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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…

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.

Spindle and Wool Top

As if I don’t have enough obsessions already… I’ve been trying my hand at a new craft – spindling.

This beautiful high-whorl drop spindle was a gift from my mother a few months ago.

I love this spindle. It’s smooth and beautifully marled, and generally soul-soothing. For months now I’ve been twirling it through my fingers empty of fibre, yearning to try it out properly, but discouraged by the woeful results of my sporadic attempts. It seemed to call to me from its place on the bookshelf behind my desk, urging me impatiently to give it another try – so last Saturday I did.

Spinning is a completely different animal to master… Unlike knitting and crochet – where the end result is more important than how you get there – spinning is all about process. So my first attempts at spinning were unmitigated disasters – I dropped the spindle on my foot and spun it out of my hands and across the room several times, I tangled the fibres irrevocably, or spread them too thin. Then, gradually, I started to produce yarn.

Read the rest of this entry »

When we moved to Wales last year I was overjoyed – a country in which sheep outnumber humans 4:1 had to be a knitter’s paradise! Unfortunately, it soon became clear not only that the country’s sheep flocks were not interested in producing knittable wool, but that the human population was equally disinterested in knitting. I scoured the local newspapers, yellow pages, and the internet for high-quality, locally produced knitting wool – with negligible results. And then I heard about Glasu – rural development initiative dedicated to developing sustainable communities in rural Wales, and encouraging innovation in the production of food, building materials, and animal products – including fine wool.

Glasu support Wonderwool Wales, a showcase for local Welsh wool production, and a marketplace for UK fibre producers. This year’s festival (which took place over the weekend) hosted over 140 producers and distributors from around the country, selling not only wonderful wool fibre, yarn and clothing, but also alpaca, silk, bamboo, and many more. In its third year, Wonderwool Wales has tripled the number of exhibitors, and is fast establishing itself as one of the leading UK fibre shows.

My husband, mother-in-law and I went up to Builth Wells to attend the show last Sunday – and had a wonderful time! We spent all day looking at all the fantastic products, talking to the producers and finding all the yarns and fibres I had hoped for when I came to Wales. There were yarns and fleeces, spindles and felting kits, natural dyes and exotic fibres – and livestock.

Wonderwool Wales

I broke my yarn fast with gusto!

Swag

Clockwise from top: 200g Garthenor Organic Manx/Wensleydale Laceweight, UK Alpaca shade cards, 200g UK Alpaca 2/12nm black, remnants of UK Alpaca sock yarn in moss and mustard, a crochet flower kit from The House of Hemp, and (barely visible) a pair of felted alpaca shoe inserts for my mother.

Baby Bowmont Braf DK

I also bought a skein of Baby Bowmont Braf DK. Bowmont Braf is the showcase yarn of Wonderwool Wales. The Bowmont Braf project was set up four years ago to test if Wales could produce “fine fibre suitable for high-end quality products”. The yarn is lovely – very soft and lofty, and I couldn’t resist this green colourway. I’m not sure what I’ll use this for – I had reached the end of my budget when I bought this, so I only have a lonely skein – but I’m very glad to be able to buy such a high-quality local product.

I’m also pleased as punch with my Garthenor laceweight! I’ve been dreaming about this yarn for weeks, and in the end I phoned ahead to ask Chris from Garthenor to hold two skeins back for me. It is a very soft and bouncy yarn, and I’m planning a lace stole that incorporates some traditional stitch patterns to compliment its origins.

The best buy by far was the UK Alpaca 2/12 laceweight. The show price was £1.50 for 50g/300m – so my £6 worth bought me a good-sized shawl. I almost bought an equivalent amount of hemp yarn, but in the end I played safe and opted for a little taster crochet kit.

I’m very glad we were able to go to the show. Everyone was friendly and keen to talk about new products and innovative techniques. I saw a huge number of yarns and fibres that I had only ever read about, and made copious notes about equipment that I’d like to invest in. Most of all the show renewed my interest in locally produced wool, and fed my enthusiasm for new fibres and crafts!

