This is the chrysalis stage…

As a wise man with the unlikely name of Jon Bon Jovi once said: You’ve got to keep the faith.

Sir Jon Bon of Jovi must have been an experienced lace knitter, and the faith he spoke of must have been in that the folds and crinkles of his lace knitting, he knew there was something beautiful waiting to emerge.

In this crumpled, ill-begotten mess, I have to trust that there is a beautiful butterfly, readying itself to spread its bright blue triangular wings, for if the ball of yarn is the plump caterpillar, full of so much hope and ambition, and the shall is the final, beautiful conclusion, then this mis-shapen froth of knitting must be the chrysalis.

This is my first large-scale lace project, and I just have to trust in the experience of all the brave lace knitters that have come before me that there is something beautiful in there, that the placement of yarn overs, decreases, bound stitches and nupps will all fall into regimented place once water and a vast array of pins have been applied. Oh, and by the way, nupps are sent to test you. You do not have to submit to their examination. I knit the first two rows of nupps and then decided that they weren’t needed on the rest of the shawl. I deny the nupps.

Nupps are not ‘difficult’ as such, but purling 7 tight stitches together with 4mm needles and using 4-ply yarn does require good lighting and a bit of patience. They perhaps do add a little something to certain designs, but whether they add enough to justify the extra work is a matter of personal opinion. I compromised by knitting the first two rows of nupps and then omitting them from the rest of the shawl.

Postscript: I am not a Bon Jovi fan. Thanks for entertaining the idea, though.

The new plan of attack

Last year saw a new phenomenon in my knitting basket, that of of the multiple work in progress. The Age of the UFO (Un-Finished Object) is upon us, and I have foolishly let them build up a number of troops. Currently there are 6 UFOs and only one knitter armed with a pair of needles, trying to defeat them.  Let’s pull up some stats on this mighty foe:

First up at 65% is my current knit-on-the-needles, a Damask shawl. As it is knit from the two, long bottom edges up, it is now quickly progressing as the stitch count decreases by four every 2 rows.

Next is my Citron shawl, in some lovely self-dyed laceweight. I love both this yarn and this project, and probably wouldn’t have put this down if I hadn’t been so distracted on my trip to London last year where I barely had time to sleep, let alone knit. This stayed in my suitcase the whole time, and I think it might actually still be in there. I must rescue this before it manages to infiltrate deeper into no man’s land and carry out subvert manoeuvres.

3rd along are a gorgeous pair of swirly, bright orange lace socks. My excuse for not finishing these is a poor one indeed. I lost my pattern. I mean the printed copy – I have it stored right here on my hard-drive, but really need it printed out to be able to knit properly. The day I tried to re-print it out, though, I ran out of ink, and so moved on to something new and shiny until I could get a new cartridge. There was the mistake.

2nd row now, moving onto the linen stitch scarf. I don’t feel too guilty about this, as it was always meant to be a long term work-in-progress. I love this yarn and this stitch, but my oh my is there a lot of it. I knew this would be the case and that it would take me months, but be worth it in the end. I must, however, be careful to do a little work on it now and again.

Next, and in the pink is a lovely lace scarf that I still put a few rows into every week.

Last but not least is a cushion cover I started work on and then ran out of yarn.I must pick up another couple of skeins of the lighter green and pink to finish this – it s only Stylecraft acrylic bought from the local market stall, so I should make a point of calling in there soon, and hopefully remembering what on earth I was doing with this pattern! I find that crochet stitches and instructions like to skip merrily away from my mind as soon as I put my hook down.

So, what’s the best way to fight this battalion of fibry foes? Should I seize up my needles and slog my way through them, like a prize fighter who is punch drunk but still waving his heavy arms around, swinging wildly, hoping to connect? No, Im not a slogger. I think what I shall do is this: I will allow myself three current projects at a time. This will consist of one current UFO, one new project from a book or downloadable pattern, and one project of my own design. I must be disciplined.

Of the UFOs I will work on one until it is finished, not swap between them, with the one exception of the Koigu linen stitch scarf (bottom left) which I am allowing to be an ongoing long-term project, and which can be worked on when I need a break from battling my current UFO.

