Wednesday, 27 November 2013

little hat

little hat

alpacaly ever after yarn

I was recently lucky enough to get hold of some of this beautiful alpaca yarn, still warm from our favourite local alpaca flock.

I had my eye peeled for some 4ply yarn in manly colours and this was a timely find. The handspun hand-dyed superfine merino has proven too hot for my warm-blooded friend so is in my hat collection now (;-)). I replaced it earlier in the year with this version which knitted up nice and quickly using yarn from the same place as Sheila's ponytail hat but even that is slightly too warm (!) so the alpaca seemed ideal.
ardelanish in-situ
ardelanish wool (mull)

The alpacaly ever after yarn (sold at temporary measure) is so soft and the colours so delicious that it was a pure sensory indulgence. The colours harmonise like a perfect cappuchino with chocolate sprinkles. Hard to believe this is un-dyed! There was also the odd bit of straw thrown in, which just added to its organic charm. Even the packaging was too good to throw away - these are the actual faces of the actual alpacas (*artist's impression). Added to this was the knowledge that this is limited edition yarn (I understand this was leftovers from the last shearing and they are planning to do aran weight in future which is what it says on the labels) so I can be assured there will not be throngs of Cumbrians wearing hats like mine...

...of course there is always a thimble project would be complete without a but... time I set out to make a manly hat I must not get so caught up in tactile rapture that I inadvertently make a frilly edge and a hat that is ever so little (but coincidentally just right for my own little head or a small child with a big head).  I blame the circular needle. Looks like I'll have to go through the whole pleasurable experience all over again, poor me....

Sunday, 27 October 2013

autumn knits

thimble's loop
ponytail hat by Sheila

devil trap
Sigh. Winter looms.
The only good things about this time of year are coal fires, an extra hour in bed today, hot water bottles and home made woollies.
Purl Bee has some gorgeous free patterns, which is where I found this Shawl Collar loop Cowl. These knitters make me believe in the possibility of perfection and not only that but consistent perfection.
I'm not quite there...but now have a warm neck. I used up the last of my Torridon Croftwools hand-dyed Gotland for the lining - perfect and not at all itchy.

Sheila has been busy making ponytail hats for everyone she knows with ponytail potential - thanks! This is a tried and tested favourite from Knitty but she added the crocheted flower which transforms it. The wool used for this was from another Scottish holiday and a trip to Ardalanish weavers on the Isle of Mull. It actually smells of sheep (clean ones of course). The hat looks even nicer from the front but I got camera shy. I stumbled on the cutest pony tail hat pattern today: the urban homesteaders winter hat. Oh to be six again, I would have loved one.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

heart attack jumper

heart attack jumper by Thimble

This started out as a germ of an idea when making the Kate Davies: Tortoise and Hare sweater and somehow ended up as this unique piece of self-expression.

In the Maureen stash (inherited from great aunty Maureen), there was rather a lot of this bottle green wool which may well be as old as me. The school green is a bit intense for a full jumper, but it struck me as a great fair-isle filler.

I had one of those lightbulb moments when I suddenly realised that I could substitute the peeries in the hare/tortoise sweater for ECGs...and well, it evolved from there.

Anyone in the know will realise that the jumper has to be read from top to bottom - the first ECG is normal, line 2 reflects the blood clot blocking the artery (when the ST segments go up); the subsequent lines follow the progress over hours-days (as the ST segments fall, T waves become inverted and deep q waves appear). I thought about doing a flat line, but decided not to kill off the patient.

Purlbee has a very useful tutorial on designing your own fair-isle.
the creative process
It was useful putting the whole thing down on paper before picking up my needles, plus I finally got to use my coloured biros:
heart attack by Thimble
The hares and tortoises (tortoi?) of the original design were replaced with hearts (of course), doctor bags, stethoscopes, medicine bottles and syringes. My original design had capsules, but I realised as soon as I did them that they looked more like eyes and once I saw eyes I could only see eyes.... not having the heart (!) to unpick all those lines I removed that segment and using kitchener stitch replaced it with this...
...which of course you can see is a line of heart murmurs...

...ok it is a little geeky but no more than this doctor who version of Kate's design (which actually has a hidden runic message in it!). 

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

memory quilt for a zero-ending number birthday

Family history photo quilt
In October it is happy 'zero-ending number' birthday to Bad Hair Day Lady and after 18 months of bubbling over with the secret of this surprise birthday quilt, all has been revealed!

