Category Archives: Planning

The Knit Nurse returns (with sketchbooks)

I’m at a – well, I suppose it’s a sort-of craft fair – at the weekend. It’s the Fibre and Fabric Fair in Harlech (harlechcraftfair.com), where nine local ‘designer-makers’ (sorry about that) will be demonstrating and selling and letting people have a go at whatever it is they do. There are three very different weavers, a spinner and dyer, a printmaker, an embroiderer, a ‘sewist’ (sorry about that too) who recycles beautiful old fabric, a felter – and us. A friend and I are running a knitting hospital. I keep saying ‘the knitting doctor is in’; she keeps referring to herself as the knit nurse…

The last Fair, I took along my sketchbooks and people seemed to find them very interesting. Er, interesting, anyway. So I’ve been digging them out, tidying them up (i.e. picking up about 85,623,890 ancient ball bands which fell out, then sticking them in place)

and making them look vaguely respectable. I then put a pic of one on Instagram, saying that I wasn’t sure whether or not to take it, as I didn’t feel it was very exciting:

and I got one comment saying that I should, definitely, to demonstrate that there’s more to the maths in knitting than counting rows and stitches. Hm. Personally, I think that might be more more likely to put people off, but I’ll probably take it.

I’m certainly taking the big sketchbook which relates to my latest Fair Isle WiP:

and probably the notes which relate to it, as well as a finished (must block it) piece.

But the whole thing got me thinking, after a chat with the embroiderer. How many of us who work with textiles keep sketchbooks, I wonder? Or notebooks, or whatever we like to call them? As the embroiderer said, a sketchbook doesn’t have to involve paints or pencils or pens… Oh, well, enough speculation – must go and block the hell out of that Fair Isle. Wish me and the Knit Nurse luck!

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Yikes!

I just realised, with a shock, that poor old Woolwinding has gone untended for ages. So while I am stupidly busy, I thought I’d do a few quickie posts which I could complete easily from my phone or tablet – just, basically, saying that I’m not dead, and neither is Woolwinding…

One of the things that’s keeping me busy is the prospect of summer and the pop-up makers’market in which I participate. As usual, it’s the things which need some sewing that are hanging about, waiting for me to just… just…

decide which fabric is going to make the lining of this felted bag. Classic (if mad) brocade, or the 1980s Collier Campbell?

Cracking on… (for Christmas. Shhh.)

It’s less than two weeks. No, not to Christmas, come down from the ceiling, it’s not that scary though it is nearly as bad. Nope, it’s less than two weeks until the big Harlech Craft Fair and I am picnicking.

PANICKING, thank you, WordPress autocorrect.

Wish I was picnicking, but there you go. In fact, here is Picnic Central, otherwise known as the kitchen table, complete with iPad, knitting and one of the 85,345,278 cups of tea I drink in the course of a day.

table

Ahem.

It’s a great Fair, the Harlech one – really more of a makers’ market, as the craftspeople are professionals who all earn at least part of their income doing what they do. But everyone is used to it being called Harlech Christmas Craft Fair, and so it stays as that. I’m one of the stallholders and this year, due to having had a crazy summer where I almost sold out of everything, I’m diversifying.

No, not into ‘innovative jam’ (copyright Teresa May) or pottery or pyrographing my name on my forehead or doing anything surprising in metal. Into a few simple woolly kits. It struck me, during the summer of eeeeeekkkkkk!!!!!!!, that I was missing some potential customers. Knitters came to chat about knitting, great, enjoyed it, loved it – can happily talk about knitting until the cows have come home, changed and gone out on the town partying – but they didn’t buy. Well, the chances are that I wouldn’t buy knitting either on a woolly stall, though I would always make a beeline for any such stalls at similar events.

This got me thinking, as did some of the things these knitters said, such as ‘what’s a three-needle bind off?’ and ‘Russian splicing? What’s that?’ When you knit and know things, you tend to assume that other knitters also know those things, and yet sometimes they don’t. Take me, f’r instance. I can’t do kitchener stitch (I know) or work on double-pointed needles without tying myself in knots: we all have things which aren’t our thing, if you get my drift.

