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January 2015

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And now for something completely different

January 29, 2015

Making something new and trying out a new technique is a great way to start the new year, don't you think? Another great way to start the new year is buying yarn – ahem…

I made it to my first ever yarn release on the Skein Queen web site this month and managed to snag several lovely hand dyed skeins, although I was absolutely amazed at how quickly all those lovely skeins of yarn flew out of the virtual doors almost as soon as they opened at 8pm!

This was one of my purchases – a merino and silk blend fingering yarn (called 'Selkino') in colourway St Emilion:

I was buying this to make a simple lightweight scarf that could be worn indoors for a commission, but as soon as I saw it, I wanted to make something a little more ambitious and special – especially since my client had put such a lot of thought into selecting just the right yarn for her scarf.

A short while ago, I'd spotted a lovely lace knit shawl pattern called 'Love in a Mist' by Boo Knits on Ravelry, which we decided would be just the thing!  I don't knit that much lace, although I crochet a lot of it.  I'd certainly never knit a crescent shape shawl before, and I'd never knit with beads either, both of which are part of this pattern.  In for a penny, as they say…

So buying beads was next and I selected Miyuki Triangle beads in size 5, as the pattern recommends.  The ones I chose are berry coloured on the outer and gold inside, which goes beautfully with this richly red and spicy looking yarn.  Obviously, I couldn't just buy one set – I needed more to go with my other Skein Queen purchases 😉

Just about everyone's review of this pattern that I read on Ravelry was really postitive – glowing in fact – so I have to put the problems I had with it down to my own dimness.  To be fair, I don't think this is intended to be a lace beginner level pattern although most comments said it was very straightforward and a "quick knit" – au contraire, in my experience!  It may well be that everyone commenting had already done a decent amount of lace / crescent shawl type knitting because the main problems I had with following this pattern were around the things that weren't stated or specified in its pages.  There are 2 lace section size options in the pattern that require different amounts of yarn, but there is also reference to another option to make a larger stocking stitch section before you get to the lace, but no clear absolute yarn quantity requirements for each alternative.  The pattern also clearly wants you to use stitch markers but I was clueless about how to use these properly when lace knitting and spent some time reading up about lace knitting to work this out, which I did eventually.  I don't think either of the problems I had would have caused any issues for the experienced lace shawl knitter so, as I say, I can't knock the pattern for it.  Other than that, the pattern is straightforward enough, you just need to really concentrate and keep checking your stitch count – hence all those little markers…

Most shawl knitters seem to use circular needles to knit, which makes sense if you knit a lot of shawls, which often call for you to carry a lot of stitches.  I do knit on circulars when I'm knitting in the round, but they're never my first choice – my hands and arms are much more used to straight needles, so that's what I used for this.  The shawl looked super weird when I first got started though:

The open side to the right is the cast on edge and what will eventually be the top, neck edge of the shawl.  I found that the stocking stitch section went pretty quick to begin with, although it obviously started to slow down as I increased stitches on every row.  I was soon into the lace and beading section though:

I was delighted with how easy it was to add the beads with a 1mm crochet hook, which I'd expected to be super fiddly.  With all the increases needed to work towards the picot edging, I very soon ran out of my 'official' stitch markers, so took to using a little pack of gold jump rings that I had.  The open part of the jump rings did get caught a couple of times on the yarn, but by and large, they worked great and also looked pretty! 🙂

Probably because this was something new, I knit the shawl quite obsessively and it didn't take too many days (although plenty of hours!) before I was finished.  The cast off row took a long couple of hours because you create the picot edging as you cast off, casting on 3 new stitches then casting off 6, from one edge to the other.  Once it was off the needles, it looked like a crumpled old shoe!

The beads were already sparkly though 🙂  After weaving in the ends and stitching them into place with matching coloured thread, it was time to start the blocking.  Unfortunately, I don't have a special board to do this on, nor those fab looking blocking wires and pins, so I blocked it in sections on the ironing board, which worked just fine:

I put a pin into each picot at the bottom edge and then pinned the top edge so that it was the right shape and just taut – but not too taut.  I then placed a damp pressing cloth over the section and pressed it with a medium hot, dry iron.  You don't actually push the iron about and 'iron' it, you just hold the iron onto it in small sections for about 3 seconds at a time and that's plenty to set the yarn into shape.  The metamorphosis of the shawl after blocking is so exciting!  Wwwweeee!  It's got wings!

It looks so pretty and delicate:

Are your shoulders cold?  No problem:

Want to look all drapey and chic?  Okay:

Love those sparkly beads:

Like little shards of amber up close:

And those delicate, prettily curling edges:

Safe to say that I will be knitting this lovely shawl again – probably with this Skein Queen beauty – a 70% baby alpaca, 20% silk and 10% cashmere blend called 'Enchant' in 'Crocus with Saffron'.  Just the thing to go with those pretty little sparkling lilac beads I bought 🙂

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A case of ideas

January 15, 2015

As I’m sure I’ve told you before, I have a lot of ideas – some are good, some aren’t so good, some are flawed, some are dreadful and, now and again, there might be a really good one, and it’s the lure of the occasional really good one that keeps me motivated to work on all of them!