And what of new projects? Well, I have a few beautiful patterns to knit – a gorgeous pair of Alice In Wonderland mittens, some stunning cabled mittens I have had my eye on for a while, and many, many socks. There are so many patterns that I want to knit from the Knitted Socks East and West book that it has been difficult not just grabbing my needles and casting on for every single pattern. And now I have further problems in that I was bought the new Cookie A. book for Christmas, so the potential for beautiful sock wear is quite overwhelming.

This book is beautifully produced, and like all of Cookie A’s designs the projects are well thought out with a lot of variation. Many of the designs are quite complex, not in that they are especially difficult to knit or the patterns hard to understand, but in that different motifs are often used for the foot, the leg, cuff and heel.

There is not so much variation in sock form as is found in the Knitting Socks East and West book. The socks in Cookie A’s book are mostly (if not all) knit in 4-ply yarn and are mostly the same length sock (however, this is the most standard length, so quite an understandable choice). There are a couple of absolutely stunning exceptions, though, and the choices given for a custom fit are really very extensive.

I of course now realise that I need, more than anything, lots of sock yarn in this stunning yellow.

Each pair of socks is modelled from multiple angles, with a full-body shot to show the socks in situ, as it were. I quite like the photography, though the Eskimister has pointed out, quite rightly, that much of the photography does rely on scantily clad girls wandering round industrial wastelands and dilapidated buildings, and though it is difficult to conceive of a situation that might find you standing in a junk yard in a floaty negligee whilst still managing to keep your socks in pristine condition without picking up a speck of dirt, it does rather highlight the beauty of the knits, and they are knits that I can’t wait to begin.

So, there are the beginnings of my knitting plans for this year. Best get cracking, then!

2018 Knitting retrospective

Goodbye 2018. I am quite glad you are over, as I have hopes for better things from 2019. I hope everyone had a good Christmas break? Good, good. I was terribly sick throughout Christmas – pretty much from my birthday onwards. I am still suffering from a mild fever and breathing difficulties now, but as I am nowhere near as bad as I was last week, I am feeling better at least.

I received a few messages to let me know that my site has been down for a few days whilst I was poorly. I am sorry for this, I wasn’t aware, and haven’t been feeling up to applying myself to the internet in any way for the last 10 days or so. Being ill also scuppered my knit loads of stuff over Christmas wishes, so the new item I was hoping to wow you with today is in fact only 60% complete.

Before I rush off into new knits, though, I thought I’d piece together a customary 2018 knitting retrospective of all the things I completed last year.

So, that’s 26 items in total, about 2 per month. Perhaps not as much knitting as I couldhave done, but I tried to balance my knitting with better documenting my knitting, both with my blog and also by publishing patterns for some of my original designs. Oh, and there’s one item that isn’t on the list there, and that is my grandmother’s jumper, as I never did get a decent picture, after the endless hours of ribbing I worked my way through. Maybe I do not need reminding.

That’s enough looking back over my shoulder. I’ll enjoy many of those knits for years to come (it has been so cold here recently that I have felt like I might just wear all my hats at once), but bigger and better knits await, so welcome 2018, and pass me my needles – I have a large fingering weight lace shawl to knit!

Quite a bit of knitting and a treat for me

I feel as if my website has been conspiring against me recently. Firstly my battery re-charger broke and left me camera-less, and then, somehow, my webhost managed to block my IP, leaving me as the only person without access to my own website. Now, with a new battery charger and having been granted access to my own blog once more, I have quite  a bit to catch up on.

I have two hats, fresh from the needles, with patterns written up and ready to publish. All they need is a decent few pictures taken, which is going to be difficult as the moment, even with my newly charged camera batteries, as I feel that I look awful. We didn’t finish wok until 2:30am this morning, and then I had to get up early to prepare everything to take down to the Post Office as soon as it opened, so both Craig and I look rather tired and we are getting moreso by the day.

