Ain’t Nuthin’ Like A Dame…

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© Practical Publishing

I grew up in a house with no TV. Shocking, yes? We also had no phone. GASP. There were lots of other things we didn’t have – mains water and central heating, for example, but it’s the TV I’m concentrating on here. I only got to watch the goggle box in other people’s houses, and that rarely: people in those days still switched the TV off when visitors came, to facilitate conversation. Those without TVs switched off the ‘wireless’ – as radios were known – and those without wireless put their books/knitting/embroidery down, or removed their wellies/aprons, depending on the time of day.

However, when I was about 9, we got our first TV, a black and white model in a beautiful, possibly fake wood surround, with a big dial for tuning into the channels. There were four channels, none providing more than 8 hours of programming a day. Actually, there were only four channels because we lived near enough to the border with Northern Ireland to get their 3 channels (BBC1 & 2 and UTV). We were lots more swanky than our compatriots further south, who only got RTE. Not RTE1, 2, etc. – it was the only channel then.

I became almost instantly obsessed. I absorbed TV into my bones, memorising cast lists, story lines, directors, production companies – I was a walking IMDB. But my most favouritest thing ever was the Saturday matinee. Every Saturday, one of the channels put on an afternoon movie, usually a black and white classic. There was also usually a Sunday matinee, but they weren’t quite so good: too many musicals, and from different eras. They were great family watching, but oh, the Saturday matinee knocked them all into a cocked hat. On Saturdays, square-jawed men in hats traded cigarettes and incomprehensible quips with sultry, sassy women in suits or negligee, in train stations and piano bars. Cynics and losers sacrificed themselves for love and honour, heroes and heroines self-destructed from their darker passions, life was lived against a backdrop of swelling piano and strings, and the Dame ruled them all.

The Dame wasn’t always a beauty, or a brain. She wasn’t innocent, or evil. What she was, was confident. She knew herself, and was happy with it. She put on no airs, put up no pretences, suffered no fools. Tough and tender by parts, she went after her goals, and even if she failed, you knew she’d be okay. There were many takes on the Dame – Katharine Hepburn’s tomboy athleticism, Bette Davis’ brittle sharpness, Barbara Stanwyck’s hardness, Ava Gardner’s voluptuousness – but the epitome was the wonderful Lauren Bacall. Perhaps because Betty, as she was known to her friends, seems to have sashayed the walk in real life too, her performances have a multi-layered authenticity that other dames simply don’t match. They’re too sweet, too venal, too remote. Even as a teen in To Have and Have Not, Bacall exudes the BTDTBTTS attitude of a woman who knows she can handle whatever comes her way.

Image result for Bacall knitterImage result for Bacall knitter

Image result for Bacall knitter

 

 

Bacall was an inveterate knitter herself, often photographed with a WIP on movie sets and in private life.

And so, to knitting. Normally I like to outline where my inspiration comes from, but in this instance, it’s all a bit … nebulous. I like Bacall, but I can’t say she was the direct inspiration. I’m a big fan of monochrome, tessellation, and fitted clothing, but again, these didn’t call to me. Knit Now put out a call with a theme of budget knitting. That didn’t call to me either! Sheesh, I do nothing BUT budget knitting! Somehow, though, the various elements fermented away at the back of my brain until a couple of days before the call was due, and then it was all, “how do I want to look when I’m strapped for cash? FABulous, that’s how. How can I look fabulous? Try for classy rather than runway. Who’s classy? Lauren Bacall. What’s she worn that’s particularly classy? well, that houndstooth suit in The Big Sleep is kind of iconic…” and so on. Lots of Google image searches for the structure of the kind of sexy-but-not-sexy clothes Bacall wore, trying to pin down an appropriate shape.

The Dame Pullover grew, rather than sprang fully formed into my mind. I think it’s a style that’ll grow on people too. It’s smart enough for the office, elegant enough for cocktails, and, yes, classy enough for everything from a church jumble sale to the Aspen ski slopes. I love it more than is seemly for its creator – I should be more modest about these things, and I usually am, I think – but this is perhaps my favourite pattern of those I’ve produced to date, and I design only what impassions me. The nipped waist, the Vikkel braid borders, the pointless wee buttons on the polo neck make my toes curl with joy.

The fact that it’s also the first and, so far, only pattern of mine that’s gone through tech editing with no issues is just the whistle to my pucker…

© TMD.
© TMD.

And here’s the sub. Spot the statutory misspelling that escaped me! And the novel design element that I forgot to take notes on, and then couldn’t reproduce for the sample… I’m making a lot of use of my Kindle Fire, a slim Targus stylus, and an app called SketchBookX Express to produce my sketches these days. Find an image, import it, put a layer on top and ‘trace over’ the image, then delete the image and save the tracing. It’s pretty much what the cool kids have always done with Photoshop, but for me, the touchscreen beats the mouse any day. This technique should work as well on any touch-enabled screen, though I can’t recommend software for individual platforms.

Till next time!