My latest idea began as I was making a sewing case a couple of weeks ago.  I like making sewing cases and make a number of different ones in different styles and fabrics, like this Tilda fabric one:

I love bringing in patchwork elements and using linen and embroidery too:

Then there’s English paper piecing, hand quilting:

And adding crochet details:

It’s also fun changing up and refining what’s in the case whether it’s changing the pockets, adding fasteners or accessories like this little thread card that I made with one of my MOO mini cards, a hole punch and a pair of really sharp scissors:

So, to get back to my ‘idea’, I was so enjoying making the latest Tilda case that I started thinking about whether I could scale up sewing cases and make something new.  Then, when I put a picture of the Tilda case on my Facebook page and a fellow crocheter asked if I made crochet hook cases I thought, mmm, that might be just the thing!

I’ve looked at knitting needle and sewing cases before and have stopped short of making one because, quite honestly, apart from my set of double pointed needles that live in a roll out of the way simply because I don’t use them so much, I tend to store all my knitting needles and crochet hooks in pots so I can get to them as and when I want them, with minimum bother.  Of course these pots of needles and hooks also get overrun at times with oddments of wool that I can’t bear to discard or put away tidily in my yarn boxes, but they’re still super accessible! 🙂  However, lots of other people obviously do use them, so I thought I’d have a go at designing something.

As usual with me, nothing can be straightforward, and perish the thought that anything I make should fulfil just one requirement – no of course not!  My crochet hook case must also function as a sewing case and have safe storage for other ‘things’ – whatever they might be.  So I brewed the idea for a few days and started to construct the case in my head, made a few sketches and then started refining the look of it, selecting fabric and features, interlining, closures and all that jazz.  Finally, I got all my materials together and started cutting, lining and stitching, starting with the lining of the case, which would give me an opportunity to learn something new and add a lined zipped pocket:

This actually went a lot smoother than I’d expected, as did making the little slip pockets you can see in the background where all the hooks and other ‘tools’ were set to go.  I also thought about how the case would look and operate once it was loaded up with ‘things’ so decided to add a couple of fabric spines to the lining and the outer of about half an inch width, so that the case would fold easily at two points, without becoming all misshapen when full, which some needle and hook cases I’d seen seemed to do.  I selected a medium weight linen and cotton blend fabric for the outer in a pretty print and interlined it with some fusible fleece to add some protective squish.  The lining is also a linen and cotton blend fabric in a toning lilac colour, but in a lighter weight.  I lined this with a medium weight fusible vilene, to add structure.

I then added a little lined scissor keeper and some pure wool felt for pins and needles, which I embroidered into position with simple herringbone stitch in two shades of violet floss.  I then stitched the lining and front together, lining up the two folding ‘spines’, which you can see in the lining in the picture below:

There is a thinner 3rd section to the case that folds over the end where the hooks sit:

I went through a number of closure options and again decided on something new that I thought would look nice but also be flexible enough to work if the case was empty of rammed full of kit – good old elastic!  However, this is elastic that has plush fabric on one side and I also added a little star shaped shell button to it to decorate:

I’m really happy that it looks in reality exactly how it had in my head – always a plus!  I think that, as a design, it isn’t quite right yet – it might be a bit big, maybe trying to do too much, and the closure could maybe work better – I may need to brew it up for a bit longer, but all in all, not one of my worst ideas 🙂

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Christmas Cowling and a Hug

January 2, 2015

I’ve been an obsessive knitter over the Christmas period.  I think this is because I had so many possible cowl design ideas in my head for so long before Christmas, that I just had to get them out and made as soon as I had the time to do it.

So here’s the first one – ‘The Scrunch Stitch Cowl’.  It was going to be a snood, but I liked it better that bit shorter and decided that I’d really only wanted to use the word ‘Snood’ in the title because I was enjoying the alliteration – a major language weakness of mine.  You actually could pull it up over your head, if you wanted to, although I don’t think that is how it looks best:

There’s lots to love about this one, not least that the knit stitch I’ve used is reversible with a pretty lacy looking stitch on the ‘front’ side and vertical lines of raised mounds on the other side – both very different looks – you can see the lace outwards in the picture above and the mounds outward in the one below:

As well as being reversible, you can also wear it either way up for yet more looks.  I used a standard cable style cast on at the start of the bottom of the cowl, which gives a firm edge that is tighter than the rest of the cowl, meaning that when worn with that edge at the bottom, the body of the cowl kind of spills out voluptuously, as in the pictures above.  When I came to cast off though, I used a special cast off technique that creates a really elastic and generous edge, so if you flip the cowl over to wear that edge at the bottom, it stretches out and shows off the deep ribbing cuff I’ve given it:

Lots of options AND it’s made with creamy coloured undyed baby alpaca yarn, which is just SO soft – what more could anyone want? 🙂

