crochet

Tip of the week: Yarn substitution

4) yarn sub

If you want to easily replace a yarn in a pattern there are 4 easy steps to success.

 
1. Yarn weight: If a pattern is written for a DK or an aranweight, you will end up with a very different fabric is you try to knit it in 4-ply. Although you can adapt a pattern, you are best substituting DK for DK, chunky for chunky, etc.
 
2. Fibre content: For best results, try to use a yarn that is made up from similar fibres as the one in the pattern. Cotton yarn behaves very differently to wool so swapping one for another might give you a very different outcome than you were expecting.
 
3. Tension: We’re back to the tension square again. You do need to check that you can get the same tension as the pattern with your substitute yarn.
 
4. Yarn amounts: To work out how much of your new yarn you require, you need to know the meterage (metres per ball) for both the yarn in the pattern and your chosen yarn.
Time for a small sum: If the pattern requires six balls of yarn with 120m per 50g, you need 720m of yarn. The yarn you have chosen has 210m in a 100g ball. Three balls would give you 630m (probably not enough) and four balls 840m.
 

Tip of the week: Use pins and wires to help block lace

26 laceblocking

 

Lace seems to be what most knitters associate with blocking. It generally requires a particular blocking method and some tools to get the best results.

A lace project rarely looks that great when it comes off the needles – it’s usually a bit scrunched up rather than looking floaty and ethereal.
 


To turn it into the finished item you will need something to pin your shawl out on, a lot of pins and if possible some blocking wires.

A lot of people use foam matts as the base for their blocking and I recommend T-pins – these a more robust than sewing pins and easy to see as you adjust your piece.

Collect your pins, wires, matts, measuring tape etc before you do anything else – juggling wet knitting while you look for the measuring tape isn’t that much fun.

Blocking wires are often the item that make people nervous. They are simply flexible wire rods that you can thread through your knitting. The main type are straight and unsurprisingly very helpful when you want to block one or more straight edge – thread them through your straight edge and then use a few pins to place each edge. You can also find finer wires that naturally sit in a curve.

The first step in the wet blocking process is to get your piece wet. Soak it in warm water – and no rinse wool wash if you want – for at least 15 minutes.

Once your knitting has soaked, lay a towel on a flat surface. Gently lift the knitting out of the water – let water drain off but DO NOT wring it out. Gently put your knitting on the towel keeping it as flat as possible. Roll the towel to create a knitting swiss roll and then gently squeeze it to draw the water out of your lace. You will end up with a damp but not dripping piece of knitting where the fibres have been thoroughly wetted through.

Then you are ready to lay out your knitting on your blocking surface. I generally start by threading the wires through the straight edges and pinning those in place then I work on curves, the points on edges etc.
 

Here I want the stocking stitch section to have straight edges,
so I’ve run a wire along at that point and then I am using pins
beyond that to open the lace border with a pin at the top
of each “leaf”.


 
 On this curved shawl I used wires for the straight side of the
semicircle and then pinned the curve at the halfway and then
the quarter way point, and so on, to help get the curve right.

 
Take your time to get the shape right and your lace opened nicely - you may move some pins several times. Then leave it to dry.
.
Don’t remove the pins or wires until you are sure your shawl is dry.

Blocking isn't all about stretching your knitting

25 blocking general

Be warned this is one of my hobby horses.

I often hear or read: “I have never blocked my knitting.”

Quite frankly I don’t believe this.

I don’t believe that there is anyone who has neither reshaped a damp piece of knitting nor ever washed a knitted item.

The problem is a common misconception that “blocking” always involves wires, pins and extreme stretching.

In fact, blocking is a general term for getting your knitted pieces wet – by soaking, steaming, spraying with water or covering with wet cloths – and then shaping it. The shaping could be a small adjustment to get straight edges or persuade you stocking stitch to unroll, or it could be a more aggressive process to open up a lace pattern.

There are lots of good reasons to block and they are all about getting a great finish to your project:

  • Making your pieces the right shape

  • Opening up or evening out your stitches – for example gentle blocking can really improve the look of colourwork
 

The crown of the hat has been steamed to even out  the
stitches and dried over a curved surface
  • Letting your cables bloom.

  • Opening up lace to create the final fine fabric


Blocking changed the Firebird shawl from the top pic to the bottom


There are several ways to block:

  • Wash your knitting (following ball band instructions) and lay it out flat, gently adjusting it for size.
  • Pin your pieces to shape on a foam board or a folded towel and stray with water or steam (I recommend a travel steamer). Then leave to dry.
  • Pin out and cover with damp cloths, letting the moisture soak into to the knitting and then leaving to dry
  • Using a steam iron to steam your pieces through a damp cloth. Note, always make sure the knitting is covered by the cloth and never touch your steam iron to the cloth, let alone the knitting.
  • Wet blocking by soaking your pieces and pinning out – more on this tomorrow.