Hattata Flatatta

New finished project!
Well, new-ish. The Offspring year-end class project was on WWII, specifically the evacuation of children. The final day of the project involved them living as children being evacuated, beginning with them being delivered to the “evacuation centre” in the morning, in period costume, and being issued with their ration cards and gas mask (previously created in lessons).
The Offspring decided he needed me to knit him a proper flat cap, sooo…. He already has one, from Cheryl Andres’ Inishmore Cap pattern, but could we find it? So I made another, in some Aranweight natural Herdwick I have lying around. No biggie. He also wanted an authentic vest -preferrably Fair Isle, the picky varmint – but I said nay. I’m not making a Fair Isle vest in under a week. Instead I put him in his old Bam-bam vest (a modified Sherwood by Angela Hahn), banking on Aran-ish patterns being sufficiently common by the 1940s. I made this for him when he was about 4, but with added length in hopes it would last a while. He’s now 10 1/2, so it worked – although the collar is a bit on the tight side. It does look a bit skimpy, but we were going for the impoverished inner-city rapscallion look anyway. Ahem.
At the end of the day, parents were asked to collect their children (their own children, mind) in period costume as their evacuation foster parents. Now my wardrobe is severely lacking in utility frocks, but I looked up how to do Victory rolls in my hair. Sadly, I do not have 1940s hairspray either, so this was a bit of a flop. They just about stayed in at the front, so I wore a headscarf a al Rosie the Rivetter to cover the rest. My frilliest blouse, baggiest workman denims and wellies, and I was a Land Army gel! I thoroughly mortified the poor child by marching in as “Captain Bagshot”, checking teeth and muscles on the ‘malnourished city boys and gels’, and demanding to know what each of them knew about ploughing and calving before making my choice.
Asante sana Squash banana, as they say, or: My work as a mother is done…

Two Shades Of Green

At the beginning of May, I achieved a long-held ambition. ‘Twas a fairly minor thing, compared to world peace, or even convincing the cat to use her litter tray instead of a laundry basket, but an ambition nonetheless.

I published a Selbuvotter-style pattern.

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Doonican Mittens publicity shot, (c) Practical Publishing

Selbuvotter are traditional mittens (votter) from the Selbu region of Norway. Typically, they are worked in fine yarn in black and white, although red is sometimes used as well, and feature very intricate patterns on a distinctive pointed mitten. The simplicity of the materials belies the stunning range of ornamentation possible even if one sticks rigidly to the traditional techniques, but there is immense fun (may be NSFWODS¹) to be had by breaking the rules too. The overall effect reminds me of Gothic stained-glass windows – particularly with a variegated or hand-painted yarn as background – but this is just my opinion. Selbustrikke (Selbu knitting style) is unusually well-documented for a knitting tradition ~cough~Aran~cough~, and so I shall just leave you to read this synopsis (link to pdf from Selbu Bygdemuseum) for yourselves rather than risk introducing any mythology to the tale…

Ever since I happened upon Selbustrikke, I’ve had a longing to create something as intricate as these lovely patterns, but inspiration failed to strikke strike. I didn’t want to simply stick a pin in a stitch dictionary, I wanted something that had its own story. Last year, I learned of the death of Val Doonican, a singer who was the first in a long line of genial Irish chat-show hosts beloved of the British viewing public. Val was famed for his huge collection of knitted sweaters, or jumpers as they are known here unless you’re a blow-in from foreign parts, and allegedly never wore the same one twice. While noodling through his obituaries and listening to his back catalogue on Youtube, I came across a photo of him in a navy-on-white jumper with some complex colourwork (see photo in the submission outline below), and, as is my way these days, I opened up a Stitchmastery chart and attempted to recreate as much of the pattern as I could make out. Then I just saved it and forgot it.

Fast forward a few months, and Kate Heppell at Knit Now magazine put out a Designer Challenge call. These are short turnaround calls for patterns for specific yarns, typically with only a few days or a weekend to submit a proposal, so there’s usually not enough time to put together a full submission with sketches, swatches, photography, etc. I’ve nailed a few of these calls myself and find the pressure wonderfully concentrates the mind. The ideal pattern for these calls is short and straightforward, so grading for 15 sizes, fully charted lace, and complex shaping are out. It helps to have a design already kicking about in your catalogue, and a plug-in shape REALLY helps. For this, the Selbu style is perfect: I already had the colourwork design as a Stichmastery chart, all I had to do was fit it into the votter shape…

And here is what I sent off:

RAVPIC
Submission outline for Doonican Mittens. I’ve messed up the chart deliberately, as it isn’t the same as the published version: if you tried to follow it, you’d wind up with a not very ergonomic phone sock…

Note the phrase “usual format” – that’s the plug-in. Many Selbu patterns are single-size, as the colourwork is often non-repeating: the charts depict the whole mitten. Extra sizes mean separate charts for each size!

Newbie designers should take heart that the submission itself is not lovely, and I missed a misspelling, for which I have no excuse. The self-flagellation continues. It’s not terribly detailed either – no need to write an essay. Being prepared to compromise on changes is good too: Knit Now went with two shades of green instead of the white and aubergine I suggested. I’m rarely wedded to the colours in a submission – I expect people to choose their own anyway – but the greens worked beautifully, and  fit nicely with the Irish inspiration.

Knit Picks Palette is a fab choice for this kind of detailed colourwork, too: 150 (150!!) colours, a very pleasing price point and UK availability. It’s not unlike JC Rennie’s Unique Shetland, which I used to make my Shadow Pets Hat and Mitts. I’d also recommend Palette for colourwork baby garments generally: you’d get the same level of detail in a baby jumper as in an adult version.

I have another pattern out next month, and a further four in various stages of the pipeline – including one which is an object lesson in not being wedded to colour schemes – or pretty much anything else either! And that this is far from being a disastrous sell-out of one’s oeuvre…

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1: Not Safe For Work Or Delicate Sensibilities

 

Well.