Next, I wanted to make something with some Rowan Kidsilk Haze Trio that I bought.  I’d never used this particular Kidsilk yarn before but it was now or never, since Rowan have discontinued it.  At least this meant that I could buy it as a reasonable price – if I’d used it at the usual cost price, I would have had to charge a fortune for the things I made from it.  Not that it isn’t worth the proper price – it is really lovely yarn, so dreamily soft and warm.  The colour  I bought is called Hawthorn and I love the pinky red, grey and cream together, although this is a very unforgiving yarn to work with – like most yarns with a high percentage of mohair, it does NOT like to be tinked or pulled back if you make mistake or change your mind about something.  I had initially thought that I’d make this Kim Hargreaves capey type cowl with it:

I’ve made this piece before for a friend using Kidsilk Aura and whilst it was really nice, it was a bit of a strange shape – neither really a cowl or a cape.  As usual when in doubt, I had a look around ravelry and read the notes of the people who had also made the piece before and most of them seemed to agree with me about the shape.  When I made it before, I made a slightly larger size than my friend needed so that it wouldn’t be so restrictive on her arms, but it was still a bit odd working all those decreases throughout the body.  So, I decided to just use that pattern for the initial inspiration and design my own.  Meet, ‘The Hug’:

The ribbing at the bottom was the first to go – it really is silly to put ribbing on the edge of a piece like this – ribbing is for elastication, which is the last thing you’d really want here, I figured…  I did want some kind of neat looking edging though, so I went for a 1 inch edge of garter stitch, which looks pretty and stops the bottom of the piece curling up.  I also used a long tail cast on so that there wouldn’t be any suggestion of pulling on the bell like shape.  I also decided to knit it in the round rather than making a front and back and seaming together – that seemed rather pointless too!  After I’d done a few sums to work out how many stitches I wanted, where I wanted to put the decreases for the shaping around the shoulders,  and which way I wanted each one to lean and to look, I got knitting.

I have to say that I really enjoyed the mindlessness of this knit after the initial planning,  I knit it continental style because I was working in the round so knit every stitch – so much easier on your wrists.  I like how the shaping looks on the shoulders:

I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with the neckline at first – did I want to give it an edging to match the bottom, did I want it long or shorter?  In the end, trying it on the form, I decided I liked it just long enough to curl over and make its own little collar, without the edging.  I cast off with a yarn over at every 4th stitch so that it wouldn’t be too tight and I think it came out just right.  Would look as good over a collared shirt as a polo or crew neck top. although I’m not sure about it worn as a cowl like loop – it kinda works:

The shape when it’s laid flat definitely looks strange, but that weird shape is why it hugs the shoulders so well:

Having done the chunky thing, I was in the mood for something a little more delicate, and what’s more delicate than Rowan Kidsilk Haze?  Although I crochet a lot with this yarn, I don’t often knit with it because it grows quite slowly and, if you are making anything of any size, it can begin to feel quite dull.  If it also quite a fiddly yarn to knit with, even on the best needles, because it is so very fine.  But, the end effect of the yarn knit up is just so lovely that it is worth a reasonable amount of frustration!

I decided to stick with a plain stocking stitch and use an elastic cast on and cast off to create a simple tube that could curl prettily at either end.  Because the stitch was plain, I decided that I’d do some colour work for interest and used 4 shades – 3 in ‘plain’ Kidsilk Haze and the last in the Eclipse version that has a metallic thread woven into it.  This is the end result – I’m calling it ‘The Candy Floss Cowl’, for reasons that are probably quite obvious:

What was a bit strange about this one was that it looked so very dull and straight up and down in my hands while knitting it, but it really comes alive on the form.  The only thing that I wasn’t 100% happy about is that it really is quite impossible to make the ends of the yarn completely invisible when you weave them in – something that I usually manage to do.  There’s really nowhere to hide with such a fine yarn knit at this kind of gauge, although I made sure that all the weaving and security stitching I do with a needle and thread on the ends was done in one line at the back, so nobody sees it when worn.

Love it as a loop:

Or slightly fanned out over the shoulders:

But really love that bit of sparkle from the Eclipse in the silver grey section, and the overall super delicate look of the stitch in those soft colours:

Finally, I wanted to play with the Trio yarn again and make something up that wasn’t in the least bit ‘clever’ – a simple 3×3 rib cowl, which I’m calling (strangely…) ‘The 3 Rib Cowl’.  I think this one finished up as something of a stylist’s dream – you can wear it in so many ways, as long as you have the eye to see them!  Here it is in its straight up form and showing off its stretch:

Then there’s its ‘ruff’ look (the only way this yarn CAN look rough!):

Its floppy look:

Its curly look:

And, finally, its seductive look – check out the fluffiness – mmmm…:

As to knitting the piece, I have to admit that it was pretty dull and reptitive.  Because I was knitting in rib, I had to use the English rather than the continental method (to make sure I got good even tension throughout), so it was pretty hard on my wrists, but worth it for the end result I think.  This yarn really is so soft and incredibly warm – even holding it while knitting made me cosy!

So, now I’ve got these ideas out of my head, I’m back to commission knitting today and am casting on to make the first of two cowls for a lovely client called Sara, who has almost as much of a thing for cowls and scarves as I do 🙂