A blanket for a dragon, and some chair-parts…

After reviewing Tamar for Blacker Yarns I had a small lace swatch that wasn’t quite finished off and wasn’t quite big enough to use for anything. I hate waste, and serendipitously the doll’s bed that I made for The Daughter was entirely bereft of covers. So I dug through the leftover sockyarn stash – anyone who knits socks ends up with a collection of little brightly-coloured golf-balls of yarn-ends, like so:

SONY DSC

– and found some Rico that was the tail-end of some socks for The Man. Not quite the same yarn, but the same kind of tones and just fluffy enough to pass muster. Some lace-charting and a few rounds later – Toothless the dragon has a blanket.

SONY DSC

However, knitting is off the menu for the moment. Observant readers will have noticed that occasionally I make chairs. Like this:

SONY DSC

Continuous arm chair

and this:

SONY DSC

Fanback side chair

and next week I’m off to the Windsor Workshop again to make another armchair. This time for The Man. I like to do my own turnings. so this week the shed and house have been full of sawdust and woodshavings while I muck about making legs, stretchers and armposts:

SONY DSC

All those are drying in the house – next week in Sussex I’ll be bending the arms, carving the seat, making the spindles and putting the whole thing together so that The Man has somewhere comfortable to sit while he listens to music.

Yarn review – Tamar Lustre Blend 4ply from Blacker Yarns

Tamar is a new yarn from Blacker Yarns, being launched 3 March 2016. It’s spun from the wool produced by some sheep breeds with long, straight(ish) fleeces: Wensleydale, Teeswater, Cotswold and Leicester Longwool (and here’s a picture of a Teeswater ewe, because who doesn’t like pictures of sheep? You can see how straight the fleece is.).TeeswaterThe straightness of the fibres is what contributes to the ‘lustre’ of the yarn’s title. It’s also blended with Cornish Mule to give it a little bounce. It comes in 15 colour shades and two ‘natural’ shades, both of which are silvery grey. The colours are overdyed on to the natural shades, giving them lovely greyish depths and just a touch of variegation.

SONY DSC

I was testing the 4ply (it also comes in DK) and given its straightness I thought a lace swatch might suit it. To knit with it is very inelastic – I’ve been knitting with a lot of springier yarn recently and this has very little ‘bounce’. It’s worsted-spun and you do have to be a little bit careful not to get your needle between the strands but it’s not nearly as ‘splitty’ as some other yarns I’ve used. I knitted a swatch of leaf lace and put a picot border on it then blocked it. This is before the block:

SONY DSC

and here it is afterwards (I ran out of yarn before the last side of picot).

SONY DSC
In blocking you really see the upside of the inelasticity – it holds the block well (springier yarns tend to bounce back, just as curly hair would) and you can really see the leaf pattern. It also drapes very smoothly despite being a small swatch. It’s not the softest of yarn – you wouldn’t use it for a scarf or something to go next to the skin, I don’t think (tried wearing it on my neck and it does itch) – but the flipside of that is that it’s not going to pill and you do get the lovely sheen. It would make a really smooth shawl or wrap at the 4ply weight and would definitely do justice to a lace pattern. This was knitted on 3mm needles but for lace with this yarn you could afford to go a little bigger, I think. I’d like to give it a try with a larger project when the finances allow!

Exactly the right number of projects

This is a problem I have mentioned before. The How Many Projects Is The Right Number Of Projects Problem. Knitters who are good at project-monogamy won’t recognise this problem. There are, I am told, people who can start a project, knit along on it, finish it and move on to the next project. I have no idea how they do this.

Others, of which (whom?) I am one, have more of a kid-in-a-candy-store approach. “Oooh, new yarn!” *casts on*. “Oooh, I like what SHE’s knitting!” *casts on* “Oh, someone asked me for socks!” *casts on*

So for a start there’s the excitement factor of Beginning a New Thing (I thought about including a joke along the lines of flirting with some light fingering – which is a pun, obv, not just a rude single entendre – but couldn’t really make it work).

There’s also the fact that not all projects can be worked on in all circumstances. You don’t, for example, want to be taking a two-thirds finished sweater on the bus to knit. Too big, too much to lug around, too intrusive. You also can’t follow a complicated lace or Fair Isle chart whilst trying to follow complicated storylines in a film. Trust me, either your knitting or the plot suffers from a lack of attention.

Finally there’s the for-me-undeniable truth that project-monogamy is – frankly – boring. I heard once that Ridley Scott worked on three screenplays simultaneously on three different desks depending on what he was feeling like at the time. Projects are like that for me. BUT (and this is a big BUT) (f’nar etc) – You Can’t Have Too Many Or You Get Knitter’s Guilt. This can come in many forms – some people stress over the size of their stash, others about self-imposed and probably arbitrary deadlines. I get guilt if I have too much stuff on the go. Nothing gets any proper attention or work, nothing makes progress, it all just sits there guilting me out.

