Coin Stack Quilt

You may have noticed a link in my sidebar to the Coin Quilt Piecealong Flickr group. Organised by two inspiring bloggers, the aim is to piece together a coin stack style quilt in 2009. I had been gathering quilting fabrics haphazardly for about a year, and using them in small projects, but I hadn’t taken the plunge into piecing and making up a quilt. With no fixed pattern, and a generous deadline, this quiltalong was just the push I needed get started.

I decided to make a cot quilt (c. 80cm x 120cm) for some friends who are expecting a firstborn soon. I wanted a simple design with bold colours, and not gender specific. I picked some fabrics from a Tabbycat charm pack, and arranged them in colour groups (I may have overdone the green column. I have a weakness for green). I pieced three columns of 5″ x 3″ strips of fabric together, then spent about two days deciding in which order they should sit on the quilt. I cut and sewed cream-coloured cotton sashing, and attached the cream border – adjusting for my less-than-straight seams.

I wanted a fairly plain backing, but I also wanted to include a little bit of interest in case the quilt had to be reversed. I pieced a thin stripe of blues-to-greens and placed it a third up from the bottom edge. I chose some Warm & Natural cotton batting for the middle of the quilt. This makes a it a lightweight coverlet, perfect for the summer heatwave that is supposedly around the corner. Besides, I was worried how my temperamental machine would cope with something thicker!

The quilting itself was nerve-wracking. I marked out the diagonal lines with masking tape, and sewed along the edges, removing the strips as I went. I had thought about quilting a cross-hatch in the other direction, but found that I liked the dynamism of parallel diagonals as they were. Finally, I added a plain green binding (using this tutorial), and washed the quilt to give it a slightly crinkled look.

Some things I have learned while making this quilt:

  • I’m constitutionally incapable of designing asymmetry. Although I love the idea of offset stacks, irregular sashes, or other design quirks, I can’t bring myself to incorporate them into my plan. For my next quilt I really want to break this habit and try experimenting with asymmetric designs.
  • I find sewing a lot more stressful than knitting. One of the things that makes me a confident knitter is the ability to go back and fix mistakes, or even unravel a whole garment, without losing any of the raw materials. I’m a more nervous sewer because I worry that a mistake in measuring, cutting or sewing will waste the fabric. I’m still thinking about how to get over this mental hurdle.
  • Curved safety pins are a godsend for holding the fabric-batting sandwich together during quilting. Also, I have discovered the importance of a good iron.
  • Although machine piecing/quilting is much faster, I think I’d like to try to hand-stitch a quilt soon. I think the slower pace might give me greater control over the stitching, and be more suitable to my temperament.
  • There’s something very satisfying in the look and feel of a finished quilt. The arrangement of colours, the texture of seam and shrunken fabric have a very particular effect on the psyche. I think there must be a cultural memory that is triggered by quilts, making them instantly recognisable objects of comfort.

I’d like to try another coin stack quilt. I like the simple design and the importance of the colour and pattern of the fabrics. So I’m leaving the Flickr Piecealong button on the sidebar in the hopes that I might manage another one before the end of the year…

I’m almost certainly not the only sock knitter to have thought of it, but I post this tip in case someone can make good use of it.

There are plenty of devices and gadgets that aim to keep your stitches from falling off your dpns while you transport your sock-in-progress: this is a popular one, and this is a beautiful wooden number. Having none of these tools, I improvised using some things from my stationery box.

DPN keeper
DPN keeper

Materials

  • 1 document binding comb, like these. (c. 7mm in diameter for 2.25mm dpns).
  • 1 craft knife or small pair of scissors.
  • 1 double pointed needle from your project.

Directions

  • Measure your dpn against the comb, and mark the length. The idea is that the length of comb is measured so that a ring is sitting inside the needle length on either end. This is what will keep your stitches from falling off.
  • Cut the comb after the last full ring of your measurement. In my case, this was after 8 rings. (Or 11cm of comb for a 12cm needle).
  • Using the craft knife, cut away all the rings in between the first and last rings, making sure to trim any sharp edges. Leave the first and last rings intact.
  • Insert dpns with project safely restricted between the edge rings.

Go forth!

I have difficulty expressing gratitude adequately, especially verbally. I’m much more comfortable with material or practical gestures, than with words. Knitting, and particularly lace knitting, has given me a perfect vehicle for occasions in nothing short of an epic poem is needed! The process of knitting a lace shawl is meditative and measured; often increasing in complication as the pattern grows and expands. I love every stage of shawl knitting – the choosing, the swatching, the confidence of the first few rows, the methodical body work, and the breathless anxiety of the last few rows. It is a labour of love, and this one was finished last week as an 80th birthday gift.

