knitting

Why we need to think again about "yarn bombing"

I found myself in an interesting chat about so-called yarn bombing on Twitter this week prompted by Louise Scollay of the Knit British podcast. It started with whether we were comfortable with the use of "bombing" to describe activities where people decorate a space with knitted and crocheted items often as a unsanctioned "flash" event, but the discussion has prompted me to think harder about the whole phenomenon.

I have a specific reason from finding the term yarn bombing uncomfortable. Bombing is an unredeemably negative term for someone who grew up in Belfast in the 70s and 80s and who has experienced being in a bomb explosion. (If you are having trouble getting past the last sentence, I have written a little note about reacting to that statement at the bottom of this post but for now I want to focus on the topic**).

Bomb is a negative word. On the other hand, yarn is a very positive aspect of my life. Not only is it central to my working and creative life, but I have used knitting, crochet and braidmaking to help me with pain and anxiety.

My personal distaste for putting the two words together may not be enough to argue for the term yarn bombing to be done away with but thinking about it brought me to some wider issues with the term and to some extent the activity.

If you think about the word bombing, it suggests an out of control and destructive event. Event the common alternative yarn storming has a destructive element. Surely this is not the message we want to get across with a collaborative creative happening.

What it does do is sum up the problematic side of yarn bombing activities. Major reasons that some people feel negative towards it is that yarn bombing can seem random and have a poor environmental impact. Explosions of knitting and crochet without a discernible purpose or theme, that are just left resulting in limp rags of indestructible acrylic yarn hanging from trees. 

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We should think carefully before we take on the urban environment with yarn and needles

When done well, a community yarn art event can be life enhancing - bringing connections to those who participate and enjoyment to those who experience results. But part of that process should be a planning and responsibility from those undertaking the knitting and installation. To me that means a clear reason for the event and a plan for removing the pieces when they no longer serve the purpose or begin to look less attractive, enjoyable or useful.

With this in mind. I am proposing using new term "yarnstallation". The idea is to move away from negative language to a word that links with craft with art and which I hope conveys a more planned and responsible approach. Perhaps ten as a community we could talk about how we approach yarnstallations to ensure they are seen as positive happenings that benefit communities and how to avoid accusations of polluting the environment.

 

 

**I find that people struggle with how to react if I mention that I have been in a bomb. The thing is, it is part of what makes me me. It happened. I am fortunate that I avoided much more serious injury, but I do have long term physical and mental health issues as a result (not always obvious). If I am telling you in a calm way (as here) to explain or give context, please take it calmly in the way it has been offered but don't prod for specific details. If I think it relevant or I am comfortable to do so I will share more but I may not want to, please respect that. At times, as here it is relevant to share that it happened but the details have nothing to do with the point I am making above.

The other time someone might find out about this, is if something triggers an anxiety attack or flashback - in which case take the information as background to helping me through the episode.

 


Of shawls and serendipity

It's no secret that I have  a bit of a hand-dyed yarn habit. I am drawn to rich and deep colours and unusual combinations but to control myself I try to focus on choosing yarns where I can see an outcome for the skein.

For a while now I have been admiring, and occasionally buying. the work of Helen Reed of The Wool Kitchen. I like the yarn bases she uses and her strong colourful dyeing style.

Twk cosmic girl

I particularly like skeins such as these in the Cosmic Girl colourway with a saturated main colour with flashes of contrast. And for a while I had been contemplating a "radial shawl" using this or a similar colourway. A radial shawl is a style I have adapted for myself with wedges of short row shaping and a wide lace edge section creating a semicircle. They work with yarns with long colour changes and I thought that the short runs of contrast colours in these skeins would also create an interesting effect.

Then Christine Boggis, the editor of The Knitter, told me she was planning an issue based on hand-dyed yarns. I immediately started a list of my favourite dyers and pulling out notes about ideas I'd had for different yarns. Top of the list was a shawl in Helen's yarn.

While I was pulling my ideas together, Christine was in touch again to ask if I knew of The Wool Kitchen and would I be interested in working with Helen. 

Don't you just love it when a plan comes together?

Electric storm 2

It was delightful to work with Helen to get her advice on what colourways work in what bases and then to come up with the Electric Storm shawl complete with lightening flashes of neon on a deep blue ground. This is a shawl that brought me a lot of pleasure to create and I think it really shows off Helen's colour sense and her dyeing style. And I'm really looking forward to seeing other people's versions.

Electric storm 1

This is unlikely to be the last time I work with Helen's yarns. I have some more sitting here and why writing this post I had to pop over to her Etsy shop which means I have been tempted by some new colourways.

