reason, this was quite a big thing for me. My mother used to be a really good knitter (she doesn’t knit much anymore), although I don’t remember her ever knitting lace. Nonetheless, I knew she would really appreciate the skill, time and effort involved in knitting a lace scarf, which is something that non-knitters don’t really seem to get somehow. But it also felt as an acknowledgement that I, a man, and her son, can actually also be taken seriously as a knitter.

Originally I was going to knit a scarf from Jane Sowerby’s Victorian Lace Today (it was to be the Melon Pattern for a shawl or scarf, since you ask), but I just didn’t fancy knitting one long strip of the same pattern. So I set myself a small challenge, and I decided to design my own scarf. To make the chosing patterns a bit easier from all the lace knitting books I have, I was only allowed to use stitch patterns from Sarah Don’s The Art of Shetland Lace. I have always liked the look of Print o’ the Wave, so I went for a more elaborate variation of this for the centre of the scarf. I think you can see here how this name must have come about, it really does look like the ripples left on a sandy beach when the tide goes out:

This is one of the few traditional Shetland patterns on a stocking stitch ground (they are more often than not garter stitch based). So I wanted the border pattern also to be based on stocking stitch. As Print o’ the Wave is something left behind by the sea, I liked the idea of contrasting this with something left behind by a land-based thing. So I chose Fir Cone, with its pleasing curving stocking stitch columns wending their way around the fir cones:

Chosing the lace edging proved more difficult: I had already knitted the centre and borders, before I had finally decided on the lace edging. I didn’t really like any the separate edging samples in Don’s book for this scarf, so after much deliberation, I chose the edging from “Baby’s Shawl in Several Patterns”.

One of the elements that I really like of this particular lace edging, is the faggotting along the straight edge. As you can see, the lace holes are elongated and alternate slanting to the left and the right. But unlike the Print o’ the Wave and the Fir Cone patterns, which are very organic in their design and therefore easy to memorise (after knitting one repeat of either, I didn’t have to refer back to my charts, which really speeds up the knitting), this lace edging turned out to be more elusive.

If you study the top chart (you can click on the picture for a close-up view), you can see that the yarnovers and the decreases keep changing their relative positions in the centre and right side of the chart. The zigzag points were easy to comprehend – they are a standard design element. But even after highlighting the yarnovers on the bottom chart, I just could not get this pattern in my head and I had to refer to the chart for every row every single time. On paper, placement of the decrease on the left or the right side of a yarnover made sense, but once on the needles, they suddenly seemed randomly placed. But looking at the end result, I’m very pleased to have persevered. I’m very proud of this scarf, and I hope I have done my mother proud, too.

Raveled here.

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Now here is an object that has yet to make its way into the FutureMuseum collection: a knitted pencil case. The pattern combines elements of typical Sanquhar designs. I made this pencil case for my partner who’s about to graduate and I hope he will make good use of it when he goes on to do a Masters in Modern History.

Needless to say, it was knitted in my favourite yarn: Shetland spindrift. The green is called Bracken and the cream is actually a marled yarn in mooskit and white. The pencil case was knitted in the round using the magic loop technique and is completely seamless, although I did need to graft the bottom closed. I knitted with the cream in my left hand and the green in the right. As my left-hand tension differs from my right-hand tension, single green stitches don’t stand out. I suspect that swapping the carrying hands will make a difference, so that’s something I will investigate and report on.

Find it on Ravelry here.

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Blog post update (10/04/2012): I’m pleased to let you know that this pencil case is now available as a downloadable pattern from the Prick Your Finger webshop.

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I have been very very very busy knitting a Shetland Lace Shawl for a cousin. She will be doing her Holy Communion soon and her mum asked me to knit her a lace shawl to wear. I had to put everything else I was working on on hold to ensure it would be finished in time. I chose to use a modern construction: start with the center, pick up all around and knit the border outwards on a circular needle. The lace edging was knitted on. This was probably the fastest method, but the next Shetland Lace Shawl will be constructed in the traditional manner, so loads of grafting to look forward too. Anyway, here’s the result!

As you can see, it’s still being blocked. It measures 50x50in.

A close-up of the border. The diamond pattern is the traditional “rosebud” stitch.

And the lace edging. I designed the lace edging myself: it has some fagotting, then a small bead strip, triangles with lace holes and the diamonds are based on the rosebud pattern from the border, but this time the shaping happens on each row – no “rest” rows here!

Phew!

Now I can relax and finish my socks.

Raveled here.

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I have this old YMC jersey which is really rather comfortable. It has started to fray at the cuffs and I was tired of having to explain that the scorpion appliqué on the front did indeed NOT mean I was a scorpio (I’m a virgo, don’t you know). So, I’ve taken the sting out, did some darning with my fave Shetland wool, and here’s the result.

Here’s the darn:

And the needle felt patch:

And obviously, 10 years of washing has faded the colour:

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A couple of weeks ago a friend gave me her favourite red cashmere jumper. Moths had a feast and they left holes all over the place. Otherwise it was still a lovely jumper, so it was the perfect candidate to enter The Visible Mending Programme. So this is what I came up with:

After going over the jumper with a comb to make sure I didn’t leave a hole uncovered, I used some Jamieson’s Shetland Ultra 2ply to chain stitched from hole to hole. I darned each hole with some judicious weaving. Then I got my crochet hook out and crocheted a ruffle made up from double, triple and quadruple sts. I bunched up the ruffle over each darned hole.

The hole on the back is slightly different: it has been closed by needle felting.

It’s my friend’s birthday tomorrow, so I think it makes a perfect gift!

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My friend has a lovely red cashmere jumper. But MOTHS have had a feast on it! As you can see, I have carefully gone over the jumper to find out where they had their starter, main course and pudding. I think they may have had a cheeseboard too. I marked all the holes with coilless safety pins, as I think this is a perfect candidate for the Visible Mending Programme.

I’m planning to use some Jamieson’s Ultra 2ply shetland laceweight to connect all the holes with a fine ruffle. Let’s hope the MOTHS won’t find out.

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