Friday, 10 October 2014

September Madness

I've been a little quiet here, haven't I? It's because my knitting needles have been knitting up a virtual storm for the whole of the month of September. (There has been marking too - way too much marking but let's not dwell on unpleasantness shall we?). September was COM again (Cast on Month). The idea is to cast on a new object everyday.... Now this could be a very scary proposition.  Just take a moment to visualise. At the end of the month, you could end up with 30 new cast ons all only a few rows long, a pile of WIPs and no knitting needles / crochet hooks left to use. 

But this is where the genius comes in. You twist the rules to make the process work for you. My rules for this COM were:
  1. Any cast on stitches count as a new cast on. This means any piece of a garment or a toy counts as a new cast on.
  2. Picking up stitches is the equivalent to a cast on. So neckbands, edgings, etc... are all separate cast ons.
Using  these rules, I used September as a way of tackling half completed and long neglected toys with a few new cast ons just to spice things up. I made it with one new cast on every day from September 2nd (the day I actually realised it was September already) to September 27th when I went interstate for work for the rest of the month. (Unfortunately air travel in Australia means the knitting needles have to get packed in the checked luggage. No knitting on planes).

So here's what I have to show for COM.

Big Girl Shoes
I just recently became a great Aunty. (Gee, that makes me feel old). These are a present for my new great niece. I love these little knitted Mary-Janes and I really love how the silvery shimmer in the black  highlights the little floral pattern. The pearly buttons are purely for show. There are hidden press studs underneath to make them easier to take on and off. This is two days of cast on - one cast on for each shoe.

Pattern: Time Flies booties by Nikki Van de Car from What to knit when you're expecting
Needles: 2.75mm needles
Yarn: Moda Vera Adalyn, 50% Acrylic, 50% Nylon (Polyamide), 10ply aran weight

Intrepid Fox
This was initially planned to be a present for my niece's Baby shower.

I’ve loved this little guy since I first saw him. He is tiny though - much smaller than I first thought he was but just the right size for small little hands to grip. Now I just need to finish it before the 21st of June…. (Well that didn’t happen. I made the body and two legs and got unfaithful with other projects. I knuckled down and finished the kid's jumpers instead. My niece got store bought practical basics for the baby shower. The baby was born in late August).
I picked this back up in September for VHOC COM. It’s in my rules that if it includes casting on, it’s a new cast on!
So September 4th: Leg no 3 completed. (And I made a discovery whilst posting a photo of this to a chat thread. I had made the first three legs technically wrong. The pattern had black paws at the end of each leg and I had made orange paws on each of mine. I can’t believe I misread the pattern three times in a row! I have now decided that it is a unique design feature and I am sticking with it. Only the people I point it out to will ever know it’s not right anyway, So it's just between us, alright?)
September 5th: Leg no 4 made. (And Hawthorn won the football final).
September 6th: And we have a tail too!
September 7th: Blocked legs and tail. Stuffed and sewed up body and one leg. Knitted underside of head.
September 8th: Knitted top of head.
September 9th: Sewed up and stuffed head and added safety eyes. Knitted all four parts of the ears and sewed them up. Stuffed remaining legs and tail. Sewed legs to lower end of body and attached tail. Sewed ears to head. Now pondering the best way to attach the head and remaining front legs to the top of the body.
September 12th: Thanks to my boy we figured out how to best attach the arms (which wasn’t anything like the pattern suggestions). And the head. I did end up adding an embroidered nose and mouth after intense consultation with the toy critics (two of the kids). They were attempting to maximize its cuteness factor. They have decided that the fox is distinctly French and possibly is channeling his inner Basil Brush!
Pattern:  Intrepid Fox by Ella Austin
Needles: 3 mm
Yarn: Cleckheaton Country 8ply DK in reddish orange coral, Cleckheaton Country Naturals 8ply DK in black and cream and some random unidentified multi-coloured yarn

Mike the Monkey
Mike the Monkey is the story of a knitting saga - a frustrating tale of misadventure. This is the project I took with me on my summer holiday to Queensland in January to finish off. It’s a kit I got as a Christmas present in 2009. I had made one and a half legs. I finished the leg and did the arms and then started on the body…
Notice something about that brown bit still on the needles? That’s right, THERE IS NO MORE WOOL. As it was a commercial kit, I can’t match it. I knitted to gauge and used the right size needles and everything!!! I will frog this I suppose (When I get over being so pissed off). I don’t even really like monkeys anyway! I hate you Mike the Monkey. (Unless someone has some matching yarn to donate?)