BHDL was probably the last in the family to find out, a little because I can't hold my whist but also because I had to gather together family pics from relatives, near and distant. In the process, I have inadvertently been drawn into the dangerously addictive and time-consuming world of genealogy, have been in touch with relatives I didn't know so well, have had some lovely trips to see Grandma, sifting through boxes of old pictures and letters, hearing stories about the olden days, having a good old chin-wag and finding a picture of my great great grandparents (mentioned here) in the bottom of an old cardboard box which we almost chucked out (a very exciting moment), finding aforementioned great great gran's book of needlework samples...
Great great grandparents (Arthur McKay (a tailor) and Helene Hallisey (a dressmaker)

Great great grandma's needlework 1871

I have also been given copies of pictures of great great grandparents through (would you believe) long lost relatives from Australia, have learned how to do rudimentary free-motion machine embroidery (taking inspiration from Leah Day who has a fantastic website/blog with loads of ideas & advice), have watched a lot of Poirot, have acquired a gorgeous selection of liberty fabrics from a place not too far away and have generally enjoyed myself...
Free motion embroidery with Poirot
The idea was a photo/genealogy/memory quilt which will be washable and endure and look pretty. There are various custom-made examples on the internet but many are too symmetrical and not 'quilty' enough for my liking. I decided on a more random layout, mainly because I don't like measuring/planning things much. I wanted as many generations as possible to be represented so sent out an SOS to the family and was well rewarded. The wonderful thing about the technological era is that it is so easy to share photos.

The next step was to get the photos printed onto cotton fabric - luckily my good friend at Temporary Measure is very clever at such things and most accommodating and I know for a fact these photos are washable because we have washed one of her photo bags on a hottish wash and it bore up well.

Then it was mostly straight lines:
Great grandma Mary McKay
Grandad and grandma *grandma hand-knitted her sweater

Margaret, Maureen and grandma
This was my first foray into machine quilting and I was surprised how easy it is on an ordinary machine. I didn't even put the feed dogs down for the straight line borders, only for the free motion bits. Because it was a haphazard arrangement of pictures, there were a few spacing panels where I experimented a bit with free motion embroidery, using mainly 'tree' or 'root' themed designs.

To aid identification the names around the outside are edged in the same fabric as the inner frame around the respective picture and for the border I used up scraps.
scrap border
Thanks to everyone who helped in donating and identifying photos, telling interesting family stories, printing the photos so nicely, keeping it a secret....

...but thanks most of all to Bad Hair Day Lady for being such a lovely sister and for the spontaneous happy-crying when I presented it :-)

Monday, 26 August 2013

blue wood and birthday knits

Green wood cup: Chlorociboria aeruginascens Cumbria 2013
I intended only to post about birthday knits today but this Green Wood cup justifies a double-themed posting.

A couple of years ago, Crazy Jake stumbled across some blue wood (in a secret place, deep in the forest) and brought me back a spelk. We learned that the blue/green wood stain is produced by a mushroom called the 'green elfcup' or 'green wood cup'. The mushroom is not often seen, but the green/blue xylindein-stained wood is more prevalent. The pigment in the wood is enduring and has been used in decorative woodworking for hundreds of years: see this post. We have been walking around for years with our 'eyes peeled' for this wood, but we never saw it again...until this week, when Crazy Jake re-stumbled upon it. Having found not only the wood, but a smattering of little elfcups, I was most eager to be taken on a blue wood safari.

Thimble in the wild
The green wood cup has long been on my list of 'things in nature I would really like to see one day' so it was fitting that it shouldn't be too easy and this blue wood safari was not without risk. Look carefully and you will see me in red, in a sea of bracken, tendrils twisting round my ankles, threatening to engulf me.. then there were the slippy rocks and the faery shoelace-untiers; the hidden bogs with fetid bog-stink; the slithery slope and the giant gravity-defying boulders above our heads. When, sweat-slicked and weary, we finally tracked down our prize, there were the FLIES. But it was worth it....
Green wood with green woodcups (and fly)
These mushrooms are really small. The flies (and the fact I kept sliding down the slope and the big rock above me was making me nervous) meant we couldn't linger. Lucky for me for the fly conveniently landed in shot - a perfect scale marker to show the tininess of the fungus. Unfortunately we brought back from safari some even tinier nature gifts - 2 days later and Crazy Jake is still finding the world's smallest ticks on him - we stopped counting at 12.

