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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.

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)

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.

Amandine Lace Stole

Amandine Lace Stole

The days have been so blustery lately, it doesn’t feel like Summer at all. The sun moves in and out of cloud cover with exasperating frequency.

I finally finished this lace stole for my mother-in-law. It should have been done on Sunday, but I managed to completely mess up the second border. Twice. The moral is: don’t attempt lace knitting while watching one of the most exciting tennis matches of all time.

Pattern: Amandine Lace Stole by Carrie Strine (from her etsy store).

Yarn: Posh Yarn ‘Felicity’ in Rose Petal, 100% silk (discontinued, I think).

Needles: 4mm circular.

Mods: None, although the heavier yarn made for a more substantial garment than the original.

(Ravelry link)

Amandine Lace Stole

Amandine Lace Stole

I loved knitting this stole. The stitch pattern is organic and bold, gesturing towards Art Deco; and the fringe border swings perfectly in the breeze. The pattern is very well written and includes charts and photographs. Carrie Strine provides exceptional pattern support, and is a lovely and helpful designer – I’m looking forward to her future patterns! The yarn is soft and lustrous, and a perfect colour for the recipient.

I’m usually the very definition of knitting monogamy. I can spend weeks thinking about a pattern and planning for it carefully, and then concentrate exclusively on it until it is done. But for some reason I can’t seem to stick to one project these days. I’m avoiding even the urgent deadline garments that I should be working on. Instead I flit from one unfinished piece to the other, without being satisfied.

Still, at least some patterns are quick enough to be finished in a few days. I worked on these little things last week, a couple of dresses for two sisters due to be born very soon.

Twin Vests

  • Yarn: Drops Alpaca (colours 3800 & 7323), about 1.4 balls of each. This yarn is a joy to knit with, and so soft – not to mention good value. I’ve used this colour combination before – how unimaginative! The buttons are mother-of-pearl.
  • Needles: 2.5mm circular needle (magic loop). I bought these from Scandinavian Knitting Design: they seem to be identical to Addi Turbos, except for the price!
  • Mods: I added this flower and this leaf motif for interest.

See project details on Ravelry.

Perhaps it’s best to embrace my current bout of knitting unfaithfulness, and punctuate it with a few quick projects here and there. The brief satisfaction of having actually completed a pattern might spur me on to work on the rest of the queue. I hope!

Back to Basics Socks

I started these socks early in the morning on polling day a couple of weeks ago, and had the first one finished by the time the last mayoral election results were announced in London. The second took a little longer – a testament to the difference the adrenalin of politics makes to my knitting output!

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My yarn budget has been limited of late, and I’ve done most of my knitting from my (really already ridiculously inflated) stash. I haven’t bought yarn in many months, and I find that I don’t mind too much. But I have been feeling the lack of yarn exposure. That is, I miss the experience of seeing and feeling unknown yarns, squeezing skeins, comparing new colourways, and wondering to what knitterly purpose they could be put. I don’t have a local yarn store – my nearest one is two train rides and a hilly walk away – so I can’t really justify travelling a long way just to feel up a skein or two.

I had a kind of epiphany recently, though. I realised that there was a way of getting my fill of yarn exposure without breaking the bank – shade cards.

Shade Cards

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Important social events come in waves in my family and friendship group. A few years ago we had a first wave of marriages, a while later the first round of divorces – now everyone I know seems to be spawning. I seem to spend most of my time planning or making small things for small people. And, in fact, I love knitting for babies: the garments are small and take virtually no time to make, they elicit a disproportionate amount of praise for the effort and they allow me to experiment with new techniques without feeling like I’ve wasted a lot of time and materials if something goes wrong.

The only worry I have about knitting baby garments usually relates to colour choices. I wouldn’t hesitate to dress a baby boy in pink, or a baby girl in blue – although I detest most pastel shades and think they make newborns look more blotched than their unfortunate norm – but I feel very uncomfortable foisting my own gender politics on other people. I tend to opt for ‘safe’ colours with people whose views I’m unsure of, and gravitate towards deeper shades of purple or green, or muted neutrals with some interesting accents.

This vest and hat, made for a cousin’s baby, were put together hurriedly in February, so that they could be flown to her before the birth of her son.

Baby Vest and Bonnet

On the left, a baby vest based on the Pebble pattern by Nikol Lohr. Made with 3.75mm Denise needles, using just over one ball of Drops/Garnstudio Karisma Superwash in shade 37, and seven bronze-coloured mother-of-pearl buttons. (Newborn size).

On the right, a Top-Down Bonnet from Adrian Bizila’s pattern (I omitted the anime character stitching, and the ties). Made with a motley collection of dpns approximating 3.75mm, and using less than one ball of Drops/Garnstudio Karisma Superwash in shade 01. (6-month size).

A note on the yarn: this was my first time using Karisma, and I’m converted! The yarn is soft, springy, easy to work with, inexpensive, and available in a range of muted colours. It’s superwash (although I didn’t test this), and – I think – ideal for woollen baby gifts.

It’s just as well I enjoy knitting baby things, as I’ll have at least three small new acquaintances to knit for in the coming year – my cousin’s twins due in late August, and the spawn of some political friends who might be open to risky designs.