Than about 12 months later I discovered that I had already made and stuffed the head and body. It was hiding behind furniture and only found covered in cobwebs when we stripped out the lounge room for major renovations. So I do have enough wool after all… But it’s still hibernating….

Two separate Ravelry groups have given me the impetus to finally finish this thing in September. The Unofficial Women’s Weekly Group was having a toy CAL/KAL themed around wild animals. I think Mike qualifies. (He has certainly made me wild enough with his shenanigans so far). And over in VHOC it is Cast On Month (COM) for September - a new cast on each day. Toys fit brilliantly in my interpretation of this. Each new piece qualifies as a new cast on. So I’ll knit the last three bits for Mike as part of this - his face and ears.
Sunday morning 7th of September (early morning Father’s Day) finds me assembling Mike so far. His body and head piece are already stuffed. I’ve made all his limbs. This morning I have been stitching and stuffing thumbs - a fiddly awkward job. All limbs stitched and stuffed. Friday evening football watching (12th September) and finish-itis lead to me wielding the giant toy needle and attaching the limbs. I’ve also stitched the thumbs down on the feet so it looks more monkey like. I cannot say that this is a pattern I would have ever chosen to make if it wasn’t a gifted kit. I think it’s really unattractive and I DON’T LIKE MONKEYS anyway…. Over the next three days I cast on and completed the face section (and attached it straight away) and both the ears. Sewed ears on 20th September and finished face. My I reiterate again I DON’T LIKE MONKEYS. But I am happy he is finished….. (Anyone want a monkey?)

Oyster Shell
An uncompleted 2014 Ravellenics games project.
Colouration: fawn / bone / cream white with mismatched shell and pearl buttons from the grandmother button stash.

Cast on in car on way to Geelong for stage 1 of the mighty move for the baby to University at the beginning of 2104. Made most on the palm bit in one day. Picked up stitches for the edge and got stuck with the short rows at the beginning of the wave pattern. Shouldn’t try this late at night.

Tried again a few days later with a clearer mind. About 4 rows into the flap pattern and my eyes protested. It’s too small for me to see at night easily with my glasses on and the colour changes are very subtle. Not TV watching knitting. It got put to the back-burner and there it has stayed.
The games finished. The mitts haven’t. But they won a medal for competing. In honour of the Jamacian Bobsled team. Competing is the essence of the games. We can’t all come first!

Picked up again as part of Village Hopelessly Overcommitted September COM. I’ve decided September is about finishing fiddly things. Had completed the first mitt and done about 10 rows on the palm part of the second. I wasn’t really happy with the first one in terms of fit so blocked it. It looks and fits much better now.

Completed palm section on second glove on September 9th. Picked up for flap on September 10th (my cast on for the day)….. I basically mirrored the sequence of colours on the other glove. September 11th saw the picking of stitches and completion of the edging for the glove (and I was an extremely virtuous knitter and sewed in all the ends the same evening. September 12 was the thumb and its associated ends.
On September 20th whilst watching an extremely exciting Preliminary final (Go Hawks) I painstaking sewed on 28 little tiny buttons.
Pattern: Spatterdash Wristwarmers by Dagmar Mora from Knitty, Deep Fall 2011 (a free pattern)
Needles: 2.25 mm
Yarn: 3 ply (Laceweight) pure wool and miscellaneous bits of sockweight yarn in browns and creams.

With bonus completion of Twisted Ribbons Scarf for Anyone got cable! scarf-ghan and a cast on of Eagle feathers scarf as the next strip.