I want to thank everyone who gave advice on where to find the lockable stitch markers I was after, in the UK and without extortionate postage (one link had a postage cost of nearly £8, which I think is really a bit too much for such a small item). Kate mentioned trying eBay, which I had tried when I first started to look for them, but I was searching for ‘lockable stitch markers’ which wasn’t turning up any results. However, Victoria mentioned that they were made by Clover, and searching for the brand resulted in a seller offering them for a good price and only 75p postage, which is far more reasonable. There were also some great tips on using paperclips as makeshift removable markers, which is a handy tip to bear in mind when I inevitably lose each and every one of the stitch markers that I am gong to treat myself to.

Speaking of treating myself, I accidentally bought myself an early birthday present. I don’t mean accidentally in the way of ‘oops, it just happened to fall in my virtual shopping cart whilst I was surfing this knitting site, guv’nor!’, but rather that it is an accident that I have treated myself to it early.

I put a copy of Judith Durant’s Sock Yarn One-Skein Wonders on pre-order as soon as I heard it was going to be published. I love the One Skein Wonders books and own each of the other three titles in the series.

So, when I heard that there was going to be an issue devoted to sock yarn I was quite excited. After all, I love 4-ply yarn and I love small, portable accessory projects. I also thought it would be the perfect antidote to the Christmas comedown, due to the release date in January. So, I was rather surprised to receive an email from Amazon a few days ago to say that I’d been charged and the book was on its way. A truly accidental early birthday/Christmas present purchase for myself. Of course, I have been very good and left it safely in its packaging, not peeking and certainly not opening it…

Oh well. It wasn’t intended as a specific treat to myself, and I thought I deserved cheering up. As it happens, I am glad a did open it as my copy appears to be mis-printed over a number of pages, with the text and diagrams triple-printed and offset:

Despite the disappointment at the print quality, I can see that this is going to be my favourite of the series, with the Luxury One-Skein Wonders book following a close second. The book contains a great mixture of sock patterns (and really quite lovely sock patterns they are, too – I was pleasantly surprised at the detail in some of them) and many other non-sock projects. As always there are a couple of projects that leave my scratching my head a little – such as a cosy for a hand-soap dispenser bottle, which in my bathroom would end up soaking wet and covered in errant soap squirt within the hour, but there are many, many projects in this book that I am already looking forward to knitting (when I manage to get hold of a copy that I am actually able to read). So, now I just have to try and work out how to go about returning this copy and getting a replacement, then I can start planning one what I am going to knit when Christmas Eve, and the day we put our feet well and truly ‘up’ finally arrives.

Half way there!

My bat picture made it through to the final of the MochiMochi Land picture contest! I’m really pleased with my bat picture and so chuffed to have made it to the final. Anna’s blog is a lovely cute place to visit anyway, so please consider dropping by and casting a vote (unlike in the preliminary rounds, you can now vote by ticking a box and pressing submit to vote, which is easier than commenting and probably easier for the folks at MochiMochi Land to count, too).

So, if you have a moment, please consider dropping by Mochi Mochi Land and submitting a vote  

In other knitterly happenings, I’m currently in the process of thinking about what to knit this evening. At the moment, hats seem to be the predominant thing on my mind, mostly because it keeps snowing and the have been a necessity rather than an accessory. The good news is that it has been perfect weather for Hat Watch, a yearly sport in which I try and guess which hats are hand-knit and which are shop bought. Today I spotted a lovely but well-worn pale turquoise diamond cable hat upon the head of a woman shopping in Marks and Sparkle and a quite magnificent cabled hat in army green with giant pompom upon the head of a man I passed whilst crossing the road. I feel as if I need to knock my hat-making game up a notch or two and I’m going to start tonight.

Is there a hidden danger in stashing yarn?

Is there possibly a hidden danger in a large yarn stash?

I’m not referring to the possible collapse and subsequent suffocation under a wall of yarn, or even the possibility of it being a fire hazard, but rather that you might fall out of love.

I don’t have the budget to build or maintain a large stash of yarn, though I do have a few skeins that I keep wrapped up under the bed in a lidded box. These are mostly yarns that have a special place in my heart – gifts from friends that I have thought too precious to use, which I have saved as best for future ’special’ projects. Is there a chance, though, that I won’t even like these yarns in the future?

