fourth edition

Crocheted with Love

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I often get asked how I ended up doing what I do for a living. Now that is a very long story – so I often just explain that I’m the fifth generation of very crafty, creative women. It’s a simplification but it is also the truth. In 2011 I exhibited knitted art at Glasgow’s Tramway gallery – my Homebound piece explored how the act of making tied my family together and how we make ourselves through the act of creation/crafting.

Today added another chapter to the story as I received a parcel from my lovely mum.

I own many handmade things handed down to me: a big blanket made by my great-grandmother; Hardanger-embroidered table clothes lovingly made by my gran; a christening gown which I believed was first sewn by my great-great-grandmother (then altered by my glamorous aunt Grethe); knitted cardigans and various embroidery pieces .. but I do not own many things made by my mum especially for me. That changed today, though.

My mum asked advice on colours, but otherwise this is her work. The squares are neatly joined with crochet and all ends are neatly woven in. My mum has always been very meticulous about her finishing – every time I weave in ends, I think of her! She used this Garnstudio pattern which surprised me as she usually just makes things up as she goes along. She was fairly faithful to it, though she reported she hated the edging and wishes she had just used one of her own ones. She’s a Westermann, alright!

When I teach crochet, I tend to joke that my mum thinks I cheat by using relatively heavy yarns (i.e. double-knitting and worsted-weight) when I crochet. Mum usually uses fine hooks and fine yarns, but her new love for making blankets obviously translates into heavier yarns. And I think that is interesting: we develop and change as crafters throughout our entire lives.

The new blanket suits our living room – and I am very, very pleased to have received it. Do you think I could get away with asking for some matching pillows?

Revisited & Loved: Florence & Fyberspates Cumulus

There are a few things I cannot resist: lemon meringue pie, puppies, red lipstick, and fine alpaca yarns. If you put either of those in front of me, I am helpless. So, when I was asked if I wanted to have a look at Cumulus, a new alpaca/silk lace yarn from Fyberspates, I jumped at the chance. And Cumulus is indeed the yarn equivalent of a lemon meringue pie; it’s impossible to just have a tiny bit.

Then I was asked if I would mind of a few knitters had the chance to play with Cumulus using my Florence pattern – and I got terribly nostalgic. I’ll tell you why in just a second but first look at this photo I was sent yesterday.

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photo © Jan Harvey Cullen

Isn’t that just pretty? One of my favourite colour is red but it’s so gosh darn it difficult to photograph that I don’t use red yarn as often as I’d like. Thank you, Jan, for taking such a great photo!

Florence was one of the first patterns I ever wrote down.  I remember being asked for a sweet, pretty scarf pattern by a yarn shop and I came up with Florence. The yarn shop handed out more than 1,500 patterns over the next three months and I was floored.  Florence turned out to be one of those patterns that take on a life of its own: it has been downloaded more than 7,000 times on Ravelry and I know several yarn shops have used it for teaching classes. It’s one of my few freebies on Ravelry and I took the opportunity to revise/update the pattern now that people were using it to try out Cumulus. The revised version has a couple of changes. I’ve cleaned it up (I like to think I’m a better pattern writer these days than when I first designed it) and – much more importantly – I have added beading instructions.

(You know what? I  think Florence looks just perfect in Cumulus. Rawr. )

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Photo © Amanda Anganes

A lot of people have used beads on Florence and I have had many emails over the years asking if I could add beading instructions to the pattern. I have made sure the beading is still optional, but I do love how beads add weight to the scarf. It’s really great to see that both Jan and Amanda chose to add beads. For my beading instructions, I wanted to emphasise the vertical lines in a pattern that has a lot of things going on horizontally – and also to keep the beading relatively simple and clean.

A big thank you to Team Fyberspates who brought the Florence love (you guys rock) and especially to Jeni who just knows colour.

(Fun fact: Jeni hosted the first ever luxury yarn trunk show I ever visited; I have never spent as much money on a simple skein of yarn as I did at that trunk show. Hey, it was green cashmere/alpaca/silk. It’s still in my stash six years on. I told you I was weak in the presence of fine alpaca yarn)

A Love Story in Stitches: the Orkney Cardigan.