Now I’ve calmed down a bit – 

I’ve just spent a lovely long weekend in Belfast. The Mighty Offspring saw the dinosaur exhibition at the Ulster Museum and the movie ‘Brave’ and was generally spoilt rotten. Due to his habit of “remembering” (i.e., making up) what suits him, I missed the exhibition, got hilariously lost, and was barely able to move by the time I found my way back to Ma-in-Law’s, having walked about 8 miles. Strangely, it seems to have helped. Okay, I stiffen up if I stop moving for more than 5 mins, there are twinges and owies and an alarming crunching noise from my right ankle, but I am standing straighter and taller than for a long time. 

On Saturday morning, I went to St George’s Market in search of Lighthouse Yarns, and was disappointed. No sign of them. Of course, they may only be there Sundays, though I thought – oh well. I got a book on vintage knits and a gorgeous hand-tooled leather notebook, which I’ll be using for designs. There were a few yarn stalls, but nothing spectacular. Some interesting clothes stalls, too, vintage, handmade, etc. Sunday I sidetracked from a school shopping trip to Primark to check out The Wicker Man. They have a small but worthy range of Cushendale Woollen Mills and Donegal Yarns wool, and seem to stock Knit Picks/KnitPro needles, and will be running knitting classes from September. They also have some Aran knits, sporting a tag about how Willie John “Paddy” MacBallix was the first man in Ballyarsebackwards to wear an Aran jumper, to the official reception held by Finn MacCool (sicto welcome St Patrick to the oul sod, blah, blah, blah. 

Back home to some not-fun stuff occasioned by the fact that my family doesn’t listen to me and was unaware that we’d gone to Belfast, despite my several attempts to tell them. At least, I’m pretty sure that telling them that the Mighty Offspring was going to see the dinosaur exhibition and I’d be doing a bit of shopping (and that I’d have to fill the car with petrol before I left) is enough of a hint that those activities might be done together and/or in proximity to each other. Sheesh.

But! The big fun news! I got free yarn! Donegal Yarns Aran Tweed, #4803. It is better than I hoped. A deep, peaty, almost purply brown, with orange nepps. Loads of other nepps, but it’s the orange that stands out. I swatched up a bit overnight, and even with less than ideal blocking at Ma-in-Law’s, it is all froofy and soft. Delivered to the end of the road by the boss, how is that for service? Didn’t even have to blag my way to an invitation to the mill, it was offered up front. Possibilities of collaboration, etc., etc.

I’m not too sure how much more to say about this. I don’t want to be giving away trade secrets. It’s kind of like blogging, now that I’m mainly doing designing rather than knitting or adapting patterns by other people. In my older, funnier blog, I could document the trials and tribulations of the Serious Knitter. The uncooperative yarn. The bewildering instructions. The ill-advised modifications, the attendant injuries, the misread deadlines, the ungrateful recipients, and the photo-shoot foul-ups. I could hold forth on the insanity of the pattern designer, the process, and the finishing. Now, I have to stay quiet, especially about anything that is being published elsewhere. Which is most of them at the moment! How can I be funny with no material?!?!?!

I had a Chicken Tarka Masala once. It’s like a Chicken Tikka Masala but just a little ‘otter…

Yikes!

Now I know what people mean when they say they’re sick with excitement!

So many things happening. The Mystery Project kickstarter is being edited. I’m getting free yarn. I’m trying to put a portfolio together, and learn Arts-speak. Also, off to Belfast !! St George’s Market Lighthouse Yarns stall, here I come!

And just for a gas, willya listen to Michael D makin’ poundies of the Yanks. That man can chunder better than me Ma! Truly worthy of  this appropriate little knit

Dive In!

Well, let’s pile through this, starting with …socks!

Top left is a self-striping yarn from LIDL, Zettl Sockenwolle Cortina. Just after I finished them, the word on Rav was that Cortina was being pulled and buyers refunded because the stuff felted! These are about a year old, getting tight, and have felted slightly through wear, not washing – so I’m happy enough. Another pair, recently finished, will appear soon. Well, soon for me…

The blue pair is in Katia Merino Baby, a wonderfully soft yarn I picked up in Christine’s of Bournville (a wee treasure house – go there if you can). I did a slipstitch pattern on them, but the wool is so soft and fuzzy that the definition has all but vanished. I also picked up Katia Merino DK for socks for myself – haven’t got round to trying it though. The remaining socks are with the good old Teddy sock yarn from the Bull Ring. The one with the cabled ankles (Ankle of Green Cables, ho ho ho!) has never been on the offspring – the cables draw in too much to fit over his chunky wee limbs – nonetheless, they make a fetching phone sock. The others are my usual negative stripe and Fibonacci in what I poshly call my Crab Apple colours.

Heading north, to Hats!

The pink cloche, Big Belle, is a last-minute, no-pattern knit for Pink Day at school – a fundraiser for breast cancer. I don’t have much pink, apart from a too-small PVC jacket, so I cast on top-down in my one remaining ball of Sirdar Bigga, increasing and trying on as I went. The last few rows were done ‘flat’ in reverse stocking stitch, with a couple of stitches cast on to make the tab that the button is sewn to. It’s a tight fit and maybe a bit too pointy, but looks okay.

The jester’s hat (Borg Queen) is Fool’s Gold, but in gold Hjertegarn Natur Uld that I picked up on hols in Gothenburg, and some leftover Sirdar Big Softie from Begotha. There were some mods for using superbulky. Also, I didn’t bother knitting the 5-stitch hat band. Instead, I picked up stitches afterwards, 2×2 rib for 5 rows, and then did a knitted Picot edging, which l think looks better… I then crocheted chains and sewed them in place on the opposing colours of the crown (no pun intended). I love this hat, though it really only sits on my head. I may have to make another, maybe with more tentacley peaks.