So: basic kits for my own straightforward but effective patterns, each incorporating a technique or alternative approach – that is the idea. I’ve sourced some wool which is good quality but reasonable so it allows me to sell it on at an equally reasonable price, though not in huge quantities – this is just a test, after all. I’ve worked up some patterns, tested them, made silly mistakes, corrected them, retested them and now all I need to do is type them out. The most complicated one is my Woolwinding Shawl, and that’s not really complicated; the simplest one is an offset rib double cowl. But the one I am most absurdly pleased with is almost as easy, a pair of simple fingerless mitts / wrist warmers.

mitt

I spent ages fiddling around with the cables, after one silly mistake with the pattern I thought I was going to use made them look like varicose veins (definitely best discarded, mistake or no mistake, largely because I couldn’t stop laughing). They’re a variation on the classic claw Aran pattern, but without the long thread across the traditional 1/3 cable which can catch on things. There’s a right and a left mitt; the palms are plain because that’s more practical (and it helps the wool go further so you can get two mitts out of a single ball of loveliness; these test mitts are in Rowan Pure Wool DK, but I’ve got a few balls of delicious DK alpaca for the kits themselves). I’ve also got a fingerless glove pattern in 4 ply which is more complicated, but I’ll see how these go first.

This made me think about fingerless mitts. I’ve always used them – before I even knitted -because I was a photographer and needed my fingertips free. They were really difficult to find, once, too. Not so now; I’ve noticed them in the outdoor and mountaineering shops round here, often with a mitt bit (must trademark that) which fastens back, but I’ve also seen them in general shops, and whenever I have them for sale they always fly out. Maybe it’s something to do with all the tech we use nowadays, rather than the fact that we’re all rock climbing?

Anyway, let’s see how the kits go. If nothing else, it will take some of the pressure off me for finished objects (took some off by not doing commissions any more, and that helps), and they can go on etsy too, when I get my act together. And now I’m back in love with cables, too.

mitt2

And with warm radiators, even though they make a disconcerting background for photos. Doing a selfie of your hand is not as easy as you’d think (thank goodness for protective cases for tech). Hey ho!

A lesson learned?

Hm. A lesson learned is a a lesson which will probably be forgotten. But maybe not, who can tell?

I am now in the first period without a scary work deadline or three that I have had since, oh, September last year. I don’t want the Freelance Gods to think I’m complaining, because I’m not, but it has been a bit hairy in parts. To start the days off and to try and keep some sort of perspective, I decided to work on my spinning for a minimum of half an hour each day as well.

haunui spun

My hands are a whole lot better, but my spinning was not: too out of practice. So I settled down, spun a few small quantities of fluff I had in my stash and then, when I felt confident that things had indeed improved, I settled down to a big project. Replacing the giant sweater.

giant sweater detail

Anyone who knows me in the real, as opposed to the virtual, world also knows that during winters I am seldom seen without this huge, snuggly, comforting, impossible-to-photograph garment. I love it, and it loves me back. To such an extent that it has even been injured in the course of its duties (and let me just say that it’s a good job it’s reversible).

I know, I thought, I’ve got a shedload of Haunui fibre that I bought from Winghams a million years ago (2013); I’ll use that. It’s gorgeous, soft, soft, soft; lovely natural dark-chocolate colour, and the sheep – specific to one farm on New Zealand’s South Island – are bred and farmed to give a wonderful fibre for spinning. And, boy, is it wonderful; really, really special.

Went to spare room aka stash store, dug out fibre, smooshed it considerably, then spun up and plied 200g at roughly worsted weight (that’s it, above). Nice. Went back to stash, got out next 200g, realised only had about 500g left. Not enough.

Called Winghams. They’re not carrying it any more. Called friend. She is no friend at all and refused to give up her stash, for some reason. Huh. Asked on Ravelry if anyone much nicer had any they were willing to part with; they didn’t. Lots of helpful people did refer me to a UK importer who is even relatively local, but she imports finer fibre, and I needed to match what I’d got. Then, out of the Ravelry blue, I was contacted by the wonderful people on the farm. That’s right: all the way from a remote farm on one side of the world to a remote (no, it isn’t, except according to various couriers) village on the other. A few deliberations, some discussion of whether a complete match could be made (it could), whether the economics would work out, given carriage and duty (they would, especially after another friend who also failed to buy enough became involved), and we were on.