March 2014 628Apparently spring has sprung but here in Glasgow, winter refuses to let go. It has been overcast, drizzly and circa 8C all this week which is why it’s taken almost a week for us to photograph the Orkney cardigan (or, as I like to call it, my opus magnum).

First, a brief follow-up on my previous blog post wherein I discussed the whole “can I call this Fair Isle if I am not from Shetland” conundrum after a startling encounter with a lady whilst I was finishing up Orkney. Not only has Louise Scollay written an interesting take on the discussion (and she lives in Shetland, you know), but I also had the chance to discuss it with Carol Christensen and Roslyn Chapman at a recent event. Roslyn is writing a PhD on the idea of Shetland Lace Knitting and is tackling many of the same issues concerning “origin” and “tradition”. Both Carol and Roslyn agreed that the notion of Traditional Fair Isle appear to be a commercial construct rather than a historical tradition – we also talked briefly about the many things currently squirrelled away at the Shetland Museum which do not really fit the traditional idea of Shetland knitting and so rarely see the light of day..

.. so in short, this is a Fair Isle cardigan I am sporting.

Pattern: Orkney from Rowan Magazine 52 by Marie Wallin.

Size: L (see notes)

Yarn: Rowan Felted Tweed DK. Many colours (see notes)

Needles: 3.25mm and 3.75 mm (again, see notes)

Verdict: Oh hell yes.

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(silly face)

Notes: It is interesting to see the difference between this cardigan and the Bute cardigan from the same magazine. They are knitted in the same yarn but are designed by two different people. Orkney runs small where Bute runs big – thankfully I had read people’s pattern notes on Ravelry before setting out on this adventure, but it also taught me to read “the fine print” and check tension vs schematics before beginning. Assumptions are a knitter’s worst friends. So, I went up two needle sizes and a size up from my usual one. Orkney still came out neat (the arms are particularly tight) but I do not mind that so much. I won’t have room to wear much underneath my cardigan but I don’t think I need much anyway; the cardigan is so beautiful and warm.

Having knitted Bute flat, I decided to steek the heck out of this one. I cast on an additional seven stitches for front and arm scythes. It worked well, though I had to secure the stitches with a sewing machine rather than rely solely on a crochet steek (I have thoughts on crochet steeking that I need to write about). I added a buttonband and used 1950s bakelite (plastic?) buttons. I had bought some real beauties from Textile Garden but decided I did not need the buttons to compete with the cardigan. Sometimes less is more. I also added length to both the body and the sleeves. The sleeves always needed additional length (I have monkey arms) but I am so short-waisted that I was surprised by how many extra rows I had to incorporate to reach the body length I wanted (I had measured my favourite cardigan before setting out, so knew how many inches I needed). I was right on gauge, so that was a surprise.

March 2014 604Oh, and I completely changed the colours.

The original was quite bright when you saw it in real life and I wanted more muted colours. I started out by recharting the entire pattern using Excel. It was fairly labour intensive but it gave me an understanding of the distribution of colours and patterns. I also realised that the same sequence of patterns are used on the sleeves but knitted in different colours. If you are planning on substituting colours for Orkney, I think this is an indispensable step for understanding how the colours work and why. Tiny decisions will have a huge impact.

Having reached an understanding of which colours were used more than others, I put my Felted Tweed stash on the spare bed (reality check time!) and started sorting colours. I decided that I wanted Ancient (a blueish khaki green) to be a feature on the body with Phantom (a soft brown – one of my favourite Felted tweed colours) and Avocado (er, avocado green) for the corrugated ribs. On the sleeves I substituted Rage (a magnificent red) for whenever I had used Ancient on the body. It worked well. I also used Celadon, Ginger, Rage, Duck Egg, Gilt, Cinnamon and Camel. I used less than ball of these colours (and Avocado) but used approx 1.5 balls of Ancient, Phantom and Rage.

Would I knit this again? Oh yes. I’ll go up to size XL for the sleeves but I think this is a real cracker of a pattern. I like the fit a lot better than Bute, the colours work with my entire wardrobe, and I feel good when I am wearing it. I probably won’t reknit this for a few years (so many knitting patterns, so little time) but I’d love to do a brown/blue/green version of this. I have also fallen deeply in love with Felted Tweed (if I hadn’t already..).

Let me just repeat what I said at the top

Verdict: Oh hell yes.