The Spiderman balaclava (Peter Parker Picked a Perfect Period to Press for this Present) is my 100th project!

The Mighty Offspring asked me to tell Santa to buy him a Spiderman mask for Christmas – on 22nd December! I had no idea where to buy one now that Woolies is gone, and no desire to spend time trekking through the shops in the run-up to Christmas, so I decided to cobble something together. The pattern is based loosely on Jackyll and Hide and We Call Him Spidey.  It was finished with a couple of hours to spare – HANDS LIKE CLAWS!!! I went off-chart with exhaustion, eye-fuddle and any other excuse about the eyehole area, but it looks okay for all that. It IS too big, though it would be probably be fine if I sewed some shirring elastic into the collar. MO was speechless when he saw it hanging on the Christmas tree! On recovering the power of speech though, he put in a request for a Venom mask… He’s making do with his father’s BSJ hat in the meantime, pulled down over his face.

The remaining two are a Drops pattern, made with the recommended yarn, Drops Eskimo! I must have come over peculiar to actually use the yarn for the pattern, it’s just not like me at all. I even bought the yarn (from Scandinavian Knitting Design, good value and fast delivery) with the pattern in mind! However, I saved myself by not using the recommended Drops Puddel for the trim. Instead I used some Patons Lush fancy yarn that I picked up on eBay a couple of years ago. It’s a little sparkly and adds some girliness to the hats, which do get compliments. There was only just enough yarn in the balls to complete them, but they do run a bit large – even with my tight knitting. I lightly felted them a few weeks ago and the fit is much better.  The jumper I’m wearing in the photos is a handknit that I liberated from a charity shop. It’s a chunky yarn, 100% wool, with big hairy guard hairs through it. Itchy as all get out, but I don’t mind. £4! I also liberated an off-white fishermans rib crewneck and a blue and white marl 4×4 rib turtleneck, both too large for me so given to X, and a soft and fuzzy Shetland wool jumper with an Aztec-look Fair-Isle design, all for similar prices.

So, lowering the tone to the neck region – scarves!

The first two were last Christmas’s gifts to Mum and Ma-In-Law – Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran and DK respectively. The pattern is a Rav-only download, Anthro-Inspired Scarflet. I got lucky and picked up exactly the right brooch the church Christmas Fayre for Mum’s pink scarf, but couldn’t find anything for the lavendar one, so instead I crocheted a rose using the same pattern I used for the Mighty Offspring’s Christening Shawl. Looks effective, no? My own version is an iron grey yarn from eBay, Knitwitz Camel – 30% camel, 30% alpaca, 40% wool. Very resistant to blocking, as you can see. The brooch is a vintage bone daisy, picked up at the same Fayre along with a matching necklace.

The scarf on the left is Ragged Robin, a reverse-engineering of Annie Modesitt’s Ruffled Roses which is available only through LYS in the US, hence the reverse engineering. The green is Teddy 4ply, but the ‘rose’ is Jaeger Fur, a super-chunky wool-mohair blend that I stumbled across in Northfield’s Pins & Needles. The yardage is tiny – 22yds – but I still have about half the ball left! It’s a bit pouffy and OTT, but livens up a dull suit and is surprisingly warm.

The bobbly purple scarf below left is not a triumph of Aran bobbles, but a very simple scarf made with Teddy Pom-Tiddly-Om-Pom. At £2 in the Bullring, it was 75% off – you couldn’t be bad to it. The yarn came in a great tangled mass, and I wound up cutting it 4 times – yes, me, the master untangler of mohair and laceweight, defeated by novelty yarn. While knitting I just tied the ends together, cutting off any inconvenient bobbles on the way. The bobbles are big enough to hide the ends of the knots! I cast on 5 stitches, one between each bobble. On the second row, I knit into the front and back of each stitch (10sts). Then continued till I ran out of yarn. It really looks like it’s going horribly wrong for the first 6 rows or so, when the bobbles lie down and start behaving themselves. Be patient.

The lacy little number is another Christine’s of Bournville find, Katia Tobago. The colours really are that vivid. Okay maybe not – the camera was playing up at the time. The pattern is Queen Anne’s Lace, which, though really quite simple, manages to be oddly tricky. You need to do EXACTLY what the pattern says, even if it seems a bit odd at first. I made this for Ma-In-Law for what I thought might possibly her birthday – I only have a rough idea of when this is, as X had no idea of the date at all. Unfortunately, this was around the time things came to a head between us, so I have no idea what she thinks of it, or indeed if she even received it.

I think that will do for now. I do have a few more scarves to include, but they are either not quite finished or I have no photos as yet. Only the finished product will appear, m’dears.

T’ra fn!

K

We interrupt the scheduled programme…

…of joyous creativity to announce a tragedy.

At 8.00 this morning, the Clarice bag departed this world.

This beautiful, vibrant – nay, fluorescent creature went into the washing machine last night for felting. Sadly, this morning, it was found in a semifelted condition, almost completely bereft of Kool-Aid colour.

The only colour to survive, however slightly, is the one I dyed with Turmeric (yes, the spice. It’s pretty good, no need for acid, salt, nasty chemicals – just spice and boiling water. Works for cotton too).

And not one photograph did I take before I put it in the washing machine.

