Wednesday 29 January 2014

Toft's Lace Snood

At Christmas I was very fortunate to receive a Toft Alpaca lace snood knitting kit. Needless to say I was eager to get started and, after knitting whilst watching lots of episodes of EastEnders (which, may I say has improved greatly with the introduction of Danny Dyer and his on screen family) I finished it a couple of days ago.

Nik Kershaw's snood
The lace stitch was new to me and it took me about an hour of practicing and ripping back before I'd learnt it. The five to ten hours that Toft estimates it takes to knit is pretty spot on - I certainly got faster as I joined the second ball of yarn.

It's light yet incredibly warm to wear and is one to put on both outdoors and in the house when trying not to turn the heating up!

One point that made me chuckle is the word 'snood'. Growing up in the 1980s, when snoods were briefly fashionable, they were long tubes of fabric à la Nik Kershaw in his Human Racing days.

Thankfully the 2014 version of a snood is much more attractive and Toft's lace snood certainly hits the spot. Toft Alpaca, in Warwickshire, England, is only 20 minutes drive away from me and I'm a big fan of its quality yarns, friendly staff and kooky animals!

Monday 27 January 2014

Laos Colour Inspiration

I'm back now from a lovely trip to Laos - a beautiful, laid-back and extremely friendly country. Being Buddhist it has a rich heritage of Wats (temples) and art associated with them. The predominant colours in its Wat decorations are red, gold and green (a phrase that started me off singing Culture Club's Karma Chameleon).

These are colours I've never thought about putting together before in my knitting and I'll certainly think of including them in my next designs. I think that a fair isle design will look particularly good with them, although red, gold and green aren't traditional fair isle colours. The trick will be to use the gold sparingly so as to not look too 'bling'. Sirdar makes an attractive gold yarn in its snuggly DK range. In my mind I have plans for a dark blue jumper with a gold, red and green fair isle yoke. Now I need to find the time to plan and make it!

Laos itself doesn't have strong knitting tradition but what it does have is centuries of experience in cotton and silk making and weaving. A quick internet search brought me to some Lao silk knitting yarn, which I wish I'd come across on my travels. The many tribes that make up the Lao population have a heritage of making their own clothing to delineate their people. I visited the Laos Traditional Art & Ethnology Centre in Luang Prabang and saw examples of the weaving frame used to make cloth.

Usually Laos is too hot or wet to contemplate knitted woolies. My visit, however, coincided with an unusually cold spell they put down to global warming and it was, let's say, rather nippy. My shorts and swimming costume stayed unpacked at the bottom of the suitcase. It was funny to see our guide Kamla, one morning, arriving at our hotel wearing a woolly scarf he'd bought at the local market.We had a 5.45am start to go and see the local monks' alms-giving ceremony. In the chilly yet fresh morning I rather wished I'd packed my own knitted scarf and hat too!

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Free Tulip Lace Handwarmers Pattern

In a previous post I mentioned I used King Cole Galaxy DK for my sequinned Christmas jumper. The yarn was left over from when I designed tulip lace handwarmers and knitted a few pairs for friends' Christmas presents.

Here's the pattern for you to knit your own pair. Please do not use this for commercial purposes.

Tulip lace handwarmers

These lightweight handwarmers are quick to knit and great for Spring days. The sequins in the wool add a special, sparkly shine to glam up an outfit. 

Yarn: King Cole Galaxy DK. One ball makes two pairs.

Knitting needles: 4mm

Cast on 40 stitches. Knit 20 rows in 2x2 rib.
Row 21: Knit
Row 22: Purl
Row 23: Knit 3 * yarn over, ssk, knit 6 *. Repeat ** 4 times except for last set where you omit the knit six and instead knit 3.
Row 24: Purl
Row 25: Knit 1 * knit 2 tog, yarn over, knit 1, yarn over, ssk, knit 3*. Repeat ** 4 times except for last set where you omit the knit three. Instead Knit 2 to end.
Row 26: Purl
Row 27: As row 23
Row 28: Purl
Repeat Rows 21 to 28 four times.
Next row: Knit
Next row: Purl.
Rows 63 to 66: 2x2 rib.
Cast off knitwise.

To make up:
Fold the knitting inside out lengthways and, starting from the wrist rib, sew up 5 inches. Leave an inch hole for the thumb and then sew up the rest of the seam. Darn in ends and turn in inside out.

For larger hands:
Cast on 48 stitches and instead of repeating the pattern 4 times in a row repeat it 5 times. Repeat rows 21 to 26 five times. Work out where you would like the thumb hole to be before sewing the side seam.

Pack It In

Tomorrow I'm fortunate enough to be going on holiday to Laos in Southeast Asia. I'll be writing a travel feature on the country for the Disability Now website. The question is - should I pack some knitting?

I have taken my stash on holiday before, the most memorable time being to Zambia where I sat in the camp finishing off a jumper for my brother whilst wildlife walked by. That was a fabulous and relaxing way to spend a few hours whilst my friend was out on a walking safari.