Can't think of a segue from blue wood to birthday knits, but I just had to mention these beautiful gifts knitted for me by mum - a slouch beret and shawlette. The shawlette I especially love - it is knitted in 4 ply 45% silk, 55% superwash merino and I have been wearing it all week, which speaks volumes about the Cumbrian summer.  

Sunday, 4 August 2013

a riot of colour

Sheila's blanky
This blog needs a colour injection. This is Sheila's latest crocheted creation - I love it!

My own needles are going nineteen to the dozen at the moment, working on a really good idea I have had, based on Kate Davie's Hare and Tortoise design. Now that I am past the Vikkel braids I am not completely sure whether my design is a really good idea after all... but it is certainly an original one.

So I am knitting in the car, in the woods (listening to birdsong, how soothing...) , in Temporary Measure, watching Marple (who by strange symmetry is also knitting, thinking about murder), in bed in the evening, in bed in the morning...

...I think I might be addicted...or afflicted...

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Thanks Goodness for Negative Ease

Thimble sporting Hare and Tortoise sweater

Boy oh boy, where to start! There have been so many 'moments' when making this sweater - those wobbly moments when it looks like it has all turned to s*** and why am even bothering with complicated things when I could probably make a really nice PLAIN sweater and surely to goodness it is easier all round to just buy one anyway.

There have also been some really brilliant moments, like when I finally understand the instructions, and when the little tortoises appear and when the steeks don't fall apart despite me using the wrong yarn and when the neck looks so neat....
I am very proud of that neckline
Hedley helping me stretch the sweater
The design by Kate Davies caught my eye a couple of years ago and I bought the pattern online as a PDF. I think it suits a petite frame better...or maybe I should face the fact that I should have gone for size 3 rather than size 2, though I think I was between sizes...lesson 1 - if between sizes choose the BIGGER size.
Kate Davies wearing Tortoise and Hare sweater
Lesson 2  - Steeks: if the instructions call for Shetland wool, use Shetland wool. Alpaca yarn is everywhere at the moment and I loved the idea of it, plus it is hypoallergenic. I was excited to discover Artesano 4 ply Alpaca comes in the same shades and at a fraction of the cost too so I bought all the yarn and only then did I read this post, where Kate Davies explains steeks (a scary process which involves cutting across rows of ovely neat knitting) and in the final paragraph, states: 'So if you are in any way nervous about steeking, then I would suggest that you stick with a sticky yarn (choose a woollen -spun yarn with a ‘halo’) and avoid smooth, shiny yarns — ie, those that are superwash-treated, those that are worsted spun, or those with long smooth fibres, like Alpaca'. Well of course it was too late by the time I had read that....I have to say there were a few sticky moments at the end with the steeks. I used sticky wool to crochet the steeks but the Alpaca really is a slippery customer and I had a sweaty couple of evenings sewing in ends.

Lesson 3 - No two animals look the same so why should I knit them that way, even when the pattern wants me to? Reminds me of the flower scene from Harold and Maude:

Well OK, so my lumpy tortoises aren't so much deliberate statements on the wonderful diversity that exists in nature as happy accidents due to the old affliction of watching too many DVDs and not concentrating on the pattern. Luckily, for the more monstrous tortoises (tortoi?) I was able to fix any of the bigger shell cankers with a needle and wool.

Lesson 4 - Negative Ease. One of the biggest wobbly moments was when someone suggested tactfully that maybe I could give the finished garment to my 11 year old neice because it obviously was really very small. The hardest thing about this design is that it is knitted as a solid tube and then the 2 sides of the neck are knitted together with a steek bridge (as are the sleeves) so it is impossible to try it on until the steeks have been done and cut. So it takes a lot of faith that everything will be ok in the end. Negative ease is best explained here by Techknitter. The garment is smaller than the person wearing it. Had I known about negative ease I would have smiled knowingly at the 'little girl sweater' comment instead of feeling somewhat distressed. OK, so the 'trying on' moment was a bit like this example of extreme negative ease:

I have learned a lot about lengthening a sweater design and steeks and knitting in the round and fairisle and what a peerie is and Vikkel Braids and weaving floats and the properties of alpaca and negative ease and fixing mistakes. I am 90% happy with the sweater. I mustn't eat too many pies or I will enter extreme negative ease territory.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Woolfest again

Organic rabbit on a mole hill planted with grass seeds
This little chap was a lucky find at Woolfest 2013. As you can probably tell, he is organic. I am not 100% sure but think he was from Garthenor Organic Wool and was supposed to be a present for a small child but on reflection he is a keeper.

