craft

A shawl fit for a literary heroine

Hardy heroine span

It is always exciting when I can finally share a design. For magazines I work so far ahead that I can have finished something for a few months before I can show it off. But then you get wonderful images like this in the magazines.
 
This is my Hardy Heroine shawl in the new issue (86)  of Knit Now that came out a couple of days ago.
The brief was Bitish yarns and British literature, and so I came up with a shawl using Victorian stitch patterns that could have graced any of Thomas Hardy's female protagonists from Tess to Bathsheba.
 
BRONAGH MISKELLY - HARDY HEROINE SHAWL-1
 
It uses a yarn from pretty much Hardy country, Devonia from John Arbon Textiles in the Bleeding Heart colourway (also perfect for the theme) - this is the 4-ply version of this recently launched yarn (there is a DK as well) and as with all the Arbon yarns I really enjoyed working with this soft blend of Exmoor Bluefaced, Bluefaced Leciester and Wensleydale wools.
 
The shawl is made of three triangular panels with a knit on edge and is one of those lace patterns that looks more complex than it really is to knit. The main body has a short lace repeat and once you get started with the edging it flows along.
 
The shape is easy to wear and drape.

Is this my ultimate knitting book?

As a knitting designer, tech editor, writer, pattern writer, teacher and all round knitting nerd, I have an ever growing collection of reference books from the iconic The Principles Of Knitting by June Hemmon Hyatt and a 1960s Odhams Knitting Encylopaedia (a lucky charity shop find), to a well over a dozen stitch dictionaries. There are books on pattern writing and garment construction, books on fibres and yarn production, books on different styles of socks, on hat shaping, etc, etc.

I love learning about my craft and I use these books regularly: to find the best techniques; looking to see if an idea you have, already has an established technique; refreshing my memory about something; or just getting a new perspective or some inspiration,

So I was delighted to be asked if I wanted to review Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Knitting Book – a perfect book for me to write about both here and on the UK Hand Knitting blog which I regularly write.

This is an impressive and comprehensive tome with more than 350 pages of information and 1,600 photographs and illustrations. I have pictured it here with me to give an idea of scale – warning, it weights a lot.

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This is an update of Vogue Knitting’s original encyclopaedia published in 1989. Given the changes in knitting fashions, the developments in yarn, needles and techniques that we have seen in recent years, the company decided it was time for a full revision and have added 70 pages to the original.

I did occasionally find the US terminology can be a bit distracting – I always do – but it didn’t stop this being an incredibly useful resource for any knitter who wants to check a technique, understand more about yarn or see how a sock, sweater of shawl is constructed.

There are chapters explaining about  types of yarns and needles and caring for your knits, through basic techniques to more complex knitting types and details of how many knitted items are constructed and even a guide to basic designing.

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All the techniques sections have clear, easy to understand pictures and illustrations. I did find one or two technical sections (especially in colourwork) that might have benefited from a bit more explanation but these are in the minority.

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And I will never be stuck for a cast on or cast off ever again. There are instructions for dozens of each included. I do know a cast off that isn’t included but have only done about half the cast ons.

I will certainly find this book useful but I can’t describe it as my ultimate knitting resource because I am sure to find yet more reference books in the future. That said I plan to master all the cast ons that were new to be in the coming months.

However I think this is a book that has a wider audience than obsessive, professional knitting geeks like me. If you just want to have one knitting reference book to help you with new techniques, to inspire, challenge and support you with your yarn craft, this is an excellent choice. And you could join me in my cast on challenge.

Plus if you have had an idea for your own knitting design for a sweater, hat or socks there is a section to guide you through the basics of making this a reality step by step.

This is definitely a reference book for all types of keen knitter – as well as offering a mini bicep work out.

Cover


Taking a new route to making a scarf (and a new pattern)

One interesting aspect of knitting is that looking at something sideways can give you  a new way to create something.

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This is the case with the Wayward Paths scarf – a flat fringed scarf that is actually knitted in the round and cut – yes cut.

This means the width of the stitch pattern repeats down the long side of the scarf – that is the rows go right along the scarf. This means you can use stitch patterns in a different way.

