Stripes without seams

This year, as well as focusing on some UFOs (like the now completed Bavarian crochet blanket) I am trying out some new techniques with the intention of making several items from start to finish. As someone who does not really enjoy sewing, the idea of knitting in the round and thus avoiding seams is very appealing. That combined with the (new to me) techniques of knitting a garment from the top down has resulted in a most enjoyable project: Poison Oak, knitted with Cambrian Mountains (slate) and Little Grey Sheep (moonlighting) wools. After the knitting was completed, there were just a few ends to work in and then it was done, but in need of blocking, especially around the bottom edge:

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a bit rough around the edges!

So, it has been soaked in Eucalan, gently spun and is now pinned out and drying gently to ensure that it finishes up the right shape, with a nice neat point at the front.

 

This has been a remarkably enjoyable project for me and will certainly not be the last top-down garment that I knit… in fact Breathing Space is already lined up to start, right after I’ve made a bit more progress on the sofa cover (yes, that’s one of the UFOs I’m currently working on).

 

Bamboo – the not-so-natural fibre

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different breeds provide wool  with different characteristics

As you will have noticed, I am a fan of working with natural fibres – my preference being sheep’s wool (because we produce lots of it in the UK), but I’m not averse to other types too, including the fleece/hair from other animals such as goats and alpaca. There are some circumstances where something like cotton is much more appropriate… when making Knitted Knockers, for example, but most of my knitting, crochet and felt-making is done using wool.

You may have noticed, however, that when talking about working with non-wool natural fibres I don’t tend to mention bamboo or soya “silk” or a number of other fibres that are derived from natural materials. This is because bamboo etc are members of a class of fibres that, whilst not made from petrochemicals, like acrylic, are “manmade” – the rayons.

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a bamboo yarn sample

Rayon is a manmade fibre, but created with polymers from natural sources (often cellulose from plants, but sometimes another source of polymer, such as protein in milk – yes, milk) rather than petrochemicals. For example, viscose is a sort of rayon made from wood pulp; Tencel is a sort of viscose made from eucalyptus wood (usually found as fabric rather than yarn); bamboo yarn or bamboo silk is a sort of rayon (unless it is referred to as bamboo linen, in which case it’s retted and spun from the natural fibres like flax).

There are all sorts of environmental and health issues associated with the chemical processes required to create these products (with the exception of Tencel® and other Lyocells, which are produced in closed loop systems that avoid chemical pollution). Rayon fibres are biodegradable; indeed, they break down at approximately the same rate as cotton, if not a bit quicker. However, it’s important to understand that the processes used to make bamboo and other similar yarns are chemical and similar in some ways to the production of plastic yarns, but with a very different polymer source. It is often difficult to find details of the processes used to create these purportedly “natural” fibres, although it’s easy to find misleading claims about their environmental and health credentials.

Generally the rayon yarns are soft and silky, with little give in them.

Different fibres have different characteristics, and it’s a case of choosing the right one for the job. I would always recommend handling yarn before you buy, which generally means supporting a local yarn shop… adding an extra dimension to your ethical choices as regards your knitting and crochet.

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buy your yarn somewhere like this – support the local economy, get expert advice and feel and see the yarn before you buy

 

Upside down

Human beings are creatures of habit. We can get set in our ways, always following the same pattern and not considering other possibilities. And this, I realised, was how I had been with my knitting. For the past 40 years I’ve started at the bottom and worked up… because that’s how you knit… isn’t it? And then Jude at Red Apple Yarn introduced me to the idea of starting at the top and working down. She was knitting a pattern called Breathing Space and it looked lovely; I’ve bought a copy of it to make myself with some Eden Cottage Yarns ‘Milburn’:

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my next new project

But first I decided to have a go at Poison Oak (not the most promising name, I have to say) with a combination of Cambrian Wool (in Slate) and Little Grey Sheep Stein Fine wool (in Moonlighting). I love the fact that you start at the top and that it’s knitted in the round, so there will be very little finishing required. I’ve just started work on the first sleeve. The wool is gorgeous and the fit is great… what’s not to love?