  Electric storm 3Photographs by Laurel Guilfoyle for Knitting, GMC Publications


Why magazine covers mean so much to me

Those who follow me on social media may notice that I continue to be excited whenever one of my designs appears in a knitting magazine. I came to designing - well designing in a public and business way - later in life than many and as a designer I feel I am a mere infant. As a result every time someone understands and appreciates what I am trying to achieve, it is another milestone.

In part this is what makes a design of mine appearing on a cover special. But it is more than that. For a long time I was a magazine editor. Not in the knitting arena but when it comes to covers that doesn't matter. Any editor working on any magazine - whether that be news stand, subscription or arriving due to your profession on any subject, engineering, healthcare, photography, fashion or craft to name a few - will tell you how important the cover is.

Your cover is what makes people take your magazine off the shelf in the newsagent or open it when it lands on their desk. If your cover doesn't work, it may mean that all the other content you've worked so hard on goes unseen. 

Every cover involves thought and collaboration. The editor, designer and others may come up with several versions before the right one emerges. Illustrations and photo shoots are planned with suggestions of what might work on the cover. It also requires a knowledge of your audience and what attracts them.

So when this happens...

Triple cover blog

The new Knitting and The Knitter out this week plus the current Simply Knitting

... and three of my pieces are on covers simultaneously I feel particularly grateful. 

This means that my idea and execution, the styling, the photographer's and editor's vision and so much more have come together to create something the magazine team will really resonate with their readers.

And for completeness the pink and cream striped vintage jumper in Simply Knitting is in Yarn Stories Fine Merino 4-ply, Aza, the raspberry sleeveless top from Knitting, uses The Knitting Goddess's One Farm Yarn and the light green Cobwebs in the Rain wrap on The Knitter is in Jamieson and Smith's 2ply lace.Without the right yarn none of it would work.


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.


How to: Three needle cast off

In  my post about neat shoulders I mentioned using short rows shape shoulders and joining the seam using a three needle cast off.

When you shape shoulders using short rows you end up with a set of stitches on a holder rather than cast off stitches. You can join them using the steps below.

3 needle 1
1. Return your stitches to needles. Place the two sets of stitches from
the pieces you plan to join on separate needles. I use double pointed
or circular needles to make it ease to line up my stitches.

 

3 needle 2

2. Hold the pieces you want to join with right sides together. You want
the two sets of stitches to line up on the parallel needles.

 

3 needle 3
3. Insert your needle into a stitch  from each needle. Using a third needle
of the correct size, insert the tip into the first first stitch on the front needle
and then the first stitch on the back needle.

 

3 needle 4
4. Knit the two stitches together. Work the two stitches together like a
normal knit stitch. 

3 needle 5
5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 and cast off one stitch. Work the next two front
and back stitches together in the same way and then pass the back stitch
on the right hand needle over the front one as you would in a normal cast
off. Continue to cast off the pairs of stitches all along your seam.
(Here you can see the row of green cast off stitches along the seam line.)

 

3 needle 6
The result - wrong side. On the wrong side you will have a flat line of
cast off stitches along the seam line.

 

3 needle 6a
The result - right side. Here you can see the very neat join. Where
.you join two pieces of the colour, the join is unobtrusive.

 

Lily 7
Here you can see the final result in the Lily sweater.


The pleasure in the detail or the joy of a well fitted shoulder

I always look forward to seeing the final pictures of a pattern commission. It is often some time after I supply the sample garment when I see the eventual images from a shoot, perhaps when a magazine is published. 

It is of course interesting to see how a garment has been styled but I also look at how the garment sits and particularly around the armhole and shoulder because this is something I work a great deal on and have quite strong views about.

So I was particularly gratified to see these detail shots for the Lily Twinset in Knitting issue 173 (from GMC publications)

Lily details

They really show how the sleeves fit the two garments and a neat shoulder seam.

In my own designs I tend to write shoulders that are shaped using short-rows rather than cast off to create a slope and then join the shoulder seam using a three needle cast off. That's where the stitches from the front of the shoulder are on one needle and the ones from the back on another, as you cast off each stitch is worked through one stitch from each needle together (photo tutorial here). I like the neat flat shoulder join you get.

For the sleeve top I like quite a tall steep curve. Other designers prefer a flatter sleeve head but I personally like the way the taller sleeve top sits round the upper arm and shoulder. I also spend a lot of time using geometry to calculate the length of the curve so it  will sit in the armhole without difficult bulges. On some garments I also use decreases and increases in the upper back to have a curved rather than a straight armhole. 

This may sound very geeky and obsessive  but it pays off when the sleeve sits as well as in the centre pic above and I can know that my pattern will produce a good garment for each of you.

Lily 1

Notes: Lily Twinset in Wendy Merino 4ply and made with Knitpro symfonie needles.