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I got the idea from my friend Juliet Bernard who used this method to create the stunning Jardin Majorelle colourwork wrap for The Knitter.

I was intrigued by the method but am more of a texture and lace person so started wondering how else it could be used. I happened to have received two sample balls of Debbie Bliss Iris, a chunky wool/cashmere roving yarn, that were crying out to be a soft, comforting scarf. So I decided to experiment.

I chose a garter stitch chevron pattern and worked a section of stocking stitch at the beginning and end of each round. Then I worked until I had used much of my yarn. When I cast off I had a basic cowl with a zigzag lace pattern round the majority of the loop with a shorter section of plain stocking stitch stripes.

The stocking stitch section or “steek” is where the fringes come from. All you do is cut straight up the centre of the steek and unravel the stocking stitch section to create the fringe.

Steek fringe 4

You can see from this picture that when you pin out a piece of stocking stitch there are “ladders” between the column of stitches and in the case of the Wayward Path scarf you cut up the centre ladder of the steek section (here I have used an unneeded swatch).

Once the stitches are cut, unravelling makes a lovely fringe – your knitting won’t unravel but I knot the strands in pairs to feel secure.

Steek fringe 3

I am involved with UK Hand Knitting which this year is encouraging people to share knitting and crochet skills. Because of this, at the moment the Wayward Path pattern is free because a steek fringe using chunky yarn is a fairly non-threatening way to take scissors to your knitting for the first time.

The pattern contains some suggestions for other yarns but any nice chunky will work – so why not step off your regular end to end scarf path and give it a go.

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My type of Christmas cardie

I have been doing a spot of emergency knitting this week.

I have a couple of Christmas dinners coming up and decided on a sleeveless red, grey and black dress. Perfect as the room warms up, but what about the early evening chill and having enough layers to deal with the Baltic weather outside?

Apparently I have worn out a couple of cropped cardies over the past few months and no longer had something that was smart enough and warm enough.

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So there was a combined search of the yarn shop sites, Ravelry and my large knitting pattern and book collection. I eventually hit on a combination of Sarah Hatton's Bacall bolero, Drops Air (baby alpaca and merino) and some vintage buttons.

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This gave the advantages of a quick knit in an aranweight yarn, a soft warm fluffy fabric and a practical charcoal shade. 

Admittedly there was a spot of maths involved to adapt the pattern for the yarn. Plus I went for a knit on rather than sewn border and the original didn't include buttons. But this still proved to be something I could rustle up in a few days and I am looking forward to wearing my new outfit (here modeled by Ethel).


Ditch your fear of shawls

Facet 5

When I posted a few pictures of my Facet shawl from Knitting issue 173 (from GMC publications), there were a few people who said "lovely but I could never make something like that".

This seems to be a common response to shawl patterns - there is a fear that it going to be incredibly complicated and take a very long time plus you will have to learn fiendishly evil new stitches. In fact there is nothing more complicated in Facet than a yarnover next to a decrease  and once you are a few rows in the pattern repeat becomes clear.

The rest of the beauty comes from the choice of yarn - this is West Yorkshire Spinners Exquisite Lace in Belgravia - and the blocking (subject of an upcoming post).

The same statement about a shawl pattern being about yarn overs and decreases can also be said about these shawls.

Shawls for blogClockwise from top left: Salmon Net; Garland; Shetland Stole (from Knitting
magazine); Starry Night; Coolmore Creek; Waves on Slate

One cause of shawl fear is using fine yarns and another is the lace or fancy stitches being all over making it a slow knit. But shawls can be a fun knit in thicker yarns and they don't have to be lace all over.

The idea behind the next two selections of shawls (all Stylecraft patterns) was shawl patterns that people might choose as a first foray into patterns like this but which include the same shaping and stitches as you might find in really fine ones.

These patterns would introduce you to the fun of shawl knitting across a variety of shapes and styles in what might be regarded as fairly standard yarns (mainly DK) and making use of the yarns' qualities.