A Visit from the Knitting Police, or, On the Origins of Things

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Yesterday I was working on the second sleeve of my Orkney cardigan when the following exchange happened.

Passer-by: Hey, what are you doing?
Me: Oh, I’m working on this fair-isle cardigan..
Passer-by: Oh no! That’s not fair-isle. You are not from Shetland. You cannot be knitting fair-isle. I am from Shetland and I am telling you that you cannot work fair-isle.
Me: .. uhmm, okay?

This led to an interesting discussion on Twitter about geographical locations, if any non-Shetlanders are allowed to say their stranded colourwork is fair-isle (and if it is fair isle, Fair Isle or Fair-Isle) and if we are able to talk about “traditional knitting” at all. Here are some selected highlights:

(Great point! Can a technique or motif be geographically trademarked?) Some snarky comments from amused knitters:

And, finally, less snarkily and more to the point:


I am interested in the socio-political aspects of so-called traditional knitting: there is definitely a discussion to be had about what constitutes a tradition – who decides something is a tradition – and if we can talk about origins at all. Motifs and techniques have criss-crossed geographical boundaries and what we may think of as “traditional knitting” may only date back to the early 20th century. My personal view is that all these things only tend to be “fixed” in time and place long after actual innovation has occurred – and that many of these “fixes” have little to do with the actual innovations and more to do with money/prestige.

It’s a fascinating topic and I wish I had a fresh mind with which to tackle it (alas, I am writing this after working all day on another piece of writing). I’ll keep knitting my Orkney, mind. Only half a sleeve to go and I refuse to leave it alone despite my personal geographical failings.

Sad Announcement re. Teaching Obligations Spring 2014

Just a little heads-up that I have unfortunately been forced to cancel most of my teaching obligations this Spring.

I continue to have major problems with my left knee following an accident in January. Quite simply, I find it very difficult and painful to walk at the moment.

The only time I will be teaching this spring will be Sunday, March 16 at Be Inspired Fibres in Edinburgh where I’ll be running a class on Beginning Crochet for Knitters.

I hope to have bounced back in time for a full autumnal programme (look out for a full schedule at a new, exciting Scottish workshop space) and I’ll also be running my classes at Unwind, Brighton in July – but everything else is cancelled.

Apologies for disappointing those of you who have been asking me about class schedules etc. I would love nothing better than to run my customary full run of classes, but it’s just not possible.

The Cardigan is Finally Finished: Bute

March 2014 057According to my notebook, I started knitting Bute in August 2012. I finally finished yesterday. It is a strange project: I certainly did not spend 18 months working on this cardigan and the result bears very little resemblance to what I had in my head when I started out.

First the facts:

Pattern: Bute by Lisa Richardson from Rowan Magazine 52.

Yarn: Rowan Colourspun and Rowan Felted Tweed (both the suggested yarns) in Scunner, Winterburn (Colourspun) + Clay, Watery, Bilberry, Carbon and Peony (Felted Tweed).

Needles: 3.25mm and 4mm.

Size: M.

Modifications: I started out by changing the colours. I do not suit the autumnal colours of the original nor do I like the blue/yellow feel of the men’s version (it’s a bit too Swedish flag, really). I went down a size having tried on a shop sample. Then I chopped off a repeat of the body. I omitted the reverse sticking stitch on the shoulders.

Verdict: I loved knitting this (except when I had to reknit the front due to my own sizing mistake). I loved putting it together. I am just not sure it suits me.

Firstly, I should have gone down to size S(!) despite being on-gauge. The garment is very generously sized and it is much too big on me. Look at how the sleeve billows around my lower arm in the photo. Part of the problem is that I have lost weight since I began knitting the cardigan, but I have not lost that much weight.

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I have had to chop off two inches on the shoulders – the original pattern has a mild drop-shoulder effect but the shoulders were halfway down my upper arms. I am so very glad I chopped off a repeat on the body as it would have been more like a coat than a cardigan. I hope no one will ask to look at the shoulder seams after my vaguely botched surgery session with first an overlocker (which seemed like a good idea at the time) and then a crochet hook.

The sleeves are superlong too – not quite to schematic and I wish I had twigged this beforehand so I could have added a thumb hole!

Secondly, I have since learned valuable lessons about knitting garments with shape. I am a pesky hourglass shape which means I need garments to nip in at my waist or I’ll drown. The Bute pattern is not to blame for my lack of self-awareness – it is just a shame that I feel a bit frumpy and enormous in the garment.