September was really fantastically productive. This COM thing can work excellently.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Freeforming away!

Thanks to the wonders of Ravelry, I have knitting friends all over the world I've never met in person. However like all knitting friends, we chat, encourage each other when the knitting mojo has fled and we are in a dreaded knitting slump, oooh and ahhh appropriately over each others finished objects and sometimes just plain marvel at those of us whose knitting transcends the ordinary to become art.... And we know each other well enough to dangle interesting opportunities where they are most likely to be snapped up.

So my adventure in freeforming is all thanks to Rose who I originally met in VHOC (Village Hopelessly Over-committed). She enticed me down this particular rabbit hole. "Come and have a look at the IFFF (International Free Form Forum). They are running an Adventures in Freeform Lace CAL / KAL in June and July. I think you'd love it...." So I went and looked. And all the pretty things and the friendly welcoming people hooked me right in.

I knew what freeform was. I'd had the pleasure of meeting Prudence Mapstone several times at Craft Shows in Melbourne and took a class with her a few years ago.  There are scrumbles in the deep storage area of my UFOs. I had a plan to make a handbag. I have a mesh bag frame and Prudence's book on Freeform Handbags.... But it just never came together into a coherent idea. Prudence's idea of scrumbling seemed to work better in crochet than knitting (and I would always chose knitting over crochet).
The scrumble I made in Prudence's class
But right from the beginning when I decided to take the plunge and take part the creative juices were bubbling over. I think my intensely positive experience with displayed my knitted work as art in the gallery earlier this year had made me more open to creative opportunities when they came my way. (After all a girl need a portfolio if she is going to stage her own show some day....)

The idea was to make a lace shawl using a series of crochet and knit stitch prompts provided weekly. The suggestion was to loosely base it on Wingspan which is made from a series of offset triangles formed with short rows. The other design inspiration was Dreambird which has been near the top of my queue for a while now. Dreambird's encased short row feathers banded in strips of garter stitch just clicked somehow. I could so see a lace Dreambird with a faggoted / trellis framework and delicate lace feathers. And that was my inspiration for beginning to design this - feathers encased in ribs of garter stitch, modularly constructed as a series of panels.
This was my original inspiration for the colour palette. This little guy is blue wren. They are fairly common in regional Victoria where I live. My previous office at the University had large windows with a broad outside ledge that were mirror coated on the outside. One of these little guys came by almost daily to play with his reflection. I was drawn to the colours of these birds' wings: complex shades of brown and a flash of brilliant almost metallic blue.
Another post is coming on the design and construction logistics of the shawl. The rest of this one is just going to be the eye candy pictures of the finished object... (Thanks to the boy for the shots of me wearing it. And yes, I do actually wear it (in public - to work and out shopping, etc...). It's amazingly comfortable and just sits so perfectly on the shoulders. The length has turned out just right too. Not too long to get in the way).
And a big thank you to all the lovely ladies of IFF (especially Melba, Jorel and Loren - the group moderators). You have inspired me to complete my first freeform garment! (I still can't quite believe I have). You've pushed my gently but firmly out of my comfort zone. (Kind of like how mother birds push baby birds out the nest to teach them to fly). You've made me realise I already have my own unique style and it's worth refining but not really changing. And it's been a really fun journey.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Curly Wurly

