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Ever since I moved out of my parents’ home, I have been making my own Christmas decorations. There was the Christmas tree with marshmallows as baubles (which slowly but surely sagged into the needles – impossible to get them off again to eat them), the cut-paper snow flakes on the window, the knitted Christmas stockings, and the felt stars with embroidered snow flakes.

This year I will NOT be knitting Christmas baubles, however many friends are expecting me to. Perhaps I have a contrary streak in me? Instead, I’ll be fashioning my decorations from these gorgeous sheets of paper:

I started with this beautiful silver print paper, which I think will make very festive Christmas baubles:

I cut the large sheets (I think they are about 50x70cm) into squares, and then did some clever origami folding and turned them into ‘balloons’. There are plenty of on-line tutorials to be found, here’s one that takes you through all the steps in great detail.

I have made many of these balloons ever since I was a kid, and it still feels a like a little magic how a square of paper can be folded and blown up to turn it into a balloon, just like turning a heel on a sock still delights me. In order to be able to hang them up, I tied a cocktail stick to a piece of ribbon and inserted this through the little hole and then tied the two tails into a bow.

What a beautiful cluster of baubles!

Keep an eye out for the next few posts to see what else I have made. What Christmas decorations have you made this year?

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On one of the last nice Sundays of November, I went to the Brighton Car Boot Sale at the Marina with my friend John. He always manages to find the most amazing things. He has developed an eye for glassware and often finds Georgian and Victorian decanters, wine glasses and whatnots for a few pounds, which he then sells on for good money. I, however, am not that lucky, and this is what I found at the “dead old ladies stall”, as John calls it:

It’s a strange collection of patterns. Some are printed, some are written down, some are for knitting, some are for sewing. I’ll take you through my new collection – I wish I had known the lady who owned these, because as you will see, there are some things that contain a story untold.

First up, what I would call the boring stuff. Printed leaflets:

A rather mundane collection of Aran knitting patterns, baby matinee jackets, baby booties and raglan twin sets. However, I like the Emu booklet: Ideas For Those Odd Ounces. It contains a total of 32 patterns, including cuddly toys (I particularly like the donkey – you can see it better if you click on the picture and zoom in), some tea and coffee pot covers, child’s garments, hats, scarves, cushion cover, and something you wouldn’t see nowadays for obvious reasons: golliwog mittens. I want to frame the magazine clipping of the ‘knitteds for a baby doll’, I like the graphic design of it.

Secondly, there are quite a few written down patterns:

Most of these are for dolls’ clothes, but one I mistook for a cooking recipe, as it is titled ‘lamb chop’, but I soon realised my mistake when I read the ingredients list; it starts with ‘ 2 x 50 gram balls DK, no. 9 needles”. You can see it at the top. I’m most curious to find out how that will knit up!

The original owner of this little collection used to be thrifty, as evidenced by what I originally thought were just ordinary Christmas and post cards:

However, on the backs you can find more patterns scribbled down, and a list of cable abbreviations. I think it is a nice way of using old cards, as it reminds you of the sender every time you use it. The kitten card actually has a ‘rabbit dress’ pattern on it. The Christmas cards in the middle have been sewn together with a few neat stitches.

Thirdly, we have a collection of sewing pattern pieces. There are teddy hand puppets, a donkey and a hat. Some of these are well used, as you can see by the many pin pricks. My favourite must be the turtle pattern, and it has a little rhyme on it: “Hi! / I’m just a little turtle / who knew not what to do / so I filled myself with scented soap / and swam right up to you. / Just rub me on your tummy / and your hands & feet / around your neck & ears / and don’t forget your seat! / when you are through / my work is done /  you’ve had your bath / I’ve had my fun!”

I can just imagine how this lady made dolls’ clothes and hand puppets for her grandchildren. I wonder if she would stage a little puppet show with them?

The last item is an envelope. It contains a little clump of uniform lengths of white yarn, and some short pieces of ribbon. I wonder what this was going to be used for, and why she thought this was worth saving in a battered envelope. Perhaps if I read each pattern in detail, I will find out – in which case I will let you know!