Thirdly, I do love how warm this is. I have not been cold once since I started wearing this. I may need to knit myself a fair-isle onesie in Rowan Felted Tweed (okay, maybe not) or maybe a pair of fair-isle socks (more likely). Luckily my mate Jem Weston has a pattern for a pair of very fetching fair-isle socks in the same magazines and I might make my remnants stretch for that. Hmmmm..

Lessons learned: if you try on a shop sample size XS and it’s almost perfect, disregard the voices in your head and go for size S (even if you haven’t been size S since primary school).

I really enjoyed knitting the “peerie” patterns and I can see myself using the stitch patterns in another project – but this time with waist-shaping.

And can I knit everything in Felted Tweed from now on? It is my new favourite yarn (fact: this is my sixth FT project in a row).

Hey! It’s a Doggerland KAL with Prizes!

March 2013 443We only have two Doggerland patterns left to go, so while I get those ready, I thought it would be fun to set up a Doggerland KAL in my Ravelry group. We’ve been having a sort of unofficial-official KAL since the first pattern was released, but I thought it’d be fun to add prizes to the unofficial-official KAL (thus making it an official-official KAL?).

I just confused myself.

The basics: Knit a Doggerland project, post a photo in the official Doggerland KAL thread, and you can win yourself a yarny prize! On April 15, 2014, I’ll draw random names and THREE lucky people will win prizes.

More basics: For every finished project, you get ONE token. The official KAL tag is “DoggerlandKAL”. You can enter as many times as you’d like.

The relevant patterns are all from the Doggerland collection – they are available individually as well as a collection. You have the choice of Ronaes, Hoxne, Gillean Hat, Gillean Wristies, Ythan and Vedbaek. Any additional Doggerland patterns released before April 15, 2014 are also eligible.

Please note: if you have knitted any of the patterns knitted above – please post a photo of your finished object on the thread and tag your project. You can enter as many projects as you’d like into this KAL contest. I’ll draw names at random – winner A, winner B and winner C.

June2013 019Which brings me to the fun bit. The prizes! I did think about sourcing Mesolithic lithics (worked pieces of flint) but I wasn’t too sure about the ethics of removing pieces from public access. Also, I think you knitters prefer yarn. Right? Right.

Prizes!

Winner A will win a skein of Snældan 2ply from The Island Wool Company. Seriously gorgeous yarn – it is one of my favourites – and once you start knitting with it, you won’t believe the drape or feel.

Winner B will win a skein of Håndværker yarn from Hjeltholt Yarns, an artisan Danish yarn spinning mill dating back to 1878. It is the type of yarn I just love: full of depth and texture. Håndværker yarn is currently only available to a select few Scandinavian retailers, so it’s a rare chance to get your hands on proper heritage artisan yarn. (I cannot believe I’m letting this go)

Winner C will win a £15 gift certificate to Old Maiden Aunt yarns. One of the best UK hand-dyers and a gift certificate means you get to choose your own favourite yarn base and colour!

Recap: Knit a Doggerland project, post a photo in the official Doggerland KAL thread, and you can win yourself a yarny prize!

On an Adventure with Knitters

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This past weekend I packed my bags and went on an adventure. We went through Glen Croe..

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.. which is part of the Loch Lomond & Trossach National Park. We passed Rest and Be Thankful, the most famous peak in the Arrochar Alps before locating a small pottery studio (complete with Badger the Border Collie) on the banks of Loch Long.

alp3We eventually made it to our cottage on the shores of Loch Fyne. This is the actual view from the living room window. Not a bad view for a dreich February day.

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And this was the view from the kitchen. Scottish Blackface sheep keeping a watchful eye on us. They were slightly less fond of the chickens roaming the fields. I liked the chickens. They reminded me of my childhood when my gran kept chickens. Also: fresh eggs from the landlady!

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We didn’t get a chance to sample any Loch Fyne seafood – but I did accidentally kill a mollusc when I tried to throw it back into the sea at low tide. The colours were amazing: rich browns, deep greens, and the most beautiful indigo blues. So many ideas in my head.