Moonlight Shawl

Pattern: Moonlight Sonata Shawl, by Shui Kuen Kozinski.

Yarn: Garthenor Organic Shetland Single Ply Laceweight, in ‘Fawn’.

Needles: 3mm KnitPro Symfonie circulars.

(Ravelry link)

Verdict:  I loved knitting this shawl. The sunspot motif is bolder than most lace knitting I’ve done, and is easy to ‘read’ and memorize. (Although there isn’t a ‘plain’ knitting row in the whole pattern).  The shawl is shaped at the neck to fit shoulders more comfortably, and the back curves gently (which I prefer to a sharp point). I used a thinner yarn than the pattern recommends, so I worked 12 repeats of the pattern instead of 10. The pattern is clearly written and comprehensive, and a great introduction to shaped Faroese-style shawls.

The yarn is also wonderful: a balanced single in a blend of natural colours, with subtle shading. The Shetland wool gives the shawl considerable substance and warmth, despite the lightness of the fabric. And the slight stickiness of the yarn meant that I only used one lifeline, and could easily pick up any dropped stitches.

I would have done without even that one lifeline, except that one of the tips of my KnitPro circulars popped out of its cable, causing me to scramble to catch the dozen or so escapist stitches. I stuck the tip back in with some superglue, and haven’t had any more incidents. I’ve read that this problem may be quite widespread in KnitPro/KnitPicks, but I think that the needles are lovely enough to risk it.Moonlight Shawl

As usual with deadline knitting, I put in several frantic hours in the last week in order to finish on time! Having exhausted all my favourite podcasts early on in this project, I searched out a new source of background media – and settled on the many wonderful lectures available at the TED site. I strongly recommend these if you like to knit while listening to interesting words: the lectures are mostly 15-20 minutes long, and on subjects as diverse as bacterial chemical communication, new ways of looking at poverty statistics, and futuristic robotic design. (A favourite was Margaret Wertheim’s lecture on using crochet to illustrate hyperbolic geometry).

The shawl was a joy to knit and was well liked by the recipient. It’s gratifying to see that, as a means of communicating affection and gratitude, lace knitting is as eloquent and complex as any language.

A few weeks ago, exhausted and grouchy, and thinking “Why should I let the toad work / Squat on my life?” we escaped our responsibilities for a few days. We’ve returned, refreshed and rounder of girth, after a relaxing break.

We wanted to get as far as our (pretty meagre) resources would take us, so we aimed for the edge of Europe, for the city that has one foot in Asia – Istanbul.

Istanbul

Although we were only there for four days, we managed to cram our time full of incredible experiences, sights and tastes. Byzantine and Ottoman architecture dominates the city, an order of magnitude greater than the shops and apartments that line the narrow streets. Hagia Sophia and Sultanahmet were particularly stunning, as was the tiny church of St Saviour in Chora – crammed full of exquisite mosaics and frescoes. The bazaars were saturated with colour and texture, and we overcame our inhibitons enough to barter for some goodies. We ate until we were full, and walked until our feet hurt – and then hopped on a ferry to explore the city by water.  (More photos of our trip here).

Kürkçü Han: wool seller

I even managed to do a spot of yarn shopping (!). The winding streets between the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar are lined with shops and informal stalls where many of the locals buy and sell their wares. A narrow opening from Mahmutpaşa Street leads to an enclosed courtyard bazaar – Kürkçü Han – which houses several dozen yarn and linen stores.

This rainy picture was taken from the first-floor corridor that surrounds the courtyard. Make sure you explore upstairs if you are coming here – the corridor is lined with yarn stalls.

This guy had a great little shop, crammed to the rafters with all sorts of yarns. Most of the offerings were vibrant acrylics and cottons, but I found some pure undyed wool crammed into a plastic bag in front of his stall. I bartered with the owner, but he was persuaded by one of his other customers not to budge in price (in fact, I think she was pushing him to charge me more than the stated price!). I came away with ten hanks of creamy worsted weight wool, for the bargain price of £5. This will be yarn for dyeing, I think.

We came away from Istanbul reluctantly, but spent the rest of our break relaxing with family around England. We’re back at work, and holding onto our renewed energy levels. And we’ve learned our lesson – don’t wait until you reach breaking point to take a break. Even a few days away can make a world of difference!