This time last week I was riding on a Woolfest wave of pure happiness - in my opinion it was the best one yet and learning from previous years I had saved up my pocket money to avoid disappointment. There were the old favourites like Susan Crawford (the Frances pattern is on my list of projects to do, only the Nile green Excelana yarn has sold out at the moment) ...and even though I know that it will take about 5 years before I get around to it (because of the affliction of having TOO MANY HOBBIES), I was far too excited to find the Kate Davies Paper Dolls pattern on sale to let it slip by. Although I was very much tempted by the gorgeous Titus Yarn at the Baa Ram Ewe stall, every time I went to look I found it full of people squashed in like sheep in a pen, so maybe next year...
Kate Davies: Paper Dolls
Susan Crawford: Frances
Speaking of squashes, the Textile Garden trestle tables were as popular as ever - can't think of a simile for the throng of beady-eyed women rooting through the tubs of beautiful buttons - like bees on clover? like seagulls on chips? Though nearly scared off by their intensity, I braved the crowd and it was worth it for these tiny wooden buttons:
The Textile Garden: wooden engraved buttons
A nice Estonian man accompanied by his daughter (both dressed in the traditional costume of the island of Saaremaa), told me all about how they are working hard to keep the traditional craft alive and are travelling far and wide to tell people all over the world all about it. The Nordic style knitwear was so beautiful- each district has a different distinctive pattern. Because they had travelled so far and got dressed up so nicely and had such lovely mittens and socks, I bought these too: 
Saarema Wool Association mittens and socks
Although I have been sewing more than knitting this last year, in the run up to Woolfest I dusted off my spinning wheel and have had a few (tricky) alpaca projects on the go (more of that later). I have also been buzzing with Fair Isle ideas so I was delighted to discover Polly Purl who designs and makes these Fair Isle sweaters with playful original Fair Isle patterns. I especially like the burnt orange and grey and the raincloud design. This is very suitable for Cumbria and is top of my birthday wish list.
Polly Purl
This is just a little selection of the many marvellous things to be discovered at Woolfest. Just writing about them has made me happy all over again. On that note, I think I'll go and do some tricky knitting in the sunshine. 

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Patch jacket

Sometimes a project starts out planning to be one thing, but ends up as quite another thing altogether.

Remember the Wilderness Janker? after washing, it fit Crazy Jake like an Alexei Sayle jacket (buttons popping and sleeves too short) so I got to keep it instead. There can only be one Wilderness jacket so we thought of patches for the next one, and I went 2 sizes up.

It took some time to source appropriately themed fabrics - coffee, cameras, bicycles, skiing, handwriting, backpacking, camping, typewriters, pens, stamps, postmarks, maps, cassette tapes and biscuits. This might be my favourite phase of the project (the collecting/hoarding phase) and I possibly got carried away. Somewhere along the line I also realised I was straying from the original concept of a patch smoking/ lounge jacket but felt I had rather passed the point of no return...

...later when watching the Hobbit, Jake confided wistfully that this was what he meant by patches:
Bilbo patch smoking jacket in The Hobbit
 Fortunately we both agreed that the Hobbit movie would popularise the concept of patch smoking jackets so much that all major fashion outlets would soon be selling crappy versions on the theme and then it would no longer be a desirable thing to own a patch smoking jacket.

So with renewed confidence that no-one anywhere was going to have anything like what I was making, I pressed on...
Stitching in the sunshine
It wouldn't be a Thimble project if everything went swimmingly, so despite by best intentions to cut the lining with room to spare, by the time I had hand-quilted (yes that is right - HAND QUILTED) the shell repeat pattern, there was a deficit at the edges.

Luckily I am master of the work-around because I always make mistakes, so I fashioned a yoke in the lining and sewed plain bias binding to 2 different types of trimming so it was wide enough to cover the lining - even at the sleeve attachments. It looks that good, could almost be worn inside out ...

Finally these beautiful buttons from Tinker Tailor buttons via the Woolclip are just perfect to finish it off.