1653731_10152242786299725_1910867078_nAnd I finished knitting my Bute – whilst being near Bute. Mattress stitching fair isle that incorporates purl stitch is not my favourite activity. It doesn’t look as neat as I’d like but I don’t think that’s possible with this pattern. I also did a temporary stitching-together of the body and .. it is not the most flattering knit in the world. I may need to look into some post-knitting waist-shaping. I do love the colours and the yarn. It’s been a great knit. I just think I need to think about the shape of my garments more than I have done in the past.

After a long, relaxing weekend in the most beautiful lochside cottage you can imagine, it was time to head home. A landslide had closed the Glen Croe road and so we were looking at either a 70-miles detour north via Oban or hop on a ferry from Dunoon. This Dane still marvels at how the Scottish landscape thwarts attempts to tame it: the road across the Arrochar Alps is really the only way to access the entire Argyll & Bute peninsula by car and the road is plagued by constant landslides. We opted for the ferry which gave us a few comedy moments..

.. but I had a lovely time with some of the best people I know. I can certainly recommend a knitting retreat as a good way of restoring cheerfulness and well-being (my leg is slowly getting better and the main issues are now fatigue & stamina.).

It will not be the last time we do this.

Yellowed

If you follow me on Twitter, you will know that I am currently obsessing over yellow cardigans. I think it is a reaction to the winter weather we have been having. Glasgow has escaped much of the awful weather to hit Britain recently but standard Glasgow winter weather is awfully bleak. It is changeable but always some combination of rain + wind + sleet. Dreaming of yellow cardigan is thus the perfect antidote to the gloomy skies outside. Yellow cardigans and cups of tea.

I am a few rows away from finishing The Thing I mentioned the other day. My plans include a hefty amount of swatching for new designs but then I am going to snuggle down and do some finishing.

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I finished knitting all the pieces for my Bute cardigan in late 213 but then I realised I had knitted the two front two different sizes. In my defence, I did cast on for the second front whilst working in a yarn shop so all the chatter obviously went to my head. How I did not realise my mistake when I got to the shaping at the top, I will never know. So, my plan for the weekend is to reknit the front of the cardigan. Blocking next, then sewing up and the button band. Can I finish this by the end of February? Probably not. It will take me forever to decide upon buttons.

I also want to finish knitting my Orkney cardigan (just a sleeve and a button band!) but Bute has been languishing for so long – and I really want to snuggle up in it.

Back to dreaming of yellow cardigans. I do have a cone of a beautiful mustard-yellow silk/wool aran-weight that I chanced upon some .. uhm .. four years ago. I rather like Traveller’s End by the wonderful Carol Feller (classic, simple shape that’ll let the yarn do the talking) but Cinnamon Girl by Amy Christoffers keeps catching my eye (I’m not sure the yarn has enough drape). Amy Herzog’s Kittiwake follows in the , er, wake with its effortless cables – but I’d need to modify its shape to suit me. I do love Hallett’s Ledge – so that is another contender.

Maybe I should focus on finishing Bute, then Orkney and then see where I am at with knitting deadlines. For all I know, we might be talking Easter and then yellow takes on a whole other meaning.

Onwards & Upwards

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I am awash in a sea of teal. It being a “thing” for a “thing” I cannot spill too many details – except that I am currently 4380 sts away from finishing the thing (which equals about 3 hours of concentrated work – it’s not a quick knit, alas). The “thing” has kept me company for the past few weeks of enforced rest and I shall be sorry to send it away.

Actually, the “thing” was much admired today by three new-to-knitting nurses. I spent some time at Glasgow’s Western Infirmary getting my leg checked by an orthopaedic specialist and took my knitting with me in case I had to wait around. The verdict? My leg is still very bruised and if I am still struggling two weeks from now, I am to see the specialist immediately. Right now, though, there is no evidence of a torn ligament (hooray! silly A&E) but the tissue surrounding the ligament is definitely badly bruised. I am to rest my leg as much as possible but also begin to do exercises including prolonged periods of walking and gentle stretching.

I am hugely relieved by the news.

However, I do find walking very fatiguing and overwhelming. As a result I am having to postpone a few engagements over the next couple of weeks. I hate disappointing people but I’m really not at my best right now. I am very sorry.

Thank you to everybody who has been in contact over the last few weeks. Your messages, texts and emails have been enormously cheering.

Onwards and upwards.