In addition, both these patterns are for asymmetric sweaters, which I think are great for those of us who have real body shapes. Again, this is an approach I’ve never considered before. It’s good to climb out of my knitting rut.

So have you tried any new ways of doing anything recently?

Within or without?

Where does happiness come from?

Do you make your own or does it arrive as a gift from others?

These days I’m a relatively happy person. But then I’m lucky – a roof over my head, a partner to share life’s ups and downs, enough food on the table and no financial worries. It’s a good start and it means I don’t wake up every day fretting about the practicalities of life. But after that, I think it’s probably more about attitude than anything else. We all know that waking up feeling cross or sad or scared (for whatever reason) sets the tone for the whole day, whilst starting out feeling positive generally results in a much better day.

So, with my positive hat on (ooh – perhaps I should make one), here are some (simple)things that have made me happy recently…

Gosh, I realize now that my ‘happy’ certainly originates close to home: eggs from our hens and things made from them (ice cream and French toast), a spot of mending, some (British wool) knitting and a jar of honey from some friends’ bees. The preserved fruit that went with the French toast came from further afield, but I did bottle it myself… only the maple syrup was not a product (at least in part) of my own work.

Clearly what makes me happy is domesticity. How about you?

 

 

 

Toasty toes

Finally, they are finished…

It has been a bit of a labour of love, including frogging most of the foot of the second one when I realised that I had miscounted my decreases. I won’t be rushing to make another pair from this rather challenging pattern, but they were most welcome today, when I spent the day in a rather chilly place… more about that tomorrow…

 

 

From snow to snails

This has been a glum weekend. We were supposed to be away celebrating a birthday, but we couldn’t get out of Wales…

Usually I would be only too happy to stay at home, but missing spending time with my family, having posh afternoon tea, eating at a lovely brasserie and going to the theatre has put an enormous damper on my mood. Often I cheer myself up with creative activities, but it’s been hard this weekend. I have forced myself to start a new knitting project and to return to yet another long-abandoned crochet project, but progress has been slow and my mood has been low. It’s certainly not been helped by the weather improving, such that two days later, there would be no problem travelling.

Anyway, I have a pair of Nordic socks underway The pattern is Starry Night Socks and I’ve only modified it a little bit! I’m mostly using the wool I bought in Norway a couple of years ago, half of which was used for another pair of socks.

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warm socks now it’s warming up again

The ‘old’ project is a cardigan that I wanted to wear for a wedding 18 months ago! The wedding came and went and the cardigan was not finished. Then I discovered that the pattern was very poor and didn’t properly describe how to align the little flower motifs in the border – there being a point where the flowers up the front simply didn’t line up with the flowers up the back (they are off-set by a third of a flower and it would only get worse when you add the next row and the final third row):

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this is where I stalled – any additional flower would be in the wrong place in relation to one of the existing rows (both correctly placed according to the pattern)

I contacted the designer to get advice and she was unhelpful, basically telling me just to fiddle around with the flower motifs until they fit. I was so fed up that I put it to one side and didn’t pick it up again until a few days ago. By this stage I had decided not to follow the pattern (what there was of it) and instead to do my own thing. Since I was already glum, I started by removing the row of flowers up the front and weaving in all 248 ends that remained, then I added a simple border along the fronts and back of the neck that would be easy to attach other things to. Once these tasks were done, I felt a little better about the project.

As you can see, I left the row of flowers up the centre of the back, but I don’t plan to repeat them for the borders. So, it was a case of playing about with what I actually wanted. Initially I thought about paisley motifs and combining these with some free-form crochet, but then I had an idea: snails! Why not make it a snail of happiness cardigan? I’ve only just started, but I think this sort of thing might make a splendid border:

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a cluster of snails

I can join them as I go and shape the border easily… and it will be both unique and very personal.