Yarn is closely tied to fashion trends, and like taste in clothing, the consensus about taste in yarns is constantly changing. The most striking example of yarn that has fallen out of fashion is acrylic fibre. Once the wonder-solution to the wash, wear and easy-care dilemma, what used to be seen as the strengths of the fibre now seem limiting. But acrylic suited the fashions of the day. You can’t easily block acrylic into shape, but that didn’t matter as 80s fashion barely had any shape, with its large, blocky rectangles and oversized fit. The fashion worked within the limitations of the yarn, but as the fashion changed, certain hand knits didn’t work so well. Lace cardigans, for example, are difficult to perfect in an acrylic yarn.

Less obvious examples abound. Eyelash yarns, chenille yarns, lurex, glitter, mohair… all have had their day in the spotlight, all were once the wonder yarns of their time, but now many knitters will pass them up, because fashion has changed and new looks in both garments and the materials they are made from have now taken over. 

But you like the classic yarns. Simple, honest wool. Smooth, plain cottons – they could never go out of favour, right? Well, who knows – they have before, and if sci-fi movies of the 60s were to believed, soon will be the dawning of the plastic foil space leisure suit.

And what of our colour choices? You might not think that is so easy to fall out of love with colour, but anyone old enough to cast their mind back to the Neon obsession of the 90s, or the pastel hues that have made appearances in previous decades, can reflect that these colour choices are not so in favour now.

Will I really want to knit so many bright rainbow striped garments in the future?

Well, yeah, to be fair, I probably will.

So, is the real danger of a large stash that a knitter will gain SABLE status (Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy) or that they will one day wake up to the horror of STU (Stash Turned Ugly)?

Unloved stash is a true and present danger, and as far as I can tell, there are only two ways of dealing with it. You have a choice; you can either buy less yarn (which is a frankly stupid idea), or knit more.

Going in reverse

Does anyone else, after completing a project using stranded colourwork, get a deep sense of almost smug satisfaction from turning the item inside out and looking at the reverse stranding?

There’s just something nice about discovering, after the knitting, some nicely balanced, even tensioned floats.

managed to get some knitting done over the weekend and completed this very quick project, which I am feeling too wretched to model at the moment. I gave my new little tea mug stitch markers their first duties, and they cheered up my knitting no end, whilst also reminding my to stay hydrated and eat biscuits. A few readers were rather taken with the little stitch markers when I bought them and asked where they could get their own set, but sadly I had nabbed the last available ones in the shop. I have, however, spied that they have reappeared in Stephcuddles’ Etsy store, though there are only two sets available, so be quick if you want a set! They’d also make a fabulous gift for any knitting friends.

Square Bashing

I have crocheted some squares, but for no real reason. This Kauni Effectgarn (shade EK) has been waiting for a purpose for a long time, and though I know it can lend itself to some wonderful colourwork, I have just never settled on anything. I just fancied picking up a crochet hook the other day, and without putting too much thought into what I was going to make, I plucked the Kauni from the under-bed box and decided to use that. I suppose that the squares might one day join to make cushions, or a bag, but I’m not going to assign a purpose to them for now.

Now I have started these squares I want t play with the formula a little – perhaps add a few different stitches or motifs into the mix, and now the last of the Harmony guides is calling my name. I think I have just about all of the Harmony guides, but have not yet succumbed to the 250 Crochet Stitch motifs book. I think a blanket or set of cushions of plain squares with the odd fancy square thrown in might look quite nice, but with Christmas approaching I am going to hold off treats for myself for a while.

Talking of Christmas, I had a wander into the town square with my camera yesterday evening. It was insanely cold, so I only managed to get a couple of shots of the already Christmassy scene from the town square, looking towards the town hall:

Crafting Mama knits

I have a place in my heart for the ‘Mama’ games series, where the two of us have spent enough snatched five minute quiet periods of time to amount to quite a few hours of cooking and gardening time together. The games are flawed in that both the DS and Wii versions are temperamental and unresponsive, but the graphical charm of the games makes it fine for a bit of casual gaming at the bus stop.  But then she went and got into knitting.