Personally, I tend towards steam or wet blocking because of the fibres and projects I choose.


How you block will depend on various factors:

  • Fibres – wool has lots of spring so can take some aggressive stretching and wet blocking but this would distort cotton or bamboo yarns. Acrylic yarns don’t like too much heat – so steam from a greater distance.
  • Stitches – take care not to over stretch of flatten cables. On the other hand, lace stitches need opening up so take more blocking and pinning out.
  • The project – how much reshaping does your project need? A lace panel in a sweater will need to be opened out but you may not need/want to stretch you piece as much as a lace shawl where you will want a very light fabric.

But, and this is important, blocking will even out stitches, it will NOT make your item fit if you’ve knitted the wrong size (well not without causing other problems).

If you are not sure what the best way to block your piece is, test various approaches on tension squares or extra swatches - may be that will convert some tension square refuseniks!


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. 

P6135112
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 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 then 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.

 


Making a new (or several) new starts

This used to be an active blog with plenty of updates about projects, making, yarns etc - and then it wasn't.

Part of the reason might have been the amount of blog content I was writing elsewhere, but the main reason was that life happened.

2015 was a tough year. It is one that I will always associate mainly with grief and physical pain. 

Which isn't to say that there weren't any highs. There were opportunities to take on new projects that draw on a range of my skills, I won two competitions for knitting design, chances to visit new places and great times with family and friends.

image from www.lapurplepenguin.comMy wining design for Knitting magazine

But grieving and dealing with pain used up a lot of energy and as much as I am by nature a battler, I ran out of steam. So much so that for a while I was finding it hard to pursue opportunities and even to set fingers to keyboard. My head was still buzzing with ideas but I wasn't always getting them out there.

As  result I entered 2016 needing some change and the first quarter of the year has been focused on achieving that.

Some of that has been physical. The start of the year featured a lot of physio and rehab exercise which means I'm in less pain and am more active. Last week I attended my first fencing session in nearly a year. Getting back to those particular pointy sticks was energising and gave me a boost for other activities.

_MG_4803

But mainly the change is about my work focus. I have stopped working on something that I was no longer enjoying and which was perhaps stopping me chasing other opportunities - and already I'm replacing that lost income from new projects and expanding existing one.

Although I've laughed at the Japanese idea of decluttering by holding each object in your hand and only keeping those that give you a feeling of joy - it would probably take a life time to go through my clutter - I have been doing something similar mentally in terms of work and goals.

Part of this process is giving time to (and keeping that time) for doing what makes me feel positive lifewise as well as workwise, which means:

  1. Setting aside time to blog regularly including:
    - completing the promised set of posts on decoding cable knitting
    image from bromiskelly.typepad.com

    - talking more about the creative projects I'm involved in and why you might like them too
    - sharing the development of designs and patterns
    - reviewing the new yarns I try
    It may also means reviving a second blog for my political and social issue musings

  2. Making part of my working week about my own designs which means:
    - sorting out my sketch book and the assorted other scraps of paper
    - writing up designs I've already made
    - giving myself a kick up the backside about actually submitting designs to magazines etc. I did this in the last few days and have a commission as a result. Just need to do it more
    - taking more pictures
    Sketch book

  3. Teach more. I love helping people develop new or improve their skills whether that be knitting and crochet, business and social media or other crafts such as jewellery or braiding. So I will be developing some new workshop ideas and looking for opportunities to teach. If you are looking for a tutor for an event check out what I can do and get in touch.

  4. Allow myself time for learning and creativity. Some people might think that someone whose working life involves writing and working with knitting patterns might have plenty of creativity going on already. But stimulation beyond work is important to keep you active and fresh.
    Towards the end of last year I took a couple of online photography courses. This meant setting aside time to join online seminars and to do my homework. I found that not only did I learn a lot from the classes but the homework time was stimulating for all my creative projects.
    So the plan for this year is to have some time each week to do more online courses or attend a workshop and also to explore new sewing and jewellery-making techniques. With this in mind I've signed up to a sewing magazine and started an online wire weaving courses, so expect more posts on these topics as well as more experiments in resin.

    Wire weaveEarly wire weaving attempt

Even writing this has made me feel positive so I'm looking forward with new energy and new plans. Roll on the remainder of 2016 and beyond.


Unravel 2016: 4-ply extravaganza

I took a trip to the Unravel yarn show on Friday. I like this show because, as a friend visiting for the first time put it: "There are good things all over"

It is a show featuring smaller companies with interesting designs, fibres and colours. So you can always find something new and come away feeling inspired which is exactly what I needed.