So, what did I do wrong? I did a fair bit of research before going into this, and all of it suggested that Kool-Aid dyed wool felted pretty well. Slight fading but not too serious, more of an advantage given how eye-wateringly bright Kool-Aid can be. A quick whizz though my sources reveals no mention the optimal wash temperature, though: my machine was set for a boil wash, which, in retrospect, was probably too hot. It was stupid o’clock in the morning, I’d stayed up to finish it ready for felting, and I was overcome with the desire to have my widdle baggie-waggie first thing in the morning: not my best chemistry thinking time.

Back to the drawing board, then. I still want to make this, but I’ll do some test swatches and try a few different temps first. I’d also like to re-jig the chart: Coss seems to assume square rather than rectangular stitches, and comes out very wide and short when knit up. It produced a lovely oblong shape for the bag, but the flowers were a bit stretched.

So, I return you to your normal scheduled programme with this cautionary bit of advice: don’t wash your Kool-Aid dyes at 90deg until further notice.

ETA: When life gives you lemons, stick ’em down your blouse to make your boobs look bigger! I’m going to use the bag to learn to steek! and maybe needle-felt! Not that I see myself making anything that ever requires either skill, but I’d imagine you could do a zombie some damage with a felting needle…

Monster Post III – Rav Rave!

This is me, wearing my February Lady cardi, ensconced in the First Class carriage, crocheting a mobile phone sock, on my way to UK Ravelry Day 2009! It’s a bit fuzzy because the train was vibrating with speed, but it’s the best of six or eight that I took, including a charmingly smeared one of my bum as a particularly sharp jolt knocked the camera out of my hand. Nonetheless, it is proof, if such were needed, of my attendance.

I abandoned Tiny Husband and the Mighty Offspring at silly o’clock for a Saturday morning, and tore off determined to arrive for the opening. Sadly, it was not to be. The bus to the centre arrived later and took longer to travel than I had allowed for, so all was in full swing when I arrived.

It was actually a little intimidating walking into the hall knowing it was full of fibre enthusiasts. I didn’t dare take my rain coat off at first, for fear of people throwing tomatoes at me for my February Lady blasphemy. Or something equally irrational. I got a coffee and sighed over the lovely cakes I daren’t even breathe around, and checked out the competition. But despite the tight confines of the entrance hall, everyone seemed quite jolly, pushing and shoving their way round very politely. I risked putting the raincoat in my shopping trolley (for, friends, I was on a mission), sucked in a fortifying breath, and tried a little eye contact. No tomatoes. Oh good. Then I saw Rooknits, who organises the knitting meet-up that I, er, occasionally attend, helping hand out programmes, and wearing – yes! – her own FLS. Completely different to mine, barely skimming her hips in a variegated purple Malabrigo, and just looking so much lighter. Mine is, you know, heavy. Cotton. A quick word, and I went to pick up some goodies, including a Rav badge.

I had not scheduled anything for the morning to give me a chance to wander round and soak up the atmosphere. On my way into the main hall, a couple of people stopped me to look at the FLS, and one took a photo. The Knitter magazine, which was sponsoring the event, had a photographer there taking pictures of individual knitters in their finery. I made sure to walk past slowly and ostentatiously, and they totally ignored my orange and black 60s-inspired take on the world’s most popular sweater!! Which didn’t improve my misgivings about it… And as if to add insult to injury, on my final  promenade, the photographer’s assistant – or the fashion director, who knows – dived shrieking towards me – and grabbed the woman behind me. Who was wearing an ill-fitting, sangria-vomit-coloured… sack thing, that she protested she hadn’t even had time to finish seaming or weaving in on (which was very obvious) before coming to the event. It was a shambles, but the PA/FD just would not release the poor woman, dragging her kicking and screaming up on the stage and propping her up with threats and menaces as she tried to hide her face in shame inside the lopsided half-sewn collar… Maybe it was some hellishly expensive yarn – they always seem to look like some variant on puke – or a pattern by some high-flown designer. I clearly don’t have good enough taste or fashion sense to tell. Maybe – no, undoubtedly – it would have looked better properly finished and blocked. Who cares – I was miffed, insulted, ready to throw the bloody FLS in the trolley, certain it was every crappy thing I worried it was (tacky, ugly, unflattering, laughable, grannyish…). Sometimes I am a very small person.

The hall was bustling quietly. Someone was doing a demo of spinning in historical costume, on a very large, very homemade looking wheel. I couldn’t place the era, and don’t know enough about spinning to identify any more than that, and was still feeling too shy to stop her and ask questions. There was a selection of fabulous felted hats, some military, on her stall, but sadly none for sale. The most amazing thing was a set of carders (?) that I didn’t even see until I was leaving the hall later. Instead of bristles, they had large burr seeds attached! That just amazed me. Of course, what would you use before manufacturing gave you the option of inserted-bristle brushes? It’s so obvious and ingenious.

I wandered about for a bit, looked everything, then headed out into the bucketing rain to wander round the stalls. The first thing to see was this adorable pair of alpacas. There were a few people, as I passed back and forth, who bemoaned the terrible conditions the poor little things were suffering in the rain. I inadvertently sniggered the first time I heard one, earning a glare, but really? They come from the Andes (full of alloo-ARRRR!), which is Spanish for ‘some of the most extreme environmental conditions found on this planet’: Coventry must be a cake walk for them. They certainly seemed to be coping with the downpour and the crowds with typical camellid insouciance, though of course they may just have been stoned on the comparatively oxygen-rich atmosphere.