Every so often something just pushes its way to the head of the queue and forces me to knit it NOW! I had no intention of knitting a shawl. I have two on the needles currently (Brown As - a traditional triangle lace shawl and Lacewing a free form knitted and crocheted shawl inspired by the colours of a blue wren's wing). I really didn't plan to make another. But Melba (one of the moderators of Ravelry's International Free Form group) dangled this pattern under my nose and even though I didn't find the original very inspiring knitted as it was in a single colour, there was enough mystery in trying to figure out how it was constructed to make me drag some yarn out of the stash and just knit up a little sample to see how it worked. (Note to self for future reference: this was in hindsight perhaps a bad idea. Resist the intriguing knitting puzzle a little harder next time).
This pattern with its use of short row sections and dropped stitches was a fascinating and addictive knitting exercise.You know of the 'just one more bit' and then I'll put it down go do the housework / complete tedious marking / insert any essential but boring chore here. I'd never done dropped stitches on purpose before (though there have been lots by accident over a long knitting career). I'd find myself insanely giggling inside each time I deliberately dropped and unraveled a stitch. I'm sure the knitting police were secretly watching me flaunting the laws of good knitting and waiting in the wings to slap me with a ticket for illegal knitting.
More by accident than design I'd knitted my little sample piece (it ended up becoming part of the aforementioned Lacewing) in a gorgeous varigated cream, grey and tan yarn. I discovered this pattern just shows off a short repeat variegated yarn to absolute perfection. And in my stash I had just the perfect thing to use: two balls of a acrylic print called Instinctive designed to knit up into a sort of a fake dead animal print.
Mel is responsible for the inspiration behind the name. I was knitting this and she said it reminded her of a chocolate coated something. The wave like patterning and the fact the colour is a mix of chocolate, white chocolate and caramel together with it’s wavy pattern reminds us of a Cadbury Curly Wurly chocolate bar. So Curly Wurly it is. (Though it was very nearly Chocolate Covered Pretzel)
Pattern: Summit Shawl by Mandie Harrington from Knitty Spring+Summer 2010 - a free pattern
Needles: 4mm straights
Yarn: Moda Vera Instinctive, colour 51, black, white and caramel, 100% Acrylic, used 2 by 100 g balls. Bought on sale for $1 each. (So yes, total cost only $2!)
Total elapsed knitting time: 11 days....
It wasn't a totally smooth knit though. There was some extreme frogging involved. I initially started knitting this to the width suggested in the pattern (15 columns) and completed almost two full repeats. However, I only had two balls on this yarn and wouldn’t get the length I needed. So I frogged it and cast on again with only 8 columns - more of a scarf / stole width.
It garnered some interesting comments on Ravelry on the way. I got told that the colour made it look likes hundreds of baby snakes together. Hundreds of snakes. That would be scary to wear around your shoulders….
The original knit in progress shot that inspired the hundreds of snakes comment
I wet blocked the shawl when I finished it but it didn’t hold its shape when dry and the pins were removed due to the acrylic yarn. I wore it once but wasn't happy with it because it didn't drape nicely and kept slipping. So I decided to aggressively steam block it to 'kill' the acrylic. Much happier with the finished stole / shawl now!
The photo-shoot took place on a glorious spring afternoon. Mel is an inspired photographer sometimes and she deserves a giant pat of the back today for making both the shawl and me look good.
Not sure I can pull it off as a head scarf.
The back view

Monday, 18 August 2014

Not so little boy blue

Little boy blue come blow your horn
The sheep's in the meadow, the cow's in the corn.
Where is the little boy who looks after the sheep?
He's under the haystack fast asleep.

What does the phrase 'Little Boy Blue' conjure up for you? Is it the classic nursery rhyme (above) or maybe you are thinking of the well-known painting by Thomas Gainsborough - The Blue Boy? For me now the phrase will always bring to mind a highly successful hand-knitted jumper - something neat, masculine, retro, delightfully textured and vaguely hipster.

Half the fun of a new project is naming it. This jumper is the first one I have made my son since he was a little baby in nappies. In hindsight, waiting to knit the boy a jumper until he was a full grown adult sized male was probably a little bit of a silly idea in terms of the amount of work involved.

This jumper began its knitting journey at Easter this year. Whilst the boy was home from Uni for the Easter break we stash dived and liberated some woolblend yarn gifted to my stash at least 10 years or so ago though I think it was originally purchased sometime in the dim dark 1980s. This rich navy blue always reminded me of the school jumpers of my youth and was never something I would consider using myself. But it was what the boy chose and looking at the finished garment, it was an inspired choice on his behalf.