Unusually for me, I didn't go to the show with a plan or a shopping list - I really was looking for inspiration and just to enjoy the yarn and the patterns plus catching up with friends and contacts from the yarnie world. Even more so when I eventually arrived after a saga of cancelled and delayed trains. 

And it didn't disappoint. I had some lovely chats and catch ups with friends old and new. An indie dyer previously only known to me as the "Buzz Lighyear lady" - she understood why - now has a name and I'm looking forward to meeting her at future shows.

And yes I did shop, treating myself to some skeins I fell in love with and nabbing a couple of bargains - all 4-ply.

Un ravel 16Collage
Silkie Merino by Whimzy; Easyknits Dusted Dreams; Baa Ram Ewe Titus in rhubarb; and the £4 bargains, Knitglobal sock in Ocean and Purple Haze

I was barely through the door of the show when I spotted the subtle green and russet skein of Silkie Merino (50/50 silk/merino) by Ling of Whimzy (the Buzz Lightyear lady) who has a creative eye for colour combinations. The yarn is destined to be a crescent shawlette - quite possible with a Victorian lace edging like this one

_MG_4613

There are no firm plans for the other yarns yet, but when I took the yarns out to photograph I put the Titus (I couldn't leave with out a skein in that intense colour) next to the purple Knitglobal sock and was taken aback by how much I like them together.

_MG_4604

And the Dusted Dreams - well I've been fascinated to see how the colours knit up - just need to decide if it is for socks or a beanie and mitts combo...

 


Variegated yarn - wind before you decide

I go through phases with variegated yarns - sometimes I love multi-coloured combinations and seeing how the colours fall in the fabric - and sometimes I only want to work in solid colours.

Recently I've been falling for a lot of variegated skeins and sorting through them for some planned projects, I was reminded of the importance of winding the yarn in to balls or cakes before you make final decisions.

Depending on how the yarn has been skeined, winding it into a ball can change your perception of how the colours may play out in your project.

In the first set of pictures (all yarns from The Knitting Goddess), there isn't a major difference between the skeins and the balls.

K god coll

However, in the second set there are major differences in the before and afters.

Varigated 2

If anything the colours in the top yarn - Handmaiden Fine Yarn Sea Lace - blend more in the ball than on the skein. Whereas in yarns two - Sweet Georgia Tough Love Sock - and three - Third Vault Yarns Tesseract - the wound yarn gives a very different idea of the relationship between the colours and helps me understand how they might play out in a project. 

Swatching could also help you see how the colours relate but remember changing the number of stitches will change how the colours fall.

Looking at these last two balls, I'm thinking of quite lacy patterns with air to separate the striking colours such as in these patterns.

Lace
Scarf: Barnett Park by Bronagh Miskelly, Top shawl: Blyth by Kitman Figueroa, Bottom Shawl: Blue Lagoon by Lily Go

 


A blanket success

A little while ago I wrote about designing a square to be included the Yarn Stories blanket in support of the Knitting and Crochet Guild archive.

Just as I put the post up, I heard that my square was to be included in the blanket and that there was going to be a public vote to choose a winning square from the 10 designs chosen.

Blue sq

My square was knitted up in the Yarn Stories Iced Teal colourway - a colour that I happen to love, so I was very pleased - and featured on various social media platforms inviting people to vote.

Well, my square topped the poll so this week I popped along to the Yarn Stories stand at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace to see the blanket...

Ys blanket

... and have my picture taken with it. As you can see I was a bit flushed with success.

IMG_3454

I'm feeling very chuffed and grateful for people's votes - and looking forward to a big package coming my way very soon.

And here you can see all the squares and the very talented designers.

Blanket designers

 


Creating a square to support knitting heritage

The Knitting and Crochet Guild holds a bigger archive of knitting and crochet patterns, items and hooks and needles than the Victoria and Albert Museum, with items dating back to 1836.

Such a valuable resource needs protecting and maintaining, so a few weeks ago I was delighted to come across a competition run by Yarn Stories to create a blanket pattern that would raise money to support the archive.

The first stage of the competition was to create a 15cm square in DK yarn inspired of images of items in the archive

 I'd recently be working on a design for a vintage-style hat and mittens with a diamond cable and eyelet pattern. 

Birdies all

The pattern was a single cable column but looking at the archive pictures I thought of it again and realised that a double version would make an interesting square which in turn could act as a swatch for a scarf that could in the future be added to the Birdie pattern set.

Then I look for some colourful yarn to make the square - the Yarn Stories range uses some vibrant colours, so I choose this orange and created by square.

IMG_0788twThe square before posting off

In the last few days I heard that my square will be one of 10 designs that make up the final blanket. It is great that it will help support this valuable archive and I'm really looking forward to seeing it in the chosen yarn alongside the other squares.

It is also exciting that there will be a public vote to choose a winner from the 10 squares - as soon as I know more I'll share it here and lots of other places.