I bought some alpaca fibre at another stall, lovely deep black stuff that I will one day pluck up the nerve to spin. However, I was really after Jameson and Smith’s stall. I wanted to get a colour card (done, and then some – I think I got every colour card there!) and possibly some yarn. So I picked up 10 skeins in a lovely honey green, which I hope to run up in a Japanese pattern from Hitomi Shida’s 250 Couture Knit Stitch Patterns, to which I treated myself on YesAsia. I also somehow accidentally walked off with some 1-ply cobweb in a lace scarf kit. No idea how that happened, or how that huge sack of Shetland spinning fibre came to be in the bag with it – if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that lace and I are not mutually compatible. And my first response to thread is to whip out a steel crochet hook visible only under electron microscope – not big fat knitting needles! And it’s PINK!!! Gooey, sickly, sugar-pink at that. Nonetheless, I cast on Meg Swansen’s talk and did a respectable amount before having to rip back due the inevitable stitch-count issues.

In the afternoon, I attended a natural dyeing workshop, run by Debbie… Barton? Sorry, the name is gone. There, I went a little mental, discovering previously unsuspected enthusiasm for the Madd Colorzz as long as I was in charge of the dye pots. The result is the red and green ball on the right – the ball on the left is some leftover mordanted Jamieson & Smith jumperweight that we were told to take away. I dyed it a lovely deep gold with onion skins – not terribly even but mouthwatering. I mean that btw, I’m dribbling on the keyboard just thinking about it. I call them Rhubarb and Crumble respectively. There might be enough for a faux Fair Isle tam, but I’d probably best knit it from the top/centre down just to be on the safe side.

I also picked up some smaller size KnitPicks (now Knit Pro in the UK) interchangeable tips and longer cables to go with my kit, and some of their multi-coloured Symphonie wooden cable needles – not that I need them, or will ever likely use them, as I think the scoring on them would tear up the yarn, but I can’t say no to a cable needle… Tried to get some Soak, but the only bottles left were scented and didn’t appeal. Was sorely tempted by Poems of Colour, but it was sold out too apart from the stall copy. I did finally settle on The Opinionated Knitter, and got it signed by Meg Swansen!

Meg’s talk was great fun. She read briefly a few extracts from her mother’s books – mostly The Opinionated Knitter, which at this point I hadn’t bought. I’ve always liked Elizabeth Zimmerman’s tongue-in-cheek humour, and it translated well in the talk. Most of the talk was taken up with answering questions from the floor on any and all topics related to Elizabeth, Meg herself, Schoolhouse Press, etc. I hadn’t expected any laugh out loud moments, but there were plenty. At one point, someone asked about the February Lady Sweater, and whether Elizabeth would have approved of this adaptation of the Baby Sweater on Two Needles (Knitter’s Almanac). In her reply, Meg asked for all the people in the hall wearing a FLS to stand up – and at least 20, probably more like 30, stood up! I may have lost my stitch count at this point. All different colours and fibres, on all different sizes and shapes. After the talk, when I queued up to get my new copy of The Opinionated Knitter signed, Meg was very complimentary about my fitted FLS, and asked a lot of questions about how I’d done it (yes, I know I have to put something together about that). So, sucks to the The Knitter! Validation from the foal’s mouth!

Monster post

It’s gotta be. Nearly 5 months since my last post, and let me tell you I have not been idle.

The first report is of the Bob The Builder jumper, last seen almost two years ago. Hallelujah, it’s done. Good job I was making a big size – he’s still got room to grow into it! Forgive the look of misery on his face – I was committing the cardinal sin of interrupting his viewing of Ben 10…

So what else? Ah Christmas. Scarves and smoke ring kind of things, mittens that I stupidly didn’t photograph before they were handed over. Ah well. We went to Ireland for two weeks over Easter, giving Tiny Husband’s HR person heart failure at taking so much time off so early in the financial year. Several gauge-swatch bunnies, Ava’s pink hoodie and Adam’s Trellis cardi were finally given to their intended victims – or not in the latter case, as it was not originally intended for Adam… I’m just too much of a flibbertygibbet with crafts. But I suppose it makes up for being so staid and dull everywhere else.

The Mighty Offspring also benefitted from a Fat Controller hat. This is the top hat worn by Sir Topham Hatt, the eponymous director of trains on Sodor Island and Thomas the Tank Engine’s boss. I made this by laying out cash money – yes! coin of the realm! – for Dark Twist’s Miniature Top Hat pattern, then promptly ignoring most of it. I used Rowan Big Wool rather than a worsted, because, well, I didn’t really want a miniature, just a little’un for a little’un. I think there was some mad nonsense about felting it by boiling it, then plunging it into freezing cold water too, but I am here to tell you – do not waste your time on this pish. Throwing it in the washing machine on a boil wash cycle with a pair of jeans that have got a bit saggy in the arse is yer only man. All I got for that boiling and freezing nonsense is frizzy hair and chilblains, and the Offspring hiding in a corner with his fingers in his ears until Daddy came home. In a way, I’m sorry I didn’t just leave it the size it was, because he looks so cute in it, an Artful Dodger – which fits his personality a lot better these days. The remaining yarn was made into a pair of felted slippers, which spend too much time on the run to be snapped on camera!