So the nub of the problem is this: I need knitting that can be done on the bus or train. I need knitting that requires being spread out over a large area (for those Netflix-and-chill evenings). I need knitting that requires concentration and effort. I need knitting that requires zero concentration and effort. I need long projects. I need short projects.

And, knitters, right now I have the Answer. I have The Perfect Balance. I have three projects on the go:

A sweater for the Husband, frogged from the disastrous Mr Darcy (added bonus here that the yarn was FREE because of being from something else!)

SONY DSC

Socks for me (probably) in a plain-vanilla but still attractive rib pattern

SONY DSC

A cowl, also probably for me, in a pleasingly duochrome (is that a word?) Fair Isle pattern that looks insanely complicated but is actually pleasingly challenging without being tears-of-frustration difficult.

SONY DSC

I Am Happy.

White and one other

I always find bi-colour knitting quite pleasing. A combination of two well-chosen colours can really pop. (I have a secret hankering to knit something in aubergine-purple and lemon-yellow, just because those two colours look amazing together when it’s fruit and veg. It’s possible that it doesn’t look quite as good when it’s yarn, which is basically what’s stopping me.) I had some yarn leftover from the Starshine sweater I knitted for The Daughter last winterSONY DSC

and decided to turn it into mittens, using another Drops pattern (excitingly named 110-40).

I knew from knitting the sweater that the Rowan Pure Wool DK is considerably narrower than the Drops Karisma DK that the pattern was designed for. (I do not get how yarns can call themselves a particular weight when they knit up so differently.) So of course, hypothetically I should have knitted a swatch to figure out the gauge. But as I had time before the friend’s-birthday deadline I was knitting it for I obviously skipped the boring swatching and cast straight on for the project. I got halfway up the hand before realising that this was, in fact, a bad idea. While I could get my hand in it was stretching the colourwork out in an unattractive fashion. So, I ripped it all back and started again, using the larger size this time. That worked fine. They’re a little bit big on me but plenty warm.

I really like the long cuff – warm wrists helps with warm hands. The first section is doubled over so you get the nice frilled edge. This was the first set of colourwork mittens I’ve made – I think another time I’d just chart out the back-of-hand pattern myself because it’d be fun. I’d probably choose a different pattern for the thumb, as well – in this pattern the thumb pattern is continued from the palm pattern. I expect that’s the way it’s usually done but I found it so tricky trying to incorporate the stitches you add for the thumb into the pattern in a consistent way that I gave up for one side of the thumb increases (which is why there’s a blank green space at the base of one side of each thumb. What the hell – they match).

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

On their way to their recipient (I’m hoping for another cold snap so she actually gets to wear them).

I really enjoyed knitting in the green and white, so as I appear to have a bad case of cowl-itis (every cell of me is yearning to make Louisa Harding’s Isadora cowl which appears to be the absolute epitome of match between yarn colours and pattern) I decided to cast on this feller – Crazed Scandinavian Cowl from WendyKnits. (As an aside, there’s another version she does with sockyarn leftovers that has my name all over it.)Cowl102515-240x215

That’s hers, obviously. Mine is rather less impressive at this point:

SONY DSC

But it’ll get there. I’m knitting it in Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino and I’ve just run out so it’s on hiatus until I can get to the yarn store. It’s very easy to knit – because it’s double-sided (essentially a long tube) all the floats are hidden away inside so you don’t have to worry about catching in the long floats (and man, some of them are looooong). When you get to the end you graft the ends together. The stitches up the side are slipped which means it will naturally fold along those lines up the side. I tacked the bottom edges together because it was curling and annoying me that I couldn’t see the pattern develop.  The pattern calls for Magic Loop, which I’ve never liked, so I’m doing it the same way I’d knit a sock – one needle on top, one on the bottom. Or at least there will be once I’ve bought another 3.25mm circular. Now for the yarn store…

Finished Objects. Lots and lots of finished objects.

One reason there was a dearth of knitting projects in the run-up to Christmas was that I was trying to finish some other stuff. There were more needle-books to make:

SONY DSC

minion hats to finish for the childrens’ stockings:

SONY DSC

a quilt top to finish (this has been on the go for literally years. Now just needs batting, backing and quilting. Ok, there’s quite a lot of work there. Calling it ‘finished’ is a stretch.)

SONY DSC

and a chair to finish putting together. (There’s going to be a matching one when I get around to turning the fourth leg, another stretcher, making another seven spindles…)

SONY DSC

They were all done by Christmas and since then it’s been socks all the way, pretty much. Regia Jet Set for The Husband (I’m always grateful he’s got small feet):

SONY DSC

Macha socks from Violet Green for me (I got the yarn for Christmas and was hoping there’d be a Nemain colourway to go with it but no. Any other fans of Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry books will know where I’m coming from.)

SONY DSC

And a pleasing self-patterning Regia 4-ply – also going to be for me.