For a competition my friend took a photo of me and my knitting when we were out in the bush in a jeep. This was a set up - I'm not so obsessed that I'd concentrate on a my knitting when an elephant is right behind me!

I think for Laos I'll leave the knitting at home and make sure I have quality time with my husband. I'm looking forward to seeing the colours and culture of the country and hope that I'll get inspiration for future knitting designs. With temples, riverside cookery stalls and a boat trip on the Nam Ou river there should be lots to dwell on when I get back.

Where's the most exotic place you've ever taken your knitting?

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Short Back and Sides

Before Christmas, all wrapped up in the spangly festivities mood, I decided I would like a sequinned jumper to wear with jeans in the Christmas holidays. Looking round the shops in my price range there were few on offer and the couple I found were either very poor quality or the smallest size drowned me.

Due to my OI my spine curved when I was a child, leading me to lose inches of my already petite stature. My arms are often the right length for size 6 or 8 adult jumpers but unless the jumpers are cropped I find the bodies to be too long. That's where knitting my own jumpers, with a short back and sides, comes in very handy.

I had some King Cole Galaxy DK yarn left over from a previous design project of mine where I'd dreamed up a simple pattern for wristwarmers and knitted them up for friends' Christmas presents. For my sequinned jumper I plumped for white. I used the pattern 'Melissa' from Rowan's Purelife Organic Wool Collection as a basis, adapting lengths as I went along. One of the things I like about 'Melissa', knitted up in King Cole Galaxy DK, is that the sleeve and jumper bottoms curl up in a slightly bohemian fashion. I used the cable cast on method to make sure cast on edges are robust.

Unfortunately I didn't finish the jumper in time for Christmas but it did make it off the needles in time for New Year! My tip for sewing up is cut off the sequins first from length of yarn you're sewing up with. The sequins won't pass through the knitting to sew up.

Monday 13 January 2014

Rowan Knitting & Crochet Magazine 55 Review

Last week the doorbell rang and it was our postie delivering Rowan's magazine number 55 - a heavy tome that's far too big to go through the letter box. I'm a big fan of Rowan partly because they're based in Yorkshire and I'm a Yorkshire lass, but more importantly because of the quality and range of their wool and designs.

As a Rowan subscriber I receive a knitting kit of my choice per year, small leaflets and the biannual knitting and crochet magazine. Number 55 showcases Spring/Summer 2014's design and is, as usual, beautifully photographed and sumptuously designed.

The three design themes are:
  1. Clarity - "a beautiful, feminine collection of fine knits"
  2. Legacy - "inspired by Moorish art"
  3. Essentials - "a collection of the key shapes and textures on trend".
Trouble is, there's nothing I want to knit.  I'm just not a Summer knits kind of girl: shawls and shrugs aren't my thing and many of the jumpers are intricately designed but the number of colours used and the amount of intarsia in the pattern puts me off. Plus they're not something I would wear - I adore the Kaffe Fassett look but could never carry it off myself.

For me magazine 55's strength is as a coffee table book to gain inspiration from the designs. I was also pleased to read the features on The Knitting & Crochet Guild's archive and the lovely Ann Kingstone's new book Stranded Knits. Roll on magazine number 56 where I'm sure I'll find lots of cosy scarfs, hats and jumpers I want to knit for Winter.

Sunday 12 January 2014

Modern British Knitting

Here's the outcome of my New Year's resolution - to start a blog. I'm passionate about knitting and supporting British yarn producers, designers and shops. I love challenging myself by learning new knitting techniques and skills, but there's also room in my project bag for basics that are easy to knit in front of the TV without having to keep looking at the pattern.

On this blog I aim to highlight the best of modern British knitting and champion all that's great about the knitting scene (although I have to admit that a good friend of my mine fell about laughing when I talked about the 'scene'). Here's hoping I'll discover lots of other like-minded people too.

To start off, I'll tell you a little about me. I was born with physical disability, OI, which led to me spending lots of time in bed with fractures. I learnt crafts as a child to keep me occupied, but can't remember whether it was school, my mum or one of my grandmothers who first encouraged me to pick up a pair of needles. The highlight of my junior knitting experimentation was a lemon zipped cardigan (alas long gone to a charity shop) knitted in chunky wool as featured in my then must-have mag - Just Seventeen. I know I still have that pattern somewhere and will publish a photo when I can find it.

All went quiet on the knitting front until I was in my late twenties and living in London working in TV, then website editing and production. A friend had re-taken up knitting and invited me along to a knitting event at the V&A museum, one which signalled that knitting was once again back in vogue. I picked up a pair of needles, tried to remember how it was done, and after a couple of disasters including a jumper for my baby nephew that had to go on a teddy because the neck hole was too small ('do you really have to buy the size needles that the pattern says?' I naively thought) I was back on the knitting wagon.

Nowadays, due to chronic pain from OI, I work from home as a freelance journalist. I've ambitions to be an amateur knitting designer and was one of the winners in Toft Alpaca's 2013 design competition. As well as writing travel features and book reviews I've had knitting and craft articles published in Mollie Makes and The Knitter magazines. Welcome to my blog.
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