Two more pairs of socks, one a green and beige on-the-fly Fair Isle (and I must get a pic of these on him), the other a Spidey pair. I’m really becoming quite inured to arachnids, as I also made him a pair of my Mitts-to-Mittens with the Spidey pattern – though Gordon knows where they are now. Probably in his special superhero chest, wherever and whatever that is this week. The Spidey socks were the last pair I made using the 52st pattern, as I’ve noticed they’re a bit baggy even on MO’s feet. The green and beige were made using a 48st version, which is quite snug. At that point I kind of stopped with the socks, partly because he really had enough for now, and partly due to a misunderstanding. I did buy some socks (they were cheap), big enough for his feet which of course meant they came up over his knees. Not too long after, we were having this little chat about socks and shoes, and he told me he didn’t like the socks I made him. Now, I didn’t at first factor in that ‘buy’ and ‘make’ probably mean much the same thing to a highly-verbal three-year-old who nonetheless only has a three-year-old’s understanding of the magical ways in which goods and services appear in his world. He has about ten lyrically-described birthdays a week – doesn’t mean he’s getting cake every day. Turns out he doesn’t like the long socks, only the Mommy socks… I have started again, as I see some of his socks are a bit small now. More of which anon.

I also made him a woolly sweater, Crab Apple, based on Blue Garter’s Twisted Tree Pullover – with the usually mods for not having the right yarn in the right weight, etc., etc. – do I really have to say this? The pic does not do this justice – it is one of the things I am most proud of making – utterly gorgeous, beautiful stitch definition. I dread the day when he’s too big for it. In fact, I’m plotting how I can lengthen the sleeves and such to get a bit more wear out of it…

But the interesting bit is the yarn. I bought it out of the bargain bin at this market stall I go to. I’d seen other yarn like it before – similar weird rolled-up looking balls – but they didn’t appeal. Many of the colours were drab, and they looked like they were the work of a particularly ham-fisted beginning spinner: I’ve done a bit of spinning so I know whereof I speak here – all twisty and lumpy and bumpy, only singles and the fibre looked rank – nasty old ropy cottony looking stuff. However, this one day, there were 2 balls whose colour just demanded to come home with me, a beautiful vivid sap green. And at 69p for 2 balls in the sale, I wasn’t going to fight over it. Sadly, I had to get the brown because there was no more green, and I needed 3 balls in total, though I must say, it came together well in the end.

It was brutal to work with. I imagine knitting Brillo pad fibre would be easier on the hands. I switched from index to middle to ring finger flicking as blisters rose and fell, and even to my shame did the odd row Continental. I went through many times that 69p’s worth of Norwegian hand liniment. My hands turned green – the dye just seemed to brush off the yarn! and every dozen or so stitches I’d have to stop, grab the ball, and dangle the knitting from it to de-tangle it – it was horrifically overspun. Then I began to notice it was FELTING. Well, sort of getting that another-go-at-90deg look about it, at least. Then there was the quantities of hay I had to dig out of it… Finally, when I wet it to block it, it looked like the dye was just going to leave it completely – it absolutely gulched out of it for ages. The odd thing is, the colour wasn’t really affected – there’s a few white flecks that weren’t there before, but otherwise, it’s the same sap green that drew me in the first place.

Then I went to UK Ravelry Day in Coventry a few weeks ago – a grand day out which I will make mention of – but anyhoo, I was tootling around the rain-soaked stalls, mindful of my budget* but determined at least to beard Jamieson & Smith in their, er, stall, and cop a feel of a few fibres that shall remain nameless (dirty, dirty qivuit), when I just ceas’d all motion. I posed myself a few searching questions and ascertained that something had caught my surveillance attention out of my peripheral visual field. There was a little hurried conferring with longterm memory, with visual memory loudly denying all knowledge and blaming everyone else, and then finally reading comprehension and categoric memory kicked in with a few facts that hitherto had not been going to the same parties, all whilst, unbeknownst to the cerebrum, the legs had wafted me towards a stall I had just passed.

And there by the hokey were some balls with the same odd rolled-up shape to them. Same godawful ropy stuff, in glowing colours – multi-coloured in this case, but I was too stunned to hold that against them. Ye see, all that mental conferring and confabulating – putting of straw and blisters together with dye runs and felting, and marrying that to a chance flicker in the corner of my eye on a rainy Saturday in Coventry – had already told me what I would see written on the gracefully hand-painted sign beside them…

Noro Silk Garden
£13.99

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Aha.

But it doesn’t end there… I have poured over Yarndex and online Noro sites, asked questions on fan forums, gone to yarn shops and looked and asked, and I’m no further forward. Noro’s not cornflakes – they don’t make yarn for anyone else, and no one else makes yarn for them. It looks like it might be Maiko 105 colourwise – but Maiko is a new range, and I bought this yarn before Maiko became available! Anyway, Maiko’s also supposed to be plied, not single. I’ve bought more in the interim (yes, even before UK Rav Day!) which has a different structure – 2 plies, evenly spun – but in colours that are closer to Cash Iroha, which is a single (not plied) yarn… So I don’t know what to think – and neither does anyone I’ve asked. It looks like it should be, but it’s not quite right… There’s only a few ‘solid’ Noro ranges, and the colours I’m finding are oh so close – but the weight and the construction is wrong, even for discontinued colours. Quality control reject? Pre-production run that didn’t get past the design stage? Did someone hit the saki too hard at the office party, and do the yarn factory equivalent of photocopying their bum? Or is it something completely different, that just happens to bear certain remarkable similarities? Employees trying to make a bit of extra cash on the side? Industrial espionage? Wool piracy?

Akk. I’m not used to putting in this much detective work and getting nowhere. Answers on a postcard?

TTFN
K

* I was rushed to hospital with a suspected heart attack in May! It wasn’t – I have the heart of a GOD – but the health insurance policy gave me some free money for the two-day stay in hospital, which was my UK Rav budget…

Momma gotta brand new bag!

I do! I will!