Soon a parcel arrived (after more discussions, this side of the world, about delivery times and exactly where they were going and no, they couldn’t rely on their sat nav and no, there wasn’t a house number and yes, they had been here before). It was surprisingly small, but bound about with lots of tape. I managed, very carefully, to cut the tape and it began to expand…

fibre

So I carried it to the bench and allowed it do do its thing:

woooooo

and finally revealed two kilos of the most wonderful fibre:

perfect!

I know what I’m going to be doing for the next few weeks!

And the next time I think I might be spinning for a garment, I’ll do some advance planning, honestly I will. Really. Oh yes, and I’m not buying any fibre at Wonderwool Wales tomorrow. Nothing. Dim (byd). Rud. Rien. Niente. Nowt. I have enough fibre now, and by next winter I might just have a new big sweater.

Massive thanks to Fiona and John at Taranui Farm; to their postman and to the delivery man at this end, who didn’t bat an eyelid when I came over all excited about receiving a parcel full of fleece. It’s been a real pleasure.

Ravelry hits six (million)

Rav headerIt’s extraordinary – Ravelry, the social media site for the wool obsessed, is just about to hit six million members. Six million people are committed-enough knitters, spinners, crocheters, to sign up.

It’s a big number (and they can’t all be grannies or the Duchess of Cambridge, so much for the media stereotypes). One of them is me and, in a testament to the depth of my obsession, I am member number 182545. Oh dear lord.

In UK standard measurement units, the Wales and the London bus, six million is almost twice the number of people living in the first (some 3,092,036 as of 30 June 2014) and the same number of people as would fit on 71,428.57 double-decker buses, assuming 18 people standing as well as the 66 sitting down, probably next to someone who smells and wants to talk to them about the ostrich they have in their pocket. (The .57 of the bus broke down on Lambeth Bridge, causing gridlock and exciting knitting / discussing avian pocket-transport opportunities. No, I do not miss London one iota, thanks.)

Many people join up for the amazing pattern database, but it’s worth doing more. For myself, one of the most useful things was the time I spent – not that much, honest – putting my library on.

Library shot

This saves me so much time that it’s not true. Instead of searching through the 4,582 (I know, cough, cough, cough) patterns in my various books, mags, downloads in search of that elusive shawl, I can just search my library patterns, selecting by yarn weight, quantity available, etc, etc.

Then there’s the yarn database too. I often substitute yarns, so knowing the yardage – or meterage, in my case, of whatever I am trying to sub is really useful. Tap in the yarn name, and up it comes, with all the info you could ever want.

yarn database

This is what I’m using at the mo and it’s scrummmmmmmmy. But I knit slightly differently to the pattern, and that’s where project notes come in handy. I can note my variations, progress, interesting swear words used, etc., all for future reference.

(Now I look, ‘Grrrr’ seems to crop up remarkably often.)

And I can look at other people’s project notes for that pattern too, which is incredibly useful. Did other knitters find the collar instructions incomprehensible? (On the page for the pattern itself, you’ll find links to any published errata, by the way.) Were the same invectives applied? At what point did they too discover that the measurements were largely fictional?

Then there are the forums. These can be very useful indeed, but they can also be a huge distraction and sometimes come to be dominated by a clique, so much so that you feel you are butting into a private conversation. It’s worth butting in, because they are a great place to acquire knowledge (the one for vintage spinning wheels was brilliant for a friend with a mystery wheel), exchange gossip and chunter (British Knitters are currently getting exercised about women and pension reform) or just find out the disadvantages to the latest iOS upgrade (iLove my iPad). There are groups for fans of Dr Who, weavers who use small looms, customers of particular yarn shops, anyone fancying a KAL (knitalong) of a specific pattern or for crocheters in Tokyo. See what I mean about time wasting? Great displacement activity when you have a day between work projects and the alternative is cleaning the house.

But my favourite thread in one of my favourite groups is ‘Your Ugliest FO’ in the For the Love of Ravelry group. I’ve talked about this before, but here you can find the Pink Glove (deserving of its caps, it had one finger growing out of the palm and, as one commentator said, it resembled an udder) as well as the Crocheted Turd (an amigurumi that went wrong) and my very own Bell Tent of Doom, otherwise known as the Colinette sweater that grew. And Grew.