So, the weekend is drawing to a close and although I’ve wasted lots of time being sad, I’ve also made some things and I’m feeling happy about a project that, until now, was something of a millstone. I hope you have been having a happier time than me.

 

Crochet, frog, repeat

Sometimes you make something and everything goes smoothly… the instructions contain no mistakes, the materials are cooperative, it ends up looking exactly how you want it to and you’ve enjoyed the whole process. And then sometimes that’s not the case.

I had some lovely New Lanark aran yarn in “Blackberry” that Mr Snail bought for me a couple of years ago. I had fallen out of love with the crochet pattern that it was originally intended for and I couldn’t find one that was exactly what I wanted. So, I bought a pattern that I was sure I could adapt. It was knitted rather than crochet, but that was ok – I’m happy to do either. I made the sleeves full-length rather than 3/4 and that worked well. Rather than adapting the wide, low-cut neck, I decided to in-fill with crochet once it was knitted. And that was where my problems started…

First I crocheted in a little triangle so it wasn’t as low-cut, but on inspection I discovered that it wasn’t quite centred, and in fact I’d made the triangle slightly too wide at the top, so it distorted the neck shape… so I frogged it. Then I decided to start slightly differently, so I edged it first, but it was saggy… so I frogged it. Then I edged it with some decreases and that was better, so I tried the triangular insert, and some more edging, but when I tried it on it still gaped and seemed very low… so I frogged it. Then I switched to a smaller hook and edged it and made a triangle using a different stitch pattern (which got partly frogged as I went) and then I realised I’d miscounted stitches down one side of the front edging, so it was uneven… so I frogged it.

Finally I got out my notebook and wrote down how many stitches I needed to work in each of the five sections. Then I counted as I worked and recounted once the first row was done. Then I put in a second row and counted again. Then I made the triangular insert based on all that I had learned from my previous attempts, which included using stitch markers to ensure that the two sides matched exactly. Then I crocheted another row and then I tried it on. It seemed to be ok, so I finished off with a crab-stitch edging.

It’s worked and I’m happy with it (it really is the colour in the first four pictures not the last one), but my word it has taken hours and hours and hours. Once all the ends are woven in, that will be another completed item made from my stash. I’m planning to spend time on something less challenging now before I return to the stripy cardigan that I abandoned months ago because of some technical issues with the pattern. Have you been struggling with any challenging makes recently?

The Dancing Skeleton

Many moons ago we made a blanket… it was called “The Masterpiece” and it represented lots of aspects of my Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design. I made squares and you made squares and each of you who did so also sent me a letter or note telling me what the square represented in terms of helping make the world be a better place. Then I used The Masterpiece as the focus for my diploma presentation*:

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I’m a very enthusiastic speaker! © Alan Carlton

The central nine squares each represented one of the projects in my diploma portfolio. If you look closely, you can see that there’s a little dancing skeleton in one of them… here it is a bit closer:

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let’s dance!

It represented a design that I did about end-of-life planning, which I called A Dance with Death. The square turned out to be rather popular in its own right and I got several requests for the pattern. So, I found some charting software and made a chart and then I stalled. Other things needed doing and I lost momentum. Every year as we approached halloween I intended to get a pattern sorted and every year I failed. I thought that having ‘publish two knitting/crochet patterns’ amongst my goals in 17 for 2017 might provide the motivation, but even that failed**. However, producing a (completely different) pattern for Mandy at Faithmead got me back on track and so, the dancing  skeleton pattern is finally written up and available to buy as a digital download from etsy. I’m delighted to have Hattie to model it – although I really must sort out some hair for her (anyone have a wig they don’t want?)

Of course the charted pattern could be used as a motif on anything, I just thought that the hat would be a good starting point. Next I plan to make a crochet version… and sort out a few more skeleton poses to chart up.