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Avid readers of my blog know that I run The Visible Mending Programme. On the whole I visibly mend clothes, but in recent weeks I have started to notice examples of Visible Mending in my surroundings. In my office, on the street, in shop windows, on shop floors, I see Visible Mending everywhere! The following examples of Visible Mending are particular favourites:

The Disused Airconditioning Unit Outlet:

Before we had our offices redecorated, one of the rooms was crowded with computers and servers and it was always very hot. So we used a mobile airconditioning unit and the big plastic hose was pushed through a hole made in the window pane for this very purpose. Once the redecoration was finished and the room had proper airconditioning, this was the Maintenance Department’s solution to close the hole in the window. The overlapping pieces of tape look like a star and I like how the light comes through the different layers, getting more opaque the more layers there are.

The Pub Built Around a Wall:

This pub in Brighton has seen most of its walls replastered, repainted, redone everything. But not the back. The contrast between the bricks and the smooth, painted walls works really well together.

The Shop Floor:

The shop floor of Laste, Brighton finest shoe shop, had some pesky floorboards. Alex (for whom I Visibly Mended a cardigan), did some Visible Mending of her own, with brass plates and nails. I particularly like the one right at the entrance. Trodden by many feet, it has acquired a great patina, but what is even better, slowly emerging is evidence of an earlier Visible Mend!

The Pavement:

Many pavements are Visibly Mended. This particularly fine example, as found on the way to work, not only shows a tarmac insert in the shape of the letter T, but also some pavement slabs made from a different stone than the original one.

The Accidental Stained Glass Window:

The other day I visited that most magnificent example of Arts & Crafts architecture, the Tudor revivalist department store, Liberty’s. The windows in the stairwell are constructed as stained glass, but with the strips of lead holding clear panes of glass. However, one of the panes got smashed and it got fixed with a small mosaique of glass pieces. One of them happens to have a grape vine painted on it, turning this window into an accidental stained glass one!

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After knitting all those lace jumpers and cardigans, it was time for me to knit something easy and quick. A knitterly palate cleanser, so to speak. As my love for glove knitting is still going strong (even if I haven’t knitted any Reading Gloves lately), I thought some gloves would be the perfect project. I already know that gloves knitted in a stranded design are very warm and are good at keeping the wind out, so this time I’m going to try and find a stitch that can do a similar job. A firm fabric and texture are required, so I have come up with a short list of stitch categories to try out:

1) knit-n-purl texture

2) slipped stitches

3) twined knitting

4) twisted stitches

First up in the knit-n-purl catergory, are Ringwood Gloves. These consist of a very simple pattern: round 1: [ K1, P1 ], repeat to end; rounds 2 and 3: K. A pattern published by Ayles & Son, Glove Manufacturers calls the purls “knots”:

Ringwood is a town in Hampshire, UK, and has a long history of a handknitting industry and in particular, stockings, till the turn of the eighteenth century. However, in the 1850s, trade had picked up again, and this time gloves became more important. These were knitted in either cotton or wool 4 ply, and on fairly thick needles. Ringwood gloves were knitted commercially until the after the Second World War! A rare example of a cottage industry surviving into the 20th century.*

As I’m going for warmth, I’ll forgo the cotton. Instead, I’ve chosen Knit By Numbers in yellow, which is a DK weight merino, knitted on 3.5mm needles to give a firm fabric.

According to Rutt, the original gloves were very straightforward, no gussets or fourchettes between the fingers. However, I’m very stubborn and I didn’t carry out the instructions exactly, as I did add those. I’m afraid Mr. Ayles would not approve. The fabric is very pleasing in texture, although I have not, as yet, put them to the wind test. Also, it is merino wool. Not my most favourite type of wool, but just look at that yellow! I just couldn’t resist. Meanwhile, I’ve set my heart on a slip stitch pattern called Close Stitch for my next pair of gloves, but I’m struggling to avoid ladders, as it requires rounds of purling. Any suggestions?

Ravelled here.

*) Rutt, R, A History of Handknitting (Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 1987) pp. 191-193

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In an earlier post I mentioned Susan Crawford had asked me to help her out with knitting for her new book, A Stitch In Time 2. I guess it would’ve been a leap of faith for her, as she had only seen some of my project pictures on Ravelry after Louise from Prick Your Finger had said that I might be up for it.

When Susan emailed me the original pattern I was thrilled:

I recognised the pattern as “Frost Flowers” from Barbara Walker’s A Treasury of Knitting Patterns. It features on its cover! Despite appearances, it is a very easy lace pattern. It consists of only two rows (granted, there is shaping on both rows, no rest rows here!). These get repeated three times, and then the pattern shifts by a half-drop for another three repeats of the two rows.