The winter months are the worst of the year for me, and the weeks leading up to mid-December especially so. I think I must have an overdeveloped SAD gland, because the hunkering gloom, the shortening days, and the excesses of the holiday season really take their toll on me. Solstice is when I begin to come to life again, as the days lengthen and the spring flirts with thoughts of return. Still, the early months of the year are recuperative, and slow.

I finished this sweater in time for the gathering light, and it has already seen some good wearing.

'oxo' sweater

Pattern: Pamela Costello’s Incredible, Custom-fit Raglan Sweater. A perfect recipe of ratios and suggestions (and like all good recipes, amenable to tweaking). Seamless, versatile, and quickly executed – the style suits the recipient better than any other.

Yarn: Cascade 220 Wool (in a charcoal black (a bad choice for knitting in the gloom!) I used 7 skeins, this yarn really has great yardage. I’m beginning to realise why worsted weight sweaters are so popular, the knitting goes by very quickly, and the resulting fabric is soft and warm. I think I’ll use Cascade again, maybe a heathery shade to make a Forecast.

Needles: 3.5mm circulars, and 3mm circulars for the ribbing (I’m a very loose knitter).

Notions & Mods: After following the suggested ratios from the pattern, the design of the sweater was largely improvised. I knew I wanted a warm cable pattern, but not too crowded. I relied on the ‘oxo‘ cable, which is particularly suited to my feelings for the recipient!  The sleeves are heavily cabled, and there is an asymmetric sprinkling of Xs and Os on the left front, and a couple of columns running into the ribbing on the back.

Verdict: pleased

(Ravelry link)

Montoya Beach

Nobody reading this needs me to sing the praises of Ravelry. Since its inception the site has become an invaluable source of information on patterns, yarns and techniques for knitters and crocheters. I’m as addicted to its features as anybody, but I hadn’t expected to find in its forums the voices of some of the kindest, funniest and most intellectually stimulating people I have met in a long time. Some of the best online debates I have participated in have been on Ravelry – and I’m not talking ‘wool vs. acrylic’, but discussions on politics, philosophy, ethics, religion, and more.

I recently took part in a swap among members of one of my favourite Ravelry groups, and my swap partner spoiled me rotten with the most generous haul of gifts. Among the spices, wild rice and artisanal soap were nestled three skeins of Punta del Este ‘Montoya Beach’ linen laceweight yarn.

Let me tell you a story about this yarn… I had spotted it online and fallen in love with its texture, and cool sharpness –  this colour in particular reminded me of the coastal waters of a  place I miss very much. I mentioned this yarn in a post I wrote a year ago, and my swap partner had read it, followed the link and bought some for herself. Having been assigned to send me a swap package a few weeks ago she selflessly sent it ‘back’ to me!

Now I need to find an appropriate pattern for this yarn, one that makes the most of its qualities, and that gestures to the journey it has taken so far. A growing movement of lace stitches, with a suggestion of flowing water, or surf and breaking waves.

I’m away for a few days, taking a needed break to be with family. I’ll be making some exciting fibre purchases over the weekend, and I’ll be working on a growing black/grey mass that may, one day, become a sweater.

Although babies rarely, if ever, express their pleasure at being dressed in wool, it is surely manifest when you dote on a small plump person soundly and contentedly asleep, swaddled in woollen sweater, woollen leggings, and a soft wool bonnet, snugly tucked under a fine warm wool blanket.

E. Zimmermann, Knitter’s Almanac.

Another month, another baby. This eagerly anticipated daughter of an ancient land gets a set of woollens that evoke the colours and textures of Welsh woodland. I haven’t managed the full wool layette imagined by EZ, limiting myself to the gull-stitch cardigan from Knitter’s Almanac, and teaming it with Saartje’s garter-stitch booties.

Gull stitch baby sweater and bootiesThis sweater has been made by thousands of knitters (and at least four times by me). Almost seamless, top-down construction and a stitch pattern that shows off hand-dyed wool beautifully – it has attracted a faithful following. I complemented this vibrant green colourway with glossy red buttons.

The cardigan and matching footwear used about 3/4 of a skein of Smooshy. I could easily have made a matching hat from the remains, except that I have an unfortunate habit of underestimating infant cranial measurements – so I try to avoid headwear.

This should be the last of the recent baby boom. I have a couple of grown-up projects in the wings already. A non-surprise birthday sweater due before Christmas, and the beginnings of a Big Project involving sheep, which will test my nascent fibre skills to the limit.

