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Archive for October, 2012

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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I’m a bit ashamed to admit that for years, I did not have a bed. My mattress was right on the floor. I tried to pretend it was ‘minimalist’ or very ‘Japanese’, but of course, my bedroom looked more like a student dive. However, I moved house earlier this year and my ten-year old mattress really had to go. It was no longer comfortable, and as I now live in a basement flat, with carpet on the floor, the underside of a mattress is a good place to grow mould if you so wish.

As I didn’t have a huge budget, I decided to spend as much of it as I could on a new mattress, and as little as I could on a bed. As I didn’t want to buy a cheap flatpack bed, I made the decision to build my own. In Brighton, where I live, we have the amazing Wood Recycling Project, which is where I went to buy all the timber I needed for the bed. I try to be mindful of resources, so this charity that collects unwanted, but perfectly reusable wood from building sites etc, felt like the right place to source the timber from, rather than buying new. I turned up with a little sketch-cum-building plan and they were very helpful. Not only did I get some advise on my building plan, they also showed me around the timber yard and explained which types of timber would be good to use. To keep the costs down even more, I decided to buy everything unsanded:

 

Here it is, waiting in the kitchen as I was taking it through to the patio. You can see the sander lying on the floor. A piece of equipment I got very familiar with over my DIY weekend! But my first job was to remove nails. I had bought two joists and they are notoriously full of them:

 

Removing the nails didn’t take me that long, but the sanding did. I spent around 7 hours in total sanding down all the pieces of timber – there’s always a price to pay.

 

Nearly done! On the left are the two pieces of wood that I used to make the ‘feet’ of the bed. They are placed at the head end and the foot end, to support the two joists, which you can see on the right. I then made a platform from planks (which you can see in the middle in the picture above):

 

Voila! A platform bed. Perhaps more Fred Flintstone than Louis XIV in style, and definitely no Shamanic Bed for Creatives – it’s purely functional; nonetheless I’m immensely proud of it. Although I make a lot of my own things, they are usually from a very different, and perhaps more delicate, realm. Making my own bed felt very liberating, and has left me feeling enabled. Although I will not pretend my bed is even close on a parr with Rachael’s Shamanic Bed, making my own bed has made me understand better how she just Makes. She doesn’t feel one craft is better, or has more value than another, and indeed she indiscriminately joins, hand-knits, crochets, machine-knits, carves and darns until she has made what she wants to make. What I wanted to make was a comfortable bed, and I think my parting picture shows I was successful in doing just that:

 

Sweet dreams Anthony!

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Or to be more precise, I visited Gateshead, as I was invited by The Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead, which is just on the other side of the river Tyne from Newcastle. The Shipley has a new exhibition on, called ‘Collected Threads,’ celebrating 35 years of the Shipley Craft Collection. One of the events around this exhibition was the Shipley Late last Friday, where a number of artists and makers were asked to lead drop-in workshops. Amongst others, one could learn to make Suffock puffs, make jewellery out of bicycle inner tubes and felt collars. And, of course, how to darn!

The Shipley Art Gallery opened in 1917, bequested by Joseph Shipley, who was a local sollicitor. He had a large collection of paintings. Here’s one of them:

Unfortunately I did not manage to note any particulars of this painting, so I don’t know who painted it, or who’s portrait it is. Although I don’t think it’s a Vermeer, it does have a certain Dutch feel to it. If anybody knows, I’d love to hear from you!

In 1977, 35 years ago exactly, The Shipley started to collect contemporary craft made in Britain. It contains about 400 objects and some of the highlights are currently on display as part of the new exhibition. I particularly liked this tapestry by Sandra Milroy, titled Bleached Wall Under Thatch (1980-1982):

I love the contrasting textures and irregularities and the colours she used. It has a very warm feel about it through the use of wool and hessian. Another example of texture and wool, but this time entirely practical, where these three beautiful ganseys:

My hands are itching to knit one! But that was not what I was at The Shipley for. I set up my little stall with darned socks, a large and motley collection of threads and yarns and an abundance of swatches and needles:

Hiding under the table you can see the wheels of my trolley that helped me transport all these treasures to the gallery. The doors opened at 6pm and it didn’t take long before it was buzzing with people, drink in hand, walking around and soaking up the creative atmosphere. Here you can see yours truly, discussing yarns:

There was a wide range of darning skills to be found in Gateshead. Some people told me they darned all the time, whereas others had never darned in their lives. I was shocked, however, that one girl told me she THREW OUT HER HANDKNITTED SOCKS when they developed holes as she didn’t know how to mend them! I’m pleased to report that after last Friday, this shall not happen again, ever.

Many people knew that I would be teaching darning, and they brought with them cherished items in need of some Tender Love & Care. This ranged from a wild Italian knit from the 80s (colourful flowers on a ground of black and white checks, it looked much better than I could ever describe it – if only I had taken a picture), to these lovely Scandinavian hand-knitted gloves:

The left glove, confusingly displayed on the right, had been darned previously in a cream coloured yarn. The lady who brought them told me that she didn’t know who had knitted these gloves, as her husband has had them for years, and they are his absolute favourite gloves. I was not surprised to hear this, as they were nicely knitted, and had a classic Nordic Rose (or star) on the back. The right glove, as displayed on the left, had some big holes in the index finger and thumb, and the lady who brought them in was enthralled by my glove darner. She told me it made darning so much easier!

I also learnt some darning techniques from the visitors. One lady in particular showed me some invisible mending principles, which she had learnt from her grandmother. I wish I could have met her grandmother, and learn all the tricks!

With around 200 visitors the Shipley Late was a very successful and fun evening, and learning as well as teaching made it an even more worthwhile event. If you’re in the neighbourhood, I can heartily recommend a visit to The Shipley and who knows, you might bump into some darning!

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