Then we had to choose a pattern. We hunted patiently through my embarrassingly huge collection of knitting magazines and trawled the Ravelry database the boy having previously exhausted the archives of Knitty. In the pile of classic knitting pattern books, we found this absolute gem from the 1970s.
Despite the lurid bad taste of the cover, the other designs are simple, classic and elegant. We swatched for bit and eventually chose the imaginatively named Jumper No. 3. I measured the dimensions of the boy and packed him back off the University.

Pattern: Jumper number 3 from Man Talk
Needles: 3 1/4 mm needles (for bands) and 4 mm needles (for pattern)
Yarn: Target Nomad Woolblend (80% Acrylic, 20% Wool) DK weight
I started this jumper with the sleeves. Sleeves make great public transport knitting. These sleeves did train journeys, long distance car trips and helped me cheer on the eldest daughter at her cheerleading competition. It was great fun to knit, a deceptively simply pattern that flowed off the needles. (But I kept being unfaithful and knitted on other projects instead).

But a few weeks ago, the realities of a cold wet, Victorian winter began hitting home and boy bet me that I couldn't finish his jumper in a week. He was coming home for the weekend and pleaded for it to be finished by the time he was ready to go back. So I took stock. I had done both the sleeves and half the back. I put on my speed knitting skates and off we went. It did help that the Commonwealth Games were on and that there is just such a wonderful knitting synergy between excessive sport on TV and productive knitting time.
Maybe not under a haystack! But definitely fast asleep. Saturday afternoon couch napping.
I admit it wasn't looking promising. It was Friday night and I had the back finished but the only the band of the front. But I knuckled down. The needles fairly flew and by Sunday morning I had the neck band and the finishing / sewing up to go. The buttons are from my grandmother's button collection.

This has to be my most successful knitting project for ages. It fits the boy like a glove, he loves it and it looks like it could be a bought one. I used up almost all of the 9.5 balls of wool I had in my stash.
I leave you today with a gorgeous shot of the boy full dressed in knitwear by his mother. I love the beanie too.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Funky Chunky

I must really love my middle daughter, Mel. She has the ability to charm, cajole or just plain nag me into knitting for her. Last year I made her lots of accessories (hats and a cowl) before her giant European adventure. The piece de resistance was a co-designed and created cabled masterpiece: Cables of Europe. (She has promised a guest post on the knitwear tour of Europe very soon). I do know what it is about Mel's level of persuasion; she appeals to my vanity. It's secretly very flattering that she thinks my knitting skills are up to her exacting fashion standards. This is the ultimate compliment for a knitting mummy - when your adult children want you to knit garments for them.
Mel likes to set me a knitting challenge to or an interesting puzzle to knit. So when we found this Lion Brand Sideways Cable Pullover I was happy to knit it for her. However, the bobbles had to go! Bobbles are one of those knitting elements that knitters are bipolar about - we either love them or hate them. I'm firmly in the hate camp. Mel felt that were a design element that actually detracted from the overall fashionable quality of the jumper too. Bobbles are so 80s and not in a good way.

I had to buy yarn for this as I had nothing bulky enough in the stash. The yarn we picked is light and a 65% acrylic, 35% wool blend in a gorgeous heathered dark gray.
In some ways this was a really easy and gratifying project. But I also found it a hard slog. This is at the edge of my comfort zone in terms of wool weight and yarn size. I don’t like large needles and thick yarn. The straights I used for the sleeves and the front / back are plastic and the flow of yarn over needles was a little sticky. The concentration required for making this symmetrical length wise across the garment with three different cable patterns of different repeat lengths meant it didn’t make good television knitting. There was also the running modification of removing bobbles as I went.
It also became too big too quickly to be easily portable knitting. It’s a serious lap full. I completed the sideways single section that is the sleeves and body and got the cables to flow nicely from one side to the other and across the sleeves. It was seamed and the stitches picked up for the neck. (It did take me three goes and some intense mathematics to do this to get the right number of stitches with even spacing across the neck). The two by two rib on the neck was nice mindless knitting. But the neck was very long before being folded double and seamed.
Pattern: Lion Brand Sideways Cable Pullover a free pattern
Yarn: Mode Vera Fotini 10 ply / aran weight 65% Acrylic, 35% Wool
Needles: 5.5 mm straights and an 80cm circular needle
This jumper has been a yardstick of my love for Mel. Every time she has seen me being unfaithful with another project she has mournfully turned puppy dog eyes on me and sadly proclaimed "You don't love me anymore. You're not knitting my jumper". I'd make sure I pointed out when I was actually knitting her jumper.