Pattern: Baby Sweater on Two Needles, February project from Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitter’s Almanac.
Yarn: Dream in Color Smooshy, in ‘Happy Forest’. This yarn stretches considerably when blocked, so I’m glad I used smaller needles. Bought from Socktopus – highly recommended.
Needles: 3.5mm brass circulars from Scandinavian Knitting Design. They feel identical to Addis to me, and are considerably cheaper.
Notions and Mods: Six brick red buttons

(Ravelry link)

Pattern: Saartje’s Bootees. Easiest, quickest, darlingest garter stitch booties. Size small, which produced a bootie with a 9cm sole.
Yarn: Dream in Color Smooshy, in ‘Happy Forest’.
Needles: 2.5mm needles. I used two from a dpn set, securing one end of each with a rubber stitch marker.
Notions and Mods: Four brick red buttons.

(Ravelry link)

Cache coeur

With family and friends living far away, I often have to time my knitting to coincide with someone’s trip abroad, weeks or months before the garment is needed. This little woollen wrap is intended for a baby due at Christmastime, but it was finished in a hurry so that her dad could take it back to Chile with him this week.

I love this pattern! The design is so simple and practical – no sleeves or neckholes that make dressing a wriggling baby difficult. Instead it is a no-seam, flat shape that wraps around and buttons at the back for instant warmth. It’s a doddle to make and provides a perfect canvass for interesting stitch patterns and yarns. I’ll definitely add this to my repertoire of quick baby knits.

Cache coeur

Pattern: Cache Coeur for Baby by Patricia Arrotin, in The Wheel (Issue 19, 2007).

Yarn: Jaeger Matchmaker Merino DK (discontinued) colour 622 – a dark raspberry. I used approximately 80grams. I’m not sure how I feel about this yarn. It’s soft and warm, and ideally suited to a textured baby wrap. But it split and unravelled several times under the points of my needles, and the colour bled through several rinses when I washed it. I think it will provide warmth and colour – so the process was worth it.

Needles & notions: 3.25mm Inox circular. Two flower-shaped mother-of-pearl buttons.

Mods: Used slightly thicker yarn for a garment to fit a 3-month-old baby.

(Ravelry Link)

Romney Ewes

I have barely picked up a pair of needles since my last post. The summer has oozed past in a fog of work and tension. There hasn’t even been much sunshine to encourage the heart. Still, Autumn heralds the return of my knitting enthusiasm, and I already have a couple of small things on the needles.

In the meantime, some barely related sheepishness…

A week ago I went up to London to witness a peculiar event. To wit: a group of guild members and other Freemen of the City exercising their ancient right to “herd sheep over London Bridge without need or cause of having to pay a toll or fine.” This privilege dates back to the thirteenth century, and gave freemen the opportunity to trade in the city’s markets without having to pay extortionate bridge tolls. Needless to say, the right is seldom exercised now – there being no livestock markets in the Square Mile these days – but this opportunity to try out the privilege drew many of the lucky few who are eligible (my dad among them).

Crossing

The sheep who had been volunteered for duty were a flock of fifteen Romney ewes. They were impeccably groomed and very well behaved – their owner had trained them for the occasion by marching them alongside busy roads and clashing bin lids together. Reports suggest their fleece was very soft, and I have ambitious plans to procure some from next year’s shearing to make some ‘Freeman’ socks for the parent.

The event was patronised by the Lord Mayor of London (whose charity benefited from sponsorship), and where the Lord Mayor goes, his bodyguard goes too. These members of the Company of Pikemen and Musketeers were dressed in their heavy uniform (including helmet), and carried pikes and muskets while marching back and forth across London Bridge for four hours under bright sun. Their elaborate appearance and behaviour drew some bemused stares from tourists and some smiles from depressed City bankers.

Company of Pikemen and Musketeers

They weren’t the only people to get dressed up. Here are some lady shepherdesses, and a different kind of pastor.

Bo PeepAnother kind of shepherd

We had a great day – finished off with some lunch from Borough Market and a quick visit to All the Fun of the Fair (my idea of sheepish fun).

Cache coeur in progress

Now I can get back to my new-found enthusiasm for knitting: starting with a quick baby wrap that will need to be sent on to South America in the next week.

I hope to have this finished in the next couple of days, after which I’ll try to tackle the queue of recipients in need of winter wear.

C. Arden, Bookseller

We made the most of yesterday’s unexpected heatwave by taking a trip deep into the Welsh countryside – to buy books…

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