Nice. Not.

I know it doesn’t look that bad, but the sleeves – for instance – are now at least a foot longer than my arms. Plus it is gradually unravelling. Nice.

So if you’re not on Rav, do think about joining. And if you are on Rav, do make sure you get your patterns up in your Library. Incredibly useful. Now, what can I do with this large ball of Debbie Bliss’s Riva? A hat, I think. Wonder if there’s a pattern that would work…

(At the time of writing this post, Ravelry had 5,992,854 registered members, growing at about 5000 a day, and 1,045,303 of these had been active in the last 30 days.)

The continuing story of a sweater…

Way, way back in the early days of this blog (it’s nearly five), I wrote a post about a much-beloved sweater. Days are getting gradually colder – and so is my neck – and  thoughts turn to big, cuddly, and above all warm, knitwear. Actually, I don’t think mine ever really turn away. I like big sweaters. What am I saying? I love big sweaters.

The sweater in question has long since joined the big woolly cloud in the sky – or rather been transformed into the stuffing for a draught excluder. It developed holes. Some holes can be mended, and this one had already been reknitted from the wrists up,

sweater repair

but other repairs are impossible. One friend suggested patches, but withdrew the suggestion after I pointed out that if I added tassels to the patches I’d be able to pass as a somewhat unusual form of exotic dancer. One in a big sweater. With patches as well as tassels. Myself, I couldn’t see the sweater working with towering platform soles, big hair and a g-string, but I guess there are all sorts of – um, points of view – out there.

That perfect sweater had been knitted in wool from – sob – the defunct Hunters mill in Brora, bought in 1998 but not knitted up until 2005. It was incredibly warm (there’d been a lot of lanolin in the wool when I washed it out in the croft kitchen, which caused a bit of an, er, argument, and I think some of it remained, though given the state of the sink I cannot think how). It was a great substitute for a coat. The colours in the tweedy yarn allowed me to accessorise it with almost anything, though generally that meant walking boots – when it didn’t mean wellies.

I knew I wanted to replace it, so my first attempt was in wool from New Lanark, bought at Wonderwool Wales. Lovely colour – red – but made me look like a corpse. I guess the red had too much blue in it, really. And I wasn’t that impressed by the wool either; it tended to go a bit thick and thin and I actually felted it slightly to correct that. So it’s been sold.

Still needed a replacement.

Life moved on, and I found myself standing in Jamieson’s Lerwick shop on my trip to Shetland four years ago. Wool was calling to me, delicious wool, green wool. Bought it, knitted it up into a replacement for the Sweater.

green

And it’s lovely. But it’s not for me. Not quite sure why, mind: it’s warm, the colour suits me, it reminds me of Shetland. But it may be the design; there’s just something about it that doesn’t really suit me any more, and I’ve not changed that much. Or maybe it’s the combination of colour and design, or maybe it’s just the fact that it means I’d be wearing a whole garment in – shhhh – colour.

Still needed a replacement.

I turned to some more Jamieson’s wool, this time bought at Jamieson’s Mill in Sandness from a giant cardboard box with ‘£2 a ball’ written on it (well, you just HAVE to). Chunky, though, and in black. Well, in Mirrie Dancers:

Mirrie Dancers

But I was radical – I chose another design. By now I was messing with designs instead of following patterns obediently, and I messed with Erika Knight’s Felted Sweater, adjusting the sleeves so they had at least some shaping, and reworking it so I could use my wool at the best tension.

I love it. I live in it, and it’s just come out again – it’s like seeing an old friend. Again, it’s so warm, it’s so wonderful, and I wear it constantly. But this time I’m doing some scenario planning (sorry; I’m writing a business book at the moment). Or maybe – shudder – that should be succession planning?

In yet another move charting my changing history with wool, I’ve seen the sheep. I’ve chosen the fleece. I’ve washed the fleece:

gotland

and it’s ready to spin (Gotland x Black Welsh Mountain – great colour, great lustre, quite a short staple, for all you spinners out there). I’m not quite ready to spin it, mind – I’ve got the the end of a Manx Loaghtan and a Teeswater (spinning up beautifully) to get through. But I think my big sweater will do another couple of winters. Fingers crossed!