-oOo-

* The blanket is still in use, in fact I am sitting on it now

** I did manage to get my bird roosts pattern sorted out, though

ScrapHappy February 2018

I had a sort out the other day and decided that the time had come to get rid of some clothes that were really beyond repair. Initially, I was going to send all of them for recycling, but then I realised that there was some good fabric left in some of them, so I set-to with my pinking shears and chopped up some old pairs of pyjamas to make cleaning cloths/dusters. They are 100% cotton and so there are no plastic microfibres to shed. I put the off-cuts (the bulky seams mainly) in the recycling and ended up with a nice big pile of eco-friendly cloths and a little pile of waste.

Actually, this wasn’t my main scrappy activity this month, but I wanted to share it anyway. My scrappy focus has, in fact, been on crocheting a blanket. A couple of years ago I bought a kit from Colinette (the company is, alas, no more) and made a knitted blanket. The blanket turned out beautifully and I use it regularly:

but there was rather a lot of scrap yarn left over. I originally planned to use this yarn in a blanket for charity, but the more I considered it, the less suitable it seemed – lots of different textures and rather too fluffy for easy washing. Nevertheless, I made a start on it sometime last year, beginning with a central square made from some purple yarn that had been given to me – some one else’s scraps! And then I got distracted… other charity blankets were made, other projects embarked upon and completed and this one languished as a UFO*.

In the past month, however, I have been revisiting abandoned on-going projects and I decided the time had come to get this one finished. A secondary incentive is that I know who I want to give it to: a friend who is having a hard time, but who is too far away to go and see in person. The idea is that I’m sending a hug in the form of a blanket. So, my hook has been flying and the scraps have been gobbled up – including additional oddments from my collection of left-over yarns. There’s quite a lot of mohair in the mix, so the blanket will be especially snuggly, plus they are cheerful colours and I’m hoping they will brighten my friend’s day. What do you think?

It isn’t finished yet, but I am nearly there. I’m hoping to be able to send it on it’s way within the next week.

I’ve been inspired to write this (and future) ScrapHappy posts by Kate, who provides links to other (mostly sewing) ScrapHappy bloggers at Tall Tales from Chiconia on the fifteenth of every month… do check them out.

-oOo-

* UnFinished Object

 

 

 

 

 

Knitting up a storm

My recent focus as regards working with yarn has been on knitting – both producing designs using the wool produced by Mandy at Faithmead and enjoying working my way through the yarn in my stash. I’m pleased to say that I have had success in both respects.

I’ve created a hat, specifically designed with beginner knitters in mind for Mandy to include in a kit. The next task is to get the pattern typed up. In the past, producing patterns has been a bit ad hoc, but since I’d like to do this more regularly, I though I ought to start being more strategic and organised about it and, with this in mind, I’ve bought myself a guide book:IMGP5011Although the book is entitled The beginner’s guide…’ and I’m not entirely a beginner, it’s really useful and helping me to ensure that, from now on, my patterns will include all the elements that a user is looking for. Much more often than writing patterns, I work from a pattern written by someone else. This has proved useful in illustrating to me what a user doesn’t want in a pattern and the latest one I have been working from is a case in point, which a number of sections that have had me scratching my head, reaching for a pencil and writing down what I think needs to be done.

Issues with the pattern aside, I have completed the knitting and sewing up:

The finishing is simply supposed to involve crocheting a single row of crab stitch around the neck. I knew that I was not going to do just this right from the outset – the neck opening is too low for my taste and I have always planned to crochet a triangular panel to fill the lower part. I just have to decide exactly how I want this to look. I could knit a lace panel to match the sides, but I really want this garment to show off both knitting and crochet, so crochet it is going to be.

I have been doing some crochet on one of my UFOs, but that’s all from scrap yarn, so you’ll have to wait until this month’s ScrapHappy post to see that.

 

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