See Mel, I really do love you. I finished your jumper!
(Thanks to Mel and the boy for the knitwear modelling photos in some authentic Aussie bush).

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Curating Ravelry: Cowls

I started this post on the last day of the first month of winter and it is freezing. The wind is blowing off the Antarctic and it is wet and soggy and the wind puts ice in your bones. I've dragged the hand-knitted neck warming goodness out of the cupboard. So in honour of an Australian winter, today's Curating Ravelry post has a theme of  cowls - free patterns of course. I'm a fan of texture and lace and here you will finds cowls knitted at a range of yarn weights.

I'm starting with the iconic free cowl pattern; the Honey Cowl designed for Madelinetosh yarns. This is a clearly addictive pattern with 16015 cowls made so far. Many people can't just stop at one.
© madelinetosh
Honey Cowl by Antonia Shankland.

More gorgeous texture in a bulky yarn this time in herringbone stitch.
© Purl Soho
Big Herringbone Cowl by Purl Soho.

Or lacey and leafy. I love this idea of fastening a smaller cowl to fit to order with a gorgeous brooch or pin.
by emilyooo
A Noble Cowl by Emily Kausalik.

Want to knit a special project with your knitting BFF? The concept for this design was to create a knitted version of “best friend necklaces”. Here's the BFF cowl from Knitty! Interlocking links are knitted flat, then grafted together for all eternity.
© Marc Smollin
I made this one. But I cheated and was my own knitting BFF. (Slightly sad but a great fun knit). This is a worsted weight project.
BFF Cowl by Ysolda Teague & tiny owl knits.

Lace and ridges
A Grey Loop by Helen G.

Or simple, effective and unisex.
by westknits
Purl Ridge Scarf by Stephen West (Westknits).

A lacey cowl that's long enough to wrap around and around and nestle into in deepest winter weather.
by knittedblissJC
Stockholm Scarf by KnittedBlissJC.

Linen stitch in leftovers, bright and rainbow and a great stash-buster.
by LadyDanio
Manic Panic Cowl by Sarah Core.

Or lace and texture blended together in a reversible loop that you can just through around your neck without having to figure out which way is up.
© Galia Lael

Casu Cowl by Galia Lael

Gorgeous milanese lace. A long loop of airy scallops.
© stipa
Mialnese loop by Tante Ehm

An elegant lace funnel shaped cowl that frames the shoulders and is long enough to warm your neck without bulk.
by AudKnits
Eleanor Cowl by Audrey Knight

Simple unisex loops combining stocking stitch, garter and rib. Matching his and hers cowls anyone?
© Tin Can Knits

Oats by Tin Can Knits

This one is designed to showcase a variegated yarn without pooling and without the yarn overwhelming the pattern.
© Knitterchristy
Downtown Cowl by Christy Becker

Or maybe colour-work is your go? Tell your life story in a wearable cowl.
I did!
My Favorite Things Infinity Scarf by Jill McGee

Knitted chevrons in an elegant buttoned cowl.
by Meliabella
Pedestrian Crossing Cowl by Melissa Sibley

Crossed stitches produce a distinctive openwork pattern.
© Reiko Kuwamura
Elis by Reiko Kuwamura

Lace and cables make for an elegant and airy cowl.
by bellanordica
My Dolphin Cowl by kniTTina

I could go on and on and on and on. I've inspired myself to get out the needles, dive the stash and plan the next cowl. Hope you enjoy knitting a winter cowl too!