Well, not just knitting – she’s reinvented herself as nothing less than a cartoon Martha Stewart and has filled her kitchen area with enough glitter, glue and beads to fill a Hobbycraft store, because when Mama gets into crafting, she does so in a big way.

Knitting to a standard satisfactory to Mama is as prone to dodgy controls as the rest of the minigames, and though you may perform all the requisite on-screen actions, there’s a good chance you’ll be dropping your stitches all over the place, and this will make Mama angry. Perhaps it is because she insists on making me knit continental, when I usually knit English style.

And make her angry with my substandard crafting, I did. Repeatedly. And anyone who has cooked or gardened with Mama before knows that she doesn’t like failures, because they make her eyeballs burst into flames. Knitting does that to you, sometimes.

The knitted swimsuit

What Not To Knit – or ‘instructions on how to mentally scar a child via the medium of knitwear’.

I love to knit, and I love knitted things, but some items should just never be made with needles and wool.  Televisions, for example, do not function very well if solely composed of yarn.  Knitted Boeing 747s just don’t posses the requisite structural qualities to get them up into the sky and keep them there.  Worse than either of these madcap ideas, though, is the knitted swimsuit.

Circa 1964, a lovely and much missed woman by the name of Nellie Street sat down in her favourite armchair, fished into her knitting bag for the right sized needles and the yarn she had chosen, and cast on her stitches.  She wasn’t knitting another bolero jacket, her garment of choice (though, of course, a matching bolero jacket would be coming later). No, she was casting on the stitches for a swimsuit.

Auntie Nell wasn’t my aunt (rather, she was my great aunt) and she wasn’t knitting the swimsuit for me (just how old do you think I am?!), but the knitted swimsuit is voracious in its appetite for mental destruction, and as such it transcends generations.

Now, I look quite happy there.  I don’t look distraught at wearing my knitted swimsuit, and for a very good reason.  Astute readers will notice the distinct lack of sea, or indeed water of any volume, surrounding me.  I am in a doorway, dry.  Probably quite warm, because my outfit would point towards it being a warm day, and I am dressed in pure wool, but at least it is dry wool.  It was not usually this way.

This picture was probably taken before the torture of being lead down the road to the beach, where I would be encouraged and pretty much obliged to immerse myself and my woollen swimsuit into the English Channel, whereupon it would absorb the entire ocean and there was a time window of about 6 hours during which people could simply drive across the dry ocean floor as the channel slowly re-filled whilst my sodden swimsuit slowly drip-dried.

If I suffer from back pain later in life, it will have been prompted by being forced to wear the heaviest swimsuit in history.  Wool, you see, is rather absorbent.  If you’ve ever read the label on a sweater that says ‘dry flat’ there’s a reason for that salient advice;  hang it up whilst it is wet and it will be three times as long when it is dry, because of the weight of the slowly escaping water.

This swimsuit was not a garment for modesty.  If you were to observe a 4 year old Mimi emerging from the water you would observe that her ankles were now quite well covered and that she had developed an awkward gait due to the fact that her swimsuit weighed as much as a family car.

Firstly, you’ll see that it is basically a pair of short, woollen dungarees.  Secondly, note that the relatively thin shoulder straps provided no resistance to the weight of the water.  Next you might behold the lovely pink colour.  Oh, and don’t forget the ever-present bolero jacket.  The kicker, though, is the intarsia work of two little blue sea-horses.  You can barely make them out on the photo, but they are what I remember most.  It is my belief that they were put there to put people in absolutely no doubt that this was a swimsuit.  It would have made a perfectly nice play-suit, but no, it is a swimsuit – look at the sea-horses!

Thank goodness for the bolero jacket though.  As you spend six hours drip-drying in soaking, itchy wool, now full of sand, you might get a little chilly around those shoulders.  You’d better cover up – don’t want to catch a chill, now.

Despite the years of misery caused by this swimsuit, I wish I still had it.  Not to pass down to anyone (heaven forbid), but just as further proof that a lovely lady once sat down and knitted a swimsuit out of wool, and someone (two people spanning two generations, in fact) actually wore it.