Dk selectionStylecraft patterns clockwise in pairs: Batik Elements 9411; Candy Swirl
9416; Cabaret 9424

Alpaca tweed selectionStylecraft Alpaca Tweed DK garter stitch stripe shawls  9450 and Alpaca
Tweed Chunky shawls 9454

And just to show that you can have fun with shawl patterns in all sorts of yarns, below is Rioting in Unst - a pattern using Shetland lace stitches in King Cole Riot yarn.

Riot card

Shawl knitting is no different from any other category of knitting. Pick a pattern and a yarn you like, and just take it one stitch (or yarn over) at a time and enjoy yourself. Once you take the plunge, you will create something lovely.


Rearranging the shelves in WH Smith - new autumnal design

I came late to sharing my knitting designs let alone  receiving commissions from magazines and yarn companies.

I have had a long career as a journalist but I still remember the excitement of having a bylined piece in a major national newspaper for the first time. I had to suppress the urge to tap fellow tube passengers on the shoulder, point to the article they were reading and say "I wrote that".

The same sort of thing has happened each time I have had a design on the cover of a magazine. Right now I could happily spend time in various branches of WH Smith rearranging the hobbies shelf so that there are lots of copies of Knitting (issue 172) along the front to show off my Autumn Leaves tunic.

Autumn leaves cover

I love the editorial description that the mag team came up with. It sums the pattern up as the perfect mix of challenge and TV knitting because there is some instarsia and plenty of stocking stitch.

Autumn leaves main

It is designed to be a simple flattering piece for over leggings or a skirt that is a comfortable but striking seasonal garment.

Yarn used is Yarn Stories fine merino 4-ply - very smooth with strong colours which work well for this design.

The magazine has come up with some alternative colour combinations that make the leaves seam more like feathers.

PicMonkey Collage


Crafts get the cookery show treatment

 There has been a recent trend on daytime TV for shows such as Gok's Fill YOur House for Free  and Money for Nothing that encourage making and recycling, mainly featuring specialist craftspeople. 

Now crafting and making it yourself has hit primetime with Channel 4's glossy cookery show style Craft It Yourself on Tuesday evenings. 

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Having watched the first two episodes I am enjoying the show and noting good ideas but I suspect the audience will fall into two groups - the doers and the admirers (one of the factors that reminds me of cookery shows).

The doers are makers already, with big craft stashes and knowledge about at least some of the techniques on show. We're watching to see what crafts they include and to pick up ideas or tips. We're the equivalent of the cookery show fan with a bigger larder than Nigella's.

The admirers, I see more like the person who watches Masterchef while munching a microwave dinner. Equally here they are going to enjoy seeing the makes but are unlikely to hit Hobbycraft with a list on Saturday morning.

But perhaps some of the latter group will make that list and have a go and that is all to the good. 

Craftityourself

The three presenters, Robin Johnson, Clemency Green and Ant Anstead are all experienced makers but in the show they try crafts they are new to which means we see that things can be learned. Such as furniture maker Robin (above) taking up needlepoint and then creating a cushion cover.

Also every make is accompanied by three important pieces of information - cost, the time needed and the level of difficulty - to give viewers a realistic view of what's possible. The show mixes big projects with "mini-makes", quickfire projects that could be completed in an afternoon and offers a wide range of project types and materials. I'm certainly adding new items to my list of tings to try.

Craft it yourself 2

But as someone who loves courses and trying out new skills, I will keep watching for the "master craft " feature. Each week one of the team tries out a craft course you could take over a weekend. So far we've seen knife making which I now want to try and throwing pots (which I've just tried).

I think the show will draw in an audience in the same way as food shows do but after just two weeks on Channel 4 it is apparently shifting to More 4 - whether this is to do with sport, I'm not sure, but I hope Channel 4 will give the show a good go. If nothing else it may give more people an appreciation of what hand made actually involves in terms of skill and time.


Throwing, pinching, scratching and slabs - a taste of ceramics

As a maker and craft teacher, I really enjoy having the time to learn new skills or crafts.

One that I've fancied testing out for a while is ceramics, especially learning to use a wheel. So when fellow teacher and maker told me about an opportunity to take part in a group taster session she was arranging at The Kiln Rooms I was very excited and signed up right away.