I’ve been having a go at dyeing wool, using Kool-Aid (right, top) and food colouring and vinegar (right, bottom). I have loads of undyed 4ply which I am probably never going to use up otherwise. The plan is to double-ply it and knit and full (felt) myself a bag. I love Clarice Cliff so I just had to get a copy of Melinda Coss’s Art Deco Knits when it came up on eBay. I’ve had it for a while but the designs are so 80s that I’ll never knit anything from it. However, it would be a pity not to make something. So I thought bags. The first one with be a straightforward knit-up of a sleeve, but if/when I do more, I might try to mimic the shapes of Clarice Cliff’s pottery as well.

I wound off approximately 2oz (50g), skeined it on the back of a chair and tied it loosely with waste acrylic yarn. I washed it in cool water with a little liquid soap, making up the dye bath while it soaked briefly. The Kool-Aid dye bath consisted of 2 sachets dissolved with cool water, in a microwaveable pot (I used a soon-for-the-bin micro pressure cooker) – except for the purple (top, far right) for which I used 4 sachets. The food-colouring dye bath was approximately half a bottle (20ml) of Supercook food-colouring and a good glug of Sarson’s Distilled White Vinegar, in cool water. I didn’t bother rinsing the wool clear of the soap – I read somewhere that it actually might help the dyeing process – and lowered it into the dye bath, adding more water to make sure it was completely covered. A good shuggle of the pot to mix it up, then into the microwave for 2-minute bursts – mine has a default setting of 750W – with 2mins rest between, when I poked it a bit with a whisk to keep it under the bath. For most, the dye bath was clear after about 4 or 5 bursts like this. I then left the wool in the depleted dye bath overnight to cool, though it only needs to reach room temperature. I washed the wool gently in cool water to remove any excess dye, and left it to dry on a radiator. I’ve double plied two already into pullcakes with my Daruma Home Twister (left).

The results of the dyeing were overall pretty fabulous, even if I do tootle me own flute. The colours on the whole are clear and vibrant, and I’m particularly pleased with the good, dense black, which I really didn’t think would come out well at all. Instead, it’s about the best of the bunch, much better than the pic shows. The food-colouring green is lovely too – a nice strong organic sagey colour. I’m very fond of the Kool-Aid turquoise (second from left), and the red (second from right) is lovely and pure too. The food-colouring blue is a huge disappointment though, all patchy. It was my first attempt at food-colouring dye: on some advice from tinterwebs, I soaked it overnight in the dye bath before zapping it. Damn you, tinterwebs! Once more you bring me wrongness! It was actually worse than it looks now: I cooled it, added more blue and, in a fit of poorly-remembered colour-theory madness, a splash of red and zapped it again. It’s better, but it suffers from the madd colorz yet, poor fluff. Saying this, I could probably whip up a bidding frenzy of Wollmeisian proportions on Etsy with the foul stuff. Many’s the fool would promise me their firstborn* for it…

Next time, I will make sure to loosen up the strands within the skein, and tie them VERY VERY LOOSELY indeed. So loosely indeed that they were virtually UN-tied. Even though I thought I’d got them loose enough, they still affected the dye penetration on the first batch. It doesn’t matter much, since I’ll be using them double-plied and then felting.

The Kool-Aid colours are, from left to right:
Orange and Lemonade (one sachet each) – light, bright orange
Berry Blue – turquoise
Lemon-Lime – bright sap green
Black Cherry – reddish-brown marroon
Watermelon Cherry – peachy pink
Tropical Punch – pure red
Grape – mid-purple. Not entirely successful.

Other craftiness: a forgotten pair of socks. Sue me. How many pairs have I done? These are claret, ribbed in the leg and down the top of the foot. And another pair, 5-row stripes in red and navy blue. And yet another: Tiny husband’s Regia Bamboo socks are finally finished. And as if that wasn’t enough, a dinky pair of ankle socks for Ickle Baby Cthulhu from the left-over Bamboo. The photos are crap. Don’t know what’s wrong with the camera.

I also made myself a fake Fair Isle tam. Not that I couldn’t make a real one, but I saw the patterns and thought “Oooh!” and “An excuse to use some of that variegated Teddy Picasso** in the camouflage colourway that I unaccountably like so much, without people necessarily catching me out being hypocritical”. So I went at it like a demented thing, so maddened by the promise of fiendish skultammery goodness that I didn’t check stitch counts or anything, finished it in 24hrs – and promptly lost it to the offspring. Seriously. I spend ages working out significant and meaningful Aran symbols for a tam for him, and he won’t touch it. I risk my mental health at the eight legs of monstrous yarn worshippers to make him a Spiderman hat that lies despised and cobwebbed in a corner until I give it to his friend Harryweb. Not to mention all the unbelievably cute little hats for which I don’t even have photos, because they got chucked out of the pram! But let me even day-dream about a hat for someone else – TH’s BS Johnson, my fake Isle tam, his Spiderman hat now that it’s Harryweb’s… – and he WANTS IT NOW. The bottom two pics are his response to mild suggestions that he give Mommy back her special hat.

“Ye can tak awa ma dignity, but ye’ll nivver tak ma tam!!!”.***

TTFN
K

P.S. I treated myself to a spinning workshop for my birthday!! Now, once I get a proper spindle…

* – What, precisely, is the attraction of the firstborn? Why does everyone want them? Why the elaborate schemes to get their mitts on them? I say this as a firstborn myself. Though perhaps the fact that no cannibalistic witches/wrathful gods/strange little spinning men wanted me makes me bitter. And envious.

** – This is the DK version of the chunky Teddy Colourama for IBC’s ‘special jacket‘.

*** – Sunday Post Translation Services, Inc.