I find the whole thing fascinating – how one garment can chart seventeen years. From skeins drying outside a croft in Sutherland, to my very first visit to Wonderwool Wales, to Shetland, to a farm in North Wales with Gotland sheep running around the place being pointed at by a couple of spinners – ‘Can I have that one? And that one? How about that one? When are you shearing?’. And it charts skills too: from following a pattern (and having to borrow my first ever circular needle from a neighbour so I could pick up the neck bands) to adapting patterns and then spinning the wool. And I’d not realised, either, that all the wool was British, or – to come over all Nicola Sturgeon – largely Scottish. Oh, I know that the New Lanark red was probably from the Falklands, but at lest it was New Lanark.

If I wanted to come over all anthropological, I could talk about signifiers and objects carrying meaning, but let’s not go there. It’s bad enough that I talked about succession planning…

 

The Fair Isle, finalised.

(I originally entitled this post ‘the final Fair Isle’, and then I realised that made it sound as though I was never, ever going to knit another; who knows, that may well be the case, but let’s not make any rash assumptions.)

So, having been through all my Shetland shots and all the wool I bought in Jamieson’s wonderfully refurbished shop in Lerwick,

Colour matching

that’s this lot, I have made some decisions. At last… I know, I know, that doesn’t look much like wool but bear with me.

It’s been fiddly. For one thing, I  could have chose to approximate the colours in the original pattern (Orkney, by Rowan), but I didn’t because I didn’t particularly like them, and I wanted to echo Shetland colours anyway.

I sorted my colours into earthy, leafy, land-based tones:

earthy, woody tones

and the sometimes astonishing colours of the coast:

coastal colours

and, finally, the monochromes:

monochromes

And I have managed to use all the colours I bought (happily the pattern uses 13 different ones, though I was prepared to rework that), and I’m pleased with what I’ve got. And I could have chosen a more trad pattern, one which used the same colour repeat on arms and body. But I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to play with tradition instead.

So the first step was to work out from the original pattern charts which colours were placed together in Rowan’s colour way (no image here, but boring lists do not an interesting photo make). Then I began sketching to see how my colours worked with each other – and that’s the chart at the start of the post. Then I got the actual wool out to check that they worked in reality in much the same way as they had on paper, and they did.

My work on listing all the colours had thrown up one break with tradition that I wasn’t happy with, however. It’s an accepted convention that there are only two colours to a row in Fair Isle knitting, and I think that’s ‘accepted’ for a reason: more colours mean much more bulk. There was one band of pattern which used three, and which also carried the colours across a large number of stitches (another complication I felt I could live with out – yes, I’d be weaving them in, but that would just add even more bulk to something already bulkier than the rest). So I decided to find an alternative pattern.

The pencil sketch on the left-hand page is the original, the others are possibilities:

notebook 2

I went into my stitch library – various old books on Fair Isles – and found several compatible and comparable patterns which also ran across 9 rows and 16 stitches. The middle one on the right-hand page above was quite like the one I was replacing, and because it runs over the same number of rows and stitches, it will be quite straightforward to substitute. I won’t need to mess with the shaping provided I start it in the same position.

Then came the really fun bit – working out the colours for the new panel:

colours

That’s them, done. Due to the rather funky variation in colour between sleeves and body I had to do this twice, but I am happy with what I’ve finally got. The sleeve pattern, in the original, is brighter and so will mine be; plus, I love the Jamieson’s colour ‘ruby’, and my new pattern will give it extra prominence on the body. And I won’t have that extra bulk just where I don’t need it – I forgot to add that this thicker panel would have come right across the boobage.

Now I can knit my tension square – and I’m going to do it using the new pattern. Just to see if I’ve got it right…

(You’re probably thinking that I’ve lost my mind, and wondering why I can’t just knit a pattern as given. I don’t know, but I’m not good at doing that; it’s part of the reason why I knit. And I know that this will be truly original – there’ll never be another. Possibly because no-one else would be so daft. Which reminds me, one of my fellow attendees at a Fibre and Fabric Fair this weekend just posted a comment – that adding ‘and shit’ to a phrase like ‘I do crochet’ makes it sound so much more, er, street. So I do Fair Isle and shit, right?)