The four hour session was divided into two parts. For the first half we concentrated on using the wheel and then learned about other techniques which meant we each had about and hour and a half actually attempting to throw our own pots.

We started with a demonstration of throwing techniques, including centring the clay (much tougher than it looks), creating an central well and raising and shaping the sides.

Throwing demoIn the hands of an experienced potter a mug or bowl seems to 
grow very easily.

Our tutor explained the various stages and showed us various ways the pot might go wrong and how to try to avoid these problems. Then it was up to us to slam down our own lumps of clay (slamming is important to avoid your clay just spinning off) and give it a go. 

When I am teaching people to knit or bead, I often talk about how we learn from mistakes and that practice is important so that we learn how a material behaves. This is certainly true when it comes to a lump of clay on the wheel. As you practice and the clay doesn't always do what you expect you start to get some feel for controlling it. If only a little in the time available. I also managed to wear as much clay as I threw.

Over the practice time I managed to produce two pot-like objects which are now going to be fired. 

My first throw

In the second half of the class we learned about different ways of moulding pots and plates - pinch pots, using coils and moulds, and building walls. We also had a chance to work with coloured slip.

Ceramics otherPinch pot, moulded dish from slab clay flattened using a roller
table and an attempt at sgraffito, hand scatching a design through
coloured clay.

My two pots and my plate will be fired in the next couple of weeks and I will very excited to see the results.

 


New pattern: The very adaptable Joan

Meet Joan a very versatile knitted T-shirt that you can find in the latest issue of Knitting magazine (issue 171).

Joan tee kn171 sept 2017

Joan was inspired by Lucy Liu's character Joan Watson in the Elementary TV series. The character has a fabulous selection of knitwear and favours layers with long-sleeved t-shirts under knits, stripes and colour blocks. So I wanted to create an easy wear top that would look good on its own or over a long-sleeved tee and a design that would allow knitters to have a lot of colour options.

For that reason it is knitted in Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino. This sportweight yarn comes in a vast range of colours giving everyone the opportunity to choose their ultimate stripe combo.

Baby cashThe choice for the sample was to fit with the magazine's Americas theme and I was very pleased how the two blues worked with the red but I am planning a couple of alternatives for myself - one with turquoise and purple and one with orange where the red features in the sample.

What colours would you choose? I'd love to see your choices


Craft and the art of transformation

Wearing one of my various craft and yarn industry hats, I had the opportunity to attend an interesting presentation on the state of the craft sector the other day. While I can’t reveal any detail here, except to say it is healthy and knitting is a big market, thankfully, I do want to raise an issue that came up.

Colouring craft

What do we think qualifies as a “craft activity”?

It can be hard to define what falls inside the craft sector boundaries. For example, grown up colouring books form a category that is hotly debated. Some people argue that it should be included because colouring can be a first step to craft activity but others say it doesn’t require the skills or the development opportunities that we associate with crafting.

This really made me think. My instinctive reaction was that colouring in isn’t craft but then I needed to think about why.

To me craft has a transformational element where we use learned skills and tools to change materials into something else. We take yarn, wire, beads, clay, etc and create a new item. Colouring in doesn’t offer me that same level of transformation.

Yes, there is creativity in colour choice and indeed what medium you colour in with but the change to the sheet of paper is only regarding colour or pattern.

A counter argument to me might be that someone following one of my patterns isn’t being creative so is it craft. There are a number of points here. Firstly there is creativity in choice (colour and yarn substation), then there are the skills which the knitter either already has or has to acquire and there is also the issue of any adaptations they might make as they work. Add into that the issues of knitting style and needle choice and I can make a strong argument that there is a lot more to making a pair of Hamilton Handwarmers than choosing a red pencil over a yellow felt tip.

All this doesn’t mean I am an anti-colouring in. Should I find myself with that option and, heaven forefend, no access to yarn, hooks or needles, I will happily pass the time colouring and it is this that helps me define what colouring is – a pastime like soduku and crosswords, perfectly valid activities, just not crafting.

What do you think?