SONY DSC

On the needles right now – some mittens for a friend. Of which more later.

Things That Are Not Knitting

As you’ll have gathered by now, mostly I knit. But occasionally I get a request for something that can’t be knitted or I feel like learning something new. So this is pretty much what I’ve been doing since finishing the problematic Fair Isle cardigan.

Needlebooks

Eldest daughter is getting a sewing box for Christmas, so I thought I’d make her a needle-and-pin holder to go with it. Found a nice, simple pattern on instructables.com (I really, really love the internet for things like this) and made one for her. Then I made one for me too, because the first one was so pretty.

SONY DSC

Now I’m pretty much making them for everyone I know who wields needles. Very addictive and quick to do, and you can get them out of very small pieces of fabric. If you really wanted to go to town, tipnut has some awesome patterns (all free, by the generosity of uber-crafters) – my own favourite is this hussif, which is just the prettiest thing imaginable for sewing bits and pieces.

Halloween bunting

I am kind of late to the punch with this one, but in my defence the request was presented to me the day after Halloween, so it’ll be there for next year. I had to learn crochet (of which more shortly). I’ve never been a huge crochet fan but I do like amigurumi animals (there’s nobody like the Japanese for tiny stuff that’s cute beyond belief). So I made some amigurumi balls and sewed pumpkin faces on them and now I’m stringing them together on green crochet chains and next Halloween they can hang in the window.

SONY DSC

Minion hats

This one is a big fat secret. We saw some children on the way to school one morning wearing minion hats, and I thought (with some serious amigurumi crochet practice under my belt) that I could probably manage enough crochet to produce three minion hats, so I came home and found a pattern and watched some youtube videos (again with the awesomeness of the internet) and minion hats are on their merry way.

SONY DSC

They’re going to be Christmas stocking things, so have to be done while small people are either at school or asleep, which is limiting my time somewhat. Also limiting my time is my ability to not just cock up but to cock up repeatedly and persistently for three days, insisting in my head that it’s the pattern that’s wrong and not that I’ve misremembered how to do things. What you see above is the result of three days work plus one gritted-teeth evening of ripping all the way back to the very beginning and then another day’s work. How many days till Christmas?

More or less happy. Ish.

After a couple of false starts and various pauses while I waited for new needles, extra yarn, more new needles and buttons to arrive from the internet, the Silje Jacket is finished. It’s quite pretty.

SONY DSC

I’m happy with my colour substitutions (original colourway was a bit beigey)15-1

The pattern, however, was not fun to knit. I’ve knit a few GarnStudio patterns before and I think they suffer firstly from being written for a different knitting culture and secondly from having to be translated. I tend to find them odd to read and despite having been knitting for about 35 years now I have to pore over them to ensure that I’m doing them correctly.

SONY DSC

So what was wrong with this one? Well for a start it’s knitted from the bottom up. Every pattern I’ve ever encountered to date that has a yoked chest and arms is knitted from the top down. Knitting upwards it’s very difficult to incorporate the sleeves. It also means that when you get to the colourwork you’ve got all that weight of sleeves and body flopping around pulling your work hither and yon. Accurate, consistent tension is crucial if colourwork isn’t to pucker, so having to constantly stop the rest of the work sliding around is – frankly – a PITA.

Second issue is that the colourwork is done back-and-forth. Everyone’s tension is slightly different when they purl from when they knit. Really good colourwork cardigans are knit in the round and steeked (cut open) to be finished. This works well because knitting doesn’t unravel from side to side, only from top to bottom. Purling colourwork in one direction and then knitting it in the other makes for nasty ‘turning’ pulls at the ends unless you’re exceptionally careful and it’s also much harder to follow the pattern because you’re reading it backwards and from the wrong side.

I also wasn’t mad keen on the pattern requiring three colours to be carried for some rows and over very long distances as well. Not only do you have three colours to try and keep de-tangled but one of them has to be wrapped around one of the others every five stitches as otherwise there’ll be a great long loop of yarn on the back. Or several dozen in the case of this pattern. For a child’s cardigan that’s inevitably going to be yanked around and hauled on, that spells picky fingers pulling loops to see what will happen. In case of doubt, this is a Bad Thing to happen to colourwork. Proper Fair Isle colourwork has only two colours per row (as much as anything else so that you can hold one in each hand for speed and non-tangling-ness) and the patterns are by-and-large designed so that you don’t have mile-long floats. You can see on the reverse side where it’s ‘proper’ Fair Isle-style colourwork (the orange and white row that is in effect the negative of the right-side row) and where it’s not (most of the rest, particularly the white and grey where the grey had to be twisted in every fifth stitch).

SONY DSC

Apart from grumbling nearly every step of the way, though, I did knit it according to the pattern. Except for changing the needle size down to 3.75mm because I thought the 4mms made the fabric too loose. Which meant I had to knit some sections in the next size up so it was big enough.

So apart from all that, I’m moderately happy with it.