I’ll certainly be back next year!

Age Concern

 

Innocent are collecting miniature woolly hats to adorn their smoothie bottles. For every be-hatted smoothie they sell, they’ll donate 50p to Age Concern. Last year they raised £115,000 (that’s 230,000 hats!) This year their target is £200,000. I made a few little hats to join the pile!

If you want to contribute you can see their basic pattern here – but you could elaborate to your heart’s content. Send your finished hats to Innocent before 22nd October.

Bookmark

Tomorrow we’re driving to my parents’s house to celebrate my sister’s birthday. To bulk up what I thought was a meagre birthday hoard, I crocheted her this silk bookmark.

  • Pattern: Fan Bookmark by Crochetroo.
  • Yarn: Hipknits Laceweight silk. (Custom dyed for me months ago, but not yet used).
  • Hook: 2mm.

I’ll post on the rest of the stash and the party when we come back!

*

ETA: After all that secrecy and suspense, did I remember to take pictures of my sister’s birthday bash? You know I didn’t. Instead I clucked around cluelessly while she opened her presents. For the record , I made her a drop-stitch scarf in Collinette ‘Giotto’, and gave her a Madeleine baking tray to go with the baking book my mother bought for her. A good, if unrecorded, time was had by all!

 

Icarus

I made this last summer for my sister. It was my first lace project, and a very easy and satisfying knit. I pretty much stuck to the pattern as written, though I added beads to the wing-points.

I love Miriam Felton‘s designs. I’m in the last throes of Mountain Peaks, and I made Seraphim for my civil marriage in January. Miriam’s shawls are elegant and eminently knitable, and she provides technical advice by email for all her designs.

This shawl was stage one in my ambition to knit a lace shawl for every woman in my family. (My mother’s Kiri was stage two, and I gave my grandmother my marriage shawl).

 

    Icarus

  • Pattern: ‘Icarus Shawl’ by Miriam Felton, Interweave Knits (Summer 2006).
  • Yarn: Posh Yarn Beatrice in ‘Bluebell’. This is a lovely heavy lace-weight silk/cashmere blend, which I think has been discontinued.
  • Needles: 3.25mm circular.
  • Modifications: I added 4mm Gϋttermann Facettenperlen to the last knit round before cast-off.

It may seem from recent postings as if I haven’t been knitting at all lately. In fact, I have several projects on the go, some of which are beginning to get on my nerves. My main work in progress is Miriam Felton’s Mountain Peaks Shawl, which I’m knitting in Jaggerspun Zephyr (Basil), and which I hope to wear at my second wedding in October.

This is what it looks like at the moment:

Heap o' yarn

A forbidding heap o’ yarn, right? I’ve stalled slightly on the border. I loved the main sections of the shawl, and made swift progress, but the edging looks odd to me. Why all those p2tog on the right and wrong sides? I’m not entirely convinced that they make that much difference to the stitch definition. And I don’t really like the way the join between shawl and edging is looking. I’ve been reassuring myself by revisiting some beautiful finished shawls, and I’m sure I’ll power on, but I’m not as confident about this shawl as I was a few weeks ago. Maybe I need a backup?

Present

My mother-in-law is a thoughtful and creative woman: she crafts, knits, sews and bakes wonderful things. Unfortunately, she has been burdened with three sons who don’t really think to facilitate her hobbies by taking her to fabric shops or showing an interest in vintage buttons!

She has made every effort to welcome me to the family, and I’m glad to be able to repay her by sharing some of her interests. She recently mentioned that she wanted to try her hand at crochet, so for her birthday tomorrow I’ve sewn this crochet case to keep her hooks in.

Crochet

I’ve included a couple of metal hooks (sizes 3.5mm and 4mm), and a Brittany (5.5mm) with a lovely turned handle. I’ve also made her some stitch markers out of shell and glass beads, and included some ceramic buttons. Three balls of RYC Bamboo Soft in Cambria (she’s allergic to woollen yarns) should start her off on an easy crochet project.