I ended up in an email conversation with Susan (I hope to meet her in person this Saturday at last) and she explained to me how she approaches rewriting vintage patterns:

“With the vintage patterns I tend not to add specific techniques that weren’t in the original pattern to the instructions that I provide. However, I would encourage any knitter to improve where they think it can be improved upon, but for historical integrity I remain as true to the original pattern as I can whilst trying to make the pattern easier for the knitter to use.”

This is no mean feat, as nowadays, we expect most patterns to be written in multiple sizes. This can be difficult, especially if you have a large pattern repeat like this one. You cannot just add a few stitches here and there, as this would mess up your pattern repeats. In some cases, changing size can be done by choosing different weight yarns and/or playing with needle size (the Kasha cardigan linked above is a good example of this). Luckily Susan is an excellent designer, and she is an expert in grading designs. This meant however, I didn’t get to sew up, as Susan needed the unblocked separate pieces to work out sizes. If I have to believe the many blog posts on Ravelry, I’m in the minority of actually enjoying the sewing up process; posting the pieces back as they were was somewhat unsatisfactory, so I’m doubly pleased to see the end result:

I want all my knitwear to be photographed professionally from now on!

The Lady’s Evening Jumper’s original instructions left a lot to be desired. One shoulder would’ve been lopsided and more than one pattern repeat would’ve been messed up. Luckily I have an eye for detail (although my partner would probably call me overly fussy) and I think I managed to catch them all out.

Apart from the gorgeous lace pattern, this jumper has a unique solution for shaping darts. The darts are all horizontal: you cast off in the middle of a row and on the return row you cast on a larger amount of stitches than you cast off (adding up to an additional pattern repeat). As part of the finishing, you gather the cast-on row and sew it on the cast-off row. As you can see in the pictures above, this makes for an neatly integrated and almost invisible increase, as the darts are judiciously placed (two under the bust, one on the back and one in each sleeve).

The jumper is knitted in Fyberspates Scrumptious laceweight, and this makes the jumper very glamorous. However, I did knit a little practice swatch in white Jamieson’s shetland cobweb, and that also came out looking very beautiful, and I found that the decrease lines appeared accentuated a bit more due to the light colour, so I would love to see somebody knitting this up in a lighter colour, just to see the difference.

I also asked Susan how this jumper would originally been worn, and she replied: “…in the 40s women usually wore a slip or vest under their outer clothes so would have probably sewn one to coordinate with the sweater. As it is an evening sweater I would imagine a silk slip would have been made. [It] May even have been worn over a dress on occasion.”

It is definitely a jumper for Occasions!

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When I posted about my Cornish Knit-Frock, I promised I would tell you a bit more about fixing a mistake and a nifty way of counting rows. Today I will do just that, and also want to share with you what I will do differently when I knit the next one, because I just know I will.

FIXING A PATTERN MISTAKE

When I had knitted about eight rounds of the patterns above the bars and seeds, I noticed that the chevrons in the middle, where actually not in the middle, I was one stitch off. I knew this was going to annoy me no end, so I decided to fix it. I could frog back eight rows, but I first wanted to try something else: I decided to drop down the offending area only, and knit it back up. If that failed I could always still frog back.

Here’s a picture of said offending area, one stitch out of kilter:

offending area

I carefully dropped back the stitches between the two garter stitch columns on either side of the upside down chevron (with apologies for the poor picture quality):

all dropped down

Then I used a pair of double-pointed needles one size smaller, to knit it all back up. This gets a little bit fiddly when you reach the end of the “row”, but that is why it is easier to use somewhat smaller needles. Also make sure you don’t mix up the strands that get tangled into egg noodles:

knitting back up

It didn’t take me too long before I had everything back in the middle. Definitely an easier fix than frogging eight rows!

all knitted up again

COUNTING ROWS WHEN YOU’RE NEARLY THERE

One of the things that I really don’t want to do when I’m doing some mindless knitting, is having to put down the knitting and measure, yet again, whether I’m nearly there for the ribbing to start. No, another 1/4 inch to go. So I had a brain wave after ingesting the eastern style knitting chapter in Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book (which, incidentally, has the best glove pattern ever) and a remark by Elizabeth Zimmermann about trying to keep progress when doing endless rounds of stocking stitch (possibly related to her pi shawl?). Once you are getting close to that point where you have to measure whether you have reached the right length, stop knitting a bit before you reach the end of the round. Now measure the length of your fabric and work out how much you have left to do.

Say, you are knitting a sleeve in the round and are 1 inch away from starting the ribbing. Now your row gauge is for example 10 rows (rounds) per inch. Here comes the trick: pick up your knitting and when you have ten stitches left to finish the round, knit that tenth stitch eastern style. In other words, wrap the yarn around the needle in the opposite direction you normally do (normally you would wrap clockwise, so eastern style you wrap anti-clockwise). This sets the new stitch up with the right leg at the back of the needle instead of the front. Continue knitting as normal. You will hit upon that weird tenth stitch and notice that you will need to knit it through the back loop to put it right again (if you didn’t knit this stitch through the back loop, it would show up as a twisted stitch). The next stitch, nine away to reach the end of the next round, gets knitted eastern style. Again, continue knitting as normal, and at near completion of the round, you will have to knit the ninth stitch through the back loop. Keep going like this and it won’t be long before the last stitch to be wrapped eastern style is also the very last stitch of the round. Voila, you are ready for your ribbing! I found this also works with purl stitches.

THE NEXT CORNISH KNIT-FROCK

When I will knit my next Cornish Knit-Frock, and I will, there are a few things I will do differently:

  1. I won’t bother with fancy seam stitches. A simple single stitch garter column is good enough for me, and it won’t curl under the stocking stitch.
  2. I will knit the whole thing in the round. No more separating front and back and peering over the needle to see what’s going on with the pattern. Instead, I shall knit steeks. It’s much easier to see what’s going on when you’re always on the right side of the fabric. I should’ve listened to Elizabeth Zimmermann.
  3. I will get myself a set of 40cm long double-pointed steel needles and a knitting belt or sheath. I broke two circular needles knitting my knit-frock. One broke at the join cable and needle as the fabric is heavy and it forces a sharp bend. Another pair got bent, as a knit-frock is knitted in a really firm gauge and manipulating the stitches puts a lot of strain on the needles.

What are your top tips and tricks for knitting ganseys?

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In spring this year, I was asked by Louise from Prick Your Finger if I could help out a lady in distress: Susan Crawford was about to release A Stitch In Time 2, and she urgently needed somebody to help her out knitting a jumper for the book. I’ll be posting about that jumper in part two. To show me what her new book was about, she sent a link to this video. When I told Susan I’d love to help her out, I also casually mentioned I would really like to knit that embossed golden cardigan you see in the beginning… The rest, as they say, is history.

And so about 2.5 months ago I received some squishy cashmere from The Skein Queen to knit Kasha (as it has since been named) for Susan herself.

Here’s a close-up of the gorgeous lace pattern:

The little bells (I think they’re flower buds, what do you think?) are made by making five stitches in a yarn-over and after a few rows you need to decrease them back to one. I decided to use Barbara Walker’s method of purling five stitches together. It’s a somewhat involved method, but it makes for a very symmetric decrease (all slipped stitches are slipped purlwise):

  1. slip three stitches from the left needle to the right needle
  2. lift the second stitch on the right needle over the first stitch and off the needle
  3. slip the first stitch on the right needle back to the left needle
  4. lift the second stitch on the left needle over the first stitch and off the needle
  5. slip the first stitch on the left needle to the right needle
  6. repeat steps 2, 3 and 4, then purl the remaining stitch

Once you get used to it, it is quite quick to execute. Promise!

An extraordinary cardigan requires extraordinary finishing touches, so I used the Italian cast-on, as it looks really good with a 1×1 ribbing, as evidenced by these pictures of the welt and the collar:

The beauty of this cast-on means you can match it with a tubular cast-off at the top of the buttonband:

Two other things I did to do this cardigan justice was knitting the last stitch of each row through the back loop, and slipping the first stitch purlwise to make a neat selvedge on the buttonband and collar. For the buttonholes I tried TECHKnitter’s tulips buttonhole. Also somewhat involved, but look at how symmetrical it is:

The keen observer will notice that there are no buttons sewn on as yet. Susan just couldn’t find the right ones in time for me to sew them on, but she has assured me see found the perfect ones now. I hope she will send me a picture soon – apparently it fits her perfectly. Keep an eye out for Susan – if she’s wearing a red cardigan, it could well be this one.

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